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Karma in the workplace

 

Water cooler conversation has been somewhat lackluster since “Seinfeld” went off the air. However, recently we’ve noticed that NBC’s “My Name Is Earl,” while nowhere near the ratings juggernaut of “Seinfeld,” has started to become commonplace in social and business conversation. Although we think Earl, as played by actor Jason Lee, and gang are funny, it’s hardly the best show on television. No, the reason that it’s become the topic du jour is because of the shows’ theme: karma. Somehow it resolves the spike in corporate and political scandals over the last five years.

We’ve all had experiences in business where those that are less capable, less ethical or just plain old evil thrive. We’ve all had ideas stolen, credit taken where it was unjustified, and so forth, yet why is it that these colleagues or associates seem to thrive at a faster pace than we do. If we’re to believe the voice over in Woody Allen’ latest movie “Match Point,” it apparently all comes down to luck. On the other hand, many rationalize that you have to do whatever it takes to get to the top, even if it means stepping over people when they’re down. Nowhere was this demonstrated more clearly than in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film “Wall Street,” wherein Michael Douglas’ character Gordon Gekko uttered the memorable lines: “Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.” However, in the end, even Gordon “greed is good” Gekko’s luck ran out.

The struggle between greed and morality has been documented and debated for centuries; however it is only when systems collapse, such as the stock market in the '80s, the dot com bust in the '90s and the scandals of corporate malfeasance over the last few years, that we reevaluate our systems of beliefs and practices. The collapse of Enron, Tyco and Worldcom, to name a few, mark the rebalancing of this struggle.

Martha Stewart, while undeniably driven and hard working, is the prime example of a businesswoman that, by all accounts, is not the most pleasant person to work with. Yet, despite her personal flaws she continued to thrive professionally. However, even America’s domestic diva couldn’t outrun karma indefinitely and in 2004 she was convicted of obstruction of justice and lying to investigators in an insider trading scandal. Perhaps, the indictment of once mighty and powerful executives such as Martha Stewart and Tyco's shamed former CEO Dennis Kozlsowski is evidence that there is some karmic intervention in business.

But what exactly is karma? There are varying interpretations in hard copy and online publications, but one seemed starkly applicable to business:

“The law of Karma ensures accountability for  every  thought, action and word. Each has an effect on this; and future lives.”

If we are to believe this interpretation, then karma is essentially accountability, which we know is integral to business. It designates responsibility. It motivates employees. It drives client relations. It encourages results. Without it, there is no business. Ironically, in the recent spate of corporate scandals, few executives admitted blame. They either cut deals to implicate those higher up or they designated blame elsewhere. This lack of accountability has ultimately led to their downfall.

So what can your company do to enhance  accountability and ensure good karma?

  1. Articulate your company’s vision clearly and then communicate it consistently throughout the organization. Context is important for employees to perform their day-to-day functions.
  2. Set both organizational and individual goals and/or measurable objectives. It is crucial for departments and teams to have measurements for success or failure.
  3. Do not allow employees to designate blame or to harp on the problem. Instead, encourage them to focus on the solution.

Companies such as Enron and Tyco may have been brought down by either individual character flaws or a systemic failure; however, we argue that if accountability had been clearly defined, errors and/or misconduct would have been identified and corrected before the collapse of the entire corporation. Anything less is just bad karma.

 

 

 

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Water cooler conversation has been somewhat lackluster since “Seinfeld” went off the air. However, recently we’ve noticed that NBC’s “My Name Is Earl,” while nowhere near the ratings juggernaut of “Seinfeld,” has started to become commonplace in social and business conversation. Although we think Earl, as played by actor Jason Lee, and gang are funny, it’s hardly the best show on television. No, the reason that it’s become the topic du jour is because of the shows’ theme: karma. Somehow it resolves the spike in corporate and political scandals over the last five years.

We’ve all had experiences in business where those that are less capable, less ethical or just plain old evil thrive. We’ve all had ideas stolen, credit taken where it was unjustified, and so forth, yet why is it that these colleagues or associates seem to thrive at a faster pace than we do. If we’re to believe the voice over in Woody Allen’ latest movie “Match Point,” it apparently all comes down to luck. On the other hand, many rationalize that you have to do whatever it takes to get to the top, even if it means stepping over people when they’re down. Nowhere was this demonstrated more clearly than in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film “Wall Street,” wherein Michael Douglas’ character Gordon Gekko uttered the memorable lines: “Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.” However, in the end, even Gordon “greed is good” Gekko’s luck ran out.

The struggle between greed and morality has been documented and debated for centuries; however it is only when systems collapse, such as the stock market in the '80s, the dot com bust in the '90s and the scandals of corporate malfeasance over the last few years, that we reevaluate our systems of beliefs and practices. The collapse of Enron, Tyco and Worldcom, to name a few, mark the rebalancing of this struggle.

Martha Stewart, while undeniably driven and hard working, is the prime example of a businesswoman that, by all accounts, is not the most pleasant person to work with. Yet, despite her personal flaws she continued to thrive professionally. However, even America’s domestic diva couldn’t outrun karma indefinitely and in 2004 she was convicted of obstruction of justice and lying to investigators in an insider trading scandal. Perhaps, the indictment of once mighty and powerful executives such as Martha Stewart and Tyco's shamed former CEO Dennis Kozlsowski is evidence that there is some karmic intervention in business.

But what exactly is karma? There are varying interpretations in hard copy and online publications, but one seemed starkly applicable to business:

“The law of Karma ensures accountability for  every  thought, action and word. Each has an effect on this; and future lives.”

If we are to believe this interpretation, then karma is essentially accountability, which we know is integral to business. It designates responsibility. It motivates employees. It drives client relations. It encourages results. Without it, there is no business. Ironically, in the recent spate of corporate scandals, few executives admitted blame. They either cut deals to implicate those higher up or they designated blame elsewhere. This lack of accountability has ultimately led to their downfall.

So what can your company do to enhance  accountability and ensure good karma?

  1. Articulate your company’s vision clearly and then communicate it consistently throughout the organization. Context is important for employees to perform their day-to-day functions.
  2. Set both organizational and individual goals and/or measurable objectives. It is crucial for departments and teams to have measurements for success or failure.
  3. Do not allow employees to designate blame or to harp on the problem. Instead, encourage them to focus on the solution.

Companies such as Enron and Tyco may have been brought down by either individual character flaws or a systemic failure; however, we argue that if accountability had been clearly defined, errors and/or misconduct would have been identified and corrected before the collapse of the entire corporation. Anything less is just bad karma.

 

 

 

For passion to survive it needs structure.  But for structure to grow, it needs passion.

90% of all new businesses fail.  And most of the companies that don't fail won't become billion dollar businesses or change the world.  Why is that?

Ask those who didn’t make it and the most common answers you’ll get are: under capitalized, didn’t have the right people, bad market conditions or a combination of all those things. 

But there is a deeper reason.

Every single new business has something in common: they all started with an idea.  An idea fueled by passion.  This passion drove the excitement, the feelings of invincibility.  This passion and the feelings of world domination motivated “irrational” behavior like quitting a perfectly stable job with steady pay and benefits to set up a business in your basement.   The passion of the founder/s is intoxicating to some.  It encourages others to also quit their good jobs or pass up better paying ones to join up.  In itself, this is not a bad thing.  The problem is that though companies may be born of passion, "a company" in practice is a structure.  A collection of systems and processes, good companies run like well oiled machines.  Though they may have all the passion in the world, if someone doesn’t know how to build those structures and manage those processes (the stuff that will ensure income, the ability to navigate all market conditions and hire the best people (see excuses above)), then the company will likely struggle to stay afloat, survive only with continued infusions of money or just fail (remember the dot-com boom: lots of passion, not so much structure and processes).

For those passionate few who also have the ability to build the structure and implement the processes, for those that defy “the statistic,” they face another challenge: success.

Success can be the biggest challenge for a small business.  With success, focus can shift to managing the structure at the expense of managing the passion.  There are many owners of successful small and medium sized businesses that will say that the energy in their businesses is "not like it used to be."  They reminisce about the times of old.  It’s a paradox – so many successful business owners may be financially successful, but they don’t feel successful.  Whereas when the business was young, they felt successful even though they were broke.

Perhaps this explains why so many small businesses cap out at (if we’re really generous) between $50-$150 million.  Yes a company is nothing but a structure, a machine, and money may fuel the machine itself, but the company is also filled with people.  It is the people who drive the business.  And though financial incentives may help for the short term, it is passion and inspiration that fuels people.  If that runs out - growth is much harder to attain.  Structure is essential for a company to survive, but sustainable passion is essential for the company to enjoy sustainable growth.

No matter the size of the organization, fixation on the structure alone and failure to manage the passion, the inspiration within, will mean that that perfect machine won't have any fuel to go.

 

You arrive at a meeting but you forgot to bring a pen.  It's not the worst thing that could have happened, but it may be a little embarrassing. You get a break, however, the person with whom you are meeting excuses himself for a minute and leaves the room. There is a cup of pens on his desk, so you help yourself to one of them. They are not expensive pens, just your run-of-the-mill disposable pens that he probably picked up from the supply cabinet. You know it's not a big deal, it's not really stealing, he won't miss it.  You just need a pen.

The gentleman with whom you are meeting returns and sits back down at his desk and the meeting commences.  And there you are, with your pen, ready for the meeting.

But there's a problem.  The pen's not yours.  You took it. You're using it.  But it doesn't belong to you. Even though you know it's not a big deal, you KNOW it's not yours.  One of three things will likely happen:

  1. Fearing that he will notice that you took his pen and say something that could create an awkward situation,  you take notes on your lap to keep the pen out of sight.
  2. You take notes as normal, but you still hope that he doesn't say anything for fear of being caught.
  3. You say something as soon as he arrives back. Something like, "I hope you don't mind, I took one of your pens." To which he will likely reply, "no problem, let me know if you need anything else."  Your guilt relieved, the meeting can continue in a more productive manner.


There is a difference between being given something and taking it.  When we take things, even if the item being taken is of no consequence, we know it does not belong to us.  Even if you left with the pen, you know it is still not your pen.  But if something is given to you, then that thing becomes yours.  You earned it and it creates the feeling of belonging.

The same is true for things bigger than pens. When we push others a side for a  job or to get recognition, we took the recognition, we weren't given it.  Even if we did the work required for it, the fact remains, we still took it. This creates the feeling of fear that others will know.  We may become a little defensive when others challenge us.  Worse, the fear of being caught may become the motivation for how we act moving forward. We've all worked for people like this. They may have achieved something but it's no fun for the rest of us

However, when we focus on the work at hand and not on the reward and are given a promotion or bonus as a reward, as a symbol of gratitude, then that bonus belongs to us.  We earned it.  We are less bothered if someone challenges us because we know that the bonus belongs to us.  After all, it was given and we didn't just take it. 

When we fixate on the reward, we will stop at nothing to get it.  But that reward will never really belong to us.  We just took it.  However, when we fixate on the reason we come to work, if we fixate on simply being the best at what we do, we do not set out to best anyone else but ourselves. Fear, as a motivator, declines and confidence goes up. We are better able to take joy in the success of others and feel vastly more fulfilled when we are given something. 

This dynamic exists in almost every situation where we can "get" something.  We can take clients by beating our competitor's price, for example, or we can be given the business because the client feels more confident working with us regardless of the price.  In both cases we get the bonus, the promotion, the job or the business, but in only one case does it belong to us.

By the way, I noticed you don't have a pen...please, take mine.

As anyone who has every held a job can attest, at some point in ones career you will work for someone who clearly has less talent or ability than you do. On a regular basis you’ll ask yourself, “how is THAT guy my boss?” The answer has less to do with the poor sod who was promoted above you and more to do with how we view talent and reward performance in an organization.

The biggest problem is that companies often promote someone who is good at their job to being a manager. But doing the job well and managing others to do it well are not the same thing. In fact, they are completely different skill sets. A great salesman is just that, a great salesman. But a great salesman does not necessarily make a great sales manager. But very often, the top-performing salesman is promoted to sales manager not because he’s necessarily qualified, but because he did well at his other job. And it gets worse. Not only are we promoting people into the wrong jobs, we’re not even training them once they get there. I can guarantee that top-performing salesman was given tons of training to be a salesman. He probably even shadowed more seasoned veterans to learn the ropes. After he became sales manager, however, his training likely stopped. And he almost certainly never shadowed more seasoned sales managers to learn the ropes.

When people are in middle management and below, we train the heck out of them. That’s because they are doers so, logically, companies train them so they can be good at their jobs. With all that training, they prove themselves and earn promotions. But then the amount of training plummets.

 

As people get more senior, they move from being doers to being thinkers and managers, but most companies don’t train people how to manage or think. If you make widgets – there is a training on how to make the best widget. Get promoted, and you’re left to figure things out by yourself. There are painfully few companies that train their managers how to manage or think strategically.

 

Being good at your job does not equip you to manage others, nor does being smart. Two men in recent history widely regarded to be some of smartest to become US Presidents were Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. Nixon’s intellect, in fact, was said to be astounding. Yet neither of them had particularly remarkable presidencies. Smarts do not necessarily equate to leadership.

Leadership is a skill set that does not always mean you’re good at the job itself. Tommy Lasorda, the famed LA Dodgers manager was hailed as one of the great all time baseball managers. His own baseball career, however, was short and not so sweet. In contrast, Isiah Thomas was one of the great basketball players in the ‘80s. He eventually joined the management of the New York Knicks and he was an abysmal failure.

 

When someone got promoted because they were very good at doing a job, they feel they can do it better than those who now work for them (and maybe the can). The temptation to micromanage or to tell people to do it their way can be overwhelming. Sometimes their intentions may be good, they may be trying to teach, but other times they simply miss being in the trenches and yearn to get back in. Either way, it manifests as poor management. And poor management is to blame for a lot of the ills our economy is facing now. It's not that bad things were being done at the lower levels, it's that the people weren't managing properly.

 

Great managers, in contrast, are able to coach others to maximize their own potential and work to their own strengths. They give out responsibility instead of tasks and allow people to make mistakes. Great managers may even have an advantage if they are not good at the tasks themselves because it forces them to step back and rely on those around them. And most importantly, great managers are always aware of the big picture and the long-term strategy.  That, after all, is their job.

 

American organizations need to change two things if our management is to become as skilled as our workforce.

 

1: Companies need to get better at assessing people’s skills before we simply reward good performance or big brains with promotions. The higher someone gets in a company, the better they are supposed to be at managing down. Instead, the Peter Principle rules – where we promote people to their highest level of incompetence.

 

2: If companies ignore this first requirement, then there is even more pressure to provide more training to people as they are promoted up the ranks. We teach technicians what to do, but we need to teach leaders how to lead. Management and leadership, like any skill, require learning and practice.

 

So the next time you get a promotion for a job well-done, ask for some training as you enter your new job before you find yourself as the idiot that people can’t believe they are working for.

 

Is your company doing any effective management or leadership training your company is doing? Please let me know in the comments.

 

Like most optimists, I'm easily excited by the prospect of something good happening. This is a wonderful disposition for staying happy, but it can be treacherous in business. If I get along with someone, I tend to trust them at their word.  Call it naiveté if you want, but I don’t understand why anyone would lie or exaggerate their capabilities.

 

Unfortunately, like most naïve, overly-trusting optimists, this has burned me on more than one occasion in business.  A perfect, and frequent example, is the case when someone, inspired by my work (or at least they say they are), approaches me with an offer to do something. Maybe they want to redesign the website, help boost sales, do some rebranding exercise, implement some better systems or figure out a social networking strategy.  They promise all the things I think I need, they say they are good at all the things I’m bad at, they have lots of time for all the things I have no time for and they have a list of wonderful clients and case studies that demonstrate how perfectly suited they are to help me “achieve my goals.”

 

On more than one occasion, I engaged in a business relationship with these well-intentioned souls and have found myself on the losing side of the equation.  Often the results fall well short of what I expected or hoped for (which is often very different than from what they expected).  For example, when someone said they could completely redo my website, I thought that meant everything, including the store interface.  Turned out, they don’t have much experience with building a really good online store – so everything looked nice, but my store still didn’t work as I hoped. These relationships never end well and I end up shelling out a lot of money and not getting what I thought I was going to get.

 

Since I learned the Bruder Principles, however, I’m proud to say this scenario no longer happens. 

 

Named after Ron Bruder, entrepreneur, philanthropist and my mentor, Bruder taught me a simple technique to ensure that the relationships I engage in offer true value and last for the long term.

 

1. Do a Background Check

Be it an individual or a company, it takes only a few minutes to google them and do a D&B check.  On more than one occasion I’ve discovered that a company was on shaky ground before we worked with them.

2. Slow Down

So many deals, especially between small companies, are done with excitement and optimism driving them. Simply slowing down the process reveals so much. I slowed down a deal that was going too fast and it completely changed the dynamic of the relationship.  The other party became more aggressive, more impatient with me.  They seemed a little too keen to get the contract signed quickly.  Good business relationships should not be built to go fast, they should be built to go far.

3. Start Small

No deal needs to be comprehensive from the start.  A new relationship should start small.  Doing so often reveals true intentions and, more importantly, allows you to test the relationship with less on the line.  Instead of a complete rebranding, for example, start with just a logo and see how it works out. I won't do a big deal with new relationships anymore. They all start small.

4. Don't Work With Anyone in Trouble

Pay close attention to the kinds of things that are causing someone stress. If they seem to be under financial stress, either their business is not doing well or they are having personal money issues, do not engage with them. You cannot have a productive business relationship when someone is panicked about where their next pay check will come from.  (note: there is a difference between not having a lot of money and being stressed about it).

 

These four simple principles have worked so well to protect me and my interests and I won’t do a single deal now without employing all of them.

Someone recently sent me an email asking about what he needs to sacrifice to succeed. 

"Success," he wrote, "is said to come with great sacrifice. I'm personally trying to figure out what I can sacrifice, while identifying and pursuing specific goals.  Are there identifiable sacrifices that you attribute to your success? Or, more broadly, is there a generic schema for personal sacrifice that is consistent among leaders?"

Though it is true that life is always balanced and if you attain one thing it often comes at the sacrifice of another, the trick is not to focus on the thing you have to give up, but rather the thing you gain.

In my case, money was a sacrifice for a while - but I was happy to give up the money to be my own boss. These days it's social life - I'm not in New York much because I'm on the road a lot. Though some may perceive that I am sacrificing a lot by being away, the balance is, I get to meet so many amazing people that I otherwise would never have met.  Not to mention, the work I do is so rewarding.

In both cases, I focused on where I was going without concern to what I would have to give up.

Success comes not by trying to find something you're willing to sacrifice, but by being inspired by the thing you're pursuing.  When you are in pursuit, sacrifice doesn't feel like sacrifice...it feels like balance.

This is different from working long hours and sacrificing seeing your family or friends, for example, in hope of what will come as a result of the sacrifice. In this case, the hard work is in pursuit of a goal not yet realized. The work itself is not rewarding and the stress is high, but the rationalization is that it is all worth it for the promise (real or false) of what it will bring.  What if the promise is never realized?  Was it all worth it, then?  This really is sacrifice. When you give up something for something that does not bring immediate joy.

There is no sacrifice when the pursuit, the journey, is as rewarding if not more rewarding than the end result. And when you can wake up in the morning and feel successful whether some end goal is realized or not...THAT is true success.

Bell Curve

Are you a Left-Sider?

Left-siders are the ones who see things differently.

Left-siders are a group of people, often misunderstood by the majority, who see the world a little different. They imagine a world that does not yet exist. They are pioneers and the innovators. They are the visionaries. They are the ones with the capacity to change the world.