Who Needs an Office These Days?


Office Not Required

How am I going to know my employees are really working? Won’t those in the office be jealous? What if I need an answer now? These are just some of the excuses that opponents of remote work advance as they resist what Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson argue is the most effective and promising way to manage people. Fried and Hansson should know: As co-founders of software company 37Signals, they have 36 partners spread around the world serving millions of users. In their new book,Remote, they clearly advance the advantages of a virtual workforce while forcefully responding to those who can’t let go of the traditional office.

Are They Really Working?

For many leaders and business owners afraid of remote work, the main objection is that workers will “slack off” if not supervised. According to the authors, this fear reveals a much bigger problem. Specifically, it reveals that the manager sees him- or herself as not much more than a babysitter – which does not portend well for the organization. To put it bluntly, if managers act like babysitters, employees will respond in kind, the authors write. “People have an amazing ability to live down to low expectations. If you run your ship with the conviction that everyone’s a slacker, your employees will put all their ingenuity into proving you right. If you view those who work under you as capable adults who will push themselves to excel even when you’re not breathing down their necks, they’ll delight you in return.”

In fact, as the authors argue in a later chapter, managing remote employees increases the focus of the employee’s performance on the actual work for which he or she is responsible. Performance measurement in traditional work environments can be diverted by factors that don’t involve the true productivity of the employee. Did the employee arrive at 9:00 or 9:30 a.m.? Is he wearing appropriate attire for the office? These are not the questions that managers of remote employees ask. Instead, they are focused on the employee’s work results: Did he finish the report on time? Is her sales team improving their closing ratios? Remote work doesn’t enable slacking off – you can’t disguise lack of productivity; but it does refocus the manager’s attention on what’s important.

Some Trade-offs

The authors aren’t starry-eyed zealots about remote work, nor are they academics examining the virtual workplace as a theoretical construct. They recognize the advantages and potential of remote work but also recognize that there can be some trade-offs. Sometimes it’s nice to talk to your manager in person or sit in a room with your colleagues brainstorming on the next big idea.

Discipline is a big commitment, more than you realize. And interruptions are going to happen – it’s hard to say no to your child showing you the “A” on his homework.

But with technology and the right management – for example, holding weekly virtual meetings where people can give an informal report on their week – the tradeoffs can be mitigated, and the full benefits of virtual work can be enjoyed by employees and organizations alike.

Of course, there will always be some bosses who steadfastly believe remote employees means total loss of control. In such cases, the employee looking for virtual work employment has but one choice: to look elsewhere. In the end, it’s the company that loses.


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New Year’s Resolutions

Recently, Betterment.com published a great infographic with statistics about how people did with their New Year’s Resolutions in 2013. The numbers aren’t very encouraging. While 45 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, only about 8 percent of people actually achieve them. And sadly, 25 percent of people don’t make it past the first week.

It is indeed tough to follow through on our good intentions for the New Year. We have great expectations of what we can accomplish, but then the reality of our daily lives gets in the way. Betterment.com provided a list of apps and other technology solutions to help with these resolutions, and they all hit upon some basic principles for accomplishing goals.

  1. Be Specific – general goals are harder to hit so make specific goals that can be measured.
  2. Break them down – break your goals down into manageable steps that don’t seem so difficult. The steps will add up to accomplish the goals.
  3. Be accountable – find someone to share your resolutions with, and give them permission to ask how you’re doing.
  4. Share your successes – enlisting a cheering section is helpful in motivating you to keep going.
  5. Automate where possible – if you’re goals involve finances, automating the steps (like depositing into your savings account) helps to overcome busyness.


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How You and Your Team Get Unstuck to Get Results


Getting Leadership on a Positive Wavelength

In Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams, author Roger Schwarz argues that many leaders fail today because they cling to the leadership approach of what he calls unilateral control. This approach will be familiar to most: The leader makes the decisions, and the others obey.

Effective leaders, writes Schwarz, reject the unilateral control approach in favor of a mutual learning approach. With this approach, leaders and the other members of the team join together to learn, decide and act as one cohesive unit. Leadership is transferred to the whole team and not just one commander.

Why the Unilateral Control Approach Fails

The problem with the unilateral control approach, as Schwarz eloquently details, begins with the values and assumptions that make up the mindset. The values are

• Win, don’t lose. (You value your goals as you define them.)

• Be right. (One of your favorite phrases might be, “I told you so.”)

• Minimize expression of negative feelings. (You don’t want to know about other people’s frustrations and anger, and you keep yours hidden as well.)

• Act rational. (You don’t see the need for feelings, especially when your position is perfectly logical and unassailable.)

The unilateral mindset also features destructive assumptions, writes Schwarz, including but not limited to

• “I understand the situation; those who disagree, don’t.”

• “I have pure motives; those who disagree have questionable ones.”

• “My feelings and behavior are justified.”

Not surprisingly, according to Schwarz, the behavior engendered by this mindset is hardly constructive. Some examples of this behavior: withholding relevant information; speaking in general terms and not agreeing on what important words mean; keeping reasoning private and not asking others about their reasoning; controlling the conversation; and acting on untested assumptions and inferences as if they were true.

The result of the unilateral control mindset, writes Schwarz, is lackluster team performance, strained relations, and less individual well-being.

Why the Mutual Learning Approach Succeeds

In contrast, the mutual learning mindset, Schwarz writes, presents a much different set of values, assumptions and behavior, leading to much more positive results. As described by Schwarz, the values of the mutual learning mindset are transparency, control, informed choice, accountability and compassion. The assumptions of the mutual learning mindset reflect these values and include

“I have information but so do other people.”

“Each of us sees things others don’t.”

“Differences are opportunities for learning.”

The values and assumptions of the mutual learning mindset, writes Schwarz, lead to behaviors such as

• Stating views and asking genuine questions.

• Explaining reasoning and intent.

• Focusing on interests, not positions.

• Testing assumptions and inferences.

As expected, the result of such behavior is better team performance, better working relationships and greater individual well-being.

In addition to individual behavior, Schwarz shows how the mutual learning mindset can guide the design of the team – its structures and processes – to ensure the best results.

The power of Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams is not just the breadth of Schwarz’s insight but also the depth and clarity with which Schwarz describes each issue.

The general theme of Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams may be familiar. Schwarz, however, has written a book on new leadership that is exceptionally practical and applicable.

Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams is not filled with exemplary anecdotes of what others have done; instead, the book concentrates – in detail – on the specific values, assumptions and behaviors that leaders must accept and adopt if they are to be successful.


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5 Principles for Connecting with Your Customers, Your Products and Your People


Finding the Perfect Balance for Customers

Leading the Starbucks Way is organizational consultant Joseph Michelli’s second book on the iconic company, following his 2006 book The Starbucks Experience. At that time, Starbucks was an unqualified success, and Michelli’s book presented five principles that explained the company’s meteoric rise through the 1990s and most of the 2000s. After the publication of the book, however, the company stumbled for a variety of reasons, including unbridled expansion, a failing global economy, and less frequent visits from loyal customers. From the second quarter of 2007 to the second quarter of 2008, earnings declined by 21 percent. Howard Schultz returned as CEO in 2008, and although the global economy continued its free fall and corporate bankruptcies proliferated, Starbucks made a comeback. Today, writes Michelli, the company can boast 13 straight quarters of 5 percent or more growth.

While The Starbucks Experience described how Starbucks leaders positioned the company for massive growth, Leading the Starbucks Way, Michelli writes, “outlines the foundational principles that have guided Starbucks leaders during sustained periods of meteoric growth, economic downturn, recovery and transformation.” In other words, the focus of the five principles in this new book is not the rise of a startup or new company but how to create sustainable success.

The Five Principles

The first principle explored by Michelli is to “savor and elevate.” To “savor” refers to the passion that leaders must have for their product and the importance of communicating and demonstrating that passion. To elevate means ensuring that employees convey that same passion to customers. Employee passion combined with execution, Michelli explains, leads to the kind of uplifting experience that engages customers and turns them into loyal fans of the company. MyStarbucksIdea.com, which enables customers to suggest and/or vote on new ideas, is one way Starbucks keeps its customers engaged.

The second principle is “love to be loved.” Starbucks, Michelli writes, is not afraid to use terminology that other corporate leaders might shy away from. Despite today’s general disdain for all institutions, public or private, Starbucks manages to be one of the best-loved brands in the world. One of the main reasons, according to Michelli, is its unwavering integrity. In the dark days of 2008, for example, Schultz was pushed to cut benefits for employees. No matter what happened, Schultz declared, anyone employed by Starbucks would keep their health care benefits and stock in the company. Integrity, however, is not just manifested at the top leadership level. Starbucks employees are taught that the way they treat customers, including responding to complaints, reflects the integrity of the company.

Starbucks has made some mistakes, Michelli writes, in its quest to implement the third principle, “reach for common ground.” Such mistakes are understandable given the delicate balance a global company such as Starbucks needs to achieve between what might be accepted across the planet and what needs to be adapted to local cultures. As Michelle Gass, president of Starbucks Europe, Middle East and Africa, explains to Michelli, “The balance between the universal and the local is more an art than it is a science.” But this balance is a never-ending goal for the company.

The fourth principle, “mobilize the connection,” is about leveraging technology to create a better experience for customers. Mobilize the connection also explores the multichannel strategy of Starbucks, which has allowed the product to break out of the boundary of the stores. Today, Michelli writes, customers can find Starbucks products “in their homes, their offices, other businesses, and virtually anywhere they go.”

The fifth and final principle, “cherish and challenge your legacy,” is a call to honor the past but not be trapped by it. Polaroid’s unmatched strengths in film technology, which led to its monopoly in the instant photo market, also led to its downfall when the world went digital. Starbucks is always looking for new ideas ––  including potentially risky game-changers — relevant to its audience.

Leading the Starbucks Way reveals why Starbucks continues to be a shining example of the impact that a customer-centric, innovative and socially conscious corporation can have on people and the world.

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Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants


Who Has the Real Advantage?

Launched by his bestseller, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell is a nonfiction superstar, and with good reason. As his latest book, David and Goliath, proves, Gladwell keeps surprising us with new revelations about how the world really works. In David and Goliath, he destroys an assumption that has been accepted without question for thousands of years: that the David of the Bible – and all the “Davids” that followed in the history of the world – were underdogs. In general terms, David and Goliath forces us to reconsider what we thought we knew about those with advantages and disadvantages.

For example, most people believe that to grow up very poor is a disadvantage for children. But Gladwell argues that to grow up very rich is also a disadvantage. On another topic, the accepted wisdom is that small classroom size is better for children; however, Gladwell argues that if classroom sizes become too small, the children are impeded in their learning as much as they would be in classrooms that have too many students.

It’s easy perhaps to make counterintuitive, against-the-grain pronouncements and perhaps even to find some anecdotal evidence to support these pronouncements. But Gladwell is a teacher, not an opinionated contrarian. In all his books, he uses a wide range of academic studies and other research reinforced with eloquent true stories drawn from history as well as from the lives of contemporary people and events around the world.

What’s So Bad About a Large Classroom?

Gladwell’s discussion of the impact of classroom size on learning exemplifies the depth of his research and insight. Classroom size happens to be one of the most researched topics related to education in the world. A number of global academics and consultants have carefully explored whether and how the size of a classroom impedes or enables learning in countries from Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore to numerous countries in Western and Eastern Europe to the United States. The results are mixed, at best, with smaller class sizes sometimes having a positive effect, sometimes having a negative effect, and sometimes having no effect whatsoever.

As Gladwell digs deeper in the research, he discovers an inverted U relationship to small classroom size. Reducing the number of students in a large class does help increase learning to a certain point. Then the upward curve bends downward as smaller class sizesreduce learning. There are a number of factors. For example, shy or mediocre students don’t get the boost to their self-esteem that comes from hearing others asking the questions with which they are wrestling.

Success In Spite of Struggle

Gladwell plunges with equal depth in a wide variety of other situations in which the advantage or disadvantage is wrongly assigned by our assumptions or the accepted wisdom. For example, dyslexics or people who lose a parent young are often successful because, not in spite, of their struggles.

Whatever the situation or context, Gladwell provides the evidence that bolsters his conclusions – often evidence that was available but ignored. Any historian of ancient times, for example, could tell you that the “artillery” of ancient armies consisted of men with slingshots, who benefited from greater mobility and the ability to strike from a distance than the heavily armored sword fighters. In other words, Goliath was taken out by a better soldier.


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A 7-Step Guide to Big, Hairy, Outrageous Sales Growth


Tips for Unleashing Your Business

“The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer,” wrote Peter Drucker many years ago. While none of the many books written by the father of modern management featured a purple monster on its cover, the mindset behind Feed the Startup Beast by Drew Williams and Jonathan Verney reflects Drucker’s words: A business without customers is a business that’s finished. Or, to use the metaphor in the title of the book, a business needs to be “fed” if it is to survive.

A Seven-Step Plan

Focusing specifically on business-to-business startups, Williams and Verney show how to feed the “Beast” through a seven-step marketing plan designed to attract and convert prospects into customers. The interrelated steps are

1) Ask the right question. Survey your customers with only one question: How likely are you to recommend [my product or service] to a colleague or business associate?” The scores will tell you if your startup is a Beast ready to grow or not.

2) Listen to your best customers. The next step is to listen to your best customers, which means first identifying them – and then show them that you understand their pain.

3) Focus your resources. In this step, you lay the foundation for your marketing by creating the tools you need: a website, your Engagement Spreadsheet through which you can carefully track thousands of prospects, your Engagement Pages (the landing pages for prospects who find you) and your sales team.

4) Attract your best prospects. The key to being found by prospects is your online presence – your success in showing up in search engines and social media sites.

5) Pursue your best prospects. Successful startups do everything to be found online, but they also take preemptive steps to seek out and engage prospects. While much of the conversation today focuses on inbound marketing, outbound marketing continues to be relevant.

6) Nurture your engaged prospects. In the vernacular of the book, prospects are now in the cave, but they have to be converted into customers and eventually fans.

7) Grow! Measure your success. A “Beast Dashboard” is used to track the conversion rates of prospects to engaged prospects, engaged prospects to sales-ready leads, sales-ready leads to customers and customers to fans.

Tools and Examples

Williams is a serial entrepreneur who sold one of his businesses for eight figures. Verney is a communications professional specializing in corporate storytelling. The result of this collaboration is a book that is rich in visual metaphors but grounded in real-world experience.

For example, the authors describe a prospect’s “decision cycle,” which moves from problem awareness and solution education to vendor education and vendor consideration to, finally, vendor selection. In the nurture phase (step 6), marketers move the prospect through this cycle by getting them to climb the “engagement ladder.” Thus, a startup might offer analysts reports and buying guides to lead vendors through the solution education stage. Webinars or white papers will respond to their vendor education needs, while video testimonials or demos engage them during the vendor consideration phase. Custom analysis and aids such as ROI calculators can help push prospects to take the final step and to become sales-ready leads. At this point, your sales team will take over.

Humorous and energetic but also comprehensive and practical, Feed the Startup Beastis a valuable manual for entrepreneurs building up their marketing.


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McKinsey’s Secret Influence on American Business



In the world of management consulting, McKinsey sits at the top of the mountain. Yes, there are others, notably Boston Consultant Group (BCG) as it is inevitably called in the trade), but McKinsey remains the marquee firm of the industry.

Not surprisingly, McKinsey consultants don’t come cheap. But are they worth it? And in an ever-changing world of new challenges and pressures and paradigms – a world in which entire industries can disappear, iconic firms can be pushed aside by impertinent upstarts, and management and leadership norms and guiding theories can travel from pedestal to trashcan in just a few years or quicker – why does an intellectual capital-based firm that came to dominance in the 1920s and 1930s still retain its dominant position? These are some of the questions that financial journalist Duff McDonald attempts to answer in The Firm, his exhaustive study of McKinsey and Company.

Merlin or Rasputin?

The story that emerges from these pages is neither a story of a wise Merlin nor a devious and destructive Rasputin, but a mix of both. On the Rasputin side of the ledger is the barely remembered fact that McKinsey was the consultant of record for Enron and General Motors, the first a criminal enterprise, the second a dominant behemoth that lost its long-held world leader position in its industry. McKinsey also accompanied the once well-regarded Swissair airline into bankruptcy and, according to court records, tutored Allstate in avoiding payment on claims. And then there’s the head-shaking story of the 1950s government contract in which the government official on one side of the table and the McKinsey consultant on the other side of the table were one and the same man.

Such stories, however, would have horrified the eponymous founder of the firm. In the mid-1920s (the founding date of the firm is 1924 or 1925, according to different sources), James McKinsey was an academic with a long list of degrees, including law, philosophy, and accounting degrees, who had written several very dry tomes on the nitty gritty of accounting.

McKinsey’s brilliant insight, however, was to see accounting not just as bookkeeping, but also as a strategic tool. Although blindingly obvious today, at the time, McDonald notes, “the idea of planning, directing, controlling and improvement decision making by means of regular and rigorous report of company results was novel.” McKinsey turned these ideas into what he called the General Survey Outline, a 30-page system, McDonald writes, “for understanding a company in its entirety, from finances to organization to competitive positioning.” The GSO would be the core intellectual foundation of the firm, helping McKinsey consultants to completely analyze the workings of the client company and thus be able to isolate and develop solutions to their specific problems. While the Rasputins grabbed the headlines, the Merlins went steadily about their work.

Luck and Ambition

McKinsey launched his firm on its journey, but it is managing partner Marvin Bower who built the firm up through much of the 20th century and is responsible for its leadership position in the field. It is Bower who developed the firm’s culture, including the concept of value billing: simply charging its clients what it thinks its services are worth without bothering with the mundane issue of hours. And it is Bower who expanded into government and across the globe.

There have been challenges and setbacks – from scandals to serious competitive attacks from the likes of Boston Consulting Group – but in 2011, it is still McKinsey that presidential candidate Mitt Romney chose to invoke when asked how he would reduce the size of government. “I would probably bring in McKinsey,” said the former head of, ironically, an offshoot of McKinsey competitor Bain and Company.

The Firm is a good overview of the history of the company, which benefitted not only from the ambition of its leaders and hard work of its consultants but also the luck of its timing. A little more detail on some of the successful advice given to clients would have been welcomed, but that is probably a function of the company’s secrecy. The culture of the company, McDonald explains, is to let the client get all the credit – which, in the long run, also lets “the firm” escape the blame.


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