30 Second MBA

August 31, 2009 | Leave a Comment

I don’t have an MBA, so I don’t have direct experience of the programs; and I’m sure most of them deliver a great education in business, finance, analysis, operations, and all the trimmings. But I’m not a fan of the idea because of my personal experience with so many of the MBAs who came out of their programs in the 80’s and 90’s.

The irony was that most of these folks were straight out of biz school when I knew them, and they didn’t know anything about how business really worked. They only knew how it was “supposed” to go. They’d been taught that business was something that could be managed utterly by numbers, and that the end results justified the management means. Some of them were the dumbest smart people I’ve ever known.

I had plenty of conflict as an executive: it’s part of business, and most of it was straightforward and quickly resolved. Good conflict — effective and productive. The bad conflict I had was always with those MBAs who answered human needs — for respect, for communication, for collaboration — by pointing to the numbers and saying Look how well we’re doing, that’s all the answer you need. And a lot of times that’s all the answer our company looked for: having an MBA gave those inexperienced people more credibility than the advice — and the results in engagement, loyalty, productivity and retention — of the experienced managers.

But I think MBA programs are changing. I think there’s attention paid to the subtleties of managing people as well as the subtleties of process improvement and evidence-based decision making. And there is so much we can all learn from experienced people about how to manage them all together.

That’s why I’m glad to see the 30 Second MBA at Fast Company. Every day, a business leader or expert delivers a thirty-second distillation of his or her advice and experience on a particular topic. They’re not all great, but that’s part of the lesson — using your own instincts to tell you what tips make sense is the only way you’ll ever refine those instincts. The 30-second limit means there isn’t a lot of depth, but that’s also fine: the point is to give you simple and effective ideas, insights and techniques. (And one of the things I’ve already learned: if you have a 30-second limit, don’t go over it. It makes you seem either unfocused or arrogant; either way, people stop listening).

I don’t think this is a substitute for either education or experience. But if you can spend 30 seconds a day evaluating someone else’s advice, and perhaps putting another small piece of your own management style into place, that seems a pretty good return on investment.

What should a new boss do?

August 24, 2009 | Leave a Comment

I have so many of Bob Sutton’s blog posts bookmarked that they could probably fill a virtual shelf. Bob’s thoughts on management and leadership are wide-ranging and cogent, and the community conversation that follows is always fascinating and helpful.

Today I want to point you to one of my favorites — a lot of smart people talking about what a new boss should do the first few weeks. There is great advice there for any “first” situation: you can do these many of these things not only in your first days with a new team, but also in your first ten minutes in any new work relationship.

Possibilities

August 17, 2009 | 1 Comment

I found today’s link thanks to Clay Hebert of fear.less, an online magazine with a spectrum of stories about people overcoming fear. Go read it; there are great things there.

But this post from Michael Hyatt is not so much about fear as it is about perspective: what is the most important question you can ask yourself when life goes off the rails in small ways or large? Is it What did I do wrong? Or Why is everything so unfair/hard?

Me, I think Hyatt’s got the right answer.

Hello, my name is Kelley

August 10, 2009 | 2 Comments

I didn’t go to President Obama’s inauguration, although I did weep for joy through the entire event in the comfort of my own living room (see Comments section to learn why this is edited). But if I’d been there, I would certainly have been wearing a name tag.

Sharing your name is an act of courtesy, courage, and confidence. It’s a way to connect; it’s the beginning of community. Forget about those people who throw their name around like a weapon or a bribe (and just so you know, if you do that, other people talk bad about you when you’re not around). Most people aren’t impressed by your name; they’re impressed by the gift of it.

So don’t ever assume that people at your company or in other parts of your life “know who you are” — that just makes you look either insecure or enormously arrogant, neither of which is really the ideal path to getting things done.

It’s not hard. Smile and say, “Hi, I’m Kelley.” From that simple connection, you can go almost anywhere.

AA doesn’t get an A

August 3, 2009 | 1 Comment

A lot of people blame bad design and bad customer service in big organizations on the fact that they are big organizations. This is what Mr. X did. But that’s a cop-out. The reason large companies with bad design are the way they are is because they are run poorly from the top, with philosophies that force the entire company to behave like its lowest common denominator.
 
– User interface/experience designer Dustin Curtis

A while ago, I came across this Open Letter to American Airlines from user interface and experience designer Dustin Curtis, who was so exasperated by his experience on AA’s website that he wrote to tell them that their site abused and alienated customers. Then he took a couple hours out of his life and redesigned it for them.

I cheered. I hate that website with a passion, and in fact will pay Expedia.com potentially ridiculous fees to make my reservations so that I don’t have to deal with AA. They aren’t alone — many companies that depend on revenue from customer loyalty and margins from lower-cost online operations shoot themselves in their incorporated feet by providing an online experience that feels like a visit to a special circle of hell.

And then Curtis got this heartbreaking response from an anonymous user experience architect at AA. It turns out that the problem is not the capabilities of the folks working on the site — it’s the corporate culture that makes it nigh on impossible for capable people to do a good job.

That’s #managementfail on a grand scale. This is the 21st century. Every company needs to embrace the fact that you are defined as much by your online presence as your in-person customer interactions. Pixels don’t hide poor management: in fact, sometimes the flaws show even more.

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