Decision Making


“The Synergies are Working”

I have two colleagues with whom I discuss various management issues. Both work for the same organization and within the past two years have encountered a buy-out and a merger. Of course job security is an issue, but I am more impressed with the communication plan instituted. This past week on two different occasions both told me independently “the synergies are starting to work.”

That’s right, they pulled out one of the 1990’s million dollar buzz-words. You remember those right, paradigm, synergy, boundarylessness (thanks Jack). The words that were high value until they were put in the hands of bad management. This reminded me of cobuyitaphobia, the term referenced in the Dilbert episode, The Merger.

Asok: Why don’t we merge with a company that is less dysfunctional than we are? They could spend the money for us.

Pointy Haired Boss: A merger? Hmm. That might get us some synergy!

Asok: I didn’t realize Alice suffers from cobuyitaphobia.

Loud Howard: I know what that is. No, I don’t.

Asok: It is the fear of synergy.

– Management Recylcing –

Just like bell-bottoms and micro-minis, bad management styles have a tendency to recycle and since change is happening at a faster rate than ever, we can expect these instances to occur more often. Adrian Savage points this out in his post, Beware of Management Fasionistas.

Following the latest management fashion has several advantages for Hamburger Managers. It looks “hip” and up-to-date. It makes you seem to be innovative, without needing to have a single creative idea in your head.

In management, look at the rush to benchmarking, comparisons with “industry best practice.” and the way that every public statement contains the same, tired jargon. Values are “in.” Let’s have a mission statement and write it like we’re a charity. Let’s follow political fashion and babble about family values and getting “back to basics.” Work/life balance is fashionable. We’ll establish a fine-sounding policy and guidelines (just so long as we don’t have to act on any of them). Let’s do what everyone else is doing. Who’s setting the fashion? Quick, get on their bandwagon.

I experienced this first hand with a prior manager. Unfortunately what seemed to start out as a fresh new business model ended up being written from a 1990’s consulting playbook of spin-selling. This also meant that a majority of information which was being contributed on foreign markets was also from circa 1996. Even life-long learning and development struggles to keep up with the rehashing of old fads. We all know the old adage that those who do not learn history are condemned to repeat it. Sadly by the time most employees have cut through the clutter and glitz, figuring out the repackaged goods, it’s time to move onto ‘the next big thing.’

Best practices definately need to be followed and emulated while at the same time groupthink, not-invented here (NIH) and bad management need to be kept in check. Cost-cutting can only get an organization so far and following the leader is not an appropriate strategy. Figure out what you are offering, the process to get it to the customer, put the process in the hands of the right people then stand back and watch the real synergy. Of course, that’s the real trick isn’t it?

With digital technology growing cheaper by the day and becoming widely available for marketing purposes, companies are going into overdrive to fill every bit of ad space they can find. Following are a few articles covering this phenomenon.

“What all marketers are dealing with is an absolute sensory overload,” said Gretchen Hofmann, executive vice president of marketing and sales at Universal Orlando Resort. The landscape is “overly saturated” as companies press harder to make their products stand out, she said.

Media and tech companies are falling over themselves trying to get more and more media content onto more and more platforms. Web video on your TV! Music and games on your cellphone! Downloaded movies on your home-office PC hard drive transmitted to your living room home entertainment system!

As I am sure advertising will become part of these platforms, the IPod case brought to you by Google in conjunction with BASF and so forth and amid the growing utilization of technology to press brand management I wanted to focus on a tried yet true method of product marketing, the in-store sample. Due to some recent weather issues I was unable to gather my weekly groceries on my regular schedule, when the least possible amount of annoyances are present. Instead I hit my local Target at noon on Saturday. At the head of every aisle was an employee pushing a sample of juice, granola or frozen organic pizza. As I tried vehemently to proceed down each aisle I was halted by two to three people surrounding the sample cart.

This week I also made it to Target on Saturday, witnessed the same sample carts and decided to stop off for some coffee at the Starbucks and observe. Several times I witnessed a patron coming around the corner of an aisle, stopping to check out the offering, exactly what the store and it’s suppliers want. Meanwhile, there are two to three people stopped behind the sample consumer, slowly getting irritated. By the time this happens four or five times, everyone is in a mad dash for the registers already fed up with the shopping trip. By the time I am finished, there are typically three or four items I have forgotten because I am tired of being in the store, purchases that go to the grocery store up the street.

There has recently been a viral marketing backlash.

Videos such as “Bride Has Massive Hair Wig Out” and those posted by Lonelygirl15 on You Tube may help sell products or kick-start a budding actor’s career. But they also have a more pernicious effect on our tendency to trust what seems genuine.

“I can’t see how they don’t make people more cynical,” says Gillian Watson, a social psychologist at the University of British Columbia.

As business and other pursuits take more of our time, can we expect this same backlash against traditional marketing techniques that interupt our schedules? Are markets that over-utilize the in-store sample loosing sales at the expense of increased purchases of a few items?  Regardless, I probably need to take a few deep breaths before my next trip to the store.

From Slashdot,

“New survey data suggests that Americans are split over whether Blackberrys are chaining them to work. While people who own Blackberries feel ‘more productive’, those with Blackberrys are more likely to work longer hours and feel like they have less personal time than those without. A Director of Marketing Strategies who owns a Blackberry pointed out that many employees feel obligated by employers who have handed out the devices. ‘While being always on in a social context is a natural for young people, many of those in the 25-54 age group with families and corporate jobs are struggling with work-life blending. There is a need for the mainstream workplace culture to offer ways to counterbalance.'” Is the constantly connected, often mobile nature of the modern workplace a good thing, or not?

At the height of juggling two projects, I learned to sleep with my Treo next to the alarm clock a few feet from my head. Often waking long enough during the night to check my email once. Colleagues would often tell me and others they would be available 24 hours a day. It became almost impossible to enjoy a meal whether it be breakfast at 7am or dinner at 8pm on a Saturday evening.

The amount of stress associated with being constantly connected is well documented. Work-life balance is severely diminished and the ability to make rational decisions, when inundated with constant communication, decreases. The nature of information for the 21st century has also increased productivity expectations beyond what is attainable. Could this lead to our inability to concentrate or perhaps something more?

From Dr. Richard Restak’s, The New Brain,

“The demands upon the human brain right now are increasing,” according to Todd E. Feinberg, a neurologist at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. “For all we know, we’re selecting for the capacity to multi-task.”

Feinberg’s comment about “selecting” gets to the meat of the issue. At any given time evolution selects for adaptation and fitness to prevailing environmental conditions. And today the environment demands the capacity to do more than one thing at a time, divide one’s attention, and juggle competing, often conflicting, interests.

To not surprise, this has been associated with the growing prevalence of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) among younger populations, but could it also be once step in approaching the competency for chaos?

Related Articles:

Want Results? Frame Your Work – from lifehack.org

Take a Poll at Lifehacker.com

Here are some good time wasting quizzes courtesy of Fortune and CNN Money. My personal favorites:

What kind of manager are you?

Are you a good decision-maker?

How good a boss are you?

Surviving office politics

What’s Your EQ (emotional intelligence) at Work?

Of course you can’t base your management strategy solely on a quiz and they are only effective so far as you don’t figure out the methodology, but, if honestly answered, they could provide some general insight into your management and corporate environment. Of course if you want honest feedback you should ask subordinates, superiors and friends. If you work in an organization where such things are frowned upon, that should tell you something.

A story I briefly caught on Headline News as I was on my way out the door today intrigued me.  The story spoke of a report which indicated that a grumpy worker may be a companies most productive asset.  Consider the following,

Recent research shows it could be the grumpy workers who are actually a company’s most creative problem-solvers, said Jing Zhou, associate professor of management at the Jesse H. Jones Graduate Schoolof Management at Rice University.

It’s the happy, cheerful folks who tend to think things are going well and that there are no problems to be solved, she said. They’re less likely to be pondering potential pitfalls and often don’t see problems until there is a crisis.

In addition, workers who are less pleasant are more likely to question the status quo.  Dr. Zhou indicates that such studies are not directly applicable to the workplace, unfortunately in our sound-bite culture, some will interpret this as a mandate to make their employee miserable in hopes of boosting productivity. As with most management, this is yet another variable in a fine balancing act that must be played out everyday.

For those managers who think of this as a possibility, consider the affect of a decree by Chicago’s Mayor Daley for all Chicago Bears fans to be happy the day of the Superbowl.  Since he noticed when the Bears win, people in Chicago are happy, if all the people are happy the Bears should win right?  This would be the difference between correlation and causality.  Dr. Levitt points out that “when it comes to making public policy, only causal relationships are relevant” and so it is with management policy as well.

If the press is any indication the general election of 2008 promises to be more frenetic than 2000 and 2004. A recent Time poll is already showing front runner Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) a 19 point favorite over Senator Barrack Obama (D-Ill) for the Democratic nomination. The Republican nomination is still up for grabs between Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Despite the buzz generated by Senator Barack Obama entering the race, the survey found that Senator Clinton would beat him for the Democratic nomination by a margin of 40% to 21%. Senator John Edwards is a distant third with 11%.

McCain, however, holds a narrow lead of 30% to 26% over Giuliani for the GOP nomination. A race between McCain and Clinton would be a virtual tie (47%-47%), according to the poll, while McCain would beat either Obama or Senator John Edwards by a 7-point margin.

Over the next year and a half there will be a plethora of polls both on the President’s approval and his potential replacement, but what do those numbers actually mean? We all see at the bottom of most polls the margin of error (+/-). Mark C. Chu-Carroll at Good Math, Bad Math explains the often misunderstood principle.

  1. The most glaring error is not citing the confidence interval.
  2. Many people, especially journalists, believe that the margin of error includes all possible sources of error. It most emphatically does not – it only specifies the magnitude of error introduced by non-deliberate sampling errors.
  3. People frequently believe that the margin of error is a measure of the quality of a statistic – that is, that a well-designed poll will have a smaller margin of error than a poorly-designed poll. It doesn’t

A few weeks ago, following ABC’s Primetime Basic Instincts special, I posted an article related to our inherent nature for ‘good deeds,’ or reciprocal altruism.

Rooted in our own evolutionary psychology, this concept can be related to game theory (which was featured last week on the same program) and the prisoner’s dilemma model. In this scenario a person will cooperate with another based on the other persons last action.

Today researchers from The Duke University Medical Center announced they have found one of the principle regions of the brain which predicts the propensity for a person to exhibit altruism or selfishness.

Altruism – the tendency to help others without obvious benefit to oneself – appears to be linked to an area called the posterior superior temporal sulcus.

News such as this is surely to raise some questions as to whether our actions are governed more by nature than nurture; the subject of debate which extends into our political and social lives. It is important to remember however that our innate qualities are in constant interaction and adaptation with the environment around us, forcing a constant evolution between our genes and culture.

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