DRIVING OURSELVES HAPPY

May 28th, 2015

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Brian Johnson, a Barclays Plc analyst, has published a report entitled, “Disruptive Mobility.” Its contents might disrupt your ideas about your personal and professional transportation choices. Here are some key points Johnson shares about the future of driving Report summary by Bloomberg:

  • Driverless cars will travel twice as many miles as current autos because they will transport multiple family members each day.
  • Families will move to having just one car because it doubles as a chauffeur.
  • Car ownership rates may fall by almost half.
  • U.S. auto sales may drop 40 percent in the next 25 years because of shared driverless cars.
  • Car manufacturers will be forced to slash output to remain solvent.

Purely based on what we already know about driverless vehicles, I can definitely see that these predictions could easily come true. Simultaneously, I wonder how quickly the new reality of driving will evolve and to what degree. The reason I say that is that so many of Johnson’s predictions are based on a fundamental assumption. That assumption is that either people do not enjoy driving or at least people prefer not to drive if they have that option.

Here is the problem with that slippery assumption. There are two kinds of people. Some people will still love to drive because they love being in control and they love savoring the driving experience. Some people will love to let the vehicle do the driving because they love to get other things done (reading, working, talking, sleeping) while a high-tech machine accurately and safely transports them to their destination. Exactly how and where that divide occurs is anybody’s guess. And therein lies the problem with Johnson’s projections about the future of driving. It will all come down to people’s comfort level with the new reality of driving, and much of that at this stage is based on assumptions.

Who knows? Perhaps someday you will reminisce with a friend:

And can you believe that back in the dark ages we actually took our lives in our hands by hurtling down these highways at 70 miles per hour thinking we could control that machine better than a computer can at 110?





PUTTING THE ETHICS BEFORE THE EVENT

May 27th, 2015

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Thinking through the ethics of an event prior to executing that event is wisdom. Once the event occurs, any ethical violations will have already occurred. This principle is increasingly applicable given our exponentially increasing advances in science and technology. One of the best unfolding examples of this is genome sequencing and how that knowledge translates into specific genetic and health information for individuals.

Genome sequencing and its application allows scientists to identify the propensity (or destiny!) of an individual to acquire certain diseases or other health disorders at some point in his or her life. This brief definition is of course a greatly simplified one as there are so many more complicated technical aspects to the science. However, the fact that we now have these capabilities and the fact that these capabilities are constantly expanding is very important for two reasons:

First, as with most developing technologies, the time and the cost tend to decrease. Whereas genome sequencing 15 years ago would take years at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, currently it can be done in days at a cost of approximately $5,000. Projections are that the time and cost factors will only continue to improve. This means that more people will begin using the services for themselves and for their children.

Second, the technology confronts us with a myriad of ethical questions:

  • Should every baby have its genome sequenced?
  • Are parents obligated to provide for this service?
  • How will the results be kept confidential?
  • Will the results ever result in discrimination?
  • What filter will clinics use to decide what results will be reported?
  • Will individuals have the freedom to decline certain segments of the results?
  • Will individuals have the right to know everything?
  • How will insurance companies and employers use this information?

As with so many ethical questions, the list will likely only grow longer and more complicated. That is why I am thrilled to see that some groups within our medical community are at least taking the first steps in trying to put the ethics before the event. Alan Bavley describes one of the most exciting research projects that will search for answers to these questions (“The Uncertain Climb to Genetic Answers” The Kansas City Star, May 24, 2015, pp. A1, A10):

Children’s Mercy [Hospital in Kansas City] is one of four medical centers across the country that are part of a five-year, $25 million NIH research project to study how genomic sequencing might best be used among newborn children.

The centers will be seeking parents to volunteer to have their babies’ genomes sequenced, comparing the results to those of conventional blood tests, following how the sequencing affects the children’s medical care and surveying parents on the effect genomic sequencing has on relationships with children and spouses.

The project is an attempt to gain a scientific understanding of the issues before falling prices make genome sequencing of newborns a fait accompli.” (p. A10)

I believe the results of this project will provide crucial help in further assessing how our ethics will apply to this new technology. The project does not come a moment too soon. Tackling these issues now will ensure a deeper and more thoughtful application of the technology tomorrow.

Everyone benefits when we can position our ethics before our events. After all, we must not simply be efficient and effective; we must exercise wisdom.





MOM’S ADVICE FOR LIFE AND BUSINESS

May 26th, 2015

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When it comes to business and just life in general, you never have to look far to find advice. I am not saying that all advice is automatically good advice. You still have to filter all advice to determine what makes the most sense to you in your situation.

Occasionally you come across advice that seems to be universal. It will work for everyone. That is exactly what I came across when Nancy Yost (owner of Nancy Yost Literary Agency) shared her mom’s advice about business and life in general (Kara Gebhart Uhl, Writer’s Digest, July/August 2015, p. 18):

[Business and life aren’t] about assigning credit or blame, or worrying about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s about getting things done . . . in a way that satisfies as many people as possible. That mindset has saved so much energy and emotional baggage in all aspects of my life.

Try applying that to your life and your business. I think that is one piece of advice where we can say, Mom was right again!





DON’T BURN MONEY TO INVEST MONEY

May 22nd, 2015

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The 401(k) opportunity is one of the most powerful long-term investment vehicles any employer can offer its employees. Because employees want 401(k) plans, most employers recognize that they had better offer them if they want to at least be equal to the competition for job candidates. That is why so many employers do exactly that. The U.S. Department of Labor states that 638,390 defined contribution retirement plans exist today out of which, 513,000 are 401(k) plans. Nearly 90% of employers with 500 or more employees offer this benefit (summarized by the American Benefits Council)

Given the significance of the 401(k) plan, anything at all that degrades its value or undermines its effectiveness is reprehensible. The United States Supreme Court seems to agree. In a recently settled case between Edison International and its employees, Justice Stephen Breyer affirmed that employers have a duty to monitor 401(k) investment options to ensure that excessive fees do not accrue to the employees’ financial harm (Associated Press, The Kansas City Star, “Ruling Opens 401(k) Plans to More Suits” May 19, 2015, p. A7):

The continuing duty to review investments includes a duty to remove imprudent investments.

I am glad to see some legal limelight brought to bear on these kinds of situations for three reasons:

  1. Employees should not have to endure exorbitant fees to invest their hard-earned money. Even a fraction of a percentage point in higher fees can add up to tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the average 401(k) account. There is no excuse for that kind of fiduciary mismanagement when we have so many reputable mutual fund companies that provide 401(k) custodian services for extremely minimal expense fees.
  2. Too many employers have been taken in by supposed “salespersons” who offer to provide 401(k) services when in actuality, they are selling expensive load funds, annuities, and even disguised insurance products with steep commissions. (When this happens, grab your wallet and run!)
  3. Employers and employees will become more informed about the right ways and the wrong ways to run a 401(k) program. Armed with that knowledge, they will both be able to evade the shark attacks.

 





MAD MEN’S FINAL FIVE LEADERSHIP LESSONS

May 21st, 2015

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After seven successful seasons, Mad Men finally completed its grand finale this past week. Rare is the series that has done as good of a job portraying so realistically the traditional advertising agency world couched in the morass of the 1960s culture. Through the tortured soul of advertising executive, Don Draper, we were granted an inside look at advertising and all its attendant excesses that were so common back in the day.

For anyone who has not taken in the series, I highly recommend you give it a go. The content and characters will simultaneously take you throughout the entire range of human emotions and messes of life. The series is thought provoking, tragically realistic, hilarious at times, passionate, and painful.

As I reflect upon the seven seasons of Mad Men, a few powerful leadership lessons beg to be heard. I’m sure many exist, but here are the five that stood out to me:

1—Treat People With Dignity And Respect. Repeatedly, Mad Men presented the viewer with situations in which people were mistreated. Sometimes that mistreatment was connected to selfish ambition, social class, race, gender, or class. It was a breath of fresh air when someone chose to preserve dignity and respect in his or her relationships. Today, we need to be that breath of fresh air. Treating each other with dignity and respect never goes out of style, it is always appreciated, it is always needed, and it is simply the right thing to do.

2—Don’t Let The Personal Destroy The Professional And Don’t Let The Professional Destroy The Personal. Don Draper and his colleagues consistently violated this lesson. If you allow it, your profession can take over your entire being to the point that it destroys your personal life. That is a horrible outcome. Equally horrific is allowing your personal life to be so out of control that it destroys your professional life. That car drives in both directions. It is up to you to control it.

3—Our Actions Always Have Consequences. During the early years of Mad Men, I heard Matthew Weiner (creator of the series) interviewed on National Public Radio. In reviewing Don Draper’s life, Weiner made a potent comment. He emphasized that as the Mad Men series continued, the audience would continue to be clearly subjected to the truth that Don Draper’s decisions always have consequences. As Don Draper continued to make tragic, morally depraved decisions, each one of those decisions would render negative consequences. Personally and professionally, we each need to remember that every decision we make has consequences. That remains an inescapable law of the universe. Sometimes those consequences involve merely the routine, mundane clicks in the cogs of the wheels of our industry. Other times those consequences involve the organization’s reputation, our integrity, and people’s lives. Every decision you or I make today will have consequences. This was true for Don Draper too. But the good news is we don’t have to make the same decisions Don Draper made. We can create different consequences.

4—A Holistic Approach To Life Means That We Can Achieve Personal And Professional Wholeness. Most of the tragedy that arose in Mad Men originated from violating a holistic approach to life. One could argue that Don Draper made many good decisions professionally more so than personally. Nevertheless, if we are concerned with living our lives holistically, then should we not be making good decisions both professionally and personally? That can and will happen as we choose to live life holistically. Wellness can be achieved. It is up to you to reach for it.

5—Redemption Is Possible. Without throwing out any spoilers, I can affirm that Mad Men’s grand finale was quite interesting. Although the outcomes to various people’s lives were still slightly murky, a number of key characters including Don Draper arrived at a place of significant change. Don Draper finally realized the tremendous pain to him and to other people that his poor decisions created. He intentionally entered into some fundamental changes to his philosophy of life. He chose a new direction. At any point in our lives, we must be willing to admit that we have made some serious mistakes, find that path of redemption, and move forward with it. Redemption is possible if we choose it.





DON’T FORGET THE FUN

May 20th, 2015

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Leadership is an awesome responsibility, a humbling privilege, a complicated challenge, an exhilarating endeavor, and a noble calling. No genuine leader embraces the task flippantly. Rather, he or she is deeply cognizant of all that goes with the task both today and in the relentless ripples of all future consequences.

For all the above reasons, leadership is taken very seriously, as it should be. Nevertheless, one of the best contributions a leader can make to the team is to make things fun. Gary Kelly (president and CEO of Southwest Airlines) articulates this essential life and leadership lesson in just two short words (“How Did I Get Here?: Gary Kelly” Bloomberg Businessweek, 4/6/15–4/12/15, p. 68):

Have fun.

Yes, the tasks are tough, the schedules are crazy, and the pressures are many. As a leader, you know that. Isn’t that all the more reason to have fun? The life and the leadership you save may be your own.





HOW TO LEAD LOUSY TEAMS

May 19th, 2015

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Leadership is able to influence the team to move forward. Leadership provides the team with an affirmation of their individual and collective personhood that mobilizes them to achieve great things. Genuine leaders recognize that their job is to serve the team. In so doing, the team responds by rallying around the leader, thereby enlivening the old acrostic about teams (Together Everyone Accomplishes More).

As powerful as those leadership and group dynamics are, is it possible for the leader to have a team that is impossible to lead? Can every team be led? Will the leader succeed in spite of the team? Gary Kelly (president and CEO of Southwest Airlines) articulates a painful leadership lesson concerning the nature of the hand you are dealt in your team (“How Did I Get Here?: Gary Kelly” Bloomberg Businessweek, 4/6/15–4/12/15, p. 68):

No person can overcome a lousy team.

Although Kelly identifies an agonizing truth, I think that we have to be careful about how we use it. Just because something is true does not give us the right to misapply it as an excuse. I believe that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

A Leader Can Rebuild A Lousy Team. Sometimes the leader is able to work intensely with the team in a way that perhaps no one else has. This demands building relationships that are characterized by authenticity, vulnerability, openness, trust, and caring. When a leader invests this way, a lousy team can be rebuilt. Obviously, many diverse factors will come into play, but the point is, just because the leader has a lousy team, it does not automatically follow that the team and the leader shall fail. Every genuine leader should first ask the question can this team be rebuilt? If the answer is yes, then terrific things can and will happen.

A Leader Can Leave A Lousy Team. In spite of all the above effort at rebuilding a lousy team, a leader might face a set of circumstances such that the team is virtually designed to fail. The leader should not jump to this conclusion too quickly. However, after carefully analyzing all factors related to the team dynamics and the business conditions, it is possible that the leader may arrive at this sad conclusion. This is not a conclusion that should be immediately cast in concrete, but rather should be arrived at with careful counsel from various sources. Leaders all have blind spots and you don’t want your blind spot to rob you of what could be a unique opportunity. Assuming all this is done, in some cases the leader must make the painful yet realistic decision to leave a lousy team. The leader does that team no favors by staying. In fact, in many ways the leader’s departure may motivate the remaining team members to step up their game. And if that happens, then perhaps both the leader and the team have won.





THE TRUTH OF TESTED LEADERSHIP

May 18th, 2015

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Leadership that is never tested is not true leadership at all. Leadership is more than just academic concepts and words on a page. Leadership is more than just a personal or professional attribute. Genuine leadership implies engagement and example in messy situations of the real world.

Leadership is what happens when the fat hits the fire and the rubber meets the road. It is what you decide to do during and after the trials and the tests that determine whether your leadership will refine, grow, and strengthen. Trial and testing can have a part in making your leadership, but even more importantly, trial and testing reveal your leadership to you and others. Gary Kelly (president and CEO of Southwest Airlines) shares a leadership lesson that drives home this point (“How Did I Get Here?: Gary Kelly” Bloomberg Businessweek, 4/6/15–4/12/15, p. 68):

Great leaders do their best work in the worst times.

Whether the worst of times feeds into the leadership development cycle or whether it calls forth the leadership that is there may be a moving target. However, the point is difficult days will give genuine leaders the opportunity to display their talents. What does your leadership reveal during difficult days?

We should ask that question every day.





EATING YOUR OWN COOKING—PART 5

May 15th, 2015

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Sometimes I am amazed at the customer experience of some companies. That amazement is from the positive side but unfortunately, it is sometimes from the negative side. When I encounter an amazingly good customer experience, the first thought that comes to mind is that this company knows what it is doing. When I encounter an amazingly bad customer experience, the first question that comes to mind is do these people ever eat their own cooking?

Granted, you don’t necessarily have to eat your own cooking, but you must at least think vicariously enough to put yourself into the customer’s shoes. You have to be able to imagine what the customer will experience as he or she does business with your company. Some of these opportunities are so obvious yet so many companies miss them completely.

For example, did you ever think that you just might need to change your recipe? Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying throw away the proven producers and moneymakers. What I am saying is that we must at least be willing to consider revamping the things that go into the customer experience if and when the possibility exists that the customer experience could be improved. Settling on a fixed product or process without ever considering the possibility of change is counterproductive.

Technologies change. Customers’ preferences change. Market forces change. Demographics and trends change. Business models likewise need to change. And that sometimes means changing your recipe. But remember—you will never know that you need to change your recipe unless you eat your own cooking.

I hope you are hungry.





EATING YOUR OWN COOKING—PART 4

May 14th, 2015

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Sometimes I am amazed at the customer experience of some companies. That amazement is from the positive side but unfortunately, it is sometimes from the negative side. When I encounter an amazingly good customer experience, the first thought that comes to mind is that this company knows what it is doing. When I encounter an amazingly bad customer experience, the first question that comes to mind is do these people ever eat their own cooking?

Granted, you don’t necessarily have to eat your own cooking, but you must at least think vicariously enough to put yourself into the customer’s shoes. You have to be able to imagine what the customer will experience as he or she does business with your company. Some of these opportunities are so obvious yet so many companies miss them completely.

For example, how easy is it for a customer to resolve a complaint? When the proverbial right hand does not know what the left hand is doing occurs, the customer is always the short-term loser, and your company is always the long-term loser. However, when your company has created, reviewed, and continuously refined its problem-resolution processes, then both your customer and your company are the short-term and the long-term winners.

Unfortunately, those win-win solutions will not happen unless you take action. Given all the positive results that are in store, today is the perfect day to eat your own cooking.