The Best Bosses Shield those Who Work for Them

Annette Kyle managed some 60 employees at a Texas terminal where they loaded chemicals from railcars onto ships and trucks. In the mid-1990s, Annette led a “revolution” that dramatically raised her unit’s performance through a host of changes, including better planning, greater responsibility at the lowest levels, improved and more transparent metrics, and numerous cultural changes. She personally sewed “no whining” patches on workers’ uniforms, … [ Read more ]

Always let your boss have the first say

A sales rep, an administration clerk and the manager are walking to lunch when they find an antique oil lamp. They rub it and a Genie comes out in a puff of smoke.

The Genie says, “I usually only grant three wishes, so I’ll give each of you just one.”

“Me first! Me first!” says the admin clerk “I want to be in the Bahamas, driving a … [ Read more ]

Where is the Glass?

John Sunderland, the former CEO of Cadbury Schweppes, often responded with a parable when an executive argued that the business could increase either margins or sales, but not both. Sunderland would remind the executive of a time when people lived in mud huts and struggled to get both light and heat: Put a hole in the side of your hut, and you let the daylight … [ Read more ]

Skipping Design Research Can Be Costly

Skipping design research can be costly. For example, high-end German automobile manufacturers were stunned when U.S. customers would not buy cars without cup holders. While drinking coffee in the car seemed unthinkable to Europeans, it wouldn’t have taken much design research to learn how important it is to U.S. car buyers. The manufacturers, forced to retrofit, created some of the most complex, expensive, unreliable and … [ Read more ]

Where’s the Brown M&M in Your Business?

In its 1980s heyday, the band Van Halen became notorious for a clause in its touring contract that demanded a bowl of M&Ms backstage, but with all the brown ones removed. The story is true — confirmed by former lead singer David Lee Roth himself — and it became the perfect, appalling symbol of rock-star-diva behavior.

Get ready to reverse your perception. Van Halen did … [ Read more ]

My Friend Phillip and the Lifetime Pass

Over the years, the recommendations of my friend Phillip have led me to work with three of my favorite clients. I am certain that my relationships with these three clients have helped me meet many other wonderful people. Needless to say, I owe Phillip—a lot. Without him, these relationships wouldn’t have happened.

Phillip is bright, friendly, and inspiring. Sometimes his ideas pay off in a … [ Read more ]

Being Open to New Ideas

Rosabeth Moss Kanter tells a great story about an executive at a fabric manufacturer who took over a group and demonstrated that he was open to any new ideas. Someone from the production line approached the executive and, in a heavy foreign accent, said he had an idea that might solve a problem that had long bedeviled the company: An important type of fiber would … [ Read more ]

Treating Mistakes as Training

There’s the story of a top salesman who made a terrible mistake. He’d bought a vast amount of fruit. He thought it would be a bargain but had totally overestimated and his company was left with tons and tons of this rotting fruit. He arrived at his office the following day and started to tidy his papers, clearing his desk. He gets a call from … [ Read more ]

All the Balls are Red

In 1975, the CEO of pharmaceutical giant Johnson&Johnson presented his executive team with exactly those challenges. He sent the team on a two-day retreat to discuss the founding document of their company, the J&J Credo, which had hung unheeded and yellowing on company walls for decades after it was penned by the company’s founder. The Credo outlines the company’s specific … [ Read more ]

What a Waste of Brainpower

Several years ago, I visited a manufacturing plant in Florida, which had the best quality and productivity metrics in its division. My client and I were there to learn what the facility was doing right so we could apply those management techniques at other facilities. As the plant manager took us on the tour, he pointed out an hourly employee working on his machine. “See … [ Read more ]