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Be the same person every day

23 Apr

“I try to be the same man every day” – a profound insight by a high-performance manager when asked why.  Trust is an essential ingredient to being an effective manager.  Behavioral consistency is a fundamental trust builder.  Unpredictability is a trust-buster.  To be a high performing manager: Make sure you always have a very high say/do ratio. Do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it, if things change, inform people why you cannot or did not do so as soon as possible (even after the fact).

This is one of the most sensitive measures of the effectiveness of people in the work place.  Consider for a moment the people in your life who you trust.  Almost certainly these people have very high say/do ratios.  It is also a key behavior that customers, employees, peers and managers use to judge you.  To be an effective manager, your word must be your bond.  The result:

  1. Monitoring your behavior builds self-discipline.
  2. Say/do is a key component of integrity.
  3. Say/do maximizes accurate communication.
  4. Trust is essential to effective interpersonal performance.
  5. You like yourself better.

Consider your expectations.  Some believe you have to earn their trust.  This is nonsense.  A more effective strategy is to trust people until they provide ample information mistrust them.  Assuming people are trust worthy is an optimal strategy, assuming people are untrustworthy is not.  The former works with most people (unfortunately there are always exceptions) and the latter requires enormous mental effort that could be spent elsewhere.

No Plan Survives Contact With The Enemy

4 Dec



Yesterday the WSJournal had an amazing story about the elements of the successful launch of a new product or service based on the performance of Amazon.  Because this is not a political blog and much of the material is a contrast with the launch of I have edited out those portions that are political commentary.

The author, Bret Stephens begins by noting that handled 26.5 million purchases on Nov. 26, 2013, a company record and a rate of 306 items per second. What follows is a summary of the four Amazon principles that produce such results. 

I was particularly intrigued by the fourth principle It reminded on the military axiom: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” 

Embracing the truth: Mr. Bezos “embraces the truth,” Rick Dalzell, a retired top manager at Amazon, told biographer Brad Stone for his book, “The Everything Store.” “A lot of people talk about the truth, but they don’t engage their decision-making around the best truth at this time.”

Sweating the details: “Bezos paid a lot of attention to the flow of the checkout process and the warehouse order processing software,” writes biographer Richard Brandt in his book “One Click.” “And everything had to be stable enough, able to handle enough traffic that it would not crash and leave customers stranded, a common problem, especially in the early days of commercializing the Internet. ‘He was scared to death that we would get all these customers, and then they would go away because the system didn’t work well, wasn’t easy,’ says [programmer Peri] Hartman.”

Real-time accountability: Mr. Stone describes a meeting during the 2000 holiday season when Mr. Bezos tested a claim by Bill Price, his vice president for customer services, who said hold times on Amazon’s phone lines were less than a minute.

“‘Really?’ Bezos said. ‘Let’s see.’ On the speakerphone in the middle of the conference table, he called Amazon’s 800 number. . . . Bezos took his watch off and made a deliberate show of tracking the time. A brutal minute passed, then two. . . . Around four and a half minutes passed, but according to multiple people at the meeting who related the story, the wait seemed interminable.” Less than a year later, Mr. Price was gone from Amazon.

Searching, not planning: The development expert William Easterly makes a useful distinction between “planners” and “searchers”: The former come to a task with preset ideas about what should work, and then they go about implementing the plan. Searchers, by contrast, spend their time figuring out through trial-and-error what does work.

Amazon succeeds because it searches. How to reassure customers that their credit card information is safe? Should Amazon invest in warehouses or not? (Mr. Bezos at first opposed the idea, then changed his mind.) Should the site feature negative product reviews? Mr. Bezos gambled that customers would appreciate the honesty. And so on.

A Culture of Blame

1 Jun

Recently, I was in an organization with a pervasive culture of blame.  Such a culture begins at the top and flows throughout the organization.  What are the unintended results of blaming and finding fault?

Everyone who comes to work knowingly or unknowingly optimizes to the organization’s demand characteristics.  They try to behave in a way to maximize reward and minimize punishment.  Placing blame is a powerful form of punishment.  Psychologists know punishment causes three major effects:

• Escape

• Avoidance

• Negative emotional responses

People’s reactions are proportional to the intensity of the punishment.

In the workplace the least bad option to a culture of blame is to never draw attention to yourself.  This means:

• Follow the rules exactly, never suggest anything new.

• Minimize your communications.

• Don’t help others unless no one above you will notice.

This is the perfect formula for minimizing productivity.


Mistakes are information rich.  Mistakes are opportunities to identify problems, make improvements and to get smarter.

Finding fault and assigning blame are very different from identifying mistakes and solving problems.

The events may be identical, but the choice of language produces utterly different responses.

Next week: Finding opportunity in blame cultures.

The 6 Word Test

6 Apr

Integrity is one of the essential ingredients necessary to exemplary managing and leading. But how do we manage our integrity on a day-to-day basis?  The use of self-questions that force us to pause and consider our actions can be of immense value.

The Say/Do Ratio is one self-test tool:

Do I do what I say I will do, when I say I will do it?

–      If something changes do I inform people asap?

This is a powerful tool and we know that employees are sensitive to this behavior.  Doing this well is trust building.

Having lunch with a colleague last week I learned of another powerful self-test tool he and a valued co-worker have been using for many years in an organization with a fine reputation for integrity – The 6 Word Test.

What good will come from it?

Both the 6 Word Rule and the say/do ratio are excellent self-tests, however The 6 Word Rule can also be used publicly.  It is easy to see how posing this question in a meeting would re-focus the group on what is important and in the best interests of the organization.

Do you run these or similar self-assessments to guide your ethical behavior?

Food for thought.

Click and scroll for 3-minute video review of Beyond Luck.