Thursday, July 28, 2016

Make Habits, Not Rules

Guest post from Jurgen Appelo:
I recently ordered a fruit salad in Raleigh, NC. The pecans were generously sugar-coated; the croutons came fresh out of the frying pan; and the accompanying biscuit covered the Holy Trinity of Sugar, Carbs, and Fat. I have no idea what was in the dressing, and I prefer not to know. The salad was not the healthy option that I thought it would be.

I had done my best earlier that day. I had been running around the city the same morning, over sidewalks that looked suspiciously wide. But after eating the salad (which I certainly enjoyed), I felt like I needed another long run. And I thought, "My God, are they even trying to make healthier living easy for people around here?" Where I come from (The Netherlands), the default side option for a fruit salad might be dark sourdough rye bread, best used for weight-lifting, not eating.

So, how can we change this? What can we do to change the behaviors of people in a way that would be good for them and for society?

The primary approach used by governments is threatening people with rules and punishments. If you don't pay your taxes, you are punished. If you drive too fast, you are punished. If you sell or use an illegal substance, you are punished. Besides rules and punishments (augmented with some taxation and propaganda), there seems to be little variety in the ways governments attempt to influence the behaviors of their citizens.
The primary approach followed by businesses is the promise of rewards. If you increase sales by factor X, you get a bonus. If you get better performance ratings than your peers, you get a promotion. If you do what you're asked, you can get in line for a raise. Again, the variety of approaches to improve behaviors among employees in most organizations seems rather poor. It is all about carrots and sticks. Mostly carrots, but also some sticks.

What should we do instead?

How do we get people to exercise and eat healthier foods?
How do we get creative workers to follow safety procedures?
How do we convince anyone to be on time, follow a checklist, or be more supportive and appreciative toward their peers?

Most managers and politicians make the mistake of relying on rules. If it's important that employees wash their hands before work, then let's make a rule. If they should not forget to wear a helmet, turn it into a rule. If it's important that they keep a healthy work-life balance, let's make another rule!

More than once, I've seen rules and laws in social systems (such as businesses and societies) being compared to mathematical rules and natural laws in physical and chemical systems.

Molecules interact with each other by adhering to laws and rules and, thanks to self-organization, this leads to emergence and change in complex adaptive systems. Likewise, people interact with each other in businesses and societies by following laws and procedures. And, with a bit of self-organization, this should also result in creativity and innovation. Right?
Well, almost. But not quite.
Why do you take a shower in the morning after waking up? Is it because of a rule? Is it because you are promised a reward or punishment by someone? Probably not. Even scientists say there is no need take a shower every day. And yet, most of us do, because...
It is a habit.
In social systems, it is the habits of people, not laws and procedures, that can best be compared to the rules and laws in physical and chemical systems. Molecules behave predictably because they have an "urge" to follow natural laws. People behave more-or-less predictably because they have an urge to follow their habits. We act because our neural wiring tells us to do so, not because of something written in a document or something displayed on a sign.

As a driver, I stop at red lights because my brain tells me that not doing so would be dangerous. But as a pedestrian, I often ignore red lights because my brain tells me it's OK to trust my eyes and legs. The fact that there are laws and rules defined somewhere, that are supposed to guide my behaviors, doesn't even register consciously in my brain.

In organizations, it is the same. Workers don't wash their hands because there's a rule that tells them to do so. They wash their hands because they have developed a habit of doing so. This means that, instead of making rules, management (and government) would be wise to learn how habits develop and how they can be influenced. A visible reminder to wash your hands, such as a placard on a wall, may be helpful. But other subtle changes, such as the strategic placement of the faucet and basin, a powerful hand dryer, and a clean-smelling restroom, could be much more effective at the subconscious level.
Managers and governments are always trying to change the behaviors of people: healthier lifestyles, safety procedures, professional practices, etc. They attempt to do most of that with carrots and sticks, by passing laws, adding taxes, documenting rules, and communicating rewards and punishments, so that people know what is expected of them. But most people have difficulties changing their behaviors because their habits send them in other directions. Sure, they want to live healthier lives! But the fruit salad is still soaked in fat, covered with sugar, and decorated with carbs.
As managers (and politicians), try making fewer rules. Start learning how habits get formed and how they can be changed. It's more difficult, for sure. But it's also a lot more rewarding.

Jurgen Appelo, a Top 50 Management & Leadership expert, is pioneering management to help creative organizations survive and thrive in the 21st century. His most recent book Managing for Happiness offers concrete games, tools, and practices, so you can introduce better management, with fewer managers.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Set Expectations To Ensure Success

Guest post from Robbie Hardy: 

Guiding and driving a team to reach their highest potential while simultaneously meeting the revenue projections of the business can often be a serious juggling act. On the one hand, you want everyone on your team to be: challenged but not overwhelmed; curious but not confused; agile but not disorganized. On the other hand, there are deadlines to meet; costs to contain; changes and more changes to manage. What’s a leader to do?

There are many answers to this question, but the best return on value, applicable to all business, is to set expectations on all sides. The team needs to understand the objective, the goals, the constraints and each member’s role. Who is in charge of what aspect or task? What happens when there are surprises or unanticipated issues? Who are the stakeholders? What are the risks of not achieving the objective? … and on and on. Bottom line is, open and honest communication are essential.

There was a software project that had high visibility within the company and serious consequences for the client if the project was not on time and on budget. Everyone on the team worked tirelessly to meet all the deadlines and the project seemed to be tracking to success, when about five days before the project was to be delivered, everything stated to “blow up” in software language, nothing was working. All the testing that had been done was no longer valid and no one could understand what had happened. The software developers claimed they had not made any additional changes, yet something had gone very wrong. Hours became days and suddenly, 24 hours before the final deadline and launch, it became clear that this could not be fixed in time. The situation was compounded by the fact that no one had told the client or senior management, because they were very confident that it would be “fixed” and no one need ever know.

The client had scheduled a press conference to announce the new product and give a brief demo. The project manager knew the consequences of this public failure would be very serious for all involved. They needed a plan B and they needed it ASAP. So desperate times call for desperate measures, and the project manager again decided the solution was not transparency, but to create some type of unrelated problem, like no power to the building. He took his trusted product manager and they searched the building for power breakers that they could pull during the press conference to buy them time.  They were willing to risk being arrested rather than not deliver.

When you successfully set expectations, several things happen. First, and most obviously, everyone knows what to expect. This might be a “duh” to you, but for some people juggling a million different priorities and projects, agreed to expectations automatically gives a project higher visibility on the “to-do” list.
The second thing that happens with set expectations is that it levels the playing field. There is one vision, one mission, one goal. There isn’t pulling rank, there isn’t trying to weasel someone into doing your work for you. It’s a level playing field because everyone knows what they are expected to contribute to get the job done.

The third thing that happens with set expectations is that you get buy-in from all the major stakeholders. They have a chance to voice their opinion and concerns, explain their particular challenges, and state what they need to get the job done.
Setting expectations helps prevent those nasty “surprises” that come too late to be able to influence the outcome, which is where over budget and late delivery are born.

Robbie Hardy spent 20+ successful years in the corporate sector before finding her true calling in the entrepreneurial world.  She is author of the new book UPSETTING THE TABLE:  Women Mentoring Women. For more information visit

Friday, July 15, 2016

When the Leader Needs Help

Guest post from Bobby Martin:

There comes a time for every founder of a rapidly growing entrepreneurial business when you have to decide if you can be the one to both lead and manage into and through this growth stage. This is a tricky juncture, when you transition from scrappy, creation mode into organizational development mode. The development of an organization that’s in the fast-growth stage slams you with many new challenges, some of which are extremely difficult for many founders. 

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

 - Not too long ago you were fielding five customer service requests a day, and now over a hundred are flooding in daily.
- Your sales team was generating twenty or so good leads a week, and now it’s clear that you could generate an order of magnitude more if you just had the people or the right mechanism.

- You’ve been up to your ears in the details of planning and developing new product features yourself or with your partner, but now you have too many growing management responsibilities to do as much of that. You’re afraid of losing control over quality and design.

 - You have a growing list of great ideas, but you don’t have time to flesh them out.

 - You have identified new big fish customers to go after, but just can’t seem to find the time to pursue them.

If you’ve got outside funders, they’re demanding more and better financial reporting from you, and your board is starting to breathe down your neck about preparing for an IPO. But when are you going to find the time?

The late, great Peter Drucker stated that failure to create a solid team at the top-management level is the core reason startups go off the rails. It’s critical that you now bring in more direct reports, including a number of high-competency specialists. You need to become primarily a manager. You have to shift from being an entrepreneur to becoming an executive if you’re going to survive and thrive - both the business and you personally (health and sanity).
I call this contradiction in the demands made of an entrepreneur the Paradox of Scale; in order to achieve fast growth, you had to be disruptively innovative and improvisational, and in order to sustain it, you have to become intensely disciplined and rigorously managerial. Some founders have no problem at all with this transition. But most entrepreneurs struggle with this change. They may not like the change of pace; or they’re afraid of becoming a corporate soul crusher; or they simply have no passion for or the skill set needed for executive management.

Going the wrong direction at this point is one of the main reasons why firms that have hit takeoff  subsequently go into a death spiral. Most founders at this point face three key choices.
1. Learn how to manage the complexities of running a fast-growth firm.

2. Stay in some sort of leadership role, but bring in an experienced CEO from outside.

3. Look for a buyer. (Actually, even if this is your choice you still need to pick from #1 or #2 until the company is in good shape for sale or IPO. Otherwise you will sell at a far lower price than you deserve.) 

So what does it take to transition?

Make your organizational structure only as complex as it must be. Keep it as simple as possible to still delegate responsibilities and decision making while keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s going on. Layer in leadership as it makes sense for your processes, systems and size of organization. Too much structure is just as bad as too little. Seek out what’s just right for you.

Recruit top-players that complement each other’s skill set and focus on making sure they work well together. One of the biggest mistakes founders make is to continue to hire key roles by tapping their circle of friends and bringing in people they feel personally comfortable with rather than undertaking a more professional recruitment search. If you have a partner, he or she may well become one of these department heads or perhaps the COO who complements you as CEO or vice versa. You may also have one or two other employees who are well qualified to assume key leadership roles. But generally, many of your early employees either won’t truly be qualified to perform at the level you need in these roles or won’t want to. Search for not only the right skill set and expertise, but the right fit for the culture and the dynamics of your leadership team. Any HR person worth their salt will tell you that 9 out of 10 times people hire on skill and fire on fit. So keep fit in mind from the beginning.

Hire people who will bring new perspectives and challenge you. If you only hire people who see things as you do and always say “Yes” then you have a blindspot. There is tremendous value in having people surrounding you that are a) smarter than you in a particular subject and b) different from you. Your business is not a social club of cookie cutter membership. If it is, you will fail. It is critical that you hire people - especially for your top management team - with diverse skill set and background.

Keep your hands dirty with some details. Delegating does not mean abdicating leadership responsibilities. It is a myth that you just let people run things and you trust them. You do need to be in the details, enough to be aware of what’s happening. But you do not need to be the one doing the work nor serving as singular decision point bottleneck. As the leader - in whatever form that takes for you (CEO, President, COO) - set the vision, expectations and culture. Sit solidly in your new leadership role and let the super stars you brought into the game do the same.
About the author:

Bobby Martin believes that too many startup founders pivot too early, quit too early, and expect rapid takeoff. Through his experience of starting and selling First Research (a leader in sales intelligence) for $26 Million to Fortune 500 firm, Dun & Bradstreet, he’s learned firsthand the challenges and solutions at each stage of entrepreneurial growth. In his new book, The Hockey Stick Principles: The 4 Key Stages to Entrepreneurial Success, (Flatiron
Books, May 2016)
Martin debunks the myth that “hockey stick” growth is only for the Googles of the world.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Killing Potential: Machiavellian Mary as Boss

Guest post from Shoba Sreenivasan & Linda E. Weinberger:
A particularly virulent female leadership style is what we label, “Machiavellian Mary” to denote a superficially agreeable, yet ruthless, self-focused, and false individual. Machiavellian Mary is admired for playing well in the “male” game of pyramidal hierarchies: pleasing to those on top and controlling, micro-managing and authoritarian to those below. 

In fact, Machiavellian Mary not just toxic to those below her, but to the businesses that promote her to a leadership position:

- She kills buy-in from key stakeholders: the employees who are the face of the business.

- Her authoritarian style torpedoes an environment that nourishes new ideas.

- Hers is a “top-down” communication style, one that promotes a culture of fear.

- She is an obstacle to change.

How does she do this?

· She creates friction, pits co-workers against each other

· She promotes dissension and an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust. 

· She lowers morale, causes employee strife, damages productivity, contributes to EEO actions and lawsuits, and jeopardizes solvency.  

Yet, Machiavellian Marys continue to be prominent in leadership positions of power across sectors. Why? 

Despite gender equality as the overt mantra, images of strength as masculine and weakness as feminine remain potent today, just as they have in the past. Power colors our view of others; we respect those with status and assign lower esteem to those without. Men have had more power than women; consequently, we women may unconsciously assign more respect to women who lead like men.

Men may well be more comfortable with Machiavellian Mary, at least initially. On the surface she can look like she is getting the job done and not distracted by interpersonal issues, such as being concerned about the needs of others. As she does not have feminine frills like a democratic style (e.g., acknowledging team work), tasks such as down-sizing, aggressive take-overs, and issuing demotions come easily. 

The opposite of a Machiavellian Mary is a nurturant leadership style. However, nurturant is not a characteristic typically sought out for a leader: it suggests a “mothering” approach. As such, those with nurturant styles may be assigned to the roles of subordinates to be led, but not to be leaders.

· Nurturant evokes images of passivity

· Nurturant suggests being a supporter rather than leader

· A Nurturer is someone who is focused on relationships rather than tasks. 

Consequently, men who hire women leaders may not consider nurturers as competent; women in business leadership roles may also, either consciously or unconsciously, reject these “feminine-centric” images. Women may believe that those who are able to move up “the leadership ladder,” did so because they could be ruthless; or if that is not palatable, the adjective is softened to “realistic” or “has business sense.”

Is a nurturing leadership style more aspirational than pragmatic? Is it just a nice theory that plays well in academic journals and sounds good in conferences about transformational leaders? Several years ago, researchers found that biomedical research centers with a nurturing leadership style yielded the most major biomedical discoveries. One can find examples in other fields where promoting cooperation rather than competition enhances creativity. Hiring Machiavellian Mary may look good at first; but in the end, will impede the true growth and potential of the business.

Our background, as clinical and forensic psychologists, has given us a front row seat in viewing the underbelly of human nature. We have done so long enough through interactions with people who have psychopathic styles to know that this never brings out the best in others. Instead, as shown in the biomedical arena, cooperation instead of “dog-eat-dog” competition, fosters creativity: be it inventions, original works, scientific contributions, or successful businesses. 

Creativity thrives in an environment where ideas are encouraged, where employees feel valued, believe that their work has meaning; it does not thrive in the poisonous environment of fear. It is archetypically feminine as it is nurturing and maternal. The key to new ideas and growth comes from fostering a cooperative spirit that acknowledges the contribution of others and promotes their success. 

Dr. Shoba Sreenivasan and Dr. Linda E. Weinberger are the authors of Psychological Nutrition. Learn more at