Blame me… maybe that wasn't a good idea

Whenever I’ve moved on from a job, I’ve always told the team I was leaving to blame me for the wrongs when I was gone to move past the blame game quickly, and focus on solving the issue. A piece of an awesome Fast company article on Toyota’s continuous process improvement way of life made me think that’s not such a good idea… because it let’s people continue the idea that blame (or shame) is a natural part of a work environment. Here’s the story in brief:

Jim Wiseman joins Toyota in community relations. In his first presentation to the plant manager, he spoke about how well things were going. When Jim finished, the manager, Fujio Cho, now chairman of Toyota worldwide, said, “Jim-san. We all know you are a good manager, otherwise we would not have hired you. But please talk to us about your problems so we can all work on them together.”

This reminded me of one of my absolute favorite work environments, when I was working for Lorrie Norrington at Intuit. She was SVP of Small Business and Personal Finance at the time, and was one of the three board members, who directed the Innovation Lab I ran. What was remarkable to me about working for Lorrie was that in any meeting, she focused on what was wrong. But, not in a negative “what did you do wrong” way, rather in a moving forward way. She was focused on solving together piece, and never made you feel like she was stepping in because you couldn’t handle it. I have a feeling this is what the folks at Toyota feel like… and it feels productive!

I need some techniques for setting that environment up correctly, because, as recently as this week, I’ve unintentionally put people on the defensive about what was done when I wanted the focus to be on moving forward. It wasn’t productive. Have you worked in an environment where the focus was deeply focused on the problems, but it wasn’t about blame or shame? If so, how did you, your manager, or your team set the tone for this?

I think what would go on my shirt for this:

Learn from history, but don’t relive it

I need to learn from you and your experiences here, as it is core to the way I want to run my businesses, and it is one where I don’t have a “doing business as Jana” way of doing things that I’m comfortabe with. So, what is your “doing business as you” on this topic? Or what are the experiences you’ve had?

My (business) hero

Lukasz and I had a wandering conversation as we were both working way too late Saturday night. As we talked about business goals, it intertwined with personal goals and he asked who my hero was. I said Herb Kelleher… clarifying a bit “on the business side”. My parents and grandmothers are heroes to me on the whole person side. And, many more people who have inspired me, I would add to my hero list, but before I make this a list of truly awesome people (note to self… another post idea), let me get to Herb.

In case you don’t know him, Herb is the founder of Southwest Airlines, which is the largest US carrier in terms of total system passengers, particularly remarkable considering the other major carriers have international operations included. What I find amazing is how he built the top performing business in one of the most established, heavily unionized businesses around with the industry fighting him at every step… and kept a sense a humor through it all. Now, I love Ben & Jerry’s — having a tremendous respect for what they did and how they ran their business — but they were selling premium ice cream, a nascent industry at the time they started. Southwest has the same feeling and spirit that Ben & Jerry’s did, and Southwest is an AIRLINE… stodgy, old, grumpy, set in their ways, competitive, etc.

How did Herb do it? In my opinion it actually boils down to one thing… not one simple thing, but one thing. I’ll use Herb’s own words to explain it:

I keep telling them that the intangibles are far more important than the tangibles in the competitive world because, obviously, you can replicate the tangibles. You can get the same airplane. You can get the same ticket counters. You can get the same computers. But the hardest thing for a competitor to match is your culture and the spirit of your people and their focus on customer service because that isn’t something you can do overnight and it isn’t something you can do without a great deal of attention every day in a thousand different ways.

I’ve bolded what I think is the crux of this statement. This is what I aspire to do:

  • Separate the tangible from the intangible (harder than it sounds)
  • Focus on people and customer service
  • Inspire them in accomplishing their job every day

On my shirt today:

I work for you

Reminding me that as a leader, I work for my employees, customers and stakeholders… one of whom I’m likely standing with during every minute of my work day.

Related books I recommend:

Sharing fun… some Christmas gifts revealed

I wasn’t going to post this because I’m spilling the beans on some gifts I bought, but I can’t resist! I im’d Peter to share in my fun, but he must be asleep or singing or something. So, I just did some Christmas shopping on Spreadshirt. I know, I’m a terrible leader for adding my orders into the last-minute rush, but wouldn’t it be worse for my family to not have t-shirts as presents?

Here’s a sampling of what I did:

  • Mom, substituting in her retirement gets: A lovely soft yellow shirt with “A teacher affects eternity”  in metallic silver on the front with a rhinestone peace symbol on the back (she likes sparklies).
  • Dad, fisherman when he can gets: A chocolate (mmmmm) shirt with a black flock fish on the front and the saying “Even a fish wouldn’t get into trouble if he kept his mouth shut” in flock on the back.
  • Lisa, my sister, gets: A chocolate (don’t shop while you are hungry) shirt with pink flock saying “Believe in the beauty of your dreams“. The believe is in Creampuff font and alone on a line.
  • Jennifer, jr. high-aged niece, gets: A snuggly hoodie with “We must become the change we want.  ~Ghandi” in silver on the front and a rhinestone peace symbol on the back.
  • Caitlin, grade school-aged niece, gets: A black t with “Live the life you have imagined.  ~Thoreau” and a red rhinestone heart on the front.
  • Richard, uncle, gets: A navy polo with “I’m the decider.   ~W” in the “logo” space, because I also get him a Bushisms calendar each year.
  • Jane, aunt, gets: A chocolate (I really like chocolate) long sleeve t with pink flock that says “Practice diplomacy: Think twice, say nothing“. The “practice diplomacy” part is in Creampuff font. I like that font… and I’m still hungry!

That’s all I can tell you because some of the other folks might actually be reading this.

Hope these made you smile! I had a ball putting them together. Feel free to drop in your favorite quote or saying. I still have some more shopping to do! (Just FYI, Spreadshirt’s last day for holiday orders is the 18th for 2-day shipping and the 19th for 1-day.)

What is the least you could do?

In the Innovation Lab at Intuit, we came up with a concept of minimum viable to describe our goal for initial product/service releases… the least bit of functionality that’s actually viable in the market, i.e., something can get real-, using- customer feedback. Why the least? Why don’t you worry about WOW’ing the customer with nifty features?

Minimum keeps you and the customer focused on the core of the pain you are trying to solve for them… or core of the joy you are trying to deliver. I often use the example of tuning and fine tuning on product definition. This should be your tuning stage… can customers “hear” the music you are trying to produce? Are they seeing what you are trying to solve? Can people use it to solve that problem? Do they use it in the way you thought? Do they use it for anything else?

Viable means you have to have something that works, and can function “in market”. This isn’t a prototype; it is actually delivering value. It might only solve one core problem. For example, we did customer research for Intuit’s Easy Estimate. The pain we were trying to solve was estimates for contractors. What was viable for this wasn’t just the calculation about the estimate. Actually, what we learned was viable was a site walkthrough checklist, going to an estimate (a calculation), going to a proposal (a document), going to QuickBooks once accepted. So, this had our focus for viable… not the depth of what could be needed for calculations. Get the flow right… additional functionality on calculations could come later, after the was actually being used in their workflow.

So, what do you think? Do you have good minimum viable examples? Do you have other concepts that have worked for you in figuring out how and when to launch? Or leading people in launching new products, services, or companies?

Oh, and why did this come up today? Because I’m finally launching this blog, and… it isn’t where I want it to be. It isn’t where I feel it will “wow” you in the way I want, and I worry you won’t come back and give me a second chance when I get there. For example, the header is plain; the tag cloud breaks; trackbacks are being included in comments; recent posts aren’t showing on the home page; the associated t-shirt store isn’t set-up… some of these are pretty major. I realized though I wasn’t living minimal viable, a concept I truly, deeply believe in.

So, what is on my shirt today?

Practice what you preach

P.S. I’ve launched a new tag with this post dba. When I post something that is a core value to me, like minimum viable is, I’m going to tag it is as “dba”, as in “doing business as Jana”.

Power to the people, or only certain people?

From mass media to juried art to “me media”, who determines quality or beauty, and how, in each of these areas? Last week, I was at Guidewire Group’s (a.k.a., Chris Shipley’s) new Fall Leadership Forum. In a user-created content session, the hot debate was about “quality” going down as more users contributed. Some people held a strong view that moderation (by other users or experts) was necessary; others that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”… anything else would be elitism.

This reminded me of a debate on Fast Company a few months ago, “Anyone can be a designer — and should be“, and a post from my colleague Adam on Threadless and the “burden” of their popularity. Of course, this is an age old debate on who should be the arbiter of beauty.

I have to admit, I’m surprised that this debate is going on in these circles. These folks are on emerging edge, and, IMHO, this debate feels like we are going backwards… not appreciating and embracing that we now have the Internet, which can help deliver true “me media”… whether I want my “me” delivered based on what the masses want, what experts see, or from my set of defined judges. Why don’t we talk about how to provide the tools and capabilities to let people find their own definition of beauty quickly? Who cares if there are lots of choices, if I can find “me” quickly?

We should inspire and support people in creating things they themselves find are more and more beautiful. And, then, if they are the only ones seeing the beauty… what’s wrong with that? I think on my shirt today would be this related question:

Do you ever doubt your doubts?

So, what do you think? Where are we going with all of this user-created content? Have you thought through your position on this? And if so, did you question your position?

Drucker rocks

Andreas, who runs our brand evangelism, gave me The Starfish and the Spider to read. I agree with him that the book isn’t a big WOW, but has some nice points. My favorite in brief…

Peter Drucker consulted with General Motors in his early days. He suggested to the GM management that they:

Ask customers what worked for them and what didn’t; and incorporate that feedback into corporate strategy.

Note, Drucker didn’t say, “incorporate that into the product design“, but rather, “incorporate that into corporate strategy.” So, while many companies aren’t even doing the former still today, Drucker understood the power of the latter… oh so many years ago.

And, after his thoughts were rejected at GM, he took these and more thoughts to Japan. He said they embraced this theory:

Top management is a function and a responsibility, rather than a rank and privilege.

Think about this to drive understanding and actions from management-to-employees and employees-to-management.

Why are these my favs? The simplicity in both statements. Do you have any other Drucker-isms you live by? I might add it to my shirt, which on the front would say…

Drucker rocks!

P.S. If you want to read a great book with new business ideas, get Mavericks at Work by Bill Taylor and Polly LaBarre.

Are you flocked?

Julie (best friend since junior high) and I have a joke about “flocked” people. Being more natural type gals, one Christmas we found ourselves giggling over the ridiculousness of flocked Christmas trees. (My Nana always had a flocked tree, so the laughing was with love.) Throughout the years, we started describing people as “flocked”, meaning overdone.

Now, I have a problem. Thanks to Spreadshirt, I love flock. Why? We have a “flock” print technology that is awesome! It is similar in its soft texture to tree flocking… but it is sharp, not fluffy. [And, yes, it is durable to washing.] It is hard to explain without seeing it and feeling it, but the quality is something like embroidery… without all the hassle. It’s awesome, and I want to start a flock revolution… maybe that’s revelation because people don’t know about it. My big problem now: this new found addiction is disrupting my very old joke! “They’re flocked,” is now a good thing.

So, am I the only one in the world that didn’t know about this flocking stuff for shirts?

Well, I can’t tell you what is on the shirt today… Julie’s getting it for Christmas. Maybe she’ll share it with you after that!