Brandon's Notepad

August 15, 2017

Great Leaders GROW

Filed under: Book Reviews,Business & Economics,Management,Self Improvement — Brandon @ 4:52 pm

ShortURL: http://wp.me/pb7U7-2F2


This is a short review of “Great Leaders GROW: Becoming a Leader for Life” by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller.

The story is straightforward. Blake Brown loses his father, a successful business executive, just as he is about to complete his college degree. He reaches out to Debbie Brewster, a long-time associate of his father, seeking career advice. In a series of one-on-one coaching sessions, she shares with Blake what his father had taught her both by word and example over many years. Meanwhile, Blake lands a job at one of his preferred potential employers, Dynastar, but is assigned to a cold, heartless boss with impossible expectations. With Debbie’s advice as a guide, Blake manages to lead the company out of a bad business position and helps the boss confront a difficult personal situation to boot.

Just in case it wasn’t obvious, “GROW” (rendered in the title in capital letters) is a mnemonic device. It represents four activities that help people become good leaders. Each activity focuses on an area of continuous improvement. They are revealed by Debbie as the story progresses, and while I would love to provide a summary, I feel like I would be taking away the whole purpose of reading the story. If you really must get to the point without taking the time to read, there is a very concise summary of the activities at the end of the book. Also, Blanchard himself gave away the first three (G, R and O) in this 2012 interview with Forbes, and covers all four in a series of ‘blog posts about the book made just prior to its release.

Was it a good read? Yes. As I said, the story was straightforward and easy to follow. The plot and character development was sufficient for a work of this length. In my mind, it played out like a drama-comedy show (sometimes called a dramedy), despite the seriousness of some of the scenes. I mentally cast a young Jason Bateman in the role of Blake (think The Hogan Family, not Horrible Bosses), a conservative Jack Black as Sam, his ne’er-do-well coworker at Dynastar, and Ellen Barkin (Animal Kingdom) as Debbie Brewster. Ms. Barnwell, the impossible boss, was played by one of my former coworkers (who shall remain nameless), but Michelle Monaghan (Made of Honor) or Liv Tyler would be a close visual approximation. Cinematography akin to that used in shows like The Office or Boston Legal accommodated the serious bits, yet allowed for humor, sarcasm, and plenty of those sideways ‘whatever’ glances. I felt that picturing the books’ scenes in this “format” was appropriate given its length; after all, isn’t that what sitcoms are all about? All problems solved in thirty minutes or less?

One side note, many of the summaries, commentaries, and reviews of this book (e.g. Washington Post) contain the same line, stating that Great Leaders GROW “is an instructive fable”. This line is so prolific that I imagine it must come from the authors themselves, in the promotional materials perhaps. It’s a bit of a peeve, but this story is not a fable! There are no talking animals at all in this book! It may be better described as a parable, because, like a fable, there is a lesson to the story — a ‘takeaway’ to use contemporary office vernacular — that can be summed up in the pithy phrase that gives the book its title: Great Leaders GROW.


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April 14, 2017

The Future Workplace Experience

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This is a short review of The Future Workplace Experience: 10 Rules for Mastering Disruption in Recruiting and Engaging Employees, written by Jeanne C. Meister and Kevin J. Mulcahy and narrated by Nancy Linari.

Is your company keeping up with the trends of the modern workplace? Have you found that you have been unable to retain new hires in recent years? Times are changing and so is the workforce. The benefits people seek in their careers are different than what they were even a decade ago. This book will help you assess how your company fares in the task of providing an awesome workplace experience and will open your eyes as to what it should (and should not) be doing to attract, engage, and retain good workers in the modern labor economy.

The ten rules mentioned in the subtitle are:

  • Make the Workplace an Experience
  • Use Space to Promote Culture
  • Be an Agile Leader
  • Consider Technology an Enabler and a Disrupter
  • Build a Data-Driven Recruiting Ecosystem
  • Embrace On-Demand Learning
  • Tap the Power of Multiple Generations
  • Build Gender Equality
  • Plan for More Gig Economy Workers
  • Be a Workplace Activist

I have personally watched — and in some cases, contributed — to the implementation of some of these ideas in real-world settings, and from what I can tell, the authors are pretty much spot-on in their recommendations. The book is packed with a ton of case studies and research findings that support not only the direction of the trends, but also the efficacy of the changes. Even though I am not a Human Resources professional, I found the proposal and discussion of these rules to be not only interesting but useful. Now some of the things that I’ve seen changing around me make much more sense. The first — and I would classify it as the most fundamental — rule about making the workplace an experience has caused me to have an entirely new outlook with regard to my own career potential and sources of motivation.

Growing up, I perceived that there were basically two roads to success: the corporate ladder and the self-made man (sorry ladies, rule #8 wasn’t in full effect back then). The former seemed like the better way to acquire wealth, but most have to settle for not finishing their careers at (or even near) the top, which always seemed a little sad to me. On the latter path, you start at the top (e.g. opening a corner grocery, like Mr. Hooper on Sesame Street), but there’s only so much monetary reward that can be gained, and of course, I eventually learned about capital and investors and such, and being either bought out or put out of business by the competition didn’t seem very satisfying either. In recent years I’ve come to realize that the legacy you leave doesn’t have to be about how much inheritance you leave for your children, or the possibility that the company may someday name a building after you, or even that the grocery store you created may eventually grow into a huge chain of stores. All things perish, and the best you can truly hope for is that you are able to inspire others. “Others” may include your children, friends, colleagues, clients — whoever gets to hear your greatest stories. And great stories are made from great experiences. Sometimes you can craft your own experiences, but the authors of this book understand that companies that are not actively trying to assist you in that endeavor don’t perform as well today and are therefore less likely to exist tomorrow.

The other rules are also important to understanding the modern American labor market and how HR must help guide companies in this realm. I find the concept of using work space to drive a culture of collaboration and creativity absolutely fascinating. So-called “gig workers” have been around for some time, but I had no idea that this arrangement had become nearly as popular as it reportedly is today. As an active member of a workplace diversity team, I am very familiar with issues surrounding age and gender gaps and how they can lead not only to ineffectivity but also discrimination. And, if not for continuous on-demand training, well, I wouldn’t be writing this book review right now. The attitude of the authors toward continuous learning is precisely what drives me to share my life learning experiences via this ‘blog.

There are two things I didn’t care for in this book and I think they are related. First, I didn’t care for the narration (I listened to the audiobook format). I looked up Nancy Linari online and discovered that she is an actress and acting teacher. I’m not familiar with her work at all, so I watched a few clips online, and I can’t count this as one of her best performances. Her delivery is a little too steady. Overall, I felt like she was just reading a script and that she wasn’t really all that interested in the material herself. The other thing I didn’t care for was the name dropping, list upon list of companies doing this or that. As I said, I’m not an HR professional, so any anecdotal value the uttering of a particular string of company names is supposed to have was completely lost on me. The inclusion of these references became annoying and the narration did little to help in this regard. Linari’s tone would change in just a certain way and I would tell myself, “oh no, not another list”.

In all, though, it was a valuable read. Part of continuous learning is recognizing when that which you have learned in the past — through either study or experience — has become outdated. It is better both psychologically and for your career to learn new things like those discussed in this book outright and to adjust than to allow yourself to become rigid and set in the old ways of doing things.


February 17, 2017

The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX)

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I was first introduced to The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) by a colleague at work. Our training department provides the opportunity for employees to host book reviews as part of our continuing education, and since my colleague found this book very useful in setting and attaining his own professional goals, he shared his experiences with the rest of the company and continues to advocate the adoption of 4DX by other teams. I too have found it useful; thus, I am sharing it with you.


Summary

The 4 Disciplines of Execution is the title of a book by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling, published in 2012 by Free Press. In it, the authors propose a new strategy for accomplishing new goals and producing better results. The problem with any initiative aimed at improvement is that it must give way to the day’s business, what the authors call the “whirlwind.” To use an age-old analogy, they simmer on the back burner while the pot in the front is watched to make sure it doesn’t boil over, and when mealtime approaches, the food in the back is often either burnt to a crisp in an attempt to make up for lost cooking time or never finished at all. How can one manage to maintain steady progress toward attaining their goals without these risks?

The 4 Disciplines themselves are covered in detail in the first section of the book. In a nutshell, they are as follows:

Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important
The first discipline is all about setting goals. The key is set just a few of them, only one or two if possible. If you have too many goals, it is impossible to focus on them all and nothing gets done. Having only one or two will help ensure that you can stay aware of what they are.

Discipline 2: Act on Lead Measures
Most people focus on outcomes, but if you want to drive progress toward achieving a goal, it is much more effective to measure the inputs. A textbook example used by the authors (and everyone else; the “Hello World” of productivity) is weight loss. Don’t measure the pounds. Measure caloric intake and hours of exercise. Outcomes are typically predictable if the right inputs are identifiable, measurable, and controllable.

Discipline 3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard
If you are serious about achieving a goal, you must know where you stand at all times. A compelling scoreboard that is easy to update and understand improves motivation. The scoreboard must have both form and function.

Discipline 4: Create a Cadence of Accountability
Holding yourself accountable usually means communicating progress to another person or group, preferably on a frequent basis. If there are no consequences for performance (or lack thereof) then the goal becomes meaningless and forgettable.

The authors go into much more detail and cover some important tips and pitfalls, some of which are not obvious or intuitive. After all, if the process was just this simple, it wouldn’t have taken eighty-two pages to describe it. The second section provides practical advice on how to install the Four Disciplines in a team setting, and third on how to roll them out to an entire organization. The latter part of the book contains interesting case studies and answers to some frequently asked questions.

Observations

It stands to reason that people and organizations that perform repetitive tasks have a lot to gain from this approach. Take sales for example: the number of customer contacts made in a period of time may be a good lead measure that can predict sales outcomes. Changes in process can then be focused on improving the lead measures first and foremost, and only when the point of diminishing returns is reached should focus be changed to a less-impactful measure.

This does not mean that the approach is limited to granular homogeneous tasks only. One team at my office — the team my colleague is in — is already building the 4 Disciplines into their departmental operations this year. Their work is analytical and more-or-less project-based. There is not a lot of granular work as you would find in, say, a factory or call center; however, they do gather a variety of metrics and are always looking for ways to streamline their procedures. Their first step is to identify which procedures have the biggest impact on their workload and then to figure out how to identify and manipulate the lead measures to produce a positive outcome, to shorten total project time for example.

It seems quite incidental that my company is also changing its approach to employee development, and that while it is not based specifically on 4DX, the two seem to fit hand-in-glove with one another. In fact, I’ve already decided to manage the progress of my own training and performance goals this year using the 4DX methodology.

I have experimented some with 4DX on a completely personal level, mainly to get a feel for the nuts and bolts of it. In my opinion, one of the toughest parts of the process is identifying the lead measures — which are not always obvious. It’s a matter of finding the input(s) that have the highest correlation coefficient to the desired output, to borrow some terms from statistics. Also, it is important to recognize that outputs aren’t always singular, and that optimizing one output may have a devastating effect on another. Going back to the weight loss example, consuming minimal calories may do wonders for reaching the desired weight, but at the risk of suffering malnutrition.

Recommendation

I definitely recommend this book, and to be honest, I can’t wait to start using the methodology in a more professional capacity. The funny thing is that, as I sat here in our corporate library editing and polishing this post today, another colleague came in looking for a book. She asked if I had read any of them and if I had any suggestions. I immediately recommended the 4DX book, as there are still several copies left on the shelf. I told her that it would be instantly applicable to her work and relayed to her that I was planning on using it for managing my performance goals. She walked away with a copy in hand and a smile on her face. I will have to follow up with her in a few days to see what she thinks.


May 29, 2009

WinNT is WinNT is WinNT

Home > My Lists > Technical Notes > WinNT is WinNT is WinNT


Buried in my old e-mails are golden nuggets of geek nostalgia. One such nugget is a snippet of an O’Reilly article that was sent to me by a friend in October of 1998, published two years prior, revealing that the Differences Between NT Server and Workstation Are Minimal. This came at a time when I was a devout NT user who was becoming increasingly-curious about Linux. This may actually have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, giving me a reason to ditch Microsoft altogether.

In a nutshell, Microsoft claimed publically that the kernels of the two products shared a common “structure” and that different kernels were the result of decisions in the compilation process (i.e. ‘ifdef’ statements). In reality, the kernels were identical, as were all of the packaged libraries – only about 100 extra files were shipped with NT Server. All other differences hinged on registry entries.

The only registry entry change needed in NT 3.51 is to the “ProductType” key (“WinNT” for Workstation vs. “ServerNT” or “LanmanNT” for Server). NT 4.0 requires a second entry change to the “SystemPrefix” key, which holds a binary value in the high-order DWORD bit 0x04000000 (on for Server, off for Workstation). There was also a security mechanism added in NT 4.0 to prevent tampering with these entries, though it is reportedly possible to override them.

Microsoft attorney, David Heiner, is quoted in the article “Microsoft has every right to put conditions on how its software is used” and the author of the article agrees (as do I). The real issues are that Microsoft (a) blatantly lied to customers to (b) artificially inflate prices on the OS while (c) low-balling the price on its IIS webserver to (d) unfairly undercut the competition.

Ahhh, the good ol’ days!


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