Today while driving I was listening to the Barbell Shrugged podcast, it’s been around a few years and while it generally focuses on CrossFit I listen for the episodes when they hit topics like Olympic weightlifting, coaching, or self-improvement. Like this one!
Doug Larson, a Barbell Shrugged OG, raised a point I liked in how he teaches people…on anything. Doug focuses on what they should do, not on what they shouldn’t do. It’s a subtle point to consider and instantly brought me to design sessions I may have with engineers and architects at work where I catch myself often telling what NOT to do. It’s really a poor tactic of persuasion and teaching as it doesn’t focus on what they should do.
Accenture was in the news in July for ditching performance reviews and with their 330,000 employees, that is a big deal. In its place they planned to implement a process that is more fluid and fast in providing feedback from managers to team members. That speaks to the clear flaw in many organizations today in that managers aren’t providing consistent, clear, and timely feedback to their teams.
I remember covering various review processes during my first MBA course, Organizational Behavior, which solidified my view that most of the issues teams and organizations face are centered on communication, on people. We come up with processes to try to improve the people side and end up with three page performance reviews that the manager and participant are likely not behind. We can do better by keeping it simple.
In March of last year, Deloitte decided to move away from performance rankings and instead ask four simple questions and I’m drawn to this simple approach.
- Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus.
- Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team.
- This person is at risk for low performance.
- This person is ready for promotion today.
We all have stories about how to not use performance reviews. As a manager, I’ve been given detailed salary adjustments for each of my team members without any of my input in the process. That was far from empowering but very aligned with how this business operated. As a manager, the takehome is that the review shouldn’t be a surprise. Your team and you should have interactions all the time. Your goal should be figure out how you can make their job better, their career brighter, and they should never be left wondering where they stand. That’s where agile has helped. Daily standups and mantras like fail fast has increased overall feedback cycles making it even easier to keep with your team.
The areas where it gets more difficult are on remote teams and large teams. Remote teams simply require more discipline to keep in touch. Video chats are far better than instant message and even more so than email. Large teams are just tough. Team size should be a manageable number. Some say 5, some day 10 but few say 20, especially in technology. It should be at a size where the manager or team leader has the ability to have contact with everyone at a regular basis and know the temperature of the team.
Outsourcing is far from a new topic in business and there are many depths to which a company can leverage outsourcing to optimize its business. The Wall Street Journal had a recent article around HBO titled “HBO to Use MLB Advanced Media for Stand-Alone Streaming Product” that I found to be a great example of a company understanding their core competencies and deciding to outsource accordingly.
HBO is the leader of premium TV/cable networks. The invented the segment when they introduced original programming to cable and have recently made waves with their plan to create their own streaming service. They opted for this strategy because HBO operates as a premium service that is only available to cable and satellite users and they saw a risk to their model with the growing trend of people ditching these services for streaming only options like Netflix and Amazon Prime. From the article we learn that the orginal intent was to build out their technical capabilities to support this streaming model by ramping up their tech teams by an estimated 200 people. They’ve recently opted out of this strategy and decided instead to partner with MLB Advanced Media for this work.
There are details we don’t know but it sounds as if there was some disagreements about whether the streaming operations where important enough to be in-house. Granted we don’t understand the costs or details but I’d still contend this is an excellent example of a business understanding when a project/task falls outside their strengths and to outsource it. Technology is amazing, I’m in it and I love it, I’d want to build this platform and own it but that doesn’t mean a business should hold all things shiny and new.
At my current company we leverage outsourcing in areas that are far from our core competencies such as: data center support, video creation, and copy writing. There are some areas where I don’t think we should leverage outsourcing and that deals with defining plans and key internal processes. That is one area where I think a business must spend the time to understand how it currently operates and how it should operate to achieve business goals, at least at a high-level. Once that is done the outsourcing of nitty-gritty can be much more effective because you still own and understand the overall vision.
One example from my past of when to not outsource, at least on the basis core competencies and doing what you do well, is the advice an entrepreneurial friend gave me when I was running my software consulting business years ago. I was knee deep in a busy cycle and trying to juggle existing clients, projects, and trying to find time to bid on projects. Time was in short supply, I was stressed and he suggested I outsource everything to offshore teams.This technique had been applied by my friend as he started building his wealth years earlier and I respected his advice but knew it wasn’t for me.
Up to that point I had outsourced a few, very specific and extremely detailed bits of work to offshore teams but never had I gone as far as he was suggesting. For me to outsource all of these tasks would leave me to focus on the management of all the projects with offshore teams which isn’t something that brings me joy (I could of course outsourced that as well). Additionally, the rest of my focus would be on landing new clients to be able to leverage this new ability to scale but selling is something I’m able to do but that doesn’t mean its a core competency of mine.
So in short I’d be trading what I did really well at that time in my career for areas that either don’t bring the satisfaction or weren’t areas of strength. In my case the outsourcing didn’t work and I’m glad I didn’t pursue, even at the potential cost of my current net worth.
A while back my MBA program’s quarterly published an interview with Richard Schulze, the founder of Best Buy, about general business advice he could share to the alumni and current students. The University of St. Thomas’s Business School is certainly fortunate to have Mr. Schultze generating content for their publication (oh, not to mention the large gifts to the school).
That was in February and obviously a lot has changed in the business community regarding Best Buy with the CEO scandal of Brian Dunn and later resignation of Mr. Schultze as the Chairman. It would be interesting to learn if he would modify his original list of business advice from what he’s learned since the scandal. One potential tip that may benefit from some specific tweaking after the Dunn scandal was the fourth.
#4 – Have a Mentor
This one could also include be sure that key people have good mentors themselves. Not that a mentor would have stopped Brian Dunn’s behavior as one would hope he knew it was inappropriate but perhaps they would have seen the warning signs.
The buzz continues around Mr. Schultze making a play to take Best Buy private and for him to be successful it looks that he’ll be pulling this list out again. I think Best Buy still can have a retail play outside of the growth of Geek Squad and private equity may be the right play for it.
This post from Cornerstone Advisors blog regarding PMO caught my eye last March. I had set it aside to go deeper on my thoughts of what is and isn’t a mature PMO organization but am going to table that for now. I will say that PMO is much like engineering in that not having the Steve Jobs “A” players will come back to bite you. A great PM and PMO office will save you greatly and a poor PM and PMO office will cost you dearly.
To PMO, or Not to PMO; That is the Question « Gonzobanker.com.