Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Force

In Star Wars, the Force flowed throughout the universe influencing all things.  In business, the customer is “The Force.”  Customers—and customers only—produce revenues and decide if a business will have the opportunity for results.  All else is cost!  Customers are the only source of revenue.  Excellent businesses are above all else customer oriented.  They press the flesh; they show the flag; they ask, and they listen.  They like their customers and their customers like them.

On January 22, 2013 starting at 6:30pm I will be signing my books and reading from the latest Mark Rollins adventure, The Claret Murders, at Parnassus Books in the Green Hills area of Nashville.
For more information go to

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Do plans need to be in writing?  Yes, but in a form that serves its purpose.  That is not as a bound volume that resides on a bookshelf never to be referenced once the creators have “finished” their planning task.  It is a communication vehicle—best conveyed in words, phrases, short paragraphs, charts, key performance indicators, and pictures.  It should be in a form easily changed and updated.  It should not be burdened with the niceties of a literary quality.  Its purpose is to have every member of the team guided by the same “playbook.”
In this age of advanced communications and technology, the playbook should be maintained as an integral part of the enterprise’s internal systems.  Those internal systems should serve as the enterprise’s command and control center.  Their purpose is to empower members of the team by giving them the clarity needed for the confidence to make decisions and take action on the frontline.  Management is about achieving objectives through others.  It follows that maintaining and refining the “playbook” is job one for the leader.  In today’s world, the “playbook” isn’t one thing—it is the leader’s blog, the organization’s intranet site, it is periodic video conferences or planning retreats, it is the business’s key performance indicators, its bonus, commission, and reward plans.  Wherever possible, words are better than phrases, phrases are better than sentences, sentences are better than paragraphs, and paragraphs are better than pages.  That is because the excellence company communicates so frequently and so clearly, that words and phrases become triggers conveying much more extensive content.  The use of words and phrases makes the job of constantly communicating, refining, and changing the dynamic plan easier. 
A beautiful Nashville lawyer, an inheritance at risk, a devastating storm and wine to kill for—The Claret Murders, a new Mark Rollins adventure.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Planning is a circle of activity—a dynamic continuous process of setting and revising temporary targets and developing strategies and tactics for achieving them.  Any endeavor or enterprise can be accidently successful for a short period of time—they can have their Andy Warhol fifteen minutes of fame.  However, it is even more likely that they will simply fail without ever achieving their fifteen minutes of success.  The important question is what do purposely successful companies do that sets them apart from the rest of the pack.  The answer is they intentionally do five things: 
  1. Engage in the planning process 
  2. Set goals and objectives 
  3. Develop plans for achieving those goals 
  4. Prepare their team for opportunities and contingencies 
  5. Measure progress and hold people accountable 
Only a few organizational teams achieve excellence.  Or in Jim Collins’ vernacular, only a few go from good to great.  As for the rest, either they don’t plan at all, or the production of “the plan” (a well written an attractively bound document) has become the goal itself.  The problem, of course, is that the best thought-out plan resting on the bookshelf serves its purpose about as well as a broken watch tells time—it shows the correct time twice every day.  Some general is said to have barked “all plans are good until the first bullets are fired. Then it all goes out the window.”  Plans produce targets based on assumptions.  Assumptions are inaccurate estimates about the future.  Thus planning for the future would be impossible if it were not so absolutely essential for survival and success; therefore, the purposefully successful enterprise’s most important plan is the plan to change the plan.
Planning is a continuous ongoing process.  It is not some bound book.  The plan shapes the decisions and actions of the team by establishing temporary targets—and the team’s actions and decisions made on the front line change the plan.
It is a dynamic process illustrated in part by the Opportunity Wedge.  As time advances on the future, assumptions become more accurate.  Decisions and actions made on the front line close in on a target that moves from a Cone of Uncertainty to a clearer target.  For such a dynamic process to work it must be a state of mind, a way of thinking and communicating, where the team is nimble and quick on its feet, constantly adjusting and refining the plan to changing conditions and expectations. 
Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New Career, Mark Rollins and the Rainmaker, and Mark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders.   For signed copies go to  Ebook editions are available on Amazon for the Kindle, on Barnes & Noble for the Nook and in Apple iTunes' iBookstore for the iPad.  Paperback editions are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Can They; Will They?

Can They and Will They in This Environment with Our People

What makes hiring so difficult?  We are each individuals and there is no such thing as one for one substitution.  The question that has to be asked about each individual is “Can they do the job?  Will they do the job?”  If the answer is yes, you still have to ask, “Can and Will they in this environment with our people.”  The can part is the easy part.  Will they is harder to answer.  In this environment with our people is hardest of all.  Unfortunately, the best of us is unlikely to score better that 50/50 when it comes to the hiring process.  But the job of picking the people who will do the job in this environment with our people is so important that it calls for investing in the process.  There should be multiple face-to-face interviews involving multiple people in the organization.  Use of professional personality testing and systems that predict success should be a standard practice.

The first step in the process for filling any job is that you have to know what you are looking forEvery job has a picture—it requires a certain prerequisite KASH and there are traits even including appearance and lifestyle that are best suited for success in the particular job environment.
When it comes to management positions, most companies consider three choices for filling the job.  There is the best mechanic and the logical choice within one’s own organization, and then there is the unknown candidate who can come from either inside or outside of the organization.  Because one is the best mechanic doesn’t mean they have the skills required for the management position.  Usually the best salesman, for example, doesn’t make the best sales manager.  The typical advice is to keep your best salesperson selling.  Put them into a job they are not qualified for and everyone loses.  You lose your top salesperson and gain a poor sales manager.  The rest of your sales team loses under poor leadership.  Eventually you will have to terminate the poor manager, or they will voluntarily leave to return to what they like and do best.  Perhaps even worse is the logical choice decision.  Just because someone’s seniority makes them next in line is no way to select the best candidate for the job.  The only right way is to select the best fit of the choices available.  The excellent manager must pick the candidate best matching the success-orientated job’s picture.  Look internally and also look outside the organization.  Remember “A” level people want to work with “A” level people.
I emphasize the importance of using technology and making the investment in systems that test and provide you with predictions regarding the fit of candidates in your environment and with your people.  But face-to-face interviews are still an essential part of the process.  Interview questions should be "Why" centered.  Why the past history?  Why the present situation?  Why the future aspirations or objectives?  Past, present, and future aspirations are predictors of the future but only if the answers to the question “why” are in harmony with the job requirements.  The fact that a candidate had a paper route as a youth has a different implication, for example, if they did so only because a parent insisted.
The success-oriented company doesn’t wait for job candidates to come to them.  They find them.  Determine the best fit and sell the job to the selected candidate.  The concept of selling the job is important.  In all sales, the buyer must understand how the benefits will enable him to achieve his objectives, and they must understand the price to be paid.  Satisfied customers are not oversold or misled as to features or price.  The same holds true in making the job sale. 

Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New Career, Mark Rollins and the Rainmaker, and Mark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders.   For signed copies go to  Ebook editions are available on Amazon for the Kindle, on Barnes & Noble for the Nook and in Apple iTunes' iBookstore for the iPad.  Paperback editions are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Right People on the Bus

Right People on the Bus
Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, called it “getting the right people on the bus.”  He spent years researching the difference between most enterprises and those that in his judgment made the transition from good to great.  His conclusion would not have been a surprise to Steve Jobs, who changed the world as the leader of Apple.  The key is having the right people.  Jobs explained that “A” level people want to work with “A” level people.  In the typical environment, “A” people go in search of “A” opportunities; “B” and “C” level people begin to become the norm over time as “A”s leave.  That is why in a turnaround situation “getting the wrong people off the bus” to make room for “A” level replacements becomes the first job of management.

How do you get the right people?  It isn’t easy.  Involve your “A” people in the selection process.  Use an employment testing service.  Hire successful people.  But be prepared to get mistakes off the bus fast.  It takes time to assemble an “A” team.  It is like fine brandy; your team has to be distilled over time.  You have to hire carefully and refine by removing and replacing those that don’t fit. 
Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New Career, Mark Rollins and the Rainmaker, and Mark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders.   For signed copies go to  Ebook editions are available on Amazon for the Kindle, on Barnes & Noble for the Nook and in Apple iTunes' iBookstore for the iPad.  Paperback editions are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Star Salesman

Low Goals, Ceremonialism, Change Groups, and the Hawthorn Effect all depend on effective leadership.  The best change managers are Star Salespersons.  They add drama and pizzazz —they practice Management by Wandering Around (MBWA).  They Communicate by Wondering Around (CBWA)—in person, over the net, with posters, with t-shirts & other apparel, in white papers, in books and booklets.  They are the cheerleader.  But they also have to do their homework.  They understand Change and they are prepared for it.  They determine the knowledge required and develop programs to deliver it.  They understand the importance of attitude.  They never force change.  They don’t utter the words “Do it because I said so.”  They involve the people that will be affected by the change in the decision to change and in planning and managing the change.  They reward accomplishing new skills and they stay involved as needed to assure that those new skills become habit.  They are there from the beginning through the Valley of Despair (the bottom of the Change Curve) and the eventual climb to the targeted new level of performance or benefit.

A little advance planning, disseminating the right knowledge in the right form to the right people, ceremonialism, recognizing accomplishments, paying attention to it can pay big dividends in terms of achieving the desired benefit without costly disruption and frustration.


An iheritance at risk and the discovery of an extraordinary cache of old wines during Nashivlle's history-maiking flood leads to foul play and death in this mark Rollins mystery adventure--avaiable from and e-book editions are available for the Kindle, the Nook and by going to the itunes store for the IPad.   

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Management Cycle

Management Cycle

Management is about achieving objectives—be it at the enterprise, department, or individual level.  It applies to life as well as business.  It is a process—planning, organizing, acting, and controlling.  It is a continuous cycle of processing input, taking action, collecting feedback, and repeating the process.  “Nothing happens until something happens.”  When the action significantly effects the organization, its people, it processes and its customers, it requires the specialized steps of Change Management.  But management is more encompassing and requires more tools and skills than just Change Management.  Management is not the same as supervision.  Supervision may be involved in an individual's managerial role but, again, management is more encompassing.

While many modern day jobs do not involve overseeing the performance of subordinates, they do involve a high degree of individual authority and accountability pushing those jobs into the category of management.  These are jobs where the individual must “manage” relationships with customers and with internally accessible resources and specialty areas to accomplish their assigned objectives.  In order to do their job competently they must plan, organize, act, and control continuously processing input, taking action, collecting feedback, and repeating the process.  Thus management concepts apply to these jobs as much as they do to those responsible for organizational groups, units, departments, divisions, companies, or broad based enterprises.

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An iheritance at risk and the discovery of an extraordinary cache of old wines during Nashivlle's history-maiking flood leads to foul play and death in this mark Rollins mystery adventure--avaiable from and e-book editions are available for the Kindle, the Nook and by going to the itunes store for the IPad. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

90 Degrees North

North, the North Star, true north—these are symbols for the pursuit of opportunity.  The North Star has guided those in search of new horizons; north is the important point on a compass.  North conveys a sense of upward direction or momentum.  90 Degrees north defines the mindset of the excellent manager—they have an opportunity focus.  They are headed north—not south, east, or west.  They are not focused on problems or on risks—but on opportunities.
This is extraordinarily important to understand.  I have heard Presidential candidates who define themselves as problem solvers.  I have interviewed many C-level job candidates quick to say “I’m a problem solver.”  Those that did didn’t get the job.  The thing about problems is when you solve one there is always another waiting in the wings.  The team of the Excellent Company focuses on opportunities and problems get solved as a byproduct.  Their attitude about problems is that not all problems need to be solved and, of those that do, not all of them need to be solved by you.  Where are resources better spent?  Solving problems or pursuing opportunities?

That is not to say that there aren’t problems that have to be solved.  When they arise, look carefully for opportunities that often masquerade as problems or what the problems are a symptom of.  If the problems must be tackled directly, don’t treat the symptoms, define the problem, and solve it once and for all.
The distinction between opportunities and problems is related to Effectiveness vs. Efficiency.  Effectiveness is doing the right things.  Efficiency is doing things right.  Right things come down on the opportunity side of the ledger.  Problems are usually related to not doing things right.  Which is more important?  Doing the right things.  Recognizing and targeting the right opportunity, identifying the main thing success depends on, and adopting the right strategy— these are the things that give enterprises the chance to succeed.  Right things open the door; efficiency improves success but cannot create the chance for success. 
There  Is Still Time
Join me for a mystery event and dinner
Call 615 595-9557 for reservations

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Opportunity Wedge

Change made in pursuit of opportunities can also eliminate other opportunities.  But the same can be said for the lack purposeful change.  While decisions and change are not the same, they are closely related.  Indecisions and inaction has consequences on a level equal to purposeful decisions and change.  Remember, change happens.  You either change to prosper and survive or natural forces change you and your environment and for the worse.  The Opportunity Wedge conveys that each decision and indecision, each change (purposeful or not) impacts future options and opportunities for a company.  In business, management should consider the impact of changes on future opportunities.  They fight against the normal narrowing of the wedge.  The company that moves from Lifecycle to Lifecycle, and carefully considers the impact of their action and inaction on the future, will have an Opportunity Wedge that is more like an elongated open ended box—the upper line represents maximum opportunities and the lower line represents no alternative (or new) opportunities will be more parallel—avoiding the normal linear narrowing of the wedge.  They keep their options open.  Using the example of Underwood—the fact that they decided they were a typewriter company rather than a document production company narrowed the wedge to a sharp point and that led to their eventual disappearance as a company and then as a brand.  On the other hand, Steve Jobs at Apple would not limit that business to a “computer company.” 

You are invited to an Eligant Evening of Mystery

If you are going to be around Nashville or Franklin on November 15,  make reservations for "An Evening of Mystery" at Lillie Belles restaurant in historic downtown Franklin.  Call 615-595-9557 for reservations or 615-327-0100 for more information. The evening with author Tom Collins includes a gourmet multiple-course dinner, a copy of The Claret Murders plus a live performance as the audience tries to solve the mystery--who killed Mr. Boddy, where was he killed and with what weapon?  The Claret Murders, a new mystery novel by Tom Collins. is available in paperback from Amazon and e-book editions are available for the Kindle, Nook, and Apple’s iPad— or go to for a signed copy

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Authority Triangle

When sales goals aren’t being achieved, when customers are complaining about the availability of support, when production is falling behind demand, the standard answers are always the same—add personnel.  The new resources are brought online and sales decline, customer service worsens, and production falls further behind.  What is going on?  It is the downward spike of the Change Curve and it can be explained by the Authority Triangle.  There are three kinds of decisions and actions that can be made by an individual on the job. 
  1. Do it
  2. Do it and then report it
  3. Recommend and ask before acting
The fully competent incumbent operates in category 1, Do it, 80% of the time.  15% of the time they act in category 2, but then report the action taken in time to reverse or modify the step taken.  Only 5% of the time do they delay action until authorized to act. 
For the new addition the authority triangle is reversed.  80% of the time the new addition is asking permission before acting.   That consumes productive resources and thus reduces the total output of the unit.
Over time the Authority Triangle is rotated and eventually the new edition begins to add to capacity rather than consume it.
One of the things managers have to be concerned with is the rate of that rotation.  If it is too slow, the new resource continues to be a burden rather than an asset.  If the rotation is too fast, the new addition subjects the organization to undue risk—acting before they have the competence to do so.
The Authority Triangle is an important concept in evaluating new additions to the organization.  Those turning the triangle too slowly or too quickly need to be weeded out, making room for the organization to try again to bring in a long-term productive member of the team.
PS:  If you have read my latest novel, The Claret Murders, and enjoyed it, e-mail me at to be added to the e-mail list. If you haven't, you can purchase a print or digital edition on  

Monday, October 22, 2012


The most important lesson to learn from Relative Perception and Limited Resources is that small changes (or proportional changes) are more likely to succeed.

Exercising Incrementalism is one of the best change management techniques.  Breaking a planned larger change into a series of smaller incremental changes is more likely to achieve the desired end result with less overall negative impact on the organization.  However, incrementalizm alone is not a silver bullet.  Granted it is possible to make changes so small that the effect of the downward spike goes unobserved, but frankly, when it comes to real life business, there are few changes that fly under the radar screen.  For example, we know that a massive doubling of a company’s sales force can create chaos,  but even a small change has negative consequences.  To illustrate, assume that a company adds just one new sales person.  That change might not have had a material negative impact on the entire organization, but the salesman sharing office space with the new person is likely to see a drop in his commissions as he unavoidably gets drawn into some degree of a mentoring or training role.
Virtually all change becomes, at a minimum, a short-term investment paid in the form of lower productivity, decreased performance or lower satisfaction.  We make changes because in the long run, we expect a payoff in terms of increased productivity, performance, or satisfaction.  The better we manage change, the smaller the frontend cost and the sooner targeted gains are realized. 
The right way to implement change is proportional to the ability of the organization to deal with and absorb the downward spike of the Change Curve and in many cases that will dictate the need to pursue the desired end result through a series of incremental steps using the “change management” technique of Incrementalism.

To illustrate the need to keep change proportional to the organization’s ability to absorb the change, consider a successful restaurant that wants to expand.  The owners decide to open a second facility across town.  It is easy to imagine the downward spike in terms of performance and customer satisfaction at the existing facility as management’s attention is redirected and existing staff begins to train additional staff.  Image the consequences when some of the best members of the kitchen and wait staff are transferred to the new facility.  That doubling of the organization requires a significant, hopefully short-term, negative investment that can put the business as a whole at risk.  Yes there are things that can be done to flatten the downward spike of the Change Curve and facilitate an early upward movement.  Unfortunately most small businesses making a similar move will fail to do those things, and their customers and pocketbook will suffer as a result.
Now consider the impact on existing facilities upon opening a third location.  The organization’s initial expansion has led to increased depth among its management team.  There is a larger existing staff to draw from for the purpose of training new additions, and there is backup that allows some transfers to the new location without excessively cannibalizing the existing facilities.  Opening a fourth location will have even less of a negative impact on existing facilities.  With continued growth the organization can develop and financially support people dedicated to the specialized task of project management involved in bringing a new location on board, and the larger and larger organization spread over more and more facilities means that transfers have a smaller negative impact.  So as the base organization gets larger the size of digestible incremental change increases; however what makes the larger changes digestible is that each successive incremental changes becomes smaller in relative size—the percent of change related to the base organization is smaller.
The undeniable conclusion is that the right way to make change is to do it step by step—incrementally.  You might say that is not always possible.  The growing food chain has to take that first big step—opening its second facility.  But even there it is possible to find a way to break the project into multiple steps designed to minimize the downward spike.  For example, additional staff can be added ahead of time in small digestible steps not after the fact.  What about the added cost?  If you can’t afford it, don’t do it, because the alternative is to bet the company!
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An iheritance at risk and the discovery of an extraordinary cache of old wines during Nashivlle's history-maiking flood leads to foul play and death in this mark Rollins mystery adventure--avaiable from and e-book editions are available for the Kindle, the Nook and by going to the itunes store for the IPad.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hawthorne Effect

One tool for minimizing the downward spike of the Change Curve involves capitalizing on the Hawthorne Effect.  Management scientists found that increased attention alone improves performance even if only temporarily.  Daily and hourly progress reports, increased MBWA/CBWA (management by wandering around/communication by wandering around), setting initial low goals to reinforce accomplishments, awards and recognition to celebrate milestone goals, achieving goals, ceremonies to kick off change—putting change on center stage with drama and pizzazz provides a countering upward force.  The Hawthorne Effect will flatten the downward spike of the Change Curve.  A word of warning is appropriate, however: increased attention alone is not enough.  Studies indicate that productivity often drops when the increased attention is withdrawn.  Taking advantage of the Hawthorne Effect is an important tool, but is only one of the tools for managing change.

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You can find novels by Tom Collins, including his latest mystery, The Claret Muders, on

Friday, October 12, 2012

Change Groups

Change Groups are one of the most successfully used management tools.  Forming groups (of those to be affected by the change) to help plan and implement change creates ownership and commitment to it.  It becomes their change rather than change being forced on them and thus helps to flatten the downward spike of the Change Curve and reduce its duration.  One of the most important roles of a Change Group involves planning the content and form for getting the required “new information” in the hands of those who will need it—training programs, instruction manuals, KASH books,  one-on-one training,  buddy systems, temporary or permanent help desks, etc.  There are few changes so small that their impact justifies ignoring the need for change management, and virtually all change involving multiple people will benefit from the use of Change Groups.  Consider the impact of installing a new telephone system or something as simple as bringing in a new copy machine.  A little advance planning, disseminating the right knowledge in the right form to the right people, ceremonialism, recognizing accomplishments, paying attention to it—can pay big dividends in terms of achieving the desired benefit without costly disruption and frustration.

Of the four elements of KASH (Knowledge, Attitude, Skills, and Habit), Attitude is the most difficult to manage.  A negative attitude, resistance to change, is reduced when people 1) understand the characteristics of the Change Curve and the basics of change management and 2) when they become part of the change process.  One of the functions of leadership is education.  That should include continuously reinforcing the organization's understanding of the Two Certainties in life and business—change is constant and we are always judge by others.  If change is constant everyone in the organization must understand the Change Curve and the important tools for change management.
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The Kindle edition is only $2,99.  Download today!
Music City is under attack from Mother Nature, the historic 2010 Nashville flood.
  A beautiful lawyer's inheritance is at risk.
An extraordinary cache of old wines is threatened.
  A new Mark Rollins mystery by author Tom Collins.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


We all like to be recognized for our contributions and achievements.  Effective change management looks for opportunities to provide an upward push against the downward spike of the Change Curve with awards and recognition tied to the KASH formula.  Examples include:
  • Certificates for completing training courses designed to deliver “new knowledge”
  • Lapel pins recognizing milestone achievements
  • T-shirts, hats, and/or jackets with goal-oriented messages reinforcing the purpose of the change
  • Cash awards for individual or team accomplishments
Nothing encourages success more than success.  Many a weight loss regime has been given an important boost by an early, quick weight loss.  Setting initial goals that are quickly achievable, and then recognizing their accomplishment through ceremony and awards, reassures those going through a change that “it is working.”
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Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New Career, Mark Rollins and the Rainmaker, Mark Rollins and the Puppeteer, and the newest, The Claret Murders. For signed copies, go to Ebook editions are available on for the Kindle, on Barnes & Noble for the Nook, and in Apple iTunes' iBookstore for the iPad.  Paperback editions are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online bookstores.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Financing Information

My smarter brother, Mike Collins, is the CEO of 2nd Generation Capital, a Nashville-based merchant banking firm serving as principal, agent, and advisor in transactions related to business investments.  Here is a rundown on what they do:
  • As merchant bankers, we create and invest in new businesses and help manage them.
  • As private-market investment bankers, we operate as a broker-dealer, assisting client companies with debt and/or equity placements.  We also advise or manage merger & acquisition transactions.
  • As advisors, we serve on boards of directors or advisory boards and assist client firms with strategic planning and capital structure.
  • As experts, we provide independent valuations, fairness opinions, and litigation support services for complex transactions and situations.
Their website also is a plethora of white papers that answer just about every question an investor or business owner would have.  Right now for example, financing is a top concern for anyone in business.  Check out 2nd Generation’s paper “What every Mid-state business owner needs to know about financing Your Business”.  If you are looking for other answers, go to their website and check out articles on:

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You can find novels by Tom Collins, including his latest mystery, The Claret Muders, on

Monday, October 1, 2012

Slot Machine Management

One of the wrong ways to make change is characterized by Slot Machine Management—the slot machine manager makes frequent changes similar to a compulsive gambler repeatedly pulling the arm of a slot machine hoping that that next pull will be a winner.

Change is essential for the long-term success of a business. Without change, success doesn’t happen.  Yet the paradox is that the failure of management to understand change and competently manage it is high on the list of reasons businesses fail—not merely small businesses or new businesses.  Well established businesses often fall victim to the lack of a corporate memory.  Each generation of management tends to relearn the mistakes of prior generations.  While their sheer size insulates giant corporations from disappearing altogether, they can wind up on the dustbin of wannabes—companies that are no longer in the leadership positions they once held.  The culprit is often a slot machine approach.  IBM is one example.  There was a period of time when the company reorganized frequently—shifting managers to new rolls and specialties before they had become competent in their current assignments.  They realigned their sales force every six to twelve months—changing industry assignments, making regional and division assignments, etc.  Each reorganization (each pull of the one-armed bandit) rendered the company less successful and less competitive, symptoms of Slot Machine Management.

As performance goes south, the slot machine manager reacts by implementing more change to stem the fall in performance.  In effect the gambler reaches up and pulls the slot machine handle with the hope that maybe this time he will hit the jackpot rather than lemons.  That precipitates another fall in results and more changes by management, spiraling the company down to lower and lower results.


In 2010 Music City suffered a great flood.  Nashville streets were turned into streams and the streams into raging killing zones.  That is the setting for my newest novel, The Claret Murders, available on for $15.99 or at only $2.99 for the Kindle, Nook and through iTunes for the iPad.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Management Candy

There are right ways and wrong ways to pursue one’s objectives.

 M&M’s, or Management Candy, represents the right way—doing the Main things necessary to achieve the objective with the Minimum resources required.  It is about doing the right things the right way.  Doing the right things is Effectiveness.  Do things the right way is Efficiency.  The concept of Management Candy applies to commercial enterprises and also to non-profit and governmental entities although it is likely to be less effective in the latter.

Management Candy, M&M’s, is an extraordinarily powerful concept that, once assimilated into the culture of an enterprise, alters how team members think and make decisions.  It forces individuals, working groups, departments, divisions, and the company leaders to ask and answer the following questions:

  • What is (are) the main thing(s) my group’s success depends on?  
  • What is (are) the main strategy (strategies) we will rely on to achieve the main thing(s) our success depends on?  
  • What is (are) the main tactic(s) we will use to implement our main strategy (strategies) for achieving the main thing(s) our success depends on?  
  • What are the minimum resources required for those tactics?  

When these questions are asked and answered at the individual level, working group level, department level, etc., you have an opportunity-focused team thinking and acting strategically.  That is a performance level few companies achieve.

Initially some people have a difficult time understanding the implications and importance of the notion of “the minimum resources required.”  When people hear the word “minimum,” they tend to think you mean going on the “cheap”—trying to get by with less than the optimum effort or resources—cutting corners, poor quality, etc.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It means doing what is absolutely necessary to achieve the objective and not an ounce more.

What the “minimum resources required” is intended to convey is that once we have achieved our objective, we will have a new objective and need resources to pursue that new opportunity.  There is always an encore to be performed.  There is always another mountain to climb.  Resources have to be conserved for future investment in the pursuit of new opportunities.  Generals hold troops in reserve.  Soldiers keep dry powder for the next scrimmage.

M&M’s, Management Candy, produces a culture of strategic thinking and decision making.  The “minimum” side of Management Candy does not encourage half measures.  One of my favorite sayings is that it only cost a little more to go second class—because of the do-overs, delays, wasted and frustrated resources—make the investment that will get the job done.  Then move on!

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Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New Career, Mark Rollins and the RainmakerMark Rollins and the Puppeteer, and the newest, The Claret Murders. For signed copies, go to Ebook editions are available on for the Kindle, on Barnes & Noble for the Nook, and in Apple iTunes' iBookstore for the iPad.  Paperback editions are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online bookstores.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Change by Decree

One of the wrong ways to implement change is by decree—“Do it because I said to!” or “Do it because I’m the boss.”  The problem with Change by Decree is that it is unmanaged.  It could be successful or it could fail.  The arrows in the icon illustrate that the reaction to the change can be all over the board.  It is uncontrolled.  People don’t react well to forced change so one thing is sure, whatever success is achieved, if any, it will be at a greater cost than for properly managed change.  Remember the icon for the condition required before the downward spike of the Change Curve is halted and turned upward—KASH.  Change by Decree does nothing to create a positive attitude, sabotaging the likely outcome from the onset.  Unmanaged change endangers any organization.

If change is so risky and dangerous, one might conclude that it is something to avoid.  The answer, of course, is that you can’t.  Change is the very essence of business.  Yes, change left unattended can destroy the business.  Likewise, change occurring around you that is left un-responded to reduces your competiveness and can even eliminate the market for your goods or services.  Too often entrenched market leaders ignore the changes occurring from disruptive technology or innovation.  They focus on the quality, “wrong Q”.  The Underwood company thought of itself as a typewriter company not as company to help people produce documents.  If they had viewed themselves as the latter, they might still be around.

Survival requires businesses to respond to a constantly changing environment.  Consider the chances of surviving in the music industry as vinyl was displaced by CDs only to lose out to the downloading of digital songs.  Consider what it was like to survive in the technology business as main frames and service bureaus were replaced by mini-computers which were quickly replaced by desktop computers now under assault from the “cloud” and a host of handheld devices and pads.  How does one survive in the telecommunications communications field now that the Internet is here?  How would you like to have been the leading manufacturer of FAX machines?  Consider the publishing industry now transitioning from the print age to the digital age.  Long-term survival requires companies to embrace change, not avoid it!

Change by Decree, forcing change on people, is unmanaged.  It may work or it may not.  The response to forced change, “Do it because I said to,” is random and unpredictable.

In 2010 Music City suffered a great flood.  Nashville streets were turned into streams and the streams into raging killing zones.  That is the setting for my newest novel, The Claret Murders, available on for $15.99 or at only $2.99 for the Kindle, Nook and through iTunes for the iPad.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Limited Resources

Relative Perception influences the downward spike of the Change Curve but an even more profound influence is the natural limitation on resources.  Large changes have put many companies out of business.  The depth and width of the downward spike becomes too big to overcome.

A not infrequent example is that of a small company in a relatively fast growing market that wants to significantly increase sales results.  A new sales manager is hired (or worse, their top salesperson is promoted) and given the objective of doubling new account acquisition.  The plan seems simple enough.  To double sales, double the sales staff.

Only the objective is never realized.  In fact, if you double your sales force quickly, sales typically fall through the basement.  Why?  It takes time for new additions to become productive.  So while new salespeople aren’t yet productive, the original salespeople are spending much of their time mentoring, training, and answering the questions of the new people.  Never forget Parkinson’s Law: work creates work.  Deploying new resources is work.  Like it or not, the introduction of new capacity actually decreases productivity until those new resources are deployed and fully productive.  Do it too fast and you can put an organization out of business.
For an enterprise purposefully pursuing long term success, there is no such thing as unlimited resources.  It makes no difference if you could actually double the sales force, triple it or quadruple it because you have the funds.  It makes no difference if un-deployed labor, capital, or material is available.  Deployment, not availability, is the issue.  Resources have to be deployed to become productive and deploying them consumes existing resources and energy.  The concept of limited resources due to deployment is like an hourglass.  You may have access to labor in the case of the sales staff example, but the only way you can successfully deploy those additional resources is incrementally.  You have to get them through the neck of the hourglass, if you are to deploy them without a large negative impact on performance. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Relative Perception

The negative consequences of change, the downward spike, are relative to size or even the perception of the size of the change.  There are indications that the reaction to change is practically nil below a level of 10%.  For example a change in color, audio volume, or brightness of lights less than 10% will go virtually unnoticed, and thus there would be no reaction to it.

To illustrate Relative Perception consider a frequent example related to the purchase of a new car.  Let’s say you’re looking at a $40,000 car.  The salesperson suggests you upgrade the standard radio to their deluxe model.  The new price is $40,350 and the increase in the monthly payment is only pocket change.  It is an easy decision—a no-brainer.  You opt for the upgrade.

However what if you were just purchasing the radio with no car involved.  The price difference would look entirely different to you.  The standard radio model is $225.  The upgraded model is $575.  The relative change or difference in price appears large, and your reaction to that change would be quite different—the decision to upgrade would not be so inviting.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


As an enterprise grows and begins to compartmentalize into specialized segments or departments, sub-optimization, another natural negative change, will occur in the absence of clear leadership and frequent communication.  Sub-optimization is the condition where a specialty area gives their own objectives a higher priority than that given to the common objectives of the organization.

The tendency is a natural phenomenon and must be managed and controlled.  Where conflict exists between the unit goals and those of the organization as a whole, sub-optimization is damaging and distracting.  For long-term purposeful success the organization must be consistent and proactive in maintaining harmony between the unit’s goals and those of the organization.  Communication is essential in that process.  A sales department’s goal to achieve quota can lead to over promising and under delivering.  The legal department’s objective of protecting the firm from liability can result in one-sided unrealistic terms.  A shipping department’s goal to avoid overtime can result in late deliveries to customers.  The marketing department’s goal for maintaining a uniform message can strangle the organization’s efforts to reach diverse segments of the market.
PS: The popular wine blog posted a review of The Claret Murders.  If you love good wine,  you will want to read The Claret Murders.  It is available in print for $15.99 or as an e-book, Kindle, Nook or iPad, for $2.99.  

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Parkinson’s Law—Overworked and Underpaid

The Lifecycle explains one of the natural forces at work driving change, but there are other factors at work as well.  Parkinson’s Law is one of the more important of those natural forces impacting business negatively.  Cyril Northcote Parkinson (30 July 1909 – 9 March 1993) was a British naval historian and author of some sixty books, the most famous of which was his bestseller Parkinson's Law, which led him to also be considered as an important scholar within the field of public administration.  He is credited with the infallible observation that “work expands to fill available time” and by extension “expenses rise to meet income.”  It is the idea that work creates work and thus management must be constantly diligent and alert—simplifying and eliminating.  That is the ability that governments and bureaucracies seem unable to master.  Without change dedicated to simplifying and eliminating, negative forces will drive a business into unsustainable levels of inefficiency. 
PS:  I will be signing my books at the Landmark Booksellers in Franklin TN on September 13, 2012 from 5:30 to 7:30.  The event is called a Book Tasting and we will have wine (claret of course), cheese, snacks, free gifts and prizes.  If you have already purchased The Claret Murders or any of my other books bring them with you to be signed. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Managing Change-KASH

In order for the downward spike of the Change Curve to be stopped and the upward movement to occur to the point of achieving the targeted higher performance, those involved must have four things: new Knowledge combined with the right Attitude to acquire necessary Skills which through use become Habit.

The people affected must acquire new knowledge—for the sake of illustrating what I mean by new knowledge, think of a user’s manual or training.  The receptionist trying to deal with a new phone system has to be trained, and equally important all the people in the office have to understand how their piece of the system works including its new benefits and features.  If they have been given that prerequisite knowledge, or eventually dig it out themselves, then with the right attitude they will acquire new skills (the skill to use the new equipment and features).  In short they will know how, but until those skills become habit, higher performance will go unrealized.  It is only over time that those skills become habit and allow the Change Curve to reverse its downward trend turning upward from its low point, the valley of despair, to climb up to targeted performance.  It is like a golfer or other athlete who develops muscle memory.  Taking advantage of the new equipment and benefits has to become instinctive.  If you have to take the time to check with others, refer to a checklist or open a user’s guide, the new system will still be getting in the way of performance.

When a receptionist dealing with a new phone system says “If you ask me this has just made things worse,” she is the victim of a lack of proactive change management. Sooner or later, in the example of the phone system, the organization will survive and get some of the desired benefit of upgrading its phone system—but not before hurting its performance and frustrating its people and customers for some period of time.  But other changes, left to similarly fester, can literally put a company out of business.  It is a scenario I have seen played out many times. 

PS: My new book, The Claret Murders continues to get strong reviews.  The Kirkus review organization said, "Collins keeps the story motoring with writing that is frank but not scant, muscular but not tough-guy, something akin to the 1960s TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” " …when the great cache of wine enters the picture and then a roaring storm comes down to swamp the landscape and the cellar, Collins deftly moves the story forward, and frankly, the reader really wants to know what happens to the wine more than Ann, Paul and the rest of the no-goods. Collins has a nice way of evoking Tennessee, its pace and proprieties and politics, from the spicy Zumba rhythms of a local club to the breeching banks of the Cumberland River."  Ebooks are only $2.99 for the Kindle, Nook and, by going to iTunes, the IPad.  Amazon has the print edition for $15,99 and signed copies are available by going to

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Change Curve

Business success occurs through change.  The organization seeking purposeful long-term success pursues Excellence and Lead Positions.  It practices Constant Innovation.  It diligently simplifies and eliminates.  It practices Management Judo and guards against developing weaknesses internally.  The organization that does not do those things is at the mercy of the natural forces that change us for the worse.

I am reminded of a TV commercial.  Unfortunately I can’t remember what the ad was for.  It showed a harried office receptionist trying to handle incoming phone calls.  She says, “They told us that this new phone system would make everyone more productive.”  There is a long pause.  She looks into the camera and says, “If you ask me they have just made things worse.”  To understand why things got worse, you have to know what change looks like.  We make changes like the new telephone system because we want to move to a new level of performance or benefit as illustrated here. 

In the real world that is not the way change behaves.  Change creates a sharp downward spike in performance—the bigger the change, the bigger the downward spike.  The less investment made in preparing for and managing change, the bigger the downward spike.  The Change Curve turns upward only over time, and the rate of that upward climb is dependent on how effectively the change is managed. 

PS: My new novel, The Claret Murders just got another great review from one of the professional review organizations.  This is what Kirkus had to say: "Collins keeps the story motoring with writing that is frank but not scant, muscular but not tough-guy, something akin to the 1960s TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”  You can get e-book copies (Kindle, Nook or Ipad) for just $2,99 or the printed copy for $15.99.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Management Judo

Peter Drucker identified a common behavioral trait among established organizations. One that over time renders them competitively weaker and gives the alert company the opportunity to achieve increased market share through Management Judo—leveraging off of the competitor’s weaknesses for an advantage.  The weaknesses companies tend to develop over time include:

  • A “not invented here” (NIH) attitude that will make the company slow to take advantage of new technology, processes, or materials, etc.  
  • The “Creamer” will concentrate too long on the higher profit, upper end of the market leaving the door open for others to enter the market through the lower end.  
  • Failure to stay in touch with clients will result in the company emphasizing its idea of best  quality or features (Wrong Quality) leaving the customer’s real wants unsatisfied or the price too high.  
  • The “Premium Pricer” is the high price alternative and continues to maintain or even increase price in the face of equal or superior competitive alternatives.  
  • The “Maximizer” keeps adding features to satisfy marginal market elements leaving the door open for the niche company that will provide a simpler, lower cost product or service that only addresses the needs of a particular market segment.  

The marketplace is littered with the bones of those who died at the hands of competitive Management Judo.  It is important to understand that without constant management effort these weaknesses will develop.  For the excellence company that means that the opportunity to gain market share through Management Judo will arise repeatedly.  But perhaps even more importantly, you must recognize that the seeds of these five weaknesses are also within your organization.  They will develop and you will lose market share and eventually fail as a company unless you are continually making changes and altering course to counter their development.  Left unattended they will development.  They are part of the natural changes that pull an organization down.

The successful company must always be on guard against developing Drucker’s identified weaknesses and at the same time remain alert for opportunities it can take advantage of when its competitors fall into the behavioral trap identified by Drucker.

PS:  Buy the Kindle e-book edition of my new mystery, The Claret Murders, for only $2.99.  Nook and IPad editions are also $2.99. A print edition of the book is available from Amazon for $15.99.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Profiting from Uncertainty and Change

I was looking over my bookshelf.  Yes, I still have printed books that I read; not everything has gone digital.  One of the books on the self is Profiting from Uncertainty: Strategies for Succeeding No Matter What the Future Brings by Paul J.H. Schoemaker.

Few of us have the concentration needed to apply Schoemaker's approach to scenario planning and dynamic monitoring.  Nevertheless, Schoemaker has it right.  Change (especially uncertain change) is the stuff opportunities are made of—provided you have developed a way of thinking that prepares you and your business to take advantage of whatever the future brings.  The French scientist Louis Pasteur said it in one short sentence: "Chance favors only the prepared mind."

This morning my wife was reading about the problems resulting from changes in apartment and home design—open floor plans, hardwood floors, hard surfaces like granite and the disappearance of window curtains.  Surprise—privacy has been eliminated and the hard surfaces have created a sound problem.  As a result, there is now demand for mechanical screens to close off open spaces when privacy is needed and sound absorbing panels to dampen the reverberating noise.

The point is change increases opportunities.  The key is to be prepared for it so that you can move quickly to get there with products or services to meet new needs.  You have to anticipate possible future events in order to have a basic plan in place to move faster and with more resources than the other guy.  Have a weekly lunch or a monthly evening session devoted to nothing but thinking about things that could happen and then thinking about how they could happen differently.  The mission would be to identify strategies that would allow you to benefit rather than suffer from these events.

Have fun thinking "out of the box" and strategically thinking about how you could capitalize rather than suffer from uncertain future events.  That "thinking out of the box" exercise is likely to become your vehicle for rapid response to real-life events.  Chance, Luck, Opportunity—whatever you call it, it benefits best those who are prepared.  Practice prepares you to take advantage of events that surprise others.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fix It Before It Breaks

The notion that excellence once achieved can only be maintained through constant innovation brings us to the second of the two certainties in business and life—change is constant. The old saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." is dead wrong because things are always in the state of breaking.  Nothing is exempt. Everything, a chair, a desk, the technology you depend on, the materials you use, the availability of labor and capital, competitive conditions, government controls, customer preferences are all in a state of flux.  Everything and every condition, whole industries, even human life, have a life cycle. Things come into existence.  They mature and prosper.  They wane and begin a decline.  And ultimately they are replaced.

Successful businesses succeed by building one life cycle on top of another.
As one turns down, the successful organization shifts its emphasis to a new life cycle—one beginning its upswing. The successful company must always be asking “what is next?”  It must be engaged in strategic planning and intelligence gathering to plan its future—preparing to adjust and evolve—“fixing it before it breaks” by moving across from one life cycle to another.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lead Position

Peter Drucker said that only a leading edge position allows a business to achieve results.  Anything less is at best competent which leads to marginal.  Taking a lead position with respect to a product or service does not mean bigger or more costly.  It does mean an advantageous difference in the eyes of the customer.  Excellent organizations pursue lead positions.  How can we remain different and better? That is a question that an effective team is constantly asking.  It is an opportunity to be persistently pursued because lead positions are both transitory and targets for the competition.

 It is a game of leapfrog. The excellence organization is constantly leapfrogging to a new lead position.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Two Certainties

Leave it to Benjamin Franklin to voice simple truths.  He understood the two certainties in life and business.  We are always judged by others, and change is constant.  He put it in simple terms of the day—taxes and death.   A tax being the assessment or judgment of government and death represents the ultimate human change.  Belief in the concept of Two Certainties—that we are judged by others and that change is an inevitable and a continuing part of business and life—is a prerequisite for success.  Unless you are guided by that principal, you will not experience purposeful success.   Yes, it is possible to experience accidental success—your fifteen minutes of fame—but never long-term sustained success.

For purposeful long-term success, an enterprise must be solidly anchored by a belief in the Two Certainties—we will always be judged by others and change is constant.  What we are is determined through the judgment of others, and either we purposely change to improve or natural forces erode and change us for the worse.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Pursuit of Excellence is the Only Sound Strategy

Tom Peters in A Passion for Excellence gave us a model for achieving excellence.  Excellence, represented by the top of the pyramid in this icon, can only be achieved through the eyes of those who judge us.  We can only achieve excellence in the eyes of our customers through people who truly care about those customers.  And once we achieve excellence, we can only maintain it with constant innovation—continuing innovative change.  Accomplishing both, customer care and innovation, takes a common sense of direction (I-65 North) and in-touch leadership for which management (and communications) by wandering around has been an essential tool.

When Peters wrote A Passion for Excellence, communication tools like the Internet and web were not around.  We didn’t have websites, blogs, online meetings and collaboration tools, or business-class instant messaging systems.  Peters observed that "excellence companies" practiced Management and Communication by Wandering Around (MBWA and CBWA) to achieve an in-touch state and a sense of common direction.  Today organizations have a wonderful array of tools for communication among and between team members and customers.  But the essential element is constant communication. When team members and customers have to start questioning an organization's direction due to a lack of communication, the battle is lost.  Communication is never a one way street and it must always be honest.  It must flow in all directions and that includes communication to and from customers.   It must be consistent throughout the organization from the top to the bottom of the organization chart and that can only occur when every member of the team is confident that they understand I-65 North and the organization’s core beliefs system for traveling I-65 North.

What do I mean by I-65 North?  It is a metaphor for my philosophy about business and life. We are on a journey, one that involves constant change and where success is determined through the eyes of those who judge us. The role of a leader get people moving the same direction— to provide a clear sense of direction (North) and how we are going to get there (I-65).  It is a symbol representing an organization's goals and objectives and it's a core set of beliefs (the rules of the road) for pursuing those goals and objectives.