Friday, December 13, 2013

Best Advice #2--Don't Coast

As I was growing up, my father owned a grocery store in South Memphis, Tennessee. The store came first in Dad’s book. For example, long before we had a home with air conditioning, Dad had the store air-conditioned. Memphis is hot in the summertime—really hot and humid. So on hot summer Sundays, when the store was closed to business, we would pack up our comic books, toys, or projects and camp out in the aisles of the store.

You are probably asking, “What about TV?”  Well, I know it is hard to believe, but TV had not arrived yet, at least not in most homes. The first TV (black and white, I might add) I saw was at a neighbor’s house in 1948. The democratic convention for the nomination of Harry Truman was broadcasting. It was several years later before we were lucky enough to get a TV at our home.

Dad was a butcher by trade. Even though he owned the store, he spent his time in the meat department. That is where I often worked to earn a little spending money—cutting up chickens, grinding and mixing ground beef, making minute steaks, raking the sawdust, and scraping the meat blocks. One bit of advice from dad was, “You can always find something to do.” He said, “If you really can’t think of anything that needs doing, then at least run around in circles, but LOOK busy!” Dad did not believe in standing around waiting to be told what to do. That probably was not the best advice. It was much later in life before I learned that sometimes thinking is more important than doing—and there are times when you need to conserve your energy for what is really important.

There was another piece of advice, however, that has served me particularly well. It is advice I have passed on to my children and their children. It is advice that I have given in many meetings when talking to a critically important project team. Dad used a driving analogy to pass on his important message. He said, "Son, when you’re almost to the top of a hill, don’t take
your foot off the gas pedal!" If Mother had been giving the advice, it might have come out, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

The point of Dad’s advice is, when you think you’ve got it made, drive it home, put it in the bank. Don’t relax! Don’t try to coast to the finish line. It is the story of the hare and the tortoise. Perseverance and follow-through count. There are zillions of people who can say, “I could have been a contender.” Those that made it, never took their foot off the gas.

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For signed copies go to Unsigned print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Psychologists often talk about motivation in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
In recent times, the first half of the hierarchy has been largely replaced by the attachment theory. The top of the hierarchy, however, is still relevant for us. When we talk about motivation, we are talking about Self-Esteem, and Self-Actualization. These are the needs that when pursued involve achievement, problem solving, and creativity.

The question is how does Maslow’s hierarchy fit with the assertion in the Language of Excellence that motivation is not externally created—it comes from within. You can hire motivated people, and you can extinguish or discourage motivation (at least temporarily), but you cannot create it in people. While there could be exceptions, they are so rare as to validate the conclusion that in business you cannot change the person. You can, however, change people on your team.

As it turns out, Maslow’s research studied only the healthiest 1% of college students. He also studied what he called exemplary people—people like Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass. In other words, Maslow’s pyramid reflects the motivational drivers among level -A people. Like it or not, there are other people who are fully satisfied by fulfilling needs expressed by the lower half of the pyramid.

Since I am not a psychologist I cannot explain why, but I can point to generations of dependence as a common factor among many of the people who are unmotivated to travel into the upper half of the pyramid of needs. There are exceptions, however. There are those who are driven by Self-Actualization needs no matter what their environment. Nevertheless, those living under Communist rule for generations tend to shut the door between the two halves of Maslow’s hierarchy. Likewise, generations of dependence on government welfare seems to extinguish the desire to aspire to levels above satisfying Security and Relationship needs.

The extraordinary thing about some of those who operate at the higher levels is that they appear never to be satisfied with their achievement. They never relax to enjoy their past achievements. These are the true A-level people. Why do some people do what they do? What drives adventurers to start planning their next climb during their decent from a mountain just conquered? What makes the winner at the roulette table risk his or her winnings on the next spin of the wheel? Why would the successful entrepreneur cancel retirement plans to start a new venture? Why did the programmers who created Pong, the first widely successful computer game, sign up for the next project? They are driven to achieve (to win), just to have the opportunity to do it again. They play to play again.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Real Corporate Persona

Peter Drucker in his 1954 book The Practice of Management identified
eight areas in which an enterprise should have clearly defined goals or objectives:
  1. Market standing
  2. Innovation
  3. Productivity
  4. Physical and financial resources
  5. Profitability
  6. Manager’s performance and development
  7. Worker’s performance and attitude
  8. Public responsibility
Does the inclusion of public responsibility surprise you? It should not. The beauty of Drucker’s list is that it belies the image of the "evil corporation." Based on my experience, his list reflects the real-life mindset of the modern corporate leader. Modern business leaders are concerned with more than profits. They are concerned about their role in the community. They are major contributors—both directly and indirectly—to education, the arts, and the needy. They are concerned about the development and well-being of their employees. They create “better living” through innovations. They are the source of income for every single citizen. Even those employed by the government owe their income to taxes paid by commercial enterprises or by those employed by, or invested in, commercial enterprises.
As important as Drucker’s list of eight key results areas is, the more profound observation of this 1954 book is that there is only one valid purpose for the existence of a business. It is to create a customer. The only thing that provides a business the opportunity for success is a customer who pays and decides what is important. Everything else, including its internal structure, controls, organization, and procedures, is just expense. All those things, everything else in the business, exist for the sole purpose of serving the customer.
Those who tend to view the corporation less favorably will ask, “How can a profit requirement exist for the sole purpose of serving the customer?” Profit is necessary to attract the capital needed to provide the product or service wanted by the customer. Without the customer, there would be no need for capital. Without the customer, there would be nothing to attract the capital.
Having said the above, there are bad apples—but they are the exception, not the rule.
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Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New CareerMark Rollins and the RainmakerMark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders. For signed copies go to Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Businessman Concept

One of the things any effective leader would like to instill in their team members is the feeling that it is “my business.” You are the businessperson. It is your reputation. Your money is on the line.
As a college student, I worked at night at The Tastee Bread Company in Nashville, Tennessee. Their motto was “Baked while you sleep.” The company had a suggestion box and rewarded employees with monetary payments for suggestions that saved money or improved productivity. A member of the maintenance department measured the water being lost by a leaky faucet and applied the utility’s rate to calculate the monetary cost of water being lost yearly. He entered a suggestion that the bad washer causing the leak be replaced. The suggestion even included his calculation of the dollar amount the replaced washer would save the company. The next day, after the suggestion box had been opened and his suggestion read, he was fired.

You see, he was the maintenance man. It was his job to repair the faucet. Something he would have done if he had looked at The Tastee Bread Company as “my business.”

With a common sense of direction and an understanding of the rules of the road, you will make the right decisions and avoid the wrong ones as long as you treat this as your business.
It is your business; just stay on I-65 North!

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Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New CareerMark Rollins and the RainmakerMark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders. For signed copies go to Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The best advice I ever received

The best advice I ever received came from my father-in-law. He was a typical southern business owner of his time. He always wore a suite, tie and usually a hat.  Working in his garden on a hot summer evening, he made a concession. The suit coat was left in the house, but hoe in his hand he still wore a white shirt and tie. I was had just started by career and confessed how difficult it was to live on a budget. Without looking up Mr. Reed said, “Yes, I know. I tried it once and decided the only thing to do was to make more money than I was spending.” Mr. Reed was the founder of the Tennessee Book Company, which in his mid-sixties he sold to the Ingram Corporation. Ingram went on to build an empire as a software distributor. On another occasion, I recall my father-in-law remarking that he was lucky not to have gone into business for himself before age forty because if he had he likely would have failed. Looking back on my own career, I understand now what he meant by that. When it comes to business, you are a lot smarter at forty.
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Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New CareerMark Rollins and the RainmakerMark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders. For signed copies go to Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


The graphic for terminations is blank for a very good reason. In spite of what the human resources people will tell you, there is no right way to terminate people. Yes, there is the three-step method:
  1. Agree there is a problem
  2. Agree on what is required to correct it and by what specific date
  3. Agree on the consequence if the corrective action does not occur
You cannot be an excellent leader unless you are prepared to get the wrong people off the bus. However, it is never easy.  There are people you want to march to the door immediately, and they deserve it. There are people who just cannot get along. There are those who will not follow the playbook. There are people who just continue to insist that the organization should go south, east, or west rather than north. There are people in over their head—they do not have the KASH needed for the job. Then there are those who seem to everything needed to succeed, but for whatever reason, including bad luck, just cannot seem to achieve the objectives. You have an obligation to put someone new in their spot who you believe can take the company where it needs to go.
When you cut through all of the reasons, it comes down to two groups of people:
  • Those who deserve to be terminated and got there without any help from you, and
  • Those who are hiring or promotion mistakes.
Everyone makes mistakes, but if you are in a leadership position then you either are up to the job of correcting those mistakes—or you are the one that needs to be on the street looking for a job. As hard as it is at times, it is your job to build a winning team and that means cutting people as well as giving new people a chance to play on the team. If it is your mistake, you need to go the extra mile to help the individual move on to a position inside or outside the company where you believe they can be successful. That means giving them the time to relocate or at least providing them with a generous separation arrangement.
We live in a very litigious period and our government is always coming up with laws and regulations designed to protect employees from employers. The hiring and firing functions are minefields that have to be navigated with great care.
When it comes to hiring for example, it is your job to determine if a candidate fits the job picture: “Can and will they do the job in this environment with these people.” There are all kinds of interview questions that are off the table because of government rules and regulations. That makes your job of hiring the right people harder, but that does not relieve you of your responsibility. You have to know the rules, and you have to acquire the skills to get the job done within those rules.
When it comes to terminations, it is one thing to terminate someone immediately for misconduct; it is altogether different when there is no misconduct. Fairness requires that you deal with each case in light of the circumstances. Yet at the same time, treating people differently exposes you and the company to the risk of litigation. That is why many companies have rules providing for notice or separation pay based on length of employment. Nevertheless, before there is an issue of termination, there is nothing to prevent you from counseling an individual about where their talents lie and what their future prospects are within your organization. There is nothing to stop you from helping someone secure a position elsewhere. The best resolution of a hiring or promotion mistake is one that does not result in termination.
The idea of “In this environment with these people”, means that just because a person did not work out in a particular situation does not mean that they will not be a success elsewhere. That is an important message. It is particularly important in those situations where a hiring or promotion mistake has occurred. The concept is helpful when counseling an individual about their future. It helps when recommending someone to other employers.  If counseling does not solve the problem, the concept is helpful when you terminate a person.  You can do so without branding them as a failure. Your action is only communicating that the individual it did not work out in this environment with these people, but that does not necessarily mean that the individual will not succeed elsewhere.
As for the people who earned a termination without any help from you, you owe them nothing.
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Join me at the Southern Book Festival this Friday October 11, 2013.  I will be discussing and reading from my novel, The Claret Murders, in room 29 of the Legislative Plaza from 4:00pm to 5:00pm. Then from 5:00pm to 5:30, I will be signing books on the War Memorial Colonnade. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Effectiveness vs. Efficiency

Effectiveness is doing the right things. Efficiency is doing things right. Timing is probably one of the distinguishing characteristics of the excellent company and a good measure of their secret lies in understanding that 80% can be accomplished in 20% of the time at 20% of the cost. They move fast and quick because they know the secret, but the real secret is that that 80% has to be done 100%. The also rans take too long and with a much larger investment. Excellent companies know that no matter how much you plan, planning errors will exist and most of it will be associated with the last 20%. Get it done, get it out there, adjust, refine, finish with real live experience. Planning can only address 80% efficiently.

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Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New CareerMark Rollins and the RainmakerMark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders. For signed copies go to Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Creating Something Out of Nothing

It has been a few years since I first read Kevin O’Connor’s book, The Map of Innovation, about creating something out of nothing. Kevin is not just anyone. By the time he wrote The Map of Innovation, he had already founded three successful companies and was working on the next two. I know him best as the founder of DoubleClick as the dot-com industry erupted on the world economy. DoubleClick has since been acquired, but it is still the technology behind those targeted ads on the Internet.

While it sounds elementary, O’Connor says something very profound in this book. He writes:
All businesses, no matter what business you are in, really boil down to answering three questions:
  1. Who are your customers?
  2. What are their needs?
  3. How can you solve those needs most efficiently?
Kevin’s book is about his process for answering those questions. It is about how to generate ideas and select the right ones to pursue for success and wealth. He calls his process BPT or Brainstorming Prioritization Technique. My son Stephen, the CEO of Bazaarvoice and previously the chief financial and technology officer at DoubleClick, uses a variation on BPT. I have used my own approach developed independently over the years under the umbrella of The Language of Excellence. I refer to my approach as the “Consensus Process” but the process is similar to BPT and the objectives are the same.

Here is Kevin’s BPT checklist:
  • Get the right people in the room.
  • Define the problem (question or issue) carefully.
  • Spend up to twenty minutes brainstorming, no discussion.
  • Explain and talk about the ideas until everyone is clear on what they are.
  • Combine similar ideas.
  • Number the ideas.
  • Divide the total number of ideas by three. This is the number of votes each person gets.
  • Only one vote per idea.
  • Circle the top three to six ideas.
  • Ignore everything else.
I use a simple visual model for the Consensus Process:

O’Connor’s book was published in 2003 and print copies are still available, but your best bet to get this powerful tool for creating something out of nothing is to download the $14.99 Kindle version from Amazon.

There is a caveat. When writing about strategic planning, I always emphasize that the only sound “plan” is a plan to change the “plan.” Objectives and goals are merely temporary targets based on inaccurate assumptions. So planning is a continuous process. With that in mind, you have to keep asking O’Connor’s three questions repeatedly to get it right. You have to keep refining your answers based on new knowledge, changes in the environment in which you operate, and new assumptions about the future. How well you answer the three questions will determine the degree of your success.

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I will be joining authors Stacy Allen, Chester Campbell, and Lane Stone on Friday, August 23, 2013, to discuss how available everyday technology, including the smart phone, helps and hinders the fictional modern-day sleuth. The Killer Nashville session is scheduled for 2:00 pm. In my book The Claret Murders, the 2010 flood is used to confound the central character’s usual access to technology.
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 Print and eBook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online bookstores. The eBook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes’ iBookstore.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Over Controlling

Controlling is one of the duties of a leader, but controls can go too far.  The excellent leader guards against the tendency of controls to accumulate with negative consequences.

Businesses are plagued by cause-and-effect fallacies—because we do certain things, certain things happen.  Sales contests are one example. Does it produce an increase in sales or just move revenues from one period to another? Controls are another.

Systems, policies, and procedures tend to accumulate, stifling performance. The excellent leader systematically subjects the organization’s activities to “so what” and “if what” questioning. They are diligent about eliminating and simplifying. They understand that activity, “work,” creates work. They first place priority on effectiveness, “doing the right thing,” but second they look for efficiency, “doing things right,” and in most cases that means simplifying and eliminating. Steve Jobs was relentless. His focus on simplifying and eliminating was notorious to the point that he eliminated the "on" and "off" button from devices. It is unnecessary he said; the device knows when it is not being used, and it knows when you start to use it. So why bother?

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It is Nashville, a history-making flood, a beautiful attorney, a deadly secret, and wine to kill for--The Claret Murders, the latest Mark Rollins mystery adventure by author Tom Collins


Saturday, August 10, 2013

It is begenning to look at lot like 2010 all over again!

The Claret Murders is fictional story (a mystery) that takes place during the big Nashville flood.  Was that the flood of 2010 or is it 2013?
Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New CareerMark Rollins and the RainmakerMark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders. For signed copies go to Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


The controlling aspect of management is represented by the generally upward movement of the business chart. Controlling implies that the business achieves successive expectations, the Encore.
The Encore is a reality of business. Those who judge us expect successively higher results. Planners and managers must consider this expectation and generally manage to achieve it. It means keeping your powder dry. It means not operating on the razor's edge. It means building elasticity into the business. It means early warning systems and gap planning to make up shortfalls. The ENCORE expectation includes product innovation, customer satisfactions, etc. Thus, the manager must always think, "what do we do for an ENCORE?"

Controlling implies systems that avoid doing the wrong thing and that moves the business toward predetermined objectives through meeting successive expectations—encore after encore. It does the right things and generally does them in the right way.

Control means problem avoidance—putting systems, policies, and procedures in place that minimize problem occurrences. Problem avoidance can be further fostered through delegation. Managers should insist that a good measure of all problems be dealt with as close to the action as possible. A control system starts by setting a standard, then measuring the actual result, and adjusting the standard or actual as required. Excellent managers know the key factors that make their business successful and the key performance indications that tell them when the business is on or off course. They are unabashed believers in the power of goals. Higher goals result in successively higher achievements. They are always out to break records. They understand that every single member of the team impacts customer service and they look for ways to measure and reward individual performance in serving the organization’s customers. I have been blown away by the quality of white glove delivery service from companies like Macy’s department store. Not only do they exercise extraordinary care in delivery and setup, they talk to you as a customer—explain what they are doing. When they leave, they ask you to report to the company. “If you think we did a good job, let our company know.” Why?—because they are being measured and rewarded. They want to do a good job and to be recognized for it.

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Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New CareerMark Rollins and the RainmakerMark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders. For signed copies go to Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Leverage People Power

While most acquisitions are usually self-defeating in the long run, the low-cost-high-return character of leveraging off others to expand market share makes Leveraging People Power a common strategy among excellent companies. Don’t confuse the notion of leveraging off others with dealers or franchises. The dealer and franchise business models are organizational tools related to brick-and-mortar business operations. When business growth requires physical outlets or boots on the ground near the customer, the dealer and franchise models are often sound strategies as alternatives to the capital-intensive alternative of company-owned outlets or remote staffing. But they come with a price. Laws protecting franchisees limit the flexibility of the franchiser. Dealer agreements similarly complicate life for the mother company.

Technology has eliminated the need for nearby physical presence in many cases and created new opportunities for leveraging off others. For example, software companies certify independent trainers. Those trainers become promoters of the software.Social media has facilitated the creation of communities of users of a product or service. A classic example of the community approach to leverage off others is Harley Davidson. Today you can join an array of Harley groups—Military and Veterans, Women Riders, African American Riders, or the generic Harley Owners Group called the HOGs. User groups, social media groups, turn your clients and customers into spokes persons for your product or service. DIRECTV offers customers cash rewards for each new DIRECTV customer they bring on board. The reward goes to both the referring customer and the new customer. DIRECTV customers moving to a new home are taught to take their equipment with them but to leave the dish behind. The tactic assures client retention and makes installation easier at both locations. Excellent companies look for ways to leverage the power of others. It is the power of helping hands.

Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New CareerMark Rollins and the RainmakerMark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders. For signed copies go to Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Management is all about achieving objectives through others. Successful leaders have learned the art of delegation.

Rule number one is that delegation without definition is abandonment not delegation. Delegation is serious business. The five-paragraph military order is a useful example of providing instructions when handing off responsibility for a project or functional area of an organization:
  1. Situation: What is the situation or current state?
  2. Mission: What is the Mission or Goal and why?
  3. Execution: Guidelines, Strategies and tactics, Limitations and Policies
  4. Administration/Logistics: Supporting resources and required coordination
  5. Command: Reporting order and reporting expectations
The second rule is to decide what part of the organizational pie you should not delegate. This rule harkens back to Management Candy, M &M’s. You should retain responsibility for the main thing(s) your organization’s success depends on. That does not mean that you should not delegate the effort related to task, program, and projects, but the responsibility and accountability for the main thing(s) remain with the leader. As an example, take the relationship between the captain of an aircraft and the copilot. A captain can not delegate the responsibility for a safe landing of the plane. He or she can delegate the task of landing the plane under his direct supervision but getting that plane on the ground is the captain’s responsibility and it cannot be handed off.
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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Logic Box

Are two heads better than one? Moreover, if that is the case, then doesn’t it follow that three, four, five, etc. would be even better?

The answer is yes. Multiple heads are better than one when considering an action, for example, concerning a problem or trying to turn an apparent problem into an opportunity. It is not because those other heads are smarter. What they bring to the table is different combinations of KASH. Each of us is different because of the sum total of our prior learning and experiences. We each have a different “Logic Box”—a different set of Knowledge, Attitude, Skills, and Habits.
KASH forms the walls of our Logic Box. That box constrains our thinking. It limits our imagination. We can think outside of the box, but it is difficult, and it does not happen naturally. That is why brainstorming, getting multiple people (heads) to think about an issue, is better. It is better not because of better “ideas” but because of “more ideas.” The more ideas we have the better our chances of selecting the best one.

The classic puzzle illustrating the limits imposed by our Logic Box is the nine-dot puzzle.

The puzzle challenges you to draw four straight lines, without lifting your pencil from the “paper,” through all nine dots arranged in a square matrix. If you limit your attempts by an effort to stay inside of the box, you will not be able to do it.

“Think outside of the box” and the answer is simple:

We can all think outside of box, but it takes a deliberate effort to do it. Understanding the natural limits imposed by your personal Logic Box will help you look beyond the walls of the box to unleash your imagination, but no effort on your part can substitute for the value of groupthink. The more ideas you have on the table, the better your chances of selecting the best one should you be smart enough to recognize it among the alternatives.

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Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New CareerMark Rollins and the RainmakerMark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders. For signed copies go to Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Yes Men

Somewhere along the way, the term “Yes Men” got a bad name. It is true that no organization wants people who say “Yes” when they think “No.” Yet, if the organization is headed in a shared direction (north on I-65) pursuing common goals, then it follows that the organization must consist of people who think “Yes.” They must believe in the organization’s objectives and the rules of the road for getting there. They have to be committed to the strategies and tactics for achieving the organization’s objectives.

No one wants a team of robots, but in general, a company needs people who think “yes” at least 80% of the time. It cannot succeed with people who think “Yes” 20% and “No” 80% of the time.

You want a team of “Yes” men. Having them depends on the selection process. Leaders have to know what they are looking for and have to seek out the right candidates. Ross Perot put his finger on it when he said, “Eagles don't flock; you have to find them one at a time.” While development and training are an important part of business, they are only finishing actions. You have to start with qualified candidates whose goals are in harmony with those of the organization—“Yes Men.”

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I'll be back at the Belmont Mansion on July 30. If you missed the last High Tea, mark your calendar for July 30 starting at 4:00 P.M. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Pros Play Hurt

Do not confuse “management” as something that applies only to those in a supervisory or executive role. In the modern world, we are all “managers.” Even stay-at-home Moms or Dads have management challenges and depend on the cooperation of family members to achieve objectives. Professionals within a company that have no direct line still must influence clients and coworkers to accomplish their responsibilities. Management Candy represents the knowledge you need to succeed in your leadership and management role, but knowledge is never enough. To be on the “A” Team, you have to have the right stuff. You have to play like a pro—and they show up and play their best even when hurt!
  1. Keep Your Foot on the Gas: Don’t let up on the gas (effort) just because you are almost to the top of the hill (challenge).
  2. Persevere: Never throw in the towel.
  3. Standing 8: When knocked down, take the time to refocus. 
  4. Play Offense: Act, don’t react. 
  5. Presentation Counts: A cake is one thing; a cake with icing is altogether another. 
  6. Finish, Don’t Quit: Achievers bring things to a conclusion.
  7. Listen to be Heard: Great conversationalists ask and let others talk. 
  8. Dress for Success: Clothes may not make the man, but they make an impression. 
  9. It Is All About Giving: Relationships are built by helping others. 
  10. Two-Word Phrases to Use: “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” “I’m sorry.” 
  11. Put People in the Bank: Save them; they pay a great return.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Majoring in Minors

Parkinson’s Law, is the 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 leaders must be constantly diligent and alert—simplifying and eliminating. That is the ability that governments and bureaucracies seem unable to master, but effective business leaders must. Without leading the organization in a continuing effort to simplify itself and eliminate the unnecessary, negative forces will drive the business into unsustainable levels of inefficiency.

A potential organizational problem is the individual who majors in minors. Activity, hard work, and long hours are not synonymous with contribution. Contribution results from concentrating on the main things on which success depends and consuming the minimum resources required to achieve the objective.

People who major in minors misdirect efforts away from the majors and as predicted by Parkinson’s Law they create work for others—work that too often is on activities not essential for success. Excellence leaders understand the difference between contribution and activity and accept their obligation to purge those Majoring in Minors from the organization.

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Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New CareerMark Rollins and the RainmakerMark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders. For signed copies go to Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Acquisitions are like trying to grow mushrooms and the results are seldom worth it! Businesses have a personality—a unique culture. Even though a merger of two companies may appear to make financial success, the clash of cultures often damages both organizations. There is a long-standing joke about being acquired. It is like being a mushroom. First, they put you in the dark. Then they dump manure on you, and finally they can you. Unfortunately, there is a truth to the joke. Because eliminating people is the easiest way to cure the clash of cultures.

Even if an acquisition could be limited to acquiring a customer base, the square-peg-round-hole problem will still exist. The acquiring company finds that its efforts are redirected to assimilating clients who have chosen the acquired company’s products or services for reasons that probably differ from the reasons your customer chose you. Their customers have different expectations and have relationships with the team of the acquired company that will be disturbed. More than likely, terms and prices will be different and must be blended together. It is likely that promises or expectations will complicate assimilation. Any way you cut it, resources and energy become redirected.

The Encore expectation of the public often drives companies to play the acquisition game. The encore expected, if not demanded, is for companies to achieve successively higher results. Acquisitions usually follow a repeated pattern. The acquiring company consolidates operations by shedding people, which pushes profits up; however, over time the square-peg-round-hole disruption results in client/customer loses and declining profits. The acquirer makes another acquisition to achieve its expected successively higher results. Eventually the house of cards collapses.

One of the problems with “going public” is that the now-public company has a lot of cash and shareholders who expect that cash to be put to profitable use. The now-public company has little choice other than using its war chest to grow through acquisition. That in turn changes the nature of the business that attracted the new shareholders in the first place. Not all acquisitions are bad. Some are necessities. But generally speaking, they are high-risk low-return alternatives for growth. The only advantage they offer is immediacy but that immediacy comes with speed bumps that, in the long run, slow you down.

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On June 7th I will be in Fort Lauderdale at the BIG Breakfast event discussing my in-process book on Business Management and Leadership. The title is still up in the air, but I’m leaning toward Business Journey or Managing @ the Speed of Sight! Input is welcome. I will be signing copies of The Claret Murders and previous Mark Rollins adventure mysteries at the Vanderbilt Barnes and Noble in Nashville Tennessee on June 22nd ... more details to follow.

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 Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.

Monday, April 29, 2013

TNT: Today Not Tomorrow

Nothing happens until something (action) happens.

Excellent managers create a sense of urgency and strive to create an environment of acting today and not tomorrow. “Even large opportunities, problems, and issues can be broken down into smaller steps (actions) that can be acted upon incrementally so as to deal with issues in a TNT manner. TNT is an enormously simplifying tactic.

In my software company I had a sign in the accounting and shipping areas that read “Bill it today/Ship it today.” Without that performance standard, we would have had to have systems in place to keep up with what had not been billed and what had not been shipped. TNT reduced work.

In addition to reducing work,  TNT is the right innovation method—small, fast, and simple. Break the effort into “quick turn-around projects”—build a model, jerry-rig it, test it with clients. Act-test-act!

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Check out "Who is Reading" my latest novel The Claret Murders!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Acres of Diamonds

Russell Conwell, a minister and the founder of Temple University, may be most famous for this “Acres of Diamonds” story—the retelling of an old fable similar to the American folk saying, “The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.”

Conwell tells of a man who wanted to find diamonds so badly that he
sold his property and went off in futile search for them. The new owner of his home discovered that a rich diamond mine was located right there on the property. The moral of the story is “dig in your own backyard” for opportunities.

Until you have learned the hard way, the things you have to do to succeed in your current endeavor always look harder than something else you might do. If you are in the hamburger business, the pizza business looks easier and more profitable. If you are in the home cleaning business, someone in your group is going to tell you you should change to commercial because it’s easier and the money is better. If you sell to lawyers, you know the problems and difficulties of doing so. It is hard to get passed the gatekeeper, and once you do, getting a decision is a challenge of monumental proportions. “Surely, it would be easier to modify our product or service for the CPA market. Lawyers are hard to please; CPAs would be easier. It’s easier to get an appointment, and they make decisions.”—You think? Wherever you are, where you aren’t looks better. At least it looks better to those who haven’t learned the lesson “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Don’t go looking for diamonds elsewhere until you first dig in your own backyard. As for grass looking greener on the other side of the fence, don’t fall for it. The grass may look greener, but it usually isn’t—it is riskier!

Igor Ansoff (1918-2002), considered by some as the father of modern strategic thinking, developed a graphic matrix that visually explains the basic strategies for business growth which at the same time provides an easy explanation as to why the grass is seldom greener. Rather than greener, it is riskier!
 The matrix illustrates the four basic strategies for business growth:

  1. Market Penetration – selling more existing products into existing markets, usually by increased sales staff, promotion, pricing changes, or new routes to market, e.g., online 
  2. Product Development – developing new products or services for the existing markets 
  3. Market Development – taking existing products or services to new markets. 
  4. Diversification – developing new products and putting them into new markets 

Risk increases as you move from 1 to 2 to 3 and then to Diversification, considered the riskiest.

Market penetration is digging in your own backyard. You have to avoid taking on the weakness inherent in becoming a market leader—as illustrated by Management Judo. Risk increases when you embark on developing new products to sell to your existing market, but the risk of failure really shoots up when you begin digging in someone else’s backyard, attempting to transition your existing products to new markets, or to diversify with new markets and new products. Success in doing so depends largely on the organization possessing a Core Competency upon which its strategy is based.

One of the important tasks in strategic planning is to identify your organization’s (or segment’s) strengths. Opportunities are derived from capitalizing on one’s strengths. Core Competency is a special kind of strength. If you have one, it can provide you with growth opportunities far greater than that of an organization without it.

Most enterprises will not have a Core Competency, and it isn’t a requirement for success. Businesses with one simply have avenues of growth that are not available to others. Examples of Core Competency include 3M for adhesives and coating and Black & Decker for small electric motors. Core Competencies enable an organization to launch a variety of end products often appealing to different markets with different needs to be satisfied.

Prahalad and Gary Hamel coined the term “Core Competencies” in the 1990s and set out the following test for identifying a core competency:

  1. It must provide access to a wide variety of markets, and 
  2. Contribute significantly to the end-product benefits, and 
  3. Be difficult for competitors to imitate. 

Core Competencies are rare, and, in their absence, growth through exploiting new markets and developing new product markets are high-risk ventures. Capitalizing on the organization’s strengths to expand penetration of its existing market—digging in your own backyard—offers the high value-to-risk ratio.

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Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New CareerMark Rollins and the RainmakerMark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders. For signed copies go to Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.

Friday, April 12, 2013

No Return Policy for Problems

I started my career as a CPA and transitioned to business after three years with Price Waterhouse. I envisioned myself as a problem solver. The difficulty with that was that there is always another problem right behind the previous one. I wish I had understood that success comes from pursuing opportunities, not problems. I discovered that most problems work themselves out. They are solved in the course of opportunity pursuits. After years of on-the-job training, my motto has become “Not all problems deserve to be solved; of those that do, not all of them need to be solved by me.”  When you do tackle a problem,  you should have a "No Return Policy."

Don't be an aspirin doctor--do not just treat the symptoms.  Find out why the problem exists. Get to the root cause. Your watch word should be that people do not fail, processes do.  Ask "5 Whys" Empirical observation indicates that five it typical number of iterations of questions required to resolve the problem--to get to the root cause. What guiding frame work for questions comes from the newspaper world--what, when, where, why and how. 

WHAT: What happen?
WHEN: Why did it happen when it did?
WHERE: Why did it happen where it did?
How: How did it happen?
WHY: Why did it happen?

Wikipedia gives the following different example of the "5 Whys":
The vehicle will not start. (the problem).
  1. Why? - The battery is dead. (first why)
  2. Why? - The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  3. Why? - The alternator belt has broken. (third why
  4. Why? - The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why 
  5. Why? - The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)

(possible 5th Why solution:
Start maintaining the vehicle according to the recommended service schedule.

To illustrate that there is no magic that indicates five whys are adequate, consider a possible sixth why: Why? - Replacement parts are not available because of the extreme age of the vehicle. (sixth why) 

Possible 6th Why Solution: Purchase a different vehicle that is maintainable.

The "5 Whys" technique was developed by Sakichi Toyoda and was used within the Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of its manufacturing methodologies. 

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Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New CareerMark Rollins and the RainmakerMark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders. For signed copies go to Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A's Love A's

Excellent managers don’t motivate people. They hire motivated people—people who are goal-driven consistent with the goals of the organization. While leaders cannot motivate, they can extinguish motivation. The leader sells a vision of how individual goals are achieved through the organization’s goals. People want to belong—and belong to something that recognizes their own value. If you want the right people on the bus, you start with the right people. Steve Jobs but it this way:  “A”-level people want to be part of an organization of “A”-level people.

The organization wants people who want to travel north on I65 North. Sunday drivers need not apply. People who want to travel south, east, or west should look elsewhere.

Motivation is not externally created. What excellent managers learn is that they can’t change the individual, but they can change people. Excellent managers do just that. They understand that keeping the wrong person extinguishes motivation in others. A’s demand A-level performance from their peers. When you allow less than A-level performance, you degrade everyone.

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For a beautiful evening join me on April 9th 2013 at the Belmond Mansion in Nashville Tennessee for High Tea.  Click here for more information