Author of "This Is Rage" and "Endless Encores"

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You Can’t Fix Morale

By on Aug 6, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Here’s a phone call I sometimes receive, usually from someone senior in executive management or the investment team behind a once promising company: Inquirer: Hey, we need your help with something. We have a situation and we’re not sure what to do about it. Me: Sounds intriguing. What is the situation? Inquirer: Well, we’re having… I’m not sure what you would call it exactly, I guess a problem with morale. Me: What would you like me to do? Inquirer: We would like you to help us fix morale. Me: Oh, that. I’m sorry, I can’t help you. Inquirer: We haven’t spoken two minutes and you already know that? Me: Yes, I’m quite sure. I certainly would like to take your money because I’m sure you are willing to pay a lot to do something about this, but I only take on projects where I can actually help someone. Inquirer: How can you be so sure? Me: You can’t fix morale. Inquirer: What do you mean? Morale gets fixed all the time. Me: Yes, exactly. Morale gets fixed because whatever is causing it to deteriorate gets fixed, but that is where you need to look, at the disease, not a symptom. Inquirer: Are you saying we need to fix something else in our company so that maybe it can have an impact on morale? Me: Yes, that is what I am saying. In fact, you probably need to fix your company. Inquirer: So a contract to fix morale is not big enough for you? You want a bigger contract to fix our company? But our company is not broken. Me: Then you probably don’t have a morale problem and don’t need any help. Inquirer: You’re not doing yourself any favors turning this down. It’s a big project. We have a sizeable budget for it. Me: It’s tempting, but why don’t you have another look at the situation and maybe we can talk again. The call usually ends there and we don’t talk again. Every once in a while we do talk again and then I tend to get involved in long stretches of dialogue with team members up and down the line. We talk about a lot of things: leadership...

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Can We Talk?

By on Jul 11, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Difficult topics, difficult times. It’s getting hotter out there. Is real conversation still possible? A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal got me thinking about that. It’s by Amanda Ripley, entitled: America, Meet America: Getting Past Our Toxic Partisanship (6/30/17). The author offers a powerful viewpoint on making peace with each other through interaction, in essence, the widened use of “exchange programs” like some of us experienced in high school or college. In many ways the premise is optimistic, even idealistic. People who have direct relationships with each other tend to be kinder to each other and less likely to be outright dismissive of ideological differences. I don’t think it is impossible for us tolerate each other’s differences in the abstract. The problem I see comes with the common allocation of shared resources. When we all pool our dollars into a fund, especially when we are compelled to do so by a tax system, we are likely to have ardent disagreements about how those dollars should be used. That’s when personal philosophy becomes policy, and policy as a matter of democracy is less about consensus than it is about majority opinion. That as we know can be ugly, messy, and leave seeds of resentment, because legislative action transpires on current majorities, but policies once adopted can be difficult to unwind. The problem with compromise is that it does not bridge values. If some people think universal healthcare is a civil right and some don’t, and we all have to pay for it, I don’t think there is a common worldview that bridges our differences. Same with a woman’s right to choose. That means we all become subject to prevailing law, like it or not, unless we wish to break the bounds of prevailing law, which inordinately few would ever consider reasonable. Again this is the sausage making of nightmares. No one stays happy for long, and bitterness has a compounding effect that is exacerbated by social media shorthand and abrupt defensiveness. Where does that leave us? Pragmatism suggests we need coping mechanisms or we become frozen. I think that means we will find comfort in our own circles and collectives. We will begin to ignore rather than constantly...

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And It’s One, Two, Three, What Are We Fighting For?

By on Jun 4, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

I know people are exhausted with the political dialogue. I am as well. Government is not meant to be this far forward in our lives. It is meant to be the structural framework behind the scenes so we can pursue the individual and shared goals of our lives. These are very unusual times. Extraordinary times. But let’s not forget what is at stake. This is not petty bickering or pointless head bashing over immovable viewpoints. I believe we have unveiled competing visions of American purpose and responsibility, and many of the values that separate us seem irreconcilable. Until the millennium I believed Americans had more in common than not when it came to the notion of purpose. Now I have a hard time seeing the glue binding us together. That’s what I think we’re fighting over and what I think is at stake. That’s why our social media dialogue with each other is increasingly less civil, and that’s causing polar opposites to either stop talking with each other or openly despise each other. Unity for unity’s sake is an unholy compromise and not an option for me. We either have a treasure trove of shared values or we don’t. If we don’t, the divisiveness can’t be mended because morality is at the core of personal definition. If we don’t agree then we don’t agree. I see little evidence that at the core of national purpose there is broad agreement. It is the purpose of leadership to build consensus out of difference to unite disparate elements in strength. Politics is a different game, and it can be a nasty one. If there are competing visions of America up for grabs, I see little choice but to listen closely and then stand firm on moral imperatives. If we find that we have irreconcilable differences, then there is a reason why. I have already detailed a laundry list of apparently irreconcilable differences in a previous post. Our lack of consensus around civil rights, gender rights, a woman’s right to choose, economic inequality, healthcare, environmental justice, personal weapons, educational opportunity, and America’s international posture are ripping us apart with little healing on the horizon. Let me take a run at boiling it down...

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Inequality or Invisibility?

By on May 15, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

My wife and I spent this past Saturday morning volunteering for a college service project where we read stories to elementary school children in downtown Los Angeles. We have done this several times before and it is always a rewarding experience, but this time our interaction felt especially poignant. I guess it’s the ceaselessly unpleasant political dialogue all around us, or maybe hearing one too many times why a tax cut for the wealthy is at the forefront of our national agenda. The children, all under the age of eight, who listened to us read books to them aren’t a lot different from the children around us every day. They are curious. They know the stories of the Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks, and Cinderella. They laugh when you use funny voices to bring characters to life. They tell you they like to run at recess, play soccer, play video games, and learn about animals. Their eyes are bright. They draw pictures with the sun in the sky and use glue stick to make puffy clouds out of yarn. They are polite and thank you for visiting without being prompted. They are as authentic and hopeful as any children you will meet at this age. Their teachers tell you how they are different. If you have blond hair they might ask to touch it because they don’t interact much with people who don’t have dark hair and have a hard time understanding why. Although most of them were born in Los Angeles, they have never been to the beach. Most of them never travel farther than a few blocks from where they were born. Many of their parents work two minimum-wage jobs and are gone from early morning to late evening six or seven days a week. Their families may encompass six people living in a one-bedroom apartment. Their closets are built out as bunk beds. Almost all of them receive lunch provided by the school. Only 10% will graduate from high school. Of those who do, a smaller fraction will attend college, and an even smaller fraction will graduate from college. They are likely to stay in the same neighborhood where they went to elementary school forever. I’ve been actively involved in...

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You Call This a Loyalty Program?

By on Apr 13, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Try this episode on for size and tell me how it makes you feel about the brand: I recently logged into one of my hotel loyalty accounts where I had amassed several hundred thousand points. That is, I thought I did. All my points were gone. Apparently this chain has a policy that deletes all your points if you don’t stay at one of their properties for a year. Did they send me a courtesy email reminding me I needed to stay there toward the end of the twelve-month lapse? They did not. I called customer service and they recited the policy back to me, willing to say farewell to a customer who had paid the freight to accumulate several hundred thousand points in its loyalty program, just not in the past 14 months. Then I tweeted my complaint about the forfeited points publicly. A few hours later whoever runs the company’s Twitter account tweeted back publicly that the company was very sorry for the situation and dedicated to my satisfaction. The Twit-master asked that I send a private tweet to follow up, which I did. Then we moved the correspondence to email. I was then told that the company had a one-time exception to the policy where points could be reinstated, but that had already been done for me approximately 13 years ago. Silly how I could have forgotten their grace. However, they said that in an attempt to reinstate my customer satisfaction, they would restore half my forfeited points now and the other half if I agreed to stay at their properties at least three times in the next six months. I wrote back that it sounded a bit ridiculous to be playing Let’s Make a Deal – Loyalty Edition with them, but I would agree because, well, why not? To their credit, they did return half my points upon receipt of our “written agreement” in that email thread, and I have booked one stay with them. I just wonder, is this what they really set to accomplish in developing their loyalty program? Is it a loyalty program at all, or just a rewards program that effectively gives me a rebate on what I spend provided I do it...

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Tell Me About Your Day

By on Mar 8, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Here’s something people often say in companies when you ask them what they accomplished last week, last month, or last year: “A lot of time is taken up by everyday stuff.” Let’s talk about that. What is the everyday stuff? Is the work being produced commensurate with the expense? A few years ago I wrote a post called Too Busy To Save Your Company. I refer to this post often when I am asked to look at a company and comment on why it is not as productive as it should be. It can be a consulting or investment meeting, but when I see lots of people running around or pounding on keyboards but an income statement in decline, I usually start by asking a few key people in the company to describe their days to me. They often tell me that they spend a lot of time going to meetings and responding to email. When I remind them that meetings and email are not tasks, they are tools for accomplishing tasks, there is often an “Aha Moment.” That’s when I know we can make some progress. You are wasting time. It is inevitable. How do I know? Because I waste time. Everyone does. No one is 100% efficient. The question is one of scope. Do you own your priorities or do distractions own you? When you start there, you begin to take control of your destiny. Time management is neither a touchy-feely topic nor a chokehold on creativity. It is how you allocate your most precious and perishable resource, the ways you choose to spend your hours. The portion of your time that is discretionary and how you choose to utilize it is the difference between having a shot at winning and losing for sure. Note that I say it is a choice, because even if you don’t make active decisions about how you spend your hours, the choice to squander time remains a choice. Try this exercise for a week: Write down hour by hour what you do on the job. If you spend an hour on researching the cost of something, write that down. Log each of your phone calls and meetings chronologically. More importantly, note what you were talking about and...

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