Posted by: christopherfeld | April 3, 2011

The 4 keys great managers use (key 2)

As promised, here is the second out of the four keys that the world’s greatest managers use, as according to Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman (in First Break all the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently). Below I will discuss defining outcomes and the performance management implications.

Defining Outcomes

There is an inherent conflict between management and leadership. Managers maintain control process, tasks, and resources. Leaders inspire others to find the motivation to carry out the leader’s desired ends. Between these two roles it can be difficult to wear both hats at once.

To bridge the gap the greatest managers recognize that everyone works differently and allow employees to find the way to reach the desired ends. Thus, managers ought to define the outcomes they want to see, and leave it to the employees to figure out the means to get there. While defining the right outcomes can be difficult, it is necessary nonetheless. While you can’t get away from some required steps or regulated processes, employees require the discretion to do things the best way possible for them.

Defining the right outcomes is an all around good management practice. I know I have be micro-managed by some terrible supervisors. Even though there were hundreds of ways to carry out one task, I was constantly ridden to follow one specific way that the manager preferred. Not only was this manager out of touch with the process, but she was demotivating me. It is important to empower employees and allow them to find the best means to getting the job done.

Performance Management Implications

Defining the right outcomes is the basis for developing a great performance management (PM) system. I’ve seen a number of convoluted fortune 500 companies that have the most confusing PM practices. These companies have upwards to 15 key competencies that employees are expected to hit. Such contradictory competencies include implementation focus and strategic visioning. In cases like these, the competencies can be backbending, and difficult to follow given the sheer number of competencies that managers must hit.

To define the right outcomes for employee performance, one must understand what the business intends to accomplish. One way to figure this out is to look at/diagnose the culture as I suggested previously. Understanding the culture will help to see where the organization intends to focus on i.e. customers, employees, process, or quality. Then, it is necessary to tailor outcomes that best focus on developing the right outcomes.

For instance, BYU Grantwell looks at four key competencies for all employees. These competencies include professionalism, stewardship, teamwork, and innovation. Within each of these four categories, items can be emphasized for management roles. All these four behaviors contribute to the overall vision of creating future nonprofit leaders.

This post can in no way encompass all that is needed to develop a reliable, valid, and accepted PM system, yet it gives a starting point for thinking about defining the right outcomes. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Posted by: christopherfeld | April 3, 2011

Basic and powerful strategic analysis tool: SWOT

The SWOT analysis is a basic yet powerful strategic analysis tool. Below, I will discuss the importance of SWOT and how to use it.

The Importance of SWOT

In order to develop business literacy and competency, using strategic analysis tools like SWOT can be helpful devices to gain a competitive edge.

SWOT looks at internal strengths, internal weaknesses, external opportunities, and external threats that may affect one’s organization. SWOT analysis causes one to strategically think about past, present, and future issues that may affect planning. Additionally, the results of our SWOT analysis will help to:

●      Build upon our internal Strengths

●      Minimize our internal Weaknesses

●      Leverage our external Opportunities

●      Avoid external Threats
Those four categories are the basis which makes up SWOT.

How to Use SWOT

  1. Think about critical primary and secondary stakeholders. Write out a list of everyone that has an interest in your organization. If possible, set up interviews with each of those key stakeholders. Having a wide cross range of viewpoints will provide a rich strategic view of your organization.
  2. Interview primary and secondary stakeholders. Ask them questions from four basic categories: internal strengths, internal weaknesses, external opportunities, external threats. As you ask these questions, ask follow up questions that draw out what is at stake for them.
  3. Analyze the results. With a wide range of viewpoints, common themes will begin to emerge and hidden nuggets can be found. Mine through the data and think about the key issues that affect the organization over the next six months, year, and three years.
  4. Compile an executive summary of key SWOT issues. Widdle down to the most key elements. Conciseness is key especially if the results will be presented to decision makers or other busy leaders. Include the polished but raw data in an appendix. It is helpful to include titles and names in the Appendix (unless there are concerns about vulnerable individuals or populations.
  5. Reassess your position frequently. The strategic environment can change today or tomorrow. The world is a fluid and ever changing place. New strategic issues will affect the organization over time. Therefore, it is critical to always reassess your organization’s position before making key decisions.
Posted by: christopherfeld | April 2, 2011

“The Power of Influence”

“The Power of Influence” is a really interesting book that I want to read. A classmate in my strategy and leadership course presented on some key takeaways from this book. The takeaways were best practices on developing influence. I’ll list these takeaways below.

  1. Develop Outward Thinking. Think about the needs of others.
  2. Invest in People. People are the most important form of capital.
  3. Be Interested. When speaking with others, think of the acronym FORM, which stands for Family, Origin, Recreation, and Money. As argued by my classmate, these are all safe items to discuss that help to spurn conversation. I”m interested in reading the book to see how one can safely ask about money issues!
  4. Treat Others How They Want To Be Treated. Avoid the Golden Rule. It is arrogant and self-centered to treat others in a way that you want to be treated. We are each unique individuals and have different wants and needs. Find out what makes other people tick, and treat them in a way that is respectful. This is similar to Buckingham and Coffman’s view on the world’s greatest managers and what they do (in their book, “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently).
  5. Service. Service is a humbling activity that leads to self understanding and gratitude. Like the world’s greatest philanthropists, we must have a mindset of service.
Posted by: christopherfeld | April 2, 2011

Thoughts on leadership: the potential for change

Earlier this year I visited with Ted Gaebler, City Manager of the City of Rancho Cordova, California. Mr. Gaebler’s discussion on leadership was truly provocative.

During the visit he offered a golden nugget regarding driving change in organizations. Drawing from his background as a leader in advocating and driving change in governments over the past 25 years, he relates a simple model to drive change.

Driving Change

The model illustrates the potential for driving change by overcoming imaginary conceptual boundaries. The blue zig zag area represents conventional thinking and perceived boundaries in thinking. For instance, one works at a company and everyone assumes that you can’t be promoted to manager without an advanced degree. Yet, unless someone researches the policies and procedures to learn that an advanced degree isn’t required, then they will never break through the imaginary boundaries of thinking (as represented by the point of the green arrow). Looking at the real edge that is far across the potential for change, one may find the real edge or the policies manual. Thus, we must continually push and test the values system and develop dialogue to get response on the wave created by the change.

Mr. Gaebler concluded with this quote:

“The rational man adapts himself to the world. The irrational man tries to adapt the world to suit himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the irrational man.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

Posted by: christopherfeld | April 2, 2011

Tips on career planning

Project management professional Ernie Nielson offered some great career development tips during my MBA Project Management course.

Here are his nuggets:

  • Identify influence and areas you want to be. This comes down to surrounding yourself with what you want to become.
  • Skip the five year plan. Don’t outline a specific position you want to be in. If you do, it can have the danger of losing sight of one’s values. With the mentality of the ends justifying the means, carnage may follow in the wake of getting to that myopic position. Rather, identify what is most important in life and work towards accomplishing your life’s mission.
  • Define one’s overarching values. Share one’s time with people that share the same values. While the importance of exposing one’s self to a diverse group of perspectives and individuals cannot be overstated, it is equally important to have a solid core of like valued individuals.
  • Have long-term and short-term goals. Outline one’s goals yearly and review them frequently.
Posted by: christopherfeld | April 2, 2011

Building business literacy

Business literacy is critical to one’s career development. We cannot rely on function specific knowledge to remain competitive in today’s globalized world. Business literacy is something that we must continue to work on. This post will discuss what one needs to know about business literacy, what it does, what to do, and how to use it.

What One Needs to Know

No matter where one works, they need to know everything about the strategic issues facing them. Important things to know include, how many burgers are being flipped, how many shipments go out, who are the new competitors, etc. It is about knowing the core business and what relates to it. What are the core issues. What are the core expenses, what affects the business. One wants to know what the key issues are at any given time for the board. What are the bosses goals. What is leadership presenting to the board to explore.

Business dynamics are rooted in culture and must be learned to succeed. As I blogged previously about diagnosing culture, one  must understand the business culture to successfully navigate the the political environment and exert influence. Doing so is critical to getting things done. That said, culture is inherited, and don’t try to change it until you understand it. The last point cannot be overstated.

What It Does

Business literacy is good for you and the business. It is critical to understanding what’s going on on the top. As one develops these skills, they will be able to make better decisions. As one makes better decisions, one’s boss and one’s boss’s boss will know they have a star player.  Leads to better projects and more money.

What To Do

  • Read industry magazines
  • Business periodical
  • International periodical
  • Read a book per month

How To Use It

Make those on top look good. After you gather information, be respectful about using it. Always make one’s boss look good (this is the first rule). Don’t take this information and make oneself shine. Always do whatever one can to make them look good, otherwise it will look like one is dissing them. Soon, people will recognize who is making them look good, and it will be obvious. One will grow as the boss grows.

Don’t rely on your expertise network. Expertise networks are defined by the expertise you bring to the table, i.e. research expertise. It will only go so far. Typically, it will get your foot in the door, but then people will want to rely on the trust you build with them.

Be competent in building trust networks. There are four ways to get into someone’s trust network. We all have one predominate trust network language. It is critical to find out the language that someone relates to, and them speak to them in their language. Please be aware that there is no right style–they just simple are. But to build literacy, one must learn to decipher them and tailor accordingly (Ernie Nielson’s Project Management class notes, March 2011) .


Liking stems from one’s preference towards finding mutual interests and similarities. We all use this technique when at a party. “You are from Salt Lake? I know Joe Schmoe from Salt Lake, do you know him?” Building rapport is essential to speak in this language.


This language preference is like tit for tat. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. People that aren’t in favor of reciprocity may feel taken advantage of or manipulated if one keeps doing favors for them. It leaves one with a feeling that they owe them something. Just be aware of another person’s preference as not to send the wrong message. If one encounters difficulty with another person, simply ask them, “I thought your style was X, is that correct?”


This is all about following through. If you say you are going to do something, then do it. The key difference between this style and reciprocity comes from the intention. If you are being consistent, you are doing it for the purpose of getting it done. With reciprocity, it is about building upon the relationship and exchanging. If you are a consistency person, you likely will not want evidence, but you will trust the other person to get it done.

Social Proof

Social proof is all about finding evidence. Social proof is one of my dominant styles. I need evidence from multiple sources to make an informed decision.

Posted by: christopherfeld | April 2, 2011

Influence and negotiations

I’m going through a negotiations seminar for my strategy and leadership course. We are learning about various negotiation techniques based on collaborative approaches.

Collaboration makes sense to me because it is all about respect, and respect breeds collaboration. In the West we often get on our high horse and extol the virtues of democracy. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy the perks of capitalist America. But when we look towards equality, equity, and other abstract frameworks to justify the underpinnings of our democratic ideology, none of these ideas truly hit the mark. The true cornerstone of any good relationship or political system is respect. In wanting to be respected, humans want to be considered at the table. Respect is what fosters collaboration and trust. Respect is recognizing one’s human dignity and understanding another’s perspective. By showing someone respect, one is opening the door to a reciprocal exchange trust, regardless of one’s beliefs. In doing so we are better able to put people first rather than the bottom line. As a result, people are more likely to work together to resolve an issue.

In opening the door to collaboration, one is increasing the chances of finding a mutually beneficial outcome. When John Nash formulated the Nash Equilibrium (the Nobel winning economist depicted on the film a Beautiful Mind), his framework advanced that each player may know the equilibrium strategies of other players, but no player has anything to gain by changing their strategy alone. In this scenario, no one can be better off with the given choices. Thus, it is critical to change the game. Altruism is one option.

Tit for tat games are a great example of the benefits of an altruistic collaborative approach. In tit for tat, one will produce better outcomes by resetting the Nash Equilibrium. Since the classical economist response would be maximize your outcome at the expense of your opponent, altruism resets the equilibrium. On the other hand, if you betray your opponent, then you they will punish you accordingly. Thus, incentives provide for a means to maximize the benefit for both parties.

In conclusion, to maximize influence, focus on the people first. Affording people the respect they deserve will reap dividends. If we get stuck on focusing on the bottom line, then we will miss the critical issues that could offer common ground.

Posted by: christopherfeld | April 1, 2011

Mitigating insurance costs

Medical insurance costs rise–that’s the nature of the beast. This post will discuss three reasons for the increasing costs. Then I will identify and explain two things employers and employees can do to mitigate the costs.

Why Medical Insurance Costs Increase

Premiums rise causing medical insurance costs to rise for employers and employees. Elements that drive up the costs include:

  • Utilization. The frequency in which employees use healthcare will affect the cost of premiums. If employee utilization increases, the cost of the premium will increase. Also, employers and employees pay rising insurance costs through the uninsured. When the uninsured visit hospitals that receives federal funding, those hospitals must offer a certain level of charitable services to those individuals. This cost inevitably is pushed onto the employer and the employees, which causes healthcare premiums to rise.
  • Technology. Emerging technologies come at a high price. Hospitals and doctors must remain competitive in their fields and deliver high quality healthcare through technology. Also, drug patents make drugs expensive as paramedical companies need to recoup the costs of research and development over the seven year patent period.
  • Inflation. Businesses must increase the prices of services to bridge the inflationary gap. Governmental analyses put inflation between 1-2% year, but depending on the market specifics behind the service and the inflationary rate, the inflation percentage can bring up costs.

Two Ways to Mitigate Costs to Employers

Here are two ways that employers can mitigate health care premiums:

  • Employers can offer more basic health plans to employees by changing the schedule of benefits. Doing so will reduce the premium for the employers, and employees will get
  • Employers could change the schedule of benefits and lower their premium contribution and push it off onto employees.

Two Ways to Mitigate Costs to Employees

Below are two ways that employers can mitigate the costs to employees:

  • Employers can pay higher percentages of premiums, which alleviates some of the burden on employees.
  • Employers can reduce the schedule of benefits for medical and offer a cheaper program, thus reducing the employee’s health care premium.
Posted by: christopherfeld | March 30, 2011

Problem solving techniques

Problem solving in any context–professional or personal–is a critical skill.

This post will offer a concrete framework that will help solve problems in any context. The steps to problem solving include: developing and sharing a problem statement, listening to what they have to say, offering a crucial question, and following up. These steps must be followed sequentially.

Step 1: Developing and Sharing a Problem Statement

Developing a Problem Statement

A problem statement is critical to getting to the heart of an issue. Problem statements ought to be direct, specific, and non-threatening. If they don’t include these criteria, the conflict will fall flat or add flames to the fire.

Problem statements must be in the form of a statement. Oftentimes, we tend to frame our problem in terms of a question. Doing so can lead to loading the issue with your own perceived biases. The point of the problem statement is to quickly cut through emotionally charged situations and keep the discussion fact based and forwarding thinking.

Problem statements also must communicate what’s expected and what’s observed. For instance you are supposed to help your neighbor work on a project at 10 a.m. on Saturdays. You show up at 10 and he is never home until 10:15. To form a problem statement, you may say, “We agreed to meet at 10” — that is what is expected between you, then you relay, “you weren’t home until 10:15” — the observed behavior.

Sharing the Problem Statement

After building rapport, exchanging pleasantries, and setting the context (i.e. I have something difficult to talk to you about), you must diagnose the problem. To diagnose the problem, you state your pre-prepared problem statement. After you state it. Don’t add anything–just keep quiet until they respond. If they don’t respond ask a clarifying question. This step is critical as it prevents emotionally charging the issue or adding unnecessary speculation on your part. I know it may feel unnatural or awkward, but practice helps this to become a primary behavior on your part.

Step 2: Listening to What They Have to Say

Listening is incredibly important. It can be something we take for granted. In many heated arguments we tend to be busy thinking of our counterarguments and not listening to what the other side has to say. After sharing the problem statement, listen to what they have to say.

Their answer will fall within two categories, a motivation or desire issue (they won’t do it or an ability issue (can’t do it). More below. (Based on Ernie Nielson Project Management class notes, 2011 and Robert Ciaidini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, 2006).

Ability Issue

If it is an ability issue, you find a way to brainstorm and fix the problem. Say that your neighbor is taking his son to baseball practice at 9:45 and doesn’t get home till 10:15. That is an ability issue. After further discussion with your neighbor, you may find that he didn’t know that he was supposed to meet you at 10. At this point, you can easily remedy the issue by brainstorming. They can find someone else to take his son to practice, you could meet later, or someone else can help him. In any case, brainstorming leads to problem solving.

Next, you set a follow up and then you follow up. To set a follow up, you agree to an action, and they agree to an action. In the neighbor’s case, they may agree to be home by 10, and you agree to be there by 10. Then you follow through with the action and be sure that both parties have been held accountable, i.e. you both meet on time.

Motivation Issue

A motivation issue can be slightly more sensitive discussion, but critical nonetheless. The challenge with motivation is that you can’t motivate anyone to do anything. Motivation is an internal force that is initiated and acted upon by an individual. Thus, asserting influence is key to helping others to find motivation. To assert influence, there are several problem solving techniques that can be used to resolve the issue. These steps must be followed in sequence. If the problem is solved before reaching the next tool, desist using the tools and work towards resolution.

Tasks/Work. The issue is affecting the project. Appeal to this first. “Being late causes the tasks to take longer.”

Others. The issue is challenging relationships with others. Use this second. “waiting for you burns more time on the project and throws off my wife’s schedule.”

You. The issue is affecting you in this way. “I waste time waiting for you.”

Imposed. Cause and effect relationship, i.e. “not being on time causes me to wait for you and wastes my time, and I may not be willing to help you anymore.” Make sure that the consequences are relevant to the problem.

At this point, the issue ought to be resolved through these troubleshooting techniques.

Step 3: Offering a Crucial Question

After resolving the problem, discuss a long-term fix to the problem. “In the future, we will check in every week to be sure that we going to meet on time.”

Step 4: Following Up

Following up is critical. Each party should have a follow up item. “I will call you to be sure that we will be on time, and you will be sure to answer my call to confirm.”

Give it a try!

Posted by: christopherfeld | March 30, 2011

Landing the job–the importance of networking

Been on the job hunt for nearly a year now. I’ve applied to about 100 jobs now, and I’ve had a few interview and no job offers. In learning from this experience, I am done with the resume/cover letter spam method.

We all tend to do the spam method at one time or another. Finding a position at some company and then spamming the hiring manager’s inbox. This method has worked for me in the past, but it is not the most effective use of one’s time. It can be tough when one’s feeling desperate. Hiring managers receive so many resumes from qualified applicants. Unless you are getting in there face to face, you are another faceless applicant.

Managers want a safe hire. For this reason, you need to get in there and be known.

For me, I’ve finally nailed down a location where I want to work–the Bay Area. With that information, I’ve been making friends and building connections in the Bay Area. This method is much more efficient and effective. I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

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