5 Memorable Management Messages for the New Year

In the world of management, this past year was filled with stories of global economic woes, election implications, Smartphone and tablet wars, ethical lapses, and natural disasters.  But upon reviewing some significant decisions of 2012, I found 5 positive messages for us to take into the New Year.

1. Despite concerns about Facebook’s CEO, despite a botched IPO in May, and despite concerns of being able to monetize a billion social media users, Mark Zuckerberg made one of the standout management decisions of the year when he wrote a 2,200 word letter that he filed as part of Facebook’s IPO Prospectus.  In it he wrote, “Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission.”  Zuckerberg went on to state, “Facebook aspires to build the services that give people the power to share and help them once again transform many of our core institutions and industries.”  He also shares his thoughts about the company’s culture, “Hacker culture is also extremely open and meritocratic. Hackers believe that the best idea and implementation should always win — not the person who is best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people.”  Now that the stock is down 28% for the year, Zuckerberg and Facebook employees will be drawing on these words as they work to build the company and create value for the long term.

New Year’s Message: Build meaning into what you build

2. By all accounts the Denver Broncos were successful last season: winning their division, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs, and coming from behind to win six games led by the charismatic and popular, yet controversial Tim Tebow.  However, in the offseason legendary NFL quarterback and Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway was not satisfied with what he saw from Tebow and his poor passing.  Instead, he saw an opportunity with another legendary quarterback in Peyton Manning who had been let go by the Colts after a year out with neck surgery.  Elway convinced Manning to sign and traded Tebow to the Jets to many fans’ dismay.  Elway’s gutsy and opportunistic decision has paid off this season as the Broncos clinched home field advantage for the playoffs with the best record in the AFC.

New Year’s Message: Don’t settle, even in success, if it doesn’t feel right


3. And speaking of not settling.  This summer Marissa Mayer made the decision to leave Google and take the position as Yahoo’s new CEO.  I remember how young she was as she guided Leslie Stahl around the Googleplex in a famous 60 minutes episode taking us behind the scenes of a newly IPO’d Google.  Now at 37 she is a techie legend and leading a 25% stock resurgence at Yahoo.  On top of that she just had a baby and at last report was having an “easy” time of it.  To be sure this “CEO-geek-mom” is an exception if not exceptional.  It seems as if she has it all, but it was built bit by bit with a lot of hard work including 250 all-nighters at Google.

New Year’s Message: If you want it all, go for it but take it one step at a time


4. Of someone who has it all, one might think of George Lucas the creator of Star Wars.  In October, Lucas announced that he was selling Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise to Disney.  In the agreement, he places in charge Kathleen Kennedy, Spielberg’s producer and co-chair of Lucasfilm, to lead the division in Disney.  For all of his genius, as geeks like myself will attest to having passed the love of Star Wars down to my kids, Lucas came up short in his prequel offerings.  The hope is now that others will make films that live up to the Star Wars reputation. Lucas’ decision also means his focus will shift to Edutopia which is helping to improve K-12 education.  In a year where innovation in education has been seen in the explosion of startups and education alliances, this is welcome news.

New Year’s Message: Let others build on your ideas

5. Lastly, probably the biggest story of the year is in the success of Apple as it remains the largest company in terms of market capitalization even after the passing of founder and CEO Steve Jobs.  Apple did many successful things this year including restructure its core team, roll out new Macs, new MacBooks, new iPhones, new iPads, and introduce the iPad mini.  But one decision Tim Cook made in December deserves remembering.  Cook is investing $100 million to move manufacturing of its Macs to the U.S.  Though this is a mere fraction of Apple’s business it represents a sea change in thinking about worldwide operations and labor.  Rumor has it that the iPad mini will join the Mac being manufactured in the U.S.  This is the first part of a trend we will see expand in the New Year.  Hopefully this will be good for American workers.

New Year’s Message: Lead in the ways you can, even small gestures may make a big difference

Happy New Year!

They Will Never, Ever Change…Not So Fast: Lessons from Mindsets Research

Keynote Speaker: Carol Dweck

Keynote Speaker: Carol Dweck (Photo credit: DavidDMuir)

Conflict in the Middle East, schoolyard bullying, racial prejudice, stuffing our faces during the holidays…these are some of the unfortunate things in life that will never change.  Right?  Not so fast says Carol Dweck and her research on mindsets.  In 2011, Dweck, well-known professor at Stanford University, received the American Psychological Association’s Award for Scientific Contributions.  Her article based on her award address is published in this month’s American Psychologist (Vol. 67, No. 8, pp. 614-622).

Mindsets are our implicit theories about peoples’ attributes or traits.  Dweck’s decades of research has produced comparisons between two types of mindsets: fixed versus growth.  A person with a fixed mindset basically believes that one cannot change their personality and other attributes.  This leads them into avoiding challenges so they do not reveal themselves as less than they believe they are.  A fixed mindset also is related to showing less resilience as they interpret failure as reflecting on themselves.  They are also quick to stereotype others and reject counter-stereotype information since they believe people do not change.  What appears to be healthier is a growth mindset in which we believe that everyone can develop their character over time, which leads to seeking challenges, overcoming setbacks, considering the situation and psychological processes in judging others, and integrating new information about peoples’ attributes.  Let’s look at four unique situations and what we can learn from them about mindsets.

Conflict: Middle East Political Simulator

Middle East Conflict Simulator

1) For Jewish Israelis, Palestinian Israelis, and West Bank Palestinians, does having a growth mindset promote conciliation instead of hatred of the other group in which they are in conflict? The answer, according to Dweck’s research led by Eran Halperin, is yes; those with a growth mindset had a more favorable impression of the other group and were also 70% more likely to interact in a conciliatory manner than those with a fixed mindset.  This suggests a growth mindset is likely to lead to conflict resolution.  What is encouraging is that these results came from merely priming the research participants by having them read either a fixed mindset article or a growth mindset article.  Lesson 1: Negative attitudes are not so permanent after all.

No Bullying sign - School in Racine, Wisconsin

No Bullying sign – School in Racine, Wisconsin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2) Do adolescents’ mindsets about bullying breed aggression in victims?  Yes, in studies among Finnish and American adolescents, victims of bullying felt more shame which fueled more hatred which led to more thoughts of revenge.  So could a growth oriented mindset be instilled to help reduce aggression? Yes, through a six-session intervention in a school with a high rate of aggression students learned about their brain, how the brain controls thoughts and feelings, and practiced how these can be changed.  After the intervention they were 40% less likely to retaliate and three times as likely to offer prosocial behaviors by being kind.  This change in behavior was recorded even after several months.  In comparison, an intervention successful with pre-adolescents that taught coping skills but not mindsets was not successful with adolescents.  Lesson 2: Negative behaviors such as aggression are not permanent but need to be dealt with differently as people age and develop mindsets that perpetuate certain behaviors.

The kiss between Kirk and Uhura is popularly c...

The kiss between Kirk and Uhura is popularly cited as being the first interracial kiss portrayed on US television (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3) If racial prejudice were eradicated would race relations flourish? Probably not.  In studies of cross-race interactions, fixed mindset people showed more anxiety and less friendliness regardless of their level of explicit or implicit prejudice.  Dweck calls this: prejudice without “prejudice.”  In fact, there is evidence that certain policies and practices unintentionally reinforce the idea that prejudice is fixed.  For example, by mandating sensitivity training, organizations may be reinforcing that everyone is prejudiced rather than the idea that prejudice is malleable over time and across persons.  Similarly, by focusing on the idea of color blindness, people believe that prejudice is fixed as well.  Lesson 3: Focusing on the malleability of prejudice makes prejudice-reducing interventions more effective.

Weight and height are used in computing body m...

4) Is our willpower scarce and easily depleted? Yes say many studies. However, Dweck and Veronika Job conducted several studies that suggests that willpower is “mindset over matter.”  In other words, those who believe they have limited willpower are limited and those that believe they are not limited are not.  Lesson 4: Our minds are powerful and can create self-fulfilling consequences.

Einstein's Brain

Einstein’s Brain (Photo credit: P1r)

Through Carol Dweck’s research we know that we have a greater capacity for growth and development than we knew before in the areas of conflict resolution, chronic aggresion, race relations, and strengthening willpower.  If we can better understand how to create the conditions that activate the growth mindset, the more likely we are to fulfill our human potential.  My interest in Dweck’s work is this mechanism of the growth mindset that may help us understand how organizations, in which we spend most of our waking adult lives, may create practices and a culture that can help their members reach their potential and in the process help their organizations create value for all their stakeholders.  I will be sharing more of my thoughts on this in the future.  If you would like to share your thoughts please let me know.

Night-time Qi Gong at Esalen

Happiness is…being an innovator at work

I am excited by the stories I hear from people about how they deal effectively with their work.  Beyond all the cynicism about the workplace we see on TV or read in the comics, people really do love their work and they like to share why that is.  Nothing seems to make people happier than when they do a good job at their work, especially when they face a challenge.  Sometimes these challenges are the kind we make fun of like the micromanaging boss or the setting of unrealistic goals.  But even in the face of what seems like unreasonable constraints or expectations, people have shown an enormous capability to be innovative in getting their work done.

One example is a director of facilities I know.  He has spent his career trying to help his organization save money and be more efficient.  Every year his budget is used up in the first few months due to some equipment or other going out or some other major emergency.  This leaves little room to ask ahead of time for major investments in unique energy saving equipment, for example, yet every year he is happier than before as he is able to point to several new innovations he has had a hand in acquiring and implementing.

How does he do this? First, he knows key facts about the major elements that affect his bottom line: what amount of energy the organization uses, the amount of waste it produces, the age and lifetime of the equipment being used, etc.  Second, he knows what the options are; that if one piece of equipment goes out, he knows what could possibly replace it.  Third, he takes a long-term perspective.  He may want to upgrade to the top of the line boiler today but he knows that would be rejected as too costly thus swelling his budget beyond what his administrators would consider feasible.  So he takes the long-term perspective by proposing investments over time in phases to get to where the organization should be and by being ready when the unexpected happens like a burst boiler and the resulting forced expenditure.

Another director of facilities I know is also very committed to helping his organization be more sustainable in terms of energy, waste, and saving money.  He beamed like a brand new LED when he showed me his office, which looks like something out of Frankenstein—it is literally a laboratory where he tests new products (like lighting, fans, etc.) so that he has an idea how workers will react to changes when they are rolled out.  For example, he measured how much light a worker really needs at their cubicle and planned to take out a certain number of bulbs and replace some lighting with CFLs or LEDs.  By testing this he could get a specific measurement of lumens and also get a preference for the tint of light wanted by the workers (whiter or yellower).  This way his innovations get a positive review and he is able to reduce his bosses’ uncertainty when he proposes investments in something new and sometimes very unique.

Both of these directors face major obstacles with money constraints but their attitude and the satisfaction they get from making unique small changes makes them happy and fuels their pursuit of sustainability for their organization.  In fact, their enthusiasm is contagious and has spilled over in other areas at their respective organizations.

When people can find a way

If you want to be a happy innovator there are three takeaways from these examples.  First, knowledge of the job and the systems that are at work is crucial.  Staying up on what’s new in the industry and knowing where you and your organization are can help you make your case when you are being trusted to deliver in a crisis as well as being able to influence small decisions along the way.

Second, it is important to be politically astute, that is, know what the limits are and know what and how you can ask for what you want.  Take the long-term perspective and just like interest on an investment you will be more satisfied with how the incremental changes accumulate and compound over time.

And third, refuse to be limited by the norms of the organization or the industry. This is the number one creative force I found in a research study of sustainability directors adopting sustainable practices.

How to make this happen in your organization?

Two ideas I would offer to owners or managers to foster this kind of innovation and employee engagement: First, let the employee keep the savings (at least one year) for their budget so they can use those to fund the next innovation.  This is similar to the idea of gainsharing, which has been shown to be an effective motivator.  Gainsharing plans let employees keep savings from innovations as part of their compensation.  But many employees are just looking for ways to do their job more effectively by having the resources available to them—why not give them the resources if they have earned it.  Second, know that it is your job to set limits, however, don’t communicate in your limits that there is no way around those limits or employees will not try to innovate and you will end up fostering the kind of cynicism we see too often.