Reflecting Reality

A blog about lean project management, casual games and offshored comics

The un-sticky motive – Tommy Guns and ‘Dead’-lines — March 30, 2006

The un-sticky motive – Tommy Guns and ‘Dead’-lines

The un-sticky motive – Tommy Guns and ‘Dead’-lines

Doe, standing next to a chalked outline that resembles the shape of a human body, “The body was found at midnight, seems like the guy took too many sleeping pills, wrote his dying note and then wham! Smack right out the apartment window. Ten stories down… heck I can’t even look 10 stories down, gives me the creeps… so our guy jumps out the window and lands on a taxi cab parked right under his apartment window. Talk about bad luck… well shit happens… wrong place wrong time, but the sad part is that no one noticed the body until the car owner realized he needed a police report to claim insurance. Sad, plain sad… if I could rewind the scene I’d drop the cabby… well lets wrap up, nothing to see here… it’s a case of suicide… and my wife made Chinese tonight so I’m leaving.” Jimmy, discontent with the explanation, “But why kill himself, he had a great job… no family issues… son just got married, no case of prior medical or mental illness, no criminal record… the guy’s as clean as the bottled water we get at our office..” Doe, “It tastes like rotten sushi…” Jimmy, “That’s what I meant… the case is clean but smells… we cant call it suicide without finding enough clues and a motive… we need a motive… we cant stick it until we find the facts” Doe, “Motive.. I’ll give you a motive… the guy flipped. People can’t take too much of a bad time… he couldn’t handle too much of a good one… let’s go… I’ll save some Chinese for ya!”
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Of Cults and Visionaries — January 23, 2006

Of Cults and Visionaries

Who doesn’t like weekends. After all it’s a two day trip away from the exhaustion of work. If you’re unlucky enough to have climbed up the corporate ladder to end up in a position of management dealing with Human Resource issues, the weekend is always a dream getaway (unless you have two kids fighting over who gets to take the 4×4 out for a date).
Mondays, don’t we all hate them? They come after you had a wonderful time out over the weekend with friends and family. So you come in, punch your time card and after getting a nice cup of coffee start skimming through the emails you got over the weekend. SPAM SPAM SPAM, routine broadcast office emails and some follow ups to emails you sent out right before the weekend. After going through all unread emails and jotting down your to do list for the day, you kick back lean back on your chair and think to yourself, two three routine tasks, everything going good, this Monday might not be bad at all.
Suddenly before you start making plans about where to go for lunch, an employee Buzz’s you on IM.
Engineer: “I wanted to talk to you about something, do you have time before lunch”
You think to yourself, must be something about the task I gave him, better deal with it so that I can have lunch in harmony. You tell him to come in the conference room.

The conversation starts about how the weekend went and the big match on Sunday. You slowly move towards more serious business and ask him how his work and assignments are going. He tells you a few issues about the amount of work load he’s been had to put up with for the past few weeks. Related to all that stress he wants a few days off to get himself back into shape. You think to yourself *sigh* that was it, thank God. You tell him he can take a leave as soon as he delivers the code needed for the next demo.

As you start gathering your stuff to rush out of the room and start with your tasks, the engineer says “One more thing, what difference do you think it would make if I were to leave this company… actually the real reason I wanted to talk to you is that I just got an offer from….. (After that everything just seemed like a story you’ve heard so many times that you could remember as clearly as Alice in wonderland).

After trying to persuade him to stay, seeing his firm response you start thinking about plan B, replacement and transition. You ask yourself, why do people leave? You’re pay structure is competitive, working hours are good and you have sufficiently challenging work for them. Then you ask yourself, why are you still here.

The story I described above is something we all face from time to time, all of us who in some way whether willing or not have been pulled into the unexplainable and un-pleasurable world of Human Resource management. Like anyone else, I wanted to know how the big boys do it, why would someone want to work for lesser pay, worse work environment and trivial work for a big name company. Is it the name, the job security or maybe the fringe benefits they give away every year? Was there something wrong in how we went about our business.

Amazingly, what I found common in all these companies, the successful ones, the ones you would want your company to be like, is that they all believe in themselves. Their beliefs are so strong sometimes that they know no boundaries to align everything they do to walk in the same line as these beliefs. Beliefs, more appropriately called visions or core ideology are the main difference between companies that take the leap and take the lead versus companies that follow the followers.
Computer Tabulating Recording Company, lead by Watson Snr, was renamed into a new company that boasted its elitism as the founder believed in the idea that “You cannot have success in any business unless you think it’s the greatest business in the world.” The company was renamed to International Business Machines (IBM) in 1914. Sony wasn’t always Sony, and it did not start off with making WEGA TVs.
It was previously Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo, it was founded after the remains of 1945. Even at that time, low on cash flow, it did not make business its main focus. It did not start of to just make profits, that was just something that supported their main vision. To elevate Japans name in world trade and make “Made in Japan” equal or even better than Made in USA. Masaru Ibuka wanted his company to be a pioneer in consumer electronics. To take on the world he changed the companys name to Sony Corporation. Sony started with selling baked beans and crude heating pads. Cheap rice cookers and tape recorders. Sony hit it bigtime after going after the impossible (at the time) transistor pocket radio.

I mentioned just a few facts from visionary companies, just to re-iterate the fact that they did take a big risk and a bold step to become what they are right now, and it was made possible because of one thing and one thing alone, “belief”.

Normally people think that visionary companies work like how any normal person would dream to work, unfortunately that’s not true. Here’s a list of common things people perceive to be true for visionary companies, or bigger better companies and provide as a reason to move out of your shabby business, but the reality is quite the contrary.

It takes a great idea to start a company
Visionary companies share a common subset of core values
The only constant is change
Blue chip companies play it safe
Visionary companies are great places to work, for everyone
Good management can be hired from outside, specially to drive change

In the remaining part of this article I will bust these myths with facts one by one.

Sony started with selling crude heating pads, IBM made accounting software, Phillip Morris didn’t have Marlboro since the start (they repositioned a little-known women’s cigarette brand with a Cowboy mascot). So it is not the idea that starts the company, rather it’s the vision or core ideology that starts it and fuels the genesis of great ideas.

So if it’s the core values that are central to a visionary company, they should be common across all successful companies. Again, NO! Every company has its own core values which vary greatly from others. Sony wanted to elevate Japans presence in consumer electronics worldwide, make “Made in Japan” on par with Made in USA or even better”, to be Pioneers. Disney wanted to “bring happiness to millions” through its “fanatical attention to consistency and detail”, continuous progress via creativity, dreams and imagination.

These companies don’t change their core ideology, they don’t change their entire business, but what they do is they align their business with their core ideology. Disney didn’t start making movies just for adults; it has shifted from making just cartoons, but the movies are for kids and grown ups alike. Boeing didn’t just stick to war planes, they moved to passenger aircrafts when the time was right, but they preserved their ideology to be “pioneers of the sky”, but they didn’t start making cars.

BHAGs: Big Hairy Audacious Goals is something you will see across all visionary companies. This is something that makes visionary companies visionary. Not because they have deep pockets and can risk a lot more, but because they believe so strongly in themselves that they can put all their money on something considered by others as impossible. Transistor Radio (Sony), Full Length Cartoon Feature (Disney’s Snow White), First commercial passenger jet 707 (Boeing), Disney’s crazy idea of an amusement park (Disneyland), IBM’s 360 Machine. Most of these companies bet their existence on the success of these very projects.

Visionary companies believe in their ideology so strongly that they can be called cultish. Because of this, if do not belief in the vision you can’t stick for too long. You will either find it as the best work place or the worst; you will either blend in or be ejected like a virus. Wal-Mart employees do their store chants, Phillip Morris employees consider smoking an individual’s right, if you don’t believe in magic you don’t belong in Disney. You will have to change yourself to their ways, they wont change their ways to make it easier for you, again because they are very clear of what they believe in.

Last but not least is the myth about hiring management from outside, as tempting as it may seem, it conflicts with the central belief of visionary companies. The “core ideology”, someone recruited from outside will not belief in it from the start. Also he would not absorb the ideals and processes that quickly as he has been calibrated to other ways of work. That is why most visionary companies use a very strict selection process to filter candidates that would easier adapt to their visions and processes. They undergo a closely monitored extensive training process. Disney has its own Disney University where they teach people to make “magic”, first course in this is about the core ideology of Disney, called the Disney Traditions orientation. So if you promote someone from within (which all visionary companies do) for a management position, you have someone who already has proved their belief in the company core values and is willing to go that extra mile to pursue keeping it alive.

In the end I would like to suggest to you, the reader, if you are involved in HR management, if you think that it’s something wrong you are doing that’s making people leave, think again. If people don’t come to your hiring test saying that they have so and so years experience and feel offended giving a test, tell them to take a hike, they don’t belong with your company. If some employee complains that the work he or she is doing is trivial and is not challenging enough, tell them this is how the big companies started too, you should learn to walk before you can run. They complain about being overworked, tell them Bill gates and Steve jobs made their developers work graveyard shifts too. If they say they don’t believe, something went wrong. Either you don’t have a core ideology that fuels enough energy to drive the masses, or that its there but its not being communicated in all aspects of your business. If everything is there, then simply you made a wrong call during the interview.

Next Monday you’re in office, ask yourself “Do you believe”, then “Do I make them believe…”

Cult: a body of persons characterized by great devotion to some person, idea or thing

Reference: Some text, content and ideas taken from the book “Built to Last: Sucessful habits of visionary companies” by James Collins and Jerry Porras