Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Privacy in the digial age

I just finished an article about how news providers shape our understanding of the news by how they word the headline and which elements of the story they focus on. When I was in grade school (some where between the second and 7th grades) my father sat me down with the two Philadelphia Pennsylvania newspapers and compared the stories. Now it was not quite an even playing field because one was a morning paper the other was published in the late afternoon so sometimes the later paper had new information but usually the differences were editorial choice.

The morning paper might choose to feature a story on page one above the fold - a high focus story, while the evening paper might place the same story on page 2 below the fold - a less important story. One paper might tell the story as a positive change while the other slant it as a negative change.

When I asked my father why the story seem to change, he told me that it was like watching a house being painted. One side is still the old plain white color while the other side is the new green. “It all depends on where you are standing”.

Lets give the writers and editors the benefit of the doubt and accept that they are trying to be objective. They are still prisoners to their own ideas of what the story means and how they think it will impact the readers. Editors, like the rest of us, tend to hire people that fit their “idea” of who will do the work the way the editor thinks it should be done. They tend to feature articles that fit there particular “idea” of how the world works. We are all prisoners of what we think we know and it takes a real effort to break out of that prison of “knowledge”. We’re not talking about hard knowledge such as “rain falls down” but the “the world would be a better place if ...” kind.

The story that started me thinking was about privacy in the new digital world, where our cell phones track our location and so much personal information is on the web for those who know how to find it. We all know that our phones “know” where we are but we rely on the cell provider not to release our whereabouts to third parties. The surprise is when we find out that the phone provider is releasing the information with out asking us for permission in each particular case. In this case, what we know is wrong; that our personal information is ours and only we can grant permission to release it.

The truth is that the fine print in our contract with the phone company grants them permission to give the information to other parties. Exactly who they can release it to is spelled out in the fine print. Unfortunately, it will take the combine power of all the people to change that, and that only happens in the form of government regulation.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Moving to management

Anyone in business at any level has seen bosses at all levels who don’t understand the work place relationship between management and workers. Remember in this context everyone is considered a worker to the next higher level in the organization.

If I work alone and have to make a product that takes one hour, I can make 8 units in a working day. If I manage 20 workers, the team can make 160 in the same 8 hours. Who is more important, me as the boss or the 20 workers? For each worker I loose, I loose 8 units of production. The more often I loose a worker, the lower my production overall.

This concept is called “force multiplication” and takes my original idea and multiplies it by the number of workers following the plan. The workers need the bosses direction, but without the workers the boss alone can’t make the same volume of product. Since both parts are necessary, how do we decide who’s more valuable?

Scarcity of skill is the most common method. That is, many people can be taught to put part A in slot B, but how many can design the product or how to assemble it? Since fewer people can create a new idea, those few people get a bigger share of the results than the easer to replace assemblers. The same is true for managers. Think about it, how many of your coworkers do you think could create a plan for the work, balance the personalities of your department, and ensure that the “production” levels are met?

We accept that the knowledge necessary to create a jet engine are very different from knowledge needed to create a laundry soap and that each take years to learn. Managing people is just as difficult a skill as designing the product but is just a different set of skills.

Peter Drucker created the “Peter Principle” which stated that "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." The main idea is that people get promoted until they land in a job that is beyond their ability. This concept seems to fit the facts, but we inherently fear it because of what it says about each of is. That at some point we will “hit the wall” of our own limitations.

Why do we find it so surprising that not everyone promoted to management has the skills to manage, and in some cases the capacity to learn those skills?

Friday, October 5, 2007


Loyalty isn’t given, it’s earned. And it has to be re-earned on a regular basis. Whether its your customers, your employees, or your friends, their loyalty costs you effort.

My experience is that loyalty starts with the more powerful person and is returned. That is, then boss is loyal to his/her employees and THEN the employees return that loyalty.

OK, but why should you care? Does employee loyalty matter to your business?

One reason you should care is that employee loyalty translates directly into the quality of their performance. If your employees are loyal, they go the extra mile for your customers and that helps create a great experience that will keep your customers coming back.

Beyond a certain level, money stops being the prime motivator and quality of life becomes the driver. While most people do a good job for the personal satisfaction, being treated like a valued contributor goes a long way toward creating job satisfaction.

Now, if that employee really is a valued contributor, you would do a lot to keep that person. You’d make sure that they had the right tools, the right training, and the right support to do their work. You’d make sure that they got prompt answers to questions. And above all, you’d make sure that they knew they were secure in their job - that it would not be shopped off to just anyone who would work for less money.