Thursday, February 4, 2010

Productivity Jumps Again

Productivity jumped again in Q4, which means that employers are still getting more out of their people. This is 3 straight quarters of productivity gains. I’ve said before that this means new hiring is coming soon. There is a limit to how far overworked people can be pushed, especially if growth is starting to happen.

Posted by Mark Bregman at 8:53 PM

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dueling Jobs Bills?

I wrote to President Obama 4 days before the State of the Union address, urging him to focus on job creation as the number one theme. Thank goodness he listened! <JK> There are two different jobs ideas now on the table, one promoted by the House, and one by the White House. Because it seems nothing the government does these days can be without controversy, these proposals have been referred to in the media as “dueling” or competing. The essence of the controversy is whether it is better to create jobs by stimulating private industry, or by directly funding projects that cause hiring. The answer in a down economy is that BOTH are needed right now.

Both proposals include tax credits for hiring. The President emphasized credits to small businesses, because they hire quickly, more broadly across skill areas, and have an immediate impact. This is great, and it will work. Both proposals call for infrastructure investment: Start road projects and hire construction workers. Improve education and hire more teachers (or bring them back from layoffs). Support homeland security at the local level by hiring more police and firefighters. All of this will work, will stimulate spending, result in more income tax and sales tax revenues, etc. Ultimately, government gets paid back on all this investment, as was evidenced during the prosperous 90′s, when we had budget surpluses.

Personally, I hope the factionalizing and partisanship stops, and government can move swiftly to take decisive action that will actually speed the recovering. No more dueling!

Posted by Mark Bregman at 9:46 PM

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The 18-Month Factor

Many executives tolerate B and C performance from their key reports for far too long. I have had the privilege of sharing a speaker’s platform several times with investor, serial entrepreneur, author, speaker, consultant and all around good guy Dave Berkus. Dave coined the phrase “The 18-Month Factor” to describe how long it takes from the time you acknowledge having an underperforming manager to the time you have a fully effective person producing critical results. Dave’s theory, with which I agree completely, is as follows: You (the CEO or Senior Executive) first realizes the problem by noticing that “Joe” is not getting it done. You say, “Well, I’ll give him a bit more time.” Interestingly, this patience only seems to apply to people, not other key business decisions, right?

3 months go by, then you say, “Well, I’ll talk to him about it.” Joe agrees to change, so you give him 3 more months, and still nothing has changed, so you give him a warning. Shape up or else. At that point, 50% of the B and C players become “mentally unemployed”. Some of them actually start looking, but some just eat up your payroll while their performance actually gets worse. And, it is expensive in indirect ways too – lost opportunities, etc.

So, at about the 9 month point, you decide you really must do something about Joe. You launch a search. The search takes the usual 3 months, and you find a new person who looks like an “A” player. By the time that individual is on board, and the get-acquainted honeymoon is over, you’re in the 13th or 14th month, and it will surely take 3-4 months before you can expect meaningful change and better results. Presto, 18 months have gone by.

Strategic replacement takes brave, decisive action. My grandfather used to say, “The first loss is the best loss,” because business loss is really valuable information, and if you pay attention quickly, you can cut the next loss. 2010 is a very meaningful year for executive change. As companies jockey for position to see who is going to rise first in the recovery, there will be a scramble for market share. For many companies, that will require stronger people. Don’t find yourself stuck with B and C people in an 18-month cycle.

If you are a business leader, and you’ve survived the past two years, you probably have keen judgment. Make sure it applies to more than financials, inventory, operations, etc. Apply it to your #1 asset as well – your people.

Posted by Mark Bregman at 10:19 PM

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Attention to Detail or Micromanagement?

I am a possibilities and alternatives thinker, so when an idea is presented to me, even a great idea, my first instinct is to think, how else could this be done? My thinking also drifts to: what could go wrong with this, is this the best way to do it, etc. Funny thing is, I perceive myself as a conceptual idea person who hates details, is low-data, makes decisions easily, and wants to be strategic. However, when I ask my “what-if” and why questions, others easily can get the opposite impression, that I am too into the details, too analytical, and even micromanaging. The person who generated the great idea can get frustrated and feel judged and underappreciated.

Until I had a trusted employee point this out to me, I had no idea that what I thought was collaborative what-iffing could sometimes be perceived as frustrating nit-picking.

I’m a strong believer that with human behavior, there is no reality, only perceptions. It isn’t always important whether I’m “right” or “wrong” about what I’m doing. However it is really important how my actions affect others – their work output, their job satisfaction, etc. If my behavior and my style of communication isn’t productive, and it obstructs progress by producing frustration, then it is important to look at it and change it. For me this week – lesson learned!

Posted by Mark Bregman at 1:41 AM

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Stepping in a New River

Bear with me… I usually give very concrete advice, and today I’m going to philosophize.

Heraclitus, who felt that change was central to the universe said (around 500 BC), “You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.” In other words, a river is never static, it is in each moment a different river, because the water keeps flowing. Just as each moment brings new water down the river; each moment brings a new experience into our existence. What happened just now is now over.

It takes effort to embrace change. We are creatures of habit – we expect to step into that same river. At my advanced age (jk) learning something new or experiencing something differently is a great thing – a true delight. Most of us experience new things through filters based on our similar previous experiences – we play old tapes in our head. It actually takes work to see things without that set of filters. Letting go, clearing the head to see things as they are, or even to just see them fresh, with new eyes, or to be open to a new point of view, is not automatic. But, practice does improve the art.

Friday night is a good time to clear stuff out. Start the weekend with a blank-slate attitude, and I’ll bet you will step into a new river. Happy wading.

Posted by Mark Bregman at 12:39 AM