Jamie Notter

Consulting: Targeted projects to strengthen your culture and improve performance.

Speaking: Keynotes and concurrent sessions on social business, conflict, and generations.

Writing: Two books (Humanize and Generational Diversity) and an industry-recognized leadership blog (see below).

disappearedstaffOr, at least, you shouldn’t be.

On Tuesday I posted about a great article on LinkedIn about a company that gives its employees a MINIMUM number of vacation days they must take each year. They do this because they care about their employees and want them to be healthy, and not burned out. Within the article, Mathias (the CEO of the company) makes an important point:

A company has to learn how to function when people are on vacation and unavailable, however important their role is.

This is where most organizations will be unable to heed this CEO’s advice. They can’t implement a minimum vacation policy, because they can’t live without their employees working all the time, particularly those at the higher levels. And certainly the boss could never take five weeks off throughout the year, right? But here’s the rub: just because your current system “needs” everyone available all the time, doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do it.

Mathias took three weeks off in France, totally out of touch with the office, and they didn’t implode. In fact, if you can’t pluck someone out of your office for a couple of weeks, and have others fill in that gap, then you’re doing it wrong. You don’t have the right people, and you haven’t developed a system that is smart enough and learning quickly enough to fill in the gaps. Fix that. And give people their time back. You’ll be amazed at what whole, focused people can accomplish.

snailraceEveryone knows that the speed of change has gone through the roof these days, but that’s not precisely what I’m talking about when I suggest you’re falling behind. I’m talking about management.

I don’t think people realize that management–those assumptions we hold about how you need to run things inside organizations in order to be successful–is starting to change at a rapid pace. This is really new, because for the last 100 years, management has been changing at approximately the pace of a glacier. As in, it changes, but you can’t particularly see the change because it happens so slowly.

But not any more. The changes are starting to come quick, and as we suggest in our upcoming book, that pace is not going to slow down. Here’s some of the latest evidence.

This post on LinkedIn by Mathias Meyer explains why he has started REQUIRING employees to take vacation. You read that right–he has a MINIMUM vacation policy (not a maximum), where all employees MUST take 25 days off (yes, 5 weeks), and they are paid.

My entire working career, it was a given that if you got a job, then you “earned” vacation days, typically starting at two weeks (10 days) and then moving upward the longer you stayed with a company. Over the last couple of years, I was noticing the number of companies that were doing away with that policy and giving unlimited vacation. No more tracking days. Just take vacation whenever you want for as long as you want. As long as you’re getting the job done, then we don’t need limits.

This idea by itself is hard for a lot of companies to swallow. What if employees abuse the policy? Now there’s no reason for them to stay longer at your company! Most organizations seem to be staying with the traditional route. Limit the days off, force people to work, and give them an extra day off per year for working there.

But here’s the new speed of change: Meyer adopted an open vacation policy for his company–people could take off as many days as they wanted–and has already evolved it. He realized that leaving it open meant that people took LESS vacation and there was pressure NOT to be that guy who took the most. The result was burnout, and as he said in the article, “vacation is cheaper than severance and training.”

This is an example of what Maddie and I write about in Chapter 3 of the new book. It’s a digital mindset, where you focus on meeting the needs of the customer, which, in the case of management, is the employee. Smart companies are doing this, and attracting the very best talent in the process, while the rest of us are figuring out ways to claim more comp time so we can amass more vacation days. On which side of this trend do you really want to be?

The Problem with Goals

targetsEveryone knows that you have to set goals in order to be successful, right? There are data to back up that assertion. I don’t remember the exact source now, but I remember hearing a study that saw a correlation with significantly higher salaries for people who had clear career goals versus people who didn’t–and even among those with clear goals, the ones that actually wrote the goals down had even higher salaries than those who didn’t write them down.

So we take this to heart in organizations and set goals, often through strategic planning. We make them specific and measurable, and maybe even big and hairy and audacious. But we know, without a doubt, that if we DON’T set the goals, then we will flounder.

But are we fooling ourselves? Has it occurred to you that perhaps it’s not the goal that actually drives your success, but the clarity that you achieved in setting that goal?

I was very interested to learn that the Construction Financial Management Association recently eliminated its goal of growing membership. This sounds like blasphemy for an association. Isn’t it a given that they should grow membership? Perhaps, but unfortunately for CFMA, focusing on that goal each and every year didn’t seem to be helping them to achieve it. But as soon as they let go of the goal, they were able to focus on something more important: actually being valuable to the members.

Please stop setting random membership or sales targets. Instead, dig a little deeper into what actually drives your success and focus on that.


springcrocusWe had a particularly cold week last week here in the D.C. area–down into the low teens at night and highs in the 20s. That’s not normal for this area, where high temperatures, even in January, average above 40 degrees. Fortunately, I work from home, so there were a couple of days last week where I didn’t even need to venture outside at all. That’s what we do in winter: we hunker down, and retreat to where it’s warm, and get as much work done as we can. It’s hard and not always comfortable, but that’s the work of winter, and deep down we know that spring is coming. We know that we will soon emerge and have our day in the sun (metaphor alert).

When you’re stuck in winter, it’s important to remember that spring is coming. You need that seed of optimism to get you through the hard parts, to keep you moving and working, rather than just giving up. Every year you hit that same point where you want to give up, but you remember that spring is coming, and you put one foot in front of the other.

Society is in the middle of a winter-to-spring transition right now, particularly when it comes to leadership and management. That’s what Maddie and I have written about in our forthcoming book, When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business. You’ll obviously be seeing much more about this book in the next two months on this blog, as we gear up for our early March release date.

But I at least wanted to remind everyone that spring is coming. We included the phrase “ridiculously optimistic” in the title very intentionally. We can see the “spring” when it comes to the future of business. We’ve written in the book about the positive deviants that are showing us all how to create more powerful cultures, today. Regardless of what you think about the Millennials, they are moving into positions of power at the same time as a tectonic shift in business, so let’s follow their lead and venture out into the sunshine together.

holedigger…the first thing you do, is stop digging.

Don’t get in the way of your own progress. Your own behavior is actually the piece of the puzzle over which you have the most control, so take advantage of that. When faced with a problem, don’t rush to evaluate all the external factors. Look at what you’re doing and see you can do things differently that will create some space.

I’m reminded of a nice article by Joe Rominecki in Associations now that points out that associations are all stressing about their membership models and how best to provide value to members, yet they are also NOT actually spending time researching their market. Focus, people.


polevaultOn the last day of 2014, I made the mistake of getting a prescription filled. I didn’t intend to do it that day. That just happened to be the day I went to the doctor and he called it in to my local CVS. I showed up at the pharmacy a good six hours after it was called in, and waited in a line that was much longer than usual. The person in front of me was upset that her Rx wasn’t ready (though she had called hers in after mine). I got up there and they said it wasn’t ready, but they would expedite it–maybe 20 minutes? So I went grocery shopping (longer than 20 minutes), came back, waited in another long line, and when I got up there it still wasn’t ready, though they got it for me in just a couple of minutes. Lots of people were cranky and storming out of the line in a huff.

I didn’t realize that a lot of people fill prescriptions on the last day of the year for insurance purposes, though I get it with deductibles going back to zero and whatnot. But here’s what I don’t get: why didn’t CVS see this coming? Actually they did. I heard the staff saying that they thought the previous December 31st was even worse than this one. So why didn’t they do anything about it? That’s not to say that I know what they should have done. These are prescription drugs we’re talking about; it’s not like you can just hire some extra college kids on break to dispense them. But in this day and age, I find that I have very little patience for an organization that cannot solve a problem that it knows is going to happen.

Google reads my mind. Amazon plus my smart phone means I can go from “Hmm I think I need X” to opening the box in my home two days later, no matter where I am when I have that initial thought, and pretty much whatever “X” is. And it doesn’t matter if it’s the holiday season and their orders are through the roof–I still get it two days later. Things have changed a lot in the past couple of decades, and the bar has been raised.

Figure it out, CVS. You know this is going to happen again next year. If there’s no way to bring in short-term pharmacists, then figure out something else. Invent a system for triaging prescriptions so some get bumped (I could have waited til the next day). Find a way to automate a system to notify people that it will be longer waits than usual. Engage the docs in working to submit prescriptions earlier. Just do something, because telling the customer that you didn’t have the time or resources to solve this predictable problem is not going to cut it any more.


2014 Year End

I wasn’t expecting 2014 to be a real transition year (I thought that’s what I had last year, actually, when I went back out on my own), but as soon as Maddie and I decided to launch a joint consulting firm together (Culture That Works LLC), our new directions picked up steam. We started getting more clients together (in addition to existing work we did separately), and also (as promised in last year’s post) started out on our next book together. As I write this, the book is basically done, though it won’t be released until March of 2015 (and we can’t wait!). The new book is titled When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business, and will be published by IdeaPress. We’ve set up a pre-order page on our site, and once we finalize the last few details you will be able to add it to your cart.

Happy new year, everyone!

Here’s 2014 by the numbers:

Miles running: 229 (down 43)
Miles biking: 1475 (down 195)
Southwest flights: 40 (my new airline)
Southwest points: 112,342 (ask me about Companion Status)
Following on Twitter: 6,356 (up 1,217)
Followers on Twitter: 6,633 (up 996)
Tweets: 13,954 (2,459 this year; about the same as last year)
Facebook Friends: 459 (up 21)
Linked In Connections: 1,468 (up 198)
JN Posts: 109 (1,075 total; down from last year but hey, I wrote a book)
JN Comments: 50 (1,231 total, not counting pingbacks)
JN Page views: 44,207 (204,762 total; about the same as last year)
Switch and Shift Blog Posts: 1 (but I’ll have a series next year on the new book)
SocialFish Blog Posts: 8
Feedly Feeds: 74 (up 9)


We Need Hierarchy

scaffoldingincompleteOne of my idols is Gary Hamel, and he declared this year that bureaucracy must die. I’m sure he’ll get a lot of support for that sentiment, since we have been hating bureaucracy since we invented the word (it has ALWAYS had a pejorative undertone), and we all have had negative experiences with the rigid and frustrating hierarchies that we call bureaucracies.

But another one of my idols is Bob Sutton, and in his book, Scaling Up Excellence, he makes it clear that while we don’t necessarily like that element of bureaucracy that we hate–hierarchies–we really need them. Hierarchies reduce cognitive load. They spell out ahead of time who gets to make decisions in what areas, and that actually frees up our mental focus to pay attention to other things. If you want to scale something, you need to free up that mental energy, otherwise you get bogged down. Hierarchy is a natural part of the human condition, and studies have shown that while people have a generally negative view of hierarchies, they also indicate that they are “happier, calmer, and more productive when power and status differences are present and well understood,” according to Sutton’s research.

So what do we do? We make hierarchies more fluid. Maddie and I are writing about this in our upcoming book. What makes hierarchies horrible is the way they are rigid and inflexible. We can’t abandon hierarchy all together, but we do need to solve the important problems Hamel brings up in his bureaucracy piece. Organizations are doing that–just look at the Holacracy movement. In our book, we present a case study of an interesting healthcare organization that built in some fluidity into their culture.

We need hierarchy in order to scale, but that doesn’t mean we’re forced to do it the way we always have.

The Power of Stickiness

stickytapeIn every blog related to business or leadership, you’re going to find buzzwords, and mine is no exception. Culture, engagement, ownership–and even the very basics of leadership, change, and management–are all words that start to lose their meaning the more we talk about them. It’s like saying a word over and over again, until it doesn’t even sound like a real word any more.

Lately I’ve been thinking, reading, and writing about engagement (both customer/member AND employee) and strong organizational cultures. These ideas seem to have hit the saturation point, in the blogosphere anyway, because many are now so sick of the terms that they try to invent new ones (remember when we tried to do that with strategic planning?).

Anyway, I feel like in the conversation we’re missing an important concept: the idea of stickiness. We miss it because it’s hard to describe, but when I think about engagement from a customer/member context, for me it boils down to someone whose affiliation with the company or membership organization in question is so close that they become “sticky.” It simply becomes easier for me to pull the trigger when it comes to opening an email, buying a product, or recommending to a friend when this stickiness is present. I always have lots of options, but the ones with more “stickiness” get my attention and action.

Even employee engagement can be understood at least partially in this way. A main difference between employees who are more engaged than others is the way they give their discretionary effort, rather than just doing the minimum. That’s being sticky. If your culture doesn’t generate that stickiness among employees, then the opportunities to give discretionary effort sort of bounce off of people. They just do what’s in their job description, or worse: they get in the way of others doing their job.

I think a lot of efforts to improve engagement (on both sides) clarify what more sticky looks like, but do not fully understand what created the stickiness in the first place. That is, we see employees giving discretionary effort, and we notice that they are happy and like their flexible schedules, so we try to offer flexible schedules to more people. But the truth is, we don’t know that flexible schedules is really what created the stickiness in the first place. It might be, frankly, but we don’t take the time to know that.

It may not be easy to really know what causes the stickiness. But the insight you gain from figuring that out will have a tremendous ROI.

realityThere is a down side to this wonderful human brain that we all have in our heads, and that is that sometimes we can spend too much of our time living up there in our heads, and not down here in reality. This is particularly true when you face a challenge–a significant conflict with someone, a rough spot at work, an illness in you or a family member. When we hit these challenges, our brains naturally focus on solutions. This is fine, except that it often means that our heads will be spinning for some time around the way things should be, and the ways the other party should change his or her behavior, or how the market should respond to your product offering, or the solutions the doctor should be able to provide you.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking about these things. In fact, in most of the situations, getting clear about the ideal, and understanding WHY things “should” be that way is a critical piece to problem solving. But I’m warning you: staying in that land of should is actually pretty comfortable, and you will be tempted (maybe without even realizing it) to stay in that world and not confront what IS, rather than only what should be.

Spend equal time confronting what is. What IS your behavior and the other party’s behavior in this conflict situation? That is your starting point, even if it is upsetting that you have to start at that place. What IS the market’s response to your product? What marketing did you do, how many views were there, what feedback did people actually provide–dig into the reality of what happened, rather than focusing only on the end result.

The best leaders I’ve ever been around have all done this with ease. It requires some emotional intelligence (managing your negative reaction to the “what is”), but the ability to see the truth of the current situation clearly and dispassionately (you can save the passion for the “should be”) can inspire people to move into that somewhat scary place with you. And that’s where we all need to be to solve the really important challenges we face.