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).

citizenThis week’s Friday quote is by Peter Block (though I’m reading the quote in Lindy and Maddie’s Open Community book, p. 118):

Community is not built by specialized expertise, or great leadership, or improved services; it is built by great citizens.

The quote is about community (both online and in person), but I am thinking about it in terms of organizations. We fret, as leaders, about finding the best talent and then maximizing their engagement in our workplace, and while that does matter, our perspective–we find them, we maximize them–misses an important point: it’s as much about them as it is about us.

It’s not about what we do TO them; it’s about what we do FOR them, in order to increase their greatness as citizens inside our organizations. A culture that attracts will always have this in mind.

This Shift Matters More than Others

factoryoldI am a huge fan of Clay Shirky, and he wrote this post about the death of newspapers over on Medium. Then today I see an HBR blog post about how publishing is NOT dead. I’m not sure the two articles are as contradictory as they sound, but there was one line in the second article that jumped out at me:

Still, the future of publishing is bright. While every business needs to adopt a true culture of change, clearly there is no lack of potential. Once you accept the fact that business models don’t last, it becomes clear that there are, in fact, more opportunities to create and curate content, access top talent, attract investment, and make money than ever before.

Satell throws that out sort of casually: “once you accept the fact that business models don’t last…” That’s the big shift that needs more of our attention. I think many MANY organizations (and whole industries) have failed to accept that fact. They look backwards and they see business models that have stayed very stable, so they continue along that path.

When you make the shift, however, to understanding that business models don’t last, the world looks a lot different. Your strategic choices become different, and the capacities that you need internally begin to change as well.

Take a look at your strategy and your culture and then ASSUME that your business model won’t last. How does your strategy and culture look now?

notthatsimpleIt’s Friday, so I’m giving myself permission to get a little angry.

I am hitting my limit of the amount of crap that I can stand to read about generations in the business literature, and particularly, of course, the millennial generation. If you are nodding in agreement, thinking “Yeah, all that generations stuff is bunk,” then prepare to be disappointed.

Generational differences are real, and they are important.

What I am angry about is actually the widespread ignorance of what generations are and what they are not. A case in point is this article over on the Fast Company website that claims to be debunking the “myth” that all Millennials are the same.

What?! Who on earth thinks that all Millennials are the same? I am dead serious about that question, because the answer is NO ONE. Not a single person on the face of this planet would ever admit that an entire group of people (let alone tens of millions of them) are all the same. It’s a patently stupid idea, so please spare me your effort to debunk a myth that only exists inside your head.

Do people misuse the generalizations about the different generations? Of course. It’s called stereotyping, and humans do it with all kinds of differences. But that does not negate the differences, not does it imply that everyone believes, literally, that all the people in that category are the same. It’s really more a case of wrongly applying generalizations to some unique individuals that you’re dealing with. It’s particularly ugly when people pick up on a negative stereotype (like “Millennials are entitled” or “black men are dangerous”) and use it to interpret, say, the specific young people in their office or an unarmed black man in the street.

I really don’t understand why people resist the idea that Millennials are different from other Generations. Do you accept that women are different than men? Why don’t I see articles debunking the myth that all women are the same? Should I point to research that indicates things like language and geography in fact create subgroups of women who are all different from each other? Should we challenge the “gurus” in the Gender Studies departments for trying to dupe us? No. You’d think I was an idiot if I did any of that because this stuff is obvious. Of course women are different from men in important ways, and of course women are different from each other, down to the fact that every individual woman is unique.

When we resist the idea that generational differences are real, we are giving up in our battle with complexity, and that spells bad things for organizations. It is a retreat, back into a world where we don’t have to face the paradox of sameness and difference existing at the same time within a group (at least along this identity line). Some will dismiss the sameness and say we are all just individuals. Others may rigidly embrace the stereotypes and declare all Millennials to be entitled. Both of those choices reject the complexity, and the number of organizations that will thrive in the coming years by rejecting complexity is going to decline very rapidly. If I were you, I’d get up to speed on generations and choose to deal with the complexity.

oldblogIt feels like only yesterday that I made the shift from my original blog to the current JamieNotter.com (check out the full screenshot of Get Me Jamie Notter from back in the day–remember TypePad?). In fact, it’s been more than a year since I removed the “get me” from the domain name.

But now that Maddie and I have created Culture That Works LLC (and our corresponding new web site), I’m going to revise JamieNotter.com one more time. Culture That Works is where you’ll find information about my consulting and all the books, ebooks, and other products that Maddie and I are developing. Here you will find the blog (though not on the front page…most people read it via email, RSS, or social network links anyway), and all the details on my speaking. It will take some time for me to get the changes implemented, of course, and if the blog feed is affected I’ll let everyone know. But expect to start seeing things change, particularly in the other pages on this site.

And if you haven’t seen the new Culture That Works site, please check it out. We’ve put up material there that is either new, or in a new form:

Products. Part of our long term plan is to develop more products to help leaders (at all levels) create stronger cultures. For now, our products include the three books that Maddie and I have written, plus the two ebooks I’ve written, and there is a link to our culture assessment as well.

Consulting. With our focus on culture, we have developed a “Foundations of a Stronger Culture” process, which is fully customizable around our culture assessment.

Workshops. Another area we hope to expand moving forward, we’ve got three up there now focused on collaboration, aligning your culture with social media, and developing strategic principles.

Change is good. And please give me feedback as we move through it.

 

Discounts Are Not Valuable

cheaperI attended a good session at the ASAE conference about pricing. It was not a ton of new information, but it did provide a good reminder about the importance of value-based pricing. That is, consider what alternatives your customer has, and then compare the value they get from those alternatives with the value they get from your offering. That will help you set pricing.

I like this approach specifically because it puts the customer at the center, not the organization. So often we (organizations) price based on our needs. Our costs go up, therefore we have to raise prices. But the speaker pointed out that we, as customers, don’t shop that way. We don’t even think about costs when we make the decision that $4.00 is too much (or not too much) for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. We just look at the Breyers on the next shelf over and decide if we can live without the chocolate covered pretzels, etc. We make a decision based on the value we receive (as defined by us) among the alternatives.

Shortly after this session, I was talking to an association client about the value they provide to members, and the word “discounts” came up a lot. In other words, part of the value of membership was the discounts they would receive when they bought many of the association’s products and services later. I’ve heard a lot of associations claiming that these discounts “pay for” the price of membership. I’ve been thinking about it and I have a strong opinion about this:

Discounts are not valuable.

They provide me, the customer with no value. It is simply a pricing strategy. If I buy in bulk, I pay less per item. That’s not value to me, that’s just pricing. That pricing strategy might get me to buy, but it has nothing to do with the value I receive, so let’s stop pretending that it does. What if you doubled your prices, and then doubled the discounts you’re giving me. Would that double my value? No. Nothing would change, in fact.

What if associations started offering ALL of their products at the member pricing, gave EVERYONE a membership for free, and then at the end of the year charged a $100 “administrative fee” for those who signed up to be a member but did not purchase a requisite amount of products or services. That’s the same as charging all members $100 dues but then giving discounts to members who buy stuff. (I’m not particularly recommending this strategy, but you get my point.)

Get clear on the value part first (as defined by the customer, not you), and then talk about pricing and discounts.

It’s Not Always Win-Win

aikiAt the recent ASAE Annual Meeting, I had the pleasure of presenting with Sandra Giarde and Mark Alcorn on the subject of dealing with “turbo bullies” on your Board of Directors. Sandra is a CEO and Mark is legal counsel, and they both have had first-hand experience with volunteer leaders in associations who have been pretty horrible. I am not talking about failing to read their board books ahead of time or getting a little too drunk at the annual meeting. I mean like they tried to impose their will even though they had been outvoted, they lied to members at large in order to enlist their support, and in one case even sued the Board of Directors (and the association’s lawyer) to get their way.

My role in the session was to bring in the conflict resolution point of view, and one of the points I focused on was making sure you gather more data before you declare someone a turbo bully. It can be easy to notice some bad behavior and then quickly declare the person to be a “problem,” at which point you start researching options for having them removed from the board. That could be a huge mistake. It’s possible there’s much more to the story, and this person isn’t as bad as you think. Always make sure you’re getting the whole picture and not jumping to conclusions. Talk to them. Ask questions. Be curious. Learn more about their situation. That’s the conflict resolution guy in me: “I’m sure we can work it out.”

But in the end, this presentation was about people who were never going to work it out, and that’s an important lesson too. Sometimes it’s not going to be a win-win. Sometimes you need to protect yourself, defend yourself, get a lawyer, and fight. The conflict resolution field does not promise that all conflicts will be worked out with everyone walking away happy. It certainly demands that you work hard to find resolution (as opposed to choosing the fight because it’s the simpler option), but it doesn’t expect 100% win-win. As one of my conflict resolution professors told me early in my Master’s program: conflict resolution is all about relationships; and remember–divorce is a relationship.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the research we’ve been doing with the Millennial generation. We asked a group of millennials to describe their biggest challenges working with senior management in their organizations, and this quote is priceless:

My biggest challenges have been trying to make them understand how knowledgeable and quick to learn I am. They assume we are at the same pace as they are, but when we [make a simple change in the word processing software], we are the most magical human being in the world. Trying to understand their work styles and knowledge levels is one thing, but trying to teach them is like trying to make a 2 year old take a nap. They will resist and simply make the younger individuals fix it or do it for them. I’m trying to be patient, but our voices aren’t heard.

 

dataAlmost everyone is on the data bandwagon these days. Even those who might still be skeptical about the whole “big data” thing will likely admit that using data in decision making is critical, and we all have stories of organizations, leaders, and managers making bad decisions by relying only on anecdotal evidence, ego-based analysis, or my favorite: “because we have always done it that way.”

But data-based decision making is not easy. Elizabeth Engel and Peter Houstle wrote an outstanding white paper earlier this year that provides a great map of the different aspects you will need to keep in mind if you want to get serious about data (free download). One of the points they make (that I see organizations miss), is that using data is actually part of the scientific method, and the scientific method requires experiments. The data never give you the answer. The initial data sets will help you craft some hypotheses, and then you run experiments based on that, and the data from those experiments may help you draw a conclusion.

Organizations frequently don’t want to put in that kind of effort. They want to gather some data that gives them the answer and tells them what to do. From an actual organization:

We surveyed the attendees at our conference, and they overwhelmingly prefer email as their mode of communication, and only 5% said they prefer social media, therefore we are not going to invest in social media marketing for our future events.

Okay, first off, you’re surveying people who came to a conference that was marketed primarily via email. Of COURSE these are the ones that prefer email as a communication method. Second, even if those data were broader (lets say you surveyed from among all potential attendees), you would still want to run experiments to see of the survey data could lead to some actionable conclusions. Could running both an email campaign and a social media campaign generate new registrants? Perhaps among particular populations? The data suggest that your experiments should definitely include email, but they don’t exclude other things. Only when you experiment will you learn enough to make smarter decisions.

But not enough organizations like experiments. They fail too often. They don’t give us the right answers often enough. They take up a lot of time and energy and resources. These objections confuse me. It’s kind of like saying, “Hey, I don’t have the time to make smart decisions, but what I lack in quality I can make up for in volume.” Good luck with that.

Authority and Accountability

accountabilityThis is a guest post by Thad Lurie, Chief Operating Officer at EDUCAUSE.

au·thor·i·ty:  the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine.

ac·count·a·ble: subject to the obligation to report, explain, or justify something; responsible; answerable.

Questions around authority and accountability in organizations can be heavily entangled with both cultural challenges and process questions, and are not easily addressable. These factors often lead to complacency around confronting the issues, which in turn can allow them to become entrenched elements of the organizational culture.

Technology provides a fascinating lens through which to view some of these issues, mainly because the gray area that exists around system ownership and governance causes quite a few of them. Take the organizational website, for example. It can be ‘owned’ by marketing, technology, a web team, a content team, communications, or any combination of the above (and more). We are immediately faced with the issues of authority (who has the final word for making structural or design changes?) and accountability (who is accountable for the results of and response to said changes?). I can’t give generic answers to questions like that, but they highlight a key realization: that decision making authority and accountability must live together.

Let’s say that again – decision making authority and accountability must live together.

I doubt I’ll get any arguments against this idea. The alternatives—vesting authority without accountability, or holding someone accountable for a decision they did not make (or possibly support)—both seem illogical, so you think we’d follow this rule fairly consistently in organizations.

Not so with technology! Technology creates many of these difficulties because you often have a subject matter expert (who knows A, but not B) and an IT staffer (who knows B, but not A), and they have ‘shared’ responsibility for something. The collaboration is important, but when we simply ignore the authority/accountability confusion, we usually end up frustrated. Approaching these sticky situations with consistency and clarity will lead to better outcomes.

This principle isn’t limited to technology – whether you’re talking about budgeting, content, policy, or anything else, it is important to have a shared foundational principles that assists with consistent decision making; a north star, as it were. Clarity around accountability and authority is a good place to start.

satscoresConventional wisdom says we find those “A Team” players coming out of the top colleges and universities, with the best grades and test scores. Maybe not in every job, mind you, but certainly many, and definitely at a technology company like Google, right?

Wrong.

One thing I love about Google is the strategic and cultural clarity they have around the importance of data. Many claim to be “data driven,” but Google walks the talk. They studied what made a good manager at Google, and it wasn’t attendance at Stanford or a 4.0 GPA. It was actually something much more boring: predictability. Looking at the data, they discovered:

When managers are predictable, they eliminate an obstacle from employees’ progress–themselves. Managers have their own tendency to interfere, dictate, second-guess, and be a backseat driver. Without this obstacle, employees don’t have to worry about whether their manager will try to jump in or suddenly veer in a different direction. Instead, they have the mental space to do great work…. [I]f a leader is consistent, people on their teams experience tremendous freedom.

And here’s the kicker: because they had the data, they actually started running things in a way that was CONTRARY to what the Google founders wanted. Page and Brin liked evaluating people based on SAT scores and GPAs. It made sense to them. But they couldn’t argue with the data, so they agreed to do things a different way.

This is the power of not only data (which is consistently ignored in many parts of the HR world), but also clarity. Clarity about what drives success (in Google’s case, disciplined use of data) allows leaders–at all levels–to step away from their egos and do what’s right for the system.