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).

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.

clocksBy now, I assume you’ve heard of Google’s fabled 20% time. They’ve changed it recently, but the original idea was simple: give every engineer at Google 20% of their time to work on something THEY thougth would be both interesting and ultimately profitable to Google. The focus was on building a container for experimentation. These projects did not have to be approved by a manager. They did not have to connect (directly, anyway) to Goolge’s core business. After all, these employees were spending 80% of their time on the Google core business. But in this one day per week, they could develop something new. Although it appears inefficient, the end result was positive for Google. Things like Gmail, which now generates a significant amount of profit for Google, were developed during 20% time, as an email interface simply did not connect to Google’s core business back then. By creating the space for experimentation, they allowed their people to change things in a way that unlocked new value (my definition of innovation).

It is important to remember, however, that making this work requires more than just the cool idea of x% time (not everyone who does this uses 20%). I’m working with a client on implementing a version of this at their organization, and we’re getting into the nitty gritty of things like:

  • How will the learning from x% time projects be shared?
  • Who gives feedback on the projects, and how frequently?
  • What strategic purpose should x% time projects be tied to?
  • Do these projects need to be approved?
  • How do they transition from being experimental to being integrated into operations?
  • Can we find ways to protect people’s x% time so it doesn’t get swallowed by the latest crisis?

There aren’t simple, “right” answers to these questions. It will vary depending on the organization and the context. But you need answers. Never settle for the really cool idea you hear about in the business books. Think through the implementation details before you pitch it to management or try to sell it to staff. You don’t need all the answers, but lay out the key questions so people can see why and how it makes sense to YOUR organization.

I Miss Social Media

viewmasterI am 47 years old, and I recognize that I am either in or headed to the “get off my lawn” stage of life. I find myself looking back at the old days more than I used to, and I frequently want to remind my teenage children that when I was growing up, I had to get out of my chair to change the television channel, rather than just swiping my finger across an iPad.

So in that vein, I want to lament about something I miss about the old days: social media.

It’s funny to think of social media as a component of the “old days,” but honestly that’s what it feels like to me today. I miss social media when it was new, when conversations were alive, community was being built, and new relationships with smart people across the country and the world were forming on a weekly basis. I miss conversations among bloggers via linked blog posts. I miss the days when I could actually read my Twitter stream, versus only scanning my @replies.

I’m not saying social media is dead or even a bad thing now (this is a blog post, after all). I still love social media and the way it helps me learn and develop my practice in an accelerated way. But in the big picture, social media has been taken over by the marketing department, and as such, it has been assimilated into the borg. It has become an instrument of the machine. It is a tool we use to convince and convert. It is a channel for content (but at least you don’t have to stand up to change the channel).

Maybe I’m being too sensitive. Maybe it’s operator error and I need to reboot how I use social media. But it’s important to me that we NOT lose the revolutionary element of social media–where the power went to the people and authenticity was not only tolerated, but demanded. Organizations were not built to tolerate such heretical ideas, and as much as they truly desire to “embrace” social media, they will most certainly try to remove those foreign ideas in the process. Beware.

clockworkIn Chapter 5 of Humanize, we actually go back a few centuries in our analysis, pointing out that the entire western world has been looking at the universe in a very mechanistic way since the 1600s, and we have Sir Isaac Newton and his contemporaries to blame. They revolutionized science in a very short amount of time, and they felt their discoveries connected more deeply to the nature of the universe. According to historian Edward Dolnick:

When Isaac newton learned how gravity worked, for instance, he announced not merely a discovery but a “universal law” that embraced every object in creation. The same law regulated the moon in its orbit round the  Earth, an arrow arcing against the sky and an apple falling from a tree, and it described their motions not only in general terms, but precisely and quantitatively. God was a mathematician, seventeenth-century scientists firmly believed. He had written His laws in a mathematical code. Their task was to find the key.

I have nothing against math, gravity, or seventeenth-century scientists (they were pretty awesome, actually), but this view that the universe is some kind of divinely designed clock is actually bringing us down, particularly in the world of leadership and management.

You have to see the code in order to break it.