Encourage Bad-News Sharing to Foster Open Dialogue

Sharing bad news—top-down, bottom-up, and across the organization—has a number of salutary effects beyond the obvious benefits of transparency. It can elicit empathy and support, break down barriers, and expand the pool of contributors to problem solving. Energy otherwise spent saving face can be channeled into more constructive use. The net result is not just top-down, bottom-up alignment, but stronger horizontal alignment. As with the … [ Read more ]

Apply Relevant Investment Criteria

Depending on the structure of a company’s investment portfolio, decision makers may need to apply different criteria in order to highlight differences in the value drivers of various investment types. For example, a strict focus on internal rate of return and payback time may systematically favor incremental improvement investments at the expense of larger breakthrough investments that tend to have longer-term and uncertain payoffs.

The process … [ Read more ]

Go Beyond Internal Rate of Return

In theory, there is a simple rule for choosing among competing investment projects: sort the list of projects based on their expected internal rate of return and select those with the highest IRRs until the budget is fully committed. In practice, however, the effectiveness of this approach is constrained by the quality of the assumptions that go into the valuations and by the influence of … [ Read more ]

Translate Portfolio Roles Into Capital Allocation Guidelines

One of our clients, an international energy company, which classifies business units as development, growth, anchor, or harvesting businesses, depending on their position in the market life cycle. Each portfolio role has its own performance requirements, and businesses are managed based on specific sets of financial indicators. More important, the role of each business determines its guidelines for capital allocation. For example, coal power generation … [ Read more ]

Use the “Black Hat” Technique for New Initiatives

To uncover the hidden traps of big new projects being considered, Jaleh Rezaei relies on the “black hat” technique, where you kick off new initiatives by asking a targeted tough question: “Let’s assume that it’s one year from now and we’ve failed at our goal. What went wrong?

“This question creates a subtle shift from a very optimistic mindset to triggering the team’s problem-solving neurons. … [ Read more ]

Manager Effectiveness Index (MEI)

Performance reviews tend to be more heavily weighted to focus downward. (“I’m your manager, and here is what I think of your performance.”) There may be some mechanism for subordinates to provide feedback upward, but it often doesn’t carry the same importance. And that’s how bad bosses often stay in their roles.

One example of an effective model comes from Aron Ain, the CEO of Ultimate … [ Read more ]

Create Tokens that Align with Your Values

Jean-Denis Grezè has seen time and time again that small gestures can have an outsized impact. “I’m a big believer in incentives that align with the culture and values. A funny one that people don’t realize can be super helpful is creating tokens — objects that you reward for a specific behavior,” he says. “You can create a subculture around a new value. Humans … [ Read more ]

Celebrate Mistakes

“We celebrated mistakes at a management gathering with 1,000 people in the room. A manager would get up and say why the environmentally sensitive light bulb or whatever it was…had failed…Then we’d give them $1,000 or a TV or something, depending on the scale of the thing. The point was to share the learning and get smarter as an organization.” — Jack Welch

Look Back, Look Forward

Molly Graham does a look back, look forward every month or two, or at the end of a project — whatever milestone that makes the most sense for an employee’s role. She asks them to look back on a project that they just finished and run through these questions:

Look back:

  • What did you like about that? What felt good?
  • What did you hate about it?

[ Read more ]

How to Talk about Employee Departures

But people still leave. Some want to try other things at other companies, or the fit isn’t right, so we have to let them go. It’s the natural cycle of business.

What’s never been natural at companies, though, is how these departures are handled. So at Basecamp we’ve created a ritual for when someone leaves: We tell everyone in the company why. Not just that person’s team, … [ Read more ]

Publicly Display Progress to Build Organization Spirit

Keep highly visible scoreboards, big thermometers (as in a fund-raising campaign), bulletin boards, Intranet sites, voice mail messages and newsletters to update everyone on progress toward key goals or change and improvement targets. Make goals/targets and progress as visible as possible.

Search for Hidden Talent Treasures

Organizations looking for outside talent pay an extraordinary amount of attention to resumes. […] Once people are inside, it’s almost as if some of kind of reset button is pressed: The details of their backgrounds seem to get dumped onto a far-off slag heap, and they become known only for what they do at the new organization. I call this phenomenon resumenesia — a malady … [ Read more ]

Create a “How to Use Me” Guide

Jay Desai has FOMU. As a first-time founder and CEO of health technology startup PatientPing, he’s got a healthy fear of messing up. This anxiety especially bubbles to the surface when it has to do with his team — now over 100 employees — and particularly the seven who report directly to him. He’s seen too many immensely talented and productive teams stall because of … [ Read more ]

Learning to Say No: The MSPOT

The single best tool I have found to help unlearn the yes-man ways of a startup CEO is a single-page document we call our MSPOT. With it, we articulate our Mission, the constituencies we Serve, the Plays we’re going to run this year, the plays we are going to Omit, and how we will Track our progress.

The most painful portion of that document are the … [ Read more ]

Gamification of the Enterprise

In the summer of 2011, Facebook announced it would use the social performance platform Rypple (now part of Salesforce.com) for internal reviews and communications.  Rypple allows employees to create and compete in challenges, receive recognition from colleagues, see what others are working on, and find where needed skills may exist within an organization. But Rypple is not a game. It doesn’t even look like a … [ Read more ]

Build a Fact-Base and Search for Strategic Options

By determining where, how, and why value is created and destroyed within each business unit, managers can typically uncover opportunities to double the value of their business units within two to three years. To accomplish this feat, management must identify which customer segments are most profitable, which product and service features are most important to meeting the needs of customers in these segments, and which … [ Read more ]

Intermittent Reinforcement is More Effective

Intermittent “extras” are more powerful than constant bonuses that are predictable. Say that a manager wants to reward employees. A good way to do it is with a lottery system. You could set it up so one would have to maintain some level of performance to be eligible for the lottery. The hope of entering the lottery will keep workers going at a higher level … [ Read more ]

Getting a Fresh Look at Your Products and Services

Every three months, a group of people from the organization—younger people, junior people, but never the same people—sits down and looks at one segment of the company’s products, or services, or process or policies with a question: If we didn’t do this already, would we go into it the way we are now? Every four or five years, that company has systematically abandoned or at … [ Read more ]

A Better Employee Suggestions System

AT&T has built a digital infrastructure enabling all employee suggestions to be logged online. A small, dedicated team regularly reads and triages the suggestions, sending each promising one to a designated leader or expert who is obligated to consider it and respond. Employees can see the progress of each suggestion and log comments. Other companies have developed systems that enable employees to “vote up” or … [ Read more ]

Weekly Coffee Break with the CEO

We started a weekly coffee break with our CEO where six people get to sign up to informally discuss a specific topic with her. Not only does this give employees valuable face time with her, but it’s also been fantastic for Julia because it’s a new way for her to talk to a broader cross-section of the team and get their thoughts on topics that … [ Read more ]