07 May 2010 ~ 0 Comments

street sweeper

street sweeper

There’s one wise saying that has stuck with me since childhood: “it’s better to be the world’s best street sweeper than an average boss”. My dad said it and I cannot for the life of me remember the context or exactly when he told it to me (though I’m certain he said it more than once).

Decades have passed by since I first heard it and only now does it truly make sense to me.

The “Peter Principle” famously states “In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence.”. It’s not difficult to find examples of this. Lots of them. Incompetence is only one factor that renders poor Peter useless. Fear, anxiety, lack of experience, absence of mentors, ego, jealousy. Poor Peter.

Any person’s natural instinct is to jump on that ladder and climb. The bigger the jump in steps, the better. A hierarchy in a company is it’s own game show. Must win. Must be the first. Want to control EVERYTHING.

Inside every person is a core value. Not a ‘be nice to everyone’ or ‘save the planet’ value, but rather one thing that makes you want to stay awake at night to finish something and has you jumping out of bed in the morning to carry on with it. It’s in your blood and you’re incredible when you do it. For me it’s Product Management – starting from zero to fully launching a new product to a receptive audience, with everyone around you happily along for the ride. What’s yours?

Does this mean pausing at a point in a company where you’re doing what you love should be confused for lack of ambition, laziness or corporate insanity? Definitely not.

Be the street sweeper. Be the best one in the world. Do it with heart and pride and people will notice, the world will be a better place because you’re doing something you care about and the legacy you leave will inspire others.

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25 March 2010 ~ 0 Comments

your dad wanted an office

your dad wanted an office

In days when sales people sold vacuum cleaners from door to door: factories ruled the world. The premise of quality meant making a widget repeatedly in a predictable fashion millions of times over. Industrialization was the main thread across almost all market segments. Quicker, faster, cheaper. Repeat.

Workers had to work. Not think, just work. Each person was analogous to a cog in a machine. The cogs were replaceable when they broke. The most important thing was to keep the machine running.

The guy in the corner office took care of making the machine work. All the people issues, cog replacements, fine tuning and reaching production goals was his gig. It was an important job for an important person. His throne was the prized office space, usually in the corner and featuring a window.

The office represented a symbol of success. You wanted that office job. It was important that you aimed for that to be something in the world. The top of the ladder, peak of the pyramid, the big boss.

An unwritten function of the role was also to protect the hierarchy. Without the hierarchy the importance was lost. Monarchs continue to enforce the hierarchy despite their lack of political or leadership relevance in the modern world.

Shift back to the world today. How many genuinely successful people (not cog managers) do you know that still have an office they command their kingdom from? They’re a rare breed and typically remnants of the factory era. Typically older guys who would love for the visible hierarchy to continue forever. It’s not their fault – it’s how business was when business had a ladder that had to be climbed.

With the onset of knowledge workers, the worker isn’t employed just to work. Their value is not for repetition of menial tasks but rather they are employed to think and apply their knowledge, experience and learnings to the complex business tasks they are assigned. It’s very difficult to change these cogs.

The role of the manager of a knowledge driven staff is far removed from the old school corner office job.

People who handle, absorb, interpret, manipulate and add value to data don’t need a hierarchy to be successful. While the cube has become the microcosm corner office for office employees, it too is an artifact that has to disappear. Being surrounded by walls is more than just a physical barrier.

Nothing happens until something is sold. To sell something, value needs to be exchanged. Usually the value that your business provides in exchange for financial value from the customer. Your customers find out about your value from your people. Within your company you have to make the strongest effort with internal communications and growing a strong sense of community. Yes, community. It’s not a factory. These are clever people working together to create value.

To achieve this, you – you the Rockstar Boss – has to live inside the same room with the people who are generating the value for your customers. From the outside you will see only cogs.

Inside you will know what happened today, what’s happening tomorrow and what stands in the way of getting there. Next week will undoubtedly be different from this one. There’s very little repeatable or industrialized in a knowledge team.

You are the role model for the team. You are behaving how you want them to carry out their roles. You are bringing purpose and action to their daily activities and, ultimately, surrounding them in ecosystems that will make them all successful in bringing the best value they can to the business.

The office has an awesome leather chair and a door that gives you peace and quiet for a while. That’s the last thing you want.

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