Book Review: Curation Nation

Curation Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers Are CreatorsCuration Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers Are Creators
by Steven Rosenbaum

I love the pursuit of knowledge and yet recognize the challenge of making sense of the avalanche of data that overcomes us each day burying us in the relevant and irrelevant. Some technological tools help us sort and aggregate data but ultimately the greatest value comes through wise curation of data.

Like reviewers who help us appreciate, discover, or avoid books, restaurants, and movies, adept curators help us make wise choices with limited time and resources to focus on information with high-value return. Curators who are focused on their own financial gain or shilling for a particular point-of-view will face a narrow audience or complete rejection. Good curators provide what we need, introduce us to obscure information, reveal developing issues or technology before it is mainstream, and make sense of the flood of information.

This is an excellent book on rise of data curation on the Internet and addresses content sharing issues and debates. The book also explores the challenges of how curation can or should look and where it is going. This is especially important for those developing an Internet channel.

“The future of search is verbs” – Bill Gates (Curation Nation, p. 220). People search because they want to act! Curation provides information to help them act.

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Book Review: Re-work

ReworkRework
by Jason Fried

The Internet has transformed how many businesses operate and Re-Work clearly explains how to build and run a business in this new era. However, in contrast to some Internet-era business approaches that encourage fantasy accounting and venture capital infusions until the patient is alive, the author encourages bootstrapping, building within real-world financial considerations, and being methodical.

Using examples from his company’s internal technology development, the author shares ideas on using and managing a distributed workforce operating out of the normal office structure. I applaud his desire to kill the oft misused word “entrepreneur.” I also appreciate the focus on building a business that creates value for the customer, not just a financial parachute for the founders.

Focus on business guides instead of plans. Business plans are based on thinking in the past about how things will be in the future. When you are in that “future” don’t be constrained by the plans of the past. View it for what it is: an educated guess from the past about how things would be and what you wanted to accomplish. As things change, adjust. Don’t be constrained.

Great book for rethinking the modern workplace and company.

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Ineffective Manager Communication and Disengaged Employees

 According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report (2013), 70% of American employees are disengaged from their work leading to workplace dysfunction, customer dissatisfaction, and a negative impact on the organization’s finances,  which led its CEO, Jim Clifton, to suggest that hiring managers is the most important leadership decision. The most significant impact on employee engagement is a manger who communicates effectively. Ineffective manager communication skills create distrust, confusion, and apathy among workers. A proficient communicator provides a real financial value to the organization beyond the intrinsic humanistic value of treating employees with respect. This paper describes the value of manager communication skills and the direct effect on employee satisfaction and productivity, team cohesiveness, and ultimately the success or failure of the organization.

Link between manager communication and employee engagement

Employee engagement is the best measure of manager communication effectiveness. Confusion exists in academic and popular business literature about what constitutes employee engagement and no generally accepted definition exists. Welch (2011) examined the evolution of the employee engagement concept from the 1990’s noting the difficulty in developing an accepted definition, the confusing use of the term among academics and business consultants, and the question of whether engagement is an attitude or psychological state which can be affected by influence or a personality trait which is relatively fixed. For this paper I will use the description that is consistent with most academic literature as described by Markos and Sridevi (2010): “engagement is about passion and commitment-the willingness to invest oneself and expand one’s discretionary effort to help the employer succeed, which is beyond simple satisfaction with the employee arrangement or basic loyalty to the employer.” (p. 90) 

Negative impact of disengaged employees

According to Leary, Green, Denson, Schoenfeld, Henley, and Langford (2013), employee disengagement is a significant factor in workplace burnout, dysfunctional teams, poor customer service, and negative financial impact on the organization. According to Gallup (2013), “…actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity. They are more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays, and drive customers away.” (pp. 12-13) Leary et al. (2013) observe that “managerial incompetence is devastating to employee engagement and job satisfaction, and contributes significantly to employee burnout.” (p. 113) Understanding the impact of dysfunctional manager behavior and communication ability on employee engagement is important for correcting disruptive behaviors and encouraging good communication skills.

Impact of dysfunctional managers

Leary et al. (2013) described three dysfunctional leader dispositions and their impact on employee engagement, including manifestations in the communication between manager and employees:
  • Moving Away includes behaviors such as withdrawal and disengagement which leads to infrequent or unclear communication but also includes yelling, threatening, and belittling employees.
  • Moving Against behavior involves disrespectful and derogatory comments and manipulation which creates an environment of anger and distrust. This behavior also includes impulsive communication that creates confusion and wasted resources as employees follow directions that are ill-conceived and likely abandoned for the next impulsive decision.
  • Moving Toward is characterized by leader inaction, decision avoidance, and disloyalty to subordinates and is often accompanied by micromanagement and frequent criticism.

Organizations who want to minimize the potential for employee disengagement should remove or retrain leaders exhibiting dysfunctional characteristics. A successful organization needs leaders throughout the enterprise who are proficient in their work and actively practice employee engaging behaviors. 

High ROI of effective manager communication

According to Welch (2011), effective leader communication is a critical factor for creating high employee engagement and a sense of purpose in the organization. The communicative leader creates a positive work environment in which the employee can develop professionally and serve confidently. Xu and Thomas (2010) noted that managers who showed concern for employees, articulated a vision, and communicated effectively engaged employees, encouraged positive organizational citizenship, and buffered them from negative characteristics of the job. Confused and poorly integrated communications negatively affected trust, relationships, and management credibility. (K. Mishra, Boynton, & A. Mishra, 2014)
 Effective manager communication has a demonstrable positive effect on the profitability of the organization. 
  • According to Gallup (2013), “work units in the top 25% of Gallup’s Q12 Client Database have significantly higher productivity, profitability, and customer ratings, less turnover and absenteeism, and fewer safety incidents than those in the bottom 25%.” (p. 9) 
  • A study of “…360,000 employees from 41 companies in the world’s 10 economically strong countries found that both operating margin and net profit margins reduced over a three year period in companies with low engagement,” and contrasted with opposite effects in companies that encouraged employee engagement. (Markos and Sridevi, 2010, p. 92) 
  • Xu and Thomas (2010) cited several studies concluding that “higher levels of employee engagement are associated with increased return on assets, higher earning per employee, higher performance, greater sales growth, and lower absenteeism.” (p. 400) 
  • Manager and employee interactions that encourage engagement promote human dignity and make a positive impact on organizational profitability and customer interactions. Such behavior can be a competitive advantage.  

What effective manager communication looks like

Communicating vision

In order to drive organizational success and employee engagement, effective communication practices must begin with senior leadership communicating a vision for the company and its employees. To be effective, the top leader vision must be “…a tantalizing, sought after future state; a mental imagery that is well-articulated with widespread communication; and a model which contains processes that enable followers to achieve it.” (J. Mayfield, M. Mayfield, & Sharbrough III, 2015, p. 103) Leadership commitment to the mission and vision must be genuine and evangelized otherwise it will be rejected as a corporate fad. (Markos & Sridevi, 2010) Managers must make the vision of the top leaders actionable and relevant to the roles of the employees under their supervision.

Empowering employees

Development Dimensions International (DDI, 2005), as cited in Markos & Sridevi (2010), states that a manager must, among other things, communicate in a way that empowers, supports, encourages and develops employees and encourages collaboration with the team. 

Connecting the employee to the organizational vision

Managers demonstrate the value of an employee by sharing the organizational vision and the employee’s role in making the vision a reality and engage with the employee personally to support their professional growth, recognize achievement, correct undesirable behaviors in a constructive way, listen to their ideas and concerns, and demonstrate genuine interest in the employee’s well-being. (Markos & Sridevi, 2010; K. Mishra, Boynton, & A. Mishra, 2014) The manager must also communicate effectively with the workgroup to promote productivity and harmony among the employees who work together.

Importance of active listening

Effective communication skills require an ability to listen as well as talk. Managers must promote two-way communication to allow employees to provide input, show respect for their views, and involve them in decision making. (Markos & Sridevi, 2010) In the modern workplace, managers may be tempted to conduct most communication through email. However, face-to-face communication is considered more reliable and credible than written communication because the employee can evaluate the verbal message with non-verbal cues, such as voice tone, body language, and facial expressions, for validation or discrepancies. (K. Mishra, Boynton, & A. Mishra, 2014) 
Communication conveys a sense of worth to another person. When talking with employees, leaders should use empathetic language for positive and negative events affecting the employee to convey a sense of humanity and concern for the emotional well-being of the employee. (J. Mayfield & M. Mayfield, 2012) Managerial success depends on continual dialog and respectful interaction with employees. “…Leadership that provides a supportive, trusting environment allows employees to fully invest their energies into their work roles.” (Xu and Thomas, 2010, p. 401)

An investment worth making

Many businesses would invest significant time and money into a technical solution that would improve employee productivity, customer satisfaction, and financial profitability. Numerous studies prove that these results can be obtained with managers who communicate effectively. Managers with dysfunctional communication skills have a negative impact in the workplace and the organizational mission regardless of their technical expertise or seniority with the company. Managers with effective communication skills generate higher employee engagement resulting in productivity and profitability gains for the organization while enjoying career advancement. Developing communication skills does not require a significant financial investment or innate ability but is the key to managerial success.

References

  • Gallup. (2013). State of the American workplace: employee engagement insights for U.S. business leaders. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/services/178514/state-american-workplace.aspx
  • Leary, T., Green, R., Denson, K., Schoenfeld, G., Henley, T., & Langford, H. (2013). The relationship among dysfunctional leadership dispositions, employee engagement, job satisfaction, and burnout. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 16(2), 112-130. doi: 10.1037/h0094961
  • Markos, S. & Sridevi, M. (2010). Employee engagement: The key to improving performance. International Journal of Business and Management, 5(12), 89-96.
  • Mayfield, J. & Mayfield, M. (2012). The relationship between leader motivating language and self-efficacy: A partial least squares model analysis. Journal of Business Communication, 49(4), 357-376. doi: 10.1177/0021943612456036
  • Mayfield, J., Mayfield, M., & Sharbrough III, W. (2015). Strategic vision and values in top leaders’ communications: Motivating language at a higher level. International Journal of Business Communication, 52(1), 97-121. doi: 10.1177/2329488414560282
  • Mishra, K., Boynton, L., & Mishra, A. (2014). Driving employee engagement: The expanded role of internal communications. International Journal of Business Communication, 51(2), 183-202. doi: 10.1177/2329488414525399
  • Welch, M. (2011). The evolution of the employee engagement concept: Communication implications. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 16(4), 328-346. doi: 10.1108/13563281111186968
  • Xu, J. & Thomas, H. C. (2011). How can leaders achieve high employee engagement? Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 32(4), 399-416. doi: 10.1108/01437731111134661

Book Review: Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing: No-Nonsense Rules from the Ultimate Contrarian and Small Business Guru

Profits Aren't Everything, They're the Only Thing: No-Nonsense Rules from the Ultimate Contrarian and Small Business GuruProfits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing: No-Nonsense Rules from the Ultimate Contrarian and Small Business Guru

by George Cloutier

“Business comes down to how hard you work, how smart you work, in good times and bad. Do more. Get more. And be ruthless in your quest to make money.” George Cloutier (p. ix)

Cloutier is consistent with the above statement throughout his book. It is a book that Gordon Gekko would love because the relentless theme is the priority of profit and the choices a business person must make to keep and maximize it.

His no-nonsense rules are spot on: monitor your numbers and manage your cash flow closely as it is the lifeblood of the business. Fight hard for every sale, weed out bad performers quickly, manage your collections and payables to your advantage, and reward profitability. He forces readers to face the reality of their actions on the success or stagnation of the business when they are tempted to blame the markets, economy, or others. Focusing on collections and managing the budget are practical knowledge but businesses will take their focus off of it to their detriment. Nothing new here but my experience has been that some businesses fail to execute proper management of these pitfalls.

His section for family business (“the best family business has one member” is worth considering for any family-based business. I have seen the negative effects he desribes on non-family employees in certain businesses I have been involved with in the past.

The author supports a compensation structure that is built partially, or in some cases completely, on performance goals. Sales, he says, should be 100% on performance as salary for sales positions often creates mediocrity. However, he also states that the boss has to be a tyrant and the rule for employees is “Don’t think, obey.” My experience has been that when you hire the right employees they can often save the owner from himself. Every owner has blind spots and weaknesses and good employees can provide strength and vision to compensate for his human frailty. His Profit Rule #9 “I Am Your Work God” and #14 “Teamwork is Overrated” were difficult sections for me to read as it seems unrealistic for the business environments I have worked in. I have been in dictatorial businesses as he described an not only were they unpleasant to work in, they weren’t that successful. The lord of the castle model might be perfect for certain businesses where a strong top-down hierarchy is essential for productivity and profitability and the employee primarily contributes labor, but in knowledge-based industries I think this approach would lead to consistent employee dissatisfaction and turnover. The average professional would probably like to to invest in his business but would likely hate working for him.

I’m sure his Profit Rule #4 “Love Your Business More Than Your Family” will guarantee high profits. He states that you must make the choice between your business and maximizing profits or living in financial mediocrity because of outside decisions. Either way, he says, you must make peace with your decision. If you spend time in worship then do it but get back to the business. Remember your competitors are relaxing but you can use it to build up your business and maximize your profits. He does allow that you can spend time on other pursuits when your business flourishes though I doubt that someone who has sacrificed his family, true spiritual growth, and service to others will reach a point where he feels he can do so. If a person follows the author’s advice, I hope he does not marry, and certainly does not have kids, so they will not feel the abandonment or neglect that would be the product of such a narrow focus.

I have chosen to be less successful than I could be (though I am considered quite successful in business) to have a close relationship with my wife and kids, serve others, and enjoy life as I live it. I have known too many who have died long before retirement who sacrificed today for a tomorrow that never came. While I can recommend much of this book I think the short-sighted thinking in this section will make a person miserable in the final review of life regardless of how popular, rich, and profitable he is.

Maybe you can’t have it all, but it is better to have the things that really matter in life. The most profitable things in a person’s life will not be found on a balance sheet.

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Book Review: Creativity, Inc.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True InspirationCreativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
by Ed Catmull

As a fan of Disney Animation and Pixar Studio products, I was interested in going behind the curtain to see how the wizards did their magic. I was especially interested to see how a creative organization manages the mundane business side of finance and teamwork. Ed Catmull accomplished this in providing a glimpse into building a creative business that works with limited budgets, highly individual and often idiosyncratic creative employees, and critical deadlines.

Non-creatives sometimes fail to see that creativity and art often require more hard work and skill development than natural talent. This book reveals the perspiration that accompanies inspiration and, sometimes, a little luck. Catmull describes the creative challenges and solutions to some of Pixar’s beloved works and how, sometimes, the stories we see on the screen are far different from what was first imagined. I recommended the book to my daughter who is studying animation so she can see how Pixar approaches story development, professional reviews of works in progress, and the difficult task of changing something you have put a lot of time into (killing your darlings) in order to make great art.

The book also provides insight into teamwork strategies and building a business. Catmull provides a look at the operation and interrelation of diverse management personalities such as his more reserved style and the dynamic aggressive style of Steve Jobs. Though their personalities were different, they were able to synergize so that the best of both were infused into the corporate culture and both seemed to rub off a bit on the other. The other management characters within Pixar are discussed including their valuable contributions to the company’s success. Not forgotten are the many Pixar employees whose dedication to creating a high quality product that Catmull praises throughout the book.

If you are a creative in any industry, you will gain a lot from the wisdom shared in this book. If you are trying to develop a team or a corporate culture, you will also find much to inspire and educate you in this book.

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Book Review: The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People

The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive PeopleThe Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People
by Kevin Leman

How do you write a management book? Choose your metaphor and let the analogies unfold. Business books based on military organizations and leaders, sports teams and stellar athletes, and historical figures and events fill the shelf. Leman reaches back to a pastoral occupation to draw out modern lessons on leadership.

The author uses a story analogy: a business professor, who raises sheep on the side, mentoring a student by taking him out of the classroom and into the field, the grazing field. I’m not a fan of the story analogy approach as the story is often a weak vehicle to carry the meat of the message. The story in this book is not distracting but it is not engrossing either.

The leadership lessons are solid but will strike some readers as paternalistic as the shepherd-manager is the wise leader and the sheep-employees are foolish, blind, and directionless. If you can look past this there are extremely valuable lessons on engaging with employees and dealing with their personal and professional issues as it affects their work and their interrelationships with fellow workers. The attention to the employee needs, witnessed in popular shows like “Undercover Boss”, is the important lesson of this book. “Have a heart for your sheep” and “remember that great leadership isn’t just professional; it’s personal.” The section on knowing the SHAPE (Strengths, Heart, Attitude, Personality, and Experiences) of employees, I mean the flock, is good reading for any manager. The importance of addressing employee concerns and conflicts is something every manager needs.

It is an easy and short read with many valuable, though not unique, observations. Managers need to be reminded of these principles. A manager who feels disconnected from those who report to him and wants to mentor them, address good and bad behaviors, and learn to develop their talents will benefit from reading this book.

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Book Review: Making It All Work

Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of LifeMaking It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life
by David Allen

At the turn of the millennium, David Allen released his landmark work Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity and changed how many of us managed our time and work environment. Striving for the “mind like water”, Allen, urges readers to use straightforward filing systems and trusted systems, like calendars and useful lists, freeing the mind to focus on the needs of the moment.

Allen has various techniques for effective work such as performing a “mind dump,” unloading all the things that are on our mind, organizing them into meaningful lists of what we can do now and what can, or should be, delayed until some future date. He describes techniques for identifying projects that need multiple actions that do not seem like projects initially, The goal is to develop focus that allows one to decide what is the next action to perform and stay “in the moment” with that task knowing that the other work is not forgotten and has its place.

One unfounded criticism of Allen’s work is that it doesn’t solve the overwork problem but only organizes it. This is far from the truth. Completing the exercises for the horizons of focus honestly and thoughtfully should eliminate some demands one has placed on himself and define a vision for one’s life that allows them to deal with some of the work that appears that would be more appropriate to delegate to others or simply ignore.

I listen to this audiobook frequently to perfect my execution of the model and deepen my understanding of the methods and philosophy behind the system. It was very influential in an article I wrote for high school and college students to help them develop focus and flow in school work.

I would recommend Making It All Work instead of the classic volume that introduced us to Allen, Getting Things Done. Making It All Work provides a mature analysis of the philosophy of his organizational approach and better focus on the horizon view of planning. Much of the criticism of his work arises from a misconception that Allen is not solving the task overload problem, only organizing it. Making It All Work is clearer, though GTD explained it as well, the framework includes determining what needs to be done, what can wait, and what should be ignored.

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