Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"The One Minute Manager" by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson

“I read a book a long time ago; it was called The One Minute Manager.  It says that when you have people working for you, and they do something wrong, get on them for one minute, and then get back out.” Shaquille O'Neal. 4 time NBA Champion. Kajillionaire. MBA. Businessman.

I figure one good turn deserves another: we go from LeBron James to Shaquille O'Neal, who recommended this book, and now disciplines his teammates oncourt, for exactly a minute, then gets back to work.

So when I was back in Canada, I loaded up on books, and bought this one right away. That Shaq testimonial (vague as it was) was huge: here's a guy that grew up military-style. He's been a huge force, not just physically, but of personality, everywhere he's gone. And his confidence and persuasiveness are undeniable. Players want to play on this guy's team. Not just because he's a great player, but because he's a great boss-- a self-described one minute manager.

This book is really short, can be read in about an hour, so again, a short review is in order. If you like the review, get the book. If you're interested in any kind of leadership position in your career, this is a no-brainer. I'll cover some stuff in here, but, for the the details, you need to pick up the book.

I can, of course, talk about what 1 minute of management is actually for.

One minute management starts by establishing with your partners and staff what it is you expect of them, putting it down on paper, and letting them work off that description. Right off the bat, I thought about my first job in China. Sitting behind a desk in this huge office, waiting for someone (anyone?) to come show me how to do my job. The head of the company is too busy, and my coworkers were too busy doing their jobs. The very limited guidance I eventually got was useless. What I wanted to a One Minute Manager. I wanted to know how to do it right.

Now that I bring people into my current company, I'd love to establish '1MM' relationships with them. Get them educated about the products, then once they know it, crack down on them if there's any slipups, but just for a minute. New staff/partners, ideally, will start working, according to that paper (concise, just one sheet for each goal, 3 goals tops), and when they get it right, I'll sit down with them, or phone them up, and let them know how awesome they're doing. 

Overtime, they become better and better at the job, and you don't have to praise them anymore. They know they're good. Once they're experienced, they're striving for perfection, and they need you to watch out for them to slip up, make a mistake that is clearly a mistake (based on the goals you set up), and tell them about it so it doesn't happen again. Respectfully.

A few keys here:
  • Don't fake any of this stuff. Pretending to praise someone is not cool. Pretending to want someone to learn is not helpful. None of this is an act.
  • We are not praising people and condemning people. We love our partners and staff, no matter what they do. We are praising and reprimanding their behaviour. You have to make this clear.
  • This is not a covert operation: tell your staff what you plan to do. If you're hiring a new assistant, put down on paper what your expect of her (specific behaviours, not vague words like, appreciate, care, support), one copy for you and one for her. She knows you'll praise her early on, then overtime, be tough on her with mistakes. Respectfully.

In time, your management will be a few '1 minute talks' per week, and one staff meeting per week. You know, so you can get back to leading people, not babysitting them.

Now get back to work.  ;)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Lebron James: The Making of an MVP" by Terry Pluto and Brian Windhorst

"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody. "
Bill Cosby, Comedian

King James. Bron bron. The Decision.

It's been a pretty wild couple weeks for the King, which makes it a perfect time for this review. Months ago, I was watching Lebron's terrific documentary "More than a Game (2008)" and was so captivated by the story, and Lebron's ability to get great guys around him in High School, and to push them to greatness, I ordered the book.

The first thing you have to know about Lebron, and how he compares to guys like Wilt, Larry Bird, and Michael, is that LBJ really wants you to like him. 

LeBron didn't have a relationship with his father. His father left young LeBron and his mother Gloria early on. It's because of her strength and devotion that LeBron is a Superstar today.

I know, I know. It's practically a cliché, but I have to ask: Is it an asset or a weakness to want to please other people? Lebron wants his teammates to love him; he wants his city to love him; he wants his country to love him---LBJ's even taking Mandarin classes so the Chinese will love him too! A lot of kids grow up trying to impress their parents, their teachers, impress the cool kids, impress girls, impress potential bosses. In that regard, Lebron is no different, but his is a story, strangely, of world beating success and (at least, at the time this book was published) international adulation. It doesn't exactly lend itself to existential reflection, the way Bill Cosby intended (though Dr. Huxtable's words are undeniably poignant).

At any rate, that's how it happened. When LeBron was a kid, his mom would move them around all the time, so he'd been in 10 different schools by the time he was 8 years old. Very early on, his classmates described him as this "spongy guy that wanted to be accepted." He tried to be likable and make friends as best he could, but he never knew when he'd have to pick up his things and say goodbye again. 

Instead of keeping up the unsustainable pace, his mother decided he should stay with a close family, the Walkers, while she worked. It turned out to be the best thing for Lebron. This is where he learned his incredible discipline, and finally got some structure in his young life. LeBron, despite being a freakish athlete (his great physique and court vision is partly due to his playing both football and basketball at the same time in high school) he was a great student too. And his teachers, by and large, loved him. So far so good on the LBJ love train.

Fun Tidbit: By the way, it also helps that LeBron was born on December 30th. According to Malcolm Gladwell, when it comes to amateur athletics, size ( more specifically, the timing of your birthday) matters.

The Walkers instilled the discipline and self respect, that this kid would not just be a jock, but an all-around man of principle ( I can hear the Cleveland fans grinding their teeth already). It was critical that LeBron saw people with dignified lives around him, not just a world full of celebrities on TV and dope dealers on the street. Lebron learned that it was a good thing to be a good man, a hard worker and a  contributor to society.

So Lebron and his best friends, ever since the move to the Walkers, started hanging out all the time. No matter what they did, they were together. Lebron was starting to get his roots, and get the family he never had. Basketball was just an excuse to be with them.

As Bron took his blossoming game (and frame) to High School, his friends were right there beside him.
And they quickly became the best team in the country. By grade 11, his coach figured he's never see the inside of a college gym: this kid... was ready for the NBA.

When he finally suited up for Clevelend in 2003, Lebron took the basketball part in stride. It was everything else that just didn't sit right. The Cleveland roster was a joke, with league couchsurfers like Darius Miles and Ricky Davis. Then coach Paul Silas made it his number one priority that these bad players did not taint James with their selfish attitudes. Soon, they were gone. Silas was getting great players on the proverbial bus, and kicking bad ones off.

Over and Over, coaches and teammates say Lebron has the right attitude for the game. Win with a pass, win with a shot, win with a steal, whatever it takes, Lebron will do it. Oh yeah, and if he hasn't got it in his game, he'll add it in the Summer. Whatever it takes. Even if it means giving up the crown.

The Decision

After all those highlights in the Cleveland uniform, and all the great moments, the King decided to change his address. 

Maybe it was the clash, between the joy he felt in High School, and the pressure he felt being the go-to guy on the Cavs, that pushed him to sign with the Miami Heat. He just wanted to be part of a great group of guys again. Lebron, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh, fellow draft classmen, as well as fellow Team USA Gold Medalists, will totally dominate the Eastern Conference starting in November. For a league and a culture that's constantly being accused of being egotistical and selfish, this is not a one man show. The Miami Heat will… actually…be a great team. Just like Old times in St. Vincent St. Mary High.

Lebron could very well win a Championship (or 8) in Miami, but it's almost impossible that Bill Cosby's words will be proven wrong here. As LBJ moves towards the ultimate prize on what will likely become the most despised, feared team in the NBA (remember the Super Villian Alien Team from the movie Space Jam?) , it appears he'll finally have to deal with his ultimate fear: being hated by millions.

It's about priorities. Somewhere along the line, LBJ's combination of incredible physical talent, and selfless team play, Media charisma and sly off-court business moves, turned against him. His two goals are in direct competition now. I really believe he's made the right choice. Rather be hated by millions of total strangers than have no rings.

Or maybe he's just sacrificing the 2010 love for the Hall of Fame love.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Danny Meyer "Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business"

Not being a foodie (food aficionado/gourmand) myself, I hadn't heard of Danny Meyer until stock picker/funnyman/investment coach Jim Cramer mentioned him on Mad Money. Danny Meyer was mentioned numerous times of having picked a handful of stocks that met his standards, which he dubbed his "Hospitality Index" (more on this later), and how great those stocks had done in the market. 

Was there something to Danny's restauranteur flair that could be applied to a wide variety of stocks from Banks, to Industrial stocks, to Telecom? Apparently there was. But first, who the heck is Danny Meyer?

Danny grew up around food, and Hedonism, his whole life. The family would spend extended periods of time in Europe (particularly Italy and France) when he was growing up, and in his twenties, Danny spent extensive time there working for his father's tourism company. All the while Danny went from restaurant to restaurant, cafe to cafe, sampling the very best pastas, seafoods and wines Europe had to offer. 

Over the years, he built up quite a nest egg from his great tourism job, and later a sales job in New York. But it didn't feel right to be a money guy or a salesman. He was a foodie at heart. All his friends were in the restaurant business, and he felt it was time to jump in.

Danny tells the story of how he grew from his very first Union Square Cafe, to a massive Group of First tier New York eateries, from French food, to Indian, and American Burgers, and how he learned to be a great boss.

There had to be something to this guy. Something everyone else was missing. Danny lays his cards on the table:

"Hospitality exists when you believe the other person is on your side."

Why is that sentence so striking? Because we remember overwhelming positive feelings in rare cases where that sentence has been true, and we associate cynical, cold feelings whenever we feel a company is just trying to take advantage of us. If Danny's restaurants embody this message, is it any wonder he has so many regular customers? Is it any wonder he's been successful in so many different styles of cuisine? Is it any wound budding foodies desperately want to work for this company?

Some of the anecdotes that relay Meyer's version of Hospitality will really blow you away. Hardly anyone seems to get what Danny has: Today's dollars don't matter, it's Tomorrow's dollars that matter.

In the restaurant business you have to have 3 great servings before a customer will really fall in love with your restaurant. Great ones. One reason Danny's company has been such a hit is they go the extra mile, which is why people become hooked, and then become regulars. What do I mean by 'go the extra mile'?

One particularly amazing story from "Setting the Table" is a couple coming into the restaurant and revealing that it was their anniversary that night. It turned out the man had a favourite bottle of Champagne waiting for them at home. When he asked the Maitre D if it was alright sitting in the freezer,he started to panic: the Maitre D explained that,  left unattended, his Champagne would explode when frozen!  The man wanted to cancel the dinner, and rush home to move the Champagne, but the Maitre D wouldn't let that happen. Knowing their anniversary night would be ruined if the couple had to leave the restaurant, the Matrie D offered to go over to his house, and remove the bottle from the freezer. He even left a box of Chocolates next to the fridge as congratulations on this special occasion. The couple was stunned at this man's willingness to go the extra mile.

I know what you're thinking: "That kind of thoughtfulness, that kind of devotion, care, for the customer… is that even possible? What about profits? How can they run a business like that?? "

The same way the rest of the 'Danny Meyer Hospitality Index' companies run their businesses: they know that by being the best, and creating amazing moments like that one, they'll have hoards of 'regulars' night after night, year after year. Recession, Boom, it doesn't make a difference. They do quite well.

There's obviously a ton of stuff in here, I can't go into it all, but I want to highlight something so brilliantly simple Danny did early on in the days of Union Square Cafe: played Sports.

He took out a sheet of paper and cooked up anything negative he could think of about the restaurant. What would detractors say? "The location is bad? The food is too expensive? I have to wait too long for a reserved table? The tables are too small? The wine list is too short?" No matter how small, Danny went down the list of every conceivable weakness and instituted policies to not just meet those complaints, but turn them into strengths. He called it playing Defense. For Offense, just look at all the great things the restaurant was doing and could do.

Here's the brilliance: just like in sports, your Offence doesn't matter if your defence has holes. 

in Sports, they say, Defence wins Championships. If you can handle Defence, the Offence is a breeze (especially with such great players/servers and a great coach/chef). And Danny certainly has done just that. Everyday, thousands of New Yorkers descend on his great restaurants, not because their hungry (they are), not because the food is of such delectable quality (it is), but because of the way the servers at any of the Union Square Cafe Group Restaurants makes them feel. And that's something every single company can do better at.