Exit Interview Questions

I like the questions in Inc. this month around exit interviews. I think there is alot to learn when people leave a company and most miss the opportunity.

  • If the CEO left unexpectedly today and you were put in charge, what are the first things you would change?
  • What could have changed six months ago that would have prevented you from looking for a new job?
  • If you weren’t looking, what factors tipped the scale when an opportunity came up?
  • Who do you think is next to resign? And why?
  • Why didn’t you leave us sooner than now?
  • Describe any areas of conflict that have affected either your performance or morale, or that you believe affected other employees.

They have links at the end of the article to additional resources at Workforce Management and BusinessBalls.com.

What’s In a Name?

Chipotle Mexican Grill had their IPO last week and the WSJ ran a short piece on the titles that company leaders use.

The customer service manager goes by “Manager of Duct Tape and Plungers”. The guy who runs creative-services is the head of “Special Weapons and Tactics”. Finally, the company’s spokeman goes by “Director of Hoopla, Hype, and Ballyhoo”.

That probably gives some indication of the kind of place it is to work. 🙂

Perfect for Boss’s Day

Over at 800-CEO-READ, we have put together an ebook for Boss’s Day called Nine Lives of Leadership. We are really happy with how it turned out. If you are looking for something for that favorite manager in your life, check out our entry here for the details.

There seems to be an awful lot going on this week. Or is it just me?

Dee Hock on Hiring

Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity;
second, motivation;
third, capacity;
fourth, understanding;
fifth, knowledge;
and last and least, experience.

Without integrity, motivation is dangerous;
without motivation, capacity is impotent;
without capacity, understanding is limited;
without understanding, knowledge is meaningless;
without knowledge, experience is blind.
Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with all the other qualities.

Dee Hock on Management, M. Mitchell Waldrop, FC5, Oct:Nov 1996

9 Tips For Change Agents

  1. Be open to data at the start. “Even if you think you know what you’re doing, chances are you don’t know what you could be doing. Open up your mind to as much new thinking as you can absorb. You may find different and better ideas than the ones your organization started with.”
  2. Network like crazy. “There is a network of people who are thinking about learning organizations. I’ve found you can get in touch with them easily. People say to me, `I can’t believe you talked with so-and-so! How’d you do it?’ The answer is, I called him.”
  3. Document your own learning. “People in the organization need to see documentation for their own comfort. The smartest thing I did was to create a matrix of ideas from leading thinkers. I documented two categories of thinking — the elements of a learning organization, and the pitfalls to avoid.”
  4. Take senior management along. Turner’s own education included benchmarking trips to Saturn, Texas Instruments, Motorola, General Electric, and other companies known for their innovative approaches to learning. “Some of the people in the senior group were very skeptical,” Turner says. “It helped to take them on these benchmarking trips to show them other companies that were actually doing some of the same learning practices.”
  5. No fear! “You’ve got to be fearless and not worry about keeping your job.”
  6. Be a learning person yourself. “Change agents have to be in love with learning and constantly learning new things themselves. Then they find new ways to communicate those things to the organization as a whole.”
  7. Laugh when it hurts. “This can be very discouraging work. You need a good sense of humor. It also helps if you’ve got a mantra you can say to yourself when things aren’t going too well.”
  8. Know the business before you try to change anything. “I don’t think you can do this work if you’re just a theorist. I’ve been a sales rep, I’ve been in a marketing job where I worked with the operations side. So when I go about the work of creating a change strategy, I already have an understanding of the people in our organization and what they do.”
  9. Finish what you start. “I made a list of change projects we’d started and never finished in the past. We called it ‘the black hole.’ I determined early on I didn’t want to be part of a second-rate movie.”

9 Tips for Change Agents, Nicholas Morgan, FC5, Oct:Nov 1996

50 Reasons Why We Can’t Change

  1. We’ve never done it before.
  2. Nobody else has ever done it.
  3. It has never been tried before.
  4. We tried it before.
  5. Another company/person tried it before.
  6. We’ve been doing it this way for 25 years.
  7. It won’t work in a small company.
  8. It won’t work in a large company.
  9. It won’t work in our company.
  10. Why change–it’s working OK.
  11. The boss will never buy it.
  12. It needs further investigation.
  13. Our competitors are not doing it.
  14. It’s too much trouble to change.
  15. Our company is different.
  16. The ad department says it can’t be done.
  17. Sales department says it can’t be done.
  18. The service department won’t like it.
  19. The janitor says it can’t be done.
  20. It can’t be done.
  21. We don’t have the money.
  22. We don’t have the personnel.
  23. We don’t have the equipment.
  24. The union will scream.
  25. It’s too visionary.
  26. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
  27. It’s too radical a change.
  28. It’s beyond my responsibility.
  29. It’s not my job.
  30. We don’t have the time.
  31. It will obsolete other procedures.
  32. Customers won’t buy it.
  33. It’s contrary to policy.
  34. It will increase overhead.
  35. The employees will never buy it.
  36. It’s not our problem.
  37. I don’t like it.
  38. You’re right, but…
  39. We’re not ready for it.
  40. It needs more thought.
  41. Management won’t accept it.
  42. We can’t take the chance.
  43. We’d lose money on it.
  44. It takes too long to pay out.
  45. We’re doing all right as is.
  46. It needs committee study.
  47. Competition won’t like it.
  48. It needs sleeping on.
  49. It won’t work in this department.
  50. It’s impossible.

E.F. Borish,
Product Manager,
Milwaukee Gear Company,
Product Engineering Magazine
July 20, 1959
[This was published in the November 1993 prototype version of Fast Company].

Milwaukee looks good in the Fortune 500

OnMilwaukee.com looked through the recent Fortune 500 issue and found the Milwaukee and Wisconsin fared pretty well.

  • Wisconsin has 25 Fortune 1000 companies
  • The big names are Northwestern Mutual, Johnson Controls, Manpower, Kohl’s, Harley-Davison, Rockwell, and Wisconsin Energy Corporation.
  • Johnson Controls is the top ranked Wisconsin company at #71
  • In looking at metro Milwaukee, the area ranked #5 when you consider population and number of ranked companies.

Milwaukee Companies Taking a Beating

It has been a rough couple of weeks for Milwaukee-based companies.

Things started with Harley-Davidson. On April 13th, the motorcycle maker announced earnings were up 11% but that sales were flat. They lower 2005 earnings expectations and said they would cut production. The stock has dropped 22% since the announcement.

Yesterday, the highly recognized Midwest Airlines announced losses of 91 cents per share for the first quarter. They said fuel prices are up 36% over last year. On a positive note, they saw revenues grow almost 11%. Midwest’s stock is down almost 10% since the announcement.

Harley got hit because people didn’t expect the flat sales. They’ll be fine.

Midwest on the other hand I am worried about. They lost $15.9 million dollars this quarter. The company is only worth $31 million at this point. I am not sure how they can survive in this environment of high fuel costs and no ability to raise prices. I am flying with them in both June and July to do my little bit. There is improved quality of life here by having a local airline that flies direct to big cities. There is nothing that beats their Signature service. I wish them luck in the months ahead.

You Think You Know, But You Don’t

Monday’s WSJ had an interesting piece on Blockbuster [sub. needed]. The main story is Carl Icahn buying up a bunch of shares and his trying to get Blockbuster to pay out a bunch of cash to shareholders. CEO John Antioco thinks the cash would be helpful to build new parts to the business.

Inside the story is a more interesting story for me. From the article:

In his search for a new business for Blockbuster, Mr. Antioco has embraced some idea–like the mail-order DVD service–that he initially derided. When Netflix first started, Mr. Antioco argued its business was only a niche market because he didn’t think consumers would want to think days ahead about what movies they want to order. But Netflix has signed up so many subscribers–three million as of last month, including many former Blockbuster customers–that he had no choice but to follow suit. Last summer he launched Blockbuster Online. So far it has grown quickly. Blockbuster initially expected it could sign up 250,000 customers by year-end. Instead within seven months, Blockbuster had signed up 750,000. Mr. Antioco’s target is up to two million subscribers by early 2006.

This is a clear tale of the importance of listening to your customers. Mr. Antioco was thinking for them. “Why would they do that?” This sort of thinking gets companies into a lot of trouble. In this case, it allowed a new competitor to enter Blockbuster’s market and steal lots of customers. As a matter of fact, Netflix stole us about a month ago.

Working on the Right Thing

I visited with a dietician on Friday. I was searching for advice on how I could reduce my cholesterol. I am just not keen on taking drugs for the next 50 years to solve this problem.

Cholesterol is a leading indicator for developing heart disease. It is cholesterol that attaches itself to the walls of the arteries, calcifies, and forms plaque. It is restrictions in the arteries that causes heart attacks and strokes. So the relationship has always been:

Treatment -> Reduce Cholesterol -> Reduce Heart Disease

Heart disease and cholesterol have become permanently bonded in the public conscious. The trouble is that some treatments for high cholesterol don’t necessarily show reductions in the occurrence of heart disease. My dietician says drug therapies can be used to control cholesterol, but they have never been proven to reduce your chances of having a heart attack. That really struck me.

Statins -> Reduced Cholesterol ? Reduced Heart Disease ?

We talked alot about the Portfolio diet. This is range of foods based on the Mediterran diet. It has lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fish. What is significant about this diet is that it has been studied and proven to lower the chance of developing heart disease and heart related incidents.

Portfolio Diet -> Reduced Heart Disease

I think there is a corollary here for business. Companies often develop measurements to track success. These are often internal measurements meant to promote certain behaviors in the organization. I think often companies don’t research and study what (if any) impact these measurements will have on their goals. They don’t appreciate the systemic issues surrounding their overall goals.

I have always thought that on-time delivery was one of these types of measurements.

Eliminate Causes of Late Deliveries -> Improve On-Time Delivery -> Improve Customer Retention (Happier Customers)

You can definitely make a strong case for correlation between on-time delivery and customer retention. Customers won’t put up with bad promises for very long and take their business elsewhere if they have to.

When people start to look at the causes of late deliveries, they see all sorts of things. Typos in the order taking. Freight company takes an extra day to get it there. Material shortage. Change from product development group. Failure in quality testing.

Fixing any one (or all) of these things will improve the delivery metric. I would make the argument that none of those fixes really improved your customer retention. You simply improved a measurement.

Eliminate Material Shortages -> Improve On-Time Delivery ?Improve Customer Retention (Happier Customers)?

You have to look at the company on a systemic level. If you want to improve on-time delivery, you need to get your lead time to as close to zero as possible. The whole company has to change the way they do business to enable that change. Product Design. Factory layout. Vendor Quality. The systemic improvement in performance will undoubtedly improve customer retention.

Reduce Leadtime -> Improve Customer Retention (Happier Customers)

To bring it back to the cholesterol story, in some ways, people are fooling by taking medication. The need to take a systemic approach to their problem. They to stop smoking. They need to exercise. They need to change what they eat.

So, measure the right thing and figure out the rights things to impact the measurement in business (and in life).

The Office

I can’t recommend strong enough the BBC series The Office.

I rented the first season at Blockbuster last week and spent the week watching the six episodes. The characters of David, Tim, Dawn, and Gareth are wonderful caricatures of today’s business office.

It is funny and serious.

Be sure to watch the documentary that comes with the series. It is an outstanding behind-the-scenes on how the series came to be.

Rent it or buy it. You’ll love it.

Succession Planning

“Though both Mr. [VJ] Voshi and Ms. [Ann] Livermore are well-regarded, insiders in charge of a single operation at a huge company often fail to ascend to the highest post because directors don’t think they run a big enough unit to qualify.”

This from a WSJ article [sub. needed] yesterday on who will follow in Carly’s footsteps.

The statement above describes a huge problem in Corporate America and a failure at most companies. CEOs and boards need to have processes in place to develop internal leaders. Voshi and Livermore are perfectly qualified to run HP and one of the two of them are exactly was HP needs right now. The company needs someone who understands the culture and raise the morale of the troops.

I have firsthand experience from General Electric. GE’s focus on creating managers is well reported. Jack Welch’s replacement process started seven years before his retirement. GE has a set of positions that future company leaders go through. You can look at who is on the way up by what people are taking jobs on some the “training ground” businesses. Next you see people taking over some of the smaller businesses. Then a stint in Europe or Asia. If successful, that leads to a leading bigger business when another star is hired away. That is the nature of things there.

If you don’t have the people within the walls of your company that can run it, you are not hiring the right people.