Saturday, November 15, 2014

The pizza story: How simple messages lead to big results

One of the highlights of my career was being part of the Continental Airlines turnaround in 1995.  There are many great lessons I still apply from that adventure.  The pizza story is one of the best.

When I joined the airline in December 1994 things were not good.  For my first three months I commuted between Houston and Chicago so I was using two flights a week. The aircraft were dirty, old and tired.  The staff didn’t care about customers.  The operation was a mess.  I even recall that the consultants working on the restructuring refused to fly Continental.  They said the planes smelt like excrement.

The new CEO was a straight talking leader.  Gordon Bethune is a great communicator.  The pizza story was how he communicated the basic requirements of an airline.  “You would not buy a pizza if it had great toppings but the cheese, sauce, and dough were not good.”  He was right.

So here are the three basic airline requirements:

The first and third basics were definitely lacking.  I remember aircraft changing gates last minute was a regular occurrence.  Whenever I travelled I made a point to ask the gate agent and flight attendant if I was on the right flight.  In these days of lower security it was not uncommon to hear a passenger say I am on the wrong flight.  Sometimes after the door was shut or worse on arrival in a different city.  Reliable even made it into one of the four points of the “Go Forward Plan”.  Make reliability a reality. 

I must have heard the pizza story at least ten times.  It was the important first step in taking the airline from “worst to first”.    The achievements of the Continental Airlines turnaround are a legendary business case.  Who knew a simple pizza could have such power.  I often wonder how Gordon orders his pizza.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

1000 Day Cycle

I was recently asked by an executive recruiter why I have changed jobs so many times in my career.  The answer for me was simple, the 1000 day cycle of course.  Then I remembered that this is my own language. That others may not be familiar with this concept.

Life is like writing a book and in this case every chapter is 1000 days.  In a 40 year career you get 13 to 20 chapters. Sometimes those chapters are tragic, sometimes comedic, and hopefully a few times just plain glorious.  Sometimes a chapter takes you to a new location, a new company, or a new job function.  One of the best parts of this concept is that even when things look bleak you can always tell yourself there are less than 1000 days to go.

1000 days is approximately two years and nine months.  This gives you 60 to 90 days to ramp up, then you have a full two years to really be productive, followed by a short wind down period.  Unless you're sending a man to the moon or some other incredibly complicated process 1000 days seems the appropriate time to stay in one position.  If you cannot reach your goals in that time, then you may never be able to reach the end.

As for loyalty, can someone really ask for anything more?   Have you ever read a book where the chapter just goes on and on. Things need to come to a conclusion.  It does not mean you need a promotion it just means you need a change.

My final thought on the 1000 day cycle is that it is a great motivator. You can honestly tell staff that the job is up for grabs in 1000 days or less.  So get counting and get moving.  A 1000 days goes fast.  Write chapters that are intriguing.  Make yourself rare and unique.  Keep people interested in your story.

As for other answers to the recruiter. I have almost always accomplished the task in the 1000 days. If you do a good job people are willing to hire you back.  So why would an employer want somebody who is going to need more than 1000 days to get the job done.

Finally a little plug for full-time MBA programs.  The risk return may not be optimal but I promise it will be one of the best chapters you ever write.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

BRACE yourself for success

I like acronyms. I like processes that count off on a single hand.  In order to get things done I use the acronym BRACE to solve problems and meet goals.


It starts with brainstorming. Creating a mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive list of opportunities to solve a problem or achieve a goal.

Once a list is complete ranking the items by subjective beliefs is the second step.  Return to prioritize as often as necessary.

Providing quantification is the next step.  The analysis can be simple or complex depending on the nature of the problem or goal.

Communicating the solution is the fourth step and critical for getting feedback, testing feasibility, and gaining support.  Spend the most time on this step.

Once a solution has buy-in the final step is to execute it.  List the necessary steps and delegate the actions.

It may take a little time to get into this rhythm.  Once you do you may find you have more time to solve more problems and meet your most audacious goals.  Brace yourself for success.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

How a vision disability has made me a better leader

I was born with tunnel vision and night blindness (Retinitis Pigmentosa).  In some ways fulfilling my leadership potential has been difficult.  In other ways the physical disability makes it easier.  Here are the positive factors.

A leader needs other people with diverse skills and capabilities.  A disabled person learns their strengths and weaknesses.  They know others are required to complete a task and total independence is not always an option. I know I can brainstorm, prioritize, delegate, etc.  I also know I cannot fly a plane or drive myself from sales call to sales call.  Accepting the need for help is a great acknowledgement for a leader.

Delegating is necessary as a leader and a disabled person.  Disabled people need to clearly ask for what they need done.  We also have great appreciation for those who help us in our daily lives.  Saying thank you is a great attribute as a leader.

Along with needing others to do things I also need others to see things.  This reality has improved my listening skills.  I am not asking for another account of what happened.  I am actually asking, "What happened".

In recent months I have noticed there has been a lot written on the humbleness of leaders.  Humble may be a bit too much for a true leaser.  If humble means without braggadocio I agree.  If it means meek or submissive I disagree.

Either way disabled people certainly have respect for others.  Disabled people are open to diversity.  I am grateful for what I have and I put behind me unrealistic desires for what I cannot have.  I accept situations as they are and move forward.

I have been lucky to have leadership roles.  These roles have taught me about sacrifice.  My belief is that people are often envious of leaders.  It is easy to see the glory without the sacrifice.  Somehow for a disabled leader the sacrifice is a bit clearer.  Perhaps it is because statistics show most people would not swap a non-disabled life for a disabled life.  People don't want to swap lives with me. They are not envious of what I have as a leader.

Disability has also taught me to laugh at myself.  Therefore people can laugh with me rather than at me.  With a visual disability I know I am clumsy.  I recognize that it is not disrespect but simply something people do not see every day.  As Chevy Chase, Michael Richards, and others have shown us physical comedy is funny.

Laughter is a great equalizer.  It brings people together in a way even some of the greatest leaders wish they could.  It and other factors of disability make me real and therefore approachable.  It is hard to strike fear in people when you laugh and smile.  It is impossible to strike fear in people when you are blind.  I use disability to make myself more approachable.  I can feel the joy in people when they take my arm and help me find my way.  I can feel the relief when I laugh at myself.

Finally, the greatest joy and advantage of being a disabled leader is inspiration. It is easier to motivate people to try new things and situations when they know I do it every day.  It is excessively frightening to go to a new country and work with new people as a blind person.  When I try new things fully sighted people are afraid to do, I know it helps create an attitude that any obstacle can be overcome.

Of course a leader needs vision but not always the kind that comes from eyes.

Please connect with me on Twitter (swiateknz2) or Linkedin if you liked this post or you know of a young person who has Retinitis Pigmentosa.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

9 Awesome college football hashtags

There are a lot of hashtags but when it comes to college football these are my favorite.

Please follow @SportSetOrg on twitter if you can name all the schools or want a shout out for your favorites.

Fear the fork
8 clap
Hell in a shell
Load the musket
Poke em
Anchor down
Birds up
Hook em
Roll tide roll

Sunday, October 26, 2014

8 Areas to change your business

“One day everything will be well, that is our hope.”

Management by hope is not good.  Managers need to be proactive.  Managers need to try new ways but with a calculated and systematic approach.   The choices are unlimited but here are eight areas you should consider:

  1. Physical work environment – If everybody is constantly moving around try a new resting space.   Couches are great.  If everybody is constantly sitting try putting in something to encourage movement.  A ping-pong table comes to mind.  If your space is too cluttered try removing items.  If your space is too sterile add some color with a painting or poster.  The opportunities exist no matter what your physical environment or budget.  Delegate a team to make improvements.  Do not look for policy on what you can do but simply be cognizant of what culturally you cannot do.
  2. Meetings – Look for some to cancel and look for some to add.  Look for ways to place meetings in a weekly chronological order.  Change the invitees.  If the content is not confidential consider adding a junior member of the team.  Watch for opportunities to use time of day for bringing out the best in people.  I like brainstorming meetings in the morning and work review meetings in the afternoon.
  3. Data and reports – Go through what you receive on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis and look for opportunities to pare back.  If you can’t pare back simplify the reports to something shorter and more meaningful.  In contrast, look for reports to add.  Look for opportunities to buy instead of build and build instead of buy.  Ask yourself if any industry source you receive could be improved if you had your own resource to track and build the data or report.
  4. Systems and tools – Big data is certainly a trend in business however, I have rarely seen companies that do not have opportunities to create their own spreadsheet models to better analyze small data.  Keep in touch with vendors and look for ways to influence them.  If a system is large and misunderstood try training more users to uncover misconceptions and to build succession and redundancy.
  5. Processes – These can be small or large.  Changing them requires understanding the steps.  Look for things you and your team do that are routine and ask yourself if you can list the steps from memory.  Then ask a colleague if they agree.  If you cannot and they do not here is an opportunity to document, reflect, and change for the better.
  6. Goals, KPI’s and Responsibility – Make sure you know the differences.  Indicators need to be the warning sign that a goal will not be met.  Try pushing responsibility down the organization.  Make sure you have reports to measure and monitor.   If you cannot count them on two hands then you need to reduce the number.   
  7. People – Start by reviewing the attitudes and skills you value. Make sure the attitudes and skills are known.  If you have long review periods look to shorten the cycle.  If you have ever complained about Human Resources look for one or two processes to own internally.  Ultimately people will come and go.  Try to build a cycle of ramp-up, plateau, and ramp-down.
  8. Culture – This is the hardest of changes.  It cannot happen quickly but only over an extended period where habits and ways of doing things are challenged and corrected.  The build up of the seven previous areas can get you started but to truly understand cultural change Google “The Monkey Story”.

Your company probably does not to change all of these areas.  Your company may not consider any of these suggestions useable.  However, thinking is the first step to change and if any of these suggestions made you think then you are on your way to change.  Change is good.   Change is inevitable.  Hope is unreliable.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The journey of a wandering baseball fan

I love sports.  I love baseball.

In 1969 the Miracle Mets won the World Series and my father bought me my first hat.  I was hooked.  Four years later and mildly coming of age I wanted to make my own decisions.  I decided to look for a team to replace the Mets.

We lived in Buffalo New York so there was no logical team to choose. Toronto did not yet exist as a baseball franchise; Cleveland was the closest in distance.  Of course, the Yankees were from the same state as well as the Mets.

I wanted to be different. In the early 1970s, prior to ESPN, the only source of news for West Coast teams when they played at home was the day after newspaper.  This along with a country still dreaming about California led me to look at the teams on the West Coast.  The one I fell in love with was the California Angels. I always liked pitching, a good reason to stay a Mets fan was Tom Seaver, but now the Angels had the combination of Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana.  My decision was made.

It took me over two years to find a California Angels hat. However, that did not discourage me from being a loyal fan of the Angels.  When the Yankees became really good in the late 70s, and Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Sparky Lyle and others destroyed my Angels time after time. It was tough to be surrounded by a lot of Yankees fans.  I persisted.

I stayed loyal to the Angels through high school. College took me closer to New York City and Yankees and Mets fans were abundant.  The pull to become a fan of the local team was strong but it still did not take hold in New York.

Then my working career began, a string of cities across the USA. For some reason I chose to start following the local teams.

First stop Los Angeles, not Anaheim.  I was a Los Angeles Dodgers fan for three years.  This included the 1988 World Series win!  A friend offered me to choose tickets for either game one or game two. I chose game two because Orel Hershiser was pitching and had a shutout innings record in progress.  I still regret that I could've been there for that Kirk Gibson homerun.

Next stop. The Southside of Chicago for graduate school.  Let's go White Sox.  Old Comisky stadium was awful but I loved it.

An internship in Detroit for the summer of 1990 so why not become a Tigers fan.

After business school on the Southside of Chicago we did the normal thing of a newly married couple with no children and move to Wrigleyville.  It was impossible not to become a Cubs fan when you could hear Harry Carey singing from our front stoop.  But it was painful.

A new job opportunity in Houston. We now had a three-month-old son when the Astro season began. We took him to the home opener and bought him an Astros hat and I got one for myself as well.

Back to Chicago and back to the Cubs in 1996.  Then in 1998 my career took a turn towards the international world and expat life. What to do while in Italy, New Zealand, and Qatar?

I drifted until I discovered radio in 2002.  Baseball became a joy again as I could listen to any game I wanted while enjoying the New Zealand sunshine.  Every game was an afternoon game due to the time zone difference.

While I jumped from broadcast to broadcast I realized I needed to choose a team. But which one?

I still liked good pitching. I also was never big on being a bandwagon fan jumping on a team when they were playing well. So I looked for a team with good upcoming pitching and a losing record.  In 2003 I found the Phillies.  I promised myself I would stick with them for five full years.  They played well, and pitchers like Cole Hamels came up from the minors.  They acquired other great pitching.  They won the World Series on my fifth year as a fan.

Having had such great success with the Phillies I decided to look for another young losing team.  I found the Kansas City Royals.

When the Kansas City Royals traded Zack Greinke my heart fell.  However, I stayed with them and today, even though it is the sixth year of my fandom, the Royals are in the World Series with a 2-1 game lead on the San Francisco Giants.  It has been tremendous watching them grow with the likes of Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, and others.

Whether the Royals win or lose the Series. Believe me I want them to win! I will start a new project and a new team next year.

Right now my front-runner is to return to my original roots and the New York Mets. Of course the Cubs are another losing team but oh can I do that?

Wait till next year.  The baseball journey continues.