Archive

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Brenden’s Booklist

April 27th, 2011 Comments off

Students don’t often have time to read a lot during the semester for obvious reasons.  As a result, I have had a number of people ask for me to make a list of the books I mention in class and that I find helpful/interesting so that they can reference the list at a later date (since course website access is blocked after the semester).  Here are some more books that I have found to be good reads of late (someone asked me how I read so much and I have to say that buying a Kindle has made me want to read so much more than when I bought regular books).  These are presented in no particular order other than as I remember them.

  1. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis.  This is perhaps the best book I’ve read in the last year on the economic meltdown.  It is great both in terms of readability and level of detail/understanding.  The author did a great job researching this book and presents it in a way that is easy to understand.  At focus here is how the incentives on Wall Street encouraged risk-taking behavior that ultimately collapsed when the housing market didn’t keep rising (many assumptions and models were based on housing prices never declining and some were based on prices never even leveling off for any period of time).
  2. Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by Guy Kawasaki. I first heard about this book (and its author) on a Minnesota Public Radio program. Kawasaki proved to be as strong at authoring as he was on the radio and this was a truly enjoyable and interesting read.  If you are tasked with finding/keeping/serving customers or members you will get a lot out of this book.  In particular, I really enjoyed the sections devoted to using online social media tools such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  The use of these tools to actually engage customers rather than just to serve as an electronic brochure is something that will separate great companies from good ones in the near future and the use of these tools (and new ones that aren’t even around yet) is sure to grow.
  3. No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller by Harry Markopolos is another great read.  I didn’t like it as much as The Big Short because Markopolos comes off as a bit egotistical (even moreso in person — I saw him speack at the MNCPA MBAC conference last June).  Markopolos is the guy that busted Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme.  Actually, he tried for years to get the SEC to investigate Madoff with little success and only once Madoff admitted to his crimes did Markopolos gain notoriety.  Prior to that he lived a life of fear for some time (he felt his life and the lives of his family members were in danger, in fact).  I have friends that thought this book was way bettter than The Big Short so it may just appeal to a different sort of person.  It was still worth reading to me, but just didn’t flow like The Big Short did.
  4. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Dan Pink.  This was an eye-opening book to someone that works in a field that is decidedly left-brain-based.  Pink’s point is that the left-brain functions so common to a field like accounting can often be replaced by technology/computers and a lot of what is left can be easily outsourced to developing nations. Pink has a new book out on motivation and he did a great TED Talk on it as well.
  5. Thank God It’s Monday: How to Create a Workplace You and Your Customers Love by Roxanne Emmerich.  This book is by a local woman and I first became aware of it last fall when it was featured on KARE-11 News.  She later wrote a short article for the MNCPA Footnote newsletter.  Building a workplace that employees love will automatically translate into a workplace that customers love.  The Balanced Scorecard tells us that and we can all identifiy places we have done business where we dreaded shopping and those where we loved shopping, simply because we could tell whether or not the employees were happy.  Emmerich does a great job of explaining how to set up a culture that accomplishes the goal of a happy workplace and a great place to do business.
  6. All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis by Joe Nocera.  I’m reading this one right now.  I still think The Big Short is a more engaging story (better written) but the details in this book are well researched and it is interesting in its own right.  I did find it to be more interesting in the last half of the book so if you find it discouraging early on, you should find that things pick up after that.  If you have to choose to read one book about the financial crisis, though, my money is on The Big Short.
  7. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek.  We watched Sinek’s TED Talk on this same topic in class and the book is just as engaging while covering the same ground in more depth.  I have shared this book and video with others in my company and they have all provided great feedback and thanked me for doing so.  In hindsight, the ideas seem simple but they are obviously difficult to execute given how few companies have had success linking with their customers on the “why” of their products/services.
  8. The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam.  Like A Whole New Mind, mentioned above, this book takes the approach that we need to appeal to the right-brain when making decisions and in marketing our ideas.  You’ve all heard the saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words” and even those that think they can’t draw (like most accountants) can learn to use quick sketches to communicate and to make faster/better decisions.  Roam is a keynote speaker at the MNCPA Management & Business Advisors Conference in June. He has asked that audience members be provided whiteboards and markers to gain practice with the techniques he champions in his book (and a follow-up book) as he speaks.  It should be interesting. Note, that this book was TERRIBLE on the Kindle because the drawings were too small or jumbled up.  Get the paper edition if you buy this one.
  9. Dethroning the King: The Hostile Takeover of Anheuser-Busch, an American Icon by Julie MacIntosh. Is there any symbol of American marketing might bigger than Budweiser?  How is it that this company based in the heartland came to be swallowed up by InBev, a Belgian/Brazillan brewer? I loved this book and found it to be very engaging. Even with the outcome known, I found myself shaking my head at the missteps taken by the St. Louis-based brewer as globalization hit the industry.  The characters of the Busch family are exposed in great detail — they acted like Anheuser-Busch was a family company even though they had long ago become just minority shareholders incapable of stopping a takeover no matter how hard they tried.  In a story that is likely to be repeated in other industries the business world is changing and executives need to be aware of what happens outside company walls if they want to maintain power as other markets become as strong or even stronger than those dominated by American firms.
  10. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan.  A LinkedIn contact recommended this book.  It was a great read and may well change how you shop for food and what you choose to consume.  I know that I am more conscious of what I put into my body after reading this.
  11. Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes. I didn’t realize how impacted the science of food had been by politics until I read this book.  Lots of things that were known to German scientists some 70+ years ago were discounted after World War II because of political reasons and an unwillingness to trust anything German rather than for outright scientific reasons.  Taubes offers specific advice about what to eat (protein and complex carbohydrates) and what not to each (sugar, refinef flours, carbohydrates) if the goal is to lose fat and reduce weight.  Much of this advice contradicts what Americans have been told for 50+ years, even while as a nation we get fatter and fatter. There are scientific footnotes in this text, but Taubes wrote this more for laypeople becuase an earlier book was criticized for reading like a scientific journal.
  12. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl details his life as a prisoner in a concentration camp during World War II.  In that environment, life takes on a very basic form and it is this experience that sets the stage for the prism through with Frankl sees life as a psychotherapist after the war.  We get a glimpse into human behavior that likely only exists in scenarios such as those of the concentration camps and I learned a lot about life and was forced to realize that all my complaints are ridiculously minor in comparison. I stumbled on this book because I was involved in a conversation on LinkedIn about “the best book I’ve ever read.”  I didn’t even contribute to the topic because I find it difficult to elevate any one book to “the best” one ever, but someone posted this gem and I’m quite glad I read it.
  13. Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler. Somehow I got a free copy of this book on my Kindle last September before it was even released.  It’s like Amazon knew I’d find it interesting and that I’d share my experience with lots of people. It highlights this same phenomenon of information sharing and decentralized structures that the authors predict will be the wave of the future.  They argue that since customers are more empowered (consider the information consumers have now about nearly any product as compared to 20 years ago) that companies need to be as well.  For example, Best Buy is featured extensively in the book for their Twelpforce concept that has turned customer service into a proactive task and customer difficulty into an opportunity instead of a curse.  I loved reading this book but I’m guessing the challenge will be to get buy-in from the people that need to make the biggest changes: those entrenched in the IT department.  In my experience, IT policies can be terribly restrictive and I’m not sure how to get the ideas presented in Empowered into the hands of the people that need to change direction since, in a way, doing so is a threat to their existence.

Hulu Reworks Its Script as Digital Change Hits TV

January 27th, 2011 Comments off

Like music and telecommunications before it, the digitial revolution is set to hit TV hard in the next year or two.  One player that has emerged is Hulu, a joint-venture owned primarily by the companies that control the legacy broadcaster Fox, ABC, and NBC.  What is interesting is that NBC is now controlled by cable TV giant Comcast and Hulu may end up being a big threat to the cable TV industry.

Even before now, the culture of Hulu that has made it successful has clashed with the culture of its owners:

The partners hired Mr. Kilar, former general manager of Amazon.com Inc.’s North American media business, giving him autonomy to chart a new course. Mr. Kilar, 39, was determined to create an independent corporate culture closer to the tech world than the tradition-bound television business.

The company built a Silicon Valley-inspired startup in a low-slung office park in Santa Monica, a few miles west of its Hollywood owners. In the break room, engineers modified a refrigerator to house a beer keg, cutting a hole in it to fit a special tap in the shape of Hulu’s logo.

Mr. Kilar gave new hires a culture manifesto, an 1,100-word document that paints Hulu as a frugal meritocracy where “Fruity Snacks boxes hold up our monitors,” but where everyone has a “neurotic focus on quality.”

In an office expansion, Mr. Kilar and senior managers gave up their offices to sit at desks in an open floor plan among hundreds of employees, underscoring Hulu’s egalitarian approach.

It wasn’t long before the new venture clashed with owners’ established ways.

What is interesting to me is that Hulu may need a certain kind of culture like the one it has created but that may be prevented by those clinging to the past. Ultimately some company or group of companies will write the future of what TV looks like…the legacy players need to decide if they want to be part of that ride or not.  There has already been upheaval at Hulu (read the rest of the article linked below) as they bring in people with cable/satellite backgrounds to manage operations instead of people from tech/startup backgrounds that were running things initially.  This is a great example of how culture can impact a business, possibly negatively.

Hulu Reworks Its Script As Digital Change Hits TV. Sam Schechner, Jessica E. Vascellaro. Wall Street Journal. (Eastern edition). New York, N.Y.: Jan 27, 2011. pg. A.1

Company Hires for Culture First, Skills Second

January 26th, 2011 Comments off

In the wake of watching the Simon Sinek TED talk in class, here is an interesting (and somewhat obvious) way that companies can focus on the “why” instead of the “what.”  They can hire people that share the same values and that will fit in with the company culture.  It makes sense, but how many job listings to you see that look at the culture?  Mostly they list educational requirements and skills, don’t they?

By focusing on hiring people that value the same thing that the company (and its culture) have as priorities, they can be more successful.  Another company that I’ve written about before that does this is Zappos.  In fact, the Zappos slogan is “powered by service” and that service starts with the employees.

How My Company Hires for Culture First, Skills Second – Alan Lewis – The Conversation – Harvard Business Review.

CPA Firms Aren’t 100% Stodgy

January 22nd, 2011 Comments off

Here is what I think is a great video put together by a CPA Firm.  Think they have any trouble attracting talent?  Is their culture obvious?  I’d love to work in such an environment…

http://www.withum.com/popupvid_music-video.html

Helping the CIO Lead

December 27th, 2010 Comments off

Is it me or is the idea of getting IT and business units to work together rather than separately gaining traction?  As I reported in my review of Empowered, it is essential for leading companies to find a way to make this happen.  Users are going to find a way to get things done (or at least he ones that are tired of dealing with IT delays will).

The interview by strategy+business of Charlie Feld about his role as an IT leader at Frito Lay and about his new book, Blind Spot: A Leader’s Guide To IT-Enabled Business Transformation, is an interesting one. I look forward to reading the book (after I plow through about 20 others on my list).

Read more here: Helping the CIO Lead.

The Atlantic Turns a Profit, With an Eye on the Web – NYTimes.com

December 15th, 2010 Comments off

A great example of a complete revamp of corporate culture that has allowed a print institution to thrive in the digital age, when so many others have failed  Read more at: The Atlantic Turns a Profit, With an Eye on the Web – NYTimes.com.

How Companies Can Make Better Decisions

October 31st, 2010 Comments off

Here is an interesting video from HBR that explores decision-effectiveness within companies.  Marcia Blenko is a co-author of Decide and Deliver: Five Steps to Breakthrough Performance in Your Organization and she shares the framework of some concepts in the book in this video.  In particular, there is a 4-point framework to measuring companies on decision-making skills:

  1. Quality decision making
  2. Quick/timely decision making
  3. Executing decisions
  4. Effort spent on decision-making and execution

Most of our course is about decision-making and it really is what separates the winners from the losers in the “real world.”  Too many companies focus on decision-making as an afterthought or a necessary evil rather than an opportunity to excel.  Setting up the corporate culture to foster strong decision-making and execution is important to long-term success.  Many companies focus on “big decisions” but the cumulative effect of all of the daily decisions is probably a bigger place to focus and effectiveness in this area needs to “just happen” as the result of systems encouraging it.

http://blogs.hbr.org/video/2010/10/how-companies-can-make-better.html

Southwest Airlines to Acquire AirTran

September 27th, 2010 Comments off

Spreading Low Fares Farther | Southwest Airlines to Acquire AirTran Holdings, Inc..

See the link above for the official website related to the buyout of AirTran by Southwest.  There are numerous news reports as well that you can read elsewhere.

Photo credit: Brenden Schaaf taken September 29, 2010 at MSP using a BlackBerry Bold

Probably the biggest way this story relates to our class is in the value chain discussion with Southwest obviously feeling that they needed expand to remain competitive.  Specifically, news reports I have read and heard have indicated that Southwest had a desire to expand and/or enter the Atlanta, New York City, Orlando, and Milwaukee markets.  A year ago, Southwest was seen a suitor for Midwest Airlines but they lost out in that attempt to expand to Frontier Airlines.

Mega-mergers are the pattern in the airline industry these days following tie-ups by Delta/Northwest and United/Continental.  It will be very interesting to watch how Southwest proceeds as they try to avoid the negative aspects of mergers that have plagued many companies including other airlines (such as America West and US Airways).  Southwest probably has the most unique culture of all airlines with a playful, fun way of dealing with customers.  Anyone that has ever flown Southwest can tell you that you will not mistake it for a legacy carrier.  Culture clash is a common reason for merger failures…Southwest will have to be careful to avoid the traps associated with this as they proceed.

Another challenge will be how Southwest integrates aircraft and frequent flier programs at AirTran into the Southwest fleet and system.  Southwest is known for flying only Boeing 737 aircraft to make maintenance and other issues easier, while AirTran flies Boeing 717 aircraft in addition to 737s.  Perhaps this is a strategy for Southwest to branch out to different, but related, types of aircraft.

Another issue that will be interesting is how Southwest configures the AirTran aircraft post-acquisition.  AirTran has a small First Class cabin on most (all?) planes and they likely attract a certain segment of the business traveler population that is accustomed to the additional services provided.  Will Southwest risk alienating business travelers by going to the “cattle call” seating that they have today once they acquire AirTran and enter markets like Atlanta where there is a loyal business traveler following?  Will business travelers defect to Delta, which is also based in Atlanta?  Perhaps they already have?

Stay tuned to this situation in the months to come.  There will be lots of examples in the news related to what we discuss in class.

Other links to news about this story:

An Interview With Kasper Rorsted

August 29th, 2010 Comments off

Kasper Rorsted photo courtesy nrkbeta on Flickr

I was alerted to this NYTimes piece because I follow Bill George on Twitter.  George is the former head of Medtronic and he spoke at the MNCPA Management & Business Advisers Conference in June.  If he thinks an article is worth looking at I usually find something of value in reading the article myself.

In this case, I love what Rorsted has to say about email (being less valuable that face-time and with the fact that cc: emails are usually to cover someone’s backside) and with corporate culture:

So I took a number of the yay-sayers out because I didn’t want them to be part of our corporate culture, a culture where the end result is most important. It’s not who got the idea.

He also had some interesting things to say on the kinds of people he hires including the fact that he wants to know the person and he never focuses on GPA:

I never look at grades from university. I look at what they’ve done, but I look very much at what they’ve done outside work. How do they spend their time? Who do they relate to? Have they moved? Have they been put in situations in their personal and professional lives that were not very straightforward?

I’m concerned about people who have come through their career with “A” grades throughout their entire life, and have never really had any setbacks and have always been in environments where they knew the environment.

Read more at: http://nyti.ms/a7anNJ

Culture at Zappos

August 24th, 2010 Comments off

Company culture is probably more important than what we discuss in class given its impact on so many aspects of company performance as well as employee satisfaction (which then touches so many things).  Online shoe-seller, Zappos, puts culture first and focuses on performing well in terms of finding employees that are good cultural fits and lets the results flow from that process:

At the top of the list of Zappos’ values is “Deliver WOW through service.” In fact, Zappos describes itself as a service company that happens to sell shoes and other products. This value is reflected in such niceties as a 365-day return policy with free shipping both ways, 24/7 customer phone lines, live online help, and customer product ratings — none of which is all that weird. But things do become, if not weirder, then at least different, when seen from the perspective of Aaron Magness, Zappos’ director of business development and brand marketing. He told me, “I read about how Zappos is focused on customer service. It isn’t. It’s focused on company culture, which leads to customer service. We don’t talk about customer service; we allow it to happen on its own by having the right people.”

The genuine happiness of employees is felt by customers and Zappos appears to, as a result, have very loyal customers (as well as employees).  By focusing on culture, Zappos has differentiated itself in an online world crowded with commodities.

I encourage you to read more about Zappos at this link: http://www.strategy-business.com/article/10311