Good Managers

Henry Mintzberg contends that management is not taught in school, rather learned through experience.  He says that American business got into trouble with the idea that business grads from top tier schools are ready to lead. 

I know little of Mintzberg’s work, so this may be a false argument.  I agree that an MBA does not a manager make.  I’ve lived through that. 

I also agree that experience is important, but it’s not a sure thing either.  I’ve known far too many experienced, but poor managers.

In my experience, good managers share a common set of attributes.  They’re honest, open to feedback, in tune with reality, great observers, good systems thinkers and creative.  Weakness in any of these areas create blind spots.  Experience helps people with these attributes improve over time, because they learn from their mistakes and will zero in on things that matter. 

If I were on a Board of Directors I would look for experienced managers with these attributes to run my businesses.


True Measures: Health Care Edition

It’s common practice recently to compare two statistics – life expectancy and infant mortality rates – of countries as a measure of effectiveness of health care systems.  These are not true measures of the quality of health care for many reasons.  Consider two. 

First, the methods for collecting the data and counting can vary from country to country.  One country might include in infant mortality only the deaths of infants born near full term while another country includes all infant deaths, even from premature deliveries.  My golf scores could compare to those of the pros if I only counted the strokes on the first nine holes.

These stats are used for two reasons. First, they’re easy to obtain.  Second, they serve political purposes.  Why else would an organization release such data without making clear the potential pitfalls in the data?

Second, many factors other than health care impact life expectancy and infant mortality rates.   The motives of anyone suggesting that health care is the only factor, or the primary factor, influencing these two stats should be questioned. 

Truer measures exist, but are harder to quantify.  What percentage of patients die from infection while under the care of the health care provider?  How does the patient’s chance for survival compare across countries for specific procedures?  

The truest measure: given a choice which country’s health care would you use?

True Measures: Work Edition

It’s been my experience that much of the feedback in the workplace is given on inputs instead of results.  For example, I’ve seen awards given for “working hard” or “staying late”, but the only true result of the person’s effort was that they did their job.  The truth is that working hard or staying late to finish their job may actually be a sign of incompetence.   On the other hand, I’ve seen remarkable accomplishments overlooked because the inputs used to achieve those accomplishments didn’t fit someone’s idea of good.     

I’m guilty of focusing on inputs.  It seems natural.  I’ve started a new personal rule.  When I have a positive or negative comment I want to share, I’m going to follow it with, “and that resulted in…” and describe the specific result so its clear why the behavior was positive or negative.

Jeneane Garafolo

Bravo!  Genius comedienne!  Such great irony.  Was I the only one that picked up on it?  Maybe.  That’s a sure sign that it was’t funny.

What irony, you ask?  In her blatantly false rant about the Tax Day Tea Parties and the people involved, Ms. Garafolo exhibited the behavior she falsely accused on conservatives and Tea Bag participants.  She judged a group of people inferior based on her false belief of a shared difference in physiology.   

However unfunny her attempt at humor was, us enlarged limbic system folks would love it if a reasonable person, like Ms. Garafolo, would engage us on the true reasons for the Tea Parties. 

Ms. Garafolo, Do you think it’s a good idea for government to spend more than it ever has?  If so, why?  Do you think it’s a good idea for government to use taxpayer money to bail out businesses where company leaders made bad choices?  If so, why?

How to Save Education

School vouchers are a good idea.  I have no problem with funding education with property tax so everyone gets access.  But, the parents of school age children should get to choose where those funds are spent rather than send the funds to government run schools by default.  I believe Walter Williams said we are better off for funding the military, but there’s a reason why the government doesn’t build the tanks.

School choice provides a true measure in a system devoid of true measures.  But, it’s not the only true measure needed to save education.  Two more true measures are key.

First, faculty need to be able to assess true grades and remove disruptive people from the classroom.  The fact that grade inflation and social promotion are terms that exist is evidence that grades don’t accurately reflect the students’ proficiency of the subject matter.

Second, school administrators need the ability to remove bad teachers and reward good teachers.  A bad teacher in the classroom should be as unacceptable as a rude waiter in a restaurant.  Being a teacher shouldn’t mean guaranteed lifetime employment with little consequence for incompetence.  Also, losing a good teacher who leaves education to seek better rewards should be as unacceptable.

Vouchers is an important step to bringing all these true measures in full force back to education.  If parents choose to send their kids to privately run schools, those schools will be able to give accurate grades, kick out disruptive students and better hold teachers accountable, which will lead better schools.

Ultimately, the true measure of the quality of a school isn’t the students’ scores on a standardized test, or the teachers’ level of certification.  Neither provide reliable information on quality of education.  A truer measure of the quality of a school is how many people are trying to get in relative to how many people are trying to get out.

True Measures

To control my weight I discovered the scale doesn’t lie.  It is an honest feedback tool.  It gives mea true measure of my weight.  Since it’s inanimate, it has nothing to gain or lose by lying or saying I did a good job when the truth is I didn’t.

Glenn Beck had Sir Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin, on his program a year or two ago.  Beck asked Branson why the US has such bad airlines.  Branson replied, “because you don’t let them fail.”  Profit is a true measure of whether a business supplies value to customers or not.   Yet, as Branson correctly points out, as a society we override this measure, usually to save jobs or maintain competition but the truth is the business is not providing value to society.

Wonder if your city, county, state or country is doing things right?  Don’t look at what they’re doing, look at the true measure.  How does the people moving in compare with the people moving out.

Mind Changer: Oprah Edition

Oprah, last week, had on a fourteen year old couple who thought they were ready for sex, along with their mothers and a sex counselor.  The questions the sex counselor asked the teens changed the mind of the girl.    Here are the questions and reactions, the best I can remember:

1.  “How long do you expect this relationship to last?”  The boy answered “6 months to a year”, which unpleasantly surprised the girl.  The girl didn’t think the relationship had an expiration date.

2.  What two forms of birth control are you planning to use?  The sex counselor insisted they needed two forms as a back up in case one failed.  They hadn’t thought past using condoms.  She also frankly asked the boy if he had practiced using a condom and understood how to put it on to prevent it from breaking.  His lack of confidence with this question didn’t help his cause.

3.  “After the first time, what your expectations for frequency after that?”  The boy answered one to his favor, “when she wants to.” 

4.  “Sexually transmitted diseases are common.  Are you sure your partner has not been sexually active with another?  If not, you need to get tested.”  This was a buzz killer, I think because it introduced a unromantic extra step to the process.   

5.  “Thirty percent of girls get pregnant before they turn 20.  What are your plans if you get pregnant?”  This was the deal killer.  Though the boy insisted it would be up to the girl, the only two options he mentioned were abortion or adoption, in that order.  His body language said that he was scared she might want to keep it, which would rope him into the deal beyond his six month time horizon.  I also think him saying “abortion or adoption” out loud registered the weight of making a human life just to satisfy their urges.   I can’t remember the girl’s answer, but I remember her facial expression.  It was over!  This question made the chance of getting pregnant real to her.  She realized the consequences of the deal were more severe for her than her boyfriend. 

The guy said he still wanted sex, but he wasn’t convincing.  The girl said she was “slowly” being talked out of it.  I think she added the ‘slowly’ to spare her boyfriend’s feelings.

I’m sharing these questions because I was impressed with how these five simple questions knocked the teen couple out of their fantasy bubble.  I love the format.  I’d like to put together five questions to ask on other topics, that might get people to question their own beliefs.

Getting By in This Economy

The bad economy was the common angle on this evening’s local TV news.  Charities need more donations because they’re getting less donations in the bad economy.  More people are turning to charities because of the bad economy.  Restaurants were busier this Easter because of the bad economy (“a rare and welcome break from the kitchen”). 

A conversation I had yesterday sparked an idea.  I’d love to see stories about people rising to the challenge of this economy by making responsible choices so they’ll come out of the economy stronger, more self-reliant and in a better position to help those who need it.

The conversation that sparked this idea was with a former neighbor who has owned and operated a business from her home since I’ve known her.  Over the years she’s cleaned toilets, ran estate sales, provided coaching and administrative services to other businesses and offered notary services among other things.  She lives within her means.  When times were better, she wasn’t tempted to take out a bigger mortgage.  She reminded me that it always pays to be industrious and look for ways to make yourself valuable to others and not to wait around for others to solve your problems.

I’ll make this a recurring thread here.  Please share your stories.  This is how we get out of this mess.

The Price of Muddled Speech

Eight years of lackluster speeches from W.  drove oratory skill to the top of the list of presidential qualifications, well above qualifications like stance on issues, leadership results and demonstration of principles.  A good thing about the next few years may be a return of such qualifications to the top of the list for the next president.

What I Want

In a conversation with a friend over Detroit’s woes, my friend asked “don’t you think we should do something for the people who’ve invested their lives working for the auto companies.  I assumed that by “we” he meant the Federal government and by “something” he meant do whatever it is the government is doing, or something like it, to save America’s auto industry.

I asked, “You want to force everyone to fund your priorities?”  He looked at me like I was crazy.  “I never said that,” he replied.

Didn’t he?  In Applied Economics, Thomas Sowell writes:

Often posterity is invoked, as in this case, where one of the farmers benefiting from [government imposed land use restrictions] was quoted as saying, “I’ve got 10 grandkids and some of them would like to be here someday.  We want to keep farming as long as we can.”   As in many other such cases, what some people want is stated as if it is automatically pre-emptive over what other people want – and as if their posterity’s desires are pre-emptive over the desires of the posterity of other people with different desires and preferences.

This is another example of where good intentions are judged rather than results.  Saying I’m not for the Federal government intervening to help an industry that got itself into trouble is interpreted with wanting the auto workers to starve, which is a mispresentation of my position (see earlier post on that).  Rather,  I want the best for those who lost their jobs and I believe that making sure they get the best is by reinforcing the individual liberty that has generated enormous amounts of prosperity over the past two centuries in this country.  I believe that the more government inolves itself to help these people, the worse off they’ll be.