How to Grow a Third Arm

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How much more productive would you be with a third arm? I have a formula for one! Fear not, it doesn’t involve psychedelic mushrooms and vodka (a disappointment for some). It involves tactful trust and developmental delegation.

This could be you! Well, sorta.

This could be you! Well, sorta.

Investing in others is a scary thing, especially when you are trusting them to handle something precious to you. But think about making your life and job EASIER and all of the benefits that come with MORE TIME. Before you can develop anyone you need to develop yourself. Start thinking positively about the benefits of teaching someone to do the more basic tasks within your scope of responsibility.

Simply put, attempt to categorize all tasks into two columns: “No Mistakes Allowed” & “Mistakes Tolerated.” The first column must stay within your direct control as we cannot afford a problem there. The second column is where we start considering which tasks could be shared as a learning experience with an emerging talent. Maybe it’s 1 task, possibly 3? Choose a total that offers a meaningful return on your investment in terms of time. Identify the skill needed for the task and then seek out your third arm.

  • Manage Payroll – Detail Oriented, Accounting Skills, Time Management
  • Organize Meetings  – Communicator, Collaborative Personality, Tech Savvy
  • Attend Meetings for You – Professional, Listener, Understands Inter-Office Politics
  • Project Management – All of the above!

Scan your roster of dedicated teammates and find the match between skill and ability. The most important step in this process is to directly ask your targeted teammate if they are eager to “learn more about the environment” or “learn more about the next level of management?” It’s critical to capture the right attitude, and this starts with an up front commitment between both of you to teach and learn with the proper spirit. Even when you find the right attitude you still might not know if you’ve matched the right person to the right task, but this is part of the cost to growing extra extremities. You WILL MAKE MISTAKES, as will the teammate you choose. But that’s OK! You gave them tasks that can be corrected if mismanaged. When mistakes are made, you will flip the “Teacher” switch and live up to your end of the bargain (developing your talented third arm).

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Let’s review the benefits of pushing through this initial investment of time to delegate and develop. You are rewarding an eager teammate with the chance to enhance their contribution to an environment they care about. The reward of mentorship is gratifying, appreciated, and has no hard cost. These efforts are often public and the entire team sees your efforts to reward talent with attention, a leader’s greatest currency. Finally, look at all the time you stand to gain (or invest elsewhere)? Let’s assume that managing payroll takes 3 hours a month, organizing meetings takes 2 hours a month, attending meetings in your place takes 8 hours a month, and managing projects takes 10 hours a month. You stand to get 3 to 23 hours a month to reposition within your job scope.

What would you do with 23 freed up hours given your current workload? What would you do with your third arm? How about a “High-15?” Slap-Slap-Slap!

Sneakerheads or Science? The Footlocker Billion Dollar Formula!

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The mens athletic footwear industry is experiencing a period of strong and rapid growth as men expand their wardrobe with a variety of colors to satisfy the trendiest metrosexual, and collectors scoop up limited edition designs and “retro” styles for personal storage or resale on eBay. But how did we get here?

Footlocker shared its latest business results this past May by announcing to shareholders that sales improved 14% to $1.87 billion, bolstered by a same store sales jump of 7.6% (a huge metric in retail). Is this just a bunch of Sneakerheads gobbling up all of the goods? NO! It is retail science at its finest.

Let’s take a look at some of the strategies used by Footlocker to glamorize and accessorize their in-store experience and products. The most noticeable tactic is what I call the “Museum-ication” of the product. When you walk into a Footlocker store you are immediately greeted by new styles under glass. Think of the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian, under glass and highlighted by just the right lighting. That’s what we’ve got here. Talk about creating value. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate the product’s excitement factor, whether it be a brand new product or a limited edition product.

Glamorous Footwear

The next tactic is what I call “The Mannequin.” Not all men have the patience or skill to piece together a trendy outfit featuring a theme from head to toe. Footlocker aims to make this process a lot easier for all customers. A gentlemen looking to spruce up his gear can walk into Footlocker and simply buy “The Mannequin”, a preassembled option of outfits centered around a specific sneaker’s design cues. The boost in sales results isn’t just due to a handful of t-shirts, as they have a TON of clothing options. These options are brand specific, so the Nike shirt matches the exact pattern in the Nike shoe. It’s a fashion alley-lop that results in fast-break cross-sell momentum.

Matching Display

The final tactic I will highlight is what I call “Showtime.” This is the use of lighting to create more excitement and value. Typically, when I think of lighting techniques I think top-down, from the ceiling. But this technique leverages the reverse, bottom-up lighting, to make the product pop off of the shelves. The shelf is broadway and the lighting celebrates the star of the show: a $180 pair of Air Jordans!

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When the mens athletic footwear industry makes headlines about Christmas product releases that garner long lines sleeping outside of mall entries, I sense competitors in the footwear industry roll their eyes at the obsessive and unexplainable phenomenon of the Sneakerhead. The evolution of the Sneakerhead consumer is one born from the science of creating value and demand. Regardless of targeted demographics and product niches, take a look at what some of the competitors are doing and you’ll see and sense a major difference in environments. The picture below is from The Walking Company store in the same mall as my Footlocker photos. It’s a different product and a different vibe. It wouldn’t make sense to transfer every Footlocker product display tactic to The Walking Company’s floor, but some of these ideas display a creative effort that clearly does not exist outside of Footlocker. Bravo! The sneakerhead seems more and more like a well-timed creation.

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Pre-Mutiny – A Young Managers Greatest Challenge

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You’ve been watching that young superstar’s performance and your keen sense of talent development makes you confident that they’ve got the leadership skills to move the performance needle in a management role. Before you reward them with a promotion, be sure to acknowledge “Pre-Mutiny” and build a strategy around it! Otherwise, you’ll be feeding your protégé to the wolves of jealousy. This happened to me as a fresh faced 24-year-old in his first corporate management gig, and I would have never survived without my mentor (Nate Mathes)!

What is Pre-Mutiny? It all starts with the team or departmental dynamics and the roster of candidates who WILL NOT be getting that management opportunity. The assumption here is that your future star will be managing these competing peers turned employees. Ageism is in play here, as your young superstar is facing a challenge that requires thick skin, courage, open support, and strong mentoring. Pre-Mutiny is when a young manager is rendered ineffective because the team won’t respond appropriately to their attempt to lead and support. Most of the time it is a collective boycott of cooperation as a unified statement of “no confidence” inspired by ignorance, jealousy, and negative leadership.

As a senior manager, what do you do to protect your prized prospect as they get called up to “The Show”? Here are some tips:

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1 – Identify Potential Threats – If you have good political acumen you might be able to anticipate which employees would have a problem with your decision.  If you don’t know who the threat could be, put your ear to the street to tap into the corporate grapevine or leverage existing managers’ knowledge of staff to determine which personnel to worry about. My mentor (Nate) knew exactly who to be worried about and he was very right.

2 – Cut the Head Off – Each example of Pre-Mutiny has one or two dominant personalities that have real leadership skills, but they use them for evil rather than good. These negative leaders know how to recruit support and influence team attitudes. Kept unchecked, they will round up the posse and both quietly and openly work to discredit your young manager’s credibility and impact. My mentor openly challenged a negative leader to support my efforts, instead of attempting to stunt my progress.

3 – Present a United Front – As a senior manager you must cash in some of your corporate capital as a respected leader to convey an overwhelming amount of support for the new manager towards others. You must plan to literally (physically) stand by your youthful managerial selection to drive home the point that they are the selection and nothing is changing that. In other words, “Like it or not, this is your reality. Deal with it, adjust, and work as a team.” One way to present a united front is to be a part of the formal transition or introductory meeting, as well as attending some future team meetings so your presence is felt while your candidate builds trust, credibility, and establishes their management style. My mentor took a chance and trusted I would evolve despite a major lack of experience, and he did so folding his arms behind me as I ran through the meeting agenda (he is an imposing figure, picture Apollo Creed).

Build your plan to proactively address Pre-Mutiny and preserve your young manager’s early success. If they are as talented as you think, they will learn to use the same courage and persistence that my mentor taught me.

 

NBA Financial Player of the Year: David Stern

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Once in a while someone will introduce an intriguing sports debate: Who is the best commissioner of North American professional sports? Although former NBA commissioner David Stern has retired, I think he’s at least the NBA’s “Financial Player of the Year.”

The fact most often neglected when these debates unfold is the concept placing each league’s commissioners as employees working for the various groups of owners. Their job? Make sure things run smoothly and increase shareholder wealth. Fans usually neglect the aforementioned methods of measurement. Instead, we are naturally forced to focus on the decisions made on the surface (instant replay implementation, rules changes, equipment modifications, enforcing policies). After all, it’s difficult for fans to assess a commissioner’s financial impact on privately held firms spread out amongst very different markets.

The headline of the month seems to be the reported sale of the L.A. Clippers for $2 billion. This is an incredible outcome from the Donald Sterling scandal, which forced the new NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, and the existing NBA owners to enforce the expulsion of an owner and sale of his franchise. League members and fans will benefit from the exclusion of a man who is a complete cultural mismatch with the brand. Others will point to the bittersweet reality that Donald Sterling will rake in an incredible profit.

Although the league’s franchises are privately held firms, we get a glimpse of the numbers when a sale is made. To illustrate why I am applauding David Stern’s financial acumen, take a look at this timeline:

  • 2006 – Seattle Supersonics sold for $350 million
  • 2010 – NBA buys New Orleans Hornets for $300 million
  • 2012 – Memphis Grizzlies sold for $350 million
  • 2012 – NBA sells New Orleans Hornets for $338 million
  • 2014 – Milwaukee Bucks sold for $550 million
  • 2014 – L.A. Clippers receive bid to purchase for $2 BILLION

If you look at the NBA map you’ll notice that these transactions are happening all over the U.S. and the spread between them is tens and hundreds of millions of dollars. What you won’t see is how David Stern leveraged every available financial resource to react to a fluctuating economy. He made a variety of decisions to preserve franchise values and avoid market corrections on the hedge that the domestic economy would recover. What were those moves?

Starting in 2006, the Seattle Supersonics sale established general market pricing ($350 million). The New Orleans Hornets’ owner went broke in 2010 and couldn’t afford to maintain his business. He tried to sell, but no one was able to meet his price. The risk of settling for a number too far south of the Sonics’ $350 million sales price was a reality that Stern avoided. Stern convinced the NBA to buy the Hornets for $300 million. He also secured $200 million of additional credit for a league accessible emergency fund for all franchises to use. The NBA held onto the Hornets and waited out the most severe economic rain clouds. Two years later, the NBA sells the Hornets for $338 million, including $50 million in commitments from New Orleans to update their home arena ($383 million of ownership “value”). And then we see consecutive sales records occur just two years later, one of which is achieved in a smaller market (Milwaukee)!

This trajectory in NBA franchise sales prices is not an accident. It’s the result of a combination of factors, both economic and strategic. Here’s a fun question. What would have happened if Stern let the market dictate pricing for the Hornets sale in 2010? What if the best Hornets’ offer was $200 million?

It is with great honor I present this year’s NBA “Financial Player of the Year”, David Stern.

Managing Rumors – 101

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One of the hardest things for managers to do is manage rumors. When was the last time someone approached you to share a rumor that made you feel uncomfortable and threatened the ebb and flow of your business? Even if you are a member of a strong corporate culture where health and wellness is advocated and supported, concerning rumors will pop up randomly to test your managerial acumen. What do you do as a manager when someone brings a rumor to your attention? Below is my 4-Step method of managing rumors.

“I heard that Melissa was hung over at yesterday’s meeting.”

“I think Jennifer is using funds from the incentive plan to buy gifts for herself.”

“Someone said Ted smelled like weed when he got to work.”

1 – Listen

This seems obvious, but what isn’t so obvious is the idea that listening involves patience. Patience is key when presented with a rumor, as the application of patience can negate the temptation to overreact. The worst thing you can do is take action in the form of a knee-jerk reaction. Sometimes the rumor will elicit an emotional reaction from oneself. Who wouldn’t feel a sense of anger if you felt like an employee or teammate you trusted violated that trust and placed your team or department in a compromising position with your internal and external clients? When someone brings a rumor to your desk, ask questions to learn as much as you can about the situation. Specifically:

  • Who is the source of the rumor, and is the source/messenger credible?
  • What could that source’s political/personal agenda be?
  • Are there clear details around this rumor, or witnesses to the behavior?
  • Set the expectation that you will address it, and gain a commitment to keep it private.

“The Office” captures rumors at their worst!

2 – Investigate

Once you have the rumor reported and you have had the opportunity to ask questions about the source, potential agendas, and meaningful details you must gently and quietly validate or invalidate the rumor. A tactful approach is key as the simple mentioning of a rumor, true or not, can fan the flames and unintentionally validate it without evidence within the environment. Try to steer your investigation towards peers that you can trust to “discuss and forget.” What you want to do is find answers to the following concerns:

  • Is there enough information to act on the rumor?
  • Does the available information allow you to effectively discuss it with the subject?
  • Is there enough information and/or witnesses documented to take employment action (termination, counseling, etc.)?
  • If true, does the subject’s action put anyone’s safety at risk or compromise the pursuit of individual and team goals?
  • Review the subject’s individual performance to find any correlation with the timing of the report and results, and seek out erratic fluctuations with results or behaviors (attendance, etc.).
  • What does the source of the rumor have to gain, if anything, from the mere existence of the rumor?

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3 – Communicate

If you are able to collect a lot of data and there are enough witnesses to determine that specifically clear policies have been broken and the organization’s safety has been placed at risk, “Step-4” (below) doesn’t matter because you have the ability to terminate. But rumors don’t often come with the luxury of validation. We seek high and low for more information, often in vein. Hence the essence of a rumor. Most of the time you won’t be able to collect any additional information about the rumor during phase 1 and 2 of my 4-step process.

What do we do? The healthiest relationships revolve around honesty and communication. If there were a potentially damaging rumor about YOU, wouldn’t you want a trusted peer to share its existence with you? I would. Find a private place to sit down and introduce the concern by preceding that “I don’t see any evidence to suggest that what I have heard is true, but I want to be fair and communicate what I heard the other day. Someone approached me and shared a rumor that you…” The goal of this interaction is:

  • Provide an opportunity for the subject to explain, if necessary or possible, the existence of the rumor. This interaction could prompt a confession (which is healthy for everyone), or it could provoke a sense of rage and discrimination (which we cannot prevent, but we must accept the task of managing this as part of our role as leaders). Be prepared.
  • Open the door for future communication.
  • Present the situation honestly by admitting you investigated and found no evidence, or share the evidence you have found for open discussion.
  • Remind everyone of the policies in place to govern safety and performance.
  • Privately log the communication.
  • Scare someone straight, in case the rumor is true but cannot be proved.

4 – Observe

We have planted the seed that something might or might not be happening, and now we sit back and observe behaviors. The examples of rumors I provided above (theft, alcohol abuse, drug abuse) are behaviors that typically don’t occur once and then go away. These behaviors are often exhibited consistently over time, and you should expect to see evidence to validate the rumors if they were in fact true but difficult to corroborate. When these rumors become reality down the road you will have already documented an interaction regarding awareness of the potential issue, and you will have already set the expectation that the behavior described in rumor, true or not, is undesired.

If the rumors were ultimately unfounded you will have to gauge what impact has developed as a byproduct of sharing the rumor with the subject. Is the subject resentful? Is there a cloud of mistrust hovering over their desk? Have they changed the way they interact with teammates and clients? Some people will understand that you are doing your job as a manager and you have to address discerning reports. Others will hold a grudge and assume you are “out to get them.” You cannot control how people feel. You can only influence those feelings to varying degrees. Accept that once you have put your best foot forward, if they still hold resentment, then the subject must develop the ability to understand roles and perspectives outside of their own scope of view. This is difficult to do, and some people really struggle to do it. Maybe that will be my next blog subject?

Free Miracles! No Money Required!

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Living in one of the most blessed and wealthy countries on the globe comes with a lot of “pros” and a few “cons.” One con of being submerged in a capitalist society is the jaded sense of what the modern definition of a “miracle” is.

Some of the most popular television shows of the past 5 years have revolved around miracles that are simply lump sums of money gifted to people in need, typically from a wealthy business or business person. “Undercover Boss” and “Extreme Home Makeover” are a few of the better-known examples of this. When my wife watches these shows, she wells up with tears when a check swoops in to wash away someone’s troubles. I respect the generosity of philanthropists, and I acknowledge that I have personally benefitted from such giving. I am not attacking the concept of philanthropy.

I fear that Americans watch these shows and think, “Someday, I hope to be wealthy enough to help someone with a big check.” The truth is that miracles can happen every day, without large checks. There are meaningful ways within the world of business, and within our personal lives to make a miracle happen. Don’t underestimate the small miracles that mean so much more to their potential recipients.

If you are reading this you are probably wealthy with thoughtfulness, courage, and talent! This means you are already capable of making a miracle happen. Are you an expert in an industry or a successful businessperson? You could mentor a young professional who lacks some of the gifts you possess. Have you heard a rumor about a co-worker and thought to treat it as fact? Ignore it, and give that person a chance to invalidate those stories. You never know what emotional or intellectual need you could appropriately and generously fulfill for someone unless you have your ears and eyes open, instead of your checkbook.

I challenge you to look for those “Free Miracles” that actually cost the most precious commodity we have: TIME. Take a little time to create a miracle for someone and YOU will feel wealthy beyond the shallowness of currency. I guarantee it!

Need to Enhance Team Communication? Visit an “Alarm Room!”

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No smartphones? Didn't matter. The team that used this room were elite communicators

No smartphones? Didn’t matter. The team that used this room were elite communicators.

If you manage a team or lead a department that is struggling with communication, it might be time to visit one of the most unique and inexpensive examples of functional communication. The Fire Museum of Maryland is tucked just north of downtown Towson, hidden behind a few ambiguous buildings on York Road. I visited the museum one random weekend to support a friend and while there I was given a tour of something I never knew existed. It’s called the “Alarm Room.”

The Alarm Room first strikes you as something from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” or “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, but it is the brain child of late-1800’s firefighters leveraging creative and limited communication technology. It is whimsical and humbling to see in action. Here is the process (knowledgeable historians, please forgive my casual descriptions):

  • A fire is spotted and someone pulls a fire-box alarm on the street. The box sends a signal through wires to the main firehouse dispatcher, communicating the threat of a fire.
  • A receiver within the dispatch center sounds a bell alarm, and ticker tape messages start to flow from a reel of tape connected to a hole punching morse code type device.
  • The ticker tape morse code device taps out a fortune cookie-wide stream of punched holes, and the dispatcher translates the location of the alarm box near the fire.
  • Dispatch then sounds the alarm from a church organ sized motherboard that looks like a wall of lights, knobs and levers. Signals are sent from the this board to the fire house nearest or most available to the fire.
  • The firefighting resources are dispatched, and when they get there they head to the box alarm and begin tapping out more morse code communication to the dispatch center to confirm their arrival and/or need for more resources.
  • The dispatch center measures who is where with a peg board method, as well as how long each resource is allocated. More ticker tape, buzzing bells, blinking lights, and we (anyone operating the Alarm Room) aren’t even at the scene of the fire! Once the fire is dealt with, the alarm box is turned off and the confirmation is sent.

The Alarm Room had everything but two coffee cans strung together, but it saved lives for decades! Seeing its primitive, clanking, and mechanized process gently unfold while chaos ensued at the scene of a fire distracted me from all of the limitations firefighters faced. The physical distance between a dispatcher and a firehouse could be significant, sometimes miles away with no other channel of communication. The time it took for each message to be tapped out, decoded, and then responded to could have taken minutes to develop. Resources were limited and needed to be managed. Compared to the way things work today, you can’t help but ask how this was so successful?

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This is about EFFORT. Teams and departments that struggle with communication might shift blame towards a variety of modern-day excuses. Not enough time available to communicate? You can’t get in front of someone because he/she is hard to track down? You claim that you don’t have enough resources or the right tools to communicate? Shame on you! Technology is the answer and most businesses have plenty of it. So what is the real reason?

How was the Alarm Room process consistently effective? Experiential learning delivers the concept dynamically. If you can visit the Alarm Room with your management peers and teammates, seeing it in action will convey what my blog cannot. No matter how restricted you and your team may be, if everyone sits down to build a thoughtful communications program collaboratively by combining creativity and the available tools, that process will be effective regardless of the presence of smartphones and cutting edge technology. I encourage you to visit the Fire Museum of Maryland to see it yourself. The experience of seeing it first hand is inspiring.