Monthly Archives: September 2007

Focusing on Metrics

Many years ago, United Airlines told its reservations center (when human beings were still taking all reservations) that the primary strategic objective was superior customer service. Hence, agents were to carefully explain to all callers the options for fares, routing, use of frequent flyer miles, etc.

Sounds like a sane strategy being communicated to tactical levels, right? Wrong. United measured the effectiveness of the call center based on number of calls process per agent, per hour. See any cognitive dissonance there?

Police officers are often given quotas for tickets, especially in dry municipal revenue periods, which results in unfair and haphazard enforcement of everything from parking limits to speeding laws. No public school teacher I’ve ever encountered has been measured on the basis of student achievement, in the classroom or out of it. Usually, they are measured by how many days they live. Tenure is based on getting older, not getting better.

When you consult with organizations (large or small, complex or simple, for-profit or non-profit) there is a limited number of dynamics to examine in your analysis (this is heresy to those I call “convolutionists”). One of those is how people are measured.

I’ve consulted with consulting firms which evaluated themselves and their people by the number of proposals generated, NOT by the acceptance rate or business acquisiton. Consequently, they developed a huge “back room” of drone-like employees chugging out proposals the was a factory outside of Shanghai chugs out black smoke. Ironically, and laughably, the boiler room proposal people found themselves “more successful” than the sales force because they were exceeding the proposal goals although sales weren’t closing!

When you enter a consulting engagement, determine whether the organization is it failing to measure the important performance, and whether it is measuring unimportant performance. People respond to measures. Those police officers will find violations if they are behind quota. Those United Agents could have cared less about providing alternative routing data as they neared the two-minute standard to end the phone call.

Sometimes you can design a small change in the metrics of the organization which will startlingly and abruptly change the behavior you need changed. The “convolutionists” who want to launch their 14-step model and cite everyone from Likert to Lincoln won’t like this, but don’t worry about it.

Just call it “intelligent design.”

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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The Crisis of Self Esteem (Episode 1)

Click Here
for entire series table of contents

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An Award I Won’t Show Up For

The following is absolutely true.

On Monday I received a call from someone I’ll call “Howie” from the Institute of Management Consulting (IMC). His voice message told me that the organization wanted to give me an award, and was curious as to whether I’d be attending the convention next month in Reno to receive it.

I returned the call, but he wasn’t in. I found it odd that the IMC would be awarding me anything, especially since the convention was planned well in advance, and many of the long-time members think I’m “arrogant” (!!) because I dare argue with holy writ (and, perhaps, because they haven’t written 26 books). Why ask me less than a month prior to attend? (I wouldn’t go to Reno again for anything less than the Pulitzer Prize, but that’s another story.)

The next afternoon, still no return call, so I tried again. This time Howie was in, and told me he was “just about to call back,” a scant full day later.

“We want to give you an award as a former chapter president,” he told me. It turns out that Howie is a functionary in the management association which runs IMC’s administrative side.

“I was never a chapter president,” I pointed out.

“Maybe I have the wrong list,” he mused. “Oh, yes, here it is: We want to give you an award as an outgoing director of the board.”

“That was over three years ago,” I pointed out. “Why now?”

“Well, it seems we put in a plaque order with a company that delayed completing it, and ultimately went out of business. We finally got around to finding a new company, and we want to give the awards to all the former board directors.”

“Thanks, but I won’t be coming.”

Here are just a few of my problems with this:

1. The IMC has done poorly financially and in terms of membership growth over the years. I don’t think any board members, including me, deserve an award for serving.
2. Why provide an award for a post which people voluntarily seek? And does the mere act of sitting in the seat justify being recognized?
3. Given the IMC’s financial and membership problems, couldn’t the money be better spent on a scholarship to the convention for a new consultant, or as a contribution to a consultant who is having health problems?
4. The best that management consultants could do was wait three years to resolve the plaque situation?!

I could go on (and on). This is what’s wrong with our profession and with the plight of solo practitioners. We should be thinking bigger, acting better, and setting examples for our clients and prospects. Instead, we trip over our own shoelaces.

The National Speakers Association, The American Press Institute and a few other misguided organizations have awarded me their highest honors. The IMC has never done that, mainly because, instead of honoring the best, it’s been overly concerned with preventing anyone from being seen as “too good.”

I remain a member of IMC and believe you have to invest back in the profession. That connection also allows me to comment on nuttiness like this.

Next week I’m flying to Seattle to speak, pro bono, at the IMC chapter there, as I did in Portland a month ago, and will do at others in the months to come. That’s how the best of us can make a difference, through the sharing of our talent directly with our colleagues, not by accepting a plaque.

© 2007 Alan Weiss. All rights reserved.

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The Agony of Small Business Consulting

For those consulting to small businesses, and I mean primarily those that are owned and/or run by the founder or founder’s family, I want to extend my sincere admiration and also deepest sympathies.

This is one of the very toughest markets in the world, outside of the Russian mob.

The reasons:
1. The decisions are almost purely emotional, not rational.
2. Prior successes lead the owner to believe that he or she is brilliant in all things under the sun.
3. There are hidden buyers, usually a spouse, even more irrational than the purported buyer.
4. There are relatives on the payroll who are untouchable.
5. The decisions are often compared with personal needs such as a vacation home or cosmetic surgery.
6. There is deep suspicion of outsiders, and NIMBY and NIH abound.
7. Almost always, the customer comes last.
8. ROI is an esoteric concept; “Spend as little as possible” is the company fight song.
9. Personal and business finances are intertwined like a cat’s cradle of string.
10. Commitments will be forgotten, agreements abrogated, contracts violated. “So sue me!”
11. Bad advice abounds (from the consultants who do accept paltry fees or hourly pay).

I could go on. There are consultants making a good living in this market, but few and far between. If you have the choice, go upmarket. No one at Boeing or Hewlett-Packard is consulting their spouse or wondering if they should hire you or put more money in a college fund.

It’s tough to think big in small business.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Great Fiction List

Olivia Fox Cabane, a mentor member who calls me “the great god of consulting” and consequently receives priority treatment, asked me for a list of my favorite all-time fiction for her to work on. Off the top-of-my-head, here’s what I provided:

The Grapes of Wrath
The Great Gatsby
The Last Tycoon
Stranger in A Strange Land
A Prayer for Owen Meany
Rabbit Run
The Prince of Tides
Main Street
Madame Bovary
An American Tragedy
Jude the Obscure
A Tale of Two Cities
Atlas Shrugged
The Godfather
The entire Patrick O’Brian naval series

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Cape Cod Journal: September 25

Just twelve of us at the spectacular pool here, too windy for the beach, but high 70s in the air and low 80s in the pool. The pool has underwater speakers so you hear music whenever your ears are below the surface. At first, I thought I had some kind of narcosis. But it was only The Allman Brothers.

Well, I’m pretty impressed. The near-perfect conditions haven’t hurt, and Cape Cod without tourists is what one would think God intended. The Inn makes it on the fall conference business. Novartis is here now, filling the Inn and overflowing into adjacent meeting rooms like clay through clenched fingers. (I call them the invasion of the name tag people—they wear them everywhere.) But apparently they have no life of their own, so I just try my best not to hit any of them as I drive around the grounds and they march from meeting to meeting like so many Greek Hoplites.

If you are a refugee from large organizations, share with me, now, a brief moment of quiet thanksgiving……….

Okay, we’re back.

One of the people I mentor sent me an email which I uncharacteristically decided to answer on my IPhone while sitting at the pool and experimenting with the little miracle. He wrote back to tell me that he used Google Satellite to get a picture of the Chatham Bar Inn and could just make out a red Bentley parked on the grounds. Brave new world, call home.

28 Atlantic is one of the finest restaurants on Cape Cod and, for that matter, in Massachusetts. It’s located in the Wequassett Resort, meaning we launch the Bentley down a narrow road known grandly as Route 28 but actually a roller coaster of hills and Grand Prix of tight turns which the car’s four-wheel drive gobbles up as if it’s on rails. We never leave third gear.

Seated at the restaurant’s floor to ceiling windows, we hear a woman at the next table ask the manager to “guarantee a great sunset.” I point out that he had better have divine powers, since we are staring at the Atlantic, due east. But we do see a glorious full moon rise, turning the water into a mirror and the evening into a landscape painting.

Both managers stop to chat and try to convince us to stay at the resort next year and, after hearing of our present digs, offer up a full three-bedroom house smack on the beach. Dogs are welcome. We’re seriously considering it.

Dinner starts with a Chopin martini, huge scallops after an amuse bouche, and then a brown sugar and coffee flavored beef, accompanied by a wonderful cabernet. A peach dessert with espresso. Exquisite.

We glide back to the Inn under the beaming moon, life better than ever, looking forward to the next adventure. Home is under two hours away tomorrow, but home is also wherever Maria and I are together.

The fishing fleet at rest at Chatham Bar

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Cape Cod Journal: September 24

Cape Cod Redux

We began the season on the Cape and are ending it here again, in Chatham, but this time at the Chatham Bar Inn. We found things a tad frosty here when we stopped in for dinner in June, so we’re staying now for a few days to see if we’ll book it for next summer.

So far, so good. By the time I had turned into the circle and stopped the car, the doorman had determined where he would put the car in front of the hotel. I offered to pay extra to sample the very best room available (we’re here on an auction gift certificate from the Newport Film Festival) but I was told at the desk we had already been upgraded to an ocean-view cottage suite. We had lunch on the veranda overlooking the exquisite grounds and the water, and were informed our suite was ready as we paid the bill.

We have two fireplaces in a huge suite on top of a bungalow. There is a panoramic view of the inlet, the bar itself, and the ocean beyond, complete with lounging seals in the distance. Lobster boats are tied up below. The balcony spans the entire living room.

The Inn is totally booked, and it is 75 degrees on a prototypical Indian summer day. Tomorrow is expected to threaten records moving into the 80s. Yet you see few people and there is an almost exaggerated serenity. The boats gently sway, the gulls glide, sea meets sky, and you begin to sense that F. Scott Fitzgerald is writing the story of your life.

Dinner in the tavern, fish and chips. I’m just a simple guy.

The Chatham Bar Inn

Evolution or Intelligent Design? (2007 Bentley GTC, 1925 Ford Wagon)

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Guest Column: Notre Dame and Rutgers

(This is a guest column from Dan Coughlin, a member of my Mentor Hall of Fame. You can find the original on his blog. You can find the Hall of Fame here.)

September 23, 2007
Rutgers and Notre Dame: The Story of Two Teams

I have a good friend, Alan Weiss, who is a graduate of Rutgers University. I’m a grad of the University of Notre Dame. In 2002, ND played Rutgers and was a 40-point favorite. Alan was willing to bet me on the game as long as I gave him the point spread. I should have taken the bet. ND won 42-0. On August 18, 2006, ND was ranked #2 in the country, and Rutgers was not even in the Top 25. Today, 13 months later, ND ranks in the bottom ten teams in the country and Rutgers is in the Top 10. How is this possible, and what does it mean for your business? Here are a few themes that come to my mind:

Leadership & Stability

Greg Schiano, the head football coach at Rutgers, was hired on December 1, 2000. That means he has been there through the bad times and the good times. Here’s his record through the first six seasons:

2001 2-9

2002 1-11

2003 5-7

2004 4-7

2005 7-5

2006 11-2

2007 3-0

Is your organization willing to be patient when your senior manager is struggling through a 1-11 season and four losing seasons in a row? Are you as a manager willing to hang in there and keep believing in yourself?

Schiano did, and he never wavered in his goal to win a national championship. He influenced those people that he could at each stage in this seven-year journey. At this point, the story is unfolding for Charlie Weis at ND. Will the university stay patient as he works to build a long-term, successful organization? Will he maintain his patience and confidence in the face of relentless criticism?


When an organization begins to win, or lose, on a regular basis momentum is created. It’s far easier to sustain momentum than to create it or change it. That’s why every play counts. One win that could have been a loss, or one loss that could have been a win, can begin to shift the momentum.

In your business, what small detail or seemingly unimportant project can you propel to a higher level of performance that can generate the momentum you want?

Talent Management

I think the biggest story here is the story of talent management. Rutgers held onto a guy they believed in, and gave him the time he needed to build a successful organization. In those same seven years that Schiano has been at Rutgers, ND has been through three coaches, and a lot of people want Weis fired for losing six games in a row while giving up over 30 points in each game.

The first step in attracting, retaining, and developing talented employees is attracting, retaining, and developing a talented senior manager. Be patient.

The second lesson on talent management is that great players make great coaches, and great coaches make great players. In other words, Schiano became National Coach of the Year when he had the players necessary to win. I doubt he became that much better of a coach in the four years it took to go from 1-11 to 11-2, but I have a hunch his players got a whole lot better.

Always work to improve the quality of the performers in your organization if you want to improve the quality of your organization’s performance.

© Dan Coughlin 2007. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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The Movies: Dancing in the Bark

A real challenge to Koufax, The Wonder Dog.

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The Movies: Shopping in Providence, Rhode Island

Show us your hands, and please move away from the salad dressing.

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