EMPOWERMENT

A story about Canada Post.

I have two parcels shipping from Vancouver to Toronto express – 2 day delivery. Unfortunately, the shipper accidentally sent one of the parcels via Canada Post and the other via UPS. The second I saw Canada Post I rang them and tried to stop them – but it was too late. Both had left the building.

In my mind, I just knew that the UPS parcel would get there just fine and the Canada Post “Express Post” parcel would have a problem. Sure enough, the UPS parcel was on time. 9AM at the doorstep. Where is the Canada Post parcel?

A quick check of the tracking website:

Canada Post

So I call. This is the condensed version of the conversation:

Me: “Why is my parcel at the post office, when I paid extra to have it delivered to my door?”

Her: “Because the shipper does not require a signature for delivery”

Me: “Pardon?”

Her: “Because the shipper did not click the box and require a signature for delivery, we do not deliver it to your door”

Me: “So, because they did not require a signature which means you can just drop it off because you do not have to make multiple trips to get that signature, you will not deliver it?”

Her: “Correct. Plus, it will not fit in your mailbox”  (It is a 13lbs package).

Me: “Ok, but there is someone there. Right now. All day. And you guaranteed delivery so please deliver it to my front door just like UPS and FedEx. That is why I paid extra.”

Her: “I can’t without my supervisors permission”

Me: “You can’t make that decision”

Her: “No”

I feel bad for Canada Post employees – that they are not trusted to make the right decisions, for the benefit of the customer, at that moment. Certainly not the Four Seasons model.

They wonder why they lost $193M last year? It is pretty obvious to me.

A VIEW ON JAPANESE BUSINESS CONSERVATISM

I was having lunch with a new acquaintance who has been in Japan for 4 years. We were comparing notes on what it is like to live in Japan and do business (It is his first international assignment).

When we discussed the future of the country and the significant challenges ahead (e.g. declining population, competitive threats, etc.) we came to the ultra-conservative, risk adverse culture. He shared his view on Japanese business conservatism (I paraphrase):

Japan is like the children of a rich, entrepreneurial father (Male terms are used as Japan has yet to have true feminist political or cultural progress). That father (post World War II Japan) had to pull himself out of the rubble, band together with other fathers and drive success despite significant challenges. That father had to work hard, innovate and drive out a significant competitive advantage against fierce global competition.

That father built an empire and got rich. Very rich. (Think of how afraid business was of Japan in the 80s).

And that father passed that wealth on to his children. They enjoyed a very nice lifestyle, good schools, travelled the world and came to enjoy the best of the best (Japanese are some of the world’s biggest luxury goods spenders)

Now the father has passed the torch and that 2nd generation has taken over the business. There are a few who make the business more successful, there are some who ruin it but the vast majority simply maintain it. They are so worried about losing what they have – the lifestyle they have become use to, the success that is their father’s history, the legacy of passing that wealthy and lifestyle down to their children – that they do not take risks, they do not innovate. They become the ultra-conservatives, maintaining the business out of fear of losing it all.

The problem is that around every corner is that first generation father who is starting with nothing. Who has the same drive as the post WWII Japanese father, is willing to take risks, innovate and build a competitive advantage. Fighting to build something for his family (China, Korea). The conservative 2nd generation views the competitor as uncouth and rough in their approach. They are well educated, the competitor is not. They have a position of financial strength, the competitor is building that. They are willing to work hard to continue their parent’s legacy of Japanese quality and engineering excellence, in many cases over engineering as they continue to improve on things that do not need to be improved. Their competitor is willing to sacrifice quality for volume (China) or has successfully figured out how to deliver quality at a good price (Korea).

They band with the other 2nd generation peers at the country club to discuss the up-and-comers. They discuss not wanting to compromise to compete (e.g. reduce engineer quality or service levels to be price competitive). That is the path of their fathers, the path they must follow, the honorable path. The safe path.

But that next generation is banging at the door of the country club. They want to introduce their children to that which they never had.

The banging on the country club door gets louder every day …

Sadly, his story reminded me of the day that I learned about the Horray Henry. The question is, will Japan’s business leaders realize the need for innovation, change and risk before it is too late?

A JAPANESE SENSE OF HONOUR

As I have mentioned before, the Japanese culture is one of poles – the very ahead and the very behind.

The sense of honour in Japan is one for the “very good” column and last week I gained some first hand insight. To understand the business culture of Japan you need to understand what happened after World War II, as the US and Japan partnered to rebuild the country, companies came together to rebuild in the form of Keiretsu’s. Via.

Keiretsu are groups of companies that work together, trying not to compete with one another and cooperating in order to make more money together. After many years of this sort of collaboration, Toyota has become the world’s number one automobile company. Toyota’s lead is so strong it made five times more money in 2006 than the sum of the profits made by its eight most direct competitors.

Over the six big keiretsu (each of them controlled by one important bank) is the MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry). The MITI is considered the ministry with greatest direct influence over the country’s economy, because it has the standing to give direct orders to certain keiretsu, asking them to double their production for the following months or to help this or that sector come out of a crisis.

In practice, the Japanese companies work together and often talk about the greater good. They will compete, but at their core they think about their country and the success of all.

To illustrate, I was speaking with an executive from a large Japanese manufacturer and I mentioned that I owned many of their products but had also bought an “add-on” from one of their competitors. His response was surprising. He thanked me for buying their products and encouraged me to buy his competitors products.

Why? Because that company had a factory in the earthquake stricken Japanese north and had decided to keep their factory open to support the people of the region. It was a very honourable thing to do, with a great leader who make great products. He was very happy that I had bought their products.

In that way, we can learn much from the Japanese. Their sense of the group over the individual is admirable.image

A YOUNG MAN IN A BEIJING ELEVATOR

I was in the elevator at the Westin in Beijing the other day and looked over to see this young man standing beside me.

It was clear he was right out of college (or a couple years out), Tumi bag in hand (Excellent choice, mine is 10 years old and still looks new despite 1M miles) and heading out for the day. I had to ask …

He was recruited by Boston Consulting out of University, lives in Shanghai and is working in China.

For the majority of people in this world they don’t achieve their full potential simply because they cannot see what is possible. I did not understand that fully until my mid-20s. The only guidance I was every given is “You must go to University”, nothing else.

So each time, the boundaries would be pushed and it was big, open territory. For many, it is like the elephant and the rope.

As a man was passing the elephants, he suddenly stopped, confused by the fact that these huge creatures were being held by only a small rope tied to their front leg. No chains, no cages. It was obvious that the elephants could, at anytime, break away from their bonds but for some reason, they did not.

He saw a trainer nearby and asked why these animals just stood there and made no attempt to get away. “Well,” trainer said, “when they are very young and much smaller we use the same size rope to tie them and, at that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free.”

Anything is possible. You just have to envision it, build a plan and execute. Failure along the way is inevitable. Nothing worthwhile is easy.

2013 03 25 Elephant safari   _-50

But anything is possible in this world. Our world is flat; video conferencing via Skype, cheap flights to anywhere, Google Translate ….. It gets easier to connect globally every day.

Something our children have learned first hand. It will be interesting to see what they choose to do with that. Hopefully it involves an elevator in China.

I would be interested to hear the stories of others ….

LOST IN TRANSLATION

 

I have heard this term used a lot recently. In the UK I often heard “separated by a common language”.

Recently the “lost in translation” point was used by one team trying to interpret the emails and Chatter posts of another team as they tried to work through an issue electronically – and unsuccessfully. A team member picked up the phone and even with a language barrier they found out that there was no issue – both teams were on the same page.

The phone and video conference. Magic old fashioned devices that solves so many problems so quickly …..

PERSUADE

 

From Wired – Persuade Someone:

There’s a science and an art to persuasion. Researchers at the U of Michigan analyzed the speech of 100 interviewers as they tried to persuade people to participate in a survey. Here’s what they learned.

TALK FAST:  Researchers found that optimal persuasive speed is a little faster than normal – about 3.5 words per second. Hyperspeed can sound shady, and slow-talkers come across as dull or didactic. (Note: Odd – Seems everyone coaches … slow down)

TAKE A BREATH: Interviewers who spoke perfectly were the least likely to hook a listener. It’s best to pause about every 20 seconds.

MIND YOUR PITCH: Get enthused but be wary of being too boisterous. Men who varied their pitch a lot were less persuasive that those who didn’t. But women who varied their pitch were more successful that those (women) who didn’t. As with men, a lower pitch also helped slightly, which was a surprise, because research has shown that higher female voices are viewed as more attractive.”

Interesting.

TRANSPARENCY IN HIRING

 

When you read about hiring in companies you often hear the old adage “Hire slow, fire fast” or “A hiring mistake costs you 18 months”. What I have never heard is how detrimental a non-standard, poorly thought out hiring practice can be on morale.

Case in point: I was speaking with a colleague the other day about an interview loop that he went through and how disappointed he was. He wasn’t disappointed by the outcome (not getting the role), he was disappointed with the process; specifically the 1/2 an interview that he was granted to compete for the role. He left that short interview feeling that the company did not take his candidacy seriously. The disappointment lead to resentment and eventually, his leaving the company.

Unfortunately, it is not the first time I have heard about this happening. In fact, I have heard about it happening an alarming number of times, for a range of reasons;

    • The hiring manager is predisposed to a candidate.
    • The hiring manager believes that they can select candidates with only one interview due to their superhuman ‘intuition’ (Never the case).
    • There is a belief that you must have an external candidate, for reasons such as industry knowledge.

In all cases, internal candidates are left wondering – why didn’t I get a shot at that job? If I am getting good reviews, why is this person better than me? And ultimately, they make it harder for the new hire as that person will face some form of resentment from the disillusioned.

Keeping this in mind, I try to adhere to this form of transparent hiring process to ensure equity and most importantly – a strong competition for the role so that the best candidate wins:

  • All roles are posted for a minimum of one week. Everyone sees what is going on.
  • All internal applicants must have approval from their current manager to apply for a job. This seems like common sense, but I am always surprised by how often this rule needs to be enforced – with candidate managers being surprised. I often find myself wondering about the quality of a manager who does not know that their employee is seeking an internal role elsewhere.
  • Every qualified candidate requires a minimum of 2 interviews to ensure that a single person’s opinion is not disqualifying a candidate.
  • Senior hiring cycles should go through multiple phases. The first 2 interviews to create a short list with a second stage of 3-5 additional interviews to complete selection. This accomplishes three things: It provides a wide range of input, builds support for the individual in the new role with key stakeholders and puts in place enough rigour to improve the odds of selecting the best candidate.
  • Internal candidates get special attention to their interview cycles to ensure equity with a few key guidelines:
    • If their manager supports their pursuing the role and their performance/ratings/ tenure support their pursuit of the role then they must get the 2 interview cycle.
    • Regardless of outcome, all internal candidates must get a debrief on why they did not get the role so that they can understand what has happened and be equipped with points that can contribute to their long term development.
    • If the candidate’s current manager knows that the individual is not ready for the role but sees benefit in putting the candidate through the cycle, then it should be completed. I have seen this done a number of times and it is an effective development opportunity. For example: A candidate may only be in current role for 1 year but anxious for the next role. By running through the interview process and getting feedback on what they need to work on, from someone other than their current manager, it can provide a level set and great insight into where they need to develop for the long term.
  • Where possible, interviewing managers should be provided with as much insight as possible prior to the interview: CV and other data points, such as the Predictive Index and in the case of internals; previous reviews.

The end result should be that those who are not selected get feedback that they can action and while they will probably be disappointed at not getting the role, they cannot question the process and the fact that they had a fair shot at winning.

Morale is protected and the best candidate wins.