Thursday, May 30, 2013

Values must evolve

Success is built on certain values. For example, Southwest Airlines values being the low-cost provider. Zappos values exceptional customer service. Abercrombie & Fitch values exclusivity. As long as customers pay for those values, the three example companies can continue to be successful. But, customers can be fickle as their values change.

Abercrombie is feeling the heat of value migration this week. They are being raked over the coals in the media for selling only certain sizes and not selling other, larger, sizes. They didn’t care what larger teenage girls thought about them, as long as their skinny customers continued to shop at Abercrombie. They were sticking with their value of exclusivity. But, customers don’t like that value any more. Abercrombie’s skinny customers stopped shopping there and the company is reeling from poor financials. Now, smug statements of pride in their exclusivity have changed to be more inclusive of all teens. It appears the company is going to assess its values and try to repair the damage done by sticking with outdated values too long. (Abercrombie Apologizes: Retailer Meets with Teens to Address Controversy)

Another example of value migration happened to Rubbermaid, the maker of household and commercial storage products. Rubbermaid was known for innovation and quality. It was always near the top of America’s Most Admired Companies, and it enjoyed extreme brand loyalty from the time it launched in Ohio with the red rubber dustpan in the early 1930s until the mid-1990s.

In the mid-1990s, the cost of resin needed to make Rubbermaid’s products increased 80%, and Rubbermaid tried to pass the cost increase along to its largest customer: Walmart. The problem is that Walmart valued low prices over innovation and quality. Rubbermaid could not reduce its prices to meet Walmart’s needs, nor could they meet Walmart’s other demands. Walmart wanted a two-day delivery of orders, to dictate what products Rubbermaid should make, and to dictate how they make products (emphasizing cost over quality). Walmart’s price demands also affected Rubbermaid’s other customers, who wanted the same low prices.
When Rubbermaid could not accommodate Walmart, the retailer reduced Rubbermaid’s shelf space and gave more space to a lower-quality, lower-priced product line. Of course, Rubbermaid could not recoup its costs. Its earnings fell 30% in one year and four years later, Rubbermaid was bought by a lesser-known company.

Rubbermaid could value innovation and quality forever, but it was going out of business because those values were no longer feasible for its customer.

Many industries have seen customers’ values change in recent years. Customers who valued quality now value price. Others who valued speed of delivery now value innovation. Companies have two choices: change to value the same things as their customers or get customers who share their values. Both are reasonable options companies face all the time.
Individuals face the same dilemma, right? One of my friends worked in advertising in Chicago as the lead account person for the RJR account. After a family member suffered through lung cancer, she could not manage the cigarette account any longer. Her values changed, so her job had to change too.

Individuals and companies need to pay attention to their values. As life happens, or the marketplace changes, be aware of value migration and adjust accordingly.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Agility save lives

Portland police officer Mark James was in hot pursuit of a speeding car when he suddenly slammed on his breaks and abolished the chase. Watch what happens.

The chase began when a black car doing 52mph in a 35mph zone sped past Officer Mark James


Most people applauded the officer’s quick reaction and choice to save the goose family’s lives. But, others thought it would have been better to run over the ducks to get the speeding driver instead.

It‘s times like this—when life is happening quickly—that one’s gut takes over. During a hot pursuit of the speeder, the officer’s instincts were to save the geese. His quick decision-making, ability to respond with agility, and prioritization stem from who he is and what he is trained to do.

Today’s competitive marketplace requires companies to be the same way: make decisions, respond with agility, and stay focused on our priorities. The officer saved lives through his decision making, agility, and focus. What will your company do?


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Thank goodness for curmudgeons

I love the word “curmudgeon.” And, while I generally dislike their brashness, arrogance, and archaic views, there is something compelling about them.

Take Andy Rooney, for example. Did you rush to turn on the television at 6:50pm on Sundays to see him opine about some mundane thing we all deal with? His reminder to “slow down, don’t plan, and savor every moment” is one of my favorites because it is a surprise coming from Rooney.

Be honest, when watching Sesame Street with your kids or grands, does Oscar the Grouch often say aloud something you are thinking? Wasn’t there something great about Simon Cowell telling over-indulged singers without talent to get a new hobby? Hours of humiliation and disparagement are not my kind of entertainment; however, Cowell was not wrong about his assessment of some of those talentless wannabees. Right?

Curmudgeons get a bad rap for their antiquated perspective and poor communication style; however, they often serve an important purpose. Curmudgeons voice things others think but hesitate to say. Whether good or bad, at least issues get exposed and discussed when curmudgeons are involved.

Who are the curmudgeons at your office? Are you one? Consider five characteristics below to identify the curmudgeons around you.

You might be a curmudgeon if…
  1. Everything was better in the past, and I mean everything. “They don’t make things like they used to!” is exclaimed by curmudgeons at least monthly. During winter months, curmudgeons reminisce about their five-mile walk to school…in the snow…up the big hill…without gloves or boots.
  2. You are open to change as long as things stay the same. Curmudgeons remind everyone “that’s the way we’ve always done it here.” While knowing the past is useful, continuing to do things the way they have always been done prevents innovation, which could be a key competitive advantage right now.
  3. You refer to recent college graduates as “young whippersnappers,” you hate the goshdern music they listen to, and you can’t understand a word they say. You also may have forgotten that the old geezers spoke the same way about your generation a gazillion years ago. If you want to tell young people to “get off my lawn!” you might be a curmudgeon.
  4. You tell it like it is. Curmudgeons blurt out their every opinion without regard to how they will be perceived. They don’t care what others think about their communication skills because “if they don’t like it, they don’t have to listen to me.” Yes, they say things like that, but they really think people should listen to them. This mindset is why curmudgeons come across as arrogant. It is arrogant deliver every opinion without regard to others’ feelings. If you don’t care, you’re probably a curmudgeon.
  5. Finally, you might be a curmudgeon if people have jokingly called you a curmudgeon. Although you don’t care about feelings, your friends have been hinting because they don’t want to hurt yours. If the souvenir your kids gave you from their trip to Disney World has Grumpy on it, you might be a curmudgeon.
Being a curmudgeon is not an aspiration for most people. In fact, most of us get annoyed with curmudgeons and their harsh ways. Let’s not forget the positive side, though. Curmudgeons bring up topics that might stay hidden, and for that, we can be grateful.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The slippery slope from confidence to arrogance

There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. The topic has been on my mind, and I wasn’t sure where to draw the line, so I briefly researched and asked a dozen people for their perspectives.
According to dictionaries and different people, the difference between confidence and arrogance has to do with how one views others.

Confident people believe in themselves. They know they are competent, and their belief is not dependent on others. They may enjoy feedback and recognition, but they do not require it in order to feel good about themselves.

Arrogant people’s confidence depends on others’ weaknesses. They even point out others’ errors and faults to make themselves appear better. One colleague said, “Arrogant people only feel smart if someone else feels stupid.”

The tricky part about confidence and arrogance is that the line is so thin between them, it makes for a slippery slope. Confidence often turns in to arrogance after success.

Success requires confidence. Success requires the confidence to take risks regarding investments, innovations, and interactions. However, success can cause insecurity: when will the next risk pay off? What if the next one does not turn out well? What if that was a one-time success? The insecurity wears a mask called arrogance, hence, the slippery slope from confidence to arrogance.

Each article I read about arrogance described it as a cover for insecurity. Isn’t that interesting? The very thing arrogant people despise, weakness or insecurity, is what they are covering by putting others down to prop themselves up.

One of the most highly regarded experts on arrogance is University of Akron Dean Stanley Silverman who spent four years working with a research team to quantify arrogance.

"Here's what happens," Silverman said. "I'm worried that other people are going to realize that I'm not very competent at my job, so I'm going to put other people down, criticize others and belittle my employees because somehow I think I'm going to look better that way. If I put down everybody around me, it makes my candle shine a little brighter." (SOURCE:

The following eight behaviors are how arrogant people make their candle shine brighter:

1.     Drop names. 

2.     Look for criteria other than business performance to use when measuring success. Since business performance might not be so good, arrogant people focus on their degree, school, or job title.

3.     One-up others. Arrogant people have the best of the best and worst of the worst of whatever experience is being discussed. They have the best book published, the worst cold the doctor has ever seen, the best behaved child, the worst boss. They did the biggest project with the most difficult client for the most money ever. Confident people don’t need to brag. They let their work speak for itself.

4.     Have an answer for everything. Arrogant people will rarely say, “I don’t know but will find out.”

5.     Interrupt frequently because they are not really listening.

6.     Avoid eye contact because they don’t care about others unless they need something from the person.

7.     Arrive late to meetings because their time is more valuable than everyone else’s.

8.     Blame others for errors or low performance. It’s never their fault the team is struggling.
What other behaviors do you attribute to arrogance? The more we know, the better able we will be to ensure we are not sliding down that slope. 

1.     Recognizing our own arrogant behavior can help improve our relationships with our colleagues. The following eight suggestions also can help if you have to work with arrogant people:

2.     Point at them and declare, “I know why you’re so arrogant: because you are weak!” in your best eight-year-old nah-nah-nah voice. Just kidding—don’t confront them. They will see it as a compliment and it will just waste your time.

3.     Build your own confidence so you do not have time to give attention to negative people.

4.     Spend free time with positive people who do not diminish your accomplishments or try to impress you. Minimize the time you spend with the arrogant person.

5.     Admire and recognize the accomplishments of others. When the arrogant person sees you acknowledge someone else, he might alter his behavior in his quest for approval.

6.     Keep secrets to yourself. Anything you tell an arrogant person could end up as fodder for her own esteem-boosting if she resorts to putting you down to pull herself up.

7.     Do not badmouth the arrogant colleague. Some people actually believe any press is good press. Also, gossiping can lead to wasting too much time on a topic not worth it.

8.     Include others in your conversations with the arrogant person. “Russell, we have heard your view. Now it is time to hear from Sally.”

9.     Most importantly, realize their arrogance is not about you.

What else have you done to work successfully with arrogant people?

Since this topic has been on my mind, I asked a group of business professionals recently how many of them have ever worked with an arrogant colleague. Every hand raised high. When I asked if they were the arrogant person, all hands went down.

"If you're being arrogant, you're going to derail your own career," said Stanley Silverman, an organizational and industrial psychologist. "It's just a matter of when. Nobody is irreplaceable."  Even when an arrogant person is more skilled, the confident person will win out because they can work better with others internally and externally.

When it comes down to it, performance matters. No one will work their hardest for someone who puts them down or tries to make them feel inferior. The good news is that if you’ve begun the slippery slope from confidence to arrogance, you can get back on track and salvage your reputation.