Monday, April 21, 2008

Understanding the value of being open

We were at Tryon Palace this past weekend when I snapped this photo of a gate. It reminded me that gates were more than just decorative in the past. In colonial times, gates were a serious affair.

Actually with the resurgence of gated communities, I guess we can say that lots of folks believe that gates will protect them. There are some interesting philosophical points on open and closed gates.

While many people believe that closed software or perhaps more properly proprietary software is at less risk to being hacked, the evidence is exactly the opposite. A recent contest showed that Linux or "Open Source" software was most resistant to hacking.

So do closed gates make us safer? I seriously doubt it. I doubt that building walls or gates is a long term security solution. I actually believe that a close knit cooperative community is the best security that there is. Certainly we have evidence that it works in software. It just might work in human society also.

The gated theory can also be applied in management. There are managers who are afraid of their employees and keep their doors closed. Then there are managers who have a true open door policy where employees are always welcome. No only are they welcome but they are valued partners in whatever task that needs doing.

One man inside a walled palace is not nearly as safe as a man walking among many friends who will do whatever is necessary to help each other.

Sometimes it is better to open the gates and figure out how to work together for the common good than it is build a palace just for the pleasure of one man.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Positive thoughts can snowball

The other night I was walking into a grocery store, a young fellow asked me for directions to a local restaurant. I managed to come up with some intelligible ones for him.

He was really happy to get the info. It occurred to be that in this world of GPS, text messages, and omnipresent cellphones that asking someone for directions is a little unusual.

I found it nice to have human contact on a mission where I could easily have had little or no human interaction.

I was feeling good as I walked into the grocery store and someone commented on how nice it was to see a LL Bean sweat shirt as far south as Roanoke, Va. It was a young guy stocking the shelves. We had a little conversation over how much Freeport, Maine had changed since my first visit in 1967 when LL Beans still had a potbellied stove in the tiny store.

Once again, a conversation where I had not counted on one keep the good feelings going.

As I got up to the automated checkout, it occurred to me that I had forgotten my grocery identity card. I was going to skip the discount, but the young girl watching over the checkout managed to force feed my telephone number into the computers to save me the forty cents that I was due as a loyal Kroger shopper.

She could easily have been preoccupied with a cell phone call, but she took the time to do her job pleasantly which left me feeling really positive about what was a routine shopping trip.

I had actually ended up talking to three members of the millennium generation (or pretty close to it) without having any text messaging involved. No one had taken a cell phone video and posted it online. There had been no emails. We had talked.

I had ended up with a totally different perspective than I would have if each of the people had been on their cellphones, playing a game, or too busy listening to an iPod to make contact.

Isn't it amazing what human contact can do for us. It can snowball and renew our faith in the next generation.

When I saw this mornings' Dilbert cartoon, my experiences the night before made me smile. Just maybe this generation will turn out alright after all.

That experience was a great prelude to a nice trip from Virginia through North Carolina. Even better than the trip was finding tomato blooms when we got home. That might give me a shot at winning the great tomato race. I have to let those positive feelings roll.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Staying True to Yourself

Sometimes you do not want to cause any waves. Occasionally the situation demands that you have to jump out of the water.

By the time you get close to sixty years old, some pretty strong ideas have become your close companions. They turn out to be great friends especially in tough times.

In those few decades you have also likely decided which battles are worth fighting and which are better ignored.

In my business career of nearly forty years, I have not seen many meetings that mattered much in the long run. The organizations where I have seen real success really do not need meetings to get their job done. They sense what needs doing, and it gets handled.

In these cases, the leaders of the teams spend most of their time running interference so that the team members can focus on their important tasks.

However, meetings happen, and there is not much you can do about them since so many organizations believe that you measure progress by meetings or by Powerpoint presentations.

It was always my theory in my fortune 500 career that the longer you could go without a meeting, the more likely things were working well. On the flip side, when times get tough companies demand more meetings to figure out what is wrong. Most of the people at the customer level already know the problems, unfortunately they do not have the power to fix them.

Sometimes organizational structures do not even allow executives to see these real problems.

In spite of my distaste for meetings, trying to prevent them is not worth the fight. It is much easier to go to them, try to learn something, and hope they do not last very long.

While I might not ripple the water over a meeting, I will jump out of the water over being instructed how to handle my clients.

I have never cared what sales promotion is in place or what bonuses are being paid, I am going to do what is best for my client or customer. That is the way it is supposed to be. If I have to make some waves over treating my clients right, I will. That is a fight worth the effort.

This is not a new philosophy, it is just the way I operate.

One of my simple rules is to never ask anyone to do something that I will not attempt to do myself. If manure needs shoveling, hand me one of the shovels.

The second rule is to treat everyone like you would want to be treated.

My third rule is to respect the work of every individual no matter what they do.

The final rule is to ask more of myself than I ask of anyone else.

Of course in order for these things to be effective, you have to deliver on them.

It is important to say what you are going to do and then do exactly what you said.

That's how I stay true to myself.