Business lessons from a CSO

Steve Howard is the Chief Sustainability Officer for IKEA. His 2013 TED talk is an outstanding message for all to hear and there are two interesting points. His considerations toward sustainability is incredibly valid and I have no doubt that he and IKEA will achieve their targets in the years to come. I think the two points below provide an interesting lesson for all lines of business not just sustainability.

“Achieving 100% is so much easier than a 90% goal.”

One might think that 90% is more attainable but the bottom line is when it comes to the difficult aspects of change, everyone will be fighting to be part of the 10% exclusion. If there is no exclusion then there is no fight, negotiation, or discussion – only compliance. Consider a project that you or your company are working on that is change related – what would it be like if all participants hit the goal and not just the average of the participants. What would sales numbers be like if every member of the team elevated their sales by 10% not the company average by 10%. How would the top performers feel about not always having to drag the dead weight along thanks to the painful rule of averages? What would it be like if the Public Service Commission (PSC) received 0.0 substantiated complaints each year instead of 0.05 because someone wasn’t able to address the needs of your customer. What would Net Promoter Scores (NPS) be like if the number of detractors fell to 0? This would allow an easy assessment of the lazy and non-compliant wouldn’t it?

“You can manage what you measure…well, you should measure what you care about. If you’re not measuring things, you don’t care and you don’t know.”

This seems like a clear statement of the obvious but countless leaders speak to the importance of elevating service, reducing cost, and improving sales performance and effectiveness yet don’t allow the sun to shine on some of the very things they publically state to be important. The reality is most executives reward themselves with a bonus while cutting health coverages for those most important to the business or use a private or corporate jet to transport their families for vacations but require those traveling and doing business for the company to be squeezed in an airline middle seat and pay out of their own pockets for a checked bag because it’s ‘not permitted in the corporate travel policy.’ If the customer experience is so important, why do the companies that hold this value so high don’t support employees with the appropriate tools to communicate well with their customers and have no measures in place for validating the personal side of a transaction. These changes are difficult to make but so important for the companies that Jim Collins calls Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies and must begin at the top. The organization’s board of directors is where this must begin. Boards must be more than rubber stamps for the CEOs agenda. A board exists to set strategy, challenge the executives to think outside the box and lead their industry in the difficult things. You will only get what you inspect, not what you expect.

Howard concludes with the reinforcing note “Measure what you care about and lead the change.” I couldn’t agree more perhaps Ghandi said it best, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”


Want People to return your Emails? Avoid These Words…

Today Amy Gallo, a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review, released a blog post about managing email. There is some good solid advice here and thought I would share it, you can read her post here.

I’d like to take this one step farther than just managing your inbox. What about when you are sending an email and want someone to actually read, better yet reply, to it?

Next time you write an email subject line, think twice about the words you’re using.

Loading your message with words such as confirm, join, press, or invite is not a good idea of you want a response, says data gathered from Baydin, the maker of the email scheduler Boomerang.

Baydin recently extracted data from five million emails its users handled – either using the company’s “email game” or scheduled for later delivery via Boomerang. It found that some subject-line words, such as “apply” and “opportunity,” got more responses than words from the aforementioned list.

Its data also suggests the best time to send email is before work. Users who scheduled messages to read later, using Boomerang, most often wanted to deal with them around 6am.

Already sending emails packed with “opportunity” at 6am and not getting a response? You’re in good company.

Baydin’s average email game player deleted about half of the 147 messages he or she received each day. Ninety minutes of the two hours he or she spent on email each day went to just 12 messages. Be one of those 12!

Some of the data from the Baydin research is attached.  Email research data

What we can learn from the church example

The other day I listened to an audio version of Alain de Botton’s TED talk from 2011 called Atheism 2.0. This post is not about religion or the antithesis of it – neither was Alain’s talk.

However, what it is about is the example it tends to set about ways to create, manage, and grow effectively and efficiently within an organization. Alain himself said it best with his closing line:

“You may not agree with religion, but at the end of the day religions are so subtle, so complicated, so intelligent in many ways that they are not fit to be abandoned to the religious alone – they are for all of us.”

Consider the effectiveness that religions have when spreading messages. They tend to break down the generational divides; they are geographicaly agnostic; with a few exceptions there are no gender biases; and in most settings there are not racial or sexual preference issues.

Consider the franchise element and how they manage brand quality.

What about the commitment level of its employees?

What about the loyalty of its customers?

So the question for us to consider is how can we learn from “the church” as an example of an organization with superb communication and support mechanisms.

What if businesses operated a little more like churches?

What can other non-profits learn from “the church?”

What about the moral elements of “the church?” How would it change the aspects of business if they were embraced in a similar way?

I conclude with questions…more questions than answers perhaps. However, isn’t that what TED talks are all about?

Resolutions are nice but it is RESOLVE that really matters.

As the New Year begins, we are so drawn to the concept of the clean slate and the ability to “commit” to things that we want to do. Just how long is it before we disappoint ourselves? Is it the 3rd week of January? The 3rd month of the year? Can you sustain your lofty expectations of yourself for the long haul?
Take the ever popular “new year diet.” Those that are truly successful in any weight modification strategy focus on a “lifestyle change” instead of a diet. Why is this? It seems to me that it’s because we are human and we fail. However if you change your lifestyle, you change your behavior which allows for flexibility versus the rigidity of a diet. It is just too easy to deviate from a diet which then leads to a depressing feeling of failure at each deviation.
This year, I have no resolutions. I am resolving to change some of my behavior(s). Some changes may be substantial but most will be slight tweaks that I predict will generate big rewards.
It would seem that in every part of my life and just about everyone that I work with, the focus is about behavior change. Being in the business of Training and Consulting, we work to improve the performance of employees and teams at every turn. This doesn’t mean that an employee will be flogged with each failure of demonstrated perfection. On the contrary, we celebrate the positive indications at every turn – this is called coaching!
I also spend a significant amount of my time working with college men across North America. One of the great things about working with these young men is to see just how much they embrace a principled approach to life. This approach is not a prescription for how to live out each moment; moreover it’s a guidepost for: how to maintain a character of trust and integrity, the societal engagement with humans of both genders, and the cultivation of intellect.
I enjoy what I do, I love what each day brings, and can’t wait to see what resolve 2012 brings to us all.

On a side note, I don’t try to change the behavior of my spouse – I embrace it. Trust me, it’s the right approach.

Primacy and Recency Effect

There is a bit more to this effect that is important in certain settings and applications. Frequency. Wikipedia does a good job of describing this in the article “The Serial Position Effect” which essentially details the specifics and I won’t bore you with them here.

When we consider things like social media, sales, business growth, relationships, etc. there is also another factor that is really important. This factor is the Effective Frequency which is an advertising term but its a human element none-the-less. Take a look at what Thomas Smith writes in his guide Successful Advertising about the human perception of advertising

The first time people look at any given ad, they don’t even see it.
The second time, they don’t notice it.
The third time, they are aware that it is there.
The fourth time, they have a fleeting sense that they’ve seen it somewhere before.
The fifth time, they actually read the ad.
The sixth time they thumb their nose at it.
The seventh time, they start to get a little irritated with it.
The eighth time, they start to think, “Here’s that confounded ad again.”
The ninth time, they start to wonder if they’re missing out on something.
The tenth time, they ask their friends and neighbors if they’ve tried it.
The eleventh time, they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads.
The twelfth time, they start to think that it must be a good product.
The thirteenth time, they start to feel the product has value.
The fourteenth time, they start to remember wanting a product exactly like this for a long time.
The fifteenth time, they start to yearn for it because they can’t afford to buy it.
The sixteenth time, they accept the fact that they will buy it sometime in the future.
The seventeenth time, they make a note to buy the product.
The eighteenth time, they curse their poverty for not allowing them to buy this terrific product.
The nineteenth time, they count their money very carefully.
The twentieth time prospects see the ad, they buy what is offering.

This consideration is the predominant reason why we need to over communicate about us, our product or service – likely far more than we are typically comfortable with. (I bet you can make a similar and probably entertaining list for spousal communication as well as delivering a message to a teenager from a parent.) Note that this was written in 1885 when society was a small fraction as noisy as it is today.

Decide what you’re not going to do

There are way too many inputs and items on the to-do list. Doing all of them poorly is what the likely outcome of that situtation is and this is just not acceptable. There are also many tasks/projects/relationships that you can’t just drop altogether. The answer is decide to not do it…for now. Find a way to keep it on the list purposely but in some time window in the future. This will allow the task/project/relationship to be in your awareness but not in the way.  All the time management gurus have some form of managing priorities but when you make sense of what you will NOT do, your mind becomes free to focus on the most important things. It is this freedom that will allow you to do your very best work.

What can you NOT do today? this week? this month? this quarter? Be okay with the delay of anything, just make the decision purposely.

So I drafted this blog post but didn’t actually post it and the very next day I see this article – it would seem that I am on to something. My take on this idea is that you may not want to just say no forever – just forever, forever, for now. There are plenty of things that you can and should flat out decline (respectfully of course), but you should reserve the right to revisit and adjust your approach based on the current best available information.


There are times when we are just “hung up” on something, perhaps everything. Branding can be like that, specifically building a brand. Building a personal brand can be tough and this one has been just brutal for me.

What do I want to portray?
What’s my message?
What’s my theme?
How can I narrow my focus?

All these questions and I may as well be just asking myself, ‘What font should I use?” The bottom line that some of us need to learn is Just START. I say that some of us need that because there are a number of people who just start and they do a great job. There are also a few that just start and do a poor job but if I just START and do a mediocre job, I can always get better. I just need to allow myself the opportunity.

So here it is, my START. No theme, no prepared conceptions, just a start.