Learning Clarity from a Chief—Spencer Johnson

As a newly minted manager at Sperry Corporation in 1982, I got clarity on what to do and how to do it from Spencer Johnson. To be accurate, I also got it from Spencer’s co-author Ken Blanchard in their best-selling book The One Minute Manager. In three simple steps the authors offer the key to success in what others describe as the most challenging job around.

The book was instrumental in helping teams of Chiefs (including me) drive sustainable growth in million and billion dollar organizations. I still keep a first edition copy of the book on my desk at all times. Fifteen million others have purchased the book. Earlier this year, Spencer and Ken partnered again to produce a completely updated book, The New One Minute Manager, a must-read for all managers.

Among other gifts, Spencer has an amazing ability to simplify the complex. Called “the king of parables” by USA Today, Dr. Johnson is often referred to as being the best there is at presenting complex subjects as simple solutions that work. His brief books contain valuable insights and practical tools that millions of people use to enjoy more happiness and success with less stress.

Facing one of the largest turnaround assignments of my career as President of AT&T Global Services at the end of 1998, I again got clarity from Spencer—this time on how to best handle change. Who Moved My Cheese? provides seven powerful principles that enable people to thrive amid rapidly accelerating change.

We utilized these principles to help drive record levels of employee and client loyalty while doubling our growth rate in a complex $12B business, despite major internal disruption and rapidly shifting market forces. Time magazine called the book “the best-selling business book of all time,” with 26 million copies sold. It remains a critical resource for leaders today, at work and at home.

Most recently, I’ve been working toward my own book. Having self-published two traditional books and an e-book, and contributed to yet another book with partners Jack Canfield, Deepak Chopra, and others, I didn’t consider myself a newly minted author. Already four years into the project, I thought I was close to the end of the process—until I sat down with Spencer and gained yet more clarity.

Spencer kindly spent time with me up at his New England home and asked me great questions. As a result, my book’s focus got a lot sharper. BEING CHIEF became BE CHIEF. Sections were cut, and whole new ideas have been generated. The book offers choices in five key areas and pragmatic tips to help anyone step up to the power of being a Chief.

I am currently following the checklist that Spencer has used to deliver thirteen New York Times best sellers and over 50 million book sold. Publish date for BE CHIEF is now 2016.

One book on management, one book on change, and one book on power—two by Spencer Johnson and one greatly influenced by him. Thank you Spencer. Clarity is a beautiful thing.

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An Employee-Employer Contract that Works

LinkedIn Chief Reid Hoffman is right when he says that employers and employees are not honest with each other. Specifically, Hoffman is referring to the misleading commitment between the two whereby employers offer continuing employment and build career paths for their “family” of employees and employees in return offer employer “loyalty.”

The truth is this contract hasn’t existed for years. The far majority of workers are “at will” employees that have no real job security. Similarly, an increasingly mobile workforce has learned that the best career move is to eventually find work elsewhere. Old style loyalty no longer exists. But the fact that many organizations continue the family-loyalty charade no doubt contributes to the low employee engagement scores that are estimated to cost U.S. businesses in excess of $370B each year.

What’s the answer?

In my experience with running organizations ranging from a startup to a multinational, rebuilding trust  starts by establishing a new contract between employees and employers. Here are some ideas on how to get started.

First, openly acknowledge the moose on the table and engage in frank conversations about the current state of affairs. For example, LinkedIn prospective employees are informed that the company plans to have a huge impact on their career; under this light, they are asked what job they want after LinkedIn.

Second, include a broad range of participants to build a new contract that reflects today’s reality. Set clear expectations in each of three areas:

  • Employees must commit to constant performance improvement, continuous learning, and to increasing their market value.
  • Employers must commit to employee retention programs, market-based pay, adequate skills training, and to increase the value of each employee.
  • Both must commit to the values of the organization, and to open and honest communication.

Third, each side needs to step up to new behavior to make it work. Employees must develop new self-advocacy skills as they think of themselves as market free agents. They need to be willing to build skills outside of work. And employers must do a better job listening to employee feedback, committing to more training, and beginning to manage human capital with the same rigor as they do financial capital.

Overall, the myth of life-long employment has been gone for years. It’s time we stepped up with integrity to an updated contract between employees and employers—an employee-employer contract that works.

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Real Chiefs

Conventional wisdom about Chiefs is all wrong. It says Chiefs are special. Chiefs are chosen. Chiefs have titles. And only those with the power and influence at the top can truly be Chief. Fresh out of business school, I aspired to be Chief. I worked hard to move up the ladder in the hope that I could eventually earn a job as a Chief Executive Officer.

For years, I trusted that wisdom. It guided me into and through bigger and bigger roles where I was responsible for generating results for companies in many difficult situations, developing plans for success that focused on a clear vision and a winning strategy to meet customer needs. Those plans often required raising capital, controlling costs, beating competition, and building positive community relationships in order to succeed.

But as I worked my way up through these assignments, and I had the privilege of working with many strong individuals at all levels who possessed a power and influence that had nothing to do with their title or position, my views shifted. I came to understand that real Chiefs are people who connect what they do to who they are. Their power and influence comes from inside and includes any number of attributes. Here is a starter set. What would you add?

Be alive
Be authentic
Be creative
Be all-in
Be a winner
Be your hardest critic
Be loving
Be peaceful
Be curious
Be thoughtful
Be deliberate
Be sincere
Be considerate
Be interested
Be resourceful
Be respectful
Be awake
Be smart
Be focused
Be mindful
Be honest
Be kind
Be generous
Be grateful
Be present
Be still
Be accepting
Be calm
Be loud
Be enthusiastic
Be courageous
Be diligent
Be yourself
Be strong
Be quiet
Be the fullest manifestation of who you are

Be Chief

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Business Lessons from Chief Educators

The media is full of stories about business Chiefs and the pressures they are under to perform. At every turn, Chiefs are faced with changing requirements, inadequate resources, technology shifts, limited time, high stakes, and even higher expectations. These challenges parallel those of a less touted yet equally important group: educators.

In my view, business Chiefs would do well to take a page out of the notebook of leading Chief educators. I have a specific group in mind: the educators supported by the Griffin Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) outside of Atlanta Georgia. Recently I had the privilege of offering a keynote at their 6th annual summer meeting of education leaders. The theme of this year’s conference was Improving Performance Through Effective Leadership.

The conference was conceived by Dr. Stephanie Gordy, Griffin RESA Executive Director, with the intention to share best practices among leaders in the agency’s targeted eight counties. Over 200 amazing teachers and administrators were in attendance, including many from the other 151 counties in Georgia as word has spread about the conference’s value.

The two-day conference provided a framework for success that would provide a positive impact for any company. In this case, the balanced focus was on teachers (think: employees) and students (think: customers). The similarities to business practices were apparent. Among the sessions offered were:

Engaging Your School Community to Improve Results
Leadership Doesn’t Always Come from the Front Office – Cultivating Your Teacher Leaders
Changing the Culture of How Children Learn
Strategies to Regain Teacher Time
Tech Tips for Timesavers
Strategies for Successful Mentoring
Improving Performance through Impactful Communication
Increasing Achievement via Support Systems

Many of these topics are aligned with my own views on what it means to be Chief. Spending time with these committed professionals was a reminder in servant leadership, discipline, teamwork, life-long learning, perseverance, walking the talk, values, and kindness. It was an honor to keynote their conference, and it reinforced my belief that we have much to learn from educators.

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A One Minute Solution to the Biggest Issue Facing Business Today?

What if you could solve the biggest issue facing your business in just one minute?

In my experience, the biggest issue facing business today has been highlighted by Gallup’s research, which indicates that only 13% of employees are giving 100% on the job. That’s a lot of unhappy people and lost profits.

But it doesn’t need to be that way.

In fact, Gallup just released its list of 40 Organizations That Lead the World in Employee Engagement. Collectively, on average these organizations earn the enthusiastic support of 64% of all employees. That’s almost five times more engagement than the average company.

The question is how do they do it?

Gallup’s research shows that 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units is related to management. Clearly, these 40 organizations have figured out how to hire and develop managers who can make that type of a difference.

But what do you do if you don’t work for one of the top 40?

My answer: read The New One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson.

This new book was just released and is based on the latest research in both medicine and behavioral science while offering an ease of readability that few books can match. It is a completely updated version of the all-time #1 bestseller on managing your work and life that has sold more than 13 million copies.

The book’s power is evident in its simplicity. The New Minute Manager offers 3 simple keys (goal setting, praise, and re-directs) to becoming a great manager. The book’s power is also found in its approach, offering an easy-to-read story to help everyone apply these important concepts. The authors do a fantastic job demonstrating how to have direct, open, and supportive conversations that deliver results.

What could happen if your company matched the top 40, where two-thirds of all employees give 100% each day? Imagine the possibilities.

The original One Minute Manager has been integral to my personal experience working with great teams that tripled the growth rates of million and billion dollar organizations. The New One Minute Manager will not only give you three powerful tools to help you succeed today but it will also help you apply these tools using stories that you will remember. It will be integral to your work, too.

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The ROI of Gender-Balanced Leadership

Many strong arguments have been made by authors Gerzema, Sandberg, Grant, Herman, and others for an increase in the number of women in business leadership roles, including at board, C-suite, and general management levels.

But here are the simple, research-based facts:

Leading global companies like Alibaba make gender-balanced leadership a top priority.

The clear bottom line is that an investment in gender-balanced leadership has a compelling ROI.

Learn more about gender-balanced leadership and do the smart (and right) thing for your business.

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Recruiting Wisdom

The last time the NASDAQ index hit 5,000 I was celebrating my one-month anniversary of leading operations at Opus 360, an internet startup with a compelling vision for the future, a great brand, and plans for an initial public offering (IPO) in the near future. Optimism was everywhere until the index began a slide that it would not fully recover from until earlier this month, one week shy of 15 years later.

There have been many articles written about the lessons learned when the bubble burst, but from my perspective—sitting in the middle of it—I can tell you the biggest lesson I learned was the critical role of employee support in a crisis and the value of recruiting wisdom. As a recent New York Times article points out, certain mental faculties increase with age. Tapping into this wisdom by recruiting experienced Chiefs can make all the difference when markets are under duress.


Ari Horowitz and Carlos Cashman founded Opus 360 to provide innovative workforce solutions. Both entrepreneurs were visionaries who agreed with a view offered in Daniel Pink’s book Free Agent Nation: full-time employment will decline rapidly as companies increase their temporary workforce. These project-based workers act as free agents, capable of filling the needs of an organization by arriving just in time to begin a project and leaving the company’s rolls when the project was completed. Opus 360 had registered the domain FreeAgent.com.

This new view of the world created several business opportunities. First, an exchange, or marketplace, needed to be created to bring together buyers with specific projects (companies) and individual sellers with specific skills (free agents). Opus had initiated a major software development effort with the assumption that descriptive skills standards could be established among many constituents.

Second, the opportunity was created to attract free agents and to market products and services directly to them, supporting their independent lifestyle. Opus had already begun an aggressive advertising campaign to publicize this opportunity to a dispersed, independent community across the country.

Third, increased reliance on traditional staffing companies and temporary agencies created an opportunity for automated solutions to handle the increased workload and improve the quality of the matches. This would require another major software development effort.

Supporting Chiefs

When I arrived at Opus in February, the startup company was severely stretched as it tried to address all three markets. To their credit, Ari and Carlos had attracted a very talented but inexperienced team of Chiefs who were committed to changing the way the world works but who were also lacking discipline and focus. While prioritizing projects was essential to gaining control of the situation, another important part of our strategy was a recruiting plan to bring in experienced Chiefs who could help our existing Chiefs grow. We were in need of some real wisdom.

When the bubble burst and the NASDAQ crash began in March, it was clear we needed to accelerate our plans to support our team.

The plan worked. We were successful in recruiting a number of amazing Chiefs including:

  • Mary Anne Walk from AT&T to support our Chiefs in Human Resources
  • Pete Schwartz from Computer Associates to support our Chiefs in Finance
  • Jeanne Murphy from Cendant to support our Chiefs in Law
  • Tom Plunkett from ADP to support our Chiefs in Information Technology
  • Ram Chillarege from IBM to support or Chiefs in Development

These experienced Chiefs each brought wisdom in addition to critical skills, including the ability to coach and the willingness to learn. Our reliance on a cascade of Chiefs at Opus enabled us to convince our board to go ahead with an initial public offering.

Importantly, the team at Opus achieved the quarterly revenue and cost projections that Ari and I made during our IPO roadshow for the first year in spite of an economic climate in which a majority of our competitors went out of business. We continued to develop products and attracted a merger with Artemis a year later.

The blend of wisdom from our recruited team along with the innovative energy that already existed in this burgeoning young company created a diversity that drove our resilience in a volatile market.

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Aetna’s Unconventional Chief is Setting the Pace

Mark Bertolini is in the process of transforming a once stodgy insurance company into one of the most progressive companies in America, according to a recent New York Times article. Aetna’s Chief is succeeding on all fronts with a foundational approach to implementing programs that offer an unconventional level of employee support.

Bertolini has offered all 50,000 Aetna employees free yoga and mindfulness courses as part of an effort to create a healthier company by creating healthier employees—13,000 have taken advantage of the offer so far. The newsworthy mindfulness program delivers on Aetna’s core mission of “building a healthier world” and demonstrates their values of integrity, excellence, caring, and inspiration.

But that’s just part of the story.

To me the bigger takeaway is the extension of Aetna’s mindful service orientation to all of its constituencies under Chief Bertolini. I share a number of examples here.

For employees Aetna has delivered:

  • Increased pay by 33% for the firms lowest paid employees
  • Reduced out-of-pocket health care expenses for all employees

For customers and partners Aetna has delivered:

  • Leading solutions for—and with—government, employers, providers and individual consumers

For shareowners Aetna has delivered:

  • Industry leading revenue growth (14% CAGR) and earnings per share growth (15% CAGR)
  • Better total shareowner returns than any competitor with a tripling of the stock price

For the greater communities in which they serve Aetna has delivered:

  • Consistent improvement against aggressive targets in areas of land usage, transportation, water efficiency, building efficiency, ozone protection, renewable energy, air quality, and waste management

In short, Aetna’s mindful approach to their employee base is consistent with their service-oriented approach to all involved groups. Chief Bertolini is an unconventional Chief setting the pace for others in his industry, and in many ways, for the many other companies searching for role models who mindfully deliver on their mission.

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HR Skills: Critical for Entry Level Managers to CEOs

There are many routes to the CEO suite, but human resource jobs are often discounted as “not the proper path.” Change may be coming though, and sooner than you think.

Did you see December’s Harvard Business Review article, titled “Why HR Chiefs Make Great CEOs—Really”? The piece focuses on research conducted by Ellie Filler and Dave Ulrich. They analyzed similarities between top performers with Chief titles. The bottom line? The best performing Chief Human Resource Officers displayed traits most similar to those of successful CEOs, more so than high performing CFOs, CMOs, or CIOs. In fact, only Chief Operating Officers, whose roles and responsibilities often overlap with CEOs, displayed higher similarities.

It’s important to recognize the critical skillsets that human resource jobs enable employees to develop: namely, managing human capital to strengthen a company. Leaders at all levels must make HR a primary focus if they want to build a team that can generate sustainable growth.

For any company to succeed, it is critical to attract and retain the right talent. Companies need to organize, compensate, and build a change-adaptive culture. While the CHRO leads these efforts for a company, these keys are the responsibility of Chiefs at all levels, independent of their job titles.

Premier organizations like The Conference Board regularly report on CEO views of top global business priorities. Their 2015 survey results are due in March, but most expect last year’s top five CEO concerns to stick:

  1. Human capital
  2. Customer relationships
  3. Innovation
  4. Operational excellence
  5. Corporate brand and reputation

With Gartner reporting that over 85% of the U.S. workforce is not fully engaged (at a cost of $370B annually), the top priorities for every manager needs to include a focus on human capital and employee engagement.

The Harvard Business Review indicates that companies will increasingly look to executives with HR experience as CEO candidates, following path finders like Mary Barra, the current CEO at General Motors. Hopefully that’s true. But even a powerful CEO can’t fix engagement issues by him or herself.

All companies need to emphasize the human capital element of every manager’s job to increase the success of the organization. Integrating HR assignments as part of the development plans for future leaders is part of the solution.

The bottom line: HR skills are critical at every level to the success of any company—really.

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