SEX, ETHICS AND BOSSES

bad bossesAn AICPA Economic Outlook Survey, which polls chief executives, chief financial officers, controllers and certified public accountants with executive roles in U.S. companies, found that businesses expect an increase in recruitment, staff training and spending in the next 12 months as economic conditions improve. Most of the executives questioned (56 percent) say their companies have the right number of employees, but 15 percent said they planned to hire immediately, up from 13 percent last year. Meanwhile the portion of those surveyed who said their companies had too many employees shrank from 10 percent to 8 percent.

Part of the problem with C level executives when dealing with employees, is that the employees don’t share nor understand the Type A+ personality of their bosses and they judge them harshly for it during tough economic times. Some mentioned that executives were thought to be ‘job slashers’ and lacked concern for their employees. In fact, based on executives’ own survey responses, they agree that they are getting worse at basic human interaction as the economy improves.

What’s the Disconnect?

A survey conducted last year by Booz Allen (BAH) found that executives largely believed the job was out of their hands and that they couldn’t help their company achieve its’ goals. A full 64 percent said they had conflicting priorities, while 54 percent said they don’t believe employees and customers understand their strategy.

That’s bad news for companies where executives’ capabilities in no way support the strategy. In that scenario, only 14 percent of such firms report above-average growth. It’s particularly troubling when 64 percent of managers don’t feel their company’s strategy will lead to success.

Being Ethical

A study released last year by the Economist Intelligence Unit, titled “A Crisis of Culture: Valuing Ethics and Knowledge in Financial Services” found that executives in the financial services industry didn’t see much to gain by conducting their business ethically. Does anyone remember the economic downturn of 2007-2008 which had a direct correlation from the securitization and purchase of ‘subprime’ mortgage loans?

Although 91 percent of those surveyed placed equal importance on ethical behavior and financial success, more than half (53 percent) think advancing their career would be difficult without being “flexible” on ethical standards. Only 37 percent believe their firm’s performance would improve if employees acted in a more ethical manner.

While 97 percent of those same executives feel qualified to handle their job — and 67 percent have raised awareness of the importance of ethics at their firms — 62 percent of financial executives admit they care very little about what goes on in departments beyond their own. But many of those same execs think their own departments are an ethical breach waiting to happen.

Sexism

Harvard Business School professor Boris Groysberg and research associate Robin Abrahams reviewed interviews of nearly 4,000 C-suite executives conducted by the school’s students between 2008 and 2013. Of those executives, 44 percent were women.

What is interesting is that 88 percent of male execs were married, compared with 70 percent of women. A full 60 percent of male execs had spouses who don’t work full-time outside of the home, while only 10 percent of women did.

Most male executives saw work-life balance as women’s work. Each side found it inconceivable that a man could pick up the slack, address work-life conflicts and actually contribute something other than money to the household. Meanwhile, the amount of stay-at-home dads has doubled since 1994.

What this review found is that executive’s contracts are locked-in and 16 percent said their company didn’t have a succession plan in place and that it would take up to three years to find their replacement.

Conclusion

Executives have lost the trust and understanding from their employees, and therefore honest and open communication has ceased. To engage employees, it is imperative that all executives and employees fully understand and embrace the strategic plan for the business. It is no longer acceptable to point the finger and say it’s management, and visa-versa. The real disconnect is the lack of accountability, with shared core values and a common and shared goal.

THOUGHTS FOR DUMMIES

Mcgovern.2You likely never heard of Pat McGovern until this week, but the man behind the ‘For Dummies’ series of books and many other media brands left a lasting legacy.

The world lost a multibillionaire entrepreneur recently–a great leader whom most Americans have probably never heard of. Given that he was the person behind some very successful media brands, that says a lot.

Pat McGovern, 76, began his business career in the 1960s, as the founder and chairman of International Data Group. He was the man responsible for magazines such as Computerworld, Macworld, PC World, and many other brands in the U.S. and abroad, including the “For Dummies” series of instructional and self-help books.

Think Big / Be First

McGovern wrote an article for Inc. in 2007, in which he talked about the importance of expanding your horizons to be successful. He was one of the first American CEOs to establish a joint publishing venture in China, for example, and his company was a pioneer in venture capital in Vietnam and India. With the establishment of a website operating from Antarctica, IDG became the first company in the world to have a presence on all seven continents.

“When a company ventures abroad, its point person should be its CEO, traveling frequently and acting boldly and enthusiastically,” McGovern wrote. “IDG launches businesses in three to five new countries each year, and for virtually all of them I’m first on the ground, meeting with potential customers, government ministers, and management candidates.”

Step Aside and Trust

McGovern was thinking globally long before most of his peers. His companies launched titles in Japan and the Soviet Union in the 1970s, and he reportedly spent four months of the year traveling overseas to drum up new business. Yet he was a hands-off leader, allowing the people he put in charge of overseas divisions to make decisions.

“His primary control is financial,” Inc. reported in 1988. “His headquarters works as an investment bank, putting money into each unit’s worthwhile ventures, denying or withdrawing it from ones that are not worthwhile, while McGovern cruises from office to office like a cheery potentate on a magic carpet, bringing enthusiasm and bonuses wherever he goes.”

Get Out of Your Way

Inc.’s Leigh Buchanan started out at IDG as a copy editor in the late 1980s, and she described her surprise when McGovern stopped by her cubicle to hand her a year-end bonus check.

Pat thanked me for my contributions. He asked how things were going and looked vaguely disappointed when all I could muster was an unilluminating “Fine.” Then he complimented me on a column I had ghostwritten for some technology honcho. The column was my most substantive accomplishment to date and the thing I was proudest of. But my name didn’t appear on it anywhere, so how did he know? After three or four minutes, he handed me my bonus and proceeded to the next cubicle.

When she interviewed him years later, Buchanan said she learned that McGovern made one-on-one visits like that to every single one of the company’s 1,500 employees at the time, and that the process took almost four weeks.

Be a Personality, But Be Humble

McGovern was worth an estimated $5.1 billion, but he cultivated a modest image. He lived in a same house in Hollis, New Hampshire, which he bought in 1989. He flew coach and drove used cars, reported The Wall Street Journal. He would show up at employees’ 10th anniversaries to take them out for dinner.

“I don’t think he did these things because he was naturally outgoing,” wrote Harry McCracken, who covers technology at Time, but who spent 16 years working for McGovern at IDG. “If anything, he seemed to be on the reserved side–but…he believed that one of his responsibilities as IDG chairman was to make other staff members feel good about their work. Even when I was a low-level editor, I got occasional complimentary notes from him–always written on the same ultra-cheery letterhead, with GOOD NEWS! and a rainbow at the top. He must have bought it by the truckload.”

Earned a Lot and Give it Away

In 2000, McGovern and his wife founded an institute for the study of the brain at his alma mater, MIT, with a $350 million gift. It was one of the largest donations ever to a university in the U.S. To put it in context, the donation dwarfs the entire endowments of more than 640 American colleges.

BRAND YOUR PURPLE COW

Purple CowYou can have the greatest product in the world, the most superb service, but, if no one knows about it, you will have a warehouse full of excellent products, and you will be sitting around your office, waiting for the phone to ring.

Strategic Positioning

This is where companies make a big mistake with their marketing. It’s important to have great products and great services. But too many companies fool themselves by thinking, “If people knew how great our products or services are, they’d buy us every time.”

They try to market themselves by saying things like: “We’ve got the best quality, the best product, the best customer service, and the best people.” I’ve got three words for you: WASTE OF TIME. Yes, all those things are important, but they won’t help you be successful with your marketing.

It’s not about the product; it’s about the positioning. Strategic Positioning or Brand Positioning is a statement of who you are. It is what your target customers think about when they hear your brand name. Red Bull owns the words “Energy Drink.” 1-800-GOT JUNK? owns “junk removal.” What words do you want to own? What will make you stand out from the herd?

Seth Godin in his book The Purple Cow says that you should stand out from the herd of competitors the way a purple cow would stand out from a herd of cows. That’s not just a little different. We’re talking “dramatically different,” and that takes courage.

The old rule of marketing was playing it safe. So, you created a good product or service, and then you sold it with sales people and advertising. You took out ads, you spent money, and you tried to drive customers to your business that way. That used to work, but it doesn’t any more.

Today it is different, you need to create remarkable products or services that your target market customers will seek out and talk about. They will spread word‑of‑mouth about your brand.

It starts with being dramatically different. You’re either a Purple Cow of a product or service, or you’re a commodity (whereby you sell only on price). But that’s only part of the challenge. You must also be dramatically and meaningfully different to your ideal target market customer.

Just being good is not enough. Your competitors are good. Your customers won’t even start down the path to buy your product unless they think you’re remarkably, distinctively, and meaningfully different. You don’t win the marketing battle with the best product or service. You win the marketing battle with Strategic Positioning. So let’s think about how you can position your company.

There’s no one best way to position your company (or brand) so you appear uniquely different from your competition. You need to choose a position that sets you apart in a way that appeals to your ideal target market customer. There are six basic ways to achieve that:

1. Position your company based on price point.

Walmart, for example, offers “everyday low prices.” Price positioning can work the other way, too, when people use a high price as an indicator of high value. Consider this story told by Dr. Robert Cialdini, the author of Influence.

The owner of a jewelry store that specializes in Indian jewelry purchased some good quality turquoise pieces and priced them reasonably, based on her experience. But, even though the store was full of tourists, those pieces didn’t sell. That happens in retail.

The store owner did what store owners have probably done since the beginning of commerce. The night before she left on a buying trip, she wrote a note to her staff, directing them to display the turquoise pieces prominently and to cut the selling price in half. She imagined that customers would snap up the jewelry at the low price and she could move on to other things.

When she returned from her trip, she was pleased to note that, as she expected, the pieces had all been sold. Then she discovered that her staff had not done what she had asked. Her assistant misread the note, and, instead of cutting the prices by half, the assistant had doubled them. The jewelry sold better when the higher prices sent the message to customers that the pieces were of higher quality. There are many stories like this that marketers tell each other.

2. Position your company by creating a new category.

That’s what Red Bull did. Before them, there was no “energy drink” category.

3. Position your company as something different from the category leader.

In rental cars, the classic Avis advertising campaign, “We’re number two, so we try harder,” is a great example.

4. Position your company as a specialist.

1-800-GOT-JUNK? is the specialist in junk removal. There are coffee shops all over the country that sell coffee and a host of other things like hamburgers and breakfast, but Starbucks positioned itself as the coffee specialist, the brand you know offers premium coffee.

5. Position your company as the master of a distribution channel.

L’eggs was the first supermarket pantyhose brand and became the largest-selling pantyhose brand in the country. Paul Mitchell became a $600-million hair and skincare brand by focusing on the professional hair salon channel. Ping did the same in golf clubs by focusing on the pro-shop channel.

6. Position your company by being explicit about Who your target market customer is.

Curves is the gym solely for women. AXE (or Lynx, in some countries) cologne positions itself as the cologne that makes young men irresistible.

How to find your Strategic Position

Here are two questions that I recommend to help you identify your Strategic Position:

  1. In what area(s) could you be perceived as the leader of a category or niche in your industry?
  2. In what area(s) could you be perceived as being dramatically and meaningfully different from your competitors?