Business Leaders in Glorious Transition

The entire world is in transition: Business must transition, too.

Here, you'll read contributions of my friends, other business professionals who are working to turn from their Mechanical Business Models to ever more profitable Organic Business Models.

You'll read their successes as well as their difficulties in making the transition from the hierarchical, control based practices characteristic of most of our years in business. You'll see how wonderfully profitable companies can be when they learn to tap the powerful creative energy of employees.

CJ Coolidge & Richard Squaredime - 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

Models in Transition: Pressure to Mechanize the Organic

One of the biggest hindrances in changing a business from mechanical to organic comes from the predominance of mechanical thinking we do. Even the best move toward organic thought tends to be forced into a mechanical box, reducing its effectiveness.

It's easy to see.

Mechanical vs. Organic: Differentiated by Adaptability or Lack Thereof.

Mechanical processes tend to be highly structured, and managed, so that, when they work, they stay as they are. Mechanical thinking endeavors to goes to preserve the structure.

Organic things may also be highly structured, and well managed, but they must not be managed to stay as they are. In fact, the limited management required is management focused on maintaining outcomes, or visions, not methodologies. Adaptation and change is an ongoing and essential aspect of an organic model.

Last week, I spoke at Houston Engineering and Scientific Society (HESS), to a group of Houston's business elite, the Silver Fox Advisors. I addressed them about a topic near and dear to my heart, the notion that, no matter what business leaders say, they cannot support their assertion that "Employees are the company's most important assets."

In my talk, I show how, by definition, whatever is said, businesses treat employees as liabilities, and account for them as expenses. The mechanical structure demands it. The Silver Foxes understood that message.

Employees as Assets - Essential for Gen-X and Gen-Y Employees

A key element to view an employee as an asset involves the ability for management and employee alike to realize the unique capacity of any individual to deliver leveragable value to the organization. This is a challenge to many mechanical thinkers, because we are used to seeing employees as tools, interchangeable and quite replaceable.

Such a condition is not as acceptable to Gen-X or Gen-Y employees as it was to Boomers or Traditionalists. For this reason, both the Traditionalists and the Boomers have a hard time interpreting the behaviors of the other groups, thinking them to be lazy, or disloyal, or selfish, simply because they don't desire the same things desired by, and offered by the older, more mechanical managers.

In closing, I told the old story of the man who bought the talking parakeet, only to discover that he had killed it by providing a ladder, a mirror, a bell, and a swing, hoping that these items would make the bird comfortable enough to talk. The punch line and the moral of the story is that, just before he died, the bird finally uttered these words to his attentive owner. "Didn't they sell you any seed?" In other words, "You got me everything except what I really needed."

Gen-X and Gen-Y want Different things than Boomers and Traditionalists

I applied this to today's Gen-X and Gen-Y employees. I simply said that offering them the same things that the two previous generations wanted out of their employment would lead to more of the same behavioral misinterpreted results. You see, it doesn't matter what we might think these new worker want, it matters what they really do want, and need.

I could explain the details of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, or the unique motivations of a generation that watched as Dad gave his life to his company only to be laid off in a downsize move. Suffice it to say that they are different. What's more, they are different in kind for each.

We are Quick to Box Everything Up: We try to Make it Mechanical

Here's where you can observe the transition problem at work. One of the advisors sincerely wanted to discover a fix for the problem. He had faced it in several of his clients. He asked this question: Could you give me a list of the top things that these Gen-X and Gen-Y employees want?

I mentioned freedom, value, participation, the opportunity to do something bigger than themselves. I talked about Self Actualization.

This answer didn't satisfy. It couldn't satisfy the mechanical mind looking for an answer. It was too organic. My friend wanted, even needed, a mechanical answer. He needed to put a manageable, maintainable, institutional answer in a tool box. He was looking for things like better benefits, higher pay, more vacation time. He wanted a mechanical formula, not a unique to every participant perspective.

There is nothing wrong with your set: This is just a habit that needs to change.

There is nothing wrong with my friend. He has been successful in the age of Mechanical Models. He expects them to continue. But the age of Mechanical Models is coming to a close.

I don't fault him. I do it all the time. Show me what works so I can generalize it, institutionalize it, and replicate it over and over again.

In fact, my own greatest weakness is failing to realize when my own thinking jumps back into mechanical process.

I expect that, in making the change in yourself, you may see that you suffer from the same tendency. Just don't give up.

CJ Coolidge is President of C4 Dynamics, LLC, managing director for The Institute for Inangibles-Driven Enterprise, and a consultant with Administaff, Inc. He also writes for No More Androids: People-Profits X Factor on Blogger.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Mechanical Marketing Wheel

It turns and turns. It's the center of the mechanical business model and the force that makes the business move. Most businesses subscribe to the philosophy that without sales and marketing you have no clients to service, no operations to manage, and no need for processes to follow. Why then, would you allow the most critical piece of your business model to be sabotaged by "blast marketing" campaigns? I call them marketing assaults, targeted at the very client you wish to reach. Have you lost your sense of reason? Do you really believe that human behavior will be influenced by the lack of personal emotion created by a mass marketing campaign that's packaged and sold by the companies that host our websites? The virtual marketing guns are being loaded every day by companies like Go Daddy, who serve it up like a side dish at an arsenal picnic.

I ask this question because I just received an email addressed to Sarah, from a company not even based in the United States. A company who baits it's prey with the alluring misuse of the familiar KBG acronym. Those of you who know me personally, or have had an opportunity to research me, know that my name is not Sarah. Nor has it ever been Sarah! "Mr. Jones" (we will call him), has my company name correct and it has clearly missed the junk mail box, so I continue to read. "Jones" proceeds to explain all of the benefits of a business appraisal. Luring me in with the sexy appeal of selling my business to one of the "many large M&A" companies that are lusting after it. I begin to daydream about fabulous vacations to lavish places; I can almost taste the ocean when all of the sudden...I wake up and smell my Starbucks! I own a consulting company. The only thing of value is me, and I already know my worth. "Jones" hasn't researched me at all and I am a victim.

Marketing is easy. Selling is tough! If you make marketing personal, selling will be easy. You see, it's not likely that I would have engaged in business with "Mr. Jones"; however, as a business consultant, it's my job to make recommendations to hundreds of companies. It's VERY likely that, had "Jones" picked up the phone or met me in person to establish a relationship, he would have had an opportunity to work with one of my clients instead of being the bad example on my blog. "People do business with People" my boss told me (when I was a mere guppy in a pond of alligators) and he was right! 'Jones', if you're out there this is for you! I hope you'll read my letter and feel my passion.

Dear "Mr. Jones",

Live by these basic rules of selling and you too can be a success.

1) If the best sales pitch you have ever made landed you this job then you aren't cut out to sell.

2) Relationships sell.the best lead is a warm lead, a referral; if you deliver you will receive.

3) Don't wait for others to come to you. GET UP AND DO SOMETHING (blast faxing doesn't count)!!

4) Fear doesn't get you paid so let it go. The worst thing they will say is no.

5) Read! You don't know what you have not learned. Try a book called Permission Marketing, by Seth Godin or subscribe to the Harvard Business Review, where they publish actual and factual data on marketing campaigns.

Last, if you're going to be one of those "network" sales people; reciprocate (tune in, this might be my next topic).


Michelle (not Sarah)

Michelle Petersen is the President of Strategic Learning Solutions, an international company focused on the development of human capital.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Impressive Leader--Do as I Do

At a recent weekend leadership training camp for High School Sophomores conducted by the Hugh O'Brien Youth organization, I was quizzed on my professional experience. One of the queries really cut to the heart of anyone in a managerial position, or anyone who must deal with subordinates.

The student asked, "what is your work philosophy?"

A simple enough question on the surface, but as I pondered an answer I hoped would resonate with an auditorium full of 15-year olds, I was struck with two fundamental truths:
These were the leaders of tomorrow. (With my luck, a possible, future employer of mine was in that very room!)
And, this was an opportunity to prove a maxim I have always believed and followed: Actions speak louder than words.

I've worked for plenty of managers that operated on the "do as I say, not as I do" plane of existance. No matter how effective they may have been as managers in all other areas of performance, they eroded their ability to truly lead by displaying such behavior.

I find such operatives somewhat hypocritical, and feel a bit distrustful of them on all other levels as a result. That's not the way I roll, as the kiddo's say.

So I answered the question from the gut: Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn't do yourself. Now, there's a fine nuance between that position, and the philosophy of finding talented people to do that which you cannot or should not. But when you're leading people--orchestrating personalities and blending talents into a team of professionals--you lead best by example.

I once oversaw a Sales Manager who could have sold ice to an Eskimo. In January. But this guy thought himself to be above the menial task of filling in order forms to get his work processed. He'd close great deals, but leave it up to others to decipher his hastily scribbled notes and input the work order. Of course the other AE's he "managed" were expected to do their own paperwork, but he, (sniff) was above all that.

Guess what happened?
Rarely were his customers 100% happy because rarely did the orders go through accurately.
Consequently his production suffered...and his effectiveness as a manager of other account executives was diminished. Eventually, he was demoted from sales manager, and dispatched to work in an offsite "gulag" location because of his crummy people skills and crummier work habits. He could still sell, but he had no credibility with the rest of the staff.

Regardless of your company structure, when you're asking people to follow your lead, make sure the pattern you're laying down is one that anyone can follow to success.

Brent Clanton is a Broadcast Media professional, Radio talk show host, prolific blogger and creative mentor.
He's also managed a few folks himself over the years.
You can find out more about Brent here.

The Informal Leader - A Silent Force

After reflecting on the positive impact Anne Mulcahy had on Xerox, I continued to explore new trends in succession planning. I found that most major corporations do a decent job preparing a formal plan. It's a warm and fuzzy contingency plan that satisfies the appetites of board members, investors, regulators, and key clients. It serves its purpose and typically delivers in a time of need. Corporations and small businesses alike, continue to formally develop key Executives, grooming and shaping them for their role of legitimate and coercive power.

Every organization needs leaders. What about those leaders who have referent power and just enough data to be dangerous; The "mid-level" manager who answers the difficult questions for you in a time of crisis, the virtual deflector of executive decision-making? This silent force has spent a prolific amount time developing personal trust with their subordinates. They have the power to infectiously spread their adaptation of company decisions based on their knowledge and attitude. You have empowered them, but do they have the acumen, network and alignment of culture? What have you done to proactivly arm this force?

Michelle Petersen is the President of Strategic Learning Solutions, a National Company dedicated to the development of human capital.

Friday, June 13, 2008

You Want Recognition? Stop Doing Non-Core Activities

In the business world, it's almost impossible for good in-house Human Resource Professionals to get any respect.

It isn't surprising, though. The "respect-givers" (The Business Groups) have a lot to learn about the "people" side of business.

But, in defense of The Business Group, the "respect-needers" (The HR Group) have a lot to learn about how their work actually impacts the business.

Watch this gem. Each of these "starry- eyed," HR wanna-bes tells exactly what you HR professionals know to be the case in your company.

This is very funny, and most telling.


The things these kids say are exactly the reason that professional HR careers will be best built through the outsourcing model. As we tend to think today, the only way a vital HR professional will ever experience the appreciation and promotion they deserve will be working with an outsourcing HR company. Only these companies with HR as a core business will ever really value and promote people with these specialties.

It's like somebody really noticed.
CJ Coolidge is managing director for The Institute for Inangibles-Driven Enterprise, and a consultant with Administaff, Inc. He writes for No More Androids: People-Profits X Factor on Blogger.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Culture Shock--The Power of Leaders

Today I sipped my skinny latte and opened up my highly circulated copy of, what I call an aspiring CEO magazine, which was honoring its handpicked list of “TOP CEO’s”. I expected to find the usual list of prospects and was pleasantly surprised to see that the CEO of the year was awarded to Anne Mulcahy, of Xerox.

This is a step in the right direction for all businesses large and small. Not just because she paves the way for other women, who according Fortune magazine in 2006, lead only 4% of fortune 500 companies; But that she values company culture and credits it in part for the successful turnaround of Xerox. With many opposed, during a firestorm of troubles, Mulcahy took a risk and continued to invest in research and development, which was consistent with the company mission and culture.

You see, Mulcahy gets it! With what the magazine calls “no formal” executive coaching or grooming for her role as CEO, I likely credit it to her eight years of serving as the head of Human Resources. An area often considered having no ROI. I’m certainly not suggesting that we all invest millions of dollars in R&D. What I am saying is that now is time to evaluate the culture we have created, or possibly haven’t created, and use it to our advantage. Give your HR folks a chance. You might find out that their ideas can enhance your business offering.

You can find thousands of books and courses on developing leaders and there’s merit to doing so if you have established a foundation to walk on. At the end of the day, regardless of the size of your company, you build the culture. It bleeds from the top and the trickle is felt each day by your end user. Isn’t it time to evaluate your culture?

Michelle Petersen is the President of Strategic Learning Solutions, a national company dedicated to the development of human capital.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Politicians are Just Bad for Business - They Only Think Mechanically

Rigidity has never produced a structure capable of good function in an environment of changing conditions.

Skyscrapers are designed with the ability to "sway" in the wind, or to "flex" in case of an earthquake. The wings of the great airliners are designed to "give and take" in the face of changing air density and current so that the body of the plane can maintain maximum stability in turbulence. Bridges, towers, roads, ships are strengthened with flexibility. Attempting to eliminate this "flux" with rigidity would result in disaster.

Why, then, do politicians continue to press as though greater centralized control and rigidity offers anything of a benefit to America's economic strength in the face of ever changing conditions? Why do so many otherwise intelligent Americans fall for the same tripe? Simple. They all must be ignorant of the way things really work.

As I will continue to suggest, whatever economic conditions may seem to create problems for our society, each is solved when individual participants learn to contribute in a value producing and meaningful way.

It's the way of the organic business model.

  • Every participant can then know what he/she does best.
  • Every participant can then discover how what they do makes a difference for the people or companies they serve.
  • Then, because the organic system strives to compensate based on the actual value delivered, each participant may elect to contribute, and therefore earn, as much, or as little as they desire.

No heavyweight management is required. No supreme controller or almighty decision maker is necessary. No artificial value requirements need be imposed.

It makes sense.

All of the mechanical model "controllers" ought to pay attention to Brian Wesbury, chief economist for First Trust Portfolios, LP. In an editorial published June 11, 2008 in the WSJ. Brian astutely observes:

"In contrast to what some people seem to believe, having the government take over the health-care system is not change. It's just a culmination of previous moves by government. And the areas with the worst problems today are areas that have the most government interference – education, health care and energy."

"The best course of action is to allow a free-market economy to reallocate resources to the place of highest returns. In the midst of all the natural change, the last thing the U.S. economy needs is more government involvement, whether it's called change or not."

The Organic Model makes this possible.

In today's hyper-dynamic world, hardening mechanical models in attempt to improve economic conditions will prove no more successful than removing the flexability from the wings of an aircraft. Such a practice will at best, only increase the discomfort of the passengers. At worst, it will render the plane unfit to fly.

CJ Coolidge is managing director for The Institute for Inangibles-Driven Enterprise, and a consultant with Administaff, Inc. He writes for No More Androids: People-Profits X Factor on Blogger.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Mechanical Model in Action

I just went to the local Cheddar's restaurant and encountered a typical mechanical business model full-force. My family had just sat down in our booth and we decided we wanted chips and salsa as an appetizer. So we told the waitress and she went to put in the order. While she was gone, we decided we wanted some queso, as well, and asked her to add that to our order. Her mechanical response was, "I just put your order in. I would have to go back and change it to get you the queso." We told her that is what we wanted and to please change it. She huffed off and reluctantly "allowed us" to pay the restaurant more money.

How frustrating the oppression of the mechanical business model is on line staff! Why did they instill in their customer service worker that when customers ask to spend more money, it is a hassle because the system does not work with you easily on such a change? Please "Go Organic", Cheddar's!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I Found it Hard to Change

I was founder and CEO of a $100MM+ company, Paracoo, Inc.

I always followed a mechanical business model.

After more than 30 years, I retired, giving the helm to my very capable nephew, Steven Almanas. Steven has taken the company to tremendous hights using a management approach entirely different from mine. My approach was mechanical, Steven's is organic. The two models are as different as chalk and cheese.

You could say that I had a hard time with his ideas.

Mine worked well, once, but in today's BizWorld, his work much better.

This forum is filled with ideas from both worlds. Each contributor gives his own perspective, some mechanical, some organic.

The free exchange of ideologies is critical for us mechanical guys to understand the new realities, and vital for the new thinkers to never lose sight of the old truths. They form a splendid tapestry to enable any business thinker to take advantage of all the opportunities available in this hyper-dynamic world.