Kosher Trust Or Not

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Here’s the big controversy in our synagogue this week. 


The Rabbi is having a Purim open house and he invited everyone to bring a pot luck.


Only home-made food, no purchased food please!”


In Jewish circles, this is the opposite of what you’d expect, where checking the kosher labels and symbols is critical to ensuring the food has followed the strict kosher dietary laws and can be eaten. 


Yet as pointed out, kashrut has been made into a whole commercial business these days…does it still reflect the intent?


The Rabbi explained in services today, in a very well received way, that we need to get back to respecting and trusting each other. 


That these values are essential to being truly religious people.


It was a wonderful speech in that it evoked unconditional acceptance and respect for everyone. 


As we know, no one is so perfect, even though the goal of course is to be as perfect as we can be. 


So two things:


1) I really like the notion of treating people well and putting that high on the priorities as we are all G-d’s creatures.


2) I myself am kosher, but not fanatically so, therefore, I personally appreciated the acceptance and love in the community. 


Yet, after I got home, and thinking about this some more, and despite my own failings religiously and otherwise, I asked myself, “Am I really comfortable eating from a parve and meat community pot luck?”


And even as I ask this question, I am sort of squirming at the idea of just eating anyone’s food–and not knowing anything about it. 


How am I doing due diligence in even trying to keep kosher like that?


While maybe I’m not the most kosher of everyone, it certainly is important to me to at least try (to some extent), but I ask myself can this be considered really even trying–when some people aren’t religious, may not have a strong religious education, and perhaps some may not even be (fully) Jewish?


Sure, someone can even have the best intentions and try to bring kosher food, yet it’s certainly possible that the food may not be kosher. 


Perhaps, in prior times, it was an issue of more or less kosher, but these days, it can be an issue of kosher or not kosher at all. 


This is a very difficult issue–because we can’t put people up against the law–we must by necessity respect both. 


So yes, I love the idea of respecting everyone and that’s a given assuming they are good, decent people, but trust is not something you just have, it’s something you earn, by…being trustful!


I’m not one to preach religion to anyone…I struggle myself with the laws and in trying to do what’s right in the commandments between man and G-d. 


And while I am ready to accept all good and loving people, I am perhaps not ready to just trust them without knowing that the trust is dutiful. 


Love thy neighbor as thyself is paramount, but also we have a duty to G-d to try to fulfill his commandments the best we can. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Good IT Gone Bad

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So over and over again, good IT goes bad in a flawed decision-making process. 


Even with the best laid plans and governance processes in place, somehow decisions get politicized, go bad, and projects fail. 


Here are some of the popular reasons why this happens:


1) Someone has something to prove – Often their is a person incoming to power who wants to show off what they can do. Instead of focusing on what is best for the organization’s mission and people, they put themselves first. IT becomes not a tool for efficiency and effectiveness, but rather as some project rushed through for someone’s resume and narcissist career progression. Time to add another notch on your IT belt!


2) Someone used it, saw it, or heard of it someplace else – So why follow a structured decision-making and vetting process for new technology, when Joe Schmoe already has the answer of what we can use and what we should do. Perhaps, Joe Schmoe used the technology in another place and for another reason, but that’s what he knows and instantaneously, he’s the maven, subject matter expert. Or maybe, Joe Schmoe attended a vendor conference or read a trade mag on the airplane and now he is guess what, the all-knowing on the topic. Get ready to pull out your wallets to pay for the wrong thing for your needs and organization, but it’s okay becuase Joe Schmoe assured you it’s great!


3) Someone wants to use technology like a Swiss army utility knife – Let’s just buy this amazing tool; it can slice, dice, chop, mince, or Julienne; actually there is nothing this IT tool can’t do. Buy it and use it for all your technology projects and needs. Why buy specialized tools, when you can have one that does everything–it will be your data warehouse, cloud provider, handle all your transactions, and be your artificial intelligence all in one.  Don’t worry about the complexity, integration, training, support or how good it does any specific thing–just trust us!


In general, it shouldn’t be so easy for leadership to get sold and fooled by the wrong people with the wrong agendas. Yet, these things seem to take off like a speeding locomotive, and if anyone tries to step in front of it, career splat for some unfortunate well-meaning character!


Some leaders and organizations only seem to learn by making the same IT mistakes again and again–it’s costly to their mission and to their stakeholders, but someone is making out like a bandit and it’s on their dime. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Fell, Jumped, Or Pushed

Humpty Dumpty
Maybe the jury is still out on whether Humpty Dumpty fell, jumped, or was pushed. 



Of course, it’s very easy to say affirmatively any one of these, but that doesn’t necessarily make it true (even when there is a children’s rhyme or bumper sticker that goes with it). 



I think the point is that this is what investigations, witnesses, evidence, and a trial is for…to figure out the truth. 



He says, she says…or as Judge Judy says, “It’s a lot of who shot John!”



It’s good not to jump to conclusions, especially when opinions may be subjective, biased, or have hidden agendas. 



Heck, even if Humpty Dumpty was pushed, they still couldn’t put him back together again, but at least someone should pay for the bad yoke. 😉



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

News You Can’t Count On

This is one of those unbelievable stories that you have to pinch yourself to see if you are dreaming or is it real.

An intern over at the National Transportation Safety Board provided KTVU a list of pilot names for the Asiana plane that crashed in San Francisco last week.

Only…the pilot names weren’t real but a spoof making fun of the airline pilots, their race, and the crash.

With three people dead (including two 16-year old girls) and 200 wounded (with 2 still in critical condition) this really isn’t a laughing matter.

But the gall of this intern to pass these names off to the news, and then the TV stations blind acceptance of these as fact, plus the newscaster reading them aloud and still apparently not realizing what she was saying…is completely crazy!

Don’t believe everything…look closely, listen carefully–is it a joke, an agenda, brainwashing, or maybe at times, some genuine facts you can actually count on. 😉

They’re Not Playing Ketchup

Heinz_and_h-p

I wouldn’t necessarily think of Heinz as a poster child for a company that is strategic and growing, and was therefore, somewhat surprised to read an impressive article in Harvard Business Review (October 2011) called “The CEO of Heinz on Powering Growth in Emerging Markets.”

Heinz, headquartered out of Pittsburgh PA, is ranked 232 in the Fortune 500 with $10.7B in sales, $864M in profits, and 35,000 employees. They have increased their revenue from emerging markets from 5% a few years ago to more than 20% today.

Bill Johnson, the CEO of Heinz, explains his 4 As for success–which I really like:
1) Applicability–Your products need to suit local culture.  For example, while Ketchup sells in China, soy sauce is the primary condiment there, so in 2010, Heinz acquired Foodstar in China, a leading brand in soy sauce.
2) Availability–You need to sell in channels that are relevant to the local populace. For example, while in the U.S., we food shop predominantly in grocery stores, in other places like Indonesia, China, India, and Russia, much food shopping is done in open-air markets or corner groceries.
3) Affordability–You have to price yourself in the market.  For example, in Indonesia, Heinz sells more affordable small packets of soy sauce for 3 cents a piece rather than large bottles, which would be mostly unaffordable and where people don’t necessarily have refrigerators to hold them.
4) Affinity–You want local customers and employees to feel close with your brand. For example, Heinz relies mainly on local managers and mores for doing business, rather than trying to impose a western way on them.
Heinz has a solid strategy for doing business overseas, which includes “buy and build“–so that they acquire “solid brands with good local management that will get us into the right channels…then we can start selling other brands.”
Heinz manages by being risk aware and not risk averse, diversifying across multiple markets, focusing on the long-term, and working hard to build relationships with the local officials and managers where they want to build businesses.
“Heinz is a 142-year old company that’s had only five chairmen“–that’s less than the number of CEO’s that H-P has had in the last 6 years alone.
I can’t help but wonder on the impact of Heinz’s stability and laser-focus to their being able to develop a solid strategy, something that a mega-technology company like H-P has been struggling with for some time now.
If H-P were to adopt a type of Heinz strategy, then perhaps, they would come off a little more strategic and less flighty in their decisions to acquire and spin off business after business (i.e. PCs, TouchPads, WebOS, etc.), and change leadership as often as they do with seemingly little due diligence.
What is fascinating about H-P today is how far they have strayed front their roots of their founders Bill and Dave who had built an incredibly strong organizational culture that bred success for many years.
So at least in this case, is it consumer products or technology playing catch-up (Ketchup) now?
P.S. I sure hope H-P can get their tomatoes together. 😉
(Source Photos: Heinz here and H-P here)

>Balancing Planning and Action

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There are two common problems where immature or dysfunctional governance results in poor performance. When good governance is lacking, either decision makers:

1) Over-think and underperform or

2) Under-think and underperform

In the first case, people are seemingly paralyzed (often in a state referred to as “analysis paralysis”) and are hesitant to make a decision and so the organization stagnates—in a state of perpetual inaction—and underperforms.

In the second case, people don’t think enough about what they are doing—they lack adequate mechanisms for planning, analysis, vetting, and general due diligence—and are too quick to just do something, anything—whether or not it’s the “right” thing—and again they end up underperforming.

Both situations have negative consequences on the organization: In one, people are over-thinking and therefore not doing enough and on the other hand, people are under-thinking and therefore end up doing the wrong things.

Instead what we need is a rational sequence of think, do, think do, think, do—where actions are regular, frequent, and driven by a reflection of what’s occurred, the entry of new inputs, an analysis of alternatives, a vetting process, and the point of decision-making.

This is the essence of good governance and the most basic balance of thoughts and deeds, where thinking leads to action and action feeds back to the further thinking and so on.

In it’s more expanded form, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the father of quality management, founded the Shewart cycle or PDCA (based on the scientific method)—where planning, doing, checking, and acting is a constant cycle of action and reaction:

Here we can see that good governance leads to continuous momentum from planning (thinking) and doing (performing) to a robust feedback mechanism that includes checking on results and acting to analyze and improve on those.

A recent article in MIT Sloan Management review, Spring 2010 called “Learning When To Stop Momentum,” by Barton and Sutcliffe, provides similar lessons from the perspective of overcoming dysfunctional momentum.

Dysfunctional momentum: “occurs when people continue to work towards an original goal without pausing to recalibrate or examine their processes, even in the face of cues that they should change course.”

Dysfunctional momentum fits into the category described above of under-thinking and underperforming. If we don’t “pause and recalibrate,” (i.e. think before further action) we are not going to perform very effectively.

The authors recommend that we do the following to cure dysfunctional momentum (under-thinking):

1) Be humble—“be confidant in your skills but humble about the situation. Even the most experienced experts cannot know how a dynamic situation will unfold.”

2) Encourage skepticism—“it is important that everyone’s voice be heard.”

3) Seek out bad news—“use the acquired information as an opportunity to learn.”

4) Be available—“interruptions force us to reconsider whether we really know what is going on and how well the present actions are working.”

5) Communicate frequently—“face to face is the richest medium for communication because…it conveys multiple cues that allow for a range of meaning, and it provides the opportunity for rapid feedback.”

To me, we can also cure dysfunctional paralysis (over-thinking) by tempering the prior recommendations with the following ones:

1) Be bold—be willing to understand the requirements, the options, vet them, and make a decision and move forward.

2) Encourage conviction—hear everyone’s opinions, thoughts, and ideas and then have conviction and take a stand.

3) Seek a decision—get the good news and the bad news, put it into a business case or other presentation for decision makers to act on.

4) Be discrete—manage time with discretion following the phrase from Ecclesiastes that “there is a time for everything”—a time for thinking and a time for doing.

5) Communicate with purpose—communication is critical and often the best communication is directed ultimately toward some decision or action to further some advancement on the subject in question.

The article summarizes both perspectives this way: Dysfunctional momentum occurs not necessarily because people are ignorant, risk-seeking or careless, but because they are human and have as much trouble in controlling momentum as they do in surmounting inertia.”

To address the issues of over- and under-thinking problems, we need to establish policy, processes, structures, and tools for good governance that support people in thinking through problems and making decisions on a sound course of action—leading us to a continuous and healthy cycle of thoughts and deeds, planning and action.

>Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

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Frequently employees face double-bind message in the workplace and these not only impair morale, but also can result in poor decision-making.

One example has to do with whether we should apply tried and true, best practices or be creative and innovative. This manifests when employees bring innovative approaches to the table to solve problems are told, “there’s no reason to recreate the wheel on this.” And then when the employees take the opposing track and try to bring established best practices to bear on problems, they are told disparagingly “ah, that’s just a cookie cutter approach.”

Another example has to do with when and how much to analyze and when to decide, such that when employees are evaluating solutions and they hustle to get a proposal on the table, only to be told they haven’t done enough work or its superficial and they need to go back, “do due diligence, and conduct a more thorough evaluation.” Then when the employees go back to conduct a thorough analysis of alternatives, business case, concept of operations and so on, only to be told, “what is taking you so long? You’re just getting bogged down in analysis paralysis—move on!”

I am sure there are many more examples of this where employees feel like they are in a catch 22, between a rock and a hard place, damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The point is that creating contradictions, throwing nifty clichés at employees, and using that to win points or get your way in the decision process, hurts the organization and the employees that work there.

What the organization needs is not arbitrary decision-making and double-bind messages that shut employees down. Rather, organizations need clearly defined, authoritative, and accountable governance structure, policy, process and roles and responsibilities that open it up to healthy and informed debate and timely decisions. When everyone is working off of the “same sheet of music” and they know what is professionally expected and appropriate to the decision-making process, then using clichés arbitrarily and manipulating the decision-process no longer has a place or is organizationally acceptable.

We can’t rush through decisions just to get what we want, and we can’t bog down decisions with obstacles, just because we’re looking for a different answer.

Sound governance will help resolve this, but also necessary is a leadership committed to changing the game from the traditional power politics and subjective management whim to an organization driven by integrity, truth, and genuine progress based on objective facts, figures, and reason. Of course, changing an organization is not easy and doesn’t happen overnight, but think how proud we can be of our organizations that make this leap to well-founded governance.