A collection of Tom Peters’ appearances

Here’s a collection of appearances with Tom Peters from YouTube:

Short and simple, not necessarily rocket science, but sometimes we need to be reminded even of the simplest of things:




How to build accountability or “Who’s got the monkey”

These key ideas in this post are taken from the Harvard Business Review article “Management Time: Who’s got the Monkey?”  by William Oncken, Jr., and Donald L. Wass

How to identify the situation – “you have the monkey”:

Imagin the situation: You are racing down the hall. An employee stops you and says, “We’ve got a problem.” You assume you should get involved but can’t make an on-the-spot decision. You say, “Let me think about it.” You’ve just allowed a “monkey” to leap from your subordinate’s back to yours. You’re now working for your subordinate. Take on enough monkeys, and you won’t have time to handle your real job: fulfilling your own boss’s mandates and helping peers generate business results. How to avoid accumulating monkeys? Develop your subordinates’ initiative, say Oncken and Wass. For example, when an employee tries to hand you a problem, clarify whether he should: recommend and implement a solution, take action then brief you immediately, or act and report the outcome at a regular update. When you encourage employees to handle their own monkeys, they acquire new skills—and you liberate time to do your own job.

How to return monkeys to their proper owners:

  • Make appointments to deal with monkeys.
    Avoid discussing any monkey on an ad hoc basis—for example, when you pass a subordinate in the hallway. You won’t convey the proper seriousness. Instead, acknowledge the problem and schedule an appointment to discuss the issue.
  • Specify level of initiative.
    Your employees can exercise five levels of initiative in handling on-the-job problems. From lowest to highest, the levels are:
  1. Wait until told what to do.
  2. Ask what to do.
  3. Recommend an action, then with your approval, implement it.
  4. Take independent action but advise you at once.
  5. Take independent action and update you through routine procedure.

When an employee brings a problem to you, outlaw use of level 1 or 2. Agree on and assign level 3, 4, or 5 to the monkey. Take no more than 15 minutes to discuss the problem.

  • Agree on a status update.
    After deciding how to proceed, agree on a time and place when the employee will give you a progress report.
  • Examine your own motives.
    Some managers secretly worry that if they encourage subordinates to take more initiative, they’ll appear less strong, more vulnerable, and less useful. Instead, cultivate an inward sense of security that frees you to relinquish direct control and support employees’ growth.
  • Develop employees’ skills.
    Employees try to hand off monkeys when they lack the desire or ability to handle them. Help employees develop needed problem-solving skills. It’s initially more time consuming than tackling problems yourself—but it saves time in the long run.
  • Foster trust.
    Developing employees’ initiative requires a trusting relationship between you and your subordinates. If they’re afraid of failing, they’ll keep bringing their monkeys to you rather than working to solve their own problems. To promote trust, reassure them it’s safe to make mistakes.

As I’ve used this framework at work (yes, I have to admit I’ve even used in my personal life), I’ve found it both easy to apply and effective – it requires some effort but mostly simple behavioral change on your part.

However, what I’ve found equally valuable, is that this “process” over time reduces the amount of “monkeys” your employees give you.  At least that is my experience.



When should I NOT use Best Practices?

As “we all know” Best Practices are techniques, methods, processes, activities, incentives or rewards that are believed to be more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any other techniques, methods, processes, etc. The general idea is that with proper processes, checks, and testing, a desired outcome can be delivered with fewer problems and unforeseen complications.

I find it somewhat problematic to buy into the term “Best Practice” as the term has implications of generality and universality applicability. I sense that some universal source has settled all disputes and the matter is closed decided, set and resolved. In addition, because of the wide spread use of best practice as a buzzword, I’ve found it easier and more precise to use this term or sometimes “better practices”, or “current thinking in the industry”. At least these terms may imply that the practices are not universal, but depends on the specific situation.

For deciding when to apply best practices, I have found it to consider two axes:

  • External service provider vs. Internal service provider
  • Degree of reward for differentiation (doing business significantly different from your competitors has a high return and lies within your expertise – or at least it should)

This creates a matrix with four quadrants.

Q1: The first quadrant describes the sitation where differentiation pays off and the services and competence is contained within the company, i.e. produced internally. This is typically where your core business is and where most of your competence and effort should be built around. I see no reason for applying Best Practices here. You should probably go for “best in class”.

Q2: The second quadrant describes a situation where differentiation pays off, but the service is produced outside your company. Here’s where you rely on close partnerships and probably some kind of shared rewards.

Q3: The third quadrant describes a situation where differentiation doesn’t have a significant benefit (your aim should be that it is “good enough”) and often where work processes are standardized, volumes high and economies of scale significant. Here’s where you give it to someone who makes a living from doing this kind of work as efficiently as possible.

Q4: The fourth quadrant describes a situation where differentiation doesn’t pay off, but for some reason the services are produced internally. This could be because of regulatory issues (e.g. safety or social responsibilities) or for historic reasons (e.g. a lot of competence in this area). I have found this situation to be generally “unstable” and tend to die out.

By mapping your business functions or processes in this matrix, I believe you can easily sort out where to focus your effort. A humorous friend of mine once said, let’s not become the  “United States of Generica”. I tend to agree, especially now that you know how to consider when to use Best Practices…


If you want to steal a star performer – it had better be a woman

A star performer in one company will of course be successful if you persuade him to come work for you, right?  Wrong!!!

When stars are transplanted, switching from one environment to another, their performance actually falls. The same goes for their new company’s market value, according to Boris Groysberg. (link). This way everyone loses – the former employer loses a star performer, the new company doesn’t get what it thought it would and the owners lose money on their investment. At least this is the case if the star performer is a guy.

According to Groysberg’s research, however, the story is somewhat different if the talented person is a woman. Statistcally women maintain their stardom. In addition the market seems to picked up on this – so the new employer’s share price holds steady.

Groysberg tries to explain this by providing two major reasons for the discrepancy:

  • Unlike men, high-performing women build their success on portable, external relationships—with clients and other outside contacts.
  • Women considering job changes weigh more factors then men do, especially cultural fit, values, and managerial style.

These strategies enable women to transition more successfully to new companies. And that has crucial implications for all professionals. By understanding successful women’s career strategies, women and men can strengthen their ability to be successful in any setting.

To help employees shine in any organization Groysberg recommends these strategies:

Strategy 1: Build an external network. Most male stars depend on the internal networks – the “boys club” – which helps them and which they cultivate . Women often lack access to those crucial networks, for these reasons:

  • Uneasy in-house bonds. Women face less-than-wholehearted acceptance in male-dominated workplaces. They also avoid forging close relationships with men for fear of giving the appearance of impropriety.
  • Poor internal mentorship. Women receive inadequate access to internal mentors. Thus they miss out on a vital service mentoring provides: access to an internal network of relationships.
  • Neglectful colleagues. The locker-room and sports-bar cultures characterizing mostly male workforces prevent females from forging strong bonds with males. To counter these barriers, star women cultivate relationships with external constituencies, such as customers and former mentors, that are not dependent on their current company. When they change jobs, the external relationships that promote their success are not affected.

Strategy 2: Scrutinize prospective employers. Unlike men, who focus largely on compensation, women weigh broader considerations when thinking about a job change, favoring work cultures that emphasize:

  • Receptivity to female talent
  • Openness to individual styles, personalities, and approaches to work

In short:

  • If you’re looking for a star performer – consider gender (or at least style)
  • In order to increase your long-term market value – apply these strategies so you don’t depend on your current employer to be successful

I would love to hear your oppinions or experience on this matter.

Best regards,

Does teamwork actually WORK?

I have always loved working in teams, and have seen teamwork as the best mode of working in most cases. First of all, I believe that working in a team spark more ideas and in doing so leads to a better end result. I also tend to believe that I get influenced by the other team members and therefore LEARN a lot more from teamwork than I do from working on my own. Don’t get me wrong; I CAN work alone and enjoy doing so, but my preferred mode of work is in teams in projects.

However, my inclination to working in teams has recently been heavily challenged. New research suggestst that a lot of companies are wasting serious money when employees work in groups. It seems that teamwork in the workplace is worse than its reputation. At least that seems to be the conclusion of PhD student Brian Due at the University of Copenhagen.  In a new research project he has found that conflicts, laziness and performance anxiety are factors that contributes to groupwork ending up in not delivering on its promise.

Due claims that the major pitfalls of teamwork is that we tend to forget what we’re about to say in the eagerness to hear the other suggestions, og we lose track by social processes and stories from personal lives. In modern society it seems we’ve been so absorbed by the the good sides of teamwork, that we have applied it uncritically. Performance anxiety,  power games, free riders/low level of participation, low ambitions and giving up too easily are other problem areas related to groupwork.

One premise for teamwork is that power is evenly distributed within the group, otherwise you won’t get the good ideas and solutions to surface. Good ideas and contribution to the solution is not necessarily linked to the position in the organizational hierarchy. This means that often somebody in power has to “step down” – at least in terms  of  formal power in the group context. Not all those “in power” are willing and able to do this. In practice formal power and positions in the organizations constitutes a challenge when it comes to practical solutions.

It seems that team work has been hyped and overexposed for years, and that companies have wasted a lot of time and money on this.

This conclusion is in line with that of a recent HBR article called “Why teams don’t work” by Diane Coutu. Coutu states that contrary to conventional wisdom, teams may be your worst option for tackling a challenging task. Problems with coordination, motivation, and competition can badly damage team performance.

However, Coutu states that you can increase the likelihood of success of your teams by setting the right conditions. For example:

•   Designate a “deviant.” Appoint a naysayer who will challenge the team’s desire for too much homogeneity (which stifles creativity).

•   Avoid double digits. Build teams of no more than nine people. Too many more, and the number of links between members becomes unmanageable.

•   Keep the team together. Established teams work more effectively than those whose composition changes constantly.

These conclusion also to be in line with Patrick Lenconi’s experience as expressed in his book, “Five Dysfunctions of a Team“, which I recommend:

  • Absence of Trust
  • Fear of Conflict
  • Lack of Commitment
  • Avoidance of Accountability … and…
  • Inattention to Results

So, my strong belief in teamwork has had a serious blow… or has it?

I still believe there is value in teamwork, and after all, we can seldom work in isolation, ca we. Therefore, I have come to believe that teamwork has to be learned in order to work an be effective, and that the context in which the team operates (isn’t it always?) has to foster teamwork.

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Why don’t smart people learn from their mistakes

In an HBR article in 1991, Chris Ayrgis, described the basic dilemma: success in the marketplace increasingly depends on learning, yet most people don’t know how to learn. What’s more, those members of the organization that many assume to be the best at learning are, in fact, not very good at it. I am talking about the well-educated, high-powered, high-commitment professionals who occupy key leadership positions in the modern corporation.

Why is it so and what can we do about it?

The rest of this post is tanken directly from the “In Brief” section of the original article from HBR:

The Idea in Brief

Problem solving is an example of single-loop learning. You identify an error and apply a particular remedy to correct it. But genuine learning involves an extra step, in which you reflect on your assumptions and test the validity of your hypotheses. Achieving this double-loop learning is more than a matter of motivation—you have to reflect on the way you think.

Failure forces you to reflect on your assumptions and inferences. Which is why an organization’s smartest and most successful employees are often such poor learners: they haven’t had the opportunity for introspection that failure affords. So when they do fail—or merely underperform—they can be surprisingly defensive. Instead of critically examining their own behavior, they cast blame outward—on anyone or anything they can.

The Idea in Practice

People often profess to be open to critique and new learning, but their actions suggest a very different set of governing values or theories-in-use:

•   the desire to remain in unilateral control

•   the goal of maximizing “winning” while minimizing “losing”

•   the belief that negative feelings should be suppressed

•   the desire to appear as rational as possible.

Taken together, these values betray a profoundly defensive posture: a need to avoid embarrassment, threat, or feelings of vulnerability and incompetence. This closed-loop reasoning explains why the mere encouragement of open inquiry can be intimidating to some. And it’s especially relevant to the behavior of many of the most highly skilled and best-trained employees. Behind their high aspirations are an equally high fear of failure and a tendency to be ashamed when they don’t live up to their high standards. Consequently, they become brittle and despondent in situations in which they don’t excel immediately.

Fortunately, it is possible for individuals and organizations to develop more productive patterns of behavior. Two suggestions for how to make this happen:

1. Apply the same kind of “tough reasoning” you use to conduct strategic analysis. Collect the most objective data you can find. Make your inferences explicit and test them constantly. Submit your conclusions to the toughest tests of all: make sure they aren’t self-serving or impossible for others to verify.

2. Senior managers must model the desired changes first. When the leadership demonstrates its willingness to examine critically its own theories-in-use, changing them as indicated, everyone will find it easier to do the same.

Example: The CEO of an organizational-development firm created a case study to address real problems caused by the intense competition among his direct reports. In a paragraph, he described a meeting he intended to have with his subordinates. Then he wrote down what he planned to say, how he thought his subordinates would respond, as well any thoughts or feelings he thought he might have but not express for fear of derailing the conversation. Instead of actually holding the meeting, he analyzed the scenario he had developed with his direct reports. The result was an illuminating conversation in which the CEO and his subordinates were able to circumvent the closed-loop reasoning that had characterized so many prior discussions.

Hope it made you think – reason and act  differently.


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