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100 Best Business Books of All Time

Following years of reading, appraising, and retailing business books, 800-CEO-READ creator Jack Covert, ex-president Todd Sattersten, and present general manager Sally Haldorson have selected and appraised the one hundred greatest business titles of all time—the ones that dispense the biggest payoff for today’s occupied readers. It’s a great list, and in the vein of all lists, bound by argument and long-windedness about what is and isn’t contained in this list. Each book gets a couple of pages of outline handling.

Best Business Books on Improving Your Life

Best Business Books on Leadership

Best Business Books on Strategy

Best Business Books on Sales and Marketing

Best Business Books on Economics and Metrics

Best Business Books on Management

Best Business Biographies

Best Business Books on Entrepreneurship

Best Narratives of Fortune and Failure

Best Business Books on Innovation and Creativity

Best Books on Big Ideas About the Future of Business

Best Business Books on Management and Leadership Lessons

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Posted in Business and Strategy Leaders and Innovators Management and Leadership Mental Models and Psychology Philosophy and Wisdom

Select Leaders by Assessing the Style and Personality Traits of Your Hires

The Personality Traits of Leaders

CEO tenure is becoming shorter and less secure. Half of today’s CEOs have been in the post less than three years.

Why the rise of revolving-door executives? Some reasons have to do with economic uncertainty, but companies also need to look at their recruiting, selection, and development practices. Those in leadership roles often come from the same universities and graduate schools with qualities similar to those of incumbent leaders. High-potential recruits are placed on a fast track to management positions where they tend to perpetuate perspectives of existing leaders. They move through positions at a fast pace, which inhibits them from learning their jobs well and reaping the harvest of seeds they sow.

'The Complete Book of Intelligence Tests' by Philip Carter (ISBN 0470017732) When hiring or promoting managers, many organizations rely on requisite knowledge, experience, and a track record. However, if they fail to investigate the behavioral characteristics of candidates, they may make a costly mistake. Many executives who have a string of early successes because of their technical genius or problem-solving skills later derail because of poor interpersonal relationships. The failure to build and maintain an effective team proves disastrous.

To pick the right managers, you need to assess the softer qualities of leadership. Those responsible for making people decisions need to know, for example, if the candidate inspires trust, listens well, delegates tasks, and shares praise and credit. These competencies are a function of personality.

Traits Common of Successful Corporate Leaders

While leadership styles vary from person-to-person, in my experience, great executives share a number of common, observable behaviors that support their success. Leadership styles are not something to be tried on like so many suits, to see which fits.

  • Tolerance for risk and uncertainty: experience with calculating and encouraging appropriate risk
  • High level of empathy: can walk in the shoes of the customer and convey the insights to others
  • Deep expertise in a least one field: the specific area is less important than the rigor and dedication any deep expertise demonstrates
  • Ability to work with varied and complex information
  • Collaborative interpersonal style: avoid big egos, aggressive personalities, and go-it-alone types
  • Passion: clear passion for your customer, your company, and innovation
  • Strong drive for results: desire to take ideas from the drawing board to the marketplace
  • Mature intelligence: ability to make connections and build ideas without needing to be the smartest person in the room

The more companies recognize about leaders— what they truly care about, how they make decisions, why they do what they do—the more effective they will be at organizing the support of others for what they anticipate to accomplish.

Attributes of Star Performers and Effective Managers

The attributes of star performers and effective managers are often personality characteristics–such as reliable, curious, even-tempered. Since people are perceived as leaders to the degree they are trustworthy, forward looking, inspiring, and decisive, the suitability of a candidate for a management job is more than simply a matter of the candidate’s function, experience, or position.

The most crucial factors are personality and behavioral style. Interpersonal skills can be measured cheaply, efficiently, and accurately; however, these skills are shaped early in life. By the time we reach adulthood, they are deeply ingrained. So, companies benefit by focusing their energies on selection rather than development of interpersonal competencies.

Personality Testing in the Workplace: Pros and Cons

'Management Level Psychometric and Assessment Tests' by Andrea Shavick (ISBN 1845280288) Assessing behavioral style is necessary to determine suitability but insufficient. People who interview well may also have less attractive interpersonal behaviors. These self-defeating be-haviors disrupt team performance and derail careers. Since these “dark side” characteristics are hard to detect by interviews and assessments, conduct interviews with former associates. The “what” required for a successful team could include education, time, and communication skills to be able to work effectively without barriers. The most important part of the team building process may actually be the “why” of the project.

Adopting behaviours associated with transformational leadership (such as stimulating followers to engage in complex decision-making and problem-solving) may in the short term lead to increases in the management quality of their followers. In addition, transformational leaders can also have a positive effect on the well-being, motivation and job satisfaction of those they supervise.

Interpersonal Style and Temperament of the Manager

Personality Tests for Hiring

Core values must also be assessed. No matter how talented you may be, if your values are at odds with the culture, you will not fare well. People are happiest working where their core values and goals are compatible with those of the organization.

'Ultimate Psychometric Tests' by Mike Bryon (ISBN 074946349X) Personality is pivotal in selecting managers. Compatibility is vital when considering the transfer or promotion of executive talent. The interpersonal style and temperament of the manager must be congruent with the character and needs of the firm. People can be taught certain skills and technologies, but not the traits that turn the use of those technologies into results. If personality and style are out of step with the new situation, nothing can prevent failure. Even the best leaders of the most capable teams promoting well-tested innovations may fail if the context in which the change is to be implemented is not considered. Capable leaders and well-balanced teams must personalize and adapt their approaches to create cultures and contexts where change will flourish.

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Posted in Management and Leadership

Seven Pillars of Wisdom for Bond Buyers from Dan Fuss

Seven Pillars of Wisdom for Bond Buyers from Dan Fuss

There are no totally safe places in the bond market. The threat of capital loss is nominal if you invest in short-term Treasuries, but you have supreme reinvestment risk.

Dan Fuss, Loomis, Sayles & Company The Loomis Sayles Bond Fund has returned more than 10 percent a year over the past 20-plus years—about 3 full percentage points beyond the return for the entire bond world all through this same period. At the helm of the fund since 1991 sits Dan Fuss, who is also vice chairman of the Boston-based Loomis, Sayles & Company. He has been handling investments for more than half a century. Dan Fuss was honored March 8 2012, as the beneficiary of The Lipper Award for Excellence in Fund Management at Lipper’s annual mutual fund awards ceremony in New York City. According to Jeff Tjornehoj, head of research for Lipper Americas, the Award for Excellence in Fund Management, “recognizes an outstanding asset manager who has delivered consistently strong risk-adjusted returns to their investors and, in the opinion of Lipper’s research analysts, represent the best of the funds industry.”

  • Don’t trade. Even institutional buyers get killed by bid-ask spreads. Only exception: coupon Treasurys.
  • Avoid junk. Especially the covenant-lite stuff that is coming out now.
  • Buy TIPS direct. If you must own inflation-protected bonds (yields are meager,) but at a Treasury auction to avoid the nasty spreads. Inflation insurance in the form of TIPS, or Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, has returned about 10% this year, according to Barclays Capital indexes.
  • Stay in North America. Japanese and European yields are ridiculous.
  • Beware ETFs. The liquidity of exchange-traded funds will evaporate in a crash if they own junk or emerging market bonds.
  • Hold some cash. Put it aside to use in the next financial crisis.
  • Look for discounts. A corporate bond trading at 90 cents on the dollar won’t be called away in the rebound.

As you head to work in the morning and look around you, you get a sense for what season it is. Just as the calendar has seasons, there are also seasons of the economy, what one can also refer to as “cycles.” These can greatly affect bond returns. One advantage I have is being older than the hills . . . I’ve seen a good number of seasons, and I can perhaps recognize them a little better or quicker than most.

Market Unpredictability in Bond Markets

Bond markets in many ways are like other financial markets, where market unpredictability can play an imperative role in determining whether an investment will be moneymaking. The main source of volatility in the bond market is a variable interest rate since this affects the coupon on the bond, which is where the profit is made. If an investor bought a bond with a fixed coupon rate, changes in the interest rate will not affect the bond. However, if the coupon rate is associated to a variable interest rate and that rate changes, it may be advantageous for the bondholder to sell the bond rather than keep it until the maturity date. Traders, institutions, and other actors in the bond market implement transactions like this every day; the sum of these actions is what makes up the bond market.

A significant theory of finance is that the evaluation of returns is only meaningful on a risk-adjusted basis. However, risk is often hard to measure. This creates a chief restriction in the delegation of investment decisions. Financial go-betweens and investment managers that are evaluated based on deficient risk metrics face an inducement to buy assets that comply with a set yardstick but are risky on other dimensions.

But since individual voters cannot change election outcomes, they will not carefully weigh benefits and costs of default. Instead, they will place massive weight on symbolism and status-group affiliation—they will allow their feelings to abuse the facts of the matter. It is quite unlikely that defaulting nations will be considered high-status, so voters will be reluctant to support politicians who support default. Politicians who support default will likely find themselves turned out of office, a fact that foresighted politicians will keep in mind.

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Posted in Investing and Finance

Charlie Munger in Praise of Multidisciplinary Thinking

A multidisciplinary approach involves drawing appropriately from multiple disciplines to redefine problems outside of normal boundaries and reach solutions based on a new understanding of complex situations.

'Charlie Munger The Complete Investor' by Tren Griffin (ISBN 023117098X) From ‘Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor’ by Tren Griffin

No one can know everything, but you can work to understand the big important models in each discipline at a basic level so they can collectively add value in a decision-making process. Simply put, Munger believes that people who think very broadly and understand many different models from many different disciplines make better decisions and are therefore better investors.

Multidisciplinary thinking offers a schema or a philosophical template within which thinkers can find an intellectual connectedness to decompartmentalize their approach and face the new intellectual horizons with a broader perspective. Single disciplines are too narrow a perspective regarding many phenomena.

Human thought, as it has evolved in detached disciplines, and the physical systems within which we live exhibit a level of complexity across and within systems that makes it impossible to understand the important phenomena that are affecting humans today from the perspective of any single incomplete system of thought. Thus interconnected systems and high levels of complexity yield a situation in which multidisciplinary tactics to understanding and problem solving produce the real growth industry in the next generation of scholarly thought.

Disciplines develop their own internal ways of looking at the phenomena that interest them. Become broadly knowledgeable about any particular phenomenon as possible before constructing theories and asserting truth assertions. Problems arise from the lack of a viewpoint from which one can understand the relationship between various disciplines.

'Conceptual Foundations for Multidisciplinary Thinking' by Stephen Kline (ISBN 0804724091) In ‘Conceptual Foundations for Multidisciplinary Thinking’, Stanford’s Prof. Stephen Jay Kline expounds the necessity of multidisciplinary discourse:

Multidisciplinary discourse is more than just important. We can have a complete intellectual system, one that covers all the necessary territory, only if we add multidisciplinary discourse to the knowledge within the disciplines. This is true not only in principle but also for strong pragmatic reasons. This will assure the safety of our more global ideas.

Producing and applying knowledge no longer work within strict disciplinary boundaries. New dimensions of intricacy, scale, and uncertainty in technical problems put them beyond the reach of one-thought disciplines. Advances with the most impact are born at the frontiers of more than one engineering discipline.

Multidisciplinarity refers more to the internalization of knowledge. This happens when abstract associations are developed using an outlook in one discipline to transform a perspective in another or research techniques developed in one elaborate a theoretic framework in another.

To get the most out of their R&D workforce, many organizations seek persons who comprehend a range of science and engineering principles and procedures to guarantee that work will be advanced even if a specific expert were not always available.

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Posted in Hobbies and Pursuits Mental Models and Psychology

Customer Satisfaction Begins with Employee Engagement

The quickest ticket to customer satisfaction is through dependable, excellent service. As companies contend for competitive advantage, many find that refining service quality and customer satisfaction can be intangible. The first step to realizing both is to raise employee engagement.

'180 Ways To Build Employee Engagement' by Brian Gareau, Al Lucia (ISBN 193553792X) All organizations benefit from having an engaged workforce. But for those whose success pivots on delivering excellent customer service, a superior kind of employee engagement, customer-focused engagement, has an even tougher effect. Customer- focused engagement occurs when employee work groups are committed to (and passionate about) producing excellent service to their customers.

Employees won’t become engaged with service quality just because you demand them to. It takes time and effort to nurture an environment where engagement can set in and grow. With the right leadership, resources and information, you can shape the environment to engage employees and focus their efforts where it matters most—on customer satisfaction.

Correlation Between Employee Satisfaction and Customer Satisfaction

Evidence for Employee Engagement for Customer Satisfaction

Will an investment in employee engagement pay for itself through increased customer satisfaction?

We gauged satisfaction levels of 50 firms using the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). To measure customer-focused engagement, we probed employees to rate elements like, “We help customers beyond what is required,” and “The norm here is to help customers.”

'The Employee Engagement Mindset' by Timothy R. Clark (ISBN 0071788298) When we charted the employee survey results for each company against ASCI score for that company, we discovered that the higher the level of customer-focused engagement, the better the score on customer satisfaction. Actually, we see an absolute correlation between employee engagement and customer satisfaction. When you enhance customer-focused engagement, you will increase customer satisfaction.

Companies whose employees are highly engaged with customer service are rated the highest in customer satisfaction. Raising customer-focused employee engagement translates into dollars on the bottom line, possibly a lot of dollars. A mere one-point rise in your ASCI score can boost your ROI by an average of 11.4 percent!

What Gets Measured Gets Attention

Prior to you can increase engagement, you first must gage it. An precise measure of employee engagement requires a special survey—not the employee satisfaction survey. There is a distinction between employee satisfaction and engagement.

  • Satisfied employees feel enjoyable, satisfied, content, and comfortable. And they tend to have low absence, low turnover, and low substance abuse. But they may be neither engaged nor driven to expend extra effort in their work or for customers.
  • In contrast, engaged employees perform in ways that enhance the customer experience. They go the extra mile in the interest of service quality and customer satisfaction. When your customers receive superior service every day, it can have a spectacular impact on your financial health.

Engaged employees (focused on customers) feel fervent about providing excellent service, energized by helping customers, involved in their work, trusting of their manager. They feel safe to make decisions, take risks, or speak up with worries. They are committed to the goal of providing service excellence. They create relationships with customers, not just fill orders; anticipate customer needs; support coworkers so that they can provide service excellence; take initiative to ensure consistent service; and find answers to customer questions.

Creating Employee Engagement for Customer Satisfaction

Creating Employee Engagement for Customer Satisfaction

Engaging employees is not simply a matter of telling them what to do. The way to change someone’s work performance is to first change the way they feel about their jobs. Tailor your programs around six areas:

  1. Job design. When jobs are thought-provoking and allow employees to use all of their talents, they feel involved. Time passes quickly, and effort required to do the work is easy to give. Engagement is high when employees are working to achieve detailed difficult goals—goals they accept as judicious and attainable, but ones that also provide a “stretch.”
  2. Immediate managers. Managers play a big role in how employees feel about their jobs. Impartiality and trust shown to the employees by their managers will create a culture of engagement in the work group, ensuring a collective, organized effort in serving customers.
  3. Service message. Most of the service message employees receive comes from cues from their immediate manager as to what is important. Managers must recognize and strengthen service excellence, ensure that obstacles to excellence are removed, and set goals for service excellence. Without everything employees experience focuses their efforts on service quality and customer satisfaction, customer satisfaction likely won’t emerge.
  4. Resources. When employees feel they have the resources they need to do their jobs well, they are more involved in their customer service.
  5. HR policies. Organizations that ensure their HR management systems promote customer satisfaction—who gets hired, how they are trained, what is measured in performance management—produce customer-focused engagement.
  6. Benchmarking. You need baseline knowledge about employee engagement levels and customer satisfaction before you make changes. Use surveys and other assessment tools to measure employee engagement occasionally to evaluate progress.

Employee engagement has become such a hot theme that great groups of consultants and authors are undeniably banging on your door as we speak, armed with sufficient action plans and PowerPoint presentations to make your head spin. When employees are satisfied and engaged, the outcome is deeper customer connections and an raised customer experience.

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Posted in Management and Leadership

Six Drivers of Creativity and Risk-Taking

Six Drivers of Creativity

It is not enough to want to become more creative and to take more risks. To do so means challenging yourself, your team, and the organization. Moving out of our comfort zones is something we rarely do. Yet when we do, we gain insights into our own character. We can then reshape ourselves to the way we want. This is also the case with organizations and teams. But it means changing the culture.

The culture is reflected in what the organization or team values and how it does its business, as well as its propensity for risk taking and creativity. How does your organization view risk taking? Does your culture punish or reward people for taking risks? How willing are you to take risks at work?

Your propensity for risk taking is, in part, a function of the culture. If your boss doles out punitive measures for anyone who fails at a task, you play it safe. Or, if eyes roll when you offer an idea at a brainstorming session, you think twice about offering ideas.

The creativity or risk taking in a culture is consistent with the characteristics of one of seven orientations: Challenger, Innovator, Drean1er, Sustainer, Planner, Modifier, or Practicalizer. This composite profile becomes the group’s norm. Changing the group norm is difficult.

We need to focus on what we can influence directly: our immediate work teams and ourselves. Our efforts in these areas can yield powerful results.

Use these drivers of creativity and risk taking to build innovative capacity:

  1. Creativity driver 1: Ambiguity and its opposite, predictability. Operating in an ambiguous situation means dealing with uncertainty and vagueness. Those who function effectively in ambiguous circumstances don’t require highly structured situations, goals, or objectives to accomplish or create things, ideas, services, or products. Growth in this area yields innovative solutions. Since dealing with ambiguity is challenging, many people try to control variables, chart alternative courses of action, and eliminate the impact of uncertainty. The opposite of ambiguity is predictability. People who demand predictability require structure, clarity, and definition.
  2. Creativity driver 2: Independence and its opposite, dependence. Independence means not being subject to the control, influence, or determination of others. People who are independent will not subordinate themselves to others. They don’t like to be managed by others. They are self-empowered. They don’t have to be given direction. They don’t like to ask for help, believing their way to be the best way. Dependent people need direction from someone. They do not take action without prior approval.
  3. Creativity driver 3: Inner-directedness and its opposite, other-directedness. Inner-directed people and teams feel a great sense of purpose. They often have clear vision of the future. People who are inner-directed believe that they are responsible for determining their own destiny, expectations, and norms. They are guided by their own set of values. They sometimes believe that no one really understands them. Often, they have difficulty reconciling personal agendas to corporate directives. People who are other-directed are always concerned about what everyone else thinks or is doing. Other-directed people don’t take the lead without input from others.
  4. Creativity driver 4: Uniqueness and its opposite, conformity. Uniqueness is appreciating and valuing differences. People and teams that value uniqueness look for creativity in themselves and others. They foster it. They first look for the differences, not to accentuate them, but appreciate and take advantage of them. The opposite of uniqueness is conformity, acting in ways that conform to current styles, norms, or expectations.

Six Drivers of Risk-Taking

  1. Risk-taking driver 1: Authentic and its opposite, political. Authentic means being what you purport to be. Authentic people and teams live by their core beliefs; they mean what they say and say what they mean. Their actions are congruent with their espoused values. They “walk their talk” and “tell it like it is.” They take stands on issues. They are true and genuine. Its opposite is being political. Political people don’t communicate with others directly. They are always navigating or positioning for self-advantage.
  2. Risk-taking driver 2: Resiliency and its opposite, rigidity. Resiliency is the ability to rebound, adapt, and learn, even in the face of adversity and stress. Resilient people pick themselves up after being knocked down. They believe that something good always comes out of a bad experience. They create options. They persevere. They get the job done, sometimes by the force of their will. Its opposite is rigidity or inflexibility in response to change, rejection, or setbacks.
  3. Risk-taking driver 3: Self-acceptance and its opposite, victimization. Self-accepting means to be approving of one’s own behaviors or actions. Self-accepting people like themselves and their situations. They exhibit self-confidence. They are unlikely to say they’re sorry about much, because they have few regrets. They don’t try to be perfect. They like themselves, in spite of themselves sometimes. Its opposite is victimization. Victimized people complain and blame others.

If everyone on your team cultivated these drivers, your innovative capacity would accelerate rapidly.

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Posted in Mental Models and Psychology

Create Partners, Not Employees or Followers

People want to succeed. The vast majority want to feel good about themselves and their work. Nevertheless, sometimes, it is tremendously difficult to balance day-to-day duties with the emotional needs of your employees.

There are no quick fixes or simple formulas for generating a culture that unleashes the competency of people. It occasionally requires intervention into a number of dimensions of organizational life: challenging management philosophy and practices, communicating and aligning everyone to the business strategy, cultivating processes and systems, providing training in social and business skills, etc.

Whom would you rather have at your side in a tough spot? A partner who shares full responsibility for decisions and their outcomes? Alternatively, a subordinate who does just what you say and shuts up about ideas he has that may be better.

Rationally, you want the former; emotionally, you may choose the latter. Leaders bow to a multitude of short-term pressures: severe demands for quarterly earnings, risk aversion, distress with uncertainty, resistance to change, linear extrapolation from past experience, and reluctance to cannibalize established businesses.

'It's Okay to Be the Boss' by Bruce Tulgan (ISBN 0061121363) Reflect on your career. Have you ever kept quiet when superiors were creating problems? What caused you to withhold your counsel?

I guarantee you they were being “the boss.” Everything about their tone, body language, verbal language, and behavior was indicating you that they were the boss and you were the subordinate. Chances are you learned from them what a boss looks and sounds like. Whether you admired their style or not, some of it rubbed off on you.

When you act as a superior, you will have subordinates. Act as a partner, and you will have partners. Yes, you may be the senior partner, but they are still partners, not underlings, or subordinates.

One key dissimilarity between the behavior of a “boss” and a “partner” is the way you talk. You talk differently to partners. It is not just what you say, but how you say it. To a subordinate, you might say, “This client wants his order fulfilled now. Make it happen.”

What is the message? It is not just “Get the order done now,” but it is also “I’m the boss; this is what I want—and there could be outcomes if I don’t get it.” It does not require a dramatic act to make the point that the receiver is your subordinate. Are you aware of how often and in how many ways you send similar messages?

This is not how you would talk to a partner. You might be just as clear about what you want and when; however, your delivery would create partnership, not subservience. You might ask, “How can we do that?” Alternatively, “Can you make it happen?” You would seek the individual’s knowledge, responsibility, and mutual obligation. When employees are seen as partners, they will understand that their leaders do not simply see them as the means to achieve their own personal targets.

You talk differently to folks below you than to folks across from or above you. So what? The higher you go, the less direct experience you have of customers, stakeholders, and problems. It is harder to get a real feel for what is happening. You become more reliant on on good information and insight from those who are in touch. So, they need to feel invited to tell you the reality they see, especially when it differs from the one you believe is out there.

You likely think that you already extend this encouragement, but you may discourage people from giving you inconvenient information. Unless you make an effort to discover in what ways you do this, you will continue to do so.

Create Partners with Your Subordinates

Create Partners with Your Subordinates

To create partners and have your employees’ best interests in mind, try this exercise:

  • Start every meeting with a question: “Is there anything I’m not getting about this issue that you think I should?”
  • Whatever the answer, respond with interest and ask, “Can you tell me more about that or give an example to help me understand it better?”
  • Ask questions until you have clarity on the points. Do not argue. Do not cross-examine—just clarify.
  • Thank the individual or group making these points.
  • Incorporate what makes sense into the decisions.
  • If no one spoke up, after the meeting ask the individual who is likely to be forthright, “What am I doing that keeps everyone from talking?”
  • If this individual gives you insight into how you dissuade feedback, convey your gratefulness. Find a way to reward the honesty.
  • Invite this truth-teller to sit in on more meetings and after each one gives you feedback on anything you did that made others act as subordinates.

Simple Ways to Build Trust With Your Employees

Build Trust with Your Employees

Trust is established when even the newest rookie, a part-timer, or the lowest paid employee feels important and part of the team. This begins with management not being reserved, as well as getting out and meeting the troops.

'The 27 Challenges Managers Face' by Bruce Tulgan (ISBN 111872559X) By doing this you will have the self-awareness to create partners. You will also have earned their trust. They will give you their best advice and devotedly support decisions that are based on reality.

By creating this environment where your employees are treated as partners working toward a shared purpose, you will foster in your employees a sense of ownership not simply to their job, but to the whole process. This will inspire not only partnership between the company’s divisions/teams, but it will also help nurture innovation as employees are stimulated to look beyond what they usually work on or how they approach their job.

Good partners invest time and energy in making cognizant judgments about who their leaders are and what they espouse. Then they take the appropriate action.

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Posted in Management and Leadership

Best Practices for Corporate Boards & Governance

Best Practices for Corporate Boards & Governance

In the wake of many business failures, we have criticized every player in the system except the one charged with insuring that these failures do not occur: the board of directors. They are elected by the shareholders as the ultimate governing body and charged with preserving the company and building it long term.

Many boards have abandoned the legal and fiduciary responsibilities. They have become more responsive to the CEO and the management than to the shareholders. In so doing, they abandon their governance role to get the company’s stock price up. They stop asking the hard questions about how the company achieves its numbers, whether it makes adequate investments to build for the long-term and whether its strategies are still valid and effectively implemented.

Our systems of governance must be reformed. This begins with having a “bright line” between governance and management. Boards have ceded their governance responsibilities to the CEO. Now they must reclaim it.

Here is a 10-step program to improve board governance:

  1. Create principles of governance. The independent directors of the board need to establish principles of governance that describe the functions of the board and how the board will conduct itself. The principles should be published for all shareholders to see, and each year the board should report to the shareholders, evaluating the effectiveness of these principles.
  2. Have truly independent directors. This is essential to effective governance. Boards need directors who have had no prior association with the company. To measure their independence, no director should receive any compensation other than standard board fees. Nor should any interlocking directorates be permitted between the CEO and any member.
  3. Select board members more for their values than their titles. Too often we choose directors for the positions they hold, rather than their commitment, availability, and competence as board the many member. Let’s take advantage of executives who have the time and inclination to serve on boards. Let’s also assess the diversity of backgrounds and experience we need on the board to provide sound guidance.
  4. Establish a Governance and Nominating Committee composed solely of outside directors. This committee maintains the principles of governance, nominates people for election to the board, evaluates existing directors, conducts the evaluation of the chairperson and the CEO, and develops a succession plan for the CEO, including the selection of new CEOs. This committee is charged with organizing the board and its committees, identifying independent directors to chair them.
  5. Elect a Lead Director. If one person is both chair and CEO, the independent directors must elect a lead director to organize them, insure their independence, and advise the CEO. I prefer that the lead director be the chair of the governance committee, as these functions are closely aligned.
  6. Corporate Boards oversee governance and management Qualify members of the Audit and Finance Committees to insure the veracity of the financial statements. These committees should meet privately with external auditors, the CFO, and internal auditors. Outside auditors should not receive any additional consulting fees from the company.
  7. Hire an independent compensation consultant. Neither the CEO nor any member of management should be involved in setting the CEO’s compensation, or board fees. My big concern with executive compensation is the grants made by compensation committees to executives who do not perform or who are terminated. These moves destroy the integrity of incentive systems. At the executive level, it should be “pay for performance.” Period.
  8. Meet regularly in executive sessions. This works best if the board meeting begins in executive session with the CEO, and concludes with an executive session without the CEO present. These sessions are much more open and often lead to rich discussions of the most vital issues. Of course, the lead director must convey the essence of the discussion to the CEO.
  9. Seek the right Board chemistry. Board members should respect each other, but not hesitate to challenge each other, the CEO, and members of management. At times, a single director must stand against management and the rest of the board if he or she feels that the company is headed in the wrong direction. Board knowledge and chemistry can be enhanced with off site visits to company locations and one extended meeting per year, preferably off-site, to review the company’s strategies in depth. These longer sessions give independent directors deeper insights into the business, and build relationships that are vital in crises.
  10. Reestablish the bright line between governance and management. Directors must step up to their responsibilities and establish that bright line between governance and management. Will this reduce the power of the CEO to manage the company? No. The best CEOs want to have a strong, independent board, and look to the board for advice and counsel, not just approval, on important matters. Having a clear line between will keep the board from usurping the CEO’s prerogatives just as it will constrain management. This will help restore the balance to decision-making and ensure stability.

To transform our systems of government, businesses, and non-profits, we need courageous, authentic, and visionary leaders and directors, not just people who react to events.

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Posted in Management and Leadership

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz Calls It a Day

Starbucks COO Kevin Johnson is the right replacement for CEO Howard Schultz

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has called it a day, and that’s causing some investors a bit of worry, primarily because the coffee giant struggled the last time Schultz left in 2000.

Starbucks COO Kevin Johnson Replaces CEO Howard Schultz

Kevin Johnson, the current president and chief operating officer of Starbucks, will take over as CEO. Johnson is a 30-year veteran of the tech industry held senior leadership roles for 16 years at Microsoft and a five-year stint CEO of Juniper Networks.

Johnson’s consumer technology background is impressive and is a key asset for Starbucks in expanding the company’s already-leading digital platform across channels and geographies in the years to come.

Former Starbucks COO Troy Alstead Quit in January 2015

When Starbucks’ longtime COO Troy Alstead quit, Schultz wrote, “Looking back on the 23 years we spent together side-by-side as Starbucks colleagues, I can recall so many memorable moments and accomplishments in which Troy can take pride in a job well done. Troy is a beloved Starbucks partner and has played an invaluable role in our growth as an enterprise and in the development of our culture as a performance-driven company balanced with humanity, which is unique for our industry. Troy’s humanity and humility will be missed and we wish him the best.”

Starbucks' Premium Roastery and Reserve Stores

Schultz Focused on Sustaining Revenue

For the last several years, Schultz focused on sustaining revenue growth by moving beyond his coffee house roots. In 2012, he purchased Teavana as another brick in the road, which has encompassed instant coffee, energy drinks, juice, a single-serve brewer and food to sell in its shops and in grocery stores. In 2013, Starbucks and yogurt-maker Danone, declared a plan to cooperatively create an assortment of specialty yogurt products in contributing Starbucks stores in 2014 and in grocery channels in 2015 as part of the coffee chain’s growing Evolution Fresh brand. With cafe-like atmospheres and a brand that evokes a high-quality customer experience, Starbucks appreciates pricing power benefits over nearly all specialty coffee peers. This will be expanded by the development of the Starbucks Reserve sub-brand to deliver exclusive, higher-end coffee blends.

While Schultz’s forethought and attention to customer experience have been significant motives that Starbucks has established one of the widest-moat and most consistent growth stories in the global consumer coverage universe, Starbucks has one of the deepest benches in the consumer sector. While most of the focus is technically on new CEO Johnson and his wide-ranging consumer technology background, Schultz will still be immersed with the development of Starbucks’ Premium Roastery and Reserve stores.

'Onward How Starbucks Fought for Its Life' by Howard Schultz (ISBN 1609613821) Don’t liken Schultz’s switch to that of 2000, when he undertook the chairman role and assigned Jim Donald as CEO. Schultz ultimately returned as CEO in 2008 in the wake of disappointing sales figures and a “watering down of the Starbucks experience”. In his turnaround memoir Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul, Schultz wrote “The merchant’s success depends on his or her ability to tell a story. What people see or hear or smell or do when they enter a space guides their feelings, enticing them to celebrate whatever the seller has to offer. Intuitively I have always understood this. So when, in 2006 and 2007, I walked into more and more Starbucks stores and sensed that we were no longer celebrating coffee, my heart sank. Our customers deserved better.”

How Starbucks Became Successful

How Starbucks Became Successful

Brand, channel, and technology advantages have positioned Starbucks for a long runway for growth:

  • Starbucks coffee is robust, and people get used to the taste, making it difficult for them to be content somewhere else, either to coffee chains such as Dunkin’ Brands, Tim Hortons, or McDonald’s. Joh. A. Benckiser’s amalgamation of Mondelez’s coffee properties (D.E Master Blenders, Peet’s, Caribou, Einstein Noah, and Keurig) are emerging as Starbucks’s noteworthy competitors. Despite the tenacity of the legend, Starbucks doesn’t really burn its beans. Nonetheless it uses two tablespoons of coffee per 6 ounces of water, which is beyond a lot of other places.
  • Decades ago, in many markets, the only place a customer could get a cappuccino was a restaurant, and there indeed weren’t any flavored or distinguished coffees anywhere. Starbucks was the pioneer in bringing those to the masses. There’s countless brand loyalty they’ve built up over the years. As good the coffee beans are a good amount of training goes in the way they make specialized drinks. Wet, dry cappucino, lattes in perfect ratios of coffee, milk and foam.
  • Starbucks has been known for being pretty generous to its employees, together with presenting full benefits to those working as a minimum 20 hours per week. That made customers feel good about buying coffee there.
  • Customers appreciate the consistency of Starbucks products. A customer can go to a Starbucks pretty much anyplace in the world, and know what they’re getting. A grande vanilla latte will be on the menu and taste the same whether in Seattle, New York, London, Istanbul, or Moscow.

The Recipe to Starbucks Success

The Recipe to Starbucks’ Success

Yet same-store sales have been decelerating, however from very high levels, and the company ran into difficulty the last time Schultz stepped back from the CEO role. Regardless of impressive growth plans, and commodity cost and foreign currency volatility, Starbucks can endure a 40%-45% dividend payout ratio over the next decade.

Some analysts and investors aren’t worried about the management change. Wells Fargo’s Bonnie Herzog acknowledged that while Schultz’s departure is “a loss, in our view the show must (and will) go on” and added, “While we acknowledge that Schultz is without question one of the strongest and most visionary leaders in the consumer/retail world, we believe the succession planning put in place several years ago assures the recent exceptional performance will likely continue.”

Starbucks Future Strategy for Invigorated Growth

Starbucks Future Strategy for Invigorated Growth

Speaking of how Starbucks’ invigorated food and beverage menu and store reformats have uplifted the Starbucks customer experience, pierced new markets and times, and enhanced unit-level productivity metrics, Herzog also wrote,

The leadership change announced today has been a long-time in the making, starting nearly 3 years ago with the shuffling of the senior leadership team, and subsequent promotion of Johnson in early 2015 to the role of President/COO. We believe that Johnson is a very capable leader, with strong experience working side-by-side Schultz for the past two years. Importantly Johnson has an exceptionally good relationship with Schultz, which should keep Schultz sufficiently removed to allow Johnson to lead effectively given his trust in Johnson, while also remaining sufficiently nearby to ensure the ship remains on course… We believe Johnson’s technology background positions him well to ensure SBUX’s mobile and digital initiatives—key to SBUX’s long-term success, in our view—will remain a primary focus of the company. Importantly, Schultz will remain focused on his ongoing efforts to premiumize the SBUX brand and experience through Roastery and Reserve stores, which should support accelerated innovation and allow the broader store network led by Johnson to continue to thrive.

Investors are also cheerful about Starbucks’ mobile, digital, and loyalty program collaborations across the various business lines, affiliations with Spotify, New York Times, and Lyft, and new payment technologies. Starbucks’ worldwide opportunities are undisputable–particularly in China, India, Japan, Brazil, and Eastern Europe–and Starbucks will apply its best practices from the U.S. to accelerate its growth aspirations.

Starbucks has organized an investor meeting next week, during which its leaders are expected to release news on current and future initiatives.

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Charlie Munger’s 10 Rules for Investment Success

Charlie Munger's 10 Rules for Investment Success When Charlie Munger talks, people listen— particularly if they want to know how to invest their money.

Munger, who is the vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, has delivered instrumental guidance to Berkshire’s renowned founder, Warren Buffett, and many others. By means of what Munger identifies as “elementary world wisdom,” Munger’s technique weighs risk and reward, make the most of fact-based data and abating emotion.

Keeping it simple, Munger declares, “I observe what works and what doesn’t and why.” Like Buffett, Munger pulls much of his motivation from post-Great Depression era investor Benjamin Graham, a “value investor.” Graham sought “mispriced assets” with values greater than people think.

Charlie Munger has some advice for investors.

  1. Measure risk: All investment evaluations should begin by measuring risk, especially reputational.
  2. Be independent: Only in fairy tales are emperors told they’re naked.
  3. Prepare ahead: The only way to win is to work, work, work, and hope to have a few insights.
  4. Have intellectual humility: Acknowledging what you don’t know is the dawning of wisdom.
  5. Analyze rigorously: Use effective checklists to minimize errors and omissions.
  6. Allocate assets wisely: Proper allocation of capital is an investor’s No. 1 job.
  7. Have patience: Resist the natural human bias to act.
  8. Be decisive: When proper circumstances present themselves, act with decisiveness and conviction.
  9. Be ready for change: Accept unremovable complexity.
  10. Stay focused: Keep it simple and remember what you set out to do.

Munger has argued that if “you’re investing for 40 years in some pension fund, what difference does it make if the path from start to finish is a little more bumpy or a little different than everybody else’s so long as it’s all going to work out well in the end? So what if there’s a little extra volatility.”

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