ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — May 2003

In This Issue
Seeing Groups–
and the World–
in a New Way
AQP’s National Team Excellence Awards Diary
Ask the PowerPhrase® Expert
Looking Toward the Future



AQP Connections
Articles in Brief
News Bites
What’s Up?
Out of Context
Book Nook

May 2003 News for a Change—Home Page

NFC Index

AQP Home

Articles in Brief
A quick synopsis of what other publications are saying about topics related to leadership, employee involvement, quality, and organizational performance

April 2003

Why it’s Time to Take a Risk
Resources are cheap. The competition is paralyzed. The last thing you should do right now is play it safe.

Like a crash diet, retrenchment may help you look less like an inflated marshmallow, but the improvement will be temporary unless you commit yourself to better nutrition and a sustained exercise regime. Denominator management—whacking away at head count, paring down inventory, and slashing capital budgets to buttress your financial ratios—can take you only so far.

Retrenchment doesn’t transform a company’s cost structure fundamentally; it simply establishes a new, lower equilibrium between revenues and expenses. It doesn’t create competitive advantage—not unless you’re taking costs out a lot faster than your competitors are and doing so in ways that don’t imperil long-term success. In other words, retrenchment can buy you time, but it can’t buy you a future.

At some point, in fact, it becomes retreat. Studies suggest that this point often comes sooner than most business people expect. A Mercer Management study of 116 companies that aggressively cut costs in the 1990-91 recession, for instance, determined that only 29% of them grew profitably in the latter half of the decade. A more recent study by Strategos, the Chicago-based consultancy chaired by [the article’s author] Gary Hamel, demonstrated the limits to a single-minded focus on cost cutting. It showed that while a company can grow earnings faster than revenues for a few years—a sure sign of denominator management—one that grows earnings more than five times faster than revenues for more than three years in succession is almost certain to see a subsequent collapse in growth. The point is simple: Retrenchment makes you smaller, not better.

Fast Company
April 2003

Rules of Business Ethics
Striking a balance “between integrity and sensibility,” the U.S. Department of Commerce issued a set of business-ethics guidelines that it hopes will restore confidence in the U.S. economy by making it easier for the public to understand what constitutes unethical behavior and for corporations to fulfill their moral and legal obligations. An excerpt of the regulations, including codified exceptions, will be available online at .

Fortune Magazine
March 20, 2003

Swedish Board Games: Feminist Quotas in Swedish Boardrooms
“Women Storm Boardrooms,” screeched Sweden’s largest tabloid, Aftonbladet, on March 6. No, feminist Vikings are not crashing executive suites. Things are more serious than that—the government is threatening to do it for them.

Late last year, deputy prime minister and minister for equality, Margareta Winberg, said that if women did not constitute 25% of the boards of public companies by the end of 2004—they currently make up 6%, half the rate in the U.S.—she would seek to impose quotas. “I don’t much like quotas,” Winberg told Fortune, “but if that’s the only thing that will make people act, then so be it.”

The powers-that-be are not amused. “The business sector doesn’t at all like the idea of
quotas,” says Goeran Tunhammar, CEO of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise. Tunhammar agrees that boards should have more women but says companies should be allowed to set the pace.

HR Magazine
March 2003

Putting HR in Rotation
Demand a seat at the table. Become a strategic business partner. Be proactive. It’s all good advice. But like a mother’s reminders to take your vitamins or wear galoshes, these mantras seem to have turned off—rather than motivated—many HR professionals. It’s easy to see why: It’s one thing to talk about becoming a business partner; doing it is a whole other matter.

Experts say the surest way for HR professionals to become strategic business partners is to learn more about the business they serve. And actually “doing the business” is often the best way to learn it.

A prime way to do the business is to participate in a program that offers rotating assignments through non-HR functions. Simply put, there is no substitute for experiential learning.

Ironically, that’s a mantra HR professionals seem to have bought into only for co-workers in other disciplines. For decades, HR development executives have coordinated rotation programs that have allowed their counterparts in finance, marketing, and operations to gain broad business experience and move up the corporate ladder. But, unlike their colleagues, the vast majority of HR executives who function as business partners have not participated in rotation programs.

Toning Up Communications
Writing skills are becoming increasingly important in the workplace. More employees are required to write effectively, even if their jobs never included writing previously.

One reason for this change is that nearly every worker is connected via e-mail—to each other and to customers. For instance, customer service agents who used to spend 95% of their time on the telephone are increasingly required to answer customer inquiries via e-mail.

Also, downsizing has eliminated the administrative assistants who used to edit, correct, and type business correspondence. Now, all but the upper echelon of executives write and send their own letters and e-mail messages. No matter whether the writer is a CEO, a sales manager, or a customer service representative, poor communication can lead to loss of business.

“It is embarrassing when executives send out [correspondence] with misspellings and bad writing,” says Yvonne Alexander, owner of Alexander Communications, a Sebastopol, CA, company that offers writing seminars. “As managers move up the ladder, their writing gets more complicated and the quality deteriorates. They write in this oblique, dense style. You can’t make sense of it.”

“If you send out a sales letter that is filled with errors, you’re losing credibility. You send the image that your company is careless,” says Dawn Josephson, president of Cameo Publications, an editorial and publishing services firm based in Hilton Head, SC.

Credibility is not the only issue. E-mail messages, sales letters, and policy manuals are meant to communicate. Bad writing can muddle the message. Alexander recalls an HMO whose policy stated that customers who receive money from a third party for their injuries would reimburse the company. A woman insured by the HMO broke her leg in an auto accident, and then collected $200 from the other driver. Her HMO, which had paid her medical bill, took the woman to court to collect the $200 she had received; however, the judge ruled against the HMO “based on the fact that the policy was written so badly that no one could understand it,” Alexander says.

Inc. Magazine
March 2003

The Power of Listening
In the beginning was the dream, as is the case with most entrepreneurial ventures, only at that stage it wasn’t too grandiose. “Seven years and out,” says Paul Centenari. Buy the company, fatten it up, and sell it.

Not long after came the nightmare. What had been a tidy, profitable little business when Centenari and his brother Peter bought it was suddenly a charter member of its bank’s workout group, one step this side of bankruptcy. The Centenaris were on the hook personally, big time. “I’d come home and look at my house and wonder, will they take my house?” says Paul. “I’d look at my wife and wonder, will they take my wife?” He smiles wanly at the feeble joke. It wasn’t a funny time.

But when they woke up from the nightmare, the company finally back on its financial feet, the Centenaris had a revelation, which is to say that they began to dream a different kind of dream altogether. Wait a minute, they told each other. We can do this. We can start with a tiny company in a hardscrabble nickel-and-dime industry and build it into a billion-dollar business. We’ll expand our existing plants. We’ll scarf up competitors. We’ll learn to do things that nobody else can do.

If this were a movie trailer, the music would be swelling. Oh, and one more thing. We’ll show the world there’s a different way of running a company—a better way. We’ll open the books. We’ll share ownership and help everybody get rich. Hell, we’ll build a democracy! We’ll have our people vote on how to spend the company’s money.

T+D Magazine
March 2003

A Boot to the System
When General Physics needed to shake up its system, it called on a West Point grad to help create a boot camp-style leadership program for middle- and upper-level management. That unconventional approach was taken because executives knew that a certain level of shock was needed to get company leaders to wake up and pay attention.

For seven days, the “boots” (participants) completed a rigorous, more than 17-hour schedule of physical and mental activities, including many teamwork exercises. As the long days began to take their toll, a motivational speaker was brought in. Problems with the system were also worked out: senior officers also needed training, so they joined the boots mid-week. By the end of the course, participants were proud of their accomplishment and were committed to change.

Now called Leadership Tools and Techniques, boot camp continues to be a success for GP and is now a requirement for anyone seeking a promotion to supervisor.

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