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Archive for February, 2011

Middle Management is…

A few weeks ago I posted about giving employees their due. Time to move up the food chain a bit. Let’s go to middle management, alternately seen as bottlenecks, conduits, or a*#holes depending on your position beside, below or above them.

Since Wikipedia is rapidly becoming the end all for defining what we don’t want to ourselves, let’s see what they have to say.

Middle management is a layer of management in an organization whose primary job responsibility is to monitor activities of subordinates while reporting to upper management.”

Wow, that doesn’t sound like something you’d study at Harvard! Sounds more like something the secret police would have been doing in any Middle Eastern dictatorship currently in the throes of being overthrown.

Lest you doubt, it only takes a few word substitutions to make my point:

“The Secret Police is a layer of control in a government whose primary job responsibility is to monitor activities of its citizens while reporting to the king/president for life.”

Middle management or secret police?

It’s hard to believe no one from middle management has caught this “big-bro-like” wiki entry so far. Maybe it’s because they’re too busy monitoring subordinates and reporting on their activities. Or maybe it’s because they’re busting their chops and other parts of their body trying to motivate staff, oversee budgets, and communicate increasingly complex information with fewer people, less money and time, and often incomplete or even incoherent data. Yet, US companies have been hedging much of their success on the ability of this mid-level to do it all, while the people they manage are wondering why they can’t.

Over the past year, I’ve managed communication effectiveness projects for some of the best known companies in the US and two themes have been most prevalent:

  • middle management is seen as being ineffective communicators, and
  • employees want to get more information from their middle managers.

This is quite a dilemma – it’s almost like saying my elected officials are doing a crappy job, but I want them to be better at telling me that. Oh wait…

About twenty some odd years ago, upper management decided computers and automated business decision software would make middle management obsolete. Then the economic downturn of the late 80s became a well-timed trigger for massive lay-offs of middle managers. What upper management failed to realize is that while computers are good at managing data, they’re really bad at managing people. Guess what, they still are. But it’s as if no one above the equivalent of a staff sergeant pay grade in the Army remembers that. Just look at how many mid-level managers lost their jobs in this last go round!

So what’s the solution? Match the tools with the expectation. If you want mid-level managers to be good to great mid-level managers, give them the management, communication and financial tools to do that. Reward them for using them, instead of punishing them for not having the time to ask where to find them.

More importantly, change up that definition to something more compelling and less “big bro-like.” How about this: “Middle managers are role models to their employees.”

Anything more than that and you might as well head to the Middle East.

-Aaron Heinrich

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Laker dissenters: Shhhh.

All season I’ve endured all the dissent and whining about how the Lakers are done.  How Kobe is no longer the man. With LeBron still choking at the end of every big game, I have one thing to say:  Shhhhhh.

The banners still hang at the Fabulous Forum.  And Kobe is still the best player on the planet.  If you need proof that the Lakers as a whole have some athleticism.  Click this and Ray Allen, get in my poster.

On a pass from the center Pau Gasol while Big Baby wonders "When do we eat?"

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Social vs. professional graph: Are the days of separate online identities numbered?

About 6 months ago I posted something on my Facebook account that had nothing to do with work.   It was a rant about a sales guy trying to sell me something completely unnecessary for my motorcycle.  Two days later, a friend on Facebook and superior at work asked me about it at work – the implication being that I was ranting about the workplace – where we ironically extolled that the social graph (or identity/profile) was and should be separate from the professional graph.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been emphatic about a singular online identity – which obviously paves the way for Facebook Connect to be the way people log in anywhere online.  He’s quoted three times in The Facebook Effect saying: “You have one identity.”

And that…“The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.” Further challenging the current separation of the social and professional graphs by saying: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

Well, we know how he feels about it.

In turn, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner has maintained that the separation between social and professional graphs is vital to professionals and to LinkedIn.  At last fall’s Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco — in his “keg stand” interview — he told John Batelle:

“While many of us in college probably were at parties having a good time, doing things like keg stands, or being exposed to keg stands, I don’t know that many of us would look forward to having a prospective employer have access to picture of those events.”

Who’s right? I’m less confident in the separation between the two than I was just 24 hours ago.

At a recent Ragan social media conference I attended, Shel Holtz echoed Facebook’s stance in his own inimitable and convincing way.  Of course, I Tweeted at him about this while he was presenting.

If I’m answering Shel literally, I’d say “see the first paragraph of this post.”

But I had to test this just a liiiiittle bit more.  The attendees of this conference were a better cross section of U.S. professionals than the early-adopting, Banana Republic-wearing, all technology-loving dot.com crowds that populated the early social media conferences. Insurance. Federal and municipal governments. Universities. Healthcare organizations. And, even the country’s largest cemetary.

They were all in the house — represented by professionals from every generation in the workforce today.

These are people working for really big, very regulated, widely and deeply impactful organizations from never-go-away industries — all there trying to figure out where to place their social media bets and budgets.  Shel’s point may be the most thought provoking point made out of all the sessions.  Because none of us are over-staffed or walking around with extra dollars pouring out of our back pockets, picking one may be a choice we’re forced to make.

So I put the question to the attendee group to see what they thought about the separation or blurring of social and professional graphs.  That group was on Facebook.  I’ll post the comments as they come in.

I’m not a Dead Head, but as I sit here during business hours while at the dealer getting my car repaired working on a post that has benefits to both my professional and personal brand, it’s hard not to think that maybe Shel has spoken for many of us.

My car is ready.  Back to the work.

- Jose Mallabo

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Social Exuberance

I’ve lived through a couple of bubbles in my time – dot.com and housing come to mind, anyone?  And something tells me the longer I’m around the more I’m going to have to live through.

Is social media another one of them? Maybe. Is a market cap of $80 billion for Facebook rational? Alan Greenspan must be trying his damnedest to make those old thumbs Tweet #social-exuberance.

Exuberant smile? Greenspan retired a while ago.

It strikes me that my framed Pets.com certificates and my wall have more than a nail in common – both were worth a hell of a lot more when I bought them (yeah, that was a stretch, thanks for sticking with me on that one). So now that I’ve said it, let me compare the stock market bubble to the housing market bubble to see what these bubbles might have in common.

There are basically three ways to value a stock, and they are pretty much the same as how the real estate market valued my wall.

My house:

  • Price per square foot (adjusted for how nice the stuff in my square footage is)
  • How much an identical house in my neighborhood sold for
  • Make shit up

A stock:

  • Discounted cash flows (predictions of how much money a company will make in future years, adjusted for how fast they will grow and how long they might last)
  • What comparable “peer” companies are trading at (adjusted for cash, debt (including options), assets and risks)
  • Make shit up

Both Facebook and Amazon have market caps of around $80 billion ($82.9 billion secondary market estimate for Facebook on 1/28, $76.8 billion actual market cap for Amazon on 1/28).  So if they were houses, and I was pre-qualified for an $83 billion mortgage, I could take my pick (well, my wife would, let’s stay grounded here).

As far as revenues go, estimates for Facebook for 2010 are around $2 billion while Amazon is on track for something north of $30 billion. In housing terms, Facebook is listing a very funky two bedroom loft conversion while Amazon is listing a 30-bedroom ancestral estate. So, there are either some really, really nice upgrades in that loft or there are 28 secret bedrooms priced into the deal.

Yes, an $80 billion estimate for Facebook is likely high. And yes, Facebook and Amazon don’t have identical business models.  But yes, the same people who sold me Pets.com shares are the same people who collateralized my mortgage and are the same people selling Facebook shares to foreign investors to avoid SEC regulations.

That must be one amazing loft.  I need to go check it out, I do need more wall space.

-Reid Cox

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