6 Critical Success Factors for Volatility

Here are six critical success factors for embracing volatility in ways that will allow the organization to thrive:

1. Courageous leaders
I define courageous leaders as individuals who focus relentlessly on achieving the organization’s mission, especially when they are surrounded by chaos, uncertainty, and fear-based opposition. They make and implement the tough decisions required when faced with the reality of extraordinary shortages of resources. They seek and find the opportunities inherent in the volatility rather than succumb to the obstacles that less bold leaders point to as reasons to hide under the desks till the storm blows over.

2. Concrete and unambiguous definition of the playing field
Every organizational stakeholder must know, with certainty and precision, what “game” they are playing, who the players are, the rules of the game, the specific roles that they fill, and the desired end result. They must know what is “in” and what is “out” of play so they can concentrate on the former and not waste time on the latter.

3. Clear priorities
In order to allocate scarce resources most effectively, there must be unmistakable priorities. Leaders must model priorities-based decision-making.

4. Ability to release people and things that no longer serve the organization’s mission well
Everything that is done must contribute directly to the organization’s mission. Anything that is not mission-critical must be jettisoned if the organization is to thrive. This is a time to gain exceptional clarity about what the organization does, and why.


5. Accountability
Although accountability was a critical success factor for thriving in more stable times, it often fell by the wayside when leaders were willing to settle for less than excellence, or for a lower standard of performance, when resources were more plentiful. In volatile times, however, the ability to thrive demands accountability at all levels.

6. Creativity and innovation
About the only thing we know for certain about these volatile times is that there will be continued turbulence. Things we cannot forecast with any certainty include what new challenges and opportunities will present themselves, and how we can handle them. What we can do is encourage and reward those who apply their creativity and innovation to address the opportunities in ways that help the organization succeed.

Three Secrets of Organizational Effectiveness

When the leaders of a major retail pharmacy chain set out to enhance customer satisfaction, market research told them that the number one determinant would be friendly and courteous service. This meant changing the organizational culture in hundreds of locations—creating an open, welcoming atmosphere where regular customers and employees knew one another’s names, and any question was quickly and cheerfully answered.

If you’re trying to instill this kind of organizational change in your company, then you face not just a logistical shift, but a cultural challenge as well. Employees will have to think differently, see people differently, and act in new ways: going the extra mile for shoppers, helping them articulate what they’re looking for, and working harder to keep items from getting out of stock. Employees also need to continually reinforce the right habits in one another so that the customer experience is on their minds everywhere, not just at the pharmacy or checkout counter, but in the aisles and back room as well. Conventional efforts to make this happen by “changing the organizational culture” in a programmatic fashion won’t get the job done.

One method that can help is known as pride building. This is a cultural intervention in which leaders seek out a few employees who are already known to be master motivators, adept at inspiring strategic awareness among their colleagues. These master motivators are invited to recommend specific measures that enable better ways of working. It’s noteworthy that pride builders in a wide variety of companies and industries tend to recommend three specific measures time and time again: (1) giving more autonomy to frontline workers, (2) clearly explaining to staff members the significance and value (the “why”) of everyday work, and (3) providing better recognition and rewards for employee contributions.

These are, of course, widely appreciated management methods for raising performance. But they’re rarely put into practice. Perhaps it’s because they feel counterintuitive to many managers. Even the leaders who use them, and whose enterprises benefit from the results, don’t know why they work. So the value of these powerful practices is often overlooked.

That’s where neuroscience comes in. Breakthroughs in human brain research (using conventional experimental psychology research in addition to relatively new technologies like CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging) are revealing new insights about cognitive processes. With a little knowledge of how these three underused practices affect the brain, you can use them to generate a more energizing culture.

Autonomy at the Front Line

At the pharmacy chain, the pride builders were employees with a knack for exceptional service. When asked how to spread that knack to others, they suggested giving clerks more leeway to do things on their own. For instance, the clerks could resolve customer complaints by issuing refunds on the spot, and they could try out their own product promotion ideas. In the past, store managers had been quick to step in and correct mistakes in an abrupt and sharp-tongued manner. Now they would be more positive, collaborative, and interactive with customers and colleagues.

The company set up a pilot program to train some store managers and track results. Almost immediately, there were encouraging comments from the front line: “[My store manager is] now open to suggestions, big or small. I know that my opinion counts with her.” Customer ratings and the amount spent per visit also rose, perhaps because giving employees the freedom to stretch and to shape their work directly improved the customer experience.

Why did autonomy make such a difference? Because micromanagement, the opposite of autonomy and the default behavior for many managers, puts people in a threatened state. The resulting feelings of fear and anxiety, even when people consciously choose to disregard them, interfere with performance. Specifically, a reduction in autonomy is experienced by the brain in much the same way as a physical attack. This “fight-or-flight” reaction, triggered when a perceived threat activates a brain region called the amygdala, includes muscle contractions, the release of hormones, and other autonomic activity that makes people reactive: They are now attuned to threat and assault, and primed to respond quickly and emotionally. An ever-growing body of research, summarized by neuroscientist Christine Cox of New York University, has found that when this fight-or-flight reaction kicks in, even if there is no visible response, productivity falls and the quality of decisions is diminished. Neuroscientists such as Matthew Lieberman of the University of California at Los Angeles have also shown that when the neural circuits for being reactive drive behavior, some other neural circuits become less active—those associated with executive thinking, that is, controlling oneself, paying attention, innovating, planning, and problem solving.

By giving employees some genuine autonomy, a company can reduce the frequency, duration, and intensity of this threat state. Indeed, as Mauricio Delgado and his social and affective neuroscience research laboratory at Rutgers University have found, the perception of increased choice in itself activates reward-related circuits in the brain, making people feel more at ease.

In the long run, sustained lack of autonomy is an ongoing source of stress, which in itself can habitually lead the brain to be more reactive than reflective. Sustained stress can also decrease the performance of important learning and memory brain circuits, as well as the performance of the prefrontal cortex, which is so important for reflection.

To return to our drugstore example, when a customer complains about being overcharged, a clerk in a fight-or-flight state might respond counterproductively—for example, by arguing. But a clerk accustomed to autonomy would be more likely to understand and to try to solve the problem in an empathetic way. If the company leaders try to enforce better customer service through strict rules that make clerks feel micromanaged, the physiological state associated with the fight-or-flight reaction would probably lead to the opposite outcome: driving customers away.

The “Why” of Everyday Work

A regional health insurance company, adapting to the U.S. Affordable Care Act, resolved to create more brand loyalty in an attempt to attract customers. One of the first trouble spots was the call center that managed claims. Customer satisfaction with health insurance call centers is notoriously low, often with good reason. There are not always good options for resolving claims. Staff members are typically judged on how rapidly and economically they can get people off the phone. The technology is often unsophisticated, catching callers in irritating voice-mail loops. At this company, call center employees saw consumers as their enemies—as complainers who berated the employees and blamed them for a miserable system that wasn’t their fault. All the training in the world could not overcome their fight-or-flight reaction. This, in turn, led to low levels of effectiveness and high turnover rates. From a neuroscience perspective, the system couldn’t have been better designed to bring out the worst in everybody.

Despite all this, some supervisors in the call centers regularly managed to mobilize service reps to deliver great customer care. The company was eager to learn how. When they brought these supervisors together, it turned out they had all, independently, discovered the same technique: taking the time to help sales reps and other call takers see and fully understand the “why” of their everyday work. This often took the form of explaining (or, better yet, demonstrating) the significant value of daily tasks, so that the reps understood their impact as part of a larger health ecosystem that supported people during difficult and stressful times. In the words of one pride builder, “I tell my team that it’s not just a claim on the other end of the call; it’s a family. You do more than answer the phone. You are a part of these folks’ lives.”

Here, too, neuroscience helps illuminate why the explicit invoking of significance and empathy is so effective. Helping a family member who is concerned about a medical issue (generally one with financial ramifications) is a different challenge from dealing with a customer trying to get more money. In neuroscience, these would be called different schemas: patterns of thought that organize experiences.

People do not have just one way of operating. They have different modes of social behavior that vary from one context to the next. The rules for social interaction are quite different when out for a drink with friends than when at a parent–teacher meeting. Schemas reflect these changes of context; thus, when a call center employee is operating in a help-a-family schema, the kinds of behaviors that are appropriate are quite different from those in a deal-with-a-customer schema.

Elliot Berkman of the University of Oregon, one of the leading researchers into the neuroscience of goal setting and habit formation, has proposed another reason why explanations of this sort are powerful motivators. When people know the reason that a goal exists, it is easier to form a “goal hierarchy”: a mental structure in which priorities can be considered as complements rather than obstacles to one another. This makes it more likely that people will follow through.

Consider the job of helping people who call for information about their insurance policy. The employee’s goal is tightly connected with the purpose of the job. If the goal is to help families, the employee would ask about the family’s challenges and describe how its policies could help. If the goal is to get people off the phone quickly, the employee would try to convince callers that the company was already doing everything it could. Employees will favor the former goal only if they see how it fits the company’s strategy, and if they are confident that pursuing it will be regarded as right by their leaders and peers.

Finally, stressing the “why” to employees helps companies deploy the cognitive power of altruism. Studies show that the brain’s reward system is directly activated by helping others. At the University of British Columbia, Elizabeth Dunn and her colleagues found that people report feeling happier after giving money to others than after spending it on themselves. Similarly, when it’s clear to employees that they’re helping others through their work, their intrinsic motivation rapidly expands. Management by objectives is a far more limited mental schema than management by aspiration.

When it’s clear to employees that they’re helping others through their work, their intrinsic motivation rapidly expands.  For all these reasons, once the “why” of their jobs had been explained to them, call center employees transformed the way they dealt with customers. This mitigated a prevalent pain point and accelerated the changes that the company needed to make.

Recognition and Rewards

When the global automobile industry began to recover from the severe slump of 2008–10, the leaders of one major automaker recognized the need to refocus their orientation from survival to growth. Employees already knew how to make the production line work better. Now, could they do the same in their customer interactions, particularly with car buyers in showrooms?

The company found the solution in its pride builders. North America, Europe, and Asia had been affected differently by the recession, so these master motivators had to adapt their approach to regional business conditions, cultural differences, and employee attitudes. One theme was common to everyone: recognizing employee success in a skillfull and considered way. This did not mean heaping undeserved praise on people; it meant celebrating a job well done while keeping the bar high. One example is this note from a team member about a supervisor: “She is a demanding manager in a fast-paced job, but she knows the importance of keeping the work fun and rewarding.”

The most effective supervisors all turned out to have similar pride-builder-style approaches for conveying recognition and, where possible, rewarding people for good customer interactions. They relayed positive feedback from customers; they took care to contact each team member’s manager when giving thanks and recognition; and they personalized the messages. “Maria knows what kinds of recognition each person appreciates most,” a team member observed about his boss. “She might take one person out to coffee or lunch as a form of recognition. Or she might encourage people to work from home one day per week so they can spend more time with their kids.”

Neuroscience explains the importance of the personal touch in delivering recognition that matters. When a manager recognizes an employee’s strengths before the group, it lights up the same regions of the employee’s brain as would winning a large sum of money. Rewards of all kinds, including social rewards, tend to release the neurotransmitter dopamine, which produces good feelings. These reward circuits encourage people to repeatedly behave the same way.

One framework of social motivators is the SCARF theory: David Rock, cofounder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, proposes that people at work are highly motivated by five types of social rewards: status boosts (S); increases in certainty (C); gaining autonomy (A); enhancing relatedness (being part of the group) (R); and demonstrating fairness (F) (see “Managing with the Brain in Mind,” by David Rock, s+b, Aug. 27, 2009). Public personal recognition provides three of these rewards. It increases social status, enhances the sense of being a valued member of the group, and shows that hard work will be fairly recognized. Most people’s neural circuits will respond directly to these, and the automakers were no exception. This, in turn, made it more likely that they would continue behaving in productive ways. The auto supplier thus laid the cultural foundations to support a shift from financial peril to growth.

Pride and the Imitation Process

The three management approaches described here—autonomy, purpose, and recognition—can create a climate of trust that spirals upward through the ecosystem of the organization. That’s because people in just about any social setting tend to pick up the mood and attitudes of others nearby, generally to a degree that they don’t consciously realize.

This process, which neuroscientists call imitation, has been studied extensively. For example, Elaine Hatfield’s work at the University of Hawaii on “emotional contagion” has shown how one person’s emotions can rapidly influence those of a group. The brain also has a process known as mirror neuron activity: When people see others act in a certain way, circuits in their brain are activated as if they had taken the actions themselves, even if they don’t directly imitate that behavior. Moreover, according to research led by Andreas Olsson, now at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, observation can at times substitute for personal experience. Watching someone else in a situation can have an impact on the brain similar to that of experiencing it directly.

The workplace is a natural medium for viral behavior, transmitted through observation. As long as people see the difference it makes, a change in a few individuals’ neural patterns can move rapidly through the enterprise. Social scientists sometimes refer to this phenomenon as social proof or the bandwagon effect, and it has long been documented as a vehicle for social change. Indeed, this could be why the pride building method itself is so effective.

There is enormous potential for combining neuroscience theory with efforts to help companies improve the positive impact of their culture. The more people who understand the value of fostering autonomy, purpose, and recognition—and who translate these principles into practice—the more others will mirror them and the more widespread these practices will become. By providing scientific evidence of the power of the pride builder behaviors, neuroscience can help leaders see the value of constructive organizational culture change, and deploy more effective ways to accomplish it.



5 Signs of an Ineffective Structure

http://realtormag.realtor.org/for-brokers/network/article/2014/09/workplace-conflict-getting-past-he-said-she-said ron palinkasAn organization is defined as a group of people working towards a common goal. An effective organization is one that delivers on its common goal consistently with the resources available. Clarity, Competency, Consistency and Efficiency are hallmarks of an effective organization. While simple in theory, this is something that most organizations grapple with. One key component of this is the Organizational Structure (also known as Boxes and Wires). The structure is put in place to provide formal authority for decision-making and drive accountability. The structure enables an organization to perform five critical functions of management – planning, organizing, staffing, directing and controlling.

Building an effective organization structure is a leadership competency. A Leader that I admire a lot once shared that “No structure is permanent and no structure is perfect. You need to keep adjusting it to build an effective organization.” So, how do we know if our structure has a problem? Here are five simple signs that may be helpful

  1. You need sign off from three or more people for a single decision – The evolution of matrix structure, fueled by Global Operating Models have created a complex operating environment – a mix of functional experts and business revenue owners. Multiple parts of the organization are focused on multiple priorities and some of them may be at odds with each other. The matrix structure distributes the ‘power’ to make decisions and aims to drive a ‘healthy tension’ (functional maximization vs business optimization). However, when decisions need to be signed off by three or more people, you have an ineffective structure. This is reflected in the ‘time to decide’ metric. Decision delays and multiple reviews where same information is shared are great examples of ineffective structure.
  2.  You have more than eights levels or layers of hierarchy- I have done a ‘blank sheet approach’ with number of senior leaders. I start by asking them to pen down their ideal levels or layers of hierarchy starting from the top. Each level has to have a distinct responsibility. The typical 7 levels for large multinational, multi-product organization that they come up with are – CXO – Business/Functional Global Leader – Product/Department Leader – Senior Manager – Manager – Supervisor – Execution Level. This is then compared with actual levels/layers in hierarchy and we are typically off by 2 or more levels. Typical rationale provided include – talent pipeline, development roles and career opportunities. All are valid reasons. However what started as a short term focus become a permanent fixture and creates a tall hierarchical structure. What these additional layers create is an overlap or dilution of responsibilities and accountabilities. A simple way to measure this is to look at the number of layers/levels that are present in a meeting. If you look around and find two or more levels in the same review meeting, you know you have a problem.
  3. When was that decided, nobody told me” – Any time you hear this, you know your structure has inefficiency. The power of management is in its ability to coordinate efforts. The key is effective communication. When you have multiple stakeholders focusing on multiple priorities at differentiated speed, there are bound to be ‘misses’. Your processes and structure should be able to ensure effectiveness of communication. While there is a ‘want’ to be ‘informed about everything that goes on’, what people ‘need’ is ‘information that impacts achievement of their goal’. If you are spending time in this communication tsunami and seem to be going around in circles with it, you know you have an ineffective structure.
  4. “I need to check with my boss for this decision, let me get back to you” – This statement is like a slow spreading cancer for an effective organization. The Managers and Leaders are expected to make decisions to further the organization. That’s their primary duty. So any forum, meeting or review where critical decisions need to be taken, leaders in the room should have the courage and competence to decide. If they are not, something is wrong. It could be a person dependency or structural redundancy. Either ways it is not a healthy sign.
  5.  “Let me introduce myself and explain what I do” or “We need a new position” – A common mistake Leaders make is to confuse new work (job) with a dedicated role (position). Each new type of work does not mean a dedicated new role. It should be explored whether this work can be done with existing resources. While dedicated role has its advantages – like focus, clear accountability – it also comes with its baggage. People are not certain about what the new role will accomplish and how it will change current interactions. It takes precious time away from critical priorities and directs them to settling the new role. This is typical in a global operating model or a matrix organization where functional areas create their own set up rather than leveraging existing structure.

Any time you find yourself in a situation that is described above, it’s time to pause and reflect. Building an effective organization is a ‘Leadership’ competency, one that is becoming highly valuable in today’s complex business environment.

(Views expressed herein are my own. It does not represent any organization)

From Sanjay Gawde:   http://sanjay gawde

ServiceMax Titanium


SANTA CLARA, CA– September 14, 2010 – ServiceMax today announced ServiceMax Titanium, providing small manufacturers and service-based businesses a revolutionary new way of automating their field service organizations. The new service brings together a pre-configured version of ServiceMax and Salesforce Service Cloud 2, to create ServiceMax Titanium. Built natively on the Force.com cloud-computing platform, ServiceMax Titanium delivers industry-leading CRM features with best-in-class field service capabilities and industry best practices to help companies rethink field service. Learn more during a 30-minute Titanium webinar on October 5 at 8 a.m. PDT.

Comments on the news

“For the past two decades our industry has neglected the needs of small service organizations. Field service teams, the backbone of their organizations, frequently still use spreadsheets and whiteboards to run their field service operations,” said Dave Yarnold, CEO of ServiceMax. “We are proud to team with salesforce.com to deliver a streamlined, yet complete field service solution to companies with less than 100 users. Titanium – the most complete field service solution available today – is easy to use, inexpensive to implement, loaded with industry best practices, and built on the world’s most powerful cloud platform, Force.com.”
“Today’s customers aren’t waiting to get their solutions in the mail, they are on Cloud 2 – they’re mobile, using social networks to collaborate and demanding real-time answers,” said Kendall Collins at salesforce.com. “With ServiceMax Titanium, Service Cloud 2 can now deliver success to small- and mid-sized field service companies like never before.”
“Our research confirms that small- and mid-size service organizations are looking to grow revenue and increase productivity without sacrificing customer service and retention,” said Sumair Dutta, Sr. Research Analyst, Service Management, Aberdeen Group. “The availability of enterprise-class field service management capabilities in a low cost cloud computing model, delivered by solutions such as ServiceMax Titanium, will provide SMBs the opportunity to meet and exceed their service initiatives.”
ServiceMax Titanium brings the innovations of Force.com, salesforce.com’s enterprise cloud computing platform, to post-sales field service, making the solution cost-efficient, easy to use, and deployable in days, not weeks. Because Titanium is delivered through the cloud, businesses no longer have to rely on clunky, outdated legacy software systems. Instead, they can focus on customer relationships and immediate customer needs, not on software maintenance or piles of work orders.

Titanium includes all the tools small service organizations require to reinvent field service from one vendor, including:

Installed Base and Entitlements
Full entitlement tracking on all equipment under warranty or service contracts. Real-time, complete access to all relevant customer and contractual information that allows companies to ensure they meet each individual customer’s needs while maximizing service revenues.
Advanced Scheduling and Workforce Optimization
Interactive, automatic and/or cost optimal assignment of work-orders to technicians. Optimize the schedules of any number of technicians with a click of a button and without any additional IT resource investment.
Work-order Management & Issue Tracking
Create work orders and assign technicians to close issues quickly. Easy-to-use tools make it simple to manage field technicians and automate the creation, assignment, execution and closure of cases and work orders.
Inventory and Parts Logistics
Complete logistics and reverse logistics for organizations whose field operations include parts movement functions and depot repair activities. Manage infinite locations of spare parts inventories, including van stock and inventory depots.
Salesforce Chatter
Real-time, secure communication and collaboration across the organization – from field service to engineering to sales to execs. Illuminate service issues immediately via Salesforce Chatter, before the customer even knows there is a problem.
Reports and Dashboards
Create reports and dashboards to give service staff the business intelligence they need to run a profitable and competitive service operation to easily see profits, losses, service levels, and much more.
Mobile and Offline Solutions
Titanium Mobile brings the real-time collaboration of Cloud 2 to field technicians on the go, providing easy access across many mobile platforms, including BlackBerry, iPhone and Windows Mobile.
Customer Portal
The customer portal offers self-service capabilities to customers so they can directly interact with a business for their field service needs by creating, tracking and managing their own work-orders.
Force.com Platform
Titanium is built and delivered on the robust and trusted Force.com enterprise cloud computing platform. It includes the unparalleled scalability and speed that thousands of small, medium, and large companies have come to rely upon.


from:  http://www.servicemax.com

Create Organizational Paths to Success



Are you building the infrastructure and human capital you need for the long haul? How well do your employees’ individual road maps for professional development align with your long-term plans for the company, and how can you strengthen those connections? To create your path to long-term success, consider:


  • Giving your people increasing responsibility. There can be a balancing act between tapping employees for new responsibilities and not overloading them with work that isn’t tied to a short-term opportunity to advance. Continually explore their capabilities and potential for growth, and you’ll uncover new talents among your team members.
  • Communicating as a hedge against risk. Speak with people whose roles are evolving to determine which responsibilities can be shifted away from them as they take on new tasks. Even if you can’t offer them an immediate raise or change in title, they’ll feel valued and see that you’re not trying to take advantage of them.
  • Planning for your own evolution. Consider the ways your own role will change as the company grows, and ensure that you continue to guide employees regardless of how big your team becomes.

As a leader, you must ensure that your core values remain a prominent part of your culture as the company grows. This empowers the business and individual members of your team to advance together with a shared sense of purpose and a strong, enduring commitment to realizing your performance goals.

Read the third in our series of Connections to Growth: Team guides, Tactics and Tech to Put Your People on Paths to Growth, to learn how growing as an organization leads to long-term success.

from :http://comcast.com

Challenge Coins

Avery Dennison Reflective Solutions Ron Palinkas Global Technical Services ManagerChallenge coins have been around the military for quite some time.  A tradition that started with the Roman and made it’s way to contemporary times during World War I.  Challenge coins became popular only recently in US military history.(Wiki Challenge Coins)  This past week I sent out challenge coins to the Global Technical Services Team to recognize the commitment and tremendous value they bring to the organization.  Hours in airports all over the world, evenings spent preparing reports, and weekends spent remoting into customer design stations to help resolve an issue.  Although each is a member of the Global Team, field service in most industries is an independent job that comes with a great deal of responsibility and accountability.  I hope the coins become an annual tradition in Technical Services, recognizing the commitment that this group shows each day.  I am honored to be a member of the team.

Revenge of the Independent Hardware Stores

SOURCE CAROL M. HIGHSMITH/GETTYWe all know the requiem for retail in the 21st century. The big-box megastores killed off the mom-and-pops. Amazon and e-commerce crushed brick-and-mortar. By the time the Great Recession hit, traditional retail was already toast — and the drop in consumer spending that came with the crisis burned it to a crisp.

Amid the general doom and gloom, though, there’s a particular industry segment that stands apart. Independent home-improvement retailers — a broad class that includes more than 35,000 hardware stores, lumberyards, garden supply centers and paint shops that make up 50 percent of the market — didn’t just survive the category-killing, market-disrupting, store-shuttering trio of challenges. By customizing product offerings to local needs and personalizing customer service, these plucky retailers are solidifying their status as a crucial component of a healthy Main Street economy.

Every year, Deloitte releases what it calls the Retail Volatility Index, which measures how much market share businesses gain and lose in key retail segments, including hardware. In its 2016 report, Deloitte noted the emergence of a conventional-wisdom-busting trend. After a century of consolidation and concentration in retail, “smaller, more nimble players are stealing share from larger, more traditional, at-scale retailers.”

As a strategy principal at Deloitte, Jacob Bruun-Jensen was one of the authors of the company’s 2016 index. He says the hardware retail market is emblematic of the new retail volatility. “These smaller players have found a niche and have been very successful in competing against the big national chains. It’s tied to this phenomenon of consumers seeking out local products or services and being willing to pay for that advice and that experience.”

SOURCE CAROL M. HIGHSMITH/GETTYWhen it comes to convenience and customer service, it’s not hard to see why consumers continue to patronize smaller independent retailers. While megastores certainly have pushed many weaker stores out of business, they also have forced the remaining operators to improve. “They had to rethink their presentation and do a better job drawing the distinction between them and the big boxes,” Tratensek tells OZY. “Because [the market is] so fragmented, they’re all finding their own way to survive.”

The same goes for the plants Hosking stocks. “The big stores will beat us pretty good on the price of a plant,” he says, “but we give you more expert knowledge versus somebody who just moved from the paint section to the grill section and is now in charge of the plants.”

That’s another key distinguisher for the independent home-improvement retailers: knowledgeable staff who provide a customer-service experience the megastores can’t match. “It’s like you’re a therapist for those customers for those 10 minutes,” says Gentry Hipp, the owner of Hipp Modern Builders Supply in Mountain View, Arkansas. “You’re back there helping them fix a water leak. So you’ve got their plumbing parts on the floor, strewn across the aisle so no one else can even get through, and you’re hearing about how bad their day was … and that’s the joy of it for me — being able to help my customer’s day be better.”

Hipp also vigilantly tracks trends and looks for opportunities. When a nearby grocer shuttered, he bought his entire lawn and garden inventory and hired his L&G manager to help him add a new section to his business. Before that, he turned an unused section of his store into Mountain View’s premier tool and equipment rental center. Simply put, Hipp says he’s always asking, “What’s the next thing that we can include or add to make our business survive and flourish?”

If there’s one thing that might slow the mom-and-pop momentum, it’s succession. According to Tratensek, the average store owner in the industry is approaching 60. The business isn’t easy, though, and it’s hardly glamorous. That makes it difficult for older store owners to find someone to replace them. “It’s a tragedy when you see a well-run operation that’s forced to close its doors because there’s no one to take over the business,” says Tratensek.

To address the issue, the North American Retail Hardware Association has launched several initiatives. These include connecting mentor-owners with would-be shopkeepers and partnering with Ball State University, in Indiana, to create a six-month, college-level certification course that features in-store training and lessons on strategic business planning and retail financing. Tratensek adds: “All of this targets the question: How do we make sure the next generation can take over and run these businesses?”

  • Joe P. Hasler, OZY Author

Tennessee Teacher Cracks Adobe’s Semaphore Code

The secret code transmitted by the San Jose Semaphore has had mathematicians and puzzle fans stumped for over four-and-a-half years, but Jimmy Waters, a high school math teacher from Knoxville, Tennessee, just solved the mystery. The SJ Semaphore’s hidden message was one of the most famous broadcasts of all time — Neil Armstrong’s first words as he walked on the moon.The SJ Semaphore is a public art project, and an open challenge to science, math and art lovers everywhere—it’s a visual code comprised of four illuminated discs atop Adobe’s Headquarters. Each disc has four possible positions, and every 7.2 seconds they align in a new configuration, communicating an encrypted message. The code is also broadcast online, along with audio clues.Cracking the CodeJimmy first heard about the SJ Semaphore while reading Thomas Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49.” The full text of that book happened to be the very first encrypted message transmitted by the SJ Semaphore. In a lucky twist of fate, Jimmy stumbled upon the Semaphore and its new, unsolved code during an online search about Pynchon,. As a confessed logic-puzzle addict with the summer off from teaching, his mission was clear: “I wanted to understand how it was encrypted, and I wanted to take on a puzzle that’s been projected across a city and over the Internet for years without being solved.” It took him about a month to crack it.
First Jimmy pulled up the SJ Semaphore’s online transmission and began copying the positions of the discs by hand, just to get the feel for it. Then he figured out how to gather and parse the data from the website, and hacked together some scripts to pull data every couple of minutes. He assigned number values to the discs and graphed his findings. At first he was looking for written words, but the graphs started to look a little like audio.That was the biggest leap: “It didn’t feel like a breakthrough at the time. It was more of a ‘Well, nothing else is working, so why not?’” Then, using a program to examine .wav files, he began to hear the transmission.

“I knew what the recording was as soon as I heard the first clip of the decrypted audio. I’m sure I’ve heard the recording before, but I couldn’t have told you anything Neil Armstrong said other than the ‘One small step…’ part. That wasn’t the part I’d decrypted, but something about the voice or the quality of the recording was instantly recognizable to me,” Jimmy muses.

As a math teacher, Jimmy didn’t just embrace the Semaphore’s challenge, he related to the joy of the puzzle maker: “The most fun I have as a teacher is when I throw really tough problems at students and just watch what happens. I love to watch that creative struggle and the euphoria when they discover the solution. I’m suspicious that Ben Rubin [the project’s designer] experiences something similar seeing people trying to crack his Semaphore codes.”

The Not-So-Secret Story Behind the SJ Semaphore

The SJ Semaphore debuted in 2006. We had just opened our new Almaden Tower building, and the art-project-meets-puzzle was one way to integrate public art into the design. We chose renowned media artist Ben Rubin to create the piece, knowing he would draw on Adobe’s roots in tech and art to produce a unique experience for viewers around the world.

“The Semaphore came from a desire to make the mechanisms of digital communication visible to the naked eye,” says Ben. “As a piece of public art, I wanted the Semaphore to look graceful and well composed, but also mysteriously purposeful, evoking curiosity or fascination. Even if you have no idea what it is or what it’s doing, I hope the Semaphore suggests, just from the way it looks, that it is trying to communicate.”

While the mysterious Semaphore projects a futuristic, high-tech image, Ben was also drawing on some of the oldest of artistic traditions to create it. As he explains, “Historically, art and technology have never really been separated; from Pythagoras through da Vinci, from Robert Rauschenberg to Olafur Eliasson, there is an unbroken chain of artists deeply engaged with the latest science and technology of their respective times. In fact, it’s really only in the last couple of centuries that we’ve started to think of art and technology as separate.” In the Semaphore, these pieces come back together.

A Prize, and Another Mystery on the Horizon

The prize for solving the SJ Semaphore includes some pretty amazing bragging rights and a one-year subscription to Creative Cloud. Jimmy wanted his students to share his prize, so he requested to donate his subscription to Powell High School where he teaches. We decided to sweeten the deal with 40 one-year Creative Cloud subscriptions and a 3D printer to help the students push the boundaries of creativity even further.

Never heard of the SJ Semaphore until now? No worries – a new code will be up later this summer: “The Semaphore is intriguing to people — they’re captivated by those mysterious spinning dials,” says Siri Lackovic, Adobe senior brand strategist. “And we can’t wait for Ben to begin broadcasting a new challenge. The only thing I can reveal is that, with the next code, there will be new twists and surprises. Will it be another four-and-a-half years before someone solves it? That’s something no one knows.”

If we’ve piqued your code-cracking curiosity, read more about the history and vision behind the SJ Semaphore, find out how a dynamic duo decrypted the first code in 2006, and check out this list of longstanding unsolved codes.


Getting Better Does Not Take Genius or Shiny Things

http://blackchristiannews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/spiritual-man.jpg ron palinkas global service manager“Arriving at meaningful solutions is an inevitably slow and difficult process. Nonetheless, what I saw was: better is possible. It does not take genius. It takes diligence. It takes moral clarity. It takes ingenuity. And above all, it takes a willingness to try.”

– Atul Gawande, Better, p. 246

Health care in rural India would shock most of us in the United States. As Dr. Atul Gawande describes in Better—his fascinating book about improving performance in health care—many hospitals in rural India are overcrowded and under-resourced. The demands upon their services continuously outstrip their resources.

They continuously must do more with not just less, but in some cases with nothing at all. They must improvise. They must make use of what is available and do their best.

Despite their circumstances, these doctors and other healthcare providers innovate. They quickly move from case to case, sometimes sending patients themselves to purchase commonplace medical supplies. And they develop much broader areas of knowledge and skill than most doctors in the United States. For example, Gawande describes his astonishment at the ability of the surgeons in these crowded hospitals and clinics to perform chemotherapy, a task typically reserved solely for oncologists.

Certainly, the overall quality of health care is better in the United States than in the places that Gawande describes. He readily acknowledges as much in the book, and he provides numerous examples from within the United States of what it takes to get better in the practice of medicine. His chapter on improving outcomes for cystic fibrosis patients is particularly gripping.

As someone typically on the outside of the healthcare industry looking in, I see three specific lessons from Gawande’s observations that apply to organizations and teams of all types, in all sectors, in all industries.

First, getting better requires perspiration and an obsession about, not surprisingly, getting better. Getting better is sometimes less about big ideas than it is about doggedly executing the little ones.

Getting better requires a relentless desire—the discipline, diligence, persistence—to perform basic tasks perfectly. It also requires a relentless desire to push the bar higher, to refuse to accept the status quo as good enough. This style of leadership might be what some characterize as “micromanaging” and “intrusive.” Yet it’s often the hard-working, hands-on leader who pushes performance to new levels. It’s the leader who knows that perspiration is often just as (if not sometimes more) important than inspiration.

Second, getting better requires a focus on the basics. I often find that executives can become distracted by “shiny things”—be they technologies, fads or other attractive diversions. And yet, many times all they need to succeed are the basics. They don’t necessarily need the fancy new enterprise software they heard about at a trade show; they don’t necessarily need to pivot toward a new strategy. Instead, they may simply need to understand the basic resources their people need to do the job well or to execute their current strategy with gusto.

As Gawande describes when talking about his experiences in India:

“More than one doctor told me that it was easier to get a new MRI machine than to maintain basic supplies and hygiene … Having a machine is not the cure; understanding the ordinary, mundane details that must go right for each particular problem is.” (p. 242)

I had a similar experience while serving as an adviser to the Afghan National Police in 2013. A human resources information system was being built for them—at a huge expense. Yet most of them couldn’t read. And those who could read would have likely preferred some really great filing cabinets, folders and paper office supplies over a complicated computer system.

Third, getting better requires courage. People aren’t going to like it when you question their standards or performance. People aren’t going to be happy when you push them out of their comfort zone. People aren’t going to like it when you perform at a level that makes them look bad.

So you’ve got to decide: Is it worth it? And if it is, go for it, with a renewed appreciation for diligence and perspiration, a focus on the basics and listening to your people, and the courage to forge ahead even when you think people might get upset or when you’re just plain scared.

Find this thought provoking? Leave a comment, like and share!

About Ben Baran

Ben Baran, Ph.D., is probably one of the few people in the world who is equally comfortable in a university classroom, a corporate boardroom and in full body armor carrying a U.S. government-issued M4 assault rifle. Visit: www.benbaran.com.

Basketball and Eagle Scouts

No, we’re not talking about how Josh and his team became national champions when they won the tournament during Josh’s junior year in 2016. We’re also not talking about how he and his team just became Big East Conference regular season champions for the fourth straight year.

Those are definitely commendable achievements, but what many people don’t know is that, in addition to being a bonafide college basketball star, Josh Hart is an Eagle Scout.

His journey to earn Eagle, all while spending a great deal of time participating in high school basketball, wasn’t an easy one.

The young man’s achievement even prompted ESPN to produce a video news segment dedicated to how Josh earned his Eagle Scout.

The 3-minute video features interviews with Josh, his father, and his former Scoutmaster talking about the promise Josh made to his father as a boy and what he had to do to balance Scouting and basketball.

ron palinkas eagle scout“You don’t quit. You finish what you start,” said Moses Hart, Josh’s father.

Because of Josh’s commitment to basketball and Scouting, that meant the young man had to rely on some key Scouting skills of leadership and planning to finish all of the requirements for Eagle prior to his 18th birthday.

In a blog post on the Bryan on Scouting blog last year, Josh commented on how he made it work.

“It’s all about leading, leading and hard work,” he said. “You don’t get Eagle Scout by just showing up. You gotta put a lot of work in. Gotta sacrifice a lot of time. Put in a lot of weekends. Doing that taught me how to get serious, put my head down, and go to work.”

Be sure to watch the great news story from ESPN below (and for those familiar with the Build an Adventure campaign, be on the lookout for a few familiar video clips).

If you know a college basketball fan, and especially if you know a Scout looking to balance Scouting with sports, be sure to share Josh’s inspiring story with them.


Nathan Johnson

As a member of the Communications team at Boy Scouts of America, Nathan Johnson enjoys finding and sharing the stories that inform, inspire, and delight the Scouting family.