Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Which came first, the relationship (chicken) or the transaction (egg)?

Kevin Costner
Conventional business thought when you're selling a product or service says build relationships based on mutually identified need and the rewards will follow. Call it the Business Field of Dreams Theory. Except instead of  Kevin Costner looking for his Dad in the corn stalks, Warren Buffett shows up with bags of cash.

Warren Buffett
Credit: DealBreaker
What happens now is the transaction ends up defining the relationship, not the other way around. This isn't necessarily a bad thing -- think Facebook, Uber and Airbnb in an exponential marketplace. Balance between transactions at all costs vs. relationship represents a profound shift that helps explain resistance to change in most enterprise-level operating environments.  It's hard to instill trust and confidence when you're worried about how much you're going to get paid, or vice versa, how much you're not going to get paid or save in costs.

Consider the following example. New CEO Bob wants to improve the quality of his Corp.'s audit and financial controls, which he doesn't believe are identifying enough cost. Early in his tenure, Bob turns to a known relationship, a major auditing firm that he used at a previous employer. There are no conflicts so CEO proceeds to advise his board that the company is going to change auditors. He presents the business case, or the often lost Why.

A paranoid board, which named Bob CEO a year ago, challenges the decision and makes a single request: Could we instead go back to our current auditor and ask them to improve their process first to see if key measurements could be improved? Too much change at one time might send the wrong signal since our financial performance is solid. Oh, and could the board's Audit committee be fully apprised of what's going on via daily dashboard updates? What began as a simple exercise has now turned into a lengthy review process chalk filled with bureaucracy.

Unfortunately enterprise businesses now have to deal with these types of dynamics and behaviors regularly largely due to fear-based risk vs. reward scenarios. Two percent+ growth economies featuring lower wage, part-time jobs make everyone an expert at efficiency improvement.

Not to over-simplify a solution, but...What if we could return to a simpler relationship-driven environment such as the ones built with great mechanics, barbers or hair stylists and yard maintenance pros who populate the linear, or hourly marketplace? Relationship and transaction are one, and the complexities and obstacles, while always present, take a back seat. Here's an example:

Victor Aldana is a 30-something landscaping professional who has been working in Atlanta for the past 15 years. A native of Honduras, Victor lives with his wife and three children in Peachtree Corners, Ga. He and his four-man crew provide great service and a visible, finished product. They don't just cut the lawn and leave; they edge, kill weeds, trim bushes and clean up after themselves, a novel idea in today's world. See fuller description here:

I've known Victor for more than a year and have used and referred him regularly since he first started mowing my girl friend's yard. Always pleasant, always professional and highly responsive (text and email even when he's mowing) and above the standard norm. In addition to the yard, he's taken on separate projects, such as clipping trees and our newest mutual endeavor, deck improvement.

With Victor and Co. in the mix, there's no need to take on work outside my core competency, which does not include taking care of nearly an acre of land and repairing a deck in less than 365 days. He beats the heck out of the scared, lazy kids in the neighborhood -- not to mention the entitled landscaping services that tell you they wouldn't even consider stopping for less than $100.

The best part is you could call Victor at any time and he would at least try and help identify a solution if he couldn't do it himself. How many of us can say the same thing?

This relationship transcends the transaction although admittedly he seems to enjoy getting paid in cash. As do I. But that's another story.

Let's resolve to quit making things so damn complex for complexity's sake and do business the Victor Aldana way. If we can't have more trust and confidence then let's roll forward with more faith in the individual.

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Thursday, September 03, 2015

Labor Day special: Forks vs. pivots

A friend named Dan recently took a new job with a firm based on another continent. While the job is elsewhere, his employer has said that he can still live in Atlanta where he, his wife and two children call home. The job became permanent following a short period of contract-for-hire status, a term to describe contract employees, who are constantly being re-classified in other realms of the shared economy. But that's another story.

When Dan shared his news, he communicated ambivalence about the situation. The first level is pretty obvious: Lives in one place but has to commute to work in another. The next level isn't so obvious to the normal passing eye.

Dan is like a lot of the working world now who rarely turns up in the normal stats: Former corporate type who struck out on his own a few years ago, has done well but always feels the pressure of needing to do and earn more. When told it sounded like he was making a career pivot vs. taking the fork in the road, he seemed to accept the view. Pivots are real and continue unabated amidst unprecedented change, constant transition and what feels like a leaderless march to what the world calls a new normal.

So far, or since the term was coined in 2011 by someone who ironically no longer holds the same influential role, it's meant two percent economic growth, which is hardly enough to warrant happy economic talk emanating from political and business elites. According to Vet Jobs Early Eagle, a newsletter that helps veterans secure employment, roughly 86 million workers are not counted on the employment rolls and the work force participation rate stands at 62 percent, the lowest rate in 40 years.

Source: WSJ, August 22nd*

*Earlier projections have been revised upward for first half of 2015.
It's important for those still attempting to manage their jobs and careers to understand differences between pivots and forks in the road. Pivots are temporary and generally reside in personal choice; forks are longer lasting and usually involve full relocation or deeper rooted change away from normal routines. Forks also can be involuntary.

Instead of taking the fork in the road that hasn't emerged yet, I like to eat with my fork -- at least for the time being. Recognize the difference and you'll be a lot farther down the job/career management road than when you first started reading. Happy Labor Day,


Monday, August 17, 2015

Leadership Do's and Don(u)ts

This post will attempt to reframe the litany of how to be a better leader lists that currently populate the universe. Content is the product of 15+ years of work, observation and engagement with business leaders, which at times, has been pretty revealing. These rules do not really take into account the cast of characters currently vying for the United States' top leadership position although it probably should. That's a whole other animal.

Main takeaway? Real leadership is a lot more difficult than it is authentic. Especially if you're not able to suspend thyself for the sake of others, or essentially reverse course on some of the behaviors that secured the top job. Onto to the do's and donuts:

1.)  The Double Do: Do as I say AND Do as I do. Dad used to say, "don't do as I do -- do as I say." Fifty percent unfortunately isn't going to cut it anymore. The right behaviors have to back the right words and vice versa. Here's a test: When was the last time you did something selfless that wasn't in your own self interest? Be honest.

2.) Do: Leaders are committed to and care about people. They're personal and believe in the individual, where that person comes from and what makes them tick. All the time -- not only when those same people who work for them can provide something they need. Business leaders wax on endlessly about relationships, but before the chicken came the egg, or the person. How many CEOs do you know who truly care about people vs. seducing those same people so they'll do something for them? Chances are the individuals who understand this do stand out positively in your head and heart.

3.) Donut: Leaders aren't thin skinned, and they don't run and hide at the first sign of trouble. Digital media does not replace engagement. A client recently claimed, via email, that she was "insulted" when I asked her to honor an original work commitment. Either let's get it done or forgo the project was the plea. This message was conveyed ironically by the same person who preferred to be emailed. The words left a lasting impression. Pleased to report there was a happy conclusion here, which included a written apology via note card sent in the snail mail.

4.) Leaders know the difference between public and private behavior. Hint: Private is going the way of Blackberry. Anything that you do or say now is public. Period. Work back from that extreme backwards if you remain convinced that private compartments are always private, including the time spent on-line.

5.) Others know where leaders stand, or what Bill George once called a True North compass. Purpose has replaced values as the buzzword du jour, but the truth remains that at some point an effective leader has to stand for something. Good, bad or ugly. Unlike political elections, it's not a popularity contest -- although even that truth may be changing before our eyes.

6.) Do: They're creative and able to tell a story that helps frame a narrative larger than themselves. I don't know many creative CEOs in the sense that they're able to go outside the box, often the one they've created, to receive perspective that leads to change. They all say they do, but when it comes white knuckle time, most only want to go there temporarily until trouble passes. What should be a standard do is too often a donut. Care to trade a donut for helpful service? Inquire within:
7.) Do: Leaders are apolitical. First, this do rule is not what you may be thinking. Apolitical in this context does not mean taking neither side in a political contest. More to the point, it's about being able to lead through competing constituencies. Think Peter Uberroth and Mitt Romney when they managed successful Olympic Games.

8.) Donut: Smartest man ruling the room syndrome is over, except in politics, which continues to be an exception for lot of things that might be defined as newly normal.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What is a new narrative?

Note: This post has been adapted from a monthly e-letter to clients and colleagues.

Dear Clients and Colleagues:

What is a new narrative? Great question that deserves a better answer. Put simply, narrative is a story. In the context of leadership and career transition, a new narrative often takes the form of a bio (brief biography) that frames where someone has been vs. where they want to go. This starting block has to strike a balance, meaning the story has to point forward not backwards like so many resumes and CVs do.

The classic bio is often filled with a list of achievements, many of which occurred in the past. While experiences are important, the ability to transfer past history to present/future attitude is the key to effective change. Boards and hiring influencers want to know what you're doing now and not only how it translates but also how it transfers with conviction. Far too few are willing to embrace "the translate and transfer" challenge largely out of fear of the unknown. Which, by the way, is completely normal. You're human.

Here are five other obstacles to effective transition and proven ways to remove them:

1.) THE story. It's not just about your own story although that's important. It's about how your story fits into a larger one. What does the business actually do that people buy? What makes it valuable? How did it perform before vs. now? How would you define your role in its success? Start with that line of questioning vs. the "I did this and I did that" bits and bytes mentality that far too often informs conversation about jobs and careers. Throw in some color that talks about how you overcame conflict, which is essential to any good drama much less one that glows about yourself.

2.) Extended self-introspection. We are our own worst enemy. While some reflection is necessary to manage change, extended navel gazing, isolation and lack of accountability can spell disaster. Unplug and get with some friends who aren't afraid to share the truth in love. Hire pros if you're running low on good friends. Where do they see you going or planting? Better yet, what opportunities could be really energizing?

3.) Lack of incentive. This is what ultimately destroys the value of a new narrative before it can ever take hold. The greatest incentive is always the coveted top prize: New job, position of influence, higher rank, more money, etc. Yet often this short-term mindset can lead to disappointment when results aren't achieved immediately by pushing the Uber button. The average transition can range between 12-18 months in a good cycle and longer in a bad cycle. For those who have been protected from the economic ups and downs over the past five years, there have probably been at least 10 different cycles within that stretch. Do your own math and adjust course accordingly. Here's a creative way forward on incentive: For every significant step you take, donate $100 to your favorite charity or cause (church plates count, too.) Proper margin always helps.

4.) False narratives. We all have stories and experiences from our past that don't align with where we are now. Or where we want to be. The best way to correct a false narrative is to carve out a new one preferably with folks who can see you in a new light. If you're not in position to do so, then start moving that way.

5.) Destiny's myth. Accept fact that you don't control the outcome, only the inputs. The single biggest myth is that we control our own destiny. With respect to Ayn Rand and Ralph Waldo Emerson, that's simply not true and never has been. Turn the reality shows and social streaming off. This one is called real life. "The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step." -- famous Chinese philosopher.
Happy transitioning. Please consider sending friends and colleagues this way should they need help rebranding a new narrative (translation: Telling a new story.) Thank you,

Jeremy C. Garlington
Point of View LLC
4060 Peachtree Rd./Suite D-#117
Atlanta, GA, 30319
Phone: 404-606-0637
Web site:
TGR web log:

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Client letter: Bad Month

Dear Clients and Colleagues:

Every business that doesn't have scale or leverage goes through the same thing eventually: A bad month, quarter or longer stretch of under-performance. When things go bad, the traps are many: Fall into a hole, hide in a corner or assume the fetal position. All of which, by the way, have been done by yours truly. If it weren't for faith, friends and role models, returning to those positions may still be an option. But none of those still hold appeal. Here's why:

First, my long view says being persistent pays. And that may be the only piece of conventional wisdom that still holds true. You big firm, corporate types who want to argue the 80-20 rule, be my guest. Persistence may not always translate into payment twice a month, but it will eventually produce reward, assuming other factors (hard work, inputs vs. outputs, economics) are equal.
Second, life is too short to let days pass sucking eggs. Middle age has a way of teaching, sometimes with a hammer, that life is fleeting, uncertain and that nothing is promised for tomorrow. So get busy doing what you love today and find some intersections with what the world needs. Oh, and be sure others with fresh faces know what you do -- or at least have enough wits to form their own opinion. It helps, too if that same crowd has money or access. If they don't, keep moving until you find a few that do.

Third, the longer you stay in the hole, the harder it becomes to turn away from sayings like, "this, too, shall pass," or my new least favorite: "Just put this behind you and move one." A good friend/former client shared that one recently following news of a lost bid on a consulting assignment where a key advocate chose to recuse without explanation. When you experience loss of any kind, the just get past it response is unacceptable. The friend offering comfort was well intended, but he would have been better off saying nothing before attempting to equate my loss to his own frustrations with not winning more business. In other words...Dude, next time just bring a casserole and keep your mouth shut. Or study up on St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel, and when necessary, use words."
The truth is losses are set aside, not immediately left behind. It's kind of like when you're on a jam packed flight and you have to move past others to reach a window seat. The goal should always be to move up one row at a time while setting aside what occupied the previous seat. Forgive but never forget. If that doesn't work for you, stay in the aisle seat and let us pass.

Enjoy the new month. I know I will. It has to be better than the previous one. 
# # #

Thursday, April 09, 2015

April letter: Head scratchers

(Note: This originally appeared as a client e-letter on April 8th.)
Dear Clients and Colleagues:
Following are some head scratchers (noun: conventional ideas or practices that beg further review) in Short Burst (SBs) form. Welcome your thoughts as always.

1.) Social media is dead. Long live social media. There has always been a certain follow the crowd mentality in business when it comes to looks and image. Nowhere is that more evident than on the social media channel, LinkedIn. Lookalike job titles and connections galore fill endless updates. More is more, or better. According to the experts, it seems as though it's not about whom reads what; it's about who comments or likes the content. Talking or speaking directly is not a requirement. This feels like what used to be called a tipping point, meaning there's really no way all of what's posted or connected can be shared much less consumed. A friend who prides himself on remaining accountable by the hour scoffed recently: "Wow, you look at that stuff every day? I sure don't." I suspect maybe he does. And so it goes. Whichever unicorn comes up with a way to make LinkedIn and other channels more niched without losing context will be onto something if they're not already.

2.) Now introducing the dreaded, profane party crasher...Transparency. One of the three leadership themes identified earlier this year has already been on full display. Transparency emerged as a theme in the Hillary Clinton email controversy and then died. Basically because the Clintons, like so many at the top echelons, now are governed by a different set of rules. That's no longer just perception; it's reality. Gaps are now gulfs. Self consumed leaders who aspire to be selfless would be wise to help at least provide a lift to the bridge. These gestures can come in many different forms, such as truth, encouragement or support (according to McKinsey, this is the number one leadership attribute), opportunity, service, basic act out of self interest, etc. It doesn't always have to have a bottom-line value attached. Best things in life are free, right?

3.) No one who speaks of change seems to know where change will lead. Trust, which comes at a premium during change, has not only reached all-time lows; it's been shot to death. According to this year's Edelman Trust Barometer, which measures confidence in institutions across the world, two-thirds of the 27 nations surveyed now fall into the "distruster" category. The pace of innovation now moves too fast by a 2:1 margin, forcing companies and businesses to rethink what's good in the marketplace vs. simply what sells. The only way through seems to be sustainable relationships, which require investing time to understand context fully vs. simply doing transactions and calling the result relationships. It's amazing to think that when the incoming phone rings or email dings, potential buyers have already decided more than 60 percent of the time that they're going to purchase based on information they've gathered themselves (Source: Association of Inside Sales Professionals.) Time to embrace the digital age. 1.0 leaders slow on the technology draw meet 2.0, the hyper-connected digital hands and feet. 2.0 meet 1.0. The two don't add up to 3.0 yet, but it's early in the game. Long or short field lies ahead, depending on your POV.
# # # 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"I Hate Christian Laettner": Personal rebranding genius

There are a lot of individuals, job seekers, executives, political candidates, etc., who work tirelessly to present themselves in the best potential light. For the most part they can carve out a position in people's minds that leads to a desired outcome over time: A new job, coveted position or winning a race for office. Some take longer than others.

Then there are the brand names, or the individuals who are known generally for one thing. That can be both good and bad, which defines the challenge otherwise known as rebranding, or moving from one position to another. Rebranding is the process; if managed properly, transformation can be the outcome. The process can be extremely tense and difficult especially if the former position is firmly etched in minds and hearts. Think Michael Milken, the late Chuck Colson and Magic Johnson on the positive side; Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney and the latest lion to stir, Al Gore, on the negative side.

Christian Laettner: "Perception is not always reality."
Courtesy Bleacher Report

In the case of former Duke basketball star Christian Laettner, the subject of a new "30 on 30" ESPN special, the tension was between great performance on the court and how he carried himself off the court. This tension defined his brand against the backdrop of Duke basketball, which also had a love/hate dynamic that characterizes all winning teams. Laettner's reputation wasn't always pretty as former teammates attested to in the special titled, "I Hate Christian Laettner." The former Duke star still holds the record for most points scored during March Madness, the annual rite otherwise known as college basketball's playoff (another major branding feat, but that's another story.)

Laettner is captured on old footage stepping on another player during a heated contest against Kentucky in 1992. Anyone else would have been thrown out of the game, according to analyst and fellow Duke alum, Jay Bilas, but because he was "Christian Laettner," it didn't happen. The 6' 11' center/forward would go on to make one of the most memorably shots in NCAA history. Both images, which capture the tension, will be stored and replayed forever.

What stood out at a deeper level was a more subtle point on leadership. Coach K, the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history, was made better by Laettner, a blue collar and gutsy player from Buffalo, New York, who only K could relate to. According to Coach K's wife, the relationship helped raise her husband's game and the program's championship status. And that's what will be most valued over time. Coach makes players; players make coach. It's difficult to argue with four straight Final Fours and two national championships. Winning defines dynasty; valuable contributions create lasting legacies. The debate over whether you have to be an obnoxious you know what to achieve the highest levels of performance will have to wait for another crowd to argue.

And that may be the whole point: Performance ultimately determines brand whether you're liked, loved or hated by those who may not even know you. Or at least real brand over time. Controversy or drama never hurts. Leaving out the phony exceptions for now; time has a way of revealing the pretenders vs. performers.

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