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5 Types Of People On Every Manager's "A" Team

If confronted with a random crowd, who would you pick to work for you, and why?

It's an important question because it enables you to take the perspective of the boss. 

Lacking that perspective, people at work tend to waste a lot of time on irrelevant stuff while ignoring the things they really need to be doing.

They want to do well but do not realize what their manager actually cares about. Yes doing your job matters, but there is more.

What follows are five "ideal types" of employees every manager wants on their team. 

1) The "All-Around"

Consistent, reliable, skilled. Knows a little bit about how every aspect of the operation works. Works within the system to achieve real results. Performs the work then looks for ways to work smarter. 

2) "Special Forces"

Innovative and technically capable. Independently keeps up with the latest developments in their field. Especially good in a crisis.

3) "The Volunteer"

Willing to jump in and help, no questions asked. Does grunt work without complaining. Supports team initiatives even if they don't totally understand why they matter, or if they might not work.

4) "The Voice of Conscience"

Uses their critical thinking to provide constructive feedback. They may say negative things, but their goal is to help the group succeed. If they are really good they bring solutions.

5) "The Caregiver"

Reaches out to other team members to help them through challenging times. Tracks special days. Points out overlooked sensitivities. Makes the overall environment more pleasant.

All of these types are valuable and the qualities are not mutually exclusive. What they share is an ability to contribute to a group effort above and beyond one's own self-promotional interests. 

When your success aligns with your manager's interests you have the basis for a long-term, meaningful and win-win business partnership.

*All opinions my own. Photo by me.

5 Things Apple Can Learn From Xiaomi

Speaker phone

For its October 8 edition, The Wall Street Journal interviewed Lei Jun, founder of Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi. I saved the article because Jun made a number of important points for Internet companies generally:

1. Selling things for free

Lei alluded to the concept of an "Internet thought process," in which users see the Web as inherently free. Therefore, sell products "as close to the cost of materials as possible" and make money from selling add-on services, such as apps, movies and accessories.

2. Have a mascot for your brand

Xiaomi has a rabbit. You can pick your own mascot. But you should have a physical, visual symbol that is accessible to fans. Another company, Sweet Frog (yogurt), does something similar through selling their distinctive frogs.

3. Include users in the design

Users are in the best position to know how well the product is working and they feel a sense of engagement when you let them into the design process, says Lei. This is not exactly a new idea conceptually, but letting people into the operating system of a smartphone takes things to another level. Lei also makes the point that allowing users to participate in the design means they will serve as brand ambassadors.

4. Don't be afraid to copy what works

Lei emulates the late Steve Jobs by wearing distinctive clothing (dark shirts) and making visible appearances at "high-profile product releases."

5. Be honest, but not overly so

Asked to compare his company with Apple and Samsung, Lei says, "We have some parts that are weaker than them, some parts that are better." He does not tell the whole story, nor does he feel compelled to.

Healthcare For All: Let's Make The Shot

We have all been to the emergency room at some point in our lives. And we have all seen poor families holding their sick children and elderly parents and praying that someone will help them.

It is a basic social need and duty to help those who can't help themselves. But we've gotten so busy fighting each other that we can't see our way clear to do that. Here is a suggested approach.

1. Forget the past and focus on moving forward. Not just politicians, all of us. The reality is that universal healthcare is a universal goal. The current version has its roots in the Clinton administration and integrates Republican input, such as the belief that people should buy their own coverage (the "individual mandate") rather than being automatically covered as under a socialized medicine system. As Ezra Klein notes,
"Members of the Republican Party didn’t express concerns that the individual mandate might be an unconstitutional assault on liberty when they devised the idea in the late 1980s, or when they wielded it against the Clinton White House in the 1990s, or when it was passed into law in Massachusetts in the mid-2000s."
Yes, the website is messed up - we can't pay the bills - we haven't got the details right. Now tell me something I don't know.

2. Take meaningful corrective action. Let's be blunt: The situation right now is bad for Democrats even if they think they are winning in the  polls. Even former presidential aide Robert Gibbs called the rollout an "excruciatingly embarrassing" disaster. Late-night comedian and political commentator Jon Stewart painfully said to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on national TV: 
“I’m going to attempt to download every movie ever made, and you’re going to try to sign up for Obamacare, and we’ll see which happens first.”
From a communication and a policy point of view, the President as our top leader has got to own the problem by saying:
  • Yes we screwed up the launch, for reasons to be understood and shared down the road. But the concept of healthcare reform is right. 
  • I need everyone's help in fixing this. Social responsibility and fiscal discipline go together.
  • Here's what we are going to do.
And then outline something like the following - the action plan:
  • Remove from the website project those who did not deliver or who cannot meaningfully contribute to its repair. 
  • Take legal action to recover as much money as possible from the nonperforming vendors. 
  • Review the agency process for managing this contracting process.
  • Release the list of companies who worked on the site, how much they were paid, and for what. The Sunlight Foundation has tried to piece together the list of contractors, but this is not a substitute. (Update October 16: The main contractor was CGI Federal and it's not clear whether they actually had to compete for the job, which is strange given its massive scope and importance. It's also not clear that they were the best company to carry out the work. See GAO denial of CGI bid protest against the HHS' Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2010.)
The contracting piece is essential to the public's trust particularly in light of the charge being thrown around about favoritism.

(It may actually be a blessing that people can't enroll right now, because cybersecurity experts have pointed out specific significant ways the initial version of the site puts users at risk of identity theft, such as "login fraud," "cookie theft," clickjacking," and "request forgery.") 

3. Assume a united front. Every single word out of leaders' mouths should be inclusive from here on out. This means the negative rhetoric and name-calling finally comes to an end. 

For example, Presidential media adviser Dan Pfeiffer compared opponents of Obamacare to suicide bombers, telling CNN, “What we’re not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest." Meanwhile, the Republicans repeatedly used the line, that "the White House will negotiation with the atomic ayatollahs but not with House Republicans." 

Another positive move would be to stop calling the Affordable Care Act "Obamacare." Republicans and Democrats agree on the need for a solution to the healthcare crisis, so it is counterproductive to make it a political win for one side. I remember when the President Clinton's healthcare reform was doomed at least in part by the negative moniker people gave it, "Hillarycare."

4. Crowdsource via the public. Government crowdsourcing is nothing new - nearly 10 agencies already use it - and there are untold numbers of people with time on their hands and a passion for helping government work better. How about the Code for America folks? Set up a space, virtual and/or in-person, where the public can get together to set up a website that actually works. Understanding that bad actors can try to infiltrate the process, establish government-managed protocols for keeping cybersecurity a #1 priority.

5. Recall additional furloughed government employees to assist. While it is not my call to say who is essential, the website is reliant on contractor execution, and it will take more than a few days to fix, it still seems to me that we should find a way to leverage federal web management expertise across the board. While, as the Office of Personnel Management states, "an affected agency would have to shut down any activities funded by annual appropriations that are not excepted by law," the Washington Post reports that agencies are bringing some employees back with various justifications. President Obama himself has said that restoring the functionality of is critical and people are working "around the clock" at the Department of Health and Human Services to fix it. We should bring additional HHS staff back as essential, and explore finding ways to put the government's top web specialists on the project as part of a temporary detail.

* All opinions my own. Thanks to Andy Blumenthal for the feedback.

Husband-Beaters May Be "Protecting Women," But Why Won't They Actually Help Them?

Last week the FBI arrested a "gang" of rabbis for allegedly kidnapping & beating men who refused to give their wives a divorce.

If you don't know (or hate) the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community you might easily be ecstatic about the arrests. You might think they're "crazy," "sadistic," "money-grubbers," "crooks in holy robes."

But if you're inside the view is a little bit different. First of all, beating men who refuse their wives a divorce is grounded in centuries of legal precedent aimed at protecting the women:
“During the twelfth century, Maimonides ruled that if a man refused to grant a divorce to a woman who was entitled to it, he was to be whipped without mercy until he did so (Mishneh Torah, "Laws of Divorce," 2:20). The legal precedent for his ruling was the talmudic law, "If a man refused to give a woman a divorce, he is forced until he declares "I am willing” (Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 50a).” (Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Wisdom, cited in Haaretz)
Secondly, you might be glad that these women had at least some recourse to justice, given the way ultra-Orthodox culture works. Although there are means to avoid the divorce problem, the problem is not considered urgent or widely adopted by most rabbis. And thus, when abusive husbands refuse or flee, their wives are literally "stuck." From the perspective of Jewish law, they can't marry, and even if they did, their children would be illegitimate -- "bastards."

These abused wives are considered agunas, "chained women."

Therefore inside the community, secular law has nothing on the stigma these women face. In that world, life revolves around the family, women have traditional roles, and secular education is frowned upon. Admitting abuse, assault, or any domestic problem brands the victim, not the offender.

To solve the problem involves thinking beyond the superficial. Jewish authorities routinely issue rulings designed to address community needs, including rulings associated with divorce. And Jews follow secular law ("the law of the land") as a matter of faith, not just convenience.

In fact the issue is subtler - religious resistance to equality. The rabbis say their intentions are good, but the effect is to keep women subordinate through fear and shame. This cannot be holy.

The answer therefore is to call as much attention to the plight of the victim of domestic abuse as possible. To show that we support her, inside and outside the Jewish community. And that the shame is on the offenders and those who enable and protect them, not the victims at all.

After that, Jewish legal justice will follow, and the FBI can focus on other things.

* All opinions my own.

6 Cheap Furlough Food Recipes & 8 Management Lessons Reinforced

Readers of my blog may know that I've never had much luck with cooking. But since I'm off-duty due to the government shutdown, necessity is forcing some invention here. Especially considering that I'm into super-healthy food which has a high markup if you buy it prepared.

Below are this week's results:

  • Blended spinach + anything: Spinach is an unbelievable superfood. Take handfuls of the leaves, dump them in a blender, and surround with liquid. I've tried chicken soup, V8 tomato juice, and cream of mushroom soup and they all work well. Heat this up before you drink it, obviously.
  • Cauliflower mashed potatoes: They sell this at Whole Foods and it is literally to die for. Boil or microwave 2 packages of frozen cauliflower until overcooked and mushy. Dump into blender. Add milk, olive oil, salt and pepper. (They don't use milk but I couldn't get the right consistency without it.) Recipe here.
  • Carrot "pudding": Microwave a package of baby carrots with some water until it has no crunchiness left. Dump into blender with the hot water. Add some butter, honey and cinnamon. Microwave it again to get the consistency right. (This is sort of like a Jewish kugel recipe absent any flour or egg that I made up - sorry no link to a recipe.)
  • Baked sweet and sour tofu: Cut up 2 packages of extra firm tofu into cubes. Blend together barbecue sauce, honey, ketchup, soy sauce, and some hot sauce. Pour over tofu and let sit for an hour. Then bake at 375 until it's done. Check the oven after half an hour. Recipe here.
  • Chopped lunch salad: If you go to Washington, D.C. or any food court in our area and get a large, custom-made lunch salad you can easily spend $9-10 or more. Making it at home is a lot cheaper and helps you skip the line. Chop up greens, add tomatoes, mushroom, cucumber, red pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, salami or bologna, hard-boiled eggs.
  • Garlicky Kale (Whole Foods style): In blender put tehina, smushed garlic clove, lemon juice, soy sauce and water. Blend and pour over chopped up kale. Recipe here.
Some time-tested but true management practices that this experience has reinforced:
  • Be yourself: I like smooth comfort foods. Spinach is a highly blendable food. It goes into anything. Cauliflower makes amazing fake mashed potatoes.
  • You don't need to reinvent every wheel: The recipe for Whole Foods' garlicky kale is online. It is the only way I can eat kale. I copied that recipe, didn't try to figure it out myself or make one up. It's great.
  • Cheaper can actually be better: A bunch of kale was $1.29 on Friday. That's like a missile's worth of nutrition. Don't devalue it because you can afford it.
  • Know when to buy the best: Pay for a good vine-ripened tomato, a good peach, good grapes. Other things you can get a little cheaper and nobody will know the difference.
  • Ignore the crowd: I've known for many years that food is actually medicinal, most grocery store food is junk, and that marketers have a field day scamming people out of money in the name of hawking "health food." It can be hard with all the marketing pressure out there, but I'm always glad when I just follow rationality and common sense instead of the herd.
  • Listen to the people whose advice you trust: One of the best pieces of advice I ever got: Shop only on the ends of the grocery store, never in the aisles. I used to read Dr. Mercola's newsletter every day and I still think it's excellent. There are tons of great free tips on Lifehacker and other sites. Point is, nobody can figure everything out alone.
  • Pay attention: You can't put the food on the stove or in the oven and walk away. It will burn. You have to be present to make sure it comes out right.
  • You can't please everyone: Some people will just never like kale no matter what you do to it as a food. For them, there are fruit smoothies - throw the kale in and pray.
In the end, every business is really an organized effort to deliver results. And the underlying principles are similar, whether you're talking about manufacturing cars, running a government, raising kids or cooking. Though there may be an infinite number of activities to undertake, the dynamics of success are always the same.

* All opinions my own.