Archives for posts with tag: Public Square Today

My latest article at my blog at the Washington Times Communities, Public Square Today, is now live:

Toyota Needs Action On Three Levels

Last night I gave a talk on ethics and leadership and I based a large section of it on a reading of Akio Toyoda’s Wall Street Journal op-ed piece apologizing for his company’s shortcomings and outlining plans to correct them. Published Tuesday, it is a good example of some of the concerns that face a public leader in trying to craft and lead an organization that not only talks ethics but also acts on its ethics.

'Working on machinery' by Flickr user NIOSH

'Working on machinery' by Flickr user NIOSH

Set aside, just for the moment, any anger you may feel that an op-ed statement is perhaps too little, too late. There are definitely ways in which some may say his statement falls short, as does the fact that he had to almost be shamed into attending congressional hearings on Toyota’s problems. Instead, let’s take his statement at face value, because, by doing so, we can draw lessons from it.

The story of how Toyota responds (is responding) to its catastrophic problems illustrates the three levels on which leadership must work if an organization is to act ethically. I have written about this before — I call it Heart, Head, and Hands. What I mean by that is intention, policy, and execution.

  • Intention: What is my mission and purpose? To what extent is the achievement of my goals more important than how I go about it? (Heart)
  • Policy: Are there systems, structures, and practices in place, and are they sufficient? Do they connect logically with my mission? Can they reasonably be expected to result in the fulfillment of my mission? (Head)
  • Execution: Am I carrying out my plans, in the way I intend? Am I following my own rules? (Hands)

So many organizations focus on the first two, and ignore the third — but that’s where things go wrong. All too often, when a problem comes to light, the organizational response is to create new policies and procedures. But many, many times the problem is that someone did not follow rules. Often, there’s one slip that gets tolerated, and then magnified over time. A leader needs to keep their eye firmly on all three levels.

Toyoda’s op-ed is remarkable because he admits that it is at the level of execution that things broke down, and he sees execution as the critical component in correcting the problems.

Sure, he points out that Toyota’s heart is in the right place, as he refers to the “Toyota Way.” And in multiple passages, he outlines specific plans about how he will be correcting the safety problems that are coming to light. That is, he’s got his head in order.

But he also talks about the hands. He admits that it wasn’t a matter of having wrong policies — but that Toyota did not execute its own plans properly. “I recognize that we must do better — much better — in responding to safety issues,” he writes. Elsewhere, he admits, “we didn’t listen as carefully as we should — or respond as quickly as we must” to problems. And, “we focused too narrowly on technical issues.”

That’s looking backwards. Looking forward, Toyoda writes:

I pledge that Toyota will set a new standard for transparency and speed of response on safety issues. We also will strive to lead on advanced safety and environmental technologies. And I will continue to personally visit our sales and manufacturing workplaces to reaffirm the Toyota commitment to excellent quality.

Here, too, is a good lesson — a lesson about execution. It takes three things from a leader to really push execution: Commitment to focus on execution over time; Accountability and a willingness to be held responsible for outcomes; and Courage to act on decision. Toyoda’s statements suggest he is thinking about all three factors.

I am not a Toyota owner, but I know many who see the current problems as a blip in an otherwise stellar record. Akio Toyoda’s statements suggest that this can truly be the case — so long as the execution really is there.

My latest article on my blog at the Washington Times Communities, Public Square Today, is now live:

Membership Rolls Dropping. What Does ‘Support’ Look Like?

Yesterday on the DC Metro, I found myself seated behind someone who was reviewing the minutes from a board meeting. I don’t normally read over shoulders but this was just about being shoved in my face. The font was large and clear and had lots of bold. I recommend that people think twice about what sensitive documents they peruse in public — I am not proud to say I could not stop myself from glancing along.

Be Careful, Stick Figure by Flickr user chad_k

'Be Careful, Stick Figure' by Flickr user chad_k

The heading proclaimed these as the minutes from the meeting of a very high profile national advocacy organization. This is an organization that has been around for decades and has been very effective in changing national views on a range of issues. (I am not saying what group this is.)

The page my travelling companion was reading recapped a contentious discussion about membership. Turns out that this organization has fewer than 60,000 members. That caught me up short. It seemed wildly out of step with the organization’s powerful profile.

It also opens up a window into the crisis of confidence that large nonprofit institutions are  facing throughout society. Everywhere you turn, you see formerly-major institutions losing relevancy and crumbling. They are good organizations that do good work. But they are running into brick walls all over the place. The United Way, the League of Women Voters, many public broadcasting stations, and more. Community benefit organizations are facing more difficulty in fundraising, and increasing skepticism. And memberships are falling off the cliff.

Shrinking memberships is a real problem for these organizations, as dues are one of their important revenue sources. Here’s one thing that I believe is going on: The perceived value of my membership has increased. That is, it takes a lot more to get me to “join” an organization now than it used to.

There are many reasons for this. An argument could be made that declining membership rolls are reflective of a sector that is ripe for a shakeup. That may be part of it. But there is a broader force as well.

There are now more ways to show one’s support of a cause, campaign, or organization than there used to be. From easy “liking” and “fanning” on Facebook to retweets, online petitions, and blog comments, the spectrum of options available to prospective members has widened and deepened. Actual, dues-paying membership is ‘way over there at the edge.

Effective organizations are taking account of this and are finding new ways to find revenue (creating for-profit non-profit hybrids), and using new metrics besides just  “members.” For mission-based organizations, focusing on “members” will undercount your actual influence and distort your operations, taking you off mission. More important is having a good understanding about how people move from one form of support to another, what levers you can push to encourage that, and what the utility is of each form of support.

My latest article on my blog at the Washington Times Communities, Public Square Today, is now live:

Donate Services To A Candidate?

A good friend asks:

In your experience, are most services used by local candidates donated? A candidate for the . . . State House, whose staffer attended my recent social networking class, asked me today if I could provide free services. . . . I know that this candidate is getting some services for free. For example, a large and expensive web design company is donating her website. I would like to see this [person] elected, but I’m not in the position to spend a lot of time on a volunteer job. Reduced cost, yes, but free, no. I know I could make a case that my services are necessary to her and worth the money, but there is no use making the point if campaigns for State Houses are normally run completely by donations and volunteers. Any thoughts about this?

This is the dance that all campaigns (even national ones) play. Political campaigns are inherently time-limited and relentlessly focused on one thing: winning. Any money spent that does not have a clear and direct impact on votes is avoided at all costs.

Donations by Flickr user freakapotimus

"Donations" by Flickr user freakapotimus

So, campaigns know they need to pay for media time, there is no way around that. They know they need to pay for mailings. Everything else is fair game — staff time, phones, office space, Website (as you note), and social networking consulting services.

However, just because the campaign would like services donated does not mean that you have to provide them gratis. It is up to each individual person. Any free consulting work is a contribution in kind to the campaign (and would need to be valued and reported as such). So, not only is the campaign asking you to work for free, but they are also asking you for a donation.

And so, what is “normal” is not the issue here. The issue is: Do you want to make this campaign contribution?

People make campaign contributions for a lot of reasons. Some do it because they really want a person elected. Others do it because they want to be noticed later, if that person is elected. Some do it to feel closer to power. And, some companies donate their goods or services in part to market them to others, or in hopes that they will be retained on an official basis once the candidate wins.

Whatever your own decision, just make sure you follow all the relevant campaign finance rules for your state.

My latest article in my blog at the Washington Times Communities, Public Square Today:

20 Jobs Of The Future

Here comes the future by Flickr user Max Kiesler

"Here comes the future" by Flickr user Max Kiesler

As part of the UK’s effort to promote science and science literacy among its populace, the Fast Future consulting firm has developed a list of twenty “jobs of the future,” and released a report detailing their implications.

These are the jobs, according the the report, that “we could be doing” sometime between 2010 and 2030.

Like many futurist efforts, the list is part reasonable, part fanciful, and creates in the reader the sense of amused vertigo one gets from reading decades-old accounts of what 1994 will look like. We are still not driving in floating cars, and no one even in 2000 imagined what Facebook would do to us.

So the list ought to be taken with a grain of salt, though the authors of the study go to great lengths to argue for its validity. However, the list provides an interesting study of what people are thinking will matter and it is a useful exercise to think about what we might add to the list.

Here, from the report, are the twenty jobs of the future:

  1. Body part maker. Advances in science will make the creation of body parts possible, requiring body part makers, body part stores and body part repair shops.
  2. Nano-medic. Advances in nanotechnology offer the potential for a range of sub-atomic ‘nanoscale’ devices, inserts and procedures that could transform personal healthcare. A new range of nano-medicine specialists will be required to administer these treatments.
  3. ‘Pharmer’ of genetically engineered crops and livestock. New-age farmers could be raising crops and livestock that have been genetically engineered to improve yields and produce therapeutic proteins. Possibilities include a vaccine-carrying tomato and therapeutic milk from cows, sheep and goats.
  4. Old age wellness manager/consultant. Specialists will draw on a range of medical, pharmaceutical, prosthetic, psychiatric, natural and fitness solutions to help manage the various health and personal needs of the ageing population.
  5. Memory augmentation surgeon. Surgeons will add extra memory capacity to people who want to increase their memory capacity. They will also help those who have been over-exposed to information in the course of their life and simply can no longer take on any more information thus leading to sensory shutdown.
  6. ‘New science’ ethicist. As scientific advances accelerate in new and emerging fields such as cloning, proteomics and nanotechnology, a new breed of ethicist may be required, who understands a range of underlying scientific fields and helps society make consistent choices about what developments to allow. Much of science will not be a question of can we, but should we.
  7. Space pilots, tour guides and architects. With Virgin Galactic and others pioneering space tourism, space trained pilots and tour guides will be needed, as well as designers to enable the habitation of space and other planets. Current projects at SICSA (University of Houston) include a greenhouse on Mars, lunar outposts and space exploration vehicles.
  8. Vertical farmers. There is growing interest in the concept of city-based vertical farms, with hydroponically-fed food being grown in multi-storey buildings. These offer the potential to dramatically increase farm yield and reduce environmental degradation. The managers of such entities will require expertise in a range of scientific disciplines, as well as engineering and commerce.
  9. Climate change reversal specialist. As the threats and impacts of climate change increase, a new breed of engineer-scientists will be required to help reduce or reverse the effects of climate change on particular locations. They will need to apply multi-disciplinary solutions ranging from filling the oceans with iron filings, to erecting giant umbrellas that deflect the sun’s rays.
  10. Quarantine enforcer. If a deadly virus starts spreading rapidly, few countries, and few people, will be prepared. Nurses will be in short supply. Moreover, as mortality rates rise, and neighbourhoods are shut down, someone will have to guard the gates.
  11. Weather modification police. The act of seeding clouds to create rain is already happening in some parts of the world, and is altering weather patterns thousands of miles away. Weather modification police will need to control and monitor who is allowed to shoot rockets containing silver iodine into the air – a way to provoke rainfall from passing clouds.
  12. Virtual lawyer. As more and more of our daily life goes online, specialists will be required to resolve legal disputes which could involve citizens resident in different legal jurisdictions.
  13. Avatar manager / Devotees. Virtual teacher Avatars could be used to support or even replace teachers in the elementary classroom, for instance, as computer personas that serve as personal interactive guides. The Devotee is the human that makes sure that the Avatar and the student are properly matched and engaged, etc.
  14. Alternative vehicle developers. Designers and builders will create the next generation of vehicle transport using alternative materials and fuels. Could the dream of underwater and flying cars become a reality within the next two decades?
  15. Narrowcasters. As broadcasting media becomes increasingly personalised, roles will emerge for specialists working with content providers and advertisers to create content tailored to individual needs. While mass market customization solutions may be automated, premium rate narrowcasting could be performed by humans.
  16. Waste data handler. Specialists will provide a secure data disposal service for those who do not want to be tracked, electronically or otherwise.
  17. Virtual clutter organizer. Specialists will help us organise our electronic lives. Clutter management would include effective handling of email, ensuring orderly storage of data, management of electronic IDs and rationalizing the applications we use.
  18. Time broker / Time bank trader. Alternative currencies will evolve their own markets – for example time banking already exists.
  19. Social ‘networking’ worker. Social workers will help those in some way traumatised or marginalised by social networking.
  20. Personal branders. An extension of the role played by executive coaches giving advice on how to create a personal ‘brand’ using social and other media. What personality are you projecting via your blog, Twitter, etc? What personal values do you want to build into your image – and is your image consistent with your real life persona and your goals?

What about you? What job do you think should be on the list?

I’ve been thinking about workplace literacy lately. I’m thinking especially about professional offices (not so much the shop floor — my experience there is a lot older than my experience in front of a computer).

It seems to me that we are in the midst of a major change in how work gets done. Again. But people in management and leadership positions are increasingly unable to operate effectively within this environment. They are reliant on others to do simple tasks, or they work very inefficiently.

Keyboard and Encyclopedia by Flickr user brad.rourke

"Keyboard and Encyclopedia" by Flickr user brad.rourke

This is nothing new. Professionals have always had to learn new things and update their skills — using voicemail, getting by without a receptionist, learning how to use Word, Powerpoint, and Outlook.

Now, with so much work taking place almost completely within the digital, online realm, there is a new set of basic skills that every professional ought to have. People need to have a basic facility with online tools.

This is my list. I’ve probably missed a few items. What would you add?

  • How to make hyperlinks. In the professional world, people are sharing links more and more. It is important to understand what a link needs to have, what it does not need to contain, and how different programs parse them. This may sound like rocket science, but it’s not.
    • Always start a link you are emailing with “http://”. Why? Because most email readers look for that to tell them to make something into a clickable link.
    • Include only what you need to. Lots of links are longer than necessary. For instance, look at your Facebook address. Everything after the “?” in your Facebook address is extraneous. How can you tell? Try deleting parts of the link and see if it still works! “” is functionally the same as “
    • If it’s really, really long, consider using a url shortener like Why? Long links can get brokenb when they word-wrap. Short links don’t!
  • Read and edit simple html code. This sounds scary but it is not at all. There are many occasions when you are adding something into a text box that will accept rudimentary html — for instance, most blog comment boxes (like the one at the bottom of this post). Facebook notes also use it. Knowing how to use basic html puts you in much more control of what you are doing. Some tips:
    • To make something bold or italic, surround it with the right tags. Use <b>WORD</b> to make bold and <i>WORD</i> to make italic. See how it works? There’s a tag that says ‘turn on bold,” then there’s the word you want bold, then there’s the tag that says “turn off bold.” Simple!
    • To make a real-live html link, you use the same kind of system, with an “opening” and a “closing” tag. Let’s say I want to make the word “Brad” into a link to my blog. Do this: <a href=””>BRAD</a> See? the “<a href=”blah”> part says “here is a link and here is the address. The “</a>” says “OK, now the link is over.”
  • Control metadata in documents. Someone shared a Word document with me that was supposed to be anonymous. I easily found out who wrote it with just about three clicks. That’s because of what’s known as the “metadata” embedded in all Microsoft Office documents. Professionals need to know about and be able to control that to avoid embarrassment.
    • To look at and delete metadata in Office 2007 (the newest version), click on the big round button in the upper left of your document and choose “Prepare” then “Properties.” That’s where you will see who wrote the document, and various other useful bits of information.
  • Use search tools. This sounds crazy, right? How hard is it to type something into the Google box? But you’d be surprised.
    • People should know how to control their search results through the use of quotation marks. For instance, if you search for me by typing in my name, you will get lots of sites about Brad Pitt and Mickey Rourke. You need to enclose my name in quotes to get me!
    • People also need to know how to use the + and – signs. Add “+” before a word, and you are telling the search engine, “this word must appear in the results.” Use the “-” sign and you are saying “only give me results that do not include this word.” Let’s say there are two Brad Rourkes (there are). You might make sure you find me as opposed to the other guy by searching for “Brad Rourke” +Maryland.

These, to me, are just basic skills but I encounter a number of people who seem to be flummoxed by them. I do know there are others. What’s on your list? Let me know in the comments!