It is well accepted that organizational culture can have significant impacts on organizational success. In fact James L. Heskett says culture can account for a competitive advantage of 20-30% when comparing strong cultural organizations with “culturally unremarkable” competitors. It is also well accepted that culture is not an easy fix; in fact a poisoned or outdated culture is often pointed to as a key element of and organization’s downfall.



The millennial workforce has now come of age and this seems to be the source of significant tension across many well established organizations. The cube farms are a buzz and there are generally two camps that are taking opposing views of our newest co-workers. We have our “Millennial Bashers” and our “Pro-Millennials.” The bashers say these new co-workers don’t have any work ethic, have no sense of loyalty, have unrealistic expectation, and require too much coddling. The pro-m’s love their use of technology, curiosity, energy, and desire to create new ways of doing things. In reality most millennials are somewhere in between and just want to be accepted into the workforce and given the opportunity to have meaningful experiences; which is probably not that different from the previous generations of workers. The big question is, whether or not the existing culture of your organization is conducive to supporting the needs of your newest crop of talent. Is it a culture that is inclusive and flexible to the evolving nature of the outside world?

There are many papers, blogs, and books about the key elements of culture; this is not one of them. I am not proposing anew frame work or 4 step process to millennial-proof your organization, all I am proposing is some awareness. Re-evaluate how your Vision, Core-Values, and Business Narrative may appear to the millennial generation. Take a look at how your multi-generational workforce collaborates and accomplishes tasks. What does your physical work environment look like; is it a cube-farm or a labyrinth of hallways and office doors? The new trend is open-workspace, tearing down the walls and cubes in favor of open/social spaces. This presents many other challenges, which may or may not work for your business, but it is just another consideration in whether you are millennial-friendly. The point is the future of your organization is squarely on the shoulders of your workforce, and your workforce composition is changing. Some evolution and investment of time in your culture will pay dividends in recruiting and performance of your junior workers, who will one day be complaining about the digi-babies we are raising today.


My Digital Diet


As 2013 draws to an end in a few hours I figured I would come under the wire and create my one and only blog post for the year…yes I’ve been a bit lazy when it comes to maintaining my blog. However I do have a bit of an excuse. In September a few events drove me to go on a digital diet.

I heard somewhere that the average smartphone user checks their phone every 6 minutes. I was to the point where I would probably have to say I was an above average phone checker. Having the power to stay connected 24/7 in your hand is extremely convenient, efficient, and powerful when it comes to work and digital interaction. I am smarter, or at least I feel smarter because of the ability to find answers immediately with my devices. I can answer just about anything with the power of Google in my hand during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I see more pictures of my friend’s pets, kids, and what they are eating. I am bombarded by humble-brags, complaints, and useless information throughout the day. I know what my friend who lives 600 miles away is streaming on their Spotify app. I am drunk with data, my frontal cortex is overstuffed with the glow of my device dejour. (I should probably Google to see if it actually my frontal cortex)

So what is the downside? It sounds as if these devices are enabling our human potential to reach new levels.    

I can’t claim that my social skills have ever been considered advanced. In fact, many would say that they are somewhat weak. My devices, my digital brain, my connection to the information highway was making it worse. My kids have been victimized by me at the dinner table or sitting on the couch giving them 25% of my attention, while the glowing device in my hand received the other 75%. My kids have adapted and now only expect 25% of my attention. My quality time with my wife consisted of us sitting on the couch in front of the TV with our phones in hand, spending quality time in the general vicinity of each other, but worlds away at the same time. SOCIAL IS KILLING SOCIAL.

This new normal totally snuck up on me. My social skills have evolved, my social needs have evolved, and my ability to be present has evolved. Where did it all go wrong? What I failed to see was that as technology progressed; giving me more computing power, higher bandwidth, and more options to socialize my social skills in the real world were actually atrophying. It took outside intervention in the form of my lovely, smart, insightful, and beautiful wife; who basically smacked me across the head one day and said I needed to go on a digital diet.

My eyes have been opened. For about 2 months, I left my phone and laptop in the car at the end of the workday. The family didn’t watch TV and both me and my wife canceled our Facebook accounts. The digital diet became a reality. The first week or so was tough, I found reasons to go out to the car and do a quick check on work email, I was jonesing for the internet or TV to veg out at the end of the day, but then something happened. I re-discovered my family. My kids and my wife could eat dinner without me wanting to check my phone, we could sit and read a book without me sneaking a peak at email in between pages, and I didn’t miss not knowing what my friends were thinking or doing at that exact moment. I also began to read books again, books with real paper pages…

I have relaxed some of my dietary restrictions, but I also now am able to leave the phone in the car without any hesitation. I also have a new clarity when it comes to understanding the impact that technology is having on relationships and who we interact with each other. It actually makes me concerned for my kids, what type of relationships with they have growing up? Will people even be capable of having a conversation without tweeting, taking pictures, or Googling? 

If you are looking for a New Year’s resolution, I would highly recommend breaking the digital shackles and putting the devices down for a couple of months, it will open your eyes and renew your social skills.

Is your marketing campaign leveraging a “Hard” or “Soft” approach?  Taking an approach that is too threating or aggressive will result in customers turning away from your products.  The hard approach can be effective, but for long term success as soft strategy must also be developed in order to create a loyal following.

Before we can begin any evaluation we need to define what the heck I’m talking about. 


Simply put, power is the ability to effect the outcomes you want, and if necessary, to change the behavior of others to make this happen.   Joseph S. Nye Jr., 2002  

Hard approaches are forceful and depend on threats or rewards to sway customers.

Soft approaches appeal to ones values in an effort to create a share common purpose.

   Hard approaches satisfy rudimentary cravings and needs, while soft approaches appeal a deeper purpose.   Hard approaches are excellent in driving short term demand, but soft approaches win customers for life and have significant long term effects.   In a perfect world both hard and soft approaches would be used in a complementary manner.  

   The hard approach is the easy choice, it allows you to focus on an individual’s immediate needs, the things they must have or face the consequences of hunger, slow internet connections, or smelly armpits.  The most challenging campaigns are those that speak to potential customers on multiple levels, one that appeals to their greater sense of purpose.  Why is it that I should pay more for a MAC than a PC? Software compatibility always seems easier with PC, most business users and schools use PC,  PCs generally cost less.  Why do Apple users become Apple users for life?  Apple provides products that can be addressed by a hard approach, you need the new iPhone because it allows you to do X, Y and Z; if you don’t go out and buy it you won’t be able to do X, Y and Z tomorrow while all of your friends are doing it.  It doesn’t matter that I never did X, Y and Z before, I am compelled to go out and get it because I need to do these things.  On the other hand Apple is also taking a soft approach in that they stay true to their basic design principles, when I buy an Apple product I know I am buying quality, interoperability, and a thing a beauty.  Apple appeals to the Hard and Soft approach over and over again with success.  As a result they have a dedicated following. 

   More companies need to think about the values of their customers and build a rapport that will allow both the company and the customer to grow together.  It is not an US vs THEM world…when you put a product out there you are building a community, if you nurture that community it will grow and be your advocate.  The depth at which you relate to your customers will determine the level of loyalty you earn with them.

First off, for those of you who know me, you know that I am a Marine.  With that said, the use of a word like “Dichotomy” is a dangerous proposition, because there is a high probability that I will use it incorrectly.  Those of you who know me, also know that I don’t really care, it sounds cool and I will make it work.

I read a blog yesterday which pointed me to an article in the Wall Street Journal discussing the difference between Management and Leadership.  The most provocative portion of that article was from “On Becoming a Leader,” by Warren Bennis, which provided a comparison of Managers and Leaders:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.
By the way it doesn’t escape me that I saw a posting on twitter, that took me to the blog, that pointed to the WSJ who quoted a book from 1989 and now I am adding an additional layer on the path.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Bennis derived this list from some business titan from the early 1900’s.  OK, I digress…
The point of me sharing these comparisons is mainly to keep us all honest about who we are.  Some of us are natural managers and some of us are natural leaders, but that doesn’t mean we can bring the best of practices of both to bear in our every day lives.  When I rely too heavily on my natural tendency toward leadership, my business operations often suffer….similarly when the pendulum swings too far toward the management side my team and I often find ourselves disappointed with our solutions.
As a dichotomy, management and leadership are complements, they create the whole package.  One without the other may be successful, but something will be sacrificed.  We should strive for achieving the balance which fits best for our team.  I have strong project managers on my team, so I can delegate many of the management roles to them, this gives them a sense of purpose and allows me operate in my comfort zone.
Finding the right mix isn’t Rocket Surgery, but it does require some reflection and think-time.  Take a few moments and look over the bullets above and ask yourself where do you fall.  Then look at your team and see if you have the right mix of people to balance out your natural tendencies.

I received one of those funny emails that people forward around from a former boss last night.  It is one of those forwards that you saw a few years ago and it made you chuckle then and it makes you chuckle now.  Lately I’ve been trying to look at things from a more thoughtful point of view, so here’s the email and my thoughts…


The Sierra Club and U.S. Forest Service presented an alternative to Wyoming ranchers for controlling the Coyote population. Ranchers were using the tried-and-true method of shooting and trapping these predators.

The Sierra Club and U.S. Forest Service proposed a “More humane” solution:

– Capture the Coyotes with non-injurious traps, castrate the males and turn them loose again.

The ranchers remained silent for a few minutes, contemplating this new idea.  Finally one rancher in the back of the conference room stood up. Tipping his hat back, he said;

Son, I don’t think you understand our problem… Coyotes don’t screw our sheep… they eat’ ’em!

The meeting never really got back to order.


This is a perfect example of what happens when you think you know the problem and you don’t understand the stakeholders.  There are a few basic lesson here:

  1. Fully vet the problem, understand the symptoms and the cause;
  2. understand and listen to the stakeholder (their challenges, motivation and point of view);
  3. and develop solutions that create short-term wins and long-term sustainability.

In this case the Sierra Club was focused on a solution that would address population control, but did not address the ranchers immediate needs.

I recently read Tim Brown’s article in HBR Agenda 2011 about “Granting Permission to Innovate,” in the article he cautions against the “one-strategy trap,” and its unintended effect of stifling innovation. As I read I began to think about how to create a framework for an enterprise that provides the strategic guidance required to synchronize an enterprise’s many activities without creating an atmosphere that is adaptable to the various forces that effect the organization.

I often reach back to my military roots when trying to make sense of the world around me. In this case, I have to believe the planning framework used by the military could greatly enable large enterprises in accomplishing their strategic objectives. Military planners use various planning tools to unify operations and synchronize the ends, ways, and means of subordinate organizations to accomplish strategic goals. The campaign plan is a tool used to ensure alignment and synchronization of activities across the entire operating environment. It provides vision and intent through broad, operational concepts for operations and sustainment throughout the time frame necessary to achieve the commander’s assigned strategic concept and objectives. The key to designing a campaign plan is the understanding of the capabilities of the organization, the competitive and economic forces and desired strategic end state.

Some of the critical elements of a campaign plan include:

  • Mission Statement, which translates to “intent”
  • Enterprise Objectives
  • Lines of Operation (or lines of business) objectives and priorities
  • Enabling resources (IT, Core Capabilities, Financials, etc)

The campaign plan should lay the foundation for business decisions over a long period of time. If the campaign plan accomplishes this, the leaders within the enterprise will be empowered to not only make decisions, but to develop innovative solutions. They will be given the “permission to innovate.”

From Untitled Album

It is sometimes funny how much my kids help me remember some simple concepts that can apply to everyday life. A couple of days ago, we wanted to put together a little video for some friends who were about to get married. It was late in the day and the girls, ages 2 and 3, were in no condition to put on a performance for the camera. In fact, they were down right miserable. So I was faced with a decision, the Stick or the Carrot, in this case I choose Chocolate Cake. Here is the result of telling them that a good performance will result in Chocolate Cake.

The change in attitude was instant; the flip of a switch with the promise of backed goods covered in frosting always amazes me.

So, that leaves us with a few questions we should be asking ourselves. What motivate me? What will motivate my people? What will motivate my customers? If only chocolate cake was always the answer…

I recently opened a new chapter in my career by accepting a position with Sapient Government Services. I have been with my new team for about 3 weeks and I have zero inkling of buyer’s remorse. The work is not that different, but there will eventually be a much great set of expectations levied on me, which is very much welcomed. My work isn’t different, my commute is the same, yet my general feeling of current and future job satisfaction is immensely different. Why is that? Here are some observable changes:

The average age of my team with Booz Allen (not including me) was about 50 and now the average age is about 30. I was considered one of the junior people (not by title) on my old team and now I am one of the senior (at least by age). I went from suit ever day to business casual on most days. I was usually one of the last people in to work at 7:30 and now I am one of the earliest. Happy hours are a regular thing; I am the only married person and the only one with kids on my team. About half of the people I worked with were overweight, and now I am feeling like the portly one.

While many of these changes are superficial they all impact my daily interaction with my work environment. Yes, I am still in my honeymoon phase, but I think my happiness level will settle at a much higher equilibrium when all is said and done. The major difference here is my leadership has demonstrated they have vested interest in my development as a manager. We were able lay out some near and far term objectives which clearly set me up to grow with Sapient, this is something I identified as lacking immediately with my old team at Booz Allen.

Lesson 1: Culture will greatly effect the engagement of your employees.
Lesson 2: Interest and plans for your employee’s development will go a long way in setting all parties up for success.

Disclaimer: I think Booz Allen is a great firm, my only regret is that I did not do enough due diligence in understanding the type of team I was joining when they hired me on.

I graduated from Darden with my MBA yesterday after spending the last two years in the MBA for Executives program with 59 other amazing individuals. The weekend was filled with laughs, nostalgia of the last 23 months, friends, family and a whole lot of small talk. The top small talk topic was about time; more specifically all the newly freed time I will have now that school is over. This topic was probably the most challenging for me, being the pragmatist that I am. Frankly the last two months have really not been that challenging with school, so much of that so called free time should have already been available; yet I don’t see this huge chunk of time that should be sitting in front of me.

When school started back in June of 2008 it took a good 3 months for me to get use to studying and scrounging for those precious minutes in the day. I began to use the metro for work, so I could read on the train. I would find a quiet place during lunch so I could read a case. I would read late into the night, just to keep up with the work load. All of those extra minutes in the day have eroded as my school work load began to decrease over the last few terms.

What am I going to do with all of my free time? One answer is, there is not longer any free time. Ooorrrr the answer could be, I need to sit down and conduct a personal life inventory. Now that I have re-adjusted my menu of action items, I also need to re-adjust my priorities, goals, and how I spend my time. My mind, body and family have become accustom to this extra work load, I am still in good enough shape to be a high output high quality producer in life…. If I take too long of a break I will become soft and slide back into the comfortable equilibrium I was in before school. I need to fill the void or let my time management skills get out of shape again. For the time being my girls and I will fill the void with dragons and polly pockets.

The following short essay was written as part of a school project in a form similar to NPR’s “This I Believe” project.

Each and every one of us has the ability to evolve as individuals.  As humans our ability to evolve is a naturally occurring phenomenon, but that does not mean we don’t have any control over our evolution.  In fact I believe it is just the opposite.  We, as individuals, have full control over how we evolve.  While we sometimes have very little control over our environment we have full control over our interactions, reactions, and general consumption of that environment.  Our choice is to either be victims of our environment or to master it and redefine how we want to evolve.

One of my first memories as a child was speaking into a microphone for my speech therapist; this was my first introduction to formal education.  As a pre-teen I went to four different elementary schools in four different states, and in each of those schools I was sent to special classes as a form of academic intervention.  Later, in Junior High, my parents sent to the Sylvain Learning Center after school, and my self confidence during my pubescent years was consistently low across all categories except sports.  My environment was telling me that academically I would never be as competitive as my peers and my future prospects were most likely limited to moving heavy objects or breaking things.  I had a choice I could accept my lot in life and evolve with the natural tides pushing me toward a blue-collar future or I could choose my evolutionary path.  I chose to work harder, learn smarter, and never to back away from a challenge.

This kid whose self-confidence was a victim of academic intervention began to believe in himself, he began to adjust his learning to fit his needs, he was eventually a member of the National Honor Society, graduated in the top quarter of his High School class, graduated from the United States Naval Academy with an engineering degree, and is on the cusp of graduation from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business with a Masters in Business Administration.  I chose to evolve the way I wanted to when I was a young man, and I continue to make deliberate and purposeful choices that challenge my current state forcing an evolution into someone whom I believe is more interesting.

As I break the mid-thirties mark I look back while preparing to look ahead.  As a young leader in the Marine Corps I saw both victims and masters of individual evolution; and two years ago as young professional in middle-management I began to lose hope when I looked around and only saw victims.  That is when I choose to evolve again by going back to school for my Masters in Business Administration.  The academic environment is both refreshing and engaging, and the opportunity to immerse oneself in a sea of individuals who are striving for mastery of their evolutionary future is one I will never regret.  I believe we can choose how we are defined, and I for one am defined as evolving.