The Productive Professional

It's the little things...


In a regular feature, Bloomberg Businessweek gathers a bunch of smart people to 'fix' a part of the economy, or a political or other situation. In the October 17 edition, the situation to be fixed was education. Obviously, the US education system (and from my experience living in other countries, the education system of any country) is contentious.

What interested me though was at the very end of the article, when one of the participants describes going to a KIPP school in Manhattan. The participant says to the co-founder, you're doing a great job. The co-founder then takes him to a classroom and shows him 5 things the teacher (who by everyone's standard is a great teacher) does wrong in five minutes.

For example, she hasn't checked the writing that's on the bulletin board for two days. The co-founder says: "What this job is about is a thousand of those things, not about some kind of silver bullet". It's true for all our careers. There isn't some miraculous project or promotion that makes you a super star. It's about getting results day after day, are day. It's about planning your work, doing the work and then looking at it critically to see how you could have done better. It's not about the little things in terms of your expenses, but in terms of making sure you do everything to the best of your ability and then pushing yourself to do better.



There's an article in December 19th's Forbes magazine about a new burger chain that started in Denver in 2007 and now has 143 locations. In it, CEO Dave Prokupek says: "We overinvest in the things that matter most". The article goes on, 'If a line cook fills orders in under six minutes on average, he gets an extra 50 cents per hour. Store managers can earn monthly bonuses...based on monthly revenues and customer reviews'.

This reflects the reasoning in the feedback model: the reason for the feedback model is to encourage effective behaviour - in other words, we use feedback to incentivise the behaviour we want to see in the future. Reducing the cook's pay by 50 cents for being slow would be much less effective.

It's much more effective to give positive feedback for the behaviour you want than to give negative for what you don't want. AND, reasons for positive feedback happen much more often. That's why we recommended a 9/1 ratio for positive behaviour. Look for the things you want to continue, and give feedback about them.

Hire For Attitude


One of Manager Tools mantras around hiring is we’ll take less skill if we can get more attitude. Skills can be taught. Attitudes - the behaviours that we want in our team and our workplace - often cannot.

I was pleased to see an article reporting on a speech given by the former People and IT Director of Asda (one of the four biggest supermarkets in the UK), which began with this title.

In it, David Smith says, that the number one principle of seven he believes will turn around a failing business is hiring for attitude. He points out: “you can switch people on or off though the new people you’re hiring. Current staff will either say, of you’re new hire, ‘who’s that? She’s great’ or ‘who hired hm? He’s rubbish’.

Yet another reason to hire well – your hires have an effect on the productivity of your current staff. If they don’t believe you care enough to hire well, they won’t care enough to work hard.

500th Podcast Contest - Win An Invite To A Manager Tools Conference


On January 1, 2012, Manager Tools LLC is proud to release our 500th cast (Manager Tools & Career Tools). We're privileged to have been able to share our learnings with you, and humbled by your letters and emails which tell us how we've made a difference to you, your directs and your careers.

In celebration, we're going to give away 5 seats at our conferences in 2012. The overall winner of our contest will get a seat at a conference AND Individual Licenses for both Manager Tools and Career Tools for LIFE.

Of course, there has to be some skill in winning. What we'd like you to do is send us an email to:, with a 250 word essay: "What Manager Tools/Career Tools means to me". We'll be posting all the responses on our website.

The contest will close at midnight pacific on the 24 December. Between Christmas and New Year, the Manager Tools team will review your essays and we'll announce the contest winners on 1 Jan, with our 500th cast.

The list of all the 2012 conferences is here:

It's taken us 6 1/2 years to get to this point, and they've been the best 6 1/2 years of our lives. Thank you, for being part of what makes Manager Tools great. We're looking forward to sharing the next 500 (and more) casts with you.



A diagram in Fast Company shows the different forms of Infographics which have become more and more popular over the last 5 or 10 years. It seems we can’t cope any more with raw numbers, we have to have them prettily coloured and arranged like a tube map or a periodic table.

The problem with that is that there were always “lies, damn lies and statistics” and infographics often make understanding the raw data intelligently more difficult not less.

When we look at an infographic, we have to ask not only: what does the data say, but also: what does the data illustrator want us to believe. A critical mind is essential to proper understanding.

Feedback - Part 2


An article in Bloomberg Businessweek talks about Amy Jo Martin – who is a ‘tweet coach’ to Shaquille O’Neal. In it he says: “Amy Jo always has my back. If I do something wrong, she calls me within five minutes”.

I thought this was an interesting perspective of feedback. Shaq doesn’t think of Amy Jo as behaving negatively towards him. He thinks of her as ‘having his back’. Of saving him from himself. Of being his support.

Feedback isn’t negative. Feedback just is. But one way of thinking about it if you’re giving feedback is to think that you just have your superstar’s back. Want to rant now? Somehow, that desire goes away when you think about it that way. And superstars, your manager is just showing you, he has your back. Like Amy Jo has Shaq’s.



Someone asked me recently if I liked feedback. My answer: I don’t like getting it, but I like that I get it. The actual moment of getting, (let’s assume negative here, since people don’t ask about positive) is not enjoyable. Which is not to say there’s screaming, shouting or any big deal going on – I just don’t like it.

If I didn’t get it though, I’d never know what unintended effect my actions had on others. Sometimes, my answer is ‘omg, I had no idea. Of course I’ll do it differently’. To makes someone else’s life more difficult over and over because I didn’t know any better, is a worse outcome than the pinch of a moment of feedback.

In an article in Fast Company, the CFO of Levono says: “The most dangerous thing is to be successful. You then think every decision is the right one. That’s why you have to review what you do.” If it’s working, do more. If it’s not, do it differently. That’s the essence of feedback. No big deal.

What Does Xerox Do?


One of the themes in Career Tools is that consumer goods companies are not the only companies. Fresh out of college, I remember thinking I’d join a bank graduate scheme. I knew the names of banks – they lined the high street where I lived.

Instead I worked as a temp for a long time, for everyone from P&G to Courage’s, to an elevator company, a health insurance company, a landscape gardening company, a recruitment agency – I even did some time in a bank. The experiences I had in such a variety of places was invaluable.

I was reminded of this by an article about Xerox in Fast Company. Xerox make photocopiers right? If I was going to start my career now, I’d probably think photocopiers were a) mundane and b) a dying market. Not so. Xerox make a light table which “correctly sorts information within dense legal documents as part of litigation research”.

I have no idea how it works – but I want to see it! I’m excited by the technology and the usefulness and the market potential. If I wasn’t here, doing what I love, I’d be applying to Xerox. Which just goes to show – don’t judge companies by what you know about them – do your research. They might be more exciting than you think.

Developing Relationships


An article in Wired describes research by Arthur Aron into developing relationships. He designed an experiment to see if he “could create lab conditions that would make strangers quickly bond and form close friendships after just a few minutes”.

He designed 36 questions which2 strangers asked one another and listened to the answers. The results: that the strangers reported feelings of closeness. The reporter in the article used the same questions at a conference, and reports: “reciprocal self-disclosure, under conditions which frame personal vulnerability as a social norm, can have dangerous consequences. But as a way to friend a stranger, it leaves Facebook trailing”.

We don’t recommend you share personal confidences with your directs, at least until they feel comfortable in One on Ones. We do recommend you spend time every week asking questions and listening to the answers. We don’t need research to know that that will develop your relationship with your direct – we get at least an email a day telling us it worked for someone who was willing to try it.

Stepping Down


One of the casts in the podcast hopper is about the necessity to be willing to step down a rung or two or more in periods of unemployment. Many people fear that having been a manager or a senior manager, that taking an assitant or an individual contributor role will harm their future career, and open themselves to financial problems.

It’s not true. Any hiring manager with sense, will look at the resume of someone who was a manager before this recession, see them laid off and would forgive a year or two or more working at a lower level. We can’t legislate against hiring managers without sense, clearly, but there are less of those than one might think.

In fact, we’d go further. An article in Bloomberg Businessweek said that the E-Verify requirement in some states is causing “worker shortages across industries from construction to food service”. Being a dishwasher is hard, hot, dirty work. But it’s honest and if it’s what you need to do to feed your family and there is a job there you can take… take it.

It’s only demeaning if you think it is. There’s plenty of people we’ve interviewed who have said – it was the only job I could find and my children need to eat. You know what, it was kind of fun to be finished at the end of the day. The people I met were interesting and gave me a different perspective on life and management. And, now I’m ready to get back to my career. There’s nothing a hiring manager can find unreasonable in that.