Do you factor culture into your culture?

One of the great things about diversity is that you get the benefits of different cultural viewpoints into your organization. People from different regions and countries approach problems differently. You and your team get exposed to different work styles, work ethics, and operational mindsets. This exposure will make you more appreciative of the different views your own customers have.

The problem with diversity is that highly diverse teams are more difficult to merge into a single organizational culture. The features of the organizational structure you are trying to build may be at odds with how some of your individuals approach productivity. Merging their cultural background into your team culture is hard but worthwhile.

Diversity is an asset, even when it makes some things more difficult. It is something to be embraced. It also means that you may need to spend more time ensuring that your culture is designed to embrace that diversity.


Under-promising and over-delivering is about more than just expectations.

It’s commonly said that you should under-promise and over-deliver. It starts with the promise. Never submit a budget that you can’t hit. Never promise a date that you can’t meet. Never commit to something you know cannot be done.

The earliest opportunity you have to drive success is at the beginning. Think of a project where everything is delivered in six months for a million dollars. If everyone thought you could do it in four months for five hundred thousand dollars, you look like you failed. But if they thought it would take seven months and cost a bit more than a million, you look like a winner. Often, the difference is in developing a realistic expectation of “what is good.”

Defining what good looks like is the single biggest thing you can do to ensure your success. If every one of your project sponsors has a different expectation for what you are trying to achieve, you likely cannot meet all of their combined objectives regardless of the outcome you create. However, if you set appropriate expectations up front, they may be temporarily disappointed but they will have a realistic picture of what they will get.

There’s a catch to this. You cannot under-promise to such a degree that it is plainly obvious that you sandbagged the project. If you promise a year but deliver in a month, you simply look like you didn’t know what was going to happen. If you ask for a million dollars but only need 10% of that, you look like you didn’t know what you were doing. Being off by 90%, even to the positive, loses you credibility even more than being off by 10% to the bad side.

All of this is about credibility. Do you know what you are doing and can you run a project to the right outcomes? You have to start with realism.

Your use of buzzwords is not impressive.

You think you are ready to wow your client with your impressive new knowledge of the future issues they are going to be impacted by? Maybe you plan on asking them how new technologies are going to be impacting the future of their business. Maybe you have a list of tech like Big Data, AR, VR, AI, and Robotics that you are going to throw out there.

Here’s the reality, you may sound really impressive for putting that all on the table, but you likely just turned your client off. They aren’t thinking about those things yet. They are still being kept awake at night by just making sure they know all of their addresses. Sure, maybe one or two offices are pushing ahead with some innovative thinking. But those locations are the butterflies, it’s everywhere else that are the actual problems.

Most things fail today and will fail tomorrow due to basic blocking and tackling. Even the best AI cannot prevent data gaps. AR isn’t going to help you if you don’t even know how many seats you have in the office.

Just because you’ve heard something new doesn’t mean the old stuff isn’t still the biggest problem.

Can you describe the process in plain language?

To test whether you really know something, try to explain it to someone with no knowledge of the process at all. If you can explain it to a 6th grader, you’ve got it down.

Some people pride themselves on the ability to explain things to other experts and do not care to explain it to anyone else. They believe that the details are best left out. Why bother simplifying something that everyone else already understands?

Here’s the thing, people who think they understand things often have fundamental knowledge gaps. This gap may not actually be a problem day-to-day. The person likely doesn’t come to a situation where it matters. However, if their explanation is built around fitting this gap in, there may be trickle-down issues.

Take finance systems as an example. Almost no one understands how Wall Street works. Do you really understand what makes a stock price go up or down? How many people does it take to make it happen? What impact do shorts and longs have on the price? To most people, simply understanding that “the Market” dictates the price is enough. But if you were asked to model it, you better know how “the Market” actually works.

Describing a process in plain language forces you to confront the details. “The Market” is not plain language, it is shorthand for a very complicated series of activities. A process built around “The Market” can very easily be shown to be incomplete.

I come across issues all the time caused by experts who think they understand something but actually have a very fundamental gap in their knowledge. Never assume that experts actually get everything, that’s one of those process gaps.

Real Estate is the link. What are the chains it is connecting?

Commercial Real Estate sits in the middle of everything a business does. With that said, every business leverages their real estate differently. Some treat it as a financial cost center, others as an operational lynchpin, some have real estate floating out as its own thing, and still others as a hybrid between these. There is no right way to manage your real estate, but there are several wrong ways.

The question you must ask yourself is who sits at the ends of the chains connected by your real estate? These two sides are both customers of the real estate function. Neither is more or less important, but they have competing needs and requirements that must be balanced.

For a retail location, you are connecting your sales to your customers. For a warehouse, you are connecting your manufacturing with your retail outlets. For a headquarters, you are connecting your corporate functions to the rest of your business. Other types of offices could have many types of connections to clients, the market, other businesses, etc.

Real estate is the ultimate in balancing conflicting requirements. If money wasn’t a requirement, every single employee would be given the workplace environment that most makes them productive. However, money and location are extremely limiting factors in all real estate decisions.

Money is the biggest limiting factor as the office must be built to last for a relatively long period of time. Location is a close second, I debated making it the biggest factor but never quite convince myself to pull the trigger. There can be no “perfect” real estate solution because of these built-in factors. The best we can do is to be optimized given the various limitations.

How well do you incorporate design into your work?

CNN has a great article up about how Finland is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Fiskar’s iconic design of scissors. It’s a fascinating story that I had not heard before. I knew that Finnish companies were strong at design generally but this one blew my mind.

It gave me a great opportunity to think about how I incorporate design into my work. Design isn’t just about the look of the PowerPoint deck or the branded colors in use. Much like Fiskar’s biggest breakthrough was in the materials they used, design is often about the unnoticed things. The best design slips past your observation.

Design is about making sure that your bullets are written to match and are the same length.

Design is about ensuring you have edited yourself down to the things that actually matter.

Design is about choosing the method in which you communicate, not everything has to be email and PowerPoint.

Design is about choosing what you don’t communicate.

Design is how you tell the story of your problem or solution. There’s a reason that they say a good story is well designed.

Everyone does design, not just marketers and graphic designers. We are all responsible for telling the story of our work. The message, medium, audience, and tone are all part of the design considerations we have to think about. It’s not just look and feel.

For long-term success, it’s better to have a great team than a few strong individuals.

There’s a fine line required for team chemistry when balancing short-term and long-term success. Short-term success is driven by concrete and measurable actions. You can achieve short-term success through individual heroics. Long-term success is dependent upon a strong team.

Over any defined period of time, you can do everything you want by trusting in a few key individuals. You can hand things off to them and just let them do their thing. Individuals within the framework are usually going to color outside the lines and generally do things with a single-minded focus on the outcome.

When planning for the long-term, heroics go against the team grain. You need to have confidence across the board for achieving long-term stability and success. Any given individual contributor could leave which would throw the balance out of alignment. A team-oriented view means that you likely will not have the same degree of peak performance, but you will also be managed against troughs. Consistency becomes the key.

As a manager, it’s your job to balance these needs. Knowing when to go back and forth between the worlds is how you achieve peak performance. Ultimately, if the team collectively knows what you are trying to achieve they will help with the balancing act.