Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Another Take on Business with Humanity in Mind

This phrase is the line that describes what we intend to teach at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.  It is fascinating that each faculty member and each student seems to (and, in fact, is encouraged to) have her own interpretation of what this means.  The Dean likes to interpret it as thinking of stakeholders beyond he owners (be it a privately held business interest or a shareholder held corporation).  The stakeholders can include customers, employees, and the community in which the business exists, just to name a few.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet with colleagues from Shenandoah University.  We had a fascinating conversation about the two schools, about a joint research opportunity focusing on the economics of breastfeeding for low income mothers and families, and about a possible collaborative symposium.  As we discussed the symposium we talked about the interesting overlap of interests between the faculty and community at the two universities and how they would compare and contrast. 

When I was speaking with a colleague at Carey after the conversation with the colleagues from our sister university, I was talking about the interesting issues faced by our colleagues in Virginia.  Specifically, my colleagues had told me about the city of Winchester in which there is some “old money” with grand houses, some multigenerational poverty, and some housing in which mostly recent immigrants live.  My colleague thought that alone would make an interesting basis for a discussion of business with humanity in mind—seeing the fascinating cross section of humanity that any business—health care (where the conversation with our colleagues from Shenandoah began) or otherwise—would have to keep in mind when planning around stakeholders.  What is even more interesting is that Baltimore has the same.  Both near the main university campus in the Homewood area of the city and near the business school.  Not so much “old money” in Harbor East, but certainly a lot of money.

Any business that has to keep in mind populations that include high income, multi-generation poverty, and brand new immigrants will face many challenges as the potential effects of business decisions on these different populations vary in complex ways.  Some businesses will cater to one or the other.  Other service organizations, e.g., health care, will have to consider staffing and resource allocation and outreach that touch each population in different ways.  One goal of an education at Carey is to have our graduates thinking about the many, varying effects and bringing that thinking to the decision making process in the organizations in which they will some day become leaders. 

I look forward to seeing how we can bring our faculty, students, and communities together to struggle with these issues and to help all of both schools’ stakeholders to understand better how to conduct business with humanity in mind across a wide variation of settings. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

3 Life Lessons

In the past week, I have encountered three life lessons that are good for life and good for business.

The first is to make a good impression. I did this twice in flying today and in both cases what otherwise would have been a transactional interpersonal event became a pleasant interaction. The first was paying to move up from C04 to A06 on my flight. I asked politely. I engaged the employees in a discussion about the choice to move up. They commented on someone who once had an A17 boarding spot and wanted to move up. They gave me a favorable comment on how I was dressed. I wasn't in my best or newest suit. But they asked if I was going to a meeting. I told them I'd just been at a professional conference. They noted that people don't get dressed up to fly any more. My boss's advice about making an impression on people even extended to the airport. Second, when I got back to BWI, I had managed to misplace my ticket from entering the parking garage the day before. So, I went to the information desk inside upon landing and introduced the question by saying, "I know this is a stupid question to have to ask." I was neither panicked about the question nor demanding of an answer. The person appreciated it and helped immediately and directly.

The second lesson is to be careful of with whom I surround myself. This, in some ways, goes along with making an impression. Consider President Obama's choice for the Ebola czar. A political operative with no public health experience. He can manage but does he understand what he is managing. Many people have asked. It made an impression--and for most, not a good one. I think that surrounding myself with the smartest person I can attract who knows more about something than I do is a good approach. My hires represent that and we are working to create the type of organization I hope to work in. And those I inherited with whom I surround myself are people who can take what I am good at--vision, creativity, and bringing people together for process--and move it to completion.

Once I have made an impression based on my own personality and activities and the personalities and activities of those around me, I have the opportunity to think about a legacy. Sometimes this is really long-term. On the personal side, an award for sportsmanship in cross country was just given for the first time two days ago where I grew up--made from my Boston Marathon 2013 shoes. That is a great legacy. Sometimes it is just a process--I'm known for being someone who leads an interesting journey, is willing to share his journey, and who cares about others' journeys. I am trying to get a vision for the legacy that I want to leave at Johns Hopkins. It begins with first impressions. It continues with those with whom I surround myself. It requires me to complete things.

These three life lessons fit well together for personal life and for business. With a good first impression, a movement from transaction to pleasant interaction, surrounding myself with the right people, and a vision for legacy, something wonderful can be built.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

When Mentoring is Done

Some mentoring relationships last a lifetime.  Such as a senior colleague whom a person meets early in his career and who continues to follow him throughout your career.

Some mentoring relationships are built rather than materializing serendipitously and are designed to last for a specific length of time.

Some are built but have no certain end.  For these, there is a need to recognize when the relationship either is not what it started out as or no longer needs to be what it began as.

In my university position, I was blessed to be given a coach after my leadership development participation in 2006-7.  I was also blessed to be given a coach in my move to my position at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School Vice Dean for Education.

Each of those relationships was designed to last about six months--give or take.

The second was a mentoring relationship that ended up being about a lot beyond just the job.  The first was at a time when everything in life seemed to be going well. I had returned to running.  I had pulled back from running when I needed to in order to focus more on career.  I was in the final stages of going for promotion to full professor back in the Bloomberg School of Public Health.  My kids were younger.  And my leadership roles were just beginning.  The second came at a time when I was making fundamental shifts.  Getting ready to run in one of the biggest marathons ever--that also turned out to be one of the most dangerous with the Boston Marathon in 2013 and continuing to take my running very seriously.  Getting ready to shift schools.  Getting ready to change from faculty to administration.  Getting reach for one child to be looking at colleges and a second to be looking at high schools.  A much more complex time in my career with much more complex elements of my career.  And a much more complex time of my life.

So, the second relationship was different.  The coach was more of a peer age-wise rather than my senior.  The issues I faced were much different.  The safety of having someone to whom to say, "What one earth is happening here?" was very different than what I had faced six years earlier.  And that safety and security--like Linus's safety blanket in Charlie Brown--was important for providing some sense of "there is an escape--there is safety."  The key is that I don't remember Linus's character ever letting go.  In real life we have to know when to let go.

Would my colleague ever outright tell me, "No, I won't speak to you." after our formal mentoring/coaching relationship was done?  Of course not.  But there is a time and a place for each relationship in our professional lives.

Today, I had carved out a bit of time--after 18 months in my job and 12 months from the end of our official relationship--to speak with my coach.  And while we didn't say a distinct, "Good-bye," I think it was a powerful and wonderful opportunity to demonstrate that, "I've taken in what you challenged me to think about and while neither my life nor my job is being run perfectly I think I'm okay."  Did I say that explicitly?  No.  But I had previously expressed how difficult I found some aspects of the move and how much I thought she had added to the earliest part of the move.  She probed on a few topics.  I answered.  I noted that my perspective on things had changed.  The questions I was asking had changed.  Even the way I asked questions had changed.

She noticed the image change without my having to say anything.

I think that without coming right out and saying it she could see that I had made the transition I had intended to make and her guidance had made a difference.

Will we cross paths again?   Who knows.  But in the future it would just be as colleagues.  That is the other part of mentoring being done.  Sometimes it is done but even if there is another interaction it remains as it was in mentoring.  And sometimes it is simply as colleagues.  I have grown into the position she helped me to be ready to grow into.  About the only "mentoring" thing I would still see in the future is that I bet she will still be among the first I tell when I get another promotion some day.
Will this be the last time I have a coach?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps when I move up again (assuming I do), I will have the opportunity for more coaching.  More insight.  More preparation for new challenges.   Mentors are always a good thing to have.  I hope that the individuals I have mentored think so.  In fact, for at least a few of them, I know so rather than just hope so.  What I do hope is that each relationship I am in--whether I am doing the mentoring or being mentored--will have as clear and positive an end point at which the person being mentored has been successful at moving forward, the person doing the mentoring can sense that, the person doing the mentoring sees how they have made a difference, and the person doing the mentoring knows they are appreciated.   

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Not Three Cups of Tea but 1000 Cups of Coffee

Today, I attended a mentoring introduction for the new MHS in health economics class at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  While I now sit at the business school, those of you who have been following this blog for some time know that I was at the Bloomberg School of Public Health previously.  In fact, for 16 1/2 years previously.  That is a long time.  I came back today for the first time in a while.  (Even though it is only about 2 miles across town.)   I said hi to a couple of old colleagues, one of whom told me how much I was missed.  I spoke with a couple of the "cleaning ladies" I had gotten to know over the years.  They have jobs that are considered to be at the "low end" but we could not have a safe and healthy environment to work in without them.  I made sure to speak with them and get to know them a little when I was there.  And I had a good time catching up with the two of them (especially the one who had done my floor and the floor below for years and now has just six years left before she retires) as I had gotten to know them fairly well over time.

But this entry is not just about old colleagues in general and the importance of good feelings and good memories.  No, today's entry is about a flattering comment that a colleague made about mentoring.

Every mentor should be so lucky to get someone to repeat a comment like this one.

I was sitting two seats around the table from my colleague whom I mentored as a junior faculty member for a number of years.  He is in charge of the educational program whose students need mentors.  After introductions were complete he noted that I had been his mentor for years and said that he wanted to share something that I had once told him.  I really don't have a poker face as a staff member across the table said immediately something like, "Kevin must be wondering what he said and how John remembers it."  Well, I was.  But it turns out that I had nothing to worry about.

My colleague pointed out the value of networking.  I had once told him that one of the great things about Johns Hopkins was that everyone was intellectually curious enough that while you might only get on a person's calendar once and it make take three months to get on the calendar, you could count on just about everyone at Johns Hopkins to take the time to have coffee with you.  So, given the thousands of experts around Johns Hopkins, if you really want to find out what is going on you will need to have lots of cups of coffee.  (Of course, at this particular event there was no coffee so everyone immediately joked that I must have switched to cans of Diet Coke rather than cups of coffee.)

Of course, the cultural reference was to 1000 cups of coffee instead of the book title, Three Cups of Tea.  To get to know a complex organization like the University I work for will take a lot more than three of anything--except perhaps years and certainly decades.  But the key is that spending time with people, listening, hearing, sharing, and revealing, all helps to make the world a more accessible place.  A place that I understand better.  A place in which I understand more about what is going on.  A place in which I am understood better.  In other words, a place where I feel more comfortable and can do more to change it and make it better.

Just from sitting across the table and sharing a cup of coffee and some conversation.

Do we necessarily need thousands?  No.  But we certainly need more than three.  A bad rule (aside from the caffeine infusion) might be three a day.  Three conversations each day that I go out of my way to conduct even though I don't necessarily need to have them those days.  I have found over time that I never can predict where a conversation will go.  And that amazes me.  And I find it incredibly valuable.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

First Impressions

I don't know when the last time was that I flew on JetBlue.  This may have been my first, but even if it was not, it was "like my first time."  I have to say that the airline made a positive impression on me.  Why?  I cannot recall the last time I was on a US domestic flight that lasted just over an hour on which I was served both soda and a choice of chips or cookies for free!

That made an impression on me.

In fact it made so much of an impression on me that I decided to put a comment on Twitter about it using my professional account.

What made an even bigger impression on me is their social media strategy.  Specifically, I had hashtagged JetBlue (i.e., #JetBlue) and before I was out of Terminal C at Boston Logan, someone at the airline had Tweeted a reply.

Customer service in two ways.

First impressions go a long way.

Not sure when the next time will be that I will fly somewhere that JetBlue goes--but when I do, I will definitely take that option.

That reminds me of three other things.  First, the AACSB (a voluntary accreditation organization for business schools) has had a conference in Baltimore since Sunday that that focused on the finer points of accreditation.  I went as I am continuing to familiarize myself with the process of accreditation that I am ultimately in charge of at the school.  Yesterday, we had a chance to host a hospitality event at the end of the day.  I am waiting on a final count, but we had a great turnout and I was the senior school representative there.  I had a chance to tell my colleagues about our school in a way that featured its strengths even more than just seeing it could do.  This was the school's first impression on a lot of colleagues.  They liked what they saw and they liked what they heard.  We made a positive impression on them and they made a positive impression on our staff who helped with the event.  While the smaller schools may or may not be the ones who eventually come for the site visit, the smaller schools do serve on the initial accreditation committee.  I am hoping that this was a great way to help build our social capital with our colleagues.

Next, while the staff representative to JHU at AACSB did not make it to the event, I had an opportunity to meet with her an a colleague over lunch.  Afterward, I asked if she would like to see our facilities.  That made a positive impression on her as well.

Finally, there are the impressions I make on colleagues.  Most first impressions are good because people want to seem to continue to work with me.  My concern is further impressions.  Those are not always perfect.  In fact, I have had some colleagues not want to work with me.  In a lesson on my own branding, I have to rethink some commitments to make sure that what I commit to can actually be completed.  Otherwise, all the positive first impressions in the world will mean nothing in the end.  I am only human.  I need to learn to admit that before starting a project rahter than when I cannot finish it.  

The ups and downs of first impressions are critical to consider in the business world. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Value of Education--and How to Measure It

A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal asks whether colleges are producing "career ready graduates".  

Some may debate whether this is the right question to be asking.  Form a traditional liberal arts point of view, the goal is (as the piece states at the end) to produce critical thinking adults.  In my mind, that translates into adults who can solve problems and think creatively and critically.  These individuals should be "ready for careers."  Or at least ready for the first job.

However, it is also reasonable to think that given what individuals are spending on college at this point in time that they might be prepared for careers and guided in important ways other than simply having a good liberal arts education and being critical and creative thinkers.

In business schools, students and administrators clearly recognize the value of the internship and how this can help to translate into job readiness.  Internships are just one way that individuals can help to prepare themselves besides rigorous coursework.  There are many other opportunities for work experiences while individuals are in an educational institutions.  

However, I believe that it is more than just an internship or a work experience.  

The article also discusses mentions mapping out a career plan.

If nothing else, colleges could present to their students a way to think about their careers in the long term.  Models for careers.  Models for transitioning to a first job or a next educational step with information on what the choices are, what they mean, and what the value propositions of the choices are?  Thinking ahead about next steps.  Thinking about what a lifetime of jobs and even careers might look like.  

Not to say that anyone can plan all of that out when he or she is an undergraduate.  But to expose students to the idea that there are opportunities to take multiple paths.  To take advantage of multiple directions in a career.  To change jobs.  To change careers.  To change directions.  And to do all of this with some sense of planning and some sense of where the person is going rather than simply being on a serendipitous random walk.  

Maybe a 22 year old can't even imagine all that can go on in a career and over a lifetime.  But I believe that even giving a hint of what a career might hold will make individuals better able to dream, plan, and consider how their careers and lives might evolve over time.  To position himself or herself to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves over time.  And to take hold of the opportunities and to run with them.  

That would make individuals ready for a career just as much having the skills for a first job.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Exercise is a Lot Like Work--or is the Other Way Around?

A recent Wall Street Journal article commented on how little things can make what should otherwise seem like an easy workout into a hard one.  The simple message from this article reminds me of the 20 mile race I ran two days ago.  My goal was under 2:30.  I did it, running a 2:29:57.  Couldn't cut it much closer.  And it is not the fastest I have ever run 20 miles but with 12 weeks to go until my next marathon and the temperature being 75 degrees with very high humidity at 8 AM (race start time), I did just what I planned.  

That is the key.  For a workout to go well, we must control what we can control.  How much rest?  How hard was the last workout?  Are we varying our workouts?  Are we getting enough sleep?  Are we concentrating too much on other things?  (See the picture below to find out what happens when I concentrate on too many other things while running and take a fall leading to four weeks in a wrist brace.)  Can we focus on the workout itself and not on other stresses?

In any case, there are some things that we can control and some things that we can't.  I meticuluously trained for eight weeks leading up to the 20 mile race.  And despite the uncontrollable--weather--I succeeded.  Do I always succeed?  No.  Earlier this year despite equally meticulous training for a 5K on a course with which I am very familiar I didn't get the PR I was hoping for.  But I did what I could and still had a good showing.

So it is with our careers and business.  There are things we have control over.  Our appearance.  Our sleep (just as important for work as for exercise).  Our effort level.  Our continuing to learn.  If we take what we can control and make sure that we maximize our effort and maximize our attention, then we maximize our chances of success.  There will always be events we cannot control.  What we must hope for is that by maximizing our attention to detail on the things we can control that we get as close to success as possible.

So, I'm not quite sure if this is a lesson from exericse for work or the other way around, but it is an important lesson for both for me and for anyone trying to succeed in life.