Whole Foods: New Limits on Local Store Autonomy

The Wall Street Journal: “Whole Foods is shifting more responsibility for buying packaged foods, detergents and other nonperishable items for the more than 430 stores to its Austin, Texas, headquarters. It is deploying software to simplify labor-intensive tasks like scheduling staff and replenishing shelves … The measures are part of a broader push to beat back competition from retailers such as Kroger Co. and Costco Wholesale Corp. that have expanded their range of natural and organic products, and frequently offer them at lower prices.”

Co-CEO John Mackey: “We want to evolve the structure in such a way that we take out redundancy and waste, and at the same time though, we’re not diminishing the culture, the empowerment efforts that make Whole Foods Market special.”

“The relative autonomy Whole Foods has long granted its stores and regional units—now 12—reflects a bedrock principle of Mr. Mackey, who helped open the first Whole Foods in 1980 … The model worked well for Whole Foods for years as it grew rapidly and established itself as the leading retailer of natural and organic groceries … But the need to offer more competitive prices is stepping up the pressure for greater efficiency.”

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Study: C-Suite Women = Higher Profits

Quartz: “New data from the Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY … from 21,980 global, publicly traded companies, in 91 countries from various industries and sectors and showed that having at least 30% of women in leadership positions, or the “C-suite,” adds 6% to net profit margin.”

“The study looked at women in three positions: CEO, board members, and members of the C-suite. It found female CEOs do not systematically outperform their male counterparts. While there is some evidence that female board members are associated with greater profitability, the results are not statistically significant. But the C-suite results were clear: more women translated to higher profits.”

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Does The Jump Shot Wreck Teamwork?

The Wall Street Journal: “It’s impossible to name any one creator of the jump shot, but once it appeared, it brought chaos to a previously controlled game. In the early 20th century, basketball offenses featured weaves and passes until an open player could fire a set shot—both feet firmly planted on the ground—with two hands … Many of the first jump shooters … redefined what was possible. They held the ball over their head as they leapt, making their shots impossible to block.”

“As the popularity of the jump shot spread, basketball turned into a high-scoring spectacle … Consider the impact of the shot on college basketball. Starting in 1939, the first 11 NCAA national championship games featured an average score of 49.1–39.2. By the following decade (1950-59), scoring had increased by an order of magnitude, with the title game averaging 74.9–66.2. Yet critics still ridiculed the tactic.”

“Hall of Famer Dick McGuire … believed that the jump shot gave individuals too much power, robbing the game of teamwork … Former Notre Dame coach Moose Krause … believed that basketball became too easy by 1957 and ‘gets less and less interesting every year.'”

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Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility

Fast Company: “Part of how (Netflix) has transformed so rapidly has a lot to do with its revered work culture,” based on “a 124-page document that’s now been shared over 13 million times on Slideshare … The woman behind Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility was the company’s chief talent officer at the time, Patty McCord.”

“Instead of listing the company’s core values like every other company was doing, McCord decided to write down the things the company valued, what mattered to them, what they expected in their people … The result is a document that demands self-sufficient employees who feel a responsibility to the company. There’s no vacation policy, a nonexistent travel policy, and no annual employee reviews.”

“Not surprisingly, there was no formal process put in place in order to get to Netflix’s no-formal-process culture. While creating the company’s culture, McCord just made sure to shut everything out for years and refused to read about what other companies were doing with their culture … It should be noted that McCord ultimately lost her job at Netflix, thanks to her own system.”

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When Collaboration = Interruption

The Economist: “Why have organisations been so naive about collaboration? One reason is that … any fool can record how many people post messages on Slack or speak up in meetings, whereas it can take years to discover whether somebody who is sitting alone in an office is producing a breakthrough or twiddling his thumbs … A second reason is that managers often feel obliged to be seen to manage: left to their own devices they automatically fill everybody’s days with meetings and memos rather than letting them get on with their work.”

“About 20% of company stars keep themselves to themselves. So organisations need to do more to recognise that the amount of time workers have available is finite, that every request to attend a meeting or engage in an internet discussion leaves less time for focused work and that seemingly small demands on people’s time can quickly compound into big demands. Helping people to collaborate is a wonderful thing. Giving them the time to think is even better.”

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Is The Deck Stacked Against Disruptive Innovation?

The Wall Street Journal: “Anshu Sharma, a venture capitalist at Storm Ventures, thinks he knows why so many companies that should have all the resources and brainpower required to build the next big thing so often fail to do so. He calls his thesis the ‘stack theory’ … the mistaken belief that” building something new is a simple matter of “moving up the stack.”

The “stack” is a “layer cake of technology, one level of abstraction sitting atop the next that ultimately delivers a product or service to the user.” IBM, for example, “moved up the stack from making things that compute to selling the services that computation enables … Google tried to move up the stack from search to social networking.” Apple apparently hopes to move up the stack to make electric cars.

According to Mr. Sharma, failure to move up the stack happen when the company lacks empathy for its customers and doesn’t understand its customers’ wants or needs. It’s generally easier to move down the stack (e.g., Tesla builds its own batteries because it knows its own requirements). Uber would be more likely to succeed at building its own cars than General Motors would be at creating a ride-sharing service. That’s because “Uber has the advantage of knowing exactly what it needs in a vehicle for such a service.”

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Deep Work: Finding Focus in a Distracted World

The Wall Street Journal: A new book attacks the trend toward open offices and embraces the virtues of focused thought. In “Deep Work,” Cal Newport “acknowledges the good intentions behind open offices: They are meant to encourage serendipity and teamwork. But he argues that burdening workers with perpetual distractions constitutes ‘an absurd attack on concentration’ that creates ‘an environment that thwarts attempts to think seriously.'”

The antidote is to expand “your capacity for ‘deep work,’ ruthlessly weeding out distractions and regularly carving out stretches of time to sharpen abilities … Most corporate workers, Mr. Newport argues, don’t have clear feedback about how to spend their time. As a result, employees use ‘busyness as a proxy for productivity.'”

“This presents an opening for people who are willing to tame these distractions … Such individuals cut down anything that could be outsourced ‘to a smart recent college graduate with no specialized training,’ and create rituals of delving into ‘the wildly important goal’ of their trade … No job is excused as too mundane for his approach, even in industries that value, say, rapid customer-service responses.”

“You don’t need a rarified job,” Mr. Newport writes. “You instead need a rarified approach to your work.”

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IBM: Where Design Thinking Is The Corporate Culture

Wired: “For going on four years now, IBM has been working to reinvent itself as a design-led business. In 2012, the computing behemoth employed just one designer for every 80 coders. Today, that ratio stands at 1:20. By the end of 2016, the company hopes to narrow it to 1:15. All-told, the company is investing more than $100-million in an effort to become a design-centered corporation.”

“That plan hinges not only on the company-wide implementation of design thinking—a framework for conducting business that puts users’ (i.e. customers’) needs first—but the establishment of IBM as a leader in the growing ecosystem of design-conscious companies.”

“Its entire design thinking manifesto is now online (link), and if you’re interested, it’s certainly worth a read. If nothing else, it provides fascinating insight into how a massively successful corporation plans to stay relevant amidst the rapidly changing worlds of computing and business. In many ways, IBM’s newfound focus on design is an admission that a good user experience isn’t always as simple as slapping on a new user interface—it can take a total overhaul of corporate culture to get it right.”

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