AI Machines as Managers

The Wall Street Journal: “There is evidence computers may be better suited to some managerial tasks than people are. Humans are susceptible to cognitive traps like confirmation bias. People using intuition tend to make poor decisions but rate their performance more highly, according to a 2015 University of New England analysis of psychological studies. And in an increasingly quantitative business world, managers are asked to deliver more data-driven decisions—precisely the sort at which machines excel.”

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at University College London, comments: “What managers do mostly is identify potential, build teams, assign tasks, measure performance and provide feedback. Generally speaking, humans aren’t very good at these tasks. Someday, we might not need managers anymore.”

“Companies that make and use workforce-management software … say machines are no substitute for human judgment and ability to manage interpersonal relations. Instead, they say their software speeds up administrative work and uses data to help human managers improve decisions they previously made only by drawing upon gut instinct and experience … Sue Siegel, GE’s chief innovation officer, said she wouldn’t rule out one day working for a machine.” She comments: “If the robot has personality and a sense of humor and can understand the human condition, hey, who knows?”

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Alacrity Matters: Rise of the 5-Minute Meeting

The Wall Street Journal: “Agile-management techniques embraced years ago by tech companies are bringing brief daily check-in meetings to marketing, e-commerce, advertising and other fields. The move is shattering some workplace rites and routines: Long-winded monologues and PowerPoints are out. There’s no time for small talk, and less tolerance for 30- or 60-minute meetings when five to 15 minutes will do. Participants must learn to distill their ideas and requests to the conference-room equivalent of an elevator pitch.”

“Employees at Scrum50 start brief daily meetings right on time and finish some in as little as four to six minutes, says Chris Parker, managing partner of the South Norwalk, Conn., digital marketing agency. ‘If you’re five or six minutes late, you’ve missed it’ … Creative professionals used to making polished presentations must briefly explain mere seeds of ideas or works-in-progress instead.”

However, Lyde Spann of Netamorphosis, a New York e-commerce company, notes: “An adverse effect of this kind of efficiency is that meetings used to be a time to connect. You’d ask people how their weekend was. You build relationships. We run the risk of missing that.”

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Clubhouse Culture: How Houston Solved Its Problem

The Wall Street Journal: “Under Jeff Luhnow’s stewardship, the Houston Astros developed into the industry’s most analytically driven organization, relying almost entirely on data to navigate through a full-blown rebuild … But for all of their bold ideas, the Astros too often forgot about one important aspect: their players.” However a willingness to embrace “the value of chemistry and culture paid enormous dividends in 2017: The Astros won the World Series, their first since the franchise’s creation in 196.”2

“It represented a subtle, but crucial shift in the Astros’ thinking. Though numbers remain their focus, the driving force that propelled them from the bottom of the standings to the pinnacle of the baseball universe, Luhnow learned a lesson along the way: To deny the significance of chemistry ignores a critical component of the equation that equals a championship roster.”

“For sure, the Astros didn’t revolutionize the concept of caring about chemistry. The Chicago Cubs, the World Series champions in 2016, also prioritized traits they could not measure in players. Few expected the Astros to do the same. Now, however, they will parade down the streets of downtown Houston as champions.” Luhnow comments: “Culture is a hard thing to really quantify. But when you see it you know it’s there.”

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Three Traits of Successful Leaders

Adam Bryant: “After almost a decade of writing the Corner Office column, this will be my final one — and from all the interviews, and the five million words of transcripts from those conversations, I have learned valuable leadership lessons and heard some great stories … Are there some qualities — beyond the obvious, like hard work and perseverance — that explain why these people ultimately got the top jobs? I’ve noticed three recurring themes.”

“First, they share a habit of mind that is best described as “applied curiosity.” They tend to question everything. They want to know how things work, and wonder how they can be made to work better. They’re curious about people and their back stories. And rather than wondering if they are on the right career path, they make the most of whatever path they’re on, wringing lessons from all their experiences.”

“Second, C.E.O.s seem to love a challenge. Discomfort is their comfort zone. The third theme is how they managed their own careers on their way to the top. They focus on doing their current job well, and that earns them promotions. That may sound obvious. But many people can seem more concerned about the job they want than the job they’re doing.”

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The Microsoft Treehouse: Outdoorsy Creativity

The Verge: “Microsoft has built some tree houses for its employees. One sits in a Pacific Northwest Douglas fir, while another is 12 feet above the ground and features charred-wood walls and a high ceiling complete with a skylight … Microsoft said it had been planning renovations and surveyed employees to see what they cared about the most. Employees said if they were given the opportunity, they would work outside more.”

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Danny Meyer & Enlightened Culture

Fast Company: “How do you persuade your waiters to forgo a 20% tip on each table they serve? Danny Meyer says they never wanted to hire people who would only have been nice to you if they assessed it out of the four tables in their section, you were the richest or you were the most generous.”

“By that he means building a culture where employees focus first on pleasing one another, creating a warm energy that in turn fuels the staff as it tends to patrons, the community, and suppliers. His restaurants offer employees a variety of rewards, from bonuses to birthday cakes. And employees in turn have discretion to give customers free extras, all creating a virtuous cycle of hospitality.”

“Meyer regularly tests his approach to see if it’s is working by asking members of the team to share their understanding and experience of the culture … He says these discussions happen at pre-service meetings and in employee town halls, and through multiple internal channels that employees can use to offer their honest feedback.”

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Zuck Asks Not: What Are You Willing To Give Up?

Quartz: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg “explains his theory to LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman as it pertains to Facebook’s former value statement, Move fast and break things:

“So the value is actually ‘move fast.’ And my whole theory on values is that a lot of organizations have values which don’t mean very much—because they’re just table stakes, things like ‘Be honest.’ Of course you’re going to be honest! That’s not an option—you’re not giving anything up to be honest, that’s an automatic. That shouldn’t be a defining principle of the company, that should be a principle of every company. So ‘move fast’ I think is interesting because you actually have to be willing to give something up to get it. And the question is, what are you willing to give up?”

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Academy Sports: First-Responder Retailer

The Wall Street Journal: “A sporting-goods retailer found itself at the center of the rescue effort in flooded Houston, first opening its stores to rescuers in need of boats, life preservers and other supplies, and then converting its headquarters into temporary residences for hundreds of police and other emergency responders. As of Wednesday morning, retail chain Academy Sports + Outdoors was hosting more than 400 rescue-team members at its corporate campus west of Houston, with people coming to work in 12-hour shifts from as close as Waco, Texas, and as far away as Connecticut.”

“Academy has a history of contact with law enforcement because it sells firearms in its chain of 235 sporting-goods stores. Dealing with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal agencies is a daily part of its business. So when the first call came in Sunday from the Houston Police Department requesting flat-bottomed jon boats and paddles, Academy brass weren’t all that surprised. But the calls kept coming … they wanted kayaks, canoes, ponchos and pontoon boats. In many cases, Academy opened the doors of closed stores so first responders could grab what they needed.”

“As waterlogged evacuees made it to dry land, they needed more. Sleeping bags, air beds, backpacks, fresh T-shirts, socks, shoes and underwear. Rescuers needed all those goods, too, and a safe, dry place to rest. So Academy opened up its four-story sport-themed headquarters, which hasn’t flooded and still has power. It also has gyms for sleeping and places to shower … Academy is offering financial assistance for immediate needs like hotels for about 150 employees … (and) is deciding where to donate $1 million worth of clothes and shoes later this week.”

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