Tag Archives: short term thinking

Innovative Thinking at Amazon: Paying Employees $5,000 to Quit

Amazon continues to be innovative not just in technology but with management thinking. Jeff Bezos has rejected the dictates espoused most vociferously by Wall Street mouthpieces and MBAs that encourage short term thinking and financial gimmicks which harm the long term success of companies.

Most CEOs and executives are too fearful or foolish to ignore what they are told they must do because Wall Street demands it. CEO’s and boards often ratchet up the poor management thinking by tying big bonuses to financial measures which are much more easily achieved by gaming the system than by improving the company (so companies get the games there boards encouraged through their financial extrinsic motivation focus).

Amazon does many good things focused on making Amazon a stronger company year after year. These innovative management practices seem to largely be due to the thinking of the strong willed founder and CEO: Jeff Bezos. Jeff was smart enough to see the great things being done at Zappos by Tony Hsieh and bought Zappos.

Jeff Bezos has added his letter to shareholders to Warren Buffett’s (for Berkshire Hathaway) as letters worth reading each year. In the latest Amazon letter he includes many worthwhile ideas including:

Career Choice is a program where we pre-pay 95% of tuition for our employees to take courses for in- demand fields, such as airplane mechanic or nursing, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon. The goal is to enable choice. We know that for some of our fulfillment center employees, Amazon will be a career. For others, Amazon might be a stepping stone on the way to a job somewhere else – a job that may require new skills. If the right training can make the difference, we want to help.

The second program is called Pay to Quit. It was invented by the clever people at Zappos, and the Amazon fulfillment centers have been iterating on it. Pay to Quit is pretty simple. Once a year, we offer to pay our associates to quit. The first year the offer is made, it’s for $2,000. Then it goes up one thousand dollars a year until it reaches $5,000. The headline on the offer is “Please Don’t Take This Offer.” We hope they don’t take the offer; we want them to stay. Why do we make this offer? The goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want. In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.

A third inward innovation is our Virtual Contact Center. It’s an idea we started a few years back and have continued to grow with terrific results. Under this program, employees provide customer service support for Amazon and Kindle customers while working from home. This flexibility is ideal for many employees who, perhaps because they have young children or for another reason, either cannot or prefer not to work outside the home.

The first point reinforces Dr. Deming’s words encouraging companies to do exactly that – pay for education even if it wasn’t related to the work the employee was doing or would do for the company. Still quite rare decades after Deming’s advice.

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Short Term Investing Focus

Buffett’s New CEO Shows Analysts, Hedge-Fund Managers to Door

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. completed the buyout yesterday after winning the approval of Burlington Northern investors. The deal, valued at $100 a share, allows Rose to hand out returns of nearly 300 percent, plus dividends, to investors who bought stock the day he was named CEO in 2000. The problem, he said, is that shareholders with that length of commitment are dwindling in number and influence.

“When I started as CEO 10 years ago, the typical investor had a time frame of three to five to seven years,” Rose said in an interview. “Year-by-year, that’s gotten shorter.”

The increased focus on short-term results, fueled by real- time media and quarterly analyst calls, can be a distraction for a railroad executive who needs to buy locomotives that run for 20 years and put down tracks that last for 40, Rose said. Burlington Northern said last month it would commit $2.4 billion this year to capital projects, including track, signal systems and locomotives, about $240 million less than in 2009.

“The money I spend this year really won’t pay off for three, four, five or seven years down the road,” said Rose, 50. “There’s the advent of the hedge fund which has changed the time horizon of what satisfies the institutional investor.”

“The speed of the news today I think has harmed, quite frankly, investors looking at long-term assets,” Rose told reporters in a news conference this week. A long-term perspective is “one thing that our country has kind of lost sight of, not just for the railroad equity investor but for a lot of investors.”

Decades ago Dr. Deming said short term focus was one of the seven deadly diseases of western management. Unfortunately we have made very little progress on the deadly diseases. The failed, health care system with it’s focus on a few special interests fighting to keep the broken system that does great harm to society but benefits the special interests is another a disease that has definitely gotten much worse.

Related: Think Long Term Act Dailyposts related to Warren BuffettGoodbye Quarterly TargetsA Great Day for Georgia-Pacific

How Private Equity Strangled Mervyns

I do not like the actions of many in “private equity.” I am a big fan of capitalism. I just object to those that unjustly take from the other stakeholders involved. It is not the specific facts of this case, that I see as important, but the thinking behind these types of actions. Which specific actions are to blame for this bankruptcy is not my point. I detest that financial gimmicks by “private capital” that ruin companies.

Those gimmicks that leave stakeholders that built such companies in ruin should be criticized. It is a core principle that I share with Dr. Deming, Toyota… that companies exist not to be plundered by those in positions of power but to benefit all the stakeholders (employees, owners, customers, suppliers, communities…). I don’t believe you can practice real lean manufacturing and subscribe to this take out cash and leave a venerable company behind kind of thinking.

How Private Equity Strangled Mervyns

Much of the blame for its demise lies with three private equity titans: Cerberus Capital Management, Sun Capital Partners, and Lubert-Adler.

When those firms bought Mervyns from Target for $1.2 billion in 2004, they promised to revive the limping West Coast retailer. Then they stripped it of real estate assets, nearly doubled its rent, and saddled it with $800 million in debt while sucking out more than $400 million in cash for themselves, according to the company. The moves left Mervyns so weak it couldn’t survive.

Mervyns’ collapse reveals dangerous flaws in the private equity playbook. It shows how investors with risky business plans, unrealistic financial assumptions, and competing agendas can deliver a death blow to companies that otherwise could have survived. And it offers a glimpse into the human suffering wrought by owners looking to turn a quick profit above all else.

This plan has been repeated over and over, for decades. People buyout a company, strip off huge amounts of cash for themselves, leave the company in extremely precarious position by piling on all sorts of debt which kills cash flow. This is even taught in business schools as how things should be done (although I think many business schools have cut back on promoting this type of behavior). The attitude of some is: “look at this silly company, they are not leveraged, go buy them take a bunch of cash out and they might actually stay in business for the long term, but what do we care about that we can get a bunch of cash now and pay ourselves millions who cares what happens to all those (employee, suppliers, customers…) that build up the company.”

In this case in addition to piling on all sorts of debt the buyout firm split off the real estate from the rest of the company and then doubled the rent charges – adding another cash flow drain on the company.

Cerberus also bought out Chrysler and now seeks billions from the government to help them out.

Related: CEOs Plundering Corporate CoffersWhy Pay Taxes or be HonestConstancy of PurposeRespect for people

Google Should Stay True to Their Management Practices

I believe in Google’s past, present and future. They have shown a great ability to ignore the short term focus that dominates (and kills success) of so many companies today. I am happy to invest in Google for the long term.

This current reaction to the economic crisis, is one of many times Google can be seen to be making significant changes to adapt based on market conditions and the results of their experiments and experiences. Google’s management in general and the 3 leaders continue to practice a management style based on an engineering perspective while so many others practice the style Scott Adams has pilloried in the pointy haired boss.

The thought and execution of Page, Brin and Schmidt (and others: Marissa Mayer) is at a different level than that of most other executives. Skepticism is wise. But I believe Google continues to have exceptional execution and focus on long term innovation.

The biggest risk I see, for them, is they become too focused on the short term and lose their ability to take advantage of the great opportunities available by focusing on long term success. Google is in a position where they are not forced to abandon long term plans due to cash flow problems. The only decision for Google should be whether something makes long term sense or not. If they are recalibrating and deciding they were being too lax in certain areas (without long term justification) then I am fine with changes. If though they are reacting to short term market conditions that is a big mistake.

Google Gears Down for Tougher Times

He says the company is “not going to give” an engineer 20 people to work with on certain experimental projects anymore. “When the cycle comes back,” he says, “we will be able to fund his brilliant vision.”

Bad idea, short term thinking. Don’t drive business practices based on short term earning releases. If the idea is not worth 20 people long term fine, don’t do it. If it is, do it. The lack of cash that would force many companies to abandon promising efforts is not an issue for Google. They have plenty of cash and are generating much more every day.

To better predict revenue, the company implemented quotas for ad-sales representatives and tied the pay of more employees to performance

Bad idea; quotas are a sign of management abdicating responsibility. Quotas are destructive to success. Pay for performance focuses employees on meeting targets instead of the best interests of the company. Quotas are destructive to constancy of purpose.
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Invest in New Management Methods Not a Failing Company, 1986

Invest in New Management Methods Not a Failing Company by William Hunter, 1986

I predict American Motors will stop making cars in Wisconsin in the near future, whether or not the state’s money is used for a temporary propping-up operation.

These competitors are beginning to understand how essential it is to take a long-term view of their businesses. Toyota, for example, took its top 40 managers on a two-day retreat to ponder what their corporation will look like in the 21st century. They are studying totally new methods of management [20 years later large portions of these “new” methods are still ignored by many – John]. These methods take continuous quality improvement as a central, guiding principle.

Investing in American Motors now, in any form, is a mistake. If Wisconsin is to become a trend-setter in economic development, we need some long-term thinking in forming wise, creative policies.
It is difficult, I know, for legislators and other elected officials to take a long-term view when the tangible reward is re-election and elections come around quite frequently.
Our founding fathers are remembered for their long-term vision. We need to change the way our democracy works so that long-term visions is an integral part of all important discussions on economic development on the local, state and national level.

Don’t reward shortsightedness by James Cook

In 1985 I assumed the role of plant manager of one of the world’s foremost automotive tool manufacturers in a small northern Iowa town. It was then that I was introduced to W. Edwards Deming. At the time, the company had a greater market share than any of its individual domestic or foreign competitors, but ominous and encroaching signs from abroad began to threaten its pre-eminence in the automotive aftermarket. So steps had to be taken to arrest this incursion that could mean the end of its reign.

It was then, as I began my tenure at the company, that we began with Deming’s concept of Statistical Process Control, later changed to Quality Control, and the practice of Toyota’s kanban cell manufacturing techniques that would enhance the already high-quality standards that had defined the company for decades.

If we had listened, if we had followed him, if we had incorporated his thinking not only in the automobile industry but in government, in the ubiquitous economy collapsing around us and in our private lives, we would now be far better for it.

Related: At Ford, Quality Was Our Motto in the 1980sFord’s Wrong TurnCould Toyota Fix GM (2005)Ford and Managing the Supplier RelationshipNo Excessive Senior Executive Pay at ToyotaCreating Jobs

Goodbye Quarterly Targets?

Goodbye Quarterly Targets?, Business Week:

For about a decade, companies have tried to goose their stocks-or manage the market’s expectations-by putting out quarterly earnings projections. Now the practice has come under fire as business leaders fret that the focus on short-term targets undermines long-term growth.

On March 14 the Commission on the Regulation of U.S. Capital Markets in the 21st Century, a project of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urged executives to stop issuing their short-term goals. The practice is a “self-inflicted wound by American CEOs,” says commission member Robert Pozen, chairman of MFS Investment Management, a Boston fund manager.

Debate over this issue has simmered for years. Indeed, dozens of companies, including Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, have quit publicizing quarterly earnings targets. Now the issue has become urgent, the Chamber argues, as U.S. companies face growing long-term competition from overseas, where such projections are not widely made.

Learning that a fixation on short term profits is bad for the organization is a good step. Deming talked about this problem over twenty years ago in seven deadly diseases of western management one of which was: the emphasis on short term profits.

Related: Life Beyond the Short TermDell Falls ShortConstancy of Purpose

The Quick Fix

The Fall 2005 issue of the Deming Institute newsletter (I removed the broken link) includes a copy of a letter Dr. Deming sent to Time magazine in 1981.

Dear Sir,

Your article about Japan in TIME for 30 March 1981 is excellent, but the paragraph concerning my work is ridiculous and can do a lot of harm to American industry at the very time when they need guidance. Dr. Deming did not just give a lecture in 1950. He gave 35 lectures in the summer of 1950 to engineers and to top management. Six months later he was there again, and six months after that yet again. He has made 19 trips to Japan. One trouble with American industry today is that top management supposes that one lecture or one day will do it. “Come, spend a day with us, and do for us what you did for Japan, that we too may be saved.”

It is not so simple. Few people in top management in America understand their responsibilities and know that they must serve a life term on quality and productivity from now on, under competent leadership.

W. Edwards Deming

Many still search for simple quick answers. Management improvement most often requires a great deal of thought, study, experimentation and effort.

Life Beyond the Short Term

Life Beyond the Short Term by Simon Caulkin, The Observer.

Last week’s column – ‘Adrift in a parallel universe‘ – about the perversion of management provoked an eloquent, sometimes passionate, response.

In the spirit of a positive alternative, a prime text is W Edwards Deming’s 14-point programme for transforming management, drawn up in the 1980s.

Once again Simon Caulkin has penned an excellent article. In this article he gives an overview of Deming’s 14 points. I am glad to have found another positive source for improving management – see our directory of management improvement blogs for some additional sources I find valuable.
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