After the founder leaves: how long are the shadows?

Steve Jobs

In some companies, the founder is a key player who can’t be replaced; in others, they can be replaced with surprising ease; and in still others, they cast a shadow long after they’re gone, for better or worse.

The usual case study is Apple. Steve Jobs first pushed his friends into marketing and building the first personal computers; then, when he became a liability to the business and was sidelined, he pushed a group of engineers, technicians, and designers into creating the first mass-produced computers with a graphic user interface.… Read the rest

Articles, How-Tos

How-to: owner validation for your web site

We are going to start by sounding techy, but will explain what it all means in human terms later.

Does your web site use the right secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate? Here’s how you can tell if it does: there will be a green lock and the name of your company in the address bar of pretty much any browser.

Which of these banks would you prefer to deal with?… Read the rest

Articles, Quality

Don’t just listen!


For decades, people have talked about listening to the customer. Yet, our systems seem as bad as ever. Are we listening?

I would argue that we’re listening… we’re just not taking the right actions.

Once, I helped to present the results of an employee survey; we mainly left it to them to develop action plans — the best way to instigate change.… Read the rest

Articles, Blog

Test it out!

crash testing

When I first started in the employee survey business, I was responsible for some big mistakes. Eventually, I realized that anything we did not test would go wrong; and that it wasn’t just testing that mattered, but testing thoroughly and intelligently. The latter realization came after an Excel copy/paste bug — where the first 20 and last 20 cells were correct, but everything in the middle was just a repeat of the first 50 or so cells, over and over.… Read the rest

Articles, How-Tos

How-to: Solving old problems and getting fast action

break past problems

I’ve heard it too often: “You’re the tenth consultant we’ve seen, and nothing ever happens!”

How do you break past that? The most effective ways are usually helping the people in the organization fix their own problems.

One example comes from a single-day training seminar — usually kind of a throwaway item where people sit through, have a nice lunch, and everyone goes home happy and unchanged.… Read the rest


How-to: Customer recovery, or the forgotten country

customer recovery graphic

Most businesses focus on attracting new customers and keeping the ones they have, but few seriously try to bring back people who left — customer recovery.

Some companies do sales-and-marketing efforts such as sending out coupons or making sales calls to past clients, but there’s another level out there, starting with recovery research. 

To find out how to bring back old customers (and keep more of the ones you have), the first step is to find out why they left.… Read the rest


Nonprofits, government, and schools: the informal contract

government or school

Some people deliberately work in places where they get paid less than normal.

Some economic theories would have us believe that’s impossible, but there’s more to compensation than a paycheck or benefits. Often, people will work for less money — and if you want to take advantage of that, you need to know about the informal contract that keeps them attracted to their jobs.… Read the rest

Articles, How-Tos

How-to: Keys to successful cultural change

change signs

Cultural change efforts seem to fail as often as they succeed, partly because it’s neither easy nor fast — just brutally effective. Cultural change requires concentrated and focused effort over the long haul, a widespread belief that change is necessary, and the willingness to critically examine current beliefs, values, and practices.

In 1997, Chrysler was an oft-cited example of a company which had used cultural change to suddenly regain a leadership role, changing the way almost everything in the company was done within a few short years.… Read the rest