FirstCuts31 – Accepting the Plantation


The latest issue of FirstCuts is now available in a very new format.

Gone are my struggles with ASCII files that Microsoft Outlook would mangle into an unrecognizable melange.

Now, there’s a magazine-like interface that allows a user to read through the ezine much as they would a paper periodical.

Receiving FirstCuts on a regular basis is easy – -simply send email to and click on the link in the confirmation email.

In the meantime, click on the icon below to be taken to this month’s issue of FirstCuts.  The audio version can be heard by clicking here — Podcast of FirstCuts31

Here is a short excerpt.  Also, I welcome any comments you may have here on the blog.


Accepting the Plantation

One of the gifts that expats bring to a job in our region is a view of what it would be like to work in an environment that’s free of the tragic history that plagues the Caribbean workplace.

Expats remind those of us who work in the region that our workplace is a unique one that’s been unable to escape its past. It’s uniqueness comes from the fact that it’s the only workplace in the world that remains staffed by a majority of citizens whose ancestors were brought to the region as slaves or indentured servants.


To continue reading, click on the icon below.

Executive – Culture Fit


This is quite an interesting article, “Culture Club” taken from BusinessWeek, having to do with matching the culture of the company with executives to be hired.

The best executive for the job will have an impressive résumé, but should also possess the right skills to best maneuver the organization’s culture

by Joseph Daniel McCool

Cultural Matchmaking

One reason for a poor fit is that too often executives are hired based on where they’re coming from without enough thought given to where they are going. A candidate who impresses the board or the boss with his or her credentials might get the nod because on paper he or she appears to have the right range of experience from a respected, market-leading company. Yet an impressive résumé doesn’t guarantee an individual will be able to elevate a company’s performance in a new environment and/or a new role.

Click to see the article in full: Culture Club

The Gang of X


The other day I met a friend of mine who is a bona-fide change agent in her company.

It reminded me of my first change effort as an employee of AT&T Bells Labs. A group of us decided to stop complaining that things should change and do something about it.

We started the “Gang of X” and started meeting, discussing the new Division we wanted to create. It was all quite exciting, and got even more so when we published something like a manifesto for change, outlining the change we wanted to see.

At the time it seemed quite risky, but we were wrong. It really wasn’t.

In time, all the changes we outlined came to pass but not before I left the company to start my own firm. In time, the organization was dissolved when AT&T split into Lucent and AT&T, and the division’s staff was scattered in to the wind.

But the Gang of X was a life-changing event that I don’t regret, even after I got pissed when the changes weren’t happening fast enough.

It helped to lead my to the profession I now have, in which I get to work with change agents of all kinds who share one thing in common — a desire to make a difference.

Honey, sweetheart, darling, babes


Coming back to work in the Caribbean has meant getting used to using words of endearment that professionals in developed countries have long eschewed, including “honey”, “sweetheart”, “darling” and “babes”, and even male versions such as “boy” and “man.”

As a professional working in the U.S., I learned long ago that such words are to be completely and entirely avoided. The professional women who took me under their wings when I was a fledgling employee made sure that I learned my lesson in this regard (thank you Mary, Beverly, Kandi, Celeste, Janice…).

I also learned the importance of the firm handshake as a form of generic greeting in the workplace. The rules were dicey back then about how male to be, as I remember a colleague of mine pointing out that I needn’t hold open the door for her, as she certainly was not interested in being treated any differently from the men around me.

Working in the Caribbean is quite different. Warmth and friendship is felt in the embrace of a boss, friendship in a familiar greeting and respect in how we introduce each other to friends and colleagues.

This all takes some getting used to, as these behaviours are exactly the ones I learned to avoid in my early days working at AT&T in New Jersey.

While I do not want to offend, I don’t miss for one minute that cautious feeling I knew in the U.S. workplace, darkened by threats of sexual harassment, racial prejudice and politically incorrect behaviour. My hope is that we in the Caribbean can learn to be sensitive to others preferences, without having to become fearful and paralysed by the threat of a lawsuit.

Treating Suppliers and Vendors — an Indicator of a Culture


I recall doing business with a company that refused to honour a signed contract.

The CEO let me know in no uncertain terms that the signature of the Chairman held no water because “he didn’t know what he was doing,” and that “I should know that.” It was an ugly situation, and I have done no business with that company since then, but their advertising that is filled with messages about how great their company culture is still reminds me of the disparity.

I have always remembered this event, and it’s led me to conclude something about companies: that they are good as how they treat their vendors.

Why so?

Mahatma Gandhi said: “The best test of a civilised society is the way in which it treats its most vulnerable and weakest members.”

I say that the corporate corollary is “the best test of a well-developed corporate culture is the way in which it treats its vendors.”

Not shareholders, employees or customers… but vendors: suppliers, contractors and consultants.

The same company I mentioned above had a habit of beating down every price that I ever presented to it. I sometimes felt like a thief trying to get away with something, rather than a business partner.

They were proud of the fact that they put their customers first, and would very quickly interrupt a meeting with a vendor to meet with a customer who had a problem of some kind. After all, they put customers first.

However, I think they missed the point of the customer revolution, as do many companies. The point is not that customers come first, but it is that the company can treat every human being that it engages in business with respect, dignity and care. The revolution was meant to show companies that focusing on themselves only resulted in poor performance in the mid to long term.

In this sense, vendors are no less important than customers.

And, in a way, vendors are among the weakest members of a company’s stakeholders as they must wait for payment from companies that lose invoices, have inefficient bureaucracies, force cuts in prices to make greater profits, and treat suppliers like thieves.

The joke is that I am also reluctant to do business with the same company as a customer, and would think twice before recommending them to a friend. I have heard other vendors express the same sentiment about the treatment they received from the company, and I imagine that they, too, would feel the same way.

I imagine that if they understood that we are all connected, and that here in the Caribbean the small size of our economies means that we cannot hide from each other, our corporations would act very differently towards its suppliers.

Culture Change Gone Bad


While a culture change is very hard to do well, it is very easy to do badly.

In this article from CNN, entitled “No storybook ending after tycoon dolls up vilage,” a millionaire adopted a US town, and attempted to give it a makeover.

As could be predicted, she ran into resistance, as the towns-people gradually developed a hostile resistance to her ideas and interventions.

I think she misunderstood her challenge — it was not to change the physical environment, but instead to cause a shift in the culture of the people in the town.

This is a mistake that CEOs often make – believing that money can buy just about anything.
Sometimes it can buy hearts and minds, but when it does the kind of people who end up being bought are usually not the strongest characters, and they are not likely to stay bought for long.

This approach just does not work, as this tale amply demonstrates.

Heedless Self-Interest


In an article from the New York Times, I found the following quote:

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said F.D.R. “We know now that it is bad economics.” These words apply perfectly to climate change. It’s in the interest of most people (and especially their descendants) that somebody do something to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, but each individual would like that somebody to be somebody else. Leave it up to the free market, and in a few generations Florida will be underwater.

In a prior post, I wrote about the importance of appealing to people’s self-interest as a way to change the culture of a company. With more information, I argued, people naturally do what’s best for them and others, once they can see the apparent interconnection of all that is.

The Course in Miracles says that the fact that we are all connected means that attack is impossible, as it rests on the idea that we are somehow separate.

Creating a Signature Experience


I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review that spoke to the idea of “Creating a Signature Experience” for employees.

The idea is simple — what do employees experience as they work within the company?

I have worked as a consultant to several, and can think of a few examples of companies that left me with strong impressions. A few were so “strong” I have vowed never to do business with them again — this as a paid contractor.

For employees, some companies create the experience of chaos. Others are stingy. Some are challenging, with high standards. In others, anything goes.

I don’t think that any one experience is necessarily better than another, but I do get the impression that few companies actually give much thought to the experience they are creating for their employees.

This is too bad, as a good reputation leads to good people being hired, and vice versa. Also, some business results are better achieved by certain corporate cultures than others. For example, a culture of accountability is always a good thing — never bad.

Companies need to define the experience and its various drivers if they are serious about the destination they are headed in.

Creating a Bad Culture pt 2


Here is a continuation of the list of things I would do to create a really bad corporate culture, if I were the CEO.

  1. Create a Culture of Fear
    I would fire people at will and without warning, showing people who is in charge. I’d do my best to humiliate others wherever possible so that even the smallest challenges to my leadership are quashed. The “Art of War” would be my friend.
  2. Make it Clear Personal Money is Paramount
    I would casually mention in conversation that my main priority is my retirement, and how I plan to fund it. People would hear from me they they should be doing the same, if they know what is good for them.
  3. Blame the Customer
    I’d make the message plain — if customers don’t want to do business with us, then they should go elsewhere, as it is their “right.” They’d need to know they are wrong for asking more than we are prepared to give them.
  4. Focus on the Short Term
    I would waste no time on developing fancy vision statements and the like. After all, no-one can predict what will happen with much accuracy in the future. Instead, I’d gear people to short-term results and meeting the goals that will make me look good to the board. My job would be to motivate people using money and personal gain wherever possible, forcing them to compete with each other
  5. Keep Around Non-Performers
    While I would fire at will, I’d make sure to keep around some employees who are mediocre – after all, we can’t ALL be stars, can we? I’d move them from job to job, to keep them and everyone else happy in the short term. Making employees happy and comfortable on a day-to-day basis, without any sense of sacrifice, would be critical to getting them to like me.

It’s interesting, but I was surprised when I made this list how easy it was to create. Changing culture is easy to do badly, or inadvertently. My clients are often surprised at the degree
of fallout they experience when they do something dumb (i.e. against their self interests.)

It is much harder to do everything right, and unfortunately, building a great culture requires a leadership performance that is not perfect, but sets the limit of the change by the weakest area visible to others.

For example, a manager might be a good leader in most respects, but a bad listener. Guess which characteristic will have the greatest impact?

Managers and executives need to be working on themselves all the time, as the bar is constantly being raised by those around them. Success only breeds higher expectations and greater challenges.