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    Published on: August 2, 2011

    by Michael Sansolo

    There’s a simple law of physics that defies argument. You cannot put a square peg in a round hole.

    Sadly, there’s a completely conflicting law of management, which requires us to do that with people all the time. Every manager knows that it’s virtually impossible to find the perfect person for every job. In fact, it rarely happens. So the key becomes reshaping the hole to make sure the square, round and every other peg will successfully fit.

    There was an unusual lesson in this recently in the National Football League. While most of the attention in Washington, DC, has been on budgets and debt, the story that really gripped the city was about the city’s beloved football team and its two biggest soap operas: quarterback Donovan McNabb and defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth. The former came to the team last season after a long and successful career in Philadelphia; the latter in a disastrous signing two years ago. In a span of hours last week, the Redskins traded them both.

    Both provide interesting lessons in management. Let’s start with Haynesworth, who at times in his career has been a spectacular player, but only at times. At other times he seems disinterested.

    The Redskins’ coaches tried everything to motivate him, including public humiliation, which failed miserably. No doubt, Haynesworth’s revenge will be a wonderful season for his new team, the New England Patriots. What Haynesworth’s debacle reminds us is something many human resource directors cite time and again: hire for attitude, train for skills. If the Redskins had followed that simple directive they would have realized that Haynesworth’s enormous talent couldn’t be easily motivated and they might have looked for a lesser and cheaper player who would have done anything to win.

    The reason Haynesworth will likely succeed in New England is the culture on that team seems to specifically corral reluctant players and get them focused on the goals of the team. The rules are extremely simple and the track record of success remarkable, plus the players there—a group that consistently wins—seem to enforce the culture.

    The McNabb story is more complex and more compelling. The Redskins traded valuable assets for McNabb, but according to all reports, the coaches regretted the trade instantly. While McNabb had a long record of success, the Redskins coaches saw numerous flaws in their new player. McNabb had the attitude the team wanted, but his skill set didn’t fit the team’s plans. McNabb’s single season with the Redskins was a disaster, even though the quarterback never did anything to question his coaches.

    In the end, the team had no choice but to trade him elsewhere for lesser assets than he cost. As one Washington Post sportswriter suggested, McNabb’s failure represents a coaching failure most of all. The team knew McNabb’s strengths and weaknesses when he arrived, yet they insisted on trying to change the style of a veteran performer instead of working around his considerable skills, as his previous coaches had done. In short, they tried to pound a square peg into a round hole and failed.

    The reality is that we don’t get perfect associates. Good managers figure out how to emphasize strengths and diminish weaknesses, even as we work to make certain the job gets done right. Good managers adjust the holes so all the pegs fit where they are best suited. Had the Redskins done that, McNabb and the team might have done significantly better. Sports history is full of coaches who successfully changed the style of their play to fit the talent they had. It isn’t easy, but winning never is.

    Dealing with imperfections is what makes coaches—and managers—great.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Chicago Sun-Times reports that “a small but growing number of hotels are starting to use new radio frequency chips “ to make sure that guests are not stealing the towels and bathrobes.

    According to the story, “With cotton prices rising and fewer employees in housekeeping, hotels are using the tech to monitor the whereabouts of bathrobes, bed sheets, duvet covers, bathmats, pool towels and banquet linens.” One estimate is that between five and 20 percent of hotel linens “typically go missing,” and so in some cases, the investment in RFID technology can be justified financially.

    Not everybody is on board, however, because for some RFID chips are still too expensive. But this is yet another Eye-Opening example of how technology is challenging the way in which business is being done.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2011

    In Wisconsin, the Journal-Sentinel reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent a letter to the makers of Muscle Milk, a fortified drink, saying that its name is misleading since it actually contains no milk.

    The absence of actual milk - though it does include ingredients “derived from milk” - is noted on the product’s label, though in smaller typeface than other information.

    According to the story, manufacturer CytoSport says on its website that it is addressing the concerns, though it suggests that the FDA’s concerns are being driven my the dairy lobby.

    “Concerns like this have been raised before when the dairy lobby complained that other industries or products like Soy Milk, Almond Milk, Coconut Milk and Rice Milk are using the name 'milk' in connection with a product other than fluid dairy milk, all of which appeal to lactose intolerant consumers just as Muscle Milk does," CytoSport writes.

    Indeed, the dairy lobby has welcomed the FDA move, the Journal-Sentinel writes.

    “We are gratified that the FDA has finally gotten off its duff and done something with respect to at least one product," says Chris Galen, spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation.
    KC's View:
    I have to be honest on this one. I don’t know what to think. On the one hand, milk is milk, and products that are not milk ought not be able to call themselves milk. After all, transparency is transparency.

    On the other hand, does anyone really think soy milk comes from a cow?

    Muscle Milk seems more egregiously deceptive - I’ve seen this stuff on shelves, but had no idea that it did not contain milk.

    Published on: August 2, 2011

    The Los Angeles Times has an interesting piece about Dish Network, which recently raised eyebrows when it spent $320 million to acquire the brick-and-mortar assets of the bankrupt Blockbuster chain.

    The story motes that it seemed “like an odd strategy for a company in a mature business with limited growth to buy another with even dimmer prospects.” However, the acquisition and an ongoing $3 billion “spending spree for broadband spectrum, are part of Dish's ambitious plans to turn the company from a pay-television service with about 14 million subscribers into a competitor of Netflix Inc. and a player in wireless communications.” The goal is to develop a strategy that is appropriate for an era “when the pay-television business faces mounting challenges, as consumers increasingly turn to the Internet or services such as Netflix to watch their favorite shows rather than paying for cable or satellite service.”

    "We are putting together the building blocks to be able to provide a whole suite of services to the customer," says Dish president/CEO Joe Clayton. "Wireless voice, broadband, video, mobile … we're going to have the capability to do all of the above."

    As for the 1,500 Blockbuster stores that Dish plans to keep open, the Times writes that “Clayton is not deluding himself that the traditional DVD rental market is going to make a comeback. He sees the stores as not only DVD rental and sales outlets but also as a promotional platform for Dish and the Blockbuster streaming service, as well as whatever wireless business the company pursues. He doesn't rule out selling consumer electronics at the chain either, an approach known as a store within a store that has proved successful for RadioShack Corp.”
    KC's View:
    If Blockbuster could be accused of anything, it was not recognizing the way the world is changing and adjusting to it. I have no idea if the Dish strategy will work, and whether it can become a legitimate competitor to the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Apple. But the broad approach certainly seems to recognize reality ... which is the first step in the right direction.

    Published on: August 2, 2011

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Target has identified a second location in the city’s downtown for one of its new urban stores.

    According to the story, Target plans to open a new store by Spring 2013 in a location at the corner of Geary Blvd. and Masonic Street that used to be occupied by a Mervyn's and Sears.

    Target’s first San Francisco location, in the Metreon retail and entertainment complex south of Market Street, reportedly is on schedule to open by the end of this year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2011

    Accenture is out with its 2011 Back-To-School Shopping Survey, which indicates that “parents said their top three priorities when choosing a retailer for back-to-school products are: pricing and discounts 91 percent; quality of the products 69 percent; and in-stock products 49 percent. When parents are choosing a retailer this year compared to last year, the importance of product quality did go down slightly while the important of convenience and one-stop shopping went up. Store experiences like customer service and loyalty programs once again ranked low on the list of priorities.”

    The survey also suggests that fewer parents will be spending big bucks on electronics for back-to-school, and will be cutting back and focusing more on necessities.

    Other key findings include:

    • Discount stores will continue to dominate as the destination for the majority of consumers’ back-to-school dollars this year, with office supply stores also remaining strong;

    • 89 percent of parents will shop at discount/mass merchandise stores (87 percent in 2010);

    • 56 percent at office supply stores (58 percent in 2010);

    • 46 percent at department stores (43 percent in 2010);

    • 32 percent at drug stores (32 percent in 2010);

    • 24 percent at grocery stores (24 percent in 2010);

    • 22 percent at online-only retailers(18 percent in 2010);

    • 18 percent at electronics stores (24 percent in 2010);

    • and 17 percent at specialty stores (20 percent in 2010).

    Interestingly, the report says that “half of parents (50 percent) said that they would do ‘none’ of their back-to-school shopping online. Only 4 percent said ‘all’ or ‘most’ of their shopping would be done online.”
    KC's View:
    No surprise here. Especially after the contretemps in washington over the past few weeks, almost nobody seems to have much confidence in the short-term prospects for the economy. So people are going to be cutting back, trying to be fiscally responsible, when and where they can.

    Though I am a little surprised by the online number. Because I work on the premise that Amazon is almost always cheaper than everyone else.

    Published on: August 2, 2011

    Gallup is out with a new survey saying that “for only the second time in two decades, wine nearly ties beer as the top choice when U.S. drinkers are asked whether they most often drink liquor, wine, or beer. Gallup now finds nearly as many U.S. drinkers naming wine (35%) as beer (36%), while liquor still registers a distant third at 23%.  The 36% favoring beer ties for the lowest (in 2005) Gallup has ever recorded since initiating the poll in 1992.”

    According to the survey, “Preference for beer declined among all age groups this year, but it fell the most among young adults -- dropping to 39% today from 51% in 2010. By contrast, middle-aged adults' preference for beer fell just three percentage points (to 41% from 44%), and older adults' fell two points (to 27% from 29%).

    “Younger adults' decreased preference for beer is accompanied by slight increases in their preferences for liquor and wine. Additionally, 2% of young adults this year volunteered that they most often drink cordials, up from less than 1% in 2010 and in most prior years.”
    KC's View:
    Cordials? Really?

    I get the whole beer vs. wine thing ... but cordials gaining popularity? Not on my block...

    Published on: August 2, 2011

    Coleman Natural Foods announced that it will use YottaMark Inc.'s HarvestMark traceability platform for use across its poultry product lines, allowing consumers to trace their chicken back to the farm to find out where and how it was raised, share their feedback, and check the food safety status of the poultry.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2011

    On the subject of the financial services industry lobbying for the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau - the creation of which it has opposed - to start exercising oversight of Walmart as the retail giant gets more and more into various financial services, one MNB user wrote:

    Why not let Wal-Mart into banking without the over sight, we did it for the large Investment Firms! Then when they failed we the tax payers bailed them out so the CEO’s and their ilk could get their bonuses. Just think if Wal-Mart gets into banking even more and operates like the rest of them we will get the chance to bail them out! I am sure Wal-Mart sees this as a great opportunity.

    Cynicism one could cut with a knife. I love it.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    The banks are no different than our retailers, manufacturers et al. They will wail against regulation unless it will benefit them somehow. This is no surprise - From individuals to corporations, almost all will seek what they perceive as beneficial to themselves rather than others.  What is right, moral and ethical is, more often than not, overlooked. Welcome to capitalism.

    And, from another MNB user:

    Let’s see some old fashioned competition in the banking industry from somebody who is hungry. I bet rates stay very competitive!?

    Commenting on yesterday’s Eye-Opener about MTV’s 30th anniversary, one MNB user wrote:

    I agree with your view of the 30 year anniversary of MTV  because I think they have adjusted over the initial strategy of killing the radio star. When MTV started everyone felt music on radio would be dead except for maybe talk show, ,news and weather. That is so far from the truth, at least not in traditional radio as we know it.  Today thirty years later there are thousands more radio stations out there with Sirius, Pandora etc. as people are not in front of their TV listening to music but now have head phones on their ears hours at a time during the day.  Ironically, MTV has LESS videos but has attracted their target audience with shows like the JERSEY SHORE and other reality shows which is almost like a TV network. Whether you agree or disagree they have survived and in today's world, a thirty year anniversary is an accomplishment in survival no what matter it is...I look forward to the day when we celebrate the 30 year anniversary of MNB...

    I’ll be 76 years old if that happens. Oy.

    Finally, I got an email yesterday from an MNB user with whom I’ve argued over the years about various issues. One of the subjects about which we have disagreed is the obesity problem, which, I think it is fair to say, he’s felt I was getting overly hysterical about. (He’s used his own kids as an example of children who are overweight but in great shape because they’re extremely active and built like linebackers.) And he’s certainly disagreed with the suggestion from some quarters that parents with morbidly obese children perhaps ought to lose custody because it amounts to child abuse.

    But here was yesterday’s email:

    OK. I was on vacation last week in the White Mountains of NH at my timeshare. I thought about what was said in the article about children who are overweight. Of course there were a lot of families there, including mine. As I looked around I noticed there were a lot of heavy kids. A LOT!!!! I watched for several days as I sat by the pool watching children jump and have fun and I must admit that the problem with obese children is worse than I thought. Obviously removing children is absurd and anybody that suggests that is a complete moron, but I must admit we have a problem.

    I just thought you would like to hear that I am not oblivious to this. Yes I got a little wrangled when someone suggested I was abusing my child because he weighed more than 200 under the age of 15, but that is the dad in me. I would say at least 65% of the kids I noticed were “fat”, maybe not obese but way too heavy. Indeed there is a problem. I just never really noticed before. Have a good day.

    I’ve gotten a lot of email over the past 10 years, but it would be hard to think of one that was more meaningful in terms of what I would like MNB to be about.

    We talk about issues, big and small. We offer opinions. We argue and debate respectfully. We listen. And maybe we learn something from people with whom we might ordinarily disagree.

    This happens to me all the time. It is nice to get an email from someone who seems to have experienced the same thing.
    KC's View: