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Archive for November, 2007

In my recent and frequent visits to the airport bookstore, I’ve been tempted to pick up the latest bestseller, “The Four Hour Work Week.” I opted to save trees and just visit author Timothy Ferris’s blog instead. Among the many topics this 21st century Renaissance man pontificates on is how to write and keep up a blog.  Tip #5:  The best posts are often right in front of you, or the ones you avoid.  With appreciation to Tim’s inspiration, I am finally going to comment on an article from the WSJ I’ve been carrying around for over six months.  

“Green Protests Derail Chinese Chemical Plan,’ reads the May 31, 2007 headline. Shai Oster reported how nearly a million online and cell phone text messages were sent expressing strong opposition to plans to build a chemical plant close to city center in Xiamen. Despite heavy pressure apparently from Beijing officials, a local mayor was quoted as saying, “the city government has listened to the opinions expressed and has decided after careful deliberation that the project must be re-evaluated.”   

Having visited China in the early ‘90s with a group of Capitol Hill staff, I was stunned by both the technological sophistication and open outrage expressed by opponents and equally shocked that the city official bucked authorities higher in the government food chain. This is simply not the China I remember seeing just 15 years ago. 

Of course, my government-sanctioned and highly-choreographed tour barely provided a peak behind the curtain of Chinese life. But my recollections do not include a strong sense of freedom of speech.  Nor do I remember hearing much about grassroots environmental concerns or seeing widespread use of modern technologies. I remember people in major metropolitan sleeping on dusty mats in front of their house to stay cool at night. What progress!     

Two colleagues just returned from Beijing, and I was sorry to hear confirmed what I’ve read.  The city is thick with pollution and bursting at the seams with commercialism.  It is a reminder that progress has a price tag. The freedom to speak also leads to the freedom to buy, which creates opportunity and challenges for sustainability of the environment and mankind.

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This is part of my “review lite” series – meaning I haven’t actually read the book, just other people’s reviews!

CEO performance is determined by a number of factors, not the least of which are financial.  But YUM Brands Inc. Chairman and CEO David Novak heralds the less tangible qualities that result in high performance management in his book “The Education of an Accidental CEO.”     Bottom line advice – do whatever it takes to get people fired up.

“You can never underestimate the power of telling someone he’s doing a good job,” Novak is quoted as saying in a Wall Street Journal book review by Richard Gibson. “ The higher up the ladder you are, the more important it is to give credit rather than receive it.  Always be on the look out for reasons to celebrate the achievement of others.”

Interestingly, I’ve heard and seen exactly this mantra in action in just the last two days by two high ranking corporate officials – one inside my own company and one from a corporation we service.   In the first instance, I was struck by how often this individual praised others for “doing great” and expressed confidence on their ability to deliver.  On the client side,  a list of principles designed to guide the team’s approach to a new assignment included the directive, “give credit where credit is due.”

Call me mushy, but I like this carrot approach.  Not to say you don’t still need a stick in management. But the stick has all the power of a pile of twigs if there isn’t a bowl of carrots being dished out when the occasion calls for it.   Given that Yum Brands stock has quintupled under Novak’s leadership, I’d say he knows a thing or two about how rewarding employees leads to rewarding shareholders. 

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On a work trip to Estonia in the mid 1990s, I had the memorable pleasure of visiting a rural high school.   To this day I remember the bumpy van ride from downtown Tallin, am enchanting Old World city, through a somewhat depressing landscape of bombed out and abandoned buildings along rather poorly maintained roads.  After an hour of being jostled around, our small group arrived at a rundown schoolhouse that no US parent would send their child to without serious fear for their safety.

However, when we entered the classroom, we were amazed and delighted to see students eagerly at work on brand new personal computers, manipulating complex geographical information system  (GIS) programs requiring technical and educational aptitude far beyond what I expected most kids that age to possess.  The message of our host from the federal education agency was immediately made clear –Estonia was investing in children, not buildings and roads.  The country had made a commitment to make the internet accessible to every child by the year 1998.  I have little doubt they accomplished their goal.

Nearly a decade later, it was within this memory context that I read a column in European Voiceby a member of the Estonian Parliament, Otti Lumi.  Apparently Estonia, like much of Europe, is facing a troubling decline in birth rates.  A driving trend is women delaying childrearing until later in life to pursue careers and, as a result, having less children.  The government has instituted a series of policies to encourage couples to procreate early and often.  For example, education loans are greatly decreased for students who start a family soon after graduation.    

As a public affairs practioner with a special interest in social marketing, I was particularly interested in the author’s proposal to incentivize childbirth through increased political privileges.  Simply put, Lumi asks, “What if parents had one extra vote per child.”  He notes that parents represent their children in legal terms already.  Giving children the right to vote – through their parents – would demonstrate the value the state places on its youth, the future leaders of the nation.

I’ve mulled this idea over and decided I like it, though for another objective than the author.  Too many Americans wave off their own right to vote, or do so without taking proper care in thinking through the impact of their decision. But if we had an additional vote to cast on behalf of another, particularly a child, I do believe that I – and others – might approach the act of voting with a little more gravitas!

Certainly politicians do their best to play up to adult concerns about future generations with rhetoric such as “don’t mortgage our children’s future by continuing to build an enormous federal deficit.”  But a campaign that literally gave you the right to vote on behalf of your child might get people to think and act on Election Day just a tad bit more conscientiously.  In the old-fashioned American tradition, it’s at least worth a poll to find out. 

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