Thoughts and reflections for myself and my MBA classes at Marquette University. Views are my own operant conditioning.


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Mar 13, 2014
@ 10:18 am
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You can pre-order my new book “Analytics to Action” on indiegogo http://igg.me/at/analytics-action 


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Nov 12, 2013
@ 11:54 am
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Robotic management

As I read about ousted Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli, I didn’t have a whole lot of sympathy for him. 

He was described as autocratic, inflexible, stubborn, arrogant and greedy. He doesn’t seem like anyone would want as a boss. 

Apparently I’m not alone in this feeling, according to Business Week:  

As the news of his resignation on Jan. 3 shot through Home Depot’s white-walled Atlanta headquarters and reached stores, some employees text-messaged each other with happy faces and exclamation points. 

In fact, he struck me as a bully. At one point enduring or confronting bullying almost seemed like a rite of passage in our culture, but that has shifted in the last few decades. It’s not even tolerated in the NFL anymore. 

Seth Godin pointed out in his blog today that in the past bullying was accepted as long as the bully was on your side. “We often (for a while) view bullies as powerful or brave or important—as long as they are our bullies,” he writes.  

But now even that model has outlived its usefulness as our culture becomes more collaborative, connected and social. You can’t afford to alienate your employees or even your competition. Karma could come back to get you as a Glassdoor review or a Twitter war. 

But then I started feeling a little bad for Nardelli. Even bullies usually have a reason for turning into a bully.

Is there a place for someone with his “command and control” style in an increasingly touchy-feeling economy? Will he just have to learn to adapt? Or will the pendulum ultimately swing back to his form of management once again?  

I don’t know what Nardelli is doing these days, but I think there will be plenty of opportunity for someone like him who thrives on objective, measurable systems. I think one former top Home Depot executive nailed it. 

"Bob Nardelli is a smart man, but he doesn’t need to be in a high-profile business like retail. He needs to be in manufacturing, a business that does not have such consumer attention."

There you have it. Maybe his management style wasn’t necessarily “wrong.” It just wasn’t the right cultural fit. 

Nardelli and his ilk should have new roles as automation continues to grow. In the long run, machines will replace the military-style jobs he’s used to managing, and he can be as un-engaging as he wants to be as he analyzes and controls the systems. 

So maybe in the future there will be a place for an impersonal management style. It will just be with robots, not people. 


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Nov 5, 2013
@ 10:31 pm
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Managing not to get pwned

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Management gets a bad reputation.

It’s saddled with terms like middle manager and micro-managing and you often hear how the best managers “get out of the way” of their employees. 

In contrast, you never hear how leaders “micro-lead” or are “middle-leaders.” It seems like great leaders get all the glory and the best managers can do is hope to not mess it all up like a parody in a Dilbert comic. 

I have to admit I’m not immune to thinking these stereotypes. The connotation of “management” is telling people want to do. And I don’t like being told what to do or given instructions. 

Don’t cramp my style, man! I’m a creative type! I’m an ENFP and my intuition will tell me what to do! 

OK, I exaggerate for effect, sort of. 

But after reading “What Great Managers Do" by Marcus Buckingham, I fear I’ve had it all wrong. I have newfound respect for management duties. 

To hear Buckingham explain, it almost seems like leaders have the easy job and managers have the most difficult tasks. His analogy that leaders play checkers and managers play chess resonated with me.

In other words, managers have to pay attention to workers’ unique strengths and multiply their effect. And then they need to make it all work so one person’s strength complements another’s weakness, and vice versa. 

As someone who occasionally manages others, this is exciting but also scary. It’s empowering to know that a manager can unleash someone’s potential by identifying and nurturing their best abilities. But it’s also daunting to know that this is a complex task that continually needs re-evaluating as people grow and evolve. 

Ultimately, though, this model of management is appealing if you’re interested in helping others innovate. This puts more emphasis on individuality, not just following the leader. 

Because if you just have a team of all pawns, you won’t get very far. 


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Oct 31, 2013
@ 10:57 pm
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The Syllabus in Beta

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The Syllabus in Beta
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Oct 25, 2013
@ 11:34 am
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How I use social media

Thanks hashtagvictor for giving me the opportunity to talk about how I use social media at marquetteu on his Marquette Radio show. We spoke last year (it aired recently) about how I arrived at my career after being a laid-off journalist along with more universal issues like whether social media makes us more or less connected to others. 

Some quick background: I met Victor when he was a freshman and he interviewed me for Marquette’s student TV station. I was impressed with how much poise and presence he had for a freshman, and knew he would go far.

Today he’s a senior, and when my wife heard him on this podcast, she immediately said he belongs on npr. I agree. You can learn more about Victor here


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Oct 23, 2013
@ 12:04 pm
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Leadership and letting go

When Google announced it was developing a self-driving car, some people reacted with skepticism, disbelief or outright fear and disdain.

"Hands-free driving, cars that park themselves, an unmanned car driven by a search-engine company." a narrator says in a 2011 Dodge Charger Super Bowl commercial. “We’ve seen that movie. It ends with robots harvesting our bodies for energy.” 

The narrator declares the car “leader of the human resistance” as commercial ends. The Charger roars its engine and leaves a plain-looking car in its dust, speeding through a Freudian tunnel to reveal its rear spoiler and dual exhaust. 

"No other car’s styling says, ‘Don’t f*&! with me’ with such eloquence," wrote Car and Driver.  

Meanwhile, Google continues to quietly criss-cross the country with a fleet of driverless Prius hybrids to perfect its model and statistically prove that self-driving vehicles are safer, more efficient and overall better for our mental and physical health.

So what does a robotic car have to do with leadership? I would say these two cars represent two models of leadership.

The former is swaggering, hyper-masculine, not very energy efficient and, as Car and Driver says, “angry.” 

The Google car is innovative, backed by research and testing, shares the road in the most statistically optimal way, and delegates important responsibilities so the leader can focus on higher-level tasks.

But it’s hard to relinquish control, especially over something as personal (and ‘Merican!) as driving and leading a business. There’s a lot of ego involved. 

As  Kreitner and Kinicki identify, barriers to delegation can include fear of being called lazy, fear of competition from those below you, and the fallacy that “if you want it done right, do it yourself.” It boils down to trust. 

And there are real dangers to empowerment. It can be risky and unpredictable. You’re on the hook for “letting” someone else make a mistake. If you dump others into a sink or swim situation, you’re just going to make everyone frustrated.

But when done right, it leads to employees having intrinsic motivation, more job satisfaction and higher productivity. 

I admit I’ve had trouble with delegating and trusting others. Five years ago I started Marquette’s social media marketing and treated it like my baby — often acting like a helicopter parent. When others helped me, I’ve been guilty of meddling and micromanaging. 

But now I’m on paternity leave until January. (One baby replaced another.) I have to take a step back and trust others. 

Before I left, I created a spreadsheet of responsibilities, duties and timelines that I delegated. I trained interns and colleagues. But I also encouraged them to come up with their own new ways of doing things, which may be different than mine. 

Then I let them take over for two weeks while I was still in the office, so I could be on hand to answer any questions that may come up. Then one week ago today I left the office when my son was born. 

The result? It’s only been a short time, but watching others take over for me and do my work in creative, surprising and (yes) ways I trained them on has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. 

Sometimes it’s ok to let others take the wheel. 


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Oct 12, 2013
@ 9:32 am
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10 principles of good content from sarahvanelzen's talk at the PR + Social Media Summit at marquetteu. 

10 principles of good content from sarahvanelzen's talk at the PR + Social Media Summit at marquetteu


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Oct 11, 2013
@ 12:10 pm
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Does social media make us anxious?

I was recently quoted in a Marquette Journal article entitled “Does social media make us anxious.” I highlighted the section that was quoted. For additional context, here’s the rest of the interview, which was conducted over email.  

1.) What is your role in social media for Marquette University? 

Director of Social Media. I oversee the management of Marquette’s social media properties, which you can see at Marquette.edu/Social 

2.) Do you think it is becoming more common for students to feel anxious or a form of anxiety when separated from their social media outlets? What effects could surface because of that feeling?

This might be something you could talk to Dr. Scott D’Urso about. He did an experiment with his class to have them go completely tech free for 24 hours. You can read about some of the results here: http://go.mu.edu/TechFree 

3.) Do you think people and students are, in some ways, basing their self worth or importance based on how many “likes” they get or by how many followers they have? Do you think that could lead to them posting funnier, racier or more daring stuff in an attempt to increase their likes or followers?

Disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist or sociologist, but I am fascinated with theories in those fields. You may want to talk to real experts from our departments, but I can share my amateur opinions and observations. 

People are social animals, so we see ourselves partially through the feedback and eyes of others. Naturally, online interactions play a part in how we see ourselves just as offline interactions do. But I’d be hesitant to say people base their “self worth” on likes or followers, since that concept is much more complex and multi-faceted. That’s sort of like asking if people base their self worth off getting an A on a test or having people laugh at a joke they told in class. It’s important to keep some perspective.  

As for what people post to get a reaction, I think that depends on the personality types. Some people post funny stuff, some people post links to articles, some people post photos of themselves with friends. By the time you’re 30, it will just be all baby photos. http://ilovecharts.tumblr.com/post/59404697088/sarahlcomics-im-in-my-30s-now-so-all-i-see-is 

4.) What are some of benefits of social media on students? What positives does it bring?

In some ways, there is nothing new about social media. Human beings want to communicate in a variety of formats, which is why there are cave drawings and ancient hieroglyphics. Social media doesn’t replace offline communication, it simply helps spread messages and create interactions in a way that offline communication can’t always reach. One example is a tweet sent by Dr. Pamela Nettleton during finals week reminding students to “breathe” and that tests are “not your worth as a human being.” (See No. 4.) I’m sure she told that to her class as well, but through Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook that positivity spread to a much broader audience. 

And speaking of positivity, studies have shown that “good news” stories tend to get shared more in social media. There are many organizations that harness this innate human desire to spread positivity. Take a look at Good.is and Upworthy, which use the viral nature of social media to make people think about real issues and what they can do to help. The New York Times called Upworthy “serious news built for a spreadable age” and Good.is calls itself “a gathering place and growing toolkit for pragmatic idealists.” Social media can help connect the dots and spread the messages of people trying to improve the world. 

Check out http://www.upworthy.com/about and http://www.good.is/explore

5.)And then lastly, is their anything that you would like to add or think that I might have missed?

I think that’s it for now. Let me know if you have any follow-ups. 


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Oct 6, 2013
@ 9:59 pm
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My office space

imageAbove: My daughter answers my phone at work. She’s a straight shooter with upper management written all over her.  

Like anyone who’s ever worked in a cubicle, I occasionally think it would be awesome to do all my work from home, a coffee shop or maybe in a cabin in the middle of the woods. 

Of course, I also actually lived that lifestyle when I was a freelance journalist. In reality, my days, nights and weekends often blended into each other. Work time would become difficult to distinguish from non-work time.  

There’s something to be said for structure, even for someone like me with a distaste for rigidity. 

I was reminded of this while listening to In Search of the Perfect Office as well as the reading on organizational design, effectiveness and innovation. 

On one end of the spectrum there are virtual teams, horizontal designs and hollow organizations that don’t have their workforce perform in the traditional 9-5 office with bosses giving orders to subordinates. I recently read The Year Without Pants, which is basically a book-length case study of how the website Wordpress uses a “distributed team” model. It’s barely structured chaos - and it more or less works for them. 

On the other end of the spectrum are org charts, divisional structures and matrix designs. This may breed bureaucracy, yes, but it also creates accountability and more predictability. 

If there’s one thing I’ve observed in my different roles over the years, it’s that there’s not a one-size fits all approach for organizations, departments or individuals. There may even be variations in how you design your work from day to day or hour to hour. 

For instance, in our office we have semi-private cubicles, an open collaborative space, and completely closed privacy rooms that anyone can take when they need them. 

In this way, you can use your cubicle for day-to-day projects and a place of your own, teams can gather in the open space or individuals can bring their laptop if they want to work in a more collaborative or social setting, and the privacy rooms can be used for personal phone calls or solitude for high-concentration tasks like writing.  

Our office was built three years ago, and I’m impressed with how the modern design seems to meet the needs of introverts, extraverts, teams and individuals. In other words, all of us at different times and for different projects. 

And it actually makes me look forward to being in the office. 


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Oct 5, 2013
@ 10:24 am
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Longreads

I’m the featured Longreader in this week’s longreads newsletter. You can find the issue and subscribe here