2021 Reading Plan

I enjoy reading, but most of my reading nowadays is news, long-form magazine articles, and blogs. That’s good, but I want to incorporate some books this year.

I’d like to finish Geography of Thought and Geography of Time and perhaps add Space and Place to the list of non-fiction.

I’d also like to find some fiction; I read it faster, and switching modes helps me continue. I’m taking suggestions.

This is exactly how I felt when trying to read The Now Habit. Being succinct is an art. Leaving a book on procrastination unfinished is—irony? poetic humor? Let me get back to you.

Book Notes: The Power of Stay Interviews

This book by Richard P. Finnegan discusses the shortcomings of exit interviews and employee surveys, but really focuses on the solution: stay interviews. The idea is that direct supervisors have the greatest impact on whether an employee stays with or leaves an organization.

What is a Stay Interview?

It’s an annual one-on-one interview between a supervisor and each of his employees, with the aim of determining employee motives for staying or leaving, and how the leader can help them meet their goals. It is not a performance evaluation, and should probably be held 6 months away from any performance evaluation so that they are kept totally separate. There are at least 3 major benefits to stay interviews:

  1. Immediate guidance: no waiting months for survey results
  2. Individual needs can be discussed
  3. Independent solutions can be planned

Why Do Stay Interviews Matter?

When you’re conducting an exit interview, the person has already left. They have no vested interested in telling you what they think. When you’re conducting an employee survey, the result is average responses and company-wide programs that do little to drive retention. Good supervisory skills matter far more than “feel-good programs” when it comes to engagement and retention. Disengagement and turnover cost real money, and every organization should figure out how much these cost them.

How to Increase Retention

Think about what makes your organization unique, and use that to keep employees. Remember that supervisors have the greatest impact on E&R. Therefore, they – not HR – should be held accountable for specific retention goals. The most important quality in a supervisor is trustworthiness; build this by focusing on behavior, not character. When hiring, “narrow the front door”, which means being more selective about who you bring on in the first place. Have a clear course of events during a new hire’s 1st 90 days, concluding with a stay interview. Supervisors should accept responsibility for company policies (“I/we” not “they”), but should also challenge policies to ensure retention. Workstyle and schedule flexibility are the #1 policy reasons people leave.

The Saratoga Institude found that poor leadership causes over 60% of all staff turnover.

What’s That About Trustworthiness?

Trust is the most critical characteristic employees want in their supervisors, followed by fairness, care, and concern. Have managers reflect on trust-breaking experiences in their career and how it changed them. Make them reflect on whether any of their staff view them that way.

Trust is about behavior, not character.

How to Make the Most of Them

Use open-ended questions. What makes you stay? Why would you leave? What are your goals? What does a good day look like? How can I, as your supervisor, help you succeed? The management team can tailor these questions to specific concerns that short, frequent employee surveys reveal.

Take notes, listen, and don’t be content with initial responses – probe for the truth. Develop an effective stay plan for each employee. Remember than challenging work is the best way for employees to learn and grow. Have standard form (for data purposes), but be ready for the conversation to develop in unexpected ways.

Your 3 Tools and How to Improve Them

Employee surveys procure engagement data that serves as a benchmark (eg. “On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate internal communication?”). Stay Interviews allow supervisors to dig into the concerns uncovered by employee surveys. Exit surveys confirm the data.

Exit Surveys

  1. Short and focused, look for trends
  2. Report comprehensive data – length of service, performance level, voluntary and involuntary resignations; KPI: Number of leavers and their performance level by manager (you should know the company-wide data, too)
  3. Ask the “net-promoter” question: “How likely are you to recommend this company as a place to work to your friends and colleagues on a scale of 1-10?” 9-10 is a promoter, 6-8 is passive, 1-6 is detractor. Subtract detractors from promoters to get your score.
  4. Require managers to meet with their supervisor after every exit interview. Review what can be learned, and possibly withhold approval for new hires until this is done.
  5. Track improvement. If you’ve done 1-4 and there’s no improvement, stop wasting your time on exit interviews.

Employee Surveys

  1. Short and frequent – these are benchmarks, about broad issues, and should be kept to about 10 questions, but regularly
  2. Do them about 1 month before your Stay Interviews, and use the data to tailor these. Then wait about 6 months before a performance review.
  3. Ask the “net-promoter” question here, too.
  4. Be Quality Control for Action Plans – they should be specific, not vague, and actually work toward a better employee
  5. Hold Managers Accountable for Achieving a Survey Standard

Also, implement Manager Scorecards for perusal by the CEO. They should cover things like:

  • manager’s survey score vs company score vs standard
  • manager’s turover vs company turnover vs standard
  • turnover by reasons
  • turnover by performance level
  • turnover by length of service
  • net promoter scores for current employees and leaving employees

These things are just as important as revenue and profit per employee, customer satisfaction, etc.

Book Notes: Geography of Thought

You know, the difference between you and me is that I think the world is a circle, and you think it is a line.—Kaiping Peng, UC Berkeley

Premise

Cultural differences generally cause Westerners and Easterners to perceive the world differently. Westerns see objects where Easterners see context and relationships. This affects education, research, and understanding of motivations.

Points of Interest

I found it especially interesting that in tragic events such as shootings, American causal attribution is focused on personality traits; Asians focus attention on surrounding events and relationships, inclined to see many more facts as possibly relevant than Americans would.

In addition, while American schools teach history in effect-cause pattern (“Here’s what happened, here are 3 reasons”), Japanese schools give an impetus, discuss how the actors involved would’ve felt, analogies to students’ daily experiences, and end with the outcome. Japanese students are considered good historical thinkers when they can empathize with historical figures, whereas Americans are proficient when they can deduce and explain the events leading to an outcome.

In a business sense, Eastern cultures tend to see companies as groups of people working toward a common goal, the individuals having relationships with one another and the organization. In contrast, Westerners view them as systems to efficiently organize work. Perhaps this is why Easterners are more open to arbitration, while Westerners want to sic lawyers on their opponents.

Personal Thoughts

It seems very valuable to see the world in terms of context and relationships, to recognize that many things are outside of one’s singular control, and that success requires interdependence, not independence. The Eastern view of companies seems much more fulfilling and likely to result in the success and contentment of employees.

Book Notes: Creativity, Inc. (Part 1)

I’m about a third of the way through this book, which has tons of gems on successful management and personal growth. Here are some of my favorite ideas from what I’ve read so far.

Managers must loosen the controls, not tighten them.

People are talented; they want to do their best work and contribute to the success of the company. Managers should do everything in their power to facilitate this: they should clear roadblocks and address causes for fear without delay. Rather than keeping people from talking to each other, they should actively encourage direct communication between team members. They should willingly hire people that seem smarter than themselves, because,

Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right.

In fact,

Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.

Our primary goal in whatever we do must be quality, not efficiency. And we shouldn’t toot our own horn.

Excellence must be an earned word, attributed by others to us, not proclaimed by us about ourselves.

And remember, just because you have a good idea, or a bad idea,

You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.

Why is this important to remember? Because you will have bad ideas, and your team members (including any subordinates) have a responsibility to be forthright about this. They need to know that when they tell you your idea is terrible, that you won’t blow up at them, or quietly sulk, but simply be happy that you have avoided a bad decision together.

So what sort of people should we surround ourselves with?

Draft into service those around you who exhibit the right mixture of intelligence, insight, and grace. The people you choose must (a) make you think smarter and (b) put lots of solutions on the table in a short amount of time.

And,

Seek people who are willing to level with you and when you find them, hold them close.

Miscellany

Okay, those flowed together really well. Here are a few other points I appreciated.

You don’t have to ask permission to take responsibility.

In fact, I’d say taking responsibility demonstrates you can be entrusted with responsibility.

What these forces are that make people do dumb things, they are powerful, they are often invisible, and they lurk even in the best of environments.

Coupled with that,

The good stuff was hiding the bad stuff. When downsides coexist with upsides, as they often do, people are reluctant to explore what’s bugging them, for fear of being labeled complainers. This kind of thing, if left unaddressed could fester and destroy.

Just because things are peachy, or mostly peachy, doesn’t mean we should ignore the bad. We have to be alert to tear it out before it’s overwhelming and the whole thing must be thrown out. Rather than feeling like a complainer, we should be focused on improvement; offering specific solutions can help alleviate the perception of complaining others might have.

Kindle Voyage Initial Impressions

First off: if you’re the kind of person who loves paper books for the qualities that can only come from being dead trees that are beat to a pulp and then bound, I don’t think any review of any reading device is going to convince you otherwise. However, if you enjoy reading, don’t enjoy staring at a LCD screen all day, and love getting lost in many good books, a Kindle is right up your alley. With that said, here are my thoughts on the new Kindle Voyage (with 3G and no Special Offers) I got yesterday.

Setup

I expected it to come in a typical Amazon Prime box but it came in a yellow padded envelope. Of course it still had its own packaging: a very small, tasteful box-in-a-sleeve. By the way, I love Amazon frustration free packaging.

The set up process was easy, and the Kindle came about half charged. One thing that surprised me is that the screen already had an image on it, depicting where to find the power button. That’s a pretty cool use of e-ink technology. When you power Kindle on for the first time it takes you through setting up Wi-Fi and social media (Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads). It also introduces you to navigation and basic settings.

Within an hour of turning on the Kindle for the first time a software update started downloading; this update modified the home screen and navigation. At least I don’t have to re-learn anything.

Features

Previously, I had a hand-me-down Kindle Keyboard. I loved the physical page turn buttons, but the keyboard felt like a tack-on much of the time. In just a short time with the Kindle Voyage, I know I would’ve gone mad trying to use a Paperwhite. While the touchscreen is good and responsive, a touchscreen alone is inadequate on a dedicated reader.

PagePress

I recall reading doubtful remarks about PagePress. But I have to tell you, it’s pretty fantastic. I thought the haptic feedback would be along the lines of Android’s THUMP. But it’s even less intense than the sensation of 3D Touch on iPhone 6S. I’d say it feels like a light pluck of a string; and it turns out that this is the medium setting. You can turn it off completely if you want! You can also change the pressure level required to turn the page.

Built-in Lighting

I also recall reviews of previous Kindle generations stating that the built-in lighting was uneven at the bottom edge. The lighting on the Voyage seems great so far. I have auto-brightness turned on and it seems the light remains on most of the time. I’m interested to see how it does for evening reading (I turned on the Nightlight features which is supposed to dim as your eyes adjust to the dark).

USB Mode

If you download MOBI or PDF files from someplace else it’s easy to sync them to your Kindle. Download them on your computer, attach the Kindle via USB, then drag-and-drop the files to the Kindle (it shows up as an external drive). Keep in mind that the Kindle only has 4GB of storage. (What‽)

Download MOBI or PDF from not-Amazon

You can do this, too. While on wi-fi, use the Experimental Browser navigate to a website with MOBI or PDF files, and click the download link.

Screen

The screen resolution is fantastic. At 300dpi, it really is print quality. I also like that they included a font for dyslexic readers, though that’s not a personal concern. The refresh is also very good, and the Kindle seems to be improving at removing any ghosting.

But after reading for a while—once you get lost in a book—your thumb is likely to slip onto the screen, causing the page to turn unexpectedly. It is jarring, and annoying, and I wish there was a way to turn this off when PagePress is on.

Build

The “thinnest Kindle ever” is definitely thin and light, with the edges being thinner than the middle. At first, the power button seems oddly placed, but as you can see it’s pretty convenient. Though, with the battery life of Kindle, you don’t have to worry about using it.

The grippy finish on the back is okay, albeit oleophilic. But what is up with the glossy finish on the top section?

It’s nice to have a screen that’s flush rather than inset, although it was never a huge distraction or inconvenience to me on the Kindle Keyboard—perhaps because that wasn’t a touchscreen device.

Kindle Voyage Elevator Pitch

This well-crafted Kindle is the bomb because I can keep my personal library in my pocket, go to the bookstore anytime, and always get lost in a good book. Buy it on Amazon.