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NCR Move by Nuti Shows Courage to Manage Change

DAYTON, OHIO – Bill Nuti, CEO of NCR Corporation, is taking heat from the State of Ohio for leaving Dayton after 125 years. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher said, “Mr. Nuti absolutely behaved shamefully and irresponsibly.”  Fisher went on to contend that Atlanta, NCR’s new home, “needs to be concerned about the lack of loyalty and communication that NCR executives showed Ohio because they may do the same to you in future years.”

I don’t know if Mr. Fisher’s office and the State of Ohio were treated fairly or not. I wasn’t invited to participate in the negotiation process. However, I do know it would have been easier for Nuti to decide to stay in Ohio from the standpoint of PR flack (as is happening), the costs of moving operations and all those people, and the inertia of 125 years of status quo.

Instead Bill Nuti saw a chance to break past the obstacles holding NCR back, and demonstrated Trouble Breaker® courage by accepting the responsibility for acting in spite of those perceived risks so that NCR — and its shareholders — may one day be rewarded.

I don’t know if his bold move will pay off (if I could predict the future, I’d be at the racetrack right now), but it does give NCR a chance for opportunities it didn’t have before. As Yogi Berra said, “Eighty percent of short putts don’t go in.” Bill Nuti has taken a good, hard shot; let’s hope his aim is good, too.

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Comments (2) Jun 08 2009

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When to Encourage Deviant Behavior at Work

By Paul Johnson

621 words. Abstract: When employees don’t follow the rules, what can you do? Considering their color can give you the answer.

Policies and procedures, processes and standards. Every company has rules to be followed to ensure that expectations are met and disappointment is avoided. But when is it OK for employees to deviate from these rules, if ever?

After we were married, I learned that my wife has rules.

  • Toothpaste tubes are squeezed from the end only.
  • Clothes go on hangers facing the left.
  • When the toilet is not in use, the seat must be DOWN.

While these rules seemed somewhat arbitrary, I was eager to adopt these new standards of behavior because I didn’t want to disappoint her. She had expectations for me, and I am willing to follow these rules to keep her happy — still.

She soon discovered I had a few rules of my own. These, of course, were much more logical and well thought-out, or so they seemed to me.

  • Turn your wheels when you park on a hill.
  • Get a copy of anything you sign.
  • Never discard my beer bottles that aren’t COMPLETELY empty.

Decades later, we still get along fine.

Confusion Rules
In business, rules help us avoid costly mistakes. They enable us to fulfill the expectations of our customers and co-workers. Rules allow us to replace confusion and disappointment with consistency, stability and satisfaction. If rules are so wonderful, why would we ever want to deviate from the norm and break a rule?

We can observe that rules are logical, plainly needed and completely obvious to the person who makes them, but not necessarily to everybody else. All rules have an underlying reason — and sometimes many reasons — for their existence. Sometimes these reasons are simple and other times they are complex and even arcane. Problems occur when all rules are treated as black-and-white. Performance at your company will improve when leadership makes it clear which rules are made to be broken.

Red Looks Black-and-White
Steve Cohn, a customer experience expert at People to People Learning, points out the difference between Red Rules and Blue Rules. “Red Rules are those that cannot be broken under any circumstances ever. They usually have to do with safety, health and legal. Blue Rules are everything else. You can bend them if it means making the customer happy and it doesn’t cost the company an enormous amount of money.”

The Red Rules are those black-and-white rules where deviation can’t be tolerated. Blue Rules reflect preferred standards that should be strived for. But if Blue Rules are meant to be broken on occasion, it’s critical that these rules come with additional information; specifically, the intent behind the rule.

  • What greater good is the rule intended to achieve?
  • What expectations does the rule attempt to ensure?
  • What will disappointment cost us as a company?

Once employees are clear on the proper ways to interpret and apply Blue Rules, they are then qualified to deviate from the letter of the rule when conditions warrant.

Rule Intent
Rules are important to the success of both business and personal relationships, but don’t get sucked into believing that, “A rule is a rule.” Some rules should be held firm, and others need to bend. Make it clear which are the Red Rules, the rules that must be adhered to with no exceptions. After all, when you hear your wife splashing around in the dark, it’s too late to put the seat down. The rest of the rules then become bendable rules, the Blue Rules that carry implied flexibility.  Make sure everyone who must apply a Blue Rule understands the intent behind the rule. When that happens, employees feel empowered to always do the right thing, and deviant behavior won’t be so unwelcome after all.

© 2009 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

Paul Johnson is the keynote speaker who describes his approach to transformational leadership at His company, Shortcuts to Results LLC, collects business shortcuts and shows clients how to find and apply them for performance improvement at

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: What rule do you routinely bend, and why?

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Comments (0) Jun 01 2009

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Leadership on a Bikini Budget

By Paul Johnson

1,074 words. Abstract: Leadership can find ways to “do more with less” in a recession if they learn to work within certain limits the way a good bikini does. Discover how to fashion a beautiful business when resources are scarce.

The “do more with less” maxim is nothing new, but it takes on new importance during a recession when resources are woefully scarce. When revenue shortfalls at your company are causing leadership to consider painful cuts of personnel, products and projects, perhaps it’s time to consider these new constraints as a blessing instead of a burden. Perhaps it’s time to consider the advantages of a Bikini Budget.

Since the marvelous invention of the two-piece “swim suit” known as the bikini, women have had to actively manage the perils of “doing more with less.” Have men ever complained? No! Now it’s time for men to stop complaining about scarcity and shortfalls and learn from the women who have had to shop for clothing not measured in square feet of fabric, but in square inches. With a similar perspective and attitude, your company’s leadership can refashion your business into something fresh, beautiful and becoming.

Wasting Away
Our consumption economy creates huge amounts of waste; The Environmental Protection Agency reports that each American generated over 1,650 pounds of solid waste in 2007. Because we’re so used to having more than we need, we see constraints imposed by external conditions — such as recession, regulations and tariffs — to be stifling to our business. In some cases, these onerous conditions initiate a downward spiral that creates mounting pain and, if left unchecked, puts some companies out of business.

Perhaps the recession “problem” is really masking an opportunity for your company. Now that there is no excess to waste, now that the very “fabric” of your company is stretched thin, perhaps it’s time for a makeover that will transform your company into something fresh and exciting again. You’ll gain clarity of purpose, renewed vigor, an improved outlook and more profits when leadership looks at business like a bikini.

A Cup Half Full
I’ve never actually bought a bikini, but I’ve been brought along as a technical adviser on many occasions by my wife Patti. I never would have imagined how many decisions are involved in selecting such a small article of clothing. For example:

  • Halter?
  • Thin or thick straps?
  • Underwire?
  • Ties, clips or clasps?
  • High- or low-cut waist?
  • Leg cut?
  • To thong or not to thong?
  • Probability of “wardrobe malfunction” during water sports activities?

Next, throw in an infinite variety of colors and patterns from which to choose.

And then the BIG question: “Is it flattering?” (Translation for men: “Does it make my butt look good?”)

Despite the mind-boggling minutiae, I’m happy to participate. After all, this isn’t about shoes or a coat, this is about a bikini. Patti is already hot despite being a grandmother, and the proper selection of this particular garment will only make her more beautiful.

We could complain that the constraints that define a bikini are “not fair”, but that would be a “cup half empty” viewpoint. Instead, we have to view the constraints that we operate under as a “cup half full” opportunity.

Constraints enable us to be more creative, not less. Constraints actually allow us to do better work. Given a choice in our youth, we would always grab the biggest box of crayons because it would give us the most choices to succeed. As our leadership matures, we realize we can still create a masterpiece when our choices are restricted. The Mona Lisa was created using only one color.

Bottom-Up Success
Leadership on a bikini budget means viewing constraints as a way to get clear about success.

First, use the downturn in the economy as an opportunity to make more thoughtful decisions. We could all use more practice with critical thinking skills. Today the results really matter, because careless decisions can kill our business. Make time to ask yourself lots of questions, and then get clear on the answers. For example:

  • Why do we do what we do?
  • Who really cares?
  • What is NOT absolutely critical to what we do?
  • What do we assume still works like it did last year?
  • What business are we really in?

Your list of questions should be much longer.

Next, remember the advice of Curly from the movie City Slickers; it’s about finding The One Thing. A bikini is required to do only One Thing; keep its wearer from getting arrested for indecent exposure. But The One Thing could be about anything of importance. Here’s a warm-up exercise: if you could only keep one coat, which one would it be? If you could only keep one pair of shoes, which would you choose? Likewise, what is the best thing about your business, the most important thing, the thing that is most likely to keep you in business? Get clear on that and focus your limited resources there. If your cup seems half full today, get a smaller cup.

Third, let go. Let go of activities that used to work. Let go of products that don’t represent your best work anymore. Let go of customers that don’t believe in you today. Get rid of clutter. Clear space in the “closets” of your business, your head and your heart so there is room to hang new successes. Make a place for your future to dwell with you. You’ll likely discover a cleaner, simpler business that is the joy you’ve been looking for.

Enough is Enough
The beauty in a bikini is that it is just enough. It doesn’t need buttons or flaps. Pockets won’t work. Paisley or herringbone won’t improve the yellow polkadot bikini. A careful decision process lets go of everything that isn’t essential to the one thing that the perfect bikini does: enhance the natural beauty of the woman who wears it.

When times are plentiful it’s easy to take on too much (I admit, I’ve eaten a few too many Twinkies). It’s easy to be tricked into believing that we are inadequate and that, to succeed, we need still more than we already have. The reality is that you are enough right now. You have everything you need to succeed today.

The only thing holding you back is the confusion of the clutter you’ve let surround you and your business. Get rid of all but what is necessary, and all that is left is exactly what success requires from you. Stop straddling. Pick a lane. Embrace the bikini budget and let leadership begin with you. The results will be beautiful.

© 2009 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson is the keynote speaker who describes his approach to transformational leadership at His company, Shortcuts to Results LLC, collects business shortcuts and shows clients how to find and apply them for performance improvement at

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: What used to work for your company that doesn’t anymore?

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Comments (1) Apr 01 2009

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Kathy Cox and the Million Dollar Lesson Plan

By Paul Johnson

658 words. Abstract:  Could a game show like Fox's "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?" have any redeeming social value? It might when contestants like Kathy Cox, Georgia Superintendent of Schools, choose to participate. Learn how to claim your million without ever being on the show.

Kathy Cox appeared on the Fox TV show, "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?" and failed to prove that she is smarter than a fifth grader, despite being the first contestant to take home the one million dollar top prize.

Technically, she only proved that she is as smart as a fifth grader, since she answered no questions above that grade level. But we know she's smarter, because she had a plan and a message, and the courage to carry it through that her political detractors in Georgia don't have the imagination to conceive or the guts to carry out.

Kathy Cox is the Superintendent of Schools for the State of Georgia. When word got out she would be on the show, she was publicly criticized; how foolish it would be to risk her own professional reputation and that of the state school system. After all, she would be representing by association 140,000 Georgia teachers. Georgia State Representative Rob Teilhet (D – Smyrna) even ran advertising DURING THE SHOW criticizing Cox for appearing on TV while problems persisted in classrooms.

Critics are so worried about never being wrong, about showing vulnerability and appearing perfect they can't conceive their own purpose in humanity. Kathy can. Kathy Cox is a truly a Trouble Breaker, someone who goes for it and breaks past trouble because she knows she can. She understood exactly what she could control on the show, what she could and couldn't do, and used that to inspire students (and more than a few adults).

We heard Kathy say more than a few times, "I'm doing the best I can." Isn't that a great message for students? For us all? And Kathy Cox taught millions of people that it's OK to be wrong. She accepted that she might miss a question and go home empty-handed. She wasn't afraid to try and keep trying.

With $500,000 "in the bank" she earned the right to deliver the Million Dollar Lesson. She was faced with a decision other contestants had faced before, but they lacked the vision and conviction of a Kathy Cox. Cox was there for the kids; she had committed to donate her earnings (it's demeaning to say to say she "won" the money) to three Georgia schools. A lesser person would have settled for the $500,000 and missed the chance to deliver a much more valuable prize.

With the eyes of millions of young people on her, she proclaimed with force and conviction, "DON'T DROP OUT OF SCHOOL." The short-term gains associated with dropping out pale in comparison to the huge lifetime rewards of staying in school. Kathy Cox effectively paid $475,000 to say that — the difference between the $500,000 "in the bank" and the guaranteed $25,000 she'd keep if she missed the question.

I'm convinced she came into the show with a Million Dollar Lesson Plan to teach us:

  • Always do the best you can. That's all anyone can ask, and that's always enough.
  • Go for it. The worst that can happen is you might be wrong. So what?
  • Finish what you start. That includes STAY IN SCHOOL.

That plan works even without the million dollar question. All through the show, we saw Kathy Cox go for it and do the very best she could. Yet if she ever met a question she knew she couldn't answer, she would prefer to knowingly fail and go home sans money than drop out of school.

Lucky for us all she made it to the top so more people would listen to her message.

Some Georgia politicians don't know now lucky the Peach State is to have Kathy Cox as Superintendent of Schools. In just one hour, she taught us all a lesson that is worth far more than a million dollars to the future of this country. From coast to coast and in every state, we're all richer today from her Million Dollar Lesson Plan.

© 2008 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:

Paul Johnson the Trouble Breaker is a keynote speaker who works with organizations to convert trouble into double and triple digit performance breakthroughs. Discover breakthrough concepts at Visit for presentations on leadership.

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: How has a teacher taught YOU a million-dollar lesson?

Posted: under Managing Change (Leadership).

Comments (0) Sep 06 2008

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Personal Leadership Makes Trust Possible

By Paul Johnson

1,139 words. Abstract: Leadership is sorely needed today, including
right in our own lives. Learn about personal leadership, including tips
that will enable trust to flourish in all your relationships.

The probability that he will go to jail for what he did is almost zero. His lack of personal leadership resulted in thousands of people feeling violated, cheated and betrayed. If his patrons trusted him before, his impersonal approach to leadership shredded that trust in a matter of milliseconds. We won’t give our support to leaders we don’t trust.

2008 is an election year in the U.S., with selection of our next President taking the main stage. We want someone we can trust to lead us for the next four years. We’re willing to give our enthusiastic support to those we trust so that we can achieve significant results together. When trust is lost, disillusionment and disappointment set in, and the result is no results at all.

Blanked After 12 Years
On May 31st, 2008, the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) newspaper published School chief makes a name shredding Clayton diplomas. John Thompson started as the new Clayton County Superintendent on April 28th, replacing Gloria Duncan. The AJC reports that on May 29th he ordered the shredding of 3,000 high school diplomas because his name was not printed on them. The very next day, graduates attending their graduation ceremony were surprised to discover their diploma was missing. They would have to wait for them to be reprinted, to arrive in the mail weeks later.

John Thompson shredded the diplomas because he could. The powers associated with his position enabled him to do that, despite the fact that he didn’t know at the time how much the replacement diplomas would cost the county taxpayers. He made an executive decision, and his motives have been called into question.

Upward Turns Outward
We can’t deny it is human nature to be selfish. Abraham Maslow’s pyramid illustrating the hierarchy of human needs acknowledges that we are driven at a primal level to satisfy our needs for food and shelter. We must selfishly take care of ourselves and what we need to survive before we can think about others’ needs. Unfortunately, some never choose to think of others even after they are far above survival level. Until we put aside our selfishness and develop an outward view that considers others’ personal needs before we consider our own, we can’t be trusted with a leadership role.

Selfish people can never develop trust with others. They take actions that serve themselves and then find ways to rationalize them. They offer explanations that often sound hollow to everyone but them.

  • "We either give them two diplomas or get the right one mailed. We decided to have them wait for the right one."
  • "I took the initiative and I did it."
  • "It’s no harm. It’s just a sense of pride, and they will have it soon."

These don’t sound like explanations, but excuses. If you are ever tempted to offer an excuse, it’s probably time to offer a sincere apology instead.

It’s Your Life to Lead
Personal leadership is all about how you lead yourself in your own life. It’s about the decisions you make and the actions you take, whether people are watching or not. It’s about learning to trust your own actions so that others can learn to trust you. It’s about developing the habit of doing the right thing all the time, even when it causes you inconvenience, expense or embarrassment. Here are three tips to help you develop your own personal leadership.

1. Serve Others before Yourself
While your self-interest and self-preservation are important, get in the habit of first considering how a situation or decision will impact others involved. Look for ways to give before you find ways to receive.

When Davidson College made it to the Elite Eight in the NCAA basketball tournament this past spring, the trustees of the College offered to give any student who wanted to travel to Detroit to see Davidson play Wisconsin a ticket to the game, bus transportation and 2 nights lodging. The trustees knew that this opportunity may not come again to the College for a long time, and they wanted their students to have powerful memories of the experience. They gave to the students without expectation of receiving anything in return, because that’s what they want their students to learn. Should you ever meet a Davidson grad (from any year) ask them what they think of their school experience. "Trustee" — what an appropriate title. Nearly 300 students took them up on their offer.

2. A Deal is a Deal
Follow-through on agreements you’ve made, even if they seem trivial or insignificant. If your voicemail greeting says you will call back anyone who leaves a message, either call everyone back or change your voicemail greeting. Inconsistency is the enemy of trust.

Often we are paid to deliver a service. Many of us make a deal to receive a paycheck in return for performing a job. Make sure you’re living up to your end of the bargain by delivering good service to your employer.

Some employees (like school superintendents) are expected to deliver service across multiple key groups: in this example, to students, to parents, and to taxpayers. Serving multiple groups before serving yourself requires a high degree of personal leadership. Thinking selfishly for even a moment can rapidly extinguish trust with one or more of your key groups. Keep your deals, and do well the jobs you are paid to do.

3. Better Kind than Right
Often we find ourselves in situations that offer us two paths. One path will give us an opportunity to say something like, "I’m right, you’re wrong, and I can prove it." The other path gives us an opportunity to decide that proving ourselves right in this situation isn’t worth causing another person pain or embarrassment. Dr. Wayne W. Dyer suggests that often it is better to be kind than right.

Debates can be healthy, and sometimes it is necessary to clearly establish right from wrong. Other times, who is right really doesn’t matter. For example, a friend recently remarked about how overpaid CEOs are. While I was prepared to debate it from the other side, I chose not to because the outcome would be neither productive nor supportive of our relationship. While I didn’t agree with him, I chose to be kind when I could have been right.

Take Trust Personally
Trust is central to all our important relationships. Some try to dodge trust issues by insisting on written contracts. Personal leadership puts its trust in personal behavior, not a piece of paper.

It takes time to learn to trust others, whether we’re hiring them, electing them, or marrying them. Trust is earned over time, yet it is lost in a moment of irrational behavior. Always strive to do the right thing by considering others before yourself. Then others will consider you a leader worth following.

© 2008 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson the Trouble Breaker is a keynote speaker who works with organizations to convert trouble into double and triple digit performance breakthroughs. Discover breakthrough concepts at Visit for presentations on leadership.

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

If you’d like to see how John Thompson is being tried in the court of public opinion, follow these links:

School chief makes a name shredding Clayton diplomas   
Clayton County schools chief criticized for diploma order
Diploma swap leads to ethics complaint   
All in the name of ego
Hope for Clayton sinks

Posted: under Managing Change (Leadership).

Comments (0) Jun 05 2008