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Author: Melinda Sherwood. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on January

5, 2000. All rights reserved.

The Business Oracle: Don Blohowiak

If there were such a thing as a business oracle, Don

Blohowiak would be it. While the rest of the world is convinced

that the only way to maintain a position in the new economy is to

join the E-commerce revolution, invest in new technology, and work

harder, Blohowiak offers a refreshingly simple piece of wisdom: Focus,

he says. "It’s really that simple and that hard," says

Blohowiak,

a management consultant and author of six renowned management books.

"Remember the guy on the Ed Sullivan show who used to spin plates

on a stick? The thing with businesses is they try to keep more and

more plates spinning, and to torture the metaphor, some of those

plates

are worth 10 cents, and some are worth $10 million, and you have to

figure out which is which."

Sifting through the endless amounts of information and deciding what’s

relevant — that will be the essential challenge for businesses

in the Information Age, says Blohowiak, who speaks at the Princeton

Chapter of the Institute of Management Consultants on Monday, January

17, at 6 p.m. at the Doral Forrestal. Call 609-896-4457. Cost: $50.

"Mental energy and focus, compounded by this awesome ability to

get information," he says. "I give seminars to every corner

of the economy and in every audience I find a universal: I ask if

they have information piled up in a corner, trade journals or

whatever,

and they smile and titter because we all have that. We have an

abundance

of information — newspapers, magazines, flyers — and then

add the Internet to that mix."

To sift through, distill, and make sense of that information requires

time — more time than many managers feel comfortable with at

first,

says Blohowiak. "We’re moving at Internet speed," he says.

"At first that was funny, but now it’s not. Things change really

fast and consumer expectations have ratcheted it up. That spins out

into how you hire, train, and compensate people. It’s hard for our

organizations to gratify instantly. I joke that we’ve become the

instant

gratification nation."

The founder of the Princeton Junction-based Lead Well Consulting,

and author of six management books, Blohowiak is in his fifth year

running his own management firm, with clients including AT&T, United

Airlines, Motorola, and the U.S. Customs Service.

He also travels to give speeches. His first engagement was in the

sixth grade, back in his hometown, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. "I

remember

very clearly how affirming it was to have people hanging on my every

word," he says.

Blohowiak received a degree from the University of Wisconsin, Class

of 1978, but his exposure to business is experiential — it

originates

in his parent’s flower and decorating shop. His dad, an auto worker,

put many extra hours in at the family business. "I saw the product

of bad management growing up," says Blohowiak. "There were

a lot of days he was a pretty angry guy, and I think I really want

people to have a good experience at work. I see my job as creating

better working environments for people."

After college, Blohowiak became a line manager in a Fortune 500

company

and moved into marketing at the Times Mirror Company in New York.

He was eventually promoted to management, and the bookwriting followed

soon after. "I came to this line of work because I had the

questions

and not the answer," he says. "When I got promoted into

management

I had no special training and the expectations kept going up. I was

looking at a lot of management books and they struck me as being too

idealistic or too far removed, written by former CEOs, or retired

CEOs. Too wistful and too much pontification — not relevant to

middle management."

Blohowiak has since written "Your People are Your Product: Hire

the Best to Stay the Best," (Chandler House Press, 1998, $22.95)

and the "Complete Idiot’s Guide to Great Customer Service,"

(Alpha Books). Blohowiak recharges his own batteries through

occasional

visits to deserted parts of the New Jersey shore. "I do a lot

of thinking and working on the beach," he says. "I make a

lot of notes. There’s a great therapeutic thing that happens when

the wind’s in your hair and the sun on your face. I regret not having

gone to the beach more earlier. I got into the productivity trap and

couldn’t justify going away."

If time management was the catch phrase of the ’90s, then the mantra

of this decade would be "energy" management, says Blohowiak.

"The challenge is going to think about work priorities in a

different

way," he says, "not just managing time, but managing your

mental energy — choosing to take a walk around the block, guilt

free, or half a day down at the shore. Those are valuable

moments."

Other things executives can do to get their businesses in shape:

Focus. "The biggest challenge, and I don’t see it

going away, no matter what other management experts brings to the

table, is focus," says Blohowiak, "sifting through the many

channels and the sheer volume of information to decipher what’s

important,

truly new, and what’s relevant. There are so many things that a

business

person needs to keep track of today that it’s hard to maintain focus.

The rate of the change and the volume of information are the one-two

punch."

Pay attention to personality of hires. "We see hints

of this now, but I think it will be more broadly adopted, because

technical skill is so quickly outdated anyway, and the capacity to

learn and predisposition to serving others is so important to an

organization,"

he says. "It’s the whole human being that comes to work everyday.

We’re going to push people — long hours are a given now —

but they are also intense hours. I hear people say that there’s no

down time. The real you will come bubbling out in those

situation."

Hire fewer full-time workers, more contract workers.

Make time to synthesize. "You have to make time to

consider possibilities and do the synthesis of ideas," he says.

"The key, and this is really important for small businesses, is

to enable your colleagues to take on some responsibilities that you

hold on for yourself. If you don’t let go of some responsibilities,

you can’t have the time to set the priorities and change direction

and all those things that are required to stay competitive in a

sped-up

business environment."

Spend time in the human resource garden. "We have

to tend to those who are doing good things and pull weeds, so that

we can grow the business in the right way," says Blohowiak.

"Executives

have real frustrations that they have the wrong people doing the job

and they’re afraid to make the decisions they need to. We can’t carry

people who are unproductive or underproductive. Too much time is taken

retrofitting people; too many managers end up on the treadmill to

mediocrity by spending too much time with people who aren’t going

to be able to do what needs to be done."

Subpar performers bring down the performance of others, and

eventually, the business as a whole. "The good performers get

more and more heaped on them," says Blohowiak. "A manager

must make sure they have the best people around them with the support

and tools to do great work." Simple advice for a complicated

world.


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