Cycles: Leveraging Endings to Maximize Beginnings

A manager’s life is full of cycles. Some cycles are brief such as a talk that has to be given periodically to new employees, suppliers, or customers during a day’s worth or a week. Some others are prolonged like a sales season or the execution of a strategic plan. Every time a series ends, most likely we are approaching the beginning of a new one. What do you do at the end of a cycle to take full advantage of the new one that is beginning?

This is an important topic because not leveraging the closing stages of a cycle might set us up for repeating errors from the past. Even if we have been doing our job for years and are unlikely to make any flagrant mistakes, there is also the risk of becoming complacent with our performance and missing out on improvement opportunities. As it has been said, having ten years of experience is radically different from having experienced the same year ten times!

A good start might be finalizing “clean-up” activities that almost naturally come with the end of a cycle. Just like nature’s seasons have just imposed on us raking leaves, closing pools, winterizing our vehicles, shoveling the snow, and so on (provided you live in this type of weather!), the end of some cycles in business usually implies that certain activities must be performed, like accounting statements, compliance reports, performance appraisals, etc. Making sure that we execute all “closing” procedures thoroughly is perhaps the basic level.

Remember the first time you transitioned from one cycle into another as a manager? Or as a worker, or a student? This experience is not entirely different from passing from a set of your MBA classes into the next, or even from one year into another during our college studies. Quite frequently, we feel so exhausted from the conclusion of one stage that we want to disconnect entirely in order to “decompress” or do other things that we had to put off as we were approaching the end of the previous cycle. Beware! The fresher an experience is in our mind, the easier it is for most of us to reckon and learn from it to maximize the next cycle from the very beginning.

Julio Rocha, CEO and President of Rocha Financial Group, shares the following from Maitland, Florida: “As an entrepreneur, I use the end of every cycle (Quarter or Year) as a momentum builder for the start of the following cycle. I aim to perform my best and surpass the goals I have established. Why? This way one will always experience constant growth. Working hard at the end of every cycle does not guarantee a great finish or a great start for the following cycle but it sure keeps one in the race for success.”

Marcelo Espinosa-Trevino, President of the Orange County Chapter of NSHMBA says: “Personally, I schedule about an hour to reflect on the experiences and think about what worked, what didn’t work and most importantly, is there anything I would have done differently and how? I also think a lot about how we live in a constantly changing environment and how important it is to quickly adapt to those changes and anticipate what’s coming. I learn from previous mistakes, read about my industry and talk to peers and experts, which helps me react to different challenges during the next cycle. I also put together a yearly plan and review it for a few minutes at least once a quarter to ensure my work and projects are aligned with my goals; then I make adjustments as needed.”

Finally, Art San Martin, President of the Cleveland Chapter of NSHMBA (by the way, congratulations!! Effective this past October, this has obtained “Full Chapter”status!) tells us that: “Recognizing that transitions are natural to life and knowing that change is probably the only truly constant are key facts that have improved my understanding and appreciation of ending and beginning cycles. Acknowledging what strengths and [weaknesses we have] certainly provides a preamble to the beginning of new phases. Being humble about one’s achievements and positive about one’s shortcomings provides solid foundations to continue building both a fulfilling personal life and successful professional career.”

What do you do in order to “take stock” and leverage the endings of your cycle as a manager? I think this is a most timely issue to explore both individually and professionally, as we approach the end of the year.

I wish you a most successful closing of your cycles. May your life be filled with the professional satisfactions that will make you a better member of your family in 2008. Feliz Navidad, Happy Kwanzaa, a joyful Hanukkah! (…and an apology in advance for not including so many other end-of-year traditions that we, Hispanics from so many backgrounds have…) I look forward to hearing from you via email, fax, snail mail or blog --just post your thoughts in the Comments link below.

Are the business disciplines unreliable?

Have you ever felt that your MBA gives you more questions than answers? Let me give you an example; I look forward to hearing from you if you would like to share other examples with your NSHMBA colleagues; I promise to give you full credit for your idea!

As MBAs, most of us have spent between 1.5 and four years of our lives -as well as several thousands of dollars- applying for, studying through, and transitioning from a graduate program into a better, brighter future. Clearly, we expend all of these resources because we believe there is a lot of value in studying an MBA -and, indeed, there are studies out there that show that people with graduate degrees earn more money, promotions, and similarly desirable work outcomes for themselves and for their families!

Of course, these outcomes do not come about just by showing a new piece of paper to an employer; I do not know many MBA's who have obtained salary raises or promotions when they graduate while working for a particular company in the private sector. For part-time MBA students, newer responsibilities come their way as they learn new tools while studying the different business disciplines. Full-time MBAs are more likely to experience a radical shift in their work before and after the degree, but I know that there are many variations along these lines.

Our MBA classes give us access to knowledge that would be difficult to find on our own, in addition to providing us with access to social capital -our professors and fellow MBA students- and ultimately to a diploma that signals proficiency in the disciplines required for managing organizations.

Yet, from time to time, those classes might give us more questions than answers, as in the topic about the importance of money in motivating employees. If you have read chapter five in Jeff Pfeffer and Bob Sutton's book Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense (2006, Harvard Business Press), you might be under the impression that using money as your main tool for motivating employees is extremely dangerous and very likely to lead you to disaster! Pfeffer and Sutton mount a very solid case against placing too much importance on money by reviewing studies and providing examples of companies that suggest that money (in particular pay-for-performance plans) should be used only under very limited conditions.

On the other hand, Sara Rynes and her colleagues state in a recent peer-reviewed article (Academy of Management Executive, 2002; 16(3): 92-102) that money is indeed a major source of motivation -perhaps the most important one that managers will have at their disposal to accomplish their job. They also marshal evidence from a variety of studies to support their thesis: money is the most important motivational incentive (page 100).

What gives? Obviously, the relationship between money and work motivation might be more complex than meets the eye. What do you think? What's your evidence that makes you think this way? How do you make sense of the fact that two highly respected sets of researchers seem to hold widely divergent views on the same--and extremely important issue! Clearly, this is not a trivial matter!

When asked about this dilemma, Regina Cuellar-Lee (President of the Indianapolis Chapter of NSHMBA) reflected on the fact that some jobs are so demanding on our personal lives that we expect higher pay than for other jobs that are more fulfilling. On the other hand, Mickey QuiƱones (Associate Editor of NSHMBA's Business Journal of Hispanic Research) and I discussed how difficult it is for men to even think about a cut in pay -yet many women experience it frequently due to life events such as the arrival of children or the need to take care of relatives in difficult health conditions!

Maybe you have faced similar dilemmas in other business disciplines. I look forward to hearing from you via email, fax, snail mail or blog --the latter is preferred; just post a comment using the link below...

Rigor? or Relevance? …in your MBA

This is a thorny issue, so, let's tackle it head-on. In a spirit of full disclosure, I have a double stake on this theme, because I earned an MBA and I have been teaching in various MBA programs for some time. I am interested in your reactions and your experiences; as I stated in last month's column, please contact me via email, regular mail, or any way you want! (My email to keep track of this column is: or you may post comments directly below.) The basic topic this month is: Have you found rigor or relevance in your MBA studies? Let me explain what I mean.

A debate that has been running among academic circles for at least some sixty years is whether Business Schools should be rigorous or relevant. You may have read periodicals like The Economist, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and other publications dedicated to practicing managers adding to the debate at times, bringing scathing criticism to the work that is being done in many business schools around the nation.

Herbert Simon, 1978 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences wrote about business education in the 1950s that it was "a wasteland of vocationalism that needed to be transformed into science-based professionalism." He was advocating the use of scientific methods in business, steering business schools away from the "apprenticeship" or "commerce school" models that used to train office managers, private accountants, administrative assistants and salespeople before business schools became prevalent at the university level. Seeking rigor in their work, academicians were successful in bringing ideas and methods from the "basic" sciences like Psychology, Economics, Social Psychology, Sociology, even Anthropology, History and some Natural Sciences into business schools.

However, many suggest that they went too far in making business schools "rigorous" and scientific, to the point of irrelevance! Most of the research reports that appear in the most prestigious journals are considered unreadable, inappropriate, esoteric, or downright useless by the managers that have to make daily decisions to compete in our business environment. The questions addressed by such articles, the techniques used and their writing style is sometimes seen as “pontificating” or of no consequence for the manager needs advice on a given area such as what is the best way to dismiss an employee or salvage a deteriorating work relationship.

In 1994, Donald Hambrick, President of the Academy of Management –arguably the most influential association of Management researchers in the world—lamented the lack of relevance of the association. Since that time, several of his successors have followed suit, expressing their disappointment with the research that many business schools produce and the lack of professionalism of many of their graduates.

I am sure you have read relatively recent articles in the popular press that not only echo these thoughts, but even blame (at least partially) business schools for the lack of ethical training demonstrated by managers at Enron, Tyco, Adelphia, Parmalat, and others like these. Without entering the debate on business ethics at this time (Let’s talk about… that sometime in the future, shall we?), I would like to ask you to reflect on those MBA classes you are taking (or took sometime ago) and write your thoughts on any of the following ideas (or at least think about them):

  • What type(s) of rigor do you see in your MBA classes? How do you recognize it? Is it in the application of the scientific method? In the use of theories, algorithms, systematic procedures, models, statistics, etc.? Something else?
  • Have you found relevance in the lectures, exercises, projects, presentations, papers, and so on? If so, how? Where and when have you been able to apply what you learned during your MBA?
  • What would be your suggestions to improve the status quo? Does this debate resonate with your feelings and experiences?
  • If you have been so lucky to find rigor and relevance in your MBA (or at least one of the two), please let me know!

Excluding the possibility that I receive a deluge of responses, I will be happy to include your name and institution in a future column. Also, if you are interested in the bibliography I used in preparation for this month’s column, don’t hesitate to contact me. I look forward to reading your thoughts!

Welcome to "Let's Talk About..." blog section

I hope you are visiting this blog after reading my invitation in NSHMBA's the bottom line newsletter. (If you reached this blog by happenstance, feel free to visit the links above to learn more and contact me if you have any questions.) Anyway, we are trying to elicit more interaction with our readers. I will do my best to give you credit for your ideas in the newsletter. You may publish your reactions as comments using the links below the different ideas we currently have on the agenda, or email me at

Also, feel free to submit your own topic! I will personally moderate all comments to prevent unexpected spam or unacceptable content in the blog. I should also state that some topics are more appealing to me, as a function of my background, and I will be more inclined to bring them up in the bottom line. The usual disclaimers also apply: the contents of the column will represent my views (and hopefully some of yours too!) and not those of NSHMBA’s or my employers’; lastly, whenever I am attending conferences or in exams, I will take longer to reply to your messages.

Thanks for your help!!!

The Technology Advantage

The Technology Advantage –what are the pros and cons of being an early adopter of “management technologies”? Certainly, there is an "aura of coolness" when you can show that you are using the latest gadget, software package, etc. but there must be much more than that, right?

The Technology DISAdvantage!

Share with us your experiences (pros or cons) of being a “laggard” adopter of the work-related technologies. Maybe you dragged your feet to adopt an electronic directory, the latest version of a computer operating system, a PDA or text-messaging technology. If that gave you any type of advantages (this is a vastly undocumented issue!), please let us know!

Being the "Token Latino"

If you have ever been the “Token Latino” at work (the only Hispanic in the organization, often suffering the typical stereotypes about it), please share your experiences and suggestions –the good, the bad and the ugly!

Love and business

We all know how strongly associated passion and Hispanics are seen as synonymous in our culture. In your experienced as a Latina/Latino, is this a disadvantage or an advantage at the workplace? Why, or how?

Spanglish in the marketplace

Do you also cringe sometimes when you hear or read a bad translation in a product package, a book, a movie, on TV? Please post examples, how you think this hurts (or may help?) businesses, what you think should be done about it, or anything that you find related

Evidence-Based Management to professionalize our MBA practice

Please post your comments or suggestions about "Professionalizing our MBA practice through Evidence-Based Management." I welcome your experiences and ideas, but if you have links or articles to share with me and with your fellow NSHMBA members, I will be glad to share them as well. Thanks!

A random collage

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Hello world?

In my explorations to find decent blogging options, I came across the arguable "mother of all blogs:", nowadays owned by Google. Along with this "hello world" note, I am posting a collage of my wife and myself in interesting places. Feel free to leave your comments or suggestions! (Caveat: all comments or postings are moderated.)