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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Where Is Your Focus?

One of my favorite clients had a breakthrough meeting last week. He was getting all caught up in scoring his work, and what his management thought of him, and how he should report his results.

Finally he said, “I'm going to rant for just a minute, and then I'm going back to focusing on production.” He did and he was.

And truly he was better. He refocused on serving customers and building an infrastructure to improve those interactions. This week he is starting to get some speed up.

How did he get so bent?

His boss kept asking him questions about when he thought money was coming in. He had already reported, but the boss thought maybe something had changed.

He was asked to use marketing for support. On one project they are 120 days late with no prospect for completion and on the new opportunity the junior marketing person who answered the phone told him, “No client should ask for that.”

He is getting rumors about a compensation change, which was taking a lot of his conscious thought, although we determined it wouldn't change his work pattern.

He was spending so much time in internally focused meetings, he was developing a dream to get paid for work he wasn't doing, because he learned someone else was doing that.

Look, in every organization there are a lot of people gaming the internal system. The whole point of Management By Objectives is to whine and limp until you convince some staffer to let you set easy objectives.

But if the organization is going to succeed, if your job is going to be worth doing, you're going to need to do something that matters. And in case after case that will involve being measured by customers.

Those customers are the future of your organization and your career. The guys making noise inside are temporary.

Are you keeping outside or inside focus?

Drafted in LibreOffice 3.3 I like it a lot!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

View From The Big Chair – Current Situation

When I was CEO, the senior staff would refer to my role as ‘sitting in the big chair’ – I find this is a warm and respectful way to refer to the leader of the organization, and continue to enjoy using it even today.

Through many, many conversations with top leaders of all kinds and sizes of organizations several common elements have emerged.

Get cash and hold it as cash –
from the chair, the sense is to get and horde cash – do not shift into long-term or market-driven vehicles…got burned badly!  With cash there’s agility and some insulation from the unknown.

Go Slow Taking On Additional Resources – organizations have trimmed staff, and cut expenses to the quick in the face of flagging demand and sales.  From the chair, as times improve (which is not as rapid as in past cycles) - there is no hurry to rehire workers or to increase spending.

Demand and Sales Are Funky –
demand is sporadic and had dropped almost to nothing in some sectors; sales are not being completed – committed orders are cancelled even at the last minute; even the government sector has made awards which do not receive funding: ker-ching>>No Sale! From the chair, there’s a growing ‘tentative sales’ category which is not recorded until the check clears.  The demand and sales graph has almost flat-lined…a slight pulse can still be felt, but no rebound as in the past.

R & D Is NOT Robust –
From the chair, research & development in process has slowed (funding is squeezed) and new projects are delayed or cancelled until the smoke clears on a view of future priorities in a diminished economy.

Planning Is Now Immediate Term –
From the chair, real 3-year plans are non-existent in most organizations – same with meaningful 2-year plans; there is an annual budget plan, but in reality the working plan only goes out for about the next 6-months.  Strategic plans are mothballed for now rather spending effort on updating with guesses about the economy.

But There Is Hope –
Occupants of the Big Chair are rising to the challenge of a down & sluggish economy and have jolts of optimism as they see their markets show some signs of life.  The consensus is the overheated go-go times are behind us and are history – recovery is happening BUT it will not bounce back to old levels and will grow slowly over time from the current minimalist position.

Collaboration and On-Demand Resources Are Now The By-Words –
using someone else’s capacity when needed; contracting for workers with specific needed skills for the duration of a production run; working together with other complementary organizations -is the plan of the day. If sustained into the future, this is an interesting structural change in how we do business and opens up the opportunity wider for entrepreneurs and small firms to be an integral but independent part of the available resources for larger organizations (discussed in more detail in Getting Back To Normal).

The view from the big chair is that there IS movement in a positive direction in the economy – it is slow, but evident.

What’s the view from your chair?  Any different?

Google Sites - Professional Presence On No Budget!

Often if you need something “extra” there is no “extra” money around to pay for it. This is especially true of community-based non-profit organizations, and I have been hanging around with several of them these past few months.

One of the areas of need is setting up a website and using it to collect information or receive money. From my perspective, making a potential donor go to the trouble of writing a check and mailing it is asking a lot. Asking a potential volunteer to send you an e-mail message, especially when you need to know specific things, is also problematic. Being able to do this with an on line form is so much smarter.

Google Sites has developed an easy-to-use platform for website design. You can incorporate things such as forms (through Google Docs) and you can collect money (using Google Checkout). Except for the discount on Google Checkout, this is all absolutely free!

Here are links to three websites that I personally set up over the past several months: is my latest project designed to replace an existing website: was used to register and manage about 100 volunteers for the fabulous celebration on New Year’s Eve in Alexandria. They have a real nice public site (, but needed special information for their volunteers. So we just linked to this from their main site. This is the first site I ever worked on and it is still evolving. But now, thanks to the Google Sites platform, others can make changes and add content. We manage the parade from this site and several other major events. It isn’t necessarily pretty, but it is very functional.

You, too, can do this stuff; and you don’t have to go through a big learning curve or take a lot of time either. You can set up what you think looks good, get feedback from colleagues and friends, make corrections, and make your site something special. The FNA Volunteers site took three or four hours, the others took longer because of the content. Now you don’t have to be a slave to an IT person or a web designer (and if you have the resources, once you get a site the way you like, you can turn it over to someone else to “pretty it up”). C’est รงa!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Value vs. Price-A Simple Thought

A common refrain even from those providing lower prices on services or goods is not to sell on price. In the field we see many who won’t entertain taking a service unless they get the lowest price. This is a good enough minority to carry a few companies, regardless of the quality or their offerings. What is correct regarding price, is that virtually every buyer makes purchases based on their perception of the value, of which price is a component.

Advertising is an attempt to boost the perceived value of a product? If successful the product raises its sales volume or price or both. It’s pretty easy to find the perceived value of a particular product. It is in its sales. If the object is to increase sales, then increase the perceived value one of three ways. The first is to reduce the price. By definition this raises the true value of the services/goods which should (note should)also raise the perceived value. Considerations here are profit margin, market share, overall profit etc. The second way is to raise the perceived quality of the product. This can be done through marketing and advertising. Possibly even by raising the cost. The third way is to actually make the service or product better and have the quality recognized. Truly making a better mousetrap usually (but not always) results in a change in the perceived quality. It works better when combined with getting the word out. Unfortunately for consumers the second method can create believers, without actually making a better product.

In the end market share can be controlled to the extent that perceived value is controlled. In a Win-win scenario what is offered is the best value. When that happens, various price points correspond to the needs of the customer, fulfilling a value proposition judged to be acceptable by the consumer.
This produces products of roughly equal value at various price points along a scale. For those needing fewer features or durability the price will be lower. For those with greater or more specific needs the cost will be higher, but in each case the value to the buyer will be roughly the same.

You can fool some of the people …

If the product isn’t selling well the perceived value needs to be boosted. In the long run it is likely best to raise the “real” value through added quality or targeted pricing (read changing the price), rather than just through marketing, which doesn't change the offering itself. There wouldn't have had to be a "new" GM if there hadn't been such a strong belief in being able to make people believe what they were told. We are now being treated to raised value in the cars made by the domestic manufacturers, or it could be called higher quality. With others offering more value they found they couldn't stay in business otherwise.

It seems so simple...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Create Some Daylight

Last year I was working on my Unified Field Theory. After Einstein defined relativity, he spent the rest of his career trying to unify the four gravitational forces. Never did, kept happily plugging til he died.  

My Unified Field Theory consists of balancing Sales ActivitiesSocial Media Activities, and Reporting.

I’ve been tussling with Reporting for over a decade.  I have never seen a useful model. Then I realized I was looking through the wrong end of the telescope, from the bottom up. Let’s look top down.

First symptom - Normally I’ll spend 40 minutes building a report of my last 50 hours. My boss will often say, “Nope, not what I want,” (looking through the peephole), or worse, “that sounds interesting. Let’s discuss.” There goes an unplanned hour.  

Ed Aiken is my favorite Project Manager penalty killer. He was sent into a full disaster at The Party Agency when none of the developers would even come to the weekly meetings. He walked into each person’s office wearing his cowboy boots, sat down and asked them, since he was the new guy, to educate him as to what they were doing. When they told him, he would make notes, and as he was leaving, ask if he could put their stories into the project plan.

After ten days, his reports had information that was valuable to the people working the project, so many started updating to help their co-workers, which led to identifying and solving problems and hitting milestones. No bravado, just “please help me, make me smart.”

What if, “If you want information, get it yerself.” That way you stand a better chance of understanding what you get.

Second symptom - I was talking to my buddy Ben when he said he felt his manager was struggling to add value to their relationship. Ben or any other first class producer is going to do all the obvious things early and well. It would take some real skill to improve that. Skilled workers are hard for managers to improve with trivial suggestions.  

Third symptom – “And if you don’t improve, I’ll find someone who can!” Threatening Bambi and Thumper is kinda pointless. Especially since the mechanics couldn’t care less. There is always work for good mechanics. (“Mechanic” is a term from the construction trades for one who knows his trade. Charles Bronson made a movie, The Mechanic about an expert bombmaker.)

Bill Van Dyke says this type of sales manager's life is in Covey's Third Quadrant, Urgent/Not Important.

Here’s the alternative
What if the manager set a goal of increasing productivity tenfold in the next year to eighteen months, with the same crew (Lifeboat Rule – Changing people is not an option. Don’t waste your time thinking about it), and then took personal responsibility, all by hisself, for achieving it?

I have done this with several organizations, increasing sales, improving product design, increasing throughput. When I take the responsibility, I need help from the rest of the team. I am not demanding anything. I have to earn their assistance. This changes my relationship with the governed.

I don’t win every time, but lifetime I’m better than two out of three. And I’ve never had the solution in mind when I start.

The manager should set the goal of achieving a Big, Hairy, Audacious, (Team) Goal, and then take sole responsibility for making that happen. That changes the relationship with the governed, and gets everyone looking for (and capturing) large improvements.

What can happen? Supposed you miss your goal by half and only improve five-fold?

I remember a customer where we publicized that we would double their rate of sales every 90 days in every city where we installed our program. Cities where I was going started doubling in anticipation. I called my boss for guidance. He said, “They paid for the magic show, give it to them.”

I don’t have to be smart. In every case, innovation and improvement comes from listening to your customers and their customers and capturing exactly what they say. Paraphrasing gets in the way.

I was training carrier reps, who were supposed to enlighten dealer reps. The dealer reps wouldn’t listen, laughed at the soft carrier reps.

I asked, “What do the dealer reps want?” They just wanted sales.

I asked, “How hard would it be to go to every meeting bringing a buyer. Just walk in and say the meeting will be delayed while we take care of this customer. Start with your mom and work outward.” 

The next step became how close could they park to the meeting and still bring a new sale in with them. It was the beginning of awesome power and confidence from our superhero carrier reps.

This is not sales, this is management. It is what effective producers and directors do in the entertainment business. It is what good general contractors and subcontractors do in the construction business. Create an opportunity for your people to excel.

When I had my construction company, I used to tell the estimators to price out the cost of the jobs and also to figure out how the competition would price it. Then I would go to the on-site supervisors and explain that if they couldn’t beat the estimators cost, we didn’t need them. 

The end result was that we got deadly accurate at figuring out maximum winning price and getting the jobs we wanted, and then consistently beat our estimated margins on the installations.

Are you creating enough daylight for your people to succeed?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The New Normal

What is Normal?

It is a mosaic of the things we know, the changes we experience, and the structural shifts that affect how we do business. It's our collective beliefs about the what – how – why – when – who of doing business. It is dynamic and changes as its elements change.

Long ago Normal was business correspondence written with a nib pen in your best cursive handwriting. Then came typewriters > the correcting Selectric electric typewriter > centralized word processing > PC-based word processing > email. Each step a change in what's considered Normal.

What is the New Normal?

During the past 2-years to 25-years how we do business has been changing and much of the evolution was doing the same things but using less resources or expanding into new (and usually non-domestic) markets. Normal was shaken up, got a bit tattered, and acquired some additional rhetoric when we spoke about it – but it was still recognizable as Normal. We 'd speak about 'getting back to Normal' but saw no movement back to that familiar place.

In the past couple of years, a New Normal has morphed (and is continuing to do so) into a vastly different descriptor of doing business – changes are surfacing that are nothing like those in the past, which are radically affecting how we conduct business. It is quite different from the past – New things will be.

Here's two examples which emphasize the shifting focus to individuals and smaller organizations:

A couple of days ago, I went to a Google Talks session about App Developers and heard from a panel of 5 independents who write application programs for various portable and mobile devices (like tablet PCs & iPad, and the Android & iPhone). They create Apps to fill user needs, like: social media tools, communications/connections, storage of info, and games – sold over the internet. This has been the realm of the device manufacturers or software giants – and now is done by organizations of 1-10 individuals.

TV Week just reported that free-standing kiosks are now renting more movies that the bricks & mortar video rental stores. The kiosks are a hodge-podge of individual entrepreneurs and small companies.

These changes have evolved in just a few years and illustrate the shift in underlying structure of conducting business toward individuals and small organizations.

Is this just a couple of anomalies or does it show the tip of a strong trend? What do you think of the New Normal?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rainmaker - The Nametag

Dov Gorman of the Capital Technology Management Hub asked for an ongoing series of ten minute “Rainmaker” presentations before the monthly CTMH meetings – this is the next in the series.   

On Tuesday January 11th, the free monthly meeting of the CTMH will be on the topic: “The Strategic Cloud – How Cloud computing enables the strategic transformation to IT as a service” – for details and to sign up go to: .  Come join us!

Here's the handout:

Rainmakers: The Nametag

Who here has a name that is different from everyone else in the room?
Who has trouble remembering names?

How many events like this do you attend each year?

How about we each bring our own name tag?

If you were going to design you own name tag, what would you do?

What is the best thing you learned in the last five minutes?
To complete this exercise, please comment with the best thing you have learned at:

See you on Tuesday night!