Monday, November 30, 2009

The Stick Inherent in the Carrot

Business Strategies

StickInTheEye In the previous Business Strategies post, What My Dog Taught me About Team Motivation, I explained that positive reinforcement works very well in motivating teams to achieve company and project goals.  In fact, it may be the only way to achieve continuous positive results even when other firms experience morale issues.

The question remained what do you do with free-riders, those who take advantage of the situation, assuming there are no negative consequences to their poor performance or behavior.  This is the subject of the post today.

A common misconception about use of positive reinforcement is that there are no negative consequences.  There are, in fact, two inherent negative consequences.  Lack of positive reinforcement is the first.  It’s surprising to see how professionals quickly learn that failing to achieve their goals equates to no bonuses, promotions, words of praise, or extra time off. This feels especially damning when they see their colleagues receiving all these rewards for their top performance. 

The other inherent negative consequence for poor performance can be understood by realizing there are standards defined in this system that are used to measure performance.  When determining what actions or results to reinforce, goals and limits are defined.  These limits include the minimum acceptable performance requirements.  You can quite easily mold your human resource requirements for performance reviews to fit in this definition.  By having such definitions, you’ve essentially established a negative consequence for poor performance. When coworkers aren’t able to reach the minimum levels, and after a limited number of allowances for repeated poor performance, you can help the individual find alternatives outside of your organization. 

Another question at this stage is how many repeats of poor performance should your organization tolerate. This depends on how quickly you and your managers can determine the root cause of poor performance and how it can be rectified.   My recommendation is often to set a three-strike policy.  This means that when employees reach a third performance miss, your organization takes a drastic step.  In the meantime, your managers do everything possible to help each poor-performing individual determine and address the root cause.  In fact, all employees will have two opportunities to understand what they missed and how they can address it before a third failure could occur and provide grounds for drastic actions.

This may sound like a lot of effort, but it has substantial benefits for your managers, employees and organization as a whole. I’ll explain these in the next Business Strategies post. 

What Do You Think?

Feel free to comment below about how effective these inherent “sticks” are in the positive reinforcement method of motivation.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pumpkins I wish you all a belated Happy Thanksgiving.  I hope you were able to enjoy your time with the family.

In case you’re interested, here’s a new perspective on Thanksgiving blog post by Dustin Wax on his LifeHack site: Bringing in the Harvest.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Business and Beautiful Music

Guest

Below’s a guest posting by a Mendel Yano.  This will be part of ongoing posts by guests on TheMarq.  They can be accessed directly under the Guest Topic category. 

Some say that beautiful music can enrich the soul. I believe that business can actually have the same profound effect on a leader as long as it is beautiful as well. I can understand where some may think I have absolutely lost my mind in labeling something like business with a term like beautiful, but let me explain. I believe that when you describe music you listen to the harmony, the tempo, possibly words that have meaning and the overall character of the song or piece. I see beautiful business as being well orchestrated and when done well, is a symphony of different players all working together to execute a final vision.

As an Operations business leader for over 10 years I have had much experience in a diverse amount of challenges and issues. I realized very early in my career that it is vital to always have a vision. Some end result that may be completely unrealistic for the time being but never the less, a fantasy of better things. As the imaginary section lead of an orchestra it is my role to organize all of my players to be in line with the overall business strategy of the firm (conductor). To do so, I believe that several points are vital:

1) We must pick our battles and prioritize the most important challenges. Keep the “I” terms to the side, the focus is on the firm’s objectives. To be a successful leader you need to communicate your goals and align with the firm. What is important to you may not be with the overall strategy.
2) Take a step back, configure your vision and make sure that there are no negative side affects to the other parts of the team. A successfully executed project may just detriment the group. Playing louder or rearranging your section may create an off-balance or other issue to the orchestra.
3) Be overly critical of your plans. Be the devil’s advocate and envision what the absolutely worst thing that could happen to avoid your team’s success. What can be done to avoid catastrophe and possibly let the business down. Do this on your own, a great leader can spot their own weaknesses and compensate without any of the team knowing your concern. The boy scouts mantra is, “Always be prepared.” I will always believe in this.
4) Don’t be afraid to take risks or to think differently from others. I believe that I have so much to learn about business and don’t nearly have all the answers. I would think that others can be this way as well. Just remember to be humble when presenting your ideas, there could be a myriad of things that you did not think of in the formulation. Be open to learn and to teach, you’re a lead for a reason but be cautious of the political toe-stepping.

Hopefully in the end the orchestra will play with great success. As is life there are always going to be challenges but it is how you handle them that makes you the leader you are.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Golf and Give Thanks

Relaxation

On my week off from blogging on TheMarq, I spent part of the day playing golf for the first time with a friend of mine.  Read my post about the experience on his blog, TheGolfStudent

This is also where I post every couple of weeks or so about my experience learning golf.  So, continue reading if you’re interested.

Feel free to post any comments directly on his site.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gone Fishing on Thanksgiving

GoneFishing I’ll be taking the week of Thanksgiving off from work and blogging.  I’ll return the first week of December.

Until then, I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving week and holiday.

In the meantime, Feel free to browse previous posts on the site via the Topics list to the left.

Unemployed Blues? Forget the News

Perplexed The Optimist’s Perspective

We’re continuously bombarded with sensationalized news.  These days it’s mostly about the economy.  When the latest unemployment numbers come out, the majority of media focus on how it’s increased.  Economists of the past saw patterns of strong recovery after a deep recession, but the Wall Street Journal claims otherwise in an article titled, “Why No One Expects a Strong Recovery.”

Does all of this get you down and perplexed? 

It shouldn’t, because you have the Optimist’s Perspective.

In this debut post on the Optimist’s Perspective, I’d like you to put to practice an idea that’ll help clear your head of all the negative news: turn off your radio and, especially, your local TV news.  Read what you want on your Twitter stream or off of sites like Wall Street Journal or, better yet, Alltop. And after you’re done reading, put it all aside and realize that nobody in any of those articles is writing your future but you.  Make your own news.

I’m not suggesting you ignore the news.  By all means, listen to it, then glean from it the good news that’s almost never said.  For example, unemployment rate may have increased, but it’s increased at a substantially decreased RATE than in the months past.  In other words, there are fewer people that are losing their jobs each month.  That’s good news, right? Why isn’t that talked about?  Why doesn’t anyone write about the consequences of a decreased acceleration of the unemployment rate?

Also, notice that the majority of the media is saying the same thing, except each has its own analysis why their version of the negative story is more accurate or true than another’s . Telling these types of negative stories is a way to generate traffic.  It’s what’s popular. 

Your response to that should be the same as Oscar Wilde’s, “Everything popular is wrong.” Always remember that you’re in complete control of how you perceive the news you consume. 

I had lunch with a couple of colleagues yesterday and heard a very encouraging bit of news.  Keep in mind, all three of us work in the very competitive software development services industry.  If you believe the news, we were hit with job losses in the latter parts of the recession and we’re paying the price now. Keep that thought in the background and read this: One of my lunch colleagues told me he’s had his best year to date since he started his business two years ago!  His revenue has, in fact, doubled to $800k over the past year.

How is that possible?

I’ll tell you.  He has decided to CREATE HIS OWN OPPORTUNITIES.  He told me he makes 30 calls a day.  That’s right! 30 calls! He then compared his effort now to when he was really “working hard,” making 100 calls a day.  That’s how he made his own good news.  He sees the unemployment numbers and he realizes companies now need to outsource more than ever.  So, why not provide them with that service. What’s more, he can help the unemployed by finding them contract work.

People like my lunch colleague have the optimist’s perspective.  They hear the news and see opportunities that benefit their company, as well as their employees,  not to mention fulfill the needs of their clients by understanding their pain points and how to address them.

So, the next time you hear or read some news.  Ask yourself, are you that optimist who thinks outside of what the population does?

What Do You Think?

As always, I’d love to hear form you.  Let me know what you think of this new topic.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Topic Changes for TheMarq

SoloSax Site Policy

I mentioned in a post last week that I was reconsidering the topics and format of information covered on this site. 

I’ve now come up with a new set of topics.  Some of them are the same as before but covered on a different day, while others have been dropped or changed slightly. 

Also, note that you can now view articles by topic from your left navigation.

Here are the new topics: 

  • Mondays: Business Strategies
    This is one of my favorite subjects.  I’ll continue to cover service and product delivery, team building, productivity and general business problem solving strategies under this topic.
  • Tuesdays: Inspirational Thought / Motivational
    These are thoughts that help me stay motivated at work. I hope they have the same effect on you.  They may range from thoughts on famous quotes to ideas on how to change your perspective for the better.
  • Wednesdays: Free Forum / Guest Author

    Wednesdays will be open for any topic outside of the other pre-selected items.  This gives me the flexibility to choose whatever piques my interest, as well as provide me with an avenue to deliver to you a different perspective from other bloggers.  For example, I may repost someone’s blog entry that I found interesting or ask a guest writer to blog on the site. 

    NOTE: In case you’re interested in becoming a guest writer, feel free to email me.  My full contact information is under the profile section of the site navigation to the left.

  • Thursdays: Technology Review
    I’ll continue to learn of new tools, develop new processes, and discover others online and write about them. 

  • Fridays: The Optimist’s Perspective
    I figured Fridays is a good day to post an optimist’s perspective on life and business so that you leave for the weekend with some positive thoughts to recharge and come back to work ready to start the week.  And what better way to start the week than to read the Monday Business Strategies blog entries!  ;-)

What Do You Think?

Feel free to weigh in on the topics I wish to cover by commenting below.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Jazz Up Your Presentations with Prezi

Prezi Technology Review

If you’re like me, you have to make PowerPoint presentations on various subjects for people with varying levels of understanding about what you do.  You may even watch a few at meetings or conferences.  Up until last week, I’ve been a devoted fan of PowerPoint.  I’ve used other presentation tools, but none compares to MS PowerPoint…until now!

I recently attended a local chapter of Project Management Institute where I saw a presentation made entirely in Prezi. I’ve seen customized PowerPoint presentations by Prezi_SamplePresentationMicrosoft, created by professional designers using substantial animation.  I’ve also seen Flash-driven presentations for business training.   I’ll tell you that what I saw at PMI compares well to both of these and then some.  The beauty of using Prezi is that you can get started with it after sitting through their handful of online training or just the home-page video.  I was creating my first presentation after 15 minutes!

 

Pros
The biggest idea about Prezi is that you’re NOT making slides, but using a canvas much like a painter or a graphic artist does.  You’re not limited to a single slide.  Instead you have an infinite panel where you can place, constrict, or open up your ideas and present them.

Prezi_ControlsAs soon as you try to place something on this canvas, you notice the menu system, which  is…surprise…animated.  You have, what appears at first, a limited number of fonts and shapes.  What’s interesting about this limitation is that it forces you to think creatively about the flow of your ideas.  In fact, the process feels very natural.  It is like mind mapping your ideas on paper that you later connect for animation effects. 

The other big plus is the ease to animate.  All you need to do is connect the text or parts of the presentation in the sequence you want your audience to see it.  Prezi does the rest to generate the animation.  It’s intelligent enough to even go through complete rotations of text, depending on the angle and degree of rotation you placed the text.  In that scenario it’ll actually animate the rotation in and out of the text to give the audience the full experience many professional animators could deliver before the advent of Prezi.

Cons

So far I’ve missed the myriad of fonts and graphics options I have available in MS PowerPoint.  I admit, this could be limiting since I may want to use a particular font for my company-centric text.  On the other hand, this limitation could also free you to just express your ideas onto the Prezi canvas without the convolution of deciphering the exact font or transition you want.

The software also doesn’t quite work well with Google Chrome browser.  I noticed this when I had spent about an hour working on a presentation without logging out.  I received an error that the Prezi editor didn’t think there was a connection to the Internet and couldn’t save my work.  Lucky for us all, Prezi auto saves on a regular increment.  I had just lost two lines of text.

Overall, I’d recommend using Prezi, if for nothing else, to free your mind to think about the content of what you want to present, rather than litter your presentation with the arcane concepts of a slide or flashing text.  Of course, the end products of your effort will also have a shocking effect on your audience since the majority of them haven’t seen this sort of animation developed in such a short amount of time. 

What Do You think?

I’d love to hear from you about Prezi or other presentation tools you’ve used that give life to your content.  Feel free to comment below.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Where are our Optimists?

SuperHero Weekly Rant

It’s funny how when faced with dire straits there are no optimists to be found.  The reverse is true when money is flowing and times are good.  So, where are those superheroes that even in the face of great odds give us hope and show us how we can flourish?

I don’t know, but I know they live somewhere among us.

I certainly hear many people proclaim they’re optimists.  I hear it from people looking for employment as well as businessmen looking for new customers.  The problem is as they begin to talk about the current market conditions, all I hear are excuses on why they can’t achieve their goals. 

The gripes are almost always the same: “If only I had a bigger severance pay,” “If the economy was different,” “But I can’t take that kind of risk, having kids and wife to tend to,”  “If I only had a million dollars,” “If only customers would let me speak with them.” They go on and on.  This is, in my opinion, the defeatist language of pessimists. 

An optimist’s thoughts, as well as behavior, is substantially different.  The optimist sees any event as just that: an event.  The question then becomes what can be gained from that event.  You see, the optimist still sees opportunities where others see misfortune. 

I’ll demonstrate by giving the counter to each of the gripes above:

Pessimist

Optimist

If only I had a bigger severance pay….

This looks like an opportunity to trim the fat from my personal expenses and live a more sustainable life

If the economy was different….






With the cost cutting everyone’s going through, I can harness my cost-savings skills and keen knowledge of what customers are willing to pay for to find a service or product that’ll help people save money AND make me some!
…But I can’t take that kind of risk, having kids and wife to tend to






I’ll plan my next business when all big business are afraid of taking risks.  I won’t need much capital to start and I can hire resources at a bargain now.  This’ll demonstrate to the kids how and when they can take calculated risks that pay off in the long run
If only I had a million dollars….



How can I find a few hundred dollars then grow it over the next X months/years to get the million dollars I want for my big dream?

You get the idea.  The point is, the economic times, the circumstances, become irrelevant so far as judging personal success.  Every circumstance is just an event that you plan for and act upon.  Notice I didn’t say “react to.”  As an optimist you don’t react.  Your actions are calculated and thought out.  You look at as many angles of a situation as you can given the available information and time.  Then you act and reap the rewards from your calculated risk taking.

Mind you, I’m not saying optimists should ignore circumstances, nor that they shouldn’t empathize with people that are in dire needs.  I just feel that an optimist looks for solutions and opportunities rather than use circumstances as an excuse for accepting the status quo.

I suggest we, as a society, stop talking about a bad economy, lack of funding and opportunities.  Instead, as my mentor Olivia Sethney reminded me tonight, we start right now on being the optimist by focusing on and talking about how we’re going to take advantage of the current events to CREATE OUR OWN OPPORTUNITIES.

What Do You Think?

I’d love to hear how you’re demonstrating the optimist within.  Feel free to react below in the Comments section.

P.S. I’m sure you’ve noticed I’m not very good at ranting.  Ranting is such a pessimistic approach.  So, the Wednesday posts may soon change to something like the “Optimist Point of View.” What do you think? 

Monday, November 16, 2009

What My Dog Taught me About Team Motivation

LolaSquint Business Strategies

It may seem odd that I choose to talk about what my dog’s taught me, especially if I’m referring to lessons that apply to business, but bear with me.

I’ve owned dogs for a good portion of my life.  I grew up having anywhere from one to seven dogs up until the age of 12.  I’ve been away from dogs and had more cats since then.  When we owned dogs I’d seen how my father treated them (very kindly) and how the dogs knew by instinct that he was the “pack leader.” 

I recently had to revisit the whole notion of owning a dog.  When my family and I brought home an eight month old pit bull from the shelter early this year, we signed up for a dog training class to insure she was well behaved.  The trainer used classic conditioning, meaning negative reinforcement.  I’d seen how his dogs reacted around him: they were very obedient and well behaved.  So, I thought nothing of his technique. 

In fact, our dog spent eight weeks in the class and did well learning the basic commands.  As the weeks and months passed and our dog began to mature, we noticed she was ignoring our commands more often.  My wife recommended we try “Clicker” training classes.  At first I was hesitant.  I’d heard about and seen clicker training on the Animal Channel.  It was the antithesis of the classic training.  It focused on using ONLY positive reinforcement.  The process took longer, but the dog or cat learned the skills and kept them for a longer period.  What’s more, the animals seem to really enjoy the process. 

I went to a local class with much hesitation and doubt, but I’ll tell you that after our four-hour session I was a changed man.  I’ve become a complete believer in the system.  Our dog has begun enthusiastically and attentively executing our commands.  She’s very responsive during and outside of the training sessions we hold at home and at the park.

This made me think whether pure positive reinforcement would work to motivate at work.  After all, we’re all creatures that enjoy a pat on the pack, a fatter check, or a public praise. 

As I searched back in my experience I noticed two distinct scenarios: one where I’d used negative reinforcement most of the time and another where I used positive reinforcement most of the time.  These are the results I remembered and documented:

  • Negative Reinforcement
    • Technique: Here I used mostly threat of punishment, like loss of a promotion, a raise, or their employment.
    • Result: We were often able to achieve the results in a very short amount of time.  In fact, this technique works best if stakeholders on an initiative have in mind some immediate results that must be achieved in a very short amount of time.  This technique is especially useful when working with people you’ve not worked with before and don’t know well enough to understand their motivations.
    • Side-Effect: We often lost the employees on whom we had exerted force or with whom we used negative reinforcement.  Unfortunately, we also had a fall-out effect, meaning, some sympathizers who didn’t want to suffer through the same fate exited the company before we had the opportunity to use any such techniques on them. 
  • Positive Reinforcement
    • Technique: Here I resorted to rewarding results desired with extra time off, bigger bonuses, and public praises
    • Result: We achieved the results, but it took a long time.  This was often because the people I worked with didn’t know me well and, so, didn’t trust that I would deliver on the promises I made.  In situations where I’d already established a trust based on delivering what I’d promised, we were able to achieve the results in a short amount of time.
    • Side-Effect: I recall in at least one circumstance where we had coworkers from other groups approach us and ask if they could transfer to our group.  In fact, we received praises from other managers who had larger teams but were unable to achieve the results we had with the smaller team.  In other words, not only did our teams love working with us and delivering the results, other teams wanted to join us!

So, what’s the moral of the story? Reinforce the behavior you want through positive rewards and, where possible, avoid negative reinforcement. 

I know you may be concerned that people will take advantage of you.  After all, if there are no negative consequences to actions, wouldn’t you end up with unmotivated coworkers or, worse yet, a free-rider problem?

That’s a good point and one I’ll address in next week’s blog under Business Strategies.

What Do You Think?

I’d love to hear what you learned about business from an unlikely place.  Feel free to share your stories below.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

No Mere Words or Actions Will Stop Me

MartialArtsDavidAndGoliath

Inspirational Thought

Ever feel like you’re being compared to someone better than you?  Have you ever done this comparison in your head, thinking, “I don’t measure up to this guy!  He’s so much more experienced than me.”  You may even substitute “better looking”, “smarter”, or whatever else for the “more experienced” phrase, depending on circumstances and your mood.

I felt that way this past week.  I met some very experienced, smart people who had lots of energy and enthusiasm for their work.  I admit, at first I was intimidated.  I was speaking with software consultants that had experience in larger firms for more years than I did, and they were in the market competing for the same business.  What chance would I have against them?

Then I remembered one of the lessons my father taught me a long time ago.  No matter what others have in terms of riches, experiences, intelligence, other qualities or possessions, you are still your own person.  You compete with only yourself.  You bring your own enthusiasm, expertise, experience and plan to every conversation and action.  So long as you’re passionate about what you’re pursuing, you WILL be successful in exactly the way you want to be, irrelevant of what others think, say, have or do. 

If you want to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company in five years and you focus on this goal each and every day of your life, this is exactly what you’ll become.  It doesn’t matter if someone with more experience, intellect, opportunity and drive than you is shooting for the same goal.  There are plenty of companies that need CEO’s.  Even if there aren’t any, so long as you’re flexible with how you reach your goal, you’ll still achieve it. 

You may be thinking, “All that’s good and fine, but how do you pull yourself out of the gutter of self-deprecation?” Below are the three steps I took to refocus and continue the drive to success:

  1. Remember Your Accomplishments
    List out all that you’ve accomplished in the past few hours, days, weeks, months, years.  Think of at least three things that you’ve done well where others may have doubted you’d be able to complete.
  2. Remember Your Potential
    You have goals and a plan to achieve each of them.  If you’ve read my post about BHAG’s, then you’ve set an ostentatious goal that’s achievable, but just beyond your reach.  Remember all the times in the past when you set your BHAG’s and achieved them.  This is grounds for you to continue to challenge yourself and set ever more ostentatious goals that you’ll accomplish, no matter what the circumstances.
     
  3. Tap Your Support Group
    You have a support group, right?  I’m not talking about a group where you confess your addictions or sins, though you may have that too, but your friends and family that have helped you so far.  Call or go see them.  I especially recommend people that’ve always given you that extra push, bit of encouragement, the boost to keep going.  These may include your mom, brother, sister, close friend or relative, teacher or priest.  Whoever it is, call a few and ask how they’re doing.  Let them know of your plans and what you’re doing to achieve them.  Tell them about some of your challenges and how you want to face them.  Even if you don’t have a solution ready, just speaking with a trusted someone helps you think through the challenges.  You may or may not agree with what they say, but at least you’ll hear another perspective that makes you think.

These three ideas alone help me pull out of the gutter each time, no matter what poisonous arrows are slung my way by inner demons or the words of those around me.  I recommend the same for you.

What Do You Think?

What gets you down?  How do you cope with adverse circumstances and words?  I’d love to hear what you think of what I’ve proposed here, or if you have other methods of dealing with difficult circumstances or people.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Most Reliable Note-Taking Tech…The Notepad!

Moleskin

Technology Review

That’s right. The ever handy notepad is what I’m reviewing today.

Why? Because it’s the most reliable note-taking technology I know.  I admit it has its down side too, but hear me out.

I often find that in meetings I prefer to take a standard or college ruled notepad in addition to my notebook computer.  I specifically like spiral notepads, but also use thread-bound.  It’s old-school, true.  However, there are a lot of advantages to the notepad.  For one, I’m not distracted by emails, IM’s, my calendar or various other applications that would be readily available on a notebook computer that’s also used to take notes.  Nevertheless, take the notebook to your meetings, but keep it in sleep mode until you need one of those other apps.

You say, “but you can take faster notes on a notebook computer,” to which I respond that though I’ve used tablets with stylus-based technology, nothing but touch-screen will ever compete with notepad note-taking.  (This’ll likely change with the advent of touch-screen, especially evident in software like Microsoft Windows 7. ) Take drawings for example.  I can quickly draw out a table, a shape, Arabic characters or what not on a notepad, but I’d need special software, accurate pointing devices, specialized character set, just to name a few technologies and tools, in order to do this on a computer.

Also, If I’m sitting in a meeting with a notepad, I’m focused on the conversation not on a hundred other things I could do on my notebook computer. 

Lastly, there’s something about the feel of pen and paper that helps me remember what I wrote substantially better and for a longer time than typing it.  It’s the physical memory that helps me retain concepts.

I admit, there are drawbacks.  I can’t email out my notes until I transcribe them into a document on my computer.  Also, I can potentially loose my notebook with all of my notes.  There’s no redundancy nor duplication of gathered data.  However, I’ve yet to loose a notepad.  In fact, I still have my notes from work from ten years ago, but I’ve lost countless files on a computer, thanks to hard drive crashes and lack of backups, file format change, and just plain forgetting where I saved a file.

So, I suggest giving the notepad a try.  See how this millennia-old technology still packs a punch.  If you really want to write in style, give the Moleskin a try.  This is one of my favorite brands that I even carry in my pocket.

What Do You Think?

I’d love to read your comments about use of notepads.  Feel free to post your reactions below in the Comments section.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Contemplating Site Redesign

Scaffolding Please bear with me as I’m spending time this week considering what content to provide on a regular basis.  I’m running thin on some topics.  So, I’m considering scrapping the whole idea of regular topics and simply posting on the concepts I feel most passionate about, and about which I have meaningful content to share. 

These could still include what I’ve posted in the past.  I think I just need less rigidity than what I’ve confined myself with.  Keep in mind, I’m only considering going down this path.  This means my postings may not necessarily follow the regular format for the next few days.

There’s another factor that’s weighing on me: the overall structure and sight visual design has become cumbersome and unappealing.  Content is very difficult to find, even for me.  I’m looking for new visual designs as well as better organization.  I hope to have a decision before the week’s end.

So, I ask you to be patient for the next few days.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

5 Steps to Organize a Disorganization

MessyWarehouse Weekly Rant

I’m sure you can relate to this title, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this entry.  Many organizations’ projects and processes are disorganized.  This is what I see and hear about almost weekly. It’s especially true of small to medium sized companies given they need to do to maximize their company talents and resources by focusing them on areas that generate the most revenue.

However, there will come a time when the disorganization is a hindrance and can no longer be ignored.

Your organization may not be disorganized, but you know of or have worked for or with at least one that’s a complete chaos.  Many a company have all the right tools or technologies, people and even processes, but nothing seems to work well together, or nobody knows where something is.  Everything’s just in piles. In other words, there’s no organization for the tools, how to use them when, or who owns them.

How do you fix this?  What I’m about to prescribe may sound obvious, but it needs to be written: All you need to do is organize it.  Up until tonight I thought it would be ridiculous to try to assert this point, but after seeing a presentation at a local Project Management Institute meeting, I realize disorganization is more common than we care to admit.  If it’s common, that means people don’t realize they are disorganized.

So, I’ve listed below five ways to start organizing a disorganization:

  1. Select Key People: You want to start off with people who are invested in creating organization out of chaos.  The scenario that’ll deliver results requires senior management involvement and buy-in, but you also need one or two people who know the existing tools and processes, or know how to get this information, and are eager to bring them all together.
  2. Gather Information and Processes: You’ll need to gather all existing information about process owners, processes in place and tools used.  This is true even if you think you’ll have to change all of it.  Mind you, you’ll change NOTHING.  You allow the process and asset owners to do that.  Of course, if you’re the owner, then make changes to your heart’s content, but remember that others in your organization will want to contribute too.  Your job, as an organizer, is just to give order to the chaos so that all information, tools and processes are referenced and usable.
  3. Gather Assets: You’ll also need to gather all document templates and project / process samples.  Once again, you wont’ change these, but you’ll need to understand them and where they fit. 
  4. Organize and Centralize: This is a key step.  You want to organize all the information and assets found and place them on a site or file structure.  The idea here is to place all such information in a central location available for anyone to use at any time.  Think of this effort as nothing different than creating a site map for a website, a table of contents and index for a book, or an introduction to a speech.  You want to allow people to know exactly where to go to get information, easily navigate it, and even contact the information or asset owners if need be.
  5. Share and Revise: Announce your results to your organization and ask for their input.  Next to item four above, this is the most important step. By asking for input you’re signaling that this is a work-in-progress and you want each person to own it by contributing to it.  What’s more, you’ve created an avenue to continuously improve your living organizational-style for your company's processes and technologies.  Make sure that once you’ve gathered and vetted the input, you implement it immediately.  In other words, go through the above five steps continuously! 

What Do You Think?

There is more detail for each of these steps and I’ll be happy to converse with you about them.  Feel free to react in the Comments section below and let’s continue the conversation.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Elephant in the Room

ElephantBusiness Strategies

In last week’s post, Productivity Lows? Snooze Those Woes,  I discussed how requiring time off increases productivity.  This was a subject of a Harvard Business Review article titled Making Time Off Predictable – And Required.

If you’re working in the service industry where any time spent away from service hours is lost time, or spoilage in business-speak, you’re faced with a big question: how would you convince the powers-that-be of allowing and requiring time off for each employee? This is the elephant in the room that everyone wants to ignore.  It seems common sense to allow people time off they’ve earned, but how do you implement such a system.  It seems too big an undertaking, especially if your organization requires, or at least encourages through bonuses tied to billable hours. 

Pondering this question I remembered a recent book I read, The 4-Hour Work Week (Amazon link), by Tim Ferriss. In it Tim defines a process for convincing yourself, or your boss, to work away from the office.  The idea is that you would use strict metrics that you’re already being measured by to show an increase in productivity when you’re away from office.

In our case that means conducting an experiment and showing the results to management for review.

Let’s take the service of consulting as an example.  In consulting the employee’s annual productivity is measured in billable hours, or utilization.  In case you’re unfamiliar with the term “utilization,” just know that utilization is the total number of hours you’ve billed in a given period, like a year, over the total number of hours you could potentially bill for that same period.  Assuming a 52-week year, ten holidays, the total potential billable hours are 2,000.  So, if you bill 1,000 hours for that year, your utilization would be 50%.

The idea would be to take your annual utilization goals as your measuring stick for demonstrating INCREASED productivity even when you take time off.  Let’s use an example to demonstrate what I’m suggesting.  Let’s assume you’re a manager in charge of five employees.  You are responsible for their utilization goals, where their total potential annual billable hours are 10,000.  With a utilization goal of 85%, the team’s goal equates to 8,500 hours annually, or 340 hours every two weeks, equivalent to 68 hours for each person.  I chose two weeks since this is usually the pay period for which utilization can be calculated.

I suggest giving each of your team members a day off over a two week period, but with the given premise that the team still make up their billable goals.  You also setup so that no more than two people are off on the same day. This means that the team still needs to bill 340 hours over nine working days, or 76 hours per person over that same period. 

With this experiment you’ve given each person an extra day off, possibly a three-day weekend, but only increased their workload by 12%.  In other words, if they each bill 7.6 hours per day for nine days instead of 6.8 hours, they’ll make up for the day off.  Likely, nobody bills 6.8 hours per day or any other one-tenth fraction of hour.  So, the more realistic numbers will be an average of 7 hours, increased to 8 hours billed per day as a result of making up for lost hours from a day off.  This is an actual increase of 14% in billable hours. 

In other words, by giving a day off to someone, you’ve actually ended up increasing your team’s total billable hours and utilization.  In total utilization numbers, you’re looking at going from 85% utilization to 97% utilization! What’s more, you’ve given each team member an additional 50 days off per year, or 10 weeks off. 

Talk about a win-win scenario!

What Do You Think?

Do you think this experiment makes sense?  How does this reasoning settle with you?  Please feel free to show your reactions below in the Comments section.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thinking is Overrated

Inspirational Thought

SkeletonIt seems counter-intuitive that I start off a post with such a title when writing an inspirational thought.  It may even seem more bewildering  using a seated skeleton image at the top of this post! 

Not a good start?  Bear with me.

I don’t believe thinking is overrated when action follows it.  However, thinking in and of itself, without action, leads to an intellectualized life filled with missed opportunities and disappointments.

To put it more positively, I believe the road to a fulfilling life is abundant with thoughtful actions.  This theme is repeated by many authors and leaders.  I keep going back to Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich (Amazon link) where you learn that every business goal and venture, every wealth dream is possible only if you follow it with plans put to action. 

So, think about your dreams, your goals, what you want to do each day, then draw up a plan, actually write it down AND, most importantly, act on this plan every day.  Simply thinking about what great dreams you have and what it will feel like to achieve those dreams is not enough. 

Fear of failure may be holding you back.  By this I mean, thinking about all the obstacles you may encounter, prevents you from taking action.  Realize this is a self-fulfilling prophecy: your fear is preventing you from acting, which means you’ll never reach that dream, but you will fulfill your fear of failure. 

However, taking action on a plan, especially if you find that your plan doesn’t get you there, insures that you know what will.  By eliminating one path to your final destination, you’re one step closer to it. 

What can you do right now? STOP JUST THINKING and make those calls, go out to meet people that you can help connect with others, do whatever is necessary to make yourself available through emails, phone calls, in-person meetings, writing a business plan and executing it, blogging, blog commenting, or taking a class to get you one step closer to where you want and need to be.

In short, seize the day and take action!

What Do You Think?

What’s holding you back?  Feel free to share them here or email them to me.  I’ll be happy to work through your blocks with you and help you however I can.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Faster Surfing with Google Chrome

Technology Review

GoogleChromeIt doesn’t happen very often that I talk about a non-Microsoft product, but  today’s an exception.

I’d read about Google Chrome, their web browser, and wanted to try it out.  Last week I downloaded and started using it. 

The first thing I noticed was that the software and page load load times are noticeably and substantially better than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) 8.  Keep in mind, I use two different operating systems.  My notebook is loaded with Microsoft Vista SP 2 Home Edition, while my home desktop has Microsoft Vista 64-bit SP 1 Ultimate Edition with Media Center. The desktop has two version of IE: the 32-bit and the 64-bit.  The sad part of all of this is that none of the IE versions on any of the computers compete with the Google Chrome in software nor page load times.

Aside from load times, I love the built-in spell-check features of Chrome.  This is useful when filling out text on web forms, like comments sections of a blog.  Chrome automatically underlines the misspelled word and allows me to click and replace with the correct word.  I no longer have to write my comments, posts, or other text in another editor to check spelling before posting it online.

image As to visual appeal, you’ll find various themes available to provide a blank-tab background, as well as title bar customized feel to the browser. You can see this in the screen shot of my browser to the left.  You’ll also notice that the most visited sites are represented by thumbnails and links, along with links to the recently closed tabs in a separate section below the thumbnails.

If you’re using an older browser, you may not be familiar with the idea of tabs.  This is a feature that’s available in all the latest versions of Chrome, IE, and Firefox.  The idea is that you don’t open multiple instances of your browser, but use the same browser and open multiple tabs to various or the same sites.  This way your Windows Task Bar isn’t cluttered with icons of opened browsers.

I have noticed one bug in the software so far.  At times, Chrome tells me a page is unavailable when I follow a link to a site from my email.  I’ve noticed this enough times that I decided to test out the validity of the message.  I opened the same link in both IE and Chrome.  Only Chrome gave me this message.  I even cleared the CACHE to make sure I wasn’t looking at a CACHED page. No luck there either.

I’ve not yet reported this to Google, but posted comments on Twitter and Facebook asking others if they’ve experienced a similar problem.  So far, nothing. It may be time to contact Google!

Overall, I’d highly recommend switching, or at least trying, Google Chrome.

What Do You Think?

Have you tried Google Chrome?  What do you think of it?  Feel free to comment below.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Avoid Blogger Fluff. Read Scoble’s Stuff.

Blogger of the Week

image

As you’ve likely noticed, I’ve been reading a lot about social networking and media recently.  I’ve certainly written enough about it.  This is all a result of reading blogs by Chris Brogan, Guy Kawasaki,  and Ryon Harms, among others.

These are all wonderful writers with a keen understanding on social media.  I’ve certainly learned a lot from reading their posts.

I’ve also come across some blogs that are a repetition of their ideas. Some may have a slightly different perspective, but they’re not really adding a whole lot to the conversation. (Admittedly, I may fall under that latter group from time to time.)

I found it refreshing to read a technically inclined perspective on social media recently, namely Robert Scoble’s.  In case you don’t know who’s Robert Scoble, here’s the opening description for him on Wikipedia (external link to his Wikipedia article):

Robert Scoble (born January 18, 1965) is an American blogger, technical evangelist, and author. Scoble is best known for his blog, Scobleizer, which came to prominence during his tenure as a technical evangelist at Microsoft.

I don’t know how many people you know that have a Wikipedia page dedicated to them, but I was impressed with this fact alone.

His blog is the Scobleizer (snapshot at the top of this page).  What I like about his blog, aside from his candid opinion and lucid writing style, is that it’s more technically inclined.  He’s certainly not afraid of stating his opinion, but he does it diplomatically, looking at the ideas presented.  He doesn’t attach anyone for their ideas.

In one of his more recent posts he went head-to-head with Chris Brogan in the post Twitter’s lists make Chris Brogan feel bad, insisting that the use of Lists on Twitter made perfect sense.  He sees lists as a way to better group people and discriminate against those that really didn’t belong on the list.  The example he gives that I like is being included in the “list of golfing greats” when I’m not a golfer. In my case, I just started golfing and posting articles about it on The Golf Student blog, but I certainly don’t belong on a list of golfing greats.  In fact, if you believe Robert’s line of thinking, I’d likely devalue the whole conversation on such a list.

Another point that impressed me most about Robert’s blog was, given he gets so many comments on each post, he replies back to every one.  He certainly exemplifies how all of us as blogger should have conversations on our sites, not just use them as our personal soapboxes. 

What Do You Think?

Have you read the Scobleizer? What do you think of it?  Feel free to comment below and I too will take Robert’s lead and reply back to your comments.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

TheMarq’s Comment Publishing Policy Change

Exclamation

Policy Change

As you may know, I’d opened up TheMarq for open commenting without moderation.  However, I noticed today that there were comments posted that were not only inappropriate and unprofessional, but also unrelated to the topic.  The comments were purely self-promoting with links to the author’s sites. 

I don’t oppose if you decide to refer to your site or blog.  In fact, I encourage it. I only ask that you keep your posts relevant to the post and leave out profanity.

I’ve now setup comment moderation on the site.  Rest assured, I don’t intend to shut off the conversation between us, but to only moderate comments that are profane or unrelated to the subject.  Whether you agree or disagree with my posts, your comments denoting your stance will still be published.  I only ask that you keep them professional.

UPDATE (2009.11.06)

As you can see, I couldn’t bear to continue moderating the blog comments.  The moderations only lasted a few days.  You can now, once again, openly comment on the site.  After speaking with another blogger, Mendel Yano of The Golf Student blog, I saw I was harming more than helping the site readers.  However, I’ll continue monitoring in order to both answer your comments and remove those that don’t fit the general etiquette I’ve described here.  In this way, you’ll see your posts and others can benefit from your comments right away .  I apologize for these two rapid fire changes and I thank you for you patience as I fine-tune the site.

If you’re not sure what’s proper blogging etiquette, please visit Chris Brogan’s post on the subject, Etiquette in the Age of Social Media

I apologize for this change to the site’s policy.  I hope you understand and continue to post your relevant comments.

What Do You Think?

You may or may not agree with this policy change on the site.  You’re welcome to email me or comment directly below about it.

…And the Salesman Says, “Trust Me!”

CarSalesWeekly Rant

Guy Kawasaki recently wrote in his blog How to Avoid Twitter Cluelessness.  This is a very useful list and I found a number of his points equally applicable in marketing and sales of any product or service.

Namely, his number 10 item on this is “Don’t call yourself a “guru” or an “expert.” Let your tweets enable people to reach the conclusion that you know your stuff.”  In other words, let the merit of what value you deliver be your selling point. 

I’m a true believer in social media, but not as a panacea.  Social media invites transparency.  In fact, the blogosphere, including in posts here, is littered with articles about how social media represents the social utopia where everyone’s thoughts are laid bare for everyone else to see.  You no longer unveil your vulnerability only on special occasions.  You learn to speak honestly and address the issues publicly…Or so we all claim. 

That last paragraph may sound sarcastic, but I’m a believer in this new world.  What I find curious and amusing is whether all the “gurus” and “experts” that advertise their services on social media get it.  I don’t think they do, given the plethora of postings about how you can become a success overnight…at your business, on twitter, by blogging, and the list goes on and on.

The question is whether that matters.  Can you trust people on social networking sites DESPITE the abuses by some?  The answer is a resounding YES!!! Why? Since there are so many genuine people on social media, you can easily tell the “fly-by-night” marketers who try to fill your stream with redirects to their site to buy their products, as opposed to those like Chris Brogan and Guy Kawasaki who provide you valuable information, links, articles and opinion.

In the end, telling who’s sleazy and who’s not is no different from how you could distinguish sleazy used car salesmen.  In other words, are they trying to “sell” you on something or help you achieve your goals and dreams?

There’s still a lingering question: how about the more stealth and elegant, yet untrustworthy, agents?  How can you tell them apart from the rest?  The answer lies in research.  I recommend reading their post stream, as well as websites and asking questions about their reputation and credibility from the larger social media community. 

Search That’s an advantage that social media has over traditional communication channels: you can ask a question of the whole community and get everyone’s input in a short period of time.  Alternately, you can ask this question of your network of folks you trust, to insure the answer you receive is genuine and untainted. 

You should also search online, whether through Google or on social and professional networking sites in addition to the one where you found someone, such as LinkedIn, for information about that person or organization.  LinkedIn is especially helpful since you can find others connected to the person you’re researching and ask their opinion too.

What Do You Think?

Do you think there’s a formula for determining how to trust someone online?  Also, what’s the difference between trust and loyalty?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Productivity Lows? Snooze Those Woes

Business strategies

SleepInPark How important is R&R (rest and relaxation) when considering work productivity?  In a time when the market demands us to be highly productive AND efficient, can we afford to rest?

In a recent article in Harvard Business Review titled Making Time Off Predictable – And Required, authors Leslie A. Perlow and Jessica L. Porter explained how experiments conducted at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) show that giving time off, even in tough economic times, produces predictable results that meet the highest business demands placed even on consultants!

If you’re unfamiliar with my history in consulting, let me explain.  I’ve spent six of my 13 professional years in consulting.  I’ve worked both under a subcontract and a full time employee model. In both cases utilization (explained below) is king.  Nothing that I know of has as high a spoilage potential than consulting service hours.  Every minute spent that’s not billed is a minute lost that you can’t get back, discount to sell at another date, or trade for another good at a future date.  In fact, consulting may have been the impetus for the axiom “time is money.”

So, the modus operandi at most consulting firms is to continuously increase productivity and efficiency, measured in total number of hours billed as a percentage of total number of available hours in a given year.  This is what’s referred to as utilization.  Many firms strive for a 75 to 85% utilization out of 2080 annual possible billable hours (or 1920 hours if you subtract holidays and vacation pay).

Given the effort to increase utilization, it seems counter-intuitive to allow employees to take regular vacations, especially at the highest demand periods on a project, initiative, or program as the authors of the HBR article suggest.  However, Perlow and Porter report that employees tend to return to work energized, with a new sense of purpose, resulting in more predictable billing schedule.  In turn, this higher consistency leads to less unpredictable time missed at the remaining potentially billable hours, which produces higher utilization numbers.

ShockTheir results may shock you.  I understand, but I believe that when we personalize this story and look at our own performance we begin to understand the results better.  Think about the last time you took time off from work.  AFTER that period away from the office, during which time you were completely disconnected from the office, most likely you returned with new ideas, hopes, wishes and energy to push through many of the barriers that you may have given into BEFORE the time off.  You may have picked up a new hobby when away from the office.  The lessons you learned there may lead you to think differently at work, resulting in better problem-solving skills.

In fact, this is an idea that’s preached by many.  Dr. Covey of the Franklin-Covey and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Amazon link) fame, articulated this concept in the definition of the 7th habit: Sharpen the Saw!  If you’re unfamiliar with Covey’s research, just know that the 7th habit is taking time off from work in order to recharge.  The time off requires complete disconnect from work, physically and mentally.  The recommended activities usually include reading a book, listening to music or just resting.

The key element in all cases is to fully disconnect from the office. 

That’s all well and good, but how would you convince the powers that be about making this drastic of a change at your work?  We’ll go over that topic next Monday.

What Do You Think?

Feel free to comment below if you agree and, especially, if you disagree with this post.