Sunday, February 28, 2010

How to Write About Anything

Blogging

2010.02.28_WritingOnBeach I was attending an IT group meeting recently when someone in the audience asked if there were any bloggers in the audience.  A few of us raised our hands.  I was surprised to see how so few of my local IT industry’s  leaders wrote about their ideas.

As this puzzle bounced around in my head, someone asked a question that solved my puzzle, “I read a lot of blogs. I feel like all the ideas are already exposed and written about.  How can I come up with something new and genuine?”

At first glance, you might agree with the statement and empathize with the frustration apparent in the question.  However, I implore you not to fall into the trap of accepting that all ideas have already been expressed.  That would be the equivalent to accepting that all scientific discoveries have already been made, and all world problems solved!

The frustration in the question points to a mental block preventing someone from coming up with topics of discussion.  If you feel this way, I’ll offer you the same suggestion I offered the inquiring IT leader: keep a blog idea repository and fill it every day with a mandatory five to ten ideas.

It doesn’t matter if the ideas are new or genuine.  You can borrow ideas, knowing full well that these may not be the ideas you write about or act on. The ideas don’t even have to be about your blog subject.  They could be questions you have, conversations you overhear and find interesting, topics in your industry that others are writing about, news articles or headlines you read, or something you see in nature like a determined dog digging a hole.  The important aspect is to remember to set and keep your daily quota of writing down five to ten ideas every day. 

After a short time of two weeks, you will have anywhere from 50 to 100 ideas.  Now, pick three ideas at random and try to connect them to come up with something new.  Will your idea be revolutionary?  May be, may be not.  However, by completing this exercise, you’ve accomplish a few things:

  1. Create a blog idea repository that you’ll continue to fill every day
  2. Train yourself to pay attention to all that you read or hear about
  3. Force yourself to think creatively by connecting sometimes disparate ideas

How do I know this works?  I practice it daily to generate ideas for this and other blogs, not to mention for new products and solutions for my business problems.  I wish I could say this idea was purely mine.  It’s not!  I learned this as I was reading a book, Thinkertoys, that teaches you how to come up with product and business ideas.  I practiced what the book preached and connected the concept of creating new business ideas to blogs. Voila! a method to create new blog ideas is born. 

What Do You Think?

Feel free to share below your ideas on how to come up with ideas.

Photo Credit: Photos8.com

Monday, February 22, 2010

Employee Retention: Be a Goal Miner

Business Strategies

2010.02.22_GoldMiners Last week we started the series on Employee Retention with the post Insuring Employee Retention, providing a list of elements needed to reduce and, potentially, reach zero attrition rate.

This week we’ll look at the first of those elements: mining your employees deepest wants and needs to learn about their personal and professional goals.  You’ll notice above a picture of gold miners.  This is apropos since understanding your employees goals and wants is very similar to gold mining:

  1. To find something genuine, you need to invest much time
  2. You’ll need many tools to extract what you’re looking for
  3. Untapped resources don't necessarily hold the easier to find bounty
  4. The resulting bounty highly motivates to dig for and find more
  5. The resulting bounty is highly valuable and sought after

Let’s explore each point.  In order to find genuine, specific goals, you’ll need to invest much time.  This means we, as seekers of others’ goals, aren’t just satisfied with the obligatory response we hear from our coworkers that their goals is “to be the best” at what they do.  We have to spend time with each person to learn what this means.  If a software developer tells you this, he could mean best in any of the following and more:

  • Software architect for web applications
  • System security development
  • System troubleshooting and support
  • A particular technology like Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing technology
  • Android applications development
  • Audit applications development for the automotive industry

You get the idea.  There are many variations and details you need to gather to better understand what’s meant by the statement “I want to be the best.”  You want to ask what they want to be best in, in what time frame, as compared to whom, in which industry, and so forth.

You need many tools to find what you’re looking for.  You may send out the cut and dry annual questionnaire that asks each persona about their goals.  Is that they only tool you should use, or even the most effective?  I don’t think so, on either count.  You’ll likely need the following:

  • Questionnaires
  • Interviews
  • Gathering information in your regular conversations as you learn about a person’s family and values. 

And that’s just the start.  Here are a few more ways:

  • Your perception of their activities and interests at and away from work
  • an understanding of where they spend most of their time
  • The types of activities they favor or avoid
  • The people they hold in high regard 

Once you’ve gathered all of this information, you can decipher fact from wishful thinking or idealism.  The conglomeration of all of this data will point to each person’s actual goals and priorities. 

I warned you it would be a lot of work, but it’s also rewarding work for you and your business. 

What you’ll find is that those who’ve never gone through the goal mining exercises often resist the idea initially or can’t get started as easily, but they also more freely share their information.  We have the a particular set of leaders and managers in business to thank for disappointing the rest of our coworkers by scratching the surface of what goals the rest of the work-force holds.  The older work-force has already been disappointed with these minor attempts at fulfilling their wants through their poor understanding of each individual’s needs.

However, once a person’s goals are better known AND addressed, through incentives that are better tweaked for each individual, high rewards await the business leaders and employees.  The reason behind this is simple: with each clearly stated and rewarded goal, the business owners get more productivity from their employees and the employees more easily attain what they’ve always wanted: higher pay, more time with the family, better recognition in the industry and so forth.

What’s interesting about the process is that it’s highly contagious.  Once fellow coworkers see how their friends’ goals are recognized and their achievements of those goals rewarded, they will open up and share more of their personal and professional goals with the leaders, fully expecting similar treatment.  As this domino effect continues, the workforce satisfaction with the employer grows, as does their productivity and quality of work, thereby increasing the company margins and customer satisfaction, not to mention company reputation as one of the best places to work!

We’ll continue this discussion next week as we pick up the next bullet from our list: how to align employee and company goals.

What Do You Think?

Feel free to share your comments, suggestions, and reactions below.

Related Posts

Insuring Employee Retention
Do You Have a BHAG
Keep An Open Mind
Flexibility Outside of the Gym
Missing the Forest for the Fire
Have Faith

Photo Credits: State Library of New South Wales collection

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to Get Stuff Done

Business Tactics

2010.02.15_Calendar This is a new topic for the site, but one I hope to continue.  I’m sure you’ve also realized that the site posting schedule has changed.  I no longer post particular topics on particular days.  What inspires me is what you’ll find here.  This feels more natural than a predefined schedule, though I brainstorm topics and ideas daily. 

As with all my plans, this is an experiment.  What works I’ll keep.  What doesn’t, I’ll stow away and learn from.

For this debut of topic I want to focus on how to get the high priority things in your professional and personal life done.  There are many authors, with substantially more research and years than me, that have written on the topic of what it means to prioritize.  The more famous of whom that I know is Dr. Covey of the Franklin Covey fame.  So, I won’t get into why you should prioritize and how.  If you need help with that, use your favorite search engine, Twitter, or Facebook and lookup Franklin Covey.  You may also want to lookup “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Dr. Covey.

What I will write about is how to actually do the high priority things in your life.  Dr. Covey has a very interesting demo to insure everyone understands how the big things, the important things, in our lives should fill our time first, and how any remaining time left is usually filled with all the little stuff.  He usually drags out a large jar, some large rocks, some medium rocks, some pebbles and sand.  He then asks an audience member to try to fill the jar with everything on the table.  Sure enough, each time people try, they want to first fit in the smaller stuff.  The problem is that if you start with the smaller material, you can never get the big rocks in the jar. 

However, if you start off by putting in the big rocks, everything else can wiggle and move around the big rocks and find space.  This is the way the Franklin Covey software and systems works, though I think it is a bit too complex for its own good.

What method I find reliable is to review what you did last week, make changes where you see the need, such as eliminating time wasting activities or changing tactics that had no positive result, then plan the activities for the following week as prioritized tasks for each day.  This is no different than any other program you read or hear about.  What’s key is the daily review of your top priorities and their proper scheduling. 

I spend the last few minutes each day to schedule time on my calendar for my top three to (maximum) five items that I MUST get done the next day.  I’m most productive in the mornings.  So, I schedule these on my calendar as though they were appointments.  Any other business or social meeting that comes up, I work around these scheduled time.  I respect this schedule the same way I do an appointment with a client. 

Interestingly, one of my mentors recently wrote about this topic in much greater detail in his blog, Sales Strategies for SUCCESS! in an article titled The Art of Scheduling.  I highly recommend reading this article.

This method allows you to use your most productive time for the most important tasks of the day.  Once complete, you no longer feel guilty about addressing all other items on your lower priority.  In fact, given the reduced urgency to get through them, you’ll likely do a better job with them.

There are those that argue if you finish your high priority tasks for the day, you should continue moving down the list for the following days.  However, I think this is the equivalent of trying to fit only big rocks in a jar.  It can be done, but it’ll be frustrating, not to mention it can lead to higher stress levels.  After all, your mind needs variety in both work-life context as well as big-small tasks for each of those categories.

So, what are you waiting for?  Schedule your high priority success-focused tasks right now and see how pleasant your days become.

What Do You Think?

Please feel free to share your opinion below, along with any suggestions you have on time management.

Related Articles

Do You Have a BHAG
Keep an Open Mind

Photo Credit: WGBH.org Development Blog

Monday, February 15, 2010

Insuring Employee Retention

Business Strategies

Smile I recently had a conversation with a business owner about their employees and how they have a zero attrition rate.  I was amazed.  This is most employers’ dream. 

Attrition is defined differently by different business owners.  Often, it’s defined to favor the employer showing less attrition than reality.  As defined by TheFreeDictionary by Farlex, attrition is the following:

  1. A rubbing away or wearing down by friction.
  2. A gradual diminution in number or strength because of constant stress.
  3. A gradual, natural reduction in membership or personnel, as through retirement, resignation, or death.
  4. Repentance for sin motivated by fear of punishment rather than by love of God.

When applied to business, it’s often the third of these definition is what people have in mind.  Namely, attrition is “A gradual, natural reduction in membership or personnel, as through retirement, resignation, or death.”  Notice that this definition doesn’t include layoffs or dismissals.

Why should you care about attrition? There are numerous reasons:

  1. Costs to your business of searching, selecting, signing, and training new employees
  2. Employment reputation that may be marred as a result of high attrition, leading to repulsion of the more qualified employees
  3. Customer satisfaction suffering as a result of having to work with new employees with whom they may not have any relationship

So far as the bottom line is concerned, businesses should be very concerned about turnover costs, the first of the above reasons.  In an About.com article titled, Fighting Employee Turnover Costs, Darrell Zahorsky explains variances in these costs.  I won’t regurgitate what he’s already explained, except that the cost depends on a multitude of factors and can vary from 50% to 200% of an employee’s annual salary.  He has better calculations in the article for pinpointing the exact costs and I recommend you read it if you wish to get more precise numbers.

Let’s substantiate this large variance with an example.  Assuming yours is a high-tech company, the variance for an employee paid at $100k annually would amount to $50k-$200k.  That’s no small amount!  Depending on the size of a company and its attrition rate, such costs could quickly deteriorate profit margins and run a business…well, out of business. 

This is especially alarming in tough economic times when cost-reduction is a high priority for any organization that wishes to beat out its competition.  Hence, reducing the attrition rate from 15% to 10%, for example, with its significant positive consequences, could quickly improve an organization’s margins. The question then becomes, what are the factors necessary to insure high retention. There are multiple:

  1. Employees have expressed their personal and professional goals to management
  2. Employee goals are aligned with the employer’s
  3. Employees actually see progress toward reaching their goals
  4. Employees are satisfied with their management’s ability to make business decisions that benefit the customers and them
  5. Employees actually realize the benefits of the employer’s decisions (the management’s promise to deliver comes to fruition)
  6. The organization is constantly growing, thereby gaining new business and providing new employee opportunities
  7. The benefits of the company’s success are shared with employees

Assuming we agree that all of these factors need to be in place for a zero attrition condition, how can you implement such a system?  We’ll discuss the implementation steps and consequences over the next few weeks. 

What Do You Think?

Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences with your company’s employee policies and attrition below.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Have Courage

Inspirational Thought

ThreeMonkeys Do you have courage?  What is to be courageous?

Both are loaded questions, but I think we can answer them easier than we think.  Can’t we think of someone who exemplified being courageous?  Don’t we all have personal, familial, or public heroes that serve as our guiding post for being courageous?  Of course we do.  So, we don’t need to necessarily define it so much as remember those examples when we need to act. 

I’m a member of Toastmasters International and recently heard my mentee in our local club deliver a powerful speech on why immigration laws should be closely scrutinized to insure we don’t turn away those political and economic refugees from other countries that have helped build our nation.  I thought it was very courageous of her to stand before an audience of her peers, ignoring comments by her family to change her topic of discussion, and let us know how she really felt about immigration laws. 

In fact, after hearing her I realized how I needed to be more courageous to stand for something that’s important;  to comfortably make my decisions public on various subjects. This is certainly something that I think all of us should do.

It reminds me of another story: My oldest brother’s. He, along with my second oldest brother, escaped Iran in their late teens when they would’ve been otherwise drafted to fight in the Iranian army for the Iran-Iraq war. A war that none of us believed in for a government we didn’t trust. This was after my oldest brother had been imprisoned for his anti-government activities.

They escaped Iran and went to Canada, but my oldest brother couldn’t escape his convictions. Only a few years later, after sending us an audio letter explaining his reasons, he left for Iran and fought against a government he saw as cruel and unjust.

He took a stand for what he believed in.  He fought and eventually died for his cause.

Whether you would agree with his politics or not, you’ll likely admit he was courageous. He certainly is in my opinion. In fact, his life has set an example by which I strive to live.

So, ask yourself what do you believe in? Then figure out how you would take a stand for it. Will you write about it in an article? On a blog? Will you write your congress-person about it? How about attend a demonstration for it?

I know I will. In fact, I’m taking a stand right now and announcing some of my beliefs. I believe in a small government, but one that takes care of its citizens by insuring or providing health coverage for all.

I believe in a woman having a choice when it comes to pregnancy.

I’m against smoking, but for helping those that smoke understand the hazards to themselves and their loved ones.

I’m against the war in Iraq, but don’t blame our soldiers for it. I take responsibility for not making my voice heard when we decided to go to war, but I’m now speaking to anyone interested in listening and writing to my congresswoman to demand, beg and plead to find the fastest way for us to stop this war.

Do you disagree with me? That’s great. Take a stand and let me know. That’s the only healthy way for us to start a dialogue and come to an understanding and agreement.

What is your cause? What is that something that you truly believe in and are willing to take a stand for? Make it clear to everyone today…make that decision and take a stand.

Have courage!!!

What Do You Think?

Feel free to share your courageous stories below.

 

Photo Credit: Anderson Mancini

Monday, February 1, 2010

It’s Time to Act

Call to Action

idealist If you’ve ever volunteered for an organization or thought about doing it, you may have heard about Idealist.org.  It’s a site to learn about various non-profit organizations, including related volunteer and job opportunities. 

I recently received a disconcerting email from the founder about how the organization may be failing due to lack of funds.  I’ve posted the email message body below and I highly recommend we each take action however we can.

You know how sometimes in life you go through a bad moment, and when
your friends hear about it later, they say, "Why didn't you say
something? Why didn't you ask? We would have helped."
That's where Idealist is now, and I am writing to ask for your help.
Very briefly, here's what happened. Over the past ten years, most of
our funding has come from the small fees we charge organizations for
posting their jobs on Idealist. By September 2008, after years of
steady growth, these little drops were covering 70% of our budget.
Then, in October of that year, the financial crisis exploded, many
organizations understandably froze their hiring, and from one week to
the next our earned income was cut almost in half, leaving us with a
hole of more than $100,000 each month.
That was 16 months ago, and since then we've survived on faith and
fumes, by cutting expenses, and by getting a few large gifts from new
and old friends. But now we are about to hit a wall, and this is why I
am reaching out to you.
If over the past 15 years Idealist has helped you or a friend find a
job, an internship or a volunteer opportunity; connect with a person,
an idea or a resource; or just feel inspired for a moment, now we need
your help. I wouldn't be asking, and not like this, if this were not a
critical time.
There are two ways you can help. First, if you can, please make a
donation at:
http://www.idealist.org/donate
Some people in this community are not in a position to contribute
right now, so if you are, please give as generously as you can. Thank you!
Second, please spread the word about this appeal by sharing this
message with friends and colleagues who may have benefited from
Idealist over the years. Since 1995 Idealist has touched hundreds of
thousands of lives. If in the next week or two we can reach everyone
who'd give us a hand if they knew we are in trouble, I believe we'll
come out of this crisis even stronger than before.
I believe this because while this has been a tough stretch, I've never
been more optimistic about the future. The content on Idealist has
never been richer, our traffic is surging, we are building a whole new
Idealist.org that will be released later this year, and the potential
for connecting people, ideas, and resources around the world has never
been more urgent or more exciting.
Your contribution will allow us to maintain all our services, and it
will also give us some time to diversify our funding. Being able to
breathe, recover, and plan ahead for a few months will be an
incredible blessing.
Thanks so much for your support. Idealist has always been a
community-driven site, and we can’t do this work without you.
Thank you!
Ami Dar
Executive Director
Idealist.org

What Do You Think?

Feel free to share below how you will act to help idealist.org.

When Ideas Ebb

Business Strategies

Mykl Roventine_PuzzlePiecesI’ve had a roughly two-week hiatus from this blog to think about my personal business direction and to gather ideas for this site.  This was a rejuvenation period as I noticed I was repeating topics here.  In my business, I was doing the same thing repeatedly, getting the same poor results.  Ben Franklin’s quote comes to mind, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

As I was going through this process, finding new directions and ideas to pursue, I realized how easy it is for me to do this compared to a mid-size or large corporation.  In larger institutions when a change is warranted, the need to acquire approval from decision-makers can hamper proper response-time to address market demands.  This additional cost and inability to quickly respond can mean doom for many organizations.

On the other hand, assuming we take a long-term perspective, continuously changing plans, products, services, and responses-to-customers may mean thrashing of resources that could be elsewhere with better results.  Taking a longer time to think about and plan for changes may mean lower immediate payoffs, but longer-lasting companies and strategies. 

As I think about the tradeoffs of each type of organization, I realize neither system is necessarily right or wrong.  In fact, so long as an organization is effective in achieving its goals, whether they are short or long-term, whether an organization wants to constantly change direction or not, everything else becomes rhetoric fodder for theoreticians and the like.  Results are what matter so long as those results are what were planned.

If neither system is necessarily right or wrong, why do so many people complain about one or the other?  This is purely a personality mismatch.  When searching for your next adventure, employer, or project, what becomes important is realizing what is your personality, long-term goals, and where does your comfort level sit with respect to ever-changing or stable environments.  Once you know this, you simply have to search for a healthy and financially stable organization that fits your profile.  All else will fall into place and you’ll be as successful as you work toward your dreams and goals.

So, what are you searching for?  Where do you fit in?  Do you feel comfortable in the chaos of ever-changing environments, or the long-planning and process focused organizations?

What Do You Think?

Feel free to share your thoughts and reactions below.

 

Photo Credit: Mykl Roventine