Archive for Management

Are you sending the right messages to your B2B prospects?

Do you know what B2B prospects are looking for in a supplier? Do you know what B2B prospects want to hear? Is there an opportunity for mid-size B2B companies to brand around messages that bigger players miss?

Recently McKinsey did some research on branding themes among major B2B companies and answered some of these questions. The purpose of the resarch was to determine how well branding messages of global B2B players matched up to the interests of B2B customers. Read More→

7 steps to fixing the auto industry

The Hindenburg burnsLike most things the government does, its approach to “fixing” the auto industry/energy/environment problem is broken. Badly broken. Wrong-headed. Misguided. Appallingly stupid. And sad. It always amazes me that when we have an industry more-or-less crippled by poorly thought out government regulation, the answer to fixing it is in more government regulation. What a concept.

Recent polls show that only 26% of Americans think the government’s plan to bail out GM is a good idea, and only 42% of GM car owners are even “somewhat likely” to buy GM again. Clearly, most of us don’t think we’re on the right track for fixing this mess. But there are things that can be done, and the industry can survive and progress without massive government meddling, spending, and regulation.

So here’s my 7-step plan for addressing the auto industry/environment/energy situation. Amazingly, there’s not one single step that requires new regulation or money for the auto industry. Read More→

Harlan Ellison on client-vendor relationships

I don’t think the clients in that last video would enjoy negotiating with Harlan…

The client-vendor relationship

How many times have you been on one side or the other of these conversations…

The best sales video ever

If we all had this much enthusiasm for our businesses there wouldn’t be a recession.

Thanks to Jim McGee for the link.

This may explain some of my outsourcing troubles

outsourcing

Although this woman speaks much better English than anyone I dealt with.

How To Experience Abject Failure

I know when I’m beat. I know how to cut my losses and get out. There’s a lot to be said for perseverance, but even more for not throwing good money after bad. What am I talking about? My outsourcing attempts with GetFriday.com. My God, what a disaster.

After 2 1/2 months I had exactly one – that’s 1 – single success with GetFriday. Every other task I assigned was a miserable failure. Even after getting a replacement PA who was, supposedly, experienced in web search and basic web skills I could not get even marginally relevant results when I asked for search data on specific topics.

Worse, when it became clear to me that this wasn’t going to work out it took nearly an act of Congress to get them to cancel my account. The entire affair was a disaster.

What I learned is simple – if this is the best the Eur-Asian nations can offer then we are in no danger of being overrun by a low-wage workforce. They demonstrated a lack of understanding, competence, response, and adaptability that was hard to comprehend.

I went so far as to start running my task descriptions by two of my colleagues to try and ensure I was being both clear and reasonable in my requests. The results I got were still stunningly inept.

In fairness, most of my colleagues asked the very basic question, “Well, what did you expect?” I don’t know, maybe something a little above abject incompetence? How about someone with enough self awareness to recognize when they did not understand a task and ask for clarification until they did?

If you read my experience with BellSouth tech support from 2006 you’ll see my GetFriday experience is neither my first encounter with such incompetence, nor is it any real surprise. I suspect the cultural and language barriers between a third-world workforce and US-based expectations are just too great to overcome. Or maybe it is something else. I do not know.

What I do know is that from now on I will stick with North American (and possibly European) sources for anything I want done. Given my experiences I do not think there is any non-repetitive task requiring foresight, intuition, or judgment that can be effectively outsourced to a third-world workforce. It may well be that if you can 100% script an activity, and spend enough time to get the workforce to actually read the script, and have enough patience for them to practice and fail repeatedly until they get it right, that you might eventually have some success.

But as a small business my tasks are not repetitive. At least not now. And they do require thinking – which entails all those things mentioned above. The third-world is simply not the place to get these things done.

Amazing Discovery – Innovation Is Not A Strategy

The cover story for the May 3 issue of BusinessWeek was “World’s Most Innovative Companies” The big point was that the idea of running around as a multi-millionaire CEO chanting the word innovation as if it would magically alter your organization has now been recognized as another in the long line of stupid management fads.

[…] At the behest of an “ideation” consultant, he donned a blue superhero costume — cape, tights, and all — to put a little extra oomph behind the company’s innovation-boosting campaign. “I guess the thinking was that if you free people from the norm, you’ll unleash a torrent of creativity,” says Scott Anthony, president of Innosight, a consulting firm co-founded by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. Anthony refused to name the company because it was a client. “Innovation Man led to a lot of laughs,” he quips, “but it didn’t lead to a lot of innovation.”

The same might be said for many gimmicks that companies have tried over the past few years in their attempts to boost growth. Suddenly trendy, innovation took on the flavor of an elixir, as companies raced to hire “chief innovation officers” and build innovation centers complete with purple-painted walls and conference rooms with funny names. Ford Motor Co. (F) boasted in a press release about its new Innovation Acceleration Center in Dearborn, Mich.: “It’s amazing what a room filled with radio-controlled cars, a 3-ft. Statue of Liberty made of Legos, and some comfy couches can do to stir the imagination.” […]

According to the article many CEOs, having failed at turning their billion-dollar behemoths into innovation engines, are experiencing “innovation fatigue.” I am shocked! Shocked, I say. Shocked to learn that innovation is not a commodity that can be ordered up like Papa John’s Pizza. Shocked to learn that innovation doesn’t exist on its own like, say, cotton.

It turns out that innovation is actually a result – something that happens after you change every aspect of your stodgy, corrupt, inefficient, overbearing, outsourced, badly managed global corporation where everyone spends 80 percent of their time in meetings, 20 percent of their time doing reports, 10 percent of their time fixing stuff someone else did wrong, and 5 percent of their time doing something valuable that a customer will actually pay for. (I know, that’s 115%. That’s called increasing productivity. Guess which 15% gets dropped when your average, everyday human realizes they can only give 100% today.)

And this turns out to be very, very hard.

But there are a few innovative companies. And they’re innovative because, well, because they just are. Because they actually do the hard things most companies can’t, or won’t, do. Because they focus on things far more tangible than “being innovative.”  Things like finding and hiring talented employees and then not stomping on them or burning them out. Things like actually listening to employees with good ideas. And things like not letting the accountants and lawyers decide about what does and does not get done.

Mostly, innovators just seem to understand that innovation is a fundamental result, that comes from getting the fundamentals of running a business right. What a shocker.

Private CIAs

John Robb, independent military analyst, futurist, and author of “Brave New War,” on Friday posted this interesting tidbit on Friday regarding the move by GlobalCos into the intelligence and security space:

JOURNAL: Private CIAs

By John Robb

A strong sign that the nation-state is in decay is the frequency we see announcements of companies that are replicating some of the most sensitive government services. The most recent mover is Walmart, which is in the process of putting together its own intelligence arm (it’s being built by a former CIA/FBI officer Kenneth Senser). For those unable to afford their own global intelligence unit, Blackwater’s Cofer Black is building one called Total Intelligence Solutions.

If you want to get up to speed quickly, the background for this is available in BNW.

This makes sense, of course. As these companies plan long-term deployments across the globe they can little afford not to know the risks involved. And the intelligence fiasco of Iraq WMDs showed how unreliable government intelligence can be. This looks, to me, like another area where oligopoly control of a market makes sense. I wonder how the potential for shared intelligence organizations, and perhaps shared risk, will alter the oligopoly landscape?

The Opra-fication of America Continues

WSJ [subscription required]. Sue Shellenberger, in her April 26 Work and Family column titled Read This and Weep: Crying At Work Gains Acceptance, writes:

Crying at work has long been seen as verboten. But there’s evidence that a growing number of workers, especially those in their 20s and 30s, see it differently. Some think it’s old-fashioned to hide your emotions. Others are quick to cry over negative feedback. And many find themselves at odds with managers who grew up with a more repressive definition of professional conduct.

crying_manCast my caveman vote for keeping it verboten. Thanks to Opra, Jerry Springer, The View, and loads of other cultural schlock we’ve allowed ourselves to be convinced that wearing our emotions in public somehow makes things better. It doesn’t. In fact, it makes things worse. Carried to its logical conclusion this whole absurd idea is at the heart of much of the social violence and conflict we have. Yes, I know. I’m a caveman. But you tell me, what’s the difference between the crying, sniveling whiner and the disrespected hoodlum who’s about to blow your head off because you happened to look the wrong way? Not much. Both have lost all context for emotional outbursts.

On the one hand, you have some bosses who probably aren’t very good managers and lack people skills (I have worked for some of those.) On the other hand, you have employees who are lousy workers (I’ve been saddled with a few of those.) Many years ago I was a plant manager for a large prepress company. I had a successful track record, had good relations with most of my employees, and had a very productive plant. Don’t get me wrong, not everyone thought I was a great guy, but they were all very happy when the plant went from losing $1 million a year to turning a $500k profit and they got substantial bonuses. And no one was worked to death, no one was abused, no one was treated unfairly. We just identified problems, agreed on solutions, and put them into action. Everyone was involved, and everyone shared the load.

Because of this I was asked to move across the country to take over a plant that was in trouble. I walked into the new plant expecting things to be rather mucked up, but I figured there would be some good people there who could get the job done with the right tools and expectations. What I found was entirely different. I found a plant full of people who wanted to do everything just as they’d always done, even though the plant was on the verge of closing. The slightest suggestion of change was seen as some sort of personal insult:

Gen-Yers — who, it is often noted, are accustomed to lavish praise from their parents — are often ill-schooled in taking criticism and burst into tears at negative feedback, Dr. Twenge says. Kathy Lyle, 55, owner of a Chagrin Falls, Ohio, accounting firm, was dismayed when an employee in her early 30s cried in response to a request to install software on a computer. “When I asked her why, she said, ‘You scare me,'” Ms. Lyle says. Startled, Ms. Lyle told her to pull herself together.

This mirrors my experience — perfectly reasonable, rational requests treated as terrifying challenges. Being deemed a tyrant for merely asking another to do something they haven’t done before. What sort of logic is that? A big problem is we have failed to teach our children how to be good losers, how to accept criticism, how to take a bad performance or mistake and make it a learning experience. For that matter, we’ve failed to teach them anything at all about accepting challenges. The vast majority expect to be praised for little more than turning oxygen into carbon dioxide. As Jeffrey Zaslow write in his April 20 WSJ column The Most Praised Generation Goes To Work:

You, You, You — you really are special, you are! You’ve got everything going for you. You’re attractive, witty, brilliant. “Gifted” is the word that comes to mind.

Childhood in recent decades has been defined by such stroking — by parents who see their job as building self-esteem, by soccer coaches who give every player a trophy, by schools that used to name one “student of the month” and these days name 40.[…]

[…] Employers are dishing out kudos to workers for little more than showing up. Corporations including Lands’ End and Bank of America are hiring consultants to teach managers how to compliment employees using email, prize packages and public displays of appreciation.

And so we have two sides of the same coin — a generation that cries at the slightest negative word or challenge, or shoots you for a sideways glance. Is that really what we want?

It’s not what I want. Sure, there are times when emotion is appropriate, but getting things out in the open is far from a universal cure-all. If your emotions aren’t based in some fact, if you can’t prove your point in some real way, if you don’t actually have a grievance other than something just isn’t fair, then exactly what are you crying about?

Life is not fair, never has been. I’ve tried to teach my children that the dirtiest four-letter word is F-A-I-R. It would be great if life was fair, but it’s not. Some people win, some lose. Some live a long time, some die young. Some get all the good stuff, some slog away in poverty. All we’ve done with this insistence on fairness and self-esteem and gratuitous flattery is teach our children to base their lives on shallow emotion. We haven’t taught them to achieve, to accept challenges head-on, to do the things that generations before have done to be successful.

It’s no wonder we have such social turmoil. It’s what happens when you stop accepting life on its own terms and working to change yourself, instead spending your days in a fantasy-land of fairness and hoping everyone else changes to suit you.