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Archive for February, 2009

Saturday Odd Bits Roundup: Google Rocks (But You Knew That)

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

I’m a Google fan because most of their corporate MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) agrees with the stuff I believe. Not very scientific, but I’m allowed.

The links today are to some interesting Google bits, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

First is a great McKinsey interview with Eric Schmidt (may require free registration). It doesn’t matter that it was in November, the information that he shares makes it great reading anytime.

An article in December’s Wall Street Journal Online brings you up to date on what Google was doing to deal with the economic chaos that more than halved their stock price.

A more recent article in the NY Times talks with Jeff Huber, senior vp of engineering, about how and why Google chooses the products it kills. Useful information that you can use evaluating your own projects.

I found the write-up on the changing of the guard at Google.org, the company’s non-profit and why they are changing their philanthropic approach.

It took many years and several product maulings before people reacted to Microsoft—the original 500 pound canary.  But Justice is sniffing around and concern is rising,

“You almost feel sorry for Google,” said Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of Search Engine Land. “They’re doing a good job and people are turning to them. But when they pass 70 percent share, people are going to be uncomfortable about Google becoming a monopoly.”

Some might say that between the sinking stock price, monopoly worries and the economic debacle that Google, or any stock, isn’t the place to be.

But you know what? It might come as a surprise to investors who can’t see three inches in front of their face, but a company is a whole lot more than what a short-sighted trader who only cares about a quarterly set of numbers knows. Google is for the long term, as are many others—my only regret is that I don’t have the resources to invest.

Image credit: flickr

Seize Your Leadership Day: A Woman's Place Is In The ?

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

“Behind every successful woman there is an astonished man.”

Last year I wrote about the global glass ceiling; today I have seven fascinating articles on corporate women. More of the same—or are things changing?

Kids don’t think so; in fact they’re more pessimistic.

“The percentage of girls who say they believe that today both men and women have an equal chance of getting a leadership position has declined from 35 percent to 24 percent between 2007 and 2008.”

And the guys still seem to have problems if women “get tough” (like them), especially in male-dominated fields.

“Speak lowly and slowly, but smile frequently…This advice…was based on my observation that women must adhere to a narrow band of behavior in order to be effective in mostly male settings.”

WSJ Online republished an article from 2005 looking at the difference between how most women relate to numbers vs. most men and its effect on earnings. Sadly, it hasn’t really changed.

“Female M.B.A.s have a bias to nurturing and team building and male M.B.A.s to a more analytically driven focus on success and independence. My advice is that both should develop more well-rounded skills.”

And then there’s ‘that vision thing’

“Studies show that in almost all measures of executive performance women are equal to or outperform men, with one exception: vision. Ibarra’s review of the 360 degree reviews of nearly 3,000 women revealed that, in general, they were seen as less visionary.”

McKinsey, however, presents a trenchant case (requires free registration) on why women are important, not in terms of political correctness, but to the bottom line.

“The gender gap isn’t just an image problem: our research suggests that it can have real implications for company performance. Some companies have taken effective steps to achieve greater parity.”

But the world turns and times change. When the ruling class screws up big time, people often embrace the opposition.

Iceland’s meltdown is leading to a revolt by the country’s women.

“Icelandic women, however, are more likely to be studying the financial news than the recipes – and more likely to be thinking about how to put right the mess their men have made of the banking system than about cooking them comfort food. … But for a generation of fortysomething women, the havoc is translating into an opportunity to step into the positions vacated by the men blamed for the crisis, and to play a leading role in creating a more balanced economy, which, they argue, should incorporate overtly feminine values.”

And the same attitude is surfacing across Europe.

“John Coates, a researcher at Cambridge University concluded that traders made the highest profits when they had the highest levels of testosterone in their spit. The downside, he said, was that elevated testosterone also led to riskier behavior, a formula for disaster as well as profit.”

What do you think? Would the bankers have played derivative Russian roulette if there had been more women in the in the halls of Wall Street power?

Your comments—priceless

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Miki’s Rules To Live By: Opportunity

Friday, February 27th, 2009

I’ve always thought of life as a corridor with dozens of doors opening, each one representing an opportunity.

You may open one or pass them by—it’s your choice.

Each time you do open one and enter that door closes forever and you move down a new corridor full of doors.

The door you entered is sealed because whatever lay behind it changed you, so you can’t go backwards, only forward.

Some people to through life opening as few doors as possible, changing as little as possible and staying as safe as possible.

Others launch themselves through the most interesting doors with gusto, taking advantage of whatever opportunities are concealed and then on to the next door.

In honor of all those who are, or lean to, the latter description I dedicate these two Rules. They are especially apropos today.

Watch for big problems—they disguise big opportunities.

Welcome the unexpected! Opportunities rarely come in neat, predictable packages.

You can’t open every door and you don’t have to stay long if you don’t like what you find, but if you pass straight through never opening any doors you’ll stay in pristine condition and you don’t really want to arrive at the end as untouched as you were when you started—do you?

Image credit: sxc.hu

Discriminating Leadership

Friday, February 27th, 2009

The ability to influence is not the sign of a leader; nor are visions, forceful opinions, board seats, titles or popularity. After all, if a high media profile was a sign of leadership then Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are leaders.

Millions of people are influenced and even inspired by writers and actors, but does that make them leaders? Angelina Jolie is considered a leader for her tireless charitable efforts as opposed to her screen credits; Rush Limbaugh may influence thousands, but I’ve never heard him called a leader.

It is the singular accomplishments; the unique actions that deserve the term, not the position you hold or just doing your job.

I knew a manager who thought his major accomplishment was managing his 100 person organization, but that wasn’t an accomplishment—that was his job. The accomplishment, and what qualified him as a leader, was doing it for four years with 3% turnover and every project finished on time and in budget.

Jim Stroup over at Managing Leadership wrote, “There is a strong and general instinct to ascribe positive values to what we have determined to be examples of leadership. In a world that so often confuses forcefulness with leadership, this can be – and frequently is, in fact, revealed to be – an exceedingly dangerous habit… There is a particularly frustrating – and increasing – tendency to characterize any practice or trait deemed “good” as “leadership.” When an executive exhibits behavior that is highly valued – or even expresses a perfectly ordinary one especially well – he or she is declared to be a “leader,” or to have demonstrated “leadership.”

Dozens of corporate chieftains who were held up for years as exemplifying visionary leadership now stand in line for bailout money—or dinner in jail.

There is no way to stop the word being used and abused, but you have the option to hear it for what it really is—a word with no baggage, no assumed meaning.

A word on which you focus your critical thinking instead of accepting it blindly, assuming that all its traits are positive or rejecting it based on nothing more than ideology.

Your comments—priceless

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Leadership's Future: If You Plan To Live Then Plan To Help

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that as important as hard work, good planning, etc., are, there was something else at work in my life. Something outside of my control and I wanted to know what it was.

I finally decided it was luck—definitely outside my control.

I wrote recently abut how the luck of right time/right place luck played a role in the early success of a startup and also touched on Malcolm Gladwell’s research as described in Outliers: The Story of Success.

A few days ago I read a brief article about University of Chicago researchers Susan Goldin-Meadow and Meredith Rowe, who have been studying the effects of gesturing on toddler language development.

“Higher-income parents did gesture more and, more importantly, their children on average produced 25 meanings in gesture during that 90-minute session, compared with an average of 13 among poorer children, they reported in the journal Science. … Gesturing also seems to be an important precursor to forming sentences, as children start combining one word plus a gesture for a second word. … In fact, kindergarten vocabulary is a predicter of how well youngsters ultimately fare in school.”

Such a little thing, but with such potentially enormous impact.

I don’t remember my mother gesturing, but I do know that she talked to my sister and I using the exact same vocabulary that she used with her peers and that became our vocabulary. Fortunately for us, she had a large vocabulary between having gone to college and being an avid reader, but I wonder where I would be if that had been different.

Plus, researchers are finding that children start learning long before it was originally thought.

The problem is that from zero to six kids dependent on what they get from home; from 6 or so to18 or so they look to their peers, which is the blind leading the blind, and then it’s on to adulthood where changes are far more difficult and, if the research is at all accurate, limited.

No one can control when they’re are born, who their parents are or the economic strata into which they’re born, but you can reach out and help change the people’s luck.

And for all those who look at me and say that they’re busy or that they have donated all they can or it’s just not their problem and there are schools/social services/etc., to deal with it I have a news flash for you.

Unless you plan to die tomorrow, it’s your problem.

It’s your problem because of a little thing called demographics.

This recession will eventually turn around, even if it takes longer than our instant gratification culture likes, and when it does the US is going to need every warm body if it plans to retain/regain its success and influence.

No one is expecting you to solve the problems, but you can reach out and touch just one life. If everyone over 21 did that we would be well on the way to change.

Your choice is whether to be part of the good luck or the bad.

Your comments—priceless

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Image credit: flickr

The Money Is In Customer Engagement

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

If I suggested that you spend five times more money to sell your product than you are currently the most polite thing I can imagine you saying is, “You’re nuts!”

Yet that’s what it will cost you every time you turn off a current customer and have to find a new one to replace her.

An article at the Gallup Management Journal on customers reminds you that

“Frederick F. Reichheld, author of the widely read The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits and Lasting Value, showed that making loyalists out of just 5% more customers would lead, on average, to an increase in profit per customer of between 25% and 100%. Reichheld’s analysis showed that the cost of acquiring new customers was five times the cost of servicing established ones. The implication is that managers who depend on all manner of snazzy products and flashy ad campaigns to lure new buyers will always be playing catch-up with companies that concentrate on keeping established customers happy. “

Loyal is different than satisfied.

“Proprietary Gallup research shows that the key to wooing customers isn’t price or even product. It’s emotion.”

What’s better, Gallup explains its new 11-question metric of “customer engagement,” called CE11, including the actual questions and formulas involved. I highly recommend that you click the link, read it, print it, discuss it with your team and develop your own version to use.

Stats and surveys are great, but my own experience says that what makes learning easiest are stories from the trenches. In this case, stories of companies who are using spectacular customer service to retain what they have, as well as grab new market share.

Stories galore, along with cautionary tales, are offered up in Business Week’s cover story Customer Service in a Shrinking Economy that includes the top 25 companies in BW’s third annual customer service ranking.

“Top performers are treating their best customers better than ever, even if that means doing less to wow new ones. While cutting back-office expenses, they’re trying to preserve front-line jobs and investing in cheap technology to improve service.”

According to a study by The International Customer Management Institute, “eliminating just four reps in a call center of about three dozen agents can increase the number of customers put on hold for four minutes from zero to 80.”

That is a huge hit if the 80 include your most loyal customers.

Amazon took first place and I think Jeff Bezos’ comment on the difference between customer service and customer experience is well worth taking to heart.

“Customer experience includes having the lowest price, having the fastest delivery, having it reliable enough so that you don’t need to contact [anyone]. Then you save customer service for those truly unusual situations. You know, I got my book and it’s missing pages 47 through 58.”

When laying off, companies tend to do it bottom up and “bottom” frequently means customer service/customer support—which is just plain dumb.

Jeff Bezos understands that as do the CEOs of the other 24 companies on the BW list and thousands of small and medium companies across the country.

When you do sit down to analyze where to save remember two things

  • if you don’t keep your current customers really happy you won’t be around; and
  • if you decimate product development it won’t matter.

That said, perhaps it’s time for companies’ “across the board” cuts to include the senior staff. You can pay a multiple customer service/support people for the cost of one vice president.

Cross training at all levels should be standard and asking people to cover two jobs should apply to upper management and executives, too.

Image credit: sxc.hu

Wordless Wednesday: A Tisket A Tasket—I Found A Wall Street Basket

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Now check out Dodd’s Wall Street results

Image credit: sxc.hu

Wordless Wednesday: Dodd Action On Wall Street

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Now see what’s in Wall Street’s basket

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Image credit: flickr

Surfing the Economic Tsunami – Focus Your Business

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

You’re swamped with advice from a wide variety of experts, gurus and pundits on how to survive the downturn in 2009,

  • Increase spending on R & D. Now is the time to build your product portfolio for the upturn in 2010.
  • Increase your spending on marketing. Now is the time to build your brand.
  • Increase your investment in sales. Now you can steal market share from competitors.
  • Employees are your greatest asset. Nurture them.

Given that wonderful advice, don’t you feel foolish looking at a 25% revenue decline and corresponding expense reductions. Somehow the economic and business pundits still know best how to spend your money, in spite of their forecasts that just continue to get it wrong.

As the person in charge, you know that you have to reduce spending somewhere, somehow. So the question is not how to spend more money, but how to make spending cuts. One possibility:

Cut spending strategically.

Use Hard Choices to Sharpen Your Focus

In difficult times, where you cut spending may be the most important decision you make. The cuts demonstrate dramatically what you consider to be the most important priorities in your company. So, let’s back up one level. What are your company’s most important assets? If you had to preserve only one, single facet of your organization to restart your business in 2010, what would it be?

What is your company’s single most important asset?

Ultimately your revenues will tell you where you are today. What is the largest source of your current revenue? Is it a single product, a single sales person, a single customer, or even a single technology asset? What can you do to focus your company on that revenue source?

What is the single largest source of your revenues? AKA, what pays the bills?

Politely we can ask, what is the single largest source of your revenues? But in a small organization, you know the real question: What pays the bills? You have to look much deeper than the accounts receivable report. Consider:

Single Customer—If that revenue source is a single customer, then how can you protect and grow that relationship? Does it make sense to relocate your entire company next door to that customer?

Single Product—How can you extend that single product? This is the perfect moment to jettison the R&D project to explore another market. For you, now is the time to steal market share from other competitors. While they may lose focus, you can capture a few key customers.

Single Supplier—Maybe your single largest revenue source is anything from China. Your team speaks Chinese, both Mandarin and Cantonese dialects. When Wal-mart calls, you can find a Chinese manufacturer for anything Wal-mart wants to sell. Then shut down your initiative to build suppliers from other countries. Hire another Chinese speaker. Build on your successes with China.

Single Expertise—For instance, if you can trace your product dominance to a single technology, then your R & D team may truly be the best in that specific technology. In this market you can probably hire a few well-known experts to enhance your team. Cut your expenses elsewhere, say marketing. Build your technology team and send them out with your sales team to win a few key customers.

Single Person—Is your company really a corporate vehicle for a superstar? If so, why not focus on that person? How can you enhance that person’s reputation and value? A superstar often creates some jealousy, but this year just suck it up and build on the strength of the super star. Anyone who cannot support the star needs to find a new opportunity.

In summary, don’t cut vertically. Don’t cut horizontally; Cut whatever does not support your single greatest asset.

Get Off Your Butt

One last suggestion—just in case you haven’t done this already, get out of your office!

You need to be out in front of the parade, not kibitzing in the stands. What is your personal strength?  Get out of your comfortable desk chair. Go create some value—in the lab, in a customer’s office, or even in India.

Do what you do best and skip the rest.

You don’t have the luxury to be comfortable as Chief Executive. Get in the game. Rediscover yourself as Chief Inventor, Chief Salesman, Chief Mandarin Speaker, or even Chief Superstar.

And if you’re none of those things then do the one thing you’re sure of doing well.

Get out there and support your people, managers and employees, and move the company in ways that take the best advantage of their strengths.

To your success!
Richard Barrett

Ducks In A Row: Ultimatums Trash Culture

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

As you probably know there are hundreds of ways to mess up a culture and a lack of authenticity is one of the big ones.

There’s a lot about written about authenticity, but are you aware that one of the quickest ways to announce your lack of authenticity is to issue ultimatums?

Thousands of times a day, day after day, bosses in every industry, in companies both large and small, issue “or else” ultimatums, sometimes without even realizing it.

These threats aren’t always direct (Do it or start looking.), more often, they are subtle (“I expect employees who work here to be team players.”), but the threat is there: Do X if you want to keep your job.

Obviously, this is not only atrocious management, since

  • threats are tremendously debilitating to those receiving them, often costing them the confidence to do their job; but
  • the manger who uses threats loses the most—the credibility to run the organization.

Bad enough, but beyond the direct effect of the threats, there is a ripple effect that is far worse—the seeding of a self-propagating culture of intimidation—as with hazing people start thinking, “I’ll do it to you because the person above did it to me [and I want to get even].”

Ultimatums kill creativity, innovation, motivation, caring, ownership, in fact, everything it takes to create a culture that allows a company to successfully compete in today’s economy.

If intentional you need to look long and hard at your MAP and decide if that’s who are and how you want to be, then change—or not.

When not intentional, ultimatums are often the result of poor communications but they can be stopped—the choice is yours and yours alone.

If you do it you can change it.

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Image credit: flickr

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