Archives For Business

Trotlines

Steve —  3.16.2015 — Leave a comment

Trotlines

In my youth, I grew up near a fantastic lake and many a summer day was spent out on the water. Our family either owned or had access to a pontoon boat (called a party barge here in the South). It was our transportation to remote islands where we would camp out for a week; our ski-boat (very effective – no planing required); our swimming platform and our bass boat.

Fishing was the only form of “hunting” I was exposed to growing up. I learned how to fish for bass, brim, crappie – top-water, crank baits, spinner baits, plastic worms, live bait…you name it, we did it.

We also fished for catfish. One of the most effective methods of catching catfish is to use a trotline. We would find a “fishy” spot – not too deep, but deep enough to be below the thermocline where catfish liked to lounge.

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I’m a student and a problem solver. At times, these two qualities work together without me really knowing it. One example has to do with an understanding about Social Media and its effects on relationships and the depth of relationships at the workplace.

THE STUDENT PART
As someone who is engaged with social media on a daily basis, I’ve been taking stock of how those tools have been effecting my relationships with people – specifically two groups:

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I saw a post advertising an entire web portal to making sure diversity is achieved in business. I had to stop and think for a second. Is forced diversity really that beneficial? Don’t get me wrong, I think racial profiling in business is not only wrong, it is egregious.

As the head of a multi-racial family, I hope our culture advances beyond even noticing skin color, but for now, it seems, this is still something at the top of mind for some. But I have to wonder just how much headway is gained when you force a business to be diverse in it’s makeup.

From the businesses standpoint, there is extra cost in the form of compliance adherence and that can lead to resentment. For the hired, I wonder how it feels to be hired in large part because of your race and not solely on your ability to do the job better than anyone else. That’s got to produce some doubt and maybe some frustration as well.

Finally – this seems to keep the issue of race near the top of the list in our culture, which I think is counterproductive…but I’m a white male in my thirties…what do I know?

I’m more interested in what you know…am I way off base on this? I’m serious about learning something here.

Engage!

Steve —  8.24.2010 — Leave a comment

I know it’s been a while since my last post – to be quite honest, it’s been a very dry summer for me personally. I don’t quite know what contributed to that, but suffice it to say, it left me with very little to write about. The below post is something that I’ve been able to think about with others at my day job. It is something that organizations all over the world are trying to solve. Some are better (Google, Apple, etc.) than others, but they all want to improve. Maybe you can see how you can make a difference culturally where you are after reading this.

I love the term used by Star Trek captains to signal a jump to warp speed. ENGAGE! No matter how many times I see it (reruns of TNG are on KARZ at 10:00 CST locally), it makes me smile each and every time. I think it must be the fact that they are about to travel faster than light and as a Physicist, that’s pretty darn cool – theoretically impossible, but cool nonetheless.

This term is also used to describe how motivated employees are to perform at their very best day after day. Engagement levels are now something that organizations around the world actively measure and care about. It’s because they now realize that engagement is directly tied to the organization’s ability to achieve it’s performance goals. In my job as part of HR, this is something we spend a lot of time thinking about and it turns out it isn’t as easy to improve as one might think.

Almost across the board, the economic conditions of the past two years have been responsible for engagement levels dropping off. As people see their peers lose their jobs and are themselves forced to take pay cuts, motivation to give 100% wanes quickly. The obvious contributor is money – employers are trying to cut costs because there isn’t as much revenue and employees are then forced to make corresponding lifestyle changes that don’t feel good.

But I don’t think engagement levels can be solely tied to money. There has been a ton of research around why people stay at a job year after year and it turns out it has very little to do with their salary. It’s the other things that contribute to something called job satisfaction. Some are tangible and easy to grasp (great benefits or perks) and some not so much (personality mesh with a leader), but regardless of what it is, to ignore them will certainly invite disaster.

The cumulative summation of all of those non-financial contributors to job satisfaction can be summed up in one word – culture. It is the “feel” of a place that permeates each and every action, which can change over time to be more positive and productive to more negative and toxic. I don’t have time to go into all of the things that make up and go into an organization’s culture, but engagement levels is one metric that can help you understand whether you have a positive or a negative one and, if you track this over time, which direction you are headed.

To that end, I’ve put together a little diagram called the “3 C’s of Culture” – the basic ingredients that I believe every member of an organization needs and wants. Here it is:

Conversation | It is my contention that employees want to be part of a dialog and not the recipient of a list of orders. To give them a voice that speaks into not just how something is done, but why it is done can communicate worth, pride, trust and perhaps love. Having an open and safe place to voice your opinion and relate your story is key to building trust, which is one of the cornerstones of a great culture.

Contribution | There’s nothing worse that giving effort to a task that is meaningless. Human nature desires to accomplish something with our labor and in business, it better be tied to the bottom line. Making sure everyone knows how their job relates to success is absolutely critical in building a winning culture.

Compensation | As the old adage says, “An honest days labor deserves and honest days wage.” Today, we talk about the equity principle – making sure that we internally feel it is worth our effort for what we get in return. What we get in return includes salary, recognition, equipment, bonuses and other things that meet core needs we all have. A thriving culture will have programs and processes in place that allow for all of these to be awarded as well as leadership committed to making sure they get used.

Ratio | I drew this diagram in equal parts because I believe there is a balance between these ideas that must be maintained for a healthy culture to exist. For example, too much emphasis on conversation will lead to a place where everyone thinks it needs to be their way and yet, there is only one way it can be.

An over emphasis on contribution might mean that the housekeeping items could get less attention as the focus shifts to more bottom-line activities. Think the Cobbler’s shoes.

And I don’t think I’ve ever seen an 0ver-emphasis on compensation, but it might look like bankruptcy if it ever got there.

At any rate, this was just one way for me to put into a visual some of the big ideas that go into creating a positive culture that promotes higher engagement. It’s not perfect and there are other components. This issue’s complexity is directly proportional to the number of employees. Then add in an international component and you have yourself a whopper of a problem to solve.

Whether talking about a person or an organization, there exists a framework – intentional or not – that dictates how decisions are made and situations are handled. Greatness can be described as an intentional examination of this framework and rigid adherence to it. Great leaders know how to develop and use each part effectively.

Below is a graphical representation of that framework. The core is critically important as it provides the basis for all other parts. Integrity among the elements of the core will help to ensure that the Strategies and Tactics are unambiguous and clear results can be achieved.

Make it FitLast night I was invited to join a conversation about an idea for a product that has the potential to brighten the future of high school students EVERYWHERE. The niche this product will serve is completely devoid of any other solution, which makes it very exciting.

During our 2 1/2 hour conversation, I found myself using examples from some of the most innovative companies around to help add understanding to some marketing concepts. I thought it would be fun to get these thoughts down on “paper”  and let you take a whack at them.

DISCLAIMER: What I’m about to share in no way tells the entire story about either the company or the product/service in question. In the tech arena in particular, I know more than most about the “whole” story behind these situations, but for obvious reasons chose to pull out small bits and pieces to bring clarity to this particular conversation.

MICROSOFT
We started talking about how to package the different parts of this particular product – whether or not we should tailor the solution to specific audiences and pre-choose the options available. The thinking is that this helps show how all of the product brings value and there is very little irrelevant options, which would in turn increase the perceived value and allow you to customize pricing to fit the situation.

I thought about MS’ Office suite of products. For any given user, they probably use no more than 20% (generous) of the features of Word or Excel or PowerPoint. But if you look at all of the users that use the product, I bet the feature utilization is near 100%. Someone somewhere is using each and every feature in each of the products in Office and are not shy about asking for new features to be included in the next release.

THE POINT: Today’s users want to have both the choice and freedom to use the product according to how they operate. In other words, they want the product to fit them, not having to fit the product and deciding which options ahead of time is too limiting. Tailoring solutions to niche groups is a bad idea for another reason. It’s expensive. Think of the time and energy it takes to bundle, sell and maintain 20 product versions for 20 different user groups versus one large suite of products that get’s 20% utilization per customer, but 100% utilization across all customers.

APPLE (Yes – I’m an equal opportunity geek)
Yesterday’s release of the iPad was another stunning example of why Apple’s stock hasn’t taken a nosedive like everyone else’s. While the product lacks some very key elements, there is no denying the emotional draw to own one from the minute I laid eyes on it. After watching the promo video, I started to scheme about how to pay for it. About an hour later, I came to my senses and wondered how it would really make life better.

In the part of our discussion about what stage of the game to reveal your product, I was reminded of just how polished everything Apple seems to be at launch. They work out the kinks, test the user interfaces and even design packaging BEFORE we ever see it. I’m sure they have a secret society of product testers, but the rumor mill is always buzzing and nobody ever actually knows enough details until Apple wants them to.

There is a healthy amount of paranoia that Apple has learned to integrate into their product development cycle. By being the king of the hill (by most accounts) on product design, the world is ready and waiting to knock Apple off their perch. Apple doesn’t give them much of a chance to get to market with a competitive product because nobody knows what to fight against.

THE POINT: If you believe you have a great product that is unique in the marketplace, don’t show your cards too soon. Gather feedback and do proper product testing and market research, but be smart about it. Underpromise and overdeliver. Tout your strengths and don’t apologize for what’s missing.

ADOBE
At one point, the conversation came around to how to acquire customers – how do you get your foot in the door to a group of people that don’t even know they necessarily need your product? Adobe instantly came to mind. In my opinion, they are the most innovative company out there because they build the tools that everyone else uses to build theirs.

I had a chance to attend their annual geek conference called MAX one year and I was blown away with their vision for the future of their role in the way people communicate, relate and conduct business going forward. They are a crucial key player in making our dreams become a reality with decreasing complexity, time and effort.

And they know it. If you look at the price point of their software, you quickly understand that a serious intent on playing is required to get in the game. They are a premium software company with a premium price. And yet, they offer fully-functional, 30-day trial versions of almost all of their products.

On first glance, that seems risky – what happens if their security measures are hacked and people are able to use their goodies for free? Sure, there are laws that supposedly protect Adobe from that type of behavior, but an examination of any BitTorrent site will tell you nobody’s really worried about Johnny Law knocking on their door.

If you look at it again, it’s brilliant. It’s actually the oldest selling trick in the book. Give them a taste to whet their appetite and for those that can’t live without it, they pony up the big bucks. And once Adobe has them, they do their best to keep them by offering discounts on upgrades to existing customers, software assurance that makes upgrades cost nothing and a vibrant user community that is always doing something very cool.

THE POINT: Whether you are an established market leader or a newbie wanting to gain market share, giving potential customers a way to play with your product with very little risk goes a long way to converting them into paying customers.

DELL
When putting together a product, you obviously need to consider the different components and how they fit together and then how each of the components adds value to the whole. When thinking about how to price the idea last night, I thought about the innovation that Michael Dell brought to the personal computer market back in the day.

At the time, there were really two ways to buy a computer. Either go to a big box store and pull one off the shelf or build it yourself. The former lacked customization and the latter was incredibly complex (at the time). Mr. Dell saw an opportunity and his brainchild completely revolutionized the way we buy computers. First, he didn’t make his product available at retail outlets – online only. Second, he gave the consumer the ability to “build” the perfect computer via Dell’s website without the need for a degree in Computer Science.

Needless to say, it was an instant success. Dell’s influence in the personal (and eventual business) computer marketplace can be seen in every computer manufacturer still alive today – even Apple. People want the ability to customize their purchase to get the biggest bang for their buck and ensure that their purchase meets their individual needs. Dell gave them that ability and now it is a perceived “right” all computer buyers believe they have.

Michael Dell didn’t reinvent the personal computer, just the way people bought them. He gave them choice at an individual component level. Wow!

Big retail stores still sell plenty of pre-built computers because there are plenty of people that just want a computer for Internet access, e-mail and the occasional greeting card. And today, you see Dell computers right there beside the others.

THE POINT: Developing a product delivery plan that is flexible enough to allow savvy users to get exactly what they want is worth the time and energy required to set up the associated flexible pricing plans that go along with it. Having a base product that people can walk up and buy and walk out is very important as some of your customers won’t care enough or have the experience to know what is best. For the rest, customization is what can differentiate you in a way that is completely separate from what problem your product addresses.

SUMMARY
Great ideas need great marketing to thrive. Great marketing needs experience and creativity to be effective. Getting “it” right isn’t easy and you’ll know you’ve been successful when you have made it look easy. Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and Dell have all shaped our lives over and over again and innovation, hard work and perseverance are all hallmarks to their success and legacy.

Learn from the best because you will have plenty of your own challenges to overcome. I like Thomas Edison’s approach to invention:

“I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others… I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent….”

Consider the impact to the world before the impact to yourself and the latter will take care of itself.

Thoughts???