Monday, December 15, 2008

"Trouble Don't Last Always": Mother Wit for Tough Marketing Times

Erik Deckers over on Twitter shared this link with me earlier today. Here's a taste of the article (a quick and good read):

Good news for marketing agencies, printers, and direct mail companies from B2B Marketing magazine. According to their “exclusive” survey, only 25% of all business-to-business marketers are going to cut their budget. But nearly one-third of them are actually increasing their marketing budget, while another 44% are leaving them intact. That’s good news for anyone in TV and radio advertising, digital marketing/advertising, and, of course, direct mail.

As I’ve been speaking to other marketing professionals around Indianapolis, they’ve all been saying the same thing: marketing spending is staying flat or increasing.

Increasing? In a down economy? Absolutely.

That may seem counterintuitive to some, especially the bean counters, but spending more on marketing now is smart. That’s because the 25% of marketers cutting their spending are your competitors. They’re hiding with their heads in the sand, which means their message isn’t reaching customers, which means customers aren’t buying, which means income is shrinking, so they bury their heads a little further. (Read on)

Here's what I offered as a comment:

Right on! I'd also add R&D and strategic planning. Here's why.

My Great Grandmomma was a woman from the American South who came North to escape the oppression of Jim Crow and find economic opportunity. Not educated past the 6th grade, she was filled with what the old folks used to call "Mother Wit," a kind of smarts that can't be taught in school. Momma Lena would look at the times we're now living in and remind me that "Trouble don't last always." She'd tell me to do everything I could to get ready for my blessing, adding "be ready to be found." That last bit was in her attempt to get me married off (Momma Lena, my Hubs is a marvel and I'm sorry you never got to meet).

Now, my spiritual path is one that this church-going lady would scratch her noggin hard over (I call myself a BaptiBuddhist Yogini), but her message keeps ringing in my head as I talk with fearful clients.

But, I digress: This won't last.

If we continue to freeze our spending completely, when the clouds pass, we'll be left in the those companies that invested in (wait for it...wait for it...) marketing, R&D and strategic planning.

We see examples of firms that invested deeply even when they didn't have the sales figures to back up that investment.

A few years ago, when Apple's sales were sluggish and their customers spoke hushed tones about the Apple gospel of "not a PC," they invested--mightily. They learned more about themselves, their customers and the market. They created new products there weren't even names (or desires) for yet. They studied trends and created a few of their own. They created knowledge centers and centers of learning for customers and employees. They crafted their message. They created communities and systems in which those communities could interact. They cemented their brand. They became evangelists.

Apple and many other companies have succeeded by not giving in to scarcity and fear, but this says more about their strong, adaptable culture than, perhaps, anything else. That company's marketing systems are built to flex. Having gone up against the Microsoft Machine since their inception, they're accustomed to being the underdog with far less in cash reserves than their Redmond-based cousin.

That means that they had to get smart in whole new ways. Having proven that they could build a brand, largely, by word of mouth, they used their Mother Wit to design marketing systems that grabbed the attention of their customers--both those present customers and those who would have never thought to buy anything from Apple. We all know people who own PC's and iPods or iPhones, or shop at the iTunes Music Store.

I do think, however, that spending the same money on the same things is a no-go. The markets are fluid, malleable things. During this downturn, companies can--and should--be taking a close look at their knowledge systems (training, R&D, etc.) for ways to beef-up knowledge sharing and folding new learnings into development. Companies can also be looking (as they should have been along) at who their customers are, what they want, how they want to get it and how they want to be interacted with.

In short, this downturn is a "teachable moment," speaking volumes about continuous improvement in marketing, communication, product design, planning and execution--all the systems that make up a company.

The statement in the post about nonprofits and not cutting marketing or mailings is pretty brilliant. The recent presidential campaign is a testament to the power of marketing and of the creation of new, flexible systems for communication of messages to customers (in the political sense, voters). These nonprofits (Obama, Clinton, McCain, Romney, etc. for President) told us quite a bit about scalable messages and scalable marketing systems. And let's not forget, while the Obama campaign was raising money by the semi-load in its last month, we had already been in a recession for the better part of a year!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Relationship 2.0

Web 2.0: The Architecture of Interaction
Web 2.0. It's a term we all know because, in fact, its existed along with the earliest elements of the World Wide Web, and includes social networking, co-creativity, collaboration and sharing. That means that social networking sites, wikis, blogs and other syndicated content were foretold in the creation of the Web.

Like Eric Schmidt famously said: "Don't fight the internet." Instead, he suggested using the power of the web as a platform for business and social interactions--an "architecture of interaction." That challenged me to use my website as more than just a web-based business brochure. And I've still got more north to go.

Relationship 1.0: Gaming the System
I love every single bit of electronic social networking with one caveat: I'm not sure if I'm all that interested in Web 2.0 if all we do is bring Relationship 1.0 to the party.

We all know the elements of Relationship 1.0. You can find them at every "networking event," for example, with people in a death match where the object is to (1) sell something to someone rather than connect, (2) figure out what can be gained rather than given and (3) promote a homunculus of oneself and never the authentic you. Extra points for having taken a class on smiling and handshakes (don't laugh, because they're out there). Then, dash home to add all those names to your newsletter mailing list and send out all of those "special offers" to buy your merchandise. If they didn't want you to send them endless stuff, they wouldn't have given you their digits. Right? Not according to the CAN SPAM Act (which arose because of internet abuses).

Trouble is: no one who goes to networking events goes looking to become your next customer. They went hoping you'd become their next customers. Trust me. I get to do my fair share of public speaking: I've asked.

Learn About You? I'd Have to Care
Twitter automation through services like Tweet Later are compounding the problem. Designed to help people manage their welcome and other tweets, these services are leading to some curious situations. For example, I routinely get welcome messages from other coaches asking me to join a teleclass or webinar or sign up for a free coaching session. I've been coaching for almost 18 years. Clearly they haven't read my bio. Now, I understand that having large numbers of followers, it can be tough to read the bios of every new follower, crafting a welcome message to each. And truth telling here: I use an automated welcome message service (I get sometimes 30 new followers a day and want to thank them for following). What i have found that works, is to click back through recent additions and sending a response to one of their more meaty tweets to let them know I'm listening. Also, I read profiles before I re-tweeet (forward a tweet) or reply the first time--just for context.

Follow Me, Follow You
There's quite a bit of strange controversy surrounding whether it is noblier in the web to follow people who follow you. Twitter notables like Guy Kawasaki suggest you're a lose if you don't. But that would mean, in Web 1.0 terms, that you would have been obliged to put everyone on a newsletter mailing list who put you on one. If Twitter users had to pay for the followers by level, there would be less of that nonsense going on. Like the book says, (they) just might not be into you. But that doesn't mean you can't be into them.

Relationship 2.0, then, is about the birds in the bush and not those in the hand--about connecting people to our connections. About paying the richness of our lives and relationships forward.

Think about it when you get (or give) that next self-serving tweet about that next business offer.

An Open Letter to Obama on Small Biz

Just sent off a happy gram to the good people at about small business. Here's what I said:

Small business is the engine that drives the economy, but the government has had little real focus on small business development in years. Multiple heads of the SBA in the Bush Administration, little in terms of money and talent. Little commitment. Now, we see the erosion of small business and the very agency tasked to support business growth is struggling for its own survival.

If the SBA was a small business, they'd be having their own fire sale.

Here's my coaching for you: Transform the Small Business Administration and appoint a new Director--fast!

SBA Scope
The scope of the SBA is too broad to help all of the very diverse business needs: non-employee microenterprise small businesses (0 employees), microenterprise small busineese (1-10 staffers), small-small businesses (10 - 50 or 75), small companies (75 - 250 employees) and larger small businesses (250 - 500 people).

Right now, with very little resources and scant support, they are tasked with job creation. There's little time, energy or resources for anything else.


Divide up the SBA into business support segments (as described above). Given the fact that there has been shrinkage among non-microenterprise small businesses (something like 12% over the past half dozen years and dramatic growth among microenterprise (especially non-employee micro-e businesses), where are some inescapable facts: we can't afford for these businesses to fail (and add more job seekers to the tightening job market) and these businesses fill an important role in America.

Create an office of microenterprise small business soon, lest these businesses disappear.

While I am sympathetic to the plight of new businesses, I am also cognizant of the fact that with its reliance on SCORE rather than existing consultancies, the federal government has set itself up to compete with some of the very small businesses they are there to support.

Further, the SBA is training business leaders that the services of consultants should be cheap or free. They never learn that as their businesses grow, their needs for more advanced business consulting and support services grows as well.

Finally, I find it shocking that the SBA does not offer specific HR services and consulting to the businesses they support. With all eyes on the meltdown over executive compensation, union wages and other weighty human resources matters, I can't help but wonder whether the SBA is enabling the next generation of businesses to overpay execs, exploit workers, and hobble themselves with comp and benefits decisions they should (1) never have made and (2) would have made differently with specific counsel.

Thanks for listening.
Lalita Amos, MRHM
Total Team Solutions, LLC

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What the Hairy Heck?

I was still chewing on this blog post over a week after I first read it, so I thought I'd chew it over with you. In it, the author described the travails of a consultant who'd had his gig pulled right after he'd made the cross country move.

Michael Moses landed a job as a human-resources consultant in Chicago straight out of college. He moved to the Windy City from New York, signed an apartment lease and was ready to work. But then he got a call that more job hunters have been dreading—the company could no longer afford to hire him. ‘I was ready to go, and they just pulled the carpet out from under my feet,’ says Mr. Moses, who is 22 years old.
What bothered me about Mr. Moses' account of losing a job he actually started was the job he was being hired for. And while he doesn't mention what his degree was in, it stands to reason that at 22, it wasn't a Masters of Phd and that he didn't have the depth of experience most people think of when they think: consultant.


Hiring managers have to do a better job of considering talent. "Growing people" in a position seems like a smart idea, except when I consider that most companies are trying to get cheaper employees, hoping that they'll get the experience they need quickly. Besides, these workers, as Mr. Moses can attest to, are easily shed.

Our current job market shows a lot of daylight in this strategy.

Monday, December 01, 2008

OK, now this was a little bit of a brain burner even for me (and we all know how much I like my noggin scorched). I asked the Hubs out of a cheap Sunday night date--books, computers, Kindle and coffee. So, I'm a cheap date. I already knew that.

Anyway, the Starbucks was the now usual dichotomy--great service in a dirty store (with the nastiest stains on the upholstery). While there, I noticed that the 10 by 10 foot area rug in the center of the seating area  wasn't very securely tacked down along one edge. I noticed it--not because I was trying to strike up a conversation with it. I tripped over it. Every single time I walked to the counter or the restroom (I did say I was drinking java, didn't I?). I felt like less of a busted ballerina when I saw a cop trip over it on his way out the door.

Um, oops!

So, before I left, I thought I'd bring it to the attention of the shop keepers. Here's how that conversation went:

Me: Excuse me. I wanted to let you know that the carpet isn't secure on that one side (pointing) and that I and one of the cops had tripped over it.

He: Yeah, I know.

Me: I saw that you'd used some other kind of tape on it. A little double sided carpet tape would take care of it.

He: You saw we'd tried to fix it already (smiling tiredly--end of shift). We were going to get some electrical tape (!) but the store'd already closed.

Me: Electrical tape?

He: We can only buy from certain stores. Our DM said if the electrical tape doesn't work, for us to get what we needed from another place.

Me: Um, OK. Night.

Now, can you guess where my tiny mind went? A 2" by 36' roll of carpet tape costs about 10 bucks (I checked). Three trips to and from the store looking for electrical and every other kind of tape costs more than that in gas alone (let alone time away from the store on the clock). In addition, the store runs the risk of lawsuit if someone tripped, carrying a steaming cup of joe or a big cuppa tea, and splashed themselves (yipes!), someone else (crap!) or a little someone else--like one of the many Christmas-togged tykes getting hot chocolate with grandma (gonna roast in hell).

By looking to fulfill the letter of the store's purchasing agreement, it failed to meet another important standard: the standard of care with respect of customer and employee safety.

I find this kind of siloed thinking quite a bit in my practice with executives drilling the rules into the heads of their direct reports such that they miss opportunities for innovation, avenues to clear roadblocks and in this instance, chances to remedy safety concerns before an injury occurs.

It's the bane of the business world--the inability to get ahead of problems or opportunties before they run their predictable and almost certain course then reacting to events to mitigate the damage.

The Faith Friendly Workplace

I used to work for the world's largest producer of Bibles. Curiously, they're the same company that produced that Madonna Sex book book a few years back. There was a pervasive atmosphere of religiosity. But what there wasn't was tolerance (got to find a better word than this) for other faiths or faith traditions. Like the sometimes maligned Chick Fil-A which routinely probes applicants on their family status and religious beliefs and practices but has come under fire for limiting opportunities for those in the "wrong faiths" (like Catholicism or Judaism), companies which provide space for religious expression (as opposed to religious accommodation like foot washes for Muslim adherents) are being watched for signs that they have an express preference for some expression over another.

This article from Workforce has some great tips for a faith friendly workplace like this from GM "If you want your faith group to be in Ford’s Interfaith Alliance, you’ve got to support the ability of other groups to meet." Read on.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

'If You Didn't Want My Newsletter, Why'd You Give Me Your Biz Card?"


As I mentioned in my tweets, I was a speaker on a panel at Purdue. Wonderful program that connected minority and women-owned businesses with purchasing managers from Central and West-Central Indiana. Sure enough, after having dozens of business cards pressed into my hands (and passing out my share to people I'd like to stay in contact with), it's started: The unsolicited subscriptions to email newsletters.

In the old economy (pre-AOL/Compuserve/Netscape of the early 1990's), it wasn't inconceivable to get a paper and ink newsletter when someone got your business card. Back then in the pre-Can SPAM Act days, all one had to get was an address (which they could find in the phone book) and they were off to the races. Now, Can SPAM Act or no, people assume that if you give up that email address, you're asking--begging--to be added to their email list. Better yet, the really industrious ones think that selling their email mailing lists is what Martha Stewart would call "a good thing."

It isn't. If I get one of these, I get 10 and they don't just magically disappear by force of will.

I've maintained that networking (more aptly discussed as "prospecting with people who are uninterested in buying") as we've come to know it is such a bad idea. I routinely remove myself from those mailing lists...and toss the card of the offending biz person.

Better would be to ask how the person who gave out the card wants to be interacted with and then writing that on the back of the card. The chances of deepeming a relationshipo through relationship-appropriate communication is enhanced.

'If You Didn't Want My Newsletter, Why'd You Give Me Your Biz Card?"

Glad you asked. I thought you could keep it on file in case you met someone who could benefit from my services (or your associates, mine), that we could consider getting together to learn more about each others' businesses, that we might get together for tea to strategize ways in which we could both win (like a joint venture or other collaborative opportunity), that you might be interested in the free items on my website, that you might want to listen to my podcast and possibly appear on one, that you might use the biz card as a book mark...

Being added to your SPAM list was the last thing on my mind.

(See? That wasn't too bad, was it?)

Monday, November 24, 2008

My Kindle Mentor--Found!

Now, before any of you smart alecs go off mumbling that I've got a Kindle habit, let me be the first to say it: Hi. My name's Lalita and I'm a Kind-a-holic. Garland's found me slumped on the couch in front of the fireplace, glasses askew, clutching my reader like a just-returned foundling.

It's a cautionary tale.

Though, I will say that I've met some very interesting people hereabouts. Kindle owners, all. Today, it was Patrick, the man who started my Kindle crush. Like any self-respecting crack dealer, he let me have a free taste. He handed his Kindle over to me--a stranger--at SBX and let me play with it for the better part of an hour while he checked his email. Seeing him today, we was beaming when he saw me walking back to my table with my Kindle, which I've named (in the Amazon system), Gizmo (food and water--bad!).

He was with two friends, non-believers, to be sure, and leaned into me to tell me about all of the Kindle loot he'd gotten and still coveted. When he got to the subject of Kindle covers (he's got 3 or 4), he remarked to me, a fellow conspirator, that he "could see how women can get that way about purses.

And the bridges of understanding get stronger.

Friends have asked me to post a little about what I'm reading on my Kindle. Here's the short list: 


...and there was peace on Earth.

Monday Morning Melodies

I'm hanging at SBX, getting some writing done while I wait for the afternoon meetings to commence. It's a glorious day--misty and fit for fireplaces, chili and pots of tea (can you tell I'm feeling a little peckish). Keeping me company--my trusty Sirius radio. Listening to Alex Bennett (Sirius Left) and an otherworldly discussion on the merits of Michelle Obama's badonka donk, they redeemed themselves by playing some acoustic Amy Winehouse.

In spite of--or sadly, because of--her much-storied personal struggles, she still ranks up there as one of the singular talents of her day. My fear is that, like Billy Holiday, she'll be gone too soon. Still, when I listen to her sing, I think about my mother, who, though still at the beginnings of her life as a woman, loved Billy's ageless voice. Here's a sample:

Beneath their personal dramas that played/are playing out in the tabloids, these women suggest a vital link to my business life: Each in her own way, they crafted their own, singular sound...and sang it. Looking forward to next year and the current climate of fear and scarcity that abounds, I'm struck by the opportunity to, like them, further explore my singular sound--really find it--and sing it to those people whose ears are attuned to listen.

The work of working and living "Like Nobody's Business" isn't as easy as it might seem.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

How Obama tapped into social networks’ power

Like a lot of Web innovators, the Obama campaign did not invent
anything completely new. Instead, by bolting together social networking
applications under the banner of a movement, they created an unforeseen
force to raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns and get
out the vote that helped them topple the Clinton machine and then John McCain and the Republicans.

a result, when he arrives at 1600 Pennsylvania, Mr. Obama will have not
just a political base, but a database, millions of names of supporters
who can be engaged almost instantly. And there’s every reason to
believe that he will use the network not just to campaign, but to
govern. ...

Monday, November 17, 2008

First the Smokes and Now His Blackberry: Obama to Go Cold Turkey

I shifted to a smart-enough phone from my Kyocera Palm-based smart phone a year or two ago and almost experienced projectile vomiting, shuddering and sweating--and that was just in walking into my local Wireless Toyz store to talk with them about the possibility of a switch.

President-Elect Obama, for security and other reasons, will more than likely need to let the Blackberry go. I wish him luck.. Oh, and a mop and bucket.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Miriam Makeba, Mama Afrika (a tribute)

I was very small when I first heard Miriam Makeba. I'd come downstairs early one morning to see my mother putting on some music to jam to while cooking, cleaning and doing laundry. Momma danced through the house all day and when I asked her what the songs meant, she said she'd gotten the records from Sophia, a South African student who was studying at Purdue, just across the river. We'd ask her next time we saw her.

Sophia was like nothing and no one I'd ever seen--she was tall (or so she seemed to me at 8), mahogany, had a melodious accent, wore thread and beads in her long hair and was a refugee. Since the 1960's the South African government had been rescinding the visas of traveling students and others. Effectively, she and the others in her little contingent, were exiles.

Sophia brought us Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba. Momma brought Sophia Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis. What an exchange.

Our little house in that newly-integrated neighborhood (that would be us) was filled with people, music and foods from around the world.

Though it was that day I spent with Sophie--she was teaching Momma how to do my hair South-African style (in little semi-rural Lafayette, Indiana!) that I found out what Ms. Makeba was singing about. Her songs were about rural life there. They were about the evils of apartheid. They were about a deep love of Africa...about Zulu life. Sophia would say "here, she's saying 'Momma hurry. Don't let the Afrikaner police catch you!'' and "here she's singing a wedding song. Can you say the letter ! (the symbol for the click)." And my mother would pass her more beads and thread.

Ms. Makeba has suffered greatly before and during her exile. Before leaving South Africa, she and her band mates had been in a terrible accident with another car. The emergency medical personnel only helped the whites. Ms. Makeba's Black South African friends were left to die on the side of the road.

Human road kill.

Years later, she would return to South Africa a heroine. Nelson Mandela persuaded her to return after his release. He wrote this, in part, of her passing.

Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation which she felt for 31 long years.

At the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us. (read the rest)

So, when I heard that Ms. Makeba died on Monday while singing in Italy, I pushed back my desk chair and listened quietly to the retrospective on her life. And remembered...dancing through Momma's kitchen, singing songs a far away woman had taught me to sing, with beads clicking in my hair.

Kindle Tweets

...and no, I'm not talking about stale Halloween candy.

But here's a nifty new Kindle trick: Tweeting. I've figured out how to post tweets using my Amazon Kindle (which is relieving the premature curvature of my spine for all the biz books, magazines and HR, OD and brain/behavior journals I was lugging around like a Sherpa). Using the experimental functions, I created a bookmark for twitter and sign in. Then, I just posted as usual.

Circuit City Short-Circuits

As many of you know, I love technology--the smaller the better. Oh, and pens (mmm, pens...), but I digress. So it should come as no surprise that some of my early dates with Garland, my fabu-hubs, were to Best Buy, Comp USA, Office Depot and the like.

Better than dinner and the movies. Yeah, Garland got off cheap.

So, I hate it when a tech retailer struggles. I also hate it when that bad feeling I have about a business turns out to be right. Circuit City, never a personal fave (and, people get this: I'm pretty catholic in my tech retail tastes...just give me stuff to covet) announced last Wednesday that “it will immediately close and liquidate 155 stores and lay off thousands of employees as it struggles to survive an increasingly dreary holiday shopping season” (read the rest of the WSJ story here).

Circuit City, the nations second-largest electronics retailer assured investors that it won't be closing, but that it “planned to reduce about 17 percent of its domestic work force, and slash operating, payroll and marketing expenses. Circuit City currently operates 721 stores and outlets in the U.S. as well as 770 mostly smaller locations in Canada, and employs roughly 55,000 workers including holiday help.”

I'll say it: Yipes! CC’s PR plate twirlers have got their work cut out for themselves in spinning this as one of those Martha Stewart "good things" in advance of the lucrative holiday shopping season. Second thought, with K-Mart ramping up a "buy lay-away" campaign (Lay-away is something I remember from my childhood...when we were poor) and Wal-Mart expecting banner sales, they may have seen the writing on the wall in choosing to weigh anchor and run.

In a (begin snark) brilliant move (end snark) to cut costs, CEO Philip J. Schoonover, thinking that floor sales in his company was something a trained chimp could do, decided to cut jobs--starting with his most senior, most experienced (read: most expensive) workers, leaving the stores to be operated by demoralized, dispirited, underpaid workers who were waiting for the next axe to fall (they didn't have to wait all that long).

Dumb. No, shortsighted and dumb.

The market's immediate response to the 3,400 employee restructuring? Customer defections due to poor customer service (that was me) with falling earnings for dessert. Here's my question: while Schoonover was making HR policy willy-nilly, where the sweet hell was his Chief HR Officer? This from the Circuit City website:

Mr. Jonas joined the company in 1998 as director of associate relations. He was promoted to assistant vice president of corporate human resources services in 2000, was elected vice president in 2003 and was elected senior vice president in 2004. Prior to joining the company, he was employed by Toys "R" Us, a worldwide retailer of toys, baby products and children's apparel, from 1985 until 1998, including serving in the position of director of human resources for the Babies "R" Us division from 1996 to 1998.

Seems like a skilled enough kind of guy, but what in the name of the Great Pumpkin would have had Schoonover make such a sweeping HR decision, seemingly, without consultation with (and, well, the cooperation of) his top HR pick. This seems to be the issue.

After the early successes of Jack Welch at GE with his Pareto Principle-based rank and yank mandate (the top 10% get raises, the bottom 20% get pink slips and the 70% in the middle get a continued paycheck), CEO's who had never spend so much as a week in the HR trenches began making sweeping HR decisions--decisions based on corporate earnings and not based on human capital management (got to find another term for that). Curiously, no one said a word when, at GE, the people in the middle began leaving in droves taking their knowledge assets with them, worried that the bottom of the barrel was rising fast, and the remaining staffers, fearful of collaborations with team members who could supplant then, began hoarding information and sabotaging one another. Morale is strangely low there and it’s only the high prestige and perks that keep people in the saddle.

HR leaders like the strangely silent Mr. Jonas could do well to smack their Chief Execs on the side of the noggin, yelling "wake up, stupid!" until they get their attention. Then they should point to the business plan and demand how the hairy hell the company is expected to reach those heights when CEO expectations for the HR function are so low. But, aw shucks, you can't be a champion of solid, far-reaching, business-focused people strategy if you're cravenly trying to protect your job.

Here's a home truth: Business plan minus well-trained, confident contributors equals an interesting idea. CEO’s with said interesting ideas should be shortlisted for re-deployment… maybe on the shop floor at Circuit City.

But, I have to say that we, in the HR field, have done this to ourselves. We’ve settled for MBA programs that don’t teach the value of a solid HR function (which includes guardianship, visionary, strategic, operational and tactical elements–not just the tactical), MRHM programs that don’t teach future leaders to scrap for a seat at the table (and one where they aren’t taking notes or arranging the coffee service) and a professional organization, SHRM, that is more worried about building its brand and stuffing its membership coffers than in building the profession in the minds of CEO’s and HR leaders alike.

But, sadly, what’s predictable and almost certain is that around the corner will come another CEO with his six shooter (ammunition: cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut) backed by a simple minded CHRO who will cower to keep his gig.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Great Quote...

In these times of economic uncertainty, this timeless quote from Architect Frank Lloyd Wright is quite timely....

From my Real Simple Quotes newsletter

Daily Thoughtbegin quoteI know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.end quote

-Frank Lloyd Wright

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Graduation Swag: My Shiny, New Kindle is Siphoning Money Outta My Wallet!

In a small torrent of graduation swag, I was recently gifted by my family with a Kindle. Glorious! I just checked my poliblog for new action-lots-and have been busy on the Kindle portal lining up books to buy. Now, I could lie and say I was checking out the newest tome on brain behavior or human habits and thinking, but I'm getting the next Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter installment.

Life is completely grand!

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Need a Different Secretary...

OK. I'm officially back from vaycay. Here's my unofficial secretary editing my most-recent document. It's not the poor typing skills I worry about (her last document was 27 pages of the letter "A" -- it's the attitude problem I find worrisome.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Productivity 2.0 from Zen Habits

Productivity 2.0: How the New Rules of Work Are Changing the Game | Zen Habits
For years, books and articles and blogs on productivity have been showing us how to be more productive: crank out the tasks, multi-task, work faster, be organized.

In short, they’ve taught us to be a good part of a corporation that wants more out of us. But that’s old-school productivity, or Productivity 1.0.

Today let’s take a look at Productivity 2.0: a new set of rules have changed everything for the workers of the world. Don’t crank out tasks — learn to work with a deeper focus. Don’t plan and hold meetings and form committees — just launch the software or product or service and keep improving it. Don’t spend time organizing — you’ve got more important things to worry about.

The Economy: A MadLib

  1. fine.
  2. a nightmarish disgrace.
  3. freakishly good.
  4. magically delicious.
People aren't poorer, they just ___________________ (enter your selection here)
  1. like eating mac and cheese from the box.
  2. were going to downsize their house to a small walk-up apartment anyway.
  3. are giving people--giving blood, that is.
  4. enjoy watching channels 4, 6, 8 and 13 only.
  5. wanted more family time
  6. were looking for leisure time to read books...from the library...after having taken the bus to get there.
Besides, we aren't in a recession. This is better termed a ___________________ (enter your selection here)
  1. time-out for profitability.
  2. stock earnings hiatus.
  3. return to Green Stamps and the Dollar Store.
Credit isn't tight. It's ___________________ (enter your selection here)
  1. being carefully rationed.
  2. a valued token of appreciation for people who can jump on one foot, fill out credit apps, and boil water for Ramen noodles at the same time.
  3. been rendered invisible and clicking your heels and repeating "The economy is sound" will reveal it.
  4. the grand prize for the winner of "Flavor of Love."
See? Isn't that better?

Cross-posted at the American Values Alliance

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Brand Analysis for Presidents

A very good article from AdAge on analyzing audience engagement and loyalty metrics for the presidential campaign.

Just like brands and media, engagement and loyalty metrics can be used to measure presidential candidates. The technique is more accurate than traditional polling because it measures what voters think -- as opposed to what they say they think. Our research shows that there are four drivers that define the "Ideal President" and they are:

Action: Does the candidate have a comprehensive, realistic, well-considered plan for solving the problems facing the country?

Compassion: Does the candidate care about all the people? (A nod and a note to one of our alert readers: Attributes and values approximating liking, bonding to and seeing the candidate as being "someone like me" and "for me" resides in this driver along with concern for people.)

Perception: Does the candidate have a deep understanding of the problems facing the county?

Resolve: Does the candidate have the strength and leadership to guide the country?

the rest is here...

Passikoff: Obama Wins Second Debate 116 to 110 - Advertising Age - Campaign Trail

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The mistake many web "designers" still make.

Making it look pretty for the sake of the current trend or style at the expense of not communicating the clients brand or not being usable at all.

Web Design: On Essence | 8164
“It looks pretty, but I’m not sure if our audience would feel it’s who we are.”

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Design Is More Than Packaging - The New York Times

One of the hardest things to convince clients of is that design is more
than just the pretty skin that is draped over a solution at the end to
make it look pretty. It is more than make-up or aesthetics. Design for
me, is a modus operandi, it is an attitude to problem solving that not
just compliments the scientific approach but it also
fuels the process. "Making it pretty" is not design, never was, never
will be.
It's merely putting lipstick on a pig. Making it pretty is the
polar opposite to design thinking.

The first place I learnt design thinking was at the Caribbean School of Architecture. That way of thought is the most valuable skill I have in my lil' arsenal.

not Photoshop,

not Illustrator,

not Indesign or any other program that I know how to use.

The critical thought required to creatively solve a problem or to
deliver new ideas takes a whole lot more than pushing pixels. Disecting
a brief, distilling the elements and desiging an appropriate response
begins long before I fire up my tool of choice on the computer. The NY
Times article makes excellent points on the design thinking approach and
it's place in the workplace. Good to see that this is finally, truly,
hitting the main stream media.

Unboxed - Design Is More Than Packaging -
“Design thinking is inherently about creating new choices, about divergence,” says Tim Brown, the chief executive and president of the design consulting firm IDEO, based in Palo Alto, Calif. “Most business processes are about making choices from a set of existing alternatives. Clearly, if all your competition is doing the same, then differentiation is tough. In order to innovate, we have to have new alternatives and new solutions to problems, and that is what design can do.”

Friday, September 26, 2008

Unions Want Congressional Pension Protections

The financial bailout of the financial markets, a Hail Mary play to be sure, may cost US taxpayers in excess of $700 billion. That's about $2,500 McDonald's apple pies per American as one late night funster commented. It's also about 220 Rolexes or 175 Prada bags (I need to go shopping).

Already organized labor is positioning itself. Instead of wanting a piece of the $700 billion pie, it wants Congress to add money to the pot to protect employee pensions.

Jimmy Hoffa, Jr's Teamsters Union, which boasts over 200,000 retirees, fired off a missive to Congress this week asking for money to bail out union pension funds which were negatively impacted by losses in the investments that backed those pension funds. If one considers that most pension funds for large-scale employers rake in about 7% from their investments, the fact that these funds have been getting spanked in the markets is a terrifying thought to retirees, let alone active employees. What the Teamsters and other union want is for the government to skip the penalties they would normally impose on employers whose pension fund management decisions preclude their pensions from paying out as promised. Instead, they ask the Feds to give thees employers extra time to make up the shortfall cause by their tanked investments.

Teamsters and other unions also support limits on executive pay. But that's another post.

Friday, September 19, 2008

There's nothing there

John Gruber writes the most insightful piece on Microsoft's new campaign, but most specifically what has been, and I agree, a fatal misstep.

Daring Fireball: There's Nothing There
The problem Microsoft faces today is that they have nothing to hang their brand on. Windows is Windows, so colossal it exists in its own orbit. (If anything, the problem Microsoft faces with Windows is the problem Apple faced a decade ago with the Mac, where the product seemed bigger and more important than the company that made it.) The consensus opinion regarding Vista is that it’s a massive six-years-in-the-making dud. Office is Office. Oh boy, spreadsheets and PowerPoint.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Are you a gatekeeper or a gatejumper

Today, right now, in your business, are you a gatekeeper or a gatejumper. You must answer this question. The future of your business depends on it.

In writing Trust Agents, my book with Julien Smith,
we’ve started to realize six major traits that define a trust agent.
Part of what we’ve noticed through researching the concept is that
trust agents quite often make their own game. What do we mean? Consider
traditional mainstream businesses. They are the gatekeepers of what we
consider the standard, the typical, the recognized. It’s really easy to
look at this when you consider various media properties and their
online upstart counterparts. To that end, I’m going to start a list,
and I was hoping you’d be inspired to add your thoughts and ideas to
it. Maybe I’ll even go back and edit your ideas from the comments into
the main post. read more

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Willing Slaves, Pretending to Have it All

I was recently asked to weigh in on the topic of "women having it all."

What, of course, is triggering the increased interest we're seeing on the topic of "work-life balance" (don't get me started) is Sarah Palin's entry into the political race and her purposeful political branding as a "hockey mom" with five kidlings, a hubster and a full-time job.

I have to admit: I had to corral my gag reflex.

I'm often asked, as a speaker, to address this issue. So here's a little of the less "cleaned-up" version of my thinking on the topic.

We are--men and women both--on a treadmill in the workplace, trying to jam more into the average day than our forebears crammed into the average week. We’re information glutted with more raw data in the Sunday New York Times than was accessible in the entire lifetime of a person living just a hundred years ago. On the home front, the advances in technology that were supposed to shave significant time off our weekly chores have us now doing more housework than our great (and sometimes great-great) grandmothers. Voicemail, PDA’s, email and the like have allows work to leave a greater and greater footprint on our personal time.

And things--important things--are dropping out.

I heard from one friend--a man with a demanding job (really, a job he allowed to become demanding) answered his email on his PDA that one last time and his lady love...a truly spectacular and gentle human being, spiked the offending tech. Two points! She'd had enough of being a WINO ("wife in name only"). He was Missing in Action.

How We Got Here
In the late 18th and throughout the 19th, the aim of industrialization was to shift the largely agrarian workforce into wage laborers. Expanding on the need to produce which stemmed, in part from the Protestant work ethic (combined with the notion of Salvation by Works), this great project combined fear of God with fear of want. Wages were kept purposely low to ensure that workers returned the next day.

A class of Willing Slaves was created.

During the next several decades, workers began to revolt over long hours, dangerous working conditions and child labor. Days shrank to 10 hours and then 8, children as young as six were prohibited from work, locked doors (to prevent those slacking workers from hieing-off) were unlocked. Trade unions were formed to negotiate for better pay, benefits and working conditions and employment laws were passed to eliminate—at least in the sphere of public policy—the codified ill-treatment of workers.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, a non-agrarian, family was able to live relatively well on one salary and it became easier to acquire a house and car. These children of the Traditionalists (people born between 1925 and 1945) were the leading edge of the working Baby Boomers and, because of the post-war boom, were in high demand.

Fast forward to the 1970’s and it starts getting very unpleasant. Inflation mushroomed, gas prices exploded and so did the work week. Between 1977 and 1997, the workweek expanded by over 8% (43.6 hours to 47.1 hours a week on average). A 70 hour work week became de rigueur.

At the same time, anti-discrimination laws began to address gender and pregnancy discrimination. Good thing. Because of inflation, the single worker salary was just not enough to cover expenses or sock away a little extra for education or retirement.

In the mid-1980’s the term “work-life balance” emerged to describe the separation (or lack thereof) between work and home. This generation was dubbed the “Me Generation,” called “yuppies” or “yummies” (young, upwardly mobile professionals), “buppies” (Black upwardly-mobile professionals), or members of the “Age of Isolation.” Latchkey and shuttle cock kids were found to have increased attention deficits (over-stimulated and exhausted) and poorer diets. Our kids are getting fatter and (can I say it plainly) dumber.

And a new industry was born.

What concerns me in the discussion of work-life balance is that there seems to be little concern with whether the work we’re trying to balance is important. Sure, moving things from one side of the desk to the other in a particular workday and schlepping the kidlets to soccer/swim/tap/tai-kwon-jitsu seems laudable, but it that what’s really important? Oh, yeah, and can we make all of that work without factoring out personal happiness and satisfaction.

Talking with a group of women, I heard many explain that they had to sacrifice for their children. Why then, I asked, was it only women that are heard having that conversation? There are a few home truths to consider here:

  • Can women continue to do it all? Honestly, no. Our personal Kryptonite? "Bad mother/Bad housekeeper/Bad cook/Bad (fill in the blank)"—these words can stop a powerful woman at 50 yards. Rather than determining whether we’re doing the right things, we go like little "doing bots," hauling kids on endless expeditions to every social, sporting and school event imaginable; being the first one called when a younger (or elder) family member hits the skids; doing all the laundry/shopping/cooking/planning...and trying to do it all perfectly (if we don't just give up in despair).
  • While in doing-bot mode, we inadvertently (and almost unconsciously) teach our daughters that a woman's life is sacrifice and suffering. Just recently, a 14 year-old girl I met, in discussing harried her mother, vowed “I’ll never have children.”
  • Can men still have it all without women to take up most of the slack? I don't think so. Sad truth on this one...we, as women (the first educators of children) teach future generations of men what to expect from the women in their lives and teach future generations of women how to be those women...such that those expectations fall beneath their—and our—notice (like the air and the grass). If I had a buck for every woman I’ve ever heard who said “I wish I had a wife,” I could buy a Starbucks!
  • At the same time, I'd like to recognize what a treadmill it can be for men who would rather gnaw off a limb than not "provide for the family"--how that can drive them into being little "doing bots" in their own right.

What Does it Take to Have it All

“Having it all,” as defined by others, takes a whole lot of support.

What I don’t think we’re focusing on is whether people are doing work that matters or that’s workable. As the workday gets filled with ass-covering email tracking, cryptic voicemail deciphering, endless meetings (to “report in” to micromanaging bosses who are poorly deployed), we find ourselves doing less “real work”—work that fulfills strategic intentions and desired outcomes.

When asked “can you really get your two kids to all those events,” I’ve never heard a woman who has been able to say a clean “no—it’s not feasible” or ‘no, that’s too much for a school night” even though that’s their persistent complaint.

Leaders must be selected, placed and trained to better plan, support and counsel, becoming champions of their workers, committed to blasting barriers and garnering needed resources. They must be challenged to be better workload planners, using their prowess to determine how to best use people to fulfill on business strategy—rather than becoming experts at moving piles around. At the same time, in our families, we have to be more focused in the “bigger game” managing our overarching aims: a happy, satisfying family life; personal satisfaction and personal growth and health, well-developed children who can function well in society without becoming time, energy or emotional vampires.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My 2c on 9/11

Felisa does not cry easily. When those planes struck those buildings in New York seven years ago it was only the second time in the two years we were together that I saw her cry. That was when the enormity of the attack hit me like a ton of bricks. I said to my self...this is going to change the course of history in a massive way.

The enormity of this act I think is even more incredible because of the physical scar it has left on New York City. As I watched Obama and McCain descend into this void of pain and nothingness I could not help but think of shrieks, and screams, bodies hitting the ground falling from over a quarter mile above ground. It was the most surreal day of my life. Everybody says it....

It was like watching a movie....

Now that the day is almost passed and I have soaked up quite a bit of the coverage I have a better perspective on things. The fear has dissipated somewhat and a new war rages thousands of miles away. Whether or not this war should have been waged, whether or not Saddam Hussein should have been removed from power, there are many, many families that miss a Mother, a Father, a Brother, a Sister.

Tonight that absence is felt like cold concrete against bare flesh. The absence of warmth in this world takes many a life and it makes many a life difficult to bear.

In the memory of those that died, may we be the presence of warmth in someone's life every day. I know this may sound sappy to many people. ---BUT--- May we honor the those that were snuffed out on September 11th 2001 by being the smile on a cold Monday morning, opening a door for a stranger, helping in little unseen ways. Submitting self to the greater good. Let us honor the absence of over 3,000 people by being the presence of love.

- yjtw

Millennium System Configurations

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday Morning Melodies -- Tribute to Isaac Hayes

This week isn't starting off well. First, it was Bernie Mac and now we find that we've lost Isaac Hayes. He died Sunday afteroon after collapsing in his home.

Mr. Hayes was known for his sulty baritone, smoking orchestration and driving beats on such tunes as "The Theme from Shaft."

Here's a sample of what made him great.

Travel safely home, Black Moses. We'll see you on the other side.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Is the Brain "Plastic" and What Does that Have to Do with Business?

Several months ago, I tapped out an article on change that mentioned the concept of neuroplasticity: that an injured brain can repair itself or re-map itself to regain or enhance thinking and brain function. Long the bailiwick of neuroscientists, this ability of the brain to generate surprising shifts in learning, thinking and acting, is now the province of business leaders and those who support them. A couple of books, The Brain That Changes Itself and The Mind and the Brain, both written by experts in the brain function/behavior game, discuss leaps in human capacity that are setting the world of brain science on its ear--blind children in India who are learning to see, deaf children and adults who are regaining capacities to hear that are challenging the notion of congenital deafness, people with hemispheric lobectomies (half their brains removed due to disease or injury) who are operating with minimal deficiencies in physical or mental ability.

Our "hardwiring" is more malleable than once thought.

Why this is an important consideration in business is that we've been taught that diminished brain function is a "given" as we age, that older generations are more "set in their ways" and that there's little we can do about any of it...that we're wired to resist change.

Perhaps not.

In business, I see people slavishly doing what they did before, producing diminished results over time. One maxim I operate under (rather than the mistaken belief that people who can't change simply don't want to) which tends to be a "truism" is that an early, long-standing history of success is the greatest predictor of failure in an instance requiring change. Starbucks kept doing what used to work, long after there was clear evidence that the wheels were falling off. We continued to buy and operate larger, less efficient cars long after it was clear that the price of a gallon of gas was never going to see a buck again. Why? Because it used to work so brilliantly. There was a dictinct payoff.

Harvard professor of psychology, Ellen Langer, in her book Mindfulness, laid it out pretty simply: mindfulness--good...mindless--bad. Looking through the prism of business: Operating on "autopilot" in our businesses and our lives can prevent us from seeing opportunities to shift before our mindless behavior leads us deeper into the weeds (where the crocodiles lurk). Her book, like the other two I mentioned earlier in thi blog post, can be dense reads, but are worth it to begin to understand that we're not in a battle just with our competitors: We're at war with ourselves.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Not My Fault. Oh?

We've all heard this sorry chorus (and if we put on our Big Boy/Big Girl duds, we can admit that we've even said things like this):

  • That's wasn't my job
  • The customer didn't get me the information I needed
  • I was drunk, but I wasn't the cause of the accident
  • My hard-drive failed
  • I have a slow metabolism
  • It was the traffic
  • It wasn't me.
We belong to a culture of decreasing accountability.

That's why this episode of This American Life stopped me from my Saturday night's reading. When he was 18 years old, Darin Strauss, author of Chang and Eng and More Than It Hurts You, killed a girl. He was driving--sober and straight--along a highway when she swerved her bicycle into the path of his car. There was nothing he could do to save her. He describes his "stomach-turning" behavior at points where he was more concerned about himself--how he might appear--than about the girl the car he was driving struck.

While there was nothing he could have done, Darin's story repeats this refrain: "the girl I killed." He's clear that, while her bike turned crisply into his lane, he was piloting the car that intersected with her and her bike. He was responsible, as the instrument of her death.

Life has become about "who did it" and "who's to blame," with biz owners, executives, sales reps, technicians, husbands, politician, and children taking sometimes draconian steps to avoid blame...or, better, to shift it to someone else. Jack Welch was lionized as a "genius" for his competitive stance "Be first or second in the market or begone." The detritus of Jack Welch's turn at the GE rudder gave us "rank and yank," an "HR system" based on the Vitality Curve wherein the top 20% get raises and promotions, the bottom 10% get the door and the middle 70% get to keep their jobs. To keep your job, one would have to be either in the first or second ranking. Those on the third rung are dispatched, regardless of their contributions. After several iterations, GE professional and execs, speaking privately, of course, have said that the chorus of "it wasn't me" is deafening, as people struggle to look better than their neighbor as the strongest players in the industry compete with their equally-stellar peers. The workplace culture has become increasingly toxic, with less collaboration, sharing of knowledge assets and mentoring? Who would want to be mentored if that mentor could "turn state's evidence" and become party to one's termination. HR staffers, under Welch's system, were reduced to ranch hands who conducted the annual culling.

I remember a course I took some years ago that served up a brutal take on responsibility. "Responsibility," they said "begins with being 'cause in the matter' of one's life." Here's the entire quote:

Responsibility begins with the willingness to be cause in the matter of one's life. Ultimately, it is a context from which one chooses to live. Responsibility is not burden, fault, praise, blame, credit, shame or guilt. In responsibility, there is no evaluation of good or bad, right or wrong. There is simply what's so, and your stand. Being responsible starts with the willingness to deal with a situation from the view of life that you are the generator of what you do, what you have and what you are. That is not the truth. It is a place to stand. No one can make you responsible, nor can you impose responsibility on another. It is a grace you give yourself - an empowering context that leaves you with a say in the matter of life.
-Werner Erhard
Claim no responsibility? You're a victim and have admitted that there's nothing that can be done.


As a result of my participation in this program (drank the Kool-Ade as with a protein shot), I don't offer excuses--really stylized cover-ups--which are about me rather than a sincere apology and offer to make it right, which is about the person I'd fallen short with. No one has ever cared about my excuses and--here's the money shot--most of those excuses could have been avoided.

  • Not your job? Tell the boss that there's a gap in the job design rather than letting it be a surprise.
  • Missing customer info? Tell them so and that you won't be able to get then what they need in a timely way
  • Drunk and talking to the police? Suck it up and blow, hard, into the Breathalyzer
  • Hard-drive failure? Set up that backup you've been talking about and pretending wasn't a priority
  • Got a slow metabolism? Move!
  • Heavy traffic and you've got a meeting? Leave earlier. Most of us in Indy know where the trouble spots are on I465. Traffic is just an excuse.
  • Not you? Who else, then?

In an instance I got to hear a leader take responsibility back. Their company had deleted my text messaging ability, then my picture messaging, and finally -- Poof! -- there went my ability to make phone calls. After serveral calls, several reps and several hours, it was finally corrected. Then, I got a call from those people's manager. He had listened to recordings of the calls I'd made and was completely chagrinned: "That's not the kind of service we're committed to." He said, baldly, "We dropped the ball and sucked up a whole lot of your time" and promised to retrain his staff and to credit my plan for the days of lost service.

I was so stunned I couldn't speak.

Full Episode: Darin's piece is about 9 1/2 minutes into it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

There Are Things Bigger than Us All

I saw this and couldn't stop weeping at the love and faith of these men and this big cat.

This is just right on so many levels.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Notes from the Productivity Industrial Complex

My friend, Nwokedi, suggested I read this (below). Like the diversity workshops that were legion during the 80's and 90's, productivity discussions tend to focus on what's in the best interest of companies and not in the best interest of people. To take a deeper cut at that, they tend to focus on "getting things done" but not as much on "getting the right things done." Even the Covey workshops. the self-appointed Gold Standard of the Productivity Industrial Complex, doesn't have much to say about how a lowly employee, having happily sorted their tasks into A, B and C priorities, can prevail upon their leader to moving the C items off everyone's list. As workplaces continue to contract, workers are doing more, but very little job redesign is happening.

I’ll include my thoughts inline with the quoted text:

Alternative Productivity’s Tenets (David Allen):

  1. “Productivity” is an Industrial Era economics term that applies to factories, machines, and economies. When applied to people it often has a dehumanizing effect and negates both individual differences and unique talents.

    : Amen. I found myself concerned about the entire concept of "productivity." As an economic term, it refers to a ratio of outputs to inputs, like labor productivity as the relationship between results and the work that went into their creation. People aren’t machines and even a machine can’t simply be tasked to produce more without looking at upstream and down stream inputs and outputs as well as system capabilities. We are more concerned with equipment failure from being over-stressed than we are about burning out people.
  2. If your productivity increases, but your pay stays the same, then you’re effectively taking a pay cut (same goes if you begin working longer hours for the same pay).

    : This is a conversation I have with consultants constantly. One bragged to me about his hourly rate. When I asked him to calculate how many hours he was working this billing cycle and how much money he was getting, he quietly began scribbling (“I’ll show you.”). You can’t imagine the look of horror on his face when he figured out that his effective hourly rate was one-fifth his rack rate. We had a long talk that afternoon that shifted his world.
  3. The 40-hour work week hasn’t changed since 1940 and is ridiculously outdated.
  4. If you’re consistently having trouble focusing, it’s often because you’re focusing on the wrong things (i.e. things you’re not passionate about or things that aren’t best suited to your skillset).

    : Trouble focusing may be a symptom of memory erosion as our plates get more and more full. People today have access, in one issue of the New York Times, to more information than was available to the average human being in an entire lifetime just a century ago. As hoards of new information are being fed in, other information is organized for long-term storage--even if that information is needed for short-term, immediate use. Add in stress, which has been proven to reduce retention and attentiveness, and it gets, I forgot what I was writing about....*

    Frankly, we aren’t experiencing a focus deficit: we’re experiencing too much garbage on the plate with little leadership support to move it to the trash where it belongs.
  5. Increased productivity should equal less time on the job. If you’re getting more done, you should get more vacation time.

    : Not sure how this follows as employers are able to set up, within legally-prescribed limits, any kind of work rules they choose. Besides, there is an important external driver pressuring leaders to produce more: stockholders. These “owners” are interested in one thing and than it increased revenue for their investment. Few leaders at the C-Suite level are willing to buck their boards or say “No mas” at stockholders’ meetings where initiatives are being put forth that will impact the footprint the job takes up in a worker’s life.
  6. Most best-selling productivity gurus are working in the interests of large corporations and often advocate values and approaches that are not in the best interests of individuals.

    Working in the best interests of companies? Not if these productivity gurus aren't tying their programs to retention. As people run out of bandwidth, they leave. In droves. Over a decade ago, HR strategists started seeing an increasing trend for “downshifting” where career climbers chose to shift career tracks to paths that would allow for more time to engage in other pursuits (see how I didn’t say “work/life balance”—a term I despise...but that’s another post).

    A rule of thumb for calculating the cost of turnover is to take an employee's salary and divide it by 30%. That, very roughly, is base cost of turnover for that one position. Add in a recruiter’s fee or executive signing bonuses, stock options or Golden Parachutes (like a prenupt for the C-Suite set) and the percentage continues to climb. In addition, it can take months for a newly-placed staffer to gain proficiency in a new corporate and departmental cultures and the expectations of the job.

    Then there’s the matter of proof. Most productivity workshops have never been vetted for validity (measures the right things) and reliability (measures consistently over time). They "work" simply because the guru has collected anecdotal information from participants that says so.

    Just a tad self-referential, no?
  7. Increased productivity should result in greater carefree time, more vacations, and more time away from work. Most of the time, however, it does not.
  8. We are living in a time and place that is more “productive” than ever before, but high levels of productivity aren’t making us any happier.

    : Please. “Productive” is not the same as “effective.” You can be doing a lot of things, but not the right things.

    You and I both know people who, during meetings, answer phone calls and respond to or send emails. By not focusing on the people in front of them, meeting durations balloon as topics are started and stopped over and over again. In addition, there’s the little matter of credibility. Doing everything else at a meeting but conducting the meeting is seen as incredibly rude, impacting future promotional opportunities and damaging key relationships.

    Measures of effectiveness can easily been found in most process improvement initiatives with a clearly-defined outcome stated in advance and work to reduce variation around that stated goal. Not so in productivity workshops, which tend to operate at the tactical level rather than the strategic.
  9. Productivity should be designed around our lives, not the other way around.

    : Productivity should be designed around systems of increased effectiveness inside a value chain which should connect to desired outcomes which should connect to the strategic mission of the department, the business unit and the company.

  10. The workforce is laboring for more hours and for less pay, taking fewer vacations, and generally burning out.

    : Yup. In another entry I scribed, I detailed the differences in vacation for the major developed nations. The US leads the pack of industrialized nations in the lack of vacation time: That’s less than France, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Japan and Canada. A whopping 26% of US workers take no vacation at all. Many who do, spend more time with their Blackberrys than they do their families, fearing that if they’re too disconnected (1) people will figure out that they’re expendable and (2) the workload when they return will be insurmountable.

  11. The best way to increase productivity is often to quit a lot of things.

    Lalita: Good idea, but most leaders are unwilling to insist on job re-design or to challenge their leaders on the best use of their staffers’ time.

  12. Productivity often poses as the self-development genre but it is not. Self-development and productivity are two very different things. What is best for us as individuals is often bad for productivity.

    : Huh? People development and the resulting impacts on productivity are connected.

  13. The societally scripted routes to success via productivity are failing us.

  14. Products marketed towards busy people (e.g. “Productivity for Busy People,” “Cooking for Busy People,” etc.) only serve to reinforce the problem and often glamorize, excuse, and support the unnecessarily busy life and cult of hyper-efficiency.

    : Is there really something “sexy” about scurrying about like a rat in a maze? Really? Telegraphing that you can't get meaningful work done in a humane way is glamouous? Indeed.

  15. Hacks, tweaks, tricks, etc. have emerged from a productivity hobbyist culture, are largely insufficient at solving bigger life problems, and often do not increase productivity. These hacks etc. are vestiges of the largely "techie" demographic of the early (but self-reinforcing) blogosphere.

  16. Early to bed, early to rise does not necessarily lead to greater productivity. Contrary to several blog posts advocating early rising as a means to greater productivity, the practice of early rising can actually be harmful.

    : Cookie-cutter fixes assume that we’re all the same and have the same requirements. Not so. I get some of my best writing done late at night. Telling me to go to bed at 10 would have me running out the door with my hair on fire. However, an early bird who’s staying up late, can benefit from supports to get to bed at their earlier bedtime.

    In a conversation with a fledgeling business owner, he asked me my opinion about something his "coach" (a marketing consultant who had decided--damn the skillset--to hang out a shingle as a business coach) had said. "Lalita, he told me to play business development CD's in my car while I'm driving." When I asked him what he really liked to do while driving he said "Listen to music." Guess what I told him to do? And I'm looking for his "coach" to suggest he stop treating his clients like they're all him.

  17. More technology often leads to decreased productivity.

  18. Hyper-focusing on productivity often gets in the way of the messy, circuitous, and discursive routes of personal development.

  19. When most people speak of productivity in the office, they’re usually speaking about a specific kind of productivity: cubical-land, desk-job, information-worker productivity. The methods used to produce this kind of productivity often do not generalize to other contexts.

  20. No productivity system can put you in a zen like, meditative, or mind like water state. A calm, focused, and meditative mind leads to greater productivity, but productivity systems cannot create a mind like water.

  21. Too much productivity can turn you into a real tool.

  22. Massive value creation often happens during times when no work is ostensibly being accomplished and productivity levels are ostensibly nil.

  23. What makes people productive varies considerably from person to person.

    Lalita: Huzzah! Truer words have not been written. Task -related productivity is the "booby prize." Figuring out the right things to do and then getting the barriers out of the way so we can focus on the most effective ways of doing those things--that's the juicy cherry.

  24. Productivity is often a necessary evil: if you dislike your job, you’re going to need a water-tight productivity system in place to keep you on task.
  25. Productivity should be designed around lives, not the other way around.