The difference between people and resources

I went to university with a scholarship from Hewlett Packard. Actually everyone on the course I was on had to have a scholarship to be part of the course. It was a course setup by a consortium of industry leading computing companies to fill a need they had for people who were specifically trained for roles in their industry. If I remember correctly the sponsors were IBM, HP, DEC, Data General, Wang and a couple of other names. Of these only a couple of those trade names are still in existence, with the others being consumed in mergers and acquisitions.

Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard
The founders of HP

As part of the course we all spent time (time that on every other university course was vacation), going to large corporate training centers and taking courses in such exoteric subjects as x25 configurations, system 360 basics , sales methodology and troubleshooting skills, among others.

Dr An Wang
The founder of Wang Labs

It was a major investment, and one that was a win, win for the corporations and the students. When we graduated, I believe virtually every graduating student got offered a position with either their sponsoring company or one of the other companies on the course.

I look back at that program and think it showed a level of corporate responsibility that is missing from the world today. Instead of training people, companies look to hire pre-trained candidates. And as a previous blog Business Shoot Thyself pointed out, this is a silly situation where the overall quality of candidates goes down over time, as the pool of knowledge is not enhanced.

The key to me was that companies recognized that spending the time to train new employees while costly ensured that a business was able to keep and grow its culture. When you fail to spend that time and effort to help new employees understand why a business has been and continues to be successful, then in fact you are rolling the dice every round of employment. Will the good ideas of the past be remembered?

The issue is exacerbated when after a few years those previous new hires then go out and hire for themselves. They are likely to continue to treat the next round of employees just as they were treated.

The concept can be seen very simply as follows:

When a new business is formed, the founders have a deep passion for their business, and they have the desire to instill this passion in those they hire.

James Watson
The founder of IBM

But when a business gets some distance from the founders, often that passion is diluted and it is not passed onto new hires.

The result is that where founders hire people, those without passion for their business hire resources.

How can you tell when this happens? I’ve read quite a few papers from places like the HBR that try and but a business size or revenue number on this tipping point. I’d suggest the answer is much simpler.

If everyone in the business cannot answer one simple question, then the business has moved from hiring People to hiring resources, and this one question is:

“What business are we truly in”.

If the answer is we are in the business of making money, it’s too late, but if the answer is along the lines of “we’re in the business of solving problem x, or making people feel good” then the business has a healthy dose of passion in its blood.

Companies that know why they exist, and see profit as just one of the results of doing what they are passionate about as opposed to the only goal will be around for many decades or longer and will inspire and improve the world.

While those who focus on resource management as a way of maximizing profit are going to merge and acquire their way into homogeneity.
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Businesses: Shoot Thyself in Foot Much?

Real face-to-face training is becoming a fairy tale.

Companies no longer really train employees.  It saves them money to cut or minimize training and new skills programs.   And with employees no longer having to “waste” time in training, they can do more of their regular work (as well as cover some of the work that used to be done by their boss/co-worker/employee that no longer works at the company (and who may or may not ever be replaced)).  As expected, companies still make it look good and tout their commitment to the “learning/knowledge growth thing” and their extensive library of online classes employees can access (on their own time of course).

What about when you do need to hire?  There’s got to be plenty of unemployed candidates who’ve had the exact job role, right?   Those candidates will be thrilled just to get back to working and doing the exact job they had last year, right?  The recession solves the problem and keeps a lid on frivolous expenses like training new hires or cross-training employees to enable them to take on different roles in the company in the future.  Win-win!  It is win-win, right?

What’s interesting is that senior management’s cunning plan of using the recession combined with this hiring strategy is simply not working.  A recent survey confirms that employers are frustrated with the lack of skills of candidates they’re reviewing and that it is taking much longer than anticipated to fill job openings because of it.  Firms that don’t want to fill in the skills gaps of otherwise great candidates with some post-hire training essentially are annoyed that candidates’ previous employers didn’t train them well enough (think about that one for a moment… and then consider if your firm fits that ironic description).  So short-sighted, it’s almost unbelievable.  Good to Great?  Mmmmm, maybe not.

To these many, many firms I say, “Shoot thyself in foot much?”  Oh, and advice for employees and investors of these firms… short the stock. (186)

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Tv programming is a vicious cycle of delusions.

When I was growing up there was a total of three tv channels to choose from. We had a little black and white tv and that’s the one I saw the first man take the first step on the moon with.

Now that was a cool tv moment that stuck with me. My memory today is of my dad waking me up in the middle of the night and in a very excited voice, telling me again and again that I was going to see something I would never forget. I worked, I’ve never forgotten it.

A couple of decades later my favorite band wrote about “thirteen channels of shit on the tv to choose from” a phophecy that has lead to today where there are literally thousands of unbelievably crappy channels of tv available. And now with the power of the Internet that amount of total unadulterated useless crap being broadcast is growing at an exponential rate, thanks to the likes of YouTube, Hulu and their ilk.

The problem is, that it’s really expensive to make excellent broadcast quality material. And every channel needs to fill the spaces between the adverts with something to stop viewers channel hopping. So they do it in the cost cost efficient way they can.

So we end up with reality tv, game shows, opinion shows, chat shows and anything else where the cost of production can be limited to as few cameras and back end staff as possible with the maximum broadcast time, and the minimum number of retakes.

Even channels that used to broadcast the news,and now filled with opinion shows, where so called pundits interview a couple of so called experts on a topic of so called current interest.

And even these shows really just look at what’s on their competitors shows to see what to discuss. It’s got to the point now when opinion shows just discuss the opinions of other opinion shows. It’s to the point where bill o’reilly spends all his time critiquing Rachelle Maddows and she spends all her time critiquing him. It’s nuts, but cheap.

All they really care about is filling the spaces between paid ads. But of course now In the world of digital video recorders (DVR’s) many of us have the technology to entirely skip the ads. And the tv channels use an outmoded technology to measure viewer numbers that is both inaccurate (my guess is always much higher than reality) and ignores viewer ad skips.

So we’re in a world of bullshit, with media companies are desparate to fill their millions of channels with any kind of cheap programming to get viewers, just so that can convince advertisers to fill the minutes in between with paid for ads that we all skip. It’s a vicious cycle of delusions.

And as the quality of shows continues to decline, the need to delude gets even greater. Who would have thought that the word housewife could have be transposed with train wreck. But if you watch any of the housewives of new York or new jersey or atlanta etc, you would be left instantly with the idea that every housewife in the US is both incredibly rich and totally mad.

Add to that reality shows about everything from the po-lice in every tiny town, to people who run pawn shops to toothless swamp people. Then add in hugely long shows with thousands of people who have no idea how to sing (interspersed with the odd bit of talent) and time fillers about people who are totally bonkers and fill their houses with every piece of garbage and packaging that they ever consumed, and you are actually left with a situation where the ads are actually better viewing than the bits in between.

I’m thinking of designing a DVR that only records ads. What with the likes of GEICO and some of the excellent medical disclaimers, I think we have reached the place where the production quality and scripts of tv advertising is evidently better than the programming.

who can forget the drug that cures restless leg syndrome, but leaves you with a severe case of gambling and sex addiction…., awesome. (116)

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Whatever happened to the idea of “go with your strengths?”

When you apply for a job, or create a biography for a speaking opportunity you generally focus on the things you have done in life which are most admirable. That’s how you create an impression that all you have achieved is the best things you have achieved.

That used to be the way politicians worked as well. Successful generals running for office, would always talk in terms of their wars won, writers would hark back to the accolades they had won for their writing and sports winners would use analogies to success around their awards.

So how come this equation doesn’t hold true for politicians any more?

The current most obvious example is Mitt Romney, but this thought seems to hold true for just about every politician anywhere in the world of any party. It’s as if they are embarrassed about what they have achieved, and want to create some form of entirely artificial alternate bio that ensures that can keep reality locked away out of sight and out of mind.

They need to know it never works, and is entirely idiotic.

Here’s my message to Mitt Romney:

It’s okay that you made a crap load of money, and it’s okay that you used every legal mechanism to avoid paying taxes. That’s the way the system works. You embraced the system and made it work for you. Instead of hiding, use you experience to call out the unfairness of the system and show your experience will allow you to fix it.

It’s okay that you are a high ranking Mormon. You have held some seriously senior position (something equivalent to Bishop I believe). You believe in your faith, great! so share how this experience will help you lead a bigger flock. Don’t hide such an important fact.

It’s okay that you implemented a successful form of Obamacare. Hey when Hillarycare was being proposed the whole Republican machine was behind Romneycare as the best possible solution to avoid socialized medicine. You did it and it worked. So stop denying it now.

And it’s okay that you ran a business that bought companies, loaded them up with massive debt and outsourced the majority of their workforce outside of the USA where salaries and safety nets were much smaller. That was (and is) the way of Wall Street.

I don’t mean to hark on just poor Mr Romney, but clearly he is the target of the moment, and he has spent a lot of time and effort to not talk about himself. Plus his recent international jaunt was on a par with Todd Margret.

Personally I think that Todd Margret or Boris Johnson the Mayor of London (who could easily be mistaken for the winner of the Monty Python Upper class twit of the year competition) should play a much more active role on the world stage of political power. As they couldn’t do any worse that the current batch and would be a lot more fun to watch.

So what about other politicians?

Well there is Mr Harry Reid, also I believe a Mormon, even through I’ve never heard him talk about it. He may be some sort of Arch-Vice Deacon of the Mormon collective or whatever they call it.

And of course Mr Obama was a prof at a major university with degrees up the ying-yang and a Chicago politician before he became pres.

I remember Ronald Regan wasn’t afraid to talk about how acting influenced him, and Margaret Thatcher was very proud of her grocers daughter upbringing, and her pre-political career as a chemist.

Politicians – start to act like the rest of the human race – Don’t be afraid of your successes, embrace them.

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Attention booksellers – stop sticking fantasy in the same category as science fiction.

Look there are many categories of fiction, from the romantic pulp novel to the massive historically accurate war novels, and in between there are thrillers, horrors, who-done-its, humor, literary masterpieces, classics, and many other so called genres. But for some annoying reason two categories (that I rather like) get mixed together, those of science fiction and fantasy.

These are clearly very different, but in the minds of some librarian they are one and the same. That librarian is wrong!

Fantasy novels are normally based on the ideas of some supernatural phenomena, either some form of magic or one or more wild races of non-existent strangeness (orcs, ogres, dwarves, ancient gods etc).

While science fiction considers the possibilities of things yet to be developed by science, such as time travel, travel to distant worlds (or aliens from distant worlds coming to us), or any number of different futuristic technical inventions.

These are two very different genres. Sure they both take imagination, but they deserve their own shelves in bookstores and their own category online.

Imagine if that librarian were to combine romance and war as one category. I mean lets face it the only difference is that one is read by women and the other mainly by men. So the category could be “emotional reading”.

Or how about a category called “tedious reading”, that would include the Bronte sisters and Mikael Blomkvist, they both share the ability to spend much too long writing about irrelevant detail.

So lets just agree that Science Fiction is a unique category and Fantasy is another unique category, and (almost) never the twain shall meet.

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“Donations” and Other Former “Free”-bies

Has anyone else had enough of secret fees, extra charges for things that were free last year (or last week), and “mandatory donations?”

Having to pay hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for the right to pay full price for season sports tickets???  e.g.: Duke basketball fans can buy 4 season tickets at full price with a yearly donation of $15,000-$58,500.  That sure is a nice reward for your best customers, isn’t it?

A delivery charge from Domino’s Pizza accompanied by a reminder to tip the delivery guy???  Where does the delivery charge go Mr. Pizza Boss? – New laces for the sneakers he wears when he walks 2 blocks to deliver my pie perhaps???

Coming to your next flight?

My bank (ironically billed as “America’s Most Convenient Bank”), charged me 50 cents to check the balance on one of my other accounts at their in-bank ATM this week.  Really?  Yes, really-

And don’t get me started on the airlines – I fully expect pay toilets and an extra charge to recline my seat any f#%*ing day now!!!

This kind of bait and switch crap is really pissing me off and I’m putting all the young Harvard MBAs who thought this crap up on notice: Clean up your act and trade in your “Carny Scams” manual for “The Essential Peter Drucker” or I’ll find you and make you wish you had!

The Carny/Harvard MBA: “Princes Among Men” ?

Gotta run now, I see a young man in a suit taking notes at the “Pop the Balloon, Win Big Prize!” carnival booth-

Note: Museums with a specific “suggested donation” aren’t any better than these Harvard carnies’ and their scams… A “$5 Suggested Donation” sign in front of some old battle axe woman who gives you the stink-eye until you pony up is extortion, not a gentle suggestion. (23)

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The second huge marketing mistake. And how to circumvent it.

I wrote a note a few days ago about the pain that many marketers face, when they look to reach a market before they have a clear understanding of their message, and the tremendous costs that are associated with this.

When you have your message and tested it with your audience, then you are ready to build a process to deliver it consistently.

But building such a process can easily unleash a new uncontrollable beast, one that allows non-marketers to twist the process into an unmanageable mess. Let me explain:

Over the last few decades many of todays business leaders and middle managers started their careers as interns. And some of the places where these interns get to help is in the post room or in the marketing department, stuffing envelopes for mailshots or helping out at photo shoots. For a young person just out of university this can seem very glamorous, and it leaves them with a sense that they truly understand the marketing world. Decades later when then are running a company (or a significant proportion of one), these early memories morph into a belief they truly understand marketing.

I didn’t get where I am today by thinking

So when the marketing team are building a working process for delivering a healthy mix of awareness, demand generation and loyalty marketing activities, a seniors manager may ask questions like “how many leads will that print ad generate?”.

On the surface questions like these sound reasonable, as they are using marketing language (marketese) and so conversations are engaged in. But here’s the catch, not all marketing is equal, and marketers are very aware of this, but non-marketers are not. And once the conversation is underway, it’s almost impossible to explain this.

If you assume that all marketing is equal and that everything can be measured in exactly the same way, you will end up with a terrible mix of marketing assets being delivered through the wrong mediums, and the results will be atrocious.

It is absolutely critical that every delivery of every asset is measured using a unique and appropriate measure. For example a print ad in a major publication may be for the purpose of enagaing that publications editorial staff to write an article including your product or company, or it may be to create a third party asset for your sales people to use as a handout for their prospects. While an online web banner may be to invite people to a webcast or to visit a web page. Clearly the measures are all different.

What is important though, is that the marketing department have a plan that drives prospects towards sales people in a measurable way in terms of volume of prospects and time for the purpose of generating and keeping business.

So here’s the lesson: Agree on a set of strategic goals (number of prospects in the funnel, rate of progress of prospects down the funnel, forecast of fully qualified leads to sales etc), and report on these to the management team. Then build the right process to deliver these results, where a much more complex mix of marketing is build and manically managed, with each asset having its own measures. The management team doesn’t need to see the complexity inside the engine, just the fundamentals of how the engine is performing.

In just the same way that a modern car runs, the driver gets to see the speed, revs and amount of fuel being used, and can control the speed and direction. But the driver does not need to know the millions of decisions the computer is making every minute to provide maximum efficiency and performance.

If the driver could see and tweek the engine process then 99.999% of the time he/she would make it less efficient and less effective. This is exactly the same in the marketing engine.

The very best marketing teams are run by Chief Marketing Officers (CMO’s), or VP’s of marketing who get this. And know how to keep the well meaning but destructive fingers and minds of the non-marketers out of the engine.

And if you’re wondering who the characters are in the photos, checkout http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/fallandriseofreginaldperrin/

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Picking and Choosing Ethics

When I was a child at school, we were forced to take a class in religious education, where we studied the world’s major religions, and learnt how to use a condom. Yep it may seem like a strange combination, but as it was the local bucked toothed stuttering church of England middle aged priest who was asked to teach the kids sex education, so it was added to the RE class.

What I came away from my years of religious education classes was a firm understanding that all religions are mutually exclusive, and as such have a flaw so deep as to prove their worthlessness as truth.

But in the process I did learn quite a lot about four of five of the worlds most followed religions, and noticed that each one seemed to have something valuable to add.

One of the most fascinating concepts of the major religions to me has always been the Sikh idea of the saint-soldier, particularly the part about defending everyone’s rights irrespective of their religion, color, creed, sex or caste.

It’s incredible and wonderful (to me) that these hairy, turbaned people (who look just like Muslims to the average global citizen), have such a beautiful forward-looking ideal. If there was one idea in the world today that typifies the highest hope of the modern age, it is this.

And to think that it’s been central to the Sikh culture for five hundred years.

There is a tremendous amount to learn. (73)

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Major League March in DC

Dateline: Washington, DC (on a brutally hot August Saturday)

Prior to the Washington Nationals home baseball game this past weekend there was a “breast-feeders’ rights” protest march/gathering in the city to bring awareness to the fact that women are being forced to cover their exposed breast/s and stop nursing their children in ballparks, restaurants and other public venues in our nation’s Capitol and elsewhere (including other Major League Baseball (MLB) cities).

It’s been a while since I was an infant but I believe I do recall being hungry every hour or so for most of my life so I’m going to agree when told the little guys need to eat that often as well.  And if “mom” provides the best, healthiest and most cost-efficient meals, then I’m on board for that too.

While observers said that this “Million Mammary March” may have come up a little short on total numbers (that would be 500,000 women for you non-math majors), the expressions on the faces of male and female onlookers showed that these proud women protesting with their glistening, naked  breasts in the 100 degree heat had a major league impact on them.  And I can see why it did.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig

I can just see MLB Commissioner Bud Selig appearing visibly moved by the sight and even briefly joining the busty babes as they completed a memorable march from the Capitol to the Washington Monument to Half St. and into Nationals Park.   He of course would be reportedly, “…later treated for heat exhaustion and potential retina damage in both eyes – but of course planning to participate next year.”

Keep up the fight ladies, there are baseball fans and many other men and women that are with you!

 

 

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How to avoid the first great marketing mistake

A few days ago I wrote a blog called “The secret of the forth discipline of business” where I commented on the complexity of delivering good marketing, and how great marketing starts with answering the four key questions of Why are we in business, what issue to we solve, who has these issues and how to they choose to going about solving them. I also mentioned that this is just the beginning of good marketing. And the truth is that once you have these four questions answered to some level you are on a journey.

My grand father would have said “well, you’re on the first rung of the ladder now”. And I’m sure grandfathers all over the world would be saying the same thing, and they would be right.

Next of course you need to start to tell your message to people. But before you run off and employ some creative agency to craft your message from a template you will be asked to complete (using the answers to the four questions), there is something much more effective you can do (and much cheaper). Call a customer, potential customer or your own sales people and see if the answer to the four questions (lets call this your strategic message) actually resonates with them. Does it get them excited and have them wanting more?

I find the more people you try your message out with the better. Each time you learn how to tell it better. I find personally they I need to tell the strategic message to at least one hundred people before I learn enough myself to be able to get others involved in the creative process. You may find you only need to try it ten times, or you may need three hundred times.

There is nothing more important than getting your strategy right. When you are confident that it works, you will also find that the number of words you are using to tell your story has become less. The best strategic messages become incredibly simple and concise.

It’s easy to spot strategic messages that have not gone through this process. Firstly they are incredibly complex and secondly they make absolutely no sense. If you see words like heterogeneous or scalable in the mix, you know they really have no idea what they are saying. I call these “wooly words”, they mean virtually nothing and are used to hide behind.

If you have a strategic message with wooly words in it, and you go to a creative agency, then they will love you forever. Because if you have no idea what your talking about, then they can charge you a small fortune to create a creative message that you cannot understand, and will be of no value. This means that you will have to go over it again and again, employ more agencies to run focus groups and the gravy train will be long and lucrative.

There are some truly amazing creative agencies out there, and when you have a clear and simple view of your own strategic messages they can really help you develop a powerful and high quality framework to tell your story.

But a company must understand it’s own reason to live, understand exactly what business it’s in, what problem it solves for its market, who has these issue and how they choose to solve them before anyone can truly help you make your message better. (203)

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