Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Success of John Schuerholz

Ah....who is John Schuerholz you might be asking....fair enough. Schuerholz is the general manager of the Atlanta Braves of Major League Baseball. He has been the GM for 15 years and has enjoyed a dominating run. 1 World Series win, 4 World Series appearances (National League pennants), and 8 Eastern Division championships. That's impressive.

I've fallen a bit behind in my blog reading and posting. "Some of the Top 10 Reasons Why John Schuerholz' Team Keeps Kicking Axe" was posted in November in Management By Baseball. I highly recommend this site to anyone that likes baseball, management and analytics. This article outlines Schuerholz' success over the years and tries to provide some insight into why, in this era of business school GMs, he has been so successful.

Jeff Angus, gives us 4 reasons:

Schuerholz had a diverse set of experiences and jobs before he entered baseball - He had many different kinds of jobs which introduced him to different types of co-workers, clients, customers and managers. He adapted to all of them. Often.

Schuerholz gathered knowledge of methods in all his work - He learned to adapt to many different types of situations. Learned.

I can promise you that if you had to choose between an MBA without this kind of job experience, or the opposite, an aspiring manager who wants to be successful with dynamic competition is significantly better off with the background Schuerholz has.
Schuerholz is not a Methods Bigot - Again...he adapts. He adapts his methodologies. He recognizes the value the new crop of young GMs bring to the game. (Let's not forget that he himself might have been the prototype for this phenomenae. He was pretty young himself.) He adjusts. He incorporates.

Schuerholz is not afraid of internal competition - He is not intimated by talented people on his staff.

Great read about a great manager. Go check it out.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Middle Management Excellence

Another great article from Jonathan Byrnes from Harvard Working Knowledge. Link to Byrnes' "The Bottom Line" articles. Here he looks at the most important thing a CEO can do to max out a company's performance:
The answer is to creatively, aggressively, and systematically build the capabilities of the company's middle management team: the vps, directors and managers.
All major strategic intiatives are carried out by the middle. Secondly, a strong middle will produce outstanding operational results. This will reduce the need for the top levels to manage at lower levels. [Link to Managing at the Right Level] A strong middle will also proactively innovate.

Byrnes gives you the 3 nuggets to focus on in order to create middle management excellence. I'm a big fan of the 2-3 takeaway rule. Book, training, academic course and Byrnes even throws in Broadway musical...there should be 2 to 3 juicy nuggets [songs in Byrnes' case] that you should take with you.

Managing at the Right Level - [link to commentary] at each level, managers should increasingly learn and practice change management and leadership so they are masterful by the time they reach the VP level.

Coordinated Profitability Management - the middle must coordinate amongst themselves to understand which parts of the business are profitable and which parts are not. Byrnes recommends conducting a profitability analysis [Link] which should provide insights into where the company can increase current profitability and reposition for the future.

Managing as Teaching - if you find yourself constantly being pulled into day-to-day issues, the underlying problem is that you most likely have not succeeded in teaching your managers to manage. A vp, according to Byrnes should be at most 50 percent manager and 50 percent developer of managers.

He closes with a one line maniefesto for all managers. According to Byrnes:

The highest calling in management is teaching your managers to manage.
Middle management excellece, resting on managing at the right level, coordinated profitability management and managing as teaching, CAN be systematically developed and constantly improved. It is the ultimate point of leverage for ALL corporate performance.

I'm REALLY starting to like Byrnes a lot. At the beginning of this post, I linked to his list of articles from Working Knowledge. Required reading at this point, my friends.

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Cash Flow 101

Great post from 37signals that I picked up from Lifehacker. Great and relevant for a number of reasons. Cash flow is the killer of small business. I would say it is probably the killer of all business but I won't bog down there.

When I was running large technical support programs and developing entry level technicians into future leaders I stressed financials. I tried to explain that technical skills were nice, but if you really want to add value, learn how a business operates. In other words....follow the money.

We're still in startup/growth mode at the outsource service provider I currently run. Cash flow is key. Getting paid on time is probably THE most crucial aspect of our business. Payroll WILL be late if our clients do not pay on time. Sometimes we take daily trips down Cash Flow Lane to understand where the money is going. And believe me. It GOES.

I also use the same approach with my business development teams as I did with the technicians. In order to thirve you MUST understand your prospects' business. Understanding their cash flow, if you can get down to that level, gets you established as a trusted business advisor. See Sales and Marketing in the Third Age for more on this subject.

Great article. Read it. Know it. Live it.

For more...check out CEO Tools by Kraig Kramers. He is a TEC speaker. I met him a couple of years ago and this book provides awesome tools for helping you run your business.

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Diligentia Featured in the CEO Refresher

I am very pleased to announce that the CEO Refresher has published a book review I wrote.

Secrets of Special Ops Leadership was written by Dr. William Cohen, Major General, USAFR, Ret. PLEASE go check out the review and give Rick (the publisher) lots of hits.

I am incredibly excited to be a part of the CEO Refresher team. I anticipate that this will be the first of many reviews. I already have another book on the way. I have been a long-time reader of the Refresher and jumped at the chance to join such an elite group.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Here Comes Santa Claus...

It happened again yesterday.

On the phone with a prospect yesterday working towards a solution, everything is going well, we're open with each other, we're sharing, he likes us, we like him, "when are you ready to make a decision on this?" we ask using our newfound position as "trusted business advisor".

"Well...December is a busy month," says the prospect.

I've been thinking a lot about this...this....phenomenon of American business. I assume that businesses in other countries do not suffer from this malaise that sets upon us somewhere around the Monday before Thanksgiving and doesn't lift until sometime in late January.

Why is December a busy month? Is it any busier than any other month? Why not March? March has the onset of Spring, St. Patrick's Day, and the Easter holidays.

Budget is a possible explanation. People have either exhausted their budget for the calendar year, they are building their budgets for the next year or a combination of both. I don't believe it is as simple as a money issue.

Vacations are another possible explanation. But research is stating we don't take enough vacation. And I estimate that everyone who takes vacation is going to take it at roughly the same time. I'll grant you 7 days +/- a day or two for those 3 people out there that take their entire two weeks at the end of the year.

No, my friends, budget time and vacation days are not the root. They are excuses. This is a leadership problem. This is a decision-making problem. Decisions are made by committee. I think we need a Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom (yes, I know I am dating myself) to send Marlin and Jim Fowler out into the corporate wilds. Marlin can sit safely in the Land Rover while Jim wrestles gatekeepers to find the elusive person with single decision making authority!

Is anyone else familiar with this phenomenon? Discuss!

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Sales and Marketing in the Third Age

Great article by Jeff Thull on recognizing trends in sales process/sales management and guidance on how to succeed in what he calls the "Era 3" stage in the evolution of the sales organization.

Let's jump right to Era 3....where business problems are more and more complex as are the solutions. Nothing is out of the box anymore. Era 3 is also rife with choice. The sales person's job is to analyze the customer's business and become a "trusted business advisor". To be successful, an Era 3 Salesperson (E3SP) needs to roll up their sleeves, live the customer's processes, figure out root cause problem areas and then solve for those unique problems. She has to go BEYOND the expertise of the customer as Thull says. The solution process is a collaboration. Their should be an on-going dialog. Theories must be tested and thoughts confirmed.

The E3SP must understand how to translate the value of her product or service. How will it solve the unique and complex business problems of the customer. You can't sell features and benefits anymore. You have to help the customer understand the root of his business process issues and SHOW him how you are going to solve for it.

So, how do you sell value? According to Thull, you must understand the 3 levels of value: Product, Process and Performance. Let's break them down:

Level 1 - Product: The salesperson is working with purchasing and maybe (maybe) operations regarding pricing and characteristics of the product. "The customer perceives that the value derived from the product is....available from multiple suppliers."

Level 2 - Process: The salesperson is working with operations and other relevant departments impacted by process problems we are solving for. The focus is on the process. This level is about productivity increases.

Level 3 - Performance: You are selling to VITO (very important top officer). You and your offering are working at the enterprise level. You are a strategic partner. Its about competitive advantage at this point.

When you operate at Level 3, your customer realizes that you provide a value leverage that no one else is. Your relationship is so; well, valuable to him that he sees a very high risk in switching to a competitor.

Make sure your sales team is engaging in conversations with your customers. Building relationships. Listening. Diagnosing processes and problems. Relating the problems other customers experienced. "Are you having similar problems?"

Make sure your sales team is talking to the right person. If you're talking to Angie in purchasing...well, you're dead. You're done. You are a commodity my friend. You are not a valued and trusted business partner.

At the end of the day:

You must think for your customers, creating revenue-building solutions that they don't have the time or the wherewithal to come up with and/or implement for themselves. And because the salesperson is the face of your company, he or she must be in the thick of the action, tirelessly working on behalf of those customers.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Peter Drucker - Tireless Chronicler of American Business

I know, I know. I am late to lament the loss of Peter Drucker. The man who gave birth to the field/study of "management" passed away on November 11th. He was 95 years old and left a legacy of theory and practice for us to consider as long as there are people doing work and someone taking note of their performance. He is arguably one of the most influential business leaders of all time. Perhaps even the top.

Link to the Wharton tribute/obituary. The article solicits thoughts from Wharton professors regarding Drucker's influence on management theory and practice. Something I didn't know was that of the 30 books he published, Drucker wrote a book on Japanese painting and two novels. Jerry Wind calls him a "true renaissance person". Wind goes on to say:

In his writing he bridged management as well as social and behavioral science, clearly demonstrating that no management problem can be addressed effectively from the narrow confines of a single discipline.
Drucker coined the term "knowledge worker"; he was a champion of managers getting out of the way of their employees and letting their expertise shine; and some consider him the father of marketing as well. He is quoted in this article as having said that "the role of business is to create a customer." His writings over the last 60+ years still ring true. He is a down to basics theorist. Simple yet not simplistic as one of the professors said. His teachings still ring true.

If there were ever a Saint of Management, I would have a little Peter Drucker figurine glued to the top of my computer monitor to watch over me as I reviewed spreadsheets and coached my teams.

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Monday, November 07, 2005

Seek Profit Not Revenue

Another great article from the CEO Refresher from Michael W. McLaughlin. When to Walk Away From a Sale: Nine Pivotal Questions goes beyong B.A.N.T. (budget, authority, need, timeline). This is the advanced course on qualifying your sales leads. Strap in because these are the hard questions. The ones that will make you break out in a sweat. The ones you aren't asking today. The one's that if you did ask you would be spending MUCH less time writing proposals for prospects that go nowhere.

1. Don't Use the Proposal Process to Define the Project. If the prospect can't articulate the goals, feel free to put on your consultant hat and help them frame the business problem. Don't start drafting proposals that they can hand off to someone else to implement.

2. Is This Bob's Super Secret Project? Does Bob have approval AND funding from higher up the mountain? Even if Bob is CEO, does the Board say he is good to go. If not, this isn't a real project. You can help Bob get approval for his project and make sure you are there when he pitches to his boss. Don't invest too much though....because the project still isn't real.

3. What is the decision making process? How will a winner be picked? Every prospect will tell you they have a process. Dart throwing is not a process. You say they don't have a process? Here's an opportunity for you to become a trusted business advisor and help them create one. Beware the apples to apples comparison. Fruits are not created equal for a reason. Your niche approach SHOULD NOT stack up against the competition. I mean that in a positive way. do have a niche, right? If your offering is a commodity why are you reading this?

4. Who signs the checks? Figure out who this person is and engage with them immediately. Yes, you may have to ask your contact who the real decision maker is for the project. Proceed without knowing at your own risk. Use diplomacy. Position yourself as helping the prospect. While you are at it, find all the people influencing the decision. Talk to them. Get them to buy in.

5. Who is doing the work now? Is there an incumbent? Is the prospect out shopping for competitive bids to drive the incumbent's price down? You may want to know that before you start drafting proposals and generally wasting time chasing something no one is ever going to get. Yes. Prospects will deceive you.

6. Can your company deliver? You may not really WANT this project. As the author says,

Not all revenue is good revenue...

7. What are the opportunity costs? This goes with number 6. Are the projects in your pipeline more valuable than the new project? I understand that many of us don't have this luxury.

8. Why did the client call you? McLaughlin has this as number 8. I think it should be number 1. See number 5. Are you there because the prospect's boss wants 3 vendors to compare? Or are you there because your marketing is working and your message resonated? What does the prospect know about you? What they DON'T say is as important as what they do say. Listen between the lines.

9. Do you buy it? Trust your instincts. Weigh all the factors you are gathering. Is the project "real"? What are the politics on the prospect side? What probability of successful closure do you think exists? Weigh the risk-rewards.

This is a great set of questions to get you beyond B.A.N.T. This will let you dive deeper into your clients and help you through the discover and qualification process and get you to a winning proposal. McLaughlin wrote a book with Jay Levinson (Guerilla Marketing) focused on consultants but this list applies to anyone marketing or selling any kind of product or service.

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Apologies to My Two Email Subscribers

I switched from bloglet to feedblitz for email notifications. Sorry about that. Trying to consolidate everything down to as few interfaces as possible. I am trying to use this blog as a marketing and networking tool. And not necessarily in that order. So far so good. Sorry for any inconvenience. Feedblitz *should* import your records but I can't see where I can verify.

More on Hammering - Boxing Lessons

Raj Setty of 25 Ways to Distinguish Yourself fame touches on boxing in a post from earlier this week. (I posted a comment - but you have to register.) Earlier, I wrote about our tendency to fit people in neat and tidy boxes. I talked about hiring managers but Raj talks to the fact that we all do this. Every day. You meet someone new and they begin telling you about themselves, our monkey brains almost immediately begin chattering away at us searching through the boxes in our brains to "fit" this person. We seek to find the relatioship points. What aspects of my life does this person intersect? Better yet, what aspects of this person's life can I help? The important thing is to differentiate yourself. Be a hammer.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

PocketMod (I Love the Internet)

Lifehacker flipped me to PocketMod. The ultimate is simplicity. Click on the upper right hand corner of the first page to "Create a PocketMod". This is for those of you that don't want to carry a laptop, a pda, a notebook or even a Hipster PDA is just too much for you. This is Getting Things Done origami!

This is going to be great for my daughter. 8 pages of DOTS! She's 4 and loves the game. I am not a GTD disciple. I am, however, fairly organized. I love my moleskine. Prior to that I have been a huge proponent of the index card. My wife has mocked me for years about my obsession with index cards. BUT THEY WORK! The PocketMod is big batch of convergence for me. Origami. Organization. Cool templates. And the genius of the Internet hive mind. I can't wait to see other templates they come up with.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Lend a Hand(Shake)

FCnow, the blog for Fast Company magazine had an entry on shaking hands today. I posted a comment and effectively (I think) recycled a post I made last January on interviewing and making a first impression. See "Uncle Mike's Old School Guide to Interviewing" here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Be A Hammer

Great link from Lifehacker today on how to apply for a job. It is really a link from craigslist. But I have to credit where I first saw it. Good article on resume and cover letter writing and a general approach. This is relevant to diligentia because I am going through a change of life or midlife crisis of sorts. Perspective is relative. Trying to determine what I want to be when I grow up, etc.

Had a great conversation with Harry aka Marketing Headhunter last week. He is sherpa-ing me through the "who am I" part of the journey. I've been doing a jack of all trades, master of none kind of thing for awhile. I have a varied array of skills sets. The problem is that when I start talking about them or putting them down on paper in the format of a resume, it comes out as noise.

And I am really just starting to wake up to that fact. I'm learning that a lot of people doing the hiring (of personnel or outsource vendors) don't really know what they are doing or dont have the time or dont think they have the time. They have a list of criteria worded in a very specific way and they set about trying to find someone that matches that criteria perfectly. They have a box of a certain size and they try to fit you in that box. If you don't fit, you're done. Discarded. Removed from the deck. It does NOT matter if you can fit in 10 different kinds of boxes.

Harry's advice. Be a hammer. Solve a specific problem for a specific market.

YOU have to be the one to control the box. So HELP these decision makers. Don't be a screwdriver when they need a hammer. Be a hammer when they need a hammer. The craigslist posting talks to all of this. Be specific. Tailor your responses.

[Note from the editor: Welcome to our new RSS subscribers. Thanks for signing up. Feel free to post a comment and introduce yourselves. - Mike]

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

25 Ways to Distinguish Yourself

Finally just got through reading Rajesh Setty's 25 Ways to Distinguish Yourself manifesto on Change This. He positions this towards technology professionals but it will apply to anyone. EVERYTHING is becoming commoditized. This is a big foundation point of the start-up I am attempting to help launch. Add value. Don't just sit in a cube. Here are the highlights:

1. Care As If It Is Your Own. Take Care of people: customers, clients, teammates, peers.
3. Build Strong Relationships. Relationships sustain ONLY when there is mutual value.
5. Set the Right Expectations. "Underpromise and overdeliver."
6. Ask for Help. There is more help than you need out there. Be ready to give when it is your turn.
7. Celebrate Small Victories.
8. Set Higher Standards. Michael Jordan described the secret to his success as demanding more from himself that anybody else would or ever will.
9. Know Your Values. Get introspective. It SHOULD take a long time to figure these out. If you are honest with yourself and not copying something you read off a website.
10. Pursue Right Memberships. They can payoff big time.
11. Help People Help Themselves. Teach them to fish, don't just hand it to them.
12. Be a Reader. All leaders are readers. I think Tom Peters talks about the payoff from being able to extract just 1 idea from every book.
13. Plan By Outcomes. Not by activities. What do you want to ACCOMPLISH this week?
14. Think Long-Term.
15. Embrace Uncertainty With Ease. There are no guarantees in life. None. Deal with it.
16/18. Ask the Right Questions/Be Relevant. Pay attention. Listen. Look for signs that the person you are talking to is disengaging from you.
19. Get Back on Your Feet Fast! Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Once more into the breach.
20. Lead a Volunteer Effort. Its not enough to just volunteer.
21. Balance Innovation and Continuous Improvement. Setty and I take the same line. Peters wants us to forget CI. I advocate balance.
22. Learn to Sell. EVERYONE sells. Get over yourself. Lose the stigma of being a "salesperson". Your not selling used cars. Your selling a product or service. Your selling yourself. Not selling OUT. Selling your UNIQUE VALUE PROPOSITION. If not, you're just another number if another veal fattening pen.
23. Learn Systems Thinking. Understand the system as a whole and the mutual interaction of the underlying parts of the system. The effect of changing one part needs to be understood. the way...EVERYTHING is a system.
24. Influence the Influencers. Figure out who they are in the group you are talking to and talk to them directly. They move things. Go back to 16, 18 and 22. Rinse. Repeat.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

New Links

Just added a couple of links to diligentia: D*I*Y Planner which got its start from 43 Folders and Lifehacker. Slacker Manager has a relevant, for me, post today on how to fast track yourself. I've been reading SM for awhile now. Check for his post on his "Murse" or man-purse as he calls it. It makes me feel a little self conscious. I brought the Murse to Rochester, NY (where diligentia is published)!

It started as a messenger bag which was a necessity while I was living in Boston. I commuted for an hour each way via subway and bus. I needed something to stash my Walkman (! Cassettes ! Which I painstakingly made myself, copy tracks from LPs!), tapes, papers, books I was reading, etc. Once I moved to Western, NY land of limited public transportation, I opted to keep the bag. It has since morphed into a bag from Lands End which is a cross between a map bag, messenger bag and DJ bag. I still keep a ton of stuff in it. A mini first aid kit, assorted pens, highlighters and mini tools (screwdriver and mini-Leatherman), an empty Altoids case which holds a usb drive and a compact flash card, assorted cds (data and music), my moleskine for work and my personal moleskine, index cards, my NASA calculator, sometimes my palmpilot which i have really gotten away from using and other related junk.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Death by Meeting

Just got through reading Patrick Lencioni's Death by Meeting. I've been meaning to read some of his books for awhile now. Picked this up at my local library. Loved it. A quick, easy and informative read. He conveys his message in the form of a story, a fable, as he calls it. It works surprisingly well.

I hate meetings. They suck the life out of everyone. It doesn't need to be this way. Agenda's are NOT the answer! I'll cut to the chase with relevant links:

The Meetings structures - the types of meetings.
The Tactical Meeting Guide - how to do it.

This is one of those read it, know it, live it kind of things.

Stop the madness! Put an end to bad meetings!

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The Essence of Leadership

The latest Working Knowledge has an article on leadership by Jonathan Byrnes. I'm always a fan of insights into leadership. I am always on the never-ending quest for the best definition of leadership I can find. This presents problems when someone asks me to define a leader versus a manager. This article attempts to bridge the gap a little.

Byrnes talks about a few things: ambidextrous leadership; leading paradigmatic change; (this is Harrr-vahhhhd people, it just can't be called "change", we must use "paradigmatic" in front of it at all times); the 8 essential characteristics of paradigmatic change and then asks the age old question of are leaders born or created.

Ambidextrous leadership involves the capacity to execute within the current business model (in the article he used "business paradigm") or "the way we do business" [today] while reflecting on the model and finding ways to improve it and manage that change process to a beneficial outcome.

In order to implement change, especially wholesale changes in the way you do business, not, for example, changing the brand of copier paper you use, you need eight characterisitics according to Byrnes:
  • Capacity for passion. You must WANT to make things better. You need passion to get you through the grinder that is change management.
  • Perspective. You have to be able to detach and view what you are doing while you are doing it. I think Jim Collins refers to this as the balcony and the dancefloor. You have to be able to step off the floor and view things from above (the balcony) every once in awhile.
  • Creativity. You need innovation and creativity to visualize new and more effective ways of doing things. Assuming you have achieved enlightenment while sitting in the balcony.
  • Organization skills. You must be able to translate your vision into a step-by-step PLAN. No plan means you are just wandering around. Your people will not let go of the old on their own. You have to GUIDE them.
  • Teamwork. duh.
  • Persistence. Passion gets you started. Persistence gets you through.
  • Open-mindedness. A good leader needs a high level of tolerance for ambiguity. Sometimes you have to make it up as you go. But if you have a good plan, this is OK.
  • Integrity. Being genuine. Being motivated by your deeply held values to make your company and your team better off. This is where passion, persistence and teamwork come from.

Byrnes closes with the born or bred question. He does make a good point earlier on:

Can you be a good leader without being a good manager? In my experience, the best leaders are also great managers, and the best managers have strong leadership capabilities. To be successful, you must have both a passion for improving your organization and the capability to drive your efforts through to completion.

Byrnes takes the safe way out, which is good and is what I believe. Natural leaders have important CORE abilities. But Caesar just didn't wake up one day as Caesar. He trained. He studied. He learned. He developed. Most likely he learned how to convert his vision into an action plan.

The rank and file CAN develop their leadership skills by working at it as well. They have to learn to be ambidextrous. They have to be excellent at the day-to-day. They have to go beyond that and determine if they have the heart and the desire to be uncomfortable for prolonged periods of time while conceptualizing and leading the change.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Marketing to the Right Customer Type

Read an article from about winning the budget battle with your CFO. There is a good digression in the middle of the article about understanding the different types of customers you may have and the revenue objectives you should (or should not) have for each type. Each industry is different, each company is different. Your mileage WILL vary. The important element is that all customers represent different revenue opportunities. You have to do the work to analyze which customers you have.

Who are your marketing dollars targeting? And why?

Existing customers - present 3 primary marketing opportunities:

Maintenance - do your customers provide a recurring revenue stream? (do you require a licensing or other kind of contractual fee?) As a marketer to these type of customers, you want to market just enough to reduce churn but no so much that you will erode your margins.

Loyalty - how are you preventing your customers from switching to a competitor? How do you keep your customers choosing YOUR products and services? Continued, on-going marketing can drive increasing loyalty and wallet share.

Up/Cross Selling - Whatever. Upsell. Cross-sell. Same difference. How you take exisiting customers from being a one item purchase and getting them to get the matching jacket to the pants they just bought or using analytics to INFORM the customer that other customers JUST LIKE THEM are buying a pair of shoes that complement the pants PERFECTLY. Increase your share of wallet this way.

Marketing to reduce churn and/or "save" a customer - customers have many choices available to them. They WILL want to switch once in awhile. Here's where you, as Marketing person have to get out your calculators and sharpen your pencils. How much was this customer worth? Do you want this customer as a customer? Sometimes the answer is no. I know this may come as a shcck to some. I am a heretic. Deal with it.

Marketing to Acquire New Customers - new customers are NOT the same as existing customers. There is a customer life cycle. It may be minutes long, it may be LIFETIMES long. What is your average customer life cycle? I digress. If you are a business needing growth, you MUST turn to marketing. In a highly commoditized, high churn business, new customer acquisition MUST exceed the amount of customer churn in order to deliver growth. Marketing is about math. Its not about being the guy or girl that comes up with the idea of guys in chicken masks thrashing out to fried chicken sticks.

Marketing to increase brand and start/advance the sales cycle - Brand awareness is a critical part of the sales cycle. You have a "touch" a customer x number of times before they are ready to buy (on high ticket items). (Everyone argues about the number of times). Marketings job is to deliver REVENUE OPPORTUNITES. I love that concept...revenue opportunities. Its an investment in future sales.

Experimental marketing - This is your Vegas bankroll. Trying out different approaches, different channels is important. You never know what will resonate with your customers until you TRY. Are you allocating some of your budget to blogging, podcasting, etc? You are MEASURING effectiveness, right?

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

"The Turnaround" on CNN

I've been turned on to an interesting show on CNN called "The Turnaround". The show takes a small business owner with a struggling business and pairs he or she up with a mentor from a similar field/industry. Usually at a much larger scale. This week, for example, a small general contractor was paired up with a multi-billion dollar home builder.

With the exception of the Kathy Ireland show, this has been a great series. The mentor usually brings his crew along to break down various aspects of the business. Usually, the big themes are marketing related. Are you priced right? Are your materials professionally done and up to date? What kind of analysis are you doing on your data? Are you even collecting data? Do you know your customers? How well? Are you surveying them? What does the survey look like?

The pareto rule plays a big part in this series. Each mentor usually makes the business owner understand the 80% of revenue comes from 20% of the customers. Niche! Big on selling to the niche! Big on making people PAY for your expertise/quality/level of service, etc. All things that we are ALL about here at diligentia.

I recommend using your Tivo on this one though. A LOT of filler. Lead-in and lead-out bumper filler material. Lot of re-capping that is not necessary. If you tivo, you only really have to watch about 25 minutes of show. Go check it out.

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Friday, July 29, 2005

I Think The Top of My Head Just Blew Off

Harry over at Marketing Headhunter linked to a site that delivers a COMPREHENSIVE page of links on "management methods, models and theories." [Link to] 12manage is an MBA-level management education portal that summarizes over 300 business methods and models while "applying scientific rigor while testing practical relevance." I ripped that last sentence from Harry. Sorry. How many different ways can you say it though? The site is hard on the eyes because it attempts to jam these 300 links into one page view. I will post a warning: BEWARE! You could get lost for days in there.

For those of you just wanting to dip your toes in the pool, I would recommend QuickMBA. No where near as comprehensive as 12manage but displayed and organized into tasty bite-sized nuggets.

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

New Link and RSS Feed

Podcasting is next! :) Yesterday I got Diligentia hooked up with Feedburner. You can now subsribe to us with your favorite RSS reader. I also put a link over on the left to friend and colleague Meg Wier and her Ramblings of an Insomniac blog which focuses on her experience with search engine optimization (SEO). Which is a fascinating brand of sorcery if you ask me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


I only learned about S.M.A.R.T. goals a few years ago. I'm not really a huge acronym/mneumonics guy but I find I use this one quite often. It would be fair to say that I use this every day. Every time I get in front of a client. Every time I sit down with someone on my team. Every time I go through a strategic session with my partners. We make sure our goals our S.M.A.R.T.

Lifehacker linked to an article/posting from Goal Setting Guide. S.M.A.R.T. - Specific - Measurable - Attainable/Achievable - Realistic - Timely.

Specific - keep it simple. Keep it focused, no rambling. CLEARLY define what you are going to do. What, why, and how are the questions that should be answered in this section of your goal. What do you ultimately what to accomplish? How are you going to get there.

Measurable - favorite part. What gets measured gets done. If you aren't going to measure it people, don't bother doing it. If you are just starting out using S.M.A.R.T. keep things simple. You can get fancy later by adding progress points into the goal. (Have a quarter of the lawn mowed by Monday, half by Tuesday, etc.) Don't feel pressured to go nutty with this though. Make sure that you have your measuring criteria CLEARLY defined BEFORE you start out towards your goal. According to the Goal Setting Guide:

When you measure your progress, you stay on track, reach your target dates, and experience the exhilaration of achievement that spurs you on to continued effort required to reach your goals.
Well...that and it can also show you where you are failing miserably and point to the specific points of derailment. Don't let that deter you though. Figure out where it went bad, fix it, redefine the goal (if needed) and hit it.

Achievable - Don't pad your goals. At the former company, we used S.M.A.R.T. goals except everyone padded. They didn't stretch. I naturally didn't pad and struggled mightily to achieve the goals I set for my crew. A goal needs to stretch you where you will have to COMMIT to it. If you have been producing 20 widgets a day for the last 20 years, don't come in with "21" as your goal. Come in with 30! And tell me how you're going to get there!

Realistic - doable. Not easy. See above. From the site:

It means that the learning curve is not a vertical slope; that the skills needed to do the work are available; that the project fits with the overall strategy and goals of the organization. A realistic project may push the skills and knowledge of the people working on it but it shouldn't break them.
Timely - every goal MUST have a timeframe. Putting an end point on your goal gives you a clear target. No timeframe means you are not COMMITTED to the goal. No time limit means no urgency.

Read it, know it, live it.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The 5 Customer Satisfaction Questions You Will Ever Need

The latest copy of the Mun's Report [link will expire but can be accessed if you register] from the Help Desk Institute has a great piece on choosing customer satisfaction (csat) questions to measure the performance of your service team. You ARE measuring the performance of your team from the eyes of your customers (end-users), right? HDI has been surveying various companies that provide service and support (tech support, help desk, other forms of customer or end-user facing service) to determine best practices.

The idea of a csat process is to determine the performance level of your service team. Are you meeting your customer's expectations? Are you failing to meet them which could and usually does mean your customers will dump you and find someone who will? Or...are you providing too much service which is just added cost for you?

The questions (in order of importance):

1. Courtesy of the Analyst - Your customer deserves and and expects to be treated in a courteous/professional manner. If you are scoring poorly here you need to make sure you have communicated the absolute importance of service and satisfied customers to your team. You may also need to specifically train customer service skills. I know this sounds odd, but people simply do NOT have a service mentality. Make sure you are hiring service oriented people as well.

2. Skills and Knowledge of the Analyst - While a courteous analyst is nice, it won't make a bit of difference if that analyst can't solve the customer's problem. Your customers want confidence in the analyst's skills and knowledge to resolve the issue at hand. This is the best way to measure your team's skill and knowledge level. (You do know their basic skill level, right? You benchmarked during the hiring and training process, right? You assessed them before they came on board and after they completed your training, right?). Weaknesses here go back to the hiring and training process. Don't have the money to implement a knowledge-base? Build a wiki. Find a way to get to best practices among your team. Everyone should be solving things roughly the same way. I personally hate scripting, but troubleshooting and solving problems doesn't leave a lot of room for interpretation if you do it properly.

3. Quality of the Resolution - Again, courteous and (seemingly) knowledgable agents are good, if doens't matter if they don't actually SOLVE problems. Customers calling back to fix the same problem over and over again is a customer that is going to churn on you.

4. Timeliness of the Resolution - Time is money! Fix your customer's problem the first time they call. Two things happen if you don't: you drive up your total cost per incident (you are measuring cost per ticket/incident/case, right?) and you irritate your customer's...see churn above. This is a process problem. Break it down step by step. No step is too small. Trouble lies in the handoffs.

5. Overall Experience - This is really the weighted average of the first 4. Keep in mind that customers will weigh each of the above differently. If you have a low score (bottom two boxes out of 5), CALL THAT CUSTOMER AND BEG THEM TO HELP YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU CAN DO BETTER!

6. Additional Feedback - always, always, always allow your customer to give you open ended feedback. Let them vent. Not only will they tell you what is wrong (and right if you are lucky) they will tell you how to FIX IT.

Feel free to add an additional targeted question if you must. But this is a great approach.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Situational Value Systems

The July 2005 issue of Business 2.0 has an article about Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management which is a book written by Bill Swanson, CEO of Raytheon. This book is unavailable in stores but you can get it direct from Raytheon. (Link.) "The CEO's Secret Handbook" lays out a couple of the tips/hints/ideas. One particularly jumps out at me. The rule reminds me of a friend and colleague (Jenn S.) because we have discussed the subject many times. It started with her telling me one day that she realized I was always nice to waiters/waitresses.

Like Swanson, I told her that:

A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter - or to others - is not a nice person. (This rule NEVER fails.)

I put the emphasis on the never but it is true. Swanson refers to this type of person as one that has situational value systems. These are people that can turn their charm on and off. You all know people that do this. You all know someone that is an absolute ass to anyone in a position of serving the public. These people will never make great leaders.

"There's a consistency in leadership that's greater than mere situational awareness."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Small-Unit Leadership, 101

Another article from the Marines. I think I am starting to obsess. This one comes from the Help Desk Institute. This article compiles sage Marine Corp advice from First Sgt. Paul Berry. I'll highlight a couple of them here and apply them to the cubicle wars:

  • Its OK to allow Marines to take their blouse off if it is hot. Berry goes on to say "Don't worry SgtMajor, they won't do it in the rear." I hate dress codes. I hate having to talk to people about dress codes. I AM torn between dressing professionally and business casual. But, business casual it is. And you know what, I know I won't have to get in front of a client today, so I am wearing flip flops. Anarchy is not prevailing. Obviously, you don't want people running around topless in your particular cube farm. But if nothing crucial is happening and the troops want to wear shorts why is it such a big deal?
  • Promote your Marines on time if you can. I've worked for a number of places that consistently drag their feet on promotions. Part of the problem is that they did not have a structured plan for graduating people from level to level. Or even had levels. But most of the problem is that upper management just didn't graps how much a simple grade change could mean to someone.
  • Dig holes; dig many of them. Build your defenses. Protect yourselves. Grow slowly and consistently. Set your foundations.
  • No one has too much rank to dig. This is my favorite piece of advice. I worked for a small company (12 full time people). I had a guy working for me as a team leader. He was young and inexperienced. That should not matter. One day the toilet in the men's room was in need of plunging. He came into my office in a huff telling me the situation. Shocked that I had hired such a person I nevertheless pointed him to the maintenance closet containing the plunger. He refused. He was walked out the door. I plunged the toilet. No one has too much rank to plunge a toilet.

Remember: decentralizing your management structure is one of the key principles of the Marines. Managers must always remain responsible but smart managers delegate, pushing authority down to the lowest practical levels.

Berry also mentions that you should use your snipers. But I can't really find any practical application of that in the business world. Well...none that I can print.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Managing at the Right Level

You may have to register to link to the article. I recently let a position where I found myself managing down the chain and getting myself involved in managing scenarios that should have been handled by my team. Jonathan Byrnes relates that this is a fairly common scene.

The problem is that promoted managers rarely get trained how to manage at higher levels. I would agree that the problem perpetuates itself. In my situation, I was so insanely micro-managed that I simply HAD to jump down one and two levels to ensure that everything was done according to the specifics of MY manager. Which is really just no way to go through life.

The author goes on to give some good definitions of the various levels of management (manager, director, and vp):

Managers oversee and operate functional areas within departments. They are responsible for efficient execution and process improvements and the generally operate in a short time frame.

Directors run departments. They are responsible for the development and efficiency of their staff. They are also responsible for restructuring their deparments for "quantum improvements" and working with the directors of other departments to jointly improve the company's performance. The time frame is usually medium-term.

Vice Presidents are responsible for the FUTURE. They should spend their time working with their counterparts to develop and oversee programs of renewing change. This involves gauging and understanding profitability patterns, market opportunities and company effectiveness, as well as evaluating, adapting and adopting best practices from other companies. VPs should NOT be focused on managing the company as it is TODAY, but rather focusing on creating a fundamentally new and better company.

There is a danger to managing too low. You run the risk of missing management-process problems. The solution is to drain the swamp so that the stumps appear. To drain the swamp, managers must refocus their attention to the correct level. Once this happens, lasting improvements should follow.

Great. How do you do this, you ask. Measure. Measure. Measure. First, have your managers list the components of their jobs and estimate the time they spend on each. THEN, have them keep time logs (which everyone hates and are a huge pain but they DO generate trending data...usable trending data) for about a week. This creates a snapshot and usually presents a very clear picture of how someone is spending their time. It works. I've used it.

Next, conduct an assessment. A compare and contrast. What portion of the job components are the managers actually performing? What can be assigned to subordinates? What is NOT getting done but should be?

Do jobs need to be redefined? Redesign the standard, bland job descriptions that no one is obviously paying any attention. When you redesign, make sure you create and allow for a balance between managing stasis and creating change and innovating.

Once you have done all this, make sure you TRAIN your new managers for their new roles. At the very least, make sure your new hires understand the critical change in focus. More importantly, have you changed your OWN perspective? As a manager moves up, she has to shift focus from managing the current company to creating the future company. And, as always, don't make this a one time thing where you bring in a consultant and then never implement. Or you do all the assessments, redesign jobs and then revert back to the status-quo. You have to perform periodic checkups to make sure you remain on track.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Leadership and Management Theory Defined

I went back and reviewed this article and my post. This isnt a great article. There are good elements but on the whole, the attempt tends to scatter once you get past the table comparing a leader to a manager. Consequently, this post is all over the place as I attempt to tie the fragmented ends together.

This article comes from one of my favorite stops on the Net, The CEO Refresher. And it just so happens that it is written by a Marine, LtCol Mark V. Eberhard. Continuing the Marine Corps trend here at Diligentia. The article breaks down definitions of managers and leaders, compares and contrasts them, talks about different leadership theories, power in leadership roles and the emergence of management theory. I decided to re-write this post to clear up this article a little bit. The transition from the compare and contrast into theory and history is awkward. On the whole, the first half of this article will serve as a great starting point or primer for anyone interested in understanding the difference between leadership and management.

Managers bring order and consistency in drawing up formal plans, forming structures and monitoring results; authority of position gains compliance.
Leaders establish direction by developing a vision and inspiring people to

There is a great line in this article that states that leadership is not a trait but a PROCESS where an individual influences a group of people towards a common goal. A process. I really like that. A process that occurs within the context of a group.

At this point, I would have suggested a Part II or at least a better transition into Leadership Theory and definitions of power. How is that power achieved? Is it earned or handed to a new leader? Does a group pick its leader or is she forced upon the group?

The article then attempts to break down Path-Goal Theory versus Fiedler's Contingency Theory. Path-Goal suggests that a leader's job is to help his team reach their goals by directing, guiding, and coaching them along the way. Show them the goal, tell them they can achieve it, and help them along the way. The problem with Path-Goal is that is often leads the team to become dependent on the leader.

Fiedler came along and noted that effective leadership depends on a match between the leader's style and the demands of the situation. Situations vary. Level of trust between leader and member of the team. Task structure is determined when requirements are clear and choices of action are limited, and results are measurable (I say this is path-goal). And Position power is the power of the leader to alter the team and reward/punish them. All three of these affect the situation. This theory posits that for every situation there is a perfect leader. Well...that's great but what do you do is there is a mismatch?

Trait Leadership is based on the great man theory...leaders are born, not made. You can drop Julius Caesar or Napolean along any timeline and they will still be Caesar or Napolean. All of this has basically led to behaviorist theories. The leader's ACTIONS are most important. It is what she does rather than her attributes. Good leaders have good interpersonal skills, are cooperative and inspire people to work for them through their behaviors.

The article then attempts to transition into what motivates leaders. It forgets about managers completely in the history of theory section. But there is some good stuff here. Maybe three different articles in a series on the history of leadership study. The article gives a pretty lengthy definition of power leadership. There are two types. The first is personalized power where the leader seeks power only to further their own interests. The second is a socialized power motive where the leader uses his power for the sake of others.

For these leaders, there are several motivations. These people are motivated by drive and achievement. The put forth high energy and persistence into achieving goals and they find joy in accomplishments. They have the desire to achieve success through their own efforts and take responsibility for their actions. They are willing to take moderate risks, receive 360 degree feedback, introduce innovative solutions, set goals and plan how those goals will be reached. They are also motivated by a strong work ethic. They are tenacious and therefore better at overcoming obstacles. These leaders have strong intellectual ability and knowledge of the business or team task. It is important for the leader to provide expertise in the field that will be a source of competitive advantage. A leader must be creative in finding original and imaginative solutions to complex problems. Insight into people and situations is yet another characteristic.

Which leads to a brief discussion on the importance of Emotional Intelligence. Too brief. You can sort of see what the author was trying to do. In a not so subtle way, he was trying to impose his beliefs on what makes a good leader. He should have written an article on EI and compared that to leaders subscribing to the socialized power motive. But he didnt. What makes a good leader? depends on the circumstances. A good trauma doctor is not the same as a good construction engineer leading a skyscraper project. A good marine lieutenant will excel in battle conditions and military ops but might not be a good school teacher. I get it. We need leaders that are motivated by the greater good.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Clear Leader and 12 Questions That Matter

I don't subscribe to any one particular flavor of management guru. I love Tom Peters. But I am not a brain-washed follower by any means. I like a helping of Jim Collins. I have a solid foundation built on Sun Tzu. To that end, I am forever reading, researching, seeking. The problem is that everything that is worth anything has already been said. It is more a question of hacking your way through the jungle of guru-speak and the "next greatest trend" to find the tried and true methods.

Along with the reading is the printing out and ripping of pages from magazines, the highlighting, the circling, the underlining, the notes in the margins. Years ago, Fast Company produced a list of the 12 Questions That Matter. I know they did, because I have used them before in team building exercises. For the life of me I can't find it, it's in a binder...somewhere. So I can't credit the author.

In the recent issue of FC (#92/March 2005) there is an article by Bill Breen profiling Marcus Buckingham and his soon to be published book" The One Thing You Need to Know.... (and the title proceeds to fill up two lines on a printed page which seems like a bit of overkill). Buckingham outlines the core concepts that mark superior leadership.

1. Leaders are Compelled by the Future - A leader's job is to rally people toward a better future/common goal. Leader's are COMPELLED to change the present because the present simply isn't good enough. They succeed only when they find a way to make people excited by and confident in what comes next.

2. Turn Anxiety into Confidence. Leaders must engage our fear of the unknown and turn it into spiritedness. To do this, a leader must turn fear into confidence. The surest way to do this is by being CLEAR - to define the future state in such vivid terms that we can see where we are headed. Clarity is the antidote to anxiety.

3. Be Clear About Why You're Going to Win. As a leader, your job is to make people more confident about the future you're dragging them into. You have to tell them why they are going to win. Why will they beat their competitors? Why will they overcome the hurdles in their path?

4. Keep Your Core Score. Here's a key performance indicator: number of engaged employees. See the 12 Questions below. The higher the score, the more engaged your people are, the more engaged the more obstacles they will overcome, motivation begets performance.

5. If You Want to Be Clear, Act. Action leads to impact. No one cares about your core values or your mission statement. We will watch what you do and form our opinions and base our faith and confidence (TRUST) in you on those actions. Action talks, bullshit walks. There are two types of action we respond to: symbolic and systemic.

Symbolic Action - is a representation of what the future can look like. It grabs our attention; it gives us something new and vivid on which to focus.

Systemic Action - changes behavior. For a leader it is important to disrupt routines. It makes people realize that the world is going to be different because they're doing different things. The future becomes clearer and our of that clarity comes confidence.

On to the Q12. Here are the 12 Questions That Matter:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment that I need in order to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the past seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission or purpose of my company make me feel that my job is important?
  9. Are my coworkers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the past 6 months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This past year, have I had the opportunities at work to learn and grow?
I am a fan of employee satisfaction surveys. They take time to develop though. You have to be consistent in rolling them out. You have to be very clear in communicating your intent. You have to share the findings. You have to share the actions you plan to take to correct problem areas. You must be c-o-n-s-i-s-t-e-n-t. You must be patient. It takes a bit of time to build trust.

You could deploy this survey using the 5-scale or the 3-scale. In a 5-scale, you can look at Strongly Disagree-Disagree-Neutral-Agree-Disagree. Only the top two boxes matter. That is why I can say go with a 3-scale: Disagree-Sometimes-Agree. And then only count the "agrees". Just seems simplier and eliminates ambiguity.

I like the Q12 process. I like the idea of an engaged employee. Someone that is IN TO their job/role. Someone that comes to work to kick some butt. Someone that comes ready to play every day. I am going to use this scale the next time around. As I sit here typing, I am thinking that I orgininally saw the Q12 in relation to Mike Abrashoff (google him).

The article goes on to quote that the U.S. working population is 26% engaged, 55% not engaged and 19% actively disengaged. Once you measure, you can then set to work getting those people engaged and I would argue, in some cases, out the door. Sometimes, people, its just not a good fit. But the people you need to look at the most are your supervisors and middle managers.

Without a robust relationship with a manager who sets clear expectations, knows you, trusts you, and invests in you, you're less likely to stay and perform.
Watch those managers and supervisors. The number one reason why people leave a company is not money, not overall compensation, its because their immediate supervisor is a horrible person. Help them become leaders. Teach them have to develop people.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

100 Ways To Help You Succeed/Make Money

I am a Tom Peters fan. I LIKE the fact that he admits when he was wrong. He adapts. He overcomes. He changes with the times. He doesn't waffle though. His theories are tried and true. He tends to stay away from the trendy. Its common-sense guru guidance. This latest collection appeared on ChangeThis one month ago. Tom oftens repeats himself. It is an attempt to hammer ideas home. If you've read Re-Imagine! you have seen most of this before. Here are some of the standouts for me:

#15 You must be able to answer the question: WHAT'S THE DREAM?
Plan. Vision. Brand statement. Animating idea. Beliefs. These are important. None as important as the DREAM. Are you clear on the dream? Is the dream clear? Has it become blurred by too many "clever distractions"? Then you must go out and CONNECT. Convey the dream. One person at a time.

#28 Remarkagle Point of View/R.POV8!. If you can't describe your position in 8 words or less, you don't have a position. Tom stole that from Seth Godin. He goes on to quote Jerry Garcia:
You do not merely want to be the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.
The query that must never be far from your consciousness: IS WHAT I'M UP TO REMARKABLY DIFFERENT, AND CAN IT BE CAPTURED IN SIMPLE, COMPELLING LANGUAGE?

#32 Mimic Lord Nelson. 13 Lessons from Nelson: Britannia's God of War:
  1. Simple scheme.
  2. Noble purpose!
  3. Engage others.
  4. Find great talent, let it soar!
  5. Lead by Love!
  6. Trust your gut, not the focus group: Seize the Moment!
  7. Vigor!
  8. Master your craft.
  9. Work harder than the next person.
  10. Show the way, walk the talk, exude confidence! Start a Passion Epidemic!
  11. Change the rules: Create your own game!
  12. Shake off the pain, get back up off the ground, the timing may well be right tomorrow!
  13. By hook or by crook, quash your fear of failure, savor your quirkiness and participate fully in the fray!
#33 Out-Read 'Em!
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from Father Philip Franciscini [not sure on the spelling]. He was my highschool freshman Latin teacher. He is the only man I recall actually fearing. On the last day of school that year, he told us to read something every day. Even if it was a comic book. Tom agrees: Read! Read Wide! Read Deep! Read Often! Surprise yourself with your reading picks! Out-READ the competition! Take notes! Summarize! Share with others what you read! Create/Join a Reading Salon! Cultivate a learning-curiousity ADDICTION!

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Across the Interview Table

Lifehacker picked up an entry from Management Craft on questions the interview-ee should ask during an interview process. Mostly from Lisa Haneberg's Management Craft. "How to Interview Potential Employers" is a nice guide to the advanced class on the interview process. Hopefully, you've already read "Uncle Mike's Old School Guide to Interviewing" and "The 25 Most Difficult Interview Questions." The interview is not a one way process. You should be there to work with the hiring manager to determine if you are a good fit for the company. Help them through this process. You need to find out about the company, more than you can find through Google. You need to find out about the person you will work for and the people you will work with. You will also need to find out about the specific job. To those ends:

About the hiring manager:
  • Do you like your job? (WATCH how they answer, read the signs).
  • What are your career goals? (Where is this person going? Are they done? Is there room for movement once you get in the door and prove your value?
  • Of which accomplishment are you most proud?
  • How do you tend to manage people? What are your hot buttons? What stresses you out?
  • What is turnover like in the department? Why do people leave the department? (Again, pay attention to the body language. People usually leave because of the supervisor. Do they blow off this question?)
  • Describe the work culture. What type of person is most likely to succeed/fail? How many people have you promoted? (This goes hand in hand with the turnover question. A good manager gets his people promoted up and out of his/her team.)
About the company:
  • You have done your homework on the company and its industry, right? (You should know the company's history, its product/service evolutions, its performance, its market, its competitors, its customers, its current and future challenges.)
  • Is the company meeting its current goals? Why?
  • Who does the company feel are its main competitors? Is this company the only one that provides such a unique offering? (Jerry Garcia said that you should try to be the only one that does what you do.)
  • What is the company doing to adapt to changes in the industry, the world, etc?
About the gig:
  • Define success for this position.
  • Where have those in the past failed? Why?
  • If they were successful, where are they now? Were they promoted? Moved to other projects, etc?
  • Discuss and understand the evolution of the position.
  • How will success be measured for the person in this position? Not the same as the first question. Defining and measuring are TWO completely separate elements.
  • Describe a typical day/week. What is the lunch/break ritual? Do people run for the exits? Do they eat at their desks? Does everyone commune in the break room?
  • How many people are working at 7pm, 9pm, 11pm? (Assuming a 9-5 day). Why are they doing this? If the answer is high, there is a staffing problem. Is it temporary?
  • Define meetings. Type, frequency, attendees, length of each. I am a big fan of Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni. Meetings should always help, never hurt.
  • How is communication handled? Email? Voice mail?
If you are lucky enough to meet with someone that would be a peer, that is, someone that also works for the hiring manager (and you should ask if you can meet with such a person and probably be very concerned depending on the level of the position, if you aren't meeting with more than one person):
  • What is it like to work fir the hiring manager?
  • Ask your work environment questions from above?
  • What do they like most/least about her work?
  • What is turnover like? (it never hurts to doublecheck)
  • What type of person has found success in this position? Why?
  • Is it fun?
Be sure not to flip open your pleather legal pad holder that you thought you needed to have because everyone else has one and start ripping off these questions one after the other. The hiring process is a dialogue. Talk. Communicate. Most importantly, try to remember, no matter how desperate you may be, that just because a company is willing to hire you doesn't mean that you want the job. Take it from someone who knows.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Components of a Good Business Case

I spend a lot of time writing proposals for projects we want to conduct for various clients. Much of the proposal process, if not all of it, revolves around building your "case" for the project. Most of the clients I see want to engage in a pure ROI discussion which is disconcerting because it is difficult to calculate ROI on a value-based proposition. But that is a post for another time. Today, I thought I would break down what I feel goes into a good business case or proposal.

There are three main reasons for creating a business case:
  1. To demonstrate the strategic alignment and sense of urgency of the project in question. (Does this project make sense?)
  2. To define the scope of the proposed project.
  3. To show the financial and operational benefits associated with the proposed project.

There are also some secondary reasons. A good business case should help:

  1. Identify risks inherent to the project and strategies for managing them.
  2. Identify and understand rejected alternative solutions.
  3. Target resource requirements (other than cash outlay) needed to accomplish the project.

A good business case or proposal should serve as the foundation for an implementation plan or roadmap.

Discalimer: every business case is differnt. Customize to fit your specific scenario. Your mileage may vary. A solid business case should contain the following elements:

  • Executive Summary - Provide the operational and financial highlights of the business case.
  • Introduction - Explain motivation for proposed project.
  • Solution Description - Identify the proposed actions along with scope and time frames
  • Benefits Discussion - Identify the expected financial and operational benefits. Do not forget to include on-going benefits. (Size, certainty, and timing.) I would recommend using ranges for benefit estimates and talk about the probabilities of the range of outcomes.
  • Costs Discussion - Identifying all costs, in financial and operational terms of the project, both initial and on-going. Due diligence is key. Do not leave anything out. Do not think that you will be able to hold a client hostage after the fact. Unless, of course, you are a big software vendor. Just like in the benefits discussion, ranges are better than absolutes.
  • Risk Management Discussion - Identify the risks, all of them, associated with the proposed project and approach for managing these risks.
  • Value Creation Discussion - Identify, in financial terms, the value created by the proposed solution.
  • Alternative Solutions Discussion - Provide the description, benefits, costs, risks, and valuation of alternatives to the proposed solution.
  • Value Measurement Plan - Identifying the approach to tracking and measuring the value created by the proposed project. This is the hardest part...its the least tangible in the professional services arena. How do you define value? Work with your client.

Again, use what is right for you. Go to the depths that are right for you. But this post gives you good, solid, building blocks for crafting a business case that should differentiate you from your competitors who are hopefully only sending along a pricing sheet.

SWOT Analysis

Harry Joiner, in "Quantifying the Innovation Value of Technology" links to a great form you can use if you need to perform a SWOT analysis. Link. If you find yourself in the position of having to need to do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) in an exisiting, operating business you are most likely, in a word, screwed. SWOT analysis do provide value and this sheet is very handy in providing you a solid base from which to start. Remember, it is a tool. Not a solution. It should serve as a magnifying glass, highlighting linkages you may not have realized existed.

The key to any good analysis resides in digging deep down into root causes. If you are unwilling or most likely, unable to get to the root of your issues, SWOT analyses and strategic sessions of any kind are completely pointless. If the people in the room do not trust each other, you have to solve that problem first. If there is no trust between the participants, if they are all fighting for their own fiefdoms, the strategic analysis is doomed before it begins.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The 25 Most Difficult Interview Questions

I picked this up from lifehacker.

Disclaimer: The article has been excerpted from "PARTING COMPANY: How to Survive the Loss of a Job and Find Another Successfully" by William J. Morin and James C. Cabrera.

I would have done this article in two parts. One possibly being the 10-12 most difficult informational interview questions which would focus on giving the interviewee a good sense of who you are, where you are in your life and career and where you see yourself going. The second part would focus on 10-12 behavioral interview questions getting at the root of how you work, management style, etc.

I am on an interview thread lately because I have been trying to build a team to service a particular client and also help our company grow. I would love to say that it is just the kids coming out of college that don't have a clue, but the fact of the matter is that I have been relatively disappointed by the sheer lack of due diligence from all demographic segments: young, old, male, female, employed and unemployed. This article could help them.

When you sit down with me to talk, my job is to get inside your head and see if we have a match. Your job is to understand my company, and my needs and then help me understand how you can help me with my pain. If I have to spend precious time educating you (i.e. doing your job, you are taking away from your time to be able to help me understand your abiltiy to help us. It is that simple. It is that complex. Here are the quick tips:

  1. Know yourself. Tell me where you were, where you are, and where you want to be.
  2. Know my company. Know where we are going.
  3. Know my industry. Know where the industry is going.
  4. Have some kind of ambition other than making money.

Read it. Know it. Live it.

Make sure you read my guide to the interview process as well.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation

I just finished reading America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation by Michael MacCambridge. If you are a devout follower of professional football, this is a must read. For everyone else, I recognize that some people will be turned off by the fact that this is a "sports" book or a "football" book. This book is SO much more, so much deeper and more complex than being a simple sports book yet it is written in such an accessible manner.

On the outside, this is a complete and concise history of pro football from the post World War II era and forward. The book really kicks off with the 1958 Colts vs. Giants Championship Game. This book is just so much more than a history of the game. The fates of both football and sports television are so closely tied. Without one we may not have the other. The expansion and growth of the NFL is forever linked to the success of the TV medium.

From a business perspective, America's Game offers guidance across a number of disciplines. The NFL and later the AFL, was made up of a bunch of "squabbling" entrepreneurs. All fighting to maintain their teams, their brands, their "territories" and their cut of the money. This book is a study in their entrepreneurship. It is also a study in leadership as evidenced by the trials and tribulations of a young Pete Rozelle who was named commissioner at the tender age of 33. It is a study in the leadership exhibited by Lamar Hunt who had to get over his personal rivalry with fellow Texan, Tex Schramm to secretly negotiate a truce between the two leagues and, ultimately, unite them. (While Al Davis waged open warfare against the NFL.)

The book chronicles the meticulous management of the NFL brand from marketing by blacking out all home games which increased demand and insured ticket sales did not lose against TV. With the creation of NFL Properities they took control of their merchandising. All the souveneirs became standardized. With NFL Films and the voice of John Facenda, they controlled their brand image and their advertising. Along with communications, etc.

This book is an economic study of a changing , post WWII America. It is at this point that the marketing and advertising geniuses of the universe were created. This is the time when they figured out that we would buy stuff that we didnt need. From bobbleheads to $300 game-worn jerseys.

MacCambridge also provides us with a study of race in America through the eyes of the NFL. It is a sociological/political study of the impact of race relations on sport. The NFL integrated well before Jackie Robinson crossed the line in baseball. It had problems are arguably still has problems with integration.

Lastly, this is a study of the men who have left a lasting imprint on the game. The men who sit in the Great Hall of Valhalla amongst their fellow gods. Men like Lombardi, Halas and Paul Brown. Men like Unitas. Players that will assume their rightful places like Namath who had the hubris to guarantee a win over the dominate NFL from his upstart ALF team. Men like Jim Brown, possibly the greatest running back ever and Sam Huff who does not get the short end of the stick in this saga. Men like Al Davis who still fight for what their believe is right.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It is fasicinating and deep on many, many levels.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Uncle Mike's Old School Guide to Interviewing

I've been in hiring mode lately. Screening candidates through their resumes, phone interviews, one-on-one interviews and group interviews. I don't understand what is happening, but people have just lost sight of some of the most basic and fundamental principles of job hunting. Here are my quick and easy (maybe not) tips to help you get in the door and stay there:

  1. Edit your resume. In fact, have two other people edit your resume. Fix the spelling mistakes, the typos and the really bad grammar. I am not asking you to write a good resume. Just make sure that the one you put in front of me doesnt force me to get my red pen out and channel my inner English teacher. Putting accomplishments instead of duties and tasks on your resume will earn you bonus points. Help me understand what you can do to help me and my business.
  2. Get a real email address. It can be a Yahoo or even a Hotmail address. I do not want to receive emails from though. Get serious. Create a more professional account name. Use HotMama to im your girlfriends. Just don't email me with it. You'll look like a slacker.
  3. Dress professionally. Wear a suit. Men...wear ties. Collect some cans and buy one from Wal-Mart if you must. Borrow one. Even if it is out of style. I'll think you are trying to be "retro". Shoes are a must. No sneakers. No workboots. 18" of snow is not a reason to wear your Eddie Bauer moon boots. You are trying to impress me. Don't roll in here wearing cargo pants and Skechers. You'll look like a slacker.
  4. Get a real handshake. When you shake my hand, give me a nice firm but not a crushing grip. Ladies, do NOT give me the thumb and tips of your fingers. This isn't Victorian England and you are not the Duchess of Webster. When you do shake my hand, LOOK ME IN THE EYE! Do not give me the look away. We are attempting to build a relationship, you and I, and if you can't bring yourself to look at me, then I cannot trust you. I am not that hideous. You may gaze upon me and not turn to stone.
  5. Look at my website. I don't need you to do a comprehensive search for everything ever committed to print about me and my company. But I do expect you to read the "About Us" page on the website. Bonus points if you know a little something about the industry. The first question I am going to ask is: "What do you know about us?" Have an answer.
  6. Have some questions to ask me. Be interested in my pain. When I ask you if you have any questions for me, make something up if you have to. Ask me where I bought my tie. If you don't have questions, you will seem un-interested and I will think you are a slacker.
  7. Write a thank you note. After you meet with someone, send them a note of thanks for their time. You don't even have to reiterate your expertise and tell me how much your skills and experiences relate to my business needs. Even though that helps. Just a simple thank you note.

If you follow these steps, I am not saying that you will land a CEO position out of highschool. I will guarantee you a decent shot at a gig though. Unless of course, you run into a hiring manager that doesn't have a clue either. At which point you are assured of a position.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Taking Care of Business

Karen, official wife of Diligentia, turned me on to a show on The Learning Channel (TLC) that is so firmly rooted in my demographic, it scares me. The show is called: Taking Care of Business. Based in Manhattan, this reality show targets small business owners (so far we've seen a bed and breakfast, a barber shop, a small coffee shop and a skateboard shop) struggling to stay afloat. Struggling to stay in business. The show offers a team of 4 consultants: a designer, a manager/finance guy, a marketing guy and a former entrepreneur/jack of all. The team deploys to the site and proceeds to offer a makeover. They break down each business into the four components. The show seems to highlight the lack of marketing and design effort that all of these businesses have in common. The other element they seem to fixate on is pricing. All these business are niche-y, unique shops. The best piece of knowledge I've taken away from this show is: There is retail value in expertise.

This show is officially on my Tivo's season pass at this point. We don't miss an episode.