Friday, December 14, 2012

Where Is Your Next Buyer?

Where will your next buyer come from?

Sales happen at the intersection of what the buyer needs, what you offer to provide, and a connection between you both. This may be from a conversation across a desk; from an 'ah ha' insight in your blog or presentation; from a referral by another party; or from the other ways of talking your business.

Regardless of how these three elements converge – it is the engagement that's the catalyst for aligning buyer's needs with seller's solutions.

At a program by the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, Pamela Wagner, Vice President of W.R. Grace was speaking about the reduction of employee engagement worldwide and her thoughts on why.

While writing notes during the presentation, I realized that the same also applies to customers – current and potential.

Here's a formula Wagner offered to describe the engagement gap:

Volatile Economy creates insecurity
More Work with fewer employees and resources
Less Sustainable Engagement.

Uncertainty and stress are distracting – affecting employee involvement and the buyer's willingness to commit.

Since the environment is not likely to change soon, the key question is: how do we get ahead of the distraction?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Learning From Students

The Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland held 'mock interviews' and I had the honor of being an interviewer.

The students came eager to learn from this role-playing exercise. The 'interviewers' are seasoned individuals - most are Smith School Alumni - and well experienced in hiring superior candidates.

My 'interviews' found the 'applicants' well prepared, articulate in expressing themselves, offering direct answers to the questions, and telling stories of relevant situations from earlier part-time jobs.

What did I learn from the students? They are talking about the new normal in the past tense.

An accounting student commented on the radical effect of systems and digital files on the audit function – now requires a team of 2 instead of 10 associates – and felt that a second major in finance will help prepare her for the demands of clients for specific services.

Several other students were in dual-major programs as well – finance and accounting would be partnered with Information Technology – to be agile with both the knowledge and systems recognizing the evolution of these practice areas.

One individual, majoring in finance-accounting, finds math a rewarding exercise in solving puzzles, is a landscape artist, and an avid sports player – had marvelous stories to illustrate answers to interview questions from rich past experience.

Taken together, students are drawing from numerous resources to develop a pretty accurate view of the maturing changes of computerization on processes and practices. In addition, they find time to pursue other interests and gain other experiences – which gives them balance and well-roundedness while providing illustrations to help communicate ideas and concepts.

They are soaking in the various inputs and coming up with a new look of operations of organizations from the outside, while many of us in the working world are heads-down on projects – not seeing the changes around us

Thursday, December 6, 2012


Two CEOs were out in the wilderness when a bear saw them and was lumbering toward the two. One CEO took off like a champion sprinter while the other CEO stood with a pondering look on the face.

When the first CEO saw the other one 'frozen' to the spot, he ran back to help – when close he yelled asking what's the problem, 'that bear looks really hungry!'

The motionless CEO turned and said – 'All the analytics are not in yet so I don't know what the optimal response is!'

This story illustrates a paralysis that some leaders experience when they get too deep into decision by analytics or relying too much on external measures and factors.

Before the computerization of records and measurement, analytics were done by hand and the investment in time and labor helped to focus what was important to the success of the mission and targeted results. Now that records and measurements are readily available for virtually anything about the organization, market, economy, and global situation.

It is possible to compare the atomic clock to the system clock to determine time-drift...but why bother? What would be learned?

SEO, OLAP, BPM analytics are useful – like the rear-view mirror in the car is useful, or reading a map before leaving on a trip. Planning for detailed measurement and analysis is effective when done 'backwards' – start from the desired outcome and back into the best way to obtain the information. In addition, limit the routine reporting to a handful of informative items – I had real-time access to a dozen key indicators, like cash, receivables total & aging, payables total & aging, sales volume & scheduled delivery, production output, labor-force & hours, and accrued vacation – which gave me a good picture of current conditions.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in measuring and interpreting that we delay action...and the bear get's us!

What are the most useful key indicators?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Rainmaker 16 - LinkedIn: Your Personal Publicist

Do you show up at your best for other 175 million LinkedIn members?

Many posts have been written about developing your profile and contact information for the 'yellow pages' of the professional community – the top part of your LinkedIn page. While this is important and you must build a strong profile and history, it is like filling in the entries for your school year book when compared to your visibility and growing legend by participating in the groups.

To showcase your knowledge and experience by starting discussions and writing comments on other posts – when you continue the conversations and add depth, you get more visibility. Blogging is more demanding than a discussion and commenting – but each is a positive addition to your legend. Be positive when commenting and show your knowledge and mastery.

Here’s how:

Be serious – Start a discussion and comment often and consistently – start a discussion once a week and comment on 2 posts per day
Stick to the topic posted – focus your comments on the topic, add to the body of knowledge
Want to change topics – write a post – don’t derail – create your own; comment on comments your posts receive – no arguments, only write positive points
Read an interesting post?- repost it in your group but add value by offering your comments about why you.

Chose LinkedIn groups with topics of interest to you professionally and on which you can contribute to the existing body of knowledge.
You can leverage you visibility in the professional community by using the LinkedIn groups, discussions, and commenting.

Definition: A Rainmaker creates a significant amount of new business for a company. The Sales Lab Rainmaker Series is one rainmaker technique for technologists during the first 300 seconds (five minutes) of the monthly Capital Technology Management Hub Meeting.

Here's the growing collection:

Rainmaker 15 – Make The Most Of Your Choices
Rainmaker 14 –The Myth of Full Capacity
Rainmaker 7 - Mark Your Territory
Rainmaker 6 - Networking IS Business
Rainmaker 5 - Start With an Offer
Rainmaker 4 - Time, Talent, and Treasure
Rainmaker 2 - The Name Tag
Rainmaker 1 - Gifts
And The First Rainmakers (11/3/10)
Go to:

October 9th is the next Capital Technology Management Hub meeting featuring this Sales Lab's Rainmaker 16 LinkedIn – Your Personal Publicist - 300 seconds of pure profit. The main speaker will be Philip H. Smith III of Voltage Security, Inc., presenting The Payments Ecosystem Security Challenges in the 21st Century.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Advice – It's Amazing What Is Heard

Periodically individuals have asked for advice about personal career situations – more so in recent years as folks transition to new roles and organizations, or the search for them.

They start with a description of the circumstances and talk about their concerns.

As I am conjuring up any wisdom I have on the topic, I couch my comments in terms of what I'd do in similar circumstances, and then share the details.

In some cases, the listener's response is a 'Yeah-But' objection before really considering the approach – here's why that won't work for me. After a few of these responses, it seems clear that suggestions for a solution is not the intended goal of this conversation.

When wrapping up the talk, I say this is my view of how I would address the issue, but the listener would be wise to get another view or two and consider the ideas offered in terms of what is best for you.

Recently, I ran into someone who had asked for my advice when in transition – he has landed and is quite happy in the new position. He said that my advice served him well in successfully landing a new position with exciting challenges and significant opportunity.

To learn from his feedback, I asked what was the best thing he took from our earlier discussion, fully expecting that some aspect of my approach to the issue was the key.

His response: you said get others opinions and consider the information in terms of what is best for me.

The comment brings into sharp focus that we have control over what we say and the points we make – but the listener determines what they hear, interpret, and retain.

It's amazing what is heard.

What are you taking away from my story?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Wikipedia – To Tell The Truth

Dick Davies attended The Hamilton Project at Brookings conference about education and the Wikipedia came up as a 'problem'. I have talked with many teachers and they tend to poo-poo Wikipedia as a serious reference source – in fact, they prohibit the students from using it when doing projects.

I recall in school, before the internet, reading a synopsis in the Encyclopedia Britannica and not finding any of the cited references at the local libraries. With no opportunity to review source materials I was left to rely on the viewpoint of the writers.

The Britannica was limited by print space available for it's content – its style was abstracts. The editors' work was reviewed by a panel of editors for accuracy and unbiased writing (for those so inclined, metrics: 100 editors, 4,400 contributors, 65,000+ articles).

Wikipedia has a whole community to write articles, offer additional content, and challenge errors or misstatements, as well as an army of volunteer editors to improve the entries (metrics: 275 editors, 100,000 contributors, 23,000,000+ articles). Since the internet is virtually infinite, Wikipedia has not been hampered by the space limitations of print media – it has plenty of room for more lengthy articles and extensive hyperlink bibliographies to supplement the articles. Live links are available instantly from the computer

Before the internet, a significant research consideration was finding data; now with its vast content available, the consideration now is filtering to get relevant data. The Britannica filters the content as a result of the space considerations, whereas Wikipedia is inclusive and the content is filtered on relevancy by external tools.

The Google Search Box typically returns a Wikipedia cite among the top three or four results – a good first filter and introduction to the topic. The live links following the article cite additional sources of information and easily expand the depth of the research. Teachers instill in students that single-source research is not a reliable path to knowledge and these links make multiple sources easier to find since the material has already been filtered.

Structurally the Britannica approach may offer control and consistency, but is limited by available resources (i.e., staff). Wikipedia is an open-source collaborative venture of contributors creating content and a community devoted to making it better and collectively assuring acceptable results – much like ancient tribes did before cities and laws were established.

The Wikipedia project is a good example of how users can create, populate, and regulate a resource by collaboration and an evolving community of dedicated volunteers.

Are there other situations where a similar collaborative approach could produce results. How about an application in your organization?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Hot Dog Stand – Customer Service?

At the game I went to the concession stand for some snacks and drinks, to be greeted by a long, slow-moving line. While the second quarter evaporated and the line inched forward, I looked at the hot dog stand operations to see why there was such a delay.

Here's some highlights:
  • 8 enthusiastic people - 5 at the counter and 3 doing prep in the back
  • the counter folks reminded me of a demolition derby, bumping each other and constantly crossing paths
  • the preparation folks were paying no attention - standing and talking
  • supplies (napkins, plasticware, cardboard trays) were on the right end of the counter but condiments were on the left end
  • the menu and prices were on a banner on the back wall of the stand
  • finally, the line was amorphous and confused, people lined up on a server but some also thought it was next available server

If a transaction takes an average of 4 minutes from order to payment per customer per server, a back-of-the-envelope calculation of service capacity is about 75 customers per hour. A person joining the end of this line at its peak can expect about an hour before heading back to the seat, partially due to the absence of training and flow.

From this experience, I saw several general guidelines for improving customer service, based on the pinch points and frustrations of the patrons at the hot dog stand. Consider these 5 items (the examples tie back to my quest of food and beverages):
  • inform the customer what you expect from them – in our example, how to navigate the line was unclear and the menu and prices were not visible until at the counter
  • design flow for efficiency – the servers bounced around to fulfill orders and customers had to cross the line and go to two locations for supplies and condiments
  • train staff on role and assignments – servers were swamped while preparers ignored the chaos while chatting – alternative roles for all staff are required for peak demand periods
  • manage customer perceptions – customers get angry while waiting when they see staff standing around - regardless of the reason
  • create as positive an experience as possible while addressing the customers' needssmile, be upbeat when serving the customer and remain focused on addressing the customers' need, NOT on why it can't be done.

It is not unusual to be too close to this issue to see the gaps and over-servicing areas clearly in your customer service operation – and an outside advisor will review and assess how things are actually done, not influenced by how insiders think things are being done.

Customers want to be heard and receive accurate, timely answers to their questions or concerns. Preferences aside, there are several channels to reach the customer – web site information, interactive topic search, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), employee blogging, telephone tree with simple questions answered by automated systems with an opt out for a real person who can do more than simply read the same web site screen to the caller. For the complex problems, one-on-one service by phone, in person, or by video call gets satisfying results.

The best approach to customer service is to put yourself in the customer's shoes and proceed the way YOU would like to be served.

Don't come to the game hungry is NOT a solution to the hot dog stand problem, even though you may see the second quarter.

Your thoughts?

Join us at DevFestDC September 28th, for awesome new and emerging technologies, innovative startups, and resources for building projects and companies!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fantasy And Reality

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truthSherlock Holmes

Holmes never wavered from his rule, no matter how bizarre the outcome appeared. No speculation; no projecting an easier path; no daydreaming or fantasy about what would have or could have been.

I recall as a kid, pounding the pocket into a new ball glove and daydreaming that I would be playing like Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, or Ted Williams. Reality set in with the very first play on the field, new glove on my hand – it would take more practice (much, much more) to get there.

Sometimes a leader, manager, or collaborator fixates on a vision or desired outcome instead of addressing an issue head on.

Do you know of an incidence where a problem was ignored while the trivial and mundane were given priority? Or the 'let's wait and see' procedure was invoked? How did it turn out – did the problem self-correct or fester, getting worse?

Individuals rarely follow the Ostrich Model of head-in-the-sand, knowingly. However, they can be seduced by self-talk. This can be very persuasive, sound logical – even innovative – and offer a more desirable (and less painful) fantasy alternative to what's facing them right now.

Ever dread making a phone call or meeting – finding many ways to put it off? Then, the result of the call or meeting is nowhere near the disaster you had anticipated – in reality positive results happen most of the time.

I have found over and over that nothing is more effective than a direct approach. And yet, we still seek to take an indirect path or delay taking any action.

This is human nature – BUT – it is not a positive leadership trait. As with the boy and a new glove, or an adult facing a complex problem, it's not too difficult to slip into a fantasy to avoid reality.

To return to reality, I find it helpful to say the thoughts and plans out loud – to a trusted advisor. Not only will this help to better focus the ideas, it also churns up new ideas as well from both people's viewpoints. The outcome is more in tune with reality, since it is quite difficult to enroll your external self and your advisor in a fantasy. Perhaps that's why people say a good conversation is 80% listening!

As we wrestle with the gap between fantasy and reality, John Adams' words are a useful guide:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
John Adams,'Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials,'

How do you see fantasy and reality?

Join us at DevFestDC September 28th, for awesome new technologies and resources for building projects and companies!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Carriage Return

Why is it that training is the last item considered in planning for change, and the first item to be scrapped when the budget gets tight?

Change drive progress – and when we change, we need to learn how to use the new tool or features to achieve better results, greater speed, or use less resources. However, we often breeze through any training with a 'yeah, yeah, yeah' attitude and get little of use or recall.

As a boy, I was given a hammer and immediately set about making nails in the shape of a number 7. It's a hammer – how much training could you need? A carpenter showed me how to start and finish pounding a nail and I was then building wooden things.

When the personal computer came into the office, and the IBM Selectric was moved behind the desk, secretaries would create documents with hard returns at the end of the line – just like with the Selectric: type, type, type, type, clunk. The training consisted of reading a manual with the first 50 pages devoted to installing the software and the last 50 pages listing commands (it was a DOS program back then). The secretaries would learn how to create documents, letters, and notes – but insisted on using the Selectric for envelopes and labels.

When a new procedure is introduced in a team, typical training consist of documentation of the procedure and a walk-through of a simple example. Rarely are the training materials created by someone familiar with the actual work being done and users find it difficult to visualize how the new procedure fits with the old way of doing things. Therefore the users come up with their own interpretations and work-arounds.

A quick look at the hammer and PC examples illustrate there is a cost to inadequate training – nails and wood are sacrificed to bent nails and hammer-head scars; editing the PC documents requires considerable time and effort: adding or removing a word means changing the entire document because of the carriage returns on each line.

Successful training is best done hands-on by the user with a meaningful project, followed by practice. A useful help resource is an on-line user forum supplemented by a subject matter expert. Continuing use completes the training.

If we do not provide sufficient training the users make up how to operate the software in ways that are limited and inefficient, reducing its effectiveness and expected productivity gains.

Want to rely on the informal 'expert' or invest in a trained and experienced team?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Only A Few Are Champions

Rick 'Doc' Walker was the keynote speaker at a recent Comcast event I attended at Redskins' FedEx Field. Fans may remember Walker as one the HOGS, or more recently as a champion for research and cure of Muscular Dystrophy, Cystic Fibrosis, Alzheimer’s, and Arthritis (he does an ESPN 980 radio show “2-4 weekdays” as he will cheerfully tell you).

Doc is a loud, practical, 'from-the-heart' insightful speaker – he ask the room of 100+ people at the event to raise a hand if they ever won acknowledgment as a champion (while not so subtlety flashing his Superbowl ring) – a couple of people put a hand up.
He asked the room to look around at how many raised a hand.

Next he asked for a hand by anyone winning first place – the group saw a few more hands go up. Walker then ask for a hand by anyone who won second place – more hands. He had everyone put their hands down.

Doc's last question was for everyone in the room to raise a hand if they had NOT won as champion, first or second place – I estimate at least 90% of the room now had their hand in the air.

He ask us to look around the room and recognize that, even for a group of successful and accomplished people (Doc said “ I know you are successful and accomplished – otherwise you Comcast would not have invited you to attend today!”) only a small few of very talented people win champion, first, or second place. As with the response in our room, most of us do NOT achieve top honors.

Those folks are special and it requires hard work, drive, commitment, and constantly developing and improving skills – just to get into the competition. To be recognized as a winner requires being even better than the others you are competing against and getting the results sought.

The profound – but simple – point Doc Walker offered is this:
Being the best is not a right, nor is it a common, ordinary, or casual occurrence – this is very special, requires hard work, and deserves celebration when achieved.

Do you remember to celebrate success? Superbowl, Nobel Prize, landing the sale, Doers' innovation – all are significant and worth of acknowledgment and celebration.

Something new to celebrate - Check out Sales Lab Video! Tell us what you like!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Legend of Bagger Vance

I'm reading The Legend of Bagger Vance by Steven Pressfield (in the movie Will Smith plays Bagger and Matt Damon plays the golfer) which is about a mystic caddy and has-been golf champion. The story is told and retold over time and has become a legend. Within the community everyone knows about Bagger, his odd training exercises and far-ranging discussions to get golfer Junuh back into a champion's frame of mind.

What makes the story compelling is the novel approach by Bagger and the overcoming of adversity by Junuh to again become a champion. Legends are constructed from accomplishments.

We spend much time and effort to increase our knowledge, skills, and experience – our accomplishments – but are we doing anything to update our legend which chronicles these results?

As in the book, our legend grows by word-of-mouth in the community by people who know us and what we've achieved. Like asking a neighbor about which company to use for lawn service or to paint the house, a person's knowledge of your good points is conveyed by conversation but typically the story does not travel very far.

Today we have many tools to develop and disseminate our legend and increase visibility for our accomplishments, thoughts, and ideas. Social and professional media networks offer vehicles to create a personal and business profile in text, pictures, and video. Blogs and forums offer a platform for sharing your thoughts and ideas with others. The internet and search creates a permanent accessible repository of items related to you and your activities.

Writing a profile on networks like LinkedIn, Google Plus, Blogger, Twitter, GovLoop, and Facebook, gives you a public presence – routinely updating the profile gives you a public personality.

Does this seem like it would take a lot of your time, or that you are self-absorbed and just bragging about yourself? Neither is accurate – done right. You can easily keep your profile current with a consistent investment of about 10 minutes per week. You will be sharing information about capabilities, knowledge, and skills, not bragging about going to the mall or the symphony.

What is the worst comment to hear when vying for a project or a job? “I didn't know that you had experience in that area”

How do you feel about creating and updating your profile as a competitive edge?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jobs of the Future

When speaking with a current job-seeker, she said “while I was working, the working world changed!” This seasoned individual is finding her specific experience is not of interest to employers in today's job market. With a dozen years in responsible internal analyst roles, what arcane experience and skills are being ignored by potential employers?

She was one of an army of analysts who collect data from a variety of sources, do basic analytics, and create reports of the results to send on to another section for further processing and analysis – the role might be viewed as an interim consolidator and analytic reporter.

I also spoke with a guy working on a maturing grant, his role is 'critical checker' – data comes from four unrelated databases, is consolidated on a spreadsheet, with three think-tank analysis units manually transferring the data to word processing or statical software, reports and attachments from the units are returned in a similarly uncoordinated format. The critical checker verifies the data to assure it is error-free after being moved to a different platform. Imagine, a manual check of massive data multiple times because of work-arounds in using the technology. He does this data check at every stage out and back!

Jobs that consist of simply moving paper, or checking the computer's addition are evaporating – they are being replaced by technology. Systems and software handle more of the intake, data consolidation, basic analytics, report generation, and distribution. New approaches, like Big Data and Splunk, permit consolidation of data from multiple sources and formats, and related tools make even complex analysis manageable for us mere mortals. Long ago, sponge divers experienced a similar realization as the technology of the cellulose sponge replaced the natural sponge.

The Doers' Theorem says a person must update their experience portfolio and technical knowledge every three years to keep up with the job market – things are changing that fast!

What does the job of the future look like?

  • It can not (yet) be done economically by computer or automation
  • It requires a physical presence to accomplish results
  • It adds value to the product or service produced
  • It requires judgment, knowledge, and interpretation as critical inputs
  • It embraces technology (not the equipment but how it is used) to achieve outcomes
  • It is eternally assessing improvement for faster, better, more accurate results requiring less resources
  • It directly satisfies the need or want of the customer/client, or is in direct support of the satisfaction thereof
  • It is dynamic, not static – if you are not improving, you are slipping behind.

For example, today this could include people working with their hands – carpenters, plumbers; with their presence – care givers, clinical specialists and doctors; with their creativity – programmers and artists; with their vision and decision-making – leaders, department heads; with their commitment – the inventor, entrepreneur; to name several.

In a role where you are adding value - from areas such as your knowledge, insight, creativity, relevant experience, ability to translate the theoretical into the executable, your persistence in pursuing results – you are in a stronger situation as jobs evolve.

But – nothing is stagnant – no longer can you graduate from school and stop learning, or just attend a workshop every couple of years – the New Normal is about the evolution of technology and working's about applying new tools to reduce resources and improve accuracy and acceptable quality. It's about collaboration and working independently as an individual (like the two characters in Makers).

If you trade your car for a newer model with style changes and improvements in performance every few years, why wouldn't you upgrade yourself as often – new skills, new experiences, new knowledge.

And, if you are doing all this work on improvement, don't overlook the opportunity to showcase the 'new you' – update your LinkedIn, GovLoop, and Google Plus profiles to let the world know!

Lead the change – don't be caught by it.

What's your take on 'jobs of the future'? Care to add to the list?

Monday, September 10, 2012

What Do Zig Ziglar, Harvey Mackay, and Dale Carnegie Have In Common – And How Can It Help YOU?

Zig , Harvey, and Dale contributed significantly to my professional development. How?

By telling stories to show the benefit of doing something a certain way.

Ziglar would talk about 'the Redhead' and 'Yazoo', Mississippi while weaving his lessons about listening and giving value.

Mackay would wrap his storytelling around applying the laws of human nature and making it easier to have a deep relationship with others.

Carnegie was the geek of the group and told 'why' stories – why, based on observation and research, doing it this way gets your desired result to happen smoothly.

These three gentlemen had a common theme: communication is about 80% listening, 10% talking, and 10% just being there quietly while the prospect connects the dots.

On the surface, their topic was about sales and the message was to learn and satisfy the buyer's needs. To see the true scope and range of their teachings, simply substitute 'relationship' for sales and 'friend' (or 'redhead') for buyer – these lessons work with people you care about at every level.

They each said it best in a quote captured for the ages:

  • Zig Ziglar: You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.
  • Harvey Mackay: A mediocre person tells. A good person explains. A superior person demonstrates. A great person inspires others to see for themselves.
  • Dale Carnegie: You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in the other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.

I'm all done with the 10% talking – now it's time for the 80% listening part – please share your thoughts.

How will this point of view help you?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Way to Go, Amazon!

I am an Amazon.Com customer - have been since Jeff Bezos launched it in 1995. It's still evolving as an innovative on-line commerce platform. They have initiated a socially responsible program worth noting.

Today my visit to the site opened with a letter from Jeff – about an investment in the future. He announced a focused scholarship program for their employees who want to change fields.

Scholarship programs are not new – many organizations and agencies have had them for years - but Amazon's is targeted to professions which are in critical demand in the country. Jeff describes the program:

We're announcing the Amazon Career Choice Program. Many of our fulfillment center employees will choose to build their careers at Amazon. For others, we're offering to pre-pay 95% of the cost of courses such as aircraft mechanics, computer-aided design, machine tool technologies, medical lab technologies, nursing, and many other fields - exclusively funding education only in areas that are well-paying and in high demand according to sources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and we fund those areas regardless of whether those skills are relevant to a career at Amazon.

Amazon's initiative contributes in a positive way to retraining individuals for needed roles in the country, and invests in their employees, even if the firm doesn't benefit directly.

Way to go, Jeff!

What other ways could organizations make a positive difference in the national or local economy?

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Connector – A Precious Resource

When I grew up, Gaithersburg was the last outpost before entering the Maryland farm belt; and boasted the county fair as well as a State Roads Equipment Depot. It was a close community where people knew each other (if I got into minor mischief, my mother knew about it and would be waiting when I got home to interrogate me about the particulars).

Although terms like 'connector' and 'matchmaker' (business, not love) were not used then, the storekeeper at Southern States (similar to a general store) or the barber could tell you who to see to get various projects done – or who may have a need for such projects. The response would be along the lines “if I needed that done, I'd go see Jack, and if he's busy then I'd ask Dick.”

It wasn't from a directory or the yellow pages (this was long before Angie's List and on-line vender sites) – the referral was from personal knowledge and conveyed a recommendation by the individual. As the community and business environment has changed over time, we have almost lost those knowledgeable and trusted personal referrals / recommendations. Almost.

Dick and I met just such an individual this week - Jacob Shoval. He knows the Rockville and Montgomery County, MD communities intimately – we think of him as the unofficial mayor of Rockville – as well as what's happening in the close-in region of MD-DC-VA.

During our meeting with Jacob, he offered a half dozen referrals of individuals wrestling with business issues, discussed new innovative ways to use social media and the internet to inform and educate, and spoke about the emergence of local professional development presentations taking place in national technology retail stores. Wow – it's like he builds a hillside while we watch, and now invites us to hop on the skateboard to enjoy it!

He is a matchmaker reminiscent of the old storekeeper tradition – all the more impressive because of its uniqueness today.

An interesting thing about connectors – they invest time to meet and get to know others, they give their knowledge freely, and they are superstars in their 'day job' – they are successful personally, but are a valuable resource contributing to the success of the community as well. A connector personifies Zig Zigular's famous quote: “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
Do you know any connectors in your community or agency? If not, how would you find this precious resource?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

10 Keys To Brilliant Presentations

Let's face it – many business presentations are as stimulating as a freshman accounting class lecture without the incentive of seeing the material on a test. Or it sounds like a late-night infomercial.

I've spent lots of time in the audience, in front of the room, and behind the scenes prepping presenters for events; I find these 10 key elements are common to outstanding bright-star presentations. They are:

  1. 4Ps – Plan what you want to accomplish; Prep based on that goal; Practice content, flow, and timing; Present Brilliantly – be there and fully engaged
  2. Integrity – Descriptions and teasers about the program and what you present must match; promoting one thing and presenting something different lacks integrity
  3. Me – Your bio, profile, Google+ Page, and the MC's introduction tells all about you – only talk about you IF the point makes you more memorable
  4. Visuals – If you have to say “you probably can't read this...” you are in the weeds! Less is better; cartoons & caricatures create more impact than facts – numbers – charts. Anything complex or useful as a resource is best given as a reference or URL in an handout – with only a concise abstract of pertinent items shown on the screen
  5. Talk – Presenting is a form of conversation – talk with the audience; try not to read to them or from the screen; after all, if you read them your book from the stage, they won't buy it
  6. Interactive – If possible, make the session interactive to get thoughts and experiences from the audience – have them be an active part of the program instead of just observers
  7. Lily Pads – Robin Williams used an analogy about frogs jumping between lily pads to describe comic delivery – same applies presentations: don't spoon feed the audience; give the audience the concepts that require a mental leap to follow, but don't have the gap so wide they miss the next lily pad
  8. Stories – Reference your experts sparingly – people came to hear your thoughts; share them through your stories of experiences and results
  9. End Promptly - End on time – not when your material runs out – an hour session is about 40 minutes of presenter time; the balance is for questions and the unexpected
  10. Continue the Conversation – Give your audience a place to offer comments about the presentation - “the best thing they learned.” Sharing extends the reach of the program and your visibility (also adds to legend of the event – Meet-up, an event managing social media tool, uses a comment board system to let attendees rate the event and give highlights & comments – which helps validate the better programs).

A live event is always unique and often a bit unpredictable. These elements help manage the unexpected and are a key to giving a shining-star, memorable performance.

Any others you want to add?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When Efficiency Is NOT the Chosen Path

The mixed messages commenting on the state of the economy are confusing at best, and offer little of use for planning and forecasting in the business or government sectors. Conflicting variables affecting budget, scope, and demand add to the complexity. The uncertainty and inertia leads to delays in new initiatives by the decision-makers in organizations.

I find that an individual example on a small scale gives clear focus on the larger situation that decision-makers face in their organizations.

A service tech told my friend that his A/C was working below standard levels and some components could fail without warning (meanwhile it was keeping the house temperature cool). A new heat-A/C system costing $6,000 would eliminate the risk and save about $1800/yr on heating oil and $500 on summer electricity. Back-of-the-envelope savings would pay for the new system in under 3 years, whereas repair costs for the existing system would be about $2,000 when it broke down.

The friend said he decided to keep the old system and reserve the cost of repair instead of buying the new system. His reasoning – cost of operating the existing system is a known and the repair does not diminish resources as greatly in the short-term – during this period of uncertainty – even though investing in the new system offers greater savings for the long-term. The decision came down to the comfort of having the $4,000 cost difference in hand versus reducing operating expense over future years.

On a much greater scale, the decisions for organizations are a choice, in the face of uncertainty, between resources at hand now versus investment in improvements benefiting future years. Deja vu of the business temperament following the Great Depression of the 1930's.

And yet, it adds to the uncertainty that some organizations and segments of the economy that are in growth mode. Why the disparity. One explanation - William Gibson says “The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.”

Is this a glimpse of coming change or just isolated system anomalies? 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Start a Relationship – Leave Something of Value

When I meet someone, I give them a large two-sided card with information about topics, my blog posts, and items of interest that the person will find useful, in addition to my contact details for Sales Lab. We call it a Hot Sheet.

During our conversation, I will circle an item on the Hot Sheet if pertinent, or can write a URL or other reference in the margin for use later by the recipient.

It is easy to update or change and I can print as many as needed for upcoming meetings. Usually, each time I see a person at a meeting or event, the Hot Sheet is newly revised.

I was at a meeting of YPLG (The Young Professional’s Leadership Group) this week and was talking with a person who knew me but was trying to place where we had met. When I gave him a Hot Sheet, he immediately remembered where and when we met – and he said he still uses his original Hot Sheet as a technical reference.

In addition to its unique size and content, the Hot Sheet is memorable to the recipient. How memorable is another business card for your pile? Which has the best chance to begin a relationship?

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Questions Open Source Answers

When you buy technology, do you expect it to be the latest version, up-to-date and complete, or do you expect to have access to changes and improvements? Which expectation is most realistic? When buying a software package or a GPS unit, a first step of installation is to check for updates – this suggests that there are changes since the item was boxed up for sale – and an update is needed to get current. After that first update, there is often a string of fees for updates and maintenance contracts. The open approach invalidates the static state – you can seek the latest version or fix anytime. The choice is open or complete.

Dick Davies did an excellent post this in Through The Browser - the evolution of open source software culminating with recent developments. From the discussion, here's some key points that are clear to me:
  • Software is complex – errors and wanted additional features are discovered by users
  • Enterprise software is developed by a team under corporate supervision and they control the source code – minor bugs and new features are held till the next Revision (fixes are released in between for major bugs and security issues)
  • Open source software code is available to all – errors and features can be addressed by any developer and the new version is available to everyone with attribution to the original author
  • Revisions to open source are quite agile – can be published within days or weeks by other developers
  • The open source approach encourages an abundance of experienced developers and coders are available to troubleshoot problems or make changes – when needed.

In this open source environment, there are enablers like Google – which create a platform or system software and release SDKs (software developer kits) with specifics about the software to aid independent developers to expand the applications available.

The enablers also create applications with flexible instruction sets that the user can manipulate for additional functionality. A new illustration is Google Events – a powerful meeting tool designed for the user; or Google's Cloud Drive, which works just like an additional local drive (with a great sync feature).

I can recall the early days as open source was gaining popularity – I was skeptical about reliability, and concerned that my organization would not get the support it may need – so I rejected adopting anything open source.

I now rely on open source to run several organizations. Problems = 0; downtime = 0; development and modification is by us users, so wait time = 0!

Read Dick's post at: for more detail and additional material from the 25 imbedded links.

Open source software is certainly worth including in the mix when evaluating a solution – it continues to evolve and, in my view, is a strong viable choice for organizations large and small in the New Normal.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Google's New Technology – More Power and Simplicity

Google took the internet by storm years ago with a super-fast search solution and has continued to be a leader in creating innovative tools allowing non-programmers to create sophisticated solutions to get results.

Dick and I have been attending the DC simulcast of Google's I/O three-day event underway in San Francisco – and they are unveiling some truly advanced Android devices and applications.

Here's some highlights of new software, applications, and hardware:

Google Plus Hangouts (video conferencing of up to 10 people), has been enhanced with a business meeting app – Symphonicaland two social apps Event – to schedule meetings and social events complete with invitations - and Party Mode – which permits sharing of pictures/video before, after and real-time during the event by any of the attendees. These are all free and can be accessed at Google Play. Easy to use video is a powerful tool for business – for meetings, demonstrations, training and other show & tell sessions, in addition to a 'live stream' of events to a public audience.

The next generation of the Android operating system – Android v4.1, Jellybean, and a new Android phone – the Galaxy Nexus – combine for a new level of productivity and simplicity. Google Search learns from your keyboard strokes and accessibility for users is upgraded. Voice Search is included in the function and will return results by audio as well as screen text and video. The phone has a simple new gesture – the flick – just like you'd flick a bug off your shirt, will delete what's on the screen (deleted items can be easily recalled).

You can also use Voice to dictate text, chat, and emails when in that function. Since all smartphone voice apps suffer when not connected to servers, Google brought their voice engine down to the phone. Keeping track of appointments and other interests is done automatically through Google Alerts , by popping up note cards with all the relevant details – it can be an appointment, airline flights, or current score for your team.

The Nexus 7 Tablet using the new Android 4.1 OS (built by ASUS with delivery expected in mid-July) was introduced with a 7-inch HD screen, 9-hour battery life, and a $199 price tag – what a treat! The Nexus 7 has a fast 3-core processor and 13 other background processors – for a total of 16 CPUs speeding through the material for quick display and smooth transition.

For entertainment, you can read ebooks and documents; read magazines – uniquely formatted to have the look and feel of the paper publication, with context links throughout, thumbnails of articles for the reader to 'leaf through' to find articles of interest; view pictures and albums; and videos, movies, TV shows, and YouTube; listen to music from personal collections and internet providers.

For business and other tasks, you can read and write email, browse the web, read and update your blogs, access your Google Plus and hangouts (forward facing camera for the video), do detailed search by text and voice, and get pop-up notification cards automatically for upcoming appointments and other items of interest.

Carrying forward the social aspects of the phone and tablet, Google has developed the Nexus Q which is an in-home collaborative media streamer device and amplifier connected to your best speakers and TV. You can pull pictures, videos, music, art, and other entertainment items from anywhere in your extended network – by swiping your Android phone or other NFC-function device across the Nexus Q. In addition guests can share their entertainment libraries with a simple swipe across the Q as well.

The Chrome browser now can sync the browser settings, bookmarks, and recent search results across multiple platforms – computer, tablet, phone – and automatically optimize the format for the device. So, you can access a search result done on your home computer from your Android phone while you are mobile instead of making a paper copy of the screen as you go out.

A key to all these advances is direct access to the Google Cloud – material is stored or held in the cloud for access by any of the Google-based devices. This aids to flexibility of access of your content and documents, as well as facilitating collaboration among team members or others by giving focused access to specific files.

A preview of what's in the works shown at the conference is Google Glass – a wearable computer. This is a device, is a pair of eyeglasses that has a computer, camera, audio receiver, and heads up display, so you can access the internet, a hangout, or snap pictures or videos of what you are seeing. To introduce this prototype device, Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google) staged a parachute jump to the roof of the convention center with an elaborate 'pony express' style delivery of a pair of these glasses to him on stage. All the while, the screens showed live video of what the delivery participants were actually seeing (using Hangout technology). An exciting event.

There were three quotes that nicely sum up the philosophy of these developments in computer tools:

Larry Page (co-founder of Google): “Have a healthy disrespect for the impossible.”

Vic Gundotra (Google SR VP Engineering): “The best thing is for the computer to have your back – then you don't have to worry about it.”

Clay Bauer (Google Director Chrome Development): “What we want is that it works without you even noticing.”

As these advances roll out, we will find business applications for them – to get better results, or to do something that was not practical (or possible) before.

What do you find most relevant for your operations from the new features offered by Google?