Monday, July 30, 2007

What Is The Best Pricing Model - Dynamic or Static?

An article in the summer MIT Sloan Management Review on dynamic pricing reminded me how much I dislike the concept of variable and negotiable pricing. Dynamic pricing is described by author Arvind Sahay as "where prices respond to supply and demand in real or near-real time." Sahay suggests that dynamic pricing provides a way to "reap higher profits" in every individual sale. That sounds well and good however my concern with dynamic pricing is that it also offers a way to frustrate, antagonize and anger customers in every sale as well.

The airline industry provides an excellent example of how dynamic pricing works against the airlines best interests. The pricing has become so variable for airline tickets that the flier or prospective flier never feels comfortable that he or she is receiving a fair and reasonable price. The stressed out customer then begins to scurry around seeking out a better price or confirmation that this is the best possible price they can get. Will this customer end up making the sale with the original airline that they looked at? Or will the dynamic pricing model result in lost sales to the airline?

How about the ultimate in variable pricing, car shopping. How many people shudder at the mere thought of purchasing a car through a dealership and why is the experience so distressing? Looking at new cars is not painful, nor is the actual purchasing of the car which most people find exciting. The cringe factor is from the negotiating game - "Wait while I talk to my manager". How many people browsing in car dealerships decide to walk out the door because they don't have the fortitude on that particular day to go through the variable pricing negotiation process?

At my company, Nobscot Corporation, we have a sliding price scale with smaller companies paying less for their WebExit subscription and larger companies paying more. This coincides with the amount of resources a large company will use relative to a smaller company. The subscription rate for each company size is fixed at the most reasonable rate that Nobscot can offer so that all subscribers know that they are paying the same prices as every other comparable organization.

Often during the sales process, a future client will ask if we will lower the price. Our first reaction is always the same, "would that be fair to our good clients who have been paying us our standard rates?" Of course not. Our second reaction is "if you don't feel our exit interview system is worth the subscription fees, then you probably shouldn't be choosing to work with us."

Static reasonable pricing as opposed to dynamic pricing may not maximize the profits on the individual sale but by giving prospective customers the peace of mind that they are getting the best deal possible, static pricing increases both the number of sales and the satisfaction level on those sales. Just because a company can over-charge customers doesn't mean it's a good idea.

40% Discount on CareerBuilder for Costco Members

Did you know that if your company is a Costco member, you are eligible for a 40% discount on your job postings with Since I'm probably the only person that reads the Costco Magazine cover-to-cover, I thought I'd pass news of this discount along. The example provided in the August issue said that for a 30-day posting on, Costco members pay $252 compared with $419 for non-members. That's a nice savings if you do a lot of posting. Costco Executive Members also receive something called "SmartJob" at no additional charge with each posting.

I couldn't find anything on the website providing information on Costco member discount so be sure you ask your sales rep or go through this special webpage.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

In Praise of Praise

I always like it when I see a company provide public praise and recognition for one (or more) of their employees. Tonight I ran into a nice post on the Twitter blog from Twitter co-creator Jack Dorsey about Twitter "Support Superhero" Crystal. Jack had received an email from a happy customer about the exemplary performance that was provided to him by Crystal. Jack posted the full letter on their company blog along with a nice note at the end about how Crystal continues to amaze them every day.

I bet that brightened Crystal's day, don't you think? And in turn, she will continue that superstar performance to brighten the days of many other Twitter customers.

Congrats, Crystal! And great use of the Twitter blog, Jack.
Twitter Blog: Crystal: support superhero!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Good "Fit" or Employee Discrimination?

Chick-fil-A Chairman S. Truett Cathy and his sons Dan T., CEO and "Bubba," SVP routinely making hiring and firing decisions based on their applicants' and employees' religious and marital status. More astoundingly, they make no attempt to hide the fact and speak openly to the press about it. According to the July 23rd issue of Forbes magazine:
- The company's corporate mission is to "glorify god;"
- Meetings and retreats include Christian prayers and employees have been fired for not participating;
- Employees and contractors must base their business practices on biblical principles;
- The company asks about marital status in employment interviews and only hires married people;
- The company interviews family members, including children; and
- The company would fire employees who do something "sinful;"

Their jaw dropping strategy for not running afoul with the law is "careful screening" to make sure employees fit into this environment. Huh???? Isn't that suggesting a policy of discriminating in hiring to avoid discrimination lawsuits from employees down the road?

The company has been sued at least 12 times since 1988, for of course, employment discrimination. In one lawsuit, an employee said he was fired from his job at a Houston Chick-fil-A restaurant a day after he refused to pray to Jesus Christ during a training session. According to the ex-employee's attorneys, all employees were instructed to get into a “prayer circle” and were told to say a prayer, one by one, to Jesus Christ.

“Our client refused, for religious purposes, and stayed silent when it was his turn.” Uncomfortable with the situation, the client later spoke with a manager who did not offer much assistance. The next day at training, the employee was pulled aside and fired. His performance review prepared just one week before his firing praised him as a "great manager" who knew the "operation side of the business very well." The suit was settled for an undisclosed sum. Should one assume that the company sees settling lawsuits such as this as a reasonable cost of doing business their way?

The question that I have is should we allow companies to knowingly and brazenly ignore discrimination laws by settling lawsuits with money? Or should companies be investigated and if found to break laws be required to stop discriminating immediately or risk being shut down?

Best Mentoring Pairs in TV and Film

Mentoring is not only popular in companies and associations, it also makes for a great theme in films and television. Peer Resources has compiled a fun, comprehensive "Hall of Fame" list of fictional mentoring relationships.

Do you remember any of these?

Rounders - 1998 motion picture, directed by John Dahl. John Turturro's character Joey Knish mentors Matt Damon's Mike McDermott.

Donnie Brasco - 1997 film. Al Pacino as Lefty Ruggiero mentors Johnny Depp as Donnie Brasco.

Malcolm X - 1992, Spike Lee film. Albert Hall as Baines mentors Malcolm X played by Denzel Washington.

Wall Street - 1987, Oliver Stone film. Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko mentors Bud Fox played by Charlie Sheen.

Back to the Future III
- 1990, directed by Robert Zemeckis. Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmett L. Doc Brown mentors Marty McFly played by Michael J. Fox.

About A Boy - 2002 film by Chris and Paul Weitz with Hugh Grant as Will Freeman mentoring (and saving the day for) misfit Marcus played by Nicholas Hoult.

And do you remember that on TV Show Friends, Phoebe Buffay, played by Lisa Krudow guitar mentors Joey Tribbiani played by Matt LeBlanc?

In total, the website lists about 150 different mentoring pairs.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Ten Best Reasons to Be A Mentor

Jill asked a great question on the Mentor-me-Meg Update post - Why should someone be a mentor? What's in it for them? To help answer that question, I have put together a list of the top 10 benefits of being a mentor.

1) Sharpens your skills. Working with a mentee requires you to stay on top of your game. As you help someone else develop their ideas and work through their challenges, you sharpen skills that may have sat dormant for several years.

2) Brings new business ideas to your table. Working on someone else's business issues invariable leads to creative ideas for your own organization.

3) Rejuvenates you with re-newed enthusiasm. One of the early lessons that salespeople learn is that enthusiasm is not made but transferred. Working with an enthusiastic mentee is one of the best ways to add a spark of enthusiasm to your own life.

4) Provides personal satisfaction that comes from helping someone else succeed. Human beings have a natural desire to teach others what they know. One of the great joys in life is knowing that you contributed to someone else's success. When you mentor, you give someone the greatest gift of helping them succeed. Being the giver of this gift is incredibly satisfying.

5) Offers new ways of looking at things. Mentoring often takes place between people of diverse backgrounds. Working with someone of a different age, gender, race, geographic location, culture, or industry provides opportunities to view business issues and the world through a new lens.

6) Creates an avenue to "pay it forward." Has anyone helped you in your own career? Mentoring is a great way to "pay it forward" and help someone else.

7) Expands your network. We all travel in different circles. Your mentee's network might include contacts that can benefit you or your family or your organization.

8) Adds variety into your life. It is very refreshing to set your company and your life aside for a brief period of time and focus on someone else's interests and issues. It's like taking a mini-vacation from yourself.

9) Allows you to master the art of training/coaching. Being an outstanding trainer and coach is important regardless of how high a position you hold in your organization. Mentoring is an excellent way to practice these skills.

10) Helps you implement a mentoring program within your own company. Being a mentor helps you understand the best way to leverage mentoring programs in your organization. There are many strategic benefits to having a mentoring culture in your organization. Corporate mentoring programs help companies with talent development, succession planning, new hire acclimation, and improving employee retention. Many companies have multiple programs such as a general corporate mentoring program, a mentoring program for high potential employees, mentoring programs for affinity groups such as women or diversity groups, and/or mentoring for new hires or new supervisors.

Special thanks to Bruce H. Daly, President of Nobscot Corporations's Mentor Scout Division for his thoughts on the benefits of being a mentor. Also acknowledgements to two of my favorite books on mentoring, The Elements of Mentoring by W. Brad Johnson and Charles R. Ridly and Mentoring, A Success Guide for Mentors and Proteges by Floyd Wickman and Terri Sjodin.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Mentor Me Meg Mission - Update One

Aside from feeling a little bit like a stalker, the Mentor-Me-Meg mission is off to a great start. It began with this post explaining my quest for connecting with Meg Whitman, CEO of Ebay. After I posted about the mentoring mission, I enthusiastically charged ahead with some of the steps I had outlined in hopes of quickly reaching my goal.

Here is a list of what I have accomplished thus far:

1) Linked In. I have had a LinkedIn account for awhile now but never really had the opportunity to use it for anything useful. I have a paltry 37 contacts and rarely visit the website. Luckily for me, of my 37 contacts, about 7 of them have in the hundreds of contacts so that increases my broader linked in network. I show as having 7100 contacts that are two degrees away and over 1,000,000 that are three degrees away. Surely someone in this group must be well connected to Meg!

I used the LinkedIn search and looked directly for Meg Whitman. No luck. I found Meg Whitman-Gorham, an analyst at State Street Financial Services. Ms. Whitman-Gorham is not the Meg Whitman that I am looking for (though maybe she is a relation?). The search also returned the names of people who mentioned Meg Whitman in their profiles. One of them, Joanne Gordon, is a Human Resources Manager at Ebay. Now we are talking my lingo! I clicked on Joanne and found that she was 3 degrees away from me. That meant that one of my connections knew one of her connections. Not a very clear or close path but being an optimist, I decided to give a try. I had 5 different people to choose from in my network who are connected to one of Joanne's connections. I selected Craig Weller, a Human Resources professional with ADP that I am acquainted with via SHRM and Nobscot's HR Forum. I clicked on the appropriate link and sent a note to Craig and a note to Joanne on why I would like to connect with her.

Craig was quick to forward on my request to Joanne's connection but so far I have not heard anything more. I'm not really sure from looking at LinkedIn if my note got stalled at Joanne's connection or if made it to Joanne and she is not interested in responding or helping me with my quest. I am still hopeful that I might hear from Joanne.

2) Facebook. A few days before the Mentor-Me-Meg mission began, I had registered on Facebook. My interest there was purely out of curiosity and I had no plans of trying to connect with friends or utilize any of the features. With the mentoring mission underway, though, it seemed worth a shot. I quickly logged into my account and did a search for Meg Whitman. The search returned 21 names. Did you know that there are 18 Megan or Meghan Whitmans on Facebook? And there on page 2 was Meg Whitman with a picture of her speaking at an Ebay event. Could it really be this easy?

I had no idea how to use Facebook so I just made my best guess. I had the choice to "Send Message" or to "Poke Her!" I didn't know what "poke her" meant and since I was already feeling like a stalker I thought I better stay away from that option. Instead I wrote a nice letter to Meg. In the subject line I wrote: Mentoring. The first paragraph of the letter was as follows:
I am the CEO & President of a small, online HR software company, Nobscot Corporation. I am seeking a professional mentor and I can't think of anyone I would rather have for that role than you.
I went on to explain how I have admired her business acumen and I provided a little background on my company. I closed with letting her know that I would be honored to have her as a mentor to brainstorm with, discuss new ideas, challenges, et cetera.

Off the note went, somewhere into the Facebook database. I have checked my Facebook Inbox diligently but it remains empty. It occurred to me that there is no way to know for sure if Meg Whitman actually created that Facebook profile or if someone was playing a prank. Would Meg Whitman take the time to post a photo of herself? And the photo itself was more than likely a publicly available photo. Hmmmmm.......

3) Nobscot Forums. My last attempt to date was posting about the mission on Nobscot's Human Resource Forum. This is a forum of Human Resource professionals used primarily for social networking. (Note: by social networking I mean the old definition of people hanging out together and discussing non-work related items not the new definition which defines a certain type of web 2.0 tool.) I am the Administrator of this forum and spend a good bit of time there socializing with my online HR friends.

I posted a thread in the forum titled: Who Knows Meg? After many jokes poking fun at me from the regular posters, one of the infrequent posters spoke up. She works at Paypal in the Omaha office. WOW! She posted about how she has heard "absolutely amazing" things about Meg. She said that she is very highly regarded within the company and is "incredibly down to earth." It was great to hear that as I was curious if the internal persona was similar to the external persona. Oftentimes we think an executive is terrific only to find out that the people who work with the person can't stand him or her. On the downside, though, the Paypal poster did not have any close connections with Meg herself.

So that is where things stand to date. I remain optimistic and will continue forward with the mission. In the week ahead, I will try some of the off-line, old-fashioned methods of connecting such as sending a letter via snail (postal) mail and a phone call. If anyone has any other suggestions for connecting, please post comments or email me. I will report back next week with another update.

Beth N. Carvin
CEO & President
Nobscot Corporation

Thursday, July 19, 2007

YouTube-Style Film Ad Contest

You may have heard about Nobscot's unique film marketing project/contest. Aspiring filmmakers and marketers are competing to create the best YouTube-style video on why people really leave their jobs.

The rules require that the video begins with a person or person-on-the-street being asked via voice-over: "Why did you leave your last job?" The filmmaker will then be able to use their own creativity to create a 30 second to 7 minute filmvertisement.

The winning entry will receive a $1000 award. The top 10 will receive honorable mention plus a $100. prize.

Nobscot is generating an incredible amount of interest in this and we are looking forward to seeing the results.

Below is the official notice. Pass it along to all your video-making friends.
YouTube Style Film Makers - How Good Are You?

Unique film and marketing project/contest. Design a YouTube-style advertisement and win $1000. We are looking for aspiring filmmakers to create a 30 second to 7 minute film advertisement. The format should be something along the lines of:

Person or person-on-the-street being asked (voice-over): "Why did you leave your last job?"

From there you can use your creativity and develop your own story.

The end should include a voice over or screen with:
"Find out why your employees are REALLY leaving."

And something that shows/says Nobscot Corporation

Please note that this is for business (professional) use by a company that makes exit interview software.

We will be awarding $100 each (and recognition) for the top 10 entries and $1000 (and lots of recognition) for the winning entry.

Entries will be judged on creativity, marketing applicability, professional quality (sound/visual).

Cartoon style may be accepted if professional and gets the message across.

Email questions, intent to participate (required) and link to your completed entry to:

Intent to Participate email must be received by July 31, 2007. Completed entry must be received by August 31, 2007.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Mentor Me Meg!

In today's connected world where everyone is just a few degrees away from everyone else, how difficult do you think it would be to reach out to the person of your choice and ask them to become your mentor? If the CEO & President of a niche HR software company in Honolulu wanted to have, for example, Meg Whitman as her mentor, would she be able to connect with her? That is exactly what I aim to find out.

I am calling this quest the Mentor-Me-Meg Mission and it starts today July 11, 2007. I don't know Meg Whitman and I don't think I know anyone who knows Meg Whitman. Therefore I will try a variety of strategies both high tech and low to see if I can make her acquaintance. We will see which, if any, of the strategies work.

Here is what I will try:

- Blog about it!
- Write and send a letter through postal mail to Meg at Ebay
- Email my network of influential people and see if any of them can connect me
- Call Ebay headquarters and ask to speak directly with Meg
- Use LinkedIn to see if I can connect through my connections
- Search on the Internet for Meg's email address and send her an email
- Search through off-line business directories for Meg's email and send her an email
- Contact Journalists about my mission and see if the publicity invokes Meg to contact me
- And if nothing else works, I will create a video on the mission and post on YouTube (Please help me connect with her first so I don't have to do this one.)

You can join me in the Mentor-Me-Meg mission and read along as I post the process and results of the various connection strategies. If nothing else, it should make for a fun anecdotal study on which methods are most effective. Any guesses on whether or not I will succeed and if so which will have been the winning strategy?

PS. If you know Meg Whitman or someone who knows Meg Whitman or you are Meg Whitman, please email me at bncarvin-at-nobscot-dot-com? Thanks!

Beth N. Carvin
CEO & President
Nobscot Corporation

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Holy Grail of Enterprise 2.0

Pundits, professors and providers of technology are scurrying around trying to predict how Web 2.0 will successfully enter the workplace. There is talk of wikis and blogs and tagging and collaboration and social networking. Everyone recognizes (correctly) that Web 2.0 tools can and will transform the workplace but no one is quite sure how they will work and more importantly what value they will add. Some organizations are trying the "force participation" approach -- which although temporarily effective is a sure sign that they are barking up the wrong tree. The correct strategy will take-off when it gives employees the kinds of tools or systems that they want and need to which they naturally gravitate. The pundits and professors are getting very close to figuring this out but they have not yet found the holy grail of Enterprise 2.0. But I have.

I am not a web 2.0 expert but I am relatively knowledgeable about Human Resources/Talent Development/Organizational Development. Therefore rather than looking at Enterprise 2.0 from a "this is cool technology - what can we do with it" angle, I am more interested in how we can solve some of today's workplace challenges. Past history has shown that for a technology to really take-off, it needs to solve problems not just be nice-to-have. Applying Web 2.0 to the corporation just because you can doesn't mean it will stick. To stick, it must be extraordinarily useful. Being cool or perhaps I should say being hot is not enough. The question the pundits and professors need to be asking is what workplace challenges can web 2.0 tools solve? That is where they will find the answers about Enterprise 2.0 .

The following are three Human Resources and Talent Development workplace challenges that I have identified that can be solved with Web 2.0 tools. (I'm sure there are many more.) All three challenges are related to the new Generation Y Millennial workplace. Specifically the differences in the work behavior of the 75 million people between the ages of 15 to 30 that have begun entering the workplace in the last 5 - 10 years.

1) The Need for Praise & Recognition. This may sound trivial but it's not. Unlike previous generations of employees, the new "raised on praise" generation of workers require an inordinate amount of praise and recognition to stay motivated, productive and happy with their company. (And truth be told we Baby Boomers and Gen Xers like praise too.) Managers, supervisors and HR professionals are not yet sure how to meet this voracious need for recognition. A simple answer is to use social networking systems that encourage both peer-to-peer and supervisor-to-employee recognition as an integral part of daily communication.

2) Knowledge Transfer - Just in time Learning. Challenge #2 is that everything we know about employee training has been thrown out the window in the Generation Y workplace. Classroom training? Ha! E-learning? Maybe if it's a requirement to get a raise. The real learning today takes place on a peer-to-peer basis at the moment the employee has a problem or is asked to take on an assignment that they have not experienced previously. For example, if someone is working on a spreadsheet and can't figure out how to format a cell properly, what do they do? They ask their friends and colleagues. When they need help with the best way to _____________ [you can fill in the blank with any work question] they ask their friends and colleagues. Therefore, one of the great workplace challenges today is how to facilitate this new just-in-time approach to learning. Once again, Web 2.0 social networking can be used solve this need. The more friends and colleagues you can connect with, the more chance you have of getting the best solution to your question.

3) Fifty-Percent Employee Turnover is not sustainable. If the average Generation Y employee plans to stay 1-2 years at a company and if your entire workforce is comprised of Generation Y employees, that equates to an employee turnover rate of 50% per year. The current rate of employee turnover (for voluntary employee turnover called "quits" by the Department of Labor) runs at around 23% per year. If employee turnover jumps from 23% with a mixed generational workplace to 50% with a Generation Y workplace, companies will not be able to sustain the cost of turnover both in hard dollars and soft productivity losses. It is going to be absolutely imperative to prevent this from happening. One proven method is to increase the connections that new (and other) employees have to their co-workers and "embed" them into the fabric (or network) of the company. This "employee engagement" has been shown to reduce employee turnover dramatically. Here too social networking tools can be used to fulfill this need.

The holy grail of enterprise 2.0 is going to be around solving the challenges that the new Generation Y work styles bring to the organization. For an example of how this can be put into practice, take a look at the Talent Networking Edition of Mentor Scout which my team at Nobscot Corporation has developed. It borrows concepts from Web 2.0 and Social Networking but only the parts that serve to solve the challenges listed above. Solving workplace challenges - that is the holy grail for Enterprise 2.0 not the implementation of Web 2.0 for the sake of Web 2.0.

Beth N. Carvin
CEO & President
Nobscot Corporation

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Happy-to-Grumpy Metric

There's a nice article on metrics in last month's (June 2007) CFO magazine. The article brought up my favorite financial ratio - the "Happy to Grumpy" ratio which Wells Fargo uses to measure actively engaged employees to the actively disengaged. Says Wells Fargo's CFO Howard Atkins,
We want to measure what drives our results, and that includes team-member engagement. That measure might not get cited in your general ledger, but it can be quantified in a statistically valid way, compared over time to certain goals, and correlated to business outcomes.
Wells has found that groups within the bank that have a greater number of happy employees also rank higher on productivity and customer satisfaction measures when compared against areas in the bank with grumpy employees.

Another great example of a company analyzing human capital metrics is Best Buy. Best Buy, the electronics retailer, has been measuring employee engagement for about 10 years. Three years ago, they also began to track customer satisfaction numbers. This has given them the opportunity to correlate employee engagement with customer satisfaction; a task which they have recently begun to undertake. I suspect they will discover some exciting correlations. In fact, one correlation that they have already uncovered, according to CFO, is that for every tenth of a point in increased employee engagement, there is a correlating increase of $100,000 in operating income.

These kinds of metrics go a long way in validating what those of us in the HR world have known intuitively all along. I predict that some day we are going to see more human capital measures making their way into corporate financial data reports. And that will be a good thing for both the success of companies and the worklife of employees.

For the record, Well Fargo's "happy-to-grumpy ratio" in 2006 was reported at 5.8:1. Do you know what yours is?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Keeping Up With the Joneses

In my last post, I said that I was a Baby Boomer. It turns out that I was wrong. I have just learned that I'm actually a Jones. A Jones? Apparently a movement to redefine the generations has been brewing for the past 7 or 8 years. From a 1999 news article
They grew up watching The Brady Bunch, not Leave It to Beaver. Their attitudes were shaped more by Watergate than JFK. They remember gas lines, not Mustangs. So can you really call 35- to 45-year-olds baby boomers? Jonathan Pontell says no. The 41-year-old popular culture expert from Los Angeles has coined a name for this group, which represents a quarter of all U.S adults: Generation Jones.
According to Pontell, the redefined generations look like this: Note that this graph is from 2005

I'm not sure I like the name Jones but I can see some value in breaking up the Baby Boom generation into two distinct groups. From a workplace perspective, the oldest Baby Boomers are heading into retirement while younger Baby Boomers like myself are right in the prime of our work life; except for the, ummm, reduced energy levels and the errr fading memory. Well, anyway, we Joneses have the benefit of many years of experience along with advanced degrees in the school of hard-knocks while still being able to keep up, for the most part, with the new technology. That makes us a pretty special group, perhaps worth segregating and re-naming, don't you think?

Here is an excerpt of a little trivia fun for my Jones compatriots:


1. How many of the “Sweathogs” of Welcome Back Kotter do you remember?

2. What rumor about Mikey (from Life cereal adds) fizzed among Jonesers in the 1970s?

3. We were the first generation of kids with video games. What was the beloved original?

4. A Joneser played the title role in the made-for-TV movie, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble? Who was he?

5. Three movies with ensemble generational casts were released at the same time in the mid-1980s. The Big Chill for Boomers, The Breakfast Club for Xers. Which one for Jonesers?

6. Which actress in what movie inspired the “torn sweatshirt/bare shoulder/leg warmer” look among Jonesers in the 1980s?

1. Barbarino, Epstein, Boom-Boom, Horshack.
2. He supposedly died from drinking soda with Pop Rocks.
3. Pong.
4. John Travolta.
5. St. Elmo's Fire
6. Jennifer Beals, Flashdance.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Workplace Interruptus

Noise is the most impertinent of all forms of interruption. It is not only an interruption, but is also a disruption of thought. - Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)

I'm a Baby Boomer which means I get work done by starting, concentrating and finishing. I'm pretty good at juggling multiple work items throughout the day but I like to give 100% of my focus to whatever I am working on at a given time. This means that I don't listen to music while I'm working and I could never have a television on in the background if I expect to produce high quality work results. Luckily for me I can generally control the noise level in my office (for the most part) but there is one thing that is getting harder to control and that is interruptions.

Consultant EJ Heresniak makes some interesting points about interruptions in the May/June edition of The Conference Board Review magazine. Heresniak blames technology for transforming work into a series of interruptions. He notes that technology creates a
constant stream of distractions, many masquerading as work but serving only as interruptions to actually doing work.
In the past, he explains, interruptions could be limited to the once per day mail drop or the running into a friend or colleague in the hallway or on the street.
There seemed to be a time between interruptions when you could get "into" work and actually do something from start to finish. We don't have that anymore, and I think it's impacting productivity. Handling endless interruptions can keep you really busy, of course... but it ain't real work.
I agree with Heresniak on many of his points. In the past few years I have worried about the effect of this change on work patterns and productivity. In fact a 2005 British study concluded that constant disruption from emails and phone calls had a greater (negative) effect on IQ than smoking marijuana. The good news, though, is that what we are beginning to see is that the younger Generation Y employees are actually adapting (evolving?) to this stop-and-go multiple streams of work activity work style. They, unlike me, are capable of producing while listening to the radio, checking their favorite online forums, sending and receiving emails and engaging in multiple IM conversations.

I'm not quite sure how the young workers manage to do a dozen things simultaneously but it's comforting to see that they are succeeding at it. It seems that they have been able to take the positive aspects of having multiple modes of communication and integrate them into their work (and lives) without any of the negatives. Well, maybe some of the negatives but still the net effect seems to fall into the positive column. The baby boomers like me and presumably Mr.Heresniak might not be able to get work done with the huge number of interruptions but with any luck our successors will.

Winning at Employee Retention

An interesting, albeit somewhat rambling, post from Marc Andreessen with his thoughts on employee turnover and retention. Andreesen is the software entrepreneur best known for co-founding Netscape shortly after his graduation from college. In this post, he asserts that employee retention is directly tied to being a "winning" company and conversely that employee turnover is due to a "not winning problem." He then goes on to explain how he believes you can minimize turnover in ways that will also help your company win again.

His 9 rules for employee retention are:

1) Don't give up.
2) Focus
3) Clean house
4) Promote your best people
5) Simplify and clarify your organizational structure
6) Put your recruiters to work aggressively but don't rely on them for everything (Here he talks about handling the important recruiting yourself -- presumably the CEO -- and re-bounding top performers who previously left the company. He suggests offering them "fat packages" to get them back.)
7) Ramp up college recruiting
8) Communicate within
9) Shake things up

If he is truly talking about the company that is "not winning," I think the most important item on his list is number eight - communicating within.

He says,
tell everyone in your company clearly and unambiguously, we are here to win and here's how we're going to do it. It won't be easy, but we can do it and we will do it, and we will have amazing stories to tell our grandchildren.

You don't need to be certain of all the answers! Colin Powell says, "You know you’re a good leader when people follow you, if only out of curiosity." So project boldness, and have that glint in your eye where people know you're up to something big.

The glint in the eye is really the key. When times are tough, it's important to have a visionary leader who can paint a picture of the future that is right around the corner if everyone pulls together to make it happen. When times are tough, employees don't often see the light at the end of the tunnel. The visionary leader needs to show them that light. If your CEO is not charismatic, then another top leader can be given the job to inspire the troops with colorful stories of where the company is headed.

Andreesen's post goes in a lot of different directions (including how to talk high performers out of leaving for start-up opportunities) but it's worth a read to see things from a non-HR technology start-up executive's perspective.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

It's Not What You Say It's What People Hear

I hate that this great phrase is being used by political spinmeister Frank Luntz as the subtitle for his new book. Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear is about using verbal chicanery to manipulate people's viewpoints. But let's set aside Luntz's less than honorable objectives and focus on the very practical concept of paying attention to what people hear rather than on what you think you said. This is a great strategy for effective communication in the workplace. As we all have experienced, what we mean to say, isn't always what is received by our listen (or reader).

With today's quick communication and multi-tasking half listening, it's easy to have your message perceived in a completely different, often opposite, way than that which you intended. In the workplace, these kinds of miscommunications can have severe consequences; lost business deals, co-worker conflicts, lost promotions, employees quitting in a huff. You can prevent this by making sure you use a little extra effort whenever you communicate. Take your time to formulate your message, think before you speak, review before you push the send button, clarify ambiguous pronouns (to who or what does "she, he or it" refer?) and put yourself in your listener's shoes. Focusing on the listener even just a little bit can pay-off in big ways. Even without resorting to Luntz's verbal manipulation tricks.