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    Entries in Organization (64)

    Wednesday
    Aug022017

    Defining the competition

    There are two schools of thought on how an organization should think about its competition - for customers, market share, talent, brand awareness, etc.

    One approach is to study your competitors closely, monitor their strategies, actions and decisions, and devote a lot of resources and energy to roles like competitive intelligence gathering, market analysis, and the development of specific playbooks focused on your main competitors to prepare your salespeople for what they are likely to encounter in the field. I'd say that in enterprise tech, HR tech for sure, this is the approach that most medium-to-large providers take.

    The alternate approach is to largely ignore specific competitors and spend the vast majority of your time working on product, message, and lots of internal and specific capabilities like implementation, service, support and the like. This is often the approach startup tech companies take as they likely have to spend most of their time trying to define their own message, communicate their unique value proposition, and if they are truly innovating in the market their competition may not even actually exist. Or said differently, they often are competing against 'doing nothing' and not against a competing product or service. 

    And truly most companies probably exist somewhere in between these two extremes - thinking about the competition some, and other times taking a more internal focus. And this focus usually skews towards former as the company grows, enters new markets, or begins to attract new competitors (success breeds competition). 

    I thought about this 'competition continuum' when I caught this piece on Venture Beat - Amazon's name pops up on 10% of U.S. earnings conference calls, a nod to the retail/tech/distribution giant's outsize reach in the US economy right now.

    From the VB piece:

    Almost 700 U.S. companies have reported quarterly results so far this earnings season, and the e-commerce titan’s name has popped up on roughly one of every 10 earnings conference calls so far. And the retailers whose lunch has long been eaten by Amazon.com Inc haven’t even reported yet.

    In all, Amazon has been raised either in passing or with some urgency on 75 calls hosted by corporate chieftains in the past several weeks, according to a Reuters analysis of call transcripts from components of the S&P 1500. That’s well more than twice as many mentions as Google or its parent Alphabet Inc and over three times as many as Apple Inc.

    Everyone from traditional retailers to 'big tech' companies like Microsoft and IBM all the way to Dow Jones stalwarts like 3M and Johnson & Johnson all have at least one eye on what Amazon is doing.

    It is kind of incredible to think that Amazon is now a real (or imagined) competitive threat across such a wide range of industries and companies.

    But here's what at least I thought was the really interesting thing about the piece, and the reason for the post in the first place.

    Most organizations spend lots and lots of time, (maybe too much time), thinking about the competition. I get the feeling that truly amazing, game changing companies like Amazon don't spend all that much time doing that. No, they focus on doing the things that make others worry about them instead.

    And that is a much, much better place to be.

    Postscript - I am totally obsessed with the Amazon Echo and really annoyed at every other piece of technology I own that will not yet respond to voice commands. I think this is going to be a really big deal in workplace tech and sooner than we think.

    Wednesday
    Jun282017

    REPRISE: You probably can only do one important thing each week

    I saw this piece, 'If you must hold a team meeting, schedule it during this one hour' on Inc. this morning and I thought, 'I should blog about that', followed by 'I am pretty sure I have already blogged about that.'

    And it turns out I had, kind of, a little more than a year ago when I deduced from various pieces like the one above from Inc. that attempt to give us advice as to the optimal time to schedule a job interview, important meeting, big contract negotitation, etc. Since in a year's time not much has changed it seems, and we all, still have a tiny window of prime productivity each week, instead of coming up with a new take on the issue, I will just re-run my piece from 2016 - You probably can only do one important thing each week.

    Enjoy.

    I caught this piece the other day on Business Insider - When to Schedule Your Job Interview, that quotes some research from Glassdoor from a few years back which indicates that all things being equal, the optimal time for a candidate to schedule a job interview is 10:30AM on Tuesday.

    Even without data to back up that claim, it at least makes intuitive sense to me. Mondays are terrible for everything. Many folks mentally check out by Fridays. That leaves Tuesday - Thursday as options for any kind of important meeting, like a job interview. Let's automatically remove anything after lunch, as you never know how a heavy meal, quick workout, or a couple of shots and a Schlitz are going to have on the interviewer.

    So that leaves Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings. Let's rule out Thursday since it is close enough to Friday to catch a little of the 'Is it the weekend yet?' shrapnel. Now we are in a tossup between Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. And since even by only Wednesday, lots of folks might already be thinking 'How can it only be Wednesday, this week is taking forever?', Tuesday seems like a safer choice. As for a time - use the Goldilocks approach - not too early, not too late (and too close to lunch), which lands you at 10:30AM

    As I said, it makes perfect sense, but it also sounded terribly familiar when I read the advice.

    I feel like i had heard some variations of the 'Tuesday at 10:30AM' advice before. 

    As it turns out, it is pretty common scheduling advice for other kinds of work/business events as well. This piece recommends scheduling important presentations for Tuesdays.  And this article also strongly suggests a combination of 'Tuesday' and 'late morning', (also known as 'Tuesday at 10:30AM), is an optimal time to conduct any type of negotiations.

    If I had more time, and I wasn't staring down the weekend myself, I would do some more searching and I am pretty sure I'd find a bunch more examples of how Tuesday mornings are the best time to do anything important at work. So Tuesdays at 10:30AM it is.

    Which is good to know and sort of sad at the same time. We work ALL OF THE TIME. We are chained to our email 24/7 with our 'smart' phones. We are (mostly), evaluated and assessed by our success in the workplace.

    And yet there is only one 'good' time each week to do anything important. 

    Tuesday at 10:30AM.

    It's only Wednesday right now, so you have a couple of days to plan your attack for next week's sliver of time where you can actually do something important. 

    Don't blow it. It won't come around again for an entire week if you do.

    Have a great day!

    Monday
    Jun262017

    Get Lucky

    This weekend, a decent, reasonably warm beginning of summer weekend in Western NY, while in the car on my way to either the gym or the gun club or my volunteer work with the homeless, 2013's song of the summer, Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky' came on the radio.

    You have to remember 'Get Lucky'. It was peppy, infectious, ubiquitous on the radio and on play lists just a few year's ago. The perfect summer song, probably. For some reason after hearing the song again, and for the first time in a while, I thought about a profile/interview of the guys in Daft Punk, (hardly anyone knows their real names, so I won't bother with them here), that ran in GQ, right around the time when 'Get Lucky' was on high rotation.

    If you don't know much about Daft Punk, you probably know at least this - 'Get Lucky' was their biggest commercial hit, and that Daft Punk are the guys who wear the robot helmets, and have almost never been photographed without them (see pic on right).

    The reasons for the helmets, disguises if you will, are as inscrutable as the performers themselves, but probably are not too hard to at least guess at.

    By wearing the helmets the Daft Punk guys get to concentrate on the art, not some kind of curated image, (actually it is a curated image, it's just one they define and control 100%), and also get to enjoy life outside of Daft Punk and the helmets as more or less 'normal' people. For international pop stars, the ability to walk down a street in New York or Paris or anywhere else and not be bothered by selfie-seeking fans has to be pretty valuable.

    But back to the reason why I thougth about this and wanted to write about a four year-old song and interview.

    In the GQ piece, the writer tries to learn more about how some of the songs on Daft Punk's new album were put together. Specifically, he asks which of the two Daft Punkians were responsible for a particular robot voice sound effect that is present on much of the material, as the effect stands out quite a bit.

    The answer from Daft Punk?

    "It doesn't matter.

    Love that answer. The two guys in Daft Punk have their partnership and process down so much, and are so comfortable with each other's position that they don't need to claim ownership of any particular aspect of the creation. 

    Can you imagine McCartney or Lennon answering a similar question about 'Hey Jude' the same way?

    If you are really, truly, going to have a successful partnership or a team, one that can withstand all the ups and downs that naturally are going to test you, I think the Daft Punk position of 'It doesn't matter who did what, just listen to the result" might be the most important and telling condition for that kind of success.

    If the robot on the left was interested in tying to make sure he got the credit and the acclaim for every element that he specifically contributed to the results, then you don't really have Daft Punk any longer. 

    You have two guys dressed in robot costumes.

    What's the song of summer 2017? 

    Have a great week!

    Monday
    Apr172017

    People, not projects

    In between games of the NBA playoffs this weekend and as I was digging through a couple of weeks of 'saved' items in my Feed reader, (anyone still using feed readers?), I came across a link to a Quora thread aiming to address the question 'What made Xerox PARC, (the legendary reseearch shop in Palo Alto), so special?'

    One of the responses, from Alan Kay, offered eight reasons why PARC (and the earlier ARPA) were so effective, and in reading Kay's observations, I thought the first five were pretty applicable to just about any organization that is faced with the need to remain, (or become) innovative and dynamic.

    The first five points are below, I think they pretty much are self-explanatory, so I will just repeat them here and send you on your way on a sunny Monday:

    There was a vision: “The destiny of computers is to become interactive intellectual amplifiers for everyone in the world pervasively networked worldwide”.

    A few principles:

    1. Visions not goals
    2. Fund people not projects — the scientists find the problems not the funders. So, for many reasons, you have to have the best researchers.
    3. Problem Finding — not just Problem Solving
    4. Milestones not deadlines
    5. It’s “baseball” not “golf” — batting .350 is very good in a high aspiration high risk area. Not getting a hit is not failure but the overhead for getting hits. (As in baseball, an “error” is failing to pull off something that is technically feasible.)

    Really solid stuff, I think.

    Start with a vision, but one that is short, cogent, and easily rallied around by the right people. Then set about giving those right people support and space to execute on that vision. And allow 'misses' from time to time, after all, even the best baseball players fail more than 60% of the time.

    Easy, right?

    But much easier said than done. Probably why we still talk about legendary places like PARC all these years later. They are the unicorn stories we keep having to cling to.

    That's it, I'm out. Have a great week!

    Tuesday
    Mar072017

    LEARN A NEW WORD: 'Never Events'

    You've probably heard stories over the years of some crazy, unbelievable, and even egregious mistakes made by medical professionals from time to time - things like operating on the 'wrong' body part, leaving a piece of surgical equipment inside the patient, or administering an incorrect medication or dosage that results in really, really bad outcomes. These kinds of mistakes happen, hopefully not too much, but they do, and health care providers have, over time, implemented structural and process changes to try and keep them from re-occurring.

    So while you have probably heard about these kinds of mistakes, what you may not know is that in the medical field these kind of mistakes have a definitional term. They are called 'Never events' - "Adverse events that that are serious, largely preventable, and of concern to both the public and health care providers for the purpose of public accountability".

    Naming and categorizing these events into the 'never events' bucket has helped health care providers better understand the problems, as well as devise interventions to (hopefully), prevent them from happening in the future. Said differently, once a 'never event' is detected, a different, more rigorous, and more repeatable set of protocols kick in. 

    I confess to have never, (no pun intended), heard of the term 'never events' until I read this piece from Slate that is advocating for local law enforcement agencies to adopt the 'never event' approach to solving some of their most challenging problems. And while I don't know anything about law enforcement, or health care, ( or much of anything else really), I kind of like the notion of adapting the approach that the medical field is taking towards these preventable events to other fields.

    Would having a list of 'never events' in your business processes, or perhaps stated as the list of behaviors that are so egregious that they simply will not be tolerated, be of benefit beyond literal 'life and death' professions like health care and law enforcement?

    I think it would be an interesting exercise to determine what some of the 'never events' might be in any context, if only to think about ways to create structure/environment and design processes to ensure these never events either don't happen at all, or at least can be reduced significantly. Even in an individual, personal context, this might have value.

    I will start.

    One of my 'never events' could be to have an unreturned or unacknowledged business email with 24hrs of receipt, (I know I am already in trouble).

    How might I change my structure and process to ensure this 'never event' does not occur?

    I could put on a permanent email auto-responder stating my commitment to answer within 24hrs, setting a clear expectation for myself and the email sender. I also could block times on my calendar each day to dedicate to processing email. And finally, if it gets really bad, I could hire an assistant to triage my email, respond on my behalf as needed, and only forward to me the most important emails, the ones that truly require rapid response.

    I am going to think about those things this week. I encourage you to think about your own 'never events' too - in your business, your HR department, and even personally. 

    Some things should never, ever happen. Until we recognize which ones, it is hard to stop them from happening again and again.