Category Archives: Activities

It All Counts

After over seven years and more than three hundred articles, I took a little time off from blogging. I needed a break. It wasn’t much of a break. I think it was on the order of a few weeks. It was interesting in that the longer the break went the more I felt the need to get back to writing. I guess that wouldn’t be so bad if I felt I was a better writer.

Be that as it may, I will not allow my lack of talent to stop me from enjoying something. I prove this fact every time I try to play music. So I am back. I have a few new topics already in mind, but I think I will take my time in getting to them. What I will delve into today is going to be the new age joy and scourge of so many of us: Social Media.

My son is a senior in high school, and I believe him to be one of a vanishingly few individuals in North America (if not the civilized world) who does not participate in any social media. He has grown up during the age of social media. Still, he doesn’t have a Facebook account, or a Twitter feed, or any other of a number of social media sources. This pleases my wife since he is blissfully unaware of all the pictures, comments and proclamations she posts about him as he matriculates through life. He doesn’t tweet, friend, post, snap or chat with anyone. What is most surprising to me is that he seems genuinely happy about it too. Go figure.

When I have asked him about it he has blithely responded that he doesn’t see any benefit in participating in social media and if the truth be told he views it as a more of a problem then a benefit when it comes to communicating.

A long, long time ago in a black and white (television) galaxy far, far away, a guy named Art Linkletter had a television show named “Kids Say the Darndest Things”. My son just proved him right.

In this day and age of ubiquitous social media and the ability for anyone to access, generate and present any comment, image, content or position into cyberspace at any time, people seem to have forgotten a very important principle: Other people (not just the ones the content is intended for) can see and read these things. We would like to think that as we are well into the twenty first century that we all enjoy the benefits of freedom of speech and expression. To a large part we do. Except for when we don’t.

Abraham Lincoln said “With great freedom comes great responsibility.” He was as right then as he is now (except if he said it now he would have probably posted it on Facebook and LinkedIn and gotten a ton of “Likes” and “Shares”). What this means today is that just because we have the ability and even the forum to post or say anything we like, it doesn’t mean we should post or say anything we like.

I like picking on meteorologists because to me there are so few occupations where you can be wrong so often and still be regarded as a good meteorologist. I would have said great meteorologist, but that sounded too much like an oxymoron to me. Could there really be something called a great meteorologist?

A great baseball player actually hits the ball and gets on base about thirty percent of the time. This is called a three hundred batting average. Baseball players are praised for succeeding thirty percent of the time, while failing seventy percent of the time. I don’t know what the equivalent batting average is for a good meteorologist is, but I don’t think it is quite as high as a good baseball batting average.

In any event, the topic I am using as an example involves the dismissal of a meteorologist some time ago. This meteorologist wasn’t fired for their inaccurate predictions of the weather. I actually think most people rather expect meteorologists to get the weather prediction wrong. This meteorologist was fired for expressing their own personal opinion on the public forum called the internet.

It seems a group of people took issue with what the meteorologist posted and started to use their own internet based forums to complain. As the groundswell grew, this person’s professional fate was sealed. Job performance had nothing to do with it.

Please notice that I have not said anything about the content or the context of the purported comments. They were not illegal or threatening in any way. I am definitely not saying I agree with them in any way, shape or form. What I am saying is that they were perceived by various groups as being contrary to what those groups viewed as an acceptable position or comment. They took issue with them and as an ever widening group began to complain to the television station about what this meteorologist had posted.

A point I am making here is that it is now a very real and proven possibility that you can in fact lose your job based on what you post in social media or on the internet. The meteorologist in question is not an isolated instance of this type of professional reaction to personal comments. What might be possibly acceptable in the context of a private conversation may not be acceptable in the public realm of social media. What may be heard on the radio may not be acceptable for an individual on the internet.

Think about that for a minute. Some people can be paid for saying shocking things in public and others can be fired for doing the same thing.

Another point to be aware of is that with the quality of today’s search engines, the internet never forgets. Once a comment or post is released into cyberspace, it more than likely remains there forever. It doesn’t matter if it is deleted or erased. It can be exhumed over and over again. Where do you think I get most of my quotes and attributions?

What do you want to be remembered for?

Those embarrassing pictures taken at some party? Yup, they’re out there. That off the cuff, off color comment that you just had to post? It’s there too. That snarky response to someone else’s post? Who could forget that? I think you get the point.

I think those of us in business organizations, as well as just about everyone else I guess, need to remember that once we put something out there, that anyone including our associates, employers and customers have the ability to see it. And just as we are becoming more social media and internet savvy, so are they.

It is not uncommon for would be employers to research candidates via the web for their social media “fingerprints”. What better way to learn about people than to read what they have to say and do in these unrestricted very public forums? I would suspect that every company’s customers are probably doing the same searches as well.

I enjoy social media, and blogging. I actually try to use it as a constructive capability, if you can call this blog a constructive outlet. I’ll leave that to you to decide. I have tried to not lose sight of the fact that not everyone will agree with the positions that I may take. That is a more than acceptable condition as it is the discourse that results from these differences of views and opinions that keeps my interest in the forum. But I always try to understand others points of view before reacting with a potential off the cuff or inflammatory remark.

I think that it has yet to be decided what the outcome of my son’s lack of social media involvement will bring. Will his friends accept that he is “different” in that he doesn’t care to be on social media? Will he have to bow to peer pressure and get on social media if he wants to be able to communicate with his peer group? Will potential future employers be concerned when they do an internet search on him as a potential employment candidate and don’t find years worth of comments and posts?

Or is he possibly just ahead of the curve in recognizing that at least for him, he chooses to define the way he uses the internet as it relates to him?

I’ll have to think about that for a while. In the mean time, I think that as social media continues to garner more and more attention both within the real world and cyberspace, we need to be cognizant of the fact that regardless of what we put out there, it stays there for all to see, and it all counts.

The Process – Simplicity Paradox

The known world is full of paradoxes. Paradoxi? Whatever. Having studied Physics in school I am somewhat familiar with a couple of scientific paradoxes that changed the way we look at everything. Prior to these changes the world was viewed through the lens of what was called Newtonian Physics. That is the mechanics of the motion of objects of non-zero size. Beach balls bouncing, planets orbiting, that sort of thing. It worked well until technology progressed to the point where people could examine smaller and smaller objects, like “particles”, electrons, and protons and such. Then it didn’t work anymore.

It was at this point in time that a new branch of Physics had to be created. It had to work for the macro-world of bouncing balls and the micro-world of sub-atomic nuclear particles. It was called “Quantum Mechanics”. It had to address the paradoxes that were now visible.

It had to address the paradox that sometimes light behaved as a wave and sometimes it behaved as a particle, when in reality it had to be both a particle and a wave all the time. If that was truly the case then everything had to exhibit the same characteristics of waves and particles. This is called the wave-particle duality.

There were other paradoxes that Quantum Mechanics had to address. The idea that physical quantities such as speed and energy (and others) changed in only discreet amounts, sort of like going up and down steps as opposed to the idea of smooth slopes like slides. It also had to explain why the very act of observing these things changed their behavior and made observing other aspects of the same objects that much more difficult.

So, as usually the question now is: What does this introduction have to do with anything associated with business. I think it is pretty simple. I think we have been working in a business management model that for analogy’s sake is the seventeenth century equivalent of Newtonian Physics. It has worked, or not worked as the case may be, on a somewhat macro-scale, but as we have tried to drive it further down on a micro-scale into the organization, it seems to no longer provide the solutions and value businesses need.

As we have introduced more process into the business system in order to try and drive more and more order into the system, I think we are starting to see a breakdown in the results we are expecting to see. Instead of getting better we have gotten slower. We don’t get the results that we expect. So what have we done? We have attempted to introduce still more and more process on a smaller and smaller level in order to achieve the predictability and order that we desire in our business universe.

I think we may have reached the same metaphorical boundary in business that Newtonian Mechanics Physicists had to cross in order to get to the new Quantum Mechanics model of the world.

As we layer in more and more process in order to try and simplify, streamline and make our business universe more predictable, we are also adding in more complexity to the business system through the application of the process itself. Herein lies the paradox: The very act of adding incremental process in order to simplify the business adds complexity to the business. We may actually end up simplifying the business a little, but it takes more effort in the process than we save in the business.

This incremental process complexity manifests itself in the time it takes to accomplish simple tasks. It can be seen in the number of conference calls that are now required before any actions can be taken. It can be seen in the increased desire for consensus instead of action. All of these complexity symptoms can be seen as the result of trying to drive the increased application of complex process into the business structures.

Extending the Quantum, Mechanical and Measurement metaphors a little farther into business could also give us some of the solutions to the paradoxes that business is now facing. If the very act of trying to simplify adds complexity, and if the very act of measuring modifies the behavior of how the business behaves, what do we need to change?

I think one of the first things we need to do is change what we measure. As we have seen in the quantum mechanical world, the more specifically we try to measure something the more we modify some of the targets other characteristics or attributes. This is actually called the “Uncertainty Principle” (It was actually introduced in the early part of the last century by the German Physicist Werner Heisenberg, and is also known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle).

The same behavior is noted in organizations and is defined by the phrase “Expect what you inspect”. This generally means that by merely measuring something in an organization, whether it has value to the organization or not, you can change the behavior of the organization with respect to what you are measuring. If you measure the wrong things you should expect the wrong behaviors.

So perhaps we should reassess the value of ever more specific metrics and measurements. This thought seems to run almost entirely counter-intuitive to the directions that many organizations are going today. Instead of looking for ever finer and more specific things to measure we may want to take a step back and focus on the organization as a whole.

There are many metrics that the market looks at when it puts a value on the whole of a company, but the primary ones are financial: Orders, Sales, Profit, Earnings and Cash Flow. There may be others, but these should work for this argument’s sake. It is through the application of these metrics that the market usually establishes a value for the business. We might want to add Customer Satisfaction into the business metric mix, but I actually think that metric will sort itself out through the other financial metrics. If you don’t have Customer Satisfaction, or Quality or any of those derivative topics, you eventually won’t have the financials either as your customers will leave and take their business elsewhere.

So the simple baseline metric for every process, project, strategy, product or program should be: Is there a Financial Business Case that improves one of the five financial metrics that justifies the activity? By forcing the creation of that business case you have created the business representation in numbers and also the accompanying metrics for measuring the activity’s success. You can then see if the activity actually generated the beneficial behavior for the business that was targeted. If the value of the proposed activity cannot be defined, then there is a pretty good chance that the activity probably doesn’t need to be given a high priority.

Measurements against any other type of criteria will yield nothing more than some sort of a track against a non-critical objective, and will most probably drive a behavior that is not in alignment with the objectives of the business.

The Process versus simplicity paradox may be a little more difficult to counter, but again I think we can get it down to a business case. I think the idea for all those that would like to create, add to or extend a process is again to ask them to quantify what they are trying to correct or improve, and what resource they expect to expend on the improvement. In other words we need to create a Process – Simplification equation:

Man Hours required to implement the process
Man Hours saved / removed from the business because of the process
Net Business Simplification.

The nice thing about physics is that it can be clearly expressed in terms of numbers. Postulates and theories can be readily proved or disproved via experimentation or observation. I think we need to look at returning business to this sort of practice as well. There is the proposed theory to reduce and align the metrics with the financial value metrics in the business so that all members of the organization are clearly working towards the same goals. This will make sure that the behaviors on the macro-organizational level are fully aligned to the individual or quantum level within the organization.

I believe and agree that some process is required for the proper running of an organization. The question is when do we start experiencing the law of decreasing returns when it comes to adding more process? By requiring at least a business case proposal and defense of the quantified value of each incremental process I think business can begin to regain the focus on the value that each process is supposed to deliver and start to move away from the current approach that appears to be more process as the solution to every issue.

Business like Physics is a numbers oriented discipline. Good processes in business are like good theorems in physics. People may like to believe in them, but they need to be proven out in the numbers and measurements before they become accepted as natural laws.


If there is one word that should strike fear in the heart of business leaders it should be the word “process”. Please don’t get me wrong. I understand the need for and support the idea of some form and amount of standardization of business conduct. There are efficiencies that can be gained. A certain amount of uniformity of methodology will remove customer variability and should improve satisfaction. I get it. But as the old saying goes: Too much of a good thing is bad, and process is no exception.

Simply put processes are defined as a sequence of events. They are a model of the flow of how things should be done in an optimum environment. The idea being that by establishing a process for an aspect of a business you will remove unwanted variance from the way the business operates. Reduced variance should mean more consistent performance and increased efficiency in the business. Consistent performance and increased efficiencies should lead to more satisfied customers and more profitable operation. What’s not to like about that?

Process was initially introduced into the manufacturing or production environment, where the variation in the end product produced was an undesirable outcome. The idea was to assure that each product was manufactured the same way with a resulting uniformity in the output. This uniformity of output or outcomes seems to be the driving force behind the drive to apply process science to non-production oriented business functions.

If a little bit of process formalization delivers significant returns, then a full scale push toward total business process formalization should be the answer to all our business needs, right?  This direction leads you down the path toward higher order, more complex controls and processes, and as many of the old maps would indicate about uncharted territory, “here there be danger”. The problem is that as the process gets more complex in its efforts to be more broadly applicable, it becomes more cumbersome to document, follow and apply. This necessitates a greater process staff whose task it is it to marshal the process to assure that it is being followed.

By creating a process staff you are now introducing another drag on the business. The process staff is not focused on achieving the goal. They are focused on how you go about achieving the goal. Incremental staff associated with documenting and implementing the process means incremental costs that must now also be offset by additional process efficiencies before the business improvement driven by the process can contribute in a positive manner to the business performance. We now find ourselves in the position where the law of decreasing returns comes into play. The more we depend on the process for improvement, the more people we must have to support the process. The more people we have supporting the process the more improvement the process must provide in order to overcome the incremental costs associated with the increased number of people supporting the process.

Circular logic now ensues. The process gets bigger trying to drive more savings. More people are required to sustain the process. The process has to get even bigger to cover the extra costs of the incremental people.

The major issue that I have with processes is that as they evolve and grow and become bigger, more complex and more all encompassing, they have a tendency to become too focused on how things are being done and seem to lose their focus on the objective of what is being done.  Business is about getting things done. If you can get more things done, and done right than your competitor you should have a competitive advantage. When you start to expend increasingly greater amounts of resources on how you should get things done as opposed to the quantity of resources focused on actually getting things done you have probably hit the point of decreasing returns for your process investment.

The idea of process and process refinement came about when the market was primarily involved in a production and production worker environment. As we have evolved into a knowledge and knowledge worker environment we still seem to be increasingly focused on formulating and formalizing the way we want our knowledge workers to work. We are in effect trying to dictate the way our knowledge workers use their knowledge. This also seems fundamentally flawed to me.

Henry Ford ushered in the mass production process when he stated anyone could have a car in any color they wanted, as long as it was black. He built the ultimate no variability process. He built black model A’s. And that worked for a while. Mass production gave way to mass customization in the manufacturing environment. At one point not too very long ago you could buy any combination of features and colors on just about any car model you wanted.

 It was during this period that a number of car companies started going out of business as their processes, amongst other issues had become too cumbersome to be profitable. The process that worked well for the simple did not hold up as well for the multiplicity of options or the complex. And so the pendulum began to swing back toward far fewer and more simple groups of options or option packages, in order to reduce option complexity. This seems to be the current status of the production process in the automotive industry.

It appears that knowledge worker processes are still going through the “mass customization” stage of application. It seems that the processes themselves are becoming more complex in an effort to address the multiplicity of variables that are present in the knowledge worker environment. We are creeping ever closer to potentially strangling ourselves with the very processes that we hoped would be our profitability generating salvation.

Processes need to provide guidelines on how to deal with the known as well as unknown in business. They need to have enough specificity to provide direction, but also need to allow those that are working within them the ability to vary and adapt them to the changing needs of the customer, company and environment. One size process cannot fit all unless it is so big and so complex as to be able to handle all variables present in the business. Why would you want to build a process, or a model of how you are to conduct business that is as complicated as the real business is? Processes are supposed to simplify things, not mirror their complexity.

We need to keep our processes simple, the staffs associated with them minimal, and allow enough flexibility so that those operating within the process can react and adapt to new situations. Trying to expand the process to work in every instance of business inevitably leads to increased complexity and decreased returns for the effort.


Boredom, the very thought of it makes me cringe. It also makes me yawn. You know what they say;

         “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

I got in some of the deepest trouble that I could get in when I was a kid just because I got bored. When you don’t have anything to do, doing just about anything seems like a good idea, regardless of how bad an idea it really is. This concept has really been brought home to me when I have watched the things that my kids are prone to do when they are bored.

But that’s not the type of boredom I am going to discuss here.

In physics there is a concept called Entropy. It is a crucial concept associated with the second law of thermodynamics. It governs which processes can spontaneously occur and which can’t. In layman’s terms entropy is the universe’s tendency to maximum disorder. As an example, a box of marbles that is overturned on the floor will tend to disperse across the floor (disorder), rather than stay stacked up on top of each other in the form of a box (order). All actions and functions increase the entropy or disorder of the universe, from a physics point of view.

Are you bored yet?

When I was in graduate school, I used to think that in business the accounting equivalent to entropy was boredom. That means that anything that anybody ever did in accounting added to the boredom of the universe. There were several accounting majors who didn’t seem to see the humor in this entropy – boredom comparison, but this was to be expected since they were already in accounting and had obviously already undergone a borg-like assimilation.

This is not the type of boredom that I am going to discuss here either.

My inspiration for this discussion of boredom comes from of all places a book I recently read: “The Adventures of Augie March”, by Saul Bellow. In case you are not familiar with it, it is number 81 on the Modern Library’s editor’s list of the top 100 novels of the twentieth century. It also has nothing to do with business. I find that I read many different books that have nothing to do with business directly, but that regardless of that, provide me with some insights that do help me with business. This is one of those instances.

In this book, Augie March says:

         “Boredom starts with useless effort.”

Now this is coming from a character that actually goes to the mountain desert of Mexico to train bald eagles to hunt giant iguanas. I couldn’t make that up. I am not that good a writer. Saul Bellow made that up. He is that good a writer. He has many awards to prove it.

Now I don’t know if Augie did that because he was bored, or did that to avoid becoming bored. I guess it doesn’t matter.

We have all at one time or another felt like we have been compelled to perform some task or do some work that we felt was useless. It is normally called busy work, or scut work, or any number of other names. It all comes down to we felt as if we were doing something that did not add value, that wasted both out talents and our efforts. It may have actually had a value, we just might not have been aware of it at the time. However, I think we all know when we are doing something useful, and when we are not.

The point I would make here is that if we as leaders have gone through the boredom associated with useless effort, are there people in our organizations and on our teams that are feeling the same way about their assignments? Assignments that may initially have seemed logical and useful by the leaders when they were requested, that may no longer seem that way to the team members responsible for fulfilling the requirements now.

In other words, are you sure that everyone in the organization feels that no part of the work they are doing in their opinion is useless? If you are not sure, then how do you find out? I have gotten my best results and responses to this question by asking it of team members in real-time exchanges, either face to face or over the phone. Sending an email or asking them to fill out a survey or questionnaire means you really don’t care.

That sort of behavior will only increase their boredom by requiring them to respond to another useless email or survey.

There is only benefit to be gained from this approach to communications with team members. At the worst you may have to explain what the value is (if there indeed is any value) in the work you have assigned them. They may not like what they have to do, but they will at least understand that it is not useless effort. At the best you may find that you have incremental capacity on the team because they were in fact engaged in efforts with minimal value. That useless effort can be stopped and the resulting functional capacity can be applied to more valuable projects and efforts.

No one wants to be bored due to the lack of things to do. I think in today’s business environment we can safely say that this is not a high probability issue. I also think that no one wants to be bored because they have to do accounting. That’s why we have accountants. Let them be bored. And no one wants to be bored because they feel they are engaged in a useless effort. If the effort has value there is benefit in explaining it and further aligning the team. If it turns out that there is no value in it, I am sure that there are a myriad of other things with definable value that the business needs to get done with that newly available resource.

Get Off the Internet

For any of you who have read my past articles you might suspect that I have a slight bias away from the ongoing development of the total dependence on electronic communications as the sole means of communicating and conducting business. I have similar slight biases to bleeding from gunshot wounds and jumping out of airplanes without a parachute. This may seem funny since I am using that very medium to communicate to you. For me the medium is something more of an electronic soapbox from which I get to make my observations and suggestions, most of which are based on my non-electronic experiences. Please bear with me for a moment. I promise I’ll get to the point.

It seems that that many people however have evolved to a full dependence on the internet. This was brought home to me by of all things, the evening news.

The various news programs have been lauding the improvement in the economy and the relative reduction in the unemployment numbers down to approximately 8.4%. They then went on to examine some of the individuals who have been termed “long-term unemployed” or people who have been searching for work for more than 6 months. Without exception they showed images of these individuals dutifully sitting at their computers, pounding away at their emails and talking about how they have sent out “over 200 resumes” without a response.

Wait a minute. Here comes the point I promised I would get to earlier. Let’s do a little Internet Math here.

If job seekers are flooding the internet with 200 resumes each, it is no wonder they are not getting responses. We have seen only half the equation. How many resumes are hiring companies receiving for each job opening? The obvious answer is: Too Many.

If everyone is sending out 200+ resumes that would logically mean that every job opening is receiving at least 200 applicants. This number is probably higher for certain types of positions. How can these hiring companies sort through and interview 200+ people per position? Again the obvious answer is: They Can’t.

Speaking just for myself, when I was trying to fill a position I always tried to interview 4-5 people for each position, after I had the initial cuts based on just the resumes submitted. With 200+ applicants, 4-5 interviews means based purely on probability and statistics (and I will quote Mark Twain regarding statistics later) there is roughly a 2% chance that any one resume will be chosen / be the perceived perfect match for the position. Unless your resume is truly differentiated from all others (Nobel Prize laureate, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, $100 Dollar Bill attached to it – particularly difficult to do electronically, etc…), I would think that these statistics would hold true.

That means that to improve your chances from 2% to 100% that you would get an interview, you would need to apply to and send resumes to 50 times more opportunities. That means that instead of sending out just 200 resumes, you would need to send out 10,000 resumes to statistically assure yourself of getting an interview.

Mark Twain said “There are lies, there are damn lies…and then there are statistics.”

I am pretty sure that applies here. I have tried to illustrate with a little hyperbole that sitting at your computer punching out emails, and in this case applying for positions, is not a very effective form of communication. It is not as good as making a phone call and communicating real time with a real person. It is nowhere near as good as getting up, going somewhere and meeting someone face to face to have a conversation.

Sitting behind the computer may be more efficient, in that the costs expended in communicating are much lower (how much do bit cost?), and the number of people that you can theoretically contact is much higher (how many friends on Facebook, or connections on LinkedIn?), but as the numbers show, it is nowhere near as effective as the old school methods of actually meeting people and talking to people.

In today’s day and age it is indeed the fortunate few who have not had to look for a new position. Some of us have had to do it multiple times. All of my successes in this area have come as a result of making personal contact with someone. I would like to think that I am reasonably well educated and experienced, but I also recognize that there are a lot of other well educated and experienced people out there. While a resume might be able to provide some insights into an individual’s potential job qualifications, the only person that can differentiate me for everyone else, is me.

The only way I or anyone else can provide that differentiation from everyone else is to get off the internet, and get out and make real time contact with people. Otherwise, you are relying on some pretty long odds and statistics.

Who is Spamming Me?

I normally like to Blog about what I perceive as real business issues and solutions. Sometimes I can’t help myself and propeller off into a different area. This is one of those times.

It used to be that my business email was almost pristine in terms of the types of messages and content that I received. I only got business emails and items that were germane to the work I needed to do. I understand that this must have been an anomaly in today’s electronic communications environment. The same could not be said about my personal email. I don’t know how I could have possibly won both the Ethiopian and Kenyan lotteries last month. The odds of something like that must be really astronomical, especially since I don’t remember entering either of them. However, until recently, my business address was relatively free of these types of opportunities.

That isn’t the case any more.

While I am not getting the rather colorful pharmaceutical, friendship and foreign lottery opportunities that I do get in my personal inbox, I now seem to be getting a plethora “business” trade shows, seminars,  “bulletins” and symposium opportunities to either attend (for a hefty fee) or subscribe to (for another fee). It takes a set of notifications like these to actually inform me of many superfluous industry meetings and publications there are out there. They seem to exist for just the purpose of getting people to attend / buy them without any other redeeming qualities.

Am I the only one that feels this way about them?

The question now turns to who is providing my business email to these “Spammers”. It’s not me. Why would I want to commit any act that would knowingly subject me to this type of ultimately useless barrage of seminar and white paper opportunities? It has to be someone that is deriving some sort of twisted pleasure in befouling my here to fore relatively useful business email. When I check around it seems that it is possible that I might have in fact been the last person on the internet with any type of mail address that was not receiving useless unrequested mailbox clutter of this type.

It is said that “misery loves company”, so I am trying to figure out who the miserable jerk was that put me on some list that got all this started. I am convinced that all these spam lists are related. First I got just an occasional useless message. There was nothing to it. I just deleted it. Then it started to grow.

I didn’t respond to any of the messages. They must have been communicating with each other. There must be some sort of secret spammer society where they meet, (virtually? electronically? in person?) to exchange the addresses of their latest, and in my case last victim to receive their onslaught. It has truly gotten out of hand.

My mail system does a reasonable job of trying to sort out some of the junk email from the rest. I believe that it must be set according to the number of recipients in the email address. At least that would explain why every announcement from our senior executives (and HR) end up in the same Junk Mail folder as my most recent opportunity to attend an industry seminar in Miami, Florida, to go over the proper steps in justifying to senior management why it is important to attend industry seminars.

Some days I now come in and my Junk Mail folder rivals my Inbox folder for new messages, and by the time I sort out those that should be moved to Junk Mail, it is not even close.

I understand that there is a law where if you take the active step to “unsubscribe” to the email sender, they will stop sending you email….from that address. It seems that they will however just create a new email address I have now thrown down the gauntlet and Don Quixote like started charging at the windmills of industry bulletin and white paper generation. I am patiently searching through each of these emails for the unsubscribe message location. For those of you that may be interested it is normally located in either the top, middle, bottom side, or corner of the page, and it can be recognized because it is the only writing in the message that is in 4 point font. It is also occasionally written in “white”, just to add to the challenge of finding it.

This seems like a significant amount of work, especially since I don’t ever remember subscribing to this stuff in the first place. I am also concerned that if there are enough people like me in the work force who are taking these steps to try to hold on to their business email mailbox like I am, there could be significant productivity lost in the work place. Perhaps this could be a root cause factor to the current business malaise that we all seem to be in.

Free Time

What do you do with your free time? I don’t mean play golf, or spend time with the family. I mean your free time in the office. I know we are all busy and that the demands that have been placed on us require more and more of our focus, but we all have some free time. What do you do when you get off the call, or finish the meeting and don’t have anything scheduled on your daily calendar?

Some surveys suggest that one of the main things we do is go check our email. Not our business / professional email, our personal email. Other surveys also suggest that we go and surf the web to help us “decompress”. Do you leave your office to search out someone / a friend for a little social discussion and activity?

The world, not just the market continues to get more competitive. There are many qualified and talented individuals in many disciplines in the work environment. How can you start to set yourself apart?

The approach that I am taking for myself and my team is to try and re-vector my “free time” toward learning, training and certification. I used to look at people who put all sorts of letters and acronyms after their names with a little bemusement. The truth be told, I still do. I think its great to have the training and certification, but I also think that you need to be self confident enough to not have to continuously display it every time you electronically sign a document.

But I do think the idea that it is desirable to have that training, knowledge and certification to back up your capabilities and talents is starting to grow, and has value. Almost every professional discipline now has some sort of training / certification capability. Sales, HR, Engineering, Design, Project Management and many others all seem to have certifications available. Most of the “training” or course work required to get these certifications / pass the tests in most instances can be done without actually having to sign up and take classes. You just have to read, study and learn.

, studying and learning sounds like something most of us can do in our free time. It probably also will provide us more personal value than checking to see how much new spam we have in our personal mailbox. I like the idea of using free time to set yourself apart and at the same time increase your value to your business.

I am a little frustrated with myself that I didn’t figure this out sooner……

Clock Your Time

I recently read “The Sales Messenger” by Mary Anne (Wihbey) Davis. I don’t normally read books like this and I am a bit out of the habit. I guess I will have to get back in the habit.

The Sales Messenger touched on a topic (one of many actually) that had aspects of both the concept of “the difference between activity and work” and “the choice of what to do and what not to do”. I found this very interesting in our current times where we are all asked to do more with less. The key here was choosing work that resulted in progress, and then performing it, instead of activities that kept us busy.

This is probably pretty simple, right? Surely everything that we are doing is associated with generating progress toward our professional objectives and goals. After all, we are all so busy at the office. The point was that we are all so busy, but when we really get down to examining what we are doing, I think that we will find out like those individuals profiled in “The Sales Messenger” that we are probably doing a lot of activities that don’t necessarily result in progress.

The idea that was proposed was that we should all create a tracking log of our time. We should note how many minutes (or hours) of each day or week are spent on which specific tasks we have been given, or chosen to do. Then we need to go through, or better yet, have someone help us go through the professional value that we derive from each task. This is the key. We have to be honest in the value assessmants.

If what we are doing is not directly helping us achieve our goals, or is not efficiently achieving that purpose, it is a candidate for an activity that should either be discontinued or changed. A prime example of this was provided in the form of “Networking”. We have all networked. We are all familiar with its concept. The example provided was in using networking to generate sales leads.

If you are spending time networking to generate sales leads, you need to quantify both the time you spend networking (time card) and the number of sales leads you have developed in each networking period, and assess if this is the most efficient use of your time. If it is, obviously you should keep at it. If it is not, you then need to decide to either stop doing that activity and free up the time to do something more productive, or change how you network.

Either way it comes down to clocking your time on the tasks you are performing, and then measuring the value that you get from each task.  I think we will all find that there are things that we are doing at our jobs that have little to no relationship to the work we need to accomplish. Sometimes it is hard for us to sort this out on our own.

I thought the simple idea of specifically clocking our time spent on each function, and then basically doing a micro – cost / benefit analysis on how that time was spent, was one of the best and most effective ways I have seen to help identify how we can devote more time to making progress and reduce our time spent on activities that are clogging up our already too busy days.

Stop Multi-Tasking

Despite the number of stories that are on the news at night telling us that the economy is starting to slowly improve, and that the economists are starting to see the beginnings of job growth, it seems we are all plagued by the same mantra at the office: We need to do more. It still seems that staffing levels are precariously low, and that the demands for more production and productivity are still as high as ever, if not higher. This has given rise to the new office buzz word, Multi-Tasking.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not supporting the idea that everyone should be doing only one thing at a time, all the time, but it seems we have gone to the limit and beyond when it gets to the point when we are asking (or are being asked) to attend multiple calls or meetings at the same time and we accept.

How many of you have been in the middle of what you believe is a very important conference call and the crucial question has been posed, and you wait for the subject matter expert to respond, and you wait, and you wait and you wait. And finally someone realizes that they are the one everyone is waiting for, and they come on the line and say….

“I’m sorry, would you please repeat the question?”

They were doing something else. They could have been on another call. They could have someone else in their office. They could have been playing solitaire on their computer. It doesn’t matter.

They weren’t paying attention to the conference call that they had agreed to attend.

When I have mentioned this phenomenon to friends they are quick to defend the offender (in some cases themselves) with the statement that due to the number of meetings that they are requested / directed / ordered to attend that they must behave this way. I counter with the simple question:

Would you behave, or conduct business in this way if the meeting were in person, or was with a customer, or with your boss?

Invariably the answer is no, of course not. But it seems that it is acceptable for everyone else.

Two things concern me here. The first is in regard to the behaviors that we are fostering in business. It seems that it has almost become some sort method to feel indispensable by noting the number of calls, meetings and conferences that we have simultaneously. It seems that some feel compelled by the requirements of their job / boss to do this, but with others, I am not so sure.

The point here is that I think we need to change the statement from “We need to do more”, to “We need to do New”. By this I mean as we are requested to take on and perform new tasks, we must be willing to examine our own work load, and get rid of older tasks that may no longer be as useful as they once were, or may not be as useful as the new tasks we have been asked to take on. We each have a limited availability and we need to decide how we can best apply that limited availability.

We need to learn that sometimes we must say “no” when it comes to the ever increasing number of requests for our time. I have previously writing an article on the Value of “No”, and I think it is starting to apply more than ever.

My second concern is that we now seem to be trying to do our jobs without paying our full attention to any one thing that we are doing. Perhaps this is the reason that it seems that the number of people on any one conference call keeps growing. Is it possible that 30 people on a call paying attention half the time are as good as 15 people on a call paying full attention? I don’t think so.

We all have many projects or topics that we are working on at any one time. That is the reality of the world. My view is that when we try to work on two (or more) at the same time, just as when we try to be on two phone calls, or attend two meetings at the same time, we do not do justice to either of them, and we end up with an inferior output from them as a result.

We need to be fully engaged in whatever we are working on, whether it is a meeting, a call or a project, while we are working on it. If there is another demand, then we need to stop and get fully engaged on the new topic. If we try and stay engaged on one topic, while trying to engage on a new topic, we should expect to continue to hear, or sometimes to ask:

“I’m sorry, would you please repeat that?”

A Tree in The Forest

I am sure as children we have all heard the parable “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” No matter how you answered the question, the rejoinder was “How do you know for sure?”

The business equivalent of this parable is “If you work very hard all month, and you do not generate a monthly report of your activities, did you really do any work?” The answer to this one is a little bit simpler. If you did not document your progress and activities then in reality you didn’t do any work. If you want to argue this point, my rejoinder will be “How will management know for sure?”

I have heard many reasons and excuses for not generating a monthly report. It takes too much time. I didn’t have a great month so I don’t want to document so little progress. I had a great month so I don’t want to seam self aggrandizing. The bottom line is that there is no excuse for not generating a monthly report.

They don’t take a lot of time. If they do, you’re probably doing them wrong. Some monthly reports may be stronger than others. That is the nature of business. The fact is that a brief 1-2 page monthly report is your opportunity to capture the value that you and your team brought to the company. Businesses are focused on generated value. If you are not showing and documenting your value, how can they know what value you are to them?