Category Archives: Self Analysis

Working From Home……and Dilbert

Let’s get one thing clear up front. I don’t like working from home. I don’t even particularly care for the idea of working from home. There are many who think that it is the absolute best idea since sliced bread, but I am not one of those. Yet it seems that situations and events have conspired in such a way that I now find myself working from home. However, it is pretty clear to me that when I take all things into account, that working at home is the best alternative for me right now. I’ll talk about the things that I have learned that I need to do to be as effective as possible in working from home.

I guess I may just be a creature of habit, but I have always “gone” to work. You know. Got up. Cleaned up. Went to the office. Just like I had “gone” to school. I didn’t “go to school” at home. I went to the then appropriate institution of learning.

This was back in a time before technology enabled “working from home”. In fact, it was not uncommon for people to have to relocate to different cities if their responsibilities changed, and they found themselves with a job in another location. This was what is now referred to as “the dark ages”….

Back then teams were not virtual. People actually had to be in the same place in order to work together. True synergies were achieved because everyone was in the same room when a meeting occurred. It was a time when process was not as dominant as it is now. Individual knowledge, experience and judgement were sought after to create the most effective team dynamic. It was all about finding the best and most efficient way to achieve the desired goal.

But I have digressed in my remembrances of those bygone times.

Times have changed. Companies now get merged and purchased with significantly increased regularity. The pendulum of workplace office arrangements has swung from the highly structured shared office environments of the 1950’s (where everybody had an assigned workspace within the shared space) to the cube farms (where everyone had there own individual work space and everyone measured their progress by cube square footage and wall height) of the 1980’s and 1990’s, to the current iteration of the 1950’s model where no one has an assigned work space, but they all work together in the shared environment, and you have to put everything away in your locker at the end of the day.

The last time I had to have a locker to put my things away in at the end of the day was when I was back in school.

Against this backdrop of office moves, business consolidation and “new and improved” office environments, should you find yourself with a pretty lengthy commute to get to a new office location, with the new shared dynamic seating environment, you might choose to give working at home a try. When I did this a few weeks ago I found out a few things that I needed to do to help with my effectiveness, even though I was no longer in my preferred working environment.

I also recalled several Dilbert ® cartoons by Scott Adams. I like to follow him because he appears to be scarily prescient when it comes to most interesting work topics. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he has been addressing the work at home topic for over thirty years. Talk about being ahead of your time.

As I mentioned earlier, part of going to work was the process of getting ready for work. The getting up and cleaning up. I am an early to the office person. Since I have worked with several groups internationally in the past, I got it the habit of coming into the office early in order to facilitate communications with them. If I didn’t have calls or meetings scheduled early, I used the early quiet time to get a jump on the requirements of the day.

I also liked the idea that for the most part, my working time and my personal time had two fairly specific delineators; namely the commute to and from the office. There was a defined “starting time” when I got to the office, and a defined “ending time” when I left the office. Obviously, there were situations where calls, meetings and work would and could cross these thresholds, but for the most part, there was a beginning and an end to the work day.

When working at home the “start” and “stop” lines seem to begin to blur. There is no longer is any appreciable commute to the office. You can get up and walk into the home office and just start working. When working at home it is easy to say that I’ll go through the preparatory activities later. The idea is that you could just get up and go into the “office” without any preparation. This didn’t work for me. I found that the “ritual” of getting up and preparing to work helped me get into the proper frame of mind to do the work I needed to do. Needless to say, Dilbert recognized this activity as well.

As a side note, the above comic strip is from 1995.

I also found that I worked and concentrated best in a professional environment. That meant no turning on of the television to see what was on the news. No turning on of the stereo to create background music. These are distractions that do not normally exist within the business environment, and if you are going to extend the business environment to the work at home structure, they shouldn’t exist there either.

And again, Dilbert has addressed this very issue:

And again, this comic is from 1995.

Finally, despite all the assurances to the contrary, access to the corporate network, which is required in order to work from home to be viable, can be somewhat challenging. There are usually specific secure remote access applications that must be present and mastered in order to access the network. The issue usually arises in the form of needing access to the secure corporate network in order to request support in order to get access to the secure corporate network. There have definitely been improvements made in this area, but as I have noted, it can still be somewhat challenging.

Usually what happens here is that a trip must be made to the new office where access to the corporate network is available, in order to contact the Information technology group that is responsible for simplifying remote access to the secure network. This then ends up creating other issues since the remote access issue can no longer be replicated because you are no longer using remote access when requesting support.

The result of this interaction with the Information Technology support group is then the closure of the trouble ticket reporting the remote access issue, since the issue seems to have rectified itself by your coming into the office.

And you guessed it. Dilbert has also recognized this as an issue facing many today.

I have found that the best way for me to work at home is to make sure that I am preparing for and acting as though I am going to work in the standard office environment. Waking, preparing, dressing, etc., as though I were going into a standard business office helps me make sure that I am in the “work” mind set, as opposed to the “home” mind set. This of course is referring back to the time when home and work were indeed two separate entities.

Working at home does present its own set of unique challenges. It is almost too easy to fall into a new set of behaviors that may not be as conducive to creating a good work environment as many expected. While it is convenient, for me it doesn’t match the energy of the collocated team. I understand the value of the virtual team, but for me, it is hard to measure what was given up in exchange for what is hoped to be gained by the new.

Maybe it will just take some more time for me to get used to it.

What Can They Sell?

Over time I think I have the opportunity to sit through innumerable Product Line Management (PLM) meetings where various product managers described and extolled the virtues of their specific products. These meetings seemed to follow a similar pattern: The product manager described the product, told everyone how much better it was than anything else they had ever produced, how much better it was than any competitor’s product, how big the market was for the product and how much the company would sell and make from the product. Then they would spend the rest of the meeting describing how the sales team was supposed to sell the product in order to take maximal advantage of all the product had to offer.

What I think I learned over time from attending these meetings was that there invariably was an inverse relationship between the volume of information provided by the product managers regarding how to sell their product, and the actual success that their product resultingly enjoyed in the market. The more they described how they wanted and expected the product to be sold, the worse the chance the product had of ever being successful.

Could this be because we had people who were experts in the product, and not experts in sales, trying to dictate to the people who were experts in sales, how they should go about doing their job?

I would say yes.

Too many times it seems that we have product and technology experts trying to explain why the product or technology in question could and should be sold in ever greater quantities.

Customers are not usually buying the technology. They are buying what the technology delivers. Back in the dim, dark past, both 8-track tapes and cassette tapes delivered portable, recorded music. It was demonstrated that cassette tapes delivered an inferior recording technology, yet they were unarguably viewed as the preferred delivery medium. They were smaller, and hence viewed as more portable than the 8-track competition. In this case it was not the technology that won the decision criteria. It was the portability.

As an aside, I shudder at the thought of an 8-track tape equivalent of the seminal Sony Walkman…..

I am sure that there were probably innumerable 8-track product managers who spent inordinate amounts of time trying to explain to sales people why their product was better than cassettes, and then tried to educate them on how to properly see the superior product.

Believe it or not, I can remember all the way back to 8-tracks and cassette tapes, but only as a childhood user. But contrary to popular opinion, I was not in the business world at that time, so I really cannot confirm what if anything the 8-track product managers did or did not do.

To be fair, sometimes this product and technology driven approach works. Stephen Jobs, who seems to be rapidly ascending in the pantheon of business icons, was one of the notable exceptions to this standard. But even he did not approach his highly technical products (Mac’s, PC’s, iPhones, iPads, iPods, etc.) from a technology advantage point of view.

He made Apple products “cool”.

He relied on designs, user interfaces, displays, etc., as his customer product differentiators. He made them sleek and appealing so that customers would want them. He made them intuitive to operate. He knew that technological advantages would be ephemeral at best, and that design and cache would create a brand loyalty that would continue.

Jobs is famously quoted as saying:

“Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'” (

But, as I have said, the number of product technologists that can successfully do this has been limited. Even Jobs had to look back more than a half-century to quote Ford on his visionary product success.

So, what should a product technologist do in a situation such as this?

The simple answer, and the first place to start is with the sales team. Ask them what their customers need. Ask them what they can sell. Ask them how what they currently have can be better. Ask them can they sell it.

But just as the product technologists should not be allowed to try to dictate how a product should be sold, sales people should not be allowed to try and dictate what technology or product should be supplied. Henry Ford was probably right in that if he had asked the sales team what was needed, the response would have been a faster horse. The horse was the then best technology of the time. That response would have been technology dependent.

The proper response would have been the desire for the ability to travel faster and farther, with the ability to carry more people and cargo. That was indeed the problem Ford solved.

Too many times product and technologists seem to become too enamored with their own products and technologies. They can get caught up in the idea that the issue is the sales team’s inability to sell the product is a sales issue and not something else. Because the product or technology is so good, it obviously must be related to the sales team either not understanding or not being able to properly sell it.

I have found that by and large, corporate sales teams are usually pretty good at selling. If they were not, neither they nor ultimately the company would be there for long. The competition from other sales teams would see to that. This usually means that if there is some sort of an endemic issue with the sales levels for a product, that it probably has something to do with the product.

Again, one of the best ways to determine this is to ask the sales team. They are incited to sell the product. Their employment and ultimately their livelihood depends on their ability to sell. If they cannot sell the product on their own, chances are that a product technologist will not be able to generate a sales process that will significantly improve the market performance.

It seems that too many times sales teams are viewed as a group that can and will generate orders and sales regardless of products, market conditions, or competition. Sometimes this is the case. Many times, it is obviously not. However, it seems that it is usually the sales team that is the first point of examination if a product or technology is not experiencing the type of success or market reception that the product and technology teams feel that it should.

As I earlier noted, the sales team has the same tendency as the product group, except in reverse. They will almost always try to dictate the technology to use. This input will be based on what has worked in the past. This will result in requests for “faster horses” or “more flexible buggy whips”.

It should be the product team’s responsibility to decode the sales team’s customer product requests, to separate the technology from what is in essence the application. This is what Stephen Jobs was so good at. He could see what the customer would want as being totally separate from any technological constructs or limitations. He would then go about designing and creating the new products to meet these desires.

Unfortunately, Jobs was a pretty unique individual. So, for the rest of the product and technology teams, if you want to get a good gauge on a potential products viability and success in the market, it is probably a good idea to ask the sales team what can they sell.

Sales teams in general rarely lack opinions on what the product needs to be. The key will be separating what they say they need the product to do, as in carry more people and cargo, and go faster and farther, as opposed to what they say they need the product to be, as in a faster horse.

Even Jobs noted that the focus always has to be on the people as opposed to technology, as a recipe for success. He said:

“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.”

Meeting Volume vs. Meeting Value

I think I may have telegraphed this week’s topic with that title.

It is no secret that I have been looking at the topics of Process, Meetings and Virtual Offices and the effects that the changing norms for each of these topics have had on each other. As more process is driven into the business organization, the requirement to have more meetings as a part of the review process increases. As people who were once in the office now work from a virtual office instead of the brick and mortar organizational location, they attend more and more meetings “virtually”. Meetings are now really little more than what would once have been described as very large and elaborate conference calls. Against this new backdrop I can’t help but wonder if what was once a vital aspect of corporate culture and progress has become little more than an opportunity to answer emails and texts while partially listening to someone talk on the phone.

I think process has a place in business. It should provide guidelines and directions as to what potential next steps need to be taken in a given situation. This is probably particularly important in those disciplines that deal with crisis situations (such as critical system failures, etc.) or those that deal with repetitive situations where uniformity of approach, response and output are desirable.

I am sure that there are probably others, but for now a think that a little process guideline setting can go a very long way.

I have written in the past that process is invariably input into an organization as a replacement for judgement. The human brain, when properly applied, is a spectacular difference engine. It is capable of correlating seemingly unrelated inputs and creating leaps of faith and imagination that no process could ever hope to replicate. This is what “judgement” is.

And yet we continue to put more structures in place with the purpose of curtailing this capability. We continue to input more process into business as a replacement for judgement, and then react by trying to input even more process when it comes the time for good judgement, and there is none available.

One of the hallmarks of process is the requirement that there must be review meetings to make sure that the process is being followed. Otherwise, how could anyone be sure that the process even existed, let alone was being followed. These are events where everyone associated with the process attends, mainly it seems because the process indicates that everyone associated with the process should attend every process review.

Process review meetings are usually pretty large affairs. As we have increased the application of process to business, we have also increased both the number of meetings, particularly process reviews, and the number of attendees at those meetings.

Virtual Office arrangements have also contributed to the ever-expanding meeting numbers and sizes.

Back in the olden times, when people actually all went to a specific place to work together, it was usually somewhat apparent what everyone was doing and how busy they were. You could see them. You could see what they were doing. Even if you weren’t talking to, or directly interfacing with them you were at least peripherally aware of what was going on.

But now with the proliferation of Virtual Office arrangements, no one can be really sure what any of “those people” who are not in the office are actually doing. This phenomenon is also not lost on the people who are in the virtual office. So, what do the people in the virtual office do?

They attend more meetings.

There can be no doubt regarding someone’s work status when they are always in meetings. There is no question as to what they are doing if their calendar shows that they are attending a meeting.

Meetings have now evolved into a vehicle that allows the once “invisible” virtual office worker to not only be more visible, but to be more visible to many, many people. Since meetings have devolved from face to face events where you could see who you were talking to, to expansive conference calls where just the slides appear in front of you on your personal computer screen, and are addressed by a voice on the telephone, they seem to have grown in size.

That doesn’t mean that they are any more popular, or more useful. They are just more easily attended.

In a face to face meeting, it is readily apparent to everyone else in the meeting is doing. You can look over and see. Are they paying attention? Are they engaged? Are they making eye contact? Are they asking questions? What, if anything are they getting out of the meeting?

This is no longer the case.

We now have an ever-increasing slate of meeting attendees, most of which are no longer even in the same building as the meeting host. We have an increasing number of meetings, attended by an increasing number of people, for an increasing number of reasons. Just because we now have more people at these meetings doesn’t mean they are paying attention. Chances are more than pretty good that they are not.

The only thing that seems to be decreasing when it comes to meetings is the actual interaction that goes on during the meeting.

Since there is usually no one in the room with any particular presenter during a particular meeting, they are no longer presenting “to” anyone. They are presenting “at” them. And since there is no longer any direct ownership associated with the reception of the presented information, there seems to be fewer and fewer questions associated with what has been presented.

Meetings, events that were originally created to enable the two-way exchange of information, seem to have been reduced in importance and capability by the very technology that was designed to further enable the meeting’s reach.

I think that this has been an ongoing phenomenon for a while. I, like I am sure many of you, looked to see who is in virtual attendance at the meetings I attend. I then noted the number of questions that are asked. The number of specific items that are addressed. The number of dates that are selected or identified. The number of action items that have been taken, or given as the case may be. The deliverables that are to be expected. And the number of people who speak.

It seems that the actual number of any of the above listed events occurring during a meeting is going down. Meetings no longer seem to be events where discussion occurs. The give and take dynamic seems to have been lost as meetings have become more process driven and virtually attended. Meetings now seem to be designated times where slides are presented, and the most important aspect of the meeting is to make sure that it ends on time in accordance with the process that is being followed.

Meeting attendance seems to have evolved into some sort of barometer associated with individual activity levels and importance, where actual participation in the meeting, the value added in attending a meeting, has continued to decline.

Meetings used to be recognized as having a specific purpose. Meetings used to be designated as a face to face event. It took people out of their specific environments and put them in a meeting. While they were in the meeting they were not busy or distracted with other activities or demands on their time. There was a goal associated with the meeting.

As we have continued to implement more and more process into the business system we have generated more meetings to track our progress against the process. As we have virtualized our offices, so have we virtualized our meeting attendance. What was once a designated time to exchange ideas and leave with a goal achieved has evolved to a time to call and review charts on-line.

We seem to be meeting more, but getting less achieved at each meeting. In many instances, it seems that instead of having a goal, the meeting is the goal. Instead of challenging each other, due to the size and impersonal nature of virtual meetings, we are presented at. If we have issues or concerns, they are probably best handled off line.

In short, we seem to now attend meetings. We no longer participate in them.

I have yet to hear anyone suggest that they are not attending enough meetings. Perhaps it is time to participate instead of attend, and expect more from meetings. Asking and being asked questions, assigning and accepting the assignment of action items, and challenging as well as being challenged need to be expected parts of all meetings.

It is going to be through these attributes that value is driven back into meetings. The meeting needs to evolve away from its current spectator – presenter arrangement, and back to its original participant structure. Meeting minutes need to be taken at every meeting and distributed. If you are not going to be a participant in the meeting, you should not attend. You can read the minutes.

Reducing the number of spectator attendees, assigning and accepting action items, and delivering meeting minutes afterwards seem to be simple requirements. But meetings should be simple. They should be to exchange ideas and challenge each other. I think that is where the basic value in them lies. Not in the number of them that you have or attend.

Products and Markets

Good sales people only need a couple of things to be very successful: the right products and the right markets. The corollary here is that even with these things, bad sales people will not be successful. That’s why they are referred to as bad sales people. The question then arises: How can you tell if you have bad sales people, or the wrong products, or are in the wrong market? This is a set of questions that senior management must always answer every time a sales target is missed.

I’ll deal with the sales person discussion first.

Sales people are invariably success and compensation driven. They are also usually in a leveraged compensation type of role. That means that the level of their total compensation is directly associated with the amount of sales that they generate. Sales people are essentially risking part of their compensation, and betting on themselves in that they will be able to not only achieve their sales goals but also exceed them in order to maximize their compensation. Think about that for a minute.

People in marketing don’t take this risk and have their total compensation directly linked to the number or the success of the parking programs and campaigns that they create. People in research and development don’t take this risk and have their compensation directly linked to the number of products, the time it takes to develop products or the customer or market applicability of the products they develop. Accountants don’t take this risk and have their compensation directly linked to the quantity of numbers they crunch or the time it takes them to crunch them.

They may be indirectly linked in the form of management reviews, ratings, and bonuses, but for the most there is not the quid pro quo defined “if you do this, we will pay you that” sort of compensation relationship that you find in sales.

What this usually means is that when viewed over reasonable time frames, sales people are either successful (achieving or exceeding their sales targets and getting paid lots of money, receiving both recognition and rewards as compensation) or they don’t get to be sales people for very long. They can’t afford to be bad sales people because they won’t make enough to survive. They usually either thrive, or don’t survive.

So despite what every investment prospectus may say to the contrary (past performance is no indication or guarantee of future success), if the sales people have been successful in the past, and they are still sales people, it is a pretty good indication that they can be expected to continue to be good sales people.

What is interesting is that despite this knowledge, most management will immediately examine and possibly blame the sales team should each new sales objective not be met. I think that this is because it is the easiest approach. After all, we all know that sales can’t really be that difficult, and that sales also comes with a two drink minimum for the cover charge.

What I’m going to briefly look at here, is what do you do when you have a proven sales force, but you aren’t achieving the market success that you are looking for. That means that you need to be looking at your products and your markets.

Let’s look at the next easiest factor to review, the market.

For this analysis I am going to pick something that we can all probably agree is a good product, that being energy efficiency. It can be an actual product that reduces energy consumption. It can be a service that results in reduced energy consumption. In this analysis it is a hypothetical product that has a definable value in the amount of energy consumption that it reduces.

So in what market would this energy efficiency product do well?

That market would not be, as one might erroneously think, the market where the most energy is consumed, and hence the greatest savings could be generated. If that were the case all products of this type would be very successful in North America and the US specifically since it is one of the biggest consumers of energy in the world. While there continues to be a growing interest in energy conservation, the success of energy conservation products in the US has not been commensurate with the energy consumption market opportunity. In fact, energy consumption has increased over the period of time, not decreased. This is due to the relatively low cost per unit of energy in the US.

The greatest market opportunity would more correctly be identified as the market where there is the highest cost per unit of energy consumption.

Going a little further with the market size versus unit cost example, the average cost of a kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity in the US is approximately $0.10. The cost of the same kWh of electricity in Brazil is approximately $0.165, or almost 65% more expensive. That means the value of the energy savings per dollar spent on the energy conservation product will be 65% greater in Brazil than it will be in the US.

There are approximately five times as many kWh per capita consumed in the US as there are in Brazil, making the US by far the bigger market opportunity, but the value per unit savings in Brazil make it the more attractive market (at least initially) for energy savings products. When it comes time to create a business case where money is being spent in order to reduce future expenditures (save money in the future), greater savings will always equate to a better business case.

In short, it will be more difficult (currently, from a financial business case point of view) to sell energy conservation products in the US than it will be to do so in Brazil. From this point of view, the better market would be Brazil.

At a very coarse and high level this is the type of market analysis that needs to occur for all types of products when preparing to enter markets, as well as when going back and analyzing why a market objective may not have been met. It answers the question is the market the right fit for the product. It also clearly points out that one size will not actually fit all.

In looking at the final scenario, we will assume that the again we have a competent sales force and in this case have identified a market that we wish to address. Again there will need to be almost the same product versus market analysis done in order to identify if there is a proper fit.

If we use the same energy conservation product example from above, we see that while the US is a massive energy consumer the relatively low cost per unit of energy versus the rest of the world makes it a relatively poor market for energy conservation products. In other words, energy conservation products do not do as well in the US because US energy consumers (both corporations and individuals) can afford to not conserve (as much) due to the low costs per unit of energy used.

This would mean that for a global energy conservation product to be successful in the US market it would have to attack the market from some direction other that specifically based on the value of the energy saved. It would have to take the more difficult road of trying to quantify the value other “soft” benefits associated with the product.

These types of soft benefits could include but not be limited to: Attractive designs (Apple is a master at this), incremental functionalities (can the energy conservation product do other things besides save energy – a smart phone analogy), social responsibility (casting the product in the “greater good” social category versus solely in a corporate fiduciary role), and corporate leadership (the business case may not be great now, but in the future when energy costs are expected to increase it will be, and then you will be ahead of the curve). I am sure there are many others.

As noted these are soft benefits in that it is difficult if not impossible to define their value. That is not to say they don’t have value. They do. It is just difficult to quantify. However, price is always readily definable. And it is always difficult to sell a product with a definable price, but not a commensurately definable value.

If you find sales people capable of selling a product with a definable price, but not a commensurately definable value, you should do all you can to keep them.

Management will invariably first look at the sales teams when sales objectives are not met. A significant reason for this is the difficulty in looking at, or worse, trying to change markets or products. I do think in most instances it is the specifics associated with the markets and the products that will need to be addressed when sales targets are missed, as opposed to replacing sales people.

I have found that most of the time issues arise with obtaining sales goals because of the desire to sell a specific product into the wrong market, or the desire to sell the wrong product into the desired market. If the product is not readily modifiable, other more receptive markets need to be identified. If the market is the target, then the product needs to be modifiable to meet the specific needs of that market.

The sales force is indeed important, but it has always been about products and markets.


It has been a somewhat interesting week. Many items have caught my attention and seemed as though they would be good topics to write about. I may save a few of these ideas for later articles. Some of them are probably better left out or forgotten. I don’t mind wandering off into some potentially arcane or hard to relate to business topics occasionally, but I don’t want to generate just another rant about this topic or that one and then try to relate it to business.

What I thought that was interesting today was the idea of instinct. I think we all have a basic idea of what instinct is, but since I am eventually going to relate it to business I think I may want to start out at a reasonable baseline. May favorite way of doing that is to go out to Merriam-Webster and retrieve the following “simple” definition of instinct:

“Something you know without learning it or thinking about it”.

Okay, a couple things here. First, when did Merriam-Webster start providing a “simple definition”? Really? Have we actually come to the point where we are abridging our definitions into the simplest of vernacular? I couldn’t make this up. There is now a “simple” and a “full” definition. I fear for where our society is going at this point, but I promised not to propeller off into some sort of a rant.

Second, I think I’ll go with the “full” definition, because I guess I am just that kind of person:

“A natural or inherent aptitude, impulse, or capacity”

Either way, I think you get my point. We have all met people in business that just seem to know what to do and when to do it. They make good business decisions. They can extrapolate limited data and input it into very good solutions. They make smart choices. They are said to have good instincts. But do they really?

We usually hear of “good instincts” as it applies to athletes. It seems to be some sort of method for describing why an athlete who is not biggest, fastest or most imposing physical specimen is so good at what they do.

I have mentioned in the past that I have become something of a hockey fan. Even I find this rather interesting since I grew up in the desert southwest and currently live in Texas, which as we all know is not considered a hotbed of hockey fandom. Go figure.

With that in mind, the best example of this good instincts phenomenon that I can think of is the hockey player Wayne Gretzky. The leading scorer in the history of the National Hockey League. The man who’s nick-named “The Great One”. The measuring stick for all other great hockey players.

He was not particularly big as hockey players go. He was not the fastest skater, nor did he have the hardest shot. He just scored, a lot. When he was asked how he did it, he said he didn’t go to where the puck was, but where he thought the puck would be. Based on his success it looks like he had great instincts.

Or did he? I’ll get back to this a little later as well.

Let’s fast forward to the opening day of the National Football league and the first game of the season for the Dallas Cowboys. I am not a particular Dallas Cowboys fan. That person in our house would be my wife. I am however wise enough to sit on the couch quietly while she cheers her team on. I guess it is our version of “together” time.

The game in question was a see-saw affair and was reasonably exciting. It was coming down to the last few seconds when a field goal could steal a victory for Dallas. With no time outs and just a handful of seconds left on the clock a pass was thrown to the Dallas receiver on the sidelines. All he needed to do was step out of bounds and stop the clock.

But this is where his instincts kicked in.

Instead of stepping out of bounds and stopping the clock, which in this instance was the most limited resource in the situation, the receiver turned and tried to run up field and gain a few more yards. I don’t blame him (my wife does however) because every receiver’s instinct is to maximize the gain on each individual play. Needless to say he was tackled in bounds, time ran out and Dallas lost.

It is apparent that in this instance his instincts were wrong.

Time was in fact the most importance aspect of the situation. He needed to understand that and adjust his behavior appropriately. He needed to think about where he was and the situation he, and the team were in and act accordingly.

This is easy enough to say when you are sitting on a couch next to someone who is cheering wildly, and not down on the field actually competing.

Now let’s go back to Wayne Gretzky. He gave us the definition of his “instinct”. He thought about where the puck was going to be and went there to meet it. Was the puck there every time he went to where he thought it would be? No. But he was right enough to become the leading scorer in the history of professional hockey.

The point here is that as he said, he “thought” about it. It was not instinct as we currently like and want to define it. He was able to process the game situation, formulate a plan and implement it in such a way as to be in the right place at the right time in order to score. He did not just skate around waiting for people to pass him the puck. He was always aware of the situation and adjusted accordingly.

It seems to me that Gretzky’s “instinct” was more related to the way he saw and thought about the game as he played it. He was able to process the various locations and movements on the ice and anticipate where he thought the puck would be. Then he would go there. Since hockey is a game of split second decisions as I said he wasn’t right all the time, but he was right more often than anyone else.

Now let’s talk about business. Businesses love predictability. When things are predictable, just about anyone can anticipate what is going to happen.

In hockey this would be the equivalent of everyone knowing where the puck was going with the result that all of the players would be clustered around Gretzky waiting for the puck.

But in business, like hockey, not everything is predictable. Most everyone thinks in different ways and reacts differently to different inputs. For every Wayne Gretzky or Steve Jobs, there are a number of different elite players or leaders in the game. After all, someone else had to pass Gretzky the puck in order for him to score.

I think “instinct” whether in sports or in business is not some unseen or unconscious force associated with performance, but rather the ability to process and make connections between multiple inputs and variables that result in good decisions. It is the ability to think, sometimes faster than your competition, and most times more accurately than your competition.

Knowing where to go to meet the puck, or when to get out of bounds instead of turning and running up field, or when to invest in a new product or technology comes from understanding the multiple inputs associated with each situation, thinking through the alternatives, selecting and acting upon the best one.

As I said, Gretzky did it a lot. Jobs seemed to do it more often than not. We all remember the iPod, Mac and iPad. Does anyone remember NeXT computer or the Apple Lisa? Just asking. I am sure the Dallas receiver has made many more good game play decisions than bad ones. It’s just that his last bad one had such an immediate and visible result.

Not everyone makes the right decision every time. Instincts or not, business is very much like every other game out there: How quickly can you get to the right decision. How people think and process information obviously has a great deal to do with the decisions that they make. Different situations call for different types of thinking and decisions.

I think it is our natural instinct to migrate towards people who think and act like we do. This is a normal sort of reinforcement behavior. We tend to like people who agree with us as it reinforces the decisions we make. We need to think a little more about that. I think we need to actively encourage contrary behavior and thought processes. I don’t think we should view this behavior as open defiance or insubordination, but more as a check sum verification.

In looking at a replay of the Dallas receiver’s last play of the game, one of his team mates can be clearly seen trying to get him to run out of bounds instead of up field. It seems he didn’t see him or if he did, he didn’t pay attention to him. Either way it was obvious someone else had thought about the game situation and come up with a different decision for that situation.

As I have said, not everyone makes the right decision every time. And sometimes our instincts are wrong. It’s always good to listen to and think about other possible solutions before relying on instinct and turning and running up field.

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.

Work Not Done

Everybody is talking about efficiency these days. And customer value. But mostly about efficiency. How do we become more efficient? How do we gain efficiency? All that kind of stuff. The drive is to reduce costs.

We have all heard the trite, stale, overused homilies. Do more with less. Work smarter not harder. Yadda yadda yadda. Right. In todays (over) process driven business environment, I am pretty much convinced that none of this is going to work. We have to get our collective heads around the idea that true efficiency is in fact going to come from doing less with less while still delivering the desired performance result. Efficiency is going to come from looking at what gets done while at the same time quantifying what was actually not needed to be done in getting the deliverable result.

In the past I have been party to and sometimes involved in multiple local, regional, global, galactic and intergalactic programs aimed at standardizing processes and methodologies in the name of gaining efficiency. For the most part none of them have been what I would call an unquestioned success. In many instances they actually seemed to have added incremental effort and complexity to the existing model for doing business.

I think what they all lacked was a business case that took the time to quantify what the work effort required to provide the desired deliverable was prior to the change or standardization and what the work effort to provide the same desired deliverable was at the end of the change or standardization process. Hopefully the new work effort is less than the initial work effort required for the same deliverable. The difference between these two amounts is the “Work Not Done”. This would be the quantifiable improved efficiency.

This value is the work that was being done, but now is no longer being done. You want this value to be as big as possible. A positive Work Not Done value means you have removed effort from a process. You have streamlined. You have become more efficient. A negative Work Not Done value means you have added effort to the process. You are less efficient.

For so long we have had it hammered into our collective business psyches that standardization equals efficiency. We strive to standardize our products, our services and our processes in the hope of eking out additional efficiencies and savings. We seem to have pursued this single minded approach to standardization against the competing back drop of infinite specialization with respect to both the roles required for delivering the standardization and the infinite variety of products being created from the standardization for the customers.

Figure that one out. But I digress.

I think the idea of Work Not Done should consist of looking at the work effort, process, functions, roles and people associated with the delivery of something towards an agreed goal, and then deciding what parts of it can be removed (or not done) and still successfully deliver the goal.

I think it can be and should be as simple as that.

Now this may sound suspiciously like some sort of “Lean” principle, where everything that does not contribute value to a customer should be removed.

I guess it actually does sound a little like that, even to me.

However, my point is that if we are going to try and be more efficient, let’s be more quantitative and less qualitative about it.

Stop me if you have heard this one before….

Most of these standardization drives, and by extension the drives for efficiency seem to be based on the concept or principle that if we standardize we will be more efficient. Standardization usually involved the creation of a centralized function group that would be responsible for the standard and its implementation. This group is normally referred to as incremental effort or over-head. They have been added to the existing process where they didn’t exist before. They would be considered “negative” Work Not Done (or “incremental work being done if you prefer”).

There is then the maintenance of the ongoing standardized process where there is significant effort over time from both the centralized standardization group and the other (regional?) groups that have been standardized. At the end of this standardization process there is usually a centralized group that remains in place since the standards must now be managed and the regional groups that are now utilizing the expected standards must report their adherence to these standards back to them.

There is usually no place in the drive for standardization where a baseline of the current effort spent is captured, an expected effort associated with implementing the standardization change is estimated and a resulting and hopefully lower new work effort line is estimated. This would result in a quantified Work Not Done going forward goal is set for the success of the standardization to be measured against.

If you are going to standardize, you ought to expect to get some efficiency out of it, otherwise, why would you do it?

When looking at the mechanics of a Work Not Done business case there would be an initial Work Not Done “Deficit” or debt incurred as there will be a period of time where there will be incremental work input into the process or system in an effort to change the way the current work method is conducted. Once the change has been implemented there needs to be an ongoing return on the Work Not Done investment in the form of the work that is no longer being done during the deliverable process. This is the actual efficiency or work savings paying back on the change effort work investment. It is expected that this Work Not Done payback will eventually cover the incremental cost associated with the change effort, and then start paying dividends in form of savings for the business.

The shorter this payback time, the more efficient the new process or capability is. This is a quantitative approach to the desire for efficiency.

As Robert McNamara (President Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense) once said:

“First get the data.”

I am also going to paraphrase one of my favorite authors here, Robert Heinlein. He said:

“If it can’t be expressed in figures, it’s not science. It is opinion”

Business keeps score, and reports it progress quarterly with figures. In fact many laws have been passed that limit a business’s ability to provide “opinion” on its relative or perspective performance lest they unfairly or inaccurately lead the market. There may be some qualitative (opinion) aspects to how a business reports its performance, but by and large it is quantitative and the figures speak for themselves. It would seem that this would also be a very good way to start looking at all efficiency and standardization programs – via the figure they generate.

I think many managers are of the opinion that simplification, cost reduction, streamlining, efficiency, etc can come from standardization. This is a qualitative approach. There is usually very little analysis (and quantification) of the incremental work required to implement a standardization change into a business. Everybody just seems to know that it is a good thing to do.

Heinlein addressed this type of topic in the past as well. He said:

“If “everybody knows” such-and-such, then it ain’t so, by at least ten thousand to one.”

I am not going to say that the odds are stacked that strongly against standardization in and of itself generating quantifiable efficiencies and cost savings. I just happen to think that most of that low hanging fruit associated with this argument has already been picked and that quantification of performance is needed.

If there is little analysis of the effort required to implement a standardization change, there is usually no time spent examining the Work Not Done payback that should be expected from such an effort. If a business is going to invest capital in an attempt to generate greater efficiency there is normally a return that is expected. Whether it is Return on Investment (ROI) or Return on (Invested) Capital (ROIC) there is a metric to see if you are efficiently using the capital resource.

When we are looking at trying to generate efficiencies, synergies or any other kinds of cost reduction we need to start implementing the same financial rigor into the process that we do when we are investing capital, and try and quantify the efficiency return we are looking for from a labor or a process modification investment. It should be in the form of Work Not Done.


Let’s make certain that we are all on the same page from the start here:

Your personal credibility is the currency that you use for all of your business transactions. And like any other currency it is subject to many events and actions that can affect its value. Just like the value of the Dollar can fluctuate with respect to other currencies, the amount of credibility attributed to you can also fluctuate with respect to other leaders.

I had just read some article about writing that said something to the effect of “write killer first sentences to make sure you hook your readers into your story”, and thought I would give it a try. Somehow it doesn’t seem to have me hooked, but then again I’m writing this instead of just reading it. I await feedback to see what the rest of you think.

By the way, I didn’t finish the article. I guess I wasn’t fully hooked.

Despite the somewhat ham-handed introduction I want to look at the role that our credibility plays in business and leadership. I think it is important in that our personal credibility can be the difference between “compliance” with our requests and directives, and “commitment” to our leadership. Compliance occurs because you may inhabit a role where others who report to that role must respect the requests of the “office”. Commitment occurs when the transition is made from aligning with the requests of the office to aligning with the requests of the person in the office.

It’s subtle, but significant.

Credibility is a pretty strange concept. You can increase your credibility by doing incredible things. On the other hand you can decrease or even destroy your credibility by claiming to be able to do incredible things. Credibility is somewhat similar to a retirement or savings account. Credibility is built up over time with continually reinforced deposits. It is added to slowly over time. However it can be destroyed or fully withdrawn as the result of a single, poorly planned action.

Your credibility is based upon other people’s beliefs in your abilities.

Think about that for a minute. Your credibility is not entirely based upon your abilities. Your credibility is not entirely based on what you think you can do, or even on what you know you can do. It is based on what you have done and other people’s opinions of your abilities and what you have done. This idea can lead to multiple mismatches within the business organization.

You can believe you are credible, when others don’t. You can believe someone else is credible when others don’t. You can believe someone else lacks credibility when others ascribe credibility to them. All of these situations can add to the complexities already infesting the business process.

Many items contribute to people’s opinions. It is not just what they observe, but also what they are told, what they hear, and how it is presented. It is also based upon what people want to believe as well. People are required to sort through a blizzard of information on a daily basis. While we all strive to be as objective as possible, sometimes based on the inputs we have received it may be difficult. Such are the vagaries of credibility.

I guess that sometimes credibility doesn’t seem to matter. As I have noted before, we have all been through the various political election seasons where various politicians are contending to see who can appear to be the most credible while claiming to be able to do the most incredible things. This would seem to violate almost all of the precepts associated with credibility, but such is the case for politics. This seems to be a case of who can tell the most people what they want to hear, and not so much what they need to know.

However there are those in business that can also be described as being politically astute. I think that may be where the term originated with respect to business performance. We all know these types. They are more capable of being able to tell people what they want to hear and not so much what they need to know. We look upon them with a mixture of both derision and jealousy. They are able to take what appears to be failure and position it as success. They can take the smallest success and spin it as a game changing moment in business. They seem to be able to create credibility out of almost nothing at all.

Personally, I prefer to see the data.

Here in lies the issue with credibility. It is almost always a personal preference issue. By telling someone something that they want to hear, no matter how outlandish or impossible you can increase your credibility with that person. At the same time there may be those that recognize the implausibility of those statements and will accord a decrease in your credibility because of them.

Every time you say something or do something in business, you change your perceived credibility. Statements are interesting in that they can affect your credibility twice: once as they are first made when people can consider the relative plausibility of them, and then again a second time when the result of the statement can be measured out against the reality of the business performance.

It is somewhat interesting to me in that the credibility associated with actions can only be measured once, when they occur.

It is the action in business that is the credibility defining event. Promising huge growth, or market defining strategies, or game changing products are all well and good. We have all seen many such announcements. It is the delivery of growth, the implementation of strategies and the introduction of new products that define the true credibility. Sooner or later all statements or claims will eventually need to be backed up with performance and attainment.

We have all seen the effect of setting expectations in the valuations of companies in the market. During the quarterly earnings announcement times the company’s actual performance is measured against the markets perceived expectations for earnings. Those companies that consistently “miss” these expectations tend to be priced lower, because the expectations that they set lack credibility.

In short credibility is based on doing. It can be based on doing what you say you can do, but the key aspect is the doing. Meeting the deadline. Achieving the goal. Doing it almost as a matter of course. It seems that Tom Peters, the co-author of the book “In Search of Excellence” has been attributed as the first to coin the phrase:

“Under promise, over deliver.”

It sounds simple to do. If it was, everyone would have a high credibility rating. The reality is that not everyone ascribes to this approach. That’s why we have “marketing”.

Many things go into the credibility that you are accorded. Your level of confidence, how you position or phrase things, it may even be somewhat indefinable as in “charisma”. In the final analysis the end result of what you do will be the primary contributing factor to your credibility. If you are recognized as someone who does what they say they will do, then over time you will build credibility. If that is not the case, you will very quickly lose credibility. And once lost, credibility is very hard to regain.

I wish I could think of a short cut to generating credibility, but I can’t think of one right now. If someone else claims to have one, I might question their credibility.

The Perfect Metrics

I think we as a species inherently love to measure things. I take that back. We love to measure everything. I am not a baseball fan, but I find it humorously entertaining the number of statistics that are available for seemingly any situation in baseball. I think it is possible to find the batting average for any player in late innings, with runners in scoring position, for away games with left hander pitchers on the mound. Really? I guess there must be someone interested in all that, but I can’t think of who it might be.

I am a hockey fan and there are a whole new generation of metrics created which I am not sure I entirely understand yet, but are supposed to give a much better measurement of the quality of the hockey players on the ice today. It seems that you can now get statistics for third line shots generated or allowed, for defensive players on offensive zone draws in the third period. Okay. I understand what all that means, but I am not sure if I care. Just drop the puck and skate.

I am not quite sure but it seems that some people are trying to make hockey appear to be more like baseball through the use of more and more arcane and detailed metrics. Unless they allow baseball players to carry their bats with them out into the field when they play, (stealing bases would get a whole lot more interesting) instead of just when that are at bat, or figure out a way to make hockey a whole lot slower and more boring, this would not seem to be a plausible goal.

The roundabout introduction here is that to generate all of these baseball statistics, someone had to measure and record all of these actions and variables. They had to create the metrics. And once they created these metrics it became a challenge to create the perfect metrics to more perfectly measure and reflect the game. After over one hundred years they are still trying. This should convince everyone from the onset that there are no perfect metrics. There are only good metrics, and other measurements.

I have had the opportunity in the past to be involved with many metrics projects, programs and functions during my time in business. It has been both an enlightening and useful process to me. It has helped me on several levels when it comes to the successful leadership of a business. In business as in sports, metrics are in part how we keep score.

Metrics are interesting in that they are indicators of performance. Hockey players with good performance metrics tend to be on good teams. Good teams tend to win more games. Winning is usually thought of as being a good thing. The new, complex metrics associated with Hockey seem to go a long way toward providing supporting evidence for how good and accurate the older simpler metrics associated with Hockey actually are. Interesting how that works.

It also seems to go that if a few metrics provide a reasonable indication of individual or business performance, then as we have noted in baseball, a very large number of metrics should provide a significantly more specific and detailed indication of individual or business performance. This thought process is along the lines of the old adage “If a little is good, a lot must be better.”

To extend the baseball analogy that is like saying if a beer or two is good while watching a game then two cases of beer should be excellent. You can find yourself at the game in a state of unconsciousness, immobility or alcoholism.

Similarly you can find yourself in business with so many metrics and indicators that they will begin to provide too much, or even conflicting indicators to the point that you end up in an immobile situation. Hence the phrase “Paralysis by Analysis”. I think I may prefer to refer to this situation as “metricoholism”, or the over dependence on and addiction to metrics to the point of being dysfunctional.

Metricoholism is the inability to have just one, or even a few meaningful metrics. It’s more along the lines of once you get started measuring things, you can’t stop. Eventually you will have measured everything, but will then have no idea what to do about all that you have measured.

I have found that the value of metrics lies in the talent of the people that are interpreting them. Metrics in and of themselves need to be the indicators of where additional human interaction with the business processes may be required in order to understand the possible underlying issues associated with the numeric measurement anomaly (metric). Good metrics identify the leverage points where analysis and performance modification can have the greatest effect on the business. Good metrics simply point to where the leader must look to understand what is affecting their business’ performance indicator.

There was a recent movie about the use of metrics in sports. It was called “Moneyball”. It was nominally a baseball movie, which meant for me that I would wait for it to be on television before I would watch it. I usually don’t pay money to watch a live baseball game because it is as I said a rather boring game to me. Why would I pay money to watch a movie about a rather boring game?

Just as an aside not all baseball based movies fall into this category. I thought “Field of Dreams” and “Bull Durham” were very entertaining movies, in spite of their baseball based premises. However “The Natural”, not so much.

In any event, Moneyball was the story of how a specific baseball team changed the way the business of the sport was conducted. By changing the way that the humongous amount of data associated with baseball and the baseball players was interpreted, they changed the way players and teams were viewed, built and paid for.

That bears repeating. By changing the way that the standard data (that was available to everyone) about the game and each of players was interpreted, one team changed the way an entire century old sports institution looked at how teams were built and how they should best perform.

The value was not in the data. Everyone had the same data. The value was in how the data was interpreted.

While interpretation of the data is going to be the key to success when it comes to metrics, it is also best to remember what Robert McNamara (one of the original automotive industry “whiz kids” of the 1960’s) said. He said:

“First thing: Get the data.”

The point is that there is a lot of data available. Which data do you go get. If you were a Metricoholic you would end up trying to get all of the data, since partial data would not be satisfactory. Also as previously noted, this would be a mistake. It takes far too much time, money and effort to do this and what are you going to do different with one hundred percent of the data that you wouldn’t do with eighty percent of the data.

That was an oblique reference to the old eighty – twenty rule where you can get eighty percent of the data in twenty percent of the time. If you can get eighty percent of the data reasonably quickly, you can make excellent business decisions from that data, and move on.

Good metrics for a business need to be relatively simple and straight forward. They need to deal with the basic functions and core values of the business, not the ancillary capabilities. Revenue, costs and profitability are good examples of simple metrics that all businesses use. I think there is probably a good reason for that. Performance levels and adherence to service levels are good metrics for service related industries. There are certainly others and they can be customized by business type and industry.

The key and the value to good metrics lie in their simplicity and their interpretation. Complex metrics just provide you complex data that is difficult to interpret. Exhaustive numbers of metrics generate exhaustive amounts of data that requires exhaustive interpretation. No amount of metrics, or process for that matter, can replace the need for talented people who can interpret the data, then decide where and what to act on.

The idea of good metrics should be to create a few indicators that measure the specific core leverage points of a business or organization. They should provide both a historical trend (are they getting better or worse) and a specific snap shot of performance. They should indicate where the interpreter of the information should go look for issues, if they are indicating issues. They should not be expected to indicate what the cause of the problem is, and certainly not what the solution to any particular issue will be.

Almost every business in existence already has some sort of metrics. Some are probably good metrics and some are probably just measuring something. There will also probably be those in the organization that are clamoring for more metrics as a way to improve performance.

However, I have found that good metrics are usually like bitter medicine. They are best and most effective when delivered in small doses, and usually best prescribed by someone outside the organization that does not have a stake hold to protect.

Just like healing oneself, measuring oneself is sometimes a difficult thing to accurately and honestly do as well.

Verbal Volume and Value

The “conversation” is a key aspect in business. That statement should elicit a collective “Duh!” from all those that read this. I think I am going to go a little bit deeper here. With all the electronic communications, email, Instant Messaging, Texting, etc. I think we may have lost some of our ability to have a viable and valuable conversation. Certainly it appears that some of the rules for conversations have changed, or perhaps better said they are now being ignored.

And it is not just conversations that I am going to address. It can be conferences, consultations, deliberations, dialogs, dissertations, disputes, discourses, meetings and reviews. You name it. Any place or time where people verbally exchange ideas is going to be the topic here.

That was some pretty nifty work with a Thesaurus, don’t you think?

The interesting point about electronic communications is that everyone is essentially equal. We all get to use the same electrons and bits and bytes in our electronic communications. We can all use CAPITAL LETTERS when we want to yell or make a point. It is almost impossible to interrupt anyone in an electronically communicated discussion. We can all use as many words as we want or like when positing our comments to each other. We can all ignore what someone else has written and blithely go on about our agenda in the electronic conversation as if the other participants had not said a thing of value. There are however some basic rules such as name calling and cursing are probably not viewed as entirely acceptable to name a couple, for electronic communication conduct, but by and large everyone gets to play as long as they play nicely, share, bring their own crayons and don’t color outside the lines, too much.

In short it is a pretty fair forum for discussion. However it is not real time and it is relatively slow.

Now let’s go to the real time, high speed, human to human, interactive discussion, verbal version of communications. It’s called a conversation or maybe even a discussion. The electronic discussion rules definitely don’t apply here. At least I don’t think they do. And sometimes this seems to have put me at an apparent disadvantage when it comes to dealing with those people who seem to think that it is okay to use the verbal equivalent of of some of the electronics conversation rules of conduct.

There are those that will use the verbal equivalent of underlining, bold or CAPITAL LETTERS, ie. Yelling or raising their voice in the discussion to make their point at almost any time. There are also those that will employ the verbal equivalent of not reading the other participants messages before sending their own. This is usually demonstrated by their interrupting when they have something to say while someone else is already talking. And then there are those that will engage in the verbal equivalent of trying to monopolize all of the available electrons, bits and bytes for communications. The idea here being that if they never stop talking you do not have the opportunity to present your positions, ideas or arguments and you lose by forfeit.

What is also interesting to me is that it is not three different kinds of people that employ these types of conversational domination. It is usually just one kind of person that employs these three conversational tactics.

It is also an incredible bore.

I am by no means the best of conversationalists. I do try to have relevant information and input, and I am not afraid to disagree on points of content. I will almost always try to wait for someone to stop or pause before I try to take up my side of the conversation. I also work pretty hard at not yelling as I have found that it usually doesn’t improve the effectiveness of the content I am trying to communicate.

What has me concerned is the apparent number of people who DO NOT feel the same way about verbal communications as I do.

It seems all too often that there are those that are applying their electronic communications protocols to their verbal communications interactions. They will interrupt. They will speak louder so that they can talk over the top of your discussion points. They will attempt to overwhelm the conversation just in the sheer volume of verbiage that they will put forth, effectively limiting the available time for your input.

It’s either that or they are just effectively being rude.

I was recently in a discussion where one of the participants was employing all of the aforementioned tactics for dominating the conversation. They wouldn’t listen. They would interrupt. They ran on and on and wouldn’t allow the opportunity for anyone else to provide input.

I was at one point both impressed and awed by that capability. Not so much the content, which was by my reckoning just management type blather, but the ability to inhale in such a way as to not interrupt their ability to keep talking. I surmised that they had either mastered the ability to inhale through their ears while still talking, or alternatively had an extra internal air bladder organ of some sort (similar to the air bladder that is used by someone who is playing the bagpipes) where they would use it to keep talking while they inhaled.

The point I guess I am trying to get to here is that trying to dominate a conversation really does no one any good, and it will probably just make people write strange things about you (in their Blogs and other places). Having a predisposed agenda or solution in reality negates the value of a discussion. It is reasonable to have a position that you want to either put forth of alternatively defend, but interrupting, talking over, or just outright ignoring other parties to the discussion removes everyone from the discussion.

It becomes less than a discussion or a discourse. Possibly more like a diatribe.

Turning up the volume of what you have to say (being louder than everyone else) doesn’t make your opinion better or position stronger. Increasing the volume of what you are saying (saying far more than anyone else) doesn’t make what you are saying any more convincing. Value comes from the resolving of differences, not the subverting or overwhelming of everyone else’s opinion.

A small hint here. If you are in a discussion and you recognize that not many other people are talking, there is a good chance that you are being “that person”.

There is an old quote (there is always an old quote for just about everything). Epictetus, the ancient Greek philosopher said:

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

It is probably a good rule to follow if you want to have a healthy and mutually valuable discussion.