Category Archives: Training

Seminars and Webinars

I think we can all agree that one of the fastest growing business segments in the world today, regardless of industry, has to be the seminar and webinar segment. It has to be. Just judging by the relative number of and ever-growing list of empirical data that shows up in my email on a daily basis. I never think of myself as particularly unique within the business world in general, or within my chosen industry segment specifically, so if the expanding number of webinar solicitations is happening to me, it must be happening to others. If my mailbox is any indication of what everyone else is seeing in their mailbox, there must now be a seminar or webinar available for each of us to attend, just about every hour of every day.

When will this all stop?

I came in on a Monday morning to no less than five new seminar and webinar invitations. The first was a Hipaa Compliance educational opportunity, as if I even know what that is. I had to look it up. I guess I could stand to be educated on Hipaa.

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) is United States legislation that provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.

Okay. Nope, don’t need that.

The next was “Team Effectiveness: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. Nope, I think we are probably already dysfunctional enough without having to go to a webinar about it. I can just look around if I want to see dysfunctionality. I don’t need to pay a fee to see it.

I was concerned that there might be some sort of professional certification associated with that one.

The next was a SCRUM Study webinar. This one actually did propose some sort of certification. For those of you not familiar with this discipline, it is the latest and greatest variant of project management. While possibly intriguing, this one also went into the “Nope” file.

Then there was the “Keto-Burn” Protocol for Weight loss. Obviously spam, but I guess it does say something about our fixation on our weight and the growing obesity problem in the US if there are engines out there SPAMming it to business email addresses.

I personally ascribe to the age old “Eat a little less – Move around a little more” methodology of weight control.

The final one was “Stability Studies – Key steps to design and analyze the results to estimate a product’s shelf life”. Quite possibly a very interesting topic. However, not something that I think could generate appreciable business value over the course of a ninety-minute webinar.

The one thing that all these disparate webinars on all these disparate topics had in common was that they wanted me to give them money (in varying amounts) for the privilege of attending. Each of these solicitations referred to me by name and acted as if we were either long lost family, or possibly recently separated friends. They just needed a little of my money now, and they were sure that they could improve my livelihood, if not world in the future.

The first thought I had was: Are there really any people, anywhere on this planet that will sign up for one of these seminars or webinars solely based on an unrequested email solicitation?

I guess there must be.

Now I can understand how and why people will give money to a Nigerian prince if he sends them an email explaining that if they send him some money today, he will in turn send them a whole lot more money at some future date. Who wouldn’t want to make that investment? I keep waiting and hoping for such an email and opportunity, but at least up to now, to no avail.

But who would want to sign up for a webinar on some mundane or arcane topic, based on an invitation from someone who wasn’t a Nigerian prince?

Unlike the previous generation of direct mail – direct response (DMDR) campaigns, where businesses actually had to spend and invest money on the postage required to deliver their opportunities to the target addresses, all today’s email campaigns need is just an email address to send it to. It seems the internet-based bits that carry the message are essentially free. This means that if anyone, anywhere, for whatever reason ever responds to these campaign requests, and signs up for one of the webinars, there is an immediate positive business value generated to the sender. As I alluded to before, if one person does it, there will invariably be others that do it as well. After all, it essentially costs them nothing to send the invitation.

They are in essence trying to get something from you for nothing.

If they don’t. No problem. All they do is just fill up your inbox. If they do, then eureka, they scored.

A quick check of my Junk Mail / Spam Filter showed that there were no less than eleven other invitations to other events of varying magnitude that I would obviously have been foolish in the extreme to ignore, that arrived, and were diverted, over the weekend. I quickly identified the five senders that got through as spam and they too were now in the junk file. I am hopeful that all future requests from these sources will also be captured there before I have to deal with them again.

Undaunted by this apparent avalanche of cyber-trash that now appears in my email mailbox, I went and did a little research, as I am wont to do. The results are both surprising and unsurprising at the same time.

Contrary to popular belief (at least my popular belief) DMDR marketing campaigns are not dead. They still exist outside of the internet. In fact, there is an industry association set up for it (the Direct Marketing Association, strangely enough) and they continue to provide information and research on both its effectiveness as well as the effectiveness of what seems to be the bourgeoning direct spamming approach.

“Though there has been a reduction in response rate for direct mail over the last ten years, it’s still holding strong. In its response rate report, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) analyzed Bizo and Epsilon data and found that direct mail achieves a 4.4% response rate, compared to 0.12% for email.”

I don’t know if I am horrified or relieved that such an august periodical such a Forbes is dedicating their precious column-inches to topics such as this. Then I remembered that Forbes is now also publishing on-line so the cost per column-inch has also come down appreciably in association with the cost of bits on the internet.

I guess they can now also expect an acceptance and response rate equal to the on-line DMDR people.

I wonder what that may have done to their advertising rates and values. Just a passing thought.

Not surprisingly, the DMA study shows that their preferred method of annoying people with unrequested solicitations via non-email methods, is close to forty times more successful that annoying them with email solicitations. On the surface this would seem to be the preferred method of annoyance.

However, I could not find any information regarding the relative costs of the methodology that they prefer. As I said, the bits on the internet are close to free, while postage for mail delivered by the postal service has a definite finite cost per solicitation. And since bits are basically free, forty times free is still free, so based on this type of cost – benefit logic, I think it is safe to assume that we will all continue to enjoy the multitude of unsolicited opportunities that appear in our email mailboxes for some time. Despite what appears to be a response and acceptance level that seems to be trending asymptotically close to zero.

It just means that the internet emailers need to reach out to forty times as many people as the non-emailers, to get the same number of respondents. And since the emails are essentially free, that is what they do. Hence the deluge of spam emails.

A little further research has shown me that by law, all of these opportunity suppliers, or Spammers for short, must provide the ability for those receiving their messages to be able to opt out from receiving future opportunity notices.

What I also discovered during this research is that there now appears to be another burgeoning industry opportunity on the business horizon. This one involves services that purport to be able to remove you from these email opportunity lists for you. For just a small fee, of course.

I now fully expect to start receiving email solicitations from these spam removal services, unsolicited of course, asking me to sign up for their service so that I will no longer have to receive unwanted emails from all the other internet people trying get me to attend webinars and seminars, or sell me things like spam removal services.

Gosh, I do appreciate email.

Business Lessons I Learned (or Re-Learned) When My Son Started to Drive.

I am now entering one of the most difficult stages of my life. My teenage son is starting to learn to drive. This is not a process, or a stage of life for the faint of heart. There is really nothing in life that can prepare you for this eventuality. All children do grow older, and eventually ask you for the keys to the car. It is a rite of passage for you both. Them the asking for the keys and the stepping across a metaphorical threshold into a new freedom and you granting the keys and then being cast down into a previously unknown dark world of fear and discomfort.

With all that being said I have searched for methods and experiences that I can use to help him and me cope with this situation. I think it might be better said that he does not really see a need to cope with this situation. It is obviously I who must cope with the fact that he does not see the need to cope with the situation. I think I may have come up with a few corollaries.

I am choosing to treat his beginning to drive in much the same way that you treat a new employee when they first come on the job. New employees have such high hopes of what they can achieve. Hiring businesses have such high expectations of what the new employees will accomplish. The reality of the situation is somewhat different for both of them.

Now my son has never had a job. He much prefers playing video games to working. However, I have had several jobs and have brought on many new hires into their first jobs and I do see some parallels. If a company ever adds a CVGO – Chief Video Game Officer to their executive suite of CEO’s, COO’s and CFO’s, it is possible that my son could conceivably be considered over qualified. Until then, we’ll go with the new hire analogy.

My son and I were driving along in my car when he started the conversation about which type of car he would like when he gets his driver’s license. I drive a rather non-descript car that is just large enough for me to transport my upright bass to Jazz gigs when I am asked to play. It was the deciding factor in my car selection decision. Car options and coolness factor really didn’t come into play for me. It does for him.

He on the other hand is more interested in how he will be perceived in his car by his female peer group and how fast the car will go. This is where the setting of new hire expectations comes into play. Most new hires are looking for positions and work that is commensurate with their opinion and vision of their own capabilities. They in effect want to go fast and look good.

We all think that we are capable of trading paint with any of the Sunday afternoon NASCAR drivers, but in reality we know we can’t. The same goes with my son, and new hires. I needed to tell my son where the light and windshield wiper switches were in the car. Aside from this he is ready to go. NASCAR here he comes. Step on the gas and turn left.

However it has been shown that new drivers and new employees need to learn how to handle their cars and responsibilities before they get to go fast. My son will get a “learner’s” car that will be able to absorb some abuse as he works to perfect his capabilities. This is also usually the way that new hires gain experience in an organization as well.

My son has told me a few times that he has observed me while I drive and that in fact it looks like a relatively simple operation. I told him that I once observed a juggler while he juggled running chainsaws. The juggler was very adept at juggling and it appeared as though anyone should be able to juggle chainsaws. However, I chose not to try. The same thing goes for driving if you haven’t done it before. The same thing goes for business as a new hire.

This is why there are such a large number of Driver’s Educational institutions in our area. The law here (Texas) states that there will be a specific number of class hours (training) and a specific number of supervised driving hours (practice) before a driver’s license will be issued. Who would have thought that both training and practice would be required in order to successfully obtain a goal, be it the proper and safe operation of a car on the public streets, are the successful integration of a new hire employee into the proper conduct of a business?

Newly minted drivers, like newly minted employees feel like they are ready for anything. After all, they are fully licensed. New drivers have a driver’s license; newly hired employees usually have a diploma. Both documents are designed to confer and bestow privileges and capabilities upon the owners of them. The truth is that these documents confer the capability; they do not provide any assurance of success.

This is why there is insurance. For those of you that have already bought insurance for a new driver, you already know what I am about to say. For those of you with future new drivers, please take note.

Insurance for new drivers is unequivocally expensive. Start saving for it now, regardless of how old your children are. Like college tuitions, chances are that whatever you save for new driver insurance will not be enough.

The reason that new driver insurance is so expensive is because the chances are very good that despite all the training and practice, the new driver is going to make a mistake and have an accident. Again, I think the same goes for new hire employees, and just about anyone else trying something new for the first few times. There is nothing like the first few live fire business events. This is where they gain experience, and as I have noted before, experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted.

Unfortunately there is no insurance that can be bought for new hires in business. It can be provided however in the form of oversight and supervision. Spending a little extra time with new hires on a regular basis is probably the best insurance policy available in business. It’s like riding along in the passenger seat while my son is driving. I don’t have my hand on the wheel, or my foot on the brake, but there is another set of eyes watching the road and looking out for potential issues on the road.

Also, my son learning to drive has (re)taught me patience. He does not have the same experience driving that I do. He hasn’t learned to anticipate what he may face. This is much like the new hires in the office. They too want to be successful, and while they may have many of the capabilities for success, they still need to learn, or be shown how to succeed.

New drivers and new employees in general understand the theories of driving and business, and they may actually have some experience in real life applications, but that doesn’t mean that they can just be turned loose to fend for themselves, either on the road or in the business environment, especially if your goal for them is long term success. Active mentoring and a measured introduction into more complex / higher speed environments will help minimize the dents and bruises to egos, careers and cars. It takes a little more effort, but the dividends do pay off.

Finally, this new world of my son driving has also taught me the value of antacid tablets. That is something I have never needed at office.

6 Business Lessons from My Son Mowing the Lawn

I have a fourteen year old son. I am very proud of him and I love him dearly. But that does not change the fact that he is a teenager and as such is prone to many of the activities and attitudes that come with that age. Like most teenagers he has almost unlimited wants and desires and has almost no money with which to pursue them. On the other hand I have a significant number of activities that need to be done around our house that I am willing to pay him to do. These majority of these activities are called yard work. You would think that with my cash and a need for labor, and his labor and a need for cash we would be able to work out an equitable solution. You would think. The following are a few business lessons I relearned from my son in this situation.

1. Set a deadline for all work to be complete. Make sure there is clarity of when your staff’s deliverables are due. 
    It’s always nice to start the new week with a clean yard, mowed lawn and trimmed bushes. I don’t know why that is the case. Perhaps it is what I learned as a kid. Needless to say though, as I am the nominal boss around my house (with the possible exception of my wife who I refer to as “The Most Powerful Woman in The Universe”) I set the objective for my staff (in this case my son). I thought I was pretty clear on this.

I learned the lesson of setting a hard deadline the hard way. I initially I just told my son that I would pay him at the end of the week to mow the yard once a week. I didn’t think I would need to specify when the week ended and when it began. He came in on Sunday to ask for his wages, and informed me that he would then mow the yard in “the next couple of days”. I informed him that Saturday and Sunday did in fact constitute the “Weekend” and that he would have to have the job complete by then before he was to get paid. He seemed surprised by this stipulation and development.

2. If it needs to get done, do it early. The job will just get more unpleasant the longer you wait to do it. 
    We live in Texas. In case you have not heard, it does in fact get hot here in Texas in the summer. It gets very hot. When my son agreed to mow the yard in return for money I suggested to him that he might want to mow early in the morning when it was only warm, instead of later in the day when it would be hot, or later in the afternoon when it would be approaching blast furnace status.

Mowing the yard early in the morning on a weekend would mean that he would have to get up early in the morning on a weekend. For those of you who do not have teenage children, you would not understand the absurdity of that last statement. Teenagers do not get up early in the morning of their own volition, ever. Weekends especially. This left the hotter part of the day and the blast furnace of the afternoon. To make a long story short, he procrastinated till the later afternoon, when the day was at its hottest (close to or above triple digit temperatures) and was miserable as a result.

3. Make sure your staff knows how to use the tools needed to get the job done. Just because you know how to do it doesn’t mean they know how to do it. 
    I showed my son where the tools were that he would need to do the yard. I was also pretty sure he already knew where the yard was. What more would he need? His objective was to take the tools, apply them to the yard, and then to let me know when his objective was complete. I would then applaud his ingenuity.

By my third trip out to the garage to show him how to start and operate the trimmer, the edger and the lawn mower, I suspected that I might not have set him up for success in his initial attempt at the yard. I had assumed that he had seen me performing the task often enough before that he would know how to do it. Perhaps if he had not been so engrossed in his video games he would have been better prepared, but I digress. It was my responsibility to make sure he knew how use all the tools. I also should have shown him when it was cooler in the garage.

4. We are paid for the job. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to do it. It is the completion of the job that counts. 
    Mowing the yard is not a difficult task. I have done it for years myself before I hit upon the idea of paying my son to do it. It doesn’t take an overly long time to do it. We live in an area where the lots are standard size for a suburban subdivision. It doesn’t take a lot of physical effort. Over time I have acquired all the automated and motorized tools (including a self propelled lawn mower) needed to accomplish the task. In short, I had a reasonable idea of how long it would take and how much effort would be required to get the yard done.

I had not however expected an underly-enthusiastic approach by a fourteen year old teenager (my staff in this instance) who would have much preferred to be inside out of the heat doing something else and just be given the money. By the time all the struggles and complaints were accounted for he took roughly twice as long to do the yard as either of us anticipated. As such he immediately asked for a raise. I reminded him that I was paying him to mow the yard, not paying him by the hour to mow the yard. If he worked at applying himself a little better to where it did not take so much time to mow the yard he would be much happier and realize a better return on his time investment.

5. Set the expectation of the quality of work to be delivered. Standards of performance differ and what may be acceptable to one may not be acceptable to another. 
    When I mow the yard I try to do the best job mowing the yard that I can. I try to take that approach with just about every job I take on, either at the office or in the yard. I like to know that I have not shortchanged myself or anyone else with my effort. Again I thought that since he had seen how the yard looked after I had done the work; my son would understand how I expected the yard to look when he was done.

He finished, came in, asked for his pay and then went upstairs to cool off and play more video games. All was good, or so I thought. Later my wife came in and asked me if there was anything wrong with me. I said no and wondered why she would ask. She said that the yard did not look the way it normally did after I mowed it and wondered if there was something wrong with me when I had been mowing it. It seemed it was time to actually go out and look at my son’s work product.

6. Hold a brief review at the completion of the project. When the project is done understand what went wrong and what went right. There may be differences of opinion. 
    Whenever a project is presented to you as complete, review it, then review it with the person that presented it to you. I had just assumed he would do the yard the way I did the yard. I had not gone outside to look at the yard because it was hot. If I had wanted to get hot I would have mowed the yard myself. When I did go outside I could see that my son’s objective was not to do the yard the way I would do it or to my standards, but rather to get it done to a level where he could in fact claim that it was indeed (mostly) mowed and that he should be paid.

I had neither properly set the expectations for the job, nor immediately reviewed the final project upon completion. I assumed that since he lived in the same house as me he would have the same pride of ownership and in his work product that I had. Needless to say we did go back outside (in the heat) and note the areas that needed to be edged and trimmed, and in some instances actually mowed since the objective was to mow the entire yard, not just the parts that are only visible from the street.

My son will get the opportunity to mow the yard again next week since I expect the grass to continue to grow. I hope he has learned what is expected of him and is aware of the ef
fort that the expectation will entail if he hopes to delight his management. I have relearned that just because I have done it and know what it takes to deliver a high quality work product, that not everyone else will know how to do it just because they have seen me do it. Management always needs to be clear about their expectation, guidelines, training and reviews.

Now if only these ideas would work with my daughter and her driving habits.

Process, People and Tools

Many companies today continue to look for efficiencies and business improvements by trying to create better processes. The idea seems to be that if the process is perfected, employees will be able to follow it, speed will be increased and mistakes will be eliminated. I understand the concept and the idea, but I don’t know if I agree that improving the process alone will actually deliver all the improvements that are being sought, or promised.

Processes are based on the idea of repeatable events. If functions or events are similar enough, then you can create a process to make sure that similar events are handled in a similar manner. The idea is to assure consistent performance. Manufacturing products, paying bills, inputting orders and the like were some of the first and most successful beneficiaries of good process creation. The concept has also been extended, at higher levels to other business functions such as sales, marketing and service as well.

The issue with process seems to arise when a good general approach is taken too far. If a good high level process works well, shouldn’t it be extended to more specific applications to make them work even better? My view is probably not.

My view is that Simple is Better.

By necessity the more specific you make a process to enable it to handle more and more variations in inputs and desired outputs, the more complex you make it. I have commented in the past that if your Sales compensation plan is longer than one or two pages, that it is most likely too complex and you are probably not inciting the desired focus from your sales force that you are looking for. I think the same can be said of your processes.

There needs to be a relative parity between your processes and your goals. If we can maintain a focus on relatively fewer and simpler goals, then we should also maintain a focus on relatively fewer and simpler processes. The question then becomes do you run the risk of decomposing your business goals and processes into progressively smaller and simpler levels to the point where you lose the ability to manage the overall business with any continuity. It becomes the equivalent of trying to manage the growth of each individual wheat stalk in the field, instead of trying to manage the growth of the wheat field.

There will always be a human factor associated with our business process. People make decisions based on the information they have and the goals that they are pursuing. Instead of trying to reduce the impact of the human factor by trying to create processes that prescribe decisions for them; we might do better to focus on the information and the tools that provide it to them, as well as the actual decision makers that we are asking to act on it.

Pilots spend multiples of hours in simulators facing manifold situations honing their decision skills so that when they are placed in similar real life situations they can follow some relatively simple processes to quickly arrive at the right decisions and take the correct actions. The average business leader does this while on the job. The business leader must base his decisions on situations that he has seen in the past and adapt them with the new information (or lack of new information) to the current situation. Hopefully either the leader’s experience translates well to the new situation, or the information supplied is sufficiently available and accurate to enable a good decision.

The pilot has multiple tools and gauges on his dashboard that immediately provide him the information that he needs as a basis for his decisions. While we have seen significant gains in the tools and gauges area for the business leader, it has been my experience that these capabilities have grown up over time as more of a happen stance instead of a cogent and integrated plan for providing needed gauges for management information.

It takes good people, good tools and simple processes to get good decisions and actions. Focusing on more detailed processes without paying attention to the people or the tools that they are using seems to be an activity that will only provide decreasing relative value returns for the investment. Spending more time on preparing business leaders to be ready and capable of making the types of decisions that they will be asked to make, and investing in the informational tools that will provide the accurate and timely information that they will need to make those decisions will probably provide greater benefits to the business.

Machiavelli Was Wrong (About Sales)

In his book “The Prince”Machiavelli states that leaders “must assume that all men are wicked and will act wickedly whenever they have the chance to do so.” To tell you the truth, I have not found this to be the case. In fact I have normally found the exact opposite to be the case. In most of the organizations that I have been in, I have found the team members to be ready and willing to do the correct and proper activities when they are given the chance.


The key here is to enable the team to do the right things. Make sure your sales team has the product training and competitive knowledge to successfully compete in the marketplace. If they don’t know what their product can do or what their competition is capable of, then the chance of their misstating your product or corporate capabilities increases. They will take some of the blame for not having the information, but you should take some of the blame for not making sure it was provided.


The sales team has the unenviable job of trying to please two masters; the customer who buys their product, and the management of the team that supplies the product. The sales team wants to tell the customer the truth and set expectations appropriately (as well as get the order) so that the customer will not have issues regarding the product performance and the perceived value it brings. The sales team also wants to meet the goals and expectations of their management in order to receive their rewards and maintain their positions.


 In business and sales there will always be issues. By providing the right information, capabilities and incentives to the business and sales team, they will be enabled to do those activities that they need to do right, and to continue to prove Machiavelli wrong