!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: June 2007

Saturday, June 30, 2007

William Kamkwamba's Windmill

For an inspiring story of how a young man in Malawi aged 15 built himself a power-generating windmill, which he has repeatedly upgraded, see William Kamkwamba's newly launched blog. The windmill supplies electrical power for houselights, appliances such as radios, and charging batteries.

It is important to understand that Kamkwamba, now 19, was a high school dropout only because his family could not afford the school fees after his first two trimesters. Now, thanks to publicity that began with the newspaper article pictured above, Kamkwamba has attracted financial support sufficient to get him back into secondary school after a hiatus that lasted from 2002 to 2006. (You can read the text of the Daily Times article here. The Daily Times has its editorial offices in Blantyre, Malawi's main commercial and industrial center.)

The newspaper publicity also led to an invitation to attend the 2007 TEDGlobal conference held earlier this month in Arusha, Tanzania. (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. I wrote about the organization in an earlier post.)

What is so striking about William Kamkwamba's story is his intense motivation to learn and achieve, and the eagerness of benefactors to help him once they learned of his existence and needs.


Labels: ,

Friday, June 29, 2007


Although it labels itself a beta site, FORA.tv, a consolidator of videotaped speeches, panel discussions, and presentations, is already rich enough in its offerings to be worth browsing for material to include in training programs.

To make it easier to access selected portions of its videos, the videos are all divided into "chapters," comparable to the scenes into which DVD movies are divided.

If the content provider supplies a transcript, FORA.tv synchronizes the transcript so that it scrolls alongside the video, making it easy to decipher any of the spoken audio that may not be entirely clear. The transcripts are searchable, i.e., searching on a particular keyword will take you to the places in the video where it is spoken.

To find videos relevant to your own particular interests, you can either use the site's search function, or you can browse its channels.

The subject channels are:

     Arts and Culture
     Science and Health

The regional channels are:

     Latin America
     Middle East
     Northern America

There are also a number of "featured partners" that regularly supply content, for example, the Asia Society, the Brookings Institution, C-SPAN, the Cato Institute, and the New School.

Since browsing at FORA.tv is so easy, I highly recommend it. You very likely will hit on thinkers and ideas you can build on in your own work.



Thursday, June 28, 2007

Photo & Video Editing: Beta Test of Flektor

If you, like me, want to be able to edit video clips for Web use, there's a tool now in beta test getting considerable attention that you might want to check out.

The tool is Flektor, which "allows you to quickly and easily create, remix, and share your photos [and] videos ..." You can see examples of how people have used Flektor's features — such as filters, transitions, effects, text overlays, and interactive features — in sample clips here. Once you have created a clip, you can publish it to Flektor.com or embed it on another web site.

Flektor is free at least until the end of its unspecified beta period. The company (recently acquired by Fox Interactive Media, where it will remain a separate entity) explains its post-beta commitment to users here.


Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Leading a Diverse Team

The Summer 2007 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review has arrived (electronically), so I've been able to read the article by Lynda Gratton and two colleagues referenced at the end of yesterday's post.

In "Bridging Faultlines in Diverse Teams," Gratton, Andreas Voigt (research assistant in organizational behavior at London Business School) and Tamara Erickson (president of the Concours Institute) report the results of research concerning how to lead large, complex teams — teams that are diverse in demographic terms and/or in terms of members' values, dispositions, and attitudes.

The researchers focus on the significance of faultlines — subgoups or coalitions that emerge naturally within teams. For instance, a team might split into one group mostly made up of male engineers and another made up of female marketers. Or a team might divide between Type A and Type B personalities.

The key finding is that teams for which faultlines are likely to emerge are likely to be most successful if their leaders begin with a focus on tasks to be completed and then, as tensions along faultlines begin to be felt, switch their leadership style to more of a relationship orientation.


Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Virtual Teams that Work

What distinguishes virtual teams that are good at working together from those that aren't?

In a June 15 article posted at the MIT Sloan Management Review web site, Lynda Gratton, professor of management at London Business School, outlines ten principles that her research indicates effective virtual teams adhere to:
  1. Invest in an online resource that enables members to learn quickly about one another. For example, maintain an online directory that includes not only contact information, but also brief bios, areas of expertise, and personal interests of all team members.

  2. Choose a few (but not too many) team members who already know each other. With a few people already acquainted, networking that bonds the whole team can proceed more quickly than if everyone starts out as a stranger to everyone else.

  3. Identify "boundary spanners" and ensure that they make up at least 15% of the team. Boundary spanners are people with lots of useful connections outside the team. Note that you don't want too many boundary spanners since that is apt to detract from team cohesion.

  4. Cultivate boundary spanners as a regular part of companywide practices and process. This is because boundary spanners help not only the teams they're on, but also the company as a whole. In other words, it's smart to encourage employees to network.

  5. Break the team's work up into modules so that progress in one location is not overly dependent on progress in another. Modularizing can minimize the angst that arises when one part of the team has to wait for another part to complete a task

  6. Create an online site where a team can collaborate, exchange ideas, and inspire one another. A shared online workspace is pretty much de rigueur these days. Wikis and blogs are increasingly being adopted for this purpose.

  7. Encourage frequent communication; however, do not try to force social gatherings, e.g., early in the team's existence. Note that the second half of this rule is questioned by some with considerable experience on virtual teams. They say an early get-together is generally helpful for team-building.

  8. Assign only tasks that are challenging and interesting. "We found that one of the biggest reasons virtual teams fail is because the members don't find the work interesting. They simply fade away ... the atmosphere becomes more like a country club than a dynamic collection of inspired people."

  9. Ensure the team's task is meaningful to team members and to the company. "Ideally, a virtual team's mission should resonate with each member's values — both as individuals and as professionals who want to develop their skills — and be of clear importance to the company."

  10. When building a virtual team, draw upon volunteers as far as possible. Doing so enables you to tap the strength of intrinsic motivation.
A fuller description of Gratton's research is being published in the Summer issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review.


Labels: ,

Monday, June 25, 2007

Marc Andreessen's Blog

Marc Andreessen, who first came to attention as cofounder of Netscape Communications and co-author of Mosaic, the first widely-used web browser, has started publishing a blog, which is turning out to be quite fascinating.

The topics Andreessen has addressed so far, generally in lengthy, detailed posts, include venture capitalism, the ins and outs of getting a start-up off the ground, how to approach the task of company hiring, and good science fiction.

A post that I personally found particularly helpful is a lengthy compilation of "Essential HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, and miscellaneous cheatsheets." A representative example of the sites Andreessen links to is Dave Arns' HTML Reference, which I now have bookmarked.


Labels: ,

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Measuring Innovation

The Department of Commerce has embarked on an effort to improve its ability to measure innovation activity in the US and the impacts of innovation on the US economy.

As explained in the request for comments that was issued in April, there are four major catergories of data that the department's Measuring Innovation in the 21st Century Advisory Committee is developing recommendations for:
  1. Improvement of the underlying architecture of the U.S. System of National Accounts to facilitate development of improved and more granular measures of innovation and productivity.

  2. Identification of appropriate economy-wide and sector-specific statistical series or other indicators that could be used to quantify innovation and/or its impacts.

  3. Identification of firm-specific data items that could enable comparisons and aggregation.

  4. Identification of specific "holes" in the current data collection system that limit our ability to measure innovation.
The committee supplies detail for each category. The issues relating to the first category — national income accounting — are quite technical, but those for the other three categories provide useful food for thought for anyone with a practical interest in monitoring innovation.

The committee offers these points to ponder for category 2:

Are there measures that accommodate economy-wide (or macro-economic) and sector-specific notions of innovation?

What elements of innovation could serve as a foundation for statistical series?

To what extent would the collection of better data on service sector outputs and services inputs used by all firms improve innovation measurement?

Is market share growth a good indicator of innovation? If so, would estimates [of] the change in U.S. firms' shares of regional, national, and global markets be useful innovation measures?

Could/should collaborative connections between entities be captured?

Since a characteristic of markets is that the benefits of innovations flow, at least in part, to buyers, are there ways to identify the flow of innovations across firms and sectors?

For category 3, the committee's prompting questions include:

Current corporate innovation measurement appears to be done primarily on either a project or a portfolio basis. Are these measurement practices sufficiently widespread and uniform to make data collection on either of these bases practical?

Is it possible or necessary to collect information on company culture, incentive structures, and organizational change?

If customer satisfaction is an important measure of an innovative firm, how can that be captured?

How important is it to distinguish between types of innovation (i.e. radical versus incremental)?

What data would be needed to differentiate the characteristics of innovative firms within industry sectors from non-innovative firms?

What are the most important measures of the underlying process of how innovation and productivity advances are initiated or stimulated?

Could/should an understanding of innovation from the consumer perspective be developed?

Could data items from SEC filings be used to enhance understanding of innovation in public companies?

Are there proxies for relative innovative success (e.g. percent of total revenue attributable to new — or significantly improved to the point where they could be considered new — products, services, or processes introduced within the last two years into markets where a firm has a growing market share) that would provide insight into relative innovative strength? Is two years long enough?

Finally, for category 4, the committee notes, "Some specific types of data holes were identified during the meeting, including lack of data on firm formation, intellectual property licensing costs as a type of purchased input, and insufficient product detail." With this in mind, the committee suggests thinking about such questions as:

What should be the prioritized list of specific data items needed to fill the holes?

Are there cost-effective ways of building on existing data sets to develop more information on innovation drivers and their link to success?

How could data sharing and cooperation among federal agencies be improved insofar as such agencies maintain data series related to the measurement of innovation?

Could existing private and/or foreign data be combined with existing official statistical series in order to better measure innovation?

Are there changes that could be made to make such combinations possible or easier?

If you would like to browse through the comments the committee received, you can do so here.



Saturday, June 23, 2007

Surveying Hospital Employees

To a greater or lesser degree, any employee attitude survey — the subject of an earlier post — must be customized for the particular organization doing the surveying.

As someone who has been involved in a considerable number of training projects for healthcare companies, I'm always interested in examples of how the distinctive characteristics of healthcare delivery are reflected in the way healthcare organizations handle training needs assessment, including their use of employee feedback obtained via surveys.

A few weeks ago, I picked up the March 1 edition of Caring Headlines, a house organ of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), that happened to have a brief article by Jeanette Ives Erickson, senior VP for Patient Care and chief nurse, describing Mass General's Staff Perceptions of the Professional Practice Environment Survey.

The survey, which has been in use since 1996, is sent to all direct care providers (e.g., nurses) in Patient Care Services — a total of about 3,000 clinicians. The survey covers eight organizational characteristics that are central to the hospital's professional practice model:
  • Autonomy — being self-governing and exercising professional judgment in a timely fashion.

  • Clinician-MD relationships — relationships with physicians that facilitate exchange of important clinical information.

  • Control over practice — sufficient organizational status to influence others and deploy resources when necessary for good patient care.

  • Communication — degree to which patient-care information is related promptly through open channels of communication.

  • Teamwork — unity of effort in the pursuit of shared objectives.

  • Conflict management — degree to which managing conflict is addressed using a problem-solving approach.

  • Internal work motivation — self-generated motivation completely independent of external factors such as pay, supervision or co-workers (see intrinsic motivation).

  • Cultural sensitivity — a set of attitudes, practices, and/or policies that respects and accepts cultural differences.
Erickson's article provided only a sketchy summary of the results of the most recent survey. Good news included the fact that "an overwhelming 92% of respondents reported feeling satisfied or very satisfied with the work environment at MGH." (The response rate was 61%, up from 46% last year.)

The areas most frequently cited as needing attention were teamwork and conflict management. Erickson noted that several current MGH classes address conflict management, and that additional classes are being developed. As for teamwork, Erickson reported that MGH is working on a variety of systems improvements, building relationships with colleges and universities to ease the current workforce shortage, and pursuing other improvements through its recently launched Center for Innovations in Care Delivery.


Labels: ,

Friday, June 22, 2007

Forrester Research on Web Site Design

You can shell out $279 for a recently issued 17-page report on web site design from Forrester Research, or you can take advantage of the fact that highlights are available in a short interview with Bruce Temkin, the report's main author, that was published in the June 12 edition of the Wall Street Journal.

Forrester evaluates web sites along four dimensions: value, navigation, presentation, and trust (more below). In the Wall Street Journal interview, Temkin reports that value used to be the major area of weakness, but that now problems typically involve navigation: "As sites get bigger and more complex, they have much more value, but it's harder to have people get to what they want."

Another common problem Temkin mentions is sites' failure to give visitors confidence that they will find it easy to complete the tasks they're interested in carrying out. Temkin says,
A basic usability principle is that if you want someone to continue with a process, such as buying something, two fundamental things should happen: Users should feel there is a high likelihood they can accomplish the task, and they should be given clear evidence that they are making progress along the way. A lot of sites don't design their home pages for that to occur.
Temkin advises that the home page include links that make it obvious how visitors can get started on accomplishing key goals.

To ensure that your web site works well for visitors, Forrester recommends using three questions as your basic design guides:
  • Who are your users?

  • What are their goals?

  • How are you going to help them achieve those goals?
The technique Forrester recommends for answering these questions leans heavily on creating what they call "personas" — representative customers synthesized from research concerning what types of visitors it is most important for your site to cater to. As explained in an earlier Forrester report (pdf),
To truly qualify as “personas,” customer models should be based on user research, formatted as a narrative, include details about motivations, goals, and behavior (at the appropriate level), include contextual/environmental insights (where they use the channel, when they use the channel, channel alternatives), and have a human name and face. See the December 18, 2003, Report “The Power Of Design Personas.” [p. 13]
Once the personas have been defined, it is time to begin the iterative process of designing a site that straightforwardly helps these representative visitors achieve their goals. Forrester provides questions (pdf) to use in assessing your site along the four key dimensions mentioned earlier:

  1. Does the home page provide evidence that user goals can be completed?

  2. Is essential content available where needed?

  3. Is essential function available where needed?

  4. Are essential content and function given priority on the page?
  1. Are category and subcategory names clear and mutually exclusive?

  2. Do menu categories immediately expose or describe their subcategories?

  3. Are items classified logically?

  4. Is the task flow efficient?

  5. Are hyperlinks clear and informative?

  6. Are keyword-based searches comprehensive and precise?
  1. Does the site use language that’s easy to understand?

  2. Does the site use graphics, icons, and symbols that are easy to understand?

  3. Is text legible?

  4. Does text formatting and layout support easy scanning?

  5. Do page layouts use space effectively?

  6. Are form fields and interactive elements placed logically on the page?

  7. Are interactive elements easily recognizable?

  8. Are interactive elements consistent?

  9. Does the site accommodate the user’s range of hand-eye coordination?
  1. Does the site present privacy and security policies in context?

  2. Do pages provide location cues?

  3. Does site functionality provide feedback in response to user actions?

  4. Is contextual help available at key points?

  5. Does the site help users recover from errors?

  6. Does the site perform well?
Temkin comments on the new Forrester report in a post on his own blog.



Thursday, June 21, 2007

Summer Solstice 2007


Midsummer – The Bonfire




Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"Monique and the Mango Rains"

When my book group met this evening, we were lucky enough to be joined by the author of the book we were discussing, who happens to live in Northampton.

The author is Kris Holloway, and her book is "Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali," an account of the friendship that grew up between Kris and Monique Dembele when they worked together during the two years Kris was a Peace Corps volunteer in Monique's village.

At 25, Monique was three years older than Kris when Kris arrived in Nampossela, a community of 1400 people about 160 miles from Bamako, the capital of Mali. Monique was a hardworking, able, and charming midwife. Kris spent her time assisting Monique and learning from her.

Here is Kris Holloway's own explanation of how she came to write Monique and the Mango Rains:
I always thought I’d write a story about Monique. She was such an amazing African woman, midwife, and mother — really the first “feminist” in her tiny, rural region of West Africa. I lived with her as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1989-1991 and her effect on me was profound. But my life here in the U.S. was full with work and kids — way overprogrammed as all parents can relate to, and writing about her remained a dream, something others would remind me about saying, “you really should write a book about her…” I was just happy that Monique and I stayed in touch, through long letters and cassette tapes. But in 1998, when she died in labor with her fifth child, I knew that this book had to be written. I had to go back, had to tell the story of her life, her death, and her remarkable legacy. This book grew out of that trip and took on a life of its own.
A couple of additional notes: The "mango rains" are the three-month rainy season that comes around mid-June. (The mango season itself runs from April to June.) In contrast to the 90% of Mali's 12 million people who are Muslin, Monique's family were Catholic.

The chance to talk with Kris in person was memorable both because Kris is quite personable and because she could bring us up-to-date on how Monique's family and village are faring. (Kris, her husband, and her two sons will be traveling back to Mali for a visit toward the end of this year.)

Other book groups interested in having Kris participate in a discussion of Monique and the Mango Rains — in person or by speaker phone — can make arrangements by contacting Kris at kris@moniquemangorains.com.


Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Guidelines for Employee Attitude Surveys

Prompted by an article about employee surveys in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, I went back to the files I collected while working with a client on two attitude surveys several years ago. Among the gems I resurrected was a list of guidelines offered by Palmer Morrel-Samuels in "Getting the Truth into Employee Surveys," published in the February 2002 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Morrel-Samuels considers five areas of survey design — content, format, language, measurement, and administration. His article provides a detailed rationale for each of sixteen guidelines:

  1. Ask questions about observable behavior rather than thoughts or motives.

  2. Include some items that can be independently verified.

  3. Measure only behaviors that have a recognized link to company performance.
  1. Keep sections of the survey unlabeled and uninterrupted by page breaks.

  2. Design sections to contain a similar number of items, and questions a similar number of words.

  3. Place questions about respondent demographics last.
  1. Avoid terms that have strong associations in people's minds.

  2. Change the wording in 1/3 of the questions so that the desired answer is negative. (Make sure the questions are easy for survey-takers to interpret correctly.)

  3. Do not merge two disconnected topics in one question.
  1. Create a response scale with numbers at regularly spaced intervals and words only at each end.

  2. If possible, use a response scale that asks respondents to estimate a frequency (as opposed to "agree"/"disagree").

  3. Use only one response scale that offers an odd number of options.

  4. Avoid questions that require rankings. (Such questions tend to yield biased results.)
  1. Make the surveys individually anonymous and demonstrate that they remain so.

  2. In large organizations, make the department the primary unit of analysis. (The department will also generally be the level at which training needs are addressed.)

  3. Make sure that employees can complete the survey in about 20 minutes.
Another outline of principles of survey construction, administration, and interpretation is available as a pdf file here.


Labels: ,

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sunday at the New York State Theater

After brunch with my Iowa friend and a mutual friend who lives near the Lincoln Center, I took my leave so I could head over to the New York State Theater to see the matinee performance of the New York City Ballet.

Christopher Wheeldon

The main attraction on the program was Christopher Wheeldon's new piece, "The Nightingale and the Rose," set to a commissioned score by Bright Sheng. I enjoyed the way in which Wheeldon realized the story (explained in an insert into the playbill), which is just what Tobi Tobias objects to in her Bloomberg review. My reaction was closer to that of Jennifer Dunning in her favorable review in the New York Times.

The other two pieces on the program were Peter Martins' "Jeu de Cartes" (music by Stravinsky), which I enjoyed more than most of Martins' choreography, and "Robert Schumann's 'Davidsbündlertânze'," a beautiful piece of Balanchine choreography in which Kyra Nichols, a beautiful ballerina retiring after the current season, was performing with her customary mastery.



Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day 2007

Frank Nelson celebrating his birthday



Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Saturday in Brooklyn

I've owned a book about the roses at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for some years, but had never seen them in person until today when I visited the garden with a friend from Iowa.

Because we managed to play our cards right, including negotiating the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn despite disruption due to repairs on one of the lines, we arrived in the 10 a.m. to noon window during which admission is free on Saturday.

We started at the Visitor Center, where a greeter for the New York City Community Gardens Coalition invited us to look in on their 2007 open forum and panel discussion, in progress in the auditorium. Though I was quite taken with her enthusiasm and friendliness, I demurred because my friend and I really wanted to spend our time wandering around the grounds.

To be honest, we also wanted to see what the shop had to offer, so we stopped in there next. The merchandise — all with a botanic connection, of course — was appealing and generally affordable. Being particularly fond of stationery, I bought a bound collection of botanical postcards and a set of notecards with elegant black and white photos of flowers.

From the shop we backtracked a bit to the Japanese garden, which is a wonderful, peaceful spot with plantings arranged on flat and hilly terrain around a large pond. Just about all the plants are labeled, which I particularly appreciate because I'm forever trying to improve my ability to recognize different plants and trees (with slow progress).

After pausing on a bench to phone the Public Theater to reserve tickets for the evening performance of "Passing Strange," my friend and I went on to the Cranford Rose Garden, which the Botanic Garden highlights during June, the peak month for bloom.

The sight that greeted us really was spectacular. The blossoms on some of the bushes had gone by, and others were a bit the worse the wear due to plentiful rain earlier in the month, but the vista was still quite wonderful.

After a stop in the Bonsai Museum and lunch at the cafe, my friend and I went next door to the Brooklyn Museum, another Brooklyn cultural institution that is not to be missed. Following suggestions picked up at the information desk in the lobby, we visited the galleries showing work of Devorah Sperber and Asher B. Durand and then did an initial reconnoitering of the Egyptian collection, a highlight that I will certainly give more time to on a subsequent visit.

As for "Passing Strange," held over at the Public because it has been so well received, this was a welcome opportunity to see Stew in person. He's a performer I've admired since I got a couple of his CDs several years ago. The performance was excellent.



Friday, June 15, 2007

21st Century Journalism XX: Innovations in Newspapers

Rebecca MacKinnon, Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Centre, provides a good summary of the 2007 Innovation News Readership Survey (pdf), conducted by Harris Interactive and published by Innovation, a media consulting group.

Both readers and non-readers in seven countries — the US, UK, France, Germany, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Australia — were asked about their perceptions of the media, with particular attention to newspapers.

All of the survey findings are of interest. I personally was taken with the support the public gives to maintaining coverage of international affairs, as opposed to being tightly focused on local news.



Thursday, June 14, 2007

National Budget Simulation

If you'd like to get a feel for the effects of various trade-offs in spending on the size of the US federal budget and budget deficit, you can experiment via the National Budget Simulation.

Anders Schneiderman and Nathan Newman introduced the simulation in 1995 when they were co-directors of UC-Berkeley's Center for Community Economic Research. Their aim was "to challenge the simple assumptions many people had about the national budget."

The 2006 version is sponsored by Agenda for Justice. Actually, there are two versions, a short version, in which spending categories are relatively broad, and a long version, which includes a finer breakdown of spending.

The simulation's designers
suggest that you do the simulations first without knowing [the various programs'] budgets. You may be surprised that cutting certain programs yield little revenue. This makes the simulation a bit more challenging since it tests whether your perception of where money goes in the budget matches the reality.
After you finish making whatever changes you like, the results of your handiwork are reported back to you, along with a graph showing the distribution of spending and tax expenditures in the main categories.1

1 "What distinguishes a 'tax expenditure' from a general tax deduction is defined by the Joint Tax Commitee on Taxation as follows: 'Special tax provisions are referred to as tax expenditures because they are considered to be analogous to direct outlay programs...Tax expenditures are most similar to those direct spending programs which have no spending limits, and which [are] available as entitlements.' The tax expenditures in this simulation follow the official tax expenditure lists established by the Office of Management and Budget."


Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Business Acumen XVII: Value Pricing

There was an excellent article in the June 11 edition of Advertising Age discussing the increasing attention in the marketing communications world to the proposition that agency compensation should switch from cost-based to value-based.

Tim Williams and Ronald Baker of the marketing consultancy Ignition, outline the results of a survey, conducted on behalf of the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies, seeking to pin down how agencies and clients (aka marketers) define value.

Clients, offered 24 possible areas in which agencies could create value, picked the following as their top five:
  1. Working in a collaborative way with the client by creating an environment of mutual respect.

  2. Ensuring that agency functions are integrated and agency divisions collaborate on behalf of the client.

  3. Developing and producing creative ideas that are fresh and unexpected.

  4. Developing ideas and programs that can be integrated into multiple communications channels.

  5. Developing solutions that go beyond traditional approaches and reach consumers in new ways.
Out of 16 possibilities, the top five ways in which agencies believe marketers create value were:
  1. Giving the agency the necessary time and resources to do its best work.

  2. Working with the agency in a collaborative manner that puts a premium on mutual respect.

  3. Identifying and articulating the outcomes the agency's work is expected to produce.

  4. Providing clear, complete direction to the agency.

  5. Providing constructive, timely feedback to the agency.
Having identified the most important (perceived) value drivers on both sides of the marketing communications equation, Williams and Baker address how to get from the cost-based present to a value-based future. Drawing on their work with clients and agencies, they have concluded that
an effective approach to value-based compensation must include characteristics such as shared risk and shared reward; evaluation of both parties (not just the agency); and, perhaps most important, the use of leading (not lagging) indicators as metrics of success.
Leading indicators are what the client's customers care about. Williams and Baker cite the airline industry as an example. For airlines, leading indicators are measures of on-time arrival, lost luggage, and customer complaints because these are the things passengers are most concerned with when they judge their experience with particular carriers.

Correctly chosen leading indicators predict lagging indicators, such as market share, sales volume, stock price appreciation, and market penetration.

Moving one step farther back along the causal chain, agencies and clients influence leading indicators through their behaviors, skills and activities. Agency influencers include project management, collaboration, and unconventional thinking. Client influencers include clear and consistent communication, direction, and approval processes.

To arrive at fair value-based compensation for the agency, both the agency and the client grade, for a specified period of time, the influencers they have agreed are most important for achieving agreed objectives. In sum:
Once the indicators and influencers have been identified, the expected outcomes are benchmarked and the financial impact of achieving the objectives is quantified. This quantification answers the question, "If we accomplished these goals, what would be the value to the client?" The answer to that question will form the basis for a value-based price and a value-based compensation agreement.
Williams and Baker recognize that there is no single right answer to the question, "What price should the agency get for the value it creates?" What their model does is provide a framework for good faith negotiation.


Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Multitasking Ability

Prompted by an article in the June issue of the Proceedings of the US Naval Institute,1 I looked into research that has been carried out over the last decade aiming to identify individuals with above-average ability to make good decisions in high-stress, information-rich environments.

The first publication in this line of research was a 1998 article by Susan Joslyn and Earl Hunt of the University of Washington.2 With funding from the Office of Naval Research, Joslyn and Hunt devised a test — the Abstract Decision Making task — to measure rapid decision-making skills under heavy information load. The test is described here.

Among those building on the Joslyn/Hunt research are Susan Fischer and Patricia Mautone, who conducted a study for the US Army. Fischer and Mautone's report, "Multi-tasking Assessment for Personnel Selection and Development,"3 describes the test they conceived for assessing both the nature of a multitasking (MT) environment and individuals faced with a need to multitask:
The MTAS [Multi-Tasking Assessment System] consists of two main components: the Environment Assessment Tool (ENVAT), which assesses the MT requirements of work environments, and a test component that includes three basic versions of a Multi-Tasking Ability Test (MTAT), each of which assesses individuals' performance in a particular type of MT environment. The testing component also includes three sub-versions of each MTAT test, which are adaptively administered and are designed to tap performance differences associated with environmental variation at three levels of intensity. (emphasis added)
The three types of MT environment Fischer and Mautone identified require:
  1. high levels of decision-making capability due to ambiguous prioritization, a need to make resource allocation decisions, multiple options, unpredictability, and a need for rapid assessment.

  2. managing a flow of tasks in which workers encounter well-defined problems that require them to make and check routine decisions.

  3. monitoring multiple sources of information, meaning competing demands on attention and a need to integrate information.
Fischer and Mautone note, "The three types of environments appeared to place differing emphasis on the ability to prioritize, make decisions, and manage time, among other key job demands."

Variables which determine the intensity of an MT environment include:
  • rapd vs. relaxed pacing

  • consistent vs. erratic switching

  • task duration

  • frequency of interruption
Having conceived their Multi-Tasking Assessment System, Fischer and Mautone hoped to be funded to develop and validate it, a phase of their research for which I have yet to locate a report.

1 Michael J. Dobbs, "How the Twig is Bent: Developing Young Bubbleheads for the Challenges of Command," Proceedings, US Naval Institute, Vol. 133, June 2007, pp. 28-33.

2 Susan L. Joslyn and Earl Hunt, "Evaluating Individual Differences in Response to Emergency Situations," Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Vol. 4, March 1998, pp. 16-43.

3 Susan C. Fischer and Patricia D. Mautone, "Multi-tasking Assessment for Personnel Selection and Development," United States Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, August 2005. Available online here (pdf).


Labels: , ,

Monday, June 11, 2007

Retaining and Developing Women at Best Buy

Having earlier written a post about Best Buy's "results-only work environment" (ROWE), I couldn't help but notice when Best Buy was one of three companies cited in a Business Week article on ways of building women's networks that actually have an impact on attracting and retaining female employees and customers.

I wasn't surprised that the Best Buy network has its own catchy acronym: WOLF, standing for Women's Leadership Forum. Best Buy gets mileage from the acronym by organizing a good deal of the work of the network into projects carried out by regional "WOLF packs." There are also innovation teams based at headquarters in Minneapolis.

As explained by reporters Diane Brady and Jena McGregor, the WOLF packs and innovation teams provide opportunities "for employees, from top executives to cashiers, to get more deeply involved in core business issues." Brady and McGregor spoke with Julie Gilbert, the Best Buy VP who conceived WOLF and now heads it, who told them, "The frame is on leadership, but you don't go to a course to build a leader. You learn by doing actual business issues, by solving business problems."

Brady and McGregor describe some examples of innovation team projects (e.g., revamping the online gift registry) and report encouraging results:
  • Recruitement of female sales managers is up 100% over the past year.

  • The share of female customers shopping at Best Buy is up since the network started about three years ago.

  • Turnover among women managers is down — by 10 percentage points in at least one region.
General Electric and Deloitte are the other two companies whose women's networks Brady and McGregor offer as instructive examples of approaches that pay off.


Labels: , , ,

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Parren J. Mitchell, 1922-2007


It's always encouraging to read about how someone who has passed away — retired Congressman Parren Mitchell of Baltimore died on May 28 — inspired a younger person. In a touching remembrance published on June 10, James P. Moore Jr., assistant secretary of commerce in the Reagan administration and now an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, had this to say:

Fresh out of graduate school, weeks after President Jimmy Carter had taken office in 1977, I was hired as a legislative assistant for one of the most conservative members of Congress on Capitol Hill.

Not long after I began to work for him, I learned that directly across the hall was the office of one of the most liberal members of the House, Rep. Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.). One of my co-workers cautioned me to be careful if I ever got near him. He is one of "God's angry men," I was told.

Feeling a bit brave one day, I decided to introduce myself to the Baltimore congressman as both of us were walking toward the Capitol. Despite my telling him whom I worked for, he let me know how glad he was to meet me and hoped we would be friends. I was dumbfounded.

A few months later we were walking together again when we passed a member who was not considered one of the more adept representatives.

"Congressman," I said, "sometimes when I stroll these corridors, I can't help asking, 'How did some of these people get here?' and then I wonder, 'How do they stay here?' " He put his hand on my shoulder and with a knowing, impish smile said, "I ask myself those questions every day."

Despite our clear political differences, he could not have been any kinder to a mere House staffer. On one occasion he ushered me into his office, telling me that he wanted me to meet someone. Soon I was standing in front of Alex Haley, the author of "Roots," who proceeded to sign a photograph for me with the inscription "to Parren's friend." I would later learn that Rep. Mitchell became so angry about the wrenching portrayal of slaves in the historic television miniseries based on "Roots" that he could not bear to watch the end of it.

While history will remember Parren Mitchell for his "firsts" as an African American and for his struggles and impassioned eloquence in the fight for civil rights, I will never forget the class, decency and extraordinary demeanor of the man who stood behind that public figure. We did not always agree on style or substance, but I felt as though I could talk rationally with him on almost any subject despite those differences. It is a quality sorely missing in so many public servants today.

A lifelong bachelor who poured himself into his work, he also could be deeply introspective. One December, I asked him what his plans were for Christmas. He told me that he intended to spend a week at an Episcopal monastery to gain a greater appreciation of the message of Christmas. I have never forgotten that moment and how I came to appreciate all the more my own holiday that year.

Parren Mitchell was one of a kind, a man whose sense of duty was wrapped in the ideal of lifting the moral and ethical bar for his country and for the people he served. His example set the kind of benchmark needed for elected representatives today as we seek common ground amid our great divides. That is quite a legacy for the son of a hotel waiter and a mother raising 10 children.

For a recap of Parren Mitchell's career, you can read the Washington Post obituary here.



Saturday, June 09, 2007

Productivity at the Federal Level

Yesterday brought news from GovernmentExecutive.com that Accenture has prepared a report on how federal agencies must adjust their personnel practices "as they tackle staff shortages, seek to increase job satisfaction and forge stronger links between policy and practice..."

The report, written by Greg Parston, director of the Accenture Institute for Public Service Value, recommends a standard change process for undertaking workforce transformation — build a vision for change, design the new workforce, plan the transformation, implement the transformation, track progress and opportunities for improvement.

A more government-specific and interesting recommendation is for federal managers to avoid fooling themselves that, in response to time and budget constraints, they can skip steps in the change process without seriously compromising the outcome of their transformation efforts.

Also interesting is Parson's stance on pay for performance, currently a touchstone of civil service reform at the federal level:
What we've become skewed by is what we see as the benefit — what we get for good performance, and we haven't taken a look at what happens when there's no performance. And it doesn't mean just no pay raise.
In other words, in line with fair-minded HR professionals in the private sector, Parsons argues for making it clear to poor performers that either they must improve their job performance (with appropriate development support), or they can expect to be fired.


Labels: , ,

Friday, June 08, 2007

Teacher Chuck Gloman

Chuck Gloman's feature article in the July issue of Digital Video isn't currently available online, which is a shame because it is such a good example of how a thoughtful teacher helps students develop expertise.

Gloman is a producer and videographer who spends some of his time teaching at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. In his article, "Shooting Tips for the Ultimate Documentary: How to Capture the World Around You — and Share those Skills with Your Crew," Gloman describes his experience working with two groups of students who were shooting documentaries, one in South Africa and the other in India.

Gloman explains that every student in the TV/Film program at DeSales takes a basic still photography course in their very first semester. The course covers the fundamentals of framing, composition and exposure. Only after learning these essentials do the students go on to motion photography, learning editing in the camera, focusing techniques, and framing of moving objects.

Prior to traveling to South Africa and India, the students practiced with the particular camera, lighting, and audio equipment they would be using. They also learned specifics of how to operate as a team.

Gloman concludes his article with comments about his teaching approach. He says, "I look at each student in our department as a professional and treat him or her as such. They teach me techniques constantly, because they are coming from a fresh perspective." As for critiquing student work, he explains,
Instead of telling students what's wrong with their production or what they should have done, I ask how else they might have approached the same subject differently. I point out the good elements in their work, but also ask how they could make it even better. As the teacher, I let them tell me how they would enhance their documentary. This gets their creativity flowing.

I always try to share mistakes I've made with students, but they may encounter other pitfalls on their own, which we all can learn from.
Throughout the entire filmmaking process, I let the students do all the work. I offer guidance and answer any questions, but knowing that the students created a great film totally on their own brings the greatest gratification — for myself and the students both.
Gloman's attitude and approach come across as the epitome of empathetic experiential learning, a style that fits just about any skill-based subject matter.


Labels: ,

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Managing Strategic Risks

The Spring issue of Rotman Magazine, published by the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, is devoted to the subject of risk. The whole issue is worth perusing, and it's easy to do so since the magazine is posted online as a pdf file.

Among the articles I found myself reading with particular interest is the one on strategic risk by Adrian Slywotzky and John Drzik.1 Slywotzky and Drzik identify seven types of strategic risk, each of which should be countered by appropriate management action:
  • Industry margin squeeze — counter by shifting your company's complete/collaborate ratio.

  • Technology shift — counter by "double betting" — investing in two or more versions of a technology simultaneously.

  • Brand erosion — counter by redefining the scope of brand investment and/or reallocating brand investment.

  • One-of-a-kind competitor — counter by creating a new, non-overlapping business design.

  • Shift in customer priorities — counter by creating and analyzing proprietery information and by conducting quick and cheap market experiments.

  • Failure of a new project — counter by smart sequencing of projects, developing excess options, and employing the "stepping-stone" method whereby you create a series of projects that lead from uncertainty to success.

  • Market stagnation — counter by generating demand innovation, "which involves redefining your market by looking at it through the lens of the customers' economics, and expanding the value you offer your customers beyond product functionality — that is, helping your customers reduce their costs and improve their profitability.
Slywotzky and Drzik close with the thought that management of strategic risk enables a company, up to a point, to reduce risk while actually increasing reward. This is due to the systematic thinking that goes into strategic risk management, thinking that can uncover ways of improving a company's future prospects.

1 Adrian Slywotzky is managing director of Mercer Management Consulting. John Drzik is president of Mercer Oliver Wyman, a financial services consulting firm. Note that this Rotman Magazine article is excerpted from a longer article published in the April 2005 issue of the Harvard Business Review.


Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

You're Fired

The drain on morale created by an employee who performs poorly is a problem managers all too often accept because they're afraid to confront the guilty party. In a recent article in Government Executive, Brian Friel (not the playwright) recounts an example of senior managers who took straightforward disciplinary action that, far from plunging them into a bureaucratic battle, actually succeeded in correcting unacceptable behavior.

The problem in question was an employee who started bullying — staring menacingly at — two co-workers he was angry with because they had complained about him. His boss's bosses told the man that he was going to be fired. His reaction was an abject plea to be kept on, with a promise to cut out his abusive behavior. In light of his assurance that he would reform, the managers agreed to give him another chance (but did move him to a different office).

Friel extracts this example from Managing Government Employees: How to Motivate Your People,Deal with Difficult Issues and Achieve Tangible Results, by Stewart Liff. Based on over 30 years of experience in the federal government, Liff argues that managers in the bureaucracy should not succumb to the view that trying to actively control their work units is an exercise in futility.

Instead of being afraid to act, Liff argues that a government manager should adopt a clear philosophy concerning how the work unit is to function, and then apply that philosophy in his/her day-to-day decisions and guidance of employees' work.



Tuesday, June 05, 2007

David Packard's Eleven Simple Rules

In trolling to learn more about "The HP Way," I came upon these rules for getting along with others that David Packard first presented at HP's second annual management conference, held in Sonoma CA in 1958.
  1. Think first of the other fellow.

  2. Build up the other person's sense of importance.

  3. Respect the other man's personality rights.

  4. Give sincere appreciation.

  5. Eliminate the negative.1

  6. Avoid openly trying to reform people.2

  7. Try to understand the other person.

  8. Check first impressions. [my personal favorite]

  9. Take care with the little details.3

  10. Develop genuine interest in people.

  11. Keep it up.
The last item is Packard's way of saying you can't just try to follow the rules off and on. Consistency is all.

1 "Criticism seldom does what its user intends, for it invariably causes resentment. The tiniest bit of disapproval can sometimes cause a resentment which will rankle — to your disadvantage — for years."

2 "Every man knows he is imperfect, but he doesn't want someone else trying to correct his faults. If you want to improve a person, help him to embrace a higher working goal — a standard, an ideal — and he will do his own "making over" far more effectively than you can do it for him." (I need to check into Packard's views on coaching.)

3 "Watch your smile, your tone of voice, how you use your eyes, the way you greet people, the use of nicknames and remembering faces, names and dates. Little things add polish to your skill in dealing with people. Constantly, deliberately think of them until they become a natural part of your personality."


Labels: ,

Monday, June 04, 2007

Talent Management at Steelcase

As a follow-on to yesterday's post dealing with talent management, I'd suggest having a look at the highly organized way in which Steelcase is handling this part of their business.

The best practices Steelcase recommends:
  • Process comes first — Before you adopt any sort of computerized tool, such as a learning management system, to capture and store data relating to your employees' skills and development, be sure that your processes for talent management have been comprehensively updated.

  • No turf wars — Make the employees whose talents are being fostered the focus of attention. Reach agreement on common terminology.

  • Clear roles — For instance, at Steelcase the corporate university and the HR department had to agree on who would do what, and then adopt collaborative practices that fit with the partnership they had set up.

  • Manageable dimensions — For instance, Steelcase did not attempt to define a set of competencies for every single one of the job positions their employees fill. Instead they sorted the myriad positions into six job families and then defined competencies for each family.

  • Communicate benefits — Show how participating actively in the talent management processes benefits the individual. For instance, Steelcase "let everyone know that this system would be used in all decisions surrounding internal selection, promotion, and succession planning, as well as for selection of candidates to participate in global cross-functinal project teams."
As for results, George Wolfe, VP of global learning and development at Steelcase University, reports that since Steelcase set up its talent management system, "Our ability to identify talent and determine what our talent around the globe is capable of doing has increased dramatically." He goes on to note, "The fact that we all have the same direct access to the same direct database allows the company to leverage the best talent, no matter where the talent is located. As a result, we are filling more positions in general — and more key positions (e.g., those at the highest leadership level) — within the company from different parts of the globe than ever."


Labels: , ,

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Filling the Talent Pipeline

Despite their dispiriting business-speak writing style, Douglas A. Ready and Jay A. Conger, currently visiting professors of organizational behavior at London Business School, offer a good analysis of how to manage your company's talent pipeline in "Make Your Company a Talent Factory," published in the June 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Ready and Conger argue that there are two essential aspects to the job of talent management:
  • Functionality — i.e., talent processes that support achievement of the organization's strategic and cultural objectives.

    The processes in question cover sourcing of talent, assimilation into the organization, development, deployment, performance management, rewards, engagement in the organization's work, and retention.

  • Vitality — i.e., commitment by all constituencies to the job of acquiring, developing, and retaining talent.

    The four constituencies are top management, line management, human resources personnel, and the talent pool itself, i.e., the group of employees who have been assessed as having high potential for progressive advancement.

    Each constituency needs to be assessed separately in terms of commitment, hands-on engagement in the work of talent management, and accountability for results.
By assessing your own organization's handling of the eight functionality tasks and its level of vitality among the four talent consituencies (Ready and Conger provide a straightforward assessment tool), you can determine where there are weaknesses in need of concerted attention.

To help you see how the talent management model works in practice, Ready and Conger describe the experience of two exemplary companies — Procter & Gamble and the HSBC Group.


Labels: , ,

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Where Exactly is the Room for Improvement?

An article by Margeaux Cvar and John A. Quelch in the June 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review is something of a teaser. It describes an intriguing approach to identifying ways of increasing a company's profitability, but it is too short — less than a page — to provide a sense of the robustness of the methodology described.

Still, the technique outlined in "Which Levers Boost ROI?" invites consideration by companies that believe in using a systematic approach to maximizing their return on invested capital.

The technique Cvar and Quelch present is essentially an exercise in benchmarking. There are six steps:
  1. Identify companies in other industries that have similar structural characteristics — fixed capital, market concentration, industry growth, etc. Cvar and Quelch explain that "looking to companies that are facing the same environmental conditions is essential to generating new insights and avoiding the mere replication of competitors' tactics."

  2. Rank these "parallel companies" according to ROI.

  3. Compare the characteristics of the highest-performing companies — those whose ROI is at least two standard deviations above the mean — with the characteristics of the lowest-performing companies — those whose ROI is at least two standard deviations below the mean.

  4. Look at the variables your company can control reasonably directly, e.g., "the number of customers and suppliers, vertical inegration, product-line innovation and breadth, relative product quality, working capital, and employee compensation levels."

  5. Use regression analysis to measure how important each controllable variable is in explaining differences in ROI across companies.

  6. Based on the preceding analysis, identify the variables your company should adjust in order to have a good shot at raising its ROI.
Cvar and Quelch describe how they used this technique to help a golf ball manufacturer raise its ROI from 33% to 57%. Specifically, the company reduced its vertical integration, expanded its private-label production, trimmed R&D spending, and broadened its product line.


Labels: , , ,

Friday, June 01, 2007

Widgets Trove

A company based in Silver Spring MD called Freewebs is offering a collection of free widgets that are worth checking out if you're looking to add widget functionality to your website. (Note, however, that it's still important to consider loading time when incorporating widgets.)

The types of widgets you can browse through include:
  • Video

  • Polls

  • Games

  • Ratings and comments

  • Guestbook for messages from visitors

  • Forms for collecting information from visitors

  • Counter for displaying data on site traffic

  • Shout box (a type of live chat)
Be forewarned that many of Freewebs' widgets are branded, i.e., they serve a dual purpose of delivering functionality and helping a sponsoring company promote itself and its products.