!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: May 2009

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Inventory of Proposed Causes of the Financial Crisis

Reports produced by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) at the Library of Congress are not routinely made available to the public. I agree with OpenCRS that this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. Until such time as the policy changes, anyone wanting to have a look at material from CRS is dependent on a site such as OpenCRS, or on making a special request for a particular report to a member of Congress.

A timely example of a CRS report that has made it into the public domain is "Causes of the Financial Crisis" (January 29, 2009) by Mark Jickling, a Specialist in Financial Economics at CRS.

Jickling explains the purpose and structure of his report in the summary with which it begins:
While some may insist that there is a single cause, and thus a simple remedy, the sheer number of causal factors that have been identified tends to suggest that the current financial situation is not yet fully understood in its full complexity. This report consists of a table that summarizes very briefly some of the arguments for particular causes, presents equally brief rejoinders, and includes a reference or two for further reading. It will be updated as required by market developments.
Jickling's table enumerates twenty-six causal factors that have been proposed by various analysts and commentators:
  • Imprudent mortgage lending

  • Housing bubble

  • Global financial imbalances (e.g., China's accumulation of vast amounts of US Treasury debt instruments)

  • Securitization

  • Lack of transparency and accountability in mortgage finance

  • Rating agencies

  • Mark-to-market accounting

  • Deregulatory legislation

  • Shadow banking system (e.g., hedge funds)

  • Non-bank runs (e.g., at Bear Stearns)

  • Off-balance sheet finance

  • Government-mandated subprime lending (e.g., by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac)

  • Failure of risk management systems (e.g., as discussed here)

  • Financial innovation (e.g., development and marketing of new types of derivatives)

  • Complexity of certain financial instruments (which made their riskiness extremely hard, if not impossible, to assess)

  • Human frailty (e.g., proneness to making irrational decisions concerning investments)

  • Bad computer models

  • Excessive leverage

  • Relaxed regulation of leverage

  • Credit default swaps (CDS)

  • Over-the-counter derivatives (about which information concerning risk exposures is limited)

  • Fragmented regulation

  • No systemic risk regulator

  • Short-term incentives

  • Tail risk (i.e., risk associated with extremely rare, but not impossible, events)

  • Black Swan theory (i.e., the notion that the financial crisis is due to such an extremely rare confluence of factors that trying to guard against future repetition would require unduly onerous new regulations that would very seriously inhibit growth)
Note: For more information about OpenCRS, you can browse their FAQ.


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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fair Use

The Center for Social Media, based in the School of Communications of American University in Washington DC, provides a wealth of information on fair use of copyrighted materials.

An early success in clarifying the concept of fair use was the Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use, released in November 2005. The document was developed by the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, the Independent Feature Project, the International Documentary Association, the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, and the Washington chapter of Women in Film and Video, in consultation with the Center for Social Media.

As reported in an FAQ relating to the Documentary Filmmakers' Statement, it
has provoked dramatic change in the industry ... PBS and ITVS [Independent Television Service] have used the Statement to release programs, and so have cable casters including IFC [Independent Film Channel]. All four of the national errors and omissions insurers now issue fair use coverage if a lawyer says that the use is within the terms of the Statement. [link added] (For more on the success of the Statement, see here.)
The Statement "is organized around four classes of situations that [documentary filmmakers] confront regularly in practice":
  • Employing copyrighted material as the object of social, political, or cultural critique

  • Quoting copyrighted works of popular culture to illustrate an argument or point

  • Capturing copyrighted media content in the process of filming something else

  • Using copyrighted material in a historical sequence
Each of these situations is described, and then the relevant fair use principle is explained, along with limitations on application of the principle.

Similar fair use issues arise in the creation and posting of online videos. Accordingly, the Center for Social Media released a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video in June 2008 that builds on the work done in developing the Documentary Filmmakers' Statement. The situations covered in the Online Video Code are:
  • Commenting on or critiquing of copyrighted material

  • Using copyrighted material for illustration or example

  • Capturing copyrighted material incidentally or accidentally

  • Reproducing, reposting, or quoting in order to memorialize, preserve, or rescue an experience, an event, or a cultural phenomenon

  • Copying, reposting, and recirculating a work or part of a work for purposes of launching a discussion

  • Quoting in order to recombine elements to make a new work that depends for its meaning on (often unlikely) relationships between the elements
One last item I'd highlight among the resources provided by the Center for Social Media is the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education. The situations covered in this Code are:
  • Employing copyrighted material in media literacy lessons

  • Employing copyrighted material in preparing curriculum materials

  • Sharing media literacy curriculum materials

  • Student use of copyrighted materials in their own academic and creative work

  • Developing audiences for student work
An FAQ relating to the Code for Media Literacy Education is here.


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Friday, May 29, 2009

Effect of Islamic Banks on Economic Stability

As a follow-on to previous posts discussing Islamic banking, I'd mention a working paper by Ewa Karwowski (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) recently published by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College.

In her paper, Karwowski examines the issue of whether the presence of Islamic banking in Malaysia contributes to macroeconomic stability in the country.

Karwowski's paper is quite technical, but it is possible to report her main conclusion in layman's language:
Contrary to the claims of Islamic scholars, Islamic banks channeling funds from companies to households play a destabilizing role in the economy as a whole. Credit granted to the household sector is used for housing purchases and therefore inflates this asset market, increasing the system's economic fragility and encouraging speculation.
In other words, a pattern of overinvestment in housing (and consumer durables such as cars) tends to create bubbles that eventually collapse, leading to reduced and even negative economic growth — just as in an economy like that of the US, in which the presence of Islamic banking is negligible.

Karwowski argues that the similarity she found between sources and uses of funds at Islamic banks and those at conventional banks, are due to the fact that the two types of banks operate in a single economic environment dominated by the conventional banks. This constrains the ability of Islamic banks to adopt idiosyncratic practices while still attracting customers.


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Thursday, May 28, 2009


The wikiHow site is a trove of how-to articles on a wide range of subjects:
  • Arts & Entertainment

  • Cars & Other Vehicles

  • Computers & Electronics

  • Education & Communications

  • Family Life

  • Finance & Business

  • Food & Entertaining

  • Health

  • Hobbies & Crafts

  • Holidays & Traditions

  • Home & Garden

  • Personal Care & Style

  • Pets & Animals

  • Philosophy & Religion

  • Relationships

  • Sports & Fitness

  • Travel

  • Work World

  • wikiHow (e.g., how to contribute)

  • Youth

  • Other
I find wikiHow useful for browsing for ideas on how to handle various situations, such as preparing for a behavioral interview (one of the items cited below), and for advice that reflects "on the ground" experience.

The articles vary in quality, as you would expect, but they are also easy to scan, so you can quickly decide what you want to pay attention to, and what you want to ignore.

I've listed below some examples of articles I found useful, taken from the Education & Communication, Finance & Business, and Work World categories.

How to Help Your Boss Succeed

How to Facilitate Clarity in Outsourcing Companies: How English Can Be a Facilitator and Not a Barrier

How to Optimize Call Center Performance

How to Give a Performance Review of an Employee

How to Respond to a Job Performance Review

How to Prepare for a Behavioral Interview

How to Write a Status Report

How to Work Smart, Not Hard


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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

An Online Course on the Great Depression

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has published a six-lesson curriculum (pdf) on the Great Depression that is geared to high school students, but is suitable for anyone interested in brushing up on the era.

The curriculum begins with an overview essay, which is followed by six lessons (which are designed to stand alone, so a teacher delivering the curriculum can freely choose which lessons to cover):
  1. Measuring the Great Depression — "This lesson introduces tools — such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the unemployment rate and the Consumer Price Index (CPI) — that are used to measure the economy’s health, through an analysis of simple bar charts and graphs. Developing an understanding of these concepts is critical to understanding the magnitude of the economic problems that took place during the Great Depression."

  2. What Do People Say? — "There are many suggested causes for the Great Depression. It is important for students to understand that occurrences such as the stock market crash — and other events that affected particular sectors of the economy — were important, but not significant enough to cause the Great Depression. By reading fictitious letters that reflect actual problems and people’s concerns during the Great Depression, students begin to identify with the people of that era and to uncover the problems that people experienced during the Great Depression."

  3. What Really Caused the Great Depression? — "Through participation in two simulations, students determine that bank panics and a shrinking money supply were the primary causes of the Great Depression. Through an additional activity, they see how the many other factors they have discussed, such as problems in the agricultural sector and the stock market crash, exacerbated the situation."

  4. Dealing with the Great Depression — "Students learn about programs initiated through the New Deal. By comparing and categorizing New Deal programs, they recognize that the value of most of these programs was their effects on the confidence that U.S. citizens had in the economy. Students also identify the impact that these programs had on the role of the U.S. government in the economy."

  5. Turn Your Radio On — "Students use excerpts from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 'fireside chats' to identify his plans for restoring the economy. They determine that using available technology to communicate was important to FDR’s effort to restore consumer confidence."

  6. Could It Happen Again? — "Students learn about the roles and functions of the Federal Reserve System. Through a simulation, they learn how the Fed manages the money supply through open market operations. They identify what central bankers have learned about implementing monetary policy as a result of the Great Depression. Furthermore, they recognize the steps the central bank has taken to respond effectively to financial crises since that time."
To test your learning, you can take a 33-question test provided in the appendix. (You might want to try the test before you start working through the lessons, and then again after you've finished.)

There is also a glossary, a bibliography, a list of resources (e.g., newsreels, photos, books, websites), and an evalution form that teachers can use to provide feedback concerning their experience with the curriculum.


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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Set of Competency Definitions from Guernsey

For my book group, I've been reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a novel, set in 1946, i.e., the immediate postwar period. The book has proven disappointingly flat in its writing style, but it has also introduced me to the island of Guernsey and piqued my curiosity about what is going on there today.

An exhibit in the German Occupation Museum,
St. Peter Port, Guernsey

(La Trelade Hotel, Guernsey)

One helpful item I've come upon is the set of competency definitions published by the Guernsey Training Agency University Centre, an organization that "serves the Bailiwick of Guernsey through the procurement, facilitation and promotion of high quality training to all sectors of the community."

The definitions provide a good starting point for anyone's efforts to pull together a competency map for their own organization:

Adaptability — Ability to modify style in order to reach goals and to maintain effectiveness within changing environments and with varying responsibilities.

Business Awareness — Understands and demonstrates an awareness of the link between role and ‘market’ opportunities for own services. Shows awareness of the needs of ‘customers’ and for the provision of a cost-effective service.

Change Management — Ability to understand and apply sound principles for the management of change in one’s self, in others and in the organisation.

Commitment — Belief in the value of own contribution to the organisation, makes the extra effort for the organisation though this may be at odds with personal objectives.

Creativity — Ability to identify radical alternatives to current thinking. Ability to develop innovative solutions to problems.

Critical Thinking — Ability to reason logically, to recognise assumptions and to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of proposals.

Decision Making — Willingness to make decisions, render judgements and take action; decisive.

Delegation — Effective use of staff and other resources. Knowledge of when, how and to whom to delegate. Appropriate allocation of decision-making and other responsibilities.

Energy — Ability to create and maintain a level of effective output, capacity to work hard; drive; stamina.

Environmental Awareness — Sensitivity to changes in economic, political, social and organisational climate and to their impact on the organisation. Aware, well-informed.

Independence — Actions are based on own convictions rather than on a desire to please. Willing to question the status quo.

Influence — Ability to create a positive impression with others and to exert influence in an assertive manner.

Initiative — Actively influences events; seeks opportunities and acts on them; originates action.

Integrity — Ability to maintain social, organisational and ethical values in all work activities.

Judgement — Ability to evaluate data and options for action and to reach sound conclusions.

Leadership — Ability to develop teamwork and optimise the use of resources to achieve team or organisational objectives. Leads by persuasion and example.

Listening — Ability to pick out important information in verbal communications. Questioning and non-verbal behaviours indicate ‘active’ listening.

Numeracy — Ability to analyse, process and present numerical information, e.g. financial and statistical data.

Oral Communication — Effectiveness of expression in one to one situations or in meetings.

Organisational Awareness — Capacity to understand the impact of own decisions and activities on other parts of the organisation.

People Development — Ability to enhance the skills and knowledge of staff through development activities both on and off the job.

Performance Management — Actively helps others to improve their performance and, when appropriate, clarifies expectations of performance and provides constructive feedback and advice.

Perseverance — Ability to stay with an issue until it is resolved or the objective is no longer attainable; tenacious.

Persuasiveness — Ability to make a persuasive, clear presentation of ideas; to convince others and to gain acceptance of proposals or plans.

Planning and Control — Ability to establish a systematic course of action to achieve an objective effectively and efficiently. Appreciation of the need to monitor and control plans.

Problem Analysis — Effectiveness in identifying problems, seeking relevant data, recognising important information, and diagnosing possible causes.

Risk Management — Willingness to take calculated risks appropriately, in order to obtain organisational benefit.

Self-Development — Capacity for continuous learning; ability to assimilate and apply new information and the lessons of experience.

Self-Motivation — Importance of work activity for personal satisfaction; the need to achieve high quality performance for self-esteem.

Strategic Thinking — Ability to develop a clear vision of the future incorporating wide ranging environmental issues and long-term thinking.

Stress Tolerance — Ability to maintain stable performance under pressure or opposition, and to make controlled responses in a stressful situation; resilient.

Teamwork — Willingness to participate as a member of a team. Effective contributor even when the team is working on something of no direct personal interest.

Work Quality — Sets and expects high standards of performance. Encourages above average performance.

Written Communication — Able to express ideas and transmit information clearly in writing.



Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

Memorial Day ceremony on May 27, 2008 at the Veterans Memorial Rose Garden near Lake Haussmann and Bldg. 551 on the campus of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California
(Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)



Sunday, May 24, 2009

Jacqueline Novogratz's Ideas for Alleviating Global Poverty

You can get an overview of Jacqueline Novogratz's views concerning alleviating poverty in developing countries by reading a short article about her work that appears in the May 23 issue of The Economist.

Novogratz is the CEO of Acumen Fund, which she founded in 2001. As the website explains,
Acumen Fund is a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. We seek to prove that small amounts of philanthropic capital, combined with large doses of business acumen, can build thriving enterprises that serve vast numbers of the poor. Our investments focus on delivering affordable, critical goods and services — like health, water, housing and energy — through innovative, market-oriented approaches.
To hear directly from Novogratz, you can watch the video below, which is the talk she gave at the conclusion of the 2008 Aspen Ideas Festival.

In the video, Novogratz addresses at a general level lessons learned and to do's for those seeking to assist with alleviating global poverty. For more detail about such matters as Acumen's investment principles and performance metrics, you can browse through the Acumen website.

In sum, the Acumen approach is to
use philanthropic capital to make disciplined investments — loans or equity, not grants — that yield both financial and social returns. Any financial returns we receive are recycled into new investments.
You can read more about Jacqueline Novogratz's experiences as a social entrepreneur in her recently published book, The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World.


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Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil & The Presidency"

As a follow-on both to yesterday's post about the latest Commmunications Arts Interactive Annual, and an earlier post about the PBS program "Trail of Tears," I'd call attention to the DVD for middle school and high school teachers that PBS created to accompany its 2008 documentary, "Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil & the Presidency."

The Andrew Jackson DVD was one of the 35 winners in this year's Interactive Annual. Ranee Chung, one of the jurors and an interactive designer herself, described the DVD as
A wonderful companion piece to the PBS series. With a clean, straightforward interface, it's easy to digest and navigate the wealth of information available, and just as simple to tailor a lesson plan for students or to save content for later reading.
In other words, even if you are not teaching in a middle or high school, you can explore this DVD as a model for your own DVD-based multimedia projects.

The connection to the "Trail of Tears" program (the third part of the five-part "We Shall Remain" series) lies in Andrew Jackson's role as the implacable force behind the removal of southeastern Indian tribes to territory west of the Mississippi.


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Friday, May 22, 2009

Patrick Coyne on Web Design

The May/June 2009 issue of Communication Arts presents the results of the magazine's fifteenth Interactive Annual competition. Editor Patrick Coyne introduces the thirty-five winners with an Editor's column that is basically an anthology of comments on likes and dislikes from the competition's jurors.

Coyne's thought-provoking column doesn't seem to be available online so, with the advice that you try to get your hands on a copy of the May/June issue, I'll provide something of a teaser by citing some of my favorite passages.

"A common thought that pervaded all discussion among the judges was that we really appreciated the minimalistic approach to design, user experience and navigation this year." (A comment from Amber Bezahler, managing director of an ad agency in Vancouver.)

"I was really excited to see some of the mobile stuff, like the iPhone Apps and the smaller Web sites, because they take the other extreme [from info- and media-heavy sites]. They're very small, very efficient experiences, and some are really beautiful and meticulously done." (A comment from Michelangelo Capraro, co-founder of an interactive design firm in San Francisco.)

The dramatic increase in the use of video has been the big topic over the last several years, and this year's jury was particularly critical of its overuse.
. . .
"People still don't know how to handle [video] properly because we're experiencing these crazy-long wait times. For what? As a user, the impact that you're getting in terms of what you're investing timewise isn't quite there yet."
(A comment from Stacey Mulcahy, a Flash designer)

"A lot of companies are trying to engage audiences and they thought games would be a good way to do it. In the end I voted most of them out because they were trying too hard, and the amount of fun that you actually were able to have wasn't worth the effort." (A comment from Jason Ring, creative director of an ad agency in San Francisco)

"It goes back to that basic question we ask ourselves a lot, 'Why does this brand need a Web site and who would ever want to go there?' That's not to say that people don't want to interact with the brand or the brand doesn't have something to say to them, but it's really looking at where the right place is for that interaction to take place — with the idea of reaching people where they already are as opposed to driving them to a place where they're not." (A comment ftrom Jay Zasa, executive creative director at a New York ad agency)

You can see the winning interactive projects here.


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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tempered Trust

In the June 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Roderick M. Kramer, a professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, explains a concept that he refers to as "tempered trust." This is an attitude toward trusting people that is prudent, rather than being either unduly credulous or unduly suspicious.

Kramer argues:
We can never be certain of another's motivations, intentions, character, or future actions. ... That said, there is much that you can do to reduce the doubt — in particular, by adjusting your mind-set and behavioral habits.
Kramer offers seven rules for tempering trust:
  1. Know yourself. Ask yourself what your disposition toward trust is.

    Someone who tends to trust people too readily must work on improving his/her ability to interpret the cues people send out, bearing in mind that just about "any indicator of trustworthiness can be manipulated or faked."

    On the other hand, a person who is good at reading cues, but still hesitates to form trusting relationships, needs to develop more receptive behaviors.

  2. Start small. Take incremental steps, with further steps contingent on reciprocity. This way, you control the risk that the other party will exploit your good will. On an encouraging note, Kramer advises that "Salting your world with lots of small trusting acts sends a signal to others who are themselves interested in building good relationships ..." This leads to more positive interactions.

  3. Write an escape clause. Kramer argues, "With a clearly articulated plan for disengagement, people can trust more fully and with more commitment."

  4. Send strong signals. Kramer emphasizes the importance of sending clear and consistent signals of your interest in dealing with people who will trust you and be trustworthy themselves. He says, "Most of us tend to underinvest in communicating our trustworthiness to others ..."

    The signals need to be unambiguous so that you attract other tempered trusters, while deterring predators, who need to recognize that you are not someone to be trifled with. The idea is to develop a reputation for fair dealing with those who reciprocate, and for retaliating strongly, but proportionately, against those who violate your trust.

  5. Recognize the other person's dilemma. Kramer points out that "the people we're dealing with confront their own trust dilemmas and need reassurance about whether (or how much) they should trust us. Good relationship builders are proactive at decreasing the anxiety and allaying the concerns of others."

  6. Look at roles as well as people. Kramer explains, "A person's role or position can provide a guarantee of his expertise and motivation" even when we have not had the opportunity for personal contact with the individual. "Role-based trust is trust in the system that selects and trains the individual."

  7. Remain vigilant and always question. Kramer's admonition is to keep one's due diligence concerning others' bona fides up-to-date. Admittedly, this can feel awkward because it involves regularly checking up on people with whom you have an established relationship of trust.
For an extended treatment of Kramer's views, you can turn to the the 2004 book he co-authored with Karen Cook, Trust and Distrust in Organizations: Dilemmas and Approaches.


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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Shortage of Critical Thinking Skills Among Chinese MBA Students

Back in 2007, when Marc Andreessen was still writing his blog (it seems to have gone on permanent hiatus in August of last year), I mentioned that Andreessen recommends that "high potential people who want to excel throughout their careers and make a significant impact on their fields and the world" bypass the liberal arts in college in favor of a "substantive" concentration in a field such as engineering.

This is not a view I share, so I was naturally interested in a counter-perspective offered by Randy Pollock, a consultant based in China who taught MBA students there for two years. In a newspaper column published earlier this month, Pollock laments the shortage of critical and creative thinking skills he encountered among the students. For instance, the difference between a summary of a fact situation, and an analysis of same, was hard for his students to grasp and had to be repeatedly re-explained.

In his peroration, Pollock argues that
Ultimately for China, becoming a major world innovator — and by extension, a robust economic power — is not just about setting up partnerships with top Western universities or roping off elites and telling them to think creatively. It's about establishing an intellectually rich learning environment for young minds. It's about harnessing the same inventive energy of the street markets and small-time entrepreneurs and putting it in the schools.

The Chinese don't need expensive free-agent scientists. They need a new farm system — and about 10 million liberal arts professors.
For reference, a summary of basic critical thinking skills can be found here.


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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Spring Flower Festival: Deciduous Azaleas

My parents introduced me to deciduous azaleas when they planted a pair at our house in Bethesda, Maryland. When I bought my own house in Northampton, I already had a mature orange bush by my front door. I added a cluster of three bushes at the opposite corner of the front of the house.

"Brazil" Deciduous Azalea
(David Royster)



Monday, May 18, 2009

Spring Flower Festival: Johnny Jump-Ups

Somehow these flowers "jumped" from my window boxes to my lawn some years ago, and they've been reappearing every Spring ever since. I love them.

Johnny Jump-Ups
(Cass County (North Dakota) Extension)



Sunday, May 17, 2009

Spring Flower Festival: Primroses

My favorite herald of Spring . . .

A primrose from Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge
(U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)



Saturday, May 16, 2009

Spring Flower Festival: Tournament of Roses

One of the 20+ roses on the southwest side of my house . . .

"Tournament of Roses" rose
(The Hörnersburg)



Friday, May 15, 2009

Spring Flower Festival: Lilac

My tiny backyard's rear boundary is a hedge of common lilacs. When they're in bloom in the Spring, the scent is wonderful.

Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
A hand-colored engraving by Johan Carl Krauss (1802)

(Wikimedia Commong)



Thursday, May 14, 2009

Spring Flower Festival: Greenland Tulip

I have a special affection for flowers that have a tinge of green in the blossom . . .

Greenland Tulip
(Holland Bulb Farms)

(BTW, I'm due to visit Greenland in July.)



Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Spring Flower Festival: Alexander von Humboldt

Coming out in June . . .

Alexander Von Humboldt:
The Botanicals of America
by H. Walter Lack



Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Spring Flower Festival: Lilium Japonica

One of my Latvian friend's favorites . . .

Lilium japonica
Japanese name: Sasayuri

(Poster Explorer)



Monday, May 11, 2009

Managing for Results: Self-Assessment Tool

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat has developed a tool that organizations can use to assess their degree of maturity in practicing results-based management. The graphic below summarizes the model on which the tool is based.

The Managing for Results (MFR) model, with its five supporting elements

(Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat)

In addition to the "pivotal characteristic" of Using Results to Manage, the MFR model includes five supporting elements (whose definitions have been edited in the list below):
  • Commitment to results — Focus on organizational leadership and its support for MFR, on the implementing capacity of the organization, on reinforcement of the values of MFR, and on the inclusion of MFR in evaluating managers' performance.

    Questions to ask:

    To what extent is your organization using results information to manage and adjust ongoing operations, strategic plans, policies and resources?

    To what extent is there tangible support from management for building and strengthening MFR practices?

    To what extent is MFR-related training available to managers and staff throughout the organization?

    To what extent do the appraisal systems in your organization relate individual accomplishments to outcomes?

    To what extent do your organization's values and ethics reflect a focus on outcomes?

  • Results-based strategic planning — Results should be linked to high-level organizational objectives and should guide design of operational processes. Managing for results should also be linked to risk management.

    Questions to ask:

    To what extent is there a linkage between immediate and intermediate outcomes and the organization's strategic outcomes?

    To what extent are horizontal initiatives reflected in your organization's strategic plans?

    To what extent is risk management systematically practised in your organization and linked to outcomes?

  • Operational/business planning — Focus on performance expectations and how these align with the organization's outcomes. The expectations should include outputs and outcomes, wherever possible.

    Question to ask:

    To what extent does your business plan specify organization-wide performance expectations that are clear, concrete and time-bound?

  • Measuring results — Data collection should include outcomes, not just inputs, activities and outputs. Measurement should be linked to planning and reporting, and cost should be integrated with results measurement. Note that the evaluation role is also a key part of the development of a measurement strategy.

    Questions to ask:

    To what extent do you measure outcomes?

    How easy is it to relate these measurements to financial measures? How often is this linking done?

    To what extent is evaluation integrated into the management of programs and policies?

  • Reporting on results — Focus on the integration of external reporting with actual practices and results within the organization.

    Questions to ask:

    To what extent are the results data used for internal managing and for external reporting?

    How consistent is the information used for managing with the information reported externally?
The assessment tool is essentially a rubric that describes five levels of maturity, which the Secretariat refers to as transition stages:
  1. Awareness

  2. Exploration

  3. Transition

  4. Full implementation

  5. Continuous learning
The self-assessment tool is available in MSWord and pdf formats.


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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day 2009




Saturday, May 09, 2009

Jake Swearingen on How to Use LinkedIn

Carrying on the theme of a recent post — preparing for job transitions — I'd mention another compilation of helpful advice, in this case recommendations for how best to use LinkedIn.

Jake Swearingen organizes his article into four steps:
  1. Create a compelling profile

  2. Build your network

  3. Get the most from your connections

  4. Manage your social network
It is apparent from the reader comments that Swearingen's article attracted that I am not alone in finding it valuable. And some commenters add links to further tips, such as here.


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Friday, May 08, 2009

Communicating with the Public - Back to Basics

On April 29 Pete Blackshaw published a column at adage.com enumerating ways in which the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is handling communications concerning the H1N1 virus with great effectiveness.

You can skip Blackshaw's opening paragraphs, which basically say that a crisis concentrates the mind, and proceed directly to the ten pointers he extracts from watching the CDC webmaster(s) in action:
  • Empower those who want to help others. "Like a growing number of newspapers and blogs, CDC does a really good job empowering site visitors to subscribe to and share its content, especially the real-time information."

  • Make search simple and accessible. I'm strongly in favor of every webmaster adopting the convention of putting the search box in the upper right corner of each page. Blackshaw's advice includes: "Repeatedly test [your search capability] with important queries and make sure it works on timely topics."

  • Syndicate the message. E.g., use RSS, widgets, Twitter links, and embeddable mobile applications that enable people on their own websites to display CDC content.

  • Communicate in multiple languages. The CDC provides information in the languages listed on this page.

  • Push mobile as a service extension, and don't make it complicated. If you'd like to get an idea of the CDC's mobile offering, without actually using a mobile device, you can have a look at this page.

  • Be simple and selective on Twitter, don't over-complicate. Blackshaw says "the CDC exercised impressive restraint in sharing only the most essential content." My own supposition is that the CDC is culturally disposed to using Twitter in a fashion that involves only tweets that are "important, timely and actionable."

  • Prime the messaging. "... by tweeting early, the CDC is helping to frame the public's perception of [the arrival of H1N1 flu] by providing rational and fact-based messaging."

  • Update the scorecard 24/7. The CDC has an H1N1 flu "scorecare" on its main H1N1 page that is updated frequently. Blackshaw points out: "It doesn't need to be sexy or flashy; it just needs to be reliable and consistent."

  • Exploit sight, sound, and motion. "The CDC is clearly making an effort to provide site visitors with multiple ways and formats to consume this serious content, from video explanations to podcasts featuring health domain experts. It looks a bit clunky at times, but the functionality is all there."

  • Ask for feedback For instance, the CDC has a "Tell us what you think about this page" button on its main H1N1 page, and there is a "How are we doing?" button on the Health-e-Card page.
One last observation I would offer is that the CDC has to make innumerable decisions concerning the reading level at which to pitch their text. The balancing act between accuracy and readability is presumably one aspect of their site on which they welcome feedback. They also try to address the problem of different levels of reading ability, and familiarity with technical terms, by presenting information separately for laypeople and clinicians.


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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Oceaneering International's MIMIC Simulator

Prompted by an article by Bob Moschetta and Randy C. Consolo in the May 2009 issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine, I've looked up some of the details of the training that Oceaneering International, a company that "provides engineered services and products primarily for the offshore oil and gas industry," offers its employees.1 I was particularly interested in Oceaneering's use of simulators to train the technicians and operators who work with its remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).

A screenshot from Oceaneering International's Modular Integrated Man-Machine Interaction & Control (MIMIC) simulator
(Oceaneering International, Inc.)

In addition to training, the simulators are used to plan equipment staging, develop procedures, validate equipment designs, and preview and assess projects. The simulators can "be configured to depict various levels of visibility, sonar noise, bottom type, surface action, and water current conditions." The scenarios used for training can also be designed at different levels of difficulty — "from novice oriented basic navigation to advanced skill oriented scenario rehearsal."

Oceaneering's training program includes a range of technical, operational, and supervisory courses in a curriculum that is aimed at steadily increasing productivity and efficiency at the company. Employees are directed to suitable courses be tracking their current skills — and skills gaps — in a talent management system acquired from LearnShare.

According to Frank Klein, Oceaneering's worldwide competency and development manager for the ROV Group, keeping individual employees' talent and learning profiles up-to-date enables the company to make informed team assignments and promotions, while also informing employees of what is expected of them, so they have "control of their destiny and a strategy for promotion."

1 Bob Moschetta is vice president of health, safety, and environment at Oceaneering International. Randy Consolo is vice president of business development at LearnShare, the company that supplied Oceaneering with its learning management and talent management systems.


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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

21st Century Journalism XXXIV: If Layoffs Loom ...

Unfortunately, nowadays there are scores of newspaper people being laid off, so guidance on how to cope with looming and actual job loss is certainly timely.

In January, the Poynter Institute posted a two-part "Journalist's Survival Guide." Part 1 had tips for "What to Do Before the Ax Falls," and Part 2 continued with "What to Do When the Ax Falls." These concise, practical recommendations were compiled by a group of 14 laid-off journalists who back in November attended the first of a planned series of "Standing Up for Journalism" seminars at Poynter.

The idea was to share with colleagues in the profession insights concerning "what we wished we'd known before we lost out jobs, how we wished we'd prepared for life outside the Mother Ship." Though the tips and advice are targeted specifically to journalists, they can serve as guidance for just about anyone wanting to be prepared for transitioning to a new job.


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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Continously Strengthening Patient Safety Procedures

Paul Levy, the President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, maintains a blog he calls "Running a Hospital." One of today's posts reproduces a write-up by two employees describing how overdosing a patient was avoided, and further, how the root cause of the near overdose was identified and corrected.

As you can see from reading the post, Beth Israel extracted two main lessons from the near-miss:
  • Even though an automated medication dispensing machine reduces the risk of mistakes in administering meds, it is still necessary for a human being at the bedside to doublecheck that the medication picked by the machine is correct.

  • When a near-miss occurs, all interested parties must be notified so that unwitting repetition of the problem is forestalled. Beth Israel has a safety reporting system into which personnel are expected to enter the details of all adverse incidents. Those monitoring the incidents can then see any trends that suggest a systematic weakness that needs to be fixed.
Since hospitals, like the military, are literally dealing with issues of life-and-death, they have strong incentives to consciously and consistently implement effective operating practices. Thus, the best hospitals serve as good models for any organization looking for specific ways to strengthen its own culture of excellence.

PS. You can watch a video to hear Levy talking at a 2007 conference in the Netherlands about how to run a hospital, how to use new media, and reasons for an executive to blog.


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Monday, May 04, 2009

Laughter is the Best Medicine XXIII: A Candid Job Applicant

The material at NotHired.com varies in how funny it is, and in where it falls along the Gentle-Harsh continuum. As a benign sample, here is a cover letter excerpt that I particularly liked:




Sunday, May 03, 2009

David Dunning on Performance Assessment

An important element of 360-degree evaluations is having a person compare his/her self-assessment to the feedback received from peers, boss, and subordinates. More often than not, there are pronounced gaps between the self-assessment and the feedback provided by others; almost invariably, the individual's view of self is rosier than how the others, as a group, view his/her performance and behavior.

David Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, has spent many years researching "accuracy and illusion in human judgment." His 2005 book, Self-Insight: Roadblocks and Detours on the Path to Knowing Thyself, provides an extensive treatment of his findings — which elucidate why the aforementioned gaps in 360-degree results occur so consistently.

To get an idea of Dunning's thinking you can look at the 2008 essay he and grad student Travis Carter published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass titled "Faulty Self-Assessment: Why Evaluating One's Own Competence is An Intrinsically Difficult Task."1 The abstract for the essay provides this summary:
People's perception of their competence often diverges from their true level of competence. We argue that people have such erroneous view of their competence because self-evaluation is an intrinsically difficult task. People live in an information environment that does not contain all the data they need for accurate self-evaluation. The information environment is insufficient in two ways. First, when making self-judgments, people lack crucial categories of information necessary to reach accurate evaluations. Second, although people receive feedback over time that could correct faulty self-assessments, this feedback is often biased, difficult to recognize, or otherwise flawed. Because of the difficulty in making inferences based on such limited and misleading data, it is unreasonable to expect that people will prove accurate in judgments of their skills.
The feedback from the other 270 degrees of a 360-degree assessment can help a person see him/herself more accurately, with the caveat that one must weigh the degree to which others' feedback may itself be biased. The key is for an employee's manager to follow good practice in tying feedback to specific, representative, and relevant data concerning the employee's performance.

As they explain in their essay, one of the reasons Carter and Dunning believe self-assessment is inherently difficult is that the feedback people receive is so often deficient, i.e., the available feedback does not provide full information that the recipient can utilize in assessing his/her performance.

Note that Carter and Dunning include in their definition of "feedback" not only commentary provided by others concerning a person's performance and behavior, but also the outcomes of decisions and judgments the person makes.

The deficiencies in feedback take four forms:
  • Probabilistic feedback — In many situations, there is no guarantee that making a sound decision will lead to a positive outcome. For example, an employee might do a good job coding a piece of software, but the software might not achieve critical mass in a crowded marketplace and never gain significant market share. To the extent that this is a matter of bad luck, you don't want the employee searching for what he/she did wrong — and possibly coming up with a confabulated explanation of the disappointing outcome.

  • Ambiguous feedback — Sometimes it isn't clear whether an outcome is positive or negative. For example, an employee might decide to give a certain customer a discount and then receive a substantial order. Without some probing of the customer's thinking in placing the order, it isn't clear whether the full discount was necessary to close the deal.

  • Biased feedback — People often decide to "soften the blow" when delivering negative feedback and, as a result, the message comes across as more or less positive. For example, a co-worker might tell an employee, "Your idea is worth trying," when the co-worker's unbiased opinion is that the idea lacks novelty and should be replaced with something more creative.

  • Missing feedback — Carter and Dunning cite the all-too-common problem of managers withholding positive feedback because they think employees are simply doing the jobs they were hired to do. The upshot is that employees may not realize they're on the right track, and think that they need to veer off in a different — suboptimal — direction. There is also the problem of people looking only for evidence that confirms a decision or judgment, so that they overlook disconfirming evidence. And there is the issue of incomplete feedback, such as telling an employee that a first-draft spreadsheet analysis is useful, but not taking time to discuss how it could be improved.
Carter and Dunning conclude their article by noting the circumstances in which accurate self-assessment is most feasible and likely:
If the individual is competent [training helps here], can receive information about errors of omission, can get clear feedback, and is working on a well-defined task, self-judgment can be very accurate. One should not forget this other side of the coin — and also not forget that to the extent that one can create a world with these circumstances, one's sense of self will lie close to the truth.
You can learn more about David Dunning's research by visiting the website of the Self and Social Insight (SaSI) Lab, of which Dunning is the director.

1 "Faulty Self-Assessment: Why Evaluating One's Own Competence is an Intrinsically Difficult Task," Travis J. Carter and David Dunning, Social and Personality Psychology Compass, Vol. 2, No. 1 (2008), pp. 346-360.


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Saturday, May 02, 2009

"Long May She Wave"

Last night a friend and I went to the Basilica of the Holy Apostles (which used to be the Masonic Lodge) in Springfield MA to see the opening performance of "Long May She Wave," a wonderfully entertaining comedy by John McCallum.

A vintage postcard showing the Masonic Temple, built in 1926 in Springfield, Massachusetts, by the architectural firm McClintock & Craig. The building was sold in 2007 and is now the Basilica of the Holy Apostles.

"Long May She Wave" is set in New York City in the 1980s, which is also the period in which it was written. The plot centers on the efforts of a widow, Jill Mendel (played by Elaine Robinson Scott), to get a wind generator built on the roof of her brownstone so she and her tenants can continue to have electricity even though she is finding it impossible to pay her bills to the electric company.

A scene from "Long May She Wave"
(JELUPA Productions, Inc.)

The three tenants are a potpourri. Willie (Robert Smith and Marcus Pitts) is a middle aged man with plenty of common sense, a quality Jill sometimes seems to have tossed aside as she struggles with her financial problems. Brenda (Lynette E. Johnson) is a 20ish woman who is focused — very focused — on fashion and self-grooming. Sparky (James H. Lightfoot) is a young man who does what he can to help everyone, and eventually ends up a "close personal friend" of Brenda despite their Mars-Venus differences in personality. The other main character is Martina Mendel (Janine Wilson Suttles), Jill's daughter, who has decided that her mother can no longer handle home ownership and so is bent on getting mom to move into some sort of old folks home.

The play was directed by L'Kuicha Parks, who is also the executive and artistic director of JELUPA Productions, Inc., the organization that produced the play. According to its mission statement,
JELUPA Productions, Inc. is a vehicle for cultivation and addressing the needs of minority artists in the Greater Springfield area. We bring quality productions that showcase, relate and involve minority artists in the area. JELUPA Productions, Inc. will showcase work of social, spiritual and cultural values, as well as entertain.
Sadly, John McCallum died of a heart attack in 1989, when he was only 36 years old.



Friday, May 01, 2009

May Day 2009

(Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation)