Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to run a better offsite meeting or tour

by jeanine&preston

I've learned these lessons while preparing for an upcoming offsite meeting for the leadership of my client, I'll be presenting on the trends that are going to impact them over the next few years.
  • Create an agenda upfront so expectations are clear - This seems like commonsense that everyone would follow, but they don't. This is important so the attendees know what to expect, and so the presenters know what is expected of them. And please, let me know how long I have to speak, it makes a huge difference. Recently I held a meeting where I distributed an agenda ahead of time, but two of the key attendees never read the agenda and hijacked the meeting. It took me 10 minutes to get us back on track.
  • Overcommunicate the time/s and location/s - I learned this lesson from the near weekly softball games I and my wife help orchestrate for a team, and no matter what we do a quarter of the people have to email/call at the last moment to find out where they need to be. This not acceptable in a business setting, so remind them a few times. Go so far as to leave a post-it note on their desk two days beforehand if need be.
  • Define and review the next steps - Next stends are the post meeting's agenda, what the group has agreed to do next. If there are no next steps, then the meeting was not useful. Even if you are just "getting people on the same page" you should be able to clearly state who is going to do what next to move forward. Verbalize this as the final thing said at the meeting. Distribute this via email (or better yet a centralized task management system like Remember the Milk).
  • Prepare them for the pitch - If there is any chance anything "salesy" will be presented, you need to make sure people are ready for it. This is quadruply important if you are a consultant putting your client in front of a pitch, forewarn them. And if you feel the sales pitch is too aggressive, end it.
  • To read ahead or not read ahead - Read ahead material can be very helpful, especially if you need the audience to have a lot of facts and figures at their fingertips. If you present too much data without any background, they'll forget it (which can be ok if the data is merely a means to convey a specific point). If you provide read ahead material, and it is totally necessary for people to reach an educated decision, then make the expectation clear. You can even say that there will be a roundtable quiz to start off the session. Nothing like public shame to get your desired response.
  • Kick the tires - If you are using another facility or space, physically go there and test it out the day beforehand (or that morning if you are doing an afternoon session). Make sure the computer and projector work, make sure the slides and videos work on that system. Make sure the temperature is acceptable. Know where restrooms are, etc.
  • Decide how you will handle interruptions - Something is going to happen, whether it be the computer crashing or someone taking you off course for 45 minutes. Decide how you will handle this, give some up front planning to these things. You can't plan for them all, but you can prepare in general.
  • Have a team huddle - If you are doing this with anyone else, make sure you are all on the same page.

I've screwed up several of these over the past 8 years, and it seems you have to re-learn these lessons every so often as well. Having a mindful and repeatible process for running a session greatly reduces your risk of screw up.

And if you are planning on the majority of the session to be done via Powerpoint, just know ahead of time you are fighting an uphill battle.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Developing effective marketing material for future customers

2515958569_dd61560789_m.jpg Image by Seattle Municipal Archives

My company is in the final days of finding out if we've won* a new contract with a government organization. If we have won, then we'll need to develop marketing material to promote our availability and services.

Instead of creating your standard company boilerplate information, I'm trying to create this from the potential customers viewpoint:
  • What will they want to know about us and our services?
  • What point of contact information do we provide? More than one to make us appear bigger, just one so there is a dedicated POC?
  • Website link of course, but to which page? Maybe our LinkedIn page too so we appear hip?
  • What type of description of our past work will speak to them? How can we cover a wide array of work in a limited amount of space (and attention span?)
  • Who are we actually targeting?
Our challenge once we get in the door (assuming we win) is that not a lot of people will know us.

* This is a specific contract type such that there is more sales work to be done before we can start delivering results.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The most shocking internet use statistics you'll ever read

The "LexisNexis®Technology Gap Survey" was performed "to investigate whether or not there is a gap between generations of legal and white collar professionals in terms of technology in the workplace."

And let me just saw I only got to page seven before I was running around my office spewing statistics to anyone who would listen (sorry everyone).

First off, Gen Y respondents seem to either be really bad at math, over report time spent on activities or should never be allowed to do accounting as they double count to a horrific degree:
  • Gen Y workers report spending an average of 17.4 hours in a workday using a PC, a PDA and a mobile phone, whereas, Boomers report spending just 9.7 hours a work day using the same devices.
  • Gen Y workers report spending an average of 20.5 hours a work day using e-mail programs, Internet browsers, instant messaging programs and Microsoft Office programs, while Boomers only report spending 11.9 work hours using the same programs.
  • Gen Y workers report spending an average of 10.6 hours of every work day accessing social networking web sites, news web sites, blogs, Internet forums and multimedia sharing web sites, versus 5.6 hours reported by Boomers.
The second item alone means they do almost everything in their personal lives besides sleeping while on some device. So it is readily apparent that Gen Y is addicted to technology, to a stunning (to me at least) degree.

Here's the part that had me totally aghast:
  • 32% of Boomers think the Internet can decrease workplace productivity, where as, 50% of Gen Y workers think this is the case.
  • 22% of Gen Y say that social networking web sites decrease theirproductivity at work, versus 0% of Boomers and 7% of Gen X.
  • 22% of Gen Y say that multimedia sharing web sites decrease their productivity at work, versus only 3% of Boomers and 7% of Xers.
  • 15% of Yers think Blogs decrease their workplace productivity ,versus only 1% of Boomers and 4% of Gen Xers.
  • 53% of Gen Yers agree that personal devices, such as Blackberries and mobile phones, encourage too much multi-tasking.
Gen Y says they use technology of some sort nearly every hour of the waking day, HOWEVER, they also think it all makes them less productive.

UNPLUG DUDE! Turn that stuff off...

Somewhat related, "Almost three times as many Gen Y workers (39%) report using gaming programs at work than Boomers (14%)." 39% of Gen Y admit to LYING, CHEATING and STEALING from their company. They lie to their boss about doing work. They cheat the company from their time. If they bill a client they are stealing the clients money, as well as their salary from their employer.

Read the whole thing, it is informative and not too long.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

No more public Google Calendars?

calendar_sm2_en.gifI can no long search and find other calendards to incorporate into mine via Google Calendar.

Previously I could add calendars for the University of Maryland's football and basketball teams, and the Washington Redskins. I wanted to have the Washington Nationals so I could quickly tell when and against whom they are playing. But I can't find any option to add other calendars anymore.

Ah-ha! This feature was removed. WHAT? As the help forum makes clear, people aren't happy, and I'm not either.

Here is Google's reasoning for the removal of the feature, "These were specialized U.S. English-only features that weren't used as extensively as we would have liked, and proved difficult to maintain over time."

Lessons learned from coaching little league

We completed our season this past Sunday, a tough loss where we came up 6 runs short against a well run MLB sponsored RBI team. They were better coached than we were, and it left me with bad taste in my mouth.

On the drive home I thought about some of the lessons I have learned as a coach this year:

Plan - You have to have a plan for each practice. There doesn't have to be an overriding theme to the day, but you need to know how you are spending your limited time. There was a lot of "What is next head coach?" this season, a auditory sign that we didn't have a plan and that precious time was being wasted. We only had two practices a week, and for an hour and a half. If we wasted less than 10 minutes each practice I'd be shocked. Having a plan means you've though things through, and ideally know what drills you want to do when. It makes setting up easier, you can put the equipment in the right place so you aren't running around the field carrying 20lbs of catcher's equipment.

Start with the playoffs in mind * - what do you want your team to look like? Will they be yelling "back" on pick offs? Will they have a very specific warm-up routine that they do each game? Will players be rotating position every few innings or staying in one place? Well you need to know this early in the season (the sooner the better). If you want a warm-up routine, you need to start working on that at the first practice. 

* My wife wisely points out that the talent/experience level of the team may adjust your end of season goals, but if you are more focused on behaviors than baseball skills this shouldn't matter. However, you should have a minimum set of baseball skill level expectations that reflect your age group.

Set expectations - Between coaches so you are on the same page, with parents so they know what to expect, and most importantly the players so they understand why you are doing what you are doing. Kids take it hard when they aren't starting, or at shortstop; even the kids who know they are the least talented on the team - they still want to start. Let them know ahead of time what your team philosophy is, what you'll be doing at practices, when they need to show up, what the schedule is, etc. Setting expectations means telling them how you'll have fun, and how you'll do things.

Level set the coaches - you need to agree on a set of terminology, this sounds silly but is important. There are lots of terms used interchangeably in baseball, so you all need to agree on what terms you will use. You need to agree on a philosophy, even something as simple as how to bunt (horizontal or diagonal bat position?), but more importantly on level of effort of the kids, what you will punish or reward them for, how you will punish/reward, etc. It's hard to follow the plan for the day if you and your coaches aren't on the same page.

The dugout is sacred - no parents, no brothers, no friends. Stay out of my dugout, I'm going to stay out of your house. The worst was after an embarrassing loss (level of intensity and focus was near nill) a Mom burst into the dugout with ice cream sandwiches telling the kids it was ok they lost and that they tried hard. NOOOOO! They didn't, and it ruined our impassioned "You have to come here and play hard" speech. A giant coaching moment lost. Also no snacks from parents, I had a kid eating a sub in the middle of an inning and he was even on deck to hit!

Make it fun - if the kids aren't having fun, the coaches won't. And if the coaches aren't having fun, the kids won't. Incorporate games into practice, and I don't mean scrimmages alone. Keep track of who bunted the most balls fair, who hit the cutoff the most, etc. Split the kids up into little teams and have them compete. Focus and intensity goes up, as does fun. It's harder to make it fun if you don't have a plan for the day.

Have a routine - We never got to the routine I liked, but it was a decent one. Kids started throwing when they got there, did a jog after that, we practiced, and at the end they did push ups and sit ups. Not ideal, but it got the job done

A routine makes practices and games more comfortable and familiar. It calms the kids down before a big game too. My ideal would be for the kids to all show up 5 minutes early to chit chat, have a 30 second talk to start practice on what we'll do that day, then do some light running and form drills, light stretching, throwing to warm up, and then hop into practice. I'd also like to end practice by either practicing running the bases, or any set of calisthenics (push ups and body weight squats being key).

I absolutely judge the season as a success. Everyone on the team improved, noticeably. My first practice, there were kids throwing off the wrong foot and many throws were barely going 20 feet. Most of them were standing around when a ball was hit, afraid to catch and having no clue where to throw it. In our playoff game everyone was moving on a hit ball, we were stealing a lot of bases and made several smart plays. Do I wish we had improved more? Absolutely. Could we have? Definitely. But that's for next season.

Monday, June 15, 2009

6.5 reasons why your company needs a "Bill of Don'ts"

Google is renowned for its "10 Golden Rules", the basic tenets of what it stands for and how it will do things. Not all companies have this. Maybe even worse they have a "Mission Statement" that no one has ever read, but is always referenced in prosaic management emails. What can be of equal meaning to a company's culture is a clear list of what it will not do. Google's 10 rules loosely accomplishes this - if you do something that breaks one of the 10 rules then you know you did a "no no".

Here are 6.5 reasons why you need a "Bill of Don'ts":
  1. Companies need to be more clear about what behaviors and/or actions will not be tolerated.
  2. Google's golden rules are actually more limiting than a list of what can't be done. A list of what you can do implies that if a behavior/action isn't listed therein, then it is not allowable. Witness decades of legal turmoil in the US on the heels of the Bill of Rights. The Founding Fathers originally didn't include these Rights in the Constitution because they were afraid it would be viewed as the limited set of Rights citizens have, instead of the foundational Rights to be expounded upon. Their fears were met, and exceeded.
  3. A listing of what you can/should do is ambiguous and open to interpretation, a listing of what can't be done is explicit and clear. You cannot to A, B and C. There is no wiggle room if you do.
  4. "What not to do" lessons learned are clear, crisp and concise. "Do not do X" is clear. Whereas lessons learned on what worked (while helpful) are not as clear and are prescriptive in a negative reinforcement way. People resent being told how TO do something, but are more likely to respond to being told NOT to do something.
  5. It simplifies "behavioral modification", which is a fancy way of saying fixing employee performance. When you have a concrete list of things not to be done, and someone does one of them, it's very easy to make a case for poor performance. Performance measures are sadly either too specific or vague in most performance systems. When they are vague, neither the performer nor the reviewer really know what needs to be done. When they are too specific you are measuring to the hundredth of a decimal in a sales quote or supply chain target. This is an overarching set of things the organization agrees to not do.
  6. There is a shared sense of a real mission and organizational values, and the customer can understand them. I love Google's rules, but as a customer it's not clear exactly how they apply to me and how Google will treat me. If one of the Don'ts is "We will never give your personal information to anyone without your approval ahead of time" then I know you are serious about keeping my information safe.

6.5. Honor the spirit of the rule, not the letter. You can't take food onto the Metro system in DC because they don't want people to make a mess, etc. But obviously you shouldn't get in trouble for having food in your bag if it remains there. But the letter of the law says it is prohibited. So no groceries on the Metro!

Friday, June 12, 2009

What's the right mix of the present vs the future?

What's the right mix of the present vs the future?

I'm an avid frugality blog reader. I think Get Rich Slowly, The Simple Dollar, Wise Bread, Blueprint for Financial Prosperity, Fivecentnickel, Lazy Man and Money  and others are great resources for tips on how to save (and make) more money. One of the simplest yet more profound tip, the heart of frugality I think, is that reducing what you spend is more powerful than earning more. Whatever you earn, gets taxed. So 10-30% is gone right off the top. But if you can reduce spending, you keep 100% of those savings. I digress -

A recurring theme in a lot of frugality sites and books is if you sacrifice today, you'll have a better tomorrow. Many people have dreams of retiring to a warm locale, by a pool or beach, having tropical fruit drinks all day while lounging. And I'd take that in an instant for sure. But I don't necessarily want to wait 45 years for that.

Yet I also am not in favor of spending everything you earn each paycheck. My wife and I make heavy contributions to our 401k plans, ROTH IRA and other investment vehicles. We're dedicated to saving for retirement. Example - I love Chipotle, but I've pretty much given it up in order to save those dollars for retirement and charitable contributions (feel free to check out the Wounded Warrior Project, Arlington Free Clinic or your local hospice; all great services in need of your help). We've made a lot of modifications to our habits and behaviors now for the benefit of our future.

So is there some rule of thumb for this mix? Besides a gut feeling, which for many (though so far neither me nor my wife) can lead people down the primrose path to debt, there don't seem to be any good guides.

And I know the answer to the question of the post is "it's different for everyone", but I think most frugally minded people struggle with this balance, whether they know it or not. At what point does my frugality now actually reduce my overall level of happiness? From an economics perspective, there's utility to be achieved in the present and future. We have to discount the future utility, as we don't know when it will come etc (like any future cash flows). So at what point does not taking a vacation now in order to theoretically take on in the future became detrimental? Skipping on a fancier cut of meat for us to cook at home (why pay someone to cook it for us if they can't do it better?) for a dinner out when I'm retired?

I don't have the answer, but I think in general I'm learning that we are valuing our future a little too much. My wife does an amazing (!!) job of making sure we're on budget each month with our grocery bill, coming up with ingenious ways to decorate our house with quality items on the cheap, etc. I'm ever vigilant about our utility costs, finding new ways to pinch pennies in other areas, etc. And we both are willing to make the sacrifices in order to fully fund our retirement savings.

What is Green Design?

"Green design" is intended to develop more environmentally benign products and processes. The application of green design involves a particular framework for considering environmental issues, the application of relevant analysis and synthesis methods, and a challenge to traditional procedures for design and manufacturing.


A good introduction to the topic.

Co-worker quote

"As long as we have Fridays, we're ok."

Read with heavy southern accent as well.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What I've been reading

  • "Building a better future: Moving toward zero pollution with highly efficient homes and businesses" - Environment America Research & Policy Center
  • "Lessons Learned from Case Studies of Six High-Performance Buildings" - National Renewable Energy Laboratory
  • "National Trends and Prospects for High-Performance Green Buildings" - USGBC
  • "Federal Research and Development Agenda for Net-Zero Energy, High-Performance Green Buildings" - National Science and Technology Council, Committee on Technology
Notice a trend?

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