Collaboration along the Chain

I revisited Michael Porter’s Value Chain recently. I am big fan of his model and have used it for several years.

One thing occurred to me: moving along the chain from left to right requires greater collaboration. Yes, there is collaboration and effective communication throughout; otherwise, things fall through the cracks, products go out of stock and customers do not get the service they expect. But the quality of the service is wholly dependent on everything that came before as well as the support activities. That also means that as we move rightward, there can be less of a need for departments. While there is still a need for accountability, there is less of a need for staff to operate only within their given function. In fact, allowing them to flow through projects, collaborating at a high level, will offer greater insights, newer concepts and better communication.

In the end, you will be adding even more value to your Value Chain.


The Window Can Be Dangerous

People want to know. Maybe not everything, but most things. There is still some bliss associated with ignorance, particularly for those messier details. So, companies are putting more of themselves “in the window”, showing the world how they function and what they actually do.

When you put yourself there, honesty and openness rule the day. With that honesty, innocent mistakes can be forgiven. Companies that insist on the constant spin that everything is perfect need only one thread to see it all unravel. Simply look to the individuals and organizations that quickly find themselves cowering in disgrace.

At the same time, having that type of transparency, especially for a company that has been around for a while, requires that you have your act together. Let me offer a personal example.

Traveling home from a business trip last week, I stopped at a familiar vendor (they have stores across the country with a good reputation) to grab a sandwich for the flight. I placed my order and could watch the staff just to the side making the sandwiches and wraps. The line of people waiting for their food grew, yet the workers showed absolutely no sense of urgency. They also looked as though they didn’t really know how to make what they were selling. They ran out of most types of bread, even though that is their specialty. And they fulfilled the orders out of sequence.

All of this is happening before 6 PM on a Friday in one of the country’s busiest airports.

There were other problems as well: inconsistency in calling out the finished order to patrons; other staff not stepping in to help; a manager trying to decide with another manager which one would stay and which would go to the other location in the terminal. And yes, everything took place in plain sight.

Take a lesson. Get your processes and procedures in place. Train your staff to be customer-centric. Create a sense of urgency in fulfilling customer needs. Then, put it in the window for all to see.

Oh, and if you’re worried about your competitors stealing your ideas, fear not. Out-execute them, and you’ll stay ahead of the game.

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Compensate for the Right Goals

Last week, there was a story on the news about a guy in Tucson who followed a speed camera van around and held a sign warning drivers the van was there. He reasoning was that there was insufficient notification to drivers that the van was there to catch them speeding. The van is a contract role for the police department, paid, most likely, per ticket issued or collected.

That is the problem.

Follow me on this. The ultimate goal should be speed abatement. In other words, the desired outcome needs to be a reduction in the number of people who speed in a given area. Compensating based on catching people doing something wrong, is going to drive the company to catch as many people as possible doing that thing wrong.

Turn it around and compensate the company for a reduction in speeding, then you will find far fewer people speeding. But doing it that way is much harder. First, you may have the wrong company/employee. Second, you may be taking the wrong approach to reach the desired outcome. Either way, it won’t be the simple way to devise the compensation. That is a guarantee.

When designing a variable compensation system (salary plus bonus, for example) be sure to understand what your desired ultimate outcome is, as well as, and this is critical, what it will take to achieve that outcome is the most desirable manner.

For instance, let’s say you have a sales goal in place. You could compensate based on the employee reaching a certain number. Then their objective is simply hitting that number, doing whatever it takes. On the other hand, you can identify the key steps in the sales process that best match your brand promise and compensate based on the employee successfully achieving those steps, along with the desired overall results. If they do all the steps as they should, and the results don’t follow, you need to change the steps, not the desired outcome. Fix the steps, then start it up again.

In the end, you are going to get what you pay for. Just make sure you’re paying for the right thing.

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Managing Expectations

On Friday, I wrote about closing loops on everything—questions, requests, complaints, whatever. One thing that will make closing those loops much easier is by properly managing expectations.

This concept is one of the most important business lessons I have learned. It truly is a 360˚ method of management, because it goes up, down and sideways. And managing expectations works because it keeps people on the same page, it gives everyone a basis for assessment and it gets things done.

Here’s what I mean. Your boss tasks you with a project. Keeping him informed of where you are, what obstacles you face and why you will or will not meet the deadline is the only way to ensure you’ll get through it. Without managing his expectations, the first hiccup you hit looks like incompetence.

Look at it from the other side. Suppose you task one of your employees with a project. If you are telling them what your expectations are of them, there is no telling what you will get or when it will be done. Manage it from the beginning and you’ll get a better outcome.

It also works with colleagues. If your working on a project together, keeping your team informed about your particular piece allows them to manage their portion better. And there are far fewer surprises.

Of course, managing someone’s expectations is useless if you aren’t delivering.

What about your customers? How well are you managing their expectations of what you say you are going to deliver? How well are you meeting those expectations?

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Managing Staff

Whenever you enter a management position that includes managing a staff, there are two types of people you will manage: the people you hire and the people you inherit.

When it comes to hiring, you should have a pretty good idea of what you are looking for. That can create anxiety, especially if you’re new at it. Hiring the right people is its own reward, reflected in your success. Hiring the wrong person…well, that can be a nightmare. And the best way to handle it is to end it as quickly as possible. Letting them linger will just make it worse.

On the other hand are the people you inherit. Typically, they will fall into one of three categories:

  • People who are or have the potential to be stars. You are fortunate to have them.
  • Average workers that aren’t rocking the world but also are doing decent work. You may or may not have hired them yourself, but they’re OK.
  • The ones that should have been fired before you got there, but no one wanted to deal with the problem.

For anyone in one of these categories, the first thing you need to do is assess the individual ability and fit with the rest of the organization. The one thing you are trying to figure out is whether the person is in the best position to succeed. If she is, then the decision is simple—doing well keeps her around; failing to execute means she needs to go.

If, instead, she is not in the best position to succeed, find a better way to match her talent with your needs. Then see how well she executes.

At the end of the day, you are building the best possible team for your brand.

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Paying Dues

There’s something to be said for paying your dues. It’s only right that we should have to go through all the same…um…stuff…that others have suffered before us. Much of the time.

When you’re building an organization, hoping to hire the best, you may not find the best senior-level people with all the industry-specific experience you might desire. And that is OK.

Some skills and experience work across the board, particularly in upper-level positions. Don’t be afraid to bring folks in from other industries that have the general experience you’re seeking. For them to be successful, they will want to gain at least some relevant direct experience with the product themselves. From a managerial perspective, though, what will be more important is gaining the experience through the people that actually do the job.

They will do a better job of managing how frontline staff see their job by understanding that perspective and will not come with their own direct prejudices and jaded views of the daily grind.

This is not to say that people moving up through the organization will not succeed in upper management roles. Many of them will. But by taking a broader view of the role’s needs, you expand your pool of potential employees to drive your business forward.

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Human Rights and the Internet

Today, I’m taking a break from my normal brand management posts and joining Bloggers UBloggers Unitenite in discussing human rights.

Growing up, I used to believe that we should not impose our own cultural biases on others’. To me, the issue was simple and straightforward: That’s what their world is like. If they don’t like it, they are free to leave. As I’ve come to learn, that really isn’t the case.

Yes, that is their world. But whether they like it or not is irrelevant, because for nearly all of the poorest and developing nations, they really don’t understand that there is something different available to them—a life and a world that believes in personal freedoms and equality. The education systems in those countries, if they exist, don’t support multi-cultural instruction. Even with the Internet, nations and service providers can deny access to anything they believe to be unsuitable to their own means.

Such is the case in China, among other nations. And yes, while it will pose a problem for news outlets covering the Olympics later this year, the bigger issue centers on the lack of access it citizens have to basic information outside of Chinese national control. It’s bad enough that their government is happy to imprison you for visiting unapproved, yet entirely legitimate sites.

We, on the other hand, are much more fortunate to be where we are with the human rights we enjoy. And since we have the opportunity and access available to us, it is incumbent upon us to set the example. Promote open access to the internet. Use the technology responsibly. Support those nations that follow the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Do you part in the nations that don’t follow the Declaration to set the example and treat the citizens with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Our own United States and many of our service providers have a few lessons to learn in this arena as well. But if we all openly support human rights and accept all that comes with those rights, we will recognize our dream of a truly world wide web.

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