Thursday, December 30, 2010

6 Companies that Didn't Get it Done in 2010

Posted by Mark Brousseau

It's that time of year again: time for business owners and senior executives to take stock of the past twelve months. What did 2010 look like for you and your company? Did you struggle to regain your post-recession footing? Were employees engaged and focused? Are financials on track? The questions you could ask during your year-end assessment are endless. But according to Rick Lepsinger, there's only one that really matters: Did your company effectively execute its plans and initiatives?

"If an organization can't get things done, nothing else matters—not the smartest strategy, not the most innovative business model, not even game-changing technology," observes Lepsinger, president of OnPoint Consulting and author of Closing the Execution Gap: How Great Leaders and Their Companies Get Results. "And for many companies, there is a clear gap between intent and execution—we've seen plenty of evidence this year."

Lepsinger's assertion is backed by hard evidence. Recently, his company, OnPoint Consulting—which specializes in helping clients close the gap between strategy and execution and create a culture of getting things done—conducted a study of over 400 companies. They found that 49 percent of the leaders surveyed in the study reported a gap between their organization's ability to formulate and communicate a vision and strategy and its ability to deliver results.

This wasn't the surprising part, though. What really shocked Lepsinger and his team was that only 36 percent of leaders who thought their company had an execution gap had confidence in their organization's ability to close the gap between strategy and execution. That means a staggering 64 percent of leaders who saw an execution problem didn't believe their company could fix it.

Lepsinger's research uncovered five characteristics and competencies, which he calls "The Five Bridges," that enable people to traverse this execution gap. It is these bridges that differentiate the companies that are consistently able to get things done from those that aren't. (Lepsinger calls the former "Gap Closers" and the latter "Gap Makers"—and he profiles some well-known examples of each in his book.)

Of course, time has marched on since Lepsinger's book was written, and plenty of other well-known companies have dropped the execution ball in the meantime (BP in the most spectacular fashion). To help the rest of us learn from what he calls the "living laboratory" of real-world companies, he presents the following lists—the first lamentably longer than the second!

OnPoint Consulting's 2010 Execution Gap Maker Round-Up...

Execution Gap Maker #1: BP (Need we say more?)

It's obvious from recent events that BP experienced an enormous execution gap. (More like a chasm, really.) Had the company focused on recognizing and closing that gap, it would have prevented this year's unprecedented disaster. Lepsinger says that while the oil spill is a complex and tragic event, the cause can be traced back to BP's failure to build the critical bridges described in his book Closing the Execution Gap.

Lepsinger notes that leading up to and after the oil spill BP violated almost all the guidelines of effective execution, including lacking an effective structure and lacking clear accountability. These gaps created another problem for them: In the critical stages following the spill, BP was unable to get input from those who had the knowledge and experience to make the best decisions about how to handle it.

What's more, BP failed to empower people to use their best judgment and take appropriate action. Consider that hours before the explosion the rig crew was arguing about the best way to finish the oil well and move the rig to the next site. A Transocean mechanic testified that he overheard a "company man" telling rig workers "how it's going to be," and that although the rig workers felt the plan was too risky, they reluctantly agreed. And just after the explosion, as workers were scrambling for safety, a worker was yelled at by the captain (who worked for the rig's owner, Transocean) for pressing the distress button without authorization, and when another worker was asked if he had called to shore for help, he said he had not because he did not have permission to do so.

The "BRIDGE" that failed: Employee Involvement in Decision Making...among others.


In order for any company to execute successfully, the right people have to be involved with the right decisions. BP provides a devastating example of what can happen when this isn't the case.

"Obviously, this lesson is even more critical when there is as much at stake as there was in the BP disaster," notes Lepsinger. "But really for any company trying to gain footing in a constantly changing business environment and tough economy, empowering the right people to make the right decisions can be the difference between landing that next great customer or account or not."

Execution Gap Maker #2: Nokia

Nokia's share of the worldwide market for mobile phones continued to slip in 2010. It may surprise you to learn that about five years before Apple introduced the iPhone and three years before it launched an online applications store, Nokia was ready to introduce its own Internet-ready touch screen handset with a large display and had an early design of an online applications store. So what happened? Why was this once-dominant player unable to execute and maintain its market position?

"It appears Nokia was not able to coordinate decisions and activities across departments or levels of management," says Lepsinger. "Many innovative ideas became the victims of in-fighting among managers who had competing objectives. Plus, as a result of a lack of cross-organizational coordination and cooperation, Nokia wasn't able to improve its proprietary operating system, Symbian, which would have allowed it to support a more sophisticated smartphone."

Execution Gap Makers #s 3 and 4: The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and the Agriculture Department

In August of this year, thousands of consumers became ill after eating eggs that were contaminated with salmonella. The discovery of the contamination resulted in over half a billion eggs being pulled from store shelves. How could something like this, and on this scale, have happened?

"Much of the blame has been attributed to poor federal oversight," says Lepsinger. "And the cause appears to be a significant lack of coordination across federal agencies. You see, the responsibility for food safety is split between two agencies: The Agriculture Department is responsible for chickens, the grading of eggs for quality, and regulating liquid eggs that are used in industrial food production. But the FDA oversees the safety of eggs still in their shells."

So who inspected the Iowa farms to make sure the eggs were safe for human consumption? "It turns out that no one did," observes Lepsinger. "It just fell through the cracks. The lack of coordination between these two agencies is one reason why so many consumer advocates believe we suffer from a dysfunctional food safety system."

The "BRIDGE" that failed for Gap Makers #2, 3, and 4: Company-Wide Coordination and Cooperation.


It's critical that organizations learn to coordinate and collaborate decisions across organizational boundaries. But doing so requires more than faith and words alone.

"Shared goals and clearly defined roles provide the foundation upon which cooperation and coordination can be built," notes Lepsinger. "In addition, people must be held accountable for results. This requires a combination of direct leader behavior and systems that encourage and reinforce the appropriate behavior among employees."

Execution Gap Maker #5: Johnson & Johnson

It's been a bad year for J&J. Since 2009 McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the J&J division that makes over-the-counter drugs, has had eight recalls, including popular children's versions of Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl, and Zyrtec. Most disturbingly was what has been called the "phantom recall," in which contractors hired by J&J carried out a scheme to buy every package of Motrin by going store to store without informing the FDA.

"Poor execution doesn't happen overnight," states Lepsinger. "It can often be traced back to a pattern of behavior that gradually erodes a company's ability to deliver consistent high-quality results. At J&J it may go back to 2005 when employees reported a lack of alignment between manager behavior and company values and policies. When one million bottles of St. Joseph aspirin failed a quality test after a sample did not dissolve properly, quality workers who blocked the distribution of the bottles claimed their supervisor ordered them to retest the drugs and then average the scores to get a passing grade.

"Fortunately, there was not a problem with the batch that was released, but it appears that the misalignment of leader behavior with company values in this situation laid the foundation for poor execution, and a potentially dangerous situation, in the future," he adds.

The "BRIDGE" that failed: Alignment Between Leader Actions and Company Values and Priorities.


Leader behavior must be aligned with company objectives and values. While Lepsinger admits this phrase has been said so often that it's become a cliché, he says companies can't afford to ignore it.

"You don't really understand how important value alignment is or the impact it has on effective execution until you see what happens when it's not there," says Lepsinger. "That's why stories like the Johnson & Johnson one are so important. They remind us not to take it for granted or assume it's a 'no-brainer.'"

Execution Gap Maker #6: Toyota

During 2010 Toyota recalled millions of cars due to a variety of defects. This was an extraordinary number for a company once recognized for the quality of its vehicles. What went wrong? It appears Toyota's decentralized structure, which served it well for many years, turned into a liability as the company continued to grow and dominate worldwide markets.

"For example, some of Toyota's former U.S. senior executives believe that keeping the U.S. operations separated in a functional structure—rather than reporting to a single headquarters—forced each to report back to Japan," says Lepsinger. "This required customer complaints to first make their way through the U.S. operation and then over to Japan where they were reviewed by a special committee—which would then have to communicate back to the U.S. All this had to happen before a recall could be issued."

The "BRIDGE" that failed: A Structure That Supports Execution.


Make sure you have a structure that supports execution. Lepsinger notes that a good structure enhances accountability, coordination, and communication. Plus, it ensures that decisions are being made as close to the action as possible. Toyota's structure slowed down decision making and the company's ability to effectively respond to the recall crisis.

"The Toyota breakdown also illustrates that the five execution bridges are not permanent," notes Lepsinger. "In fact, they are quite fragile. Once you've built them, you must keep vigilant watch over them and work hard to maintain them over time. It's quite possible for a company to have a bridge in place one year, only to discover that over time it has weakened or even crumbled and is no longer able to help your people traverse the gap."

...And Its Execution Gap Closer Round-Up

Execution Gap Closer #1: Netflix

Netflix received considerable media attention this year as it demonstrated its ability to successfully execute its strategy to provide video over the Internet. The company began streaming movies to TV-connected devices such as the Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360, and a new Blu-ray Disc player, and the strategy is already showing signs of paying off. Although the ability to deliver streaming video has just recently become a reality, Netflix has been preparing to replace its original business model of delivering DVDs through the mail since the company was formed in 1997.

"The company's readiness for change is incredible," observes Lepsinger. "A decade before the technology was even a commercial reality, it recognized that the delivery of movies over the Internet would eventually replace mail. Even the name they chose for the company reflected this awareness. They named the company 'Netflix' and not 'Mailflix,' which would have been an easier concept to understand more than a decade ago."

Execution Gap Closer (Well...Maybe) #2: Barnes & Noble

Lepsinger would like to classify Barnes & Noble as a success, but it's just not clear yet whether the company really fits in that category. The move to electronic books has caused booksellers to take a close look at how they do business, but the jury is still out on whether Barnes & Noble's response to the dramatic changes in the publishing industry will be successful.

"Barnes & Noble appears to be doing a lot of the right things," says Lepsinger. "It developed the NOOK and has devoted significant space in its retail stores to display and promote it, and it has a broad online library. The big question is whether the company is fully committed to this change. Will it turn out like Netflix and successfully make the transition to a new method of delivery? Or will it end up more like Blockbuster, which has struggled to adapt to new technology and shift from bricks-and-mortar stores to an online-based business model?"

The "BRIDGE" that held for Gap Closers #1 and 2: The Ability to Manage Change.


The ability to manage change is critical. Yet, despite all the effort and resources that have been devoted to helping them achieve this, managers and organizations still often get poor marks in this area. That said, yet another change management process or program is not the solution, emphasizes Lepsinger.

"Change is made one person at a time," he says. "And our research, as well as the research of others, indicates that successful change is connected more to the individual and collective mindsets of employees than any process. People change when they are ready—not just when they understand the need for change. The most successful companies facilitate change-readiness and don't just rely on making the business case to drive people's motivation to change."

Yes, as these stories illustrate, execution is the real bottom line and Lepsinger's constant battle cry. It's what he pushes his clients to focus on as they seek to improve organizational performance—and it's the lens he urges all leaders to look through as they review 2010 and make their "business resolutions" for 2011.

"Execution is not a single-point event," says Lepsinger. "It's an ongoing process. But since your ability to execute well and consistently is the very fabric of success, I can think of no better place to focus your time and energy."

What do you think?

Don't Forget to Network on New Year's Eve

Posted by Mark Brousseau

It’s that time of year again! Time for all those get-togethers that come with the season. If you’re one of the millions of Americans looking for work, however, you’re probably not in much of a celebrating mood. And spreading good cheer at party after party is likely the last thing you’ve felt like doing. For you (and so many others), it’s job search crunch time.

Maribeth Kuzmeski stresses that if you’re seeking employment or looking to take that next step in your career, this is the year you should focus less on the open bar and those trays of tempting hors d’oeuvres and more on maximizing events to make connections that will land you that great new job.

“The holiday season means plenty of opportunities to meet new and interesting people,” says Kuzmeski, author of The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life and the new book …And the Clients Went Wild! How Savvy Professionals Win All the Business They Want.

“There’s no other time of the year when you’ll have so many events to attend that also translate to more opportunities to network! If you go into them armed and ready to make the most of your time with everyone you encounter, you just might walk away with a ton of new job contacts and maybe even an interview.”

Kuzmeski is an expert at helping businesses and individuals create strong business relationships that will help them get ahead regardless of their professions.

“Great networkers are capable of leaving something behind with everyone they encounter—a thought, a memory, or a connection. This is exactly what you need to do if you are currently in the job market. You need to make strong connections, become a relationship builder. You want to be the first person who comes to mind when someone in your network hears about a great job opening.”

Below Kuzmeski offers advice for how you can network your way to a great new job for the New Year:

Think like an introvert—if you have to go, have a plan. Social events can be nerve-racking, especially when you have so much on the line, as many unemployed partygoers will. But instead of succumbing to your clammy hands and being a wallflower all night, formulate a plan of action ahead of time that will help you make the most of every event. Doing so will ensure that you make all the right connections, and it will help to alleviate all that pre-party social anxiety.

“First, think about which contacts are the most important to you—maybe the HR rep for a company you’ve been eying is there or maybe there are a few people you want to ask about possible openings at their companies—and make a point to speak to each of them during the event (instead of hiding behind the dessert bar the entire night!),” says Kuzmeski. “Find out who will be attending the event. Do some research online or on social networking sites like LinkedIn to learn about attendees. You may even want to consider asking the host for a guest list. Pick five people with whom you definitely want to speak while you are there, and don’t avoid the big names. Make sure you challenge yourself by making an effort to connect with at least one top dog.”

Let them do the talking. (You ask the questions!) There’s nothing worse than coming away from a great networking opportunity realizing that you never got to the point. For example, maybe you learned a big-time CEO’s favorite basketball team, but you have no idea if he is planning on hiring in the new year. As you work the crowds, be sure to have more in your arsenal than small talk. Kuzmeski suggests coming up with a list of questions to use on your fellow party guests. Here are a few great ice breakers to get the ball rolling:

Where did you grow up?

Do you still have family there?

How are your kids?

What do you think about…? (Complete this question with something from current events, your town or city’s local news, or a recent event in your industry.

Remember, it is always a good idea to avoid topics that can lead to contentious conversations, e.g., religion, politics, etc.)

Once the conversation is flowing freely, then you can move on to the questions that might help you land the new job:

How did your company do this year?

I heard you have a great (fill in your expertise) department. Do you think you will be expanding any time soon?

What’s your biggest challenge? (After you hear the answer to this one, if you can, describe how you might be able to help this new contact overcome his challenge.)

“After he answers you, it’s always a good idea to follow up with a secondary question that encourages him to tell you more,” Kuzmeski adds. “The more he talks and you listen, the more he will like you because you are showing genuine interest in him. Pretty soon, he will be asking you questions, and a valuable business connection will have been made!”

Be prepared to pitch yourself in fifteen seconds. It’s no doubt that you have a lot of qualifications and experience. So much that you could probably go on for hours about yourself. But the harsh reality is that no one (except for your mom!) wants to hear that much about your accomplishments. Kuzmeski says that when you’re meeting new people at parties, you should resist the urge to start presenting your résumé word-for-word. Instead, prepare a short, fifteen-second elevator pitch that hits on your career high points and top skills. Think about what’s unique about what you have done and what will stand out in a room full of people who are also talking about themselves. Be sure that whomever you speak with will still remember you at the end of the night.

“The key to an effective pitch is keeping it short while still including your biggest wins,” Kuzmeski explains. “For example, I’ve had great success with the following pitch about myself: ‘Hi! My name is Maribeth Kuzmeski. I own a marketing consulting firm, Red Zone Marketing, which employs seven people who are all focused on helping companies find more business. I’ve worked with an NBA basketball team, with U.S. senators, financial advisors, and mutual fund companies. I’ve even closed a sale while upside down in an aerobatic biplane at 3,000 feet above ground.’ I find that it is hard for most people to walk away without asking me about that last part or which NBA team or U.S. senators I’ve worked with. Be creative and think about how you can frame your accomplishments in a way that gets other guests’ attention. Once you have their attention, the door is open for you to tell more about yourself, find out more about them, and start connecting your way to a new job.”

The party may end, but your connection shouldn’t. It’s a busy time of year, and if you’re meeting tons of people at parties and other networking events, it can be hard to keep track of what you told to whom, who gave you what advice, and whom you agreed to meet with to discuss your qualifications next Monday. Following an event, be proactive. Spend ten minutes cementing your connections by creating a database that allows you to keep track of all the connections you’ve made. Include reminders to yourself of interesting or remarkable things that people said or that you learned so that you won’t forget them and can refer back to them in later conversations. And be sure to use social media to keep in touch.

“Use LinkedIn or other social networking tools to invite your new contacts to connect with you,” Kuzmeski says. “Share something the person said to you at the event that you really enjoyed or remind her of a connection point you made. (For example, if you discovered you both like the same sports team, you might say, ‘Let’s hope the So-and-Sos get a win this weekend!’). If you can, send her something that shows you care about her business. It might be an article about her industry or even a referral for someone you know would benefit from that company’s help. Whatever it is, create a course of action that will help you further connect with these important individuals. Soon, they will be seeking you out because you’ve piqued their interest with the impression you have made!”

Remember, who they know matters too. You’re going to meet a ton of people during the height of party season. Some of them will have direct connections to companies you want to work for, but many others will not. Remember, just because “Sam,” who manages a small widget-making factory in Reno, isn’t going to hire you for his company doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a brother-in-law who happens to have a best friend who works at a software company that’s hiring.

“The focus of networking should not be on gaining an immediate job offer from the people you network with,” says Kuzmeski. “In fact, that tactic almost never works. The goal should, instead, be to build a mutually beneficial relationship with someone who may never even be able to give you a job, but might know someone who can. When you start a conversation with someone, commit. Follow it to its conclusion and you never know what you will find out. Giving up on someone just because you don’t think he can help you is the absolute opposite of being a master connector.”

Even family functions are networking opportunities. Sometimes the most obvious connections are the ones most easily ignored. Just because you may be at a mandatory family meal doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity for networking. When you are building your network or considering who might be able to lend you a helping hand during your job search, don’t forget about the fruit closest to the ground.

“Again, think about the people close to you, who might have huge networks of their own,” says Kuzmeski. “For example, maybe your mom is or used to be a teacher. She’s had contact with tons of parents over the years who just might be working at a company that could hire you. Or maybe your best friend is in a completely different industry from you, but he has a huge network of friends on Facebook. Maybe your sister-in-law has a client who told her he is desperate for help. You never know how a great opportunity will present itself. Don’t count anyone out of your networking efforts, especially those who are the closest to you and therefore the most willing to help.”

Give yourself the gift of a professional organization membership. If you’ve been avoiding joining the association of your profession, there is no better time to make the move than right now. First of all, they might be offering a special holiday membership fee. Secondly, what better way to find a job doing what you love to do than by joining a group of like-minded professionals whose employers just might be hiring?

“In order to meet people within your industry this time of year, add trade shows and seminars to your list of holiday parties,” recommends Kuzmeski. “These events and organizations provide great opportunities to help you get your name out in your industry. Again, you might not find someone who is going to hire you on the spot, but you will have the chance to meet people who have the potential to hire you in the future. And while you can’t exactly lug a stack of résumés to your wife’s work party, you can certainly take hard copies of your résumé and of course business cards to these kinds of events. The more people within your industry or profession who know you the better.”

Volunteer. When you think of volunteering, you might not immediately think, Great job finding opportunity, but it actually can be. It’s the time of year for tons of holiday parties, but there are also tons of volunteering opportunities that offer a great way to sneak in some networking. For example, if you are in marketing, volunteer to work with a nonprofit and offer to send out a fundraising/marketing piece that will help them tap into people’s giving spirit and raise some money for the organization. “There are usually many hands that go into keeping a nonprofit running,” says Kuzmeski. “Volunteering provides you the opportunity to meet them. And remember, you don’t necessarily have to be doing anything that is connected to your profession. Simply volunteering at a place with a cause you are passionate about will provide you the chance to get in front of a lot of great connectors you might not have met otherwise.”

“If being unemployed or just unhappy in your current job has zapped all of the energy and motivation from you, don’t throw out those party invitations just yet,” says Kuzmeski. “RSVP with a ‘yes!’ and resolve that you won’t leave any event without having made a couple of great new job connections. Approach each party as the first step to getting a job interview. Put yourself out there, make the first move, and be yourself. It is the best way to kick off 2011 sitting in your office at a great new job.”

What do you think?

Why It's a Great Time to Look for a Job

Posted by Mark Brousseau

You've been on the job hunt for months—maybe even all year—and you're looking forward to the coming respite from search-related stress and disappointment. The holidays are here, after all. And it's "common knowledge" that nothing happens on the hiring front from Thanksgiving to New Year's. You might as well give the pavement pounding a rest and focus on decking the halls for a while...right?

Wong. In fact, says Kate Wendleton, now is exactly the time to hit your job search the hardest.

"Although most job seekers don't realize it, conditions are ideal for them this time of year," confirms Wendleton, president of The Five O'Clock Club (, a career coaching and outplacement network. "While they won't 'officially' tell you, many organizations are planning to hire in January. That means now is the perfect time to put yourself on their radar."

Wendleton knows all about helping people navigate the complicated job market, regardless of the season. Hers is the only career program in which members meet with professional coaches and peers on a weekly basis in a friendly, club-type format. It offers small group career coaching across the U.S. and Canada. And its website——provides hundreds of free articles and audio recordings on job searching and career development.

"It may come as a big surprise, but looking for a job this time of year actually increases your chances of getting hired," Wendleton promises. "You have less competition, and many companies are in a hiring mood. It's the perfect storm—in a good way—for job seekers."

Read on for the case as to why you should keep on keepin' on...and some suggestions from The Five O'Clock Club for how you can maximize your momentum amidst the merriment:

Why you shouldn't wait 'til January:

'Tis the season for your competition to take a breather. Nearly everyone believes the "no one gets hired during the holidays" myth, so the majority of your competition is taking a break while you're still filling out applications. The fact is, it's much easier to out-class and out-perform the competition when there's next to none of it!

"It's amazing how many people retire from the job-hunt battle this time of year and leave the field wide open," Wendleton says. "At no other time will it be easier for you to really distinguish yourself from the pack. For one thing, hiring managers will have fewer résumés to distract them; plus, they'll be impressed by your drive and persistence, because most of your peers are taking it easy."

Managers are planning their post-Auld Lang Syne moves now. Here's a valuable tip for job hunters: January is often one of the biggest hiring months of the year. However, no organization will say that it plans to hire in January—right now, all you'll hear is that there are no openings at present (which is technically true). And guess what? Those upcoming positions won't go to folks who kicked back by the fire with a cup of eggnog—they'll be offered to the people who expressed interest and met with hiring managers in December.

"Right now, organizations are doing their budgeting for 2011," Wendleton explains. "For example, one company The Five O'Clock Club spoke with said they will not do any more hiring this year because they want to keep the numbers looking good, but they will fill those positions ASAP in the New Year, and they might even consider making offers now. Who is going to get those jobs? The folks who throw their hats into the ring during the holidays!"

The business world isn't pressing pause just because the halls are decked. The fact that the annual alcohol-laced karaoke party has been scheduled doesn't mean that business as usual stops. Think about it: The stock market is trading. Stores are still open. Deals are still being negotiated. And—shocker!—hiring managers are still reading résumés that land on their desks. (If anything, the seasonal good cheer will put them in a better mood when they do.)

"No hiring manager in his or her right mind would ever say, 'Okay, it's December, so I can't look at any résumés or communicate with any prospective applicants until January,'" Wendleton points out. "Certainly, this time of year comes with a special set of distractions, but underneath the trimmings, it's business as usual. If there's hiring to be done, it will be done."

Your momentum won't sustain itself through the merriment. Unless your job hunt started last week, you've built up some amount of momentum. You've made contacts. You've gotten your foot in some doors. You've started to prove how wonderful you are. Don't let all of that effort go to waste by slacking off now! If you do, it'll take you weeks to make up the lost ground.

"I can categorically say that the slackening of momentum is one of the greatest job-hunt saboteurs we see in The Five O'Clock Club," Wendleton shares. "When people fail to have lots of things in the works, they concentrate on the one great job that they really want—and they're devastated when they come in second or the company puts a freeze on hiring. Then, it takes them two or three weeks to dig out of the depression...and who knows how many great opportunities have slipped by in the meantime?"

What you can do to improve your job search:

The Five O'Clock Club says that there are three stages to a job search: 1) being in touch with six to ten people in your target market on an ongoing basis, 2) getting those people to actively express interest in having someone like you on board, and 3) inspiring them to discuss real jobs with you. The following strategies will help you get to Stage Two (which means you're approaching the right people and positioning yourself correctly)—and once you're there, Five O'Clockers promise, Stage Three will take care of itself.

Reconnect with the year's contacts. You've sent out cards and good wishes to friends and why not extend that tradition to all of the job-search contacts you've made throughout the year? Send a card or email thanking each person for his or her help, wishing them a Happy New Year and include an update on your situation. You never know when the right memory might be sparked!

"Reconnecting with the year's contacts in a friendly, well-wishing way will remind them of who you are, what you do, and what you're trying to accomplish," Wendleton explains. "One of your main goals should be to stay on the radar of as many people in your network as possible. It takes hard work and discipline, yes, but as was the case recently for one Five O'Clock Club member, a friendly email can prompt a contact to forward your résumé to someone else, which might lead to an interview...and a job."

Expand, define, and redefine your targets. You may have a short—or long—list of companies on which you're focusing, but that list isn't definitive by a long shot. The last thing you want is a skimpy or sloppy group of targets that lacks breadth and depth. Plus, you never know when you might discover a new company you never knew about that's an ideal fit.

"You can expand your list of targets by revisiting what your skills and strengths are (maybe there's something you've overlooked!), brainstorming with friends, and doing more internet research," suggests Wendleton. "Many people are amazed to discover, after months of job hunting, an organization that isn't rich or famous but is nevertheless a great place to work."

Focus on avenues you've neglected. Everyone has a preferred method of getting meetings, whether it's through ads, search firms, networking, or direct contacts. During the next few weeks, focus on the avenues you normally skimp on. You'll probably identify new hiring trends, new contacts, and new positions. And (as we've established) now's the ideal time to get your name out there.

"Many people neglect networking and direct contacts, because they're the most labor-intensive," Wendleton shares. "If you fall into that category, challenge yourself to launch a targeted mail campaign this holiday season. Imagine what the impact might be if you send out ten intelligent cover letters per week, and then make follow-up phone calls a few days later. At the very least, you'll be a familiar name to a bevy of hiring managers."

Don't withdraw from your support network. Five O'Clock Club members attend a weekly meeting in order to receive support, advice, and help in their job searches. If you belong to such a group, don't use the holidays as an excuse to skip meetings. One of your primary goals should always be to make sure your search is moving forward.

"Accountability and outside input are crucial in helping you stay on track, and they also ensure that your job search doesn't lose originality and momentum," Wendleton says. "If you don't have a support network and are worried that you'll slack off despite your best intentions, ask a friend or family member to serve as a sounding board and check in on your progress."

Accept those party invitations! You might be tempted to become a hermit because you don't want to field questions about "what you're doing right now" or "how your job search is going." To some extent, that's understandable, especially if your situation hasn't changed in a long time—but avoidance is the wrong attitude to have. This is a party time of year, so get out there and network! Tell people you're looking for your next situation, and be sure to tell them the kind of job you're looking for.

"Take advantage of as many opportunities to meet new people as possible, and be ready to share your 30-second pitch on what you're looking for," advises Wendleton. "And if it's appropriate, ask for a more formal meeting at a new contact's office in the near future. Also, remember that those who are in a direct position to hire aren't your only allies. If you favorably impress a project manager, for example, she might mention you to her boss...and bingo—you've got an interview."

"Remember, keep adding to your job-search to-do list...and check it twice," concludes Wendleton. "There's absolutely no reason why you can't start out the New Year with one resolution already crossed off your list—a job you're excited to accept."

What do you think?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Municipalities eager to automate RP

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Municipal governments are showing strong interest in purchasing automated remittance solutions, and it appears that the sluggish economy -- and its impact on municipal budgets -- is the primary reason, according to Tony Rapaglia, regional manager for Creditron ( Municipalities are looking to automate functions such as tax and utility payment processing, Rapaglia explains, adding that he expects the strong demand to carry over into the new year.

"Especially after the recent elections, municipalities are extremely conscious about the amount of money they are spending on back-office functions such as remittance processing," Rapaglia says. "Many are focused like a laser-bean on cutting costs and improving service to taxpayers. They recognize that they can pass along any savings from more efficient processing to their taxpayers."

So why is remittance processing, in particular, getting so much attention from municipalities?

For starters, Rapaglia notes that automated remittance processing frees up municipal workers to focus on other activities -- which is critical as they look to become more taxpayer-focused and make do with less staff. Automated remittance processing also helps municipalities make deposits much quicker, delivering immediate gains in funds availability. Even greater gains are on tap for those municipalities that deposit items electronically to their banks via Check 21. And municipalities are drawn to the improved security that an automated remittance system provides compared to paper processes. "In an automated environment, less people handle the checks, and there's less opportunity to lose them," Rapaglia explains, noting a recent case where a courier misplaced paper checks.

"Municipal budgets are certainly tight, but more of them are recognizing that they can achieve big savings by spending relatively little money on an automated remittance system," Rapaglia concludes.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Promise of Prepaid Cash Cards

Posted by Mark Brousseau

It’s estimated that the percentage of U.S. households without bank accounts may be as high as 26 percent. So what happens to the $1.1 trillion that those households take in each year? According to Turner Investments, much of that money is likely to end up on prepaid cash cards over the next five years.

Turner Investments anticipates that the market for prepaid cash cards may grow at double-digit annual rates between now and 2015. Two small prepaid-card vendors that appear to be well positioned to profit from that growth are Green Dot and NetSpend Holdings, Turner Investments says.

For the consumers averse to traditional banking, Turner Investments says prepaid cash cards may hold three benefits:

•The cards can be a cheaper alternative to checking accounts. Consumers who are prone to overspending can’t spend more than they put on the cards, so they aren’t exposed to overdraft charges. Also, the increased checking-account fees resulting from new federal financial reforms are driving some consumers to the cards.

•The cards require no background check, unlike some checking accounts.

•The cards are convenient to load and use, enabling customers to take their paycheck to a retailer where they can have the money loaded onto a card and start shopping immediately.

What do you think?

Top 5 Germiest Places in the Workplace

By Peter Sheldon, Coverall Health-Based Cleaning System

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American adults spend more of their waking hours between Monday and Friday at the workplace than anywhere else—including home. About one-third of all workers also devote five hours, on average, at the workplace on weekends as well. So it stands to reason that offices, factories, clinics and other work facilities have become places to exchange not only goods and services, but also viruses, bacteria and other sources of infection.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that between 5 and 20 percent of all Americans contract flu annually. Up to 80 percent of all infections are spread through our environment by hand contact with contaminated surfaces, as well as through direct human contact. Adults put their hands to their faces an average of 18.5 times per hour, presenting hundreds of opportunities each day to transfer illness causing organisms into our bodies. Once an infection takes hold, the next step is usually the doctor’s office followed by the sick bed—providing thousands to millions of dollars in lost productivity due to employee absenteeism. In fact, according to a National Health Interview Survey, influenza alone is responsible for 200 million days of diminished productivity and 75 million days of work absence.

Fortunately, knowing what surfaces provide the greatest risk for disease transmission at work allows us to put a proactive plan in place to implement effective cleaning practices, which can help reduce these risks and minimize infections. Ultimately, employees must be educated on what precautions to take to help avoid the top germiest places in their workplace:

1. Telephones. In many workplaces, telephones are still used by multiple employees. Office phones can harbor more than 25,000 germs per square inch. Users should be instructed to wipe off handsets and keypads with sanitizing wipes after using them and periodically throughout the day.

2. Elevator buttons. Scores, if not hundreds, of people use elevators every day, many times before they have a chance to get to their workstations or wash their hands. Avoid direct contact with elevator surfaces if you can. Consider using your elbow rather than your hand to push the buttons. (Want to guess the number one place in the elevator for harboring bacteria germs? Ironically it’s the “one”, or first-floor, button.)

3. Water fountains. Public drinking fountains can harbor as many as 2.7 million bacteria per square inch on the spigot. As an alternative, bring water from home in a sports bottle or buy bottled water during the worst flu outbreaks.

4. Keyboards. As with telephones, PC keyboards are often used by more than one person, making their use a common way to transfer germs. In fact, keyboards can actually have more than 200 times as many bacteria as a toilet seat.

5. Bathrooms. Tagged as the “epicenter of cross-contamination” and the “bio-hazardous waste transfer station,” facility bathrooms are one of the germiest places of all. E. coli and other fecal toxins are often found on nearly every surface; folks who wash their hands before leaving are nonetheless presented with germy door handles. As a solution, use paper towels—to turn faucets off and on, to close the toilet lid before flushing, and to open the door before exiting.

To effectively clean to kill and remove germs and soil, consider a shift to a nightly health-focused, hygienic cleaning system. Health-focused, hygienic cleaning is proven to reduce health risks through the prudent use of hospital-grade disinfectants to kill harmful organisms and include advanced soil removal techniques to capture and remove dirt and germs. Studies have shown that by employing an effective surface disinfecting and cleaning protocol, absenteeism can be reduced by as much as 50 percent. Combining this method of cleaning with an aggressive hand hygiene program provides a hygienic barrier to help reduce the risk of illness and improve the quality of work life for all building occupants.

The inclusion of EPA-registered, hospital-grade disinfectants in your cleaning compounds help reduce the overall risk of illness by killing harmful organisms on surfaces in your facility. Their prudent use, especially in the germiest areas mentioned above, is a critical component to an effective daily, hygienic cleaning system. Not only should disinfectants be used during nightly cleaning, but employees should be provided with disinfectant disposable wipes to periodically wipe down high-touch points throughout the day.

The introduction of backpack vacuums with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filtration is another component of hygienic cleaning that can also help reduce airborne germs and improve overall indoor air quality. The backpack platform provides an increase in productivity of 70 percent when compared to traditional push vacuums, and the HEPA filters the air to .3 microns, ensuring harmful germs are not blown out of the exhaust back into the air.

Another key component to an effective hygienic cleaning system is the use of microfiber textiles in cleaning cloths, instead of cotton or other fabrics or disposable paper. Most cloths and rags don’t effectively remove soil and germs; they actually spread them around and contribute to cross-contamination. Microfiber, by contrast, is a very fine, round synthetic fiber that is chemically treated to split the individual round strands into open, star-shaped channels. These channels have been proven to be 99% more effective at capturing and removing bacteria and soils.

When using microfiber cloths, it’s essential that workers turn and change cloths often to ensure that their germ and soil removal capabilities are not reduced. Also, cloths should be color coded; each color should be devoted to a single, designated area of the workplace to prevent cross-contamination.

Finally, in addition to effective, hygienic cleaning, empower employees with the proper information and tools to protect themselves. Use flyers, emails and meetings to remind employees about the need to help minimize germ transmission through effective hand hygiene. Stress effective hand washing and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and keep sanitizing stations visible and well stocked. By combining effective hygienic cleaning and worker hand care education, you will reduce health risks and improve your chances of weathering the cold and flu season with a minimal loss of manpower.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Travel and IT Security Risks

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Tis the season to be jolly – and to leave sensitive corporate information behind at the airport!

According to telephone interviews with the lost property offices of 15 UK airports, including Heathrow and Luton, over 5,100 mobile phones and 3,844 laptops have been left behind so far this year; with the majority still unclaimed and many more expected to be left over the Christmas holiday peak season. This figure is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg as ABTA expect over 4 million people to be travelling over this period, and the overall figures do not take into account all those devices that were stolen, or kept by the ‘lucky’ finder.

The survey, carried out by Credant Technologies, also found that in the majority of cases, those devices that aren’t reclaimed are then either sold at auction or donated to charities. However the fact is that these devices may still contain information that could be available for the new owner. With ID theft from mobile phones and other lost devices at an all time high, users should really take special care this Christmas when travelling.

According to a representative at Luton Airport, the most common place devices are forgotten is at the security check point as it’s a very pressured environment with numerous distractions. Often, once the travelers have boarded the plane and left the country it’s just too expensive to return for the device, which in most instances will be covered by insurance, resulting in the majority going unclaimed.

But the device’s value is the last thing organisations should be worrying about, explains Seán Glynn, vice president at Credant Technologies, “What is much more concerning are the copious volumes of sensitive data these devices contain – often unsecured and easily accessed. Without protecting mobile phones, laptops and even USBs with something even as basic as a password, a malicious third party can have easy access to the corporate network, email accounts and all the files stored on the device including the contact lists. Users also store such things as passwords, bank details and other personal information on the device making it child’s play to impersonate the user and steal their identity – both personal and corporate.”

Credant Technologies provides the following eight tips to secure corporate information during holiday travel:

1. As you leave - whether it’s the check-in desk, security check point, or even the train station, make sure you take everything with you, including your mobile devices. A few seconds to check could potentially save you hours of frustration and embarrassment.

2. Protect your mobile device: with at least a password (and ensure that it is a strong one, containing letters, numbers and symbols). Better still, use an encryption solution so that even if your device is left behind, the data on it is not accessible to anyone who finds it.

3. Don’t elect to automatically complete online credentials, such as corporate network log in details, so that if you and your device should become separated, it cannot operate without you.

4. Back-up your device and remove any sensitive information that you do not need. If it’s not there it can’t be breached.

5. As in tip 4, remove SMS and emails that you don’t need anymore - you’d be sur­prised how many people keep their default password emails on their mobiles and other hugely sensitive information like PINs, bank account details or pass­words!

6. Don't leave your mobile device open to access (e.g. leaving Bluetooth or WiFi turned on) somewhere visible and unsecured.

7. Include your name and contact details in the device so that, if it should be lost, it can easily be returned to you. Some operators have a registration service to facilitate this.

8. Finally, speak to your IT department before you leave the office this year – that’s what they’re there for. They’ll help make sure your device is better protected should it find itself languishing all alone at the airport.

What do you think?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Heading Off "Vacation Guilt"

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Fearing your holiday vacation will be tainted with tiny tantrums from a needy boss?

"Fear is a big driver, and when bosses - and kids- don't have control, such as with matters of a vacation from work, a 'terrible office tyrant' or 'TOT' can emerge," says Lynn Taylor. "The inner child should, but doesn't 'stay there'," says the author of "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant."

Taylor, a nationally recognized workplace expert, explains that despite this relatively quiet time of year, many bosses can become needy, like toddlers who have trouble modulating their authority. "Senior management can't afford to take chances in this economic environment, and want to ensure there's a tether to…you."

In Taylor's book, she offers tips on "separation anxiety" in offices that appear to be more of a schoolyard running amok than a professional company. "A needy boss wants constant assurance that you will take care of all needs and deadlines, holiday or not. Some 'TOTs' at the helm may be taking shorter vacations themselves, particularly at smaller companies, which can exacerbate the sense that you're abandoning ship," she adds.

If your boss suffers from holiday separation anxiety, Taylor suggests these tips:

•Remain unapologetic when requesting or taking the allotted time off. Everyone needs a break.
•Reassure the boss that a little break now will translate into a happier, more productive new year.
•Make solid plans in writing for who covers what while you're on vacation. Provide a "to-do list" for your boss, which will reassure and suggest that your "TOT" can go skiing without thinking about you.
•Speaking of which, set clear limits; you don't want to be skiing after getting the 'big freeze' from the boss.

"Neediness may seem benign at first," says Taylor, "but it can quickly cascade into one of 19 other bad boss behaviors."

Do you have a needy boss? If so, how do you manage them?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cloud computing's "green" credentials

By R. Edwin Pearce

The market for cloud computing has expanded quickly over the past few years, largely driven by its ability to deliver impressive economic benefits to cash-strapped organizations. But a new study finds that not only can cloud computing keep operations in the black, it also can help them be "green."

Pike Research reports that the growth of cloud computing will have important implications for both energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In fact, by 2020, cloud computing will lead to a 38 percent reduction in worldwide data center energy expenditures, compared to a business-as-usual scenario, Pike Research reports.

“The growth of cloud computing will have a very significant positive effect on data center energy consumption,” says Pike Research Senior Analyst Eric Woods. “Few, if any, clean technologies have the capability to reduce energy expenditures and GHG production with so little business disruption. Software-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service, and platform-as-a-service are all inherently more efficient models than conventional alternatives, and their adoption will be one of the largest contributing factors to the greening of enterprise IT.”

To be sure, cloud computing's "green" credentials and environmental impact aren't the top reasons for organizations to deploy the technology. But they are certainly incremental benefits, particularly for organizations that list environmental sustainability among their strategic objectives.

R. Edwin Pearce is executive vice president of sales and corporate development for eGistics, Inc., a leading provider of hosted document management solutions. Pearce can be reached at 214-256-4607 or via

7 principles that lead to social media success

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Let's face it: The business world is changing. Rapidly. While the object of the game is still to drive revenue, the methods have changed. Instead of a monolithic one-way interaction, business is now being conducted through constant and meaningful two-way conversations between organizations and constituents—at every stage of organizational development. And it's a good thing, too.

Not so long ago, the object of the game was to be cutthroat and dictatorial about business, and it helped if you could check your emotions and personality at the door. Deep down, did most of us really buy the old "nothing personal—it's just business" line? Of course not! After all, building a thriving business is all about making lasting, personal, reliable connections inside and outside of your company, points out Barry Libert. And these days, there's no better way to do that than through social media—in essence, by building your company's own Social Nation.

Libert knows what he's talking about. He is the chairman and CEO of Mzinga, a company that provides social software to businesses. Quite literally, it's his job to be social media savvy. And he's adamant that building your own Social Nation is increasingly necessary in the business world.

"It's true. Your employees and your customers want to be engaged on a very personal level, and not just through a survey or an annual conference," confirms Libert, author of the new book Social Nation: How to Harness the Power of Social Media to Attract Customers, Motivate Employees, and Grow Your Business (Wiley, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-470-59926-6, $24.95, "And here's the clincher: If you choose not to engage with these folks, they'll do it without you—and you definitely don't want that."

Examples of Social Nations are everywhere. Today, customers want to rely on what other diners have to say to help make decisions about where they should eat next, rather than relying on traditional restaurant advertising. Open Table has brought together a nation of diners who connect online. Amazon has brought together a nation of readers for those who want to share their feedback about books and help influence the choices of other readers. A community of travelers help us select hotels that meet our personal preferences thanks to Trip Advisor. steers us toward the stocks we should buy.

And it does not stop there. These and many other companies are all beginning to understand the power of creating friends, fans, and followers to build their businesses.

"Building your Social Nation means changing what you think it means to build a company," Libert explains. "This emerging social era is about engaging everyone around you to redefine what you do and how you do it—including sales, marketing, R&D, customer support, and product development."

Still skeptical? Then take a look at the hard numbers. A 2009 study by the Nielsen Company revealed that employees, partners, and customers spent 17 percent of their online time social networking or blogging—and 83 percent more time in online social networks than the year prior. What's more, these constituencies are driving advertisers to spend an expected $2.6 billion on these social sites by 2012.

Essentially, these statistics tell us that companies need to embrace and capture the voices of their employees and customers if they want to innovate and thrive. And at the same time, customers and employees want to impact all aspects of business by sharing their opinions, criticisms, and praise with companies—and with each other.

"It's becoming increasingly clear that building communities for customers, employees, partners, and investors is critical to the future vitality of business," confirms Libert. "In this new era, you can't underestimate how important emotional and social connections are, and how crucial it is to fulfill the needs of others and the desires of customers. When you embrace the Social Nation revolution, you'll create a better, more profitable, and more viable company or organization."

Excited to learn more? Then read on to learn about Libert's seven rules for implementing a successful social media strategy in your organization and learn how real-world companies have put them into action:

Rule 1: Develop Your Social Skills. Leaders in this new Social Nation are expected to follow as much as they lead, collaborating with their colleagues while still providing structure and support. In boardrooms and offices around the world, leaders are starting to become more interconnected, to put others' needs first, and to find motivation in helping others succeed. They facilitate rather than control.

Rule 2: Let Culture Lead Your Way. When building your social organization, remember that the DNA of the company is very important, so let an open and honest culture be a guiding principle. After all, culture defines your company because it tells employees what to expect and lets customers know who you are and what you stand for.

Rule 3: Mind Your Online and Offline Manners. How you say something—be it online or off—is as important as what you say, and can help make the difference in gaining fans, friends, and followers. And remember that technology connects people in faster and more transparent ways than ever!

Rule 4: Listen, Learn, Adapt. Social intelligence enables your company to benefit from all that is happening around you—including the conversations of your constituents—so you can adapt what you do and how you do it to better meet the needs of your customers, employees, and market demands. After all, it's a good thing to understand what your customers need and want and how they interact with your products and services.

Rule 5: Include Others in Everything You Do. As an organization that is seeking to benefit from membership in the Social Nation, relying on others in every part of your company is the only way to alter what you do and how you do it to generate new revenues and increase profits.

Rule 6: Rely on Others for Growth and Innovation. Friends, fans, and followers are instrumental in achieving growth in today's connected world. Instead of the "old" method of relying on focus groups that meet behind two-way mirrors, it's time to engage customers in a two-way conversation to innovate new products and services that matter.

Rule 7: Reward Others and You Will Be Rewarded Too. As organizations focus more and more on connections and relationships, customers want to be rewarded emotionally as well as financially. Successful businesses have to meet both needs.

What do you think?

Greening Your Mail Can Keep You in the Black

By Greg Brown, Marketing Director, Melissa Data

A recent Aperture Research Institute study reported upwards of 70 percent of organizations have adopted a green initiative of some kind. While those companies should be lauded for their efforts at environmental stewardship, bad days on Wall Street and for the economy have seen some companies abandon or scale back their green initiatives as they tighten their belts.

Now is the time to take a realistic look at your company’s green initiatives and ask whether or not the practices undertaken are “evergreen” – promoting not only environmental sustainability, but also sound business practices and solid return on investment so as to be sustainable in good economic conditions as well as bad.

For instance, over six million trees and more than 300 million pounds of paper are wasted each year on undeliverable-as-addressed Standard class mail, as reported by UAA Clearinghouse. It costs the Post Office over 2 billion dollars annually to process this true “junk mail”. And the cost to mailers is even more dramatic – undeliverable mail costs direct mailers over $6 billion dollars a year.

So, is Postmaster General Jack Potter’s call to reduce UAA mail by 50 percent by 2010 a green initiative designed to decrease global warming and unnecessary environmental waste? Absolutely. But it’s also a common sense business initiative that will save both the USPS and mailers a tremendous amount of money – money better spent on job creation, product development, and effective marketing.

Here are 10 steps you can easily implement to save money as you green your mailings – reducing waste, while improving deliverability, effectiveness and response to ensure you stay in the black, even as the economy sees red:

1. Correct your mailing
2. Update your mailing
3. Dedupe your mailing
4. Suppress your mailing
5. Target your mailing
6. TransPromo your mailing
7. Connect your mailing
8. Downsize your mailing
9. Sustain your mailing
10. Recycle your mailing

Has your organization had success with any of these strategies?

Monday, December 6, 2010

With economy improving, IT departments hit the ground running

Posted by Mark Brousseau

High performing information technology (IT) departments at large companies have hit the ground running following the recent economic downturn, recalibrating their efforts to drive more business value from IT, and leaving their less adroit counterparts playing catch-up, according to new research from Accenture.

While many companies slipped into stagnation mode during the downturn, cutting budgets and focusing primarily on maintenance, high-performing organizations viewed IT as a growth engine for their business and the economic conditions as an opportunity to build capability.

Accenture defines high performers in IT as those that achieve excellence in IT execution, IT agility and IT innovation together, balancing the constant and sometimes opposing demands placed on today’s IT function.

High performers in IT not only manage IT like a business, but run IT for the business and with the business. CIOs at these organizations are engaged in their company’s business strategies and are able to truly map out how IT supports those strategies.

“Our survey found that chief information officers (CIOs) of high performance IT organizations are deeply involved in business outcomes and closely attuned to business needs – current and future – across the enterprise,” said Gary Curtis, Accenture’s chief technology strategist. “They are successfully retiring their legacy systems and embracing newer technologies. They are adept at managing the balance between optimizing costs and ensuring that they have the budget, skills, and resources to help fuel business growth.”

The research also found that high performers don’t just do a few things well; they excel across the board when compared to lower performing IT departments. Some examples:

... They have web-enabled 42 percent more of their customer interactions and 93 percent more of their suppliers’ interactions ;

... They are 44 percent more likely to recognize the strategic role IT plays in increasing customer satisfaction;

... They are eight times more likely to measure the benefits realized from IT initiatives;

... They spend 29 percent more annually on developing and implementing new applications rather than on maintaining existing ones; and

... They are twice as likely to view workforce performance as a priority by addressing challenges such as an aging workforce and collaboration, as well as developing technical and soft skills (business knowledge, relationship management)

“High performing IT departments are powerful drivers of value for their organizations – not simply keeping the lights on, but promoting technology initiatives that power innovation and enable the IT organization to function as a business,” said Curtis.

What do you think?

Cloud computing grows up

By R. Edwin Pearce

The next year will be big for cloud computing, with the technology transitioning from “early adopter status” into a mainstream platform for IT. That’s according to IDC, a leading research and advisory firm, which ranked the maturation of cloud computing among its top IT predictions for 2011.

IDC predicts that spending on public IT cloud services will grow at more than five times the rate of the IT industry in 2011, up 30 percent from 2010, as organizations move a wider range of business applications into the cloud. Small and medium-sized business cloud use will surge in 2011, with adoption of some cloud resources topping 33 percent among U.S. midsize firms by year’s end.

“[Cloud computing] can no longer be invested in, or managed, as sandbox efforts around the edges of the market. Instead, they are rapidly becoming the market itself and must be addressed accordingly,” warns Frank Gens, senior vice president and chief analyst at Framingham, MA-based IDC.

Gens is exactly right. Organizations of all sizes are taking a hard look at cloud-based solutions as a way to avoid the hefty capital investments and ongoing maintenance and upgrade costs associated with traditional on-premise solutions, and to ensure their IT infrastructure remains up-to-date.

In addition to changing the way organizations access business applications, the growth of cloud computing also will bring mobile banking and payments one step closer to reality, IDC predicts. But this also is true of mobile applications in other industries, most notably healthcare and insurance.

What do you think?

R. Edwin Pearce is executive vice president of sales and corporate development at eGistics, Inc. (, a leading provider of hosted solutions for payments and document automation. He can be reached at 214-256-4607 or via e-mail at

Trust in the Workplace: It’s How You Say It

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Trust is all talk – along with the pitch, volume and emphasis of your message, according to new research co-authored by an assistant professor or organizational behavior at Cornell University’s ILR School. The research finds that the volume, pitch and tone of your speech directly correlate with how much another person trusts and understands you.

“If you trust more, you use more emphasis, which is a combination of loudness and pitch,” said Michele Williams, assistant professor in the ILR School’s Department of Organizational Behavior. “A range of volume and pitch is important – it helps the listeners by saying, ‘This is important.’ If you’re really interested, it’s very hard to speak at the same level.”

Williams and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used observation and voice recordings – sorted by computer algorithms measuring pitch and volume – to follow information transfers among 29 nurses in the break room of a 30-bed surgical unit in a New England hospital.

Trust communicated through emphasis helps drive accuracy – an important implication for hospitals, where communication breakdowns are considered the cause of most preventable errors, said Williams and MIT researchers Benjamin Waber, John Carroll and Alex Pentland.

“Few people think about the information carried in their voices,” Williams said.

What do you see in your workplace?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

7 Tips for Turning Your Customers into Fans for Life

Posted by Mark Brousseau

No matter what industry or profession you’re in, there are tons of ways to win over your customers and create brand loyalists who keep coming back. Below are a few easy-to-implement ideas that will help you turn any customer into a fan for life. And though these tips address specific professions and businesses, keep in mind that great customer service translates across industries. Carefully consider each of them and think about how you can modify them to improve the service you provide your customers:

1. Offer flexible office hours. If you’re an attorney, financial advisor, or other professional whose clients are small business owners or any other busy business-type, you might consider offering to meet with them on evenings or Saturdays rather than during regular business hours. In doing so, you show them that you understand the time they spend with their business is essential and make it easier for them to do business with you.

2. Handle problems quickly. This is especially important for hotels and other hospitality services. Understand that your guests don’t need you when everything is going as planned. It’s when something goes wrong that they need great customer service to right their proverbial ship. When you’re presented with a guest’s problem, provide solutions on the spot.

“For example, if a busy guest’s luggage zipper breaks, what can you do to help?” says Kuzmeski. “Well, you might offer a coupon for a new piece of luggage from the hotel’s store. Keep spare luggage on hand for guests with a problem. Or simply offer to tape the luggage shut to ensure it makes it home safely. Figure out what you can do to get it right when something is going wrong for your guests, and they will keep coming back.”

3. Show them what you’ve got…before the big day. If you are a caterer, baker, florist, wedding planner, or any other professional who helps plan the most important or special days of your clients’ lives, always give them an unexpected taste of what you have to offer before the big day. For example, a wedding caterer might show up at the bride’s house a week before the wedding with a sampling of hors d’oeuvres. Or a florist might send the happy couple a bouquet of flowers two weeks in advance. By doing so, you show your clients that you care about them and also give them a preview of the great service you’ll provide on the big day.

4. Offer friendlier skies (and waiting rooms). Many people today view airports, and flying in general, as the places where all great customer service goes to die. In fact, often you can walk up to a ticket counter or onto a plane and never even have the airline employee make eye contact. If you work for an airline, know that many travelers today would just like to be acknowledged. Show your customers you’re happy they chose to fly with you. The same holds true, of course, for any business in any industry.

“Medical office reception areas can also sometimes be low on great customer service,” says Kuzmeski. “Their busy employees usually have to look at a computer most of the day, and they are trying to cycle patients through as quickly as possible. But by doing something as easy as making eye contact and smiling, you can begin to alleviate a sick patient’s stress—or in the case of the airline, a passenger’s travel worries.”

5. Fix it first. This one goes out to anyone who has ever gotten their freshly dry-cleaned clothes back only to find that a button has broken off of their favorite blouse or dress shirt. Or who has gotten their car back from the repair shop only to have another problem a week later. If you are a dry cleaner, fix the button—at no charge—before your customers pick up their clothing items. By doing so, you eliminate what could become a huge inconvenience for them and ensure they won’t have any qualms about bringing their next round of dry cleaning to your business.

6. Provide worth-the-wait service, without the wait. For doctors, hospitals, veterinarians, or other medical service providers, a wonderful way to win the love of your patients is to ensure short wait times and flexible appointment times. For example, one hospital ER in Florida sponsors a billboard that shows its wait time in LCD real-time—as well as the ER wait times at other local hospitals. The sponsoring hospital has significantly lower times. By doing so, they show their patients that they understand wait time is a huge concern, and that most people fear they’ll end up spending hours and hours sitting in the waiting room if they ever have to go to the ER.

This tactic could easily be modified by other businesses where long waits are often a customer deterrent—for example, “big box” chains and popular grocery stores, phone companies like Verizon and AT&T (where the transactions take a long time), or at coffee shops that want to show they have short waits during the morning rush. Or you can do this on a smaller scale in your own medical office or small business by having your staff let clients/patients know exactly how long it will be before they can be seen.

“Obviously, the shorter the wait time the better, but by providing patients or clients with the wait length, you can show that you haven’t simply accepted that long wait times come with the territory at hospitals, medical offices, and some businesses,” says Kuzmeski. “Show them that you don’t think it’s okay if they have to wait a while to be seen, and that you understand that people want and deserve better.”

7. Give it away for free. Vistaprint, a global printing company, made jaw-dropping value their hallmark. They did so by offering 250 business cards for free, with a nominal $5.67 shipping and processing charge, to appeal to their target market: cost-conscious small businesses. Today, 66 percent of Vistaprint’s business comes from returning customers. In the first quarter of 2010 alone, they acquired 1.4 million new customers—many who started with a free order.

“Offering freebies might also be a great way to get customers into a new restaurant or boutique,” suggests Kuzmeski. “Give first-time customers a free appetizer or special discount—along with great service, of course!—and they will be happy to recommend more first-timers and to come back for more themselves.”

What do you think?

4 Steps to Creating FAN-atical Clients

Posted by Mark Brousseau

You wear their team colors and refuse to wear those of their greatest rival. You cheer for them win or lose but are always full of advice on how they could improve (just in case the coach ever gives you a call!). You’ll do what it takes to watch them play whether that means braving icy weather or missing yet another Sunday lunch with the family. These are the makings of a true sports fan and the factors that connect you to tens of thousands of like-minded strangers.

Yes, sports fans are loyal and passionate—so much so that, for many, their team seems like a close friend or family member. Marketing expert Maribeth Kuzmeski says this intense emotional connection to what is essentially just another brand begs the question: What can today’s business owners do to make their customers as passionate and loyal to their products as sports fans are to their favorite teams?

“I am a huge Green Bay Packers fan,” says Kuzmeski, author of the new book …And the Clients Went Wild! How Savvy Professionals Win All the Business They Want (Wiley, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-470-60176-1, $24.95, “I learned about football, the Packers, and what it means to be a fan from my football-loving grandmother. We cheered for our team when they were terrible and basked in the glow of the wins when they were better. But we never considered moving to another.”

While Kuzmeski now lives in a different football town where another big NFL franchise gets all the attention, she insists that the Packers are still “my team.” And it’s that level of loyalty that she strives to help her clients create in their customers.

“Fan loyalty is an emotional connection that’s often stronger than any other loyalty, frequently due to generational or family-based connections—or, for those who fiercely cheer for their college, or even high school, alma maters, connections based on nostalgia,” she adds. “Many business owners today might assume that there is no way they can elicit such passion from their customers, but with the right strategies, it is possible.”

In her new book, Kuzmeski explains that in order to truly get clients to “go wild” about your business, there must be an overriding and strong emotional connection—similar to the one you might feel for your favorite sports team.

“Success is all in what you offer and how you offer it,” she says. “You can get others to connect to your company, product, or service by passionately delivering whatever you have to offer. This is a true differentiator, because so few people and businesses actually act with this kind of enthusiasm. Thus, when you exhibit it, your customers and potential customers will take notice.”

If you want to learn how to create a die-hard-sports-fan level of loyalty among your customers, read on for Kuzmeski’s four absolutes for inspiring that kind of passion:

1. Offer something unique. Whatever you’re offering your customers can’t just be better; it has to be different. In order to gain exposure, it helps to be or to offer something unique—or do something that no one else dares.

A great example of a company that understands the “different is better” mantra is Buc-ee’s gas stations. They have focused their number-one offering on what people dread most about stopping at a gas station: the bathrooms! Each of the thirty locations has incredibly clean, substantially sized bathrooms, along with full-time attendants to keep them in tip-top shape. And happy customers regularly post testimonials on the company’s blog. Buc-ee’s built their entire business around the bathrooms—a feature they knew they could use to differentiate their business.

“This is a great example of how looking at things from a different perspective can really pay off,” Kuzmeski says. “Instead of focusing on what clients liked about their industry, they chose to plan their strategy around what customers liked the least and improve upon it. Think about what people dislike most about your industry, service, or product offering. What solutions can you offer? It’s a great way to differentiate yourself from your competition and to create some buzz in the process!”

2. Create something valuable (and viral!). This strategy is two-fold. First, you must have something valuable to say—a message your customers will want to pass on to others. Then, you have to make it easy for them to pass that message on. When it is really easy for customers to pass along information about your brand, they will.

“You might kick off this strategy by creating a simple, repeatable message,” suggests Kuzmeski. “People have an average attention span of only seventeen seconds, so you have to get their attention quickly. A short, clear message will certainly do the trick. Think about Google. For the most part, the company does not advertise, and certainly did not advertise its initial offering of its web search site.

“Do you remember how you found out about the search engine?” she adds. “People were just passing along the straightforward message that you can ‘search for anything and everything on the internet for free at’ The message became viral, and the company’s growth notoriously exploded. It’s truly a great example of a simple, repeatable statement of value that was so easy to pass on that it spread like, well, a virus!”

3. Understand the difference between features and benefits. Too many businesses accentuate the features of their products or services rather than the benefits—which are what your clients really care about. Benefits are value statements about the features of a product or service, with an emphasis on what the customer gets. For example, “Open 24 Hours” is a feature. The benefit is that the business will be open whenever the customer needs it. Or say you’ve been in financial services for twenty years. That is a feature. The benefit for your clients is the experience, working knowledge, and years of training that result from your length of time in the business.

“Too many companies leave it up to their prospects to figure out the benefits of their products or services,” notes Kuzmeski. “Remember, you may be steeped in information about your products and services, but they aren’t. When you try to sell them on features alone, you’re asking the customer to do all the work—and she probably won’t. Bottom line: It’s in your best interest to draw a crystal clear picture of a product’s or service’s benefits for a prospective buyer.”

4. Don’t just say it. Do it! Often, the things you can do to turn your customers into die-hard fans are right under your nose. They’re the things you do every day, or those things you do simply because you want to provide your customers with the service they deserve. Kuzmeski tells a story about one of her financial advisor clients who didn’t have to proclaim that he provided excellent service—he lived it. And going the extra mile ended up paying off in a big way.

“One day this financial advisor got a call from a pastor explaining that an elderly woman at his church was completely lost,” relates Kuzmeski. “Her husband had recently passed away, and she didn’t know where any of the important papers regarding her estate were located. The advisor ended up going to her home to help her find her insurance policies and other important files. He ended up helping her uncover documents indicating $700,000 in assets! And he didn’t charge her a penny.

“Based on what he did for her, he created a survivorship program and quickly started receiving referrals from all over his community,” she adds. “Rather than ask to be trusted, he had shown he was trustworthy. Instead of asking her to trust him, he had shown his client she could trust him.”

“Making screaming, loyal fans out of your customers won’t be easy, but it is absolutely possible,” says Kuzmeski. “You simply have to give them a product or service worth going wild about. Hit on all of the absolutes I’ve provided, and before you know it, you’ll have clients who stick with you through thick and thin and cheer you on every chance they get.”

What do you think?

Enterprises will place emphasis on vendor integration in 2011

Posted by Mark Brousseau

As organizations become increasingly decentralized, 2011 will see enterprises identifying technology suppliers that can integrate effectively with other — often competing — solutions, according to new research released by analyst firm Real Story Group (formerly CMS Watch).

"Going into 2011, our research customers are indicating an unprecedented aversion to vendor lock-in," said Real Story Group President and Principal Analyst, Tony Byrne. "In the real world, enterprises have to support multiple devices, multiple internal portals, multiple web delivery channels, underutilized SharePoint deployments, and the lingering primacy of e-mail as a corporate information management platform — so vendors will have to adapt."

Real Story Group provided 12 other technology predictions for 2011:

1. "Bring Your Own Device" policies will push HTML5 adoption for mobile access to enterprise applications
2. Content-rich customers will rebel against Web CMS marketing spins
3. Microsoft will turn to partners to fix SharePoint shortcomings
4. The top end of the Web CMS market will be redefined
5. Intranet community managers will adopt public social functionality
6. SaaS vendors will try to separate from "The Cloud"
7. Buyers will have a greater acceptance of newer standards
8. Case Management will become the leading application from high-end ECM vendors
9. Digital Asset Management vendors will greatly expand video management capabilities
10. E-mail will remain the world's de-facto enterprise document repository and workflow system
11. Portal software will increasingly produce services for other portals
12. Specialized talent around managing content will begin to migrate out of large corporations

What do you think?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Electronic Invoicing: A Dog Chasing the Car

By Tom Walker of Open Text

What is electronic invoicing? Just a simple search of the Internet provides several answers. What is the correct way to write the term … spell it out or abbreviate with a big E or little e? Does this relate to outbound invoices or inbound invoices? Is this just electronic data interchange (EDI)? I ask for your comments based on my observation below; when you hear e-invoice…what comes to mind?

For my comments, I will use e-invoice and assume it relates to inbound invoices and I will assume that SAP is the backend solution.

Invoices can be received electronically through several methods. EDI has been around for many years and seemed to have reached its peak. Most major trading partners were EDI-enabled. EDI also requires a specific internal skill set to maintain. The maturity of EDI provides a proven electronic methodology but somewhat relegated to large corporations. Both large companies and small to mid size receive invoices through direct loads from vendor website and upload of files sent from vendors. The direct link to vendors is common with purchasing cards while files uploads are common with utilities.

The thing all of these electronic methods have in common is the elimination of mail room activity and manual data entry. Another commonality is that all may still contain errors in the invoice meta data. Some consider fax or email attachment as electronic but both of these typically require first capture of the image and from that point they are handled the same as paper invoices.

There is a current trend to consider electronic invoice presentment and payment (EIPP) to be e-invoicing as provided by vendor networks. These networks accumulate invoices (typically those invoices still received by paper) from multiple Vendors and then submit them to the respective multiple clients…a many to many relationship. While these networks continue to be unique to specific providers, it is assumed they will eventually provide the ability to “roam” similar to cell phone networks.

Regardless of how a corporation receives e-invoices, it is how you process the header and line item meta data that creates significant additional value to e-invoicing. Moving from paper to e-invoice does not eliminate the vendor from providing incorrect meta data. It does not remove the labor required to correct invoice meta data, to route for approval or to report on the overall end to end processing. It does not provide the necessary process control or audit trails.

SAP not only provides the vendor network capabilities through their Crossgate solution, they also provide SAP Invoice Management which is designed to work with all forms of e-invoice.

So, not unlike the dog chasing the car, it is what you do with it when you catch it that makes the story most interesting.

What do you think?

There’s a Bounty on your Applications

By Anthony Haywood of Idappcom

In the last year there have been a number of organizations offering rewards, or ‘bounty’ programs, for discovering and reporting bugs in applications. Mozilla currently offers up to $3,000 for crucial or high bug identification, Google pays out $1,337 for flaws in its software and Deutsche Post is currently sifting through applications from ‘ethical’ hackers to approve teams who will go head to head and compete for its Security Cup in October. The winning team can hold aloft the trophy if they find vulnerabilities in its new online secure messaging service – that’s comforting to current users. So, are these incentives the best way to make sure your applications are secure?

At Idappcom, we’d argue that these sorts of schemes are nothing short of a publicity stunt and, in fact, can be potentially dangerous to an end user's security.

One concern is that, by inviting hackers to trawl all over a new application prior to its launch, just grants them more time to interrogate it and identify weaknesses which they may decide is more valuable if kept to themselves. Once the first big announcement is made detailing who has purchased the application, with where and when the product is to go live, the hacker can use this insight to breach the system and steal the corporate jewels.

A further worry is that, while on the surface it may seem that these companies are being open and honest, if a serious security flaw were identified would they raise the alarm and warn people? It’s my belief that they’d fix it quietly, release a patch and hope no-one hears about it. The hacker would happily claim the reward, promise a vow of silence and then ‘sell’ the details on the black market leaving any user, while the patch is being developed or if they fail to install the update, with a great big security void in their defences just waiting to be exploited.

Sometimes it’s not even a flaw in the software that can cause problems. If an attack is launched against the application, causing it to fail and reboot, then this denial of service (DOS) attack can be just as costly to your organisation as if the application were breached and data stolen.

A final word of warning is that, even if the application isn’t hacked today, it doesn’t mean that tomorrow they’re not going to be able to breach it. Windows Vista is one such example. Microsoft originally hailed it as ‘it’s most secure operating system they’d ever made’ and we all know what happened next.

A proactive approach to security
IT’s never infallible and for this reason penetration testing is often heralded as the hero of the hour. That said technology has moved on and, while still valid in certain circumstances, historical penetration testing techniques are often limited in their effectiveness. Let me explain - a traditional test is executed from outside the network perimeter with the tester seeking applications to attack. However, as these assaults are all from a single IP address, intelligent security software will recognize this behavior as the IP doesn’t change. Within the first two or three attempts the source address is blacklisted or fire walled and all subsequent traffic is immaterial as all activities are seen and treated as malicious.

An intelligent proactive approach to security
There isn’t one single piece of advice that is the answer to all your prayers. Instead you need two and both need to be conducted simultaneously if your network’s to perform in perfect harmony: application testing combined with intrusion detection.

The reason I advocate application testing is, if you have an application that’s public facing, and it were compromised the financial impact to the organization could potentially be fatal. There are technologies available that can test your device or application with a barrage of millions upon millions of iterations, using different broken or mutated protocols and techniques, in an effort to crash the system. If a hacker were to do this, and caused it to fall over or reboot, this denial of service could be at best embarrassing but at worst detrimental to your organization.

Intrusion detection, capable of spotting zero day exploits, must be deployed to audit and test the recognition and response capabilities of your corporate security defences. It will substantiate that, not only is the network security deployed and configured correctly, but that it’s capable of protecting the application that you’re about to make live or have already launched irrespective of what the service it supports is – be it email, a web service, anything. The device looks for characteristics in behavior to determine if an incoming request to the product or service is likely to be good and valid or if it’s indicative of malicious behavior. This provides not only reassurance, but all important proof, that the network security is capable of identifying and mitigating the latest threats and security evasion techniques.

While we wait with baited breath to see who will lift Deutsche Post’s Security Cup we must not lose sight of our own challenges. My best advice would be that, instead of waiting for the outcome and relying on others to keep you informed of vulnerabilities in your applications, you must regularly inspect your defences to make sure they’re standing strong with no chinks. If you don’t the bounty may as well be on your head.

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Network Security Facing Dual Challenge

By Dan Joe Barry, Napatech

Network security systems are under pressure. You might not be experiencing it yet, but you will soon. The dual challenge of dealing with more attacks at higher speeds threatens to undermine the stability of the most important commercial platforms of the 21st century; namely the Internet.

What can be done to address these challenges and avert the economic impact of an Internet collapse?

For many, the Internet is synonymous with web browsing, email and chat. But, the Internet and, IP-based networks in general, are now the foundation for a host of commercial services with significant impact on our daily lives.

On-line shopping is familiar to many, as is net-banking, but the financial world has now become reliant on the Internet for executing banking and investment transactions, sometimes thousands per second. Government services have also moved on-line. The Internet is used extensively in education and healthcare to provide distance services and expert consultation. The advent of cloud computing means that corporations will be more reliant than ever on the Internet to support their business.

In short, without the Internet, our lives would come to a grinding halt.

The development of the Internet as a commercial platform has not gone un-noticed by criminal organizations, which are exceptionally innovative in finding new ways of generating revenue! They have displaced the amateur hacker enthusiasts as the key threat to the Internet.

The open and global advantages of the Internet are now suddenly disadvantages as cybercriminals can attack from any location in the world, beyond the reach of domestic law enforcement agencies.

To understand the scope of the network security challenge, consider figures from Trend Micro, a leading provider of network security solutions, who have reported an explosive growth in the number of unique malware samples (i.e. types of attack) over the last 20 years.

Network security system vendors are struggling to respond to these new attacks as quickly as they occur. In a sense, they are playing a cat-and-mouse game with adversaries who are at least as intelligent and innovative at exploiting weaknesses in networks and applications, as they are at detecting attacks.

Higher data rates compound the challenge facing network security system vendors. IP networks are now being upgraded from 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps link speeds with 40 Gbps and 100 Gbps on the horizon. At 1 Gbps, a network security system needs to analyze up to 1.5 million packets per second. At 10 Gbps, this becomes 15 million packets per second. This is per port and only in 1 direction.

The challenge for network security system vendors is to ensure that their systems:

• Can handle up to 15 million packets per second per port in each direction

• Have the necessary processing power and memory to analyze packets in real-time

• Can scale to detect millions of new malware samples and higher line rates

The traditional approach to building network security systems is to build customized hardware including ASIC chip development. However, with the exponential growth in malware and higher line-rates, network security systems need to scale in both terms of data handling and computing power on a regular basis. This in turn means that the lifetime of a product revision will be shorter.

This begs the question: can network security system vendors keep up and have they got the deep pockets required to fund custom hardware and chip development on a regular basis?

It also leads to the question: is there another way?

High-performance network security systems can be based on standard, off-the-shelf PC servers when these are combined with Intelligent Real-time Network Analysis adapters for handling full line-rate data.The advantage of this approach is that it takes advantage of the strong roadmap of PC server and CPU chip vendors who are updating their performance and the number of processing cores they support on a yearly basis.

Basing high-performance network security system development on standard PC servers with Intelligent Real-time Network Analysis adapters provides a path to addressing the dual challenge of more malware at higher line-rates. It provides a cost-efficient, yet high-performance model that allows network security system vendors to focus on their expertise, namely combating cybercriminals and protecting the vital commercial platform that the Internet has become.

What do you think?