Thursday, January 27, 2011

The branch is dead -- long live the branch

By Vijay Balakrishnan of StratEx LLC

That we live in a wired (or perhaps more appropriately, a wireless) world is an oft repeated truism. As I work on this post, I am using the Internet. My mobile phone just beeped with a text message. An intrepid bunch of schoolmates are using Facebook to organize a high school reunion half a planet away. Reunion after how many years, you say? Well, let's just say it is enough for many grey hairs.

If the drumbeat of news is to be believed, consumers are leaping en masse to interacting with their financial institutions through mobile phones and other remote channels. You can now snap a picture of a check with your phone and deposit it in your bank from anywhere in the world. Remote Deposit Capture (RDC) allows businesses and consumers to scan checks from the comfort of their offices or family rooms, and zap across images for deposit. The perfect storm of convenience and technology should mean that very few people visit their neighborhood branch anymore, right? Wrong!

An item (no pun, honest!) in The 2010 Federal Reserve Payments Study caught my eye. Yes, the number of checks written has declined from about 30 billion to 24.4 billion. However, only 13 percent of checks deposited were received by financial institutions as images. That means a respectable 87 percent of checks were deposited physically. So, despite all the noise about check deposits getting virtualized, there still is a healthy number of people walking into branches to make deposits.

Now, your take on the physical branch versus self-service debate will dictate whether you see this glass half full or half empty of your beverage of choice. Proponents of RDC will point to the enormous growth potential in the remaining 87 percent. The same percentage will be looked at by some retail bankers as rationale to invest in branches.

At the risk of being a fence sitter (come to think of it, sitting on an actual fence can be acutely uncomfortable), let me say that both views are correct. RDC will continue its growth, albeit at its present course and speed- I don't see a "big bang" transformation in that direction. I do, however, see an opportunity for investment in technologies like teller capture and enhanced training for tellers to go beyond their current role as deposit takers. Teller capture uses technology to capture images, proof, and balance deposits at the teller station. It reduces keystrokes and data entry errors. It also provides more "heads up" time for tellers to interact with customers, where additional training can enhance the customer experience.

Transformation is a funny thing. Just when you think the new and different will swamp the world, something from the hoary past reaches out to remind us of its existence. Success will go to those who craft strategies to leverage both.

Vijay Balakrishnan is president of StratEx LLC. He can be reached at 770-598-5747.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A real-world AP automation journey

Posted by Mark Brousseau

It’s not often that an organization can reduce its workforce while significantly growing its volume, but that’s exactly what University Hospitals, one of the nation’s leading healthcare systems, did by rethinking and automating processes in its accounts payable (AP) shared services department.

The healthcare system’s shared services center has supported a 63 percent increase in invoice volume with a 17 percent reduction in full-time equivalents (FTEs), Jeff Lubbe, corporate finance director, University Hospitals, told attendees at Kofax Transform 2011 Americas this week in San Diego.

When University Hospitals set out to revamp its AP operations a few years back, several factors were driving its thinking: external pressure to improve profitability, its desire to reduce back-office costs and reinvest the savings in patient care, and its desire to improve satisfaction with AP processing. What’s more, the AP department’s old technology infrastructure presented several challenges:

• Lost and misplaced invoices
• High costs for non-value added tasks
• Lots of time focused on keying instead of analytics
• Lack of information for workload monitoring
• Lack of accountability to resolve problem invoices
• Difficult verifying non-PO invoice approvals
• Lag time to receive approval on non-PO invoices
• Issues around coding of invoices to invalid accounts

Against this backdrop, it’s not surprising that AP was blamed anytime an invoice was paid late.

With the implementation of an Oracle enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, University Hospitals felt it finally had a strong base that it could build on for its automation strategy.

The first phase of University Hospitals’ automation strategy was to consolidate its AP operations, consolidate invoices and suppliers, identify technology-ready suppliers with high invoice counts (“We wanted to see where we could use EDI [electronic data interchange] or spreadsheet uploads,” Lubbe said), and takea hard look at internally generated transactions for process improvements.

In the second phase of its AP automation strategy, Lubbe said University Hospitals implemented a document imaging and automated workflow solution, and began utilizing a self-service solution for expenses and non-PO invoicing. University Hospitals selected MarkView software from 170 Systems (now part of Kofax) for its document imaging and automated workflow solution.

“Our strategy was to select an Oracle application – since we are an Oracle shop – and if one didn’t exist, to select an Oracle partner that had a solution that was intuitive, cost effective and scalable,” Lubbe told attendees. “We chose 170 Systems because of MarkView’s integration with Oracle, the company’s proven track record of best-practices implementations, its extensive financial automation experience, and MarkView’s breadth of out-of-the-box functionality. It was a really great fit for us.”

Today, University Hospitals has automated about 75 percent of the invoices that come into its enterprise, Lubbe said. The final phase of the medical system’s original AP automation plan will include deploying an optical character recognition (OCR) solution, and refocusing AP staff on analytical tasks, such as problem and hold resolution, statement reconciliation, and discount capture.

To automate its data capture, University Hospitals began deploying Kofax Capture and Kofax Transformation Management in December, and expects to complete the implementation in March. Lubbe said the medical system selected the Kofax products because of their integration with MarkView and Kofax’s leadership position in the intelligent data capture market.

While data capture is sure to provide additional benefits, Lubbe said he’s already pleased with the progress the medical system has made in automating its AP processes. “We have improved internal control, improved productivity of the AP department and its manager, increased visibility, avoided AP headcount increases, and improved the perception of AP and finance,” Lubbe concluded.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Outsourcing hits plateau?

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Given the slow economic recovery, outsourcing hit a plateau for most industries in 2010, though there were a few important bright spots, including financial services, which witnessed a number of large IT deals, and also the travel industry, as more hotel chains sourced their key technology functions, according to research from law firm Morrison & Foerster.

Following are a few highlights from Morrison & Foerster’s research:

... Market uncertainty continues: nagging high unemployment and near-bankruptcies of some European countries have left companies unsure about the value of entering into long-term outsourcing arrangements.

... As Business Process Outsourcing picks up, companies will increasingly demand innovation from providers, hoping to ensure more long-term and embedded value in the sourcing relationship. “Successful innovation can have a multiplier effect which can lead to increased savings going forward,” the report says.

... Cloud computing has become the biggest money-saving sourcing tool – but privacy concerns have generated industry-specific “private clouds.” Morison Foerster expects the development of a new niche market devoted exclusively to cloud computing security.

... Financial services bounced back in 2010 due to large restructurings and the adoption of outsourcing by middle market institutions. Regulators’ close watch on the industry means banks and insurance companies will insist on stable and creditworthy sourcing providers – who might even be called upon to assume responsibility for system failures at banks. Financial services outsourcing should also get a boost from implementation of the Basel II and III and Solvency II international finance accords.

... Heathcare and pharma deals hardly budged in 2010 but the new U.S. healthcare legislation should spur activity in the near future.

... As the recession eases and short-term cost-cutting is replaced by a longer outlook, “green IT” will become more popular, driven by corporate social responsibility agendas, government requirements, and bottom-line savings. More companies are holding sourcing service providers to green standards of energy efficiency and minimizing waste.

... In the U.S., a significant exception to outsourcing’s relatively tepid performance in 2010 was Legal Process Outsourcing, which law firms are adopting at an unprecedented rate. Further, the types of work being outsourced continues to increase in complexity and sophistication, suggesting a rosy future for LPO – something investors and other strategic buyers have noticed.

How do these findings compare to what you are seeing in the market?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Leveraging MFPs to drive process improvements

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Multi-function printers (MFPs) – devices that can print, fax, copy and scan documents – continue to experience tremendous growth, Daniel Schmidt, product marketing manager, Kofax, told attendees at Kofax Transform 2011 Americas this morning in San Diego.

Schmidt cited statistics from IDC that the MFP market grew by 18 and 22 percent last year, representing a total market of 13 million MFP devices, compared to just 800,000 document scanners.

Despite this tremendous growth, most organizations have an opportunity to further reduce their operations costs by leveraging and extending MFPs as part of their business processes, Schmidt said.

Realizing these costs savings, Schmidt said, are as easy as 1-2-3:

1. Consolidate control of MFPs.
2. Leverage MFPs for distributed scanning.
3. Integrate MFPs into a scan-to-process initiative.

At most organizations, MFPs are fax-enabled via individual telephone lines, Roman Swoboda, vice president, business communications, Kofax told attendees. In cases where a company has thousands of deployed MFPs – possibly across the globe – this means thousands of individual telephone lines.

Swoboda said this type of MFP deployment creates a number of issues, including the tremendous costs associated with the individual phone lines (a single line costs up to $500, Swoboda noted), the lack of document tracking and archival, and the limited security over who can send faxes and where.

“A better approach is to connect the MFPs to a centralized infrastructure where faxes are sent in a consolidated and very structured way,” Swoboda said. This offers a number of advantages, including improved tracking and compliance, lower costs (fewer “trunk lines”), and the ability to leverage a consolidated platform. One company that consolidated its MFP infrastructure was able to eliminate up to two-thirds of its analog lines, delivering payback in six to eight months, Swoboda said.

Another opportunity for improving MFP deployments is to extend the process to create searchable PDFs, as well as documents that can be archived. Schmidt suggested companies scan documents in remote offices and send them to a central archive. This reduces the costs of transporting documents between locations, eliminates the opportunity for lost document, improves information security, and enables the end-user to leverage all of the benefits of data capture, including bar code recognition.

To maximize their MFP deployments, organizations should integrate the devices with their business processes. Schmidt said this approach can reduce processing time from days to minutes, in turn, providing more timely information that can enhance customer service. It also lowers processing costs, including labor and shipping costs; creates an audit trail for tracking documents end-to-end and improving compliance efforts; and improves security, providing complete document control.

What do you think?

Information explosion driving capture growth

Posted by Mark Brousseau

There continues to be an enormous explosion of information, Alan Kerr, executive vice president of field operations, Kofax, said this morning during Kofax Transform 2011 Americas in San Diego. There also are “more and more ways” that information is coming into an organization, Kerr added.

It’s for these reasons that capture solutions are becoming more strategic, Kerr said. “People have to be able to increase service, meet compliance demands, and take costs out of the business,” Kerr said.

Not surprisingly, Kofax thinks the future is bright for capture solutions. “The capture market is about $2 billion a year and is expected to grow at an 11 percent compound annual growth rate through 2013,” Kofax CEO Reynolds Bish told attendees during his opening address.

Why the growth in capture solutions? Bish identified several driving factors:

… “As we improve our products, we continue to growth the market,” he said.
… “There is an increasing realization on the part of our customers that the paper will not go away,” Bish said. “Users have concluded that the only way to make it go away is to scan it.”
… “Paper is a compliance risk,” he noted.
… “There is a desire to convert all of that unstructured content into accessible information,” Bish said.
… “We have seeded the market for enterprise solutions with our tactical installations,” he said.
… “We can deliver proven short-term return on investments, often through the elimination of manual processes,” Bish said.

The growth of capture solutions represents “a lot of potential, as well as some challenges,” for Kofax Transform 2011 Americas attendees, Bish said.

For end-users, the challenge is to unlock the data stuck in their paper-driven business processes. “Improving business processes starts with information,” Kerr noted. “How do you capture this information? How do you transform it to make it useful? And how do you exchange it across the enterprise?”

For their part, capture vendors have to be able to provide departmental solutions, enterprise solutions, big batch back-office solutions, and knowledge solutions, Kerr said. “You have to be able to scale up and across. You must also be able to support global capabilities,” Kerr added.

So what else are end-users looking for from a capture solutions provider? Kerr said there are several key criteria:

… Partners that understand the end-user’s business problems and enterprise
… A financially stable company that is investing in the marketplace
… A strategic business relationship
… Return on investment

Against this backdrop, Bish concluded: “I really believe that the future is really bright here at Kofax and there is a tremendous opportunity for us to engage with end-users and our channel partners.”

What do you think?

Kofax kicks off its Transform event with some news

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Kofax Transform 2011 Americas opened with breaking news this morning as Kofax CEO Reynolds Bish announced the sale of the company’s European hardware business to Hannover Finanze, a private equity firm in Germany. The hardware business represented about one-third of Kofax’s total revenues. Bish told attendees that he signed the paperwork for the transaction over the weekend.

“Since all of that hardware business is conducted in EMEA, it won’t affect anything in the Americas,” Bish told the announced crowd of 650 here in San Diego. About a year ago Kofax announced that it was exploring whether to sell its hardware business. The increasingly competitive market for hardware in EMEA, and the company’s desire to focus more closely on its fast-growing software business were key factors in that decision. The transaction is expected to close in March.

Kofax also announced plans today to restructure its EMEA software business. “This will not affect how we engage with channel partners or end-users,” Bish explained. “It will be business as usual.”

Bish summed up the announcements by stating: “As a result of these moves, there’s a whole lot to be excited about at Kofax in addition to everything else that we’ve accomplished in the past year.”

Among the company’s achievements in the past year cited by Bish:

… Kofax added more than 1,900 new customers
… The company closed many more enterprise sales, including 17 deals worth more than $500,000 -- up from 10 the prior year – and nine deals worth more than $1 million – up from five in the prior year
… Kofax closed the two largest sales in the company’s history, including one worth $5.9 million to a leading global freight company and another worth $4.4 million to a major financial services firm
… The company launched eight new software products
… Kofax finished upgrading its executive management team
… The company’s overall market share increased from 10 percent in 2008 to 11 percent in 2009, according to data from Harvey Spencer Associates
… Kofax maintained its leadership position in image capture with a 25 percent share, according to data from Harvey Spencer Associates

What do you think?

Changing the CFO’s Perception of AP

By R. Edwin Pearce

Historically, if you asked a CFO to tell you the first thing that popped into their mind when you mention accounts payable (AP) processing, they likely would have responded with some variation of “cost center.” The fact is, as a percentage of revenue, the costs associated with AP processing typically represent a small blip on the radar of most companies. But as companies have tightened their spending as a result of the recent economic downturn, that blip is now a significant opportunity.

More than 75 percent of AP departments report into the CFO, according to various studies. With CFOs keenly interested in cost containment and improved cash management, AP leaders would be well served to find ways to deliver strategic benefits to the organization. Notably, 56 percent of CFOs believe AP represents a more strategic opportunity for improvements than it did two years ago.

One reason CFOs are changing their tune on AP is that they are seeking ways to avoid further layoffs, while weathering the recession. To this end, most are tightening controls over employee spending and placing greater emphasis on measuring and monitoring the company’s financial health.

These types of activities are clearly in the AP department’s wheelhouse.

CFOs are looking past the traditional paper-encumbered stereotype of AP and focusing more closely on the tremendous amount of financial data that flows through AP. From this perspective, they see AP as a means to improving working capital management, reducing supply chain risk, and greatly reducing the incidence of fraud. Most importantly, CFOs recognize that AP can help a company improve its cash position by extending days payables outstanding, avoiding late payments, capturing early-pay and volume discounts, and ensuring that payments and orders are compliant with contracts.

At many companies, AP no longer is merely a back-office transaction function where efficiency and low cost of operations are the only requisites for success; AP processes are being more tightly linked with treasury functions to help maximize working capital management. This is part of an overall move to align core processes across business functions to support corporate strategic initiatives.

While this increased corporate standing is good news for AP departments, they must also be ready for CFOs to more closely assess their performance based on key criteria such as costs, service delivery, error rates, timeliness of responses to inquiries, compliance, and vendor relationships.

This makes it imperative that AP departments continue their automation initiatives. Not only does automation help AP departments improve on-time payment performance, reduce errors, slash costs and enable greater visibility into financial data. But it also delivers the quantifiable data on process performance that CFOs will require as AP evolves into more strategic partner for their organization.

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

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Workplace Behaviors that Drain Everyone's Energy

Posted by Mark Brousseau

If you’re like most people, 2010 was a long, exhausting year at your workplace. You’re tired, depleted, and quite frankly just done with “business as usual.” You’re laying the blame for your fatigue squarely at the feet of the increased responsibilities and long hours you faced. But according to Jon Gordon, you might be wrong. He insists that working hard—when done with a good attitude in the right environment—can actually be quite invigorating.

In other words, what’s wearing you out at work might not be the work.

“Most people wrongly assume that their tasks and responsibilities are what’s grinding them down,” explains Gordon, author of the newly released Soup: A Recipe to Nourish Your Team and Culture. “However, while ‘work’ is a convenient scapegoat, the real culprit is often the negativity of the people you work with and for, their constant complaining, and the pessimistic culture that is now the norm in a lot of workplaces.”

The fact is, many of us work in a world of drainers. And what, exactly, is a drainer? Gordon says the term can describe anyone in the workplace—a boss, coworker, employee, or client—who sucks the life and energy right out of you.

No one sets out to be a drainer, of course. It’s just that some people regularly (and inadvertently) exhibit energy-draining behaviors. What’s worse, many bosses allow them to continue—or are themselves guilty of practicing these behaviors. And over time, the entire culture becomes poisoned.

Don’t fret, though: Gordon promises that if managers are able to identify the offending behaviors and fix them, they’ll be able to spend more time nourishing their companies’ cultures—which will, in turn, make employees happier and more productive, thus increasing the bottom line.

Read on for Gordon’s top twelve draining behaviors (presented in a what-not-to-do format), as well as tips for how you can make a change for the better in each of these situations this New Year:

1. The Energy Vampire Attack

DON’T: Let negativity become your go-to response. There’s nothing more draining than a boss or coworker who is constantly negative. Gordon calls these folks “energy vampires.” They are never happy, rarely supportive, and constantly nay-saying any and all ideas and suggestions that aren’t their own. According to them, you might as well give up before you start.

DO: Respond constructively when someone offers up an idea. Even if you know more about a particular project, have more experience than the rest of your team, or are positive that the suggestions others are making are off the mark, hear them out. Let employees and coworkers know that when they come to you with their ideas, they’ll be heard with an open mind and received with respect. Insist that everyone else practice positivity as well. While negativity squelches creativity and initiative, an encouraging attitude will keep creative juices flowing and encourage constructive dialogue.

“As pessimism rises, performance decreases,” Gordon explains. “You have to encourage optimism and guard against pessimism, or your team will suffer.”

2. The Out-of-Control Complain Train

DON’T: Give in to the temptation to whine. It’s a well-known phenomenon that can have catastrophic consequences: One person’s complaint resonates with someone else, who then proceeds to add grievances to the pile, which prompts yet another individual to throw in her two (negative) cents…and so on. Before you know it, everyone is complaining, and any work that gets done thereafter is marred by a bad attitude.

DO: Push for solutions. The next time a water-cooler conversation threatens to barrel out of control into Complaint Central, step in and ask the complainees how they would make things better. Better yet, take a cue from Gordon’s bestselling book The No Complaining Rule and ban complaints altogether. It’s tough love for sure—but it will also create and sustain a positive culture.

“When you boil things down, complaints are just noise and nothing more—but each one does represent an opportunity to turn something negative into something positive,” Gordon points out. “Turn your employees from problem-sharers to problem-solvers—it’ll make an unbelievable difference in your office’s atmosphere!”

3. The Vicious Voicemail (or Email)

DON’T: Leave critical or harsh messages on voicemail or send them to an email inbox. Nine times out of ten, these critiques seem much more vehement and condemnatory than they actually are. Plus, any communication you send via electronic methods can potentially last forever. Not only could your words come back to haunt you, they’ll also be a constant reminder to your coworker or employee of his or her supposed shortcomings.

DO: Suck it up and conduct the tough talks in person. If you need to have a stern talk with someone, or if you need to talk through a conflict or problem, do it in person if at all possible. You’ll be able to ensure that your words and tone aren’t misinterpreted, and you’ll be able to immediately have a constructive dialogue with the other person. By talking about ways to improve, you can end the conversation on a positive and encouraging note.

4. The Loaded Monday Morning Inbox

DON’T: Overwhelm your team with a mountain of emails before the week is underway. If you’re finishing up your own to-do list late on a Friday night, or if you’re simply trying to get a jumpstart on the week ahead, it can be tempting to dish out the details and to-dos as you think of them. After all, if you wait ’til Monday morning, you might forget to tell those who need to know! However, coming in to an inbox of fifty-seven new messages is draining and makes folks feel like they’re fighting an uphill battle from the start.

DO: Boil down and bundle your communication as considerately as possible. Inevitably, people are going to be working late and sending emails over the weekend—in today’s business culture, it’s unavoidable! However, there are a few things you can do to make “You’ve Got Mail!” less stressful and more efficient for the recipient. Be sure to flag any urgent emails so that your teammates know which tasks to tackle first—and include as many details as possible so that 1) you won’t forget them, and 2) the recipient can get started as quickly as possible. If you can, combine as many of the tasks and questions as you can into one document.

“One email as opposed to ten separate ones is a lot less intimidating,” reminds Gordon. “And if you do fire off a multitude of messages in a moment of panic, a quick note acknowledging the unusual volume can change everything!”

5. The Busy Bee Bamboozle

DON’T: Confuse activity with progress. You know the person. She’s always soooo busy but doesn’t ever seem to meet deadlines or get anything done. When teams are being formed, people secretly hope she isn’t assigned to theirs. She’s living proof of the fact that just because your day is full of things to do doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting them done.

DO: Set goals and hold yourself and your employees accountable for results. These results should be ones that matter and that are visible and valuable to your team. It can be helpful to transition over to a day-to-day plan that will help everyone stay on the right track. Most importantly, don’t put your team in situations where the lines are blurred. If the goals are crystal clear, they’ll be easier to accomplish.

6. The Low Performer Look-Away

DON’T: Let sub-par work slide. Simply put, low performers drag the rest of the team down. They are like a cancer inside your organization, creating resentment and generating more work for everyone else. And if you allow them to linger and thrive for too long, your best employees will move on to a more productive environment.

DO: Institute a zero-tolerance policy for low performers. Hold your entire team accountable for meeting their goals and adhering to the same performance standards. If one person consistently misses the bar, then you need to take swift action. Let your employees know that you value their hard work and that you will not allow others to do less and get away with it.

“In support of this initiative, strive for complete transparency,” Gordon advises. “When your team knows exactly what’s expected, they’ll know where they stand—and you’ll be able to make sure that their fears, uncertainties, and questions aren’t holding them back.”

7. The Unclear Communiqué

DON’T: Assume others have all the information they need, or that something you know isn’t really all that important. These hastily drawn conclusions that result from chronic poor communication can lead to serious mistakes and major missed opportunities. Plus, lack of clarity is incredibly frustrating to those who must work with you. When employees, coworkers, or supervisors have to spend their time tracking you down for clarification, rather than getting the communication from you that they need, productivity falls and creativity is stifled.

DO: Make a concerted and proactive effort to make sure that the right people are in the know. Whether it’s letting your boss know that a client’s daughter is getting married (so he can call in congratulations) or telling a coworker that a vendor prefers to be contacted only via email, be sure to tell the appropriate people. You’ll set your entire team up for success and ensure that your clients get the service they deserve. Also, make sure you copy the right people on emails, promptly return voicemails, and are clear about directions and expectations. And if you say you are going to do something, mean it.

“A big part of a successful culture is having a relationship between employees and managers that is built on trust and collaboration,” says Gordon. “And that can happen only if a clear line of communication is established so that inspiration, encouragement, empowerment, and coaching can take place.”

8. The Disorganization Drag-Down

DON’T: Allow disorganization to impede productivity. If you’re managing or leading a company, heading up a big project, or traveling non-stop, it’s likely you’ve lost an email, important paper, phone number, or pie chart or two (or three or four) in your day. You’re busy, and that’s understandable. But constant disorganization can drain your employees and coworkers if they always have to cover your tracks. It may not always be possible, and accidents do happen—but not being able to find the quarterly report for the third meeting in a row sets a bad example, and it depletes others of the energy they could be putting towards other, more productive work.

DO: Make a concerted effort to keep up with your tasks and responsibilities. And if you can’t immediately put your hands on something you need, don’t automatically ask others for help. Take a few minutes to try and find what you need on your own. Better yet, try to think of better systems and processes than the ones you’re using (or not using) now. If you see that someone in your office has a particular knack for organization, ask her for some tips to help you out.

“Remember that there’s no substitute for communication when you do drop the ball,” Gordon instructs. “Tell your employees that between travel, a jam-packed schedule, and working between two computers and a smartphone, you’ve lost something you shouldn’t have. If you are humble and honest about it, they’ll be more sympathetic to your plight and more likely to jump in and help you keep things organized!”

9. The Hasty Plate Clear-Off

DON’T: Sacrifice quality on the altar of expediency. There’s a lot of work to do, and you (understandably) want to get your own tasks done so you don’t hold up others. However, moving through assignments quickly in order to get them off your own plate can also mean that you’re piling the work on someone else. If you’ve rushed, you’re more likely to have made mistakes and been sloppy, which isn’t fair to the person who gets the assignment after you.

DO: Take the time you need to do the job right. Rather than rushing through a report or clicking “send” just because it’s 5:00 p.m., get focused and make sure you do your best work the first time. Pay attention to details, check over your work, and make sure you’ve followed the proper guidelines. Your coworkers and employees would rather have a project that’s done right than one that’s ahead of schedule. (And if you have to turn in a project a day late on occasion, it’s not the end of the world.)

“Doing your best work sets the rest of your team up for success,” notes Gordon. “When people realize that you’re this kind of teammate, they’ll take on your projects with confidence and energy.”

10. The Chronic Deadline Dodge

DON’T: Allow unmet deadlines to throw everything and everyone off-track. With all the unexpected obstacles you face in a workday, it’s not always easy to meet deadlines. And yes, sometimes it’s impossible—but those times should be few and far between. When people chronically miss deadlines, it’s a sure sign of a cultural issue. Either people aren’t giving it their all—or they’re truly overburdened. Either way, your company’s productivity will suffer.

DO: Set reasonable, clear deadlines for everyone involved (and hold hem accountable). Once something gets off-track, nobody is willing to own it. Make sure you set reasonable deadlines that you and your teammates can meet in order to avoid setting folks up for failure. And even if it takes some extra elbow grease from time to time, make a conscious effort to meet every deadline every time (and hold your team accountable for meeting them, too!).

11. The Unattainable Atta-Boy (or Atta-Girl!)

DON’T: Get so caught up in what’s coming down the pike that you forget to acknowledge what’s happening now. Most managers and business leaders would agree that they feel a lot of pressure. And it can be hard for them to constantly be the ones catching the heat from the higher-ups while the rest of the employees have only their own goals to meet and worry about. However, when responsibilities give you to-do tunnel vision and cause you to skimp on the “job well dones,” employees can get discouraged in a hurry—especially if you immediately ask about another goal that’s gone unmet or push more work at them to try and make up for losses in other areas.

DO: Express appreciation and admiration when appropriate. Employees don’t need a pat on the back and a round of applause at every turn. What they do need is to know that you can be satisfied. If, like a hamster running in a wheel, an employee feels as though no amount of hard work or hours spent will ever garner the boss’s approval or satisfaction, his energy and self-motivation will be zapped.

“Leadership is not so much about what you do,” asserts Gordon. “It’s about what you can inspire, encourage, empower, and coach others to do. If employees know you can be pleased and that goals can be reached, then they will happily work toward those things.”

12. The Blame Game

DON’T: Point fingers at others in order to take the heat off of yourself. A mistake is made, the boss is mad, a deadline is missed. If all eyes are on your team and you start pointing fingers, you could be making a huge mistake. If your employees or your coworkers don’t think you shoulder your share of the blame or are unapproachable when it comes to constructive criticism, they’ll start to shut down toward you.

DO: Accept responsibility for your actions gracefully and humbly. Nobody likes to be the one at fault. But owning up to your mistakes and learning from them are big parts of working together and being successful. If you make a mistake, be the first to own up to it and try to do things differently in the future. Also, be open to suggestions and criticisms—they may make the going much smoother!

If some of these behaviors sound all too familiar, don’t despair. The cusp between the year that’s just passed and the one that’s to come is the perfect time to take stock of what’s making your culture less than nourishing—and resolve to make it better.

“It’s important for managers to acknowledge that it’s been a tough twelve months and that you understand why folks are feeling drained and depleted,” concludes Gordon. “Above all, tell them that you are willing and eager to help alleviate some of that stress! A little acknowledgment can go a long way toward a brighter, more productive, and much more energized 2011.”

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Debunking the Myth that "There Are No Jobs Out There"

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Today’s job market is not for the faint of heart. Unemployment seems stuck at just over 9 percent, so whether you’re laid off and looking or simply desperate to get out of a dead end job, you’ve got a lot of competition. And if you’ve just emailed your résumé in response to yet another Craigslist or job posting, take a deep breath and back away from the keyboard. The Five O’Clock Club’s Kate Wendleton has some good news and some bad news.

First the bad news: You’re doing it wrong. When you answer a posted ad, you’re competing with hundreds, even thousands, of other job applicants. (Not good odds!)

Now for the good (no, GREAT!) news: People are getting hired, even in this dismal job market. In fact, Five O’Clock Club members who command a $200,000+ pay rate are getting jobs in less than six months. Across the board, Club members are getting multiple offers, and professionals are typically landing a job in only twelve weeks.

“If you’re using the right techniques, you will almost certainly find a job,” says Wendleton, president of The Five O’Clock Club, a career coaching and outplacement network. “But online searches and job posts are a very, very small part of the equation.”

“There are so many directions to go in when you start a job search that it often overwhelms people into inaction,” says Wendleton. “Our methodology helps job hunters bring structure to a process that seems random. It’s very comforting—and it works.”

If you’re looking to take that next step, read on for a few suggestions pulled from Five O’Clock Club methodology:

Don’t jump in without a plan. Most job hunters feel like they have to find a new job…yesterday. And while, admittedly, sooner is better than later, Five O’Clock methodology stresses the importance of first taking the time to do the necessary planning. Its job hunters must go through an assessment in which they answer important questions like: What kind of job do you want? Where do you want to work? Where do you see yourself in five, ten, fifteen years? They help people realize exactly what they want and ultimately lead to quicker searches.

“All of our job hunters have to go through the assessment,” says Wendleton. “We don’t accept, ‘I don’t have time for that’ as an excuse. Think of it this way: If you have an important project to complete for work, the project will go more smoothly and have a better result if you do the proper planning ahead of time. The same is true of job hunting.

“Don’t just say, ‘I’ll do anything and everything. Whatever job I can get, I’ll take it,’” she adds. “First of all, nobody wants to hire anyone who is willing to do anything. You won’t be valuable to that employer, and they won’t think you will be truly committed to them. You have to set targets for what you want to do and where you want to work. You set those targets through your assessment. It is a critical step in every job search.”

It’s not about what you can do. It’s about what you really, truly want to do. Many traditional outplacement services analyze the personalities of their job hunters, they analyze their skills, and then they let them start searching. Wendleton says these services are doing their clients a great, well, disservice.

“If you are analyzing only a job hunter’s personality and job skills, then he’ll be stuck in the same accounting job he had before he was fired or before he decided to leave his employer—it will just be at a different company,” explains Wendleton. “People need to envision what they would like to be doing fifteen years from now. They need to think about how their job decisions will affect their spouses and families.

“That’s why we take a whole-person approach at The Five O’Clock Club and make envisioning one’s future a key part of the assessment process,” she adds. “In fact, this step is so useful that 58 percent of the Club members who go through it decide to change careers and target a completely new field or industry than the one they were in before.”

Set targets—and keep them in your sights. You have to set targets for what you want to do and where you want to work. Basically, this means narrowing down the industries you want to work in, the positions you want to hold, the geographic areas you’re willing to move to, and so forth. Five O’Clock Club members set targets as part of their assessments. From then on, they frequently hear the statement, “If your targets are wrong, your search is wrong.”

“Targets are essential because they help drive your search,” says Wendleton. “They take a process that can be overwhelming and give you a course to follow. If you find out that a certain target is not working for you, then you can simply go after the next one. Once you have identified your targets, The Five O’Clock Club urges you to go many places, meet many people, and ask many questions.”

Remember, there’s no DIY in “job search.” The big fad for many outplacement services these days is to do everything online. They use webinars and other e-learning opportunities. They can offer long packages to their clients because they don’t require space or labor. Unfortunately, they leave job hunters without the one-on-one coaching that is necessary to keep them positive and on track.

The Five O’Clock Club, on the other hand, offers its clients both private coaching and small group coaching. In fact, it’s the only career program in which members meet with professional coaches and peers on a weekly basis in a friendly, club-type format.

“Job hunters need feedback,” says Wendleton. “They need to work with people who can get to know them, give them advice on how to improve their résumés and cover letters, set them straight when they’re off track, and hold them accountable. Let’s face it: If you know you’re going to have to report on what you’ve done—and what you haven’t done—you’re much more likely to stay on the straight and narrow.

“People who attend our small groups get jobs faster, at higher rates of pay, and that are more satisfying than those who see only a private coach,” she adds.

Seek out coaching groups that consist of both unemployed and employed job hunters. That’s how Five O’Clock groups operate, says Wendleton. She says the reason is two-fold.

“One, it is depressing for unemployed job hunters to hear only from other unemployed job hunters,” she explains. “They end up sitting around talking about how they were fired, and no one benefits from that. The people who are unemployed get hope from the employed people. They see that Frank or Susan has a job, and know that they will have a job soon too.

“Reason two, the employed members are crunched for time,” adds Wendleton. “They want to come to the group, say, ‘Here’s what I’m doing,’ and get feedback from the group. They keep things moving forward and help everyone get the advice they need efficiently and effectively.”

Don’t fall prey to the “a coach is a coach is a coach” mentality. All career coaches are not created equal, says Wendleton. A coach may have ten or twenty years of career coaching experience, but if he or she is not using a proven methodology, all those years of experience might be a detriment, not an asset. If someone wants to coach for The Five O’Clock Club, he must go through a grueling, four-month certification program to un-learn what he thinks he knows based on his own experience.

“Our coaches can analyze any person’s search in five minutes,” says Wendleton. “First, they want to know how much time a job hunter is spending on her search. Then, they want to know what her targets are. If the person doesn’t have targets that add up to 200 positions—not job openings, but possible positions in her area—then the person hasn’t really started her search.

“They can analyze and improve job hunter résumés and cover letters. They help job hunters identify six to ten search tactics that work for them at any one time. Bottom line, they help job hunters be productive and keep them moving forward in a process that can be extremely tedious and disheartening at times.”

“Card” yourself. Every Five O’Clock Clubber has a special 3x5 index card that holds the personalized keys to their job hunting success. It helps them narrow down and stay focused on their most important “talking points.” You can create one for yourself, too, says Wendleton. First, your card will include the short pitch about yourself to use when you meet a new contact, in interviews, or at other events or meetings.

Here’s an example: I am a marketing manager with twelve years of international experience. In my recent job, I was able to grow revenue by 20 percent in a very bad market. The reason I am looking for a job right now is that the company I work for has decided it doesn’t want to be international anymore. I am talking to you because I can see that you are very interested in growing internationally.

Your card should also include three or four of your personal accomplishments. You want to know these like the back of your hand in case you are ever asked an off-the-wall question in an interview or meeting. Let’s say an interviewer asks you how good your tennis game is. Drawing from your card, you might say: “I don’t know about my tennis game, but at my last job I felt like I was really hitting the ball around. One thing I did was help our sales department increase sales by X percent.”

And finally, your card should include the one question you are most afraid they are going to ask you along with your answer. Let’s say your most dreaded question is Why are you looking? You might say, “I’m looking for a new job because I was caught in a downsizing like so many others in this market.” Or let’s say the question is Why didn’t you finish college? Whatever you do, don’t say, “My mother died and I had to help out,” or, “I couldn’t decide on a major.” The interviewer is not interested in you and your mother. Instead say, “I was eager to work and contribute and that’s the kind of person you would get if you hired me: someone who is eager to work and contribute!”

Shape your own interview. The unfortunate reality is that managers who are hiring don’t always ask the right questions. When this is the case, as the job hunter, you have to figure out a way to get your strengths and accomplishments into the interview. (Remember the tennis game example?) This is when it is a great time to recall all of the great accomplishments you have on your index card and use them to keep the interview moving forward.

“You might expect the person interviewing you to prepare just as much as you did for the interview,” says Wendleton. “But that rarely happens. When this is the case, you don’t have to surrender to her poor preparation. You can revive the situation by creating your own interview. Use the information on your index card to keep the conversation flowing, and keep it flowing in a direction that works to your advantage.”

Network with the big dogs. One of the problems with the way people network is that they just talk to everyone they know. Unfortunately, everyone they know is in the same field or the same age group as them. More often than not, they are peers. They might know about jobs at their companies, but they might not have the authority to recommend you to the hiring manager. Or they might be able to put you only in positions that represent a lateral move and won’t help you advance your career.

“We talk to people all the time who say they’ve been networking for a year and have met a hundred people,” says Wendleton. “Well, unfortunately, they were the wrong hundred people. Networking that counts happens when you are contacting people who are one or two levels higher than you are. You’re not going to get a job until you talk to the right people who are more senior than you and who will think of you when there is an opening at their company.”

If an interviewer doesn’t “bite,” don’t toss him back in the water. In other words, don’t just discard someone who tells you his company has no openings. If a person is at the right level and at the right company, he is just as valuable to you as someone with an opening. That’s because you can ask him this important question: If you were hiring right now, would you hire someone like me?

“Because there is no opening, the contact is more likely to be honest with you,” explains Wendleton. “He might say, ‘Well, no, because you don’t have experience in the X or Y segment of what we do here.’ If you are getting similar feedback from other senior-level contacts, then you will know that you need to adjust your targets or that you aren’t positioning yourself correctly.”

Don’t be afraid to be a “pest.” Follow up, follow up, and follow up again. After you interview with a company or meet with a senior-level contact, that isn’t the end of the road. You need to spend just as much time developing that relationship after you’ve met with her as you did prior to the meeting. You have to follow up…repeatedly.

Think about it this way, says Wendleton. Say there’s a kid who wants to get his first job and he goes to his local grocery store. The first week they tell him they aren’t hiring. So he goes back the next week and then the next. Finally, the manager agrees to hire him. The same general idea holds true for senior-level people and big companies.

“Not only does the follow-up phase keep you in front of them, it also helps you find out where you stand,” explains Wendleton. “You can find out what your competition looks like, how many other people they are talking to, etc. This information will help in the salary negotiation phase if they do decide to hire you. For example, if you know you had a lot of competition for the job, then you will know you can be easily replaced, and you will have little room for salary negotiations. But if they tell you, ‘We want you and no one else’—and yes, this does happen!—that gives you a lot of wiggle room.”

If you get an offer, don’t assume you’re home free. Aim to have three concurrent offers in the works at any one time. These offers don’t have to be jobs that you actually want to take, but having them in the works prevents you from slowing your search when you think you are about to get hired. It also gives you a psychological edge—the fact is, if you have only one thing in the works, the interviewer can tell.

“What usually happens for a job hunter with only one opportunity in the works is he keeps asking the hiring company about progress, and they tell him they haven’t come to a decision,” says Wendleton. “Well, if you have other offers, even if they are offers you know you won’t take, you can tell them that you have three offers on the table, but theirs is the job you really want. If they want you, you can push them to make a decision. Having multiple offers also helps keep you positive. It helps you keep your momentum going.

“By the way: If you don’t have multiple things in the works, don’t lie and say that you do,” she adds. “Nine times out of ten you will not be able to keep up with what you told to whom. You’ll be found out, and it won’t do anything but hurt you in the long run.”

If there’s one overarching piece of advice to remember, says Wendleton, it’s simply this: Don’t sell yourself short.

“You’re not just looking for ‘a job,’” she says. “You’re taking the next step in developing and shaping your career. Your skills are valuable. You do have something to offer. And somewhere out there is a company that wants and needs that something. You owe it to yourself to do what it takes to find them.”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

7 Deadly Sins that Stunt Organic Growth

Posted by Mark Brousseau

You already know that organic growth makes for a stronger company. It just makes sense to grow from within by developing outstanding products and services that win over new customers and keep current ones coming back. (The alternatives are to grow via debt financing or an army of flush-with-cash buyers on a spending spree—and recovery or no recovery, neither is easy to come by these days!) Problem is, your competitors are playing by the same rules. But according to Dan Adams, you can outwit them…simply by putting a halt to the mistakes you (and they) are making right now.

"Unless your company has smarter employees, some inherent unassailable advantage, or a markedly different approach to satisfying customers, those competitors always seem to throttle your growth,” notes the author of New Product Blueprinting: The Handbook for B2B Organic Growth. “But what if you and your competitors were committing some serious mistakes that stunt organic growth—and you corrected them? Wouldn’t that be enough to propel you to the front of the line?”

It makes sense. And Adams should know: He has spent his career helping some of the largest business-to-business companies in the world overcome the obstacles that clog up their organic growth engines—the ability to develop new “stuff” that customers want to buy. Through New Product Blueprinting (the process described in his book), his company helps clients bring clarity to the “fuzzy front end” of product development.

“In 20 years the common mistakes B2B companies make will be as glaring as trying to improve quality with inspectors rather than statistics,” he says. “Correct them now and you’ll enjoy a substantial head start on years of healthy organic growth.”

Adams identifies the seven deadly sins that too many B2B companies commit:

Sin #1. Imagining customers’ needs in your conference rooms. Does your new product process begin with the word “idea,” perhaps with a light bulb next to it? So whose idea is it: yours or your customers? Unfortunately, says Adams, most suppliers start with their solution, “validate” it by showing it to some customers, and measure market needs by watching sales results…after the product launch!

“Companies should invert this process: Begin with customer needs and end with supplier solutions,” asserts Adams. “While doing things in the wrong order may ‘feel’ better to you, it is far less likely to result in sales and customer satisfaction. Besides, intelligent B2B customers can detect your ‘validation’ a mile away. They correctly sense you are more interested in your idea than in them…and that doesn’t do much for the long-term relationships you need to build.”

Sin #2. Relying on sales reps to capture customer needs. A salesperson is unlikely to uncover a full set of market needs if he is a) rewarded for near-term selling, b) unable to reach true decision makers, or c) not calling on most of the customers in your target market segment. But put a good salesperson on a team with marketing and technical colleagues, train all in advanced B2B interviewing methods, and you’ll run circles around your competitors.

Be wary of VOC (voice-of-the-customer) consultants who want to exclude your sales force from interviews because “they can sell but not listen,” warns Adams. In the long run, your company will fall behind competitors that have taken steps to develop a team of engaged and enlightened salespeople.

Sin #3. Counting on just a few VOC experts. Some companies rely on a handful of internal VOC experts to interview customers. You’ll do far better training a critical mass of employees—who routinely interact with customers—to gather customer needs. Keep your VOC experts as coaches and trainers, but implement “VOC for the masses.” You’ll overwhelm competitors by turning a trickle of customer feedback into a torrent.

Sin #4. Using hand-me-down consumer goods methods. “Traditional VOC methods rely on questionnaires, tape recorders, and post-interview analyses,” says Adams. “That’s fine for consumer goods, but your B2B customers are insightful, rational, interested, and fewer in number. They’re smart and will make you smarter if you engage them in a peer- to-peer dialogue. Use a digital projector, let them lead you to their areas of interest, probe with skill, and you’ll be shocked at how much you’ll learn you never knew.”

Sin #5. Gathering only qualitative customer feedback. “I once had a new client who came to me extremely frustrated,” recalls Adams. “He had spent months interviewing customers, only to hear his boss say, ‘Nah, I don’t think they want that; they want this.’ Unfortunately, interviewers often hear want they want to hear... and then parade some customer quotes for support.”

What you need, adds Adams, is quantitative data, which measure customer importance and satisfaction on key outcomes. Skip quantification and your new product will be based on assumptions, bias, and wishful thinking.

Sin #6. Listening only to immediate customers. Unlike B2C producers, your product might be part of your customers’ products, your customers’ customers’ products, and so on. It’s a mistake to interview only your direct customers, because they are usually unable or unwilling to disclose downstream customers’ deepest needs. Also, B2C producers assign “one vote” per consumer...while you need to weight the buying power and value chain position of downstream customers.

Sin #7. Ignoring competitors when you design your product. “I find most product development processes are far too casual—and late—in assessing competitive offerings,” says Adams. “Your new product makes a lot of money only if two conditions are satisfied: a) it offers significant value to customers, and b) customers cannot get this value elsewhere. Interviews tell you only about Condition A. You need side-by-side testing to learn about Condition B. This allows you to attack competitive weak spots, avoid getting blind-sided, and optimize pricing.”

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

10 Habits of Highly Effective Managers

By Wes Friesen, Portland General Electric

“Sow a thought and you reap an act; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”

Right in the middle of the quotation above is the importance of our habits. A habit is “an acquired mode of behavior that has become our common practice.” Our habits mold our character and ultimately determine our destiny in the world. Want to further develop your character and develop in to a highly effective manager? Intentionally pursuing and building worthwhile habits is the key.

Following are ten of the habits of highly effective managers. This is not an exhaustive list – but these will build a strong foundation on your road to increased management effectiveness:

1) Habit #1: “Expanding Self-Awareness.” Having a high level of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is essential to being an effective Manager – and EQ starts with having accurate self-awareness. Self-awareness can help us gain self-control and be helpful to people around us – not hurtful. Some tools to help expand our self-awareness include: get feedback from others such as using 360 degree surveys; have a mentor to speak into your life; and constantly seek feedback from others on how we are doing.

2) Habit #2: “Pursue Continuous Learning and Continuous Improvement.” Are you a perfect manager and person? Me neither! What we can do is to commit ourselves to be like-long learners and seek to continuously improve ourselves as managers and as human beings. I have been inspired by this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King: “I may not be the man I want to be; I may not be the man I ought to be; I may not be the man I can be; but praise God, I’m not the man I once was.”

3) Habit #3: “Always do the Right Thing.” Too many people have been victimized by the unethical behavior of those in leadership roles. Remember Enron? My co-workers and I at Portland General will never forget – we were owned by Enron at time of their bankruptcy and our retirement savings were decimated. Mark Twain said “Always do what is right. It will gratify half of mankind and astound the other.” My former pastor Loren Fischer said “it’s always right to do right” – and I agree.

4) Habit #4: “Be Results AND Relationship Oriented.” As leaders we are expected to get results – and we should. At the same time, building positive relationships is the right thing to do – and it leads to great results. One tool to help build relationships is to consistently practice the 3 Rs with people. Recognize people for who they are and what they do; Reward people for individual and team achievements; and show people Respect – everybody wants to be respected as the classic Aretha Franklin song emphasizes.

5) Habit #5: “Achieve Big Goals one small step at a time.” I remember a grade school friend telling me the following riddle: “Question: how do you eat an elephant? Answer: one bite at a time”. Get the point? We need to set long-term visions and big goals for ourselves and our teams. And we need to break down the journey towards the vision and goals into manageable steps that inspire others to move forward.

6) Habit #6: “See the glass as half-full.” Are you normally a pessimist or an optimist? Studies have shown that the most effective leaders are strong optimists. Being optimistic does not mean that we ignore the half of the glass that is empty. It does mean we are thankful for the half that is full, and we work together to fill the rest of the glass as best we can.

7) Habit #7: “Look for the win-win.” Effective managers don’t get locked into specific positions, but look for ways to meet interests of themselves and others so everybody gets something (a “win-win” versus a “win-lose”).

8) Habit #8: “Spend much time in Quadrant 2.” Stephen Covey popularized the importance of intentionally spending significant time doing “Important, Not Urgent” items. These include things like building relationships, reading and other learning activities, planning and thinking, exercise, etc. To spend more time in Quadrant 2, we need to spend less time in Quadrants 3 & 4 (i.e. “Urgent, Not Important” and “Not Urgent, Not Important”) activities like watching TV, playing video games and wasting time doing things that add no value to our lives or the lives of others.

9) Habit #9: “Enjoy the journey.” Management (and life!) is a journey – filled with both positive and negative experiences. The journey will be much more pleasant and we will go farther if we learn to laugh and be thankful. A Yiddish proverb says “what soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” Studies have shown that laughter makes us physically and emotionally healthier – and more fun to be around too. Find a funny friend; enjoy a funny TV show or movie – and just laugh! Being thankful is also important. The reality is that we all have much to be thankful for, and our lives will be more joyful and productive if we learn to develop an “attitude of gratitude.”

10) Habit #10: “Remember - your health is your wealth.” Gandhi said “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” Living a healthy lifestyle will increase your energy, stamina and emotional well-being – and help us be more effective in all that we do. A holistic healthy lifestyle includes developing and using our mental capabilities (read a good book lately or taken a class just for the learning?). We are also spiritual beings, and finding faith and serving others can nourish our spiritual health.

Let me leave you with a challenge to not settle for mediocrity, but to get in the game and go for management excellence. Listen to this President Teddy Roosevelt quote “It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doers of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly … who spends himself in a worthy cause.”

Wes can be contacted at

Are you Fred?

By Wes Friesen, Portland General Electric

“There is only one boss – the customer. If we don’t take care of our customers, someone else will.”

Fred Shea was a postal carrier who really took to heart and embodied the following quote from Martin Luther King: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper (or work in A/P or A/R!), he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great sweeper who did his job well.’”

Fred provided exceptional service to all his customers, and constantly went the extra mile – he would even drive through the neighborhood to check on people on his days off! One of Fred’s very satisfied customers was motivational speaker and author Mark Sanborn, who wrote a book about exceptional customer service called “The Fred Factor.” I highly recommend getting the book and the video training series and going through it with your team.

Here are four cardinal principles about being a “Fred:”

1) Principle #1: Everyone Makes a Difference - every individual can choose to do his or her job in an extraordinary way, regardless of the circumstances.

2) Principle #2: Success is Built on Relationships - the quality of the relationship determines the quality of the product or service.

3) Principle #3: You Must Continually Create Value for Others, and It Doesn’t Have to Cost a Penny - you can creatively find no-cost ways to exceed expectations of your customers.

4) Principle #4: You Can Reinvent Yourself Regularly - every morning you wake up with a clean slate. We can choose to follow the advice of John Wooden’s father Joshua who taught “make each day your masterpiece.”

One tool to measure how well your team provides customer service, is to conduct a periodic customer survey. By analyzing the results of the survey you can reinforce what is going well, and identify areas that can be improved. Because people are busy these days, I prefer to keep the survey simple and short. Here is a sample survey that you can use as a starting place:


Are your jobs completed in a timely manner?
Below Expectations ____
Meets Expectations ____
Exceeds Expectations ____

How is the overall quality of the work that our team provides for you? (same scale)

Is the staff responsive to your special requests? (same scale)

Do you find that our staff are helpful and offer solutions to your needs? (same scale)

Overall Performance: (same scale)

Are there services that you would like to see that are not currently provided?
What do you feel are some areas of strength in how we serve you?
What ideas do you have on how we can serve you better in the future?

Unfortunately Fred-like service is not common – as Roger Staubach says “there are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” Being a Fred is a choice – how will you and your team choose?

Let me close with a final quote to think about that comes from Andrew Carnegie: “There are two types of people who never achieve very much in their lifetimes. One is the person who won’t do what he is told to do, and the other is the person who does no more than what he or she is told to do.” Good luck as you commit you and your team to go the extra mile and be “Fred’s!”

Wes can be contacted at

Want to Improve Performance? Measure It!

By Wes Friesen, Portland General Electric

“Improving performance does not happen by accident. It is the result of a commitment to excellence, intentionality and focused effort.”

Peter Drucker was the considered the Father of professional management. He said “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” Being in a management role provides us the opportunity to intentionally raise the performance levels of our teams – and the individuals that comprise them.

To improve the performance of our teams, we need relevant performance measures to inspire, provide a common focus and allow us to track progress. Here are some tools to help develop powerful performance measures:

Ask the Right Performance Questions
The Right Questions express the critical few things by which to judge our performance results. Put yourselves in the shoes of your key stakeholders (investors, customers, employees) and ask what is important to them?

Organizational Development expert Brad Fishel points out that when you answer the Right Performance Questions realize that some measures you develop in response will be Quantitative (numeric) in nature (e.g. how many pieces of mail were produced last month), but some will be Qualitative (subjective) in nature (e.g. how satisfied are our customers). Don’t ignore qualitative measures – consider the usage of surveys and other rating instruments. Fishel also says “Better to have subjective judgments about important questions than objective data about unimportant questions”.

Develop “balanced” measures to judge success
Effective teams add value to all important stakeholders and avoid a singular focus (e.g. being low cost) to the detriment of other important outcomes (e.g. high quality). Following are potential types of measures to consider. For each measure that gets used, we should have a target/goal to compare actual results against:

1) Productivity (productivity is simply a measure of Goods/Services produced divided by Resources Used)
2) Quality (e.g. reliability, accuracy, mistake free, meets requirements, etc)
3) Volume (how much is being produced)
4) Timeliness (are work products completed when needed)
5) Service (are customers satisfied with the service they receive)
6) Compliance (are postal regulations, Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPPA, and other regulations being met)
7) Cost (e.g. measure overall costs and/or cost per unit)

Intentionally focus on improving performance
How can we strive to improve productivity and overall performance? Following are some tools to choose from:

1) Lay out a challenge (illustrated by the closing story)
2) Enhanced Training & Development
3) Provide recognition and use incentives
4) Pursue wise use of technology
5) Look for process improvements
6) Be a better servant leader and show more care for your employees
7) Solicit ideas from your team members
8) Learn from other successful teams

Let me close with the following story from the life of Charles Schwab, former head of U.S. Steel. Schwab said:

I had a mill manager who was finely educated, thoroughly capable and master of every detail of the business. But he seemed unable to inspire his men to do their best.

One day I asked him: “How is it that a man as able as you, cannot make this mil turn out what it should?” “I don’t know” he replied. “I have coaxed the men; I have pushed them; I have sworn at them. I have done everything in my power. Yet they will not produce.”

It was near the end of the day; in a few minutes the night force would come on duty. I turned to a workman who was standing beside one of the red-mouthed furnaces and asked him for a piece of chalk. “How many heats has your shift made today?” I queried. “Six” he replied. I chalked a big “6” on the floor, and then passed along without another word.

When the night shift came in they saw the “6” and asked about it. “The big boss was in here today”, said the day men. “He asked us how many heats we had made, and we told him six. He chalked it down.”

The next morning I passed through the same mill. I saw that the “6” had been rubbed out and a big “7” written instead. The night shift had announced itself. That night I went back. The “7” had been erased, and a “10” swaggered in its place. The day force recognized no superiors. Thus a fine competition was started, and it went on until this mill, formerly the poorest producer, was turning out more than any other mill in the company.

Good luck as you partner with your team and intentionally pursue a higher level of performance!

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Connecting with the "Overqualified" Job Candidate

Posted by Mark Brousseau

When a job opens up in today’s economy, it receives a lot of attention. And no wonder: Over 15 million Americans need work. And if you’re a hiring manager, you may have found that the best way to shrink that pile of résumés on your desk is to weed out the seemingly “overqualified” workers first. After all, you reason, those candidates will want too much money and will jump ship the minute they find a better offer. Right?

Not necessarily, says Maribeth Kuzmeski. In fact, she adds, a recent Harvard Business Review article suggests that when you ignore these candidates you’re missing out on the opportunity to add highly qualified talent to your organization.

“The article points out that ‘overqualified’ candidates tend to show a better work ethic, stay, on average, longer than less qualified candidates, and as long as they are empowered are actually happy workers,” 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.

To back up these assertions, the HBR article cites studies from folks at the University of Connecticut, the University of South Carolina, St. Ambrose University, and Portland State University, respectively, which show that overqualified workers are high performers, less likely to quit, and value autonomy.

“Saying someone is ‘overqualified’ is basically saying he or she is too skilled or too experienced,” says Kuzmeski. “The truth is, candidates with well-developed skills, a lot of working world experience, and the right attitude are exactly what you should want. When you ignore candidates based on your own assumptions or perceptions about what you see on their résumés, you run the risk of missing out on great employees.

“Instead, take the time to connect with these candidates,” she suggests. “Invite them in and learn what motivates them.”

Below Kuzmeski offers advice on how best to approach the highly qualified hire:

Be open and honest about your concerns. If you have concerns about certain elements of the candidate’s experience, ask about it. If you see that a candidate has an impressive list of achievements, acknowledge them.

“Don’t chuck someone in your ‘no’ pile simply because you might be a little intimidated by his achievements,” stresses Kuzmeski. “Ask the candidate how he plans to use the skills that led him to his past achievements in the position you’re offering, but don’t focus too much on the past. Instead, find out about his current motivations and the goals he has for the position.”

Connect with the candidate’s why. Your worries about a highly qualified candidate can be decreased when you connect with her why. Most candidates are not applying for jobs they seem more than qualified for because they are simply desperate for work—but many hiring managers never find this out because they discard these candidates’ résumés rather than invite them to come for an interview.

“By connecting with the candidate’s why, you can learn her motivations for wanting a position,” notes Kuzmeski. “Even if a person was downsized, maybe she was burned out on what she was doing and wants to jump-start a new career. Or she may want to give up a higher level position in order to get back to something she enjoyed doing earlier in her career. You’ll be able to tell when she is explaining her reasoning and her motivations whether or not she truly has a passion for the job in question or whether she is simply willing to take the first job that is offered to her.”

Recognize that highly qualified people require less training. If a job candidate has been around the block a few times, his adaptability to new situations and responsibilities will be better. That’s good news, because you and your managers will spend less of your own valuable time training him.

“Plus, once you have him on board, it’s likely that you’ll find he is a great help to your other employees,” says Kuzmeski. “Highly qualified candidates bring with them more life experience to pull from when challenging situations arise with clients or other coworkers. You will probably also find that you have added peace of mind knowing that someone who is highly skilled and experienced is hard at work for you.”

Hire based on attitude. This might be the best piece of advice to heed with any hiring decision. As long as a candidate has the basic skills and knowledge required to get the job done, don’t spend time wringing your hands over whether or not she might be too qualified. If the person has a great attitude and is highly motivated, then you might want to give her a chance, especially if the other candidates are less qualified and don’t seem like they will fit in with the company culture.

“Hiring is a tricky business,” notes Kuzmeski. “Sometimes it’s okay to go with the person you like the most. If that person also happens to be highly qualified, then it will only benefit you and your company in the long run.”

Once you have them, empower them. As touched on above, the study from Portland State University found that overqualified employees who are given decision making power tend to be more satisfied with their jobs. The study performed by assistant professors from the University of Connecticut, the University of South Carolina, and St. Ambrose University examined data on more than 5,000 Americans. Those examined, according to the Harvard Business Review article, were high-intelligence workers in jobs such as washing cars and collecting garbage. With those studied, high performance was the norm.

“By giving these employees autonomy, you show them that you have confidence in their abilities and respect the skills and qualifications they bring to the table,” says Kuzmeski. “As a result, they stay with the company and often outperform their fellow employees.”

"The best thing you can do is ignore the myths about ‘overqualified’ job seekers,” says Kuzmeski. “Think about it: These people became highly qualified for a reason—for the most part, they make fantastic employees. You want to hire the right person for the job, not the person you assume, sight unseen, is less likely to leave. By taking the time to connect with candidates and discuss their motivations and goals, you’ll be able to make that judgment for yourself.”

What do you think?