Monday, March 28, 2011

The intelligent archive — going beyond intelligent capture

By Wendi Klein, director, marketing & communications, North America, for A2iA

Regardless of your industry of focus, you are sure to have heard the word archive. But what does archive really mean? And does it mean the same thing to you as it does to the person in the next office? Is an archive just a repository where documents are stored, never to be found again? Or is an archive something that can actually provide a benefit, or even better, a measurable ROI?

Because of the high demand for timely record retrieval, organizations both large and small need to look to a content management system that will enable them to securely and accurately store their records with as much information as possible so that the documents can be recalled quickly, creating an intelligent archive. This involves utilizing technology that can locate and recognize varying writing styles or mixed document-types and layouts so that once digital, the information can be searched, with keywords or phrases identified for fast retrieval.

Considering that documents are being imaged, how do you then make the documents intelligent —meaning searchable and reportable — and the archive a beneficial tool for the organization? Data capture and routing is critical, although not an easy feat for most recognition technologies and something that requires advanced capabilities — beyond simple rules-based classification or common OCR or ICR.

Great strides have been made in the ability to automatically locate, extract, search, and index data from electronic documents including those of an unstructured format. Technology now allows digitized documents to be analyzed and indexed on a holistic or transaction level in relation to one another, as well as by their geometric layout and content characteristics. The documents can then be searched for pre-defined elements or keywords and, in addition to being archived, the results may be incorporated into pre-existing discovery, redaction, declassification, or document management systems thus providing unparalleled access to the information.

Users maintain privacy and adhere to compliance regulations, as complex and handwritten documents are no longer a bottleneck requiring manual processing. Advanced technologies make a significant difference in the efficiency of the tasks that were previously performed by hand, by allowing the processes to become automated from initial capture through to archive.

Many still believe that unstructured or complex documents can only be keyed and, given the demands of today’s market, any automated solution must be at least as error-free as the manual processes it replaces. However, accuracy is equally as important as successful discovery, due diligence, compliance, and declassification — features found in today’s more advanced recognition and classification engines.

Additionally, those looking to implement such an archiving solution must also examine the definition of and metrics around success. The question should not only be, “What is the read rate?” but also, “How much can be automated, how much time can be saved, how much manual labor can be eliminated, and how robust and comprehensive of a database can be built for search?” The ROI produced for organizations adopting this technology is not only seen in terms of a savings on their bottom line, but also in terms of the time saved through newly realized efficiencies. And once scanned, complex data that was automatically located and extracted can be entered into the IT system and more quickly distributed to those that need it, as well as indexed for archive and retrieval based on complex queries within the newly built database. This increase in accessible and searchable information from a central repository not only speeds knowledge distribution, but it elevates the organization’s global intelligence.

With new regulations and the continued movement towards the paperless office, organizations must consider more than just how to get their documents into electronic format, but what they will do once these documents are scanned. By utilizing the right tools for capturing all data and indexing all documents, an archive can easily make the transition to intelligent archive.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

info360 wrap-up

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Some odds and ends from AIIM’s info360 event this week in Washington, D.C.:

… d.velop technologies announced the launch of its ecspand for SharePoint enterprise content management (ECM) solution in the United States. Over the past two years, d.velop also introduced ecspand in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. d.velop exhibited in the info360 Microsoft pavilion.

… Colligo Networks and GimmalSoft forged a partnership and will integrate Colligo’s email management software into GimmalSoft’s SharePoint-based records management solution. The partnership will fulfill the DoD 5015.2 design criteria in GimmalSoft’s solution. DoD 5015.2 is the U.S. Department of Defense’s design criteria standard for electronic records management solutions.

… Document collaboration provider Workshare said it was awarded Microsoft Certified Gold ISV Partner status in the Microsoft Partner Program. The Gold ISV certification requires the highest level of competence and expertise with Microsoft technologies. By achieving Gold competency, partners receive benefits such as increased customer visibility through branding and accessibility, as well as training and support. Workshare has been a Microsoft Gold partner since 2005.

… Laserfiche demonstrated its DOD 5015.2-certified records management solution for SharePoint 2010. Laserfiche claims that its SharePoint 2010 integration was the first to obtain DoD 5015.2 certification. With the joint certification, Laserfiche now works with SharePoint 2010 to provide a unified business collaboration platform with enterprise content management (ECM) functionality.

… Datawatch released an enhanced version of its enterprise report management, archive and distribution solution. Called Datawatch BDS V8, the software adds certification for Red Hat LINUX, several new security features, and report and document redaction and translation.

What did you see at AIIM’s info360?

Government e-discovery trends

Posted by Mark Brousseau

The chief information officer increasingly is joining the chief council in setting e-Discovery strategy within government organizations. That's according to a survey by USIS, an Altegrity company, conducted among government leaders from the federal e-Discovery community.

Among the other findings of the survey:

• Information management, data collection, and producing discoverable results in a timely manner are major concerns.

• More than one-third of respondents said the preservation and collection stage of electronic data discovery (EDD) needs the most improvement.

• Organizations that place a strong emphasis on the EDD process and strategy tend to have better e-Discovery processes.

• Among respondents whose organizations do not place an emphasis on the EDD process, not a single one reported being satisfied with their e-Discovery process.

“This survey reinforces how important it is to have good information management practices in place for the e-Discovery program and the burden it can place on a team when those practices simply aren’t there,” notes Michael Santelli, president of USIS’ Information Management Division (LABAT). “Being proactive about managing data can also save money. It is not uncommon to hear that the cost of one litigation would have paid for the technology and services to better manage the data.”

What do you think?

AIIM/info360 lint in the cranial vent

By Steve Weissman of the Holly Group

After spending more than three days at the AIIM Conference/Info360 event in Washington, D.C., my brain is clogged with all kinds of interesting nuggets.

Here are but a few of the more intriguing story lines that stuck following my ECM Practitioner class, my series of show-floor briefings, and my numerous in-the-corridor-and-press-room perspective checks with buyers, vendors, and integrator/reseller types:

Misuse/overuse of the word “new”
This itself isn’t, well, new in terms of vendor marketing, but it kept surfacing in places where the principals really ought to have known better. The lesson is to ask, “In what way is this new?” when you hear the word.

Is the feature/product/capability truly innovative? Never before seen in this particular market space? Never before offered by this particular vendor? I found much of what was touted as “new” either to be old client/server development techniques wrapped in ECM/BPM clothes or long-standard features finally being offered by the vendor in question. So as they said in ancient Rome, caveat emptor.

Emerging stratification in the world of mobility
All the talk of customer engagement intersected with the drive to enhance the mobile experience to surface an important distinction between enabling browser-based smartphone or tablet access to content and process activities on the one hand, and fielding true mobile apps for the purpose on the other.

The separation of these two tiers is still nascent, but the long-term ramifications are significant since they speak to new ways to think about information architecture, content structure, usability, security, and privacy. The use of “m.” sites and formatting is just the beginning.

Tendency to ignore the past (and thus the risk of being condemned to repeat it)
Specifically, is cloud computing a true innovation or merely a viable hosting alternative with its roots in 1970s timesharing and 1990s ASPs? (See prior point regarding new.)

To be sure, the underlying technology is hugely more flexible and accessible today than it was then, but the takeaway here isn’t one of semantics and definition – rather, it has to do with cutting away the hype, focusing on the practical, and, especially, looking to preceding market models and technology trends for guidance.

Black/white vs. shades of gray
Perhaps it’s a reflection of how commodity so much of the technology has become, and thus how competitive the market is today. But there was an awful lot of talk about good tools vs. bad, all users vs. none wanting certain features, old technologies being dead vs. new ones being saviors.

Well, the world isn’t a binary place. Tools that do x vs. y aren’t better of worse; they’re merely different, and depending upon what you need to accomplish, they may be absolutely perfect for you. Just as, say, and “old” technology like microfiche is very much alive, and perhaps critical for archivists needing to think in terms of centuries-long retention schedules.

My mother-in-law used to say, “Remember who you are!” when the kids would go out, and so you should remember who you are when you attend conferences and exhibitions. There’ll be plenty that will stick in your brain, and you’ll best make sense of it only by using your own organization and needs as the touchstone.

What do you think?

Steve Weissman, ECMp, ECMs, BPMp, can be reached at 617-383-4655.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The business value of managed content

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Managed content can deliver 30 percent productivity gains and a 25 percent in efficiency improvements, according to new research co-sponsored by OpenText and AIIM.

One of the more notable findings from the survey of more than 450 information technology professionals and business managers is that the productivity of professional staff would be improved by 30 percent if they could only find internal information and documents as quickly and as easily as they find information on the Web. Along the same lines, respondents said customer service levels and response times could be improved by 33 percent if all customer-facing staff could immediately access and share all of the customer-related and case-related information.

Additional opportunities for improvement included:

• The productivity of administrative staff could be increased on average by 33 percent through use of workflow, scanned forms and automated data capture.

• Changing to a culture of electronic-only filing would reduce the office space allocated to filing storage from 14.5 percent to 5.9 percent – a 60-percent reduction.

• The size of server farms dedicated to unstructured content and emails could be reduced by between a third and a half if each document or email attachment was stored only once.

• A collaborative, widely accessible team-site environment could improve project delivery by 23 percent on average in terms of time and project costs.

• Respondents indicated they believe that Enterprise 2.0 applications could improve staff productivity and engagement by about 18 percent.

• The improved efficiency from providing office staff with comprehensive mobile access to company information would likely be between 20 and 25 percent.

While the survey indicates a compelling case for adopting enterprise content management (ECM) technologies, it also exposes the significant challenges for companies that get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of documents and content accumulating on shared drives, email, laptops and mobile device and paper files.

According to 61 percent of the survey respondents, organizational knowledge is the first thing to suffer in a badly managed environment, causing the organization to lose its competitive position due to poor decisions and a lack of accumulated corporate expertise. Innovation is considered to be another significant victim of poor collaboration and restricted knowledge-sharing, followed by the productivity impact of information search fatigue.

Compliance breaches and information and data leaks also weighed heavily on the minds of the survey respondents. For instance, 40 percent of organizations would take a financial hit from a compliance breach while fully 66 percent would suffer bad – and costly – publicity. Over a third of organizations reported they would have no way of finding out who was responsible if sensitive data was “leaked” to a competitor or to the press by a trusted employee. Only a quarter could readily point to a specific employee based on activity logs. For 60 percent of the largest organizations, the potential impact of such a leak would be high, and for 13 percent it would be “disastrous.”

“As the research confirms, companies that claim, control and capitalize on content increase their people’s contribution, deliver better customer service, and save money – all of which leads to better business,” said James Latham, chief marketing officer, OpenText. “At the same time, succumbing to fast-growing unstructured content inside the enterprise will increase risk, stifle innovation, or worse yet, leak sensitive documents. The case for ECM has never been stronger.”

What do you think?

Monday, March 14, 2011

BAI attendees look for new approach to fighting fraud

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Combating fraud -- and more efficiently and precisely identifying suspect transactions -- was the hot topic at last week's BAI Payments Connect conference in Phoenix, said US Dataworks ( Product Manager Leilani Doyle (

"Here is the issue: financial institutions have fraud systems that send alerts each time a suspect transaction is idenitified," Doyle explained. "Seventy-five percent of these suspects prove to be false positives. Financial institutions need a better way to prune out the false positives with a higher percentage of accurately identified fraud."

"By using an enterprise fraud hub -- which consolidates payments and related data from various channels -- banks can reduce the number of false-suspect alerts they receive by more than 50 percent, without the risk of letting a higher number of fraudulent transactions slip through," Doyle said. "One bank did a presentation at the BAI conference explaining how breaking down payments silos would allow banks to more easily 'connect the dots' to identify systematic fraud. If payments silos do not share information, the ability to identify organized fraud is far more difficult -- if not impossible."

Another bank did a presentation at BAI Payments Connect on how it has used modeling to monitor a higher number of transactions while reducing the staff required for this function by over 30 percent.

Beyond fraud, another theme of the event was how banks can regain a competitive advantage in the payments space. Doyle noted that Federal Reserve Bank executive Richard Oliver gave an insightful presentation on how banks have lost their edge in transaction processing to non-bank competitors. Banks have been too slow to react to changing market demands, and this dawdling could eventually cause them to be lose further ground to nimble competitors with more compelling products, she said.

The good news: Oliver said businesses still have tremendous trust in banks -- something that should not be discounted. But banks will likely have to partner with other entities to bridge their product gaps.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Executives view billing as a utility, not a strategic function

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Despite its critical role in revenue collection and corporate cash flow, billing has apparently become such a systematic function that it is no longer viewed as strategic – even by billing executives themselves.

In fact, according to a survey from Billtrust, fully two-thirds (67 percent) of billing related executives view billing as a utility, while only a third of those polled (33 percent) see billing as strategic. And yet, one out of every four respondents (25 percent) is not confident their bills will get paid on time. The survey points to the growing number of businesses who are missing opportunities for cost savings, accelerated cash flow, customer relationship building and even revenue generation in the billing process.

Billtrust surveyed nearly 40 executives associated with the billing function across a spectrum of North American businesses. The lack of recognition of billing’s role in customer relationships was apparent, as nearly two thirds of those polled (64 percent) said that billing either hurts, or has no impact, on customer service. At the same time, 59 percent of respondents believe their current billing process supports the building of customer relationships.

When asked their highest billing priority, 81 percent said accuracy and 19 percent said timeliness. None of the respondents pointed to cost savings as their top priority. The findings document conflicting perceptions on the role of billing and confusion on the best methods and outcomes related to the billing function.

“When it comes to billing, most businesses focus on the basics,” said Flint Lane, CEO of Billtrust. “Many of the organizations we speak with are unaware of the opportunities that exist in the billing process and don’t even know when their billing is unhealthy. We have seen the symptoms so often that we named the syndrome Chronic Billing Disorder.”

“With a more strategic approach to billing, companies can create cost savings, build better customer relationships and drive revenue growth,” said Lane.

The survey also revealed several other interesting findings on various aspects of the billing process:

... the overwhelming majority of those polled (84 percent) say their bills are generally delivered on-time or ahead of schedule, while 16 percent say their bills are generally delivered late.

... nearly a third of those polled (31 percent) do not feel their bills match the quality standards of their brand.

... nearly 1 in 5 billing executives say they don’t believe their current billing processes have a positive impact on cash flow.

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How real are those price pressures?

By George F. Brown, Jr.

Decisions on pricing are almost among the toughest ones facing business executives. Customers and competitors alike put tremendous pressure on firms that raise prices. At the same time, ongoing increases in the costs of health care benefits, energy, raw materials, wages, and other factors of production cannot be easily overcome without price increases. The question most often asked in discussions about pricing is “How real are those price pressures?” If they reflect fundamental market forces, price increases can translate into lost business and a serious erosion in market share. If they involve posturing and negotiation tactics alone, price increases can remove a lot of the pressure on the coming year’s annual plan.

Four fundamental indicators can help to determine if price pressures are real or not. Each of these can be measured, and provides solid insights into the characteristics of a firm’s business environment that impact on pricing decisions. These indicators are useful in multiple ways. In addition to helping to identify price pressures that must be taken seriously, they are useful when monitored over time and when evaluated from one product line to another or from one market segment to another. Monitoring these indicators over time can spotlight instances in which a product is evolving towards commodity status, with the obvious implications of such a migration in terms of future margins and the need to focus on ways of reducing the costs of such products. Evaluating these indicators across product lines and market segments can allow a firm to focus price increases appropriately, thereby avoiding a strategy that is on average right, but wrong for every product and market segment.

One executive commented that his sales team’s philosophy seems to be to respond to every price challenge that is encountered. That strategy might avoid an occasional loss of business to a competitor, but it has adverse long-term implications. In CoDestiny, we discuss the trap of falling unnecessarily into a vicious cycle of price-based competition. Firms that do so subsequently find themselves having to reduce investments in product development, high-value services, and other ways in which they respond to customer needs and differentiate their offering. As they do so, their products become more and more of a commodity, and price cuts become the only way in which they can win competitive battles.

The first indicator that defines the strength of pricing pressures is the capacity balance in the industry. Simply stated, the more excess capacity that exists in an industry relative to demand, the more real and intense pricing pressures will be. This indicator can change rapidly over time as demand moves with the business cycle. It also can change in a significant step-function way as firms build new plants or shutter older ones. To a significant extent, this indicator is one that is largely outside the control of the individual firm. It can make decisions on its own capacity, but except in a few unique industries, the overall capacity balance is determined by other industry participants. The capacity balance is a very significant indicator; in industries with a massive overhang of unused capacity, the pricing pressures will be incredibly intense, almost overshadowing any favorable implications that might be seen in the other three indicators.

The second indicator involves the degree of “protection” that exists for the business or product line being examined. Protection can be legal in the form of patents or copyrights, but it also can involve the degree of customization, engineering, design, or service embedded into the product. The evidence is strong that such value contributions place implicit barriers to competition and impose significant costs of change on customers that shift suppliers. The customers that elect to buy products which are customized or highly engineered do so because of the value they get from them; as a result, they are not likely to casually shift to another supplier with increased risk of disappointing results. In a common sense way, this indicator reflects the fact that when a supplier’s offering includes elements that are of high value to customers, that supplier should be able to capture some of that value in their pricing.

The third indicator focuses on the business environment into which the supplier is selling. In healthy business environments, pricing pressures are less intense and less real. The measures of health involve not only the supplier’s direct customer, but even more so the customers are later stages further along the customer chain. Every business has seen occasions when everyone is scrambling to keep up with demand. In those circumstances, price challenges are often the furthest thing from everyone’s mind. And every business has seen unhealthy markets, ones in which finding a customer is itself a challenge. In those situations, the tendency is to look back at the supply chain and battle for every dime. Pricing pressures travel along the customer chain. If a participant at any stage of the customer chain, from the lowest tier supplier to the final end customers that use the product, is facing a difficult business environment, the implications tend to ripple along the customer chain, another manifestation of the old saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

The fourth indicator focuses on the relationship between the supplier and the customer. There are two basic elements to this indicator. On the positive side, instances in which the parties consider each other a “strategic supplier” or a “strategic customer” are ones in which pricing pressures are likely to be less intense. This isn’t to suggest that buyers become soft in strategic relationships. Rather, the reality is that other elements to the relationship are far more important than price, and pricing rarely dominates the agenda of meetings between the two organizations. In strong relationships, the firms involved have largely solved the pricing issue, and can quickly reach agreement and move on to more important topics. On the negative side, our research indicates that the suppliers that rank among the customer’s largest, suppliers whose products are expensive, and suppliers whose products represent a significant portion of their customer’s product cost structure sit on the bulls-eye, attracting the attention of both purchasing managers and competitors.

In the context of various consulting projects, we’ve examined these indicators in many diverse industries and economic environments. Over and over, the result has shown significant variation from product line to product line and from one market segment to another. Such learning has allowed firms to make pricing decisions that were appropriate to the business environment in which they were operating, and to do so on a segment by segment basis. Occasionally, the process has spotlighted sharp shifts taking place from one time period to the next, allowing firms to make forward-looking pricing decisions. The process has also allowed firms to uncover quite a few surprises in the indicators and their implications – and these surprises have been in both directions, some positive ones where firms had inappropriately accepted pricing challenges as an ongoing reality and some negative ones in which firms had been unaware of the pressures that were sure to come. A real strength of this approach is the rigor that it brings to discussions of pricing, allowing firms to get beyond the latest “war story” and to discuss pricing options from a factual base.

George F. Brown, Jr., along with Atlee Valentine Pope, is the author of CoDestiny: Overcome Your Growth Challenges by Helping Your Customers Overcome Theirs, published by Greenleaf Book Group Press of Austin, TX.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

10 most common mistakes leaders make

Posted by Mark Brousseau

There are people in every organization you know whose titles indicate they are leaders. Often, and unfortunately, their employees beg to differ. Oh, they don’t say it directly, not to the boss’s face, anyway. They say it with their ho-hum performance, their games of avoidance, their dearth of enthusiasm. Leaders—real leaders who have mastered their craft—don’t preside over such lackluster followers. If reading this makes you squirm with recognition, leadership expert John Hamm says you may have a problem lurking.

You’re really just masquerading. You haven’t yet earned the right to lead.

“When times are good, not-so-great leaders can get by,” says Hamm, author of Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, February 2011, ISBN: 978-0-47092843-1, $24.95, “They’re cushioned by a surplus of cash, and their missteps are covered up by the thrill of top-line growth, which hides a multitude of sins. But when the cloak of prosperity falls away, their mediocrity is ruthlessly exposed.

“Real leadership equity is only earned, not bestowed,” he adds. “Just because you have been granted authority doesn’t mean you’re getting the full, collaborative engagement of your employees. You may have their bodies and time forty or fifty hours a week, but until you earn the privilege, from their point of view, you’ll never have their hearts and minds.”

Hamm has spent his career studying the practitioners of great leadership via his work as a venture capitalist, board member, high-level consultant, and professor of leadership at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University. In his new book, he shares what he has learned and brings those lessons to life with real-world stories.

“These aren’t radically new ideas,” asserts Hamm. “Human nature hasn’t changed that much over the millennia, so neither have the core laws of leadership. It’s just that in the heat of the day-to-day battle, leaders inevitably lose their grip on the basic principles of leadership. In other cases, they never learned these fundamentals or mastered them earlier in their career. And finally, sad to say, some people just aren’t cut out to lead and need to understand why.”

“Normal” leadership is a complex system of behaviors that can tolerate a lot of little mistakes, explains Hamm. Extraordinary leadership cannot.

Think about it this way: Anyone can snap a photo that looks okay or cook a meal that satiates hunger. However, when an award-winning photographer takes the picture, or a five-star chef prepares dinner, anyone can tell a master has been at work. The same is true of leadership. The small deficiencies in how the novice leads, as opposed to the unusually excellent professional, create a radical difference in the outcome.

So how can you tell whether you really are a great leader in the minds of your employees—or whether, to paraphrase the old television commercial, you’re just playing one on TV? Unfortunately, the depth and breadth of the mistakes you make often tell the true tale.

Below, excerpted from Unusually Excellent, Hamm reveals ten of the most common, deeply destructive mistakes organizational leaders make:

MISTAKE #1: “Role playing” authenticity rather than living it. Authenticity is about owning your failures and shortcomings. It’s about allowing others to really know you, vulnerabilities, warts, and all. It’s about having the guts to seek feedback from others in a sincere and genuine fashion. And it’s about being able to maintain your authentic self in a situation of meaningful consequence—where your decisions affect others, sometimes on a grand scale and sometimes in very personal or dramatic ways.

Knowing who you really are and holding true to yourself in the most difficult moments is the “ground zero” of leadership credibility. It’s the only way to create the trusted connections you need to lead with real influence. Unfortunately, leaders stumble for a variety of reasons: They get scared and veer away at the last moment, or they sacrifice the truth on the altar of protecting other people’s feelings, or they simply seek to avoid the pain of conflict.

“When we make the decision to compromise our authenticity, we end up delivering a message that may feel ‘easier’ but that isn’t truly what we want or need to say,” explains Hamm. “Deception conspires with fear and seduces us down a dark road of believing we can ‘fake it,’ just this one time and it will all be okay.

“But the downstream impact of making such a choice in a moment of stress or carelessness can be devastating,” he adds. “For one thing, it compromises the integrity of that all-important communications channel between leader and follower by changing expectations about the behavior of both. Worse, it sets a precedent for this type of authentic behavior that over time can trap a leader into an expectation or pattern of always behaving that way—and over the course of years this is a soul-destroying situation.”

MISTAKE #2: Underestimating the impact of small acts of dishonesty. In his book, Hamm describes an incident that took place at a famous, fast-growing technology company. A young, inexperienced, but talented associate had what he thought was a plan for a powerful new marketing initiative. So he asked the CMO to broker a meeting with the CEO to make a presentation on the subject. The CMO agreed, and the meeting took place.

During the presentation the CEO was polite, if noncommittal. He gave the presenter a sort of passively accepting feedback—“Nice point,” “Interesting,” and so on—and wrapped up the meeting quickly, thanking the presenter for his initiative. But the CMO could sense a duplicity in the CEO’s behavior and attitude as the parties all headed back to their respective offices. Then, ten minutes after the meeting, the CEO called the CMO into his office and said, in essence, “That presentation was absolutely terrible. That guy’s an idiot. I want you to fire him, today.”

“The story of the firing spread (as it always does) throughout the company, morale slipped, and the CMO never completely trusted his boss again,” writes Hamm. “The CEO’s reputation for trustworthiness had been wounded forever. The wreckage from one seemingly small act of dishonesty was strewn all over the company and could never be completely cleaned up.”

MISTAKE #3: Being two-faced (and assuming others won’t notice). In another scenario from Hamm’s book, a CEO had one executive on his team whom he really trusted and in whom he could confide. One day, a couple of other members of that company’s executive team made a presentation at a board meeting that didn’t go so well. Later, as they were walking down a hallway, the CEO turned to his trusted executive and said, “We need to get rid of those guys. They were a disaster at the board meeting—they embarrassed me.”

But then nothing happened. Life at the company went on as before, and the targeted executives remained in their jobs. In the months that passed, the trusted executive found himself in meetings attended by both the CEO and the targeted executives. And it was as if the whole incident had never happened. The CEO joked with the men, complimented them on their work, and treated them as long-term team members.

As the trusted executive watched this, he asked himself: Did the boss mean what he said? Does he ever mean what he says? Did he change his mind—and when did that happen? Or is he too gutless to follow through with his plans? And if he’s willing to stab those guys in the back and then pretend to be their trusting partner, how do I know he hasn’t been doing the same thing with me? Just how duplicitous is this guy?

“Such are the dangers of shooting from the hip without realizing that a communication such as the one just described does not qualify as a ‘casual’ comment—once said, it must be resolved, and if it is not, there is a lingering odor that in one way or another, will remain smelly until fixed,” writes Hamm.

MISTAKE #4: Squelching the flow of bad news. Do you (or others under you) shoot the messenger when she brings you bad news? If so, you can be certain that the messenger’s priority is not bringing you the information you need: It’s protecting her own hide. That’s why in most organizations good news zooms to the top, while bad news—data that reveals goals missed, problems lurking, or feedback that challenges or defeats our strategy—flows uphill like molasses in January.

Unusually excellent leaders understand this reality, says Hamm. To combat it they work hard to build a primary and insatiable demand for the unvarnished facts, the raw data, the actual measurements, the honest feedback, the real information.

“We must install a confidence and a trust that leaders in the organization value the facts, the truth, and the speed of delivery, not the judgments or interpretations of ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ and that messengers are valued, not shot,” writes Hamm. “If we can do this then the entire behavior pattern of performance information flow will change for the better…Very few efforts will yield the payback associated with improving the speed and accuracy of the information you need most to make difficult or complex decisions.”

MISTAKE #5: Punishing “good failures.” Great organizations encourage risk-taking. Why? Because innovation requires it. There can be no reward without risk. But if your employees take a risk and fail, and you come down on them like a hammer, guess what? They’ll never risk anything again. Unusually excellent leaders deliberately create high-risk, low-cost environments—a.k.a. cultures of trust—where people don’t live in fear of the consequences of failure.

Hamm says a digital camera is the perfect analogy to the kind of culture you want to create.

“There is no expense associated with a flawed digital photograph—financial or otherwise,” he explains. “You just hit the ‘delete’ button, and it disappears. No wasted film, slides, or prints. And we are aware of this relationship between mistakes and consequences when we pick up the camera—so we click away, taking many more photos digitally than we would have in a world of costly film. Because we know failure is free, we take chances, and in that effort we often get that one amazing picture that we wouldn’t have if we were paying for all the mistakes.”

MISTAKE #6: Letting employee enthusiasm fizzle. A big part of a leader’s job is to be compelling. That means you must recruit “A players” through a big vision of the future and a personal commitment to a mission. But it’s not enough to recruit once and then move on. Never assume “once enrolled, always enrolled.” Even the best followers need to be reminded again and again how fun, rewarding, and meaningful their work is.

In other words, when people seem to be losing their spark, they need to become “born again” employees. (Time to put on your evangelist cloak!)

“Enthusiasm is a renewable resource,” says Hamm. “Part of being compelling is reminding yourself that people want and need to be reenrolled all the time. This message doesn’t have to be over the top to be compelling. It may just entail reminding your team, once per quarter, why you come to the office every day, and letting them reflect on the reason they do the same.”

MISTAKE #7: Refusing to deal with your “weakest links.” Chronic underperformers spoil things for everyone else. They create resentment among employees who are giving it their all, and they drag down productivity. Leaders must have a plan for getting these problem children off the playground—and they must act on that plan without procrastination.

“The worst scenario of all is to have a plan for dealing with underperformers, to identify who those individuals are, and then not pull the trigger on the announced consequences, for reasons of sentimentality, weakness, or favoritism—or worst of all, an attempt to preserve leadership popularity,” writes Hamm.

Nothing can be more damaging to the morale and esprit de corps of a team than that kind of leadership. It destroys your authenticity, your trustworthiness, and your ability to compel others to act. It is the end of you as a leader. Indeed, it is better to have no weakest-link plan at all than one with obvious liabilities.

MISTAKE #8: Allowing people to “fail elegantly.” There are two basic operating modes for organizations under high-stakes execution pressure, writes Hamm. One is the mentality of winning, which we know about; the other, less obvious to the untrained eye, the disease of failing elegantly, is a very sophisticated and veiled set of coping behaviors by individuals, the purpose of which is to avoid the oncoming train of embarrassment when the cover comes off the lousy results that we’d prefer no one ever sees.

Essentially, when people stop believing they can win, some then devote their energy to how best to lose. This fancy losing often manifests as excuse-making, blaming, tolerating cut corners, and manipulating and editorializing data. Unusually excellent leaders know how to recognize these symptoms and intervene with urgency and strength of conviction to get everyone on the high road—a.k.a., the winner’s mindset.

“Passive acceptance of failure, and the rationalization that always goes with it, is a cancer that can begin anywhere in the organization, then metastasize to every office, including your own,” says Hamm. “You can prevent it by setting clear and precise standards of behavior for everyone on the team, as well as clear consequences for the violation of those standards. And you can control it through continuous and open communication with every member of your team (some who will spot the problem before you do) and, where necessary, redundant processes and systems.

“Most of all, you can cure the acceptance of failure by setting yourself as an example of zero tolerance (along with a welcome for honest admissions of error), of precision and care in all of your work, a clear-eyed focus on unvarnished results, and most of all, an unyielding and unwavering commitment to your success.”

MISTAKE #9: Delaying decisions until it’s too late. Not making a decision is almost always worse than making a bad decision, says Hamm. As long as they aren’t utterly ill-advised and catastrophic, bad decisions at least keep the organization moving in pace with changing events—and thus can often be rectified by a course correction.

Not making a decision at all, although it may seem the safe choice—because, intellectually, it positions you to make the right move when the reality of the situation is more revealed—actually strips your organization of its momentum, stalling it at the starting line, and makes it highly unlikely that you can ever get up to speed in time to be a serious player.

“Unusually excellent leaders don’t just make decisions; they pursue them,” writes Hamm. “Because the speed of the organization is often its destiny—and because that speed directly correlates with the speed with which its decisions are made or not made—these leaders are haunted by the fear that somewhere in the organization a critical decision is being left orphaned and unmade.”

MISTAKE #10: Underestimating the weight your words—and your moods—carry. Hamm tells the story of John Adler, who, prior to his CEO tenure at Adaptec, was a senior vice president at Amdahl, one of the pioneering computer companies of Silicon Valley. One morning as he was walking down the long hallway to his office, he encountered some maintenance guys who were doing repairs. He greeted them cheerfully and then, just to make conversation, mentioned how difficult it must be to work in such a dark hallway.

The next morning when Adler came to work, he was surprised to find five maintenance men all carefully replacing every light bulb in the hallway. When he questioned the flurry of activity, the men said, “We’re replacing the light bulbs, boss. You said it was too dark in here.” Hamm says this story illustrates why leaders need to think carefully about every word they say—because others certainly will.

“Every conversation with, and every communication from, a leader carries added weight because of the authority of the position behind it,” writes Hamm. “Have a bad day and snap at one of your subordinates, and that person may go back to a cramped cubicle and start updating his résumé, or go out and get drunk, or miss a night’s sleep. Your momentary bad day could be his nightmare—and something he will remember forever. Your mood matters; don’t make it your employees’ problem.”

So if you recognize any of these mistakes in yourself, are you forever doomed as a leader? Of course not, says Hamm. We’re all human, and we can all learn from our errors and redeem ourselves. And yet, he adds, there is no shame in realizing that leadership is not for everyone—or in declining to lead if it’s not for you. (In your heart you probably already know.)

“Leadership is a choice,” he says. “It is a deep, burning desire to engage with people and rally a community to achieve greatness. Leadership can be difficult, thankless, frustrating, maddening work at times. It is only the passion of leading on the field—the thrill of looking other human beings in the eyes and seeing their energy, willingness, trust, and commitment—that makes it all worthwhile, in a very quiet, private way.”

What do you think?

The lost art of face-to-face communication

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Communicating meaningfully is becoming more difficult than ever before. While technology has created an ever increasing number of ways to communicate rapidly over great distances, many people are now so well insulated and protected by these devices we use that we are losing the skills and abilities to communicating in the most influential way – face to face.

Stacey Hanke, a Chicago-based management consultant and author of the book Yes You Can has serious concerns about the ever-increasing use of technology in business and organizations.

“There’s a real danger to the maintenance and perpetuation of meaningful communications and personal and professional relationships. If you become overly dependent on email or text messages, you focus on the object, but not the person,” Hanke warns.

Hanke says that tweets, text messages, email and Facebook posts, all transmit words over distances so they can be received without presence of the sender. The human element and context is absent.

“It’s a one-sided blast. Take that! Click!” she observes. “You cannot communicate meaningfully with 140 spaces! All you can say is “Wassup!”

These messages are typically short, sequential, controlled and directed. There’s no instantaneous interaction or connection that allows the other person to understand the tone, inflection or emotion that is carried with the words. The sender cannot express or effectively project the elements of trust, confidence, credibility, warmth, empathy, and concern that are crucial to developing and building a personal relationship. The recipient cannot perceive these elements either.

That failure to convey the feelings that accompany the words so people build trust, credibility, and understanding can have a phenomenal impact on business and success.

Meaningful communications that carry these powerful and important characteristics can only be achieved in face-to-face interactions.

Communicating with impact and achieving influence with people is not only about what you say-it’s also how you say it. You have influence on others because you see their face, observe and experience their emotion, and actively listen and engage their interest and support and build relationships.

You know it’s probably time for a face-to-face when:

... You no longer really understand what is important to your listener.
... You think they have become bored or are losing interest in you or your message.
... You feel they are no longer listening and do not understand you.

There are also certain topics of conversation where face-to-face communication will absolutely be the best way to achieve clarity and understanding needed for mutual success and beneficial action.

... Negotiating salaries, vacations, termination;
... Resolving a dispute, a challenge or a conflict between two or more people or organizations;
... Seeking clarification after written communications has failed.

Face-to-face communication is a very crucial skill. It requires you to focus. You have to be able to be comfortable in the presence of other people for more than a few minutes.

Communicating with impact and influence face-to-face also requires discipline, determination, and self-control.

Here are some of her best recommendations:

Make your moments together count. Everyone has the right to speak. Listen before you speak. Earn the right to be heard. Think about what you want to say before you say it. Make every communication moment worth you and your listener’s time. Every word counts. Think before you speak. Tailor what you say to meet your listener’s needs.

Pay attention by listening for the unspoken emotions. Concentrate on the speaker closely. Focus intently on their face. Do not let your eyes dart away and drift off, since that signals you are no longer paying attention. Do not interrupt. Wait to speak only when the person has finished what they want to say. Hear their words and read their face so that you gain maximum understanding of the why behind their words.

Honor the other person’s space and time. Prepare ahead of time. Match the message to the opportunity. Get to the point quickly. Don’t frustrate your listener by taking too long to get the key message across. Don’t ramble and clutter your message with unnecessary points. Ask for the right action. Be clear and be specific. Watch the time. Don’t take 20 minutes when you only asked for ten. Show you know how to respect the other person.

Prepare for your face-to-face meeting ahead of time. Know your listener.

Tailor your agenda and message to achieve the understanding you need and to influence your listener to act on what you have to say.

Watch Your Body Language. Avoid non-verbal abuse. Every movement you make counts. Control your facial expressions. Don’t smile, snicker, whistle, roll your eyes, or grimace, look sideways, wink, or send the evil eye. Your behavior and non-verbal cues are as important as the words you say. Don’t fidget, act nervous, express fear, or allow your posture to convey uncertainty, insincerity, lack of caring, arrogance, overconfidence, dismay or criticism.

Be Sincere and Authentic. Speak in your authentic voice. Be sincere, be genuine and allow others to see the real you.

Maintain the Power of the Floor. Be interesting. If you see the signs that you are no longer the center of attention:

Stop. Break the flow. Earn their attention. Get back on track.

Ask for Feedback. Face-to-face communications is a two way street. Balanced feedback allows people to be relaxed and comfortable. However, when people start feeling comfortable they also may become lazy and lose their professionalism. Don’t forget who you are and what you are doing. Maintain your self-control. Ask for specific feedback…about the points you raised, the manner in which you presented, the way you responded. Ask for balanced feedback about how to improve and immediately begin applying this feedback.

What do you think?