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This book review was originally going to be lighter than ones in the past.  Rather than go in depth I planned to highlight sections of a chapter that really stood out to me.  After going through my notes, I realized I had a lot to say about the some of the chapters.

I was influenced to buy this book when I noticed it on the desk of a new employee at a former company.  I was already in the process of leaving when she was coming in, and had high hopes for her.  I liked her way of thinking and was upset I would not be able to learn a lot from her with me joining a new company.  When I saw this book on her desk, I figured it was a good idea to get myself a copy.

Introduction: The First 90 Days: The Break-even point

This section of the introduction stood out to me the most because I thought it was a fresh approach to starting a new job.  In essence, a new employee’s goal is to get to a break-even point as early as possible.  To get to this point, they should contribute as much value to the new organization as they have consumed from it.  In theory, the book suggests this be done within the first 90 days of a new job.

There is one story and then my  personal take that I will make as to why this stood out to me.  The story:  I interviewed at one company for a position that was being created to fit a new role.  I did not get the job, but one question the CEO asked me was, “How long would it take for you to get in the swing of things?”  Because it was a new industry and the job was being created from scratch, I answered, “Six months.”  I wonder if I had said “90 Days” instead if it would have resonated better with him.  I’ll never know, and I moved on.  My take:  Sometimes you have to do hard things up front to get a reward later.  Save your money now, and you can retire early.  Spend a few extra hours learning a new skill, and you are more valuable.  Those types of things I think relate to consuming value early in the new job, and start adding value back once you’re capable of doing so.

Chapter 1: Assessing My Intrinsic Interests

There were two main pieces I enjoyed in Chapter 1.  The first had more to do with elements that I believe is one of my strengths.  It has to do with learning the new culture and making sure you observe how things are run at the new company.  To develop the right connections you need to expand your communications to those outside your vertical relationships.  I fully understand this concept, and have done a great job of it in the past and would continue to do so wherever I am.

The other part of this chapter that really stuck out to me was the self assessment of intrinsic interests.  There is a table in the chapter where cell there is a ‘problem’ and you have to rate from 1 to 10 how much that problem interests you.  On the adjacent page is a similar table that you transfer your numbers.  Where the first table appeared random with problems, the second table categorizes the columns into “Technical”, “Political”, and “Cultural”.  The rows are categorized as “Human Resources”, “Finance”, “Marketing”, “Operations”, and “Research and Development”.  After totaling all my results, I found that there was a significant difference in the “Technical” column as well as the “Financial” row.  All other columns and rows were within a few points of each other.  This combination however, was further off.  What it says to me, is that this may be an area of weakness for me that I should pay extra attention to in my new role.  The book refers to these areas as “blind spots”.

Chapter 2: Accelerate Your Learning

The key lesson I learned from this chapter is that you can’t always take ‘what worked in the past’ and apply it to your current situation.   The culture could be different, and people may not be receptive to your ideas.  You need to adapt your ideas to fit into the the culture of your new environment.  The chapter then goes on to create a “Learning Agenda” by figuring out answers to questions about past performance, determining root causes, and history of changes.  It lists questions about company’s present vision and strategy, people, processes, land mines and early wins.  Finally it wraps up the learning plan with questions about the future revolving around challenges and opportunities, barriers and resources, and culture.

It goes on to list external sources of insight that you can identify.  Depending on your industry this could be customers, suppliers, analysts, etc.  Internal sources from various departments could also be used (sales, R&D, other staff).

If you’re in a management position, it suggests meeting with your direct reports one-on-one and asking each person the same 5 questions.  This should be done in this structured manner so you can compare your results.

Chapter 3: Match Strategy to Situation

This chapter evaluates companies using a method called STARS.  A company typically falls into one of 5 situations in the model.  Without getting into as much detail as is listed in the book, a brief description:

Start-Up – Getting a business off the ground.  No strategy or clear framework established.  Gives you the opportunity to create things from scratch.
Turnaround – Business is in trouble.  Employees are demoralized.  Gives you the opportunity to improve because the need to fix is known.
Accelerated growth – Business is growing.  Structures need to be established and new employees brought on-board.  People are motivated.
Realignment – Don’t settle.  Employees need to stay motivated.  The organization can see it’s strengths.
Sustained success – Taking it to the next level.  Finding ways to do this.  The good news is a strong team is already in place.

If I had to grade the company I was previous at and compare it to the one I’m currently in, I would say the company I left was somewhere around Turnaround and Realignment.  (The book mentions that certain pieces of a company can be at different stages in the model.)  In Table 3-3 it does a good job explaining the key differences between turnaround and realignment and what actions should be taken depending on where the company fits.   The previous company has made a lot of changes without a clear vision to see what would stick.  Eventually they may figure it out but it will take time.  The company I am current in is likely in Realignment or Sustained Success.  They are aware of their problems, and what they need to improve processes.  Now they are in the execution mode to achieve their goals.

 Chapter 4:  Negotiate Success

The focusing on fundamentals section of this chapter was my key takeaway.  Areas they touch upon: Be careful of a boss who is hands off.  If the boss doesn’t reach out to you, you have to try harder and reach out to them.  Your boss needs to be aware of what you’re working on.  Don’t surprise them.  When you do approach your boss with  a problem, show that you’ve looked into it and help him address the problem.  Don’t tell them everything you’re working on, just the things they need or want to hear.  Lastly, don’t expect your boss to change.  Aim for early wins in areas important to your boss.  Get on the good side of those that are close to your boss.

There’s a section that outlines 5 conversations you should have with your boss surrounding situations, expectations, resources, style, and personal development.  Two in particular I liked:  In the expectations conversation the author recommends steering towards under-promising and over-delivering.  I always try to guide people in this direction, especially when giving high-level estimates.  My main reason is people tend to be too optimistic and over-promise and under-deliver.  At worst, my suggestion ends up being realistic.  At best, you exceed the deadline and look all the better.  The other piece I enjoyed was the section on knowing your boss’ style.  The example they gave was if you leave messages for your boss and they don’t respond but then later come and ask you about the subject, you realized your boss doesn’t use that mode of communication effectively.  You will need to find out how your boss prefers to communicate.

Chapter 5:  Secure Early Wins

The story that opened up the chapter was interesting.  A woman is promoted to head customer service at a leading retailer, and worked with her former peers (now direct reports) to gain consensus and build quality improvement goals in a participative culture.  She made other changes, but ultimately she worked with her team in creating goals and achieving results.

The chapter focuses on getting wins that are important to your boss.  This appears to be a recurring theme.  Obviously for a good reason – if you’re boss is happy you will likely be in a good place.  One section I found interesting was on building credibility.  The author mentions in your first few weeks you won’t be able make a measurable impact.  However you need to achieve small wins early because people are already forming opinions about you based on the little they know.  Your early moves will shape their perceptions.

Chapter 6: Achieve Alignment

The first part of this chapter that stuck out to me was  when they spoke about a common trap where companies try to restructure their way out of deeper problems.  Companies tend to change their org chart rather than deal with their real issues such as processes, skill bases, and culture.  Ignoring this could cause misalignment and lead to backtracking and damaged credibility.

The other piece I liked was the starting point (ironically) of the Getting Started section.  They emphasized looking at how your unit is positioned with respect to the larger organization’s goals and priorities.  Make sure your mission, vision, and strategy are thought out and integrated.

The reason these two topics stuck out to me is because of the company I came from, and the company I joined.  I think the company I left has process issues they should focus on to gain momentum.  The company I joined has department goals and objectives that relate and roll up to the organization’s goals, mission and vision.

 Chapter 7: Build Your Team

The “Avoid Common Traps” section at initial reading seems like obvious stuff, but when you evaluate it deeper you realize that many companies still face these issues.  I’ve heard stories of new managers criticize  previous leadership.  They think they’re playing hero when in reality they’re building a brick wall against their new team. Instead, the author recommends assessing current behavior and making changes to support improved performance.  Another piece of this section I related with was in regards to keeping teams too long.  Inheriting teams can present a difficult situations especially based on the scenario in which the team was inherited.  You may also be constrained in your ability to make changes.  The hard advice to take is you need to set deadlines for reaching conclusions about the team and what actions should be taken, and you need to stick to the plan you created.  The last piece of this section I enjoyed was in regards losing good people.  A quote from the book, “When you shake the tree, good people can fall out, too.”  It’s tough losing good people and takes an extreme amount of effort to get back to the level you were at when you had them.  Time is lost in the search for a new person, they need to be on-boarded, etc.  While the author mentions this can’t always be avoided, the recommendation is to let the top performers know early and often that you recognize their capabilities.

The other section of the chapter I enjoyed was “Test Their Judgment”.  One statement I found interesting was “Some very bright people have lousy business judgment, and some people of average competence have extraordinary judgment.” Some smart people lack certain abilities you would think come naturally from them, and other people you might not expect to will surprise you with ideas.  The bottom line is you want to analyze the decisions people make.  It may be difficult to do in a work situation if you are new, so the author recommends feeling the person out for topics they are passionate about.  Once you find out what that is, ask them to make predictions on a given scenario.  See what choice they make and have them analyze why they made that choice.  Later, follow up to see what happens.  This allows you to test a person’s ability to exercise judgment in a particular area.  The skills they used can then be applied to the business domain.

Based on the length of this chapter’s review, you might be able to tell I enjoyed this chapter slightly more than the others thus far.

Chapter 8: Create Alliances

The further I got into this chapter, the more I enjoyed it.  It was also one of the main chapters where I felt I could stop thinking about the past and start thinking about the present.  One piece I really liked was in the section on mapping influence networks.  The author describes an influence network as channel for communication and persuasion that operates in parallel with the formal structure.  I when the author talked about having your boss connect you to key stakeholders.  He suggests you ask them for a list of key stakeholders he thinks you should get to know and set up meetings with them.  (The author also mentions ‘paying this forward’ and doing this for new employees that come after you, which I agree with.)  One thing I would add to this strategy, is feel free to expand that initial request to those around you.  In my present situation I’ve reached out to my peers, my boss, and levels above my boss when appropriate, as well as other people in the organization from other departments.  Use resources you have to find what other resources might be good for you to meet.

One piece I didn’t relate to right away but understood more as I read it was the section on drawing influence diagrams.  For me personally, I don’t think I’d physically draw them out as described in the book, I think I read people well enough to be able to make this connection in my head.  In summary you draw co-workers in a diagram and connect people via arrows.  The bolder the arrow, the more influence the person at the base of the arrow has over the person the arrow is pointed to.  Some people in your diagram will support your initiative, some will oppose it, and some will be neutral.  They will be labelled appropriately.

I particularly liked the section building ‘alliances of convenience’.  These are people you may not always see eye to eye with on a day to day basis but do come to agreement on specific areas.  You want to work with these people and educate them to your viewpoint.

There are various reasons people may disagree or oppose your goal.  They may believe you’re wrong, fear you, or just be comfortable with the status quo and be resistant to change.  Don’t treat these people as enemies.  Rather try and find out what it is that motivates them to oppose your point of view, and work on countering that argument.  The author mentions that success in winning over adversaries carries significant symbolic weight that will resonate with others.

Later in the chapter the author describes different strategies you can use to influence people.  Methods include: consultation, framing, choice-shaping, social influence, incrementalism, sequencing, and action forcing events.  During consultation you are engaged and actively listening.  You ask questions and encourage people to voice their concerns.  Finally you summarize and feedback what you have heard.  I took the benefit of this approach as mutual understanding and showing the person you treat them with respect.  I think it works well when you have someone who shares that same level of respect with you.  The framing technique mentions carefully crafting your persuasive arguments on a person-by-person basis.  Your argument needs to take an appropriate tone to resonate well with the other person.  The author goes into detail about Aristotle’s theoretical categories of logos (make logical arguments), ethos (elevate principles that should be applied and values that should be upheld – fairness and building a culture of teamwork are used as an example), and pathos (making emotional connections).  One very important piece that I completely agree with on this strategy is where the author mentions preparing for counterarguments you expect your opponents to make.  The author says, “Presenting and decisively refuting weak forms of expected counterarguments immunizes audiences against the same arguments when they’re advanced in more potent forms.”  I frequently use this technique when I know I will have to deal with difficult people.  In advance of an upcoming conversation, I think of typical counterarguments that they might have.  By being prepared, I find I have more success in the conversation and am able to work with the other person rather than have them become irrational.  Choice-shaping describes how you can influence how people perceive alternatives.  To me this all has to do with how you present options.  Social influence is about the impact of opinions of others and rules of societies in which they live.  This ties in with earlier pieces about influence groups.  Essentially if you get buy-in from a well respected person others are likely to follow.  Incrementalism is about taking baby steps to reach your goal rather than making once big change.  Sequencing is being strategic about the order in which you seek to influence people to build momentum.  This was another one I connected with.  If you meet with the right people in the right order, you can gradually build momentum and gain support.  For people into investing, I looked at this as interest compounding over time.  Your area of influence grows and grows.  In the book, the author mentions scheduling a series of one-on-one and group meetings to create this momentum.  These are techniques I use frequently when working on detailed projects.  Lastly action-forcing events deals with getting people to stop deferring decisions.  I think this technique should be used regularly in meetings with people.  In a typical meeting I have a section for action items that I assign to people with due dates for completing the action.

There was a lot in this chapter, I especially enjoyed the last section on influencing strategies.  To summarize, the strategies I really lean towards are:  consultation, framing, and sequencing.  At a smaller level I also like social influence.  While I think action-forcing events is important and required, I don’t see it as an influence strategy but more of a requirement for making change.  Based on the length of this chapter review you might be able to tell it was also one of the ones I enjoyed.

Chapter 9: Manage Yourself

This chapter focuses on evaluating your strengths and weaknesses.  There is a section on taking stock in yourself based on where you are in your transition.  On a scale of low to high it asks you to answer some questions.  I’ll highlight some below and provide my responses:

  • How excited are you?  Response:  High.  I’m motivated to perform well in my job.  I want to start strong out of the gate and set a good example upon initial impressions of me.
  • How confident are you?  Response:  Medium.  My confidence in my job is growing, but because it is a new segment in the healthcare industry, I feel I have a lot to learn before I can truly feel comfortable in what I do.
  • In control of your success?  Response:  Medium.  Again, I think I have to work with others to understand and achieve deliverables on my end.
  • With whom have you failed to connect?  Response:  Everyone I have worked with has been very friendly in reaching common goals.  Where there is conflict, people respect each other.  This is a positive change compared to what I have seen in the past.  However, I would like to build connections and get to know people at a more personal level.
  • Which interactions exceeded your expectations?  Response:  There have been some people I have worked with that have taken the extra step to make sure I understand something.  Experienced people at a company usually forget this when they are working with someone new and use acronyms and program names that are foreign to the new person.  It’s helpful when people go the extra mile and is something I would pay forward when training the next new person.

One comment in this section I connected with was when the author mentions that the difficulties we face may be the result of deeper personal vulnerabilities that could take us off track.  The book has some examples that follow (Know when to say no, defending a bad decision, being busy but avoiding the important work) and the one that I think I need to focus on is isolation.  I’d like to work on making and maintaining the right connections.  The book uses other examples that I don’t concern myself with, such has discouraging people from sharing information with myself, as I don’t think I’d let that occur.  In my case I think I would work on being more assertive, focus on communication efforts, and display confidence.

The next section covers the 3 pillars of self management.  Pillar 1 is adopting the 90-day plan.  Pillar 2 is developing personal disciplines.  “Knowing what you should be doing is not the same as doing it.”  Sometimes we know we have a difficult task in front of us and put off doing it.  Getting started is the hardest part.  Once you’re in it, it doesn’t seem so bad.  Devote time to planning.  Develop a plan-work-evaluate cycle.  Spend 10 minutes at the end of each day to evaluate what you did and plan what you want to do the following day.  Focus on what’s important.  Don’t let the urgent crowd out the important.  Don’t commit to things right away.  Take the time to make sure doing something a good idea.  Pillar 3 details building support systems internally and externally.  Make sure you have a good work-life balance.  Build an advice-and-counsel network of internal and external people.

Lastly and most importantly, stay on track.

Chapter 10: Accelerate Everyone

The first part of this chapter discusses different types of transitions and the support that may be needed.  Table 10-1 discusses some of the reasons for transition failures.  Some I thought to be interesting are:

  • Insufficient clarity about expectations and mandates – I’ve seen or heard about people getting ‘thrown in the trenches’ without much to go on.  They are then held accountable for results without really knowing what the organization’s goals are.
  • Having a Darwinian leadership culture – Similar to the bullet above, leaders don’t get enough support when cultures tend to have a sink-or-swim approach to development.  More organizations should do a better job of building leaders in house.
  • Leaders are expected to do their old job and their new job:  I’ve seen this as well.  Companies need to set a date of transition and honor it for the sake of the employee.  While the person in the new role can assist with tasks in their old role, they should not be held accountable for it.
  • Culture Adaptation – People are expected to figure out the culture on their own and can make early mistakes.  A company can do a great job describing what their culture is, but it can also be helpful to describe how they live it.

I also enjoyed the section titled “Deliver Support Just in Time”.  It describes how transitions evolve through a series of predictable stages.  People usually do investigative work to learn and gain clarity.  Then they define a strategic direction for the organization and then make key decisions around talent and processes.  The author mentions how leaders should be offered transition support in digestible blocks.  In their new role they only have so much time to devote to learning and planning.  Companies I have worked for accomplish this through online training courses and documentation organized in a way to bring new people on board and slowly immerse them into the topics that are new to them.  Another option the author recommends is to leverage the time before the new leader starts the official position.  Provide people with key documents and tools that might assist them before they start.  I really like this idea and would use it in the right situation.  As a new leader coming on board, it may be helpful to email your new supervisor and ask for this type of information up front.

In matching transition support to transition type, they focus on two types of transitions specifically.  In a promotion, leaders face a new set of challenges.  What is needed of them in this new role are very different from the skills that got them into the new role.  Resources should be provided to help the new leader understand what new skills it takes to be successful at this new level.  With on-boarding, new leaders face many foreign challenges.  They have to learn a whole new set of processes, learn the company culture and subcultures, and create new relationships.  Resources should be available to help them understand what is needed to connect with key people to increase their productivity early on.

Final Thoughts

I thought this book was very good.  I wouldn’t go as far to say it was excellent.  I think it tried to face the challenge to target a wide audience.  In doing so, some parts or chapters focus on executive leaders while others are tailored towards middle managers.  Having said that, it is still a very good book.  Readers will have to take the time to focus on the pieces that could apply to them, and take advantage of the learning opportunities available throughout the book.  I would recommend it to anyone starting at a new company who wants to make a strong first impression or anyone in an existing company about to take on a promotion.

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I have been working in the corporate world since 2004.  During my time, I’ve witnessed, and at one time or another committed, some office etiquette blunders.  I thought I’d take the time to write about my biggest office pet peeves, as well as those of friends and colleagues.

‘Office’ Office Etiquette

I am going to start off with ‘Office’ office etiquette, that is, Microsoft Office, and the things you should be doing to use it effectively.

Utilize the ‘Location’ field for Conference Call Information (So it Appears in Meeting Reminders)

I attend a lot of meetings.  Several a day, and dozens a week.  Nothing ticks me off more than to have to click through the reminder popup to retrieve the conference call information.  The meeting coordinator should put that dial-in information in the Location field.  Don’t worry if you’re also booking a room; you can modify the location field after you add the room to include the call-in information.  One of the worst feelings in the world is when you’re 30-seconds late for a meeting and you have one more click to get the phone number.

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Only include the participant dial-in information in the location.  If you copy and paste all your call-in information, some poor soul is going to accidentally dial the host number.  Then the host won’t know what’s going on while everyone else is on the call waiting.  The next 5-10 minutes of the meeting are wasted trying to figure out who it was.

Meeting Reminders/Recurring Meetings

Always use the reminder feature.  It is typically on by default, so this shouldn’t be an issue.  But once in a while, there’s that meeting that gets set up and the creator didn’t set a reminder.  The next 10 minutes are spent rounding everyone up.

Make a conscious effort to properly utilize the recurrence feature.  In the unfortunate instance where you must set up a daily meeting, make sure you use the proper selection of everyday vs. every weekday.  Every weekday will only schedule meetings Monday thru Friday.  If you quickly, and likely inadvertently, select everyday then everyone with a smartphone will get an alert on weekends.  If you’re an electronic victim like me, you likely sleep with your phone inches away.  There’s nothing worse than being alerted on a weekend at 8:15am to for your upcoming non-existing meeting.

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This next piece could probably go into my regular ‘Meeting Etiquette’ section, but since it typically involves Outlook, I’m going to include it here.  Set an end date to your meetings.  I once was invited to a recurring weekly meeting.  I noticed it started getting cancelled week after week.  I deleted it from my calendar.  It never came up for over a year.  All of a sudden, the meeting organizer sends the invite again to occur every week without an end date.  So I assume they want to start it up again.  So the meeting time comes, and the meeting doesn’t happen.  What the heck?

Attendees: Read the Information Before you Email a Question

Sometimes you have to have a special password or a bit of key information you need to share with users. One would think putting “THE WEBEX PASSWORD IS 123ABC” in big bold letters right in the subject of the email invite would get their attention.  To my amazement, people clicked the link to the WebEx, and then followed up via email with “Hey, what’s the password to the WebEx?”

Organizers: Send the Agenda Before the Meeting

For weekly meetings, you send out the agenda right after the meeting.  Between then and now I get 577 more emails.  So when the next meeting rolls around, I have a hard time finding the minutes from the previous meeting.  So either send it out again right before the meeting (which nicely reminds people of the upcoming meeting) or make it available on SharePoint (which is probably a better idea since the most recent document is in a central location.)

Meeting Etiquette

I’ve mentioned some of these in the past, but they are worth repeating.

Be On Time, Start on Time

Be on time for meetings.  If you’re joining a meeting via conference call, dial in a minute early.  If it’s in person, try to be right on time.  Don’t be the person that has to be constantly reminded that they’re supposed to be attending a meeting, and then shows up 2 minutes late.

End on Time

Be respectful of other people’s time, and end the meeting at the scheduled end time.  People have a lot of other things to do and going late messes up their schedule.  In the event that the meeting looks like it’s going to go longer than scheduled, end at a good stopping point and schedule a follow up.

Don’t Schedule Too Early/Too Late (Factor in time zones)

It should be an unwritten rule that no meeting should start earlier than 9:30am or 4:00pm.  When people first get to work, they check e-mail, follow up on the last minute things they couldn’t finish the night before, etc.  At the end of the day they wrap everything up.

You should make an effort to leave work on time.  You’ll feel better, have more time to do non-work related activities.  In most non-emergency situations, it’ll all be there in the morning. A difference of 4:55pm tonight and 8:35am tomorrow morning won’t mean much a month from now.  Abstaining from scheduling meetings in those early and late hours helps avoid working late.

Factor in the time zone when you are scheduling meetings for people in different locations.  Try to be respectful of the 9:30-4:00 rule taking into account in their time zone.

Respect the Conference Room Booking Process

Every company has a different method of booking the conference room.  Whatever the process, It should be respected.  The same employee will go from “I booked the conference room at this time” to “Oh I didn’t think we still used that system to book the room.”  Use whatever system your  company follows, and stick to it.

Interrupting People When They Are in a Meeting

The following is a true story.  I was in a meeting where people could see inside the conference room from the main area.  A co-worker was looking for me and realized I was in the conference room.  So first they just stared at me from outside the door.  I gave a face that said, “I’m in a meeting we can chat later.”  They stared at me for another 5 seconds.  I had my computer at the meeting, and noticed an email came in.  It was from the gawker, “I need help with xyz.”  To which I replied, “I can’t help you right now, I’m in a meeting.  I can help you when it is over.”  They were persistent, “But I really need help with xyz.”  I knew it could wait.  So now I’m losing focus on the meeting because this person thinks they have an emergency.

This next scenario has also happened to me a hundred times.  I’m on a conference call in my office.  Someone peeks in and one of three things happens.  Rarely, they make a face that says  “I’ll come back later” and leave.  More often than not, they look at the phone to see if you have it muted, and then just start talking as if my meeting isn’t important.  Occasionally, they don’t even have the decency to do that, and just start talking anyway.

If you need to talk to someone and they are in a meeting, whether it be a in person or a conference call, wait for them to get out of it before you sidetrack them.

Attendees: Respect the Meeting

I try to schedule as few meetings as possible.  So when I do, it’s usually for a good reason.  I also keep my meetings as short as possible.  So for the 20 minutes I ask you to meet with me, put the phone down and give me your attention.

For those dialing in, we can hear everything around you.  This includes, but isn’t limited to: chewing food, driving in your car, and the barking dog.

Organizers: Don’t Have Meetings for the Sake of Having Meetings

I’ve mentioned this in the past: Limit the number of recurring meetings.  If there isn’t a reason to meet, cancel the meeting.

Try to limit who you invite.  Don’t invite someone if their time is better used somewhere else.

In the Office

This section has to do with communication and respecting others while physically in the office.

Don’t Take Advantage of Cube Location

There are three main spots where this is typically abused:  the bathroom, the kitchen, and the exits.

Like the children’s book says, everybody poops (more on this later).  Don’t pounce people on their way in or out of the bathroom.  Don’t make people think twice about going to the bathroom because they’re worried they’ll have to go through you.  (Side note: Who knows, maybe it makes them more productive, I read somewhere that people make better decisions when they have to pee.)

Everybody goes to the kitchen, likely multiple times a day.  Don’t make people go hungry or thirsty because they’re worried they’ll get stopped every time they go to the kitchen.  At the same time, respect the people whose desks are near the kitchen.  Don’t heckle them for the two minutes and thirty seconds it takes to cook your Hot Pocket.

Everybody in the office has to come in and exit through the front door.  Don’t stop them.  When they’re coming in, they probably haven’t had that cup of coffee yet, have all their belongings strapped on their shoulders, and just want to get to their desk.  When they’re leaving, they just want to get home.  The last thing they want is for you to say, “Hey, got a minute?” as they’re almost out the door.  It’s never a minute.

I used to work with someone who was so bad at this that I would have a co-worker leave at the same time as me and we would pretend to be engaged in serious conversation just so we could get out.  Also respect the people who work near the front door.  Don’t start up a conversation with them on your way back from your cigarette break, coffee run, etc.

Beginning of Day, End of Day Interruptions

Let people settle in when they get into the office.  Give them a good 20 minutes before you hit them with something if it can wait.  At the end of the day, leave them alone for the last 20 minutes to wrap things up.  People typically designate these beginning and end times to gather all their thoughts and tasks.

“Working Through Lunch”

I’m probably not working through lunch.  I’m probably catching up on my RSS feeds, reading the news, taking my mind off work.  The last thing I want when I’m eating my sandwich is for you to come in and talk about work.

Quota on Interruptions

There should be a quota on how many times, whether in person or electronically, you are allowed to interrupt someone.  I’m all for interaction, but when I’m trying to work on a specific project and you visit every 20 minutes, I lose focus.

Speakerphone

In offices with thin walls, use speakerphone sparingly.  In cubicles, use speakerphone only if you’re the only one left in the building.  Someone once told me a story where three people all within 10 feet of each other, all on the same call, were all on speakerphone.  One person was in an office with the door open, one in the next office over with the door closed (I may have been the victim here), and one in a cube across from them.  You could imagine how annoying the delayed voices were on the various speakerphones.

Personal Calls

Be aware of your surroundings.  No one needs to hear about the status of your latest medical condition or what’s for dinner.  Talk softly or go outside.

Food & Cleanliness

Don’t be ‘that guy’.

The Water Cooler

I’m all for being green.  Go ahead and re-use that water bottle.  Just don’t stick the mouth of your bottle up and over the spigot.  Chances are you weren’t that good at Operation as a kid, and that bottle is going to touch the spigot.  If your hands (or anything else) touch the spigot by accident, do the right thing and give it a wash.

Replace the water cooler when it’s empty.  If you are strong enough, offer to replace it for others.  If you’re not, ask someone for help.  The same could be said for filling up the coffee pot.

The Fridge

If you brought something in but decided not to eat it, you are responsible for seeing that it gets thrown out.  If you bring something in to share, you are responsible for seeing that it gets thrown out after it’s edible time has passed.  No one wants to see, or smell, a furry science experiment weeks later.

If you didn’t bring something in but want to eat it, too bad – it belongs to someone.  Don’t steal food.

The Sink

Your mother doesn’t work there.  And even if she did, you’re an adult.  Wash your dishes.  When they’re dry, put them away.

The Microwave

That soup that  just exploded all over the inside?  Clean it up.

Bathroom Etiquette

When I walk towards a urinal or toilet, I don’t want to see a foamy pile of pee waiting for me.  Flush.  Then, wash your hands.  I don’t care if you didn’t get anything on them.

Shut the light off when you’re done, and leave the door cracked.  Don’t keep people waiting making them think you’re still in there when you’re long gone.

If you made a mess, for whatever reason, clean it up.

Final Thoughts

Leave a comment if you have a good office etiquette story.   Thanks to everyone for sharing your thoughts when I talked about creating this post.

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I attended the Leadercast 2011 seminar via their simulcast at the Shelton Chamber of Commerce.  Overall it was another great learning experience.  I was a little peeved when there were technical difficulties/connection issues with the first two speakers, John Maxwell and Seth Godin.  Seth Godin is one of my personal favorites and it was going to be the first time I’d see him speak live (even if it is via a satellite.)  Below are the notes I took and overall thoughts of the event.

Local Leader Panel Discussion:  Steve Pelletier (Prudential Annuities), Edward Schultek (Sandler Training), Robert Scinto (RD Scinto, Inc.)

Before the real show started, they had local leaders in an interview panel.  Robert Scinto was the standout of the three.  He owns the business complex where the Shelton simulcast was held.  It is a beautiful campus.  There were at least 3 buildings, a restaurant, and a parking garage from what I saw when walking around.  Many of the parking spots had covered walkways into the buildings.  The building where our conference was held had a lunch deli and a gym.  You could tell this guy values his tenants.  The three keywords he focused on:

Service, Imagination, Time

Robert demonstrates his service in the way he takes care of his buildings.  I would love to work on a campus with all those amenities.  Edward Schultek also mentioned being communicators and being knowledgeable are two of the most important qualities a CEO should have.  Overall, I was left with a desire to know more about Robert Scinto and how he was able to do all he has done with the area.  (I understand there are things going on with him at the moment but I’m leaving that out.)

John Maxwell

The person I went with is a big fan of John Maxwell.  After watching him speak, I can see why.  He was very good.  He has a new book coming out that discusses the 5 levels of leadership.  A picture is worth 1000 words, below are the levels he talked about, with the keywords and descriptions of each level.

5 Levels of Leadership

What I found interesting, is if you are a manager this is likely true with your employees, each person at different levels.  You probably have some that are just there for the position (Level 1).  They give the bare minimum acceptable effort.  People in Level 2 listen well, observe, and are learners, which all leads to better service.  The quote I took away from Level 3 is, “Be a tour guide not a travel agent.”  A travel agent sends you to places they’ve never been.  A tour guide is there with you and shows you around.  At Level 4 is an increase in capacity.  This is likely to occur if you recruit better people.  (As an aside, this was a big point from many of the speakers.  You have to hire people you get a good feeling from.  If you hire people you don’t get a good feeling from, there’s  more of a chance you’ll get bad results.)  Put people in the right places.  Recruit good people, put them in the right positions, and equip them with what they need to do their job.  I forget where in the day this was mentioned, but there was a story about a varsity basketball team playing the junior varsity team.  The catch, was that the varsity team had to switch up their usual playing positions, while the junior team played their usual positions.  In the end the junior team won.  The point of the story is put people where they’ll produce their best for the best overall results.

Seth Godin

Seth Godin was one of the main reasons I wanted to see Leadercast.  I read his blog everyday and own many of his books.  Unfortunately, at this point the technical difficulties were at their worst, so I was only able to catch bits and pieces.  The parts I was able to get were:

Seeing what is vs. Seeing what you hope for
Irreplaceable parts vs. Interchangeable parts  
(What I took from this is make your employees irreplaceable rather than interchangeable.  Yes, it’s risky, but it’s worth it.)
Hard work vs. Long work (Work smart and give 100%)
Lead vs. Manage
Artists vs. Accountants (In this example he also used painters.  An artist creates something special, a painter paints.  I can’t remember if it was Seth Godin or someone else that expanded on this, but an example they used was they asked two guys what they were doing.  One guy said, “I’m putting up a fence.”  The other guy said, “I’m building a house.”  They were both doing the same thing, but the second person valued his work more than the first.

Mack Brown

Mack Brown is the head coach of the University of Texas football team.  He is known of having at least 10 wins every season from 2001-2009.   He reiterated earlier points about picking winners.  If you pick the right people, you increase your odds of winning.  When recruiting, he only looked at people with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.  This decreases the chances the student will have a drug or alcohol problem, and obviously demonstrates that they are smart.  Two key quotes I liked, “Quit complaining or quit.”   and, “The company pays you, so as long as you work for them you should be loyal to them.”  After his players won the national championship, he told them, “Don’t let this be the most important thing you do in life.”  I appreciate that he said that…he wants more out of his players than just to win a game.  He wants them to continue to succeed in life.

Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson was very enjoyable to watch.  The first third of his presentation was comedic and talked about how he moved to L.A., visited Las Vegas, and celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary by having an Elvis impersonator re-marry them.  I was thinking, “How did the Queen of England knight this man?  He’s very funny but I am not seeing where this is going.”  And then he neatly wove his comedy stories right in to his inspirational one.  He encouraged us to use our imagination to remember the past and plan for the future.  Most people endure their lives rather than enjoy them.  The question “What do you do?” is different from “Who are you?”  

Don’t do something you are good at if you don’t love it.  Be in your element, love your element.  Imagination leads to creativity.  Creativity leads to innovation.

Erin Gruwell

The movie “Freedom Writers” is based off her story.  She’s a schoolteacher who went above and beyond her typical duties to see that 150 of the lowest graded students in her district were given a chance.  She had to find unique ways to reach out to them when initially they wanted nothing to do with her.  She brought up examples of specific students that she was able to connect with.  The most touching moment was when they brought out an actual student and presented her with a $20,000 scholarship.

Frans Johansson

Frans is up there with Sir Ken Robinson as surprisingly very good.  The best ideas emerge from different perspectives.  The people we know today who change the world are people who try more ideas.  We only know them for their successes, but in addition to that there are probably more fail stories that led to their successes.  The example he used was ice hotels in Sweden.  Initially the person who developed it, wanted to do ice sculptures, then an ice art gallery, then an ice event hall.  Each one didn’t take off the way he wanted.  It was only when backpackers asked if they could sleep there that the idea of an ice hotel came to be.  He was very captivating and interesting to listen to.

Suzy Welch and Alison Levine

It may be because it was towards the end of the day, but Suzy Welch didn’t grab me.  She had an audience with the mothers in the crowd; there was one lady who laughed out loud for a good 30 seconds straight at one of her stories about her kids showing up to one of her live events.  Her questions had to do with “When you are 70, what will you think of your life?” and “What do you think other people will have to say about you?”

Alison Levine, first of all, looks great for her age.  I thought she was in her late 20’s early 30’s, and I later found out she’s 45.  She’s had a lot of health setbacks in her life, but that didn’t stop her from climbing Mount Everest.  She spoke well, but I think her accomplishments are what make her stand out.  One thing I liked was how she said storms are temporary.  Be patient and the skies will clear.  Executing is more important than planning.

Dan Cathy & Muhtar Kent

Muhtar Kent is the CEO of Coca-Cola. D an Cathy is the CEO of Chick-fil-A.  I’ve seen this in the past, and I saw it here today.  This is no knock on Muthar Kent, and I am 100% certain he is a very smart man, and a true leader, but I don’t know if he’s the best public speaker.  Dan Cathy on the other hand, is a very well public speaker.  I think they make a good team speaking together.  One quote I liked from this session, “When a student is ready, a teacher will appear.”

Dave Ramsey

I don’t dislike Dave Ramsey, I just don’t always agree with him.  He thinks people who use credit over cash have a psychological tendency to spend more, even if they pay their bills in full at the end of the month.  I think if you stick to a budget and are smart with your money, you can use credit cards.  He thinks after saving $1000, you should pay all your debts before you start saving for anything else.  I think you should pay off all your high interest debts first, but if you have student loans or  a mortgage at low interest rates, that it is okay to save for retirement or other things.  I guess where he leans strongly toward one side, I try to meet in the middle.

Okay, I’m done ranting.  All in all, he gave a very good presentation.  The key points he talked about:

Leadership matters – leadership = service
People matter – your employees, your vendors, even your competitors matter.  They are not numbers, they are people with husbands, wives, and children.
Team matters.
Slow and steady matters – People don’t become sensations overnight, it takes time.  A crock pot is better than a microwave.
Financial principles matter (He didn’t get into everything I mentioned above, which I guess was a good thing.)
A higher power matters – Whether it’s someone on your team, your boss, your country, or your God.

Final Thoughts 

One last thought before I close it out.  The host, Tripp Crosby, did a great job.  There were little segues for certain speakers and they were absolutely hilarious.  He really kept people captivated through the entire event and I’d gladly watch him again.


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…which makes nothing a priority.  Below is a picture (click on it to get a larger view) of an agenda from a meeting on a specific project.  I’ve distorted the information that isn’t relevant to this article.  The area I want to focus on is the third column.  This meeting was held on August 31st.

image

The agenda has twelve items.  Four have a date of “August” and two are labeled “ASAP”.  The numbers 1-12 have nothing to do with priority.  They just happen to be ordered by the date the item was added to the list.

Each week, this group will meet, and run through the twelve items.  Is 1 more important than 7?  No one knows since they all have a high priority.  Here would be my suggestions:

Prioritize

Instead of ordering the items chronologically, order them by importance.  Number 1 is the most important and deserves the most attention.  Number twelve is just going to have to wait another day until we have more time and resources to focus on it.  Once an item gets crossed off the list, the others can shift appropriately.

Specific Deadlines

Rather than mark an item as “August” or “ASAP” give it a hard deadline.  People tend to focus on the quick wins and attention grabbers.  They’re probably shuffling 5 other projects besides what’s on this list.  With a vague deadline, your line item just got pushed to the bottom.

Offer realistic deadlines.  How realistic were these deadlines if everything is labeled as “August” and the meeting is held on August 31?  Don’t be too aggressive if you can’t meet the date.  Factor in other projects, holidays, potential unplanned activities, or any other possible distractions that will keep you from meeting your target date.  Nobody is perfect so don’t expect them to be.  Things will go wrong and you should factor that in.

Ownership

Hold one person responsible per line item rather than an entire department.  When someone sees a department as the owner of a specific task, they figure someone else will do it.  When they see their name next to a specific task, they know they are responsible for seeing that it gets done.

Keep a Backlog

Separate the list into 2 sections.  If something can’t start due to a dependency on another task, don’t bring it up each week.  If that task with a dependency is so important, bump up the priority on the task that is holding it back.  If an item has no progress from the previous week, find out why.  Is the right person assigned to the task?  Is it as important as you thought it would be, or should the priority be lower?

Once a month or so review the backlog for a large project.  If it isn’t feasible to get it in this timeframe, defer it for a later time and move it to a completely separate list for another project.  Which leads me to…

Keep Lists Small

This isn’t a complaint against the actual list I mentioned above, I think it does a good job of keeping it small. But I think it’s important and wanted to bring it up anyway.  If a list has 10-12 items, it’s very manageable.  Once a list gets too big, it’s too overwhelming.  People look at the list, freak out, and procrastinate.

Break large lists into a couple of smaller ones.  It’ll feel easier.  When you’re done with all the items on the first list, move onto the second.  It will make everything feel less stressful because you are managing smaller pieces at a time.

So there you have it.  Keep the above in mind the next time you work on a list for a project.  Hopefully things will go smoothly and work out for you.

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I came across this book by chance.  I heard of a great website called Basecamp that is used for managing small projects.  They sent me an email to the address I registered with about a book by the creators of the site.  I read some of the literary reviews on the front and jacket and was surprised not only at the names I saw (Seth Godin, Mark Cuban, Tom Peters, Tony Hseih), but also at what they had to say.  I was excited to find out what the book had to offer.

I was initially skeptical.  I was worried this was going to be one of those books where I could find myself relating to it because the ideas offered were pretty generic and could be applied to anything.  I was pleased when they proved me wrong.  There may be areas where I didn’t agree with their viewpoints, but overall I think it was an inspiring read.

Learning from Mistakes

To start however, I disagreed with the authors said the beginning where they discussed the concept that learning from your mistakes is overrated.  Instead, they suggest learning from your successes.

I think you should learn from both as long as they lead to growth and future successes.  They offer some pretty haunting statistics that people who fail initially will continue to do so.  The questions I have that aren’t answered here are:  What if someone with an entrepreneurial spirit happens to fail the first time, are they doomed forever?  What about people like Steve Jobs who has failed in the past but has also succeeded?

Much later on in the book, they talk about under-doing the competition.  They describe what a great product the Flip video recorder is, even with it’s minimal features.  However, Pure Digital Technologies, the company that developed the Flip video recorder, has failed in the past.  They started out by designing disposable digital cameras.  They had the same features as regular disposable cameras, but you could pick and choose which pictures you wanted to save or delete.  They had trouble selling these disposable digital cameras because people seemed to hold onto the ones they bought rather than dispose of them.  Had they not learned from their mistakes and improved, we would have never seen the intuitive Flip device.

Planning is Guessing

“Plans let the past drive the future.”  Plans are inconsistent with observation.  Planning hinders us from picking up opportunities that come along.  They actually recommend working without a plan.  We can pick up as we go along.  To blindly follow a plan that has no relationship with reality doesn’t make sense.

This is one area where I strongly agree with the authors, and one of the main reasons I bought the book since I saw this mentioned on the back cover.  Many projects I’ve participated in have required a ‘plan’.  Many projects I participated in have never met the plan date.  This is probably because…

…Interruption is the Enemy of Productivity

The authors say people who stay late and work weekends aren’t doing it because there is too much work to be done, they do it because they’re not getting enough done at work.  We’re not getting enough done at work because we’re constantly being interrupted.  Most of us get our work done early in the morning or late in the evening when there are less people to bother us.  The rest of the day is filled with monotonous meetings, emails that need replying, and chatty co-workers.

They recommend blocking off ‘alone time’ where people aren’t allowed to get in  our way.  They recommend some crazy rules like “No Talk Thursdays” or blocking off 10am-2pm on your schedule where no one can talk to you.

I say do whatever works for you.  Turn your email off, sign off of instant-messaging, and put your phone on Do-Not-Disturb.  If you work for a company that has multiple offices, pay the other location a visit and hide in a cubicle.  If they’re flexible about working from home, take advantage once in a while and get things done.

Meetings are Toxic

One item they mentioned that I liked was the thought that email trumps meetings.  Have you ever been on a productive email chain where there was back and forth between a group of people, with progress being made, only to have a manager say “instead of going back and forth maybe we should have a meeting…”  But think about it for a second.  Email let’s you think about it and absorb what is being said.  You don’t need an instant reply with half-thought comments.  If email is working, there’s no need to take a group of people away from what they’re working on so they can sit in a room and comment once every 10 minutes.

Some reasons why the authors are anti-meeting that I agree with:

  • They often include at least one moron who inevitably gets his turn to waste everyone’s time with nonsense
  • Meetings procreate.  One meeting leads to another, and another…

They also mention how meetings are like TV shows…regularly scheduled at a specific time each week.  So we set aside 30-60 minutes several times a week even if there’s little progress.  They recommend scheduling 7 minute meetings in Outlook if that’s all the time that’s needed.

Meetings are expensive.  If you invite 10 people to one meeting, that’s 10 hours of work you just lost.  Factoring in mental switching costs, they say it’s more like 15 hours of work lost.  Meetings are often liabilities, not assets.

Workaholism

I also liked what the book had to say about workaholism.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I think working too hard has more drawbacks than benefits.  Co-workers tout how many extra hours they stayed late finishing up a project.  The authors call workaholism stupid.  “Working more doesn’t mean you care more or get more done.  It just means you work more.”

Workaholics work harder not smarter.  They throw hours at problems.  They make up for “intellectual laziness with brute force.”  It’s smarter to figure out you can’t do something and ask for help or to give up, than to throw endless hours at a problem.

Workaholics make people who work normal hours feel inadequate.  Now no one is happy because the workaholics are complaining and the normal working people don’t feel good enough.

Draw a Line in the Sand

Here is where I have some respect for the authors.  When I was testing out Basecamp (after dabbling in Microsoft Project in the past) there were features I wish it contained.  (Mainly to give tasks sub-tasks.)  But here they state their reason for not doing so (and leaving out other features that people might request) is to keep the product simple.  Although I may get frustrated when there’s something I want that they don’t do, I like the fact that they stuck to their guns and kept it simple.  They didn’t start adding features that would bloat and complicate the product.

An example from the book is a sub shop in Chicago.  The shop orders bread early in the morning and closes up when they run out.  When asked why they don’t order more, they replied that the bread isn’t as good later in the day.  A few extra dollars isn’t worth selling food they aren’t proud of.  Are  a few half-assed features worth selling a product you aren’t proud of?

Mission Statement Impossible

There’s a difference between truly standing for something and having a mission statement that says you stand for something.  They use an example of a car rental’s mission statement that promises to do all these great things and going ‘above and beyond’ to ensure customer satisfaction.  What really happens when you rent a car, is that the front desk is dirty, the room is cold, and they’re trying to sell you insurance.

I feel the same could be said for bland resume objectives, which I talk about here.  You need to stand by what you say, and don’t just write something fancy that makes you look good.  People will see right through you.

The More Massive an Object, the More Energy Required to Change Its Direction

I really like that statement.  When companies start out, they have less mass.  As they grow, the longer it takes to get things done.  Some items that increase mass that they mentioned:

  • Permanent decisions – Be careful what path you take.  You may make a choice you can’t turn back from.
  • Meetings – Standing meetings are useless.  I wish I could get up and leave when I feel like I have nothing to gain or give to the meeting.
  • Thick Process – You get longer than a couple pages on a process and you’ve lost my attention.  Keep it simple.  Use diagrams.
  • Long-term road maps – Technology changes.  People’s needs change.  Regulatory items come out of nowhere.
  • Office politics – Don’t be fake.  I can see right through it.  And it bothers me.

If you can avoid these things you can change direction more easily.  Huge companies take years to change direction because they talk instead of act, and meet instead of do.

Some Constraints are Good

You’re better off with a kick-ass half than a half-assed whole.  Do a few things really well than a lot of things in a mediocre fashion.  You can’t do everything and do it well.  There is a limit to how much time, money, and resources are available.  Once you push the limits on one, you sacrifice one of the other two along with quality.  Southwest chooses to only fly Boeing 737s.  If something breaks on a plane, they have the parts to repair it.  They keep their costs down.  Less is more.

Throw Less at the Problem

In typical situations, when things aren’t working out, people are inclined to throw more resources (people, time, money) at the problem.  All this does is exacerbate the problem.  Try cutting back instead.  I’ve seen this work in the real world on occasions.  Often people will come to me with a problem.  Sometimes, I delay in helping them right away.  A while later when I ask if they still need help, they told me they overcame the problem on their own.

Doing less forces people to think differently.  They have to base their decisions on the limited resources available to them.  If you keep trying to do more, deadlines will continue to be pushed back and budgets will continue to be exceeded.

Launch Now

Set artificial deadlines for yourself.  If you had to launch your product in 2 weeks, what would you cut?  Once your product does what it needs to do, get it out there.  Those other features can be done later.

I have mixed feelings about the above statements.  I agree small businesses need to get their product out there, but at the same time they can’t ship pure crap.  It has to be of a quality that customers are willing to accept.  Customers should be made aware of what your product does and does not do.  If not, you better have some good persuasion skills.  When a product I worked on first launched, the scheduling module didn’t work and the site was ready for training.  The trainer was a smooth talker, and in a Jedi style move, told the customer, “You’re not even open yet…why would you want to schedule now anyway?”  The customers were convinced, and the software was ready to schedule when they were.  A bold move, but it worked out in the end.

Illusions of Agreement

Another favorite section of mine.  They talk about how the business world is inundated with documents, reports, and processes that do nothing but waste people’s time.  No one reads them.  They take forever to make but only seconds to forget.

Instead of describing a process over 12 pages, write a 1 page diagram that shows the different steps.  Remove layers of abstraction.  If you’re writing requirements, create a picture instead of writing in paragraph form how it is supposed to work.

Your Estimates Suck

We have no idea how long something will take.  We estimate based on a ‘best case scenario’.  But somehow they end up slipping.  They recommend breaking up the project into smaller pieces that are more manageable.  The smaller something is, the easier it becomes to estimate.

Long Lists don’t get done

I’m a huge fan of making to-do lists.  For some reason I get satisfaction when I crossed items off.  They say long lists are burdensome, and recommend making shorter lists.  Break a list of 100 items into 10 lists of 10 items.  You’ll be less terrified to get started when you know you only have 10 items to tackle.  Feel free to re-arrange your lists as you complete items.

Be Original

If you copy others all you’re doing is catching up.  Your product will always be inferior.  Be influenced, but make sure you’re doing something different.

This reminds me of the difference between the Wii knockoffs you see in stores.  The Wii knockoffs are direct copies of the Wii Sports video game.  Companies that build these knockoffs make a quick profit but they don’t seem to be around for long.

Another way to prevent people from copying what you do is to inject unique qualities into your company that aren’t easily duplicated.  Zappos.com does this through exceptional customer service.  Customer service reps do not have scripts and have the power to do almost whatever it takes to make sure the customer is satisifed, as I also mentioned in this review of Seth Godin’s Tribes book.

Just Say No

You can’t do everything for everyone.  Sometimes you just have to say no.  Don’t avoid it because it makes you uncomfortable.  The example they used to drive the point is to imagine your a chef.  If a group of customers say your food is too salty or too hot, you make a change.  If a customer asks you to put bananas in your lasagna, you have to turn them down.  “Making a few vocal customers happy isn’t worth it if it ruins the product for everyone else.”

When you do say no, do it in a polite manner.  Be honest.  Explain why you can’t do something for them.  They go as far as to suggest recommending them to a competitor instead.  Better to have them happy with someone else, than miserable with you.  Which leads to the next topic…

Let Your Customers Outgrow You

The scenario they use is to imagine you have a customer that pays your company a lot of money.  In the past, you’ve tried to please them in every way.   You tweak and change the product for this one customer’s request and you start to alienate your original customer base.  Then one day, that customer decides to leave you.  Now you’re left with a product with features that are useless to all of your remaining customers.

They recommend working on features that will help you grow new customers.  If you focus only on your existing customers, you become too tailored to them and stop creating features that would pull in new clients.

The authors had customers give them heat for not adding features to their product.  The customers’ business was changing and the authors’ product wouldn’t work for them anymore.  The authors said no.  Their reasoning was simple:  They would rather have their older customers outgrow their product than never be able to grow into them in the first place.  Don’t add so many features into your product that you overwhelm the new users from ever wanting to use it.

Don’t Write It Down

They pose the question, “How do you keep track of what customer’s want?”  And they answer it with, “Don’t.”  I actually did this test with some people at the company where I work.

If you don’t write it down, you’ll remember the important things.  The things that come up over and over again.  Customers and co-workers will keep reminding you.  If there’s a request that you keep forgetting, it’s a sign that it isn’t very important.  It’s the ones that are constantly presented to you that are really important.

Build an Audience

Companies have customers.  Lucky ones have fans.  But the luckiest have audiences.  An audience comes to you on their own.  Compare the cost of the work involved in trying to attract audiences with that of spending tons of money on advertising and trying to reach the right people.

When you have an audience you don’t have to buy they’re attention, they give it to you.  So start slow.  Create a blog, join twitter, speak in public, whatever it takes to slowly build your audience.  Then when you need to say something important, people will already be listening.

It’s Okay If You’re Not Perfect

They say it’s okay not to be perfect.  It may not seem as professional, but it will seem a lot more genuine.  Personally, I’m a huge fan of this, because it’s what I’d like to see if someone was presenting something to me.  On the flip side, I think you have to know your audience.  If they’re expecting perfection, and you have flaws, you better handle that well.  If you try to hide your imperfections and they see through it, you’re in trouble.

Press Releases Are Spam

One place I worked at emailed everyone in the company a press release as they sent them to customers.  And if I thought our own press releases were annoying, I can only imagine what our customers thought.  (In the book they refer to press releases as being sent to journalists, but I’m reviewing this book as it relates to me.)

They refer to a generic pitch sent to hundreds of strangers spam.  They’re not personal.  Your  introduction to the people reading them is too vague to make a connection.  They recommend reaching out to people via email or telephone instead.  That’ll make you stand out far better than some generic press release.

Resumes are a Farce

Resumes are a joke, filled with action verbs that don’t mean anything.  Responsibilities and job titles are hardly accurate.  In reviewing resumes in the past, I’ve found this to often be true.  You have to be careful with what you put on a resume, because the interviewer can call you out on it.  You better be able to talk about that glorified bullet point.

People who take the shotgun approach haven’t done any research on the companies they’re applying to and should be avoided.  I’ve talked here and here why the shotgun approach should be avoided.

5 Years Experience Means Nothing…

I have a friend who is hesitant to put his resume online without staying at a job for 3 years.  He thinks 3 years shows loyalty and dedication to the job.  I say you’re sitting around, procrastinating, and stalling.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting some feelers out.

The authors believe that number of years experience mean nothing.  A baseline experience is required, but after that what difference does 3 years experience doing a particular job have over 2 years and 2 months?  They say it may take as little as six months to learn a skill, but after that the curve flattens out.  The people that want to do well will learn fast.

…The Same Can be Said for Formal Education

Your GPA in college doesn’t matter.  90% of the CEO’s running the top 500 American companies didn’t go to Ivy League colleges.  Moreover, some of the things you learned in school shouldn’t be applied in the business world:

  • In school, the longer a document is, the better.  In the business world, the longer a document is, the more likely it won’t get read.  (Same goes for emails.)
  • In school, using big words looks impressive.  In the business world, you want to keep it simple to make sure all audiences understand what you are saying.
  • In school, the format is just as important as the content.  In the business world, I care more about understanding what you have to say than how you present it.

Hire Great Writers

If ever deciding between more than one person to fill a position, the authors recommend hiring the best writer.  They believe their writing skills will pay off, regardless of the position.  Clean writing is a sign of clear thinking.  Good writers make things easy to understand.  They know their audience.

Test Drive Employees

Some people are pros at interviewing.  Too bad they don’t always work like pros.  In contrast, maybe they don’t interview all that great but they turn out to be great workers. If possible, hire people for mini projects to feel them out.  See how they react to certain situations, and evaluate their work ethic.  If it goes well, you can choose to keep them.

Everyone on the Front Lines

A former co-worker mentioned this in the past and I fully support it.  In the book they refer it it as the ‘front-of-house/back-of-house’ split.  The developers work in the ‘kitchen’ while customer support handles the customers.  The problem is that the chefs never hear what the customers are saying directly.  As an example, they use the children’s game Telephone.  You have a group of ten kids transmitting a message down the line.  By the time it gets to the last person, the message is distorted.  The more people you have between the customer and the developer, the more likely their message will become blurred.

In the book they recommend that everyone in the company interact with the customer a few times a year.  I think it would be awesome if developers took customer support calls or held focus groups that totaled 5 days a year.  It would allow them to see what customers really think of their work.  I don’t think that’s asking for much.

Trust Your Employees

If everything constantly needs your approval, you create a culture of non-thinkers.  It makes them think you don’t trust them.  “What do you gain by banning employees from visiting a social-networking site or watching a YouTube video?”  You will gain nothing.  The time doesn’t convert to work.  They’ll just figure out another way to not do work.

Better Hours is Greater Than More Hours

The real title of this section is “Send people home at 5.”  The dream employee for most companies is someone in their twenties with no life outside of work.  They counter that argument saying it may not be as great as it seems.  It perpetuates the myth that “this is the only way.”

People will work harder at work when they have something (or someone) to go home to.  They will be more efficient because they want to get out of there.  They use their time wisely.

ASAP is Poison

I ignore emails from people if they abuse the use of ASAP.  The authors go into detail here on why people should stop using the term.  Essentially, ASAP is implied.  If you start using ASAP in all your emails, all of a sudden everything is a high priority, which in effect makes nothing a high priority.

If a task doesn’t get done this very instant, more often than not, it will be okay.  It won’t cost you your job, cost the company a ton of money, and it will save you unneeded stress.

You can only do one thing at a time.  Reserve the use of ASAP for true emergencies.  A true emergency is where there are direct, measurable consequences to inaction.  For everything else, there’s time to think it through.

Final Thoughts

Rework is a quick read, and I found it to be one of my favorites.  Their ideas are inspiring and can be used to get the ball rolling if things are feeling stale.

It is mainly geared to entrepreneurs and small businesses.  I don’t think many of their ideas can be applied to large companies as it is too late in the game for them to enact many of the tips in the book.

I would say this is a must read for anyone who has the power or the inspiration to create change. I may have disagreed with their thoughts on failure at the beginning, but I really liked what they had to say in the rest of the book.  I’d say more, but I have a 7 minute meeting to attend.

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A few years ago I was a business analyst at a software company.  One of the magazines I subscribed to was Pragmatic Marketing.  I always enjoyed reading this magazine because I found the things they talked about could easily be applied to my job.  One day I received a package from Amazon.com, and inside was this book.  The writers from the magazine got together and wrote the book, and lucky for me I got it for free.

Summary

Tuned In is about focusing on your customers and potential customers in a unique way that creates memorable experiences.  A common quote said throughout the book, “Your opinion, although interesting, is irrelevant.”  It doesn’t matter what you think.  You need to tailor your products and services toward your customer.  They use examples throughout the book that further explain this, and the one that stands out easily is the iPod.  Other companies made MP3 players but they didn’t listen to their customers to find out what they really wanted.  Apple got it right, and now they own the majority of the MP3 player market.  At the other end of the spectrum are companies that are “Tuned Out, such as the former Circuit City.  In order to save money, they decided to fire their experienced employees and hire cheaper replacements.  Look at what is currently  happening to Blockbuster.  They can’t seem to find a way to win over customers, and chains are closing all over the country.  Companies need to connect with their customers if they want to stay in the game, and this book offers a great strategy on how to achieve that goal.

Chapter 1: Why Didn’t We Think of That

This chapter sets the stage for the rest of the book.  The authors explain their reason for coming together to write the book.  One major point I took from this chapter is that innovation isn’t always the answer, focusing on revenue often leads to failure, and listening to your customers creates dangerous false signals.  This is explained in more detail in Chapter 2.

In the past, I’ve had my own concerns with companies that use revenue as their driving factor.  These companies believe “We need to create more revenue so we can survive.  Therefore, we’ll focus on generating more sales, and that will allow us to hire more support reps.  Having more support reps will shed a better light on our product, create more referrals, and generate more sales.”  The problem I have with that approach is you lack service early on, and you can never get good referrals if you don’t have good service to back up your early sales.  The book refers to this tuned-out approach as ‘inside-out’ thinking.  If companies were tuned in, they would develop a better product from the start, and strike a balance between sales and support.  Customers would like the product, refer it to others, and new sales would be generated.  The book refers to this tuned-in approach as ‘outside-in’ thinking. Tuned in companies listen to what the market demands, understands their problems, and creates products and services that buyers want to pay to solve.

The chapter also summarizes the steps in the Tuned In Process, which become chapters later on in the book.  They are:

Step 1: Find Unresolved Problems – How do we know what market and product to focus on?

Step 2: Understand Buyer Personas – How do we identify who will buy our offering?

Step 3: Quantify the Impact – How do we know if we have a potential winner?

Step 4: Create Breakthrough Experiences – How do we build a competitive advantage?

Step 5: Articulate Powerful Ideas – How do we establish memorable concepts that speak to the problems buyers have?

Step 6: Establish Authentic Connections – How do we tell our buyers that we’ve solved their problems so they buy from us?

Another concept used throughout the book is the creation of a ‘resonator’.  The idea is to create a product or service that buyers want to talk about, want to buy, and will recommend to others.

The leaders at organizations need to be able to answer the following questions:

  • What business are we in?
  • What business are we not in?
  • Who are our buyers?
  • What’s unique about our offering?
  • What’s our positioning strategy?
  • How can we compete?
  • Why do the other guys seem to win more often?
  • How can we turn a profit?

One of the bullets in the chapter summary that I really liked says, “Organizations make the same common mistakes again and again: guessing at what the market wants, basing products and services on what current customers request, and trying to create a need in the market by relying on expensive advertising or an army of salespeople.”

Chapter 2: Tuned Out…and Just Guessing

Some companies don’t understand their customers.  They think a newer product is better than the existing product because it is newer.  Some examples:

  • A company in the 60’s designed a better mousetrap than the regular wooden ones.  It was a total flop and the company reverted back to the older product.
  • The U.S. Government issued dollar coins and no one used them.  What is ironic is they tested the coins before putting them in circulation and the results of the study said it would fail.  They chose to ignore the study.  (This reminds me of putting Jay Leno on at 10pm.)
  • A refrigerator that was connected to the internet.  It included a screen with an LCD display, MP3 playback,  and a webcam among other features.  Did anyone stop to ask if people wanted all this on the fridge?  What problem did this solve?

There is a really  nice graph in the book that shows how Tuned In companies can be successful.  On the Y axis is Unit Sales Growth.  On the X axis is customer satisfaction.  There are 4 quadrants in this graph.

  • Low Sales & Low Customer Satisfaction = Innovation is Everything
  • Low Sales & High Customer Satisfaction = Customers Know Best
  • High Sales & Low Customer Satisfaction = Revenue Cures All
  • High Sales & High Customer Satisfaction = Tuned In

In my experience, companies often get stuck in High Sales & Low Customer Satisfaction, followed by Low Sales & High Customer Satisfaction.  With the former, they believe revenue fixes all problems but get caught in a vicious circle and customers are never happy.  With the latter, they try to keep current customers happy that they lose focus of the other areas of running a business, such as developing new products and features that would bring in new customers.  A company needs to strike the balance between keeping current customers happy and generating new sales.

The only time a company should innovate a product is when the new features solves new problems of current customers or problems for a different type of customer.  If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.  Companies can’t worry about the competition if they aren’t focused on what the real problem is: what the market problems are that buyers encounter.  Companies that solve this problem will be successful.

The authors ask some really good questions to these points mentioned above.  A couple that I liked are, “How often do you participate in internal meetings to discuss ‘strategy’ or ‘positioning’ or ‘messaging’ and then the entire discussion is based on the opinions of the people in the room and not the facts?” and “How often does the person with the loudest voice in your conference room (or the executive with the biggest title) win an argument?” and lastly my personal favorite, “How often are your organization’s internal problems (to get a product to the market, reduce costs, or impress the board and shareholders) more urgent to you than your buyers problems?”

Chapter 3: Get Tuned In

This chapter discusses the steps that should be taken prior to starting the Tuned In process.  One thing they mention is that listening to your existing customers is not enough.  The reason is because then you are only solving current problems.  You are not innovating and creating new things which would allow you to grow.  An example they use in the book is with the car sharing service Zipcar.  Zipcar allows you to live in a big city but still travel short distances by renting a car for a few hours.  You can rent a car to go to the grocery store and return it when you’re done.  It seems like such a great idea, yet none of the existing car rental companies thought of it for over 50 years.  The authors say that the reason this hasn’t happened is because many successful companies tend to tune out after their first success.  They don’t go into the marketplace to discover new problems and opportunities.  (At first I thought, “Wait didn’t the mousetrap people in the previous chapter do this?” but I realized they were separate issues, they had a product that worked great and didn’t need improvement, and if they wanted to expand, perhaps they could have looked into traps for other kinds of rodents.)

Think of Apple.  They could have stopped at the computer.  But where would it have gotten them?  Instead they decided to branch out in the music world, create a fantastic audio player, design a marketplace from scratch for obtaining new music and podcasts and revolutionize the way we use our phones.

The following chapters explain the six steps in the Tuned In process in detail.

Chapter 4: Step 1 – Find Unresolved Problems

This chapter focuses on what problems exist that (prior to someone coming forward to solve it) still do not have a solution.  Some examples used in the chapter are:

  • a Magnavox television with a power button that sends a signal to the missing remote control to start beeping for 30 seconds so it is easier to find
  • Quicken was created when the founder’s wife was complaining about balancing her checkbook

Sometimes you can figure out what problems need to be solved just by asking customers.  However they won’t always give you a direct answer, and you have to figure out a solution based on their comments.  The book refers to this as “expressed” and “unexpressed” problems and “stated” and “silent” needs.  This is how Magnavox was able to figure out a solution to the ‘missing remote’ problem customers were mentioning.

When the founder of Quicken, Scott Cook, first built Quicken, he went directly into people’s homes and studied how they paid bills and managed their money.  He didn’t assume his problems were their problems.  He observed the problems they had and built the product to better serve them.  The book mentions that the best way to collect unresolved market problems is to visit buyers in a non-selling situation (preferably on their home turf) and get their feedback.  I think this is invaluable. The best way to find out what your customers needs are is to meet them in the same place where they use your product.  Observe what they do during the day and how it relates to your product.  How can your product make what they do better?  Is there anything about your product that slows them down that could be improved?

People like talking about their problems, they will open up if you are willing to listen.  They think their ideas will help a good organization make a product that will make their lives easier.  They have nothing to lose by talking to you.

The chapter then describes the different types of customers.

  • Customers are existing customers who already use your product or service.  You evaluate their problems in a rearview mirror, and make small improvements to your existing product.  Customers can distract you from discovering unresolved problems that might exist in a new market, which would prevent you from obtaining new customers.  The book recommends listening to your customers, but they should be a smaller part of the Tuned In Process.
  • Evaluators are people who are actively thinking about purchasing your product or service.  Evaluators can be tricky to deal with because they are actively searching for something to solve their problems.  Your product has to offer solutions to their current problems.  If you cannot provide a solution to their current problems they will look somewhere else.  If you don’t win the sale with evaluators, it is good to do a win-loss analysis to see why they didn’t choose you.  The book also recommends that they be a small but important audience during the Tuned In Process.  They actually recommend leaving them alone during the sales process (from a marketing/product standpoint), and conducting the in-depth win-loss analysis after they have made their decision.
  • Potential Customers are people who are not yet your customers but have problems that your product or service could or could potentially solve.  The examples mentioned above with Magnavox and Intuit involved meeting with potential customers and developing a product to meet their unresolved problems.  The book says this is the most important category of people to spend time with.  This is the best way to create breakthrough experiences that resonate.

Why not just send the salesperson to find out the customer’s problems and offer products?  Because salespeople need to balance the task of keeping the customer happy and offering new products that customers don’t want.  Evaluators will do anything to avoid the sales process.  The book says that sending a salesperson to learn about a buyer’s problems can turn a relationship bad before the conversation even starts.

Chapter 5: Step 2: Understand Buyer Personas

This chapter discusses the different types of potential customers.  An example used early in the book is the water bottle company Nalgene.  The bottles were originally sold to labs because they were lighter than glass and more durable.  Scientists started using them for a different purpose and were them outdoors for drinking.  Nalgene picked up on the trend and started offering them to different types of customers.  In addition, they started showing up on college campuses, a third ‘buyer persona’.  They solved a problem, and created a market in many different areas.

It is important for companies to understand the different types of buyers because it opens up additional possibilities.  Another example used in the book deals with the hotel industry, and how there are many different types of buyer personas that they could cater to.  Examples are:

  • business travelers who require wireless internet and hotels closer to business districts
  • hotels with large conference rooms for seminars
  • vacation travelers who want a fun experience
  • entertainers who need a place to stay after a concert
  • couples planning a wedding reception

In the examples above, one hotel can’t solve all the different needs.  But a chain of hotels under the same family can.  Hilton has the Hampton Inn for the cheaper business traveler, Hilton Garden Inn for the more comfortable business traveler, and the Hilton resorts for families, weddings, and conferences.

Buyer personas were also used in the 2004 and 2008 elections.  In 2004 politicians reached out to NASCAR dads and security moms.  In 2008 it was Joe the Plumber and soccer moms.

The authors borrow a term from Strangers in a Strange Land and talk about grokking customers.  To fully understand your customer, you need to put yourself in their world as much as you can.  You need to understand them so deeply that you can ascertain the market problems they aren’t able to describe on their own.  The Magnavox television remote in a previous chapter is a good example.

Lastly, they recommend you name your buyer personas.  Naming them allows you to become comfortable with them and better tailor to their needs.

Chapter 6: Step 3 – Quantify the Impact

The Tuned In example used at the beginning of this chapter described the advent of StubHub.  Prior to StubHub, if people wanted to get rid of their sporting event or concert tickets, they had to scalp them.  StubHub was able to identify this market problem and quickly become the largest ticket marketplace in the world.  What makes this quantifiable is that buyers and sellers have prices in mind with what they’re willing to sell or pay for the tickets.  In addition, StubHub allows sellers to get rid of tickets they no longer want, even if it’s at a loss.  Something is better than nothing.

There are 3 questions that must be answered when considering the potential of your product or service.

  • Is the problem urgent?
  • Is it pervasive in the market?
  • Are buyers willing to pay to have this problem solved?

The authors suggest we run our ideas through these three criteria filters and that the answer must be “yes” being before we try to implement the product/service.

Is the problem urgent? Do people really care about the problem you are trying to solve?  (Apparently no one needs wi-fi on the fridge, but a television that finds a remote appears to be useful.)

Is the problem pervasive? How many people have this problem?  Do the people that share this problem have unifying characteristics?

Are people willing to pay to solve the problem? The grocery delivery service PeaPod is a good example.  They’ve found a niche of people who do not like to go to the supermarket to shop for groceries, but don’t mind paying a surcharge to have them delivered to their doorstep.

The authors recommend surveying potential markets as a measurement tool.  They don’t recommend surveying existing customers to find unresolved problems.  Rather, they think visiting potential customers in-person allows you to see what their real life activities are like, and your observations may better answer any questions you may have had.

Absent any real data, conference rooms are just full of opinions.” How often do you hear someone say, “We’re hearing there are a lot of problems around ‘xyz’” but then the person has no data to back it up?  If you’re going to say something is a problem, have the data to back it up.

Another point in this chapter I liked is to make sure you fully solve a market problem.  If you only partially solve a  market problem, you open the door for competitors to sweep in with a better solution.  (The e-Reader battle is a good example.)

If you’re going to use metrics, measure what matters.  Many managers deliver numbers such as calls answered, or calls resolved within 24 hours, etc.  All that means is that they’re working hard but not smart.  The authors suggest measuring how many meetings with buyers the team conducts, how often do employees meet with actual people, how does your product resonate with current customers.  Measure what matters.  From a previous blog post about a Seth Godin book, be a thermostat, not a thermometer.

Chapter 7: Step 4 – Create Breakthrough Experiences

This chapter describes what companies can do that make them stand out amongst the crowd.  One experience that pops in my head is the old iPod commercials that had silhouette backgrounds with the white headphones.  After seeing it for the first time, you knew exactly what that commercial was and looked forward to watching it each time because the songs changed.

The authors describe a breakthrough experience as occurring when each experience stage (evaluation, purchase, use, and after-sale service) are all working successfully.  The experience stages are described below.

Discovery: Buyers need information prior to making informed decisions.  Tuned In companies create material that people want to read.  An example used in the book suggests a company running a blog where real people describe how they solved a problem.  They suggest using experiences that are simple, nonthreatening, and useful.

Packaging: Edible Arrangements does this well.  The fruit, wooden sticks, and chocolate probably costs a quarter of what people pay for it, but because of their packaging and ‘arrangement’ of the fruit, people are willing to pay a premium.

Using: The product should be simple to understand and implement.  It should be intuitive to help consumers engage your product.  An example used in the book dealt with one of the authors taking a car to a repair shop.  They needed a loaner car, and the dealership tuned the radio in the loaner car to the same station as the car they were dropping off.  A local valet company by my airport does a similar thing when you call to be picked up from the airport.  When you arrive at the valet station they’ve turned your heat on in cold weather, and have the radio on.

Service: Tuned Out companies outsource their after-sale support.  Tuned In companies realize that customers will talk to family and friends (or other businesses) about their experience.  You want a good reputation.

The authors talk about companies finding their distinctive competence. The authors say that buyers choose your product because your company has unique abilities that allow you to solve their problem better than anyone else.  They make a point that this differs from core competency. Core competency says what your company is good at, where distinctive competence says what you excel at better than anyone else.

They provide a list of ideas and say the distinctive competence could be one of the following:

  • An important feature. The example describes how Volvo focuses on safety.
  • Another possibility of ergonomics. The example describes a special remote used for giving presentations.  The Wii Remote would also be a good example.
  • A distinctive business model. The example describes streamlining processes to keep costs down, such as Zipcar has done.  When Dell first came out they also streamlined customizing PC’s.
  • A deep understanding of one particular buyer persona. The example describes a car repair shop that focuses on Land Rovers.  People from a large radius will drive to this dealership to get their car serviced.

I really liked this part about distinctive competence.  I think successful companies need to evaluate what is they currently do, or need to do, that makes them better than the competition.

Chapter 8: Step 5 – Articulate Powerful Ideas

Inc.com’s book review said if you read nothing else, read this chapter.  I personally thought Chapter 7 should take that prize, but I’m not the professional book reviewer.

This chapter focuses on how to create memorable concepts that speak to problems that buyers have.  The example used in the book dealt with a colleague looking to build a new home.  Money was not an issue, so the colleague interviewed the best architect first.  In the book they refer this architect as the ‘rock star’ of architecture.  The ‘rock star’ showed up late for the appointment, and recommended options that he thought he would like to explore, instead of options that the colleague was interested in.  The colleague decided to interview other candidates to see what else was out there.  The lesser credentialed architect showed up on time.  He spoke with the colleague for several hours to find out their lifestyle and preferred living situation.  The choice was obvious, and they went with the second architect.

I’ve had similar situations recently with meeting vendors for my wedding.  We met with a couple of DJ’s, but we went with the one that we related to the best.  The first couple we met with told us how great they are and how they get the audience on the dance floor.  The one we went with showed us a portfolio that was 5 inches thick of thank you letters from previous customers.  We went with the videographer that showed us his previous work while he met us for coffee at Starbucks.  We chose the tux shop that gave us a personal touch, made us try on different tuxes and colors instead of the first place we went to where the employee was arguing with his co-worker in the middle of working with us, didn’t have us try anything on, and didn’t offer any suggestions.

In all the scenarios mentioned in the two paragraphs above, the right vendors resonated with their customer.  They became likable.   They took the time to find out what compelled us and used that to keep us interested in them.  A couple examples used in the book to do this are:

  • Affinity Mapping:  Find out the different problems buyer personas have and how you can solve them.  The example used in the book mentioned how Zipcar solved problems for many different types of buyers.  Examples are:  buyers who don’t want to pay for car insurance; buyers who don’t want to locate a spot for downtown parking; buyers who don’t need a car most of the time.
  • The Elevator Speech:  You have to get your message across is about the time you would typically spend in an elevator, aka a sentence or two.  I’ve seen this recommended as career advice where you need to state who you are in less than 15 seconds.  I talk about this in a little more detail here.  They recommend that the best elevator speech is in your buyers words, not your own.  Because of this, it is essential you complete your affinity map first before developing your elevator speech.
  • The Acid Test:  They recommend locating people who fit the buyer personas you used in the examples above and run your elevator speech by them.  Then gauge their response.  See if you would be interested if you heard it from someone else.  Would you want to move to the next step?
  • Refining the Resonator:  The elevator speech is the starting point.  The final step is to make it into a memorable concept.  Examples used are slogans from famous companies such as Burger King’s “Have it your way,” or Bounty’s “The quicker picker-upper.”.  Not only are they catchy, but they’re rooted in a set of problems that these products solve for their customers.

The next section discusses poorly written mission statements.  Tuned Out organizations are all over the place with their mission statements instead of articulating on a core set of values.  This causes buyers to turn away because they will want to work with an organization that understands their problems.

They recommend having different messages for each of your buyer personas.  Each type of buyer will require something different from your organization because each has a different problem for your organization.  The authors say that your ideas are more likely to resonate if you develop them for each buyer persona instead of relying on a generic set of broad messages for everyone.

Chapter 9: Step 6 – Establish Authentic Connections

This chapter discusses establishing connections with your buyers so they buy your products to solve their problems.  During this chapter they reiterate the importance of understanding the problems of your various buyer personas.  We must first understand our buyers before we can try to solve their problems.  By understanding your buyers and relating to their problems you will develop empathy with them as people instead of trying to relate to them as data.

A part I found interesting is when the authors mention how marketing companies are paying tons of money to TV and radio spots, as well as other media outlets, in interruption marketing.  These types of companies are tuned out, and are forcing us to pay attention to their message.  When they fail understand how to connect with us, they spend even more money on more aggressive marketing messages which makes people ignore them even more.

They refer to these types of companies as getting their name out in one of two ways, either ‘buying their way in’ or ‘begging their way in’.  Either way, they say it won’t work.  They recommend establishing connections by targeting specific buyer personas with content that you create especially for them, rather than trying to take a one-size-fits-all approach.

A test they refer to mentions looking at your company’s marketing materials.  Count the number of times you see the words “we” “us” “our” or the company’s name compared to the number of times you see “you” and “your”.  If you see more of the latter, you are establishing connections with your buyers.  You need to focus on what the buyers need to hear rather than what you want to say.  Successful companies focus on buyers and the best ways to reach out to them.

Another part of the chapter I liked involved telling us we need to ‘unlearn’ what we have learned in the past.  We need to unlearn the marketing habits we were taught of constantly pitching our product.  They go back to the point of creating information that helps our buyer personas answer their questions.  All of your marketing materials should be created from the buyer’s perspective.  Rather than pitching products and services, you should work from the buyers point of view, and paint a picture of how your organization can solve their problems.

Chapter 10: Cultivate a Tuned In Culture

This chapter discusses how to bring the six steps of the Tuned In process together.  The authors say that in order for companies to stand out they need to follow each of the six steps.

They describe a couple examples where companies did not utilize all 6 steps, and then failed to resonate with customers and be successful.  The Segway was a prime example.  There was a ton of hype leading up to the release of the Segway.  However, they failed to examine their buyer personas in detail.  They originally designed their product for city people to get around town; the product was too expensive for this type of buyer.  However, a different buyer persona they didn’t originally think of started scooping them up at that price point.  How often do  you go to the airport and see security guards whizzing by on these devices?  If Segway did more research they could have targeted this audience from the start and saved themselves a lot of time and money.

To launch your product you need a winning sales team and distribution strategy.  Train your sales staff to describe the problem your product solves to to potential customers.  One of the “Top Ten Actions to Create a Tuned In Culture” that stood out to me was #7:  “Don’t talk about what your product or service does.  Tell customers which of their problems the product or service will solve.”

Chapter 11:  Unleash Your Resonator

Chapter 11 summarizes success stories of people or companies who have used the Tuned In Process.  Some examples are:

  • Thomas Edison enhancing the light bulb for consumers (even though he wasn’t the one who originally invented it.  Enter “Joseph Swan” in Google for more information.)
  • Cell phone lots in airports
  • The USPS “Forever” stamps
  • Dutch Boy making easy to open paint containers

An example of a company switching from thinking inside-out to outside-in was when Apple went from making the Newton to the iPod.  They authors state that “companies are ineffective because their field groups and customer-facing organizations spend more time postulating and  pontificating around scenarios that support their offerings than listening and learning about problems their customers actually  have (and are willing to spend money to solve.)”  That comment pushes what they’ve said in previous chapters about finding out what customers problems are, and creating products that solve them.

They describe what makes a Tuned In leader.  They say a Tuned In leader doesn’t obsess about the competition; instead they obsess about market problems.  They understand the market problems completely before they create a product experience.  They follow the steps in the Tuned In process that results in a breakthrough experience that resonate with customers.

Final Thoughts

When I first received this book, it sat on my shelf before I read it.  When I finished a previous book, I gave this one a shot.  I am really glad I did.  I think this book forces you to think, “What can I do differently?”  It allows you to evaluate yourself or your company to see where you might be lacking.  I think it’s a great book that should be read by anyone working in product management.  The whole concept of researching and defining “buyer personas” is something I think companies fail to do.  If done well, doing the proper research will make those companies stand out from the crowd and become a market leader.

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Entrepreneur’s February 2009 issue had a really good article that explains how you can analyze a company by all the things that happen while you are at the interview.  Some examples in my recent past directly apply to this article.

All the Small Things

The first thing the article says to look out for is the small things.  Did the company validate your parking?  Did they offer to help with directions on getting in or out of the building?  Did they offer you anything to drink, or ask if you need to use the bathroom?  This tells me whether or not they care about their people.  If they are not taking care of me, what does that say about the way they treat their employees?

When I interviewed at my last job, I had to meet with 3 different people.  When I got there, the person I met with asked me if I needed to use the bathroom or wanted a drink of water.  He repeated asking me this after the first 2 interviews.  The way he treated me gave me a really good impression that he takes care of his employees.  I ended up taking the job, and my impressions were right.  He put people first, and his team was successful.

Interviewer’s Priorities Reflect Company’s Priorities

The article goes on to say that if the interviewer is late and seems to be viewing the resume for the first time that it is a clue that the company is somewhat hectic and unorganized.  If the interviewer isn’t enthused about the company mission and work responsibilities, how can the interviewee be?

One time I referred a friend to a job opening at a place where I was working.  His interview was scheduled for 4:00pm, and he had to meet with three people.  Another meeting was scheduled that involved 3 of the people at 4:30pm.  The first person interviewed with my friend and he wrapped up around 4:25pm.  Rather then postpone, delay, or not attend the meeting, one of the other two people decided the candidate could wait until after the meeting because they thought it would end quickly.  The meeting did not get out until 5:15pm.  That meant my friend was waiting in a conference room for 45 minutes.  Even if it was not my friend, I would not feel comfortable about this situation.  It just sends the wrong message about where the company’s priorities lie.  They put deadlines and meetings ahead of people.

Good Cop Bad Cop

The article discusses the types of questions interviewers ask during interviews.  Are they too difficult?  Too easy?  Do they even apply?  If the questions are too easy the article says the job might not be challenging enough.  If the questions are too difficult or do not apply, it is almost as if the interviewer is trying to prove they are smarter than the candidate.

This has never happened to me personally, but I have a friend that went on an interview once that had a similar experience.  The interviewer asked really tough questions, and seemed very cocky.  This turned off my friend, and he didn’t even contemplate taking the job.

A Good Fit

The article wraps up with the writer describing how he got his current job.  His interviewer asked challenging but applicable questions.  It allowed the interviewer to evaluate his skill level.  The author also felt he could learn a lot from the interviewer.  This would also be important to me.  If  you are considering taking on a challenging job, you would be better off if your manager could help guide you in difficult times.  If your manager isn’t that type of person, you better be a great self-starter or already know everything there is to know about the job.

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