“New & Improved” Isn’t Innovative

(AP) Redmond Washington.  After a much heralded launch, the buzz around Microsoft’s launch of Windows 8.0 is centered on the fact that when the computer crashes that users will no longer see the blue screen of death.  Instead, users will now see a friendly screen requesting that they restart their systems.

“Which is why we have decided to close the company at the start of 2012,” said CMO Droid Nelson.  “I mean when you spend two hundred million dollars just to market 8.0 and the only chatter is about the crash screen, the time has come.  We have not offered anything of interest to early adopters since 1997.  After all, what are we supposed to do?  If we continue on at this rate sooner or later we will hold a news conference for Windows 17.0 and Office 2024 and nobody will care.”

“How many times can we put a new ribbon around the same old software?  It is not like we can make it run any faster or any easier to navigate.  And Office is still Office.  When was the last time we added anything to that suite?  Most of our customers already cannot use half of the features we built, why should we keep building until we get that figure up to eighty percent?”

“The innovation train left the station around the time Starbucks came out with their half-caf-decaf with a double shot.  We made ourselves irrelevant.  Hell, I use an iPad and Google Docs.”

Can you name what Microsoft launched the last time you were willing to tailgate to be the first one to own it?  Nobody can.

Can you name the last time your customers were willing to tailgate to be the first one to purchase your firm’s newest offering?  Didn’t think so.

The thing to remember about new and improved is that it isn’t either.  If it was so brand spanking new, you wouldn’t have to tell anyone.

New is not a feature.

Improved is not a feature.

When Apple launched the first iPod their pitch was something along the lines of every song you every wanted to listen to in this little box.

Customers stand in line for innovation.  Is there a line outside your door?

Is your Mission Statement just Parsley?

What is your organization’s mission, your vision, your goal?  Can you articulate it?  If yes, write it below in the space provided.

Okay.  Why do you have a mission statement?  Is it of any more value than the parsley on your Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast plate, or is it actionable?  What does it tell you to do?  Is it something to which all of your employees can contribute?  Can you measure if your actions helped meet the mission?  Does the business strategy result from the mission statement?

Here’s one you probably haven’t thought of.  Let’s say every one of your employees puts your mission statement into action.  Does that improve your organization, or does it bring it to its knees?  Your mission statement either communicates your mission or it does not.  What does it say to your employees, to your customers?  If it does not create a message that makes you unique, fix it or dump it—or say, “We are just like those other guys down the street.”  Just because it communicates, does not make your mission sustainable.

Here are some real examples of hospital mission/vision statements.  Read them and see if you begin to understand why I think the hospital business model is in trouble.  I have not published the name of the hospital, as that is not what is important to this discussion.

Providing exemplary physical, emotional and spiritual care for each of our patients and their families

Balancing the continued commitment to the care of the poor and those most in need with the provision of highly specialized services to a broader community

Building a work environment where each person is valued, respected and has an opportunity for personal and professional growth

Advancing excellence in health services education

Fostering a culture of discovery in all of our activities and supporting exemplary health sciences research

Strengthening our relationships with universities, colleges, other hospitals, agencies and our community

Provide quality health services and facilities for the community, to promote wellness, to relieve suffering, and to restore health as swiftly, safely, and humanely as it can be done, consistent with the best service we can give at the highest value for all concerned

We are caring people operating an extraordinary community hospital.

Ensure access to superior quality integrated health care for our community and expand access for underserved populations within the community. Create a supportive team environment for patients, employees, and clinical staff.

Let’s look at some of the million dollar words in the mission statements of some highly regarded hospitals.  Ensure, foster, promote, participate, create.  Comprehensive.  Involved, responsive, collaborate, enable, facilitate, passion, best, unparalleled, .  These statements were written by well paid adults.  These statements are awful.  They are awful because they are fluff—unachievable.  They are well intentioned but meaningless euphemisms.

Hospital mission statements are inclusive to the nth degree.  They also seem very similar.  If a perspective patient read your mission statement and read the mission statement of the hospital down the street, could they tell which one is yours?  Probably not.  Who among you has a mission statement which excludes anything?

So, let’s say your board is debating if you should buy the machine in Monty Python’s hospital skit—the machine that goes “Ping.”  Which of the mission’s goals does that support?

How do you make them better?  For starters, make them short. Very.  Twain wrote, “If I had more time, I would have written less.

Southwest Airline’s mission statement—be the low cost carrier.

Dramatic pause.  Something either contributes to the mission or it does not.  Leather seats and free lunches do not.

Do you miss your IT vendor?

Was Icarus’s problem one born of hubris, or did he simply need non-melting wax?  Wax on, wax off.  So there I was listening to NPR as I made the drive to Subway.  The person doing the speaking had the title, professor of economics.  His point—if you can call it that; the deficit and the debt are a result of the tax cuts.  Essentially, the reason we did not have enough money to pay for our spending was because we had not taxed enough.  I yelled at the radio loud enough for him to hear—the reason we did not have enough money to pay for our spending is that we spent too much.  My children will not be attending that university.

If you see someone screaming in their car, please wave—it could be me.

Summer vacations via car.  Makes me wonder what ever happened to station wagons—anyone who does not remember Richard Nixon may want to use Google to the term ‘station wagon’.  We had a sky blue Ford; others had the one with the faux wood-grain side panels like the one Chevy Chase drove in the movie Vacation.

I noticed last week as we drove from Pennsylvania and crossed into Maryland how the blacktop improved and how the shoulder plantings were more numerous and spiffier.  It was as though Maryland was showing off to make us feel we were entering a better place and leaving a worse one. On the return trip the same scenario was reversed as the road for the first mile back into Pennsylvania was much nicer than was the last mile of road in Maryland.

It makes me wonder why states do not put the same level of effort into the last mile to make you miss the place you were leaving.

Now let us think about your IT vendors.  Remember those guys?  The ones who when they courted you took you to dinners and baseball games and golfing.  You probably have one of their coffee mugs on your desk and a few dozen of their Rollerball pens and a commemorative golf towel clipped to you golf bag.  At the get-go everything was first class.  The vendor hoard was attentive and still picking up the lunch tab.

Then they left; all of them.  You surmised the project must be over.  The vendor’s project manager no longer had you on his speed-dial—your number had been replaced with the number of his new golfing buddy, the CIO at Our Lady of Perpetual Implementations.

It makes me wonder why vendors do not put the same level of effort into the last mile of their implementation as they did the first mile.  If they did maybe your perception of them would be better.  Maybe the implementation would have gone better.

 

Let’s Fire Winston!

I was reporting to the board—or bored—sometimes it is the same.  The mission: figure out what was wrong, and then fix it.

I spent weeks talking to everyone from the executives to the receptionist.  I interviewed patients and physicians.  The doctors were not happy, the patients less so.  Costs were up, charges were down, and quality was down.

Of all the gin joints in all the towns…

The problem was easy to decipher.  I presented my findings.

“What do you recommend?” asked the chair of the audit committee.

I tried to look lost in thought.  “I fired Winston,” I replied.

“Why Winston?”

“Winston was where it all led; quality, cost, satisfaction.  Winston was responsible for the failures.”

Several members of the board nodded, and spoke among themselves.

After several minutes I jumped back into the fray.  “The more I think about it, the more I think Winston may be salvageable—not in the same role but somewhere else in the organization.  The employees really like him.  Besides, it’s the holidays.  Do you really want to be the reason Winston is not able to buy presents for the kids?”

The board held an in camera discussion.  “Agreed.”

I knew they would.  I started with my actual presentation.  “There is no Winston.”  The Winstons scattered around the table looked perplexed.  They were looking for the easy answer to the problems in their organization, they were looking for themselves.

Who are your Winstons?

The Joy of Sox–how to deliver a great presentation

NPR is the white noise that usually accompanies me to and from the office lest I let the traffic turn me into one of those drivers CNN broadcasts with footage of police helicopters hovering above my road rage.  For the most part I have learned to tune out NPR’s political bent and focus on their Macarena-mind human interest stories.  Stories like the whistling sound made by the yellow-spotted salamander living in equatorial Iowa.

These days NPR is all-a-thither about the forthcoming forty-eight month renewal at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  The noise the NPRers make high-fiving each other in the hallways is almost loud enough to drown out their rewriting of Mitt Romney’s position describing him as being in favor of shipping our homeless people to South Sudan because our homeless would have so much in common with Sudanese homeless.  It would not surprise me to learn that an NPR staff intern had drawn a caricature of the prophet and signed Mitt’s name to it as an enticement to have someone fire an RPG into Mitt’s campaign headquarters.

Was that a contrail shooting past my window?

It is an interesting exercise taking apart a one hour speech and repackaging it as a five minute talk—Twitterizing.  It goes to the quote, “I would have written less if I had more time.”  The corollary for presentations may be, if it does not fit one slide, it’s not properly thought out.

I think what a lot of presenters miss is having an understanding of what makes for a good presentation.  Here are a few of mine.

Presentation Rule 1—never bore the audience.  They are pulling for you to do well for your sake and theirs.

Presentation Rule 2—most of the audience can read.  If your slides are filled with text and bullet points, their natural inclination is to read what you’ve written.  They are doing this while you are reading aloud the very same text.  If they are reading, you become superfluous.

Presentation Rule 3—the audience cannot walk and chew gum at the same time (they can’t read your words and listen to you.)  For those presenters who favor text on their slides there are two choices; read from the slides, or try to offer commentary about the slides.  For those who do not read directly from their slides and want to offer commentary it gets even more awkward.  You look at the audience and see them reading the slide.  Your natural tendency is not to interrupt their reading because you are trying to be polite and you do not want them to miss your words of wisdom.  Then your mind starts to wonder if what you are about to say is so important if you should have written it on a slide.

Presentation Rule 4—if you wear wild looking socks–see mine above–you had better be delivering one heck of a good talk.

My philosophy about presentations is not wanting people taking notes based on what is on my slides, hence I use pictures to convey an idea.  I hand-draw concepts from which I can then speak.  Since there is nothing of import on the slides, people start staring at you, something which will make a lot of presenters even more nervous.

The downside of this approach is that since everyone will now be listening to you instead of reading or writing, you better have something worth hearing.  The issue then becomes how to craft your words in a way to get your audience to remember your message.

I favor humor and telling a story.

Will these steps work for you?  I hope they do.

I felt they were working pretty well for me the other night right until the end when an attractive woman approached me and said, “You look like Jack Nicholson, only not as unattractive”—so at least I’ve got that going for me.

Why Showing Initiative Will Kill You

Were one to judge America by what they read from scanning the headlines of the magazines in the supermarket’s checkout lane, the only items of note are that Jennifer Aniston may or may not be pregnant, and that another one of the Kardashian’s was getting married—no word as to whether or not she is pregnant.  The headlines provided no indication that we are at war or that the economy has been outpaced by my daughter’s lemonade stand.

Anyway.  I have been reading Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, which should be on every reading list for Genocide 101.  In the book Solzhenitsyn describes numerous offenses which could get a Russian sentenced to Stalin’s gulags.  Some estimates suggest more than sixteen million people were purged under Stalin’s regime—enough people whereby those in power had to continuously invent new offenses.

In one such description Solzhenitsyn recounts a conference for Stalin’s supporters.  Every public gathering was attended by several members of the NKVD, the bad guys.  At the conclusion of the conference its chairman called for a verbal salute to Stalin which resulted in all of those attending applauding.  The vigorous applause continued for eleven minutes because everyone was afraid to be the first to stop applauding.

To stop applauding was to show initiative, was to be an individual.  Exhausted, the chairman finally stopped clapping; immediately, so did everyone else.  The chairman, a loyal communist, was arrested.  During his interrogation the interrogator told him “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding.”  Darwin’s natural selection; and how to grind people down with stupidity.

Nonetheless, we return to Beaver Cleaverville.

Do you ever sit in a meeting thinking it would be easier to design a revolving sliding door than to agree with or understand whatever is going on in the meeting around you?  You scan the room eying the flock of sheep each of who think of themselves as lions.  Once again, the Pickle Factory’s leader had confused motion with movement.  You scribble yourself a note using your favorite crayon—the cerulean blue, ‘I have seen our future and it needs work.’

“Well, here we are,” says the meeting’s Tartuffe-like moderator outfitted in her J C Penney imitation Vera Wang pantsuit.  For years her mind had run just fast enough to enable her thoughts to always be in the same place.

“Yeah, here is where we are,” you mumble into your cupped hand. “We have been here before and we will be here again and again.”  The person across from you seems to be humming “It’s a long way to Tipperary.”

These meetings make about as much sense to you as the game played by the Afghan Pashtun tribesmen—buzkashi—sort of like polo except instead of using a ball they use a headless goat.  (Here’s hoping no Californian makes a movie of the game and uploads it to the internet.  You had to see that coming.)  Corporate executives rampage through offices each day dragging the headless carcass of their business strategy to meeting after meeting hoping to score, and the more meetings you attend the more you feel like the goat. “Maaaa”.

“What are we supposed to accomplish today?” You ask.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” replies the moderator, her mind making its way back from its visit to the land of ultima Thule.

“No, your guess is better than mine,” you say.  “It is your meeting.”  ‘Lock the gate,’ you are thinking, ‘before the village loses its idiot.’  Everything is running behind and the team wants to make up for lost time.  Your job is to try to convince them that you cannot make up for lost time; the best you can hope for is not to lose any more.

You have always known that companies which do not tolerate dissent have a tendency to ignore dissenting information but they remember the dissenters—the first person to stop clapping. In a company lacking second sight and new ideas, the old ideas are often divided evenly among the goats.  The death spiral of silence continues—employees avoid the threat of being voted off the island refrain from making any statement that may show them having an original thought.  Showing initiative can result in your being sent to the company’s gulag.

Have you noticed that the more a firm’s competitive edge erodes, the busier the firm appears to be?  Once you have fallen through the looking glass the only way out may be for you to walk back the cat, that is travel backwards to see how it is you and the others became trapped in this house of mirrors.  The problem with that strategy is that to undertake it requires you to show initiative.

The firm’s gulag is filled with people like you.  At least when you get to the gulag there will be enough players for a rigorous game of buzkashi.

One Thing Companies Don’t Know Could Save Them

A lot of companies need to go to the doctor.  Whether the firm suffers from malaise, ADHD, or depression is not really important.  Companies do not get ill, companies do not suffer.  Their employees do, get ill that is; companies merely serve as incubators of the malaise and facilitate it.

We have all seen it.  Remember Sally?  Her office was the down the hall, third door on the left.  Crayon drawings from her granddaughter hung from her credenza.  An imitation Tiffany desk lamp with a cracked shade was to the left of her monitor, and a half-dead philodendron in a clay pot grew through the slats of the Venetian blind.

Sally was always the first one in the office.  She was the person who cleaned the coffee pot and made the first pot of the day.  She filled her ceramic mug, the same one she had used for twelve years, and using her pinkie finger like a swizzle stick stirred in two packets of artificial sweetener.

Each year Sally organized the Christmas party—at a time when companies were still allowed to call them Christmas parties—she was the person who let everyone know when it was somebody’s birthday, and she was the person who sent the flowers from the company if someone was ill or had a baby.  To many employees, Sally was the human face of the company.

Sally was let go, was downsized, was laid off, was fired.  There are numerous words for what happened, and all of them are uncomfortable.  Some guy named Bob now sits in Sally’s office.  It will never be Bob’s office.  It is as though Sally never even existed; the firm marches on without her.  Her perfume no longer drifts down the hall.  Bob let her philodendron die.  The drawings are long gone along with the imitation Tiffany lamp with the cracked shade.

If you are the first one in the office you stand in the snack room trying to figure out who is going to clean the coffee pot.  Rather than cleaning it yourself, you have learned to make do with a cup of some sort of chamomile tea that smells of lavender.  You no longer know whose birthday it is or who just had a baby.

The entire workplace changed and everybody simply went along with it.  First Sally, then Mr. Withers who worked in tax.  Two people in sales left on the same day.  It feels like there should have been a wake for them or like the survivors should be wearing black arm bands.  Everyone looks like they are either going to a funeral or are just retuning from one.  You cannot remember the last time anyone went to lunch together.  You have seen the malaise and the malaise is in you and him and her.

Companies spend millions of dollars trying to figure out how to boost earnings per share, how to improve productivity, or customer satisfaction.  They hire firms like BCG and Bain thinking maybe the answers are buried in the two hundred thousand dollar white paper they never read or in the multi-million dollar supply chain project or the hundred million dollar ERP system.  The end result—mistakes are made faster because they have been automated.  During the process of automation, more people along with their half-dead philodendrons were voted off the island.

It is as though those people never existed.  The only difference between those who never existed and those they left behind is that those left behind yet to learn that they never existed either.  In many companies the employees are no more real than laptops, and perhaps less valued.  Inventory of assets: 35 accountants, 72 programmers, one hundred and seven laptops, and six half-dead philodendrons.

One need not hire BCG or Bain to recognize the problem.  Look at the condition of the coffee pot sitting on the warm burner.  Look at the months of undelivered reports that are stacked outside of Sally’s office.  Look at the faces of those in the meeting with you or those who reluctantly came to the holiday party because they thought their boss was making a mental note of who did not attend.

Companies do not need a data warehouse or a business intelligence initiative to improve their performance.  People perform; data is nothing more than a collection of numbers.  People are what make data relevant. People are what make customers like a company or leave it.

Too many companies treat their employees as disposable and replaceable assets; like philodendrons.  Customers will never see, nor will they interact with your data warehouse.  They will assess the company based on their interactions with the employees; the receptionist, the person on the phone—the one paid the least, the one coached to smile while they talk, the one coached to get the customer off the phone as quickly as possible so they can get the next person in the queue off the phone as fast as possible.

These people did not break the company; the company broke the people.  The company created and sustained an environment of malaise and only the company can fix it.  The malaise will not improve by implementing casual Tuesdays, or by placing an employee suggestion box in the cafeteria.

Employees are a lot like customers—they are smart and they want to feel valued.  Wanna bet that there is a high correlation between customer satisfaction and employee retention?  If companies want to instill an attitude in their employees such that employees would be willing to die for the company, the first thing the company needs to do is to stop killing them.