Archive for May, 2008

Crowdsourcing Employee Evaluations

May 27, 2008

Where I work employees are rated on two axes: goal attainment and leadership. These are evaluated quarterly and have impact on career advancement and compensation. Not too different from what I experienced at Sabre, Dell and elsewhere.

Goal attainment is simple. You had metrics for the quarter (leads, sales, conversion rate, whatever); did you make it? It’s the most basic measure of whether you did what you set out to do.

Leadership is trickier. How do you get things done? Are you focused on the future as well as the present? Can you communicate the vision and get others to work cross-functionally? Unfortunately, your manager is not the best person to rate you on this stuff. A good manager doesn’t micro-manage and is not in the meetings where you display the nuts and bolts of your leadership ability with peers and subordinates. Your manager’s assessment is indirect and is based on hearsay, gut feelings, and your canny self-promotion. So a dated hierarchical paradigm of leadership is the only reason your manager is qualified to give you those ratings.

However, I have a pretty darned accurate idea of how effective my manager is at leading. She or he is leading; I’m led. That’s the model. How well I’m led is a direct measurement of how effective my manager is at leading. I’m willing to walk this like I talk it. I take my team’s assessment of my leadership skills seriously. I welcome the flaws revealed as it clearly show me where I need to work.

The best leaders know this and already work this way. Shouldn’t we formalize this approach so that the next tier of leaders – those who haven’t figured this out but would be willing and able to adopt it – can benefit?

Study Finds Studies on Internet Influence Flawed

May 19, 2008

Sometimes it seems like much of the world has as much to learn as Senator Ted Stevens in discussing the Internet.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project finds that the Internet influences consumer choice much less than “offline channels such as friends and sales personnel”, according to Yahoo. I see a couple big issues with that.

First, of course the influence is indirect. One rarely finds consumers who say ‘I would never have bought the product but that TV spot, billboard or magazine ad completely changed my mind.’ Are we holding the Web to different standards than other marketing channels?

Second, it relies on a false dichotomy of word of mouth vs word of mouse. This isn’t the first variant of ‘studies show that friends are more credible than the Internet’ that I’ve seen. Well, duh. Do you value equally advice from a close friend and a random email promising cheap pharmaceuticals?

But the Internet is a communication channel. Like the telephone. Like face-to-face communication. It’s not a source of information, only a means of transmitting it. Let’s do a thought experiment here. You’re trying to disarm a ticking nuclear bomb, and you have two choices for information:

  • An IM chat (with video) with the Pentagon’s foremost nuclear weapons expert
  • Sweet old Aunt Nellie, live and in person

Which do you choose? These studies would have us believe that most people would ignore the expert and go straight to Aunt Nellie. We know her and trust her. And because she’s present in the flesh, she’s inherently more trustworthy than that distant expert, right? (Ka-boom).

Clearly, making decisions on what information to trust based on what communication channel it comes through is a bad idea. Here’s a better one: evaluate the source. We get information recommending a purchase through the Internet (maybe a web page, blog post, email, tweet…you get the idea). Instead of looking at the source, we look through the source and ask “who does this information come from?” If it’s a random spammer, scammer or advertiser, we give it no credibility. We’ll trust it more if it’s from someone we know, or someone who we have reason to trust as credible in this area.

There are many sources of information in the world. There are many channels through which we can convey that information. To borrow and twist a construct from Marshall McLuhan, the medium is NOT the messenger.

Social Media Marketing Makes You Care

May 14, 2008

Earlier today I mentioned a Hoover’s promotion on Twitter. A person I know through Twitter and LinkedIn responded, tried the product, and may purchase.

Here’s the interesting thing: in my career in traditional marketing, a campaign may drive thousands of leads. In that context I care about the customer experience as an abstraction: will a bad experience hamper the campaign performance?

I’ve never met this person face to face. We had a nice conversation via LinkedIn Answers and we interact on Twitter occasionally – not a deep relationship, just the ongoing stream of ideas that Twitter represents. Even so, I feel differently today. I’m concerned that Sales, Customer Support and other team members treat this person right.

Traditional marketing (online or offline) forces you to care about customer experience. Social media marketing goes deeper. It forces you to care about customers.

Is social media changing how marketing is done? Wrong question. The right one is this: is social media changing marketers?

Doing more with less…

May 10, 2008

…is a good idea only if what you were doing before was poorly conceived, half-heartedly executed, or both.

Therefore, managers who exhort you to ‘do more with less’ may think you’re stupid. Or they may think you’re incompetent. Most likely they themselves are completely out of ideas and are hoping you’ll pull a marketing rabbit out of a hat and make them look good.

If you want huge improvement don’t focus on doing more with less. Focus on doing different with other. Figure out which programs are break-even, which programs are still on the books because they’re an executive favorite even though results can’t be demonstrated. Throw those away.

Then take those resources (time, budget, focus) and do something different. Instead of looking for more resources, look for other approaches that aren’t being employed.

In their glory days, Southwest Airlines didn’t beat the established players by doing more of what American and Delta did with fewer resources. They did something different – no hub’n’spoke, no unprofitable routes, no reserved seats. That did that with other resources than the established players used – lower-skilled labor, only one type of plane, the airports less traveled. Netflix didn’t challenge Blockbuster with marginal gains in efficiency, and Amazon didn’t take on Barnes & Noble by shaving points off opex. They did different with other.

Google Streetview Freakshow

May 4, 2008

As the picture shows Google is moving faster than the speed limit in their effort to index our planet. Several sites feature Google Streetview catching folks at amusing moments. JimmyR has one, and the Google Street View Gallery is here.

Chris G and I spent time this afternoon looking at Steve Jobs’ Mercedes (snazzy) and our friend Jasen getting out of his minivan (not so snazzy, and spelled right). The Google Streetview picture of a dog doing his business makes my inner Beavis snicker but gets old quickly. One can play ‘Where’s Kevin Bankston‘ for fun, but move fast since he always has his pictures (smoking or not) removed. In short, Google has indexed our daily life and Google has yawned.

I propose that we mix it up. We can call this project ‘Google Streetview Freakshow’. Here’s how it works:

  • Some smart folks figure out when Google will be mapping a given area. We’ll need some inside help on this – Jon W, are you in?
  • Plant bizarre or unusual things on the route and organize flash mobs. A few ideas:
    • Wear jester hats, Kevin Bankston masks, anything you can think of
    • Recreate the cover photo from ‘Strange Days‘ by The Doors
    • Glue captions to neighborhood cats and create real-life LOLcats in ur streetvu
    • THE ULTIMATE: create a Google Streetview Freakshow Rickroll. Doing this will get you into geek heaven no matter what you’ve done
  • Find the photos and link to them in the comments on this blog. Or just submit the concept. Conceptual artists shouldn’t be burdened with execution

Google thinks we’re boring. Let’s strike back with a Google Streetview Freakshow!

Thanks to Google Streetview (of course) for the image and for permitting me to live on the planet that they clearly own

Even Superman had the Fortress of Solitude

May 4, 2008

Heard another manager – a high-level one who I respect greatly – measuring ‘engagement’ among employees by counting cars in the parking lot the other day. Sigh.

I am sure that on his annual review Superman gets dinged for the time he spends in the Fortress of Solitude. “Supe, you could do just a little more world-saving if you were F2F more.”

No point here, just venting. I rarely telecommute in my current role but, when I do, I’m productive. It enhances rather than diminishes my leadership. People who are present physically and absent mentally, in contrast, are a drain on any business. It’s the very definition of wasted opex.

There are times I crave working in a ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment). To borrow the first commandment of ROWE, “Work isn’t a place you go, it’s something you do.” When you’re counting cars you’re managing appearances instead of measuring results. Appearances are only worth managing where they matter (where employee and customer interact, for example).

A car-counting manager openly admits “I have no way of measuring what you do.” A motivated employee takes that as a punch to the solar plexus – however hard I work, it’s not noticed. A demotivated employee hears the expectation clearly. To keep my job I show up, drink coffee, polish the resume, surf the web, and take solitaire lessons from Scott2k. (An obsession with managing where employees go on the web is a slightly less dated but equally misguided version of car-counting).

Managers get what they measure. Maybe I missed something. When, exactly, did the shareholders ask for lots of cars?

Terse Reply Syndrome = Best Marketing Campaign of 2008

May 2, 2008

OK, it’s early to call a winner. But take a look at the Terse Reply Syndrome site from Jott. Bst campgn of 08 if u ask me.

Several things have come together. First, they’ve identified a pain that many live with and don’t even think of as solvable. Second, they’ve targeted a product very specifically to that pain (I haven’t used it so I can’t vouch for it’s effectiveness). Third, they’ve specifically targeted those who feel the pain. Sure, winning a corporate IT department would be a big win for them. But those IT departments don’t feel the pain in the way that the users of those IT assets do. Generate enough end-user demand and trial and the IT folks will move to accommodate it.

This has great viral potential. Watch one of the videos and try to keep yourself from forwarding it to at least one person. A simple but highly focused Website, a couple of short videos…this can’t have cost very much. Their ROI is going to be huge. Thanks to Rohit for pointing it out.