Archive for April, 2008

Who is the Customer?

Who’s the Customer?

Ultimately all business transactions are about the exchange of value. A vendor provides a service or product of value to an organization who ultimately adds value to it, creates something else of value and passes it on to another organization until ultimately a “consumer” receives value…which is the ultimate end of the value chain. Or is it the beginning? Since that consumer also, presumably, is a producer of value exchanging their knowledge and/or labor to some company that gets value from it in exchange for cash. And in this virtuous cycle lies a constant exchange of value where money is the arbitrary medium used to quantify the value created.

So ultimately it begs the question of who really is the customer? In a barter economy, both parties were clearly customers – each producing products of value to each other and exchanging them, possibly just to be exchanged with someone else for something else of value. Money helps reduce the friction of an economy allowing us to exchange more goods and services for more goods and services. So why, in today’s economy, does the party providing the money constitute the role of customer?

In my opinion it doesn’t. Both parties in each exchange are customers of each other. Philosophically that means we have to treat vendors, suppliers, contractors and most certainly our own associates and employees as though they are our customers. They are all “buying money” and paying for it with their service…which we combine and turn into something more valuable for our clients. This mindset is critical and we see it every day in our own best clients. Those organizations – and individuals – who get that partnering together makes for the best outcome, that having an interest in each other’s success ultimately leads to the success of both of us, are the same ones that consistently have high performance and thrive in their own marketplace. It’s not a coincidence. Understanding that we are all part of a large value exchange and not in an isolated value stream that flows one direction, is critical to understanding how to succeed within it.

What does this have to do with knowledge? Ultimately learning and knowledge in business are contextual. Too often the learning processes of organizations are very disconnected from the functions that drive value. Ultimately learning and knowledge transfer in an organization are only worthwhile activities to the extent that they create value – for the organization’s customers by providing better products, better quality, etc. OR for the organization’s investors by providing more efficiency in the company and thus better return on the capital (i.e. “value”) they’ve exchanged with the company OR for the organization’s employees who are being compensated for the value they contribute both by the cash (salaries, bonuses, benefits etc. they receive) and by all the intangibles they receive…such as training, education, and personal development. In all of these cases learning and knowledge transfer are value-creating activities in a broader value-exchange. All of us are charged with understanding how what we do ultimately contributes value to others and also knowing how to appropriately quantify that value so we can invest in it appropriately.


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Leadership Lessons From Little League

If you’re familiar with Marcus Buckingham ’s book, First Break All The Rules, you may recall the section about great managers not spending a lot of time with their poor performers. The idea being extolled here is that if you work with your star performers you and the company will benefit more than wasting time and energy with their poorer counterparts. There is certainly some truth to this concept and it has been played out in businesses all around the world. While I would not totally disagree, I have learned that some people just need a little push of encouragement.

I am coaching my son’s little league team. There are some poor performers on the team. Should I not spend much time with them? I have several players that are very good for their age. Should I focus more time with them?

Defining Moments
Think back to when you were on a sports team, or in school, or starting your first job. You were a little clumsy, maybe shy or awkward — definitely nervous. Then along came this coach/teacher/boss that you will never forget. He or she saw something in you that others did not. They encouraged you by spending time with you and telling you that there were big things ahead for you. You latched onto those words and never forgot. To this day, you count that as a defining moment. A time that someone, whose power and authority you were under, gave you the nudge you needed to get rolling. You will never forget that. Some of you have even had the chance to tell that person, now later in life, how much that meant to you then and that you wouldn’t be where you are now if it were not for that moment in time. Some of you wish you could tell that special person how much they meant to you but, time and distance have gotten in the way and you’ve lost touch with them.

A Little Push Can Start The Engine
Don’t chalk this article up to a “feel good story”. I have seen how an encouraging word fires up a person and gets their self-confidence engine running. I have seen it in the work place. I have personally experienced it when I was in school. And, I see it each week on the baseball field as these little guys come out to practice.

Back to my question: Should I not spend time with the poor performers and focus more on the star performers on the team? Yes and no. My objective as coach is to provide leadership. This involves feedback, direction, and encouragement. I have no idea how my words affect these guys on a weekly basis…No…the fact is, I do have an idea.

There is a very real, practical, and powerful principle at work here. The power of words. Words spoken in ways that can build up and not tear down. Words that can inspire and not demoralize.

Those of us in positions of influence and authority can wield words like a healing balm or a wounding sword. Bosses, parents, teachers, coaches, and trusted advisers take heed. Spend a little extra time with your poor performers. Encourage them and speak words of life into them. Like the character Richard Dreyfuss played in the movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus [one of my favorite films on this topic], you may find yourself the center of admiration for the next generation.

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There are many facets to a leaders role. One important facet is giving of yourself to those around you.

Did you know you cannot out-give? If you give to someone, they will almost always want to give more back. This is the Principle of Reciprocity.

When you look out for your employees and co-workers, even your friends and family, they will want to return the favor. Giving is infectious.

The only drawback is the motivation for giving. If you give out of selfish ambition, then guess what? You may get something back, but it will never be what you hoped for or as much as you hoped it to be. And, when you do not get anything back, you’ve only done harm to yourself because you are the one left feeling “hacked-off”.

Don’t give in order to get.

When you give, not expecting a return, the reciprocal giving is that much sweeter. And, when you give, not expecting a return, your feelings will not have been hurt if you receive nothing in return.

Take a look around your workplace, your personal networks, your clients, your friends and family — who can you give to?

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Son of a Teacher Man

I never wanted to be a teacher. My mom taught elementary school, my dad taught biology to high school kids, and just about everybody else in my family—cousins, aunts, uncles—eventually found their way into the education field (even my little sister’s a teacher now). But not me. I was going to be an artist.

So I went through college, majoring in art. When it came time to decide upon an emphasis, I picked graphic design—I joked that I chose design over fine art because I didn’t want to have to eat ramen noodles my whole life, but the real reason was that I felt like design played a more integral role within society than painting did (I don’t know if that was a commentary on contemporary art, or on culture in general… anyway). The general public actually saw design. Design communicated. Design persuaded. Design… taught? Oh man.

Of course, throughout my first few years as a graphic/web designer I was enamored with the flashy, hipper-than-thou, watch-the-logo-catch-on-fire visuals surrounding me. Design seemed to be all about creating something so interesting-looking that people said “wow.” Then the dot-com bubble burst, and that economic shift forced a lot of creative people to rediscover a fundamental design principle: design is more than pretty pictures. Good design not only inspires, but communicates. In other words, design should be both smart and compelling.

I started off spending all my design time on the compelling side of design; as I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve become consumed with creating smart design. Here’s an example: We recently created a Change Management Primer for a client. While it’s a beautiful and engaging piece, my favorite part of it is how we were able to layer relatively large amounts of information into a non-threatening and easily digestible system. By making the information easier and less confusing to access, we’re raising the chances of the end user actually receiving the information we’re trying to communicate. We’re not making people say “wow” anymore; we’re getting them to say “aha!” (To see what I’m talking about, visit the Primer. The diagram in the “How” section illustrates my point.)

At our best, good designers really are a lot like teachers—the most important charge for both is to communicate information to their audience. It’s taken me almost thirteen years of studying design to realize it, but I have finally come to the conclusion that I’m just like my parents. Except I can’t give out detentions.

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SEO can be an elusive target.Everybody wants to be number one. No, I am not talking about sports teams, but Web site rankings on Search Engines. Search Engine Optimization, or SEO as it it known today, is a discipline (and lucrative job if you’re well versed) that has been around since the first Search engines hit the Web. Early on, SEO was used in a desire to get your site listed at the top of search listings. Being amongst the first listings, data showed that the greater the chance you had of being clicked on. More clicks, more traffic. More traffic, more money, And so it went for early engines such as Inktomi, AltaVista, Yahoo!, and others.

When Google came on the scene a lot of things changed:

Google brought a new concept to evaluating web pages. This concept, called PageRank, has been important to the Google algorithm from the start. PageRank is an algorithm that weights a page’s importance based upon the quantity and quality of incoming links. PageRank estimates the likelihood that a given page will be reached by a web user who randomly surfs the web, and follows links from one page to another. In effect, this means that some links are more valuable than others, as a higher PageRank page is more likely to be reached by the random surfer.

The PageRank algorithm proved very effective, and Google began to be perceived as serving the most relevant search results. On the back of strong word of mouth from programmers, Google became a popular search engine. Off-page factors such as PageRank and hyperlink analysis were considered as well as on-page factors to enable Google to avoid the kind of manipulation seen in search engines focusing primarily upon on-page factors for their rankings. (from Search Engine Optimization in Wikipedia)

And so, the rules changed slightly. The requirements and algorithms from prominent search engines began to change and you were hard-pressed to stay on top of the requisites in order to achieve high rankings. Yet, over the years Search Engine Marketers (SEM) agree that much is still the same.

Search engine optimization often involves more than just rankings. By improving the quality of a page’s search listings, more users will select that page. Factors that may improve search listing quality include good copywriting such as an attention-grabbing title, an interesting description and a domain and URL that reinforce the legitimacy of the site. Some commentators have noted that domains with lots of hyphens look spammy and may discourage click-throughs.

SEOs widely agree that the signals that influence a page’s rankings include:

  1. Keywords in the title tag.
  2. Keywords in links pointing to the page.
  3. Keywords appearing in visible text.
  4. Link popularity.
  5. PageRank of the page (for Google).
  6. Keywords in Heading Tag H1,H2 and H3 Tags in webpage.
  7. Linking from one page to inner pages.
  8. Placing punch line at the top of page.

Black Hat Methods Can Lead To Black Ball
“Black hat” SEO are methods to try to improve rankings that are disapproved of by the search engines and/or involve deception. This can range from text that is “hidden”, either as text colored similar to the background or in an invisible or left of visible div, or by redirecting users from a page that is built for search engines to one that is more human friendly. A method that sends a user to a page that was different from the page the search engined ranked is Black hat as a rule. One well known example is Cloaking, the practice of serving one version of a page to search engine spiders/bots and another version to human visitors.Search engines may penalize sites they discover using black hat methods, either by reducing their rankings or eliminating their listings from their databases altogether. Such penalties can be applied either automatically by the search engines’ algorithms or by a manual review of a site.

One infamous example was the February 2006 Google removal of both BMW Germany and Ricoh Germany for use of deceptive practices. Both companies, however, quickly apologized, fixed the offending pages, and were restored to Google’s list. (from Search Engine Optimization in Wikipedia)

As site designers and company marketers continue to strive for consumer attention on the Web, SEO will also continue to be a big part of their thinking. If a large part of our business strategy involves Web traffic you may want to invest in an SEO firm, consultant, or create an in-house position for SEO.

Sure, SEO is elusive, but with the rights tools and personnel you increase your chances of hitting a bulls-eye more often than not.

SEO Consultants
SEO Book.com
SEO (Wikipedia)

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In the field of performance improvement and knowledge management: 90% delivered is 100% effective 95% of the time.

OK, I just made that up: I’m not out to posit another theorem, we have enough of those (90/90; 80/20). My goal is to underscore the importance of time-to-market in a resource-constrained environment.

So what is 90% delivered? Let’s take a look at two hypothetical training interventions:

Course #1
Gorgeous look/feel, great navigation, rock-solid objectives, perfectly aligned activities and comprehensive supporting material. 12 months in the making, 99.9%.

Course #2
Nice look/feel, great navigation, rock-solid objectives, most material aligned with activities (some is info-only), supporting material is 75% captured and included. 4 months in the making, 90%.

Which is better?

Ok , now what if I told you that that #1 is still sitting on the shelf, under the nth review, while #2 has already delivered measurable business results with high client satisfaction?

False dichotomy? Nice try, but no.

We live in a world of constraints: time, money, quality are the three we most often hear. All true, and let’s add another: opportunity constraints.

The longer an intervention stays on the shelf, the more sales are missed, the more service requests are unanswered, the more the bottom line is impacted. No training piece is ever perfect.

So the question becomes: where to draw the line?

The answer lies in another question: at the end of this unit of instruction, what should the learner be able to do? Learning objectives are our guide.

First, look to your content gathering process: can it be tightened, understanding you are never going to capture everything anyway? Second, look to the design: do you really have to support the learner with elaborate activities throughout the course? Third, look to development: how long should you really spend on something that will probably be updated in 3-6 months anyway?

So, what to do with the other 10%?

Two options: 1) use real user feedback and business results to make the course better in the next version; or 2) apply it to the next most pressing issue in your organization.

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There are several processes for developing a learning strategy and an e-Learning strategy, but how do you stay focused? To stay focused on the plan follow these three key, never fail, techniques:

  • First, use the learning and e-Learning strategy like a business plan and establish a board of directors from across the organization to help guide you along the way. Choose people to be on this board who will add value, and who will push you and your organization to succeed. The board should meet quarterly.
  • Secondly, measure, measure, measure, and report on progress on a quarterly basis. Make this report with the data (both good and bad) part of the corporate reporting structure.
  • Lastly, make the strategy document visible to the team members, the departments, and the organization.

Create a communication plan,and get the word out that you have a strategy and intend to implement this strategy. Always remember that a mediocre plan of action today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

Related Articles
Why Your Company Will Succeed With A Learning and Performance Strategy
Your e-Learning Strategy Checklist
People Are Still Your Greatest Asset
Your Roadmap To Performance Improvement
9 Areas of Focus For An e-Learning Strategy
Your Online Learning May Be Doomed To Fail

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