Business Innovations

Posted by Richard Moran.

GREATEST BUSINESS INNOVATIONS OF THE LAST FIFTY YEARS:

Yellow stickies: To the office what duct tape is to the home.
Wheelies: A back-saving device that turned almost all baggage rectangular.
Tetris/Solitaire: A justification to carry around a $10,000 PC.
Etch-a-Sketch: The training tool for reading any PDA.
Scan button on the car radio: Allows you to multi-listen while speaking on the phone.
Virtuality: Allows you to be anywhere and work—or not.
Self-adhesive postage stamps: Why did it take so long?
Cigarette lighter in cars: Created the hole to plug in car phones.
Felt-tip pens: The ultimate doodle machine.
Conference calls: What other tool allows us to attend meetings without being there?
WORST BUSINESS INNOVATIONS OF THE LAST FIFTY YEARS:

Powdered cream: A cup of coffee ruined.
The cubicle: Is it a space or not? Is it yours or not?
Resume-scanning software: How does it test for “fun to work with”?
Passwords: Some require four characters, some six, some eight, some a capital letter—all of which make them hard to remember.
Break-out groups: The outcome of the group effort is almost always large sheets of paper never to be used.
Shuttle buses: Adds a degree of difficulty to everything.
The seat pocket in front of you: A euphemism for a lost-items container or garbage collector.

Business Travelers Bill of Rights

Posted by Richard Moran.

When Jet Blue tortured passengers by not letting them go to the bathroom for days and then took a pound of grief, the airline responded by putting a dramatic stake in the ground. In their Travelers Bill of Rights they proclaimed that people could go to the bathroom after a certain amount of time. We are all thankful.

In a similar event Cathay Pacific kept people on an airplane for seven hours. Since it was a red eye, many went to sleep right away. When they woke up they thought they had arrived and they had yet to leave the gate. Cathay Pacific said they didn’t want to make a lot of announcements about the status of the flight because they didn’t want to wake people up. I am sure they will produce their own Travelers Bill of Rights.

Any Bill of Rights is a step in the right direction although what I have seen is as bland as airplane lasagna. I give Jet Blue a lot of credit for owning up to the level of service but where are all the other airlines? What are they doing about protecting travelers comfort? The airlines receive suggestions every day in the Customer Complaint department and lots of editorials have been heaped on. Do they integrate that info into Bills of Rights? I doubt it. Not one to pile on Jet Blue, I want to stand up for my own traveling rights. The airlines know I have logged more than my fair share of miles.

As a reluctant frequent flier I know my rights and how they have been trampled for decades. Here is my own contribution to the Business Travelers Bill of Rights. Industry take note.

• Reclining Seats should be illegal. At least, there should be a sensor so that if you have your laptop on the tray the sensor will not allow the seat in front of you to recline.

• Any business trip that involves the words tram, train, people mover or shuttle should receive extra credit in the frequent flyer department.

• Bags of nuts, the free ones that are distributed should contain no garlic. Every little bit helps when you arrive home later than promised.

• All lavatories should have timers. After a certain amount of time the offending occupant should get sprayed with blue water.

• Snoring alarms should be installed near the flight attendant call button. When snoring occurs the oxygen masks will drop. Put it over the muzzle of the snorer.

• Discount coupons should be provided if the person next to you requires a seat belt extender. A double discount if the people on both sides of you require extenders.

• A “Working Section” should be provided on every airplane. Like the old smoking sections this should be a place where laptops plug in and there is a printer somewhere by the lavatories.

• Any time a flight is late the airline should call your boss to tell them how you have suffered.

• No hanging around at counters allowed. Especially over by the side where the jerk thinks if he schmoozes the gate agent he will get the upgrade, and not you.

• Any traveler with over a million miles should be guaranteed a space for any carry-on bag.

• If the flight attendant knows your name because you fly so much, you should fly for free.

• After two million miles the airlines should provide all drinks for free. If you are already in business or first class, they should give you little bottles to take home with you.

Security requires another entire section of a bill of rights for business travelers. There are many reasons why. My children have collections of metal statues of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. Every time I go to New York City I get my daughter a memento of Lady Liberty and my youngest son an Empire State Building. Every time I go through security with these it requires a long explanation of how this makes my return from a long trip better if I bring trinkets.

The inconsistencies in security systems from airport to airport will make any consultant want to start doing diagrams of proper processes. What makes sense at one airport may or may not make sense at the next one. What passes through security undetected at one will cause the National Guard to point their guns at you at another airport. If security is the numerator, efficiency is the denominator.

I know the security situation changes constantly and that security is the first priority, still there is rarely a reason for Disneyland like lines. The engineering isn’t quite done yet but for the business traveler, here are some security guidelines:

• Get used to it; security is a part of business travel. There will not be a shortcut any time soon.
• Carry a cell phone always. Long lines will create opportunities for conference calls or to drain messages.
• If you wonder if it will go through security, leave it home. Wear loafers.
• There will always be a little girl with a Barbie pencil sharpener in front of you. The blades on the sharpener will require a conference among security personnel and delay the line.
• Make sure you need to go on the trip. The thought of long security lines might help you make the right decision.
• Plan for the long line and rejoice if you don’t have one. Use the time.
• Keep all phone numbers with you. You will need them all.
• Know that random checks might mean you are checked ten times a day.
• Have pity on the airline people and security; they are doing their jobs.
• Put every thing in the purse or computer bag that will go through security
• Always get in line behind other business travelers. It goes faster than the line with the guys taking off their belt buckles and big watches.
• Be prepared – Make a mental plan of what would Harrison Ford do anytime you see anything suspicious.
• Never, ever mention the word gun, bomb, terrorist, and hijack or tell a TSA joke anywhere around the security checkpoints. They won’t laugh and neither will you.

Security will be the one constant of travel for the foreseeable future. Can you imagine a day again when you can meet your loved ones at the gate? It ain’t pleasant, it is necessary but it ain’t easy.

No one will deny the rigors of travel. Travel makes you old before your time, it makes you gain weight, it gives you bad breath and it is stressful. Any time you plan to get work done on a plane you will sit next to screaming babies. After a steady diet of travel my wife told me I went from boyishly good looking to ruggedly handsome to weather beaten in about a month. A reasonable bill of rights for the traveler is the least the airlines can do.

The CEO and the Board

Posted by Richard Moran.

An elephant almost always joins the festivities when the CEO and the Board gather. This is not an elephant that stomps around and trumpets trouble. It’s a pachyderm who is very subtle but still very big and complicates the dynamics in the relationship between a CEO and the Board of Directors. That tricky relationship is fueled by business issues, style, decision making power, and all the stakeholders involved. The rigors of corporate governance compound the dynamic with committee charters, proper policies and procedures, independent directors and plenty of counsel. Compliance cloned the elephant in the room into a herd.

Sometimes I feel like I am wearing special glasses that allow me to see elephants where no one else can. If I can see them, every CEO and Board member should be able to see them too. To see the elephants in your boardroom you don’t need special glasses, you just need to be honest and ask the hard questions. Here are some of the questions to ask yourself to see if there are elephants thundering into the dynamics between the CEO and the Board.

The Elephant Questions

• Are there too many people on the Board and no one is sure who should go or how?

• Is the CEO under-performing but thinks he/she is doing a good job?

• Is there that one “special” person that just can’t get along with the CEO?

• Does the founder or former executive on the Board create issues because “the old days” were better?

• Do back channels of communication make some Board members more informed than others?

• Is there a Board member who is not doing their fair share but no one will discuss it?

• Do some Board members feel underpaid while others are afraid to address Board compensation?

• Is there is a feeling that the Executive Committee is too powerful and doesn’t share?

• Does the Executive Committee feel under appreciated and over worked?

• Does the Audit Committee have low confidence in the CFO but…
 Too much pain is involved to switch
 The Auditors like the CFO
 A 10K is delayed and needs to go out
 The CEO supports him/her
 The Analysts like him/her

• Do some Board Members preach about “When I was at GE, Intel, Wells Fargo…(fill in the blank)

• Are there plenty of consultants (and bills) but no visible signs of progress?

• Do some Board members always need more data in order to make a decision?

• Are Board retreats time wastes and do they duplicate management efforts?

• Do Board members wordsmith and want to review too many documents and reports before released?

• Are succession plans dodged by the CEO so no one ever quite gets to it?

• Is recruiting new Board members always botched?

• When Directors go off into minutiae, does any one pull them back to the meeting at hand?

• Do Directors talk about each other disparagingly in private conversations?

• Is every Board meeting a dog and pony show that “shuts down the plant” in PowerPoint prep work?

If the answer to any of these questions is Yes, there are elephants lurking that you’re your organization less than effective. Elephants, often called other things, are the big issues that can put a divide between the CEO and the Board if not resolved. They are often so big that everyone sees them, but no one wants to address them. Or, they can be so big that no one even sees them. The first step is for the Board and the CEO to acknowledge the elephants so they can be addressed.

As a venture capitalist, I have seen issues emerge between the board and ceo’s that can determine whether or not an early stage company is successful. When the board is full of investors and the entrepreneur is developing his “baby”, the dynamics are as complex as a marriage.

In a more mature company, there are other issues, the life of the company may not be at stake but the career life of the CEO may well be at stake. It is never the case where a batch of well meaning people get together for a casual meeting and make some decisions about the future of the company. It is always the case that over time the dynamics between the Board and the CEO will change and may alter the effectiveness of both. There are solutions.

Here are three simple principles that might help:

1. Pay Attention to Group Dynamics. If you have a dysfunctional relationship between the board and the CEO, it permeates the company and transcends the four walls of the office. Keep the elephants in the zoo and let them run wild in Africa and Asia. Do you dread a Board meeting they as much as a root canal? Get counseling, see a rabbi or priest, do something! Think about the kind of team you are trying to develop. Too many Boards and CEOs are disappointed if they don’t operate like a high performing basketball team. Instead, consider operating like a track team where a group of highly talented people work independently, most of the time, but come together for the success of the team.

2. Treat information as a tool, not a nuisance. Anticipate your Board’s needs and know what will be asked. Company operations should be transparent to the Board. Dog and pony shows are not required, but do expect ad hoc or special requests from the Board when they don’t see that level of transparency. Know that measures for the CEO must be clear and consistently reviewed. Information should be regular, digestible and tell the Company story – both the Board and CEO should be able to answer the question, “How are we doing?”

3. Put the big issues (the elephants) front and center and tell the truth about them. The agenda should not be set by compliance but rather, how to make the Company successful. Boards too often meet for eight hours and never get to the meaty issues. If the intent of the Company is clear, the Board should know how it should act to help achieve that intent. So whether you are the CEO or the Board ask yourself if there is an elephant in the room. Addressing the elephant will make for a better dynamic and progress will ensue.

Remember, the relationship between the CEO and the Board of Directors sets a tone and permeates throughout the company. The very success of the company is at stake based on how the relationship develops. Keep the elephants where they belong and out of the Board room.

This article was originally posted in April, 2007 on SandHill.com (www.Sandhill.com), an online publication of the Sand Hill Group.