Staycations

Posted by Richard Moran.

A gallon of gas is now more expensive than a bottle of wine, at least according to some senior citizens I know. An entire string of unintended consequences has resulted from this sorry reality. Chief among these stark realities is the “staycation” and all of its implications.

The staycation is a 2008 made up word with more than faint negative implications like disambiguate. To the world in general, staycation means, “I am broke with an adjustable rate mortgage and worried about my job, not to mention the airlines are charging for checked luggage and coffee, so I think I will stay home instead of taking that European trip and feel good about it so I will tell my friends I am on a Staycation!”On a closer to home level, staycation means everyone wants to stay with us.

In the Bay Area we are accustomed to visitors. In general, we like to share this beautiful spot with others.The summer of ’08 and the concept of staycation may have altered all of that forever. The difference between a regular guest and a staycationer is in expectations. A staycationer believes and expects he or she can stay until the war in Iraq ends or until gas dips below $2.00/gallon. A guest brings good wine, helps drink it all at a long relaxing dinner, makes the bed and leaves before lunch the next day.

 

A staycationer invites their friends to stay at your house and doesn’t tell you before the strangers show up.A guest is thankful to receive an invitation. A staycationer believes that someone will show up to replace the laundry detergent, toilet paper, and dirty towels. (That someone would be me.) A guest never uses any of the above.

As we come to the end of Summer of ’08, a casual reader might infer that we had too many guests this season. Like trends in pop culture, business success and voting, we reached the “tipping point” when it came to guests. I was about to start pointing the tips of arrows at the prospect of any new guests. So for those who are considering a staycation, here are pieces of advice that will make the stay better for you and your host:

 

  • Never use the word staycation. In fact, the word “stay” should always be avoided. Uses phrases like “stop by” or “brunch”.
  • Bring no dogs or other pets. That spidoodle or labrapug may be cute on a walk with a leash down the street in Palo Alto but it is more like dog hair and poop to your host. Bringing the dog can look like a potential long stay.
  • Wear work clothes and bring gloves. You might be welcome longer if it appears that you are willing to clean the garage or move the firewood pile.
  • Read the audience. If the host doesn’t offer coffee in the morning or says the fires are approaching and we need to evacuate even though you smell no smoke; it’s time to restuff the backpack.
  • Yellow police tape that makes most of the house off-limits is always a warning sign that you have encroached. If you are not welcome to use the bathrooms leave as fast as you can.

These are just a few of the tips for visitors gleaned from the staycation summer. No doubt, anyone with that “spare” bedroom knows of what I speak. If I could determine who invented the word staycation, I would redirect some visitors to his house for a good long stay. I hope the summer word next year isHawaii.

 

Talking Talent

Posted by Richard Moran.

I once had a boss tell me that business wouldn’t be difficult if it wasn’t for people. He was right. People are what make organizations interesting and difficult at the same time. What is more, people are the key part of organizational success, or not, so we might as well get used to it.

Harkin back to Management 101, remember when you wrote that paper on the famous Hawthorne Experiments? For those who copied someone else’s report, experiments at the Western Electric plant in the 1920’s proved that short term improvement is caused by observing worker performance. Things haven’t changed all that much. Talent responds to measurement.

We have great tools now to monitor performance and help individuals be successful. SuccessFactors is all about making that happen in an effective and efficient way. Like the simplicity of the Hawthorne Experiments, I still think that people, no matter what the rank or level, only want three questions answered regarding their work:

 

  1. What’s My Job? A question that shouldn’t be a hard one but too many organizations have trouble with resulting in people wandering around through the bushes and the brambles wondering what the hell they are supposed to do. Should I look busy? I am not talking about a written job description that no one pays any attention to. I am talking about when someone shows up in the morning, do they know what they are supposed to do and is it what they thought they signed up for? My hypothesis is that the reason why so many people spend hours on eBay or Facebook when they are supposed to be working is because they are not sure what their real job is and how to be successful at it.
  2. How Am I Doing? Everyone wants to know an occasional answer to that simple question. Since we are not talking about golf or bowling where score is easily kept, keeping score is a little more nuanced in the workplace. Once again, there are a number of tools, simple and complicated that can help set goals and measure against them but too often, it is not done. I think people usually have a sense of how they are doing but need to hear it from others on a regular basis.
  3. How Does My Effort Contribute to the Big Picture? It is almost never the framed mission statement hanging on the wall that helps answer this question. Almost always, it is clarity about what the organization is trying to accomplish and how any individual can help make that happen. Not that different from the signs in the locker room that ask, “What Have You Done Today to Beat USC?”

Three simple questions, that’s all. By allowing people to answer them you will attract and keep talent. By disambiguating (I heard that word this week and am pleased to be able to use it so soon) the answer, talent will keep moving until they find a place where it can be answered.

For more insight on this topic be sure to check out a webinar with SuccessFactors tomorrow morning at 11:00 AM PDT/2:00 PM EDT.

 

The New Universal Language

Posted by Richard Moran.

There is a new universal language. It crept in sometime between the advent of the first fax machine and the death of the pager that we wore on our belts.

A quick quiz of most people about the universal language will generate responses like:

  • A kiss. It is the global signal of love although there are very few with whom I want to communicate with this language.
  • The middle finger. Everyone knows what it means and it is not good to be the recipient of the message so this language carries some unfortunate baggage. It is a language that almost always makes someone feel really bad.
  • English. Since most Americans speak no other language, we have imposed this language on the rest of the universe.
  • Music. A preferred language by all but now that MySpace has bazillions of bands and artists on it, there are too many dialects of the language. Which is better, Bach or Beastie Boys?
  • Food. Before salmonella, South Beach Diet and going vegan, this was a good language. Now it seems cluttered with too many celebrity chefs telling you how to communicate in this language
  • Money. Once the banks, the dollar, the stock market and the price of oil recover, this could be a good language again. In the meantime, money is an inconsistent language.

All the communication turmoil leaves just one universal language – PowerPoint.

PPT

Bill Gates may go down in history for his riches and for eliminating malaria, but his real contribution will be the creation of PowerPoint as the universal language. It is even being used as a social medium.

Last time I checked Wikipedia’s definition, it said that “a universal language is a hypothetical, historical or mythical language said to be spoken and understood by all or most of the world’s population. … it may be the primary language of all speakers, or the only existing language; in others, it is a fluent secondary language used for communication between groups speaking different primary languages. Some mythological or religious traditions state that there was once a single universal language among all people, or shared by humans and supernatural beings; this is not supported by historical evidence.”

The historical evidence is now all around us.

  • We speak in headlines backed up by a few bullets.
  • Entire books, like Nuts, Bolts and Jolts, are written of just bullets.
  • My children use PowerPoint in their grammar school everyday.
  • Meetings will not start until the projector warms up to show the PowerPoint presentation.
  • The three letters PPT are as well known as FYI, and IBM, LOL.
  • The phrase “Next Steps” is now as welcome as “Free” or “This is Not A Bill.”
  • News organizations, like eWeek, are delivering their stories in slideshows.
  • Companies are being formed to distribute PowerPoint presentations they’re being used as social media.
  • I’m posing my argument in bullets right now.

One of Venrock’s portfolio companies – Slideshare is leading the charge in in this area. New forms and styles of PowerPoint presentations are appearing. People are using PowerPoint to tell stories – like our friend Henry. They are using Slideshare to share heavy files and publish them broadly through the Web.

Next Steps

The good news about PPT is that it is efficient. The bad news is that it is often not effective unless accompanied by a non-virtual person. As a communication tool, it needs to tell a story. That’s all. As the new universal language PowerPoint needs to tell a story. Telling a story in PPT is tricky since, unlike other languages, it does not stand alone when read. It is more like a graphic novel.

The most welcome header in most presentations are the pages that begin with “Summary” or “Conclusion”. It needn’t be the case. Nor should the phrase, “Death by Powerpoint” be one that needs no explanation. Like all languages, the secret is in communicating in it well, not just blabbing on.

One of my friend’s nineteen year old daughters just gave a Powerpoint presentation to her parents to make the case for why she should move in with her boyfriend. It was effective. If Powerpoint can help make that happen, it has indeed become the universal language.