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.

 

The Unavailable

Posted by Richard Moran.

It has often been said in the venture world that “there is an infinite demand for the unavailable.” This is the ultimate challenge for everyone who invests in tech companies. We know there is a market for cars that burn no fuel; we know there is a market for anything that will eliminate my love handles and we know there is a market for a guarantee on an Ivy League acceptance letter for our children, but what about everything in the middle?

There could be a return, but is it enough to warrant an investment? There could be a legitimate company there, but is it a “venture returns” kind of company? That’s what makes venture investing so interesting.

Charlie Cooper of CNET captured this sense among a bunch of very smart media people at a Stanford colloquium as a part of the AlwaysOn conference. Andy Plesser of Beet.TV hosted the discussion which was all interesting, all good and all over the map on media, but what we know is that the changes that are happening right now are unprecedented, unpredictable and, probably unfortunate for big media. But big media is fighting back with vigor. The giants like News Corp. are dispatching people and money to try to get ahead of the curve. The problem is we don’t know where the curve is on its trajectory.

The current state of all things media is like the Wild West. So as the slightly altered bumper sticker says:Get In – Hold On – And Enjoy the Ride