Create value by sticking to principles and collaborating

I’ve been reading and writing a lot about creating value.  Value creation is what sustains our spirits as well as insuring us a livelihood. It preserves quality in our relationships as well as justifying our existence.

Does creating “shared value” accomplish the same thing?  creating value

A recent headline in the Financial Times challenged the premise of Michael Porter and Mark Kramer’s ideas on creating shared values caught my attention.  Corporate Shared Value, (CSV) conceptually seeks to align social impact and company success.  A very noble goal, akin to what John Mackey, the CEO of whole foods describes as Conscious Capitalism.  Andrew Crane’s Financial Times article merely wishes the CSV theory found its way into execution and not corporate report window dressing and lip service.

15 years ago, Frederick F. Reichheld  and Thomas Teal working for Bain Capital discovered that too few growth strategies successfully drove profits and explained competitive advantage. Since the traditional profit drivers failed to explain the discrepancy in performance, they turned to study costs.  Their research delved into a firm’s relationship between customer duration and its cash flow  and found the relationship also differentiated advantage. As they had eliminated one metric after another their discovery proved that value starts with building loyalty, growth follows and then profits result. Dual loyalty, they explained isn’t merely the reciprocal relationship between a firm’s leadership and its customers.  The duality extends to employees and includes relationships with investors.The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value published in 2001, detailed this research.  For businesses to focus and sustain this value creation process, the authors recognized would require fundamental changes in business practices including new ownership structures.

Porter and Kramer’s CSV theory in part recognizes a similar fundamental shift in business practices.  Their focus seeks to compensate for the historic failure of accounting balance sheets to report and record shared value as an asset.  Is it an output, or is Shared Value part of a  larger social movement?

Mark Cheng, Director of Ashoka UK and Ashoka’s senior advisor on social finance  explains the challenges in this article that appeared in Forbes, How Philanthropists And Investors Can Work Together To Create Social Change. He suggests, that trying to build a social innovation isn’t a company but a social movement and that’s why it requires very different investments.

To change consumer behavior whether you plan to build a new market or a social movement requires organizations to earn people’s loyalty to principles.  Reichhold and Teal explain these learnings as necessary to properly differentiate between creating measurable value and creating profits.  Porter and Kramer hope businesses will value social progress, but this alone won’t re-legitimize a business. A verbal commitment to value can’t create the cost-benefit advantages necessary to sustain the firm.

Social forces of loyalty can and often do bind customers, employees and investors. Indeed they serve as measures of  cash flow and indicate a company’s ability to deliver superior value. The interlocking set of a firm’s operating principles creates both a cause and effect which satisfies, inspires and engages all stakeholders to sustain the firm.

Alternatively, a collective solution and collaborative mindset that aligns around a broader set of principles or values clearly stated presents an opportunity to create shared value. Because the concept of shared value offers people the means to take part with the resources of a firm, these mechanisms also share in, and contribute to, the success of the wider social movement.

Cheng explains that different funders should rightly have different roles.  A social business partnership between a business enterprise and an NGO doesn’t have to compromise or tradeoff its economic goals for the benefit of social good.  Using philanthropic funds to cover start-up costs for the shared venture and utilizing the distribution prowess of the corporate entity is one way to make win-win social impact possible.

Social progress is difficult to achieve by a single player, however a shared operating model based on sound principles can be adopted and replicated to spread the changes more widely.  The goal for the business may be self-interest,  where self-preservation will be a result of its underlying value creation principles and relationships.


my big Data Donut

Two days in a row I managed to catch very different talks about big data, but came away with one big duh and several new insights.  In short, my prior training and experience using analytics to drive strategic decision-making placed me comfortably up the curve.  In return for my limited investment of time and attention, I gained a few new ideas, collected some cogent descriptors to share with clients and reawakened  elements in my strategic thinking process.

Big DATA , just a conjunction 

We all know Big because we know small. Everything classifies as one, when we decide it’s not the other. Big is also a euphemism for many.  Statistically, the bigger the sample, the greater it’s  significance. Bigness insures enough cases to draw general conclusions about a population.  Most of the time we don’t care about the population but we do care that a sample represents the population we care about.  An “Everyman” should be average and appear at the top of the bell curve, or normal distribution, right? Will being average, change the odds of being big or small? hold that thought.

We recognize data when we see it too. In excel, Big spreadsheets contain many rows and or many columns of stuff that we call data.

Changes in technology bring more data, we record and keep records of events that previously were not possible to record. More data gets created when instruments simplify its recording over ever smaller intervals.  For example, satellite data records and transmits continuously atmospheric particle movements,  Nike’s Fuel metrics measured by its band can provide streaming location data of people’s changing heart rate.

Put the Big together with Data along with the ease of access and you find yourself understanding Big Data coincident with the cultural shift  Big Data’s wider access produces.

If you build it they will come

In Big Data’s case, technology shifts made lots of data more accessible which increased people’s application in their decision-making.  At this hour, I can hear the helicopters hovering over the major highway junctions nearby to monitor traffic and issue the reports broadcast over radio and TV.  Everyone wants to avoid sitting in traffic, and their consumption of this information and decisions of when and which route they drive naturally impacts the pattern.  The widespread availability of GPS and map services rely on alternative information sources to generate traffic congestion maps , and influence consumer travel decisions as well.  Don’t you rely on one or more of these information sources? Why? few of us know the details behind the projection.  Instead,  we feel better with more information available, after all,  traffic information helps us avoid the inevitable–the likelihood of being stuck and delayed in rush hour.

Bottom line, consumption makes Big Data valuable. Its availability  raises questions, but we often skip the critical ones.  We ponder its use, before questioning its reliability as in what do I do with it? How can and should it impact my decisions?  


Humans’ daily actions rely on the process of cause and effect.  I turn on the faucet to make water come out.  I say “please,” you say “thank you.”  How many miles must I run to burn off the Fat calories I consumed eating a donut for breakfast?   Hmm, can I measure my fat burn rate? If I work for the donut producer, I may focus on the sales effects that result from posting this information.

These sets of  reactionary questions miss the opportunity set that Subway anticipated and took to the bank.  I don’t know the story behind Subway’s marketing strategy , haven’t looked into the chain’s profitability, but they clearly seized advantage of a trend fueling both  awareness and their revenue. They twisted the cause effect to create a successful Cause marketing campaign.

Worry about Bad not Big Data

In the second talk, Casey Winters, the head of digital marketing for a growing web-based start-up called Grub Hub spoke about the poor decisions being made using vanity metrics.  Traffic isn’t a new metric for retailers or commuters.  In business, Cost per Acquisition, Lifetime Value and Conversion rates represent a few key performance metrics that when properly calculated, effectively drive strategic investment decisions.

The challenge today isn’t their availability as much as their reliability.  More sources  of information reflect the ease with which some data can be measured.  For example, Google Analytics offers the basic traffic stats freely to any website who embeds their code.  Advertising agencies spent a decade redefining themselves to be digitally capable, and help their clients use these new tools to distribute their marketing dollars to physical and virtual locations.  The result, more data and Data Scientists emerging as guides through the complexity associated with Big Data.

STOP making Data into donuts

More data spread around doesn’t make anyone smarter, especially when not all available measurements of existing data prove trustworthy. Standards help a lot, but they may not  sufficiently help separate the noise from the signal. Don’t just use the data that’s available but be sure you understand its creation.  Take the case of the glazed donut comparisons shown above between Krispy Kreme’s Famous calculated calories to Dunkin’s Glazed donut figures.  The fact that they appear together in one chart doesn’t mean their calculations used the same computation process.  The information on its face lead to one conclusion, which may or may not support your own experience of these donuts.  Haven’t you already  put that experience to use and attributed  the observed differences’ cause to something other than the method of calculation?   In short, you used cause and effect favoring intuition over critical thinking.

When it comes to talking about strategy,  we often forget to ask the questions before we pull the data.  ROI may justify one investment choice over another and then again it may merely be used to confirm the value of your investment decisions after the fact.  Data should move you from insight to reality.  Remember a dot in one dimension is a line in another, the value of the era of big data increases our opportunity to capture more dimensions.  The challenge is using data to gain more perspective and beware of our biases.

Just Try It!


Hey, Mikey Likes It!

What’s not to like? Try it!

That’s what my mother would say when her children looked suspiciously at unfamiliar food on their plates.  Growing up,the rule was that you had to eat everything on the plate, or at least try it.  Later, my father modified the rule  to you don’t have to like it, but you had to eat it.  It’s how I came to eat asparagus with a glass of milk chaser and how our dog was well fed.

Clearly, not everything that we do,  or feel compelled to do is likeable.  The doing however can and often does prove incredibly satisfying. Likewise, adding knowledge or understanding also makes any activity satisfying. Doing alters what we know. The coordination effort forces us to focus on details we often overlook, or fail to consider relevant and our actions lead us to understand the task differently than our first evaluation. The expression “easier said, than done,” ring a bell?

Experience and experiment, both French words, describe the process of trying, attempting, a trial or the testing of an idea or impulse. The result? We gain new insights and  understanding when we integrate multiple sensory data points at once–as when things we see requires us to coördinate our moves.

I hear and  forget.
I see and I remember.
I Do and I understand.

Confucius wasn’t the only one to understand the power of coordinated multi-sensory input.  Most learning happens informally and when left to chance the results are counterproductive.  Unlearning or replacing what we know with new information requires confrontation; since we find it easy to adapt to a slight change of circumstance when we recognize the common link.  The history of putting wheels on boxes is quite lengthy but it is only very recently that wheels appeared on suitcases, crazy right? Not really. Perceptions often create barriers that are not easily crossed, particularly when formed from a cultural association and not from  direct experience.  Take a second and think about a  restaurant.  Naturally which one, its kind or style that you imagined reflects a choice among numerous variations. What you know about or understand about restaurants as in how to get served, how to dress etc are secondary to the restaurant you imagined; yet they come together as one package of knowledge that determines your behavior.

Experience vs. Source

Information Central

Information Central (Photo credit: pjern)

Try thinking about Africa. Consider how you came to know about it. Africa, per Wikipedia, represents the second-largest and second-most-populous continent in the world with 54 sovereign countries. These facts differ from my intense study in 1969 of the continent in  my sixth grade classroom. I mention it as illustration of the double bind that catches the education system. Like Wikipedia, the material presented to students is as dynamic as the individual contributors to the system but recourse built into the latter may be inappropriately applied.  Should we rate the quality of sources differently than we do a vocation?  Imagine comparing student learning from Wikipedia vs. an educator who has little flexibility in choosing the content requirements used to evaluate their performance. As a student, my sixth grade teacher gave me experiences to collect information from a variety of sources, refashion it to make it meaningful and most importantly encouraged me to keep learning, stay curious and continue to revise what I learned.  We brought the daily headlines into the classroom to share and inspired me to take an ongoing interest in the news.

Gauging Knowledge

045/365 - Comfort Zone

045/365 – Comfort Zone (Photo credit: TheRogue)

Can one gauge that measures knowledge also measure understanding? Who determines sufficiency or the necessary amount? In the US, each grade level has a set of achievement standards at both the Federal level  and state level.

Achievement can be obvious though knowledge and understanding are fluid.  Typically, repeating a fact demonstrates what we know and our ability to recall it without necessarily understanding what the fact means. For example, US middle school students all study the US constitution, and law students do too; but few possess constitutional knowledge comparable to supreme court justices. The justices’ responsibility call for them to understand the constitution at a level of articulation that is actionable.  What I know or believe may not matter or may prove incomplete relative to their ruling.

It’s not just the gauge, but the dynamics of how and what we know changes both externally and internally.  Every one of our senses has equal access to the input in our environment; and yet very little activates our consciousness and not all the input gets tagged to the same experience. In addition the input gets sorted for relevance. Memory reflects the recall coincident of relevant, sensory input associated together. No wonder no two people can recall the same event identically? It’s also why repetition makes us better.

Do anything again and your attention shifts from the first experience memory.  Additional information gets added and tagged for its relevance.  Even if the first time triggered a negative emotion, such as fear, anger or anxiousness, it added more information  to your memory. Emotion does serve as our lookout scout.  It will steer us clear from upsetting circumstances and raise internally doubt or trust issues.

Try it, you'll like it!As this famous Alka Seltzer commercial reminds us, one bad taste makes us unlikely to repeat the experience.  Similarly a new experience when our senses find a near match to an earlier experience, it may get tagged as suspect. Trying something may require us to overcome a prior, related experience. The action taken becomes more meaningful when we attach or identify benefits.  The attachments also impact our willingness to try the same or related experience.

Is open mindedness really possible? Yes,  if you recast open-mindedness as an interest in knowing more and deepening an understanding. Moments of relaxation and comfortable situations make it easier to acquire new information.  In contrast, our natural movements especially those that require no conscious thought, saves us the trouble of processing new information.  The more efficient we become the less we take time to focus on details that differentiate every moment’s passing. Failure to notice, cuts an experience short, underestimates its significance and we move on.

Without notice, there’s no understanding, very little satisfaction and no wonder we feel less accomplished for time spent. Assuming an active focus will engage more of our senses and quickly exhaust us.  It takes energy to reconcile previously held ideas and beliefs to the immediacy of our reality.

Think shopping.  Regardless of what and where you set out to buy something, chances are the expectation may not hold up in the store. More choices or features

It’s why I stop myself from justifying the merits of something and am keen on having people experience for themselves.  Long ago, my movie course instructor warned us to avoid reading reviews before viewing the film.  Sitting and letting the director reveal the story to me does indeed make the film and my experience fresh. If the movie is good, I may need to see it a second time to catch what I missed.  Repeat viewing allows me to deepen my understanding and see things I may have initially missed.

Think about how rarely we get the chance to repeat an experience. Did your appreciation change with repetition?

The socialization we experience of learning in the classroom biases us to expect teachers to know more than students.  understood on movies  I still count by tapping my fingers and don’t hesitate to see if I can fix things myself.  In short, I try first and ask questions later.

Am I old-fashioned?  No, I merely acknowledge that I learn to do better by direct experience.  Thinking is another form of doing and perhaps the limited opportunity to experience some ideas, make them difficult to revise?   Why do I think that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes? What active experience will help me test this idea and see if it works?  Or the idea that bank CEOs are overpaid?

Stay tuned, the idea of adjusting sensibilities continues!


Taking the jump

Kansas' Thomas Robinson (0) fights for a rebound with Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas (1)

It’s hard not to be swept up in the enthusiasm and excitement of the NCAA basketball tournament finals.  In the men’s final, Kansas Thomas Davis and Kentucky Anthony Robinson may be taking the lions share of the attention, but this is basketball, a team sport.

March madness,  aptly named doesn’t merely test the NCAA players’ individual strengths and abilities, it also tests the players’ resilience in the face of intense competition.  The tournament teams demonstrate performance derived from a highly orchestrated and elaborate combination of planning, coordination and engagement, all of which  makes the games so watchable.

Recruiting the talent, the vision and leadership of the coach, the  mechanics of the practice regiment, codes of conduct, the branding of both the tournament and the individual teams and the general environment converge to attract the network contracts and endorsements that all create the frenzy atmosphere of the tournament.

The value of Together, or Team

March Madness may be about college basketball but it’s also a lesson about  performance which if extended into other domains could change the reverence for the power of the individual,  the dominating paradigm in American culture.  Let me explain.

Vision, inspiration is often associated with individuals, especially those who take on leadership roles.  In any sport or any physically demanding activity, an individual earns recognition based on their level of play,  raw ability and talent. In American culture our heroes are largely sports figures because they illustrate the best of what’s possible. Independent of their ethnicity, their socioeconomic status or native environment, their natural talents catapult them to success.  This is the idea behind the phrase picking ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  Sure, ability plays a role, but there’s far more at work and if we don’t recognize it and help others understand it, Americans will fail to get the success that follows when we take the jump  whether we make or miss the shot.

Reflection and broadened horizons

One crucial piece of vision includes the coach, an individual who  receives significant credit for the player’s realized success.  The strength of a coach, who may or may not have been a former player or performer, recognizes that the vision of victory must be shared.  Sure, the one player who may see they have a shot needs to consider whether someone else may have a better chance of success.  The collective, or how one player’s strengths can play off  another, requires a collective vision of victory, that relies on more than a single player’s ability. Successful coaches promote the best of the abilities in all their players, not just the stars. In basketball, the unparalleled success of Phil Jackson extends from what he gives. © AP Photo/Kathy WillensAs one of his players explained, he learned how to give themselves to something they never thought of before. The Washington Post in 2009 suggested Jackson’s success extended from his willingness to broaden his player’s horizons to try things  and challenges beyond basketball.

Unlike school, the NBA is not the place for unproven or untested stars, so Jackson started with a great talent pool.  But few players who ever played under Jackson’s leadership will deny how much greater he made them.  He takes individual stars, and teaches them to be great leaders and confident thinkers and not just executors.

Performance is an art form 

Performance is an art form. No results are certain, no matter how well a team practices, rehearses and plans. Basketball players recognize no matter how great their individual contribution,  the game depends on coordinating their actions to seize the opportunities as they present on the court.  They have to look beyond themselves, learn to help their team mates move and position themselves in response to the events as they unfold.The only way to gain that trust is by working with each other on and off the court. After all, success is determined by the number of games the team wins and loses which includes not only the combined tally of every player’s winning shots, but their assists and passes and blocks.

In school, children are taught to work in teams too, a transfer of the successful team approach. Evaluation however remains stuck on measuring how well an individual performs and largely ignores the impact of the collective effort.  We judge schools and teachers by individual performance scores on standardized tests and miss the value of assists, passes and knowledge sharing.  Missing the parallel to “the game”, or the tournament, limits the validity of students’ ability to apply and execute what they have learned in more natural environments.

OK what about in your organization, what parallels to “the game” do you use to measure the interdependency of the combined abilities that  you’ve hired?  How often does the hiring plan take on a balanced approach? Who is the coach that goes out of their way to help individuals work and play with each other better?

Performance in the mix not the individual

American organizations need to learn and replicate more of  what Phil Jackson does, maximize potential in everyone. Scott Williams blog suggests “He creates a culture of focused chemistry.  The number one priority in coaching and leading is to create a strong culture by developing leadership, empowerment, communication, authentic care for others, relationships, trust, and motivation.”

Much to the benefit of every American, it’s not just successful basketball coaches who recognize that helping individuals persevere, and self-correct during times of challenge and crisis is a critical skill set.  HBR blog on leadership recounts how the US army, includes resiliency as part of its overall leadership training. The curriculum’s success depends on getting people to think about their thinking, or what psychologists call meta-cognition. Beginning in 2009, the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program draws on many of the same principles that Jackson uses to differentiate both his approach and the teams he has coached.  For example CSF teaches individuals

“To identify and leverage their own strengths and the strengths of others to overcome challenges. People are on a team for a reason, so figure out why and let them use their potential to accomplish the mission.”

Self-reliance, deeply embedded in the American character shaped the philosophy of the school system and the character of many of our entrepreneurial heroes.  The inventors that idled alone, the industrialists who knew how to make prudent investments and the more recent code jocks who have helped create the future.  They all find the area that maximized their particular abilities and strengths, right?  They took the jump shot and it paid off handsomely for all of them.  They didn’t make every shot, but their own persistence and resilience helped them win as they battled against the tide. They fundamentally believed they could make the shot they did and just as importantly they kept trying, they didn’t give up they didn’t let the system define them, or limit their talents.

I’ll close with some perspectives from Sir Ken Robinson who advocates for an end to the linear thinking and persistence of knowledge frames that don’t enable different strokes for different folks. If you haven’t heard this talk, I highly recommend it.  The hallmarks of standardization and consistency for efficiency characteristic of the American school system that measured personal merit quite narrowly, contributed to pyramid style organizations that excluded creativity.  We need to regain the ability to value an array of different types of performance, to measure performance based on the cumulative interactions of multiple strengths and abilities. I’m not advocating for more variance on the indicators or standards we have, but more variety in what we recognize as performance that counts.

We have made college too big a prize, in spite of the most famous college dropouts business success. Like the army, other organizations need to help people develop the strengths and confidence at every stage to keep working at learning and to keep practicing, the very qualities that make high performance and resiliency possible.  We need more leaders, like Phil Jackson who are willing to prove the clear value of every member of their teams contribution but works with each to develop their skills and abilities.

ROA- getting the most out of your assets

Interest in Generating Earnings?  why wouldn’t you be?

Return on investment after training and resour...

Image via Wikipedia

Measuring hope

If your business found 2011 challenging, the business press heralding the boom in 4Q sales may restore your faith and hope that 2012 may prove to be a better year.  I know the President remains hopeful, as his re-election may depend on it.

More than an uptick in sales needs to support your growing confidence in a brighter future.  The political, environmental and ongoing commodity pricing volatility that occurred in 2011  challenged the most sophisticated analysts and their understanding of cause and effect relationships. This breakdown  in understanding seems to force the hand of management to reassess their own behaviors, expectations and adapt to the new reality that technology enabled connectivity introduces.

I’m not a finance person but too often the media and an organization’s management focus on revenue drivers in their discussion of a firms’ relative performance.  They overlook the significance in which a  firm’s existing resources or assets contribute to realized earnings –though they don’t miss noticing  when the resources drain earnings.

In every business, management sees merit in measuring investments, competitive business activity and computing ratios to test their own relative performance. Other, more peripheral measures however seem to be contributing to organizations that out do their peers if not lead their industry.   What am I talking about?

I’m proposing broadening the strategic applications of  ROA and ROE, or Return on Assets and Equity respectively, as well as ROI-Return on Investment.

Scale and Efficiency

Technical management consultants for decades leveraged their understanding of growth based on efficiency or the inter-relationship between cost, time and output.Think about it, the more you do the same thing, the faster and better you get. Popularized by the likes of BCG, the experience curve framework demonstrates how a competitive advantage results when this value gain accrues to the firm in time making it more capable of increasing its level of output without having to increase its labor costs.

Many organizations benefit from incorporating this thinking into their decision-making and planning.  Experience curve derive easily from existing data, and thanks to champions like Jack Welch, prediction help can be readily found in subcultures obsessed with perfecting scalable efficiency.  Though powerful this approach is not a sustainable strategy.

In 2011, innovation consistently appeared at the top of many a CEOs wish list. The uncertain economy compromised many intentions and capabilities to invest in organizational transformation to realize this new agenda.  Falling profits, reduced stock prices and investment capital dried up. Where or how could a new initiative find finding?  Even if resources could be identified, the nature of innovation incorporates uncertainty.  Few firms are capable of estimating innovation’s payoffs to plug into a P&L model let alone calculate an acceptable,  timely ROI.

John Seeley Brown, John Hagel at Deloitte and Peter Senge, among others, identifies an alternative that uses technology and its ever-growing connectivity.  (see

Six sigma and the experience curve’s efficiency framework estimations project learning curves to flatten or plateau over time (because production and training costs fall off proportionally as total volume accumulates.) Collaborative environments by contrast naturally welcome increased connectivity and impact the growth rate on the learning curve.  In this latter environment, innovation occurs organically. Correspondingly so will returns on your existing assets with little or no additional investment required.  For too long the focus has been to build process around efficiency of scale.  Don’t get stuck in the  that Dan Pink describes as the mismatch between what science knows and what business does.

Appreciating value

Traditionally, returns like savings occur when an underlying investment appreciates in value over time. It can also occur when costs come in lower than expected and create a budget surplus. How often are you measuring appreciating asset values?  If you limit design of your measurements and set corresponding rewards too narrowly, the quality and impact achieved will be equally narrow.

Recently, I sat in on a conference call  while being logged into an interactive collaboration platform called think-tank by Group Systems.  The other participants, primarily  video conferencing system consultants, used ROI to make their financial cases.  The C-Suite teams, always looking for bankable savings, could instantly understand how to self-fund implementing video conferencing using savings they could collect by reduced travel needs.  This approach pressed the comparative price points between the vendors except Group Systems whose presentation surprised me.  They weren’t talking about new installations, but about upping the usage of existing systems, already installed and, sometimes, fully depreciated.  In other words, they sought to convince firms to realize the appreciation in value from their underlying investments and calculate the Return on their existing assets.  For fully depreciated assets, even higher earnings can be realized  merely by changing internal operating behaviors.

In an environment where investment capital is scarcely flowing, the need to understand ROA  and raise its profile among all levels of management offers some interesting opportunities.  The number of desktops with intranet access within your organization offers the best start.  Chances are your IT department has plenty of tools at its disposal that with  support from training , leadership and example from senior management, together could release a sea change in communications, boost productivity, generate measurable return on human capital and offer additional cost benefits.

A lesson in Magnitude

Beyond your IT department who is looking at the volume of internet related activity or even monitoring the communications activities within your organization?  Perhaps your administrator or facilities staff track the usage rates of your conference rooms.  What do either of these volume metrics offer by way of generating insights  to your organization on how work gets done, or the efficiency and effectiveness of internal communications?

The Following statistics are offered as a  perspective frame for  technology enabled changes in communications.

  • There are close to    1.97 billion – Internet users worldwide and 1.88 billion email users (June 2010).
  •  25% of all email accounts are business accounts and
  • Corporate users typically send and receive about 110 messages daily—18% comprising both real spam and “graymail” (i.e. unwanted newsletters, alerts, etc.).  (see  The Radicati Group, Inc  reportas of April 2010)
  • 73 percent of Americans use their mobile handsets for both text messaging and picture taking. (see The Pew center for internet research report).

Note that in the wider world,  people are communicating in greater numbers on platforms other than email.

175 mill

600 mill

1.88 bill

1.97 Bill



Email users

Internet users


end of 2010

end of 2010


I’m betting that your communications behavior is one sure source of inefficiencies in your organization.  Try studying the electronic trail of decision-making, project management and progress reporting that transpires on redundant email threads and see for yourself.  Alternatively, if your office inbox has any message threads in which you are one of a series of recipients…chances are great that you’ve identified a large source of communications inefficiency, confusion and  redundancy.

Communicate to further learning

How many conference rooms or meetings, principally focus on getting work done vs. updating project or activity status? Cristobal Conde, CEO of Sungard in a New York Times interview articulates not only how to reap the time-saving benefits  micro-blogging offers, but  how deploying Yammer  (an enterprise social network like Twitter) across his organization was a boon to overall performance.  ( He gladly swapped the hours on his schedule tied up in meetings to review results for time spent in the field talking directly to customers and clients, or helping teams solve problems.  How did he do it?  Leading by example–using SMS and the open accountability from shared, real-time BI.  Meetings were now always working sessions, never updates on project status.   The phrase Time is money takes on new meaning when considering people’s  time as a valuable asset and as such should waste it with activities or behaviors that fail to offer measurable returns.

Now,  I’m not suggesting a return to the days of time and motion studies to extract every ounce of productivity.  Rather I am suggesting that injecting some new discipline will generate returns and rewards that don’t all directly hit the bottom line.  How much continuous learning is going on in your organization?  I’d love to learn how others are acknowledging or even tracking that learning.  Impersonal  communications  or skipping direct interpersonal engagement deprives people and organizations  alternative perspectives and perceptions–the critical catalysts that lead to innovation.  Unlocking the thoughts and migrating the energy expended on routine note-taking, or email dialogues into a think-tank, such as group systems virtual collaborative platform  guarantees to accelerate results.

I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating informally with several different professionals who all understand the value of experience to differentiate and rank preferences.  One of the  more valuable insights helped me to understand that when we share news, we often intend to increase our knowledge or further our learning.  The more we all know that more likely we are to make use of that knowledge to mutual benefit.

Try focusing on optimizing learning efficiently  and you may surprise yourself with the value add that results.

Engagement is Always Evident

Recently, I co-presented a short series on collaboration–what is it, where and how it is happening–case studies and finally how to make it happen. One of the challenges in maintaining a successful collaboration is participant engagement, getting them to speak up.

Give employees an easy platform to broadcast news

Engagement is challenging to create, sustain and measure.  Yes, measuring is important because you want to have some idea of the benefits being derived from the time and effort employers have put into their investment in employees.  Both collaboration and engagement has long been ignored in favor of offering incentives to individual employees by measuring their direct and tangible contributions  to the bottom line.  In the past few years, engagement offers both a competitive advantage and is central to customer retention.  Clear evidence now qualifies the relationship between employee engagement and overall organizations’ performance.  Engagement contributes to your your competitive position, can retain your customers; and improves efficiency along with other performance related measures.  

Social media is of course all about engagement, right? Not exactly.  I have found social media vehicles move an organization, or individual users, into some combination of  four divergent directions:   opportunity seeking or problem solving; relationship building or personal expression.  Of course this is why engagement, absent goals, is difficult to measure

Take this wonderful post by Kris Dunn, who suggests that  employee engagement is obvious and there’s no need to take a poll.

The HR Capitalist: You Don’t Need No Stinking Surveys to Measure Engagement…

Well I don’t want to twist his message, but the IT fellow’s goal appears multifold.  Not only does he want the distribution list to note the completion of software updates; but his creative personal expression  encourages readership.  He communicates a wider message about other changes in the organization, and manages to suggest  IT’s great competence and value as inside information source and generator of key news about other ongoing organizational changes.

This post illustrates the benefits that can accrue when  folks look beyond email  to cross-communicate  news or changes in their organization are many.  Email is easy, but the message is often easily buried and goes unread.  Today organizations that incorporate more of these  simple and widely available alternatives, are finding communication fun and painless. If, an intranet is available in your organization, why not create a news-feature corner on the home page?  Direct the community’s eyeballs not to your email message in their in-box, but to a designated sharing spot on the intranet IT and simultaneously avoid adding load to the email servers.  Would the creative engagement still have emerged?  Difficult to say, but this is why I believe in collaboration.  The power of multiple people’s ideas working toward a shared goal offers opportunity for  innovation, efficiency and a little fun.

Lesson learned by this writer? Give people opportunity to shine and innovate and you will be pleasantly surprised by the obvious engagement in what they do and reap additional benefits  when creative expression and collaboration are nurtured.   Any of you trying to start some cross organization news sharing? Odds are good that beyond the walls of your communications department, lies added  creativity left untapped.  Is anyone mining and monitoring your email traffic to uncover these gems, or given the freedom to create and promote new locations for sharing?  I’d love to hear about them.

Performance measurements: Coming up short

My fascination with verifiable outcomes is not very unique. After all, Americans take great pride in being able to measure  as a demonstration of cause and effect.  Data bolsters our confidence in evaluating why something works, or helps us defend a decision,  irrespective of industry or , the services provided.  What would we do without stars that appear adjacent a movie, new book or product, or the win-loss record that informs us about our  team’s performance?  In business, we rely on Return on Equity or Returns on Investment as our compass.  Important legislation waits for the Congressional Budget Office Cost estimations and a series of published statistics produced at regular intervals by our government set the legislative and implementation standards –the Consumer Price Index or of personal relevance to most seniors, COLA, the Cost-of Living Adjustment  which determines the level of social security benefits.

Few of us stop to assess the appropriateness, relevance–absolute or relative of  the indicators we reference.  When was the last time you differentiated cardinal vs ordinal rankings when committing resources?    We love to make lists and rank our preferences too.  The top ten movies of the year, the top-selling products, or nice rankings similar to those shown to the right..we love  top performers , or do we?  Does top really point out quality?  Elicit our support or even further incent us to add our votes?

Ranks are merely a means of sorting, and so its value  is independent and bears no causal relationship to effects.  Frequently, order can fool us;  when what matters is the context for the indicator and how we create  the  indicator showing order.  Just because we can count something doesn’t make it relevant.   A poll among three-year olds on the merits of healthcare reform would not be very instructive.  I could tabulate the height and weight of all the kindergartener on the first day of class and the last day of class.  Can I honestly attribute the success of the teacher that year to the difference realized?  Let’s hope that no one is trying.  But you would be surprised by the number of organizations who are attempting similar fool hardy cause and effect linkages.  What conclusion are we supposed to draw from the charts below?

Plenty of folks have devised causal profitability measures–especially non-financial performance indicators.  If you’re trying to employ meaningful measurements in your business, it’s worth taking a look at the challenges summarized  by two accounting professors and  published in HBR November 2003, “Coming up short on non-financial performance Measurement.”

Bottom line?  There are lots of caveats to our list making, rating preference behavior.  Before determining the task futile, when your own methods  fail to deliver results, I suggest putting each of your measures to a simple test.  Do your underlying assumptions have validity?  How well have they proved themselves to mirror reality?   Doing so will not only help you uncover the real value in your organization but also help you allocate resources to perpetuate both your values and the returns you are ultimately seeking.