Archive for April, 2014

Email – Does it do more bad than good?


I got yet another reminder from Outlook today that my email box was full and I need to clean-up my old emails. Which got me thinking…..

Many years back, I worked for a CFO, who was probably one of the best when it came to emails; his response to emails were very selective, and to the point; most of his emails were short, like, ‘yes’, ‘no’, and when it came to anything controversial, or needed explanation, it would read ‘call me’. He was one of the smartest and most politically savvy person I worked for, and not surprisingly, he has done very well for himself.

Which brings me to the topic of email and whether it does more bad than good. Emails tend to fly around an organization like a unguided missile, causing destruction, getting bigger and bigger with comments being added as they go around, forwarded, replied, and re-forwarded. Most of the times, emails do not convey your message very accurately anyway- because written (and sometimes even spoken) words are subject to interpretation by the reader- and unless you are there to clarify what they mean, the reader(s) is going to take whatever message they interpret- leading to even more confusion.

Then there are individuals who have this irresistible urge to respond to every email they get (or are copied on); they want to be the first to respond to all and every emails, irrespective of whether their response has any real value or content.

And, the most annoying, there are those who hit ‘reply all’ (yes, I too have been guilty of these..). Especially irritable are the ones who hit reply all to mass or general emails like farewells, announcements, etc. I really don’t care that you think the newborn has great blue eyes, because my eyes are getting bleary having to read all these emails.

People tend to be more aggressive and indiscreet in the virtual world than in person- so aggressions in emails tend to escalate fast and soon it becomes a virtual fist-fight; even worse, it is now on record and can and will be used against you @ the most inappropriate moment. When emails were limited to laptops and desktops, you had the time to think before responding to emails. With the capability of writing and responding to emails from everywhere with your hand-held, it has become even more reactionary and incendiary – many are the cryptic email arguments that have started from a hand-held device.

Worse, emails written by you could be used by the recipient inappropriately or inaccurately; suddenly you are in the middle of a controversy that you never intended to start and you do not find out about it until you get your own email back @ the bottom of a hundred responses from various individuals….. it is like a bomb getting bigger and bigger as it flies around the organization, gathering size and intensity.

Hence my blog that emails tend to cause more bad than good…..

Going back to my CFO, after I sent out an accusatory email that was soon flying around causing destruction, he called me into his office and gently told me, ‘maybe you should think the effect of your emails before sending them’. While not always successful, I sometimes write an email, re-read it, and even as my fingers are itching to hit the ‘send’ button, I hit the ‘delete’ button instead.

If I ever have a company of my own (chances of which are slim, since I am spending all my time writing these blogs), here are some rules (and technologies) I would impose:

  • Responding ‘reply all’ to generic emails is an automatic 1000 fine (yes, this is big- like a solo driver using the carpool lane)
  • You are limited to sending no more than 20 emails a day – similar to the # of red flags a coach can throw in the NFL – you save your emails for the real ones
  • To send an email, you have to press 3 keys simultaneously (or you have to access the send button via a complex menu – Microsoft, are you listening…)
  • Email responses (via all devices) have an automatic wait period before they get send – similar to the delay they build into broadcasting, to edit inappropriate language- so the sender has a chance to cancel the send

And now to off to go read the 100 or so emails I probably received while I was writing this blog…….





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Priceline… what are they doing right?


I was looking @ some stock prices in Google finance and noticed this anomaly in travel agency stock prices; while PCLN is @ around $1200, the rest of them are all under $1oo, some of them single digits. Some of this could be explained by their 1 to 6 reverse stock split, but that cannot explain the price of $1200. Market cap for PCLN is $62B- that is a big # for a travel company. Any explanation on what they are doing right?

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Ah! Spring is here and so are the plants….

Ah! Spring is here and so are the plants....

Japanese Maple replanted in its new pot


plants 2

New Hosta Plant


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The need for operational excellence (and subsequently, a Chief Operating Officer)

Small companies and start-ups often get off to a good start because of good product(s) combined with good marketing. As the company grows, it hires more sales people and product developers, one to increase demand and penetration, and the other to ensure adequate supply.

An area often overlooked or sub optimized is the operations; the company gets so caught up in increasing its revenues that it loses focus on the operational aspects of the business. Even if there is some focus on operations, the right person is not assigned to manage this area. And here is my theory behind it….

Companies are started by sales people and/or engineers- and their focus is in selling or product engineering. When the company is small with a small list of customers, it is easy to manage the supply/demand situation as well as the underlying operations. However, as the company grows and increases its customer base and potentially the complexity of their requirements, the need for focus on the operational aspects of the biz becomes critical.

While the sales people are out there promising the world to the customer (and prospects), and engineers are busy with product design and features, it is the head of operations, who ensures there is enough supply for the demand being created, and the output meets the desired quality. The head of operations also works with the head of finance to ensure there is enough working capital to keep the shop floor running. He/she also advises the sales people when to turn down an order because of lack of adequate capacity- a skill a sales person is not trained to do, and the engineers what feature(s) is going to be difficult to build and scale – a discipline the engineer does not usually have (since they are too enamored by the features of their product – read the biography on Steve Jobs, you will know what I am talking about).

The head of operations (or chief operating officer) plays in important role in developing and constantly improving the operational excellence of the organization, using data and KPIs; they have to be good @ forecasting, identifying vendor risks, personnel needs and challenges, and the optimal use of all types of resources. Amidst the chaos and ad-hoc nature typical of a company in its infancy, the COO also brings in much needed processes,  discipline, and structure which is often lacking. They are disciplined in their thought process, and tend to be less carried away by unrealistic expectations, and promises, typical of sales people.

Companies that do not recognize the need for the COO, often find that they have overcommitted to their customers (a sales focused issue), have quality issues, and are unable to meet commitments and deadlines. In addition, while they may be profitable @ a unit level, their bottom-line is suffering because of over-capacity, excess inventory, and sub-optimal operational efficiency. Worse, they may be losing repeat customers because of a lack of consistency in the quality and standard of the deliverables.

A good chief operating officer is priceless for an organization of any size and in any industry and has a seat in the table with the CEO. The COO, allows the CEO to focus on strategic areas and in growing the business without worrying about the availability of the right item for the right customer with the best possible quality.

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The importance and value of a backup stakeholder

We have heard about the importance of a stakeholder to ensure the success of the project. Every article and white-paper written about the keys to the success of a project talk about the stakeholder- and the more influential the stakeholder, the better.

What is seldom talked about is the need for a back-up stakeholder. What do I mean? You identify the stakeholder @ the start of the project and leverage him/her to get the necessary support and backing from the larger organization. Even when there is a group of stakeholders, there is usually one person, who is the lead stakeholder with the most interest (and hopefully passion) in the successful completion and roll-out of the project.

However, we live in a constantly changing environment, with people moving out of their roles, and sometimes even changing jobs. When a key person leaves a company, it creates a power vacuum and someone else will step in to fill the void. Now, if the person leaving happened to be the biggest supporter of your project, you are suddenly exposed and you have no idea if the support for your project is going to continue. This is especially true in a very divided organization where individuals have strong likes and dislikes and opinions.

To mitigate this risk, it is a good practice to have a back-up stakeholder identified and prepped; you want to identify someone who is strong, is aligned with the project goals and objectives, and can potentially step up if and when the primary stakeholder leaves.

I have seen and heard of many projects fail because of a shift in the stakeholder- my guess would be that there was no secondary stakeholder identified and when the primary stakeholder left, there was nobody to back-up the project.

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Beware of the inspirational manager/supervisor/leader without substance

Many of us have @ one time or the other, come across inspirational leaders, in the form of a supervisor, team lead, or self-appointed leader. They motivate you to follow certain paths or go do things that seem counter-intuitive; their approach goes against everything you believe in or know is right; and yet, you follow their directive (or direction, depending on whether it is a supervisor or not). It is easy to come under their spell- they are strong, have conviction, and seem to have it all figured out. Beware….. and wake up and smell the coffee.

Validate their directive against actual facts and data, especially if the individual has little to no experience in the space. Lack of experience or knowledge does not stop these ‘leaders’ from trying to force their convictions on others- because, by their very nature, they are forceful and are often, sorry to say, so full of themselves, not in touch with reality. For them, their ‘leadership’ quality justifies everything.

Don’t get me wrong – there are examples of great motivational leaders- like Gandhi, MLK, JFK, Steve Jobs; these leaders had substance and in most cases based their convictions on certain facts and data. Steve Jobs did not try and give guidance on how the economy should be run; he focused in his area of expertise. He pushed his people to their max and helped them achieve their potential (though his means may be questioned by many!).

Inspirational leaders without substance and the right background can be downright dangerous for those they are leading and for the cause itself; they take diametrically opposite positions often just to prove their leadership – the only purpose for these positions is to show their leadership and provide them an opportunity to shine- it is all about them.

Such leaders are however fickle; when things start going wrong, they will be first ones to bail on you, leaving you standing lone with ‘your cause’ and ‘your position’. They have already found something else that looks more attractive and will give them a chance to get on the pedestal.

A good leader is not about himself or herself; they are focused on the success of the cause and do not want any attention to themselves. They base their guidance on recommendations on facts and good data; they ensure the team and the cause comes first and when things start going wrong, are the first to step up and take blame. They are people oriented and focus on the betterment of their team.

What has your experience been?

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Data Analytics Adoption – Its the people, stupid…..

Everyone and their brother is involved in data analysis, data science, KPIs. Big Data; it’s data, data, data, everywhere. This includes SW vendors, consulting firms, and data specialists, pushing their solutions, and strategies on data analytics. While there is a lot of value in data analysis, a fundamental requirement to make data analysis successful in an organization is the voice from the top and a buy-in from the executives on the strategy, and goals of the CEO. I am narrating (blogging) a life experience to substantiate my theory.

Several years ago, I was tasked with developing and deploying enterprise-level KPIs and metrics to enable our company to achieve certain organizational and operational efficiencies. The initiative originated from the CEO and the company had engaged a top-tier management consulting firm to help identify the right KPIs and metrics for this exercise.

My team worked with the management consulting firm to define, and refine the metrics and try and get consensus from all the EVPs; I vividly remember a big debate about how to calculate and report Headcount – to get to their target, some of the EVPs were arguing strongly for including, temps, open requisitions, and part-time employees. Next thing you know, there was a big discussion about who would be considered a ‘temp’, versus ‘full time’ – it was all in the definition.

After much debate and discussion, the consulting company finally got the agreement on the definitions of the KPIs and we rolled out the metrics company wide- and right away, the s….. hit the fan. VPs and EVPs whose metrics were not within the target range started attacking the data itself – offense is the best form of defense. Fortunately, we had good data governance and cadence and were able to substantiate the veracity of our metrics with the underlying data for the most part. But it was not without its challenges….

One incident stands out in my mind – I got called by the GM of a large division to his office; in front of him were 3 or 4 excel reports which he was manually cross-checking against the details behind our system generated KPI for spans and layers. He showed me how we had missed 10 employees and his list had 10 more employees than our KPI had captured. I was caught a bit off guards because I did not expect a GM to be sitting down and manually validating data. Upon recovering from the shock, I reasoned with the GM that it was only 10 counts, and not a big deal, given the data volume size. And here was his response – and this is the punch-line to this whole blog, and provides perspective to the blog title. He said:

“Yes, it may only be 10, but with the 10 included, my KPI goes up from 3.75 to 3.80 – 3.80 is closer to the 4.0 target, looks better, and easier to explain than 3.75”.

The GM, like many of his peers, had not bought into the whole exercise and its underlying cause, and without the right tone from the top, and not being aligned with the CEO on the corporate objectives, was looking @ this as something he had to get a ‘pass’ on. This is the challenge with rolling out enterprise-wide analytics; until and unless there is buy-in about the intent of the data, there will be resistance to adoption and acceptance. Else, such exercises and their outcome will be viewed as a stick instead of a tool for improvement.

I have had more success in deploying analytics by providing senior execs and GMs data and analytics that they can use internally (within their department) to manage their business better – for example, spend analytics, revenue and margin trends, etc. These internal metrics/KPIs are not viewed as a threat because these are not corporate mandated, not used to compare the different BUs, and do not have to be presented to the CEO during quarterly review in front of a bunch of people; instead these are analytics and metrics used to fine-tune the operations of the specific division and driven/mandated by the GM/EVP themselves. If these metrics/analytics help the individual(s) achieve their goals, they will help promote the program to deploy corporate metrics (since they now view these as enablers instead of a threat).

Hence the title of the blog……

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