Why I Run from RFP’s

Standard

As a professional, I have always run away from RFP’s (Requests for Proposal.)

Only recently have I come to understand why my stomach churns and I politely demur, when I am told that several companies will be bidding on a solution.

An article on Allan Weiss — known as the consultant’s consultant — helps to point the way. He argues that a client that insists on taking charge of a selling process, and buying primarily on price is making a grave error. Click here for the article.

Also, Jeff Thull who wrote the recently release “Exceptional Selling” argues that winning an RFP is akin to winning the lottery, and is overly focused on the customer’s buying process rather than their decision process.

I agree with them both.

If I were about to have surgery, or hire a lawyer to represent me in a death penalty case in which I am the defendant, I would not think of creating an RFP.

The stakes are just too high for the decision to be made in this manner.

In like manner, an important consulting engagement cannot be reduced to simple to understand decision criteria, and the more important the stakes, the more complex the solution, and the less amenable it is to simple categories of comparison.

Given that my firm specializes in high-stake interventions, the presence of an RFP is an indicator that this job is probably not for me.

P.S.
The only exception I might make could be companies or governments that are restricted from doing business any other way by law. The same principles would apply however, and it’s not too hard to see where management treats the RFP as a smokescreen, rather than a necessary evil to be endured.

P.P.S. After wasting some more more on yet another RFP that went nowhere, I came across the following article:  Why You Should Ignore RFP’s.

Structuring a Game

Standard

A few months ago I read the most interesting article that is still available on the internet on how to structure software apps by “Putting the Fun in Functional”.

It was one of the most insightful presentation I ever saw, and it only came to me via a friend of mine.

The presenter, Amy Jo Kim, talks about what makes video games, or any worthwhile experience, a sticky one — in the sense that the experience is one that people want to return to time and time again. She dissected the experience to distill the principles underlying the design of good online websites.

Here are the five principles:

  1. Collecting
    People like games that allow them to collect stuff, and show off their collections. Think of the attraction of baseball cards, stamps, coins, paintings, antique furniture, marathons. They particularly like the idea of completing sets, like doing a marathon in each of the 50 states, or all the stamps in a set. A complete set gains more bragging rights than individual pieces.

  2. Points
    People like an opportunity to gain points. They like the idea of being able to increase a score, and love it when they can redeem points for other gifts, and also to use points to compare with other people who are also collecting.

    Frequent flyer programs are classic point-based games.When points are assigned, it becomes possible to assign levels, such as different levels of frequent flyers.

  3. Feedback
    People like to receive feedback, and to find out whether they are on track or not. If system or a person can givem ongoing coaching on how close to they are to some target, the more they are likely to engage in it.

  4. Exchanges
    Sticky systems allow the members of the community to interface with each other either to create open conversation, share information, trade content, give gifts or acknowledge success.

  5. Customization
    When a user can customize their experience to suit their own tastes, they are quite likely to return to use it again and again. At times, the system does the customization for them (like telling them the time they last logged in, or by recommending books to read a la Amazon.)


I am trying to include as many of these ways of thinking into the design of the 2Time Management system.

Basically, the idea is a simple one. I believe that I can design a superstructure around 2Time that will allow a user to:

  1. Collect belts as they move from one level to another, along with a certificate and some other tangible award.

  2. Gain points as they add different skills, and move up from one belt level to another

  3. Gain feedback from a coach as they move up from one belt level to another. Also, as part of an online community, they will be able to gain feedback and ideas from others who are also a looking to improve their time management skills

  4. Exchange tips and celebrate accomplishments as users move from one belt level to another.

  5. This is one part I don’t know how to do. The entire 2Time Mgt system is based on the idea that each person’s needs are different, and that they must continuously be customizing their time management system. Perhaps that is all that is needed – a way to be recognized for having a unique system and a way to change it on an ongoing basis in a structured way.

    Maybe this customization can continue in their relationship with a coach and a community who understands their idiosyncrasies, and can look at a chart of their progress to date and help them to move from one level to another.

    One way that they can help to customize the course itself is by contributing to the design, by adding in their own experience, perhaps through a wiki, and certainly through the 2Time blog. Perhaps in exchange for a certain quality of input and involvement in improving the system, a user can gain points that helps them to advance to the highest level.


For those who might be interested in deep game mechanics, here is an excerpt from the lostgarden blog.

Game mechanics are rule based systems / simulations that facilitate and encourage a user to explore and learn the properties of their possibility space through the use of feedback mechanisms.

It is a simple definition, but it offers a good amount of insight into why games work and how we can make them better.

Feedback loops
Central to the model is the concept of feedback loops that encourage learning. Here is a diagram that should explain the concept in a more visual format:

(click to expand the diagram)

  • Player performs an action.
  • The action causes an effect within the simulated game world. The simulation contains public and private tokens and the causal rules that affect the states of the tokens. The player rarely knows all the rules and is highly unlikely to be able to instantly describe the complete possibility space described by the rules. The unknown portion of the simulation is a “black box” that the player must attempt to decipher.
  • The player receives feedback.
  • With new tools and information in hand, the player performs another action. Using what we’ve learned, we pursue additional pleasure.


Surviving an Acquisition

Standard

In the news these past few weeks there have been some significant announcements related to acquisitions across the Caribbean region.

One major acquisition that was announced for the first time was that of Neal and Massy’s takeover of BS&T — Barbados’ biggest company.

Also in the news is the announcement that the principals of DB&G (which was acquired by Scotiabank) are leaving the company at the end of June.

Although the LIAT/Caribbean Star merger has not been in the news of late, the sale has still not been completed, although it has been scheduled to happen on June 15th.

The common factor between all three actions is that they were all announced as “mergers of equals.”

The result?

They are actually turning out to be acquisitions, and not mergers.

Lest anyone think that this is a strange occurrence, history is littered with examples of announced mergers that turned out to actually be acquisitions, including AOL-TimeWarner, Daimler-Chrysler, HewlettPackard/Compaq and Sports Authority/Gart.

The fact is that executives almost always start out using merger language in public, unless the takeover is hostile. In fact, they are undergoing acquisitions, especially with respect to the corporate cultures.

It is not too hard to tell who the cultural winner is — the executives of the company being acquired usually don’t last very long.

In a Framework article entitled “Merger of Equals? Equal Shmequal!” by Amie Devero, she argued that a merger is not possible, in cultural terms. (The article can be downloaded by sending email to fwc-equals@aweber.com.) Also, the recent April 2007 Harvard Business Review article entitled Human Due Diligence makes the point that companies often fail to recognize the “cultural acquirer” when undertaking these activities, to their detriment.

While these questions are certainly of issue to shareholders, it is the employees that bear the brunt of initial miscommunication.

They hear talk of “a merger of equals” “nothing will change,” “no layoffs, ” “business as usual” and “the same management will continue.” Given the public track record of mergers to date, they have every reason to be concerned.

Why?

When senior management insists that a merger of equals is underway it may be good for shareholders to hear and believe that the executives between the two companies are planning to harmoniously co-exist in some way. However, it is often a misleading statement for employees.

History shows that employees are much safer believing that a merger actually means that

  • each and every job function will be examined for possible overlaps, and that it is likely that at least some jobs will disappear
  • one company will be culturally dominant over the other
  • one set of executives will remain, while the other will depart
  • there will be major changes and new order will make itself known over time (after all, isn’t that the point of the exercise?)

This is not to say that these are bad outcomes — often they are the best things that can happen to the new, combined company. In the free market of management styles and approaches, let the best company and management team prevail.

However, the problem stems from the fact that most executives in both companies start out by mis-leading their people.

In the very way they announce the “merger” their own people can detect the lie.

It’s a little like a bad version of the Brady Bunch — each parent tell their children that a marriage is about to happen to join two families together, and… “by the way… in case you kids were wondering… nothing will change.”

Executives the world over leading acquisitions persist in painting an ultra-rosy picture of the future for their employees. Their inauthenticity is palpable.

It seems that often, they buy into their own “story,” an even in the colossal failures like AOL-TimeWarner and Daimler-Chrysler, they seem to be able to maintain a scary insistence that all is well, even when everyone in the real world knows that it is not.

What can executives do differently?

In a prior blog I wrote about what I called “High Tone Managers.” These managers focus on being relentlessly positive, to the point that their employees come to distrust everything they say because they are the ones saying it.

An executive leading an acquisition would do much better by being authentic and saying some version of the following, if true:

  • we are about to undergo a very difficult change
  • this is a friendly acquisition (if it is)
  • the odds are against us being successful
  • we think the risk is worth it
  • the culture that we intend to create will hopefully take the best of both companies
  • some jobs will be retrenched, but we are hoping that no people will be forced to leave the company
  • the reasons we are doing this is ….
  • it will take all of us working together to pull it off

The point here is that an acquisition is a shock, and that people will go through the changes they need to go through in order to adapt to it. It is not unlike the 5 phases of grief a survivor journeys through upon the death of a loved one, as defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.

Employees need to be helped to go through these stages as quickly as possible, en masse. Their feelings at each point must be validated, acknowledged and given room to live, if even for an instant.

If executives do their job well, employees can be like soldiers rallying to a cause that is greater than themselves.

However, if the job is done poorly, as it usually is, the result is that employees feel like victims who need to protect themselves from something terrible, that their own parents are inflicting upon them for their own benefit.

In Caribbean companies, the employee mood doesn’t get much worse than this.

Networking Articles in the Gleaner

Standard

This week, there were a couple of articles on the topic of networking in the Gleaner, referencing some of the work of Framework Consulting.

May 15th

An article entitled: Building an Online Presence was written primarily for young professionals in the JobSmart section of the Gleaner Online

May 16th

Also, an article entitled: Networking: Moving Beyond the Cocktail Circuit summarizing the JEF convention 2007 speech recently given.

On Implementing Caribbean CRM

Standard

I recently attended a conference in Kingston on the topic of CRM and its implementation.

While I am no expert on the topic itself, I was asked to contribute a few words to the pre-conference newsletter. The conference was put on by a friend of mine, and included a presenter who happens to be my second cousin.

Attending the conference had me reflect on the efforts I am engaged in to use CRM for my own business, and also on some of the ways in which CRM is not practiced here in the Caribbean.

I suspect that Jamaica is representative of the region in many ways.

When I lived in the US, I, like many professionals, lived in an environment in which un-requested advertising — junk mail and spam — were a fact of life. Giving away contact information was always a question of how much unwanted advertising one would receive in return.

Here in Jamaica, however, just about no-one is interested in who I am, or in using targeted mail or even email.

Not that I miss being blasted with useless paper each day that only ended up in the garbage.

However, the fact that I have not even gotten advertising addressed to “Occupant” tells me something about the way in which local companies are not using even basic, bread and butter techniques. The fact that I live in a fairly affluent uptown community only adds to the mystery.

When I shop, bank or otherwise do daily business, only one or two companies have ever asked me for my email address or phone number. None of the one or two companies has effectively followed up with me after gathering the info. I can only recall a single company that did call me, and I seem to have fallen off their radar.

When the gym membership for my wife and I expired recently, we seem to have been the only ones that noticed. We received no calls, no mail, not a single email, and, it seems, no interest in continuing our infrequently used membership.

This all makes me think that the primary challenge in implementing CRM in Jamaica has nothing to do with the software or IT. Instead, it has everything to do with causing a shift away from mass-advertising to one-to-one advertising.

I recall up until a few months ago before moving, that trucks would pass by on Constant Spring Road mounted with speakers turned up to full volume – the better to be heard above the din of traffic and music.

It is classic interruption advertising conducted Jamaican style, turned up to “full hundred” levels.

Yet, the irony is that no-one really buys anything important in Jamaica without consulting the people in their network. In this small country, who you know and what they know is critical to getting things done, and the practice of asking for advice is the hallmark of the efficient professional.

Also, just about everyone in Jamaica carries a cell-phone that receives text-messages.

It seems to me that we are long overdue for a change to a form of that the uses brains as opposed to brawn, finesse as opposed to force. Since trust is the key currency of the land, and who you know is all important, companies that figure out how to gather the kind of information they need to build trust and learn who the customer trusts personally, will do very well.

They will however, have to demonstrate a key characteristic that our companies seem to lack in their marketing efforts – courage.

The first company that commits to building one-to-one relationships will probably make some very big mistakes in the beginning, and will probably face being shut down by the powers that be. However, if they persevere and are determined how to learn to do it right, I think that they would make themselves indispensable to thousands, including myself.

One Page Digest 14.0

Standard

Framework One-Page DigestIssue 14.0

Links

Blogger (hosting site): If the word “blog” means nothing to you, then you are missing out on an interconnected world of ideas and information on the topics you care most about. See our company blog as an example, and check out our links to others and if you get inspired, create your own blog at Blogger. The cost? 5 minutes and $0.

PBwiki.com (wiki service): If you also don’t know what a wiki is, don’t panic! Take a breath, and browse over to this site that offers a powerful tool for jointly sharing and creating information with your project colleagues sitting in Montego Bay, Port of Spain and Georgetown. The shared space you create with them will replace all the hassle of going back and forth using email.

The Service Inventory (customer experience paper): The places at which your customers experience your company and make their judgements are known as touchpoints. This Framework paper describes a method for gathering and analyzing them, in order to produce a consistent and differentiated customer experience.

GoogleEarth (a real time-waster!): I can think of no practical use for GoogleEarth, except to have fun. And it delivers! Find satellite pictures of the exact spots on the planet where you live, were born, went to school, got baptised, … everything you can think of. It is all somewhat unnerving, however, in these terror-ridden times.

Did you miss the Framework blog discussion?
Internet Networking: Are you proactively creating your personal brand on the internet, or waiting for other people to create it for you — without your knowledge? Click on this link to see why you should be taking steps now to correct false information and give regional users a rounded view insight into who you really are. Click here.

About This E-mail

The Framework One-Page Digest is produced monthly by Francis Wade of Framework Consulting, Inc. and is intended to provide E-level managers with a reliable source of new ideas for managing Caribbean companies. To join the mail list, visit http://urlcut.com/digest and follow the instructions to subscribe to FrameworkDigest, source of the One Page Digest. Past issues can also be found at http://urlcut.com/digesthome.

You are receiving this mailing because you are listed as a friend of Framework Consulting. To remove yourself from this mailing, send email to newsletter@fwconsulting.com with the words REMOVE in the subject line, or visit http://urlcut.com/digest. To ensure delivery, add fwconsulting.com to your address book as an approved sender.

Framework Consulting Inc, 3389 Sheridan Street #434, Hollywood FL 33021

Taking the Hard Road

Standard

Managers (and parents) have the very difficult job of leading others, but are often amazed when others do not take their advice.

The obvious and most frequent response is to blame those who refuse to take the coaching for their attitude, laziness and lack of discipline.

Yet, it is the rare manager who takes Gandhi seriously: “If you want to change the world, become the first change.”

In a culture change initiative, for example, mangers come up with a list of new “values” that they continually exhort their employees to follow. They repeat them in speeches, create colorful posters and pass out lists of values to be displayed prominently in each cubicle.

When the lackadaisical results are realized, it is the brave manager who is willing to discover what was wrong in their approach, rather than to seek fault in others.

The good news is that the brave manager who sincerely asks these questions and shares the process they are engaged in openly with their employees is demonstrating some powerful behaviours.

  1. They are showing the importance of being willing to struggle openly in living the values
  2. They are teaching the process of living the values, rather than the process of “talking about” the values
  3. They are demonstrating courage by showing their weaknesses, rather than demonstrating arrogance by showing their “strength” in living the values.

If authenticity is the currency used to build trust, then the managers who demonstrate these behaviours are more likely to be followed by their employees, and are more likely to engage in the challenge of living by a new set of values. This is a powerful place to start, albeit infrequently observed.

Links to JEF Speech

Standard

Here is a summary of the speech given over the weekend to the JEF Convention 2007. To access the speech, check the following links:

For Audio: http://fwconsulting.podomatic.com/

For the Slides: http://www.slideshare.net/fwade/networking-strategies-for-the-csme-professional

Here is the press release:

New ways to network for Caribbean Managers

Kingston, Jamaica, May 5, 2007: Attendees at the JEF Convention 2007 in Ocho Rios on May 5th, 2007 were challenged to upgrade their networking skills to keep pace with the threats and opportunities of CSME. The speech they attended at the conference was entitled “Networking Strategies for the new Breed of Caribbean Managers.”

The workshop was lead by Francis Wade, a Jamaican consultant and President of Framework Consulting In., headquartered in Hollywood Florida, USA. Mr. Wade, the founder of the 14 year-old firm, has been working with companies in Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica to address business issues that have a particularly difficult people dimension. During that time he has had to develop some innovative techniques for networking that “violate accepted wisdom.”

In his speech, Mr. Wade noted that the old ways of networking – on the golf course and on the cocktail circuit – were only suited for a small subset of professionals. He said “business-people who force themselves to attend these kinds of events give networking a bad name.”

Instead, he advocated an authentic approach that anyone can follow, building on real commitments, rather than manufactured interests. He gave the following 10 tips:

1) Be Brave: Don’t follow the crowd, and allow yourself to be distinctly different from everyone else

2) Know What You Are Passionate About: Pursue whatever area of interest you have, and become an expert in that, rather than following areas that are popular, “logical” or even areas in which you have current skills but no real interest

3) Drop the Miami mind: Think of yourself as a Caribbean professional rather than having half your mind in the USA, Canada or England

4) Reach Out From Your Interests: Take the areas you are passionate about, and find others in the Caribbean who share them

5) Ignore Distractions: If someone tells you what you “should” be doing to network, and it doesn’t fit your natural interests, ignore them! Also, if the actions you take feel forced or contrived, stop them.

6) Embrace Internet Technology: If you have a distrust of new technology or the internet, overcome it, knowing that your future as a professional is inextricably tied to how you are presented in cyberspace

7) Google Yourself: Use a Google search to see what is already being said about you on the internet. Make this your baseline

8) Design an Online Self-Portrait: Define the online “portrait” of your accomplishments, skills and interests that you would like people to see on the internet

9) Actively Participate: Join in and contribute to online discussions related to your areas of interest especially if they are Caribbean based. If they don’t exist today, create them by sending out invitations to regional partners

10) Write!: Find interesting ways to use ezines, blogs and mentions on web-pages to share your thoughts on your authentic areas of interest. Write frequently!

The Bottom Line is that professionals must take advantage of the changes coming with CSME and the existence of internet technology to network in a way that feels natural. While our literacy rate in Jamaica puts us at a disadvantage compared to countries such as Trinidad and Barbados, we are often seen as being more assertive and outgoing, and we should use this to our advantage.