Archive for January, 2007

The Managerial Moment of Truth

New course in improving organizational performance is missing link for business leaders and managers

Our capacity to have truthful, effective discussions at all levels defines our organization to our employees, suppliers and customers. The capacity for honest, direct conversation fuels our success, and when it is in short supply, can lead to erroneous decisions, diminished performance, strained relations and missed objectives.

Every day in our practice, we see business leaders and their managers tested with opportunities, large and small, for direct conversations to improve performance. Too often, they falter – it is just too difficult, and too risky, to say what they need to. From departments of huge multinational firms, to partners of the smallest startups, managers are (and need to be) asking: Is there an easier, better way to talk candidly about the stuff that is critical to our success?

MMOTCover150x219This crucial question is at the heart of a course developed first for Blue Shield of California, called: The Managerial Moment of Truth (MMOT). Created by organizational consultant and bestselling author, Robert Fritz, and proven in practice by Bruce Bodaken, CEO at Blue Shield, the course is now available to the public. Ann and I have been very fortunate – we were introduced, during program development, almost a year ago, to the principles found in the course and were the first to present the new training. Here’s an inside look at what we are finding.

For the manager, A Managerial Moment of Truth (MMOT for short) begins with two parts: Recognition and Decision.

  1. It starts the moment we realize that the result is not what we expected. The outcome can be worse than expected, or much better than expected, but there is clearly a difference that matters.
  2. It continues with the very next decision we make: Do we, as manager or leader, decide to open up a discussion to address the discrepancy, or do we turn away from a priceless opportunity to strengthen our organization?

About that “priceless” opportunity – if we can address the difference, change behaviors and learn from the situation, we increase productivity and move closer to the results we, and the organization, want. But since managers often turn away from these opportunities at step 2, we must ask the next question: Why?

Frequently, as managers we don’t bring up the issue when it first arises because we don’t want to stir up emotional conflict – will giving accurate feedback regarding performance hurt the employee’s feelings? Will it (further) demotivate the employee? Will they react badly, leading to increased conflict or retaliation? Few managers seek out conflict, so the path of least resistance is to put the discussion off.

Another common reason we don’t promptly move to discuss such situations is that we speculate. In the training, Fritz brings up an excellent point to consider:

“When you think you know the answer to something, do you ask a question?

As human beings we create theories to explain the unknown. A better approach is to really ask questions about what we don’t know. When we speculate, we think we know what we actually don’t know.”

Whatever the exact reasons, the outcome is the same: a person or group misses the information and feedback they need to improve performance – they can’t change what they don’t know about.

The Managerial Moment of Truth course presents a real alternative for leaders and managers. Helena Hörnebrant, an organizational consultant at Sigma Exallon Sweden, reported the following results from her course participants:

“Two of the top managers said ‘Finally I’ve got tools for my everyday situations. All other management methods just tell you to deal with issues immediately but not how – but the MMOT method really gives me tools to act and help in situations which I normally don’t know how to handle’.”

Our own clients really like the MMOT. As Ann observed:

“It gives them a way to think about and structure a successful conversation about difficult stuff – invaluable for successful implementation. We have seen people starting to use the MMOT very quickly and in crisis situations, picking it up, working with it. We conducted the first Managerial Moment of Truth 6-hour course over two days. Two of our participants, after the first day, leapt in and actually handled a tough MMOT with a problem employee.”

Another client took the opportunity the day after the course to dig into why their management meetings were so very unproductive. They used the techniques from the course, including analysis of design and execution issues. The three managers sent each other e-mails documenting their learning and action plans. The following meeting was significantly better. All participants were well prepared. The team stayed away from off-topic discussion and unnecessary detail. Instead of blaming, individuals took accountability for their results – both good and bad.

There is a real complement between doing a business strategy and participating in the Managerial Moment of Truth training. After an MMOT program, our managers and leaders are more likely to succeed in implementing the changes required by the business strategy. They have the tools with which to study reality, to diagnose problems, and to frame, discuss and implement lasting solutions. The MMOT course helps the business strategies succeed as never before.

Fritz and Bodaken’s excellent book, The Managerial Moment of Truth (Free Press), comes with the training materials. The book, itself, was rated by BusinessWeek as among the “Best Business Books of 2006″. It is available in hardcover and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and all major booksellers, as well as in eBook (pdf) at simonsays.com.

Please contact Ann or Gary Ralston to learn more about the course, and to see if it is right for your management team.

About the Authors: Ann and Gary Ralston founded Ralston Consulting Inc. in 1997 to help business owners and leaders accelerate profitable growth in their organizations. They serve emerging and middle market companies across North America, from divisions of Fortune 500 firms to start-ups and family-owned businesses. They can be reached at info@ralstonconsulting.com, 614-761-1841, or www.ralstonconsulting.com.

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Apple iPhone disrupts yet another product category…

applereinventsphoneSteve Jobs, one of the great showmen of our time, has done it again. Following on the heels of the Apple II, Macintosh, iPod, iTunes and OS X, Jobs demoed the new iPhone at the keynote presentation for MacWorld Expo San Francisco.

Meanwhile, nearly 2500 miles away, in Columbus, Ohio, a group of geeks young and ol… uh, seasoned, were hungrily pushing the refresh button on their browser to get the latest word from Ryan Block, a reporter from Engadget.com covering the closed keynote and posting transcripts and photos to the website in near real time, thanks to the wonders of wireless. (Does anyone remember the press corps running to the phone booth after an announcement to file their breaking news???) Between the four of us, we have owned countless phones from Motorola carphones and handhelds of the 80′s to the latest Treo and Razr and Q, and used almost every cellular service in the region. Any cellular company would be privileged to have us as a focus group.

And we were in awe of what we saw.

yourlifeinyourpocketApple has not taken an incremental approach to improving the cellphone. Instead, as they so often have, they have rewritten the rules of interaction with the device in ways that seem so patently obvious and intuitive that it makes you think: ‘That’s how it should have been done from the start!’ This phone is ALL touchscreen. No stylus. One button on the front. Use one or more fingers at a time to operate it. Beautiful scrolling. Turn it sideways and it automatically goes into widescreen mode. Simple. Except here is Apple, clearly thinking so far ahead of the pack, and already to market – shipping in June from Cingular / AT&T. Explore Apple’s new iPhone, here. See the full presentation, here.

One anonymous quote we saw on the blogs: “Today, it would suck to be any other cellphone manufacturer.” We would agree.

If you haven’t seen Steve Jobs in action, watch Apple’s previously-recorded Keynote presentation, here. Oh – one more thing: they also released a box that plays your digital content on your TV. And changed their name from Apple Computer to Apple, Inc. And had Yahoo and Google onstage at the same event. And ended the presentation with a mini concert from John Mayer. Busy bees…

Now here’s the big business strategy question coming out of Apple’s example: Does your organization see itself as an innovator? Is it putting up the resources and doing the head-hurting thinking, planning and execution required to redefine your product category? If not, what will it REALLY take to rewrite your organization’s destiny?

Photos appropriated, with appreciation, from Engadget.com.

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Innovation – The Toyota Way

ElegantSolutions317x2One million ideas a year. A culture of innovation. An intrinsic belief that good enough never is. Matthew May, a longtime Toyota business partner, shows you how Toyota’s principles and practices will help you engage your creative spirit and bring elegant solutions to your work and life.

This fast-reading article is based upon the book: The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation, by Matthew E. May and Kevin Roberts.

Yet another gem from ChangeThis.com – download here.

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NOT for kids, only…

PixarProcessDiscover how Pixar produces hit movies!

Teens go Behind the Scenes with Pixar’s Ralph Eggleston at this incredible, deep, website produced by the Museum of Modern Art’s Red Studio:  redstudio.moma.org. Thanks to Tom and Claudia Trusty (www.trustyandcompany.com) for bringing this great site to our attention.

How does your business intend to capture its audience effectively? How do you structure the customer experience?

ph_saxsmallPractice an instrument with a real band, from your own home!

InTheChair.com is cutting-edge music education software that lets you practice by performing over the Internet with professional musicians, bands and renowned orchestras. See the video here, and wish you had this when YOU were in band!

What else could your business do from a distance that was previously thought to be impossible except in-person?

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Web Business Tools Ready for Prime Time

KeyonCap213x141Here’s a collection of tools we use to increase our business networks, business communication and business effectiveness. Sure, many web tools are overhyped, but we actually count upon these tools. Check them out, try them on, and let us know how they work for you.

linkedinlogoLinkedIn.com is an online network of more than 8.5 million experienced professionals from around the world, representing 130 industries. (Think Myspace and Facebook for the Executive Business Crowd). Last month, my “network”, (described as direct contacts, friends of friends, and their friends, all whom I can contact directly) grew by almost 5,000 people. Ann and I are pleased to see that many of our most trusted clients and colleagues are already “LinkedIn”, and we invite you to join us!

ctlogo_lightblue3CopyTalk.com was made for the busy exec who lives on a Mobile Phone or a BlackBerry. Their Mobile Scribe package (US$59.95/month) gives you unlimited 4-minute dictations. You can make these dictations using any phone and the transcriptions will be converted to text and delivered via email or secure site the same day! During our tryout, Ann and I dictated post-meeting notes, and found that in most cases, and despite using jargon, a remarkably accurate transcript would reach our inbox within 2 hours. While we don’t currently subscribe to this tool, if our volume of meetings and summaries goes up, we’ll be signing up quick!

Update: Our contact at CopyTalk, Chris Clayton, saw this posting and gave us a call. Chris was a great helping us out during our demo period, and will do likewise for our readers. Tell him you saw it at ralstonconsulting.com. Sign up and your second month will be free. Then, for each account you refer, he’ll give you a free month of service. (Ginsu knives not included…) :-)

skype_logo_screenSkype.com, with over 100 million subscribers and free or cheap chat, voice or video calls to anyone on any phone in the world, may be the fastest-growing technology ever. What really told me Skype.com had become mainstream was when, in the same week, I Skyped with my 83-year-old mother, Ann video-Skyped with a client in Zurich, and my dear techno-challenged colleague Skyped to Africa. Skype is pricing their services to be incredibly disruptive to the usual players: $14.95 / YEAR for unlimited outbound calling to conventional telephones through the US and Canada.

Getting connected is everything: After working with Polycom videoconference products, as well as all the consumer-grade products, such as AOL Video for Instant Messenger, I can tell you that the first hurdle of voice and video calling everywhere is NOT sound or picture quality – it’s getting through all the firewalls to connect in the first place! Here, Skype shines, showing an uncanny ability to connect without complaint wherever I travel. Connection is not perfect, and sound quality ranges from crystal clear to that of a mobile phone, but it really works as a cheap or free conference system that is easy to use. Global travelers are increasingly relying on PDA’s with WIFI and Skype to stay connected reliably and affordably wherever they are.

Now here’s a tip for laptop users: since most laptops have built-in microphones, just use a pair of headphones or a Bluetooth headset to improve sound quality and eliminate echo. Have several users? Use a Skype for Business account to manage them more cost-effectively.

WO_LogoWebEx Weboffice.com is a moderately inexpensive, reasonably reliable cross-platform way to share your computer screen with one or more people, anywhere in the world. For $75 / month, we gain a single virtual conference room, with unlimited use (we pretty much ignore the rest of weboffice – too costly). In our collaboration testing this summer, Webex Weboffice narrowly beat out GotoMeeting.com ($39/month for single account, annual contract, and our recommendation for Windows-only businesses [see update, below!]), Adobe Acrobat Connect, IPXConnect.com, and our old favorite, Timbuktu from Netopia.com. While not necessarily the easiest to set up and manage, WebEx has a good network. The connections are fast, reliable, work on Mac and PC and can scale (if we pay for it) to thousands of participants. That said, seemingly EVERYTHING else about Webex is available cheaper and often better elsewhere. Watch out for their high e-mail, storage and teleconference rates – we use alternate services. Contact Steve Boss at Webex for more info.

UPDATE 2007-9-18: We are now using GatherPlace.net and it’s “premium” package with advanced teleconferencing features. For us, it is better and cheaper than WebEx. While it doesn’t have videoconferencing, as WebEx does, it is cross-platform, reasonably stable, nice and fast, offers remote support, requires no client software other than Java, and has flexible pricing starting at $29 / month, and scaling from 5 to 2,000 guests. I like the fact that I can create custom-named “rooms”. I create one for each client or project – a nice personal touch. We pay $43 per month, 1 concurrent session 5 guests, premium audio. We like it so well, we joined their affiliate program.

UPDATE 2008-5-9: The playing field has changed again. Recently, we have had enough problems with GatherPlace on the Mac that we have discontinued our account. In the meantime, WebEx for Mac has been upgraded, and now seems more stable. It includes point-to-point video for up to six locations, but we get best stability with the video off. In addition, network giant, Cisco, bought the company. We now have two accounts at WebEx. This pattern, of competitors pulling ahead in popularity and market share, only to fall and be lapped by another, is commonplace in the world of IT.

UPDATE 2008-7-23 AGAIN! Citrix GoToMeeting 4.0 now fully supports Mac computers as Hosts and Clients, and has VOIP built-in. The product was simply amazing on the PC for screen sharing when we tested it in 2007. The parent company, Citrix, are past masters at streaming PC screens at amazingly low bandwidth. While GoToMeeting doesn’t have single or multi-point video as WebEx does, GoToMeeting is a real contender at half the cost, with much faster first session setup and an easier-to-learn interface than WebEx. We’ll keep you posted

UPDATE 2009-8-24: We use Webex.com, having left WebOffice behind. STILL too costly on the phone side, but REALLY good Mac client, just updated last week.

So now you have it – tools you can really use to save time and money while accelerating business growth. If you have another good one you can count on, let us know!

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Web 2.0 Summit – Latest Internet trends touch more businesses than ever

pic_youtubelogo_123x63In March 2006, for the first time, people spent more online minutes watching video than reading webpages. If Skype were a wireless phone company, it would rank #3, worldwide. Craigslist, one of the top 10 Internet sites of 2005 (by pageviews), with only 18 employees, disrupted the US $15 billion classified ad industry!

How will these trends, and many others explored at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco this November, affect your business? Go inside with Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Eric Schmidt of Google, and other top Internet luminaries to discover what your business needs to know about Web 2.0…

Read Troy Angrignon’s in-depth, firsthand report, here:

Read the “State of the Internet” presentation by Mary Meeker, of Morgan Stanley, here:

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Monday, January 8th, 2007 Business Insights, Main Page, Technology No Comments

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