Reflect and Celebrate this Labor Day

August 29, 2012

In America, we celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday in September – September 3rd this year. For you international readers, Labour Day might be celebrated at other times, depending upon where you live. May and October are popular alternatives.

Labor Day in America is intended to celebrate the contributions and achievements of our workers. (It also is a symbolic end of summer.) Over the years, American workers have built cities and a strong transportation infrastructure that includes highways, railways and air transportation. Workers have built tremendous companies, producing automobiles, planes, computer hardware and software. We put men on the moon and brought them back safely – an important piece of our acceptance criteria. The list is endless.

As we acknowledge the achievements of workers, we should also recognize that much as what we have accomplished in the past was done through significant effort. But sometimes we value the wrong things. Working long and hard may indicate commitment, but there are times when it can be counter-productive, like intense schedule pressure coupled with excessive overtime in software development.

Are Business Plans Obsolete?

August 22, 2012

Business planning is regarded as an important activity – as long as you don’t plan on everything working out according to plan… The objective is to think deeply about your target market, what it will take to serve them profitably along with the issues and obstacles that you may face. A business plan also serves as something that you can share with others so that they can provide you with their feedback.

Business plan templates that I was introduced to in college included things like a market analysis, an overview of the products or services that would be offered based on that market analysis, marketing and sales strategies, the organization and management of the company, and of course those rosy financial projections. But isn’t this really an attempt at predicting the future, unlikely to fit reality? And does building a business plan like this even make sense in today’s turbulent, hypercompetitive global economy?

The Real Reward of Corporate Freedom

August 15, 2012

This week I returned from a week off, and although I did respond to emails, updated a presentation, and participated on one conference call during that week off, I did manage to get some much-needed down time on my staycation.

Even though I only finished some of the home projects that I had in mind for myself, I had a good week. I managed to catch some of the Olympics on TV, I spent time reading, and – how could I forget – we added a second dog to the family so that our recently-acquired dog Sammy would have a playmate.

These days, we have a Paid Time Off (PTO) policy at my company, but it wasn’t like that when I first joined. It was a small, focused company that didn’t have any HR to speak of. We didn’t have a set vacation policy. People took whatever time off they felt they required. And depending upon your stage in life and/or whatever may be going on in your personal life, some people needed more time than others. And that was OK.

Take a Rest and Boost Your Productivity

August 8, 2012

That’s what I’m doing this week, taking some vacation time. I’m not traveling during this vacation, it’s a staycation. We have short summers in Maine, and there are plenty of outdoor activities and other attractions that can make a staycation in Maine quite enjoyable. Heck, thousands of people pay good money to come here every week for their vacations.

It’s my first real time off this year, and I find that disconnecting from the day-to-day grind to be a good thing. You need to recharge every now and then. You come back fresher and more productive. Americans are particularly bad at taking their vacation time, but it is detrimental to long-term performance and productivity.

I find this to be true in my own experience, and it is supported by a 2006 study of employees at Ernst & Young which found that for each ten hours of vacation employees took each month, their performance reviews were 8 percent higher the following year. (As reported in the book The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working.)

Support Your HEROes

August 1, 2012

“To succeed with empowered customers, you must empower your employees to solve customer problems. This is much harder than it sounds. It means your staff are going to be coming up with solutions on their own. The ideas don’t come from management; management’s new job is to support and empower employees.” – Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler from their book Empowered.

These days, the Internet, social media and mobile technologies provide information and opinions about your products and services to consumers with tremendous ease and speed. Companies have responded to this by participating in social media and leveraging mobile tools and technologies to connect with and engage consumers.

This makes consumers are more empowered today than ever before. And while companies are doing a fine job of leveraging technology to become much more responsive to consumers, getting to the next level requires a fundamental change in how we run our businesses.