Archive for February, 2009

when is eavesdropping okay

February 25, 2009

On Friday morning, I stopped by my favorite bagel store on the way to the office and sat down, laptop open checking email.  I was in an area where there are a few couches and a piano (not sure why the piano is there, but whatever works for the owners).  Two gentlemen were sitting about ten feet away engaged in a conversation.  I was alone, just me and my laptop, no headphones playing tunes I know by heart to block out the ambiance.  So it was not surprising I could hear their conversation.

I’m not sure what business they were in, but they didn’t seem to work for the same company and were discussing the challenges of marketing to our connected society.  “Have you ever heard of PURLS?” one gentleman asked.  I had, in fact, I’ve gotten emails and direct mail pieces sent to me with PURLS and know of programs where they have been sent by marketing groups in Xerox.  PURLS are personal URLs (personalized webpages).  They take the concept of 1:1 marketing that much closer to actual 1:1.  You can go here for more information as this is not the main point of this post. 

I lost a bit of the conversation since I was doing some work of my own (well, company work, but I tend to take ownership).  The next time I looked up I heard the following:  “and are you familiar with this Twitterthing?  It’s like a turbo facebook and I guess you can put messages there that people will read.”  Interesting spin that almost made me jump out of my seat.  That’s where the problem arises.

When is it okay to admit you’re eavesdropping?  Let’s consider that these gentlemen were in a public place, they were not giving out trade secrets and were speaking loud enough to be heard at least 10 feet away.  I was obviously online, or at least on a laptop, but looked at them a few times (a signal to me when I’m conversing that the person is either stretching their neck or listening to what we’re saying).  Let’s also consider that I feel I would have been able to contribute to the conversation.  I have experience in social media both from the corporate side and the personal brand side.  In fact, that has been part of my focus and is an area I continue to pursue as a career path.  My current role is going to help me better develop my writing skills, more in the technical style, but writing to me is like drumming.  The more you do it, the better things flow.  When you stop and think too long, you just mess it all up. 

What would I have said?  I think I would have started with the “I apologize for the interruption, could not help overhearing a discussion on Twitter and social media, perhaps I could contribute a few thoughts.”  Now that I read that, it sounds pretentious and may have landed a nice stiff armed “thanks but no thanks”.  It may have been appreciated, or I may have come across as some nosy dude who can’t keep to himself.

Are there rules?  Guidelines?  When you go to conferences and seminars, you get to jump into these conversations all the time.  It’s expected.  Of course, the purpose of those events is networking.  The purpose of sitting down for coffee and a bagel is sometimes hunger, sometimes just discussion.  If a conversation could use some help, and you’re not trying to sell anything (or even if you eventually could), what is the protocol for injecting your comments?  What would you do?

Beware of the Silo

February 22, 2009

My father grew up on a dairy farm in what is called the southern tier of New York State.  The farm had a large red barn with a 30 foot high silo next to it.  One day, when he was 12, he had the urge to climb the silo.  According to my grandmother, there were reasons to climb the silo, but on this day he was just doing it for fun.  Near the top something happened and he fell off the silo to land on the concrete at the base.  I’m not sure how he landed, neither is he, for some reason he cannot recall the exact details.  My father got up, walked around the side of the barn and collapsed in his father’s arms who was rounding the corner coming from the other direction.  My grandfather carried him into the house and placed him on the kitchen table.  The doctor came to the house and checked him over.  There didn’t seem to be any external damage, no broken bones, and they could only guess at internal bleeding.  The consensus was he’d either be dead by morning, or okay.  (Spoiler alert: he made it through just fine.)  He is what they call in the business, a silo survivor.  Now, I have joined him.

I didn’t fall off a silo like he did.  I’d like to think learning from my parents is one way that I have made some decent decisions.  In some cases, it was learning from what they told me, in other cases it was learning by doing either what they did or the exact opposite.  Hey, we’re not all perfect.  I know I’ve led by “bizzaro” example many times.  The old “do as I say and the opposite of what I do” saying applies here.  So no, I did not climb a silo and fall off.  My fear of heights keeps me from attempting something like that.  Actually, I don’t fear heights as much as I fear my internal impulse that I can fly and will attempt to do so at the most inopportune moment.  That’s probably a story for another time.

In business, silos are the names we like to put on divisions within the company.  The term “we” here applies to people like me who point out how things should be different (self proclaimed experts at least in our own minds).  Take a company like Xerox which has many silos.  Some are product related (I worked in the office products group, not the production products group).  Some are sales related (at one point, I worked in the sales agents group and now have moved into the direct sales group).  Others are post-sale (supplies and service contracts).  These groups all roll up to one division or another which gets you through a few vice presidents and then to a division president, to the company president to the company CEO.  I’d draw a picture, but my drawing skills have taken a beating after watching what my daughter can design given a piece of chalk and a sidewalk.  I assume there is not a need to sell the silo concept with that example all that hard.  It is entirely possible that people working in each group have no idea what is going on in the other groups.  There may actually be a point where two groups are working on the exact same thing without realizing it if you can imagine that.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what would happen if silo doors were opened and the residents were allowed to come out into the field, squint while their eyes adjusted to the light and had open discussions.  Do we think they would run wild?  Take over the place Animal Farm style?  Or would they instead chose to share their projects and visions in the hopes of collaborating and development.  Of course, since we all learn from an early age to protect what is ours and don’t give too much away, you could end up with just a mass of people still separating themselves into silos even though they are not confined to the walls.

My wife works at a salon.  For Rochester, this salon is a rather decent sized facility.  You might think smaller companies would not have silos, but even they do.  Some salons are simply places where a stylist can rent a chair and have their clientele find them there.  Some of the larger, full service salons are able to develop employees and departmentalize.  Silos.  Or since this is the beauty industry, do we call them curlers, follicles, short-medium-long?  I really need to work on my lingo.  If you work there, you are a stylist, colorist, makeup artist, coordinator, nail technician, hair plucker (esthetician?), massage artist, etc.  There are department meetings, sales and service goals, and in some cases, probably things going on in one department that are not known by the others.  In that business though, there are not so many levels to get to the top (an office in the back) and last I checked, there was not a title of Vice President.  Still, departments become silos, people specialize and sometimes lose sight of the big picture.

Take a look at your business.  If it is a one person show, you probably don’t have silos unless you are working through multiple personalities.  If you have people focused on industries, concentrations, skills, you probably have silos developing.  I’m not suggesting you worry, who am I after all.  Just make sure your team gets let out to pasture frequently and mixes with the dwellers of other silos.  It can be very refreshing to meet someone that sits one silo over who has great ideas that you can collaborate (not steal, there will be no stealing on this Utopian farm). 

Before you do anything else, at least take the ladders off the sides.  These may be theoretical silos but someone will get it in their head they want to see the view from up there and next thing you know you’ve got someone lying on a table wondering if they’re going to make it. 

My father survived, I don’t think he ever climbed another silo though.  His next trick was falling asleep on the tractor and driving through a fence.  My grandmother loves telling those stories.

Press Release: Aaron Hunt signed off of waivers

February 12, 2009

ROCHESTER, February 12, 2009 — There was an interesting turn of events in what has been billed as the most stressful four week vacation ever: Aaron Hunt has been signed off waivers by the very team that released him to the free agency market.  “It’s been an interesting few weeks, I’m not going to lie to you,” stated the rather fit looking Mr. Hunt at his scheduled press conference.  “I needed to really do some work on my resume, my cover letter, my swimming stroke, and get used to bad chairs again.”

The news came as yet another surprise to many, first that a company would hire back someone they released and second that he would entertain the option.  “As I stated in my last conference, it was really just an unfortunate circumstance.  We parted on good terms, I was allowed time to gather my documents and clear my desk, and they offered some help toward free agency.”  Mr. Hunt glanced out at Clinton Avenue with a glint in his eye, “now, if only they could do something about this parking situation, my agent really needed to get that in our signing clause.”

Four weeks is not a long time to be out of work.  Some look at it as a nice break from the stress of everyday.  “Not me,” stated Aaron, “and not many of my former colleagues.  I saw them online networking just like I was.  You may think once someone is out of  a job they just sit and pity themselves.  No one I know was or is like that.”  As the crowd of curious onlookers gathered at the base of Xerox tower in downtown Rochester, Mr. Hunt moved to page two of his notes.  “I’d like to thank the City of Rochester for charging me to take a civil service exam and then not telling me where or when to take it.  I’d like to thank Bill Gates for allowing me to spend three days in an ongoing investigation on why my Vista operating system will not defrag or stop using up all the CPU power with it’s “helpful search” tool.  Finally, I’d like to thank the instructor running the Power Pump class on Thursdays for making my back feel like I carried fourteen drumsets at once.” 

It is reported that his famous chair from his old building may be on its way to the new location along with some other strategic pieces.  “My new manager was very understanding.  I told her I had one of those ergonomic keyboards and a holder for my laptop.  It keeps me from having to sit sideways in meetings and groan every time I move.  I think that just sells itself.  Maybe I can get a keyboard with an “m” that works all the time not just half the time now.”  Aaron moves from his role focused on marketing to small and medium businesses to that of communication and business process reengineering.  “You like that title?”  Hunt quipped “When we put the word “manager” at the end of it, that’s going to look smashing on a business card.  It could be the first title to carry over to the back.  Or perhaps a fold out card is in order.”  When asked what he would be doing, Mr. Hunt was a bit tight lipped.  “Well, there are a number of internal programs that help our sales teams sell equipment and services.  I can’t go into much detail, but lets just say they needed help with a number of rewrites, design, ease of use, and felt I’d be the one that could get the job done.”

As the smokers chatting around the base of the tower finished their breaks, it was time to wrap up the conference with a few final thoughts.  “For those that wonder if I will still “tweet” the answer is yes.  In fact, I actually have to leave early today to work on the Twestival here in Rochester.  My band you may know, is playing and I organized the music for the event.  I still plan to involve social media in what I do.  I think it would be very interesting to be able to engage our direct sales team in ongoing discussions with us here at headquarters and them with each other.  Perhaps we can do our small part to change the world.  Or at least the way we do business in this world.”  One final thought was thrown out.  “You know, I beat Manny.  Last I checked, he still is unemployed.  I’ll bet he’s wishing he had my agent instead of that Boras guy.  Just sayin’.”

For more information on Aaron Hunt, you can follow his twitter feed (www.twitter.com/AaronCU95) or reach him via email afhcu95@gmail.com

unemployed purgatory

February 7, 2009

One of the benefits that you are given when your department is eliminated on the grounds that you are focused on long term conceptual projects versus short term revenue goals is consulting from a placement company.  This consists of a number of things of course, webinars, networking events, use of a copier, printer and fax machine (or all in one as the kids call them).  We get a packet on the day we are presented with the paperwork sealing our fate and a suggestion is made to meet up with this company as soon as possible.  A phone call to an 800 number yields in giving your information and then a statement that you will be contacted in the next few days.  A few days go past and you get a phone call.  In fact, in my case I got two, from two different people in different offices telling me the same thing.  I needed to attend a webinar and could do it from home or meet at a hotel to do it.  The hotel sounded a bit fishy, but I digress.  I prefer my home base anyway so I elected that option.  The webinar was an introduction to their services, website and future webinars.  At the end of the session you are told you will have an appointment with a counsellor at their facility in your city and that’s where it gets interesting.

The facility at our disposal here in Rochester is reminiscent of your old high school.  The PCs are a few steps behind in both operating system and internet speed and get this, they don’t have wifi!  Are you kidding?  Everyone has wifi now!  Bars, Ethiopian restaurants, book stores, your parents’ house (okay maybe not YOUR parents), the local pool, seriously.  How much is a router?  You can get a good one for under $100.  You think they might want to spring for it?  Now granted, most of us had laptops that were taken away the day we were walked out, but some, like myself, have purchased their own and prefer those versus a more public PC where the desktop is protected so anything you save disappears and the USB ports don’t work for flash drives and the printer driver isn’t loaded on all the PCs.  Okay, I should stop.  I think you get the idea.

The reason I was there was for an appointment with a consultant.  We are provided counselling to help us with the transition.  I’m not sure I really need the counseling but as I walked in and noticed the poster on the wall, it seemed I was in the “denial” stage of the grief cycle.  There wasn’t the chance to take notes, but some of you probably know the S curved grief cycle that starts with anger, then denial, then shock, then acceptance, then a shift in moral character, compromise of your belief structure, elective surgery, swarms of locusts, frogs, the four horsemen, and finally you get a new job and all is right with the world. 

“How can I help you?” I was asked.  “How are you coping?”  Well, I’m on the computer most of the day using twitter, working on my resume and cover letter, sending follow up emails and taking calls from people I’ve met on Linked In through one group or another to expand my network.  Oh, and I had an interview last week that I should hear about this week and it seemed to go well.  “How is you health?”  Great, I joined a new gym, go five or six days a week and apart from my BMI being higher than I’d like, I’m in good health.  “You know, it’s okay to relax and have some down time.”  Well, my nature is to be busy.  I’m very project focused and I am now my latest project.  Plus, race season is right around the corner and I know my competition isn’t getting any slower.  “Well then, I’m not sure I can help you.  Did you bring a copy of your resume?”

So there you have it.  Unemployed purgatory.  Life’s little holding cell for job marketeers.  A place that time forgot sometime during the mid 90’s according to the internet access and operating systems.  On the positive side, it smelled okay in there, was well lit and there is a lounge with magazines and free coffee.  So we’ve got that going for us. 

Which is nice.