Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Boss at a Loss

Whenever I send out E-luminations, I get wonderful comments in response. I decided to open up the comments for everyone to see by turning E-luminations into a blog. I'll also be upping the mailings from monthly to once every week or two. Let me know what you think.

It was over a decade ago that I wrote a corporate version of "The Cat In The Hat" called "The Clerk With The Smirk" (You can read it at, under "Columns".} Now it seems fitting to turn Suessian with the managers who have only one response to trouble – laying off employees. So, with a nod to the late, great Dr Suess, here is…


The sun did not shine
On the boss and his staff.
The rain came to stay
For a quarter, a half.

"We're in this together,"
Said the Boss At A Loss.
We ten must work smarter
To make it across.

The staff they were eager
To try something new:
"Just give the OK and –
Your team will come through.

"We'll all get creative.
Instead of despairing,
We'll shake things up
With plans that are daring."

"Whoa, no need to get wild,"
Cried The Boss At A Loss.
"We need to drill down
And cut, cut, cut costs."

But cutting and cutting
Turned into a spiral,
The bad news kept coming,
The decline went viral.

"I've got to do more,"
Thought the Boss At A Loss.
"We have to cut staff --
I'll weed out the dross."

"We're in this together"
Said the boss to the six.
"We've got to spend less
To get out of this fix.

"We've got to work smarter
In this econo-mergency,
We all have to feel
A sense of urgency.

"No more sales trips,
No more buying of bagels.
We need to cut service,
On prices finagle."

"We're in this together,
It's up to us three.
I'll be here for you…
Well… no guarantee."

And The Boss at a Loss
Got into a rut –
Tut, tut, and cut.
Cut, Cut, and tut.

The lonely last employee
She said with a sigh,
"We can't keep doing nothing,
Let's give something a try."

"You're the only one left,"
Said the Boss At A Loss.
"One more expense --
The last item to toss."

Then the Boss had a plan
To turn things around.
He shouted for help,
But no, not a sound."

"I thought it was lonely,
When I was on top;
But nothing like bottom,
The last shoe to drop."

So he locked up the door,
And still holding the knob,
Swore he'd get creative...
In finding a new job.


©2008 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Monday, January 05, 2009

What Management Really Wants

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”
- Dorothy Parker

Walt Disney once pointed that the key to success was to do something so well that people will pay to see you do it again. So, using that as a standard, here’s the question: When was the last time you saw a business presentation that you would pay to see again? OK, that’s too much to ask. How about this: when was the last time you saw a presentation that you’d want to sit through twice?

If you’re a corporate employee, wouldn’t be grand if your management actually looked forward to having you present instead of just pretending to look interested (after announcing just before you begin that they’d love to stay longer, but have an important conference call in fifteen minutes)?

One reason that presentations have become exercises in forced concentration is the dumbest advice ever offered to presenters, the old Keep It Simple, Stupid. This leads to The Lucidity Paradox, where you make your points so clear that they disappear.

Another piece of classic advice to presenters is the old What’s In It For Me principle, where your remarks address the audience’s self-interest. That would seem to be good thinking, but the fact is that most people have their self-interest figured out before you begin and come not to learn but defend. So, instead of KISS or WIIFM, I say the best advice to follow comes from the people who know audiences best, the ones whose livelihoods depend on knowing audience: the folks in the entertainment business who say, “Leave ‘em wanting more.”

Let’s face it, the typical PowerPoint presentation is an exercise in leaving the audience wanting less. So how is it possible to cover a topic thoroughly and still leave the audience wanting more?

What got me thinking about that question was a presentation by Mike Figliuolo (fig-lee-OH-lo), a former corporate guy who’s now consulting on how thought processes influence communication via his company, thoughtLEADERS ( Here are three of his suggestions:

1. “An individual’s compensation is inversely proportional to the number of PowerPoint pages he or she will tolerate before having a stroke.”

2. “If it’s two pages, it’s not a summary.” (Figliuolo quotes one executive commenting on the readability of written reports as saying, “If it has a staple I won’t read it.”)

3. “When people start thinking, bad things happen.” (The advantage of moving quickly through a presentation is that, done properly, you guide management to the conclusion you want to reach before they have time to let their minds wander off onto another agenda.)

You can see where he’s going here – right to the point. Seems easy enough, but it isn’t. Why? Figliuolo points out that the person giving the presentation yearns to impress the boss and the way to do that has always been by working hard. Thus, if you’re a typical corporate employee, you believe at some level that showing management all the research and data you’ve collected will impress them. Alas, it only impresses them that you think like the little people.

So you keep it short but NOT simple – you keep it big and fast and leave them working to keep up. You have the details available, should they want to see them. They won’t. But, with some luck and skill, they’ll want to see you present more often.

(This is the second of three reports on presentations at my favorite annual conference, the Compete Through Service Symposium in Phoenix. If you missed my first report, it’s available at The final installment will appear in two weeks, following a special holiday column.)

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2008 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

I Can't Think of Anything Else I'd Rather Be Doing

“All glory comes from daring to begin.”
- Eugene Ware

If you’re like me, you go to the typical professional conference and you end up listening to commonsense advice and well-worn platitudes till you want to scream, “Tell me something I don’t already know!”

There’s one conference I attend every year where that does not happen, and that’s because the only speakers are people doing something new and interesting. It’s The Compete Through Service Symposium, put on in November of each year by Dr Steve Brown of the Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State.

There were a dozen presentations worth telling you about, but I’ve picked three, ones so good that I followed-up and interviewed the presenters. Today, the first of a three-part series, we begin start with Dr. Gary Bridge, Senior VP with Cisco Systems. He offered a glimpse of how Cisco uses technology internally, which I am guessing is also a glimpse of what will be happening around your office.

It’s about to get cloudy. A new technique that had conference attendees buzzing was the “tag cloud.” You put a document into a free program at and it returns a cloud of words, out of which, by employing various type sizes, the most common words jump out. (My guess is that this is just a fad; if I’m wrong, this may be the death of the complete sentence.)

The weekend CEO. You’ve heard that expression for second-guessing sports decisions “Monday morning quarterbacking.” Well, second-guessing CEOs is catching on – maybe the parallel to “Monday morning QB” should be “the weekend CEO.” Bridge suggested that the easiest way to find out the negative gossip about your company is to put your company name into Google, followed by the word “sucks.” (He suggested you also try “sux,” because younger generations will save a couple letters wherever they can. Perhaps this suggests that the complete word will be buried next to the complete sentence.)

Doogling. There was a pair of ideas that came out of the Bridge’s presentation that struck me as especially useful and readily implementable. First, Cisco has developed what they call Ciscopedia, where they capture the internal knowledge of their employees. Second, they have what they call Directory 3.0, resembling a corporate version of Facebook, where employees list their preferred ways they be contacted, availability and skills, both at work and outside of it. Bridge explained how the social networking aspect was useful to him when first working on a new client in the casino business: he did a search of Directory 3.0 and discovered an employee who loves poker and recruited that employee to coach him. This ability to do an internal directory search resembles a Google search – a Doogle? – and is something that has to catch on, and once it does, I suspect it will spread to searchable directories of suppliers and customers.

ETC… Bridge also described a technology called “telepresence,” with life-size video images of remote attendees at meetings, and later described how an employee, returning to the office with a Blackberry full of new e-mails, can simply make a throwing motion and that activates the Blackberry to update the desktop computer with the latest emails.

I like to think that such technologies, both useful and playful, will make their way through the economy. And I can only hope that they will help more people feel about their jobs the way Bridge does: When I spoke with him, he summed up his worklife with a remark anyone could aspire to, saying, “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do. Every day there something that makes me glad for that day.”

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2008 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.