Friday, September 28, 2012

Why mergers fail

Mergers & Acquisitions Delhi by Caston Corporate
Mergers & Acquisitions Delhi,
a photo by 
Caston Corporate on Flickr.
Nobody goes into a merger or acquisition arrangement without seeing some benefit in doing so.  Unfortunately, according to studies in 2004 and 2007, mergers have a lower success rate than do marriages - 

"If the definition of a successful merger is driving up shareholder value, then their failure rate is far north of 50 percent," says Lawrence Chia, a managing director of Deloitte & Touche in Beijing, China. 

There are a few contributing factors to the high failure rate, but two in particular stick out:

  1. Lack of integration of processes, and
  2. Lack of integration of culture.
When processes aren't fully integrated a newly merged organization might find its divisions working around 2, 3, or even 4 different legacy accounting, billing, or estimating systems, creating prime opportunity for errors and rework.  There are cost savings that are missed when the company hasn't changed structurally to reinvent itself as one larger unit - two marketing departments from the two pre-merger businesses may be working on similar projects, and with market messages that reflect the predecessor companies rather than the new combined entity.

Even when we consider the inefficiencies of unintegrated processes, the cultural integration may be a larger factor in successful post-merger results than the alignment of processes.  It is more common than not for "mergees" to resent changing their priorities, work habits - and even their core values - to blend into the acquiring company's culture.  While all of the desks are up in the air, people jockey for political position in the changed work setting.  They play this out in arguments that may be as small but symbolic as the debate over who has dibs on the office with the windows, extra seating area, beautiful view, and 3 plants instead of 2.

Some of the results of this cultural upheaval are

  • employee stress revealed in absenteeism or turnover, 
  • in verbalized or nonverbal demonstrations of suspicion, and 
  • in overall resistance to change.  People feeling threatened are less likely to step out and try new methods, even if the new methods are proven to be beneficial.  They hunker down and play CYA (cover your a**) instead of reaching out and taking action.

Even in a non-merged company, silos that separate functional areas can create assumptions that "the others" in functions down the hall or in the other building have work habits and intentions that are somehow substandard or even sinister.  These impressions become amplified because of employee concerns about being seen as having been wrong, weak, or behind the times.  Nobody wants to lose face.

A well-proven solution for the simpler in-one-company situation is to establish overall goals or themes for focus that are shared across functional lines, reinforced regularly, and integrated with cross-functional development of the company's workforce.  A similar approach can work effectively to integrate two or more cultures in a merged organization.

Often an updated strategy complete with articulated core values has to be developed by the combined senior management of the new company to give all employees a flagpole of sorts around which to rally.  Sometimes this takes time, because the management focus has been on the dating and the wedding, and not so much focus has been placed on navigating the marriage.  But without an external, shared focus it's more likely that the internal inconveniences and conflicts will have a larger (and negative) impact than is necessary.

If there is cultural strife in a merged company, the first place to look for the source is the senior team itself.  Certain members of the team may feel disenfranchised because of the way the deal went down, frustrated at losing some of their prior control and authority.  Until the senior team is unified under a direction for the new organization and setting the tone by reinforcing it with one voice, the rest of the organization will continue to be at a cultural impasse.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Can you handle the truth?

Trusted Advisor by abchick
Trusted Advisor, a photo by abchick on Flickr.
So you've got this big idea.  You are so excited that you have butterflies just thinking about it.  Do you plunge forward before somebody tries to change your mind, or do you gather as much information as reasonably possible before you move ahead?

It is likely that someone that you know, or someone that someone you know knows (got that?) important information about the venture you're considering.  They have sold before, invented before, talked to CEOs before, bought a house before, or fired an employee before.  Are you going to take advantage of that knowledge, or are you going to find out for yourself without another's experience as a frame of reference?  If you are a person who learns by doing (kinesthetic) you might be tempted to jump directly into the deep end of the pool.  But you could be taking undue, completely preventable risk in doing so.

What happens if the insight they give you creates doubt about your opportunity?   Can you handle the truth?  Do you feel upset to find out that the scenario was indeed to good to be true, or do you feel grateful to find that out before you commit your energy and resources toward something that could turn out to be a fool's errand?

Learning about obstacles doesn't mean that you don't move forward.  Obstacles are only deal-breakers if you let them stand unchallenged rather than seeking solutions for them and then taking action to implement the solutions.  If you are informed about current and potential obstacles going into the situation, you are better able to take preventive action, and to do your thinking about possible work-arounds before you find yourself with a boulder positioned directly in your path.

Friends, family and colleagues do you no favors when they wallpaper over the truth.  Granted, the truth is as they see it, and that means it is filtered through their assumptions, values, and perceptions.  You may need to take their truth with a grain of salt, (and occasionally they are raining on your parade because that's what they do.)  But more information is better than less information, and if your proposed venture is a big one, you may need to have them on your team - or at least not working at cross-purposes - in order to be successful.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Whose words are they?

Red Parrot by @Doug88888
Red Parrot, a photo by @Doug88888 on Flickr.
Picture this:  you're sitting beside your neighbor at the high school football game when he makes an assertion that has absolutely no basis in fact.  You know, because you have been reading up on the topic.  You even checked to determine whether this public figure really said what this guy claims they did.   He's as wrong as flip flops in a blizzard.  You really like your neighbor, so you choose not to take him on and risk an argument while the game is on.  But it rankles that such a great guy could be so misguided about something so important.

When you make a point to be informed, you can form your own opinions.  With facts and not only spin to be based upon, your opinions might develop into a mixture of several different perspectives and not fit under any one label or categorization.  But they will be a fit with your values.  There's an additional advantage associated with staying current:  when you read up on the big issues of the day, you can also identify the validity or falsehood of someone else's claims, protecting yourself from being duped by a smooth talker.  

Unfortunately, in our current environment of constant commentary, many of the facts have gone missing.  The truth becomes secondary to the pursuit of another agenda - one of scoring points or forwarding a political agenda.  The commentators - and some of the candidates - become like the red parrot who repeats what he has heard while having no clue what it means.  The parrot is unaware that he has directly contradicted something else that he said five minutes ago.

For time eternal a favorite child's game is to try to teach a parrot to swear.  The kids giggle while whispering to the bird, "Dad has a stinky butt"  or something far worse, and they burst into uncontrollable cackles when the bird repeats what they said.  Dad will ultimately know who programmed the parrot by the choice of vocabulary, and if he doesn't think it's particularly funny they will experience some consequences.

In the case of adults, inconsistency in message often telegraphs that there's a parrot situation going on.  He will say anything that he's told to say, even if it doesn't make sense.  Even if it directly contradicts the things that he's said before.  And people will start looking for the source of his words.  They will start to investigate just who is whispering to the parrot.

Making the choice not to gather your own information and do your own thinking is a dangerous proposition. You'll wind up looking foolish, you'll erode the trust of people who thought they knew what you stood for, and they will now draw the conclusion that you don't stand for anything.  Even when people disagree with you, they will trust you more when you are consistent.  Find your own words. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

More clarity, peace for working moms

the bends by dwelldeep
the bends, a photo by dwelldeep on Flickr.
Sandra has to sit down with a glass of wine and put her feet up for a few minutes.  The pressures of work deadlines, a home being consumed by dust bunnies, the constant taxiing of children to lessons and sports, and the bids for attention from husband, bills, volunteer obligations, laundry, aged parents who need has all gotten to be overwhelming.  Sandra is doing everything - and has the feeling that she's not doing anything well.  She's all twisted up.

Do you have something in common with Sandra?

Self-coaching for working moms
You don't have time to think about how to make things better, but you won't have time to think about it tomorrow, either.  So that means today, right now, is as good a time as any.

Summit has just launched a self-coaching module titled "Alignment for the Professional Mom," available at this link: Usually your investment for this module is $49.95, but for Summit blog readers it's available for only $19.95.

  • Would you like greater clarity in your mind about the best uses for your energy?
  • Would you like greater peace of mind that you are meeting your own expectations?
  • Would you like to take a first step toward a lifestyle that nourishes you instead of wearing you down?
You can't do what you want to do for others with the energy, enthusiasm and poise you aspire to if you're all worn out. Take this one step in the right direction, defined by you.

You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Does authenticity require full disclosure

Speak no evil by Javier Moreno!
Speak no evil, a photo by Javier Moreno! on Flickr.
An inner debate that's big with impending national elections is whether it's better to discuss one's political views or to remain silent.  Standard protocol for such dicey topics as politics, religion and sex has long been prescribed as silence.  Nice people simply don't bring up controversial topics that might cause conflicts with others - that's what mothers have recommended for years.

In the workplace, any comment on any topic can create political (in the workplace influence sense) fallout.  It's not just who you are voting for or campaigning to drum out of office.  On the job people can get their noses out of joint over expressed opinions about recent management directions, or about the length of the work day, or about the ineffectiveness of a work process that somebody has recently tried to fix.  It has become taboo to make judgmental or unkind comments about people who are different, at least in the workplace.

Authenticity is being congruent with your values.  If your value set says that it's important to express your opinions, you will probably do so.  If your value set says that you share information that you possess, authentic behavior for you will be to share that information.

Understand, though, that authentic behavior can create consequences.  There are certain environments and circumstances within which full display of your authentic self may alienate other people.  Notice the words "full display".  You can think what you think and know what you know, but you may not always need to share it with others.  

Values and authentic self are different from behavioral habits.  

  • Descriptive vs. judgmental language - If you want to tick someone off, sprinkle incendiary and critical words in the middle of your statement.
  • Certainty vs. seeking to understand - Is your mind like concrete, all mixed up and permanently set?  If you are an immovable object, you might see it as a sign of strength.  But others may perceive it as stubbornness and intentional myopathy.
  • Frequency of delivery - You are likely to drive people nuts and lose your ability to influence if you combine certainty with high frequency of the message.  If you are harping all of the time people will start to tune you out.  You will have lost your audience.
  • Relative priority of your point and the relationship -   Are you focused on your point of view and forgetting the relationship?  Where will the relationship go if you continue to hammer it home?  
Authenticity is not the same as full disclosure.  There are times and places for all sorts of subjects, and people with whom you can discuss them.  But it is a choice to express more fully, and it is a choice to present your position in a particular tone.  You are making assumptions about your audience that may or may not be correct.  Are you willing to experience the fallout if it happens that your point of view on a controversial topic is not falling on receptive ears?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What is around the corner?

around the corner # 5 (Explore Front Page) ♥ you all! by whats_ur_flava2000
around the corner # 5 (Explore Front Page) ♥ you all!,
a photo by 
whats_ur_flava2000 on Flickr.

The first question for today is "What do you think is right around the corner for you?"

Now sit with your answer for a moment.  Are you anticipating a beneficial or positive development, a sunny path?  Or are you envisioning one or more beasties hiding behind the trees, waiting to jump you?

Your answer to the question, identifying your expectations, is important because your behavior is going to be impacted by your assumptions about the most likely scenario.  Seeing something positive in the future engenders enthusiasm and a spring in your step.  You might even be willing to undergo some temporary discomfort if you expect that the ultimate outcome will be rewarding in some way.  People who see a positive outcome take action to help it manifest.

Before we go too far down the garden path, it is possible to have such rosy expectations that you miss signs that you need to be doing something differently to succeed in the future.  Optimism can sometimes morph into blindness to real obstacles, as though you can make them disappear if you refuse to look at them.  Disconnection from evidence is a risk, and positive thoughts alone won't overcome obstacles.  Action influences outcomes.

When you expect gloom and doom your behavior is also impacted.   Depending upon the intensity of your expectation, your fight or flight reaction might be engaged.  The decision to fight or run partly depends upon your habits, and upon your belief about whether you can ultimately prevail.

The expectation of hardship won't stop you if you believe that you have the capability, the resources, to overcome it.  When you believe you can win and you see challenge around the corner you prepare for battle.  You become more active, making sure that you have protected yourself against contingencies and then acting to move conditions more in your favor.

When you see threats around the corner, and you don't believe that you can overcome them, you are likely to sit still and wait.  Why bother taking action if it's going to be a futile effort and ultimately a waste of energy?  Visions of bad outcomes, combined with paralysis or indecision, are likely to create - bad outcomes.

What is your day going to be like today?  Understand that you are going to be a participant in creating whatever kind of experience it turns out to be.  You will choose to do or not to do the things that will take you closer to the outcomes that you want.  And it will all start with your assumptions about what's right around the corner.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Performance Feedback and the Shooting Gallery

Shooting Gallery by X-travalueMeal#2
Shooting Gallery, a photo by X-travalueMeal#2 on Flickr
Performance feedback is sometimes hard to hear, especially if it's not flattering.  Nobody wants to hear that they are not measuring up to standard, and if the feedback is not provided effectively they can feel as though they are one of the critters marching up and down in a shooting gallery, waiting for potshots to knock them down.  

Moreover, an employee who develops a "can't win for losing" mindset as a result of constant criticism, and who begins to draw the conclusion that nothing they do is going to meet muster, tends to pull back and not take risks.  They revert to inaction instead of action.  They wait instead of do.  And worst of all, they sometimes start to do the company equivalent of kicking the dog - they foist the pot-shooting behavior onto the people downstream from them on the org chart. 

What is your purpose in providing performance feedback?  Is it to improve performance, or is it simply to communicate your displeasure with the violation?  Do you want the person to turn their performance around, or do you want them to be running scared enough to mind their P's and Q's?  The answers to these questions are important, because they lead you to come face to face with your attitudes about whether you truly believe that

  • People genuinely want to do a good job, and
  • People are capable of positive change.
If your goal is to provide performance feedback that will help make an improvement right now,
  1. Be specific.  A generalized "pick up the pace!" or some other command doesn't help someone understand what you want them to do.
  2. Describe what happened in behavioral "how they move their hands and feet" terms, because you can only manage those things that are observable.
  3. Connect the infraction with its impact on company goals.  For instance, if a person is slow to answer the phone and your company's intention is to create customers for life, help them see how promptness of phone answering helps to satisfy customers.
  4. Give them a positive path forward by specifying desired behaviors in which you would like them to engage to replace the actions that started this conversation.  (remember, it needs to be observable)
  5. Set a time for following up and try to catch them doing it right (or attempting to do it right) between now and then to reinforce the desired behavior.
If your goal is to provide the structure for consistently good performance going forward,
  1. Hire for core values.  Skills can be trained, policies can be trained, potential can be developed.  But core values are difficult, if not impossible, to change.  And if they are to change, you the manager won't be the one to change them.  The individual himself or herself makes that decision.
  2. Match people with roles and tasks that suit their natural abilities.
  3. Give them a track to run on by describing expectations for performance.  Inform them of relevant policies and procedures, and show them where to find the information they need if they have questions.
  4. Early on in the relationship, meet frequently with them.  Field questions they might have, and provide frequent feedback (good things you see as well as improvements to be made).  
  5. As they prove themselves, expand their range of autonomous activity.
A great number of shooting gallery situations could be prevented by creating the structure ahead of time so that people you hire have the greatest opportunity for success.  It does not serve them or the company to shortcut the up-front part of the process - you will find yourself investing even more time, and in crisis response mode rather than moderate planning mode, if you don't set it up properly.  

This is more than a work climate issue.  Let's assume your strategy has been not to carry a non-performer, but rather to let them go.  When you lose an employee you incur hard dollar costs from the turnover.  Conservatively it costs you $3,500 to lose an $8 per hour employee when you consider recruiting, hiring, interviewing and training.  A mid-level person can cost 150% of his or her annual salary.  And turning over an executive or highly specialized slot can cost up to 400% of annual salary!  Turnover will happen due to a number of reasons, but preventable turnover may be sapping significant resources from your company.  In addition, in a shooting gallery environment it's not your worst performers that will volunteer to leave.  It's your best ones who will elect to find opportunity in a more empowering setting.

Stated bluntly, a shooting gallery environment equals reduced profitability.  Ignore this at your own risk.  It's as simple as that.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Staring at the Back Door

Out the Back Door by sammo371
Out the Back Door,
a photo by 
sammo371 on Flickr. 
Are you being tempted by the back door?  The grass does certainly look green and inviting out there, and right now the place where you're sitting feels claustrophobic.  The day has not gone smoothly - as a matter of fact, it seems as though 80% of the days haven't been going very well.  Maybe it would be all better if you would make a break for it and dash out there while you can.

Not so fast.  The back door might look tempting, but it has some limitations:

  • The view can be deceiving.  Sure, it looks pretty from here, but right out of your sight might be a giant grizzly or an ugly view that is being hidden by the frame of the door at the moment.  You won't see it until you walk through the door, and by that time you'll be ready to run back inside.  What if the door locks once you walk through and you can't get back into the building?  Are you ready to deal with that?
  • Focusing on your escape route prevents you from focusing on what's here now.  People say, "I'll try this for six months and then we'll see what happens."  That statement is the kiss of death for whatever it is they are trying.  They are building in a back door from the start.  Trying is completely different from deciding and committing.  When you commit you are all in - you invest your energy on finding alternate paths perhaps, but your intended destination is constantly in your sights.  When you do not truly commit it's like being in the center of an intersection, not sure whether you should turn left or right.  If you sit there long enough you'll be run over by somebody else whose route has been clearly defined.
Are you doing the same thing and expecting to see results that are better than the shoddy ones you've achieved lately?  Perhaps you have some problem solving to do.  Perhaps you need to implement some new methods that will enable you to get better output in your work.  Perhaps you have some discipline work to do to prioritize the things you want longer term ahead of the things that feel comfortable right now.  Or perhaps you need to be working on your inner conversation to make sure that your attitudes are in alignment with the results that you say you want.

Back in the days of unstructured summer vacations and a swing set that could be coaxed into rocking if you would swing hard enough, Mom would say "In or out!"  We'd be begging to go outside, and then return to the door after only a few moments, saying, "It's too hot out here!"  or "There's doggie doo right by the swings!"  or "It's too windy out here!"  "In or out," she would say, and we'd have to make the choice.

Mom isn't here to lay down the law and force the decision.  It's yours to make.  But In or Out is still the decision.  You won't improve your prospects while sitting there staring at the back door.

Friday, September 14, 2012

What people need in times of change

scaffolding by emilieclaireevans
a photo by 
emilieclaireevans on Flickr. 
When a change occurs, especially when a big one comes along, there are multiple stages that a group will go through.  It happens every time - the only difference among changes is the duration and the intensity of the stages.  The stages themselves can be highly emotional, and some of them generate resistance and negativity.  But structure and process can help teams through in a shorter time frame, and with less collateral damage.

Specifically, team development processes provide opportunities for candid discussion about perceived obstacles to the change, create shared vocabulary among team members, develop supporting behaviors, and facilitate the establishment and execution of team goals. 

  1. During Forming - The change has just been announced, whether it's a new process, a new team member, a new piece of technology that's being implemented, etc.  Morale tends to do an uptick because people see possibilities for the team and opportunities for themselves.  At the very least they tend to say "thank heaven we (or they) are finally doing something about this!"  Making the choice to bring cross-functional or intact work groups together for development at the outset of change creates a scaffolding of sorts - it holds the team together even when walls are being rearranged within.
  2. During Storming -   Even if the change is necessary or even welcomed by the organization, every team member undergoes a mourning process.  Although the familiar was inefficient, ineffective, or out of alignment with current business strategy it was familiar and therefore somewhat comfortable.  To some extent it's a positive sign to hear and see indications of storming; that means the change is being taken seriously. And in some cases a change, however beneficial, creates negative feelings about having been wrong in some way.  The informal power structure and sometimes even the formal lines of authority are being disrupted.  The structure and process of team-based development can create a safe space for negative feelings to be discussed and objections fielded.  It helps when the facilitator is from the outside of the firm and therefore has no vested interest in the outcome or a political hammer to wield.   
  3. Norming - At some point each individual says internally, "OK, all things being as they are, what do I have to do to make it better?"  This is where storming gives way to norming, and it's the phase where individuals take personal responsibility for helping the change happen in their own back yards.  They will engage in some successful experiments, and will fail in some others.  It becomes important during this phase to have somebody notice team and individual successes and help them to analyze and reframe the experiments that didn't work.  Norming can be a bit murky, as the new ways are being established and spread among the team.
  4. Performing - Numerous client companies have admitted over the years that they know they don't invest enough time in acknowledging and celebrating success.  By this stage in the change process the company should be seeing performance at a higher level of execution and in greater alignment with overall business goals.  It takes intentional reward in the form of recognition and appreciation to reinforce new behaviors.  There may be instances where the company has existing financial or other incentives, but the internal motivation that comes from individual accomplishment and mastery has a greater pull and influence on ongoing behavior.
You create greater sustainability in your change when you start with strategy and then align the structure, people, processes and rewards with it.  The parts are interrelated and interdependent, so handling the people part well is only part of the job.  When you create greater alignment among all of the resources at hand, you can safely remove the scaffolding and reveal a beautiful and solid building.  Whether the change revolves around integrating technology, developing new products, changing distribution channels, or pursuing new customer groups, ultimately the people involved in creating, absorbing, and sustaining the desired change are the biggest contributors to success in the venture, and therefore the investment of time, energy and dollars in them is well advised.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

If you want a partner in your success

Julie Poland, Certified Business Coach
Coaching with executives and employees and motivated self-sponsored individuals isn't a new practice.  It has existed for a long time, only without the terminology we use now to identify it.

Some would see a coach as the ultimate luxury - a partner in your success who has no agenda other than to help you bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be.  A coach is not a counselor.  You hire a counselor when you're not OK and you want to become OK.  You hire a coach when you are OK (or even good) and you want to become outstanding.

The term "coach" has evolved to encompass several different varieties, and you need to know what you're getting.  We'll share our terminology for them here, and then when you are interviewing your potential coaches you'll be able to determine which is the best match for you. Choose carefully, because your results are on the line.

The Expert
This coach has had a lot of experience in a certain field, and is armed with knowledge that he or she wants to share with you.  This is the answer person, and this type of coach will tell you what path you should be taking to achieve the same results that they were able to achieve.  If you are going to hitch your wagon to an answer man coach, be sure that the results that they accomplished are strong enough to meet your success expectations when you model their behavior or follow their recommendations.

The Rent A Friend
Pardon if this sounds like a disparaging name.  This type of coach earnestly wants to be of assistance to you. Sometimes you simply need a listening ear who takes in your information without judgment and provides feedback to you.  This coach will allow you to set the agenda - their role is to be completely responsive to whatever you want to discuss at a particular moment.  Because this type of coach doesn't have an agenda, though, you might find yourself recycling issues instead of moving through them and past them.

The In-House Coach
The In-House Coach is someone who works in the same company that you do.  They might be your boss, and they may or may not have been trained in coaching methods, which means that they work to ask questions to elicit action rather than give directions to elicit action.  Even the best in-house coach, though, has a few limitations.  First, they wear the same cultural goggles that you wear, and so they might not see some of the crucial factors that are interfering with the level of success you want to achieve.  Second, it might not be comfortable (or even wise) for you to engage in complete authenticity with them, because there could be ramifications attached to opinions or revealed mistakes that have negative company impact.

The Developmental Coach
This is what Summit coaches do.  The developmental coach has a purpose of helping you make more complete use of all of your inner resources.  They know that the situation or conflict that leads you to coaching may only be a piece of a larger puzzle, so they use tools and processes to help you expand your view.  That way they can help you make decisions with a full perspective, and can enable you to create alignment among the various parts of your personal and professional life.

There are a variety of certifying organizations out there, and that can be one indicator that your coach is taking steps to become aware of and engage in best practices.  But you can also ask about other continuing education in which your prospective coach is engaging to help to make sure you're receiving good value for your investment.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Too bad you don't drive

Time Lapse Mug Shots by mtsofan
Time Lapse Mug Shots, a photo by mtsofan on Flickr.
Owning a driver's license means more than freedom and mobility, the ability to get to your workplace reliably, and your official transition into adulthood.  The driver's license has become so ingrained in American culture that it has become the identification of choice for many purposes.  Back in the day before debit cards, the driver's license helped to complete a payment by check on a purchase in the grocery store.  It's the ID that you show when you pass through security at the airport.  Now it has become an integral part of the voting process in Pennsylvania due to the passage of a voter ID law by the Corbett administration, a measure that places an estimated 758,000 to 1 million, even as many as 1.6 million residents without the ability to vote unless they jump through hoops to obtain alternative photo IDs.  How can this not look like a thinly (?) disguised attempt to make it possible to "deliver Pennsylvania for Mitt Romney" in the presidential election this November.

We certainly do have voter fraud in Pennsylvania.  Oh yes, right.  Zero cases.  Zero.  Than what can be the reason for expending our tax dollars in the state government passing such a law if not to achieve partisan goals?

In case you're not familiar with Pennsylvania politics, although we have voted blue in the past number of presidential elections, we have a mixed profile politically.  At a state level, we tend to alternate parties in our selection for Governor, and right now we're in a red phase.  Democrats tend to prevail in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and the remaining "T" in the state lean to the right.  

Where do you think the number of affected voters might be concentrated?  It just so happens that more than 437,000 of the those voters are located in Philadelphia, and they represent 43% of the Philadelphia voting population.  People without driver's licenses across the state are more likely to be poor, of color, or college students - all categories that tend to support Democratic candidates.

The law has placed PennDot into the unenviable position of trying to fulfill requests for non-drivers photo IDs, and the chunk of urgent activity has resulted in reported long wait times and the necessity to drive hours to an office.  Some voters can't find or don't have some of the several pieces of information (like birth certificates) required by the law.  And in some instances it appears that celebrity or making a big stink about it has resulted in an individual's request being accommodated, even without all of the "required" pieces of supporting documentation in place.

Good for PennDot for trying to accommodate customers.  But they shouldn't be in this position in the first place.  And what about the individuals who can't get to an office or wait in line or pay up to $65 in various fees to accomplish the multi-step process to acquire an ID (see process here).  And heaven forbid that they aren't online to do the research necessary to do all of the above.

Year after year we complain about the poor turnout for elections.  We say to people that if they don't weigh in they don't have a right to complain about the direction in which the country is headed.  And then we implement a law to make it difficult for them to participate in the process.  The state government needs to make it easier to participate in the process with early voting, multiple voting days, etc., not make it more difficult.

This law will be challenged again in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Thursday.  Perhaps it will finally be seen as the manipulative and partisan move that it is.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Champagne taste and...

champagne!! by qletsqop
champagne!!, a photo by qletsqop on Flickr.
It's funny how sometimes a "teaching moment" conversation with a young person can lead to the teacher absorbing the lesson...

One of the biggest fantasies for a suburban American teen is the vision of his or her own car.  Better yet, the aspiring driver imagines that car as brand new, shiny, and maybe even with a convertible roof.  He (or she) envisions tooling around town, with top of the car down, wind blowing through the hair of the several friends packed into every available seat.  The teen sees himself or herself pulling into the school parking lot while fellow students stop short in jaw-dropped amazement at the sheer coolness of the ride.  The awesomeness of the ride rubs right off on the driver, giving even the nerdliest nerd some new and powerful social capital.

Wait a minute.  Back to reality.

First off, the car is not likely to be brand new and shiny.  It's more likely to have 100 thousand miles or more already clocked on it, and a few scratches or dents are probably decorating the exterior.  This first set of wheels might be hiding some expensive maintenance just until it's financially inconvenient, then wham!  Open the wallet.

Who's paying for the car, anyway?  One teen in particular was told that he could have access to his own personal wheels as soon as he accumulated $750 in a savings account that would enable him to take care of that sudden repair.  The problem is that he's only earning about $50 per week in his after-school job.  He's involved in a number of sports teams at school, and his work hours have been limited by his practice schedule.

This kid is going to have to decide just how much he wants this set of wheels, fantasy caliber or not.  A ride is a ride.  But is he willing to trade his sacred weekend sleep or one of his sports in order to work for his car?  He's not sure.  He's starting to realize that owning stuff has a cost of acquisition, but also more cost along the way to keep it.  For his car he'll have to deal with gas, registration, oil changes, tires, a piece of the insurance cost (his parents are helping with that) - and of course the potential for a big repair bill.  Suddenly he's wondering whether he'd rather not place himself under so much financial pressure.  Maybe he'd rather finish his high school years feeling free and having fun.  Maybe a car of his own isn't the answer after all.

The kid in this scenario is no different from anybody else.  Who hasn't heard the expression, "You have champagne taste and a beer budget!"  It's so easy to be lured onto a financial treadmill or even financial disaster for the purpose of acquiring stuff.  You need shelter, transportation, clothing, food - but do you need all of that stuff?  Do you need a Maserati, or would a beater car serve your purpose?  How would your life be different if you weren't paying to maintain all of it?  How much less stress would you feel if you weren't chasing it?

The first car is symbolic for the teenager.  It represents freedom, impending adulthood, coolness and sex appeal, and it telegraphs a social standing.  What does your stuff symbolize for you?  

Friday, September 7, 2012

How do I find thee, let me count the ways

iphone addict, a photo by JEPoland
It would seem as though you would be constantly in touch and accessible.  After all, there's the desktop in your office, the notebook at home, the tablet that accompanies you to the kids' sports practices, and the smart phone that you have had surgically attached to your thumbs.

Then why is it so hard to connect?

An argument could be made that there now are too many channels.  Or it could be that you are using too many of them at one time.  It's reminiscent of the person who leaves her keys on the table by the door - except when she leaves them on the floor of her car, or when she puts them away in the drawer.  This woman has so many places to look for those darned keys that the simple process of finding them can add 10-15 minutes to her morning "get to work" process.

What is the most reliable mode for people to use to find you?  Do you check your voice mail regularly, no matter what?  Is text message the best way to get your attention?  Is email your communication vehicle of preference?  Or would you rather pick up (or answer) your good old land line to talk to somebody?

If you have a preference, or you know that the other person with whom you want to communicate has a preference, agree upon your communication channel, and then use that one consistently.  It won't do you any good to leave a voice mail if he only reliably answers the little birdie that announces his text messages.

You could use the belt and suspenders method of duplicating your message across several channels - text, email, and voice mail - if he's not in and you need to reach him right away.  But to do that for every communication is to engage in rework.  It wastes your time in writing and their time in processing the duplicates.

If you only ever answer your cell number and check your voice mail, put that number first on your business card, and perhaps even show in some way that it's the default mode that works best for you.  Sure, you might have email, fax, land line, cell, website, etc. to put on there, but you don't want them to use all of the channels in equal priority.

Just one parting thought - if you have 5 ways to be reached, and yet can't be reached, the other party may start to wonder whether you are

  1. Disorganized, or
  2. Avoiding them
They might be correct in either assumption.  And you might lose business or other opportunities as a result.