Remote – Why we decided to go virtual

MB&A is going virtual

In Yahoo vs. Remote Work I worried that Yahoo might experience some brain drain for the way in which it pulled its remote workforce “privileges.” In Is remote work, too remote? I questioned if the type of work we did at MB&A required to much close in teamwork to effectively be accomplished by working remotely. I was surprised at the response from both posts. Particularly on govloop.com where some very strong opinions were shared on telework. That post prompted a response from Guy Clinch “Answering Joshua Millsapps Question: Is remote work, too remote?” which made me question some long held beliefs and do a little bit more research.

Eventually I found Remote: Office Not Required and started reading. The more I read the more I thought maybe this was something we should be considering. In fact our team sounded a lot like the folks at 37 signals. We have a strong culture, lots of high performers and as I thought more about it I was less worried about productivity and more worried about morale. The book put a lot of that fear behind me and the fact was our office was really only convenient to me. I liked having everyone close by because it was convenient for me. Everybody else was slogging an hour or more to get to Arlington, Virginia. The bottom line – the commute was terrible for everybody but me.

One of the things the book brings out is the way in which remote work refocuses manager on the real metrics worth watching -real productivity – not simply 9-5, plus a smile equals a job well done. It also points out that given the nature of the modern working world you aren’t likely to be making that big of an impact by virtue of having people do their work at your facility other than helping yourself manage their chairs. Those inclined to spend the day watching YouTube are not going to be great employees no matter what office set up you have and the likelihood you’ll notice is actually greater in a remote environment because it is so focused on productivity.

We also did some number crunching. While our immediate savings from going virtual isn’t anywhere near the 100 million dollars in annual savings reportedly saved by IBM – it was significant. So my partner and I talked about it and made the decision. As of December 1, Millsapps, Ballinger and Associates is officially virtual. We gave up our office space, our conference rooms and our hopefully our traditional attitudes. If it doesn’t work we can always go back. One thing making the move easier is how much of our infrastructure was already virtual. We have a small development environment that needed to be moved but outside of that it was just shifting phones and faxes and working with each other to manage the transition.

I have to say I’m excited by the experiment and while I’m still a little bit nervous about things will turn out I have to say I think it is going to be a smashing success. I’ll keep you all in the loop on what we learn a long the way. In the interim if you are considering going remote in whole or in part – check out Remote: Office Not Required – it convinced me that going remote was the best decision we could make for our long term future.

 

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Everybody’s selling something: Perfecting your pitch

Satellites_For_Sale_-_GPN-2000-001036

I had a really interesting meeting with a marketing manager at Troux Technologies the other day and I’d like to share a bit from it. It really highlighted how much marketing and sales has evolved over even just the past few years. If you read some of the books that are out there like, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, which I’ve talked about before, there’s a lot of crossover techniques from what would traditionally be considered sales and marketing approaches. These are now being currently applied to everyday business writing, meetings, and tactical approaches.

One of the themes of To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others is the idea that most people, in their day to day lives, are working on sales on some level. By that I mean that you’re constantly trying to convince people to take your position on something, to do certain things, or to engage on projects. To ignore that is to set yourself up for failure. If you just present people with raw information without any attempt to help them see the message, then you’re doing yourself and your project a disservice. You’re likely to fall short just on the basis of not having presented your ideas well enough.

One of the things that was brought up during our conversation was a discussion on how important it is, especially with really complex messages, to correctly identify the thought train that is going through the person’s mind. You need to be aware of what pieces of information will they need at what time so they can grasp the whole idea. I guess on some level you’re always doing that when you create an executive summary, a long paper, or you are working through a slide deck for a meeting; you’re always working through that process and I’d never heard anyone explicitly put it like that before. I thought it was a really good way to think about it, particularly when you’re trying to communicate complex things. By putting it out in bite sized chunks, you make it easier to enable people to grasp the big picture at the end of it.

He brought up another idea that I think is good practice to bring into your day to day marketing of your ideas and projects. It’s the idea that you should always be focusing on your stakeholder community’s big values. I think on some level that should be pretty obvious but it’s still worth mentioning and reinforcing. I know that I’ve found myself many times writing something and what comes through on the page are the things that are really important to me and not necessarily to my audience. So I’ll have to go back through, reorder things, and rephrase them to make sure that I’m capturing what is important to the person that I’m writing it for and not just for me.

I really believe that is a worthwhile exercise anytime you write something or pull together communications pieces. By making sure that you take a step back you can really see whether you’ve captured what’s important for your intended audience and not just what are the things that you believe are important about it. So I realize some of what I said is fairly obvious but I know, at least for me, the conversation was a great reminder of:

  • How important it is to think about what the customer or consumer of your information is going to need
  • What order do they need that information in in order to understand it
  • To constantly focus on the areas that are going to be of interest to them as you communicate your big idea.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Are incentives the great motivator we think they are?

Are incentives the motivator we think they are

I spent the Easter weekend down at the Jersey shore in Manasquan with my in-laws. We drive up from DC on Friday then we drive back down Sunday evening. Usually after about the first half hour on the way home I’m the only awake in the car and I’ll throw on a book on tape/mps3. Anyways I decided on the way back last night that I would pick up Daniel H. Pink’s book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.”  I mentioned in my blog post about “To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others,” that it changed the way I thought about a lot of things and “Drive” is the same way.  It’s a really incredible book and it just makes you rethink a lot of things.

In my case, almost everything he said seemed to be obvious but I just never thought of it that way because my whole life I’ve been trained to think and frame things in what he calls Motivation 2.0. This is essentially carrots and sticks. You go to business school and they talk about management and control functions, incentivization techniques, and aligning goals, objectives, and performance structures so you can get people to achieve the types of things that you want them to. He sort of takes that and turns it on its head.

He goes back and talks about some studies that were done in the 40s, 50s, and 60s and have been worked on continuously then where science is used to back up that people are more complex than just being motivated by incentives. Essentially, for a long time up until very recent history we’ve sort of thought about people like you would your dog.  For example, if you want your dog to roll over and do tricks you teach them that they get a treat afterwards and if they do something bad they get punished so they stop doing that. Not surprisingly it turns out, people are a little more complicated than that.

So one of the great studies he talks about is one that was conducted by a gentlemen that was doing some studies with monkeys. He had a simple locking mechanism and he put it in their cages to get them acclimated and before he got to the test he was going to be run (he was going to incentivize them to open the locks) something surprising happened. It turns out that once he put the mechanisms in their cages, they started solving them without any incentive. It started to make him think and over the next 30-40 years up until today the same gentleman has been working to follow up on that with studies with people.

It turns out that sometimes incentivizing people to do things, providing cash rewards for things actually lowers their propensity to do those things.  People, by virtue of linking monetary value to a task, turns it into work instead of fun or something that has its own intrinsic value. He talks about people being extrinsically motivated i.e. cash rewards and that’s a very hard model to sustain. He likens it almost to cigarettes or drugs, where people do it and it then triggers receptors in their brains. Eventually it takes more and more to trigger those receptors and to get that same feeling.

With the intrinsic motivation, people want to solve the problem because they want to solve a problem and that that doesn’t go away and it doesn’t change. So he talks about being very careful about how you incentivize people because once you head down the extrinsic path, you’re going to have to reward more and more frequently and with things of greater and greater value in order to sustain the type of effort that you want. The effort that you probably could have had, if it’s a particular type of task, simply by providing a good work environment.

He talks about how important autonomy is in many of today’s tasks. That by providing people with an environment where they’re able to think about their own approach and they’re given latitude in how to solve problems, they’ll often perform at a much higher level than if you incentive them.  One of the things that incentivizing people does is it pulls other options off the table. So instead of them thinking big picture and solving it in a unique way, they begin to narrow down their focus to simply achieve that goal.  He shows this by pointing out the short view of executives and publicly traded companies. You know so much time and effort is spent to meet quarterly numbers and you see people very rarely surpass those numbers. This is because they are incentivized and their performance bonuses are to meet the numbers. It’s just a really really interesting book, at least to the point that I’m at and when I finish I’ll follow up with another post.  I’m curious to know what other people think about this research on incentives.  We have a performance and incentive program at our organization and it makes me want to revisit that in light of some of the things that I’ve read about and try to make our work structure a little more progressive and align more to the science that’s out there on this topic.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

To Sell is Human

To Sell is HumanReal Pic

Everybody’s selling something, be it a product, image, idea etc. [i]

I’m reading Daniel H. Pink’s new book To Sell is Human and loving it. I tell my folks all the time that they are always selling to the client, to their co-workers, or to me. Whether it’s our services, an idea, or their performance, they should be cognizant of how they present themselves, their thoughts, etc. because all of it plays a role in the outcome. Pink talks throughout the book about the importance of moving people and the powers of persuasion and he makes the case that broadly, we are all in sales. I’ve made this point to employees, co-workers, and clients a hundred times and I love the way he presents it. So many people have the image of the stereotypical used cars salesman in their head and think of sales in terms of getting over on someone. I know that in my business this simply wouldn’t work and the rise of the information era has greatly reduced the effectiveness of this type of sale. Today’s buyers are perhaps the most informed customers to walk the face of the earth and vendors should and do recognize this new empowerment. Pink also broadens the scope of what is generally considered sales to include what he calls non-sales selling, “persuading, influencing and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase.”

This is the area I have been pushing with clients and employees for a long time. We all spend a good amount of time working on convincing others to choose a path we would prefer, even if it’s simply trying to convince your spouse to see a movie you’d like to see or your child to eat veggies. Given its relative importance and the huge portion of our lives dedicated to these types of activities, most of us spend relatively little time devoted to building skill in this area. Pink then walks through an approach to non-sales selling that is truly unique and that I believe every single person could benefit from. All of this is done with a unique storytelling style that makes for easy reading and remembering. Pink is quick to provide insightful statistics and historical references that really add to his points. I thought one of the most interesting sections is where he is describing the sales industry. Interesting tidbits include:

  • The U.S. Department of Labor counts 1 in 10 Americans as working sales
  • The number of people with sales jobs is 5 times as many as work for the US federal government.
  • If the nation’s salespeople lived in a single state it would be the fifth largest in the United States
  • Australia, the UK and the EU all have about 10% of the workforce officially categorized as sales
  • Polls show people outside of sales spend about 40% of their time in selling related activities (persuading, influencing, and convincing)

The book is full of other interesting numbers and he builds a compelling case that most of our lives center around things that could in some form or fashion be considered selling. He covers some of the changes that have led to this and why it might not be such a bad thing. In general, I’ve loved the book, which I intend to finish this evening. I’d be curious what others think of the book if they’ve read it and I’d be interested in particular in the thoughts of those whose jobs fall well outside of the traditional sales category. Do you think selling is important to what you do? What are you selling if it isn’t a product? How are you working to build non-selling sales skills?


[i] Photo By: Nacmias Auto Sales, Service, and Repairs   Rich Nacmias

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Play 8: Work Only on What is Important

For executives that haven’t been naughty

I love to read. I’ve skipped school to finish Shogun, read the covers off of The Belgariad, and waited in line for Harry Potter. These days with a wife, three kids and a busy schedule I often find books stacking up on my nightstand, my office, and in the foyer. One of the great things about the holidays is that I often get a chance to catch up on the books I’ve been meaning to read for months but haven’t had time to open. In that vein I’ve been reading Behind the Cloud: The Untold Story of How Salesforce.com Went from Idea to Billion-Dollar Company-and Revolutionized an Industry by Marc Benioff as we’ve worked our way around the Northeast for the holidays. The book is great, mixing the Salesforce.com story with some great lessons for those of us who are trying to get a little bit of the Salesforce.com magic for our own company. Marc structures the story in Plays that tell a bit of the Saleforce.com story but also carry a little bit of a lesson for those looking to get insight into the success this company, which has been named the World’s Most Innovative company two years in a row by Forbes (2011, 2012), one of the 100 best companies to work for by Fortune (2012), and received the Gartner CRM Excellence Award.

That is why “Play 8: Work Only on What is Important” really struck me as it came right on the heels of my post “3 Point Guide to Staying Sane in the Holiday Season” in which I talk to the importance of being focused on the right things. Marc talks about the importance of “focus on the 20 percent that makes 80 percent of the difference.” He also makes a statement about realizing that you won’t be able to bring the same focus to everything in the beginning. I think this is a great point for start-ups, but really for executives these should be words to live by, especially if you are engaged in any type of transformational activity. I know that I’ve caught myself worrying about the details when the big picture is a semi-truck getting ready to wear me as a hood ornament. One of the things I try to do to combat this is to tell myself before I start something when it needs to be out the door, what the objective or successful outcome will be, and what the value of doing it is to my organization. This has significantly improved my ability to focus on “Just Enough” to get the job done and lessened my tendency to over deliver. Remember as an executive over-delivery is really just great looking waste.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.