Random Thoughts – Randocity!

What’s wrong with Quora?

Posted in botch, business, california, rant by commorancy on July 28, 2019

QuoraYou might be asking, “What is Quora?” We’ll get into that soon enough. Let’s explore the problems with Quora.

Questions and Answers

Before we get into Quora, let’s start by talking about Google. Many people seek answers from Google for many different questions. In fact, questions are the number one use for Google. You don’t go to Google to seek answers you already know. You go there to search (or question) things you don’t know. Such questions might include:

  • Where can I buy a toaster?
  • How long do I bake a chicken?
  • How do I make Quesadillas?
  • What’s the value of my 1974 Pontiac T-Bird?

These are full text questions. And yes, Google does support asking questions in long form such as these above. You can also search Google by using short key words, such as “toastmaster toaster” or “pontiac t-bird” (no, you don’t even need to use the proper case).

These short form questions are solely for use at search engines. When seeking answers to long form questions both Google and other sites can offer responses to your questions. One such site is Quora. Another is Yahoo Answers (a much older platform). Even Google got in on this action with Google Questions and Answers.

Quora

Quora is a recent incarnation of the older Yahoo Answers platform. Even before Yahoo Answers, there was Ask Jeeves. Even Epinions, a product review site (defunct as of 2018), had many answers to many questions. Epinions, in fact, opens a bigger discussion around site closures and content… but that’s a discussion for another article.

The real question (ahem) is whether sites like Yahoo Answers and Quora provide valuable answers or whether they simply usurp Google’s ability to answer questions in more trusted ways. I’m on the fence as to this question’s answer. Let me explain more about Quora to understand why I feel this way.

Quora is a crowdsourced product. By that I mean that both questions and answers are driven by crowds of subscribers. Not by Quora staff or, indeed, Quora at all. Unlike Wikipedia which has many volunteers who constantly proof, correct and improve articles to make Wikipedia a trustworthy information source, Quora offers nothing but the weakest of moderation. In fact, the only moderation Quora offers is both removal of answers and banning of accounts.

Quora has no live people out there reviewing questions and answers for either grammar and mechanics, nor trustworthiness. No one questions whether an answer is valid, useful or indeed even correct. Quora doesn’t even require its answer authors to cite sources or in any way validate what they have written. In fact, Quora’s moderation system is so broken that when answer authors do cite sources, their answer might be flagged and removed as ‘spam’. Yes, the very inclusion of web site links can and will cause answers to be marked as spam and removed from the site. Quora’s insane rationale is that if there’s a web link, it must be pointing to a site owned by the answer author and in which the answer author is attempting to advertise. This stupid and undermining rationale is applied by bots who neither read the content they review nor do they understand that the answer author can’t possibly own Wikipedia.com, Amazon.com or eBay.com.

Indeed, Quora’s moderation is so bare bones basic and broken, it undermines Quora’s own trustworthiness so much so that when you read an answer on Quora, you must always question the answer author’s reputation. Even then, because Quora’s verification and reputation system is non-existent, you can never know if the person is who they say they are. But, this is just the tip of the troubles at Quora.

Quora’s Real Problems

Trustworthiness is something every information site must address. It must address it in concrete and useful ways, ways that subscribers can easily get really fast. Wikipedia has addressed its trust issues by a fleet of moderators who constantly comb Wikipedia and who question every article and every statement in each article. Even with a fleet of moderators, incorrect information can creep in. Within a day or two, that information will either be corrected or removed. Wikipedia has very stringent rules around the addition and verification of information.

Twitter offers a verification system so that celebrities and people of note can send information to Twitter to verify who they say they are to Twitter staff. You’ll notice these as little blue check mark’s by the Twitter subscriber’s name. These check marks validate the person as legitimate and not a fake.

Quora, on the other hand, has no such rules or validation systems at all. In fact, Quora’s terms of service are all primarily designed around “behaving nicely” with no rules around validation of content or of authors. Indeed, Quora offers no terms that address trust or truth of the information provided. Far too many times, authors use Quora as a way of writing fanciful fiction. Worse, Quora does nothing to address this problem. They’re too worried about “spam” links than about whether an answer to a question is valid or trustworthy.

Yet, Quora continually usurps Google’s search by placing its questions (and answers implicitly) at the top of the search results. I question the value in Quora for this. It’s fine if Quora’s answers appear in search towards the bottom of the page, but they should NEVER appear at the number 1 position. This is primarily a Google problem. That Google chooses to promote untrustworthy sites at the top of its search results is something that Google most definitely needs to address. Sure, it is a problem for Quora, but it’s likewise a problem for Google.

Google purports to want to maintain “safety” and “trustworthiness” in its search by not leading you to malicious sites and by, instead, leading you to trustworthy sites. Yet, it plops Quora’s sometimes malicious answers at the top of its search results. Google needs to begin rating sites for trustworthiness and it should then push search results to appropriate levels based on that level of trust. Google needs to insist that sites like Quora, which provide consumers with actionable information, must maintain a certain level of trust to maintain high search rankings. Quora having its question results appear in the top 3 positions of the first page of Google search based entirely on weak trustworthiness is completely problematic.

Wikipedia strives to make its site trustworthy… that what you read is, indeed, valuable, valid and truthful information. Quora, on the other hand, makes absolutely no effort to ensure its answers are valid, trustworthy or, indeed, even truthful. You could ask Google for the answer to a question. You might see Quora’s results at the top of Google’s results and click it. Google placing such sites in the top 3 positions implies an automatic level of trust. That the sites that appear in the first 3 results are there because they ARE trustworthy. This implicit trust is entirely misplaced. Google doesn’t, in fact, place sites in the top of its search because they are trustworthy. It places them there because of “popularity”.

You simply can’t jump to this “trustworthiness” conclusion when viewing Google search results. The only thing you can glean from a site appearing in Google results is that it is not going to infect your computer with a virus. Otherwise, Google places any site at the top of its ranking when Google decides to rank in that position. As I said, you should never read any implicit level of trust into sites which appear in the first 3 positions of Google search. Quora proves this out. Quora’s entire lack of trustworthiness of information means that Google is not, in any way, looking out for your best interests. They are looking out for Quora, not you. Quora’s questions sometimes even rank higher than Wikipedia.

Quora’s Answers

With that said, let’s delve deeper into the problem with Quora’s answers. If you’ve ever written an answer on Quora, then you’ll fully understand what I’m about to say. Quora’s terms of service are, in fact, counter to producing trustworthy answers. Unlike news sites like CNN, The Washington Post and the L.A. Times, where journalistic integrity is the key driving force, Quora ensures none of this. Sure, Quora’s answer editor tool does offer the ability to insert quotes and references, but doing so can easily mark your answer as ‘spam’.

In fact, I’ve had 2 or 3 year old Quora answers marked as ‘spam’ and removed from view because of the inclusion of a link to an external and reputable web site. Quora cites violation of terms for this when, in fact, no such violation exists. The author is then required to spend time appealing this “decision”.

Instead, its bots will remove reviews from its site based entirely upon reports by users. If a user doesn’t like the answer, they can report the review and the review bot will then take the answer down and place it under moderation appeal. There is no manual review by actual Quora staff to check the bot’s work. This work is all done by robots. Robots that can be gamed and sabotaged by irate, irrational, upset users who have a vendetta against other Quorans.

The answer takedowns are never in the interest of trust or making Quora more trustworthy, but are always in the interest of siding with the reporting user who has a vendetta or is simply insane. Users have even learned that they can game Quora’s robots to have answers removed without valid reasons or, indeed, no reasons at all. There’s no check and balance with the moderation robots or takedown requests. Quora receives a report, the answer is summarily removed.

Unfortunately, this is the tip of a much larger Quora iceberg. Let’s continue.

Which is more important, the question or the answer?

All of the above leads to an even bigger problem. Instead of Quora spending its development time attempting to shore up its level of site trust, it instead spends its time creating questionable programs like the Partner Program. A program that, in one idea, sums up everything wrong with Quora.

What is the Partner Program? I’ll get to that in a moment. What the Partner Program ultimately is to Quora is an albatross. Or, more specifically, it will likely become Quora’s downfall. This program solidifies everything I’ve said above and, simultaneously, illustrates Quora’s lack of understanding of its very own platform. Quora doesn’t “get” why a question and answer platform is important.

Which is more important to Quora? They answered this question (ha, see what I did there?) by making the question more important than the answer.

That’s right. The Partner Program rewards people monetarily who ask questions, NOT by rewarding the people who spend the lion’s share of their time writing thoughtful, truthful, trustworthy answers. In effect, Quora has told answer authors that their answers don’t matter. You can write a two sentence answer and it would make no difference. Yes, let’s reward the people who spend 5 minutes writing a 5-10 word sentence… not the people who spend an hour or two crafting trustworthy answers. And this is Quora’s problem in a nutshell.

Worse, it’s not the questions that draw people in to Quora. Yes, the question may be the ‘search terms’, but it’s not why people end up on Quora. The question leads people in, it’s the ANSWER that keeps them there. It’s the answers that people spend their time reading, not the questions.

This is the iceberg that Quora doesn’t get nor do they even understand. The questions are stubs. The questions are merely the arrow pointing the way. It’s not the end, it’s the beginning. The questions are not the reason people visit Quora.

By producing the Partner Program, Quora has flipped the answer authors the proverbial middle finger.finger-512If you’re a Quora answer author, you should definitely consider the Partner Program as insulting. Quora has effectively told the answer authors, “Your answers are worthless. Only questions have monetary value.” Yes, let’s reward the question writers who’ve spent perhaps less than 5 minutes devising a sentence. Let’s completely ignore the answer authors who have spent sometimes hours or days crafting their words, researching those words for clarity and truthfulness and ensuring trust in each detailed answer.

It’s not the questions that draw people in, Quora staff. People visit Quora for the answers. Without thoughtful answers, there is absolutely no reason to visit Quora.

Indeed, Quora’s thinking is completely backasswards, foolish and clownish. It shows just how much a clown outfit Quora really is. Seriously, placing value on the questions at the expense of answer authors who spend hours crafting detailed answers is the very definition of clownish. That situation would be synonymous to The Washington Post or The New York Times valuing and paying readers to leave comments and then asking their journalists to spend their own time and money writing and researching their articles, only to give the article to the newspaper for free. How many journalists would have ever become journalists knowing this business model?

Qlowns

Whomever at Quora dreamed up this clownish idea should be summarily walked to the door. Dissing and dismissing the very lifeblood of your site, the actual question authors, is just intensely one of the most stupid and insane things I’ve seen a site do in its life.

Not only is the very concept of the partner program qlownish, not only does it completely dissuade authors from participating in Quora, not only does is it completely backwards thinking, not only does it reward question authors (which honestly makes no sense at all), this program does nothing to establish trust or indeed, does nothing to put forth any journalistic integrity.

Instead, Quora needs to ditch the question Partner Program and fast. It needs to quickly establish a system that not only rewards the best answer authors, it needs to enforce journalistic integrity on EVERY ANSWER. It needs to implement a validation system to ensure that authors are who they say they are. It needs to make certain that every answer author understands that they are in every real sense a ‘journalist’. And, as a journalist, they should uphold journalistic integrity. That integrity means properly researching sources and properly citing those sources. Yes, it’s a hassle, but it means that Quora’s answers will become trustworthy sources of information.

Right now, the answer authors are mostly random and low quality. In fact, most answers are of such low quality that you simply can’t trust anything found on Quora. Since Quora does not enforce any level of journalistic standards on the answers, there is no way anyone reading Quora should trust what any answer author writes. An answer may seem detailed, but in some cases they are pure fiction. No one at Quora ensures that answers in any way uphold any level of journalistic integrity (there’s that phrase again). It’s an important phrase when you’re writing something that people rely on.

Making a statement of fact for something that seems questionable needs to be cited with a source of reference. Show that at least one other reputable source agrees with your “facts”. That doesn’t mean that that “fact” is true. It’s easy for other reputable sites to be fooled by tricksters. This is why it’s important to cite several reputable sources which agree with your facts. I don’t want to dive deep into the topic of journalistic integrity or what it takes to validate sources, so I’ll leave this one here. This article is about Quora’s inability to uphold journalistic integrity.

Quora’s Backward Thinking

Indeed, the Partner Program’s existence confirms that Quora’s site importance is the opposite of journalistic integrity. Quora’s team values only the questions and the question writers. They do not, in any way, value the journalistic integrity required to write a solid, trustworthy answer. Questions are mere tools. They do not at all imply any level of trust. Here’s another analogy that might make more sense.

A question is simply the key to open a lock. A key is a tool and nothing more. You pay for the lock and key together. You don’t pay only for a key. Paying for a key without a lock means you don’t value (or indeed) even need a lock. You can’t lock anything with only a key. The two are a pair and they both go hand-in-hand. If you lose the key, you can’t open the lock. If you lose the lock, they key has no value. However, it’s easier and cheaper to replace a key than it is to replace the lock. This shows you the value of a ‘key’ alone.

Because Quora chooses to place value only the key and not on the lock, they have entirely lost the ability to protect Quora’s reputation and credibility. Indeed, Quora’s credibility was already in jeopardy before the Partner Program was even a twinkle in someone’s eye. With the Partner Program, Quora has solidified its lack of credibility. Quora has officially demonstrated that it is committed to valuing and paying only for keys and never paying for locks to go with those keys. That means the locks will be the weakest, most flimsiest pieces of junk to ever exist… indeed, the locks won’t even exist.

When you’re trying to secure something, you want the strongest, most durable, most rugged, most secure lock you can afford. You don’t care about the key other than as a the means of opening and securing a lock. Sure, you want the key to be durable and rugged, but a key is a key. There’s nothing so magical about a key that you’d be willing the shell out big bucks solely for a key. You always expect a lock and key to go together. You expect to buy both and you expect them both to work as a cohesive whole. If the key fails, the lock is worthless. If the lock is breakable, then the key is worthless. A lock and key are the very definition of a synergistic relationship. In the lock and key relationship, both have equal importance to the relationship. However, the lock itself is viewed by most people as the most important piece. Locks, however, become unimportant if they can’t secure the belongings they are entrusted to protect. Yes, you do need both the key and the lock for the system to function as a whole.

Likewise, Quora needs both the question and answer to function as a cohesive whole. In the synergistic relationship between the question and an answer, neither is more important in this synergy. Of the two, however, like the lock mechanism, the answer is the most important to the end user because it is what imparts the most information to the reader. It is what must be trustworthy. It is what must contain the information needed to answer the question. The question then holds the same functionality as a key. In fact, it is very much considered a key to Google. That’s why they’re called ‘keywords’ or ‘key phrases’. Using the word ‘key’ when in relation to a search engine is intended to be very much synonymous with a real life key you attach to a key ring. A keyword unlocks the data you need.

Valuing both the Lock and Key

Quora needs a rethink. If there’s any value to be held on data, both the key and the lock, or more specifically the question and answer, need to be valued as a cohesive whole. If you value the question, then you must also value the answer(s). This means revenue sharing. The question author will then receive the equivalent % of revenue that each answer author receives based on work involved. Since a sentence might take you 5 minutes to write and requires no trustworthiness at all, the maximum value a question author might receive would be no more than 10%. The remaining 90% of the revenue would be issued to the answer authors based on traffic driven to the site.

Let’s say that $100 in revenue is driven to that Q&A for the first month. $10 is given to the question asker… always 10% of total revenue. That’s probably a little on the high side, but the question asker did kick the whole process off.

Now, let’s say 3 answers are submitted for the question. Let’s assume all 3 answer authors are participating in the revenue program. The remaining $90 is then spread among the 3 answer authors based on total views. Likes might pump up the percentage by a small percentage. If one answer is fully detailed and receives 2.5k views in 30 days and the remaining two answers receive 500 views each, then the 2.5k views answer author would receive at least 72% of the remaining revenue (2.5k + 1k = 3.5k). 2.5k is ~72% of 3.5k. This means this author would receive 72% of the remaining $90 or a total of $65. The remaining $15 would be split between the other two authors. The more participating authors, the less money to go around per answer. Questions that receive perhaps 200 answers might see only a few dollars of revenue per author.

There must also be some guidelines around answers for this to work. Answer authors must be invited to participate in the program. If the answer author isn’t invited and hasn’t agreed to terms, no revenue is shared. Also, one word, one sentence and off-topic answers disqualify the answer from sharing in revenue. Additionally, to remain in the revenue program, the answer author must agree to write solid, on-topic, properly structured, fully researched and cited answers. If an invited author attempts to game the system by producing inappropriate answers to gain revenue, the author will be disqualified from the program with any further ability to participate. Basically, you risk involvement in the revenue sharing by attempting to game it.

This math incentivizes not only quality questions, but also quality answers. The better an answer is, the more views it is likely to receive. More views means more revenue. The better and clearer the answer, the more likely the author is to not only be asked to participate in the revenue sharing program, the more likely they are to receive a higher share of that revenue. The best answers should always be awarded the highest amounts of revenue possible.

Google vs Quora

As I postulated early in the article, does Quora actually hold any value as a site or does it merely usurp Google’s search results? This is a very good question, one that doesn’t have a definitive answer. For me, I find that Quora’s current answers range from occasionally and rarely very high quality to, mostly, junky worthless answers. This junky aspect of Quora leads me towards Quora being a Google usurper. In other words, most of Quora’s results in Google are trash clogging up the search results. They shouldn’t be there.

Unfortunately, Google returns all results in a search whether high or low quality. Google does offer some limited protection mechanisms to prevent malicious sites from appearing in results. But, Google’s definition of the word ‘malicious’ can be different than mine in many cases. Simply because someone can put up a web site with random information doesn’t automatically make that site valuable. Value comes from continually providing high quality information on an ongoing basis… the very definition of professional journalism. Now we’re back to journalistic integrity. We’ve come full circle.

Unfortunately, because of Quora’s lack of insistence on journalistic integrity, I find Quora to be nothing more than a mere novelty… no better than TMZ or the National Enquirer. I’m not saying TMZ doesn’t have journalists. They do. But, a rag is always a rag. Any newspaper dishing dirt on people I always consider the bottom feeders of journalism… the very dreckiest of tabloid journalism. This type of journalism is the kind of trash that has kept the National Enquirer and other tabloids in business for many, many years. It’s sensational journalism at its finest (or worst). Sure, these writers might aspire to be true journalists some day, but they’ll never find reputable journalistic employment dishing dirt on celebrities or fabricating fiction (unless they begin writing fiction novels).

Unfortunately, many of Quora’s answers fall well below even the standards established by the dreckiest of tabloids. The one and only one thing tabloids and Quora have in common is fiction. Unfortunately, the fiction on Quora isn’t even that entertaining. It’s occasionally amusing, but most of it is tedious and cliché at its most common. Think of the worst movie you’ve watched, then realize that most of these Quora fiction “stories” are even less entertaining than that. There may be a few gems here and there (probably written by professional writers simply exercising their chops on Quora), but most of it is not worth reading.

Worse, the trust level of what’s written is so low (regardless of purported “credentials”), there’s nothing on Quora worth extending a level of trust. Reading Quora for sheer entertainment value, perhaps that can be justified a little. Even then, most answers fall way short of having even entertainment value. Even the worst YouTube videos have more entertainment value. Full levels of trust? No way. Quora has in no way earned that.

Seeking Answers

Yes, we all need questions answered, occasionally. We all need to seek advice, occasionally. Yes, I’m even seeking to answer the question, “What’s wrong with Quora?” Of course, don’t expect to read any answers like THIS on Quora. Oh, no no no. Quora is very, very diligent at removing anything it deems to be anti-Quora in sentiment, such at this article. Anyway, if you choose to seek out Quora for this kind of information, Quora’s immediately problems become your problem. Considering all of the above, Quora is probably one of the worst ways of getting information. Not only can you be easily deceived by an answer author, you can be taken for a ride down Scam Lane. Trust advice from Quora with the same level of acceptance as you would from a 6 year old child. I’m not saying there are 6 year old children on Quora, but Quora certainly acts like one. Seeking Quora for advice means you could, in fact, be taking advice from 13 year old via a Barbie encrusted iPad.

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Spotting a Liar

Posted in advice, analysis, mental health by commorancy on June 15, 2019

pinocchio-knowsRecently, I’ve come across a book by Pamela Meyer entitled Liespotting: Proven techniques to Detect Deception released in 2010. Unlike Pinocchio, determining if a human is lying is quite a bit more complicated. While this is not the only book involving the topic of lie detection, let’s review Pamela Meyer’s visitation of this topic and of the act of deception itself. Let’s explore.

Lies and Deception

Let’s open this article by talking about Pamela’s TED talk. The difficulty I have with Pamela’s TED talk, which was apparently meant to simultaneously accompany and promote her book, was her seeming lack of expertise around this subject. Oh, she’s certainly knowledgeable enough… but is ‘enough’ really enough? It seems that her corporate America stint has led her to using these techniques to ferret out suspected liars from truth tellers. While that’s a noble reason to go into writing a book, it doesn’t make you an expert on the subject. I will fully admit now that I, like Pamela, am not an expert on the subject of behavioral psychology. Only a trained professional should be considered an expert on the art of detecting lies and detecting body language clues. I leave that to the experts. And even then, this art is so nuanced that detecting a lie could mean the difference between indigestion and actual lying.

The difficulty I have with Pamela’s book is that she focuses on trying to catch people in a lie whom are unwittingly using verbal and body cues that tell a different story. Her methodology suggests and implies that you’re planning to sit in a room with that person for potentially an hour (or longer) and have a conversation. Okay, so maybe ‘conversation’ isn’t the right word. Maybe the right word is ‘interrogation’. Or really, the correct word is probably ‘grill’.

If you’re planning on sitting in a room with a suspect grilling them for a lengthy period of time and asking all sorts of pointed questions, perhaps you can eventually catch someone in a slip-up or even multiple slip-ups. Even then, you have to question whether that ‘grilling’ methodology can really uncover a definitive measure of lying. Even more than this, is ‘grilling’ a practical methodology to employ in everyday use? Perhaps it is with your children if you’re trying to get to the bottom of who broke the lamp. But, would you ‘grill’ your friends? A co-worker? Your boss? No, this methodology is not in any way practical. Practicality aside…

In her TED talk, she discusses looking for ‘clusters’ during these question ‘sessions’. Seeing many telltale behaviors in a row may indicate deception. Though, is it really deception, is it fatigue, is it simply a person’s idiosyncracy, is it indigestion or is it, indeed…

Coercion?

The longer you sit with someone in a room interrogating them, the more it becomes about coercion. There’s a fine line here. While Pamela may not have called this aspect out, it’s a line that can easily be crossed when interrogating someone at length. At some point, you have to ask if the “cluster of mistakes” the person seems to be making is attributed to lying or coercion? With enough questions and time, you can actually get someone to confess to something they didn’t do simply because they wish to end the conversation and get out of there. Fatigue and boredom easily causes people to make mistakes, particularly when you ask the same questions over and over and over. Coercion, like lying, is part of human nature. In fact, I’d consider coercion to be the flip side of lying.

If you know the person and interact with them daily, you would know how they “normally” behave. You can then tell when they do, say or act in a way that’s somewhat off. If you’re talking to someone you don’t know, you have no idea of their personal behaviors… so how can you spot clusters of anything? Even then… if you think (and the key word here is “think”) you have spotted deception, what do you do?

Spotting a Lie…

is half the battle. The other half is what you choose to do with that information. Do you leave and go grab a pizza and beer and forget all about it? Or, do you confront the person? Confrontation is not likely to get you very far.

Pamela’s book seems geared towards brokering corporate business deals. I’m not sure exactly how useful her information would be in corporate business considering that the majority of corporate executives are not only pathological themselves, but many are also sociopaths and/or narcissists. Few CEOs actually care about their underlings. Additionally, C-Level anybody is not likely to sit long enough to be ‘grilled’. Perhaps they may be willing to submit to being ‘grilled’ under certain business conditions of duress. For example, if a CEO’s company is failing and there are millions of dollars at stake needed to revitalize a failing company, then they might be willing to sit through a grilling session by investors. However, they might not. So, again, I question out how useful her information might actually be in corporate America employed at an executive level?

Certainly, at corporate meetings and outings, executives put on a good face. But, don’t kid yourselves. They didn’t get to be a CEO without being some measure of ruthless and sociopathic. No, it also follows that most of these CEOs lie through their teeth when at corporate meetings. If they’re on a stage professing the latest greatest thing the company is offering, they’re simply telling you what you want to hear (and, more specifically, what they want you to hear). Personally, I’ve worked in many businesses where CEOs say things at a corporate events that, in fact, never take place. In fact, I already knew it was a lie the moment it was said. It’s not hard to spot when a CEO is lying to the company. Perhaps I’m being a bit too cynical here, but I don’t think so.

Another example, when the CFO takes the stage and begins is talk about finances, you can bet there’s information on his/her spreadsheet that’s not accurate, or indeed is not even there. This is the lie that corporate executives tell often. They want you to think the company is “on target”, is “doing well” and is “making money” even when things aren’t nearly that rosy. You simply cannot believe all of the “rah-rah” that corporate executives tell you at events. If you do, you’re extremely gullible. Nothing is EVER that rosy… or as another idiom goes, “There’s two sides to every coin.”

That not to say that all CEOs lie all of the time. But, they certainly are masters at withholding key information from the common folks in most organizations. Withholding key information is a lie, make no mistake. If a company insists on “transparency” in its business operations, you can bet that CEOs won’t apply transparency to their own business decisions. However, this is getting off into the deep end of the psychology of corporate business America. I could write a whole article, perhaps even a book, on this subject alone. For now, let’s move on.

Being Caught

You think you’ve caught someone in a lie? The question remains… what do you do with that information? Do you confront them? Do you walk away? Do you ask them for the truth? And, these are all questions, choices and decisions you’ll have to make for yourself. Knowing that someone is lying is entirely different from acting on that information. How do you act when you think someone is deceiving you? The answer to this question depends on where the lie happens.

If the lie is in your personal life and it involves a personal relationship, then only you can work it out with your partner. If your relationship is supposed to revolve around truth and trust, then it’s probably worth bringing it out into the open to discuss it.

If the lying involves a co-worker or boss at your company, then you have to make the decision how this affects your ongoing position at that company. If it’s a small lie that really doesn’t affect you personally, walk away and forget about it. If it’s a large lie that could easily jeopardize your position at the company, then you need to take steps to both protect yourself and distance yourself from that person. In this case, it’s worth having a sit-down with your manager and explain what you have uncovered and why you believe it’s a lie… bring proof if you can find it.

If it’s a lie that involves and may materially impact a business deal, this is difficult to offer a suggestion here as there are many forms of this which would require me to go off into an extremely long tangent and could significantly impact corporate legal agreements. In fact, maybe I’ll circle around to this topic and write an individual article involving corporate lying, legal contracts and business deals.

Deceit, Deception and Lying

With that said, I’d like to get into a little about the ‘whys’ of this topic and types of lies. Why do we lie? Two reasons: 1) To protect ourselves and/or 2) To protect someone else. Yes, that’s the primary reasons that we lie. Though, there is also a third category. The third type are those who are pathological. They lie because 1) they can and 2) because they find it fun.

Basically, there are two types of liars: 1) the ordinary liar and 2) the pathological liar. The “ordinary” liar is the person you’re most likely to meet in a lie. The ordinary liar is also more easy to spot. The pathological liar is less likely to be seen or caught. Don’t kid yourself, some co-workers are pathological liars… and these are the ones you need to completely avoid. Pathological liars will basically stop at no lie to get what they want. Many pathological liars are also ruthless sociopaths and/or narcissists, so don’t get in their way.

There are many types of deception, not just verbal lies. There is also deception by lack of information… or, what they aren’t telling you. Company executives are brilliant at this strategy. Withholding vital information from folks is the way they keep what they know limited. It’s also a way that many corporations choose to do business with customers. Lies sustain corporate America. In fact, you’ve probably been told a lie by someone selling you something… simply so you’ll buy that product or service. It’s not about what they are telling you, it’s about what they aren’t telling you.

Internally, companies also lie to employees. As an example, a company where you work may have rumors of “going public”. The executive team will not officially announce any information about this until it’s considered “official” and “unstoppable”. The difficulty I have with this process is that if I’ve been given ISO stock, I’m a stockholder. I should be kept informed of when or if the company chooses to IPO. Being left in the dark is not good for shareholders. Yes, this is a form of a lie. Withholding information from someone even if they have asked you pointed questions is lying.

Credentials and Lying

Here’s yet another type of deception… and it’s extremely prevalent in the self-help industry. Many people profess to have knowledge of things they do not. Again, Pamela Meyer is from a corporate business background. She does not have a medical or science degree. She can’t claim to have medical behavioral psychology training. Yet, here she is writing a book about this topic as though she does. Yes, she does carry a Ph.D. That means she has a doctorate of philosophy. That is not a medical degree… and even then, calling someone a ‘doctor’ who carries a Ph.D is dubious at best. The word ‘doctor’ is primarily reserved for those folks who are medically trained professionals and who carry, for example, a medical degree such as M.D., D.O. or even a D.D.S. These are folks who spent significant time not only in medical school, but have served at a hospital to solidify their medical training. For doctors licensed in psychology, that would be a Phys.D degree. Psychiatry is a totally different thing and is governed by professionals holding a Ph.D.

Carrying certain Ph.D. credentials in no way, by itself, qualifies you to write about psychological related subjects with authority or impunity. Sure, you can have an opinion on the subject matter, as we all do, but carrying a Ph.D doesn’t make you an expert. That would require medical training, and specifically, psychology related medical training.

That doesn’t mean she didn’t take some measure of psychology classes as part of her Ph.D program. In fact, I’m sure that her school’s degree program required psychology as part of its foundation class load. However, these college fundamental classes are simple basic introductory classes. These basic classes introduce you to the basics of psychology… such as terms and vocabulary with general purpose, but limited information. There’s nothing specifically introduced in these “basic” classes that would qualify anyone to be an expert covering the nuances of human behavior or teach them the detail needed to identify someone in a lie. These are all techniques that would most likely be taught in advanced behavioral psychology classes, usually only attended by students intending on graduating with a degree in and intending to practice behavioral psychology. Even then, you’d have to practice these techniques for years to actually be considered an ‘expert’.

That’s not to say that her time working in corporate America didn’t give her some valuable corporate life experience in this area. But, that still doesn’t indicate expertise in this field. And this is the key point I’m trying to make here. This article is not intended call out only Pamela Meyer. She’s used as a broader example here because she’s the most obvious example to call out. There are many forms of lying. Writing psychology and medical leaning books beyond your actual expertise level is considered disingenuous… or one might even say lying.

Even were she (or any other author writing about this topic) to have a Phys.D degree, I’d still want to understand exactly how an author had come to know this information (e.g., clinical work, working with the military, working with prisons, working with the police, etc). You know, show me years of training in and practice in this area. Even publishing journal articles, theses and dissertations in this area which have been accepted by medical publications would lend legitimacy to her ‘expertise’. Simply writing a book and having a TED talk doesn’t exactly qualify you as an ‘expert’. Though, maybe it does qualify you as an expert researcher.

Behaviors and Lying

One of the things Pamela does to solidify her credentials in her TED talk is open by discussing how “we all” perform these behaviors when we’re lying. That’s the perfect opening to get the audience to “relate to” you. After all as humans, we all occasionally lie. What’s more perfect than roping the audience in than with a blanket statement designed to make the audience immediately think she “knows what she’s talking about” simply because the information is “accessible”. Accessibility of information doesn’t make someone an expert. What she is, if anything, is articulate. Yes, Pamela is actually very articulate. However, being articulate, and I’m going to reiterate this once again, doesn’t make you an expert.

Expertise comes from training, research, publications and working in this specific area as your career choice for multiple years. She’s not a behavioral psychologist. Instead, she draws upon others works to help write her book… to flesh out those pesky details. This is typical of teachers and researchers and even journalists, not practitioners. This is the problem and the difference between the teaching profession and the doing profession. She’s a teacher, not a doer… so her advice in this area may or may not be helpful.

Lying is Rampant

One thing Pamela does get right is that lying is extremely common and seems to be more and more nonchalantly used today. We lie to our boyfriends and girlfriends. We lie to our spouses. We lie to our bosses. We even lie to our friends. The question isn’t that we lie, but to what degree. If the lies consist of the insignificant or “little white” variety, then these don’t matter.

The lies that matter are those that lose relationships, that tank businesses, that lose millions of dollars or even that cause someone to be killed. These are the lies that actually matter. Putting down the wrong information on the wrong patient chart may be unintentional, but it’s a lie that could get someone killed in a hospital. These are deceptions that where saying, doing or performing the wrong thing can get someone dead. Some might consider this a ‘mistake’, but I consider it a lie. It all depends on perspective.

What Pamela got wrong is that most lies don’t matter. Let me say that again. Most lies do not matter. What I mean is that if someone tells you they like your shoes, but in reality they’re hideously ugly, that’s a lie that is meant to help someone feel better. There’s nothing wrong in that. This is the ‘little white lie’.

Lying to a Walmart employee claiming you bought something there that you didn’t actually purchase at Walmart does monetary damage. Lying to an insurance company claiming damage or injury that doesn’t exist, that also causes monetary damage. Both of these actions are also called fraud. The lie is half the problem. The other half is proof of the lie. In Walmart’s case, if their computers were actually better than they are, they could look up the person’s recent purchase information and catch them in the lie. In the case of insurance fraud, there are private investigators.

And here’s another thing Pamela got wrong. Catching a person in the lie is enough. There’s no need to spend hours interrogating them as to “why”. We don’t need to know why. We just need to catch them in the lie. Hence, the need for private investigators who follow people claiming injury to insurance companies. The proof is catching them in the act, not spending time looking at body language and listening for verbal clues. Another phrase comes to mind, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” It’s true, we don’t have the time to spend hours sitting in a room trying to get to the bottom of a liar. We need to get the proof that they’re lying and that proof lies (pun intended) outside of the liar. Proof is what matters in a lie, not a confession. A confession is great IF you can get it, but the proof is what tells you the person is lying, not their words or actions.

In law enforcement, getting a confession seems to be the “holy grail” out of a perpetrator. However, there’s no need to get a confession if you have proof that the person was there and did whatever he/she claimed not to have done. Considering that crime scenes can easily become tainted and proof dismissed due to ‘technicalities’, a confession overrides that red tape problem. Red tape is there for a reason, but many times it allows acquittal of someone who is actually guilty. Of course, red tape has nothing to do with lying and everything to do with law and policy.

If the person chooses to tell the “truth” and “confess” to whatever they had been lying about, that’s great. Obtaining proof is the key, not spending hours waiting on someone to squirm in just the right way only offering a possible 50% success rate. With computers becoming faster and more powerful and able to store more and more data about each of us (some of it voluntarily posted on social media), lying about certain things (DNA tests to determine relationship) may become impossible.

As detection technologies evolve and become faster, smaller and more portable, determining such information as paternity may become as easy as a cotton swab to the mouth and in minutes you’ll have an answer.

Lying has never been a crime

This subject heading says it all. It’s not the lie that’s the crime. It’s whatever the lie is attempting to conceal that may or may not be a problem. For this reason, you won’t find laws on any books that ban lying. If any legislation was introduced that actually attempted to enforce telling the truth, it would be met with much consternation (and, at least in the US, would be against the fifth amendment of the constitution — which this amendment says you have the right not to incriminate yourself).

Pleading the fifth, in the US, means that you do not have to talk to anyone about anything. Simply saying, “I plead the fifth” stops all questions regarding whatever matter is under investigation… at least when talking to the authorities. In some cases, pleading the fifth may, at least in the public eyes, make you seem guilty. If you aren’t willing to talk, then it is assumed you have something to hide… perhaps something that implicates you, thus making you seem guilty.

In the US, the tenet is, “Innocent until PROVEN guilty.” This only holds for official courts of law. In the court of public opinion, “Guilty until proven innocent” reigns. In the court of public opinion, there is no proof needed. Once you are seen as guilty, you are always considered guilty.

In a criminal court of law, the burden of proof is typically measured as ‘reasonable doubt’. The word ‘reasonable’ being the key word. It doesn’t take 100% proof, it simply takes ‘reasonable’ proof. ‘Reasonable’ is intentionally left subjective and vague and is up to any specific jury to ascertain what they consider as ‘reasonable doubt’. Indeed, some juries are sometimes confounded by the word ‘reasonable’ and rightly so. What is ‘reasonable’? The word itself means “to reason” or “decide” or utilize any similar thought process. But, what does it mean in a court of law or in legal circles? Juries are never comprised of legal professionals. Instead, they are comprised of people not in the legal profession and usually not professionals who might significantly impact the prosecution’s case. Instead, legal counsel typically appoints jury members who do not appear biased in either direction (toward or against the defendant) and whose profession is not considered a ‘conflict of interest’.

Civil courts offer a different legal standard. In civil trials, the burden of proof is “preponderance of evidence”. In a way, ‘preponderance’ offers nearly the same vagueness as ‘reasonable’. Both are vague terms meant to be interpreted by the jury at hand. In both criminal and civil trials, these terms are intentionally so vague as to allow juries to effectively make up their own rules under “reasonable” and “preponderance” when deliberating. This allows juries the leeway to consider some evidence and dismiss other evidence. It also means that, for example, a jury has 25 pieces of evidence, but only 8 pieces are solid enough to consider. Simply doing the math, 8 solid pieces of evidence is well less than 50% of the evidence presented. Is eight really enough? If those 8 pieces basically put the person at the scene and also shows that the person’s DNA was found at the crime scene and also that they were there at the time in question, then ‘lack of reasonable doubt’ and sufficient ‘preponderance of evidence’ has been established. From here, the jury should convict on whatever counts are listed for that evidence.

Note that ‘preponderance of evidence’ is tantamount to a phrase that more or less means, ‘overwhelming’ or more simply ‘enough’. The ‘preponderance of evidence’ phrase implies looking for ‘more than enough’. With ‘reasonable doubt’, it implies the opposite. The jury should be looking for ‘reasonable doubt’ or ‘not enough evidence’ to convict. In civil cases, juries (or a judge) would need to look for ‘preponderance’ (or more than enough) evidence to convict. Both result in the same outcome, conviction or acquittal. It’s just that the way the jury is directed to act is slightly different based on the legal phrasing of the burden of proof.

What that all means is that the ‘laymen’ folks who are chosen for a jury typically are ignorant of laws and legal proceedings. They are there because they don’t have this knowledge. They can then remain impartial throughout the trial by reviewing all of the evidence presented in a ‘fair’ and ‘just’ method. Yes, they can even use some of the verbal and body cues of the defendant to determine if they ‘feel’ his body language is indicative of lying, which could sway their view of ‘preponderance’ or ‘reasonable’. In civil trials, juries are reminded to rule based on “preponderance of the evidence”. In criminal trials, juries must rule based on “reasonable doubt”.

What does this all mean? It means that in a court of law, while you could use some of these lie spotting techniques to determine whether a defendant is telling the truth, what makes the difference is the evidence presented. The evidence is what catches someone in a lie… particularly when they don’t confess.

For this reason, legal court proceedings require burden of proof for juries to ponder during deliberation… rather than using hunches, intuition or gut feelings.

Local Friendships

Back at home, we don’t have to judge our friends based on vague legal terms. Instead, we have to use our own critical thinking skills. This is where you can use and apply lie spotting techniques (which, if you have noticed, I have not included in this article intentionally), to spot a friend, co-worker or boss in a lie. Again, it’s up to you what to do with that information once you spot it.

If lying or telling the truth is an important concept for you, this article might not make you happy. You should understand that lies are everyday things told to us by even our closest friends. If you get worked up at the thought of someone lying to you, you should probably learn to relax more. Lies are something told by many people every day. If you’re a bit uptight at learning this, you might want to forget all about this article and go on with your life oblivious. After all, “ignorance is bliss”.

We don’t have to use juries or law books to judge our friends. We use our instincts and common sense. If you add in a little behavioral profiling (yes, it is a form of profiling) you may be able to determine if that leg twitch or nose itch or eye glance or finger motion is a telltale sign of lie. As I said, most lies are insignificant in the grander scheme. Learning to let these things go or, as another phrase goes, “don’t sweat the small stuff” will let you remain a happier person. Nothing in life is ever perfect. Nothing. Not relationships. Not people. Not actions. You have to expect that anyone around you will not always do things for your benefit, not even your spouse. You have to be willing to understand this and compromise by ignoring these lies.

If a lie is something you can’t ignore, particularly a life changing event (birth of a child), then that’s where you must stand up and take responsibility for your own actions… or confront someone about their actions.

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Stranded by the Airline

Posted in advice, smart, tickets, travel by commorancy on November 5, 2018

Photo of departure board courtesy of BlaneTraveling by air is one of the most common means of travel and it usually goes without a hitch. But, what happens when an airline leaves you stranded due to technical problems? Whose responsibility is it? Let’s explore.

Stranded at the Airport

I’ve seen articles similar to this one discussing a 77 hour delay from Orlando to the UK. The difficulty I have with these situations is that many travelers seem to expect the airline to cover for or provide food, lodging and other accommodations while stranded.

A family stated of the British Airlines delay:

The passengers were treated inhumanely, all we wanted was some food and drink, somewhere to sleep and to be kept informed – and they failed on all counts no matter what they claim.

Other than being kept informed, is the rest the airline’s responsibility?

When you book your tickets for passage aboard a flight, you expect that flight to take place within the defined ticket times. If the flight can’t make those times, you should be notified by the airline of realistic timings when or if the next flight can make. It should also be the airline’s responsibility to find another plane as quickly as possible to make good on the flight. If a plane cannot be found quickly (i.e., within a few hours), then the airline should book you onto another carrier to get you to your destination. One way or another, they should make good on a flight within 24 hours. That’s a reasonable amount of time. I know we all want resolution in an hour or two, but sometimes that’s not possible.

If a flight cannot be located until the following day, then the airline should inform you of that information ASAP so you can find a hotel and make accommodations for a stay over. Who pays for that hotel should be you, the traveler… at least at that moment in time. You can negotiate reimbursement of those accommodations should the airline extend that courtesy, but don’t expect it right then (or at all), like some of the people interviewed for this article.

This BBC article describes a detailed account of what happens when travelers make the wrong assumptions about airline delay responsibility. This article describes that British Airlines left people stranded at the airport made worse by being in NY (which NY is always notoriously short on accommodations, unless you’re willing to drive to Newark or Queens or farther). Apparently, this wait took 77 hours. The flight was supposed to depart on Thursday and ended up departing on Saturday arriving on Sunday. The delay took slightly over 3 days in total.

Who has Responsibility?

For a 3 day delay, whose responsibility is it to make sure that you are fed, have shelter and have the basic necessities for living? It’s certainly not the airline’s responsibility. Travel problems are rare, but they do happen. YOU are the traveler. YOU need to accommodate yourself. It’s YOUR responsibility as the traveler to make sure YOU and your immediate co-travelers are accommodated. For example, if you have a family of four, expect that you will have to go find a hotel and pay for it out of your own pocket. This means having a phone handy or a device capable of using the Internet and WiFi. Use the airport WiFi if you have nothing else available. Just make sure you have an Internet capable device or a working phone with you.

Don’t expect the airline to do anything for you other than provide you with a flight. Unless the airline is holding you hostage on the plane on the tarmac, you can’t expect anything from the airline. When you’re at the airport terminal waiting, you need to assess your own accommodations and take action yourself.

It’s always worth asking the airline for help, but don’t expect the airline to do anything for you. The airlines are not obligated to do anything other than see to your flight. Sitting around at the airport complaining that the airline is not seeing to your personal needs is called over-dependence. You can only depend on yourself to manage your own personal welfare. You can’t throw your person at an airline and expect them to become your personal caregiver. It’s not their responsibility. It seems a lot of people completely misunderstand this aspect of airline travel. Your ticket also doesn’t require them to do this. You take care of you. At some point, you will need to understand taking this personal level of responsibility for yourself while traveling.

The only time that the airline is responsible for your welfare is when you are actually in your seat on the plane. That’s the only time when the airline needs to accommodate you and your needs. When you are sitting in the terminal awaiting a plane, you are firmly on your own. It’s not the airport’s responsibility nor is it the responsibility of the airline.

Stranded for Days

Being stranded by an airline is rare, but it can happen for various reasons. Reasons that may not make you happy as a stressed out traveler, but that are unavoidable by the airline. This is part and parcel of traveling by budget flights these days. Airlines are running their routes very, very lean. Meaning, they don’t have extra planes or personnel should the need arise. This means that you could be waiting hours or even days before a plane might become available should your original flight’s plane end up out of service.

As a traveler, you need to bring along enough money for (or have the means to handle) unexpected delays. If the delay extends beyond a few hours, it then becomes your responsibility to handle your own personal needs up to possibly even forfeiting your old ticket and booking separate travel arrangements yourself. In fact, if time is important to you, then you should already be looking for alternatives within 15 minutes of finding out about the delay. Don’t wait. You can always cancel the arrangements, but it can be difficult to make arrangements if you wait even 3 hours. If you need medical treatments, medicines, food, baby formula or other accommodations, you absolutely cannot expect the airline or the airport to see to those needs.

I realize airlines might string you along by saying “an hour longer” via the terminal attendants. However, by hour 6 or 7 of that stringing, you need to request a straight answer from the airline. If they’re unwilling to give it to you, it means it is time to seek your own alternatives. You can continue to wait if you like, but that’s on you. If waiting gets to the 24 hour mark, then you have waited far too long. At 8 hours, you definitely need to seek your own accommodations for food and lodging and perhaps even alternative transportation to your destination. Even at 3 hours of waiting (unless expressly stated on the ticket as a 3 hour layover), you should have already spent that time seeking alternatives.

You can spend time later fighting with the original airline carrier about refunds or other issues, but it is up to you to take care of yourself and see to your own needs and comfort. Throwing yourself at an airline, then complaining about it won’t make matters better. You’ll also have wasted a lot of time when you could have had hotel accommodations a lot sooner. Sure, you may not have planned for that extra time or that extra hotel, but traveling isn’t always problem free. At 24 hours waiting, the airline can’t expect you to hang around the terminal waiting forever for their plane to arrive. Even 8 hours waiting is expecting too much of travelers.

If you don’t have enough money to cover either alternative flight accommodations or a hotel (until your flight becomes available), I might suggest that you probably shouldn’t have traveled in the first place. You should always have enough money to realistically cover a few extra days including food, lodging and any other basic needs when traveling, just in case.

Airline Courtesy

The problem with many travelers these days is that far too many people think that the airline has 100% responsibility for their welfare the moment they enter the airport. That that ticket you’re holding is some kind of magical device that grants the airline 100% ownership of your person until you step off at your final destination.

This belief is 100% false. That ticket is simply a travel voucher. It lets you onto the plane and offers you passage to the end destination. When a plane is not available for that flight, the airline may be irresponsible in its notifications of when you might be able to travel, but you cannot expect the airline to begin accommodating your personal needs for the duration of that long delay.

That’s not part of the ticket you paid for. Perhaps this issue requires a special line of travel insurance. Perhaps the airlines (or booking agencies) need to offer delay insurance where you pay extra in case of delay. The delay insurance should cover accommodations at a local airport hotel for the duration of delay. It might cover for a single meal voucher for each person up to a specific amount. It might even cover for transportation to and from the hotel.

If you paid for such insurance (were it to exist), then if a delay occurs, you know exactly how it will be handled, exactly what you’ll get, exactly what the airline’s responsibility is to you and that your needs will be taken care of. It also means the airlines will be forced to support and accommodate travelers who buy this delay travel insurance. It means that the airlines must notify and then hold the plane until all insurance travelers are back at the airport, through security and on the plane after the plane is finally available (within reason, of course). Adding delay insurance means that instead of sitting around waiting, you now have definitive rules that must be adhered to by the airline personnel and when those accommodations kick in.

If it costs $50 to check a bag and $30 for each carry-on, what makes you think an airline is going to see to your food and lodging accommodations during a long delay? Are you expecting it out of their own ‘courtesy’ for free? I don’t think so. Those days are over. Adding delay insurance, on the other hand, means that you have paid for and know exactly what you’re going to get if an airline has a delay like British Airlines.

For now, no such separate delay insurance exists. Until such insurance exists, you need to see to your own welfare and make sure you have enough money when traveling to do so, even when stranded at an airport because of an excessively long airline delay.

As a side note, some travel cancellation insurance plans may include trip delay coverage. But, these delay benefits kick in under very specific conditions and may not cover a scenario like British Airline’s 3 day delay. If you’re curious if a plan might cover such a delay, you should contact a travel insurer to find out more.

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How not to run a business (part 10): Undermining Your Business

Posted in botch, business by commorancy on May 31, 2015

There are lots of very subtle actions that can be taken where you can unknowingly undermine your business success. Let’s explore.

Don’t fire a position multiple times in a row

While this somewhat depends on the position, it’s still never a good sign when you must fire staff from the same position over and over. Even if you’re disenchanted with the people you’ve hired doing the specific work and after firing a position more than three times, this says more about your needs than the position. It’s clear, what you need in the position and the type of people you are hiring is mismatched. You need to rethink the job requirements for the position and hire the correct talent to fit that role. When you fire leaders in this way (i.e., VPs, SVPs or C-Level execs), this situation is even more detrimental to your business.

How will this undermine your business? Firing a position more than three times says several things. First, it says you don’t know what you’re looking for. Second, for all of those people whom you’ve hired and fired, the word will get around that anyone who’s a competent candidate won’t even consider the position. Once you realize that the most talented pools are relatively small and that they do talk to one another, firing a position multiple times means the word will get around to not hire on at that company. Once the word gets around about this situation, it is never a good thing for your business. The higher the profile of the position, the stronger the word gets around and this will severely undermine your ability to acquire top-end talent.

Additionally, the word will also get around in the recruiter community and they also choose not to place talent at your company.

Don’t choose an industry without researching its requirements

When you’re setting up your business plan, you need to thoroughly research the industry your business will be in. For example, selling a product or service to the medical industry is profoundly different than selling it to marketing teams, which is also profoundly different than selling your wares to the government or doctors or lawyers or farmers.

How will this undermine your business? If you fail to properly research the types of clients you are working to obtain, you won’t understand their demands and requirements. Every industry is bound by laws and regulation (some industries more than others). If you fail to realize that the industry you are targeting requires strict compliance to laws, you may also fail to understand how those laws apply to your business and that your company’s compliance may be unattainable and far too costly.  If you can’t comply with the laws, you may never be able to land the deals on which your business depends. Yes, for many companies, vendors must comply with certain laws, security requirements and industry standards before a company will agree to close your deal. Failing to research these requirements may undermine your ability to remain in business. Or, it may relegate your business to smaller companies needing much smaller deals.

Don’t fail to underestimate the power of word of mouth

Sites like Glassdoor exist for a reason. Before Glassdoor, there was no transparency except by word of mouth. Now, there is.

How will this undermine your business? Before Glassdoor, recruiters would make the determination of where to place candidates. Recruiters also won’t choose to place prospective employees in toxic environments. That is, environments where firings are common, where turnover is high and where employee morale is extremely low. They won’t place anyone for a very good reason… they know the new employee won’t stay long enough to allow the recruiter to collect their commission. Recruiters only get paid their commission if the placed employee stays for the specified duration of time (3-6 months depending on the placement contract). Recruiters, therefore, will not place would-be candidates into an environment they know will be a short lived role. It also likely means that when you do find recruiters who will work with your hiring needs, they likely are unaware of the problem. Though, once they place and realize they are making no money, don’t expect to hear from them again.

Additionally, with sites like Glassdoor, employees can remain anonymous and be brutally honest about their experiences at the business. This can also undermine your ability to hire. Sites like Twitter and Facebook just compound the problem. As work gets around and your business’s reputation becomes tainted, you’ll find that it can be nearly impossible to not only attract good talent, but also retain it. Word of mouth in an industry is as good as gold to a job candidate, but can be poison for a business. You need to make sure your word of mouth is always high quality praise. Never negative backlash. If you choose to ignore the word of mouth, it will be to the detriment of your company.

Don’t skimp on employee perks

Employees spend 8 or more hours of their day working for you (not to mention commute time). Morale is a big part of that work day. If morale sinks low, your employees will exodus. Perks help keep employee morale up. Choosing the right morale boosters is critically important to employee retention.

How will this undermine your business? The Shining said it best, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. I’m not recommending that you allow your employees to play. But, offering employees a place to relax when they are having a break is important. You also need to understand what other companies in your same vicinity are offering to their employees. While I understand that every company can’t offer all of the same perks, you need to offer at least some of them. Not offering perks to your employees is tantamount to telling would-be employees and recruiters, “Don’t place people here”. Word of mouth spreads, once again, and you’ll find it hard to hire strong candidates because the perks are better somewhere else.

Secondarily, this goes back to several of the previous Don’ts. Lack of perks in combination with more problematic industry and poor morale, leading to negative word of mouth, could lead your business into a tough hiring spot. You could find that it’s nearly impossible to hire staff across the board. What you’re left with hiring are people who are not the top end of the hiring pool and instead end up the middle to low end staff. Once your business is forced to hire lesser qualified staff, your business will tank.

Perks like free food, subsidized or free daycare, subsidized or free transportation to and from work. Other perks can include tuition reimbursement, travel discounts and store discounts. When you skimp on perks when other companies are not, you will find it difficult to hire and keep any talent, especially top end talent.

Don’t assume you can live without top end talent

Without top end talent, your business is doomed to mediocrity.

How will this undermine your business? Once you hit the mediocrity stage, your customers will, one by one, leave you. They will realize you aren’t providing the quality service that you promised. Oh, you’ll still get some new signups, until they also realize the mediocrity of your business. Competition is fierce and it’s guaranteed that your business will have competition. If your competitors are doing it better than you, then your product/service offering will end up behind all others. It’s important to understand that top end talent drives your business forward. Low to mid level talent, keeps status quo. Top end talent provides innovation, low to mid level talent doesn’t.

Once you understand this fundamental distinction between the levels of talent, you will understand why you pay top dollar to have top end talent. And note, I’m not necessarily talking about top-end talent in Director, VP, SVP or C-Level positions. While it helps to have top-end talent there, those positions do not typically get the work done day to day. It’s those doing the hands-on day-to-day work that are driving your business forward. You want motivated self-starters who are willing to own the work that they do. Low to mid-level talent won’t actually own their work. Ownership of work is critically important when looking for talented staff to hire.

Note that some industries are harder to hire for than others. If you choose, for example, to open a business that does email marketing, you’ll find it very difficult to hire into this industry no matter what the position. Most technical people understand spam and realize they don’t want their resume to contain anything to do with a ‘spam related’ business.

Don’t ignore the value of social media

Social media offers a brand new marketing approach. Social media now offers grass roots marketing team that you have at your disposal. For example, if you can get your business placed onto certain people’s Facebook or Twitter feeds, this can drive lots of people to your business.

How will this undermine your business? If you fail to understand the power of social media either by ignoring it or by assuming that it is pointless, you have deluded yourself and this immediately undermines your business. Every marketing technique is appropriate and should be exploited to its fullest. Interactive marketing is even better. If you hire people to actively scout Twitter and Facebook, they can write comments that counter any negative feedback. By hiring a team of people to manage all social media outlets, they can head off problems before they even start. By having an active team countering Twitter or Facebook posts, it shows your business is proactive and willing to counteract any negative postings by disgruntled customers.

Don’t ignore the power of mobile marketing

Smartphones are now ubiquitous. Yet, this technology as a marketing platform is still in its infancy. While in this infancy, you can latch onto this technology early and get an edge over your competition. Companies that choose to embrace mobile marketing now will have the upper hand when marketing on these devices becomes commonplace in the future (and when email is ultimately dead).

How will this undermine your business? If you fail to understand that mobile marketing is the future, you will also fail to understand how quickly you can reach out to your customers with the immediacy of a phone call. Email, for example, is a slow mechanism by nature. It can take anywhere between 5 minutes and several days for people to read your email. With push notifications, your marketing is given to the user instantaneously. They can then go find out what the hubbub is all about within seconds. Nearly every push notification is read immediately. Emails take far far longer and are prone to spam blockers, image blockers and link blockers. Mobile marketing, at least today, is under no such blocking constraints. If you take advantage early, you can add a significant advantage to marketing for your business.

To take maximum advantage, however, it must be with a solid and useful app. An app you can direct the push notification to and give critical information. If you’re a retail business, for example, offering coupon discounts for purchases can be the difference between a purchase and not, such as 20% off of a product. Discounts are always a good idea when done regularly, but infrequently.

Mobile marketing needs to be relevant, targeted and location based. You need to know exactly what this customer’s interests are and provide them with spot on marketing that gives them exactly what they need when they need it. For location based marketing, if they are close to one of your stores, you should immediately send a push notification to notify them of any special offers located with that store.

Don’t change upper management every year

Or.. even every other year. This is can be a hard one to actually accomplish depending on lots of factors and it can cause severe morale problems.

How will this undermine your business? Whether it’s through a firing, through so-called ‘voluntary’ severance (aka The Velvet Hammer), people quitting, demotions, promotions or lateral moves, frequent or regular departures in the upper management team creates more questions than answers for employees and, if a public company, stockholders. Stability in the upper management team (at least for 4-5 years at a time) says volumes about loyalty, stability and allows employees to recognize the upper management. Changing this team frequently says something is wrong internally. Not only do employees begin questioning what’s going on, these changes plant seeds that “maybe I need to seek employment elsewhere”. Operating a musical chair management team will undermine your ability to operate your business. It takes at least 6 months for any new hire to get his feet in a position. Changing critical management positions often means the person in the position never has time to get an understanding of what they need to get done. Worse, just about the time they are about to get something done, they’re being seen to the door.

You can’t operate your business with a constant stream of new people in critical management positions. If you aren’t absolutely sure the person is the right person, don’t hire them. It’s far better to leave the position vacant for just the right person than it is to fill it with a person you know won’t work out. Additionally, if you can’t ever find someone to fill the role to your satisfaction, perhaps you’re looking for answers in the wrong place. You might want to start by looking at yourself and your expectations of the role. If you can’t clearly define the expectations of that management role, don’t expect anyone you hire to magically gain this understanding and define it for you. That will never happen.

Part 9 | ↓ Parts 10.1, 10.2, 10.3 10.4 | Chapter Index | Part 11

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How not to run a business (Part 9): Culture Clash and Acquisitions

Posted in best practices, business by commorancy on April 18, 2015

Okay, so now your business is big enough (and making enough revenue) to consider acquisitions. But, making acquisitions can be tough. Part of what makes acquisitions tough is making the tough decisions to ensure the success of the acquisition. Yet, some companies haven’t the first clue about how to make these tough decisions, especially when involving company culture.

Don’t let the company you are acquiring dictate any company culture demands

In other words, walk away from any acquisition deal where the owners demand (as part of the deal) to be allowed to continue their current company culture. No, no, NO! Do not allow this! Never concede this by allowing the acquired company culture to remain as part of the acquisition. If you do, it will tie your hands when it comes time to merge the the acquired company into yours. It all must become a single company culture or you will never make the acquisition a success.

At some point, you must merge the people and the cultures. If you don’t nip having two cultures in the bud, you’ll end up with part of the company doing things one way and another doing things entirely different. You can’t have your company culture fractured across the boundary of an acquired entity or you will never get rid of culture problems. Basically, don’t tie your hands before the deal is done.

Don’t let the acquired company executives dictate how their section will continue to operate

This goes hand in hand with company culture, but is distinctly different. Executives of the company being acquired do not want to lose their tenure, authority, position or compensation after having been acquired. Ultimately, this is not possible. And, ultimately, it can’t be allowed. You can concede this for a short time during a transition period, but you cannot allow it to remain after the transition period. If the acquired company executives don’t like it, they can leave. If you concede this point, you will never successfully merge the two entities.

This is one of the hard choices you must make. For companies being acquired, you have to lay down the law. If the person can have a role in the new company and can accept your company culture, give it to them. If they don’t have a role, lay them off. If that person can’t accept the company culture, lay them off. If they are unwilling to work within the current constraints of your company’s goals and processes, lay them off. This is a hard decision, but a decision that must be made. You cannot keep the acquired company structure and processes around in your business. If a process you’ve inherited from the company makes sense, then yes, you can integrate it. But, typically this never happens. The company being acquired almost never has more mature processes than yours.

Don’t allow an acquired company to remain located in a separate city from your business

Another hard choice, but one that is entirely necessary. You cannot leave the office open in the city where the acquired entity was located. You should dictate as part of the acquisition terms that you will close it and relocate staff who choose to relocate to your headquarter offices. While you can leave the office open during the transition period, you cannot leave that office open. If you do, you will never integrate the staff into your business. They will forever retain their culture in that office. Acquired staff must move to your headquarters or leave the company. If that’s a deal breaker, walk away from the deal.

The only exclusion to this rule is acquiring foreign entities. If you are a US entity and acquire a Japanese office, this is the only time where you will want to keep that entity in its entirety. However, in the domestic US, the rule is close the office. You can re-open and restaff an office in that same city later, but the acquired entity office must be closed as soon as possible to set the tone that your company is one culture and one team.

Don’t make the staff of the company the most important piece of the acquisition

Unless you are a staffing firm acquiring another staffing firm, you typically acquire a company for its customer base or its technology, rarely ever for its staff. You will need to keep in perspective exactly why you are buying a company… and it’s rarely ever for staff. However, if you are buying a software company, it’s probably a good idea to keep certain few key developers for at least a short period of transition time. But, do not keep them on staff forever. Once they have turned over their braintrust and code to your engineers, usher them out of the building. I’ll reiterate, you buy a company for its technology or customer base, never for employees. However, if those key employees are willing to relocate and willing to accept your culture (usually not), then you can invite them to stay. Otherwise, you should put that key staff on a 6 month contract to transition the software and documentation to your team, then usher them out.

Don’t hire executives for more than a 1 year contract on acquisitions

When you buy a company, you’re technically hiring these employees and execs blind. Sure, you could assume that the employees there did something right to get the company to the point where you considered buying it, but you may be making the wrong assumption. It’s entirely possible that the people (or person) who created the product or service has long since walked and you’re buying a shell in maintenance mode. Based on this fact alone, you should be prepared to walk everyone in the acquired company to the door. If you aren’t prepared to do this, you’ll have no hope of successfully merging two entirely different cultures. If you’re not prepared to fire every single acquired employee, you shouldn’t be in the business of making acquisitions.

If the acquired employees are not acutely aware and accept that your culture is the dominant culture, they will not fit in nor follow your company’s processes. Even if they are aware of this fact, they may still choose not to follow your company’s processes (see allegiances below). You should be prepared to let any acquired employee go quickly. In fact, you should plan to let these employees go after the transition period is over. This prevents culture issues entirely.

Don’t get lulled into thinking that a technology acquisition will save your business

It won’t. Plain and simple. If your own product or service isn’t cutting it, any company you purchase will not typically be any more successful than yours. In fact, you may find that it may make no money at all and you’ll end up (best case) giving it away for free or (worst case) shutting it all down and dumping it.

You should understand that, like any business, ideas come and ideas go. Some work, some don’t. Buying a company for software, hardware or specific technologies isn’t without risk. Sometimes you gamble and win, some times you lose. There is no crystal ball for this. But, you must willing and prepared to throw away everything from an acquisition. This is yet another tough decision, but it’s one that needs to be clearly understood. If you are unwilling to acknowledge the failure of an acquisition, then you shouldn’t be in the business of acquiring companies.

Don’t create new positions for acquired executive staff

If there isn’t a position already open, do not create fake titles for executive staff. You should explain that there is no position available for their skills within your company, at the bargaining table, and make it perfectly clear that they won’t have a role in the new merged company. Of course, you can compensate them, but they will have no job. If they won’t accept that, walk away from the deal. Additionally, don’t create co-presidents or co-CEOs or co-anything. Dual roles in your business generally do not work. Not only will your staff be confused over to whom they report, double decision makers lead to decision problems, never solutions. Additionally, you likely don’t know any of these acquired executive staff. Sure, they might appear knowledgable, but they didn’t go through your official interview processes. They bypassed that process and became your employee through acquisition. There is no accounting for their knowledge, skills, background or abilities.

One other point I should make here is about allegiance. Keeping executives from an acquisition in a position of power, especially co-leader positions, enables acquired employees to retain their allegiances to their former leaders rather forming new allegiances with your leaders. These fractured allegiances are likely to lead to more problems in the future. This goes back to company culture above. If you keep acquired staff and executives on board, you are asking for culture clash problems. This can be eliminated by eliminating acquired staff after the transition period is over, including executives.

Don’t skip the interview process for acquired staff

If you want to hire on any employee from an acquisition, force them to go through your same hiring processes as any candidate. Have your teams interview them and determine if they fit with the position based on their skills. If the staff like and accept them, hire them. If they don’t, walk them to the door. Do not blanketly accept staff from an acquisition simply because the company was acquired. Follow your standard hiring practices when considering bringing staff on from an acquisition. Make sure that that the acquired company is fully aware that every staff member will need to go through a rehire process by your hiring managers. If they don’t fit the skills needed for an open position, don’t hire them.

Don’t avoid reviewing your acquisition progress yearly

Company technologies and staff don’t always integrate nicely, especially over time. You need to review the progress of any acquisition regularly. Don’t just assume that the acquisition is working perfectly simply because you hear nothing about it. Instead, you need to go digging for information. Ask people on your team what they think of the acquisition and if it was successful. Get opinions from your team members and understand what they are saying. If your team members won’t give candid information, then ask for them to fill out a survey and offer a notes section at the end for free form comments. Assuming the survey is truly anonymous, the employees will be open and candid with you. You need to know when company culture clashes exist. These cannot be swept under the rug.

Part 8Chapter Index | Part 10

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How not to run a business (Part 1) — Don’ts

Posted in best practices, business by commorancy on April 4, 2012

While there are tons of articles out there describing exactly what you need to do to start and operate a business, here are tips on what not to do when operating your business. I come from a background of years working in IT and, thus, this article is born from that perspective. Please view the index page to view all parts in this series.

Don’t treat your customers as burdens

So many businesses see only dollar signs next to a customer’s account. They’re more than dollars, they are your livelihood. Without them, you don’t have a business. Always treat your customers with respect and never as a burden. With that said, some people are difficult to manage in their mannerisms, manners, speech or phone etiquette. These types of people can be difficult. If you know that you cannot work with a given customer or client based on their behaviors, you may have to let them go as a customer. There is nothing that says you have to continue to do business with everyone that comes to you for services. If the client cannot show your business and your staff the same level of courtesy, respect and professionalism that you show them, then they don’t deserve to use your products or services.

On the other hand, your staff should always remain professional, courteous and friendly at all times. Word gets around quickly when your people are rude, improper or treat customers disrespectfully. Don’t do it and make sure your employees don’t.

Don’t burn your employees out

It’s very easy to lose sight of what your employees are doing day to day. If all you are seeing is the work being done, but you aren’t understanding how that work is getting done or by whom, you need to stop and smell the roses. In other words, find out what they are doing. Don’t assume that you have enough employees simply because the work is getting done. What you may not see is that your employees could be working after hours and on weekends to get the work done that couldn’t be done on shift. This is both unfair to your employees and causes burnout. Eventually, the employee will leave and you’ll be forced to hire and train someone new.

You’ll also find that after hiring someone new, the work output dramatically drops because the new person won’t carry the same work load as the person who left. Don’t blame the new hire, don’t chastise them and don’t expect the same level of work. You’ll only end up with a revolving door. If your ex-employee was doing the work of two, you need to find that out and hire the appropriate amount of staff to cover the expected workload. You should never expect the same level of work output from a new hire, especially if the person who left was using their own time to finish the work.

Treating your employees fairly and understanding their workload is how you get better productivity. Cracking the whip and expecting immediate results only pushes other work aside for your fire drill. As more and more fire drills result, the less and less other work gets done. This then means the employee is backlogged with some work that will never get done. If getting all work done is important, make sure that you understand the ramifications of a fire drill before you start it.

Additionally, you may have spent a fair amount of time recruiting the talent to your business. If you’ve got talented employees doing a bang-up job, but they are way over worked, they’re eventually going to leave. You don’t want to have to replace that brain trust. It’s expensive, time consuming and can leave your business vulnerable until you find someone and get them trained. It’s cheaper to keep your existing talent by treating them right the first time out. Keeping track of and managing your employees’ burn level goes a long way towards employee retention.

Do not categorize every customer issue as a fire drill

This goes back to the point above. Every customer issue isn’t a fire drill. Be professional, be courteous, but most of all, be realistic with your customers. Don’t promise immediate results when it’s not possible. Doing so throws employees into fire drill mode and other work gets pushed aside. Fire drills result in much lost productivity. Learn to triage and manage these customer situations appropriately.

Don’t expect professional results from fire drill mode

When employees go into ‘fire drill’ mode, all productivity stops. That is, all productivity stops for each employee consumed by the fire drill. The only thing that a fire drill employee is focused on is in fixing what caused the fire drill whether or not they have the tools to do so. Worse, as employees jump into fire drill mode, they also enter the get-it-done-as-fast-as-possible mode. This mode is problematic on many levels. It can leave the issue only partially resolved or temporarily resolved. This means that someone will have to go back later and fix the problem properly and permanently.

Moving too fast can cause mistakes or lead to even bigger problems later. Moving too fast can bypass rational and critical thinking. Moving too fast can halt logic thought processes and prevent people from seeing the bigger picture. These are all important aspects to realize of fire drills. For example, is the problem just for a single customer or is it impacting all customers? Is the problem something that the product or service caused, is it caused by the customer interaction or is it something introduced by a third party vendor? Getting thrown into fire drill mode keeps some of these thought processes from materializing and, instead, employees tend to put blinders on instead of rationally thinking through the entire issue from top to bottom.

Fire drills burn people out rapidly. Eventually, employees get fed up with the fire drill mode and they leave the company. Don’t expect to keep employees for longer than a year or two if your entire business runs on fire drills daily. Note, successful businesses do not operate in fire drill mode all of the time. Yes, fire drills happen, but not all of the time. Treating every issue as a fire drill leads employees to feel unproductive and eventually they burn out and leave.

Don’t expect perfection from employees

We are all human and we are all fallible. Running a business, you have to expect occasional mishaps. That’s not to say that you can’t strive for your employees to reduce mistakes. But, it does mean that you need to set your expectations accordingly to avoid thinking that perfection is the way the company should run.

On the flip side, do treat your employees with proper and necessary fringe benefits. For your business to be considered on Forbes top 100 best places to work, you need to offer a whole lot of perks to your employees. Perks can be costly, but happy employees keep the productivity flowing. Unhappy and dissatisfied employees do the minimum and go home. Employees that are happy to work for your company will turn in a lot more carefully completed work than employees who are dissatisfied or are getting burned out.

Don’t play games with your website

If you intend to do business on the Internet (and who doesn’t at this point?), your web site is the new storefront. It shows off your business and how it works. It is the single most important portal for both your customers and prospects. Without a solid well designed web site, don’t expect high quality traffic or even the right traffic. This means, let professional design firms design your site tuned to the correct keywords. Don’t build the web site yourself from scratch (unless you happen to also be a well known web designer). Let professionals do this work and provide your site with a fresh look. Additionally, trust your web designer. Don’t think you know better than your web designers (unless you happen to have a degree in commercial art). Yes, flaws in the way something works on the site, these need to be corrected. For the look and feel, trust that they know what they are doing. If you are uncertain of a certain image, flow or feature on your web site, do an A/B test (your idea vs the designers’s idea) to find out which one your visitors like better. Visitors always speak loader than you. Treat your visitors with the respect they deserve. Don’t assume that because it’s how you want it that it’s the correct move. Note that that goes for everything in your business, not just websites.

Additionally, once you establish a web site with reasonbly high ranking in Google, don’t up and change it just because ‘it’s old’. Don’t do this unless you are absolutely certain you know what you are doing. If you roll the site out incorrectly, you can easily lose all page rankings you have in Google. If your intent is to target new keywords, then maybe that’s what you want. But, if you had a page 1 or page 2 ranking, by changing key words and content incorrectly, you can expect to drop down to the 20-50 page area (or lower). This is immediately damaging to any business. Note, page rankings move down far faster than move up. So, you’ll pretty much lose your rankings overnight, but your new keywords might take a year or longer to get even close to page 4. You’ve lost a lot of ground and you’ve lost a lot of visitors because your new site is now ranked very low. You can always pay for AdWords to help your business, but pay-per-click is very costly and may not help your page rankings in any substantial way.

Don’t use content management systems for your web site

I know, I know. A lot of people are using WordPress for their home pages. This is way overkill for a home site. Why? First, your content doesn’t change that often on your home site. It’s mostly static. WordPress and other content management systems are designed for adding new content often and rapidly (just like this very blog article you are reading). Corporate web sites don’t change frequently enough to justify all that’s necessary to run a CMS (i.e., Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP for starters). On top of that, WordPress requires you to build the graphics inside of a specially designed theme which requires specialized coding knowledge. Additionally, for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP, someone will also need to understand all of these technologies for when things break and when redundancy is required. This means hiring someone knowledgeable to manage the CMS site, not to mention someone who’s knowledgable with WordPress management.

Second, there’s page delivery speed. For each additional technology layer you add, there’s a performance hit to deliver that page to the browser. The slower the page load, the lower the Google page ranking. Statically designed web sites are the fastest to load. Why? No databases to pull data from, no PHP to interpret and process commands, no extra layers of networks to pull data through, etc. The pages and content are immediately there to download rapidly. Ultimately, a CMS is simply delivering an HTML page to the browser. So does a static web site. The less layers involved, the faster a page can deliver. The faster the delivery, the higher the page ranking. Of course, you can also throw super fast hardware and caching mechanisms in front of your CMS to help speed up delivery, but that can cause other issues for some types of content and, at the same time, cost you more money. The only downside to static web sites is management and deployment. However, tools like Dreamweaver can solve some of these deployment issues. It’s also far easier to hire someone knowledgeable about HTML and Apache alone than it is to find someone who additionally understands PHP and MySQL databases and permissions, let alone WordPress.

Don’t send mixed messages to your customers and prospects

The worst thing you can do is have a muddy browsing and sales experience. Customers want to know what things cost and what they will get in return for that money they spend with you. If you don’t have a clear and concise list of your products or services, then define them before ever allowing a salesperson on the phone. Mixed messages are the quickest way to lose prospects before getting to stage one in the sales process. Clearly define what you offer before getting any prospect on the phone. Additionally, mixed messages can come from different sales people also. For example, based on commission rates, one sales person might offer once price while another offers another. Keep your sales people consistent on pricing. If a prospect calls and is given pricing, make sure that pricing is documented in a quote somewhere. If the prospect calls back, even a different representative who answers the phone can find the pricing they were given.

Don’t overhire

This is a huge problem in Startups. Startup companies tend to overhire in places like sales and under hire in critical technical positions needed to support those sales properly. So, you might have 50 sales people all closing deals, but you have one or two operations people to enable and train those 50 (or more) new customers each month. This goes back to, don’t burn your employees out. Lopsided hiring is a phenomena that upper management rarely sees or chooses to ignore, but continues to be a problem in nearly every startup I’ve seen.

Don’t pay out commissions before receiving customer payment

We all know that closing a deal is great. However, the trap that many startups fall into is paying out commissions on the close of the deal rather than after the customer’s check has cleared. This is a problem for so many reasons. First, it allows your sales staff to game your commission system by finding any deal to close and closing it even if it never has hope of actual payment. This means they will always get their commission, but new the customer never actually makes any payment. Second, you’ve paid out commission to the salesperson, but you’ve never collected a dime from the customer. Don’t do this. Always pay out commissions only after the customer’s check has cleared the bank and only based on the length of the term only after the payment is received. If it’s a 12 month deal paid monthly, pay the employee commissions after receipt of payment by the customer and only pay the sales person on what the customer has paid. If it’s a 10% commission, they will get their 10% of that monthly check after the check has arrived and cleared. Never pay any commissions before the check clears. Never pay out the full commission payment on the deal until all customer monies on that contract have been collected.

Paying commissions in this way does several things at once. It forces the salesperson to make sure the payment is properly received, it forces the salesperson to accurately document the contract to get the correct payment amount from the customer, it prevents paying out commissions without receiving payment by the customer first (which means you aren’t dipping into cash reserves to make payroll), it reduces the amount of work necessary by your receivables person, it prevents claw backs through salary reduction of future pay checks from sales persons if deals fall through after-the-fact, and it just plain makes good business sense. Running your sales department’s commission program based solely on when deal closes is just ripe for major cash flow problems.

You know, you’d think this specific Don’t would be a no-brainer in the business world. In fact, it isn’t and I don’t know why that is. I’ve worked for multiple startups that have chosen this money-burning commission approach. I know, some people have said, “Other startups do it this way”. This is a non-argument and offers no justification for this stupid practice. This rationalization also doesn’t make it sane for your business or the bottom line. It just means the insanity runs deep in other companies. Because another business chooses a high cash burn approach to their sales operations doesn’t mean you need to follow that same cash burn approach. Instead, save that money and invest it places that bring money in rather than lose it. Your sales people don’t need to become millionaires off of bad commission practices. Sure, you can use claw backs to get the money back, but only if the sales person is still working for you. It doesn’t work if the employee has quit and left with money in hand.

Don’t let your sales people promise things that cannot be delivered

Your sales people are primarily working for their commissions. That’s why they are sales people. Once you acknowledge this fact, you can do the things to protect your business from dire sales mistakes. Basically, your sales people are looking for 10% of that million dollar deal. They are not concerned whether your product or service actually is capable of doing what they have sold. Overselling is one of the biggest problems that any organization faces, especially growing startups that have little experience. It takes work, training and proper management to keep this problem in check. Don’t turn a blind eye to this part of your business. Yes, your sales people do bring in the business, but they need to bring in the business based on what is currently offered, not what can be built. This goes back to fire drills. If your sales people are constantly selling vapor products, your business will always be in fire drill mode trying to build something a sales person has promised. Don’t get into this mode or you’ll never get out of it.

When a sales person sells something that doesn’t exist, their commissions should be eliminated for that sale. This immediately deters sales persons from selling non-existent features (even if it’s part of a larger deal). If even part of the product doesn’t exist, neither does their commission on that sale. Commissions are like rewards. Don’t reward your sales people for promising things that are not possible and then rushing to try and fulfill that promise by building something really fast ‘to cover the promise’. This is a bad bad business practice to fall into.

Don’t play games with the books

With Sarbanes-Oxley in play, it’s rather difficult to do… especially in public companies. However, in private companies, all bets are off. If you (or any of your staff) play games with the books, you may never be able to recover from this if you intend to IPO. The quickest way to tank your company is by playing games with the books. It’s pretty simple, hire an accountant, a CPA or someone who’s honest and is willing to do the right thing. At the same time, keep close tabs on your books (payments in, out and general ledger). If you are a C-level exec, don’t use the company coffers as your own personal bank account. While this is extremely tempting, unless you intend for the company to close its doors at some point, don’t do this.

Don’t hop around trying to find the next big idea

It’s great to explore new things, but don’t abandon your tried and true services thinking you have the next big thing. If you have something that’s selling well, keep it in play. Don’t get rid of it simply because you think you have a new idea that is better. Make sure you market test all new ideas before you dump services in replacement for that new idea. You may have dumped your bread and butter for an idea that doesn’t work. Your customers will tell you that really quick.

Don’t rely on self-service business models to sustain a large corporation

Self-service is an adjunct to your business and is not intended to be used to sustain the business itself. If you plan to be in business and sell business-to-business services, don’t expect self-service pay-by-credit-card services to win over large corporations. First, most corporations don’t (and can’t) pay by credit cards and, instead, they prefer net 30, 45, 60 or 90 day terms. Credit cards are almost always intended for small transactions, usually under $1000. Although, some consumer cards allow charges up to $3-4k. Some business cards can go even higher. Yes, some cards like the government P-cards have high limits, but most cards don’t. For the most part, though, credit cards are intended primarily for small transactions. If you are looking for $30k-$1mil contracts, cards are not really the place for this size of transaction. You will need salespeople, you need to extend credit and set up payment terms and you need to hire a finance team to send invoices and collect and book payments.

Second, big corporations expect some level of spoon feeding with regards to the sales and support processes. Expect to assign salespeople to corporations as single points of contact. Corporations expect to talk to the same salesperson each and every time they call. If your sales people change constantly, be sure to do proper turnover and have your new sales people contact those corporations explaining the transition. If you prefer not to assign salespeople to accounts, you may do more harm than good for your business, so don’t do this. Corporations want to feel like their accounts are being handled properly. For the amount of money that a corporation is spending on their contract to your business, this is the least you can do to secure their peace of mind. This goes back to treating businesses and people with respect and courtesy.

Don’t think email invoices alone suffice as for notification of outstanding debt

Email invoices, while convenient, are not always admissible in court. Always send a paper bill for second notices to pay. Yes, this means printing and mailing paper invoices, but that’s just one cost of doing business. Expect to incur this cost.

Don’t think your employees know how to act

Write an employee handbook. Not only is this book a great reference for how to act, how to dress, how to conduct business and simple business etiquette information, it is also a good place to set expectations so when you do have to let someone go, you have a document that states unacceptable conduct. You can also state things such as ‘at will’ terms so that employees know exactly where they stand with their employment with you. Employee handbooks are good places to keep all kinds of information not otherwise easily documented. Sure, you can use a Wiki or other digital media (PDF) for this information, but printing this document to paper and placing it on every employee’s desk with a page to ‘read and sign’ means that at least they cracked open the book enough to read and sign the signature page. Digital documents are not always enough for this. This is a way to protect your business from employee issues when you need to let someone go for inappropriate behavior or when performance issues are at work.

Don’t become fascist about the use of electronic devices

Employees carry iPhones, iPads and portable electronic devices. They’re going to carry them whether you like it or not. It’s a way of life today. You’re not going to change that behavior by mandating a no-cellphone policy in the office. People rely on cell phones for critical personal communications. Don’t expect that you can take away cell phone privileges from them and they’ll be happy working for you. This goes back to perks. Let that be a perk for your employees. You can mandate in the employee handbook (discussed just above) about over usage of devices. Basically, let employees exercise common sense on usage (for example, on breaks, at lunch time, etc). But, if it consumes their day and they’re not productive, that’s a problem that needs to be discussed and addressed.

Some employees also like to listen to music while working, so allowing this is also a perk. If an employee is more productive while listening to music, let them listen. If it allows them to tune out other office noises such as other phone conversations, ringing phones, typing, printer noises and other distracting office sounds, all the better. Of course, if the person happens to be the receptionist, use of headphones may not be an option. Note that anything that calms an employee, let’s them remain happy at work and helps them to concentrate is never a bad thing.

Don’t expect people to give up their weekends for your business

This goes back to burning employees out. If you have so much work that one person cannot get the job done or it requires weekend work to get things done, expect to offer extra salary or comp time. Comp time costs you nothing additional. It’s a straight trade. One weekend day for one weekday off. Don’t expect your employees to work 6-7 days on a 5 day a week salary. Eventually, you may find yourself in a lawsuit for backpay. Don’t do it.

Don’t expect technology to solve every problem

Technology is made by humans. It is, therefore, fallible. It has bugs, it crashes, it doesn’t always work as expected. It doesn’t matter if the software is from your developers or from Apple. Nothing is perfect, expect that it will become a problem at some point. This goes back to fire drills above. Take failure in stride and work through it. Don’t pressure your employees for 5 minute fixes when things go wrong. Let the employees work through the issue properly. The question is, do you want it done right or do you want it done fast? Fast may get you a fix, but it may not be a fix that you’ll ultimately like several days later. Giving enough breathing room to let the technical employees work through a proper fix is critical to ensure proper resolution to problems. Expecting fast fixes only leads to more problems later. This even goes for writing code. Pressing to get software releases out the door ‘fast’, especially if you are a software company, is the only real way to tank your business. If you’re a software business, your brand is built on quality, not quantity. You want your software to work as expected. Rushing to get software out the door, more often than not, leads to failure somewhere along the way for someone. It means your developers have missed critical edge cases that can make the difference between being known for mediocre software and being known for high quality software.

If you think that there’s a way to write speedy software that’s high quality, you’ve deluded yourself. Quality software comes only from producing code that covers 98-99% of every edge case out there and that simply takes time to produce. Basically, this requires bulletproofing the software so that no matter how a user may use the software that it always does what’s expected. Increasing speed of software delivery reduces the ability to test edge cases leaving dangling code that doesn’t always do the correct thing under error conditions. This means the code could run wild, do the wrong thing or, worst case, corrupt data irrevocably. This situation puts technical staff in fire drill mode. Again, you cannot run your business in constant fire drill mode. You hired your technical staff to write high quality code, let them. Yes, by all means set delivery dates, but if a feature is too complex for a release, pull it and release it later. Don’t rush them to get that feature into any specific release.

Don’t let the sales team drive your business

Your sales department is your front end the public. It’s how you sell and do business. But, it is not what drives your business ahead. Your products and services drive your business. The solutions that you create are what become the face of what your business is and does. As an entrepreneur, you may have forgotten that the reason you went into business is to solve a problem. You wrote a piece of software or designed a product to solve a business problem, perhaps even for yourself. Then, you realized you could sell that solution to many different people. It’s the solution that drives the business, not your sales team. Basically, your technical team’s ability to deliver a functioning solution is what matters. The sales team is irrelevant in this equation other than the fact that they answer the phone, make the sale and take payment. Far too many businesses rely on the sales department to drive their business forward. This is the wrong approach and uses wrong thinking. Sure, the sales team is the one reaching out to prospects and locating interested new parties. That’s the sales team’s job. But, when sales begins selling a square peg to fit a round hole that’s where problems begin. This goes back to overselling. The solution is what sells, not the sales team. The sales team is the mouthpiece for the solution, not the other way around. So, the sales team must be trained to sell what is there, not what isn’t. It is not the sales team’s job to make up new features or imply that a feature a customer may be looking for exists. It’s the sales team’s job to understand the solution offered and find prospects where that solution fits their problem.

In this goal, always have a technical person who knows the limits of the solution on every sales call. They are the voice of clarity to keep the sales team from overselling. The technical person can step in and say, “That’s not exactly correct, our product doesn’t do X yet”. This sets customer expectations. However, if X feature is important, it should be added to the list of new features to be added into a future release.

Your business and you

As the owner and/or CEO of your business, you are the champion of your business. Only you can do the right thing for your business. Stop, think and use common sense. Rushing employees to get things done fast is not the answer. Slow down the pace. Let the employees catch up and catch their breath. Let them finish critical projects. If you’re consistently compressing time lines, some tasks will never get done. Compressed time lines are usually driven by customers and this, in turn, is usually driven by a salesperson over promising. These are all practices that must be tempered. Setting the correct pace for your business is the only way your business will succeed. Too fast a pace and your business will never be known for quality. Too slow and the competition will outdo you. Critical, of course, to your business is having creative thinkers on your team. You need a constant flow of new ideas to keep the business fresh and keep your products and services new and innovative. Without critical thinkers producing new fresh ideas, your business will keep wrapping pretty new bows on old ideas. Keep your old ideas the way they are. Don’t wrap pretty new bows into them. Your customers will appreciate that you respect them. Wrapping pretty new bows on old ideas can be insulting to old customers if you’re trying to play it off as a new service. This is the quickest way to lose customers. Keep your existing customers happy and don’t insult them by playing off something old as something new.

Start | Chapter Index | Part 2

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Parental Guidance Definitely Required

Posted in family, parenting by commorancy on April 25, 2011

While this article’s header may sound related to movie ratings, it isn’t. On the other hand, in a way, it kind of is. No, what this article is about is parents not properly guiding their children’s behaviors in public places. Let’s explore.

Lack of Guidance

In recent years, more and more children seem to misbehave in public places. Parents seem to lack the parental skills to manage their children properly (probably at home also). Although, managing your child properly in public is more important. With that said, there are many behaviors from children that are just not appropriate in public, yet parents simply seem to ignore these disrupting behaviors. In addition to bad behaviors from children, included are some equally bad behaviors from the parents.

Top 12 list of bad public parenting 

12. Strollers in crowded areas — When bringing children to very crowded venues, think twice about using anything more than an umbrella stroller. When pushing strollers along in crowded areas, you are likely to run the wheels over someone’s foot. It’s never pleasant to have a baby stroller scrape up your heel or run over your toes. If at all possible, leave the strollers at home and let the children walk. If the children are unable to walk and you can’t carry them, then perhaps that event is not the place for you and your family.

11. Newborns in public — While I know that mothers of newborns can get cabin fever, that’s the price you pay to take care of an infant. However, I regularly see mothers taking 1, 2 and 3 week old babies into malls, theme parks and various other venues. This is completely selfish behavior. The baby is far too small (and unprotected) to know where it is. Heading out to these places is solely for the mom and dad. For the baby, it’s not healthy. First, babies this small cannot regulate their body temperatures yet. Heading to an overly cold air-conditioned mall or to a theme park in sweltering heat is not what your baby needs. As the mother, you can’t (and shouldn’t) be riding anything (especially if you delivered by c-section).  You’ve wasted your money by going to a place that requires an entry fee. The baby won’t even know it was ever there. Second, the baby basically has no immune system. Exposing this small of an infant to crowds of people is likely to get it sick. Coupling the germs with the unregulated temperatures, and you’re just asking for your baby to get sick. Stay home until the baby is older.

10. Feeding your children from unpaid groceries — While shopping, do not grab a pack of Twinkies, loose grapes, a pack of chips, cookies or any other food item, open and hand it to your child. I’ve seen many parents do this to keep their children occupied. Not only does this teach your children the wrong food habits, it’s stealing when you don’t pay for the food. Not only is the parent contributing to the child’s unhealthy eating habits, this behavior is also teaching the child that it’s ok to grab food from a store and eat it unpaid. Only open and consume foods outside of the store and only after you’ve paid for it. This teaches your child the correct shopping behavior.

9. Screaming and yelling — When your children are in public, it is on you as a parent to keep them under control. This also means keeping them from screaming and yelling. While you may be used to this behavior from your child, the rest of the public doesn’t want to hear it. If your child begins to act up by screaming and yelling, stop and take them outside of wherever you are. This is especially true when in a movie theater or a restaurant. In a movie, silence is the key and if your child cannot sit for longer than a few minutes before acting up, then do not bring them to a movie. Instead, wait and rent the movie to watch at home. Still, it’s probably more important to figure out how to control this behavior from your child. In a restaurant, people go for a relaxing dinner, not to hear your child scream at the top of their lungs.

8.  Salad and hot food bars are not for children —  Children under adult height should never be allowed anywhere near salad bars or buffet tables.

First, buffet tables can be dangerously hot. Unless you enjoy taking your child to the emergency room scalded or electrocuted, children should remain safely away from hot food bars. Second, children generally have little self control over their hands and fingers. Not only are children notoriously bad for not washing their hands, they will easily stick their fingers into and play with food on food bars easily leading to a burn or contaminating food. Yuck! Combine this problem with their lack of height and their faces being just below the sneeze guard, you end up with a very unsanitary situation. Again, too many children will place their hands into the food to play and possibly sneeze and generally breathe all over the food with nothing to block this.  Again, very unsanitary. Third, by letting children serve themselves, you are not controlling what food or the amount of food they eat. It is important to control your child’s nutrition. Instead, you should choose their foods from the bars and bring their food to them plated. For all of these reasons, keep your children away from food bars. Although, if you really want to keep your child healthy, don’t eat off food bars and, instead, order directly from the menu. Salad bars and buffets are generally unsanitary and the foods are excessively high in calories, anyway.

7.  Grocery carts are not toys or rides — Grocery carts are intended to be used for shopping. If you want to place your child in a grocery cart, then place them into it as intended (in the front with their legs hanging out of the holes sitting down and strapped in). Do not let them play under or in the basket itself. Children should never stand up in the basket part of the cart.

6.  Children under foot — Keep your children with you at all times. Do not let them run around crowded events unattended. Not only is this a potential kidnapping situation, it’s simply dangerous as small children can be easily overlooked and tripped over or trampled. Children are not good at watching where they are going or what they are doing, so keeping hold of your child in crowded situations is very important. Remember, only you are watching out for your child. Other people aren’t watching your child. Although, other people may be judging you on your lack of parenting skills.

5. Restaurant booths, movie theater seats and airplane seats — Children should always be firmly seated. Do not let your child stand up in their seat. Your children also need to be occupied with something (coloring, reading, talking to them, etc). Otherwise, children will stand up, fidget and become a nuisance to the people sitting around them. For example, a child standing up in a restaurant booth can easily turn around and stare or otherwise disturb another table. When seated at the theater or on a plane, children can easily kick the back of the seat in front of them. Control your child. Keep them occupied so they don’t do this. If they stand up, sit them back down. If you can’t control them, leave. If you’re on a plane, find something for them to do. Also when traveling, plan ahead by packing enough activities, games, crayons, etc to occupy your child throughout the entire plane trip.

4.  Sit with your children — If you are a family of four, each parent should sit next to one of their children when possible. Don’t let young children sit together alone so the parents can sit together across the isle. If one of the children has an issue, you can’t easily manage it. Sitting next to the child, you can probably thwart the issue by catching it early. Of course, if you’re the Brady Bunch, that could make it harder. However, if you do have that many children, you’re probably in need of lots of help on long plane trips.. in which case, it might be better to take the train where you can have your own room.

3. Toy Stores — While the trip to the toy store may seem like a great idea, it really isn’t. To a child, a toy store is their dream-come-true. At the same time, it’s a parent’s worst nightmare come true. Don’t take your child to the toy store! Let me say that again. Do NOT take your child to a toy store. Instead, know what your child wants and go pick it up and bring it home or order it from Amazon. This way, there are no screaming fits, no “buy me this” chants and no unnecessary tantrums. The toy store should be used as only a good behavior treat. A once-in-a-blue-moon event. Some place you go only if your child has met some extremely high criteria and is extremely well behaved… and only when you’re intent on rewarding them with a toy.

2. Keeping your children out lateChildren need stable and consistent sleep patterns. Therefore, as much as child may want to see a movie, don’t take them to see a movie in the theater after their normal bedtime hours. I have seen so many children out shopping, at the movies and running around after 11PM on weekends. This is wrong and bad parenting. Without consistent sleep patterns for your child, your child will want to get up late and be sleepy all day. Don’t do this. Children, especially babies, need to have a regular sleep pattern. If it’s late and your child is fussy, then you need to leave and take the child home to bed.

1. Running around stores (literally) — Stores are not playgrounds for your children. Stores are not babysitters. Stores are not day care facilities. Do not bring your children to stores and let them run around in public without any control.  Stores are dangerous places for children to ‘play’. Simply because they sell bikes and skateboards doesn’t mean that’s where they are intended to be used. Remove your children from the bikes. Get them off of skateboards. Stop them from strapping on skates in stores. Don’t grab toys off of shelves to occupy them. Like foods mentioned above, giving your child a toy that you have no intention of buying teaches your child the wrong thing. If your child isn’t well behaved enough to visit a department store with you, then you probably don’t need to bring your child with you.

As a parent, it is up to you to teach your child correct behaviors in the early years. It is also up to you to make sure your child behaves correctly in public. If you are unable to control your children, then you probably haven’t enacted correct discipline in your home. If you are unable to implement proper discipline, you probably need the help of a nanny or someone who can help you improve your parenting skills. Simply because you have chosen to have children doesn’t mean that other people want to hear your child scream or run into them simply because they want to run around. As a parent, it is your sole responsibility and duty to keep control of your children. Discipline is important for a child. Yet, discipline does not mean using a belt or a paddle. Using other means, such as timeouts, can affect the same level of control without the need for physical interaction. Whatever you use to control your child, just remember… in public, we can all hear your child scream.

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