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Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle


Setting and Maintaining Standards

In a prior entry, I mentioned the fact that when I look for consultants and volunteers to work with here in Framework, I find myself looking for a particular standard.

In thinking about this, I realize that my standards are similar whether I am looking to hire a copy-editor to review a single article, or someone to lead programs to CEO's of critical client companies.

There are certain basics that I look for, and the best business-partners are those who are able to match my own commitments to the following cornerstones, which I would call "The Unreasonable Commitments":

  1. An Unreasonable Commitment to Keeping Promises
    This is especially true for basic practices such as starting and ending events on time, keeping due dates and working as hard as possible to create an environment in which everyone keeps their promises, and acts as if their word is an important part of who they are. They are careful in what they give their word to, because they treat the act as an almost sacred one, even when it seems to be unimportant. They break their promises infrequently, and only under duress.
  2. An Unreasonable Commitment to Mastery
    I like working with people who love what they do, and give 100% of themselves as often as they can. They are always looking to learn and master their craft, and are willing to practice the basics over and over again (a la Tiger Woods) for smaller and smaller gains that add up to greater expertise in whatever they might do.
  3. An Unreasonable Commitment to Communication
    There are some people who can be counted on to reply to business email, and to keep channels of communication open with those who they consider to be business partners. They just don't drop off the radar of others, and work hard to stay in touch. They know that "80% of success is showing up" according to Woody Allen.

These are "Unreasonable Commitments" not because they are all that crazy, but just because in the Caribbean environment it may well be that no-one else is willing to keep these commitments.

Make no mistake about it -- our regional companies are (in general) operated at lower standards than the average international companies. There are a few exceptions, it is true, but they demonstrate the rule.

Individuals that insist on these three commitments will appear to be "Unreasonable" simply because they are operating very, very differently and it might be hard to understand at first why a consultant should be on time even when the client never is.

On a slightly different note, my wife insists that it is easy to make money in Jamaica. All one has to do in business is the basics -- return phone calls, answer the phone, be a little pleasant most of the time, keep the most basic promises and stay in touch in some way.

I think she has a point.

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Volunteering and Standards

I once "worked" as a volunteer for an organization that had 200 employees and 3000 volunteers. What was remarkable was that this company was a for-profit company.

There are a few companies that I have volunteered for that I consider to provide the kind of experience that made the time well worth it, and many that I think could learn a thing or two.

There were three lessons that I learned from my volunteer experiences.

Savvy organizations realize that volunteers give of their time for every reason that employees do, only without the prospect of material compensation. They seek to learn and grow themselves, to make a real difference and to be acknowledged for their contribution.

Savvy employees know that they need to make it easy for their volunteers to gain the benefits they seek.

Many of the best practices used to manage employees still apply.

Best Practice #1 - Insist on Providing Value
Managers of volunteers know that they need to sit down at the beginning of a volunteer assignment and talk about what the volunteer would like to gain from the experience. They talk about their goals, and what they would like to learn while they are on the assignment.

Some go even further, and explicitly insist that a condition of their engagement as a volunteer is that they gain value that exceeds the cost to them in time, money and energy. In other words, the onus is on them to gain the benefit.

Here at Framework, this is a part of our own volunteer agreement.

Best Practice #2 -- Make the Agreement Explicit
A written agreement works better than one that is spoken. It covers the necessary basics that relate to any contract employee, minus a section on remuneration. 'nuff said.

Best Practice #3 -- Maintain High Standards
In the best organizations, volunteers are part and parcel of the high standards the organization aims to deliver to its customers or constituents.

The question I ask myself most of all when engaging volunteers and employees alike, is whether or not they have what it takes to raise the standard of work done in the company, or whether or not they will have to be managed carefully so that they don't lower it. With volunteers, the key is to create that expectation from the very beginning, and to be very clear with them that they are part of delivering it.

If they are treated as if they can deliver great things, they are much more likely to do so.

On the other hand, if little or nothing is expected of them, then it is likely that they will live down to that expectation also.

The bottom line is that the volunteer to company relationship is not very different than an employee to employer relationship.

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HR Consulting Group Formed

For some time, I have wished that I had an informal network of consultants to work with on different projects as they come up.

I have wondered to myself, what does it take for me to get the point where I feel comfortable working with another professional?

First there are the basics.

I have to know who the person is. Remarkably, this is a challenge for many consultants, who as far as I can tell have not found ways to stay on the radar of their clients, prospects and other consultants. I find myself still working very hard to do this, with several monthly products that I hope my clients find useful.

Once I know that a consultant exists, I need to reach a particular level of comfort with them. This has more to do with their competencies, standards and professionalism.

The best way for me to come to know someone in this manner is to start by generating a conversation with me in my blog, or by responding to FirstCuts, or by asking questions that are pertinent to the work they most like to do.

Someone who has the time to create the relationship is probably someone who I'll call on to work with me on an upcoming project.

Recently, I took that principle and reversed it. I think that all the HR consulting practitioners in the region would benefit from having a single place to be in touch with each other, so I created a couple of things. The first was a discussion list (which I discontinued) and the second is a message board.

So far it is quite dormant, and we'll see if anything happens to this virtual network/community. Here is the URL: http://caribcons.forumplayground.com/

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Caribbean Employees are Exceptionally Sensitive

This is a problem I haven't solved, but I think that by stating it clearly, it might help me to understand how to think about a solution.

Do Caribbean managers have only one of two choices?

Should they be nice (in which case employees run all over them) or should they be harsh (and thereby lose the trust and loyalty of those from whom they most need it)?

Is the set of choices available really as limited as this suggests?

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When Everything Becomes a Business

It is unfortunate that in today's world that everything has "become a business".

Test Cricket -- "nothing more than a business"
Professional Football -- "a money-making venture"
Fine Art -- "basically a form of entrepreneurism"

While it is accurate that these and other pastimes can be seen as businesses, I think it is a mistake to argue forcefully that they can all be reduced to mere financial concerns.

It is true that they all have commercial aspects, but untrue that they should be seen through this lens exclusively. Everyone suffers when this happens, and when it happens too often a certain cynicism creeps into even the most altruistic activities, such as volunteerism and donations.

It is almost as if there is an accusation that if a cricketer is not viewing, for example, his career as a business, then he is not being realistic, or not being professional.

This might have a grain of truth, but it is also true that a test cricketer is not a mercenary. To think of what they do as "just a job" is to reduce the activity of playing cricket at the highest level to the most empty kind of employment.

The greater truth is that business-leaders are desperately trying to move their companies away from being entities whose only relationship to their people is one of trade -- my money for your time and effort.

Instead, companies are at their best when people are able to lay aside such interpretations and are able to approach their jobs as if they are volunteers, with the kind of fervor and commitment that enhances their experience of being human, and deepens their working relationship with their co-workers.

It is tragic when a young professional allows the "commercial trade" that is a necessary part of their relationship with their employer to override all over concerns, even the concern for their own frame of mind.


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The New Approach to Creating Slides

In an earlier post, I wrote about the new ways to use PowerPoint slides, emphasizing pictures rather than words.

I have some examples of how my slides have evolved over time from being full of bullet points, to being driven by emotional images that help the audience to focus on the words I am saying, rather than those on the screen.

I have found a book that goes even further and provides a template and a way of thinking about presentations that is just excellent.

In the book Beyond Bullet Points, the author, Cliff Atkinson, makes the point that a good presentation is like a movie script, and the different scenes that are shot in the making of a film.

He has done an excellent job of reducing a movie to its elements, and applying the elements to a different purpose.

Movies have a basic structure, he argues. They begin with a particular background setting, against which a protagonist (usually the star or main figure) is going along in their life until some tragedy strikes that must be resolved.

The movie is about the steps taken to resolve the crisis, and at the end there is some kind of wrap-up to bring things to completion.

(Of course, there are amazing films made as a departure from the basic structure, but most departures are amazingly awful.)

A presentation or speech is no different, and the template he provides to structure a speech in 3 acts like a movie or play is a real breakthrough in thinking. He also advocates using PowerPoint slides as pictures with a minimum of words to build emotions at different points of the presentation.

I recommend it highly.

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FirstCuts Issue 13.0 -- Caribbean Innovation

To access the most recent issue of FirstCuts in colour, click here.

Feel free to add a comment related to this issue on innovation in Caribbean companies, based in part on my experience as a researcher at AT&T Bell Labs.


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More on RFP's

One of my favorite authors, Allan Weiss, gave his own take on RFP's that mirror my own distaste...

RFP's are Dumber than Dirt



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JobSmart - Migrating to the US and Culture Shock

Upcoming article on JobSmart on some of the issues that professionals should think through as they consider migrating to the US from Jamaica.

The article is entitled: Migrating to the US and Culture Shock.

JobSmart visitors -- feel free to add your comments below.

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Hardly Ever A Sale

I posted this entry on why we never see sales here in Jamaica (and I think Trinidad and Barbados are similar.)



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HR Consultant Networking

At different times in the past I have been able to land projects but not been able to adequately staff them with the kind of people I really would like to have.

In fact, the problem has been so acute, that I have sometimes have felt as if I could not bid on larger projects because I could not find the right team to execute it.

Partly motivated by that problem, I recently started up a message board for HR Consultants.

This discussion list will hopefully become a home for those of us who are working in this area.

Click below to be taken to the message board:

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Why Framework Sells the Way It Does

I recently had the opportunity to solidify the way Framework does its selling.

Most of what passes for "selling skills" focuses on making the quick sale, which involves convincing a single person that they need to make a buying decision.

Unfortunately, this approach does not work for complex projects, products and services that involve more than a single buyer, or a significant dollar amount. Here in the Caribbean, I consider a "significant" sale to be more than US$10,000.

It all usually starts with a call initiated by either a prospective client or ourselves in which we discuss a potential problem. At this point, we only have an inking that a potential collaboration might exist.

The next step is to validate the problem through a round of informal interviews, in which we ask those impacted by the problem if they agree an issue exists, and whether or not it is worth putting time, effort and money into a solution. We try to get at the nature of the problem -- the cost of its continued existence, and also whether or not it is a priority item, or should be a priority for the company.

Once these interviews are done, and we agree with the company that the issue is real, we sit down with them to co-design a solution, and issue a discussion document describing the solution.

After the discussion document has been validated, the following three questions are asked:
  1. What is the problem costing the company?
  2. What return can the customer expect?
  3. How much should the customer invest to achieve the desired result?
Once these have been discussed, a proposal is written to capture in writing what usually has already been decided.

In an earlier post, I shared why I run from RFP's, but that was before I read Exceptional Selling by Jeff Thull, which put my years of experience selling projects in perspective in a powerful way. He shares the same point of view, and urges a salesperson of complex products to walk away if their standard process cannot be accommodated.

The problem I have had in the past is that I have been too willing to write a proposal based on a single conversation, with one person. The results of these proposals are usually problematic for both Framework and the prospective client -- in short, no-one wins.

There just is no short-cut to the trust that is built when a process like this one is used.

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CaribHRForum 2007 Survey Results

The members of CaribHRForum responded to a simple survey in 2007 on their priority areas of interest, and how the forum could be expanded. The results have been compiled here, and include a copy of the actual survey instrument used.

To receive a summary of the results, you are invited to send an email to hrsurvey2007@aweber.com. Upon receipt by our auto responder, a confirmation email will be sent to your email inbox, which you must respond to in order to receive the report. Simply click on the link that looks like this when the confirmation email is received:
CONFIRM BY VISITING THE LINK BELOW: http://www.aweber.co?/??????

There were some great suggestions, and I was surprised to discover which topics were of the greatest importance to HR practitioners. Someone suggested doing a more -in-depth survey of the entire memberships of HRMAB, HRMATT and HRMAJ -- the three largest bodies. I think the idea has some merit.


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Framework's Strategic Plans

I am toying with the idea of sharing the content of Framework's strategic plan -- and basically making it open source.

Why do that?

I have a hunch that I would gain more from sharing it than keeping, and while there might be some loss of "competitive advantage" of some kind, I believe that it would be minimal, and even be minuscule.

I'll start out by sharing the broad themes and then give more detail as time goes on.

Here are the"statements" that Framework's 2007 strategy is built around:

Marketing Tagline: “High-Stake Interventions"

Vision 2030: FWC is a world-class Caribbean-wide consulting firm, with a core of partners, excellent support staff and a virtual, cohesive network of independents.

Mission Statement: In partnerships with our clients, FWC intervenes in Caribbean companies to provide unique, practical solutions to difficult people problems. We use the best ideas in the world combined with the latest technology to produce both results and experiences that are unattainable without us.

Audio Logo: Working with Caribbean executives on their most difficult/pressing/top of mind people issues relating to service, motivation, culture and productivity.

Who We Are: Framework Consultant: Great minds, Great hearts. Lovers of life, excitement, fun and a challenge in every assignment.

Values/2007: The Tao, Perfection, Giving, Truth to Power

Brand Promise/Attributes: Bring sunshine, Newest thinking/innovation, relentless, speak truth to power


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Open Positions at Framework Consulting

We at Framework rely heavily on a network of paid and unpaid professionals. Some work on projects directly for clients. Others provide services for Framework capabilities, such as our ezine or web-site. The vast majority are willing to share their ideas and input to help improve our thinking, often without being asked -- comments to this blog are an example.

At times, however, we are looking for specific kinds of expertise that we have started to let the world know that we need.

The first requirement is simple -- anyone who agrees to work with us must agree to get more for themselves than they give in any assignment, position or project. In other words, it is their responsibility to ensure that the balance of benefits is always working in their favour, whether actual pay is involved or not.

I'll be posting up some more thoughts on the kind of people we work best with at a later time and link it to this post, which I will update on a regular basis.

Consulting Project Positions: none at the moment

Administrative Non-Consulting Positions: none at the moment

Web Designer: We are looking for someone to edit and update the Framework blogs and website. The edits are relatively minor, and don't involve changing manor aspects of these sites.

Job Description
Preferably living in Jamaica, the Web Designer must have a working knowledge of html.

Volunteer Positions: 3 at the moment

eBook- Designer: We are looking for someone to be either a co-author (unpaid) or designer of an ebook on the topic of Caribbean Networking.

Job Description
-- an experienced writer to create a 20-30 page ebook about networking in the Caribbean.
The content has already been created, and exists the following forms:
-- blogs
-- presentations in Power Point
-- recorded speeches
-- recorded video
-- design all layout and formats for ebook
-- place all graphics and video, plus hyperlinks

The ebook should cover everything from:
- Table of contents
- Introduction
- Relevant statistics
- Barriers to networking across the region
- The old methods of networking
- Authentic interests
- Using technology
- Conclusion
- Copyright statement
- Disclaimer statement

The book needs to be in conversational English and needs to be grammatically correct.

The book needs to be in MS word in landscape format with a workbook field, and easy-to-use forms

Send email to fwade99@gmail.com

Blog Editor: An editor who can read through the Framework blog and make corrections in spelling, missing words, shockingly poor grammar, etc. The Editor will also apply a relevant label to each entry.

Send email to fwade99@gmail.com

Time Management Content Contributor: We are in the process of rolling out a new time management course with the flexibility to be useful to any professional in the Caribbean.

The ideas for the course are still being fleshed out, but this 3-6 month project will involve looking at the ideas that have been developed to date, and working to improve them.

This position requires a willingness to learn how to use a wiki, a knowledge of how to access a blog and a bonafide interest in coming up with practical ideas to include in this open source effort.

Send email to fwade99@gmail.com


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FirstCuts Issue 12.0

The newest issue of FirstCuts has been published and can be read at http://urlcut.com/FirstCuts12

This issue is entitled "A Manager's Job is NOT to Manage."

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