It is almost the New Year, and I’m sure many of us will be glad to say goodbye to 2004. It is traditional to make New Year’s resolutions, and I’d like to suggest some for the companies that make up the high technology segment.
It’s always interesting to have a few bad years, because you have something to compare the good years to. But I’ve had enough bad years and would like to see us focus on making sure the next few years show some improvement.
Resolution 1: Eliminate Griefers
There are people who relish bringing misery to others. In the MOG (massive online game) world, griefers are those who work to destroy the fun of new players. But such people don’t just exist in the virtual world; they also exist in the companies we work for, the schools we attend and the organizations we participate in.
At school, these are groups of people who make life miserable for students and teachers they don’t like and feel superior to. Often these are the nastiest of bullies because they attack simply because they can.
At work these people go out of their way to spread false rumors about coworkers, take credit for others’ work, and turn what should be a cooperative effort into a cesspool of animosity. When these people reach executive ranks, they place their own needs before the company’s and sacrifice their staff for pointless battles focused on improving their own stature. They are often remembered for unnecessary cutting remarks and sarcasm intended to belittle and torture others simply because they have the power and authority to do so.
In organizations they can cause massive internal strife, making it nearly impossible to get work done because critical workers will skip meetings to avoid the people who make them uncomfortable. It often seems that these griefers have only one goal: to assure the failure of the effort.
There is a lot of speculation on what causes this behavior, such as unhappy childhoods, abusive parents or failed relationships. I’m not sure I care why people behave this way. I just think they should be encouraged not be where we are.
Our first resolution, therefore, is to purge the griefers from our schools, companies and organizations and to defend those who are abused by these people. For those in positions of power, an admirable use of that power would be to eliminate those who behave this way. This is the right thing to do, and it should improve the operations of our organizations. As an added bonus, it’s the only time firing someone feels good.
Resolution 2: The Great Place to Work Department
Ever since the dot-com bust, there has been a focus on how much people are paid and how hard (as in how long) they work. Benefits and entitlements are things of distant memory, and it seems as if we have gone out of our way to make companies painful places to be. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many breakdowns in so short a period as I’ve seen over the last couple of years. And what is strange is that no one seems to think this is unusual.
Back when I entered the tech market, I picked a company that had something very special: a “Great Place to Work” department. This was a small group of people whose sole job was to find ways to use a limited budget to make the company a better place to work. They did things like discover that the money we were spending on birthday parties could fund a recreation center that rivaled high-end gyms. The guy who ran that department, one Leo Chamberlain, is undoubtedly remembered today by the thousands he helped during that time, and I can think of no better legacy.
I often hear from ex-coworkers who describe the hell my former workplaces have become. I often wonder if the people who run those companies really are proud of turning good people into wage slaves who despise the very company they work for and don’t think particularly kind thoughts about that company’s leadership.
I admire the hell out of what Google is trying to do, creating a place that rewards accomplishment and thinks about the well-being of its employees. Although these things are easy when things are going well, they can become nearly impossible when they conflict with the goal of profitability. But I’m not talking perks or entitlements. I’m talking about treating employees the way you would like to be treated. Part of this is to insure the employees have pride in the company they work for and that the company has pride in its work. Loyalty has a value, but it also has a price, and that price is respect for your employees and coworkers.
Resolution 3: Creating Demand Through Marketing Excellence
Much of the problem with financial performance in the technology segment can be blamed on the lack of demand generation. The iPod is the exception. Even though the products Apple is best known for are sliding, this new offering has catapulted the firm onto the front pages, done amazing things to its market valuation, and engendered pride in Apple’s employees. This is the power of demand generation done right.
So much of what we have in the market today seems targeted at promoting celebrities or differentiating brands in simplistic ways. Advertising isn’t about winning awards for cinematography or spending the most in the least amount of time at the Super Bowl. It’s about selling products, and measurements should focus on that. Even if you are dominant in a segment, it is important to continue to remind your customers of the good aspects of your products and services or they will take them for granted and focus on the problems — undoubtedly helped in that effort by your competitors and detractors.
I was once told a story about the CEO of the dominant confection company at the turn of the last century. He was on a train with a college student, who asked why the CEO continued to fund advertising since the firm already dominated its industry. The CEO, one of the richest men in the world at that time, responded, “Since the train is already at top speed, why do the engineers continue to feed it with coal?” In my experience, understanding this simple lesson explains why so many companies have fallen from positions of dominance. If you are not promoting your products to your existing and prospective customers, maybe you should refocus your efforts.
Maybe it’s time we all worked to make our companies more successful and our family of coworkers less dysfunctional. If we can get rid of all of the griefers, I think we’ll all be a lot happier and more successful.
Have a wonderful new year, and take it from a kid who never grew up: Focus on finding a little fun in everything you do. Maybe that’s the most important resolution of all.
Rob Enderle, a TechNewsWorld columnist, is the Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.