Monday, June 29, 2009

Revisiting My Best Of

Out of the hundred of www columns I have written, Here are my five favorites and the reasons for their selection.

1. “It's Not What, Rather It's How You Read,” at stresses the importance of understanding how most people now read.
2. ”A Thought Follower, and Proud of It,” at points to the advantage of learning from others.
3. “Bothered by the Silo Effect?” at sees a need to focus more on integration and execution.
4. “Voting for a Two-Question Survey,” at is a simple way for getting honest customer feedback.
5. “It's Time for an Efficiency Rating,” at identifies five keys for improving effectiveness.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Three-Part Answer to What Do You Do?

I am noticing more and more that when you ask someone for a business card, the individual pauses to decide which one he or she should give you. For example, an accountant might carry one that prominently shows a CPA credential and another one that identifies the individual as a consultant. I have also met two individuals who offer one card for resume writing services primarily to entry-level job seekers and another for career coaching aimed at more experienced workers.

These aren’t marketing ploys, but indicative of a rapidly changing marketplace. The assumption of many identities is a natural result. There is a need to have greater varied appeal in the marketplace so there is a willingness to be identified with a number of different descriptions.

In conjunction with this, there is also an increasing understanding that job security and employer and employee loyalty is rapidly disappearing. Cost-cutting is focusing on higher-salaried benefits and reducing benefits. Individuals are beginning to understand that to protect themselves it pays to simultaneously have three separate vocations so they aren’t reliant upon a single job for their livelihood. A good example is the individual that works for accounting firm, also does independent consulting on the side, and is the part-time editor of a magazine.

It used to be that individuals worked more than one job in order to provide for the immediate needs of their family. Now, it is in part because of the uncertainty of continued employment. The Internet helps as it is very easy to market oneself as a consultant, establish an online business presence, etc. These additional vocations provide comfort in knowing that you can hit the ground running immediately, rather than having to spend substantial time reeducating yourself and trying to begin a new career.

We keep hearing that most people will have many different employers and even careers in their lifetime. Won’t it be better some of these jobs and careers are concurrent?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

If Cash is Really King, Then Off with Their Heads

Many businesses like getting paid in cash and many of their customers know it. There are obvious advantages including avoiding the added costs associated with accepting a charge card. Another reason, commonly known but rarely stated, for favoring cash is that it makes it easier to evade taxes. That is why some merchants will give customers discounts off the stated price or not charge sales taxes. It is a practice that I have observed for many years.

There are periodic crackdowns and this is one of those times. The evidence I point to are a number of jewelers in New York charged with evading hundred of thousands of dollars in sales taxes on cash jewelry sales in the million. This is probably overestimating of the dollar amounts of sales, but the jewelers were easily caught when prosecutors sent in undercover agents as customers to purchase jewelry for cash and no sales tax was collected on the sales.

A couple of arithmetical assumptions and a review of sales records were the basis for determining the amount of the alleged sales tax avoided. The jewelers can be convicted of a crime and could end up paying a significant amount in sales taxes, fines, and penalties, as well as being subject to additional liability for income tax evasion.

In these tough times, I expect more prosecutors to adopt a similar approach and go after the underground economy. Tax collections are down, and W-2 earners and those who are unemployed probably aren’t as eager to look the other way, so the political environment is ripe for these easily constructed stings and the resulting news conferences. I wonder if a prosecutor or two will even go after a tax preparer who signs a return for one of these businesses caught in a sting.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Eulogy: The Demise of Middle Managers

Extremely productive individuals are dying off in epidemic numbers and soon they will be extinct. Unfortunately, they aren’t dying of old age, but are being killed off figuratively by a number of contributing factors introduced in recent years to the business environment.

These individuals, known as middle managers, perform very important functions. They possess a vast working practical knowledge of the industry or service area in which they work. They came up through the ranks and had a keen understanding of what that means. They also act as an all-important buffer between workers and upper management, as well as insuring that the needs of customers are met. In part their success is attributed to their long-range view of things and an understanding that maximizing short-term profits isn’t the ultimate goal and that cost-cutting, a double-edge sword, must be handled with great delicacy.

So what is making these middle managers extinct? Here are just some of the tendencies of modern businesses contributing to their demise:
· There is little or no coming up through the ranks nor serving in the ranks by upper management to gain an insider’s understanding;
· Throwing up a lot quickly indiscriminately and seeing what sticks;
· A blind follow-the-industry-leader attitude;
· Big-picture closed-door planning becoming more important than and overshadowing execution and worker feedback;
· Upper management no longer knows the industry or service area that it is “managing;”
· A technology mentality is encouraging first-in-time marketplace pushes at the cost of quality;
· Bearers of bad news are punished;
· Little respect for existing products;
· No real supervision downward;
· Expertise expected instantly;
· Misplaced accountability at lowest levels;
· Responsibility scrupulously avoided at upper levels;
· Brain drain not feared;
· Making something look right overriding doing something right;
· High turnover accepted and encouraged;
· No apologies offered;
· Short-term view;
· Exit strategy in the forefront;
· Placating upper management has become a fine art form;
· Lower-level managers are working managers;
· A belief that technology can replace workers; and
· A lack of respect for the consumer.

This eulogy isn’t meant to lament the demise of middle managers, but to explain it and to celebrate all that the many middle managers accomplished. It is also to point to the legacy that was left behind and to encourage the generations that remain to build on that legacy so upper management and workers create a business world that would jointly assume the vacated roles that middle managers performed.