What’s the Point?

We were on a fact-finding mission with a sizeable new customer. The objective was to understand how they saw the relationship, where they positioned us versus our competitors, which products they would carry, how they would introduce our lines to their staff, and so on. Because I was in the area, I agreed to drop in and lend some weight to the proceedings.

Jared, the sales rep, was there primarily to make introductions. The original plan was to have the Sales Manager do that, but a last minute screw-up with a flight put the local rep on the line. Jan, who was recently and with good cause promoted to manage our Customer Care Center, and the appropriate product line manager were also there. On the customer side, a half dozen souls showed up, several of which were still in diapers. I wondered who organized this session.

He quickly fell back into his comfort zone.

The meeting was not well planned. The rep was not part of the implementation team per se and it showed. He didn’t quite understand the purpose of a kick-off session, so he quickly fell back into his comfort zone. That zone is called PowerPoint. The Small Office PowerPoints everything eventually. The problem is, there was no need for a presentation at all. The sales job was already done. A contract had already been signed. It was now time to move forward, to get information.

There were questions, but they were mostly posed by the customer. There were muffins and handshakes and nice to meet you and looking forward to working with you. In short, the meeting was a waste of time.

Ike, the Sales Manager, felt guilty over his no-show and was grateful that Jared was willing to cover for him. Jan was new to this kind of meeting so she could hardly be blamed for what did or did not transpire. Ike didn’t want anyone to feel bad, so he told them he heard it went really well, great start, lovin’ it.

But, unlike Ike, I was there. And I was not lovin’ it. To paraphrase Churchill, the cause was there, the people were there, the chance was there. And we left chance behind. One of us would have to let them know so that it wouldn’t happen again.

Beer O’Clock

“The opposite side has its opposite side.” – Japanese Proverb

We have a consulting division that advises industrial and commercial customers on security installations. Obviously its financial metrics are totally different from what our product-based divisions use to measure their effectiveness. Things like inventory turns and return on assets are fairly meaningless. The team is comprised, for the most part, of techies. They are young and far-flung, working out of small, often home offices, in a dozen different cities.

Every Friday evening, they get together online for what they call Beer O’Clock. They share information, anecdotes, jokes, favorite Pins and stories on Digg. For every member of the team downing a pint in his basement lair, another has a toddler scooting through the dining room without her Huggies on. Skype keeps no secrets.

That said, the concept of Beer O’Clock intrigued a number of our Small Office denizens. What if every Friday afternoon, the Marketing Department, say, knocked off early, sauntered off to the local pub and, over beer and nachos, discussed strategy, shared project updates, told war stories.

The topic came up at one of our management meetings. In attendance were the usual suspects. Rigor Mortis, who heads up our legal department, seemed thinner and more distracted since his wife died. The Black Widow, our VP Human Resources, dangled overhead, a spectral presence, peering down on the unwary passer-by.

She could find nothing in it that is morally uplifting.

Rigor Mortis warned us that any company initiative that involves drinking could well end up in a lawsuit if a booze-related accident occurred subsequently, even if there is no direct link. The jurisprudence exists and the liability is significant. The Black Widow, questioned the motives of those who were promoting the idea. She could find nothing in it that is morally uplifting or economically productive. She comes from the same school as Washington Irving: They who drink beer will think beer. I have to admit I’m more from the University of Frank Zappa, who cleverly observed that you cannot be a real country unless you have your own airline and your own beer.

It took our sagacious CEO, the Man from Glad to bring closure to this discussion.

“If any employee wishes to extend our office to another location”, he said, “then they should continue to follow the rules of our office. Which means no drinking on the premises.”

And that’s that.

Just Ducky

“Asses would rather have hay than gold.” – Heraclitus

There were six of us in the meeting. That’s approximately two more than the number of people it actually takes to get something significant done. The more people in a room, the less likely ideas will be proffered, the less certain real debate will occur, the more likely donuts will be served.

Among those attending was John Drake, a buttoned-down bore with glassy eyes and rubbery lips. He is as remarkable as weeds in a field, conventional in his thinking and bland as tofu. At 30, he has already succeeded in accomplishing nothing. The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but the quacking duck gets shot. So Drake has made his career by going unnoticed. He paddles silently in the pond and when the flock finally goes airborne, he flies well back in the V, sucking off the draft of the duck in front.

He flapped when they flapped.

Our company makes electronic sensors and security equipment for consumer and industrial use. We have a broad range of ZigBee-based wireless sensors and remote controlled building automation devices. Turn turn out the lights, set the alarm, that sort of thing. We are now thinking of adding a line of space heaters that can be operated remotely by phone. So we invited someone each from industrial design, software development, marketing, and finance as well as Drake from sales and distribution. The object of the meeting was not to debate the merits of adding these devices to our product offering but to figure out how to make and sell them profitably. Drake was selected to represent his department because, I suppose, his boss assumed he would be at least as useful as, say, weeds in a field.

The meeting lasted two hours. Our man Drake contributed by listening generously and providing continuous feedback, that is to say, he fed back whatever others said first. That is to say, he flapped when they flapped. At one point, we were looking for a volunteer and I noticed Drake had disappeared (ducked?). He was bent over, his head under the table, ostensibly looking for a pen that had dropped or perhaps he was desperately seeking Susan. It must have been the pen because, when the meeting was over, his notebook was as empty as it was at the start. Almost everyone had a list of things to work on. Drake somehow came away from this working session with no work to do himself. Which is exactly how he had planned it.

Then he waddled away. He waddled away. Waddle waddle. Till the very next day.