Tag Archives: business

Does Anyone Really LIKE Black Jelly Beans (building trust in business)?

So I was on a mission for Jelly Belly jelly beans.  Don’t ask me why.  I guess it was because I had eaten meat for dinner, and with the whole kosher thing I have to wait 5 hours and 5 minutes before I could have eaten ice cream.  In any case, Jelly Belly jelly beans, besides being delicious, are also kosher and pareve (meaning they can be eaten right after meat).  I was in Target with my mom and spied a pack.  I bought it.  The box says you can eat one at a time or enjoy flavorful combinations among the 20 gourmet flavors, which include eclectic choices like bubble gum, popcorn, strawberry daiquiri or toasted marshm mellow (my favorite by far).  The interesting thing about a pack of Jelly Bellies is you only get about 2, maybe three of these really good flavors.  Then there is the other jelly bean; the one, for the life of me, I cannot understand why it is included in a gourmet pack of such delicious flavors … the black jelly bean AKA black licorice AKA the one I always toss out if I can help it b/c I don’t like the flavor.

For some reason there always seems to be about 4 or 5 of these in a pack of jelly beans.  And here I was in a multi-flavor popping frenzy (usually I eat them one at a time) and every few handfuls or so I’d get the black jelly bean.  Then a philosophical question arose: the fine people at Jelly Belly must know what they are doing, right?  I mean after all, they produce many flavors of jelly bean (have you ever seen the Harry Potter ones, including booger, vomit, and fish?) and the black jelly bean is always included.  There must be some people who actually like the flavor – my mother-in-law does come to think of it.  These thoughts brought me into further contemplation about a book I started reading called “Trust Agents.”

Picked it up for free at a talk by the authors this past Friday at the Harvard Club.  Uberblogger Chris Brogen (my newest favorite Canadian) and Julian Smith (love him – not crazy about his blog navigation/theme) sat on a panel with two other guys (the ones who wrote the book “The Trusted Adviser”) speaking before a crowd of 200 business folks, most of whom were from the social media industry.  During the talk they made many points about how it was important for business to experiment, even at the cost of failure, if it meant great returns in the new connected economy.  That customers expected conversations, a point I semi-agree with, and companies need transparency and trust to succeed in today’s world where a favorable review on a consumer website can sell the latest widget.

What does this have to do with Jelly Beans?  Well, in a way my purchase of a pack of Jelly Bellies encapsulates the trusted relationship that businesses must build.  Even though I do not like the black jelly bean, others do.  Jelly Belly is taking a risk including it in the pack of gourmet jelly beans b/c (I don’t think I am alone here) most jelly bean eaters do not like them either; my mother-in-law is in the minority.  Yet they come standard, despite pissing off a chunk of the jelly bean eating population when they pull them out of the pack.

The point is that businesses sometimes make choices to stick tried and true to tradition even at the risk of negative public opinion.  In building trust with the public, business is expected to do some things we don’t like in the interest of achieving specific business goals (not everything Apple does is golden – price point anyone?).  The good companies stand by their choices while listening to the feedback.  Perhaps they even incorporate the feedback into their future decisions.  The true test here will be to see if the black jelly bean ratio goes down after someone from Jelly Belly reads this post (if they are even listening).

More about Trust Agents and this topic to come as I read this excellent book.

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Best Practices: Managing a Virtual Team

The 21st century promised us a completely virtual future; one where we would attend board meetings as holograms (think Darth Vadar and the Emperor in Empire Strikes Back), teams would have little structure, and freedom would lead to copious productivity. Reality reveals that our sci-fi driven expectations shadow reality, but don’t necessarily define it.

Virtual teams can and do work, but they need structure and guidelines to manage the flexibility that running or working on such a team requires. Having managed a mostly virtual team for 2-years now I have learned that everything from selection of homebasers to platform choices must be considered and revisited as you go. What follows are some best practices I have learned:

  1. The Right People – not everyone is right for home-basing or virtual work.  When I  started managing a mostly home-based team I had to get used to the midnight email responses to questions I had asked at the end of the day.  At first I tried to manage this practice, urging my team not to log on after work hours (after all, we only paid them on the expectation that they worked 35 hours a week).  Once I started home-basing a bit myself, I realized that this was more for their convenience of taking care of little things when they had an extra moment than my need for their response first thing in the morning (these guys were not sitting at their computers for hours after hours; they were leaving the computer on and quickly responding to quick items).  Ultimately, the home-baser should be someone who knows how to stay in touch during work hours, has flexibility in their response to challenges, and can effectively communicate using all forms of contact (email, phone, IM, Share Point, social media, etc.); this segues into the next point…
  2. The Right Technology – this is so crucial when managing a virtual team.  In my experience, using phone, email, IM, Share Point (described next), social media platforms, and video conferencing can help a virtual team feel closer.  We have yet to do a full pilot of video conferencing for the team, but having used it individually, seeing faces of home-based employees during a conversation makes a difference
  3. The Right Collaboration – Share Point technology has helped our team stay connected.  Some of the ways we use it:
    • Discussion Boards – post a discussion thread for anything that requires feedback from more than 2 people.  This results in a continuous discussion rather than disjointed discussions via email.  All responses are centralized in one place and can inform future best practices
    • Shared Documents – working documents, tracking sheets, and presentations are the types of documents we tend to store centrally
    • Wiki – (my favorite feature) we use in 4 ways: documenting evolving best practices, posting team meeting agendas, project work, and individual status sheets.  The beauty of wiki lies in the “History” feature which tracks all changes made from the beginning of the page posting.  Also the interlinking of information between pages and items on SP or other sites makes wiki an essential collaboration tool for the virtual team
  4. The Right Feedback – evaluating and giving feedback to any team can be uncomfortable, unless of course it good feedback, but with the virtual team, engaging in regular feedback is crucial.  These are people who can’t read your body language when they see you by the water cooler, so giving feedback in varied forms (written, phone, public recognition, etc.) goes a long way.
  5. The Right Mission – more so than any other team, the virtual team requires a clear mission and an evolving process.  Repetition of the goal, the process, and the current progress is key.  For people working off-site, it is easy to find their own best way of doing things, which can result in losing sight of the team direction and preferred practices.  When it leads to necessary change based on collaborative and incremental adjustments, such independence becomes a source of innovation, but when it results in fragmentation and inefficiency the virtual worker becomes a detractor.  Not every industry, company, or mission needs teams, (see Why Teams Don’t Work, An Interview with J. Richard Hackman by Diane Cout in this month’s Harvard Business Review), but the fact remains that most businesses do use teams, and for those who make use of virtual teams articulating these points must be done.
  6. The Right Meet – finally, nothing helps build a virtual team more than a meeting in the “meat world.”  Having some face-to-face time scheduled for annual conferences or even special visits can add greatly to the progress and connection a virtual team makes with each other.

These five suggestions are just a few of the things I try to do with my virtual team.  What best practices do you use with your virtual team?

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