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I started a group a few years ago that resisted the standard approach to networking. This morning was a happy confirmation that we have a good thing going.

We are all refugees (or alumni, to put a more positive spin on it) of other networking groups. We wanted to avoid any more of the forced and superficial generating of leads and referrals for people whom we didn’t really know that well. We were seeking areas of common interest and levels of business experience to share ideas and information. It is best described as a peer advisory group. We do have a mutual interest in identifying and developing business opportunities and occasionally feel guilty about not generating more referrals for each other.

This morning after a long discussion on a variety of fascinating subjects that strayed far from our standard agenda, I apologized for neglecting to keep them focused on our networking agenda. “Hell no” they said, “these exchanges are why we come here and avoid other networking groups!”

I agree. The networking results are actually better than elsewhere and there is considerable value in sharing ideas and information among like-minded professionals. I recommend it to you. The breakfast doesn’t even matter.

In the early days of e-business consulting most of us doing the e-missionary circuit were preaching the message of “Catch the wave or be drowned by it”. Every business was being told to get on the Internet and get rich quick or stand back while the “new economy” took over their industry. Hype and hysteria were used to persuade entrepreneurs and investors to put large amounts of money into their e-business initiatives. They were motivated by either fear or greed.

Then the “old economy” rules hit the dot.com ventures and the bubble burst. Many investments ended badly. Some could be written off as an expensive learning experience. The hype and hysteria died and many businesses decided they could go back to business as usual. They were wrong.

The Internet revolution continues, albeit more quietly. The hype now focuses on Web 2.0 with highly interactive web sites and user generated content. Huge values are being placed on high traffic sites as they are acquired by Google, Microsoft, or the media moguls.

But businesses that are leveraging the Internet to their advantage are those that simply make the best use of Web marketing to attract business and online services to reduce costs and to build strong loyal customer relationships. Those are the e-business opportunities not to be neglected.

Much has changed on the Internet, but neglecting e-business is not an option. Remember fear and greed still apply.

Mothers and business seems to be my current theme. Perhaps it’s the subliminal (or blatant) advertising for Mother’s Day this weekend.

My Uncle Ralph persona is partly inspired by my father and his well-recognized character and manner of dispensing wise advice. But my mother also had a strong influence on my personality and management style (other than the genetic connection), but it was more subtle and less frequently stated than demonstrated. Quiet, hard working, good humoured, and responsible are the characteristics that immediately come to mind. Things we all learned from her example, simply by being around her. Of course, she was also good at reminding us when we forgot those important principles or our behaviour was not up to her standards. And it’s still a pleasure to make her proud.

That’s why I recommend you use the test “What would Mom think?” before your actions and decisions in business too.

Thanks Mom. And Happy Mother’s Day.

An earlier post suggested that we might have better decision making if managers asked themselves what their mother would think of their actions. But what about those employees that expect you to act like their mother?

What is the right level of caring and compassion before it becomes more personal than a working relationship should be? Is there a reasonable limit? Is it appropriate to get involved with issues that are strictly personal? Do employees become part of your extended family with all the additional obligations that implies?

Some recent exposure to business owners dealing with their employees’ personal issues has caused me to be more cautious about getting involved. Once they start lending a sympathic ear, then a shoulder to cry on, it soon becomes more time consuming on and off the job and creates a relationship that is difficult to steer back to business only. It also becomes a distraction for other employees and creates new concerns about favouritism.

My guideline for these situations would be to decide whether you would do what’s being requested for every employee in the same situation. Personal advice? Time off? Cash advances? If not, then say no to the first request. Don’t start a precedent that you’re not prepared to write into the policy manual.

And don’t be afraid to clarify the relationship, “I’m your boss, not your mother”.

As my mother once said “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do if I was there.”

Now that was a great way to keep me on the straight and narrow while I was looking for trouble as a teenager.

I’ve often thought of repeating the question as I encounter bad drivers flying by on the highway. “Does your mother know you drive like an idiot?”

Mothers are also an important influence to guide our ethical conduct in business. That was apparently understand by the jeweller in Cranbrook BC who had a conspicuous sign posted by the cash stating “We give instant credit to all our customers … if they are over 90 and accompanied by their mother.” Good credit guideline!

Most entrepreneurs and executives probably don’t often think of their mothers on the job, unless she’s the boss like Ma Boyle (pictured) at Columbia Sportswear. Maybe they should. We would probably have fewer issues of corporate misconduct if their mothers knew what was going on.

Perhaps instead of all those current management courses on ethics and corporate responsibility we only need to remind decision makers to ask themselves “Would my mother be proud of me, if she knew what I was doing?”

Sometimes mother knows best.

Why do I keep the duck? It’s not a live duck, it’s a painted plaster duck, so no care and feeding required. But it’s old and faded from years in the garden through snow and rain then beside the bathtub or on a bookshelf. It’s not attractive but it’s a frequent reminder to be humble in my business decisions.

The duck was a Christmas gift exchange from a computer technician who worked for me in my first entrepreneurial venture, TTX Computer Products. He was also the first employee I had to fire. Not because of the duck.

It was a classic business slowdown in the early ’90′s and forced me to look at downsizing my staff. “Laid off due to economic circumstances” may sound better to the individual and look better on his resumé, but it was still a difficult and painful decision. Especially as I had made the committment to never fire anyone in my own company after having lived through the slow decline and never-ending terminations at AES Data right up to my own “departure” a few years earlier.

But I came to realize that the best way to protect the company and the other jobs was to accept the inevitable and reduce costs by lowering the most significant variable expense – staff levels. As a senior executive from AES assured me, “the only way to avoid ever firing anybody is to make perfect hiring decisions, and nobody is that smart”.

And he was right. It was also not the last time for me to have people fired, laid off, or terminated and it never gets easier.

I wonder if those CEOs deciding to cut back by 10,000 or 30,000 people take it as personally. Do they actually sit face-to-face with any of those individuals and worry with them about their futures?

It has to be one of the toughest challenges for any entrepreneur or executive. And still a worthy objective to try and avoid any firings. So hire as “perfectly” as you can, then manage well enough to avoid those “economic circumstances” that lead to downsizing.

If importing a celebrity CEO is seldom a good idea, why would you want to use that hired gun called management consultant? He (or she) may know even less about your business and may have never even been a manager or business owner. How can they contribute anything?

Since I spend a lot of my time selling that service and playing that role I had better have a good answer to that question. Some of my thoughts on the subject are already documented in the article ““Consultants: How to choose, use and not abuse them.” See: Ezine articles.

The consultant cannot know your business, your environment or your issues better than you. But he (or she) can add the value of their own knowledge, experience and skills to better analyse the problems or opportunities and develop solutions and action plans with you. The consultant should assist with brainstorming, open up new possibilities to consider, suggest some different strategies, tactics and techniques to get where you want to go. They should be practical and fit your business needs, budget, timetable, priorities, capabilities and corporate culture.

A good consultant should challenge and stimulate you to do better. You are not hiring a friend to remind you how smart you are or to tell you that you already have the right solution.

More than that? You will have to pay me. I am a consultant after all.

It may seem like we are getting more done by multitasking but maybe we would be more productive and deliver better results by focusing on one thing at a time.

I’m guilty of needing to keep all my faculties engaged by doing at least two things at once. Reading the paper, eating breakfast, listening to the radio would be typical. On Sunday night I’m switching between doing my blog, watching the hockey game and talking to my son in Vancouver. Probably not focusing adequately on any one of them but feeling productive by doing several things at once.

Also working on two interesting books at the same time. Jim Collins “Good to Great” and Henry Mintzberg’s “Manager’s, Not MBA’s”. Both have quite controversial and and unconventional points of view. Collins’ research on companies that have gone from poor to exceptional performance concludes that none of them brought in celebrity CEOs that made big breakthrough strategic moves. Mintzberg makes a strong case against the value of an MBA for future managers and the damage done by the emphasis on analysis and bold strategic decisions by MBA trained executives. They would both suggest the recent history of HP under Carly Fiorina proves their point. She apparently disagrees.

Can we learn anything good from the celebrity CEOs that get so much attention as visionary leaders with exceptional entrepreneurial skills? I would say yes we can extract some useful ideas from their business strategies and tactics, but their are two important things to remember. First, their unique personalities and skill sets have a lot to do with their success (and their notoriety) and cannot be replicated. Second, their industry and company knowledge and experience may not translate into success in another company. That lesson has been very expensive to learn for many Boards of Directors and Shareholders. Think HP or Home Depot.

That’s all for tonight. My battery is dying and Calgary-Detroit are in overtime!

Maybe not that unusual for Canadians, but we’ve gone from four inches of wet snow on Monday morning to warm and sunny today with a forecast of 23C on the weekend. Winter to summer in less than a week? Welcome to Montreal in 2007.

No this is not another rant about global warming. Enough is being said, blogged or otherwise, about that subject without my personal contribution. This is more about recognizing what is unique and worth appreciating about our hometown.

Just back from a trip to Spain where the historic sites go back almost 3000 years to 800BC when the Phonecians first built sophisticated structures at Cadiz, followed by the Romans then the Moors and the Spanish Catholics, all on the same site. Makes our upcoming 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City seem fairly recent. But as a native of south-eastern BC where a 40 year old log cabin has historical significance it is still fascinating to me. And they’re still here. I had lunch yesterday with a M. Leduc who is a 13th generation Quebecer.

And I thought I was a real Canadian as a third generation native. But I do feel lucky to be able to enjoy the special charms and features of two home towns – Kimberley, BC and Montreal, Quebec.

Now that I’ve said I’m committed to blogging for the greater good, more than just the personal satisfaction, I’m going to have to keep it up.

Flurry of topics to consider – more business advice from Uncle Ralph, comments on the Virginia Tech massacre, business issues discussed at lunch, or the best seller I finally bought “Good to Great” by Jim Collins?

Let’s settle on the latter – best business books that must be read if you’re serious about being a better manager or running a more successful business.

On my list:
  1. Built to Last, also by Jim Collins
  2. In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Tom Waterman(?) the original business best seller that is claimed to have started an industry.
  3. Ben Franklin’s 12 Rules of Management by Blaine McCormick and the Autobiography of Ben Franklin by Ben himself (obviously).
  4. Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive by Harvey Mackay
  5. The Bootstrapper’s Bible by Seth Godin
  6. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  7. First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman

And on your recommended reading list?

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