Monday, July 30, 2012

Going abroad for work? Take a lesson from the Governor...

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

Former Governor and Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, 
Image: Chris Devers (Wikipedia Commons)
If you think you’re having a bad week, just imagine how Mitt Romney feels. We don’t do politics here (see many earlier blogs, about politics at work) but I know a guy having a bad week at work when I see one, and there are lessons to be learned from the Governor by anyone planning to spend time travelling abroad on business.

Engineers are as likely as anyone to find themselves flying somewhere for work. Almost all of us, whatever our role in the industry, are to some degree working global engineering jobs. Whether the global element is regular and demanding, or relatively infrequent, chances are you’re going to spend some time abroad at some point. Here are my Top 5 tips for making friends not enemies when you're on the road.

1.       Prepare.
Do your homework. There’s nothing worse than meeting someone who has made no effort to learn anything about you, despite having known in advance exactly where they were going and who they were seeing. Forgetting people’s names will not help you get on their good side.

2.       Speak the language. (Two words will do.)
The vast majority of international business is conducted in English. While this is widely understood, you would be well advised to treat this as a luxury rather than an entitlement. A sincere ‘Bonjour’ or ‘merci’ will reset the expectation in any room. Conversely, forgetting that the country you’re visiting speaks the same language as your country and bashing them for, let’s say, inadequately preparing for the Olympic games, will also change the atmosphere in any room.

3.       Know your stereotype and push gently the other way.
We all know very well that international stereotypes are mostly unfounded and often just plain xenophobic. But they do exist. It does you no harm to be aware of what prejudices await you and to make sure you’re gently combating them out of the gate. If you represent a culture where others will expect you to be late for everything, arrive ten minutes early. I’m British, I’ve lived in America for years. Believe me I have a dentist on speed dial, I’m very outgoing and I drink my beer very, very cold.

4.       Say ‘Yes’.
I know you might be tired when you’re travelling. You may have started fantasizing about watching the game while you eat room service in your boxer shorts. You may be looking forward to your gym work out, but if you’re asked to go to the karaoke bar with your new acquaintances, you need to go. An offer of inclusion may not simply be a casual invitation because you’re there. It means something to people when they invite you to spend time with them. You’re not just turning down the happy hour beer, you’re saying no to them. Say yes. See the game on Sports Centre later.

5.       Follow Up personally.
If you spend personal time with someone, follow up personally. The business reason that you went will always be there, but if you made some personal progress, don’t forget to actively follow that up too. Thanking people is a great way to be liked. When you come back from your trip, make a point of thanking people, even for small things. Nobody ever objected to being thanked, especially publicly. (Unless your meeting was, for sake of argument, a secret meeting with the head of a country’s covert intelligent services.)

Business travel can be exciting, interesting, challenging, tiring, disappointing, boring and fascinating in every way. It can vary day to day and person to person, especially with the variety you find on most global engineering jobs. But if you take time to understand the place you’re visiting and make a real effort to create a good impression, it’s highly likely that you will create that impression and that the benefits will stay with you.

The negative effects of ignoring these rules will stay with you too. That’s a lesson I suggest you leave the Governor to learn on his own.

Richard Spragg writes on various subjects including global engineering staffing and global engineering jobs.

Monday, July 23, 2012

What get’s tweeted gets done. Can Social Media provide accountability for our businesses?

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

According to Seb Coe, the former British 1,500m Olympic champion, there’s a correlation between how much you tweet and how you perform.

Lord Coe expressed concerns
that tweeting is a distraction 
for Olympians.
Lord Coe, who is head of the British Olympic Organizing committee, noted this week that the people who find time to tweet, also seem to find time to lose.

“I have found quite a close correlation between the number of tweets at competitive times and the level of under-performance,” says his Lordship.

It’s an interesting question for sure. To what extent can social media updates, that require such a small input of time and energy, distract you from what you should be focused on?

Colleagues of mine spend a lot of time defending social media, because it takes so little to fire out a tweet, or update Facebook. I think it’s a reasonable defense.  The question is really what the wider cost is. What Seb Coe seems to be saying is that talking to your audience a lot, may put you at risk of disappointing them.

But if you think about it, there are also positive possibilities. To what extent do we alter our behavior in order to satisfy our virtual audience?

I know people who like to sound clever on Facebook updates. No kidding; I have had people confess to me after a couple of beers that they make a real effort to sound smart and engaged when they post. They feel like it’s a way to make a good impression, on friends, on family… they’re fueling their own ego. They will read news sites and newspapers, looking for the day’s smart story, so they can be seen to post it. If that sounds pathetic, OK – but they’re still reading the newspaper. They never did before. In their attempts to look engaged, they have accidentally become engaged.

Another friend of mine posts all his runs to Facebook, via the Nike + app. So-and-so has just completed his 3.01 mile run in 28 minutes. He claims to train more often and run faster because he knows it will be seen and measured.

In reality Social Media represents a great way to encourage accountability. What gets measured, gets done, right? So why not openly encourage your staff to post their successes on every social media? Even create your own social media networks inside your company to encourage bragging. It might help the staff reach to achieve for something to brag about.

So the end of the day, an Olympic athlete shouldn’t need Social Media to report on progress. They should have medals to wave around. They should have newspaper clippings.

But for the rest of us, there’s no harm in wanting to look better, especially if it encourages us to actually do better. 

Do you have thoughts? Can Twitter help with productivity? Should athletes put the smartphone down?

Richard Spragg writes on various subjects including global engineering staffing and global engineering jobs.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Must everyone evolve from innovation to advertising in the end?

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

It’s a long time since Google built the world’s best search engine. It’s quite a long time since the development of Google Maps, or Google Earth. At the time, these things were revolutionary and made significant contributions to daily life for a lot of people.

What’s Google’s latest innovation? It’s not a rhetorical question. Google+? Surely not. Even if it’s a new offering, it’s not exactly innovative. No more than Google Mail anyway.

Where’s the innovative beef?  

Nowhere. That’s where. Google is an advertising company. It’s raison d’ĂȘtre is to sell advertising space on its media to private organizations in return for money. Rather a lot of money in fact. Google made $38bn revenue in 2011. Not all from advertising, admittedly, only 96%.

James Whittaker, the disgruntled employee who’s fair minded and heartfelt resignation letter garnered so much attention earlier this year pointed to this evolution from innovation to advertising as the death of the company he seemed to honestly love. The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.

Social Media advertising - the next great 
internet bubble?
Facebook has been on the same trajectory. Gone are the constant additions in functionality and tweaks to the way Facebook works. Not entirely actually, there have been various substantive adjustments in the area of advertising, and how ads appear on our pages.

Twitter, it seems, is next. The descent from innovation to advertising is first seen by the developers who  are the first to know what’s coming, but only in the same way that the canary in the mine shaft is the first to know what’s coming.

Lately there are rumblings from the development community that they are being pushed towards developments, for example expanded tweets with image functionality, that scream advertising. Prepare ye the way of the sales people.

Underlying this inevitable evolution is a fact that nobody round the social media boardroom table seems to be nearly worried enough about. The concept of social media advertising is enduring a substantial wobble. GM pulled all of their Facebook advertising, claiming it simply doesn’t work. And over the last few months, the marketing consulting industry has started to gather around the idea that the much prized ‘likes’ may not be worth that much.

Social Media’s big players are blowing a huge bubble, and only one thing happens to bubbles in the end. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Lessons from Wimbledon, for Andy Murray (and the rest of us.)

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

So Wimbledon draws to a close again. The All England Tennis championship is down to the last two ladies and the last two chaps.  

Unfortunately for the US audience, there was no chance of an American winner this year but never fear, the British have had their share of hopeless years. The last person to lose to a Briton in a Wimbledon semi final died in the battle of Stalingrad in 1942.

Wimbledon: home to more than the odd 
philosophical soundbite. 
Until about an hour ago that is.

As Andy Murray overcomes a tough draw, huge amounts of pressure and the super-high expectations of the British public and media, to reach a Wimbledon final (the first man since 1938) he will have to dig deep.

Fortunately, the world of tennis has produced more than the odd philosopher, with pearls of wisdom to help him through it. And you know what? I think there’s a lot we can learn in business terms from these white-shorted philosophers, especially those of us who work for Talascend as we continue to fulfill our corporate values of accountability, expertise, enthusiasm and integrity. I'm shamelessly plugging these values, partly because I can, and partly because we actually take them very seriously. 


“It's one-on-one out there, man. There ain't no hiding. I can't pass the ball.” Pete Sampras

He didn’t get to be the greatest player who ever lived for very long. I’ve often thought it unfair on Pete Sampras that Roger Federer arrived so soon after him. Jack Nicklaus saw over twenty years pass before Tiger arrived. Michael Jordan’s still enjoying his status as the greatest ever. Pete Sampras retires in 2003 with 14 singles titles and is almost immediately surpassed in most people’s eyes by his successor. One of the reasons he achieved so much, according to those who know him, is that he never needed anyone’s approval but his own. He held himself accountable for every single performance and remained completely internally driven. Great sportspeople, like great business people I would say,  accept praise, reward and notoriety gladly, but they don’t rely on them to drive performance.

“As soon as I step on the court I just try to play tennis and don't find excuses. You know, I just lost because I lost, not because my arm was sore.” Goran Ivanisavich

Goran killed Wimbledon in 2001 when he won as a qualifier, beating half the major seeds on his way through. So exciting was his final with Pat Rafter, that it more or less rendered everything after dull and mediocre. What I’ve always loved about this guy is that whenever he was interviewed he never looked for excuses. He lost a lot in Grand Slam finals, under a variety of circumstances. But if he played badly – he said so. Sometimes you have to accept that your own performance was lacking and just put your hands up. The people you work with will accept that more readily than a hundred excuses.


“For the first couple of years I played really bad tennis. It was so bad that they booed me off the court.” Richard Krajcek

Success was a long time in coming for the big Dutchman. Enthusiasm’s easy when you’re doing well. The real test of enthusiasm is when you suck and you know it. We all have bad runs in our business;  it’s particularly hard at the start, but our ability to persevere and to stay optimistic is what will eventually set us apart. Breaking a dry spell with a good win is hard for us all, but it’s not as hard as winning Wimbledon, which Krajcek did in 1996.

"What is the single most important quality in a tennis champion? I would have to say desire, staying in there and winning matches when you are not playing that well.” John McEnroe

The Mac goes even further. With the right amount of desire and perseverance you can win even if you’re not on your game. Pete Alleyne’s talked about this already – attitude versus ability. You can overcome obstacles with a desire to succeed.


“Find something that you're really interested in doing in your life. Pursue it, set goals, and commit yourself to excellence. Do the best you can.” Chris Evert

Work out what you want to do, understand your specific goals and then commit yourself to achieving them. I have literally nothing to add to that.

“I've been playing against older and stronger competition my whole life. It has made me a better tennis player and able to play against this kind of level despite their strength and experience.”
Maria Sharapova

I like Maria Sharapova’s quote on a number of levels. Firstly the humility of believing yourself to be surrounded by better players even when obviously, you’re not. But realizing that your expertise increases by being weaker and less experienced than those around you is vital. If I ever found myself to be the most experienced and capable person in a room, I would start looking for the door. (But it hasn’t happened yet, so we’re good.)


“Family's first, and that's what matters most. We realize that our love goes deeper than the tennis game.” Serena Williams

Integrity is about commitment. It’s about doing the best you can because it’s the right thing to do and behaving in a way that genuinely acknowledges that there are more important things in life than business, reward and profit. My family’s far more important to me than Talascend’s ever going to be and that’s as it should be. Integrity is about throwing yourself into your work even though we all have something we’d rather be doing. We look forward to the weekends when we don’t have to work. There’s nothing wrong with that. Nobody ever died wishing they spent more time in the office. That’s why we rely on our integrity to care about what we do and to push ourselves forward. It’s what makes us professionals. Because you can be involved in something or you can be committed to it. Both take the same amount of time.

“The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.” Martina Navratilova

So there you have it. The Talascend values, brought to you by some of the world’s best Tennis players. I recommend you tune in Sunday to see if history is made, and don’t forget to look out for the moments of post-match interview genius.

Richard Spragg writes on various subjects including global engineering staffing and global engineering jobs.