Business Fashion Makeover – Better Design for Better Business

Ask a fashion creator what design is and the likely answer involves fabric and flow. A gardener may define design in terms of plant material and placement. Ask business owners and business executives to define design and the answers may stagger the mind. In other words, business design to one executive may be very different from another.

Design in business often focuses on brick and mortar structures with halls and walls and office compartments. Let us argue for that definition as the fabric of business; however, does it allow flow? Office compartments define placement; yet, do they define proper use of people, the material of business?

This discussion moves from the traditional concept of design as the physical plant in which business operates and moves toward contemporary business where knowledge professionals are uninhibited by physical structure. This discussion uses texts from leadership professionals and observations of and interviews with knowledge workers in education, politics, and business. The goal of this discussion is enlightening current and future leaders of design possibilities that promote and encourage professional bilateral relationships.

Vision the Future from the Past

A Business Communication student shared her desire of writing a term paper on outsourcing of U. S. industrial jobs to offshore and overseas locations. Her email contention being, the U.S. needs to secure its industrial strength at home. In a reply email agreeing this is a good topic, we shared an exchange offering another view that U.S. business is no longer dependent on industrial strength. The might of U.S. business shifted to knowledge as a product.

Supporting this were examples of U.S. based organizations, having a major global impact, and net knowledge producers. Major companies as Microsoft, SUN, INTEL, Apple, and even Omaha based Berkshire-Hathaway are major players in knowledge generation. The proliferation of online knowledge providers places vast amounts of data in one person’s hand faster than in any previous generation.

Part of the exchange included Camrass and Farncombe’s (2004) view of knowledge products. At the center of their view is the paradigm shift, and paradox of behaviors. Handy (1995) explains as we become more secure in our use of online services, we act as our own customer service agent providing information previously collected in person. Business has retrained us to do their work. Subsequently, business can shift from expensive infrastructures to lean operations.

Finally, the student acknowledged the U.S. is less industrial than past generations. However, she could not link losses of industrial jobs off shore and the gain of knowledge producing jobs.

Another observation comes in the form of education. A local community college founded in 1974 as a technical community college shifted emphasis in 1992 to a fully accredited community college offering educational opportunities in business, the arts, healthcare, social sciences, and awarding associate degrees. The college web site provides some student statistics that emphasize a shift from technical skills to academic skills. Of over 44,500 full and part-time students, more than 27 thousand are in academic pursuits versus 17,300 in technical trade education. Another statistic shared on the college web site is that after completing an associate degree, 54 percent continue their education beyond the Associate Degree. These observations support the email conversation noted earlier that net industrial jobs have shifted to net academic or knowledge generating occupations.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2005) released national employment statistics indicating over130.3 million Americans employed. It is difficult to identify careers as specifically industrial or specifically knowledge generating. However, a cursory attempt to identify them finds about 35.6 million Americans working in industrial trades. Approximately 33.0 million Americans work in net knowledge generating fields. The service industry in the U.S. appears to account for the remaining almost 53 percent of American wage earners.

Therefore, it must appear as though contemporary business finds itself in a paradox. The paradox involves managing business today while envisioning the future. Davis (1996) tells of people in their offices watching the time hoping for 5:00 o-clock. These people are waiting for the future to reach them in their stagnant office environments. They may have a strategic plan that has marked their path and they seem unable to consider alternatives. A careful or even casual observer will probably conclude that this business is neither prepared for the future nor looking forward to it approaching. Also likely, this organization is in need of radical change or faces extinction.

In a business across the street, people know the time and realize an opportunity for brainstorming. These people, according to Davis (1996), are unafraid of the future, embrace it, anticipate it, and manage it rather than wait for it. Rather than holding to a strategic plan, this group thinks in terms of strategic vision. They scan their horizon for opportunities to change and grow into new markets and products. Is this organization expecting to grow beyond its walls into a new arena where office is a place but not required for work?

Achieving Design Makeover

How do leaders use design to their organizational advantage in a rapidly changing global environment? Taylor and Wacker (2000) share an answer in what they call the age of possibilities. Today, as never before we are free from traditional bonds of work, we are free to choose our futures as well as shape them to suit our own desires and needs. Hoffman (2006) suggested that workers now have ways to shape their destiny and their future in ways past generations of workers could not imagine.

Traditional organizational design follows traditional lines of authority on both horizontal and vertical axes. Contemporary organizational design seeks to eliminate structure and design elements that impede lateral interdepartmental collaboration. These contemporary organizations prefer coordination with what Nadler and Tushman (1997) classify as workers freed from geography, physical structures, and delays in information.

Leaders in contemporary organizations making a design change are active in the midst of the organization, often from the midst of workers and sharing the workload with them. Maxwell (2005) advises leaders not to forget the people. Forgetting them, he says, leaves the leader risking having leadership erode. Leadership demands often force leaders to operate at a speed faster than the organization. Maxwell’s point is to slow down, “To connect with people, you travel at their speed” (pg. 214). Leaders might heed the Harper’s Bizarre (1967) song lyric, “Slow down, you move too fast.”

Yet, slowing down is another paradox for leaders who want to change organizational design. Leaders believe they must keep moving to keep the organization moving. By contrast, slowing the pace allows a leader to scan the horizon for new opportunities, sense or see a vision that had not been there before. Budman (2004) wrote in The Conference Board that the future of business would continue to “need trainers, and researchers and economists and teachers…and executive to manage them all” (pg. 1). He continues to sell the idea of a new business design that attracts knowledge workers because workers want to be part of the new design. Thus, the paradox of slowing down may help propel the leader, workers, and the organization forward.

Contemporary design no longer depends on halls and walls and offices as traditional business once did. Budman (2004) continues his discussion on leading knowledge workers. New leaders often find themselves operating in a system of workers separated by thousands of miles. He tells leaders to educate themselves on new technology and global business operations. As Hoffman (2007) observed, “In 21st century organizations, leaders have a responsibility toward knowledge networks; granting them resources necessary to develop common capabilities, develop incentives for membership, as well as standards and protocols for sharing information.”

Are we observing a shift from the days of going to the office, putting in our eight or ten or twelve hours, punching the time-clock, and calling that work? Is contemporary business shifting from supervised hours to process completed? The fabric of change invites flow of processes completed rather than hours spent at or in the office. Nurturing leaders recognize the value of placement and proper use of people to reap a bountiful harvest. A new reality is emerging; work no longer depends on a physical structure to house workers. There is something new in the business fashion design to improve productivity and business.

The New Design

There are new designs appearing on the thresholds of contemporary businesses. The concepts tear at the fabric of traditional thinking and reorder theories of worker placement. Let us examine one example.

This example is one we are familiar and comfortable with. It is a global business with extensive multilingual Internet presences. Upon reading the organization name, almost everyone has a cognitive reaction. Perhaps, many are members of their networks of buyers, sellers, and marketers. Their Internet home page offers a view of their operational design with this statement:

[We are] pioneers communities built on commerce, sustained by trust, and inspired by opportunity. [We] bring together millions of people every day on a local, national and international basis through an array of websites that focus on commerce, payments and communications. [Our] Marketplace creates a powerful online platform for the sale of goods and services by a passionate community of individuals and small businesses. On any given day, there are millions of items available through auction-style and fixed-price trading. With millions of buyers and sellers worldwide, [we] offer localized sites in the following markets.

No more suspense, this company is The eBay Company. Among The eBay Company family of businesses are PayPal, Skype, Shopping.com, and Rent.com. The eBay Company uses linking with Mercado Libre to achieve its Latin American presence.
The executive team is just ten people. They are founders, CEOs, and other officers of the diverse group of companies, widely diverse in professional backgrounds, and not centralized in the Santa Clara, California home office. They operate virtually from locations around the world.

Galbraith (2000) addresses organizations like The eBay Company calling them virtual clusters. The eBay Company is a large network of “small specialized companies. [I]t attains scale and specialization through the network, and it attains speed, innovation, and responsiveness through the small companies” (Galbraith 2000, pg. 272). The eBay Company provides an operational example of how business can operate successfully across geo-political boundaries providing global commerce and customer access to goods and service seamlessly, without interruption, 24 hours a day/seven day a week (24/7), and without internal sales or shipping and handling.

Analysis

At the outset, the approach was toward internal components that organization’s control. Specifically addressed were flow of business and proper placement of human resources. The evolution of this business design advanced beyond traditional halls and walls to a contemporary business environment not dependent on physical structure.

One consideration involves anticipating the future and embracing the paradox of change. Organizations that determine their strategic plan as the map to the future may not see the changing horizon. They may become unable to adapt as the chaos of change and business disruption overtakes them. Conversely, organizations that seek the future by scanning the ever-changing horizon for opportunities embrace chaos and grow.

Leaders in organizations that anticipate change know the answer to how, when, why, and where change happens. They know the collective answer is when it is least expected. Leaders often operate at a faster pace than the rest of their organizations. However, when leaders slow down and make connections with people, they may attract new workers with new ideas and visions. Thus slowing down may propel the business forward.

As business moves from traditional boundaries to contemporary operations without boundaries, new opportunities exist for virtual business clusters of smaller agile groups located in areas that maximize the small group’s business activity. Whether the business is a group wholly owned subsidiaries, a group of local enterprises in a consortium, or clusters of small agile specialized companies, product development now involve consumers sitting at the same table with research and development. Involving consumers and customers shift new products from sequential building blocks to simultaneous product definition (Galbraith, 2000).

Conclusion

The image of a clothing designer using fabric to create flow is important to business. Flow allows ideas to leap across voids where walls once stood. Flow helps business recognize that information between people and groups move without the structure of office. The image of the gardener selecting the best material for planting in the right place is also important for business. Selecting the right people and placing them in an environment where they will grow, may help business move beyond the present-now to the future-now.

Business, seeking a road map to the future, will discover the map is harder to unfold than those paper route maps are to refold. Yet, achieving a better business design achieves a better business environment. It is all in the makeover.

References

Budman, Matthew. (2004). Will We All Be Unemployed? Looking ahead to our place in the next economy. The Conference Board.

Camrass, Roger & Farncombe, Martin (2004). Atomic: Reforming the Business Landscape into the new Structures of Tomorrow. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons.

Davis, Stan (1997). Future Perfect. Reading: Addison-Wesley.

eBay Company, The. (1995-2007). About eBay. Retrieved April 4, 2007 from http://pages.ebay.com/aboutebay.html

Galbraith, Jay R. (2000). Designing the Global Corporation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Handy, Charles (1995). The Age of Paradox. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Harper’s Bizarre. (1967). The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) [Album]. Los Angeles: Warner Records.

Hill, C. W. L. & Jones, G. R. (1998). Strategic Management: An integrated approach. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Hoffman, Paul H. (2007). The Role of Organizational Design in 21st Century Organizations. Regent University: Virginia Beach, VA.

Hoffman, Paul H. (2006). The Strategy of Leadership is Thinking, Vision, and Planning – The Future Depends On It. Regent University: Virginia Beach, VA.

Hutcheson (personal communication, March 27, 2007) discussing an online Business Communication assignment.

Maxwell, John C. (2005) The 360° Leader: Developing your influence from anywhere in the organization. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Metropolitan Community College. (2004). Metro At A Glance. Retrieved March 28, 2007 from http://www.mccneb.edu/businessandcommunity/metrofacts.asp

Nadler, David A. & Tushman, Michael L. with Nadler, Mark B. (1997). Competing by Design: The Power of Organizational Architecture. New York: Oxford University Press.

Taylor, J., Wacker, W. with Means, H. (2000). The Visionary’s Handbook: Nine Paradoxes that will Shape the Future of Your Business. New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, Inc.

U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2006, May 25). Occupational Employment Statistics. Washington, D.C. Retrieved March 28, 2007 from [http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#b00-0000]

How SEO Companies Contribute to an Effective SEM Campaign

One of the most common complaints small business owners have is that they’ve invested time and money into having a terrific website, but after a while, the site’s rankings started to drop and just kept on dropping, even though nothing’s changed on the site. The short answer here is simple: The fact that nothing has changed on the site is actually a major contributing factor as to why those site rankings have dropped, because when it comes to Search Engine Optimization and website rankings, change is good.

Backing up for a moment, Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short, is the practice of optimizing the content and coding on your website to better attract traffic and catch the virtual eye of the search engines when they periodically review your site. Frequent updates, particularly SEO keyword-driven blogs, are an integral part of keeping your site fresh with regards to SEO. However, SEO is not a stand-alone activity. It’s part of a larger subset of Internet marketing called SEM.

SEM, or Search Engine Marketing, is the niche segment of online marketing that focuses on improving websites’ performance by increasing their rankings and other forms of visibility when people search for relevant topics on search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. Just as there are right and wrong ways (and a range of in-betweens) to build a website, there are better and worse ways to market a website. A comprehensive Internet marketing plan that includes a pro-active SEM campaign is a top-notch way to go, and this is where SEO companies come in.

First, not all SEO companies offer SEM campaign management. Some SEO companies strictly focus on providing analytics and SEO content, and they leave the actual marketing up to marketing agencies. That’s one way to go. SEM campaigns can certainly be developed and managed by your advertising agency with input from SEO experts. However, many people do choose to use SEO companies to develop, provide analytics and content for, and implement their SEM campaigns, particularly if they’ve used freelance web designers and content providers.

Regardless of how you team up with them, SEO companies and freelancers have a lot to contribute to your SEM campaign. By performing SEO analytics and providing keyword-rich copy, they can quickly take your content marketing efforts to the next level (and the next… and the next… ) by blogging, writing white papers, providing press releases, and developing all other manner of intentionally keyword-integrated online copy. This content, paired with other activities such as SEM advertising (think Google Paid Search and PPC ads) can boost your rankings, which increases your traffic, which ups your rankings, and so on and so on.

If you’re not sure where to start, talk to your advertising agency representative, website designer, or copywriter and ask for a referral. You may find that your current marketing providers either offer SEO services or have SEO companies with whom they work regularly (and this can save you money). Check out the companies online, and get a feel for their different styles. And before you set up any meetings, Google the companies whose names you receive, and take a good look at how well they put their money where their mouths are.

Investor Relations Website Design Secrets

Individual investors are intimidated by overly complex IR sites and need simple summaries of financial data. Both individual and professional investors want the company’s own story and investment vision.

Investor relations (IR) is one of the “Big Four” standard components of a corporate website (along with public relations, employment, and “About Us”). In the modern world, investors assume that they can go to http://www.company.com to research a current or potential investment.

While companies must provide IR information to attract and retain investors, they must also be realistic about the types of content and features that users need most. Simplicity and a coherent story about the company are better than drowning users in incomprehensible data.

User Research

To assess the usability of corporate websites’ IR information, we conducted a series of user studies in four cities in the U.S. and the U.K.: New York, Boston, San Diego, and London. We chose these cities because they include both main centers of the investment business and more mainstream locations. We tested a total of 42 users: 28 individual investors and 14 professionals (institutional investors, financial analysts, and financial journalists).

We observed users as they performed investment-oriented tasks on 20 company websites, selected to cover a range of industries and countries: Allied Domecq (UK), Biogen, Ceridian, Home Depot, InFocus, Interpublic Group, Johnson & Johnson, Labor Ready, Novo Nordisk (Denmark), Pacific Sunwear of California, Palm, Pfeiffer Vacuum Technology (Germany), Rowan Companies, Royal Bank of Scotland (UK), Stora Enso (Finland), Symantec, Starbucks, Tyson Foods, UPS, and Vodafone (UK).

When asked to go to a company’s website to research it as a potential investment, 40% of our test users guessed the URL, 36% used Google, and 24% used other search engines and Internet directories. This finding emphasizes the importance of having a guessable domain name and good visibility in the main search engines.

Success Rate

We asked users to find answers to nine specific IR-related questions on the websites. On average, users successfully completed 70% of these tasks.

This compares favorably with our other recent Web usability studies, which typically recorded success rates between 55% and 65%.

Not surprisingly, the professionals scored higher than the “amateurs” in this study. The average success rate for the investment professionals was 75%, whereas the average success rate for the individual investors was 67%.

Despite these relatively high scores, there is still substantial room for improvement: 35% of users couldn’t get a copy of the company’s latest quarterly report, and 77% couldn’t find the high/low share price for an earlier quarter — both very fundamental IR tasks.

Investment Professionals

We tested three categories of professionals: institutional investors who work for mutual funds or other companies that invest large sums; financial analysts and advisors who recommend investments to others; and journalists who write about finance for business publications or major newspapers.

All of the professional users had the same general conclusion: They would not rely on a company’s own website for most finance data. Instead, they would use the specialized services that their companies subscribe to, such as Bloomberg, Reuters, and First Call. Investment professionals often rely on downloading large amounts of financial data into their own modeling tools or spreadsheets, and they prefer doing so in standardized formats from a single source so that they can easily compare multiple companies.

This does not mean that companies can ignore professionals when putting IR information on their own websites, but it does mean that companies must be resigned to having their websites play a secondary role in satisfying professionals’ information needs.

Interestingly, even though professional users despised overly promotional or marketing-oriented information on company websites, they did appreciate getting the company “spin” through such things as recent CEO speeches that outlined goals and prospects. Professionals wanted management’s vision of where the company was going, along with a brief company background and overview of recent news. Basically, they wanted the company’s past, present, and future summarized in a way that told the story behind the numbers.

Individual Investors

Typically, private investors don’t have access to professional data services, even though they often get data from their broker’s website or from services like Yahoo Finance.

Individual investors are often intimidated by the vast amount of financial data available, even from these simplified services. While they expected websites to offer annual and quarterly reports, they admitted that they spent very little time reading them.

Companies can help individual investors by presenting simplified views of financial data and summarizing the highlights. Although you must offer more detailed data as well, users commented positively on websites that summarized essential stock information on a single page.

Individual investors also wanted the company to tell them a story about its potential as an investment. Key questions include:

Where does the company come from?

What is it doing now?

What are its innovation and research prospects?

What is its vision?

Note, however, that there is a difference between telling a credible, interesting, and concise story, and junking up people’s browsers with superficial hype and marketing-oriented language. It’s a fine line, but an important one if you want to convince investors of your company’s prospects.

Standard Information Architecture

In most of our projects, we provide guidelines for interaction design and for principles of information design. We usually cannot recommend the specific website structure, nor can we specify the labels needed for navigation systems. Consider, for example, a company that sells five different kinds of X-ray machines for dentists, and a company that sells 10,000 different kinds of pumps and valves for OEMs. These two companies require very different information architectures for their website’s product areas.

In contrast, shareholders and potential investors visiting a website’s IR area have similar tasks, regardless of the company type. Also, the information that must be supplied to satisfy users’ needs is much the same.

Because users and their tasks highly overlap for websites’ IR areas, we can recommend a standard information architecture based on our research of users’ information needs and navigation behavior. If all websites organized their IR information accordingly, it would be substantially easier for users to research investments.

We actually recommend three different, but related, information architectures, depending on the resources a company wants to devote to online IR. These low, medium, and high designs gradually add more features based on the priorities we derived from user research. With limited resources, it’s best to focus on the features that users need most, and implement them well, rather than clutter the site with many poorly designed features.

Simple Information Design

IR areas are plagued by PDF files, probably because they’re a cheap way to put annual reports online. It is indeed helpful to let users download full reports, and you can save a lot of money when people make their own printouts rather than requesting printed material by mail. But to view information online in a way that lets them rapidly understand key information, users need simpler formats that don’t require them to slowly page through presentations that are optimized for print rather than interaction.

In our study, interactive stock charts were much prized, but often so difficult to manipulate that users couldn’t get the overviews they wanted. To be useful to individual investors, graphing features and labels must be simplified; professionals are going to use their own high-end tools anyway.

Potential For IR on the Web

IR is a natural for the Web. Investments are all about information, as the growth of online brokerage services shows. Similarly, companies can provide many types of IR services as self-service — at hugely reduced costs — as long as the user interface is sufficiently easy.

Investors, both individual and professional, want more than just the data that independent services can provide. They want the company’s own story and investment vision. What they don’t want is to wade through complex or irrelevant information.

Balancing all this is the challenge for the IR user experience: You must provide both simplicity and vision, connect with investors without antagonizing them, and serve both professionals and people with little financial knowledge. To achieve this balance, your design must focus on users’ needs.

Our company, Investor Relations Marketing, offers publicly traded companies a variety of highly specialized services to quickly and cost effectively attract the long term, high net-worth retail and institutional investors that your company needs as shareholders.

By utilizing our services to get your company information out to the masses of stock investors, your company will receive the notice that it deserves.

Investor Relations Marketing’s services are an easy and cost effective way to get your corporate communication out to the masses of stock investors.

We only utilize marketing strategies that have proven to be the most successful and resulted in achieving the highest gain in a company’s stock price.