Net Neutrality Friday

Before we get to my ideas about how we might incent companies to install more Broadband, I need to cover the announcement this week made by the FCC. They changed the definition of Broadband to mean 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream minimum (aka 25/3).

I asked myself today, “Why does this matter?” Whatever you call the service it is still the same. So, I concluded the reason is to make Broadband coverage statistics worse. Now why would somebody want to do it? The reason became apparent after a bit of thinking. Somebody wants to justify some subsidies for installing Broadband. By making the statistics worse, it will be easier to make a case for new money to be made available.

One of the big issues with this in the ISP world is the size of many of the companies involved. The large ones don’t ever want to deal with the strings attached to the money. So giving them this money has not worked to date. The small companies (and between telcos and cable cos there are well over 1,000 of them) have taken advantage of the money to upgrade their networks. The small companies have been aggressively upgrading anyway and this money just moves some of these upgrades earlier into the cycle.

So, what has been the Net Affect of these grants and loans? A very small number of rural subscribers have very nice networks. The bulk of the customers have not been upgraded by the large companies and there is little activity to overbuild these low performance networks. The company that claims that it is doing lots of network upgrades (and promises to do good) has not addressed any of these areas. That is Google if you have not figured it out.

So many people don’t really think about how far away some of these small towns are in the US – especially in the Western US. I live in Santa Rosa, CA – about an hour north of San Francisco. We are called “Northern California”, but if you look at a map you would call it Central California. It is over a 300 mile drive to Oregon from Santa Rosa. I make a statement (in order to make people to think) that there are as many people in Santa Rosa as there are along 101 from here to the Oregon border. It may not be true, but if it isn’t it is really close. Even then most of those live in a couple of population concentrations. There are several very small towns, Garberville and Laytonville for example, along the way. Building networks for them is not very efficient no matter what we do.

That means that there is little competition for those communities and thus ISPs spend money other places where they are have more chance at more revenue or more competition. It doesn’t make sense for them to spend on those communities. The comparative returns are just not there.

So what can we do to make these underserved communities work in these models? Well, I will save that for next week.

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Change Your Business – Change Your Life!
Business Coaching, Sales Training, Marketing Consultant, Behavioral Assessments, Business Planning

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Sonoma County: News and Notes

Just a reminder if you are interested in visiting a great BNI group (see last week’s post) come visit us at Legends at the Bennett Valley Golf Course on Fridays just before 7AM. The “Best Networkers In Town” would be happy to have you visit. Great, free way to meet around 40 Business People here in Sonoma County. If you want any other information about this let me know.

For the next few weeks, I will be doing my reviews of quarterly earnings for the local technology companies. They are all headquartered in Sonoma County. I want to let you know why I do these reviews.

The first reason is to get all of you to think broadly about business in the North Bay. We are so heavily dependent on the Wine Business that I would like to promote a broader economic base. The industries that have been doing well on top of that business are the Brewers, Distillers and Food Manufacturers. I get a bit nervous because all of these industries are dependent on water. Given our drought conditions, we may wish to consider how to get more business less dependent on water. High Technology also has the advantage that it employs workers at a relatively high wage, driving a larger economic gain per employee. All of seems to me to be a good reason to get behind some growth in our local Tech community.

The second reason was to provide visibility to those public companies. You may have noted my interviews with small businesses in other issues of this blog. It is hard to get larger, public companies to let you interview them. So, a review of public information that can bring value to people seemed like a good way to get started. On top of that Quarterly Earnings calls are sales vehicles for stock. These calls have a rhythm and a language unto themselves. I am hoping that I can provide some common language information for readers to help them interpret these results. I suspect many local people invest in these local companies. I think it is a service to those local investors to provide them objective feedback on their stock holdings. I only use publicly available information so I am sure I am not breaking any confidences.

The final reason is simple and personal. These articles are pretty easy to write. Trying to come up with 500 words every other day is not as easy as it looks. This makes my blog writing more efficient for me. Always a good thing.

I would be happy to post about other companies headquartered in the North Bay. If anyone has any that they would like me to add to the agenda please let me know. I am happy to talk privately about any stock to anyone. Just realize what I am doing here is NOT stock advice. It is information about the current status of a company taken to common speech. I hope that lets each of you make your own calls.

Have a great day!

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Change Your Business – Change Your Life!
Business Coaching, Sales Training, Marketing Consultant, Behavioral Assessments, Business Planning

Leadership in a New Situation

One of the problems that you should consider is that the changes that you are going to make will run into resistance. If it were easy to make changes anybody could do it.

One of the big things that I found is that some of the biggest resistance will come from some people within your own group. For me, identifying and understanding these people are at a premium. The reason is that if you can convert them to supporters of change then you have made a great step forward. You will have removed resistance. On top of that you will have a new voice that Champions change. The thing is that you can not move those people from detractors to supporters until you have worked to understand their issues.

In one of the jobs that I had like this, I was working on changing our New Product Introduction (NPI) process. This process had gotten so out of control that nobody knew the status of a product. It meant that products took 3 – 4 extra months to get out the door from when they were ready. Along with the VP of Operations we came up with a tag line for our changes. We told people that we wanted to optimize for “Time to Profitable Volume”. Our objective was to make the new NPI process would take 3 months off our existing cycles.

To do this, my group would have to change the way they delivered information to the rest of the organization, particularly Operations. One of the challenges we had is that there was huge confusion around prototypes and how likely they were to get into production. We had a very fast way of making small numbers of prototypes and Engineers used this process to manage small changes. These changes were not communicated as part of the debugging process or this was the last set of changes and the product would soon be ready for production.

So, we worked very hard to make terminology that would differentiate the two states so that people were clear that we were working with the final prototype. We also changed our own prototype purchasing behavior to help Operations have materials ready for the first production run. We took on some part of the risk (in the Engineering Budget) to help make the transition smoother.

I had one employee who really objected to the change in his work. He told me that he was very unhappy with having to do what he perceived as more work to get his job done. So, how did I solve this? I worked with him on understanding the goals of the changes. Once we were clear on that, I then explained what I was trying to do with the changes that we had agreed to. Then I asked for what he would like to see as changes. It turned out that he was not unhappy with the goals or the actual changes. His problem was work ethic. This gentleman worked hard. He saw the other side of this coin in Operations as being lazy and did not want to make his work even more dependent upon what he saw as lazy folks. So, I walked through what they saw as problems with the current processes and showed him how they would be able to help him more easily. I also promised to be vigilant with him on issues with people working the new process.

Well, as with all things NPI our first set of changes needed a few tweaks but we got into a much better rhythm in a matter of months. My employees got products out more quickly. Revenue, Quality, and Costs were all improved. My problem employee was greatly pleased and became a model of change. One of my best process change successes.

By focusing on the goals of the change and bringing people back to the mechanics and away from the people helped keep things on an objective level. This removed emotion and helped keep people focused on why we were doing what we were doing.
Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Change Your Business – Change Your Life!
Business Coaching, Sales Training, Marketing Consultant, Behavioral Assessments, Business Planning

Net Neutrality Friday

This week Governor Cuomo of New York introduced a plan to provide $500 of matching money to ISPs that will spend money on high speed access in underserved and undeserved areas. In many ways, this is reminicent of the Broadband Stimulus Fund.

The challenge with these funds is that they tend not to work in the areas served by the larger Telephone Companies. In New York, that would be Verizon. Verizon is well known for having rolled out their FiOS product. As you may be aware, AFC won the first part of that business for BPON so I am very familiar with that roll-out. Inside of New York, little has been done in the Upstate areas. Verizon has announced that it is not expanding FiOS beyond where it has been rolled out. The question is: Will this announcement from New York State push Verizon to roll out FiOS more broadly.

Up to this point, these incentives have not worked with the large companies. They generally have some number of strings on them that require the company to report on. The large company does not want to do so. There are both good and bad reasons for that. One of the good reasons is the definitions around unserved and underserved. Most definitions use voting districts or zip codes to define them. The problem is that these systems are not the same as the way the phone or cable networks are constructed. So, a build at a specific Central Office (Telephone Switching Center) might contain part of those political definitions. It might take 3 or 4 builds to cover 100% of a Zip Code even though 75% of the Zip Code is served by a single Central Office. If the rules require 100% build out of a Zip Code, you can see where the costs skyrocket.

The bad reasons are obvious. The large ISPs do not want to release detailed information about their networks to governments. On top of that, there are often requirements to meet construction deadlines with penalties. Large companies don’t like to work that way.

In some cases, other companies might come in and use these Grants to build in areas that they don’t serve today. This has happened but it is certainly not something that any given community can depend upon. There has also been pressure on municipal networks as the large ISPs have worked hard to keep cities from building their own networks.

So, what is the solution? There is one obvious solution which is to have Broadband Access become a Universal Servie like a phone line. Today, if you put in a house they MUST put a phone line out to your house. You don’t have to use it, but they have to make it available. The Large ISPs will fight that tooth and nail. So, we need to see if there is another way. I will propose a few thoughts next week.

Until then, have a great weekend!

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Change Your Business – Change Your Life!
Business Coaching, Sales Training, Marketing Consultant, Behavioral Assessments, Business Planning

Sonoma County: News and Notes

We are now firmly into 2015 and I and the networking events scene is kicking into high gear.

Tomorrow is a mixer for the Santa Rosa Chamber at Keysight. Next week on the 27th there is a mixer for the Professional Services Marketing Group (PSMG) at Stout Brothers. The Black Chamber is hosting a Black History Celebration at Spreckles on February 7th. Check these events out!

But I want to focus today on one networking group that I belong to in particular and that is Business Networking International (BNI). This is a Global Organization of about 150,000 members. This group targets one thing – marketing via Referrals. BNI is a one person per profession type of group. That makes it different than a Chamber or a Rotary group. Those groups are open to all professions and you can find multiple competitors at the group. In a BNI group, you will lock out competitors from joining your group. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of group.

The advantage of a group like BNI is that you get to build a relationship by meeting other professionals. Not a once a month social meeting, but a once a week meeting where you get to talk about your business and listen to others talk about theirs. You can meet people more often to help give them even more information. The idea is that they become a virtual Sales Team for you. Once they have a good view of your business they can tell people they know about you. The more they know about you and the better job you do for their referrals the more they are likely to refer you again.

There is an axiom that people know 250 people. If you join a group with say 30 other professionals, then you have a chance that you can market to 7,500 people by referral. That number of people should be a good percentage of most businesses.

Which brings me to my request to you. I belong to a BNI group called the Best Networkers In Town (BNIT). We meet at Legends at the Bennett Valley Golf Course at 7AM on Fridays. If you would be interested in meeting us or learning more, come visit us any week that you want. You can find a list of our members HERE! I hope you take this opportunity and join us.

Have a great week!

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Change Your Business – Change Your Life!
Business Coaching, Sales Training, Marketing Consultant, Behavioral Assessments, Business Planning

Where to Start your Leadership in a new Situation

One of the biggest roles of a Leader is to make things better. When you enter a new situation, that is what you are supposed to do. If you make things better, you will build trust. So, the question is what do you do first?

The answer will come from those around you. If you start a new job, you are very likely to have input from your boss. He or she will tell you why they hired you and what they expect you to do. That is a reasonable place to start. But it is not the only person that you should listen to. Nor should they be the only person that you get information from for your work.

The next group is your peers. They will have commentary on what has been ineffective with your group and changes that they would like to see. On top of that, they will likely have commentary on the task or tasks that have been assigned by your boss. Having their input can provide a view into what they want out of those changes.

Finally, there are your employees. They will want things to be better for them based on your arrival. They will have a list that has to do with their work. This list is important in that you need to consider their wishes as it is their trust that is the second most important in the company.

So, now you have your list. On that list you need to pick no more than 3 items. One of them must be the request from your boss. That trust relationship is the most important. If you lose the trust of your supervisor, then you will lose your effectiveness within your new job. The others should have the ability have progress done quickly. Most importantly, these need to be changes that you can measure the effectiveness of easily.

Let me give you an example from my past. When I joined Red Condor, I did not get explicit orders from my new boss. I went into the proposed future finances and found that scaling the business was going to be a challenge. Our plan included a big growth in revenue with few additions in customer support and network operations. This meant that we would need to reduce the issues that we had in total and make those we had take less time to repair the problems we had.

So that was my focus. I told everyone that this was going to be my focus and I had an easy measuring stick. Our Network Operating Center was visible to everyone. Reducing problem would be visible to everyone. The reduction in effort would take longer. So, I spent time investigating issues and make sure that we got to the root cause of the issues. This reduction created the trust that I had a focus and we could make progress.

So, here I worked on a change that would make the company successful over the longer term. People liked that and I explained the advantage to them. They could see the results of the change without significant extra work. The change impacted many elements of the organization and improved customer satisfaction. Goodness all the way around.

One thing that I had to be explicit about was that given this focus, other changes would take more time and we would not have the energy to concentrate on them. This was disappointing to those that thought these were high priority. I did add them to my list and told them what would trigger me being able to work on them specifically. By showing how I performed on that first change, I brought trust that I would get to their problems and fix them.

Have a great day!

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Change Your Business – Change Your Life!
Business Coaching, Sales Training, Marketing Consultant, Behavioral Assessments, Business Planning

Leadership in a New Situation

As I said last week, I said that I would start posting about how I began a running a new group. In particular, I will emphasize points and habits where I was not strong in the workings of the group itself.

Before you go into such a situation, you have to take stock of what your advantages and disadvantages are. The best advantage that you have is being a neutral party. You are from the outside and presumed to have no bias or little bias. All organizations have both a formal and informal structure and you will be outside of both. This is an advantage because people will not have immediate bias for or against you. This means that your words and actions can stand for themselves.

However, this advantage is also your biggest disadvantage. The organization will exchange information about you along lines of communication that you will not understand. On top of that the organization will have a language and a culture that it works within that you can not understand immediately. This means that anything you do will be judged against the status quo and that failure against the status quo will be communicated immediately to all parts of an organization.

What is required is an immediate focus and win. I will talk more about this next week from a how to select and understand these, but today I want to focus on why this is so important. That reason is credibility. What people are looking for is a reason to believe in your Leadership. An early win is exactly what will provide those folks with the proof that they require. This is most important when a group is outside of your direct technical skills. Some will be asking themselves “How can listening to this guy/gal make me better?” By providing tangible improvements, people will understand that you bring value to them and their careers.

To win this way, focus is the key. Many businesses that I coach want to start too many initiatives at the same time. The way to win is to narrow the front to a single item at first. The way I put things is that I have a number of items on my radar (and list them) but when I start I pick one thing to start on. I over track and over report on this item to the team. I celebrate (by that I don’t mean throw a party – but be explicit about improvements) even the smallest of wins. I ask my boss to comment on the changes and thank the team for all the work that has gone in behind it.

With that first win, people will relax and expect more and bigger changes. So, we need to talk about that but first we look at how to select what to work on first.

Jim Sackman
Focal Point Business Coaching
Change Your Business – Change Your Life!
Business Coaching, Sales Training, Marketing Consultant, Behavioral Assessments, Business Planning