Tag Archives: business communication

Avoiding Death by A Thousand Cuts

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

Inside view of a watch

Since you can never create more time, be sure that you are not wasting it here.

Time.  You never seem to have enough of it and it is the great equalizer of companies of any size whether they realize it or not.  In a startup, you have a limited amount of time to get everything done so that you have a strong product launch before your funds run out and your investors are on to the next thing.  In a larger company, time is just as crucial but the consequences of wasting it are less apparent.  Without a sense of urgency, established companies can slowly sink into mediocrity after weak or failed product launches, poor BD and other important growth enhancing activities.

The biggest time waster of all at any size company is the useless meeting 
Startups will become established companies so establishing a sane and productive meeting policy at the beginning will save you from this death by a thousand cuts (meetings).

If you are looking to drive success at your company, here are some things you can do to assess the effectiveness of your current meetings:

  • Do the math:  How many people attended the meeting (N) x average hourly salary (S) x length of meeting in hours (H) = $ cost of the meeting (N x S x H).  For example:  A meeting of 5 people for one hour would cost you $500 if the average salary rate were $100 /Hr.   Was this meeting worth it?

Use this calculation to help eliminate useless meetings from your schedule and to negotiate yourself out of them with your supervisors if possible (sometimes this discussion can lead to the transformation of a useless meeting into a useful one).

  • Establish a policy of providing a meeting agenda with each invitation:  – This simple step helps to reinforce the policy of hosting only purposeful meetings.  This discipline also has the beneficial effect of reducing the number of meetings in total as well.  Having difficulty preparing an agenda for a meeting is the first sign that it might not be important enough to schedule.
  • Less is more: When conducting a meeting where decisions are needed – think, what are the fewest number of people we need to invite – then communicate to the rest of the team.  The more people that are in the room, the more opinions there will be and ultimately the more difficulty there will be to come to some consensus.  When key decisions are being made, feedback from a broader set of people and other important inputs should have been conducted earlier to provide the information that the final team needs to make a good and timely decision.
  • Watch behavior:   How many people are checking their cell phones, tablets or laptops during the meeting?   Did those people really need to be there?  A meeting that holds true value for the participants will also hold their attention.  If what you or others are doing on your computer during a meeting is more important than the meeting, perhaps you should have sent your regrets instead.  This behavior can also be a good indication that it is time to wrap things up (Not every meeting needs to occupy the entire time scheduled to it).
  • Watch your own behavior:  Finding yourself wanting to check your messages or put the final touches on your presentation might be signs that you are not spending your time appropriately.  You should be working on those things with all of your brain rather than attending this meeting.

Take home message
You can’t create time but you can prevent it from being wasted by establishing a meeting and communications policy that makes the most efficient use of everyone’s time.  If you are at an established company, use these tips to boost your own and your team’s productivity.  If you are at a startup, use these insights to make sure that you are getting every bit of value out of everyone’s time and effort as well as to establish the culture and habits that will keep your organization lean and mean as the company successfully grows.

Picture Credit:  JD Hancock via photopin cc

Are we there yet? The Secret to Keeping your Company on Track

Road in the rural woods

It’s not how far you have gone, it’s how much further you need to go to get there.

By: Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

Every summer as a kid, my family would pile in the car and drive to beautiful Lake Champlain, Vermont for a week of fun and relaxation.  The car ride itself felt like a quick detour to the 9th circle of a place a little less nice than Lake Champlain.  This was due to my brother and I repeatedly asking my Dad, “Are we there yet?” (Ten minutes into a 6 hour drive).  Sound familiar?  This scenario plays itself out every week at companies all over the world at the dreaded update meeting.

The Problem
You and the team went through the effort to prepare a good plan for charting how you will get to your next milestone.  One day after publishing the plan, it is out of date.  The key here is then updating your plan with new information and then moving on.  When a lot of effort is spent fiddling with the plan and keeping it updated, a lot of time is wasted on  ‘managing the plan’ rather than focusing on getting the things done that are going to move you closer to reaching your goal.  At the end of the day, you really need to know what is left to do more than what you have already done (eg you really want to know how many more miles left to go before getting to the lake than how many you have already travelled).

The Secret
It’s how you ask for progress updates.  The use of Gantt charts, lists and other planning and project management tools can make this seem like an exact science.  You plug in a number and out comes the new finish date.  The problem is that most of us are terrible estimators of how close we are to finishing unless there is a hard metric to provide guidance.  So here is how you ask for feedback that will be the most accurate and will require the least amount of time and effort on everyone including yourself.

Cut and paste these lines into the Request for Updates e-mail that you are sending your team.

  1. What tasks on the list assigned to you are now completed (100% done)?
  2. Which tasks have you started?
  3. Of those tasks that you have started, how many days will you need before it is done?

Sounds simple and it is.  The key here is in the last question.  When asked in this way, a person will have a much better idea of how much time they need rather than the percent complete of the task.  (Professional project management tools will automatically calculate the percent complete when you enter this information – you will find that the percent complete will go up and down over time until this is finished) Each person will automatically factor anything else that they are working on or delays or problems that would affect getting the task completed.  This whole process should take no longer than five to ten minutes of effort from the team including yours to update and send out the updated plan.

Quick Tips:

  1. Cancel all update meetings.
  2. Send out requests for progress updates via e-mail using the 3 lines I suggested above. (Once every 2 weeks or more often as you approach a critical milestone)
  3. Update the plan with progress and send out to the team.

Picture Credit:  © Hamiltongraphics | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

The Art of Communications in Business

Diagram of communication

Effective communication is not just about transmitting information but building relationships. With all of the new high tech available to interact today, don’t forget the power of simply sitting down face-to-face to do this effectively.

By:  Michael Kaiser

Despite the plethora of business communication software, hardware, social media, LinkedIn, etc., sources that literally increase by the minute, don’t we loose the face-to-face ability to communicate with our business and social interlocutors? Effective, successful communicating in the business world is part and parcel of Roger Fisher and William Ury’s classical “Getting to Yes. Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In”, first published in 1981. The book is not only very readable but it has, like all classics, survived the passage of time.  The following are examples of some sub-titles:

  • Negotiators are people first
  • Every negotiator has two kinds of interests: in the substance and in the relationship
  • The relationship tends to become entangled with the problem
  • Separate the relationship from the substance; deal directly with the people problem

Therefore, to negotiate agreement, you need communication skills.

The objective
And how do you deal with people in general, or more specifically, with a potential business one? We could say that thanks to webinars, teleconferences or e-mail, we do not need to sit in front of them and shake hands. That may prepare the ground for a good relationship between the parties, but let’s assume that inevitably there will be a need for a face-to-face meeting or presentation.  Your interlocutor may come through well in a video conversation, but is he/she the same in a personal meeting? Chances are that you will either detect something that you like or quite the opposite; do you feel comfortable? How about face-to-face contact? Is it pleasant and business like, or aggressive and arrogant? The bottom line is the proverbial “chemistry” factor between the parties.

In the business world, the success of presentations to small, medium or large audiences be that via PowerPoint, videos or speech, has one single objective: effectively communicating your needs as well understanding their needs, explained by Fisher and Ury as follows:

“Understanding their point of view is not the same as agreeing with it. It is true that a better understanding of their thinking may lead you to revise your own views about the merits of a situation. But that is not a cost of understanding their point of view, it is a benefit

In other words, for presentation and/or communication skills to be effective, do not just talk, but listen as well.

Presentations, communications, what’s the difference?
Presentations are tactics, communications embody strategies. When it comes to presentations, from personal social and business experience, as well as the advice of seasoned experts and/or observing them in action, the following parameters served as useful guidelines:

First and foremost: Who is the audience? Executive? Middle Management? Sales? Engineering? Customer Service? For a presentation to be successful, it must be fine-tuned to the audience. A good presentation should include seven guideposts for success:

  • To inform
  • Pertinent anecdotes and examples
  • Be constructive and positive
  • Generate action
  • Communicate in clear, professional language (even if you have an accent)
  • Rehearse the delivery of the message
  • Study, and react to, your audience’s body language (and what a challenge it is…)

The successful presentation requires:

  • Not talking down to the audience, but seeking to be understood
  • Message should be worthy of the audience’s attention
  • Get feedback from the audience

Communications are part of the Advertising universe. And Advertising is one of the four P’s of marketing: Product, Price, Promotion and Place, all of them strategies.

Communications are a vital component of crisis management and change, such as M & A’s, product recall, emergencies. And for crisis management to be effective, you need training.

Building employee, customer and brand loyalty is one of the most immediate challenges facing global corporations. The impact of demographic diversity and outsourcing on the “loyalty” concept.

Communications is about transmitting ideas and solutions to individuals or groups. To be effective, communications must convey:

  • Leadership
  • Inspiration
  • Trust and Confidence
  • Accurate information
  • Objectives

Both business and social communications share the desire to connect, one for commercial purposes, the other for friendship or cultural interests. Apparently one of the best communicators was the former United States Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger. His accented, baritone voice may have been one reason, but surprisingly it was the slow, quasi-Thespian tone of his delivery that forced listeners to pay attention.

As far as specific business communications are concerned, it is clear that for all the welcome information technology available to us, the art of successful communications requires a unique set of individual qualities that can be translated and applied for the implementation of strategic objectives.

Suggested reading sources

Picture Credit:  Wikimedia Commons, Interaction comm model

The Business of Life Sciences: Using Great Science to Build Great Businesses

Big sand dune with dark shadow on one side

There is no ‘dark side’ to commercializing Life Sciences – just a ‘different dise’.

By Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

Having a clear understanding of the differences between how science is done from an academic standpoint with how it is done in the typical Life Science company can significantly ease the path from discovery to market success.  To the uninitiated scientist, the commercial team (Sales people, Marketing people, Business Development folks and the Financial Team) has been viewed as ‘the dark side’ and only interested in driving the business and either not understanding or valuing the role of the underlying science.  From the business perspective, there is a concern that company scientists are only concerned with making more discoveries and not pushing towards doing the kind of work required to launch a compelling product.  Neither view is accurate.  Getting a good understanding of the differences can help to align the critical goals of each of these important parts of the life science company and increase the chances for success.

Why the Confusion?
Some of this confusion is caused by the way that scientists are trained in academia.  The increasing pressures that academic scientists are facing to fund their research programs as NIH funding continues to become harder to secure only acerbates this.  New relationships between commercial life science and biotechnology companies with academia, often facilitated by university technology transfer offices, are providing new sources of research capital.  Strategic partnerships, patenting and out-licensing of intellectual property from research conducted in academia are increasingly filling the government sponsored funding gap.  Like it or not, the lines between academic and commercial science have already been blurred.

Confusion is created because academic – commercial partnerships do not really combine the science being done in university labs with the commercialization efforts being done at the outside company.  This separation allows traditional roles and attitudes to remain prevalent.  In a Life Science company, the priorities of the science, the way that it is conducted, how it is validated and decisions on what projects will be worked on and which ones will be discontinued must be driven by commercial priorities.  However, it is equally crucial that the commercial team allows enough freedom to R&D to insure the quality of the experimental and feasibility work and that there is some room for discovery (you never know what killer application you will find or valuable intellectual property your R&D team will develop).

Getting the R&D and Commercial Teams on the Same Side
The following table lists some of the key differences between academic and commercial science.



Research Scope The scope is wide.  New   research findings drive the efforts in often unpredictable ways.  This process is inherently unpredictable   and random. The scope of the experimental program is very focused.  Only work that progresses the science from   feasibility to finished product is encouraged.
Goals Improve understanding of scientific or technical discipline Improve robustness of product and provide initial data to support   applications that will support commercialization
Scientific Validation Publications, Presentations, Patents Product Sales, Patents (as part of a strategic intellectual property   estate)
Funding Sources Grants, Foundation Sponsorships, consulting fees, licensing fees and   royalties Investments, Sales Revenue, licensing fees and royalties


There is no ‘dark side’ in a successful life science company, just a healthy relationship between the scientific and commercial teams.  In both academic and commercial cases, the goal is to produce new technology and science.  The only difference is in the path that each of these endeavors use to achieve this.

Picture Credit:  © Engere | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos