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Monday, November 02, 2009

Passions, time, and sidelines

A video from HMC Architects in California, which has discovered a way to measure -- and manage -- passion in its marketing initiatives.

A few days ago, I reported in this blog how a California architect discovered a way to predict the success of its project proposals by measuring passion. I can now name the architect here. With some precision, HMC Architects calculates the actual time that the Principal in Charge of any proposal spends on it -- the greater the time spent, the more likely it is to succeed.

Here is the relevant passage from the upcoming SMPS Marketer article. (You can read the first article in the series here.)
When a project passes through a rigourous “Go, no go” evaluation and it is time to prepare the formal proposal, everything including management and marketing time is tracked through project coding.

“We're finding that when the Principal in Charge spends more personal time on the proposal, it has a much greater chance of success,” says Doreen Lamothe, HMC's Marketing Administrative Manager. “If the principals care, if they have passion, they'll spend the time to ensure the proposal is right.”

Conversely, a principal who doesn't care or is just trying to crank out the work, might tell the marketing department: “Use boilerplate material, as I don't have the time to write the project approach,” says Lamothe, who works closely with Tracy Black, HMC's Vice President of Corporate Marketing.

These projects have a much lower chance of success: Unless the Principal is actively involved in the process and cares about it enough to invest time and energy for it to succeed, the proposal will likely fail.
The HMC story is a wonderful example of how to measure seemingly intangible things like Passion effectively, but it also raises an important secondary question. If we measure our own time, how productive would we discover we are?

These issues come to fore as I set up evaluation systems for new sales candidates who are earning income guarantees during their evaluation process. We've never been big on detailed reporting and micro-management, but I realized that if we are paying daily (or hourly) guarantees, it is reasonable to know what we are getting for the money.

One challenge, of course, in intellectual activities is that contemplation time is often quite productive. So, for sales representatives, can be time spent on the golf course or in at a hockey game (if you are with key current or potential clients, or people who can refer business your way).

In fact, it can be a kiss of death for your success when you start "pounding the pavement" or the phone, or the email, in a desperate attempt to round up leads and business. Potential clients run for the hills when this happens.

Nevertheless, the HMC story may provide clues about what to do, and what not. Assuming you have a healthy business development model, you will obtain leads through a variety of sources. When it is time to pitch the work, your most senior leaders need to be fully engaged in the process because they really care about it, not because their clock is being watched. But you can still measure how much time they spend at it.

I'm also aware that I have in the past -- and continue to spend now -- far too much time on unproductive activities because my passion takes me to wasteful places. A few years ago, the time wasting involved gaming Air Canada's Aeroplan program (resulting in some really strange and short time/long distance trips -- like flying to Guatemala, Hong Kong and Singapore, each for a day!) I also spent countless hours researching an online Internet scam, tracking down leads in South Africa, Australia and Vanuatu.

Both of these activities I rationalized as having business value, and to some extent, they did. But they weren't necessarily the things I should have considered as business priorities.

Now I wonder if I had a detailed time charge system, like HMC, and counted the hours spent on these initiatives against their real cost/revenue, would I be shocked by how little I gained for how much work? Yes, I had passion for this stuff, but passion doesn't always pay.

Then of course, there is this blog. It requires about 30 to 50 minutes a day, every day, or, roughly 2.5 hours a week, or 125 hours a year. If I charged back that time at the hourly rate I should be paid, would it make sense to continue?

For most readers, indeed, these numbers would be discouraging, which is why few people blog daily, or if they try it, they quickly give up. Paradoxically, I don't think your time saving would be that great if you decided to blog weekly or twice weekly; if you spend more time preparing each entry and worrying about the details.

But, for me, the blog matches my passions (writing), real skills, and some absolutely valuable immediate and long-term marketing objectives. It has earned this company the top Google spots on key words like Construction Marketing which are translating to meaningful leads and business opportunities. In other words, it is worth continuing because even if I charge out the time at a high hourly billing rate, the return on effort now is rational from a business perspective. And I enjoy the work.

HMC appears to have the ideal business model. Proposal submissions after all are only approved for follow-through if they pass a rigorous "go, no go" test. Passions which don't have business validity will be removed from the story. Then, once the go-ahead decision is made, the Principal in Charge's passion can be funnelled to something that serves the overall best interests of the practice. And the PiC knows that it is worth persuing the passion, because indeed the company as a whole has decided it is worthwhile.

Now, I wish I could bottle this level of management discipline into my much smaller business. I might not have the opportunity to chase my passions in Vanuatu, but sure would achieve much better results in growing the company if I could through the day focus them on activities which really help the business to grow and thrive.

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