Archives for category: Reflections

I’d never heard the term ‘coworking’ as opposed to ‘working’ until I read this article. Interesting viewpoint.


Last week we pointed out a recent Wall Street Journal article reporting a trend towards larger startups sticking with coworking as they grow. Various experts warned there could be downsides, from the community aspect of the space inhibiting the formation of a company culture to other coworking companies poaching your talent or ideas. But not everyone it seems sees eye to eye with the WSJ’s experts.

Since its launch last September women’s career advice site The Daily Muse has been run  by a largely remote team. However, the company recently opted for a change, moving together into San Francisco coworking space StartupHQ. Rather than growing out of coworking, this is one startups that’s growing into one, and in a recent post for Forbes, the Daily Muse teams explain why, for them, coworking beats a remote arrangement. Besides a swankier kitchen and more opportunities for bonding, they explain that their…

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As the Christmas season winds down, Best Buy’s abject failure to fill thousands of orders for its most important two months of the year caught the attention of Forbes contributor Larry Downes.

He writes about his abysmal experiences dealing with the big-box retailer.  As he shops, an employee approaches him in an attempt to upsell an Internet service, but does so in an irritating, obstructive tone. “As a sometime business school professor, I could just imagine the conversation with the TV department manager the day before.  “Corporate says we have to work on what’s called up-selling and cross-selling,” the clerk was informed in lieu of actual training on either the products or effective sales.  “Whenever you aren’t with a customer, you need to be roaming the floor pushing our deal with CinemaNow. At the end of the day, I want to know how many people you’ve approached.”

But this is hardly customer service.  It’s actually getting in the way of a customer who’s trying to self-service because there’s no one around who can answer a basic question about the store’s confusing layout.  It’s anti-service.”

From my perspective, and the perspective of those who commented on this article, the training practices at Best Buy, well, stink.  I remember the years leading up to Circuit City’s ultimate downfall: friends of mine employed by the electronics giant would tell us about the slashing of hours, emphasis on upselling and not on keeping the stores clean, the removal of good and knowledgeable employees to be replaced with high school kids.

Training and retaining talent obviously isn’t Best Buy’s #1 issue.  But how many times have you gone into a Best Buy only to be given lackluster customer service because of uninformed employees?  I can tell you my own story.

I purchased a TV for my husband’s birthday during Black Friday weekend.  Unfortunately, the day after we set it up, the thing died (blown capacitor, if I recall).  I’d had to borrow a truck to pick up the TV, so I called the store’s Geek Squad line to get information about how I should return or at least bring the TV in to be repaired.  “No problem,” the guy on the phone helpfully told me.  “Just bring in your receipt to the store and we’ll arrange pickup.” Great!  I wouldn’t have to bother my aunt to use her truck again — they’ll pick it up!

Receipt in hand, I go into the Best Buy and wait in the customer service line.  A woman at the counter listens to me explain what I’d heard on the phone, then turns to another associate to figure out how to enter this into the computer.  The associate turns to me and tells me I have to call their 1-800 number to arrange pickup.  I explained that I’d called Geek Squad before, and that I wouldn’t have driven to the store on my lunch break if I’d known I could just call.  He shrugs and tells me the number again.

Lo and behold, after 20 minutes on hold in the Best Buy parking lot, the phone representative tells me what I’d first heard: bring the receipt to the store and have them arrange it; they don’t set up pickups over the phone.  I tell her that they don’t believe me, so she insists I ask a manager.  I hang up with her and end up getting in touch with a manager.

This starts an entirely new debacle because I picked up my TV and they didn’t deliver it, he couldn’t arrange for it to be picked up.  If I’d have known there was a delivery option to start with, I’d have done that! (I asked the girl who sold me the TV initially if Best Buy does delivery; she conferred with another associate who told me they don’t).

In this case, a total of four frontline customer service representatives gave me conflicting and false information.  Perhaps these employees were purely seasonal for the holidays, but shouldn’t they still be able to execute basic policies and procedures?

This ended up longer than I anticipated.  But it just shows that effective, meaningful training is essential for any company, even one as large as Best Buy.

When designing interfaces for WBT, practical controls exist in almost every module: Play, Stop, Pause, Next, etc. Although quite functional, these controls are passive options that help us drudge through the material. What many designers are missing is the opportunity to use an accepted part of WBT to add interactivity.

As we look for inspiration in interface design (from vehicle gauges to smart phones), an excellent source that creates interactive interfacing as its lifeblood is the video game industry. Video games live and die on interfaces – they’re one of the most essential functions because it’s how the player interacts with the environment.

Consider FarmVille, a wildly successful Facebook game that probably pops up far too many updates from your friends than you care to see. It has a simple interface that informs you of your farm’s status. Click the button with an image of a hoe, and you start to plant. Easy, huh?

One of the simplest interfaces in the world is one that doesn’t appear at all! The ever-popular Angry Birds displays a slingshot with a bird waiting patiently in the band – and an environment of breakable-looking objects. It doesn’t take more than a moment to start slinging birds across the screen with the touch of your finger, watching your score get ever-higher.

In more advanced games, facial expression technology is a relatively new feature. With Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, you can interact with your world by using ‘Persuasion.’ When speaking with characters, they will react to what you say by appearing happy, upset, neutral, or possibly confused. You can use those cues to make the right choices (to get items for cheap, or to avoid a fight, for example).*

How can we draw inspiration from these games? Let’s think about sales training.

  • One goal is to say the right thing to make a customer satisfied. What happens when the wrong thing is said? You might get an unhappy customer. Consider branching scenarios where, depending on the learner’s input, a customer becomes happy or upset in real time.
  • Or, create icons of products to show to a customer, rather than having the learner choose a line of text out of a multiple-choice option. Perhaps each part of the product is clickable, allowing the learner to describe features to the customer (some relevant, some not).
  • What about the interface that doesn’t appear? A video or image of a customer browsing products appears with several clickable objects – the products, a disorganized shelf, a mess on the floor, and the customer. The learner must do something, and likely clicking the customer first to interact with her is a good option.

Next time you’re sitting down to a game of Call of Duty, or watching your aunt play Bejeweled, watch how interactions unfold. You might be surprised at how games mirror instructional design principles.

*N.B. Skyrim’s rocking the socks off Oblivion.

What does the socioeconomic ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement have to do with employee development? Everything.

T&D pointed me to this Business Week article about employee engagement. Why aren’t employees motivated? Writes Dov Seidman, “We cannot “motivate” engagement (or innovation, growth, or succession for that matter); instead, we must inspire the kind of outcomes we want by rooting ourselves in a set of values, being in the grip of an idea worthy of dedication and commitment, connecting around a meaningful and shared purpose, and aligning around a common, deep, and sustainable set of human, societal, and environmental values.”

Although ‘Occupy’ is a conglomeration of many ideas about economic injustice, the overarching theme I’ve interpreted is that of fairness. And it’s not just the people who are willing to camp out in a park to get the discussion going – it’s any employee you talk to in a depressed economy. In a survey, 83% of employees reported that they either do not discuss career goals at work, or only have the discussion once per year. Many have become disillusioned as they watch benefits dwindle while news report indicate millions in bonuses for some CEOs.

I don’t want to start a discussion on the so-called 99% vs. 1%. That argument is for someone else to make. What’s important here is an employee’s perception – whether he or she is valued, connected, and has a meaningful purpose, as Seidman wrote. Are businesses using those key attributes when developing performance goals? Should they? Why or why not?

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