Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thoughts on the Performance Review Process




One common tradition in the modern workplace is the annual Performance Review.  There are good reasons for a formal, annual record of how an employee performed, but a lot of companies mess this up.  Since I started working for a living full-time in 1983, I have never once received a performance review that was helpful for either the company or for me, in terms of improving either my value as an employee or developing my career.  There are ways to improve the process, which is the purpose of this post.

A lot of companies have a formal procedure for reviewing work.  This protects the company from accusations of discrimination, and gives employers a sense that a fair system is in place for raises, bonuses, and promotion.  The problems, though, include lack of applicable recognition of specific work, the fact that review only once a year is not a good way to track real performance development, and of course the complete lack of a reasonable way to project career development.  Another big problem seems to be that companies don't want to pay a lot in bonuses and raises, so they push hard against written praise for good work.

Three common types of performance review are:



The Rank & Yank - first made infamous by Jack Welch at GE, Managers are told by executives to rank their staff first to worst, then turn those findings into their bosses.  The company then uses that information to get rid of employees they decide are 'low performers'.  This is cruel, and even Mister Welch later admitted it was a mistake and a bad idea, not least because this kind of process kills morale, and focuses on getting rid of staff rather than rewarding hard work.   But it's still common for companies to use this practice, especially if they worry about having to lay off staff.



The Unanimous Average - this one showed up the most in my career.  Companies make a big deal about reviews but it seems HR hates to actually reward good work.  So, they have come up with a nasty way to cheat success while making it look like they are being fair.   At a former position, the HR people explained to managers that we could rate employees on a scale of 1 to 5, where the middle was meant to reflect average.  The trick is, to get a rating in any work area above average, the employee had to demonstrate that they regularly exceeded the average or expected level of performance all year long in that area.  And just in case an employee did accomplish consistently superior results in their work, the review covered a wide range of areas, with the same requirement applied to each area.  And if an employee was clearly superior in their responsibility, the other area ratings diluted the effect to deny them an overall rating above average.  And just in case an employee managed to be consistently superior in all aspects of their work, HR makes sure managers are told that no less than 75 percent of employees must be ranked in the 'average' category.  Considering that managers are also encouraged to note anyone falling below the average standard, this system exists to push gardes toward the middle, regardless of how well someone actually does in their job.




The Apathetic Boss - People work hard today.  Managers are expected to carve out time to review their employees' peformance according to an often-bureaucratic system, while still devoting full focus on their own work duties.  If the manager has not been keeping track of performance all year long, when the time comes for the annual review the manager is often overwhelmed by the new burden, and many of them simply pull out the previous year's review, make a few changes and turn that in as the new report.

Now, it's easy to complain, but it's important to consider how we can do this properly, to reward good work, to identify opportunities for improvement and to accurately reflect individual accomplishments in a way that is consistent with group or team performance.  I learned a lot from my bosses over the years, good bosses and bad, an one thing I realized early on is that no manager is independent from his team.  So I made sure to speak regularly with my people, daily and weekly, making sure they knew I noticed good work and had suggestions on how to fix mistakes or improve poor results.  So I found that monthly meetings of about ten minutes with each employee, and the notes from those meetings - combined with a semi-annual review to summarize where they were at the halfway point - gave me a way to keep detailed results to support my annual review, and to not surprise anybody.  This has worked for me at every place I worked, because with very few exceptions, people want their good work to be noticed, and when they are having trouble they expect their boss to have ideas on how to improve, not stand around harshly condemning employees with no interest on helping them, which is rather what a manager ought to do for his people.

So, in summary, here are my suggestions to improve performance reviews:



[]  Speak with your people everyday, send written updates by email at least twice a month, noting both wins and areas for improvement;

[]  Make sure your team knows the key performance indicators - what does the employer say is most important, and how you will document success in those areas;

[]  Plan your meetings in advance, so you won't be distracted.  Remember these meetings are about both how the employee is doing, and how the employee feels about his job and the team;

[]  Fight for yor people's ratings.   HR can be grossly unfair to rewarding success, but if your company does not reward success, your best people will leave for companies that seem to offer that recognition.  Also, your team will respect you for following through on your commitment to your team.   You don't need to get angry with your boss, but make sure you document specifics on how your people went above and beyond, how their work mkes money or saves money for the company, and how your team adds real value to the company.

Thanks and good luck.

Friday, December 27, 2013

FBS 2013: The Drummond Rankings


Anyone familiar with college football knows there has never yet been an actual national championship worthy of the name.  Up to now, three general systems have been used, all with serious flaws.  Originally, football teams competed in their regions and there was no real consensus about who was best at the end of the year.  The bowls set up alignments by conference and the press polls named their favorite as champion, but this was always unofficial, since in many years the acknowledged contenders never played each other. At every other level, from pee wee football through the NFL, a playoff determines the champion, but for reasons of greed and arrogance the NCAA refused to set up a valid for Division I-A, later called the FBS, teams.   Instead, a corrupt system called the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) was imposed, which was no ‘series’ at all, since two hand-picked teams got to play for the championship according to a subjective system which seemed to favor large state schools, and every other team was left out, regardless of how well they played.  The new ‘playoff’ proposed to begin next year is simply that same corruption extended to a four-team clique, as evidenced by the total lack of published criteria about how a team qualifies for the playoff – a committee with no published qualification criteria will announce the four teams on whatever basis they liked, including sheer favoritism.  The new system is no better than the old, and deserves no support from the fans, whose demand for a legitimate playoff system has been long, clear, and yet ignored by the NCAA.

As I wrote before, every other level of football, from the beginners to the professional leagues, uses a playoff system and has clear metrics on just how a team qualifies.  Ultimately, every valid system is simple in its construction, and two elements decide the teams – record, and opponents’ record (or Strength of Schedule).  I have no official standing with the NCAA, but back in 1980 I sent DeLoss Dodds (who was the NCAA’s point of contact for the playoff debate back then) a simple proposal to use the existing system to have thirty-two teams playoff to decide the championship, using sixteen bowls.  Dodds sent back a form letter which basically ignored the idea, which has been the NCAA’s consistent and contemptible treatment of their responsibility for decades.  I recognize now that there are reasons to limit a playoff (mostly due to the costs and difficulty for fans to attend five weeks of games away from their hometown.  At the least, however, an eight-team system can be established, perhaps sixteen if the first round follows the FCS model and allows the higher-ranked teams to play at home early on.  The key point is finding an equitable way to rank the teams for qualification and standing.  And I believe the system I created in 1980 is still the most reasonable.

For each of the FBS teams, I use a point system as follows:  award ten points for each win, and take away five points for each loss, regardless of the opponent.  Then add additional points according to wins by teams the FBS team has defeated; for each team the FBS school defeats, award an additional point for each win that team has over an FBS team.  Better record is tie-breaker for teams with same point totals. This system is easy to work, awards points for wins over good teams, and does not reward teams for either easy schedules or losing to teams with good records.


Accordingly, my system applies to the 2013 season and creates the following rankings (with BCS rankings in parentheses):

  1. Florida State 13-0, 190 pts  (#1 BCS)
  2. Auburn 12-1, 183 pts   (#2 BCS)
  3. Ohio State 12-1, 176 pts  (#7 BCS)
  4. Stanford 11-2, 169 pts  (#5 BCS)
  5. Michigan State 12-1, 163 pts  (#4 BCS)
  6. Baylor 11-1, 159 pts  (#6 BCS)
  7. Northern Illinois 12-1, 153 pts  (#23 BCS)
  8. UCF  11-1, 153 pts  (#15 BCS)
  9. Missouri 11-2, 152 pts  (#8 BCS)
  10. Alabama 11-1, 151 pts  (#3 BCS)
  11. Fresno State 11-1, 149 pts  (#20 BCS)
  12. South Carolina 10-2, 143 pts  (#9 BCS)
  13. Louisville 11-1, 142 pts  (#18 BCS)
  14. Oklahoma State 10-2, 141 pts (#13 BCS)
  15. Arizona State 10-3, 141 pts (#14 BCS)
  16. Oklahoma 10-2, 139 pts  (#11 BCS)
  17. Oregon 10-2, 128 pts  (#10 BCS)
  18. Clemson 10-2, 125 pts  (#12 BCS)
  19. Duke 10-3, 125 pts  (#24 BCS)
  20. Rice 10-3, 124 pts  (BCS unranked)
  21. Bowling Green 10-3, 121 pts  (BCS unranked)
  22. UCLA 9-3, 114 pts  (#17 BCS)
  23. Ball State  10-2, 113 pts  (BCS unranked)
  24. USC 9-4, 113 pts  (#25 BCS)
  25. LSU 9-3, 111 pts  (#16 BCS)
  26. Wisconsin 9-3, 108 pts  (BCS unranked)
  27. Miami (Fl) 9-3, 106 pts  (BCS unranked)
  28. Notre Dame 8-4, 106 pts  (BCS unranked)
  29. BYU 8-4, 104 pts  (BCS unranked)
  30. East Carolina 9-3, 101 pts  (BCS unranked)
  31. Virginia Tech 8-4, 100 pts  (BCS unranked)
  32. Georgia 8-4, 99 pts (#22 BCS)  
   35Texas A&M 8-4, 96 pts (#21 BCS)

If all we want is to pit #1 vs #2, my system is in agreement with the BCS and the two human polls, and in fact also with the six computer ranking systems the BCS uses for its ranks.  But if we extend to a simple four-team playoff, things change.  BCS darling Alabama gets 3rd place in their scoring, but based on actual wins and how their opponents did they only rate 10th place.   My third and fourth teams, Ohio State and Stanford, only get seventh and fifth place in the BCS, in large part because they won early and lost late, while teams which lost early and won late got extra support in the BCS system.  I rolled the numbers all the way thorough #32 to show how the BCS starts to fall apart as we get further along; UCF and Northern Illinois did a better job than the BCS granted them, and there is an increasing disparity between the polls and objective results as we look at teams in the two and three-loss range. 

So how would my system plug in a playoff?  As a compromise to the logistics and the networks, an eight-team playoff is both functionally feasible and worth calling a playoff.  I’d take the, what, thirty-nine existing bowls and re-assign teams according to a simple three-level system of designation:

The top eight teams are in the playoffs.  They play at the top four locations, and each week the top surviving teams stay where they are and host the others.  While some fans won’t be able to afford making up to two additional trips to see their school, the rising interest in a bonafide NCAA FBS playoff will ensure seats get filled; 

The next teams are assigned according to conference and bowl alignment agreements;

The remaining bowls are filled according to bowl preference and team acceptance. 

That would produce the following playoff line-up if we applied it to 2013’s season:

Rose Bowl:  [1] Florida State vs. [8] UCF
Sugar Bowl: [2] Auburn vs. [7] Northern Illinois
Orange Bowl:  [3] Ohio State vs. [6] Baylor
Fiesta Bowl:  [4] Stanford vs. [5] Michigan State

Let’s say FSU beats UCF, Auburn beats N Illinois, Baylor beats OSU, and Michigan St beats Stanford.  That gives the following second-round playoff match-ups:

Rose Bowl:  [1] Florida State vs. [5] Michigan State
Sugar Bowl:  [2] Auburn vs. [6] Baylor

Now let’s say the two games both end up in upsets; Michigan State upsets Florida State and Baylor beats Auburn.  The same two bowls would be used, and the higher-seeded team stays put.  That would give us:

Rose Bowl:  [5] Michigan State vs. [6] Baylor


It’s workable, it’s based on common-sense standards for ranks, and it’s not your canned-product football we’ve choked on for decades.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

College Football, the BCS, and the So-Called Playoff System


I will start this post with a disclosure; I am a Baylor graduate, and therefore regard the BCS with more than a small measure of mistrust.  Having seen how large schools with money and influence have used a great deal of immoral influence to essentially buy championship trophies over the years, I doubt the claims from media and those same self-anointed feudal barons of football that the system works very much at all in a fair and reasonable fashion.  The simple fact that after more than a century of organized football there is no national championship for FBS football built off a playoff system, even though literally every other major sport has a functional playoff system, including the ‘lower’ divisions of football. 

But it’s one thing to be cynical, and another to dive into the deep end without a thought to the process.  We are in the last year of the BCS system for – allegedly – determining the national champion of college football, to be replaced by a skimmed-milk version of a playoff system next year. This post examines elements of both the BCS and the 4-team playoff system starting next year.

So far as I am concerned, college football has never had a true national champion.  There were teams so dominating that they were the champion by consensus, there are schools with trophies in showcases that claim championships, which in truth prove only that school’s ability to manipulate voters and a corrupt system, and there are schools which played well enough to deserve a place in the decision but which were wrongly denied for any number of subjective reasons, such as belonging to the ‘wrong’ conference, not beating the ‘right’ opponents, or some other excuse.   The BCS system was allegedly going to correct this, but in practice the fa├žade quickly failed.  Fans did not accept the BCS as valid, even though in most years the championship placed favorite contenders against one another and produced a credible result. 
The simple fact is that fans demand playoffs for FBS football.  Not some ‘+1’ system or another contrived means to keep fat cats happy, a legitimate playoff where the champion proves themselves on the field against the top contenders.  The BCS simply does not pass the smell test.




For this essay, I did some looking into the BCS system, primarily using the official BCS site and a very helpful blog called BCS Know How.



The basics of the BCS are pretty simple; the system uses a formula to determine a 1st and 2nd team for BCS rankings, which play each other for the championship.  The problems start with the way those rankings are determined.  The short version of the BCS formula is that two human polls, the USA Today Coaches Poll and the Harris Poll count for two/thirds of the formula, with four selections from six computer polls making up the remaining one/third.  The human polls are the heavy movers.  

The Harris Poll, according to the New York Times, is a “motley group of voters in the poll — which includes former financial consultants, television executives and Internal Revenue Service employees


I’m sure we all are glad to know that one/third of the decision to rank the top college football team have a base of voters who often “have nothing to do with football”.  Particularly troubling about the NYT story is the observation that most Harris Poll voters know only about the teams they see on network TV; if a team is not nationally televised, the voters will not be able to know much at all about them, and will rely on secondary impressions.

The other human poll, the USA Today Coaches Poll, might at first appear to be a more reasonable look at the best teams.  But there’s maggots in the cheerios here, too.  First, the voting panel is just 62 coaches from the American Football Coaches Association; this means that dozens of FBS coaches are denied a vote for purely arbitrary reasons.  But the bias goes far deeper.

A 2011 empirical study by Doctors Michael Strodnick and Scott Wysong determined that coaches tend to favor their own teams and conferences, and were consistently biased in favor of large and traditional schools and against smaller and non-traditional schools.  


Essentially, the Harris and Coaches Polls both rely on emotional preference, something not used in NCAA Basketball RPIs or valid playoff systems.

Recognizing this flaw, the BCS committee decided to add the results of six computer polls; the polls from Jeff Anderson & Chris Hester,

Richard Billingsley,


The Colley Matrix,


Kenneth Massey,


Peter Wolfe,


and Jeff Sagarin.


At first these polls may seem very scientific and trustworthy, but problems show up pretty quick.  First, of course, is the point that the computer polls only make up one/third of the BCS score – the subjective human polls are twice as heavy in weight as the computer polls.  Second, the BCS formula rejects the highest and lowest computer ranks, for no valid reason.  The argument might be made that the BCS is trying to eliminate outliers, except that with only six computer polls, rejecting two of the results would mean rejecting fully one/third of the data, comparable to rejecting the votes of 21 coaches or 35 of the Harris Poll voters.  Further, any valid poll methodology eliminates outliers, so again there is no valid reason to reject any of the poll results, unless doing so is a tacit admission that the poll is invalid.  But since selected results from any of the polls are rejected by the BCS process, this indicts the entire poll spectrum.
A closer look at the computer polls reveals reason for concern as well. For example, Massey Wolfe and Sagarin include FCS schools in their rankings but Anderson & Hester, Billingsley and Colley* do not.  This alters the population sample of the various polls, preventing a genuine apples-to-apples comparison.

(* Colley does not list discrete FCS schools in its rankings, but includes ranks for ‘FCS Groups’ without explanation or member identification)

At the express direction of the BCS committee, margin of victory may not be considered in the computer polls.  Pollsters like Sagarin and Massey have shown a polite dissent by releasing not only the official BCS rankings using an ‘approved’ formula, but also a set of rankings using margin as a valid consideration.  Sagarin goes to the point of listing a formula called ‘PREDICTOR’ which include victory margins, and has commented that he considers those rankings more valid in projecting actual game winners.  I understand the desire to eliminate manipulation of a process by dumping points on an opponent, as Alabama did to Baylor in 1979 for example, by using their starts to score 28 points in the fourth quarter to make their win look more impressive.  However, when a team controls the game throughout, pulls its starters in the third quarter and still wins by a crushing margin, that fact is a salient indicator which should be considered.  I found the refusal by the polls to reveal their exact formula/algorithm a bad sign, as this prevents the replication which is a requisite condition of any valid scientific case.  

In 2010, BCS Know How did a series on the computer polls and revealed some specific by each poll:

Anderson & Hester:  Does not consider previous years results.  For SOS counts opponents and opponents of opponents.  Sets a ‘conference strength’ then uses that as a benchmark to set specific SOS.  Ranks according to wins, losses, SOS by formula, wins against poll top 25, losses to poll non-top 25.


Billingsley:  Does consider previous years as a starting point for rankings.  Premium awarded for staying undefeated.  Considers the SIZE of the attendance where the game is being played as a factor in game quality, which is bias in favor of larger schools.


Colley Matrix:  Based on winning percentage and SOS.  Does not consider previous years in rankings.  Punishes teams for playing ‘weak’ opponents.  


Kenneth Massey:  Claims to base rankings on ‘equilibrium point for probability model applied to binary (win or loss) outcome of each game’.  That seems to mean you get points for winning when you are not supposed to win, and lose points for losing when you are not supposed to lose.  Previous years are considered, and so is date of the game as well as venue. 


Peter Wolfe:  Eats small children then spits out their bones to find the results.  Well, maybe not, but Dr. Wolfe does not say much at all about how he determines his rankings.   All he will say is that he tries to create a “maximum likelihood estimate” of a team winning a given game.   Wolfe counts results from 730 different schools, by far the broadest population sample, but his limited explanation seems to suggest a modified transitive property theory, mitigated by not counting margin.  He does not say, but the explanations imply that prior years are considered when determining expectations.  Finally, Dr. Wolfe is a professor at UCLA, which may or may not influence his initial assumptions.


Jeff Sagarin:  Counts preseason rankings, ratings compound both opponent records and records of opponents’ opponents.  The preseason ranking factors are removed when the BCS ranks are first released.  Undefeated and single-loss teams gain a premium value, and road wins are considered especially important.

Now, let’s have a look at the playoff system starting next year.  According to BCS Know How,


The playoffs will use a six-bowl system using three ‘contract’ bowls and three ‘host’ bowls for the abridged playoff system, using four teams.  The highest-ranked champion from five minor conferences (CUSA, Mountain West, Sun Belt, AAC, and MAC) gets one of twelve spots in a system suspiciously similar in appearance to the BCS, with champions from the six major conferences and five ‘at-large’ positions to be determined by a selection committee, which also announces the rankings.   

The selection committee will release a ‘Top 20’ ranking each week beginning in Week 8 of the season, very much like the BCS rankings.  Two semifinal games will be held either Dec. 31 or Jan. 1 of each year, with a championship game the first Monday in January that is at least six days after New Year’s Day. 

The committee will have absolute authority in selecting the four teams in the playoffs, and although they “will be instructed to weigh strength of schedule, win-loss record, head-to-head victories with other teams in contention and whether the team won its own conference“, it’s impossible to know how objective that process will prove to be in practice. 
No information has been released about who will be on the Selection committee, or what criteria will be used to choose the members.
No metric has been announced to determine which teams should be chosen for the playoffs.

No information has been released regarding whether polls will play a role in the playoff team selection, or if so how they could be used.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Job Matching



I’m in an unusual position these days.  On the one side, my wife is looking for work, and on the other I am hiring to fill a position for my company.  First off, no, I can’t give the job to my wife.  The experience does give me some insights into the stress for both job seekers and businesses in the job market. 

Except for a few of us, I’m thinking the top of the class students who get several job offers to choose from, looking for a job is stressful and annoying.  We need a job to pay the bills, we see all kinds of places where we are sure we’d do a really good job, but very few of the places we contact is interested to even offer an interview.  It doesn’t get better with experience, either.  When I was laid off from Reliant Energy in 2009, I didn’t get a job interview for weeks, even though I began applying for open positions immediately and found many for which my skills superbly fit the job requirements and description. I understood the numbers, the factors which drive the traffic of job searches, and I knew the ebb and flow of company interest in applicants.  I knew it would be a lot like fishing, where things you never saw controlled your opportunity and access to the decision-makers, but the emotional burden of slugging through the process with no visible results was heavy for all of that.   In the end, my job search paid off, though I was lucky to apply at the right place at just the right time.  My advice to you job seekers on that count, is that you have to keep trying, so that when the right place and time come together you will be the one who gets that chance.   I can’t say it’s unfair, because as much as it feels unfair to get no response to applications and constant effort, there’s no rule that someone has to answer you.  I am trying to keep my wife’s confidence and hope up, because I understand how she feels, and we both understand that while there will eventually be a resolution, how and when are out of our reach to know right now. 

So now I consider the employer’s point of view.  OK, the job seeker is not all that concerned with how the employer feels.  I think that’s a mistake, though.  While there are bad companies and bad bosses even in good companies sometimes, establishing rapport is important for the job seeker, and it may help to understand that the company, or at least the person doing the hiring, really does want to get the position filled.  The thing is, the employer does not want to just get someone in the spot; they need the right person there or else they will be worse off than they were at first. 

I have an opening to fill.  The position received a fair amount of interest, and I received seventeen applications in less than a week.  I started by trying to contact the applicants by phone - since the job involves a lot of talking with customers by phone, this is a primary skill I can test while screening applicants as well.  Not everyone was available on the first try, but most did answer right away, and there were only two applicants I could not speak to before I reached my decision for the first cut.  So the first thing that jumps out at me, is that if you apply for a job, you’d better have a phone number available which reaches you right away.  Trusting emails or your answering machine may mean you fall behind other candidates before you even know you were considered.

The next point that jumped out at me as I spoke with candidates, is how few of them knew anything about my company.  In an age where so many online tools exist to research companies, anyone applying for a job with a large firm must be able to show they have done their homework.  The fact that anyone applying for the job had to go through the company website means they were only a click away from learning all kinds of things about my company and what it does, how long we’ve been in business, and how we built our brand.  When someone applies for a job that way but admits they don’t know anything about my company when I call, that’s not a good sign. 

On the other hand, a number of candidates set themselves apart early on by the way they answered questions, and their apparent interest, not so much in getting hired as in getting this particular job.  Just as people who apply for jobs are silently praying that the position is not the job from hell, employers are hoping they don’t accidentally hire the employee from hell.  A candidate can do a lot to help themselves by just showing they are comfortable with your company.  

Another suggestion to candidates, is to know your target.  I’m a credit manager, and that means I exchange emails and have phone conversations with a lot of customers.  So anyone working in my group has to be comfortable with talking to customers, and with answering a lot of emails, sometimes very complex ones with lots of attachments and details.  Several of the applicants did not seem to understand the job, even though the website clearly defined the duties and requirements.  A couple spoke in a way that suggested they wanted this job only until they found one more to their liking, which is a bad signal to send when applying to a company for a specific open position. 


The best candidates seemed to be able to understand my position, to figure out what I was looking for then show how they were that person.  This ability not only helps me set them ahead of other candidates, it assures me that communication with that person should not be a problem once they are on the team.  And communication is a huge part of a group’s success.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Limits of LinkedIn

I want to be open as I begin this article; I like the LinkedIn site very much, and I find a lot of interesting articles and perspectives.  But I have noticed a few problems with the site as well, due not to glitches so much as its design and apparent purpose.  LinkedIn is a great place to read articles if you are finishing school and getting ready to go job hunting, if you are moving and need to job hunt, are considering a career change and need to job hunt, and … well, the pattern is clear.  The site is also useful in advice for companies trying to find good employees, or for people thinking about starting their own business.  That is, LinkedIn is set up for starts and beginnings.    That’s fine, so far as it goes.  But LinkedIn is pretty empty for effective articles on developing employees, long term competitive advantage, or ironing out inter-department issues.  Sure, they have articles on such topics from time to time, but the published articles often turn out to be little more than collections of buzz words or self-congratulatory commercials.  A big part of the reason, I think, is that LinkedIn does not operate as a genuine forum, but is rather a tiered community of haves and have-nots, and anyone outside the acknowledged hoi polloi is expected to simply read and applaud.

An example of this is LinkedIn’s section devoted to ‘Influencers’.  Generally, an ‘Influencer’ on LinkedIn is someone who owns or runs a company (or worse, is already a media parasite or politician), and who has established a virtual pulpit from which they preach their message.  While readers are free to respond, they in no way enjoy a level field.   What’s worse, the ‘Influencer’ articles are often politically biased, disrespect the character and perspective of many readers, and/or toss out broad assumptions with next to nothing for support.   The articles provoke a lot of comments, sadly often because they present weak arguments or are laughably illogical, for which readers take the ‘Influencer’ to task.  Many LinkedIn members have already noticed that some ‘Influencers’ toss of shamefully biased articles with no apparent oversight by the website’s management – it seems to be only a matter of time until someone at LinkedIn has to write an apology for some ‘Influencer’ who goes too far over the line.

The problem is that LinkedIn does not exist to provide an affective resource to professionals. If someone benefits, that’s great but it’s frankly unintentional.  LinkedIn is taking the road of mass media, which is all about traffic and ratings.  More is better, ‘quality’ is just ‘quantity’ misspelled.  And to LinkedIn, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, even if their credibility dies a slow death on the way to short-term profits.  I write this as a member and fan of LinkedIn, but one who fears the site has begun some bad habits, the kind that could kill the site of they are not mended.  

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Toyota's Clown Decision





Over the past few months, my wife and I started receiving inquiries from car dealers, asking if we wanted to sell our 2010 Toyota Rav4.  The first couple seemed to be ordinary junk mail, but as they kept coming, sometimes with bids sight-unseen (although they could check the VIN for records of any incidents), it became obvious something was going on.  It turns out that the people at Toyota have made a very bad decision again.  Dealers were calling to buy our Rav4, because a lot of customers found out Toyota made a big mistake in their new model.

If you pay close attention, you may notice that the Rav4 no longer has a spare tire.  At first, I thought the commercials meant they had moved the tire from its convenient rear mount, but it turns out they weren't satisfied with normal stupidity.  Nope, the Rav4 no longer has a spare tire at all, not even the weenie donut tire which past idiots thought should replace the useful full spare.  Instead, you get a temporary inflation kit, which may get you going again, as long as your flat is small and only in the tread, but of course this would ruin the old tire even if it would normally be fixable, and the inflation kit would also have to be replaced.  Toyota, to be blunt, made a very bad decision, and one which will hurt its brand.

To see why I say that, let's look at the decision.  First, what upside is there in getting of the spare tire?  Well, obviously Toyota makes more money, because if you look you'll see the Rav4's MSRP is about the same as it was when they had a complete package.  Hmmm, you get less but the price is unchanged.   I'm sure Toyota likes it, but it's not something Toyota could pretend made the Rav4 better for customers.  Toyota has said the new Rav4 is lighter without the safety equipment, so it gets better mileage.  Well, the 2011 Rav4 had the spare and got 24 mpg in the city (EPA), while the 2013 model ... also gets 24 mpg city.  So Toyota doesn't look too smart there.  And that's it for upside; unless you really like the look of the new model so much that you don't care about what you'll do if you get a flat in bad weather, have a blowout, or face any number of real world conditions, there is no upside.

Now for the downside.  I'm 53 years old, and I have seen all kinds of tire situations.  I've had sidewall punctures, one blowout where the tire simply ceased to exist, one where the tread fell off ... you get the idea.  The point is, if you drive long enough, sooner or later you will have a flat tire where the equivalent of fix-a-flat will be useless.  And if it happens somewhere you can't get help quickly, like on a road trip with your family, not having a spare tire becomes a very serious matter indeed.  No, Toyota won't get sued for being cheap and showing they don't care about safety, but they have forgotten what built their brand, and why they should – first and foremost – make quality and true service the foundation of their product.  The people who have long experience in driving know the need for a full-size spare tire; they are already displeased by Toyota’s craven attempt to pass off a cheaper, less safe auto.  Those who have not experienced a serious road incident will not be happy to find themselves essentially stranded because some marketing guy in Japan figured short-term profits were more important than taking care of our customers.  The bottom line here is that there’s no way to spin this as anything but putting profits ahead of people, and that never sits well with customers.  Representatives for Toyota only made things worse when they claimed most people don’t know how to change a spare tire.  Insulting your customers after cheating them is not a wise business practice.

So why does this hurt the Toyota brand?  Aren’t other companies doing the same thing?  Won’t a lot of young buyers buy the new cars without the spare tire?  Yes and yes, but both of these excuses miss the point for Toyota.  I’m old enough to remember when Toyota was a struggling brand, a company which made a pretty good car but was dismissed as a cheap carmaker, a choice only for someone who could not afford the quality cars.  Toyota built their brand by making sure their cars were economical, safe, and dependable – in other words, a car with no bad surprises.  Not including basic safety equipment is by definition a bad surprise, and the buyers will discover this trick at a time when they are already upset about having a flat tire.  What, exactly, does Toyota think these people will think about Toyota when that happens?  Obviously, the execs at Toyota have stopped paying attention to what customers want and need, just as US automakers did some years back, with the same arrogance that their success will continue simply because they expect it to continue. 


To the people at Toyota, I will be clear:  I bought a Rav4 because you convinced me at the time that it was the safest and most dependable vehicle of its type.  When I buy my next car, it will again be whatever is the safest and most dependable.  A full spare tire is not optional, and I will not consider – even for a moment – any vehicle which does not have one.  I will not be swayed by marketing schtick or what some ‘focus group’ pretends, if you do not provide a product worth my money you will not get it.  There are competitors who want my business, and someone will make a car/truck with the safety and dependability I require.  Right now, I have no intention of buying a Toyota, not only because you took out a vital part of the vehicle, but also because you showed that my needs and opinion are not considered in your brand.  The best course for Toyota would be to recognize their blunder, admit it, then work on rebuilding the trust they have violated.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Forced Anonymity

I'm not some famous writer, I must admit.  But I have to say it's annoying that I have not been able to view my own blog for a few days.  Google can't find it, which is a bother.  They can't even find a cached version, so my lack of recognition has reached new levels of irrelevance.

If I was working on some serious investigation into government corruption, my conspiracy sense might be triggered, but I'm just posting the odd bit of personal interest.  My last article praised Discount Tire, so if I was looking for conspiracy, I'd have to figure out how Goodyear took over Google.  Hmpf.