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Summer 2003 Edition- June 2003 Volume 2

Corporate Web Sites Need Special Attention

With the Web's growing popularity, businesses of all sizes are feeling the pressure to establish a Web site. To address this need, they turn to a Web development firm or hire in-house staff, who then design and build the site. The final step is to create the content.

Too often, Web content is written with little thought, then shoehorned into the site. The perception by developers of Web users is that cool functions and great graphics will impress them, while content, so long as it contains the right informa-tion, just needs to be there. However, a 2001 Arthur Andersen study found that 60% of those sur-veyed rated quality of content as an important feature and 57% said it affected their decision to return. In contrast, graphic design was rated at 22% and 18%, respectively. The message is clear: Content is key. De-sign, navigation and interactive func-tions are important, but they are there to help visitors find the information they want.

So how do you write for the Web? To answer that question, you must understand its nature and how it is used. First and foremost, your Web site is a communications medium. People will visit your site for one rea-son- to find answers to their questions. These questions can be simple (who is your CEO?), complex (what job openings are available nationally?) or non-specific (what has your company done lately?). What people do not want is to wade through a long cor-porate history or a description of your business philosophy. Few people have the time, interest or patience; they just want answers. Your site's content-not flashy graphics, cool drop down menus, or an online order form-pro-vides them.

Secondly, your site should an-swer your visitors' questions quickly. After all, the Web is about speed: bandwidth, processor power, download times. How long it takes someone to find what he/ she is looking for is part of your site's perceived speed. Work-ing against this perception is the fact that a computer screen has less detail than a printed page, so people read 25-40% slower. To compensate, Web users tend to skim a Web page and look for keywords, rather than read-ing word-for-word. (One study found 79% of Web users skim text while only 16% read word-for-word.)

Your Web text must provide the answers your readers are seeking, and assist them in finding the answers quickly. You can accomplish these goals through the style, formatting and organization of the text.

The first rule is to be as brief as possible. Too much text will impede your readers' ability to skim, and may dissuade them from reading at all. Generally, you should have half the words of a printed version. For some subjects, like technical or legal issues, this reduction may not be possible, but you should still trim your text to its essentials.

You must be able to justify each word's existence. If it only adds nuance, but not substance, re-move it. You also need to keep it simple. When reading, we can keep track of the myriad facts, points of view and relationships presented by a complex sentence. On the Web, though, we are merely skimming, and may miss something. To communicate a com-plex idea, break it down into its com-ponents and have one sentence ad-dress each component. The result may not sound as sophisticated as you would like, but the chances of someone understanding your point will increase.

Since the Web is widely accessi-ble, it is often used for marketing. While this is a good idea, how it is used often backfires. One common mistake is using clever catchphrases. For example, I encountered a home page that only contained the words "WE CONNECT BUSINESSES." After about two minutes, I discovered "WE" linked to a corporate profile, "CONNECT" led to a description of their services and "BUSINESSES" linked to their client list. Simply stating "Company Pro-file", "Our Services" and "Client List" would have saved a lot of time. Never assume your visitors will inves-tigate to find an explanation. Re-member, they want answers, not more questions. Another common mistake is to use "marketing-ese", with claims of being the "biggest", "best" or "first."

The Web is a communications me-dium, which means it is an informa-tional medium. You may be the big-gest, but your visitors expect proof. "We offer stock options as part of our compensation package" is a fact; "We the most comprehensive pay and benefits package in Canada!" is an unproven assertion. Too much "mar-keting-ese" distracts your visitors from finding what they came for, and un-proven claims destroy your credibility. The last "trick" to avoid is incon-sistency. Never have a "Careers" link go to a page with the headline "About Us." If you are inconsistent, your visitors will become confused because, again, you are giving them questions, not answers.

Finally, make your site a conver-sation. Browsing the Web is an inter-active, personal experience, just like a conversation. So, address your visitor as "you" and refer to yourself as "I" or "we." In addition, tell your visitors what you can do for them instead of describing what you have already done. Background information dem-onstrates experience, but is meaning-less unless you relate it to the visitor.

Simple paragraphs make skim-ming too easy, and your readers may skim past the information they want. Proper formatting can identify impor-tant elements and "slow down" the skimming eye.

Uncommon characters-like co-lons, semi-colons, em-dashes and ellipses-will signal that there is a tran-sition being made, and will "slow" the eye. Italics work the same way since they are more difficult to read on a screen. It is better to use italics spar-ingly, though.

If you have a list of items, use a bulleted list instead of listing them in a sentence. Bulleted lists connote a relationship among the items and make the information easy to digest.

Boldfaced words naturally attract the eye, making them a powerful way to highlight key words, but be careful which words you bold. "We appointed Bob Jones as our "Vice President, Human Resources" may seem appro-priate, but is meaningless to anyone who doesn't know Bob Jones. How-ever, if "Vice President, Human Re-sources" were bolded, anyone inter-ested in HR or your executive team would have been attracted.

When writing your content, obey the rule that each sentence has a sin-gle idea, each paragraph a single concept, and each page a single topic. If there is a related topic, provide a link instead of adding more text. For a single, complex idea where all of the text must remain on one page, use section headers and titles for each paragraph to segment the information and help your readers zero-in on what they want.

It is also important to clearly state each page's topic in its first few words. If your visitors do not find a page's subject in the first sentence, they will think they are in the wrong place and move on, perhaps to a competitor's site.

At all times, you should keep the nature of a Web site in mind. A Web site has a tree structure, but also al-lows you to jump from one branch to another. For a complex idea, it is better to use an introductory page that links to several sub-pages. For example, a section on working for your company can contain sub-pages on benefits, available positions, and how to submit a resume. Since the Web allows you to jump anywhere in the site, there can be a link from a job posting to an existing page that de-tails the product on which that posi-tion will be working.

Also, remember that a Web site is non-linear. Never assume a visitor has encountered certain information on another page. It's best to repeat yourself to ensure vital pieces of infor-mation are communicated.

Overall, remember that your site is there to answer questions, and only content can provide those answers. Your writing style should be simple and to the point; resist the urge to write complex descriptions and clever taglines. Use formatting to highlight key points, but use it sparingly since too much highlighting defeats the purpose. Finally, remember to get to the point of each page immediately, and never assume a reader has read something on another page. Each Web page must be able to stand on its own with links to supporting data.

Are Your Employees Entrepreneurs?

The dining room at the Toronto Board of Trade was crowded with some of that city's corporate elite. I was having lunch with the Canadian president of a multinational electronics giant. As the conversation drifted towards the topic of employee motivation, he suddenly slammed his fist on the ta-ble, exclaiming, " [expletive], I just want some people with entrepre-neurial spirit... is that too much to ask?" I stared at him for a moment, contemplating a reply. Then it came to me: " If they were truly entrepre-neurial, why would they be working for you?" I asked.

The economist Richard de Cantillon coined the term " entrepreneur" more than two centuries ago to describe people who were prepared to accept risk for economic gain. The concept of entrepreneurial management dates back to the 1930's with the Harvard Business School. Since that time, academics have attempted to study not just the economic benefits of en- trepreneurship, but also the personal characteristics of entrepreneurs. To-day, any discussion of entrepreneur-ship eventually turns into a catalogue of personal traits, often inconsistent from one source to another.

Clearly, in order to isolate the characteristics of entrepreneurs one would first have to define what a successful entrepreneur is. This is somewhat elusive, since entrepreneurs may not measure success with the same yardstick as economists or cor-porate gurus. Studies have shown that only one firm in five that enters the Canadian economy is still in busi-ness after ten years. Only two in every 10,000 start-ups ever grow to 100 employees or more.

Our own studies, meta-analyses of research, and business experiences have led us to conclude that entrepre-neurship is not simply about an indi-vidual's characteristics, but more importantly about their personal and business values. We have identified three core values of entrepreneurs:
1. A powerful sense of mission
2. Complete ownership of results
3. An obsessive dedication to the customer

Are these values compatible with the corporate workplace or is corpo- rate entrepreneurship an oxymoron?

As companies struggle to do more with less while competing in a rapidly changing global economy, entrepreneurship is becoming the Holy Grail of business. The stere-otype of the entrepreneur, always hunting opportunities, moving quickly, adaptable and responsive, may be very attractive to businesses mired in structure and process. Some multina-tional firms are already including a shift to entrepreneurship as a major and formal strategic initiative in their business planning, despite a poor understanding of what entrepreneur-ship is and what attitudinal and behav-ioral changes it will require of their employees.

First, entrepreneurship is about tradeoffs and sacrifices. The expres-sion " The shoemaker's children have no shoes" underscores much of the reality of entrepreneurial businesses. Adaptability and responsiveness to customer expectations may not be compatible with extensive and redun-dant reporting, endless meetings, and structural hierarchies that disempower employees from satisfying the customer.

Secondly, the value " Complete ownership of results" is intimately connected to how entrepreneurs are compensated. Most often, entrepre-neurial salaries are small, while in-centives linked to company perform-ance are huge. For corporate employ-ees " the paycheque" remains the single greatest psychological barrier to direct engagement to the compa-ny's performance.

Entrepreneurs are directly and intimately connected to the results of their efforts. As mentioned previ-ously, entrepreneurial salaries tend to be small while incentives are large. When times are good, entrepreneurs spend and enjoy. When times are tough, they tighten their belts. Ask yourself this question: Would I be doing anything different in my busi-ness if I didn't have a salary and de-pended on each order for my survival?

Entrepreneurs often appear to be very money oriented and intent on " closing the deal" . How do we rec-oncile this with the apparently para-doxical entrepreneurial value " A powerful sense of mission" ? Entre-preneurs recognize that while money is an important measure of success, it is not success itself. They know that money is a byproduct of doing great work and delivering outstanding value to their customers. Above all, entre-preneurs are pragmatic and understand that money allows them to fuel their mission and vision of their business.

For corporate employees, perhaps the biggest challenge is this: entrepre-neurs realize that business doesn't happen sitting at a desk, it happens face-to-face with customers. In entre-preneurial organizations, everyone works for the customer and everyone knows they can influence the sale.

For example, while major corpo-rations invest heavily in their Sales and Marketing organizations, they often fail to provide corresponding levels of resources to Customer Serv-ice and Accounts Receivables; two departments that deal with customers at critical points in the value proposi-tion cycle.

Ask yourself these questions: How frequently do people in my organization interact directly with customers? How often do people from my company (other than from Sales) meet customers face-to-face? How well do we know our customers, not from market research, focus groups, or third-party statistics, but from di-rect, personal contact? To quote George Burns: " Don't stay in bed, unless you can make money in bed" .

Have You Had Your Brain Food Today?

While proper diet is one of the essential elements needed to prevent sick-ness and disease, many people are unaware that food also has an impact on their vitality, energy, mental func-tions and productivity. Some of the factors that affect optimal levels of functioning are:

  • Eating breakfast
  • Type and quantity of foods
  • Timing of meals

    Sometimes, we forget that food is our fuel. One would never expect a car to drive without gas or pets to function without dinner. So many of us search out high quality food prod-ucts for our animals, absorbing the added expense to keep " Fluffy" healthy and happy.

    Yet, when it comes to " self," many people I meet through my nutrition presentations or individual counseling say they forget to eat, purposely do not eat all day (to lose weight), or claim they " do not have time." There are others who just grab something to fill that empty spot in their stomach, or reach for what tastes good - without regard to nutritional content.

    Food helps fuel the brain by in-creasing glucose and blood flow. Since the human brain takes 30% of its energy from food for proper function-ing, I think it's time we started nour-ishing our bodies and our minds as well as we do our pets!

    Let's look at breakfast. After sleeping all night, you need refueling! Besides, breakfast helps regulate your appetite throughout the day and can be a major source of the vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy and active. Studies have shown that diet-ers who eat breakfast lose more weight than those who skip their first meal of the day. Eating breakfast can prevent you from excessive snacking at night If you're not hungry in the morning, your hunger mechanism may need resetting, or perhaps you're eating too much the evening before.

    Those wanting to lose weight often fear feelings of hunger - afraid they'll overeat. But properly timed meals that consist of the correct bal-ance of proteins, carbohydrates and fats will keep you properly fueled and your body will start adjusting to its proper weight. If you want to work out, you're much more likely to make it to the gym if you're not desperately hungry. Find a schedule that works for you: three meals and one or two afraid they'll overeat. But properly timed meals that consist of the correct bal-ance of proteins, carbohydrates and fats will keep you properly fueled and your body will start adjusting to its proper weight. If you want to work out, you're much more likely to make it to the gym if you're not desperately hungry. Find a schedule that works for you: three meals and one or two snacks, or four smaller meals per day.

    During our waking hours, going longer than five hours without eating will cause a dip in blood sugar levels. Many symptoms can occur as a result of a drop in blood sugar - fatigue, sweet or carbohydrate cravings, irrita-bility, headaches, mood swings or loss of concentration. The brain isn't get-ting the correct fuel it so desperately needs to function optimally. Eating more frequently also speeds up metabolism. When we skip meals, our body goes into " famine mode." In our ancestors' times, meals may not have been as regular as those we have today, so when we don't eat, the body is programmed to slow its me-tabolism. The body then holds onto its fat, thinking it's facing famine.

    To get your brain and body pow-ered up in the morning, try eating breakfast even if it's something small, or divide breakfast into two parts: the first part before work, and the second at mid-morning. Having some pro-tein (eggs, cheese, milk, fish, legumes, tofu, etc.) along with high quality carbohydrates (whole grain bread or cereal, fruit or vegetables) and a small amount of fat (peanut or almond butter, nuts) will help power up your brain and other cells. Are you wor-ried about cholesterol? Try one egg plus two egg whites in your omelet. The fat in one egg yolk is 3 grams -very low. There is no fat in the whites of eggs.

    Remember that it's not only satu-rated fat that increases cholesterol; excess dietary carbohydrates also gets stored as fat. At your next physical check up, you may want to inquire about the triglyceride level of your lipid profile. If it is high, you may be consuming too many calories or car-bohydrates. The good fats (unsatu-rated or monounsaturated fats) found in nuts, olive oil, avocado, or olives contain zero cholesterol. Only animal based foods contain saturated fat/ cholesterol. You may need to adjust quanti-ties to suit your needs, or as men- tioned earlier, divide breakfast into two parts. However, here are some great ways to start your day:

  • 2 eggs, 1 slice of whole grain toast and cup orange juice or orange or other fruit
  • - cups cooked oatmeal mixed with 2 tablespoons pro-tein powder, plus milk, (soy if desired), 2 tbsp. raisins or slices of apple, sprinkle of nuts, 'decaf ' coffee
  • Veggie burger and salad
  • 2 slices of whole grain toast with peanut butter or almond butter (found in some grocery or health food stores)
  • Turkey breakfast sausage with 1 egg and whole grain toast
  • Power shake (soy or cow's milk, whey or soy protein pow-der, fruit), some ground flax seeds, sunflower seeds or nuts
  • Breakfast burrito with whole-wheat tortilla, eggs, beans, and a small amount of low fat cheese
  • 2 eggs (or 1 egg and 2 egg whites) and 1 orange or other fruit
  • 1 cup of chili and brown rice
  • Scrambled tofu or eggs and vegetables
  • Whole grain waffle with pro-tein powder in the batter, topped with applesauce and yogurt.

    Oops, I Didn't Mean to Say That!

    So you're in the middle of an interview and the next thing you know, your candidate inadvertently brings up the subject of marital status!

    Candidate: " Well, you know it's hard for us to take vacation at the same time."

    Now, the angel on your right shoulder reminds you to steer clear of the subject. BUT the devil on the left says, " Hey, it's a casual conversation, there's no harm in sharing some per-sonal information, it shows you're interested in them as a person."

    So you go ahead:

    Interviewer: " Oh, really, what does your wife/ husband do?"

    Well, I don't think I have to go into all of reasons why you just shouldn't go there with personal information. Although, it's human nature to " Be Nice" and show interest in your can-didates, remember, we are all indi-viduals and we all have our own per-ceptions and interpretations of what color of blue the sky is.

    What you perceive to be a per-fectly harmless question, by showing interest in a candidate, may be per-ceived by a candidate as the reason they " didn't get the job" . Unfortu-nately, we all know where that can lead.

    It is much easier to control the information being shared in a panel interview than it is in a one-on-one interview. The one-on-one interview, regardless of how formal and control-led, tends to lend itself to the sharing of information. Candidates are much more comfortable conversing with one person, than presenting to a group.

    Most candidates in a one-on-one situation make it a point to find a common ground with the interviewer, and sometimes the only way to do that is by sharing personal information.

    So how do we eliminate personal information being shared in an inter-view? Are all interviews going to be panel interviews from now on? Well, we all know that is impossible. We cannot escape the possibility of per-sonal information being presented during an interview.

    However, we can put indicators in place so that we as recruiters know when to steer clear of personal infor-mation. The most obvious indicator would be us -- the Interviewer. En-sure that when a candidate discloses personal information that is not a license for you to " share" informa-tion, either about yourself or to offer a venue for the candidate to give more information. This just opens the flood-gates and gives the candidate permis-sion to disclose more personal infor-mation, which at some point may be used against you. Remember, the candidate doesn't have to prove you said it... you have to prove you didn't.

    Consistency and Objectiveness are the keys to success when inter-viewing. Interviews should be struc-tured in such a way that the questions do not lend themselves to a personal response. But it is not a perfect world we live in... and if a candidate wants to share, they will do so. So, while this is a challenge when using Behav-ioral Based Interviewing techniques, there is a way to manage it.

    Many organizations today have adjusted their interviewing techniques to include a point-based system, whereby the interviewer asks specific questions regarding specific situations or in-stances and the interviewee is given a " grade" or " point" based on a scale determined by the interviewer on the degree of knowledge or understand-ing the candidate has about a specific subject. Once the interview is com-plete the points are totaled, depend-ing on the scale determined by the recruiter, should the candidate meet or exceed the total points required, would the candidate proceed to sec-ond consideration for the position.

    Now, mind you there is much groundwork that is done before this objective point-based interview sys-tem is developed. For example, some recruiters will complete a job analysis on a position before recruiting for it... I know you are all digging out your HR textbooks now... A job analysis identifies the tasks, duties and responsibilities of a job and the knowledge, skills and attributes needed to do the job.

    The key here is consistency and asking questions which focus on ob-jective aspects of the job, as opposed to subjective feelings from the inter-viewer about the candidate.

    So next time the angel is on your right and the devil is on your left, during an interview... go with your interview form which is chalk full of objective questions and chances are it won't steer you wrong.

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