Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Does Your Business Need the iPad?

Could the iPad be the presentation tool your business needs? That’s what I’m wondering every time I find myself in a client’s conference room with the Tribe team racing to set up the projector for our presentation.

Setting up the projector feels a little too much like a scene out of Apollo 13, where the astronauts are struggling to repair a sensor malfunction. One person is crawling under the table to reach the electrical outlet and another is connecting cables and cords as fast as humanly possible, while the rest of us stand around urging them to hurry. Then we complain about the projected image looking so washed out and we adjust a few things, none of which ever work.

Lately, I find myself spending that pre-meeting time mentally calculating how much it would cost for enough iPads to go around. I imagine how crisp and rich our presentations would look on the iPad, and how satisfying it would be to have clients follow along with a finger swipe to move to the next screen.

We could walk into a meeting ready to begin instead of making our clients wait around for us to hook up the technology. We could spend those initial minutes chatting about the weather instead of digging around for extension cords. We could focus on the business at hand instead of worrying about whether the projector will work. It sounds like a much more relaxed way to start a meeting.

Ellen Madill, the founder of Home Stages in New Jersey, is also considering an iPad. Her company consults with clients on cosmetic updates and simple changes to make their homes sell faster and for money. With the iPad, she could sit down with her clients on the couch or at their kitchen table and take them through her sales presentation, and then also upload photos of their rooms and show them how she might rearrange furniture or what paint colors she would recommend. Sure, she could do pretty much the same thing on her laptop, but the iPad would make it a lot more fun.

The best business presentation use of the iPad I’ve seen is by Harry Wood, a leading Atlanta hair stylist. Harry uses his iPad to show clients his portfolio. Touch on the  “Long and Straight” button, for instance, and you can swipe your way through a dozen photos of gorgeous long and straight looks. He sometimes uses the iPad to show clients videos of his television appearances or his how-to videos on YouTube. Now he’s added an app from People magazine that allows him to instantly pull up photos of celebrity hairstyles. You say you want to look like Charlize Theron? Harry will swipe you through a series of photos with Charlize wearing her hair different ways, asking, “Which of her looks?” You want hair like Brad Pitt? He’ll pull up another series of photos and ask, “From what movie?”

Maybe the iPad is just the latest cool new thing. Maybe it’s no more useful in business than any of the tools we already use, from laptops to cell phones to projectors. Perhaps something else even cooler will replace it soon.

But I’m thinking it could help us serve our clients better, and that’s a product benefit that never becomes outdated. Although I can see us now, walking into a meeting with six iPads, worried that seven people might show up. Impressive as it is, even the iPad can’t completely eliminate that pre-meeting stress.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

How Do You Know What Your Employees Really Think?

The thing about being the CEO, or any level of top management, is that it’s very difficult to know what your people really think. Lately, I’ve noticed high-level executives in large public companies speaking with confidence about how a certain program or change was going over.

In one case, an exec involved in communicating a major organizational transformation talked about how excited people in the company were about this new vision. When we interviewed employees outside the exec’s inner circle at that Fortune 100 company, they seemed surprisingly in the dark about the transformation plan and concerned that there may not be a focused vision guiding decisions at the top.

In another example, the senior VP of HR was commenting on a recent decision to freeze the company’s retirement benefits. “We really didn’t hear anything negative about it,” he said. Considering the strong culture of that company, it’s certainly possible that they did such a good job at communicating the reasons for that difficult decision, and the big-picture, long-range employee benefits of maintaining the company’s financial soundness, that the change was easily accepted. But I think it’s more likely that employees are reluctant to complain to management when they’re surrounded by layoffs, if not at their company then at those of their family, friends and neighbors. It’s also likely that the people around that SVP act as a buffer to protect him from negative feedback, in a well-meaning version of the emperor’s clothes.

I remember a CEO commenting once about what her former boss, the CEO who preceded her, told her to expect. When she asked him how things would be different after she assumed the mantle of CEO, he said the thing that would surprise her the most would be how funny her jokes would be, suddenly. I know my employees at Tribe are enormously generous in listening to me talk about my son’s inventions, my puppy’s housetraining, even my mother’s health. That’s just human nature, to be a good audience for the ones in charge. We tend to tell the ones at the top whatever they want to hear — and not give them the feedback they don’t.

That’s why it’s so important to look for other ways to learn what employees really think. If we labor under the assumption that employees are being brutally honest, we’re deluding ourselves.

One of the points we stress to our clients is that internal communication needs to be a two-way street. You can’t just talk at your employees; you need to provide them with a way to be heard as well. Many companies are afraid to open that can of worms, fearing what they’ll hear. But just because you don’t hear it, doesn’t mean your people aren’t talking about it. And you can’t address those difficult issues unless you know they exist.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Tribe’s Annual Fitness Competition Gets Interesting

This is where the rubber meets the road. Every year, when we launch our annual fitness competition at Tribe, we all start out gung ho. Week after week, everyone hits their goal. But two or three weeks from the finish line, which is about where we are now, some of our toughest competitors begin to drop.

The rules of the competition are simple:

• The first rule of the fitness competition is that everyone’s welcome to play but nobody has to.

• Everybody makes up their own weekly fitness plan, but you have to commit to it up front. No changes allowed once the contest is underway.

• Your weekly fitness plan has to be ambitious enough that the rest of us won’t make fun of you.

• The prize is $500 cash money, funded by Tribe.

The weekly fitness plans vary widely, depending on each person’s interests, schedule  and fitness level. Lindsay combines hockey and the gym. Miles runs and does pull-ups and push-ups. Michele does cardio machines and weights (at 5 am every day). Jennifer works with a trainer twice a week and does an hour of intervals on weekends. Beth does kick boxing classes, runs stadium stairs and tackles hilly trail runs with her dogs.

We also work on the honor system. If you say you made your goal, then you get an X in that week’s box on our master chart. If you somehow fell short of that goal, you’re the only one who can tell us that.

In the meantime, life happens. Lindsay, who was our first year’s finalist in a sudden death that stretched out for well over a month, dropped out immediately this year because she decided she’d rather have a social life. Miles had a period of super-tight deadlines and long workdays that stretched out too late for running after work, so he missed his goal for a few weeks and fell out of the front runners. Beth pulled her back out  midway through her sprint work at the track the other day and was writhing around on the ground in pain, mad that she wouldn’t be able to count that workout towards her goal.

If Beth were anybody else, we’d assume she was out of the competition. But knowing her, it will probably take more than an injury to keep her from somehow managing to hit her goal this week. Come to think of it, just last week she tripped on a root during one of her trail runs, ripped off a toenail and had her shoe filling up with blood. She kept running.

Still in the running for the $500 prize are Alexis, Michele, Jennifer and (I’m proud to say) myself. So depending on Beth’s speed of recovery,  it looks like we’ll have either four or five competitors with flawless records moving into the final two weeks.

We’re still a little iffy on our tie-breaker policy. One year we had the famous sudden death that was painful to watch. Another year we all voted for our favorite finalist, which means it basically became a popularity contest. This year, we’d sort of settled on the vote system again, but now Beth is trying to raise support for a round robin that requires each finalist to do the hardest workout of every other finalist and then vote on who was strongest in each. The logistics alone make me tired.

If you have a suggestion for a better way to decide a winner, we’d love to hear it.