Friday, May 4, 2012

CEOs: Read this Before You Open Your Mouth

Are you a CEO preparing to give a town hall state-of-the-union talk to your employees? Whether you're a new CEO or one who's been sitting in the chair for some time, keep reading.

An awful lot of planning, time and resources go into these town halls. They're frequently big productions beamed via satellite to offices around the world. Employees take time away from their jobs to attend. Yet, incredibly, there is so much wasted opportunity.
Take a look at your speech.

  • Have you spent time thinking about what's in it for them? Do you know why you're really giving it — aside from your Communications Director or head of HR telling you to that you're supposed to update the troops and it's another box you have to check off?
  • Have you asked yourself: What do you want your people to feel, think and do when you are done? (If you've left that part to the speechwriter, don't.)
  • Have you addressed the elephant in the room? Bad press, layoffs, elimination of benefits, product recall, weak earnings, downgraded rating, takeovers, even widespread perceptions of you that might be less than flattering?

Employees are sick of pep talks that say nothing and do nothing but leave them guessing both about the state of the company and their Chief Executive. When it comes to their leaders, employees want and need a feeling of intimacy — the ability to see into them and to connect with them. They want to know who their leaders are — their background and experience and why they took this job. They want to understand their leaders' style, their values, hot buttons, vulnerabilities, what keeps them up at night, what they plan on doing and what they expect from people. Yes, they want to be motivated and inspired but they can't be either if you're just a talking head.

In an era where building rapport and clear and inspiring communication is so critical, it always surprises me how many CEOs still get it wrong, like one from a bio tech company last week. In a half hour speech to his new employees, without ever referencing the company's massive layoffs two weeks prior, the CEO asked, with a straight face, "Does anyone have any questions?"

Hint to Bio Tech CEO: The question your employees really had on their minds was: Am I next on the chopping block? Are you going to continue to cut healthcare benefits too? Is the plan you just outlined in 15 minutes really going to turn this situation around? I wonder if your proclaimed open door policy is really just that or do I have to run it up the typical chain of command? Are you another CEO who doesn't really ever read his e-mail or anything over five sentences? And what can I do specifically to help the company thrive?

Mr. Bio Tech and others rarely think about their audiences' emotional temperature. What are people's thoughts and feelings as they enter the room and sit down?

Of course, it's important to motivate your audience and tell them how delighted you are to be leading them and the company in such exciting times and how much you look forward to working together, but if you don't bring your head and heart to the stage, then all they see is someone spewing platitudes and generalities, and not the leader they want to follow.

For one new CEO this meant explaining his trajectory on Wall Street not because he was the smartest guy in the room but because he realized early on that while he was smart, he couldn't ever compete with the intellectual wizards coming out of Harvard or Princeton. A first generation Hispanic American from a poor Mexican family, whose parents still struggle with English, he knew the only way he could succeed, especially beyond his Ivy League counterparts, was by working harder and being more attentive to his clients' needs than anybody else. For the last twenty years that's what he did, and that's what he expected from every one of his 20,000 employees who he was addressing for the first time.

For another, it meant making clear to the troops that she didn't want just feedback, but solutions. She reminded them as well how much she appreciated hearing good news noting, "Why doesn't anybody come and tell me about the good things that are happening? I want to hear the good as well as bad. If it's because you fear that your colleagues will think you're sucking up, please don't let that stop you. I really want to hear what you have to say — the good, the bad and the ugly!" She even admitted she preferred short e-mails with thoughts distilled into a few key bullet points — a small detail that later proved immensely valuable to her team who were used to bombarding her predecessor with lengthy e-mails that more often than not were simply ignored, causing major frustration and work delays for everyone.

Communicating in a way that connects with your audience is critical not only for town hall gatherings but in every situation. Don't be the CEO who ignores or underestimates the importance of doing so genuinely with both head and heart. Make sure that reaching out to a broad group of employees from different levels and departments doesn't translate to dull and impersonal "one size fits all" communication. And, don't be tempted to wing it because of the demands on your time. A successful town hall state-of-the-union speech takes significant preparation and thought on your part, so remember what many leaders learn the hard way: you're only as good as your last speech.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Acute Exposure Guideline Levels for Selected Airborne Chemicals: Volume 12


Extremely hazardous substances (EHSs) can be released accidentally as a result of chemical spills, industrial explosions, fires, or accidents involving railroad cars and trucks transporting EHSs. Workers and residents in communities surrounding industrial facilities where EHSs are manufactured, used, or stored and in communities along the nation's railways and highways are potentially at risk of being exposed to airborne EHSs during accidental releases or intentional releases by terrorists.

Using the 1993 and 2001 NRC guidelines reports, the National Advisory Committee - consisting of members from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, other federal and state governments, the chemical industry, academia, and other organizations form the private sector has developed Acute Exposure Guideline Levels (AEGL) for more than 270 EHSs.

In 1998, the EPA and DOD requested that the NRC independently reviewed the AEGLs developed by the NAC. In response to that request, the NRC organized within its Committee on Toxicology the Committee on Acute Exposure Guideline Levels, which prepared this report, Acute Exposure Guideline Levels for Selected Airborne Chemicals: Volume 12. This report explains the scientifically valid conclusions that are based on the data reviewed by NAC and consistent with the NRC guideline reports and provides comments and recommendations for how AEGL could be improved.

A guidance for those working in the field.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The importance of water management to the smart city

This report originally appeared on GigaOM Pro (subscription required).

In the emerging vision for the smart city of tomorrow, we often hear about next generation smart grids, smarter buildings that manage themselves to conserve resources, and smart transportation systems that will lessen congestion.

In fact, Pike Research’s Eric Woods recent report for GigaOM Pro, “Key Technologies for the Future of the Smart City” (subscription required) estimated that the global market for smart city investments will reach $16 billion by 2020 with heavy growth in Europe and Asia-Pacific.

But we hear much less about smart water systems for the smart city, and the need to develop more efficient approaches to water as a resource. Part of this is basic developed world bias. A brief look at the U.N.’s freshwater availability map shows that nations with water stress (less than 1700 cubic meters per person per year) and water scarcity (less than a 1000) are mainly found in the Middle East, parts of Africa, China and Southeast Asia. Most of the developed world has been lucky enough to grow up in areas of relative water abundance.

Urbanization is accelerating, however, with a billion and half people expected to move to the city in the next 20 years, and McKinsey has predicted that by 2030 water consumption will increase by 40 percent. There have been signs of problems in international megacities like Mexico City where 5 million residents awoke to dry taps in 2009 and Mumbai where 5,000 tankers deliver 50 million liters of water each day, the precious resource going to the highest bidders. Even domestically, many continue to point out that with less than 15 inches of annual rainfall and its dependence on water from the Colorado River, where demand is expected to overwhelm supply in the next half century, Los Angeles’s water supply is risky.

One of the first implementations of smart water systems is smart water meters. A report last year pegged the European smart water meter market at 13 billion pounds by 2020, which is interesting given the fact that there are far fewer top down government mandates for smart water meter deployment than there have been for smart meters for the electricity grid. By 2030 Britain hopes to have all homes installed with smart water meters, which utilities use to identify leaks, create peak pricing mechanisms to incentivize conservation, and catch people who are violating water use restrictions. Designs are already circulating that sync water meters with iPads to give users up to the minute info on their water use, which could drive home to consumers the cost of watering that lawn.

Woods’s report for GigaOM Pro examined next generation greenfield communities like Masdar City in the United Arab Emerates (UAE). Masdar City use 54 percent less water than the average UAE city and Woods notes that the city is deploying diverse strategies from micro-irrigation to treated wastewater for landscaping to highly efficient water fittings. The goal is to get to 180 liters per day per person from the current norm of 550 liters per person per day in the UAE.

But in the developing world, where 1 billion of the 3 billion global urban dwellers live in slums with limited access to clean water and additional water management challenges brought on by climate change induced flooding and droughts, the solutions may be less technological. The solutions in the urban developing world revolve around limiting demand, reducing pollution to the water ecosystem, and preventing leakage from aging infrastructure. Though there is evidence that municipalities are starting to take the initiative, as the city of Mumbai has been working with global meter giant Itron to deploy advance water metering infrastructure. One of the issues is how expensive water has become for the urban poor. A slum dweller in Nairobi, Kenya pays 5 to 7 times more for a liter of water than the average North American.

For the first time in history more Chinese now live in cities than in rural areas with per capita income for Chinese city dwellers three times that of rural citizens. The economic drivers of urbanization will remain strong which means cities will have to get more intelligent in their management of water resources. And that goes for all cities, from Mumbai to LA.

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Yingluck's government chooses to completely drain water to prevent flooding.