05 December 2009

Prince 2

I made a migratory move to Melbourne Australia and whilst being over here decided to embark upon attaining a formal project management qualification. Having attended courses on the PMI institutes PMBOK i.e. project management body of knowledge, i was keen on exploring a more process oriented project management methodology. Prince 2 (Projects in controlled environments) is the UK's standard project management methodology and a must for any project manager in the UK. It is practiced in 65 countries worldwide and is also common in Australia particularly around government projects. Prince 2 qualifications involve a Foundation Certificate and a Practitioner certificate.

I had enrolled for training and certification this Monday - Wednesday for the Foundation and the next February for the Practitioner. The foundation is a 3 day course and the practitioner a 2 day, with each followed by mcq examinations. The reason for the gap in learning being that I wanted to read the Prince 2 manuals and familiarize myself with the theory and put it into practice before attempting the practitioner.My training insitute is Project Laneway's based in Melbourne.

I wanted to document my Prince 2 learning hence the use of this blog.

Its Saturday and im browsing through the precourse reading material and this is what i seem to gather about Prince 2.

Prince 2 is a process based approach to project management. It has a sequence of processes which need to be followed to adhere to its standards. It also has principles and themes which make Prince 2 what it is. So there are 3 parts to Prince 2 's theory -a project environment, principles, themes and processes.

Prince 2 also produces many management products which are documents such as a project initiation document, project plan, risk register, configuration management strategy, etc. Each document has a recommeded format and is produced within a set Prince 2 process.

Prince 2 Principles - i.e. these are the principles which make a Prince 2 project -
1) Continued business justification
2) Based on learning from the past
3) There are clear roles and responsibilities
4) Managed by stages 
5) Managed by exception
6) Focus on products
7) Suiting the Project Environment

Prince 2 is made up of 7 themes (and their management products) -
1) Business case - Business case doc and Benefits review plan,
2) Organization structure - Project Management structure and communications management strategy,
3) Quality - Product description, Quality Management strategy & Quality Register
4) Plans - Project plan, Team plan, Stage plan and Exception plan
5) Risk - Risk Management strategy and Risk register
6) Change - Issue Report, Issue register, configuration management strategy

7) Progress - Highlight report, checkpoint report, Exception report

Prince 2 processes -

1) Start up of a project
2) Initiating a project
3) Controlling a stage
4) Managing product delivery

5) Managing stage boundaries
6) Closing a project
7) Directing a project

10 November 2009

Using Internet / Online Marketing & Social Media as a powerful tool to leverage Key Account Management and Relationship Marketing

Using Internet / Online Marketing & Social Media as a powerful tool to leverage Key Account Management and Relationship Marketing

In the previous article (Key Account Management: It’s all about Relationship Marketing) we discussed the significance of building a relationship with the customer by identifying mutual benefits to both the customer and the company and working on this relationship to drive forth sales and profits for the company. Marketing as a subject on its own is changing dramatically. With the onset of internet / online marketing, ecommerce, inbound marketing the dynamics of marketing have changed rapidly. Any company that does not tap into the large consumer base on the internet will severely find themselves weighed, measured and found wanting. The internet has dramatically and rapidly in an almost blitzkrieg type manner changed the entire world of marketing. Marketers today need to be familiar with terms such as SEO, business blogs, PPC and Social Media. These new mediums have also dramatically effected the world of Key Account Management ad Relationship Marketing.

Going back to the concept of key account management and relationship marketing, I was at a hospital the other day and seated waiting to see my General Practitioner (GP). I had a few nights back hurt my ankle while doing some exercises at home. On the onset of the injury I went straight to a hospital that offered 24 x 7 treatment and seemed to wake up a doctor who had a very quick look at my ankle and once realizing it was not serious quickly prescribed me a few pills and sent me off. The total consultation that took three and a half minutes. I would never see this doctor again and do not even remember her name. The pain did not go away over the next day so I went and saw another doctor whom I had been to a couple of times before amongst many doctors I tend to visit. There was no result in the pain. I went and saw a doctor our family used to visit regularly. We used to have to queue up for long hours to see this doctor hence my hesitation to visit him initially. We knew the doctor by name but the consultation was a professional affair with little chatter, a quick symptom check, a mild smile and a prescription. This had always been the same scenario for as long as I could remember. He was the doctor and I was the patient and our relationship was transactional. Being my luck, my pain did not reside and it was now getting a bit disturbing. One morning at work I switch my mail client on and find that my old friend, my long standing doctor and friend had sent me an email stating he was back in the country after a holiday in Devon, UK. This doctor and I met randomly some time back when a friend of mine recommended him to me. Since the first consultation which took a good thirty minutes we had exchanged business cards and kept in touch. He took a while to note down my history on a file and whenever I saw him he updated it. He would periodically mail me articles or advise on my usual ailments and often asking me how my rugby injuries were and how I should avoid them. I would often recommence him to all my rugby team mates and our coach as well as family. After being seated in the waiting area I was ushered into his room and a tall grey haired gentleman welcomed me in standing up. I inquired how he and his wife were and what happened in Devon. Instead of making a joke of the obvious and asking me why I was there he said that he realized I was there to seek his professional advise but that I need not hesitate to call him on his mobile if I were to need help from him. After a thorough examination and investigation, with his knowledge of my history and knowledge of which medication works best for me, it was a matter of time before I was soon back to playing active rugby. All my friends and family were updated on how I managed to get back up again and with whose assistance.

I have described above some of the types of relationships we encounter on a daily basis. These range from seeing people once only, or seeing many people over a period of time, having a normal but somewhat unsocial relationship and finally we have a relationship which is a win-win partnership. Both the customer and the company are extremely pleased. This 4th type of relationships is the goal of Key Account Management and Relationship Marketing.

We know that the internet has dramatically changed how we interact in business. The world of key account management and  relationships marketing has also faced some dramatic changes, and in some ways the work of these managers has been simplified and made even more powerful.   

Networking, interacting and building powerful relationships is what drives successful key account management. Social media has certainly made these facets a lot simpler. Sites such as Facebook, Linked In, MySpace, Hi5 and Twitter have dramatically changed the landscape of being social. What makes these systems really powerful is their ability to empower managers to communicate directly with their consumers. Marketing information in the form of content could be presented to consumers. Content that adds value and engagement is what truly empowers key account managers online.

Content. Engagement. Nurturing. These are 3 steps in relationship marketing for key account managers. Once customers and key accounts are selected they must be presented with useful content. This is free information that must add significant value to the customer. Speaking about products is not productive. Speaking around products is what is needed. For example, if you are a hotel it is rather boring for customers to hear about hotel facilities. However discounted tickets to theatres next door to the hotel, information on special promotions or tourist attractions or special treatment adds value to the consumer. Content must add value else it becomes clutter. Engagement allows the key account manager to speak to the customers. By engaging customers with content the key account manager is able to elevate him or herself to form powerful partnerships with customers. Using the doctor example above, the key account manager wants the customer to return to the company and build a relationship that is mutual in value and recognition. In return for their custom, the company will provide frequent value added content that would be of use to the customer. Nurturing is process in which the content that is indirectly related to a product causes a customer to ask for more information on a product or service and with the sending out of value added content the company is able to work down the buying stages until a sale is made.  

There are many tools on the internet at the disposal of a key account manager in harnessing his relationships. Blogs are very popular. They allow customers to subscribe to them and provide frequent short updates with content, images and video that is of interest to customers. Many CEO s have taken to blogging relating their mission and the company’s direction in the future. Blogs allow readers to comment on posts. The commenting on blogs allows consumers to interact with the blogger. Articles that deliver content and know how could be written and published online. In the case of a doctor, articles on living healthy lives for diabetic patients or lowering cholesterol with the right food would add significant value to patients. Sending out timely emails with content that adds value in a timely manner using autoresponders adds significant value to consumers.

Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Linked In allow companies to build communities around them. For example Facebook Fan Pages or Linked in Groups allow companies to add customers to a social community where members are able to interact with the company and one another. Images, discussions, news, posts, etc. could be exchanged. Customers are able to talk with other customers and exchange their ideas and opinions around products or services. This close interaction with the consumer truly allows a company to work with the customer in product enhancement or development. Customers are made to feel as if they belong to a community and a company that listens to the voice of the customer.

The timely use of content that is used to engage with customers and provide them with value whilst nurturing customers towards sales is where key account managers are able to obtain as much leverage from the internet in order to add mutual value to both the company and the customer. The internet has provided key account managers with dynamic tools and platforms that allow them to directly engage with customers using tools that they themselves use on a regular basis. Using these tools and platforms they are able to develop powerful partnerships with customers.

For more information on how to use social media and platforms for business, key account management and relationship marketing, please do not hesitate to contact johann@MasterBusinessChronicles.com


Key Account Management: It’s all about Relationship Marketing (KAM & RM)

Key Account Management: It’s all about Relationship Marketing (KAM & RM)

For the past few years I have been a member of a programme named ‘Club Vision’ by a mobile operator in Sri Lanka named Dialog Telekom. It did not surprise me much when I received a gold member card from the telco introducing me to the programme. My welcome into this membership programme was on my birthday when two lovely ladies walked into my office with a cake in hand and asked for me. I was unable to speak to them but word soon got around the office and a friend of these two girls who worked with us asked them how does one become a ‘Club Vision’ member and was soon informed that my phone bills were that much more than most customers! My frequent travel to Europe and America had notched up a fairly large monthly roaming bill which whilst on the radar of the mobile operator secured me a position in their key account management programme. As a key account member I appreciated some of the new benefits I secured. My favorites include having access to one phone number for all queries, a specific counter for all key accounts at all mobile operator service stations or outlets, a premium lounge in some of the larger head quarters, annual gifts, cakes and personalized cards on my birthday. It felt good to be appreciated by the operator.

Key account management and relationship marketing have often worked hand in hand together. For customers the benefits they tend to offer include special service, the notion of being unique in comparison to other customers, one contact point with the company, quality products and promotions, enhanced credit facilities and margins.

The idea of contrasting and differentiating between customers can cause criticism. However from a company’s perspective not all customers are profitable. Some customers despite brining in revenue actually cause the company to run at a loss rather than breaking even. These customers often require more work than they are willing to pay or do not allow the company to achieve economies of scale. These cash traps should often be discontinued however the focus on any company should be to identify its shooting stars or cash cows. Companies are able to increase revenues either via sales (sales to existing customers, new products/services to existing customers or products / services to new customers) or via the restructure of pricing / terms and improved negotiating with customers. Companies have the capacity to boost profits by 100% by retaining just 5% more of their customers. In order to achieve this, key account management and relationship marketing are a necessity. Key Account Management is aimed at building a portfolio of loyal key accounts by offering them, on a continuing basis, a product / service package tailored to their individual needs. Key account management is a partnership approach. It is a long-term relationship and focuses on building relationships. This is what drives relationship marketing. 

In the development of a key account or relationship marketing programme a company must identify its key customers first. In order to identify key accounts the company needs to determine which customers perform well on scales of transaction volume and transaction value. These two criteria, ideally the combination of them is what makes a key account. The company must examine the expectations for both the customer and the company. My loyalty on most airline routines is often led toward the Emirates airline. Other airlines do offer the same the benefits however as my loyalty points have gathered most with Emirates together with their high standard of service I often opt in to flying with this airline. As a Silver Member I am allowed an extra 12 Kg on luggage which I find most assuring. I am allowed impartial entry into the airline without queues and also access to the Emirates business lounge in Dubai. Flight stewardesses always personally welcome me on board and ensure that I am treated somewhat differently in spite of sitting in Economy. The airline differentiates their treatment towards me and I continue to differentiate in choice of airline.

The company must decide on how they are able to differentiate with the customer and work more closely with them. They must also determine how access between both parties is simplified. The appointment of a key account manager or a relationship manager is important and I would advise the Emirates airline to look into these steps. Appointing a regional or country based key account or relationship manager is not too complex and often forgoes the necessity to pursue travel agents or colder generic websites (some airlines allow key accounts more access than others to facilities such as seating arrangement or food / beverage options). As in the case of the airlines, the company needs to target small win-wins to build and grow their relationships with key accounts. Mutual benefits and their visibility are key.

Key account management is all about relationship marketing. Traditionally, marketing would refer to the 4Ps (or 7 Ps in some instances) i.e. product, price, place, promotion. Traditionally, relationships, networks and interaction would orbit around this central core competence. However in today’s context – relationships, networks and interaction form the central core with product, price, place, promotion orbiting around it. This shift brings key account management and relationship marketing to the core of sales and marketing functions with the company.

Key account management and relationship management are key marketing and sales functions within any
company. A key account manager or relationship manager represents the company to the customer. I used to have to represent my company (an online room reservation company) at all travel trade fairs as a buyer. Most suppliers we worked with, despite having worked with us for over 5 years only know my face within the organization. I was the face and ‘person-representation’ of the company. My face was associated with the company. As a key account manager or relationship manager a lot of corporate power is vested in the individual and that person must represent the person, persona and mission of the company. They key account manager or relationship manager must be a value creator. They are responsible for developing the relationship and should have pleasant, friendly and most certainly people-oriented personalities. These individuals should not drive for hard sales but more so work on building the friendships, trust, dependability, security and faith in customers. They should be able to put people at ease with their genuine concern at heart. They should also be savvy business people identifying opportunities for business. They should be able to identify mutual value and present it as such to consumers. Being the sole representative of the company the individual must be allowed complete transparency into the goings on within the company such that the customer knows that this single point of contact is a knowledge hub and all that is required from the company.  Communication, planning, analytical and management skills are a necessity. The key account manager or relationship manager must have the ability to manage the customer, internal customers, relationships, resources and him/her self.

A good key account manager and relationship manager is able to position him or herself as a middle man between the company and the customer. He works in the best interest of both parties to drive mutual benefits to them. The ROI from a key account manager is a key account who constantly pushes sales for the company on a regular basis. The ROI from a key account manager is a customer who speaks proudly of a company to his friends and family and recommends the company to them.

In the next article on Key Account Management and Relationship Marketing we look at using the internet as a powerful tool to leverage Key Account Management and Relationship Marketing.


07 October 2009

Being Found Online: Inbound Marketing to help drive visitors to your sites

Change; we hear a lot about change today. President Barak Obama spoke widely of change in his lead up to the presidency and as we now know, it was his mission statement and attitude towards his governance of the USA. Amidst political rhetoric, there was change on another scale that was taking place right through the political campaign. Politicians are known for their vast budgets during their campaigns and there was none greater than this. The Obama political campaign not only topped budgets but there was a change far greater in their approach to the campaign itself. This political campaign was the first ever US presidential campaign that targeted internet marketing unlike ever seen before. Some speculate that the personal one-to-one nature of the internet marketing campaigns were part of the driving force in the Obama victory.

Change; there is great change taking place in the internet marketing domain unlike ever seen before. On average a person is hit with over 2000 sales or marketing messages each day. This is almost too much to contain when you think about it. Telemarketing, trade shows, seminars, direct mail / response, TV ads, news paper ads, banners, billboards, etc. clutter our lives so much that meaningful messages are often diluted or drowned in this ocean of messages. The marketing and public relations domains are hard pressed these days to come up with penetrating ad content that reach their target audience. The great change we notice taking place in the internet marketing domain today deals with a concept termed inbound marketing. This strategy deals with the concept of being found by consumers rather than pursuing and hitting consumers with marketing messages.

The concept of being found is like a tropical bird that flutters colourful feathers and dances to a beautiful beat in the hope that its partners hear them and advance in their direction. Being found is all about developing an expert opinion in your industry and attracting visitors naturally to your sites. The concept of being found needs to be applied meticulously as one can imagine, there are plenty of birds making plenty of noise in the jungle.

Being found entails trying to understand who you are trying to attract in the first place. What is the marketing persona i.e. your target market? If you are a hotel based in Leicester Square in London, UK then your target market could be tourists visiting London looking for a central location to stay; or the theatre market with so many production shows in close proximity; or even perhaps the younger tourist club goers catered for in the region.

Marketing for being found in the internet domain carries two basic ground rules – content and engagement.

Without content there is very little value to the consumers you want to bring on to your site. Content could be in the form of a blog site, articles, reports, white papers, press releases, eBooks or useful snippets of information. The critical characteristic of the content should be that it is useful and interesting to the target market. Content is absolutely critical. Let us explore some of these content tools.

Blogging for business is one of the simplest forms of creating content. It is short and if interesting could hold an audience captive. It is important to not only blog about who you are but more so the wider context of your services and products. Consumers are savvy. They know when a business blogs for the purpose of profit. They are not interested in subscribing to product descriptions. They seek unique value. A hotel near Darling Harbor in Sydney, Australia could capture a wider audience by talking about the happenings in its surrounds. For example speaking about tours from the harbor, the opening of the Lindt café close by, the Sydney aquarium and updates on its seal population. Perhaps if one is targeting the Japanese market, the mention of the Sydney Fish Market being in walking distance to Darling Harbor and providing some of the freshest seafood in the world would provide that edge i.e. that unique bit of knowledge which makes subscribing to your blog worthwhile and a true value addition. The key is to make content interesting, non commercial and more so viral in its nature.

Article writing campaigns add tremendous value to your site by the exposure they provide your site through their numerous channels of distribution. They also add fabulous SEO value to your site. eBooks are useful when given out free due the viral nature of the product i.e. people love to share free things especially if its current and interesting.

Speaking of SEO it is critical that the content we spoke of previously follows strict SEO guidelines. SEO is not as complicated as many people make it sound. SEO takes time and it is not a miracle strategy that promises immediate results. It takes time. Once you get your head around that concept it is not that complicated. It involves for the most part using the appropriate keywords i.e. words that your target market are likely to type on search engines in order to find you. A powerful set of keywords used in attractive content is a key step to SEO. Building links is possibly even more important. That is the same as asking other sites or blogs to hold your web link on their URLs. That basically counts as a vote for your site. The more votes you have the more important Google or Bing think you are and the more SEO value you hold. The more SEO value you hold the higher up the search engine results your go. Of course SEO experts would also say that your web URL, titles, descriptions, the use of ALT text, anchor text and the listing of your sites on search engines such as Google or Bing are important and they are indeed. However instead of trying to trick search engines I think what most companies or businesses should do is to try and focus on the most significant element of SEO – content and votes. The more interesting your content and its significance to your target market and other sites, the more likely you are to attract more visitors to your sites.

As much as content is important to the strategy of being found, it is pointless unless the businesses engages with its consumers. The internet has made the lives of marketers simpler and more resourceful. Never before have sales and marketing teams ever been able to engage directly with so many consumers (millions!) using such simple tools. The internet has become social. There are watering holes in every savannah and it is up to marketers to try and find them. Watering holes are where your customers or target market gather. Where the elephants, buffalo and giraffes gather to drink water is where you want to be if you are trying to sell the latest and tastiest varieties of green herbal delights. Social media platforms have made engaging consumers even simpler. Engagement need not be complex but it can turn out to be lifestyle marketing. Hanging around where your consumers hang around to talk is an age old theory. For example where would you hang around in ancient Israel to discuss the latest news – the Synagogues; or where would you go to in old London to discuss politics and trends – Speaker’s Corner. I am sure you understand what I am saying. The internet has made news sharing and discussions even simpler. There are more watering holes available today than any great African grassland holds. Blogs, Google Forums, Yahoo Groups, Yahoo Answers, Linked In groups, Facebook Fan pages, Facebook groups, Twitter, You Tube, Hi5 and MySpace are all watering holes where consumers gather. It is up to you to listen out for topics of interest and engage consumers; or even start new conversations. Do not be blunt, nobody likes a salesman pushing products where value addition is sought after. Always remember to focus on adding value. Make sure your consumers see the value addition and seek out your product rather than have your product pushed at them.

Forums are abundant today. I contribute to and edit a blog spot named www.StrengthTrainingChronicles.com  which engages weights trainers, rugby enthusiasts and gym goers with useful material. In order to engage with my consumers and discuss / learn new trends I Google searched Forums for such watering holes.  The results I received were unmanageable. From specific community / social web sites such as bodybuilding.com to countless numbers of forums focusing on varying aspects of the sport the research results were too many to count. Results ranged from geographic variations from London to LA and sport niches from StrongMan competitions to Nutrition. Finding watering holes is simple. Communicating with your consumers and adding value is what will bring more consumers to your site. This is public relations campaigning and brand building as never witnessed before.

Bringing guests to your home is wonderful for most of the time. But do you let the kids play around the vases or bring the movie crowd into the garden? Having a specific landing page is essential. This welcomes your target market to a target web page. Once found, visitors must be made into leads. Leads are people interested in listening to you about your product or service. Leads must be then converted into sales. Leads sometimes take time and need to be nurtured with emails or promotions together with calls to action   
If it cannot be measured it cannot be managed. Being found must be quantified in order to determine if you are being found to begin with and by the right consumers. There are so many companies that have gone bankrupt in 2009 by paying little attention to ROI (returns on investment) or budgeting their use of internet marketing. ROI is all about making the decision if your course of marketing action was worth it or not. It is important to make note of the number of visitors to your site, the ratios of lookers to bookers and the ratios of those moving onto your landing page and then entering their email information onto forms. These figures are particularly useful when gauging a new marketing tool you have employed such as engaging a certain forum or a press release or article. Google Analytics and other tools make these functions simple.

We spoke of change in the beginning and there is great change in the horizon. We are seeing a convergence of web design companies, sales, marketing, advertising agencies and public relations into one company focused on being found via inbound marketing. The days of effective TV, Radio and advertisements on magazines are shrinking as the number of ads clutter useful listenable messaging. Meaningful, attractive and lucrative value addition to any business via inbound marketing and being found is set to make waves of change in the world of marketing as the internet becomes a necessity for business.

05 October 2009

10 Key Methods to Distribute your Hotel Rooms Online

The internet is possibly the most significant channel for the sales of your hotel rooms. If not utilized immediately many hotels could find themselves with empty rooms.

The internet provides hoteliers with formidable access to almost every person in the world who owns an internet connection. This is reach beyond compare and achieving sales online is partly the result of maximized online exposure. The more a hotel room is exposed on the internet (together with content and recommendations) or more so made visible to the market persona (customers!), the more likely it is to be booked.

Listed below are ten gems that detail how a hotel should think about distributing their rooms online. These are some of the tools that would make your distribution approach powerful and formidable.

1) Direct sales - A hotel should have its own booking engine on its own website. Anyone loyal to a hotel brand name would search for your hotel website and would like to book directly with you. The joy of your own booking engine is that the reservations are immediate. On request bookings are as old as fossils and should be avoided.

2) GDS connectivity - If you used to sell your rooms to high street travel agents and  tour operators as a part of their package deal I am pretty sure you already work with a GDS system such as Amadeus, Sabre, Worldspan, etc. The beauty of having these connections is that online travel agents connect to them too and now have access to your rooms which could be sold online to their consumer base.

3) CRS connectivity - Many online travel agents are now able to build an XML interface to most Central Reservation Systems. The trick is to ensure that your CRS provider has this capability. It is worthwhile asking them which online agents they are already linked into. Having your CRS connected to an online agent means your rooms are now visible to many consumers who frequent these online channels.

4) PMS connectivity - Most hotels use a Property Management System to manage their reservations. Some PMS systems enable online travel agencies to connect to them using an XML interface. The trick is to ensure that your PMS provider has this capability. It is worthwhile asking them which online agents they are already linked into. Having your PMS connected to an online agent means your rooms are now visible to many consumers who frequent these online channels.

5) Wholesalers / Tour Operators - Wholesalers and some tour operators request hotels to enter their rates and inventory onto an extranet. This database of hotel rates and inventory is made available to many distributors of room inventory. For example HotelBeds in Spain or Gullivers in the UK request hotels to enter their room rates and allotments onto extranets which are then distributed to many dot coms globally. This is a lucrative channel for sales as the room exposure is phenomenal. The more wholesalers you work with the more sales channels you open up to.

6) Extranets with OTA s - Many Online Travel Agencies have the facility to enable hotels to enter rates and allotments directly onto their systems (extranets). Sites such as Expedia provide these facilities. Some of these sites drive most of the room sales online due to their brand name and marketing, and having your property on their sites exposes your room to consumers. It also gives you the opportunity to liaise and negotiate with the OTA on rates and sales.

7) Channel Management Systems - With the use of so many extranets the manual work required from hotels in updating rates and inventory across so many channels makes it impossible for hotel staff to manage the work load and often requires the hiring of more staff. Channel Management systems provide some help in this. They request that hotels enter rates and inventory onto one extranet that updates hundreds of OTAs. Preferential rates for certain OTA s are also possible.

8) Aggregators - There are many companies that make it their point to connect to every possible online channel to gather as much hotel inventory as possible and then resell that inventory to any distributor. Working with them does improve your exposure.

9) Call centre - There are still many online users who are not comfortable with entering their room requirements online. They insist on calling a 'person' and making the same booking over the phone. Having your details available for calls enables this channel of exposure.

10) Inbound Marketing - The world of public relations and internet marketing is changing rapidly / dramatically and market indications predict shifts in marketing online. Shifts towards social media, SEO, community building, blogs, article submissions and engaging with online consumers is set to be the new wave in internet marketing. First movers are bound to benefit in this arena and finding yourself internet marketing consultants would prove useful. For example most internet sales today (averaging over 70%) are made via organic search results e.g. via Google search or Bing, by consumers as opposed to other channels.

For more details on how to more forward on any of these channels please don't hesitate to contact Johann@MasterBusinessChronicles.com

28 September 2009

Handling Conflict

I was reading the book by Ray Comort (his autobiography) called 'Out of you Comfort Zone' and I believe there is a lot to be learned from this street evangelist from New Zealand who has now made the USA his home. Ray is a street evangelist and pastor who had spent a lot of his time open air preaching i.e. finding crowded street corners, standing on a pedestal or box and speaking out loud his thoughts on evangelism and life after death.

Ray found himself at MacArthur Park in LA which is renowned for its homeless population, drug addicts, gang warfare and high crime rates. Ths park is littered with addicts on cocaine and crack, as well as those selling it. The park has a high murder rate and almost all its inhabitents are either stab wound victims or harbor wounds with infections that they dont have the medical insurace to have treated.

In addition to providing the park dwellers with food, looking after their wounds and avoiding being killed, Ray also goes there with the primary reason of open air preaching. Talking out loud to audiences in this environment could be considered almost suicide as Ray has found out in many occasions. Presenting to this audience with a speech on the after life, man sinning against God and receiving Christ as their savior is far from the interest of the audience whose primary focus is on the food Ray has brought along or selling the clothes he has brought for money to buy cocaine with.

Needless to mention, Ray often states that he is faced with many conflicting situations. In most cases this involves verbal abuse of many kinds and with those insisting on disrupting his speech and attacking his belief system. He even once witnessed a gang war with axe stabbing. He has been spat on and insulted.

In Ray's book his reaction always sees to be the same. Even though in his thoughts he is very angry he does not let his anger be the controlling force in his behavior. When faced with insults and attacks he always flashes a smile. He always uses humor to defuse a situation. He always says that God loves you and I love you too in almost all circumstances. He uses his humor, smile and intelligent reasoning to always be the dominant force.

I think this is a good attitude to take when facing conflicts of any nature. Do not let your opponent win. You know when your opponent has won i.e. when your opponent has made you angry and made you attack back. You have already lost and it is as vein as shouting at a car that cut you off in traffic but has sped off into the distance. It is always good to smile, stay happy, and present the facts in a clear concise manner to your opponent. Your smile is more likely to diffuse your opponent's attacks and throw them off guard. It also gives your control over the situation.

22 September 2009

Maximizing your Hotel Distribution and Reservations using powerful XML technologies

The term ‘XML’ has fast become an acronym that players in the hospitality industry have had to become familiar with. In this rapidly evolving industry, leaving out the XML component of distribution could prove to be a strategic blunder. The benefits of this technology to hotels, hotel representation companies, international hotel chains, travel agents and wholesalers / tour operators are immeasurable. The hospitality industry has taken aboard the necessity to be ‘online’ if one intends to remain competitive, or for that matter survive. However, with the evolution of Web 2.0 or more so Travel 2.0, XML has the potential to directly affect immediate sales volumes and hotel room distribution capabilities in a revolutionary manner that has not been conceived before.

XML is the acronym for Extensible Markup Language. It is part of what is known as ‘Web Services’. Web services are in there simplest form a standard based web application that interacts with other web applications. XML requests could be sent to an application similar to sending a grocery list to a grocer. The grocer either replies with what was asked for or informs you that it is not currently available. The middle ground in this transaction is known as an ‘interface’ which allows two entities to understand one another. Connecting two entities using XML requires the building of an XML interface between them.

In the online hotel reservation industry, wholesalers are able to contract independent hotels directly. Wholesalers have the ability to interface with many online travel agents. A hotel that traditionally relied upon phone call reservations could now find its hotel rooms exposed to thousands of online customers across the globe.

Hotel chains are able to enhance their distribution by connecting to online travel agents using a direct XML connection. This not only increases their sales channels but also exposes their hotels to non-brand loyal customers.

Travel 2.0 is one implementation of a theory economists refer to as the Long Tail. This is based on the economics of abundance. The internet has made it possible for millions of consumers to seek their ideal hotel online based on their individual needs. Each consumer has his/her own idea of the perfect place to stay. The Long Tail’s principal is that the sum of niche markets far exceeds the total mass market; hence serving the needs of individuals is more profitable. This paradigm causes players in the industry to shift their attention from serving all customers, to serving the individual needs of customers. XML encompasses the flexibility and efficiency to effectively provide the most exposure a hotel room could receive online. A new paradigm has emerged where XML has shifted from being a basic technology that facilitates online room reservations to a tool that could be used to directly increase the visibility and sales volumes of a hotel or property.

Needless to say, any IT solution should respond in the quickest possible time frame and should also consider data compression techniques. Detailed below are some of the techniques in which XML could be used to improve the exposure of hotel properties online thereby improving distribution and sales.

Most customers visiting a city such as London or Paris are very likely to search for all hotels within that city or a zone / area within that city e.g. Leicester Square in London. At the time of searching by an online customer, an efficient XML request would be able to send out a request that would ask for the return of all hotels within that area or city. It is significant that XML standards have the capability to accept city or area based searches. If these are not supported, the result would be the increased server activity and delayed responses to the customer.

Simplicity and the ‘ease of booking’ are driving forces in online hotel room distribution. When a customer enters his search criteria online and views the hotel search results, it is imperative that the total cost of the room is displayed to him/her. The simpler it is for the customer, the higher are the chances of them making a reservation off the site as well as returning to the site. As with a product on a shelf at the local supermarket, it is imperative that the total cost of the room is displayed on the hotel room search results. The cost of a room should include the taxes and should detail the exact cost of the room rather than a cost range. An efficient XML system should be able to return this value in its initial response.

When a customer views the hotel search results, he should be able to see the widest range of room types and meal plans. This increases the variety and choice available to him. It also allows the customer to decide on the perfect fit in terms of accommodation for those going with him. This is critical when considering larger families or different needs (e.g. breakfast and dinner only). An efficient XML system should be able to support this need.
An efficient XML response should contain all the available room types and meal plans for a hotel and their total costs. In terms of visibility for hotels, the more room types and meal plans returned on XML, the greater the exposure. Some online room reservation sites are aggregators from multiple sources of hotel inventory. One provider may only provide a single room for a hotel. Instead of having to compete with that single room based on price, it is more logical to offer a double or single with breakfast. This would result in both room types being exposed to the customer. It also fulfills the need of a customer for whatever choice of room type he/she desires rather than being restricted to an available choice. The more room types and meal plans a hotel has within its portfolio and returned on an XML response, the greater the visibility of that hotel as well as the probability of it being booked.

Customers that wish to travel with children are often faced with having to pay an adult rate for that child or are not met with the suitable requirements on arrival at the hotel. An efficient XML system would allow the customer to inform the hotel that children will constitute part of the guest list. Hotels close to children’s venues such as entertainment parks could be marketed given their efficient handling of children’s accommodation. This could be driven by a powerful XML configuration.

Information and content is a key determinant in the online hotel industry. Content such as hotel addresses, images and descriptions are critical for a successful reservation procedure. Providers of hotel rooms are known to maintain static data with this information which can be downloaded on a predetermined basis. This is an important function. However the difference between a standard requirement and a powerful XML system is the value addition in static data, its flexibility and usability.

When taking into consideration the Long Tail of distribution and its focus on niche markets, content is one of the main criteria in the segmenting of properties into unique niches. These would traditionally be sought after by marketers who segment markets based on their own knowledge. It was not deemed feasible for a marketer to contact thousands of properties on a regular basis and ask them what differentiates their hotel from others and determining their unique selling proposition. It would be impossible to gather data from thousands of hotels on their locations and activities within their vicinity. With the use of a powerful XML medium this is now a possibility. An XML system could be put into place that allows information entered by hoteliers onto a database, such as their unique selling propositions, area information, forthcoming activities, location based services and segmentation information, to be harnessed. This could be part of the static data. When downloaded by distributors it allows them to segment their markets efficiently and effectively. It also provides them with the ability to market these segments online. The more segments that are marketed, the more visibility a property receives. A hotel could find itself globally visible to prospective customers and feeding off the growth of the Long Tail where niche distribution surpasses the traditional mass marketing efforts. The simplicity and efficiency of XML provides marketers with a powerful tool and hotels with unsurpassed distribution capabilities.

Booking a room is more than just making a reservation at a hotel. It is about the perfect booking experience. Customers often find themselves bemused by the handling of key collection information and hotel renovations. XML provides a solution here as well. Details on renovations such as the repairs to swimming pools could be sent with hotel rate information at the time a customer makes a search request for hotels. This shows him/her immediately what is taking place at the hotel. Key collection information could be passed in a similar manner.

Most hotels encompass special offers which have the potential to provide substantial value to customers. Offers such as staying 4 nights and receiving the next night free are very attractive. However marketers are not capable at present of marketing these attractive offers to customers. XML provides distributors with the ability to query hotel room providers for special offers in advance. This allows them to position these offers in their marketing campaigns thereby increasing a hotel’s exposure and visibility.

The above suggestions allow the XML technology to align itself directly with the Long Tail of distribution. XML is malleable. It can be made flexible to feed the immediate needs and wants of online consumers. Using it as a tool has the potential to increase the visibility and exposure of hotel rooms in revolutionary manners that have not been accomplished before.

17 September 2009

The Necessity for Investing in Employees in the UK in this Downturn Economy : Part 3 of 3

In the previous article we discussed why change management was so critical in downturn economies. Rapid change causes a lot of damage to employee motivation unless addressed by management. 

We also spoke of the effect the current downturn is having on employees.  There is no better time than the present to cement the trust and bonds between employees and use the current environment to drive change through team building. Team building within the company enables employees to face the downturn as a unit - a functioning powerful unit of people rather than scattered individuals.

There seems to be no better time than the present to capture the fruits of experiential learning using a real live environment. Outward Bound Training (as a human resource development initiative) courses involving taking employees to the outdoors to develop skills such as team building, leadership training, project management, handling stress, management training, communication, change, etc. may have been used in the better times as part of a team building program conducted by team building companies. As part of a corporate training program or outdoor leadership training the employees may have been asked to participate in a team building activity. These may have included raft building, kayaking, trust falls, outdoor navigation, etc.

Outward bound training is still popular in the UK, US, West Indies and Singapore. Whilst it has its critics, the proper harnessing of the learning (Transfer of Learning) could prove to have positive impacts within the work organization. The key point to focus on here is to lose focus on the activity and focus on what it is trying to achieve. e.g. lose focus on white water rafting but harness the relationships built with your team whilst on the course. The essence of Outward Bound Training is to place participants on simulated risky environments that would enable them to dig deep into their natural capabilities and resources. In these environments leadership skills, clear communication, resource allocation, time efficiency, etc. are all put to the test. The active learning involved provides memories and recollections which could prove useful to employees. However this learning needs to be addressed as would any change management strategy. The learning needs to be harnessed, reflected upon and actively implemented within the organization by change agents else the transfer of learning will not take place.

Some would argue that going on outward bound courses is the least on managers' minds given the worries of staying afloat. However some might argue that if it is financially viable it is an investment. Employees are under immense pressure and stress. They are expected to perform exceptionally well in a stressful environment where there job security is at risk. They are expected to work long hours while taking on extra work loads. In these economic conditions customers always want there projects yesterday and new ones delivered tomorrow. There does not seem to be a more opportune time to invest in the training and development of employees for this exact environment. Taking the employees out of the current work place to the outdoors not only prepares employees to be trained in the necessary skills to face a stressful work environment and thrive in time management, communication, leadership, etc. but most significantly, and most undoubtedly, it sends a very clear concise critical message directly to the employees. The message clearly states that their management has decided to make an investment in its employees. Instead of laying off and being bureaucratic, the management has made the conscious decision to invest in its employees and prepare them for the future ahead. Yes the times will be tough but the management as confidence that its employees, with the right training, will shine through these circumstances.

This message immediately, like a cork out of a champagne bottle, thrusts employee perception up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Motivation Model. They no longer need to be worried about security as instead of taking the easy option of laying off staff, the management has sent a  clear message that they are still a team and together they can make it. This message also solidifies Maslow's two immediate concerns in the triangle - the need to belong and esteem.

Outward bound training is a unique method in which manager's are able to use experiential learning as part of a human resources development strategy. The essence is in the capture of the learning undertaken and its implementation in the work place which is also undergoing severe stress. The skills captured from the training could prepare employees for the tougher times ahead and it will certainly sharpen their skills. It will also provide a very significant mode of motivation and a clear directive from senior management that it values its employees. The former CEO of GE Jack Welch in his book 'Winning' details that the head of human resources in a company should be given as much significance as a CFO. Whilst Mr.Welch's theories have both criticism and reason by many commentators, it is a winning advantage to invest in employees when it seems that all statistics, media, corporations and managers are working against them.  

Human resource development managers also must focus on ensuring that employees learn from these live non-simulation stressful times. The learning involved in going through risk related environments and overcoming obstacles must be harnessed, discussed, documented and championed by change agents to actively reinforce learning in the future.

The Necessity for Investing in Employees in the UK in this Downturn Economy : Part 2 of 3

The dilemma of change management.

We previously spoke of the effect the current downturn is having on employees. We discussed that management need to take action in this environment rather than waiting for governments to act upon it. After all it is the management that employees trust in the normal operations of the company. There is no better time than the present to cement the trust and bonds between employees and use the current environment to drive change through team building. Team building within the company enables employees to face the downturn as a unit - a functioning powerful unit of people rather than scattered individuals.

As people we tend to learn from our environment. We know that a hot cup of coffee could burn you when spilled. We know that a barking dog is not the safest to pet. We know that we should not trust Bernard Madoff with our life investments. We also know who we can trust when we are in times of need; that shoulder we can always rely on. This current downturn is real live experiential learning. Any Human Resource Development Manager should be quick to jump on the current opportunities to ensure that their staff learn from these times. This is a time of great change. Change management is essential.

During the good times most corporations are greater change evangelists than are the Christian Reinhard Bonke's of the world. With the downturn we seem to have forgotten our own gospel of change champions, consulting with employees, appointing change agents and harnessing charismatic / transformational leadership capabilities. These are possibly some of the most significant times heralding some of the largest changes in corporate history. Are you going to be part of the team that went with the flow and caused more harm than good? Or are you going to be the change and gather your employees around you to drive forth these dramatic changes? Irrespective of the outcome of your company i.e. if it goes into liquidation, manages to survive or thrives beyond, it is the people who worked for you that will remember you the most whilst the balance sheets decay in the chronicles of history.

Change management begins with answering the questions. That is the questions raised by employees. Management need to ensure that change (ideally being driven from the top) involves educating all employees with absolute transparency what is currently going on in the company. This could detail financial information, business strategy information and the challenges / predicaments ahead of us. Transparency and information are vital. It does not help in anyway to have your CEO locked away in his room racking his brain out while everyone else is assuming it is over. Transparency ensures that everyone is aware of the true picture. It is a waste of time to try to fool employees with strategy and positioning pep talks. They are well aware of the truth! It is up to management to be honest, transparent and clear. Questions should be answered truthfully e.g. why there are salary delays. The management should be clear on what their strategy moving forward is. They need to detail what is the plan to get us out of the rut or to survive. Explanations should be given prior to making requests of employees to work longer hours and take on more work loads. This consultative process makes employees feel important as they rightfully are. It musters support and motivation. A transformational leader is required to reitereate the changes and ensure that his/her charisma, consultative mannerism and overall concern for employees builds confidence and trust.

Managers would need to take on the role of counselors. Being transformational leaders they would be expected to show concern over (in confidentiality) how employees are getting on outside the work place, ask them what there concerns are and do there utmost to ensure the well being of employees are looked into. Employees need a voice now more than ever before. A voice often ignored but is critical. A voice that must tweet at the top.

We hear a lot of quotes and see a lot of posters denoting team building. e.g. Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM), alone we can't but together we can, etc. If in the past we could foster team spirit and team building to face multifunctional projects using cross functional teams which operate under immense pressure then perhaps team building is the best suited model to work with employees during the truly difficult moments. It is sad to see the reverse i.e. breaking up of teams with lay offs and adding job insecurity to bonded team environments.

Leadership training, leadership development, change management, HRD, team learning, team building skills and management training are worthwhile investments in any downturn. Their necessity is similar to teaching paramedics First Aid.

How do we harness these team attributes? Next section.

The Necessity for Investing in Employees in the UK in this Downturn Economy : Part 1 of 3

I was watching the BBC news last night on TV and whilst watching clips of President Obama defending his health plans I came across a rather disturbing headline that stated that the unemployment rate in the UK is at present the highest since 1995. This should not really surprise anyone. We have seen corporations collapse, fluctuating currencies, worrying reports of new world orders and riots in cities. Whilst the downturn has brought on much suffering and changes globally the headline itself brought to mind some of the management theories I had learned whilst on my MBA course a few years back.

This is a rather worrying statistic. The word statistic tends to remove the human emotion from the equation. I believe it was Stalin who once said that the death of a single person is a tragedy; more than that is just a statistic. The statistic here is you, me and my neighbor next door. Despite reassuarences from across the Atlantic that the recession is now over, the unemployment rate is extremely high. I cannot begin to imagine the mental state of people in the firing line of the downturn.

Unfortunately the unemployment rate is usually the last statistic to improve in any downturn. Increasing employment rates tend to denote that companies are once again confident in their growth capacity and the markets and are thereby investing in the future. The changes in the unemployment rate is a clear indication that a downturn is surely over or that companies are still cautious in how they hire new staff and take on new investments.

Whilst executives and senior managers worry about steering their corporate ships through these treacherous waters it is usually the crew below that tend to suffer the most. The downturn has brought with it copious volumes of risk in job security. Employees have had to worry if they would be laid off or sent home. Many companies have shamefully also used the downturn as an excuse to lay off staff and cut costs. Whilst other companies have had no choice but to enforce pressure on their staff to work much longer hours with heavier work loads.

A corporation is responsible for its staff. That is a humane view point. Employees come in to work and spend most of their lives working for a corporation. The treatment of staff, their well being and management during these hard times are a clear indication of the true colours of the company itself. Hard times are a clear indication of the true person behind the corporate persona. Companies must realize that how they tend to treat employees during these times are a clear indication of who they really are. Once the downturn is over, winning back employee confidence and convincing them they are more than just a statistic is going to be much more challenging.

Employees are possibly at their lowest state of mind on par with that which has not been witnessed in the last decade. Abraham Maslow had a theory named the Hierarchy of Needs Motivational Model which is widely studied on many of the abundant MBA courses globally. This model is a triangle shaped model in which the bottom layer is said to be the most significant factor in the motivation of an employee or more so his/her desire to perform within the company. As the building blocks are piled up on the triangle so does the necessity of each block reduce in motivational significance. Needless to say the first block details human physiological needs such as food, water, shelter, etc. These are basic human necessities. Just above the basic ethical humanitarian needs of people is security. Shockingly, this is what most employees do not have at present. Job security and employment rates are at the lowest levels as seen in the last decade. The basic human need of job security has been compromised. I cannot begin to imagine the mental, emotional and physical strains placed on workers today. Perhaps the government should take more action on the severity of the current situation although this could be borne by management themselves in combating this lack of security. The triangle blocks continue to pile up in the order of love and belonging (e.g. part of a team), esteem (e.g. working for Google :-) ), purpose and self-actualization.

Security or the lack of as borne by employees today include a shattered work-life balance, losing homes, being unable to pay off mortgages as well as dysfunctional marriages and relationships with children due to long work hours and mental fatigue.

This is a crisis that needs to be addressed immediately by management. The lack of motivation and the distraught attitudes of employees is not only ruining lives but will surely bring to disrepute the corporation or  put it under further stress. Management need to immediately address these issues. Champions and leaders are needed to drive through these perilous waters.

20 August 2009

Do you have a Freddie Flintoff in your office?

Do you have a Freddie Flintoff in your office? This is what the BBC site asked its readers as its headline.

This has nothing to do with the Flintstones' cartoon character and does not involve singing - "Flintstones...Meet the Flintstones they're the modern stone age familiy". This is in reference to the Ashes Test Cricket series being played in England where the English side are set with the task of regaining the Ashes from the Australians. It's going to be a tough battle as the Roses take on the Kangaroos and Flintoff faces his last test match (being played at the Oval).

The article is indeed referring to Flintoff's incredible leadership capabilities on and off the cricket field. He is charismatic. He is a tall man and certainly stands out from the crowd. His body language is confident. He is humerous and has the ability to connect with people. He represents the kind of guy you would love to go down to the pub with to have a drink, a laugh and seek advice from. He is a natural motivator and inspires people. More so, he does not just talk the talk but he walks the walk. He is incredibly skillful and has proven his abilities time and again.

Flintoff is what MBA students would call a charismatic leader. He stands out from the crowd and uses his charms and wits with a blend of incredible skill to motivate and inspire people to achieve there highest potential. He is like the Richard Branson of the cricketing world. Branson himself uses his wit and charm to entice his audience. I once remember walking down Holland Park Avenue (close to Notting Hill Gate) and walking past Branson. He had a smile on his face from ear to ear as he swung his briefcase to and fro, while walking confidently downhill in his suit. All the while people kept blowing there car horns and waving as he waved back. That is another man who resonates charisma.

Flintoff on the cricket field and Branson in the business world: what can we do to harness these leadership capabiliteis to train our future leaders to an extent that they are able to command respect with mangetic followings.

Flintoff and Branson would have started off some day as you and I would have. I believe its through there experiences and circumstances in which they have overcome personal and work place challenges, harnessed there learning and looked through a positive eye that has given birth to such character. Motivating your team rather than cohersion and thinking outside the box; these are some of the skills we need to foster in our future leaders. These could be achieved throught the harnessing of learning via Experiential Learning courses and life in general.

18 August 2009

2 Tips to make the most of your corporate Outward Bound Training Course

2 Tips to make the most of your corporate Outward Bound Training course -

1) Make sure the teams on the outward bound course correspond to the teams at work

2) Record footage !

14 August 2009

Kurt Hahn

Kurt Hahn is often considered the father of outward bound training.

In the years gone by he was approached by the owner of a merchant shipping vessel and asked to work with some of the sailors in order to improve upon their survival rate at sea.

Kurt proceeded to take them to the outdoors and asked them to involve themselves in tasks that presented psychological risks but not actual risks. In these settings the sailors were meant to learn skills such as leadership and team work.

This form of teaching was meant to prepare them for the rigorous journeys and challenges ahead.

13 August 2009

Outward Bound Training

Outward Bound Training are a set of courses that employees of firms are taken out on by accredited organizations, in order to teach them management, leadership and team based skills in the outdoors. The learning from these courses are designed to add to the skills set of employees.

There has been skepticism concerning the effectiveness of these courses. This blog exists to discuss this subject in detail and address how the 'Transfer of Learning' can take place from these experiential learning courses.

09 August 2009

Marine! Marine! Marine!

Marine! Marine! Move it son! Climb that wall! Row that kayak! Under that barbed wire! Hardcore! Hardcore! And whatever happens, look after your Egg…..

— Earlier that day —

Saturday morning: it’s 5.50 am and I’m up. I’m supposed to be at work by 6.30 am. I grabbed something quick to eat and my bud Sean picked me up in his Civic. We found ourselves at work by 6.30am and as usual we only departed to our destination at 7.30 am. Today is the day that 19 of us were being taken to a lake site about 45 minutes by coach from our work place. I had been on this course a while back but I volunteered together with Sean and Sunny to help out the newbies at the company. This was part of an outward bound training / experiential learning course.

We found ourselves seated down and drinking tropical fresh juices whilst the training team briefed us on the day’s activities. The training was organized by a company comprising of a Malaysian outward bound instructor, a graduate of environmental studies background as well 4 commando ex-military personnel. One of them looked like a drill sergeant. The newbies were asked to write down on a white board what they would like to achieve from the training course. Some of the points they jotted down included – relax, have fun, exercise, motivation, communication, get to know everyone, strategy, team building, etc.

We were each given an egg. We were told to look after it and give it back to the instructors at the end of the course. My thoughts lingered ‘Not a chance, that baby will go well with sausages’.

‘Is it a chicken egg sir?
‘Chicken?!?! Its the egg on which your life depends soldier!!! You will learn to love that egg, you will call it by an affectionate name, you will caress it!’, blasted out the drill sergeant

The course began with some rigorous commando stretching on an open piece of land overlooking the lake. One’s legs were supposed to be where one’s hands were. One’s groin where one’s mouth was (not to be taken literally or tried at home!) We were made into pancakes.

Commando style and now elastic, we were taken on a memory journey back to our child hood. We were asked to remember our mental frame of mind when we were children and to transport ourselves back to those times. We were asked to go touch ten trees and come back to our original location with a partner.

We were asked to pretend to be butterflies and flap around the garden.

We were told to pretend we were on a motor bike. We were then told to put one passenger on followed by two passengers. Will this madness ever end? All while our HR manager was happily taking photos.

We were split into two teams. We were asked to come up with a name for our team. One of the guys suggested ‘Jackie’; so Jackie it was (He did attempt to justify it with reference to the martial arts actor but it later transpired that he had been indulging in the similarly named malt whiskey the night before!). We are the commando unit named Jackie. We were asked to run through a military style course as teams. The challenges we faced were -

1) Cat walk – walking across thin elevated poles. Easy as it seems but not very good for big guys like me with big feet and big bodies to balance. The most daunting! I must’ve looked funny.

2) Tire walk – running through tires – twinkle toe time!

3) Scaling a wall – my favorite! Over 6 feet tall and a hop over for me. Some individuals did need a lot of help as they seemed to be stuck onto the wall rather than climbing over. Others had a road runner cartoon experience.

4) Walking the rope – balancing oneself on a rope and walking across while holding onto a suspended piece of rope. Why? I don’t know.

5) Barbed wire – crawling under them.

6) The tunnel – crawling through an under ground tunnel. I wasn’t allowed. My shoulders wouldn’t fit through.

7) The monkey bar – jumping onto the monkey bar and walking across (with your hands!). Hey I did this twice.

That was just the beginning. The big stuff was yet to come.

Abseiling! The safety equipment for abseiling is weird. It’s like wearing an overly enlarged jockstrap. Anyhooooo, we had to climb up about 5-6 floors of this specialist tower. The last set of stairs was a ladder. When you’re up there, the scenery is breath taking. When my turn came up, I sat down on the edge. Got strapped in to my jock strap and was asked to let go of the railing. That’s the tricky part because your mind starts to play with you and says ‘can this thing hold my weight? Will I fall to oblivion!’ I let go and was being held up by a rope from the top of the building. It was all about letting go. Good lesson to learn – Trust. Trust that jock strap son. Trust it good. I was finally allowed to hold the abseil rope and did little jumps all the way down. Easy stuff. Adrenaline rush! Loved it. I had to make the guys laugh a bit and kept asking for a parachute! I was actually serious.

Lunch! Food! Fantastic!

Aerial rope time! Jock straps on again! Life vests on. Why don’t they have life vests that fit me! I couldn’t breathe. Had to undo it and say I ll putt it on in a bit. Another long climb up another tower. Steeper stair cases and an even steeper ladder! And carrying a metallic pulley with you all the way. When you reach the top of the tower, the entrance to the platform is made for little people. I couldn’t fit though. I blame it on the life vest. They strap your jock strap to the pulley. They then strap your pulley onto the aerial rope cable. You have to put your hands through the loop, the pulley then runs down the rope and into the lake. The difficult part here is you have to ‘jump off’ the building for the pulley to take you to the lake. They called me the ‘jet’ because of the noise the rope made when the pulley rolled down. It was like an aircraft taking off. When I landed in the water, splash! Oh and the lake waters tastes salty. The water isn’t deep at all. With life vests on you can lean back and fall asleep on the water which we were more than happy to do before swimming to shore. Don’t forget to throw straying water plants onto your friends. And if someone talks too much just splash some super salty water on them.

Last item on the list, kayaking. We had to use flat top two person kayaks. Me and Sean got the boats out, helped the ladies with carrying them. We got in the water, me in the back, Sean in front, one of the first out and ready to go. About 100 m away from shore, we heard a bit of a splashing sound to left of us, looked around, two guys racing towards us. Laughing and giggling away.
Hang on guys, break!
Use your paddles!

Their kayak impacted where I was seated and climbed onto me. One moment you see a boat climb your lap, the next minute, all green!
We toppled.
Contact lenses in tact.
Sound of laughter.
Very funny guys, my ribs hurt! Getting back onto a kayak in deep water with a life vest on is not easy. We had to be helped back on. One by one. Sean boosted me on while two instructors rowed up next to us to hold the boat in place. When I got in, I had to drag Sean in. We had to kayak around San Michel’s Island and back. I used those hefty shoulders and arms to row that kayak. Pretty soon, it was flying. Sean kept leaning back saying his stomach was hurting. When we got close to the island the water was a bit choppy. To our pleasure we saw our ‘hit and run boys’ being overturned in polluted water. Sweet! We overtook some of the party and raced around the island. We did it in rows of 10 while resting in between. Being in the back I had to navigate the boat. Being in the back, I could rest without Sean knowing about it! When we got into rhythm that boat cut through water like a hot knife through butter.

We made it! Was peacefully waiting in queue to take our boat out. Looked to the left. Two girls, not rowing not doing anything and not bothered, coming at us.
Ummmm. Stop the boat? Nope! Green, drenched!!
Only this time we were in shallow water. Helped the girls control their boat and helped carry the boats out.

It was a quick dip in the pool. We all bathed in the ladies wash room by mistake! And into the pool; played a game of water basketball which seemed more like water rugby. Fun!

It was then review time, the egg hand over (I wrapped mine in tissue, hid it under a glass and then later, in a gutter. My hopes were dashed when I had to hand it back, I wanted to go home and fry it with bacon or sausages) and back home!

Sweet day!

16 February 2009

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