Monday, September 30, 2013

Poggenpohl: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Freidemir Poggenpohl’s company, established 1892, introduced such kitchen innovations as ergonomic work-top heights, continuous countertops, inset handles, and smart-technology appliances. Based in Herford, Germany (but owned by the Swedish corporation Nobia), Poggenpohl claims to be the oldest kitchen brand in the world. Its About page is here.


Products/Services: D
If you want a kitchen with Ionic columns and baroque drawer pulls, Poggenpohl isn’t the company for you. The starkness of the About Us pages conveys the company’s minimalist esthetic very well. But ... On the main About page, as well as four of the six subpages, not a single image appears. It’s a missed opportunity for making visitors lust after a Poggenpohl kitchen of their own. For example: the Innovative Design page offers a list of awards, with logos. Why not show the model of kitchen or the feature that led to the award? Our Commandment 6 of About Us pages is “Honor thy visuals”: Poggenpohl’s About us pages strike out here.

On several pages Poggenpohl mentions its 120-year history. Bravo: citing a long, illustrious company history is an excellent way to demonstrate both innovation and staying power. The site also has a timeline (see Heritage), arranged as a slideshow of images. We are confused, though, by the fact that some of the captions are repeated with different photos. And alas, there is no way to pause the slideshow and look with bemused fascination at (for example) Luigi Colani’s “bubble kitchen,” ca. 1970.

A minor issue, but one that affects many companies with websites in several languages, is erratic English. The Poggenpohl timeline refers several times to the “carcass” or “carcase” of Poggenpohl cabinets. (See here and here, under 1995.) Since the primary meaning of “carcass” in English is “dead body,” this carries connotations inappropriate for a high-end kitchen. Perhaps this is only a problem on the English website -- but if sales to English speakers are important enough to deserve a separate website, then that website should be written in flawless English.

Personality: D
The Management page has large pictures of the company’s leaders, each one smiling cheerfully in front of kitchen cabinets, each one with a department and email address. Why not add a few words about their career, or their feelings about the company, or their favorite Poggenpohl design? On this page, ironically, too much space is given to images, too little to text.

Accessibility: D
The Contact Us page offers generic address, phone, email (no options for specific departments), and an option to find a Poggenpohl studio near you. It’s adequate but not innovative -- except for making us type info in small, difficult-to-read white characters on black fields. That annoys us enough to downgrade the page from C to D.

If your product has a visual aspect, illustrate, illustrate, illustrate. And spend a few dollars, euros, or Swedish kronor to translate your corporate story into the idiomatic language of each country in which it appears. 

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). To talk about your About Us page, contact us!
Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

1931 workplace drama still fresh

Bravo to the always-intrepid Mint Theater Company (@MintTheaterCo) for breathing new life into workplace drama circa 1931, George Kelly's "Philip Goes Forth." Timeless conflicts well-rendered: business vs. art, suburb vs. city, son vs. father. Interesting to reflect that Kelly won the Pulitzer Prize for playwriting in 1925 (for "Craig's Wife"), but he's best remembered today as the uncle of actress Grace Kelly, if he's remembered at all.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Has your org hung a mirror?

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Nancy Braun, an organizational development consultant and the coauthor of Hanging the Mirror: The Discipline of Reflective Leadership. The title alone grabbed me right away, because it precisely captures the message of the book. (Two sample chapters can be downloaded here.) Because I’m always fascinated by the intersection of organizational change and corporate history, I reached out to Nancy and her coauthors Alan Scheffer and Mark Scheffer to explore some ideas. Nancy, Alan, and Mark are principals in Management Associates, based in Sioux City, Iowa.

Marian:             You’ve consulted with numerous organizations. In your experience, when a company knows its own history, does that help it to perform better? Does it help it to better cope with organizational change?
Alan:                  It can go both ways. If an organization is healthy and has a vibrant sense of vision and mission, one that’s core to historical growth, then I think the knowledge of company history can have immense positive impact. On the other hand, if the history is basically one of being handcuffed by values and mission and vision that aren’t so dynamic or healthy, it can become paralyzing.
Mark:                 One of the things that makes an organization strong is when it has a strong sense of itself and its purpose in the world. Every business and every initiative starts with that. I know, Marian, that in your work with clients at you put a lot of weight into the founder’s original vision. I agree that having a connection with the founder’s original vision contributes to an organization having a sense of who it is.
Marian:             Right. Your book reflects that belief. Here’s a quote: “Workplace culture can always be traced back to the decisions of leaders. Far from a phenomenon arising of its own accord, culture is the inescapable product of leadership behavior and choices.”
Nancy:               If an organization has wandered astray from its founder’s original vision, rediscovering that vision can help reinvigorate and get the business consciously back on track.
Marian:             Are there any cases where you’ve helped businesses reconnect with key values they’ve lost touch with?
Alan:                  Many. As an example, we usually ask for what the organization would consider charter documents: employee handbook, mission statements, vision statements, value statements, et cetera. It’s not at all uncommon that those have lost their vibrancy. They may exist, they may be on the conference room wall, but you quickly learn when you talk to employees that the values are no longer active and dynamic. Part of our job is to reacquaint them with the very things that they say publicly, that they still believe in.
Nancy:               Unless you are consciously trying to breathe life into that vision all the time – making sure that it meets on the ground with decisions and plans that are being made, that it’s woven into the jobs that people do, that they see the connection between the vision and the tasks they do daily – then that vision morphs into a public relations piece.
Alan:                  It’s not uncommon to hear people say, “Gee, it was real different when we were just starting. When we were small. When we could all get together in one break room and talk about why we exist.” As Mark was saying, back then they knew what their contribution was all about. As organizations grow and become more complex, often the focus shifts.
Marian:             Right. Knowing that history, keeping that institutional memory alive and alert to today’s challenges – does that play a role in reconnecting what’s done on the front lines and those platitudes hanging on the boardroom wall?
Mark:                 Not on its own, but your phrase “playing a role” is important. When an organization sees  the continuity of past to what it’s trying to be on into the future, that’s important.
Alan:                  One of the things we find so intriguing about our business is that people can live with amazing disconnect. They can go through daily lives with all kinds of notions of their purpose and not realize that they have become very secondary to the functioning of the organization and are almost totally ignored in terms of discourse, in terms of what they’re doing and where they’re going. Companies that have that history are much easier to challenge. We ask: “Are you aware that you’re living with some Dead Sea Scrolls that are wonderful in content but useless in terms of dynamic?” Almost always companies tend to respond harmonically, saying, “You’re right. We need to revisit who we are and why we’re here.” So having that history at that point becomes very useful.
Nancy:               Part of the founder’s gift to an organization is to make clear the basic values and vision. For one thing, that helps the organization identify future leaders. One point we really try to get across to people right from the very beginning is that leaders are creating culture every moment of every day. Usually unconsciously! What we try to get them to understand is that the more consciously an organization can create culture, the more it can describe and work together on the culture, the better off it will be. We help them create a “true north” for the organization on its compass into the future. We always tell organizations, it’s like a dog chasing a scent. You don’t smell the scent and then zoom straight to the goal. You wander off. I’m mixing my metaphors, but anyway, when you have that true north that you can course-correct.
Alan:                  Some organizations have no sense of history. They have a history, of course, and it certainly influences who they are today, but they operate without that knowledge. Others maintain kind of a reverence, a respect, a regard for their history and that informs their knowledge.
Nancy:               Here’s an interesting example. A human services organization with a few hundred employees, a client we’ve been engaged with on and off for 12 years, asked us to put together an overview presentation. How did all the things we’ve worked on in that time period fit together? As an organization, they’ve grown greatly in size and complexity during those years. For many people, the overview was very enlightening. Newer employees saw a history for the first time. Even long-time folks realized the connections. Some people who had been there the whole time even said, “I have never been able to articulate this until you connected it.” So I can see where connecting all those dots, as does, can be very useful.
Marian:             Right. Every company has a narrative. When you see only the individual pieces, you don’t see the bigger picture. Or you lose sight of it. Our engagements with clients often start when someone calls and says: “Our founder is 80 now and no one remembers what he remembers.” Or: “The people who originally worked here are getting older. When they go, that institutional knowledge will disappear.” Yes, it will, unless you take steps to capture it.
Nancy:               After a certain point, it’s not re-capturable.
Marian:             Without being morbid about it, we say, “Try to do those oral history interviews now, even if you don’t do anything with them right away. They’ll have a whole different meaning five, 10, 15 years from now, when nobody will remember what these folks remembered.” It’s interesting, too that you’ve worked with that client for 12 years. As your book says: “Eschewing quick-fix solutions, Hanging the Mirror does not aim to be an easy read.” Same goes for writing corporate histories. I often tell clients, “Your history took decades to develop; you can’t unearth it and understand it overnight.” 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Standard & Poor Dow Jones Indices: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

The Dow Jones averages date to 1882, when Charles Dow and Edward Jones created an index for tracking the performance of large, publicly traded companies on Wall Street. It was the first attempt to create a benchmark for comparing individual stocks to the course of the stock market, or comparing the course of the stock market to other economic indicators. Today Standard & Poor Dow Jones Indices (majority owned by McGraw-Hill Financial) publishes over 830,000 indices for various segments of the market. The main About Us page is here.

Our Commandment 7 of About Us pages is “Remember to keep navigation easy”: the Dow Jones sites need work here, we assume because they've grown over time without a thorough revamp. When we first looked for an About Us page for the Dow, we found the site for the Dow Jones Indices and the site for the Dow Jones Averages. We found a timeline that only covered 1997-2012. We found contact links that spun us around until we were completely discombobulated. Then, buried in the Company Profile page on the DJ Indices site, we found a link for the Standard & Poor Dow Jones Indices main page, whose About Us page we’re evaluating today.

Products/Services: A+
The Our History page has a brilliant graphic of the Dow Jones average from the early 20th century to the present, with annotations above and recognizable images for decade after decade filling the area below the line of the graph. This is one of the most appealing and useful graphics we've seen for a long, long time, on an About Us page or anywhere else.

Also far above average is the Awards page. Each award has not only the name and logo of the presenting organization, but a summary of what the award was given for.

The Our Mission page is slightly less appealing. The text is well written, but the video that appears above the fold and runs automatically doesn't add substantially to it. We appreciate the effort of researching archival photos of people at work in the stock market, but the interesting dates fly by too fast, and the plummy British accent of the narrator is jarring for a company that has always been headquartered in New York’s Financial District.

Accessibility: C
The Contact Us page gives access to locations worldwide. Nothing special, but adequate.

Personality: C
Management Profiles presents the leaders of the company: name, title, photo, a one-line job description, and a link for more information. Again, this is adequate but not innovative. Surely some of these people have quotable opinions on why the Dow Jones indices are important and what direction the company should be heading.

Have someone from outside your company look at your site periodically to see if its content and navigation are still cohesive. This is especially crucial if you’re running several related sites. And add a dose of corporate storytelling. Surely someone at S&P Dow Jones can excavate a few business stories and lessons learn from a company that has been a fixture for 131 years, one whose name is the business equivalent of a household word.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). To talk about your About Us page, contact us!
Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Joys of Ephemera

Ephemera! As a corporate history writer and publisher, it’s one of my favorite resources. I even did a YouTube video on the uses on ephemera in business history celebrations. Delighted to pass along the news that The Library Company of Philadelphia and The Ephemera Society of America will join forces to present “Unmediated History: The Scholarly Study of 19th-Century Ephemera” on September 19-20 at the Library’s premises on 1314 Locust Street in Philly--a history-loving city that's always worth a visit.
Ephemera from's
history of Sandvik in the US
(courtesy of Sandvik)

The conference “seeks to further acknowledge and promote printed and graphic ephemera not only as sources of striking illustrative images, but also as primary evidence in the reconstruction of popular movements and visual cultures.” Business travel makes it impossible for me to attend, but I hope you can do so. To learn more about the conference, click here. The Library Company asks that you register for the event. For questions, call them at 215-546-3181 or e-mail Alison McMenamin there. 

Dictionary definition of ephemera, courtesy of Merriam-Webster: "paper items (as posters, broadsides, and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles."

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Play about publishing misses the mark

I so wanted to like "Stop.Reset," the new play by Regina Taylor at Signature Theatre. Best I can say is that it's a noble failure.

Playwright Regina Taylor.
Courtesy of Signature
This play promised to tackle subjects that matter to me deeply. It's set in an old-fashioned publishing company that's adrift in the sea change affecting printed books. Hey, I work in that business -- writing and publishing history books, specifically corporate histories -- and in many aspects of my life, “memory is my theme” (to quote the great Evelyn Waugh). Further, I'm kindly disposed to almost any kind of workplace drama.

Sadly, "Stop.Reset" is full of forced plot turns and generalities. They characters live in Chicago and are surprised that it's snowing. There's no hint of which great books or authors this house published; if they were as renowned as we're asked to believe, they'd at least have a solid backlist.  The so-called savior, "J" (gee, what might that stand for?), is as lost as the rest of this fictional bunch of characters. Applause at the preview I attended was ... polite.

Tip-offs for trouble were apparent upon walking in: the playwright is also the director, and the set was surrounded with visual projections to the point of clutter. By the end of the play, I felt sorry for the actors. They're excellent and they work so hard at an incoherent script. (A fond shout-out to Carl Lumbly, whom I've admired since his "Cagney and Lacey" days.) 

"Stop.Reset" reminded me of the ill-conceived play "Y2K" by Arthur Kopit in 2000 and an even sadder effort by Elaine May, "After the Night and the Music," in 2004. Both of these fine playwrights felt they had to write about technology, a subject they clearly weren't comfortable with. It was like making Tony Bennett sing rock-and-roll.

At any rate, it'll be interesting to see the reviews when "Stop.Reset" opens on September 8.

Dale Carnegie: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Dale Carnegie, a poor farm boy from Missouri, began offering courses in public speaking and human relations in 1912. In 1936, he published How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of the best-selling self-help books ever. Today the company he founded is headquartered in Happauge, New York, with franchises in over 80 countries. More than 8 million people have completed Dale Carnegie Training. The company’s About Us page is here.


Products/Services: A+
The top-notch Press page opens with “Latest News”: recent stories that refer to the Dale Carnegie course or cite the company’s leaders. Each item includes a line or two of the text, a link to the full story, and occasionally a thumbnail image. This is an excellent way to illustrate the pervasive influence of Dale Carnegie. (The same headings and links are wisely reused below the left-hand navigation menu on all the About Us pages.) Separate options under “Press” link to company press releases and a press kit. We have rarely seen’s Commandment 4 of About Us pages, “Don’t take your own name in vain,” done so well.

Just having a page called 100 Years in the navigation menu serves as a reminder of the company’s longevity. The layout and content of the page are also top notch. Above the fold is a changing display that serves as a visual menu of choices: look at Dale Carnegie publications, join its social network, listen to testimonials. Immediately below is a link to Tips, a page that offers downloads of 100 tips each for leadership, communication and success. Offering high-quality free material is one of the best ways to collect names for your mailing list. The 100 Years page ends with two pithy paragraphs on the company’s origin and principles and the company timeline.

This timeline, which also appears on the History page, is one of the few items on the Dale Carnegie About Us pages that doesn't work well. It’s a video that requires Flash, so the content will be inaccessible to many users of phones and tablets. The format is truly awful. Even when viewed on a large monitor the timeline wobbles along, without any way to pause it or to see more than one segment at a time. This format is far less useful and informative than an old-fashioned illustrated table would have been.

Another excellent feature is the Clients page, prominently featured on the About Us submenu. It lists hundreds of illustrious clients sorted by industry. Even without testimonials, the names make it clear that many successful companies find Dale Carnegie courses invaluable.

Personality: D
We tried but failed to find a page devoted to the leaders of the Dale Carnegie organization: a bizarre oversight in a company whose business is training leaders. The closest we come to seeing management is the Chairman of the Board / CEO’s photo on the first of the Careers pages.

Even more peculiar: we found no page on Dale Carnegie! What a missed opportunity to use corporate storytelling to show the value of Dale Carnegie techniques. A brief paragraph about the founder appears on the aforementioned wobbly Timeline as the 1888 entry (his birth year), but you can’t pause it long enough to read it well. Worse, the photo looks as if it was taken 100 years later. Very confusing.

Accessibility: C
The Contact Us page (reached via a link at upper right) is an online form for having a representative contact you. For those seeking information about local franchises, a direct link to the Worldwide Locations page would be helpful.

Give visitors the best possible current information about your company, but don’t miss the obvious: If your company bears the founder’s name, then the About Us pages should tell his story, too.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). To talk about your About Us page, contact us!
Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.