Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Keeping Shtum!

Have you ever wondered whether information is 'so' important that by letting other people know would be so detrimental to your self or your company? There is an art with senior management, especially those with share-holders to answer to. It's all about 'keeping shtum'.

What usually happens is human. Our brains cannot contain information without passing it on. We'd forget it if we didn't. It's psychological. You have to hear the words come out of your own mouth in order for you to retain it. Bizarre to think about. We have to let it out to keep it in. But until we have put it in to our own words, we can't be sure that we have understood it and know what to do with it.

Directors can do this with each other, and can therefore be quite good at keeping shtum. Yet directors talk to more people than just themselves. They have to talk to, at the very least, senior management. Successful directors communicate with the entire company. But what happens next is a demonstration of ego. Taking on the role of director, knowing something that others do not, we would have to communicate it. It's almost as if knowledge was like a powerful gas - try to retain too much of it, add too much to the container, we'd, it, would explode!

There are ways of communicating what we know. Consciously and sub-consciously. Unfortunately for us humans, we can't do the one, without the other. It's in the way we look, the way we write, in the way we act and the way we say things.

My message to you could be: "I value you as a member of the team." Consciously, I know this is the message I should be giving to you. Sub-consciously I'm leaking what psychologists call 'Tells'. A quick look away during the moment as I'm saying this to you, a slight tremor in the voice, the amount of emphasis I put on certain words could give it all away. I'm not telling the truth. I don't value you. I don't recognise a team.

Psychologist and Author Peter Collett (of recent Big Brother fame as their resident psychologist), details in his book 'The Book of Tells' those tells that even the most respected figures give away. George W, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair. Political figure heads that must communicate to large audiences (to us all) and yet keep some important truths to themselves. They can't.

So how does this affect us in the business place. Naturally, if we believe we are bad communicators, we try not to communicate. We hide. If we believe we are good communicators, we stand on metaphorical soap boxes. In-between, we blend, we find our click, a social niche, and remain. We share our truths and untruths to those we know will not question our honesty.

Socially, finding our click is supportive. Professionally, this is exclusive. In business, we are thrown together to support one another's job roles. This isn't a social click, yet professionally, we label this a 'team'. To become a team, we will need to break down the boundaries of one another's resistance to being honest. This can often take a long time, and require specialist attention. Once it's there, it's amazing. It's as if it were a social click.

Unfortunately, even if we get it right in one part of the business, unless the company is dedicated to communication and team building, it's rarely the same in the rest of the business. You may have many 'teams', but rarely, one 'team'.

We can create these teams ourselves. We can also attempt creating 'one team' for the entire company. Yet when a company employs a hierarchy that wishes to support secrecy, it's a virtual impossibility to get the Directors or Senior Managers on board.

The most successful companies are quite open. They have hierarchies, this is not the problem. Yet these hierarchies have chosen to openly communicate decisions between the levels. This is often known as 'transparency'. No secrets need to be kept. There's nobody to keep it secret from. Big mergers and acquisitions are communicated long before they happen. Ruling out someone picking up on the tells and beginning to rumour-monger. How this is communicated is often subjected to the level of detail required to keep a team informed, but none-the-less, it quells any possible misinterpretations and keeps everyone in the picture.

Keeping shtum is unhealthy. In order for us to believe what we know, we have to share it. If we hide, when we're expected to be visible, then those around you, whether trained in reading tells or instinctively picking them up (as we do), they'll know. Without communicating, they'll expect the worst. After all, why would you want to keep something 'good' from anyone? You'd want everyone to know, surely? Without successful communication rumours will brew, and that's the point that morale begins to latch on, going down for the ride.


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    Computer News
    China's Google rockets on debut
    It was a remarkable debut. Chinese search engine Baidu.com's shares sold in the United States for US$27 ($39) - then surged on day one to close at US$122.54 ($177.46).

    Friday's result was the biggest first-day gain for a new listing in the US for five years.

    Investors had more than quadrupled their money.

    An analyst in New York with IPOdesktop.com, a website devoted to initial public offerings, John Fitzgibbon, said: "This one is the return to the internet bubble. Last time we saw a deal skyrocket was during the frothy IPO markets of 1999 and 2000."

    Then came the post-mortem.

    Some analysts said the internet search engine could have had an even better payday for itself if underwriters had sold the deal at a higher price to begin with.

    "It looks to me like the underwriters should have had a better indication of the appetite for this stock than they did," said Donald Straszheim, president of Straszheim Global Advisors.

    Investors were eager to own a stake in a company that many say could grow as dramatically as Google and is based in a country itself undergoing explosive growth.

    But other analysts are not so sure the underwriters made a mistake, given that the company's shares were priced at a relatively high multiple of revenues.

    "It wasn't priced out of line with the rest of the market. In a situation like this, you're dealing with the unpredictability of the after market," said Tom Taulli, of Instream Partners in Newport Beach, California.

    At issue is the underwriting process. Banks selling shares to the public - in this case Credit Suisse First Boston, Goldman Sachs, and Piper Jaffray - are paid to use quantitative models to determine a fair price for shares, but also to gauge investor demand.

    Underwriting has both subjective and objective elements, making definitive evaluation of a bank's performance difficult. In this case, demand for the IPO was evidently outsized, but so were the unknowns for the company.

    "We don't know the potential impact of censorship in China, or how quickly the internet will grow there," said David Menlow, president of IPOfinancial.com. Had the IPO been priced higher and then fallen in the first day of trading, investors could have sued.

    Baidu.com chairman and chief executive Robin Li, speaking on CNBC, said he was not upset by the potential lost proceeds of the IPO because the company had only sold a small portion of itself, and had significantly more growth ahead.

    But University of Florida Professor Jay Ritter, an IPO expert, said Baidu.com left money on the table by introducing the shares at a level well below where they ended hours later.

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