6 posts categorized "August 2013"

August 28, 2013

This Is the Only Way Your Company Has A Fighting Chance

A few weeks ago, I retweeted this Mark Cuban Twitter update:

I connected with what he was saying, and how important it is for us to progress past "what's been working so far." Too many leaders (and their manager minions) challenge new ideas, where offering up a new way is like playing whack-a-mole...where the creative thinker is the mole!

One editor at a highly prestigious publication responded to Mark, of course, with an edit: "Sometimes."  His point, I guess, was that conventional wisdom is usually tried-and-true to the situation since it is, ahem, convention.  But his response also echoes the sentiments of leaders everywhere.  The Status Quo doesn't have an image problem.  It believes that only rarely is "the new way" the best solution.  

These are the new battle lines: Almost Always VS Sometimes.  The Almost Always leader (a new way is Almost Always better) believes that we should constantly question how things are done and what's worked up until now.  They are vigilant when it comes to being ahead of the curve.  They like to hire (younger) smart people, who've shown that they can think outside the lines when stuck pursuing a worthy goal.  The Almost Always leader creates a culture where innovation is king, and agility is a habit and not just a response to crisis. 

The Sometimes leader (a new way is Sometimes better) believes that there should be a presumption against change.  They are quick to trot out historical turkeys when faced with a challenge to convention--especially if it comes in the form of a novel idea, which requires a change in the rules.  They like to hire people with quotable resumes, a willingness to fit in and a tendency to support the system above all else.  The Sometimes leader creates a culture where process is king, and the top goal is to "not blow it" or to "let the cowboys take over."  

Guess which company is RIM/Blackberry VS which company is Google?  Guess which company is Tesla VS which company is GM?  Guess which company is Facebook VS which company is Kodak? 

The cycle of disruption is getting tighter every year, where conventional wisdom transmutes into head-in-the-sand thinking.  What worked like a charm a few years ago, clunks along in last place today where the consumer is more mobile, agile and hostile to his grandfather's solution.  

Even if you have an Almost Always leadership style, that doesn't mean you are creating an anything goes culture. In the case of Google, it's mantra was "Do Epic Shit".  There are still many steps that a new way must take to get from the whiteboard to the field.  It has to find a tribe.  Then it needs legal or the department of comportment to sign off.  Then it usually needs money, and often, cannibalization of an existing cash calf (which used to be the cash cow).  Those "gates" often shut down new ideas even in the most innovative cultures.  

But at least, if the presumption was in favor of a new way, your leadership style just might create a climate where your talents bring their ideas to work, and fight for the company to stay relevant.  If you have a Sometimes leadership style, that's one gate too many for almost any new idea to get through.  If your presumption is for the Status Quo, your company doesn't have a chance ... barring throwing out its leadership ... to compete for the future.   

This jives with what I've learned from author Bill Jensen (Disrupt!): "Your company isn't disrupted.  Your eco-system is disrupted by a more agile culture."  And when the culture smells stale, that fish stinks from the head! 

August 21, 2013

Few Want To Buy From A Stuffed Suit, So Be Creative


If you are a creative person, don’t hide this fact in your sales life.  No one gets up wanting to buy something from a stuffed suit.  They’d love to do business with an artist who also sells or delivers a world-class product.

You don’t need to stifle creative endeavors in your life.  They are your greatest assets for solving the deal.  For those of you sneaking off to write music, capture breath-taking photos, paint or draw…I’ve got a message for you.  You are successful because of your creative tendencies and not despite them.

For too long, I segregated Tim the sales guy from T.S. the lead singer in a rock band.  Several of my bosses thought they conflicted with each other, and encouraged me to leave them behind along with my youth.  They were dead wrong.  When I proudly took my artsy ways to work, and applied to complicated situations, the difficult became easy (and remarkably fun).  As one of my mentors told me back in the day: Integrity is when you are singing the same song on the outside as you are on the inside. 

Integrity sells.  People gravitate to the real, from what they watch on TV to whom they invite over for burgers on a spare Sunday.  No one wants to journey with a conflicted soul.  They want to do business with the real deal: brimming with passion, but fueled by a unified purpose you can smell.  You aren’t a good enough actor to fake it…especially with the customers you respect the most.    

Bring creativity to work.  Let your freak flag fly.  Walk it past product and marketing, dropping off a little in legal and finance.  Make sure it ends up, with your backpack, in the sales department.  The next time you are in the field, be creative when it comes to helping your customer succeed at doing business with you.  Be a little foolish.  Don’t be afraid to tinker with the system.  Cajole your hot prospect to do the same, for the sake of the future.  No one is married to the structure, just the outcome. 

You’ll not only solve-the-deal, you’ll find rays of joy at work.  Yeah.  Not just with the pitch, but also in the stitching of the enterprise: Where budget, procurement, policy and ambiguity collide to create barriers to all but the imaginative.  You will stand out as a creator in a world of funnel squeezers.  Your passion will trump their closing skills (which are more manipulative than creative).  You’ll bring your customers with you, enriching their lives at the same time.

And they will remember you.  They will want to introduce you to their friends and even their boss.  You aren’t just money.  You are fiscal fun. 

August 16, 2013

What Industry Leaders Can Learn From Kendrick Lamar

Earlier this week, a bombshell hit the hip-hop community when Kendrick Lamar unleashed a no-holds-barred calling out of several prominent contemporary rappers as well as the NY rap community.  It was the hottest topic for a few days on Twitter and had everyone from sports to politics weighing in. 

Some of the artists he called out were understandably miffed, but many of them have remained silent.  One of them (Wale) was actually honored that he made the list worthy of bashing.  Who got really steamed?  All the other rappers Kendrick failed to call out.  They are ticked off! 

Why am I writing about it?  I, like Kobe, Russell Simmons and a few others, think it was a GOOD thing for the genre that Kendrick promised to bury them and make their core audience forget about them for producing such banal product.  He raised the bar.  



But still, he's surely glad he did it and I am too.  Rap will have a new sense of vitality that we haven't seen since 2Pac and Biggie Smalls had their beef.  (Note: Due to Kendrick's immaturity, he also made a mistake: He announced that he was 'the king of New York' which elicited ire from the community and a scolding by none other than Coach Phil Jackson. This proves you need to stop short of arrogance when challenging your industry colleagues to do better.)

I'd like to see Johnny Ive drop some science on device and electronics makers (except Samsung).  I'd like to see Richard Branson unleash a rap of fury, promising to ground all the major airlines with his hyper-focus on the  customer-experience, making all of us forgo our frequent flyer miles to fly with Virgin. 

I'd like to see Elon Musk call out Detroit, Toyota and a few other auto makers for their lack of imagination and/or style.   I'd like to see Tony Hsieh thrown down against online retailers that can't or won't deliver happiness.  And so on.  

In each case, the response may very well be negative at first, with those left out replying first (that was the case with Kendrick's rap) and then those called out feeling the pressure, and likely stepping up their game to truly compete.  

Things have gotten far too civil in business these days, as everyone seems to be afraid to directly call out their competitors for the sake of improving the entire industry.  In fact, I've got some studio time booked to cut my own rap, which will call out several author/speakers I know.  Here's a sample: 

"I'll bury you with my takeaways, next year you'll have 350 free days..." 

I'm no stranger to employing a rap to make my point.  A decade or so ago, I made this video to challenge the Yahoo sales team to do a beter job learning their customer's business.  And it worked! 


August 13, 2013

How To Use Twitter To Improve Your Conference or Event

Last Friday, I spoke at an event in Chicago.  Afterwards, on the way to the airport, I checked the hashtag conversation to see how I did, and to answer tweets from the crowd. It's exciting to know that you can get these insights so quickly!  

As I combed through the conversation, I wondered whether the event owner or his staff were combing through these tweets too.  Which led me to think a little about the value of Twitter for creating more effective meetings.  For the last year, I've been speaking to audiences about how social media is the ultimate listening post for brands and service providers.  Modern markets are connected conversations, where the players improve by tuning into it. 

For anyone hosting a meeting (or needing it to be successful), Twitter can help you analyze how well your speakers or panels are connecting with your influencers, early adopters and Gen Y'rs. Here's what you can do to take advantage of it: 

* Start The Conversation Early - Pick the hashtag for your event, and keep it short.  Likely, it will be the letters for your conference and the two digit number of the current year.  This year's Association of General Contractors meeting should pick #AGC13, for example.  Promote your hashtag on the event website, in registration acknowledgements and event reminders.  Post Twitter updates to the hashtag to get the ball rolling, increasing their frequency closer to the event.  

* Promote The Hashtag At the Event - The more you promote it, the more people participate, and if you reach a tipping point, you may be 33-50% of your entire attendees chirping in.  Embed the hashtag and the Twitter logo in Power Point templates as well as signage, and announce it during housekeeping remarks.  When I speak, that's my 2nd slide!  During the event, tweet out quotes from speakers and don't forget to include the hashtag.  If you want to elicit the Jumbotron effect, project the hashtag stream on one or both of your screens (like the image above). 

* Setup Your Monitoring Dashboard (Alerts) - Personally, I prefer Hootsuite as a free service to monitor Twitter conversation.  Setup a hashtag stream to track all mentions of the event hashtag.  You can setup up to 10 streams to monitor various keywords or phrases.  Use a few of them to capture conversations about your company, association, full event name and keynote speakers (or your CEO, if she's presnting).

* Jump Into the Fray - At event breaks, be there to retweet or favorite updates.  Interact directly with anyone having a bad time, but don't necessarily try to settle debates about the content or anything sensitive.  The more you participate, the wider the conversation grows, which can increase demand for next year's event. 

* Look For Engagement Levels, Not Survey Results - Since this isn't the entire audience, I'm not suggesting you decide on the event or a speaker's success by the thumbs up or thumbs down sentiment on Twitter.  Most of it will be positive, unless one of your speakers or meals is a bomb. And in that case, you'll appreciate how Twitter makes it real-time, so you can do something about it! In general, look for engagement levels.  Which parts of your meeting had the most buzz? What points resonated the most with the attendees? What were the hottest issues?  Did anyone speak to crickets? Why? 

One other note: Ask your guest speakers, sponsors and vendors to chip into the conversation as well. They want more followers, so it's a win/win/win.  This will expand the conversation even wider, and perhaps, create more direct connections with the audience and everyone involved in it. 


August 06, 2013

Don't Use Email As Your Shield, Pick Up the Phone!

About eight years ago, while working at Yahoo!, I developed a few rules of email etiquette.  Too many of our team mates were misusing email, or applying it in emotional clumsy ways.  Tempers flared, and I had to put out fires.

It was a unique problem to this generation, where email became 75% of all communications inside & outside the company.  The more we used it without any guidance, the more we abused it. 

When I taught new hires or coached sales execs, I always issued what I call "Rule Number One: Don't Use Email To Give Bad News."  By that I mean that email is a horribly ineffective communication channel when it comes to conveying your intentions.  Too often, when someone gives you blunt criticism over email, it makes you steam...but in person, you'd be OK. 

Even worse, email promotes cowardice at work.  People will send me emails that contain language they'd never say to my face.  I think some people are as brave behind their laptop as my poodle is behind a plate glass window!  As times goes on and the GenY, "I don't believe in real time" ethos sets in...expect email to be the bearer of bad news...and negative emotions.

The key then is to pick up the phone or have a face-to-face discussion when covering emotionally charged, personal or potentially negative issues.  As you'll see below, you are 500% times more effective over the phone than over email. 

Here's my full Rule Number One, from the Dirty Dozen Rules of Email Etiquette video training program I developed for companies.  (Email me if you'd like more information on bringing it to your company, we've got a great deal going between now and Labor Day.)

Don't Use Email To Give Bad News Or Criticism 

August 02, 2013

Why Being Injury Prone Can Kill Your Career

Show me a ball player who injured most of the time and I'll show you someone either on the trading block or moving towards retirement.  When someone develops a reputation for being injury prone, their stock plummets...along with their playing time.  

Why? After a few injuries, people begin to wonder whether you really want to play the game for better or for worse.  So many injuries are latent, and too often players take their time coming back from them.  While they are out, the seaons gruels on and other players covered for the injured reserve. And that doesn't build up trust. 

Now apply this to your worklife.  If you get your feelings hurt a lot at work, causing you to withdraw from projects or to give up on the task at hand, you'll eventually be the last person picked for a team.  If you are too easily exhausted by hard work, having to take off time to recoup, you won't be seen as a finisher that your colleagues can depend on.  And when times get tough, they'll only keep the strong.

In my career, I've prided myself on concealing injury and playing on.  This was instilled in me by my grandmother Billye, when she talked about succumbing to an emotional or phsycial injury as a public sign of weakness...and one step backwards. 

"A winner never quits, and a quitter never wins," she'd quote me, from the pages of Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich.  Then she'd apply it to my situation: "If you can't play through pain, how can you ever finish the season of life?  Why are are going to let your feelings get in the way of doing your job? Why would you quit on your friends that work by your side? Why does being sensitive make you management material?" 

Now, mind you, I'm an echo-boomer and she came from the GI Generation.  It's pretty natural that she would give me advice to buck up, never let 'em see me out of breath and play through the pain -- and I'd follow that prescription. For our current generation(s) of workers, that conversation is not as easy. X'rs and Y'rs grew up in a world where they were raised to protect their self-esteem and get out of a bad situation ... even if means quitting.

I believe there is a middle ground when it comes to the intangible injuries we often face at work. After all, it can be a contact sport as we deal with: Overbearing customers.  Relentless managers. Prima Donnas.  Bullies.  It's how we decide to respond to them that defines our sense of toughness.

If we elect to take them personally, cop to an injury and reduce our engagement level, we are letting them put us on the sideline.  We are shrinking to the situation.

While I am a ferverent proponent of standing up for youself, I recommend you do it from a position of strength, not pain.  Instead of letting your negative feelings (Sick & Tired Of This!) be expressed by your actions (dialing out), push back, then resume your efforts with an even keel.  If you need to, rely on your closest friends and family to hear you out, give you comfort, and keep it behind the firewall. 

Leaders are often picked because of their uncanny ability to recognize reality, but maintain hope. Where others melt down or shrink in the face of ignoble treatment and aggressive adversity, they stand tall, if not bruised.   Now you know their secret sauce.  They are winners.