A Business Is Not What You Think It Is

Do you ever wonder how it is that work can be both fulfilling, and at the same instant be a source of stress, frustration and disappointment? Have you ever assumed an increase in responsibilities, thinking that you’re moving forward, only to find out that those responsibilities brought more difficulty than prestige and progression? What if I told you that it was your own fault, and you have been setting yourself up for that kind of experience for quite some time? Would you still talk to me? Well, it may be true. Continue reading

Out of Reach (and Out of Touch) Leaders

The number one question I am asked when working with mid-levels in leadership development programs is, “Has my manager been through this?”  That’s a sad indictment on the state of leadership within an organization.  Essentially, what employees are saying is that, “Boy, I wish my management lived these values and behaved in this ideal way!”  How is it possible that so many managers can be so clueless and far removed from the realities of the work and the people that they manage? Continue reading

A Voicemail I’ll Never Forget

Sometimes I get into a work mode where I am completely focused on churning out email responses to my workgroup, and it's usually late at night and I am just ripping through all the email that I received during the day:  read, decide on action, respond. read, decide on action, respond.  Thats when I usually send something sensitive to the wrong person (like when I hit reply instead of forward and sent it back to a key vendor, basically insulting them) or like last night, when I did one of those typos that actually works and changes the meaning of the entire message and sends one of my direct reports into a 15 minute panic state. The solution, for me as well as all of us, is to slow down, be intentional about our communication and not just haphazard, especially when we are using computer-mediated communication without all the voice tones, inflection, facial expressions and body language that help get our messages across the way we intend them.

But sometimes, even when we say the right thing, technology messes it up for us.  Like this past Thanksgiving, for instance.

You know that new technology that takes a voicemail and converts it into text in an email and sends it to your phone?  Well, my mother-in-law left a message for her son about Thanksgiving dinner, saying, "Dinner is at five, come over before whenever you want, we're going to play games and have snacks."   What ended up on his phone was, "Dinner is at five, come over before when ever you want, were going to play games and have sex."

Either way, it was a Thanksgiving to remember.

Creating a Social Media Strategy: Putting the Cart Before the Horse.

Don't rush into social media just because everyone else is.  Take the time to plan it out and be deliberate.

Don't rush into social media just because everyone else is. Take the time to plan it out and be deliberate.

Over the past couple of years, I have been an enthusiastic follower of social media communications in organizations.  As the wave of individuals have turned to popular applications and technologies to connect individuals and groups, businesses are finding the need to create new roles of tweeters, bloggers, posters and feeders, usually in an attempt to merely follow the competition.  But which of the competition really knows what they are doing? 

Social Media as a “Me-too” Strategy

I’m a lover of strategy, and as I search for social media strategies others are using, I see it following the likes of social media adoption: an all too often knee-jerk reaction to a developing eco-sphere of burgeoning online social activity, rather than a well-developed appendix to a communications strategy.  Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s great to develop a social media strategy, but there is a danger here in the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ it is formed: Any strategy for the sake of strategy, often becomes disparate from organizational purpose and sub-optimizes the whole.  Social media, and any strategy for that matter, simply needs to align with the larger purpose and vision of the organization / individual.  And, social media, having its own strategy, may be putting the cart before the horse.

A Purpose-driven Approach to Social Media Strategy

Most organizations need to back-up and first begin with the following:

 1.) The Relationships you’re building with Stakeholders. What are those relationships now and what do they need to become? Since really all social activities (and all organizations are social structures) begin and end with relationships, its critical to take stock in and inventory relationship gaps within and without the organization.  Most companies that I have been in (a fair amount) don’t even formally acknowledge who their key stakeholders are in the first place.  Take the leadership team through the process of working out and articulating these relationships, identifying their current state and their desired state.  Now you have something to work with.

2.) What is the Best Way to Build those relationships?  This question gives everyone a guideline and handrail to hold to and keep us directed as we work through the rest of the social media strategy process. Is it through insincerity?  Is it by being guarded and defensive?  Is it through telling too much or too little? Once you’ve identified the key relationships, simply have a discussion as a team about the best way to strengthen them.  Use experience from your own life about how your relationship was strengthened with organizations you patronize. Not every relationship needs to be at the same level, but discussing what principles impact the development of those relationships will put everyone on the same philosophical page about relationship building. 

3.) What Information, Exchanges, Experiences and Conversations need to take place in order for those relationships to foster? This is where you begin to design the messages or content from a high level.  Don’t wait for the moment to come later to have this discussion – get it out there on paper right now.  Let everyone look at it.  This will begin to tell you about your side of the relationship and how you can step up to the plate as individuals and as an organization.

  4.) How are we going to communicate with them to Best Facilitate it all? As you can tell, we haven’t even talked about social media at this point. This last question leaves us with the need to get clear on our communications strategy and planning ; social media, now that’s merely a channel for socializing your messages, a means for enabling your communications plan to be to actually communicate, from sending messages to receiving feedback.

Once you have a communications strategy, articulated and aligned, then you have the groundwork for clearly seeing the opportunities that social media can play in communication with your various stakeholder groups.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, what about the cool stuff – the facebook, twitter, digg, YouTube?” 

Again, don’t get caught up in the channels (or ‘means’) that the relationships (or ‘ends’) utilize.  Plan those channels just as you would any other. There is no quicker way to kill your brand than to whip out a social media strategy, open all channels of online social networking, and then find you’ve created a monster. Communications in web-based, open social circles can be like a prairie fire: a small spark can quickly rage uncontrolled, traveling faster than you can mobilize resources to contain it.  You put a message out there with one intent, and it can be quickly picked up and perceived as another, blown across a vast area, too fast for you to control it.  That said, don’t be afraid – be bold, be willing to be transparent and foster visionary leadership.

New to twitter? Good, now you know enough to kill yourself.

A long while back, my good friend took a class and earned his diving (SCUBA) certification. In his proud moment of achievement, his dad, an experienced diver, said to him, “Good. Now you know enough to kill yourself.” 

His dad knew that getting into the water and using technology to breathe in it did not make you a competent diver.  In fact, he knew that the false sense of security that most beginning divers have is what really ends up putting them in harm’s way.  I think this is where I throw the same advice for those of us hopping on Twitter (myself included).

“But wait”, you say, “What’s the danger?”  Simply put, it’s the same risk you take on all online, social media activities: reputation and brand management.  “Well, I don’t know, it doesn’t look so bad.  All I do is tell people what I’m doing, right?  Or Maybe I think of clever, witty things to say and that’s all I need, right?” Yeah, and then all your friends think you’re even weirder than before, or worse, you damage the image of your company.

Don’t forget that when you’re blogging, tweeting, commenting or rating, you are still communicating and sending a message out to the world.  Often, in this new era of burst communication and rapid response, we’ve lowered our standards of thinking through our communications to evaluate how they might be received or what other messages we may be unintentionally sending.

If you are tweeting, chirping, burping or blogging, consider the following:

If you are an Organization: You are either well-known, or you are not.  If you are well-known, you either rise to the expectations of your audience / stakeholders, or immediately tank in their perceptions and the entire effort ends up wallowing in a reputation recovery campaign.  If you are an unknown organization (and this applies just as much to a known organization), you are potentially creating a new voice and brand extension by tweeting, and that brand best be intentional and deliberate.  Your tweets and followers will not be many at first, and quite honestly, it’s really not how many followers you have, it’s how many readers you have.  Over time, if your value prop on Twitter is planned and managed as well as your value prop of anything else in your organization, then you will be able to leverage a good following in order to meet stakeholder needs.  Be just as careful launching on Twitter as you should with any other campaign.

If you are an individual:  You’re not expected to have a ton of value on Twitter, unless you’re famous.  Let’s face it, nobody is waiting to pay for text alerts or to log on and see what ‘John or Sally Doe’ has to say. You’re an unknown entity.  You are welcome to experiment, try it out and write boring stuff.  Of course, if you are a celeb, then telling people what you had for breakfast will have them on the edge of their wanna-be seats, waiting for more. Over time, you may want to figure out how Twitter fits into your communication needs and then use it for that purpose, rather than slobber all over the twittersphere for the rest of us to sort through. But if you are known, a name, a brand, then you have some expectations to live up to.  You don’t meet them, the egg – it’s on your face.

In short, now that you are set-up with an account and have sent a few tweets, you know enough to put your brand, image, product, service, personal name out there in an uncontrolled, unmediated environment.  Reputation will be formed, and not always as intentionally as you would like.  But if you at least have a clear objective or purpose for using Twitter, then it will more likely meet your needs, and hopefully the needs of others, and bring you and your followers some value.

Chirp, chirp.

If I have to choose, I’ll take no customer service

Not the kind of crowd a business needs on Saturday night.

Not the kind of crowd a business needs on Saturday night.

This is Hollywood video in my neck of the woods, on a Saturday night, about 6 pm. This is the time that the place should be full of people, grabbing their evening’s entertainment.  I don’t know if the picture shows just how large and empty the parking lot is, but there is nobody there.  No, it’s not closed.  It’s just not wanted any more. It’s paying the price of a rapidly outdated business model and ineffective customer relationships (do you see the link between the two?). Most businesses probably won’t realize that the latter feeds their ills, but in reality, it does.

Lets play a little “If you give a mouse a muffin”, an exercise in systemic thinking.

If your business model is stagnating, it’s probably because you are not keeping up with and thinking ahead of stakeholder needs. If you’re not keeping up with stakeholder needs, it’s probably because you are not communicating well with them. If you are not communicating well with them, you probably have ineffective customer relationships. And, of course, if you have that, then you have a declining business model. And the cycle continues.

I’m sure that 10 out of 10 marriage counselors will tell you that communication is the underlying cause for relationship failures.  Communication is not merely message-sending.  We’ve all met too many managers that think that just because they ‘told’ you, you should know.  Look how many businesses do the same with their customers.  There are strict guidelines, policies and corporate departments that drive and enforce branding. But behind the look and feel is the experience that really makes the brand.  And customer service is the front-line infantry in the war for acquisition, retention and loyalty.

So, we took this picture on our way to the redbox at the grocery store.  My wife looked at the Hollywood Video and commented that we could probably get a video there for free, and I replied that there was no way that I was going to go there (You see, we had a bit of a customer service experience there in the past and I decided then and there that I would never give them another dollar).  In complete agreement, she said,

“If I have to choose between no customer service and lousy customer service, I’ll take no customer service.”

And I echoed the thought.  I mean really, with no customer service from a machine, at least my expectations are met.  I’d rather meet my expectations than be let down.

10-20-30 Rule

Guy Kawasaki, famous for his book “Art of the Start”, talks about his 10-20-30 rule for pitching to VCs.  What I like about it is that its a simple rule for pitching… anything.  

Ultimately, anyone you are presenting to is going to be investing some sort of capital in you or your idea, even if its simply emotional or mental.  I can’t tell you how many organizations that I have been in where the culture was one of death by powerpoint.  The funny thing is that they all know its stupid and senseless, but nobody has the courage to break the cycle (ahhh, the importance of leaders stepping out and setting their people free).

Watch this and see what you can take away from this in principle to change and better your next slide show.