The Secret to Making a ‘Magic’ Organization

Two Keys to Exceptional Performance

Some organizations simply seem to prosper without trying. They have the Midas touch. They just seem, well… Magic. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a small business that has captured the market in your town, or a large multinational whose presence has swelled across the globe.

The roots of exceptional, sustainable success are usually the same from sports to business to personal achievement. Individuals wanting to build exceptional organizations follow the same principles of being exceptional that anything else does. Continue reading

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Top 10 Managers You Don’t Want to Be Like.

You Wanna Work for Me?

Hey, You Wanna Work for Me?

See this guy?  He was a manger of a fairly big operation.  Quite successful too (if you judge success on cajoling people into coughing up their dough and making shady deals… which some of you might).

The problem with his management style was the “success at all costs to everyone else” approach, which ultimately and ironically cost him everything.

Two questions every manager ought to consistently ask themselves: Continue reading

3 Simple Steps to a Prosperous Business

I read a great post by Steve Woodruff about businesses that get lost in the crowd.  It’s tongue-in-cheek, funny and sadly accurate. Here is my response:

Steve, great points. I think you nailed it. But you and I both know that for the myriads of businesses that fall underneath this sad banner that you have so simply illustrated, it’s not that simple.  Why?

Why is it that even though we know we should practice “opposite day” to everything you’ve mentioned, we still fall short?  What’s missing?  What’s the secret sauce?  What do I need to know?  Tell me! Ahhhhh! (read screaming, fingers in hair and running away while wiggling the elbows).

Too many businesses set “money” as their number one goal, and since there are so many ways to make money, it’s not enough to provide clear direction for management, decision-making and especially branding.  They need to rethink the core of the organization.  For the majority of small businesses in the United States, that means the core character or identity of the individual business owner.  For large firms, it’s the “Holy We” management team that serves as the core group of the organization.

Organizations that have lost sight of “who they are” cannot articulate their unique contribution to the world, let alone the target market.  Branding becomes a logo, sales fall into the price/promotion cycle, any business is good business and before they know it, they are commoditized and done.  In standing for everything, they have stood for nothing and become what they stood for.

The fact is: Many organizations fail. Most businesses that start in the U.S. fail. Many other types of organizations eventually fall out of favor with their members and are thus disbanded.  How do we find and keep our identity while prospering as a business or other organization?  Here are three thoughts:

1. Don’t let your product or service become your purpose. All great organizations have a purpose (and making money isn’t it).  Since a brand is a reflection of who you are and the relationships you have with stakeholders, GET CLEAR ON WHO YOU ARE and then figure out the products and services necessary to sustain it.  Don’t let the products define the organization.

2. Make everyone a brand manager.  That “who you are” determines the direction of your organization’s brand. Hiring people who “don’t get what you’re about” only sets you up to have your products, and your brand, prostituted at the moment someone starts looking out for numero uno (themselves). Help people feel responsible for the brand and they will defend it from desperate decisions.

3. Don’t sell anything.  A “Man (person) convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”.  Chasing the ambulance and pushing product will get some sales, but it’s not going to build long-term, sustainable revenue generation.  In the information-rich and advocacy-intensive social networks that permeate today’s purchasing processes, the best thing you can do is build strong relationships. 

Do these three things and the relationships you build will reflect the brand you want and the products will sell themselves.

3 Golden Rules for Success in 2011

The Golden Rule

I’ve been thinking about what we can do in 2011 to make our organizations more resilient and more prolific when it comes to building smart social and economic ecosystems. When I started to write this post, I thought that I had found the answer in the “Golden Rule” – the maxim of doing to others what we’d want them to do to us if we were in their shoes.  But as I think about it now, the Golden Rule  just may be the line of thinking that is getting us into trouble.  Often, by building organizations according to what we want, we create systems, processes and relationships that actually stand in the way of our long-term success, rather than facilitating it.

Here are three ways to turn the Golden Rule on its head and produce sustainable, mutually beneficial results.

1. Forget about yourself. Think about this in terms of customer interaction, marketing campaigns and acquisition strategies:  How many are designed more for the marketers than for the customers? I’d like to see a number for that, because I have sat through more pitches and plans and messaging schemes whose major quality check was a “Do you like it?” or “Whaddaya think?” aimed at the management team.  No matter how much industry experience you have, no matter how long you’ve ‘led’ in your organization, the things that drive you in your work are not necessarily the same things that drive your customers to buy your product, service or your leadership. Basing your actions on the assumption that you are the same as your customers is naive, at best.

This same thinking can lead us to erroneously go about leading others at work, home or hobby.  Individuals that embark on leadership practices because they themselves feel good about the implementation of such are missing out on developing the needed characteristics required to accomplish repeated extra-ordinary results. Simply put, you may sit in your castle thinking that you’re loved, all the while the villagers are collecting torches and sharpening their pitch forks.  This is especially poignant in the family.

2. Find out who the real relationship should be with. The reason why the situation mentioned  above is so prevalent in every organization throughout the world is because most of us work in management systems and styles that drive us to focus on our individual customer (the person that is signing off on our performance evaluation and employment) rather than the organization’s customer (the one’s who evaluate our companies with their patronage).  I would venture that the positive momentum of potential in an all-too-many organizations is often critically reduced by the need for the majority of employees to serve “up the chain” in their jobs.  Energy directed up an organizational chart is most certainly lost on already understrength lateral connections with customers.

The reality of work is that our first priority is to keep our jobs, and the income they provide. The customers often get left in the dust, whether they be purchasers of goods or subordinates of a manager. With everyone supporting Adam Smith’s theories, we’re left to wonder who will look up and see the long-term need to sustain the greater organization.

“Determining who the ‘real’ relationship should be with” is more about keeping a conversation going on what’s most important to the organization, than it is about strategizing office politics (a.k.a. covering your rear end).  That said, if you have formal authority, be aware of your current management practices and their potential to subdue the relationships that pay the bills of the place that pays your bills. That will take some practice. Pay attention to what you do and how you do it and how it impacts the entire organizational system.

3. Do unto them what THEY want you to do unto them. This is the third spot where the Golden Rule can mess us up. We’ve all heard, read and probably even said that our customers don’t care about our business, just what we can do for them.  Well, if that’s true, then why are companies executing on sales programs designed to make themselves feel better rather than doing what their customers (and all of us, really) want: building strong relationships of respect by listening to understand (This is exactly what is at the heart of Alan Belniak’s recent post, when he mentions ’empathy’ as a tool to stand out from the competition).

Oh yeah, I know it sounds touchy-feely, but marketers must realize that our current financial crunch is reforming old spending habits, and now-tight budgets will evolve into prudent financial discipline.  The wild west of check-writing is gone. People actually want to know that where they are spending their time and money will pay off. Can you believe it?!

Be interested in your customers – the game is changing.  The future value-center of the organization will not be the catalog lists of merchandise or services, but the relationship-building practices it institutionalizes as part of its culture.  In a networked world, our expanding circle of connections and rekindled ‘friending’ will actually narrow our range of most-trusted relationships, through which we will source the majority of our needs.

What this means to you: You need to keep a job both now and in the future. That means effectively managing the needs of your customers and your organization’s customers. If your boss really wants you to deliver something that might not add value to, or resonate with the ultimate end-user, then find a way to have the conversation about which customers are the top priority and find a process to help you focus on them (and think about the outcomes of that conversation on your long-term work prospects).

What this means to your organization: Most of us are working somewhere where process is more historical than rational.  Sustainable organizations will examine and challenge their own processes and focus continually. Look for opportunities to go lean. Think ‘direct communication’. Set-up systems that prevent ‘boss-worship’ and reward the living of company values.  And, realize that constituents of leaders in organizations ARE your number one customers – if they don’t show up for work, the other customer needs will never get met.

10 Lessons on Business from General Custer

How to Avoid Your Own Last Stand.

With the recent story breaking about the Flag from Custer’s last stand selling at $2.2 million, I found some great “lessons learned” that can help us to avoid his same mistakes, whether it be on a literal battlefield or in the market of competition in business and career.

At the same time, let’s not forget that failure is an integral part of success, when it’s reviewed, digested and used to actually shape future decisions.  I was once told by a successful entrepreneur that the best way to have a successful business is to fail at three others.

So what can we learn from the Battle of the Little Big Horn to help us avoid our own ‘last stand’?  Here is my every day interpretation of 10 reasons why Custer was defeated.

  1. Never act alone.  Leaders never succeed by themselves. Leverage the support, resources and wisdom of those around you.
  2. Avoid professional and organizational fatigue.  There is nothing like driving so hard for an objective, only to achieve a Pyrrhic victory. Remember, man was not made for business, but business was made for man.
  3. Harness the power of focus.  Multitasking is a farce. Don’t spread yourself or your organizational energy too thin.  Focus everything on what’s most important, knock it out, then move on to the next most important goal.
  4. Expect everything – that way you will always get what you expected.  Somewhere, there is a kid with a laptop starting a business that will blow you out of the water if she gets the chance.
  5. Don’t get outnumbered. Keep your networks and circles of influence growing. In this increasingly networked world, you draw instant power from your ability to move thousands through social media.
  6. Don’t ignore the advice of others, especially your customers and constituents. Build your own meta-knowledge.
  7. Never go up against someone named ‘Crazy Horse”. It just sounds suicidal to begin with.
  8. Fight every battle like it’s your last stand. It just might be.
  9. Be determined. No matter the circumstances that face you, remember the Stockdale Paradox.
  10. You can never have too much information; about the customer, about the competition, about the performance of your product or service, about your own people and your own organization.
Don’t underestimate others.

Be More Successful -> More ‘Professional’

Over the past twenty years, there has been an occasion where I have been accused of not being professional (usually when someone is suffering deep emotional problems). Worse, I have myself thrown the term out to describe someone else’s behavior (I have always been mentally stable). I don’t even know what “professional” means. I do get paid – isn’t that professional? Let’s put it this way: In the good old days, I wouldn’t have been able to go to the business olympics – only amateurs were allowed (and while my performance may be amateur, I have been paid on numerous occasions for my athletic acts of business which is a clear violation of both old-school olympic and current NCAA standards. Though I don’t have enough tattoos to make any NCAA team nowadays, even women’s soccer.).

Let’s face it: appearance matters. And while I do mean the way you look, I don’t just mean the way you dress and do your hair. The way you appear to others makes a difference. (oh yeah, I finally found a description for ‘professional’).

Back in the tumultuous aftershock of 9/11, I was stuck trying to save my own business and looking for work at the same time. I got pretty good at interviewing (either for a new client or a new job), and learned a valuable lesson: It’s not so much what you say, but how you say it. In other words, my verbal appearance made a huge difference when interviewing. Time after time I was able to win positions or contracts (before they were frozen due to the economic hit) by my ability to answer questions freely, non-chalantly, and completely. It was my ability to communicate that made others think, “This guy is sharp, we should seriously consider him” (suckers).

Now obviously, you have to be able to produce good work for your charade to be fruitful in the long run. If you’re interviewing, you need to have the right resume in the first place to get very far, but in the end, I believe its one’s ability to communicate effectively that determines, to a large extent, where their career goes.

Communicate with words. Communicate with physical appearance. Communicate with personal style and with business results.

Photo by S. Diddy

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.