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One Moment More

One Moment More

It’s just enough to see a shooting star to know you’re never really far. It’s just enough to see a shooting star to know you’re never really gone.

In an article written by Tony Schwartz and published by Harvard Business Review, Schwartz addressed six “secrets” leaders need to know in order to create a culture of innovation. Schwartz points out that no company follows all six innovation secrets – and most aren’t able to even manage three of the six.

Wow!

You can read the article by clicking here.

The United States has been losing its innovation advantage for a couple of decades. Just look at the industries the U.S. once created and turned into multi-billion dollar businesses: automobiles, steel, medical devices, plastics…the list is long – but the staying power and leadership position the United States once held in these industries is gone. Why?

I believe much of the answer lies in Schwartz’s third and fourth secrets: Nurture Passion and Make the Work Matter.

In these two components to create a culture of innovation lies the secret sauce to most any successful organization: its people. But more than that, in nurturing passion and making the work matter, we see how critically important it is to not just employ bright, intelligent, hungry-for-success men and women, but to engage with them on a daily basis. When companies stop engaging with its people, de-valuing work, demanding more and more without adequate appreciation, recognition and, yes, compensation – its best and brightest people will exit the organization and find something better to do.

People want to feel engagement with the organization they work for and with sound engagement, your best people will do nearly anything to “get the job done” and exceed expectations at every turn.

So Mr. and Ms. Leader, it’s not enough to be engaged yourself. You must identify and prioritize how to engage with employees and create and maintain that passion for the work at hand. You must serve as the voice that explains to your people why the work matters — beyond the creation of shareholder value. Nurture passion. Create a connection to how and why the work matters. Every day.

If you manage to accomplish just two of the six secrets to creating a culture of innovation you’ll be a third of the way there. And, I predict, your team will help get the organization the rest of the way.

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Does your business maintain a YouTube channel? How about a Facebook page? Have you looked at them lately? Who’s minding your corporate reputation on these social media properties?

At coffee this morning with a friend and business associate, our conversation turned to digital media and the variety of improper uses companies allow in order to stand out on YouTube, Vimeo and other popular social sites. The pressure to do more than just have a presence is immense. Short videos displaying the benefits of new products and solutions are great. Celebrity spokespeople providing a reality-like testimonial for your thousands of Facebook fans — a marketer’s best dream. And if your company is lucky enough to have a video go viral the result can be felt on the Richter Scale. But what’s the impact on reputation when your latest social media campaign fails to follow branding guidelines, or worse, crosses a line from being edgy to having poor taste?

Case in point: A certain vodka manufacturer posted an ad on its Facebook page. The ad’s  photo and message had a clear connection with rape. Smart? Do vodka companies need to care that their social media outreach, targeting a 21 – 34 demographic, ultimately reaches mainstream audiences as well? Is the company risking a reputation backlash with a clever but ill-advised ad that generates tons of earned media coverage?

Of course!

So some words of caution to consider.

Monitor your organization’s YouTube and social media efforts.

Make sure a trusted communications leader scrutinizes your organization’s social media content before it gets posted.

If you pursue social media outreach, keep it up-to-date with frequent and timely posts, video and interactive content.

Corporate reputation takes years to establish, but can be blown apart with a 60 second video designed to create interest, be edgy or skewer the competition. Do you really want your reputation to be the next corporate pinata in the business section of the news paper?

Take serious stock in everything tied to your brand. And don’t be afraid to can that great social media idea when you sense it might turn into a disaster.

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I’ve been a fan of the sitcom “Southpark” since shortly after it began to air – around 1998, I think. And while I’d never wish Cartman as a manager on anyone, we can use his “Respect My Authority,” quote as a lesson — in reverse — to all the people managers on the planet.

Managing people for more than a decade has taught me several valuable lessons. None more important than knowing your team deserves your respect – just as you expect the team to respect you.  For example, when your inbox overflows with emails and your phone won’t stop ringing on a busy day you might think it wise to tune out staff requests in order to focus on your own priorities.

This may serve as a manager’s fatal error. 

Instead, call a quick staff meeting and let those you supervise know you’re buried alive in work to-dos, and before you vanish for several hours you want to identify the work of the team that requires your attention. Presto. You’ve communicated your need to go heads down, but you’ve also told the team that what they do is equally important and you don’t want to hold up the work flow.

This little communication strategy helps you earn (and keep) the respect of the team. By connecting with them, and trusting they will understand your need to prioritize, the work that absolutely needs to get done will become clear and you’ll enable others to keep making positive contributions.

Congrats! You’re a great boss.  Today.

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Thirty Second Reboot

Value proposition. I steer clear of words like this. Buzz words and phrases don’t excite me. But if you’re in front of leaders at an organization and want to make your mark — be noticed and memorable, or have an impact on the meeting itself – you have to think about the value you can lend to the conversation.

Being “on” in every meeting or hallway conversation seems daunting. Minds play tricks on us all the time. Distractions of work, mental to-do lists and issues at home all come in to play. So think of these four strategies to, at the very least, prepare yourself to contribute at work meetings — so you shine (even if for a moment) — and so your leaders remember just why they hired you.

  1. Thirty Second Reboot. I love my Mac because on those rare occasions that it needs to reboot, it takes all of 30 seconds. Humans can reboot their minds and moods in about the same amount of time. Try it before your next meeting starts. Before you step into the conference room or dial in to a conference call, clear your head. A few deep breaths, some positive self talk or even a quick walk will help you center yourself. I’ll frequently walk two or three flights of stairs to both clear my head and spark some adrenaline prior to the meeting.
  2. Identify The Meeting Objective. Every meeting has an objective. As the meeting begins, write down what you believe the objective of the meeting is all about. “To plan the annual employee summer picnic” or “Create activation strategies to engage with clients,” are two examples. With an objective staring back at you, you’ll stay focused on the intent of the meeting.
  3. Stay Engaged (No Matter How Boring The Subject). Posture at a meeting is one way to, through body language, tell everyone at the conference table that you’re a relevant part of the conversation. Sit up. Cross your arms in front of you on the table. Make eye contact with others when you speak. These tactics work on conference calls, too. (Instead of making eye contact, visualize each person when he or she speak and pencil out your thoughts before talking.)
  4. Say Thanks. When the meeting wraps up, thank the team for convening. Saying “Great to see you,” or telling the meeting host, “Thanks for including me,” serves as a reminder that you’re part of the group.

These basic strategies will help you stay focused and become known as a productive contributor. It’s part of your personal value proposition as a professional.

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Many of my peer-to-peer communication discussions ultimately turn to that age-old question: “What would you do if you had the top communication post – VP of Communications or Chief Comms Officer?” Seems the actions reserved for that first 100 days can make or break anyone, no matter how much experience they have traveling through the bloodstream.

So those first 100 days boils down to a few critical components. PR firm Weber Shandwick published an e-book on this topic a couple of years ago and the info really hit the mark. I’ve summarized some of that content, below, and have included my own thoughts as well as comments from my friends who practice PR and communication every day. I hope this creates more discussion on the topic – so feel free to comment and share your ideas.

The First 100 Days In The Life of a New CCO

  1. Get aligned with the organization’s culture as well as the CEO’s vision, strategy and objectives. How does the CEO communicate? What are his/her expectations? What behaviors are most valued by the executive team? What’s the political landscape?
  2. Get to know your communications team. You’re inheriting a team that has its own expectations, strengths, weaknesses and past successes. You must prepare to adjust your perspectives to fit in with the group, not vice versa. Listen carefully during one-on-ones with each communications staffer and take time to get to know the team as individuals. You can gain their respect by involving them in your planning and learning process. And don’t forget to acknowledge the great work they’re doing.
  3. Get to know the business. Spend time with each business leader. Attend their team meetings and meet individually with each of them. And yes, go to them. Use your interviewing skills to identify their challenges, desires and perceptions about how communication can help their business. These sessions will help you build support for communication across the company. Take copious notes as you have these meetings. You’ll use many of their ideas to create your comms plan.
  4. Talk to key stakeholders and get their opinions on the organization’s reputation. Ask similar questions of reporters, customers, strategic partners, and vendors. What has the company done well? What could we do better? Understanding the nuances from various stakeholders will help you craft a plan that nets results.
  5. Create the foundation of your plan by Day 100. Be proactive with goals, objectives and tactics that you and your team can drive. Don’t wait and let others come to you. There will be plenty of that along the way. Apply what you’ve learned listening to your team, the business leaders and the C-suite. Take the communication wheel or con or rudder, align PR plans with business strategy and your research steer your efforts. (And don’t forget to involve your team in the development of this plan!)
  6. Measure something. Media impressions, interactions with stakeholders, or issues and crisis situations avoided because of proactive engagement. You’ll know the C-level expectations when it comes to metrics and analytics. Include the measurement component in the comms strategy and create an executive summary or dashboard that focuses on results – at a minimum this should roll up once a quarter.

There are many more pieces to this puzzle, but these six steps are the crux of what will help you have a great experience as the chief communications person.  No matter what level you’re at in your career, think about how you would approach the role. Do you and your comms team currently work from a plan that is tied to business strategy? If not, perhaps it’s time to ask why.

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A Lesson in Leadership

In his book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins writes:

…leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious – but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.

In short, put your organization ahead of your personal career ambitions if you want to contribute to the organization and become a success. This is especially true at organizations experiencing high growth. Furiously fast growth often keeps companies from making that good to great transition. Why?

Because leaders fail to recognize the importance of bringing the rest of the team along. They focus instead on their next high-priority project or – God forbid – their next career move, or ensuring they don’t blow their budget in the quarter, or making a revenue quota. Together, these might be important things that require attention from a leader. But the best leaders find ways to balance their to-do lists and remember what (rather who) is making that flywheel gain momentum.

Who is the growth engine behind any company? The rest of the team – the employees who the company invested in, trained, on-boarded, assimilated and who now drink the Kool-aid and make things happen in the trenches to become…great.

If leaders don’t bring employees with them on the journey, the best and brightest people will find a different place where they can both contribute and feel connected as a team.

Collins adds:

Those who build great companies [leaders] understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any great company is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products. It is one thing above all others: the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.

So as a leader, I ask you: What have you done to enhance and motivate your people today? If the answer is, “nothing,” then be prepared…the brakes on the bus are about to be stomped.

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