I’m in a terrific new program that networking guru Keith Ferrazzi (Never Eat Alone, Who’s Got Your Back) is running and a recent exercise asked participants to describe ways they’ve kept their teams (and themselves) accountable. My submission got some positive feedback and it’s pretty simple, so I thought I’d share it.
I had a team of account executives in remote offices, each of whom managed a number of alumni-association partners. We weren’t always their highest priority so executing on a long list of initiatives wasn’t always easy. I started a 20-minute Daily Huddle (first thing in the AM-if you couldn’t make it, no problem) and gave each person two minutes to list their biggest accomplishment of the previous day, what they wanted to accomplish that day, and what they needed from me or someone else on the call. I kept track of what each person wanted to accomplish and asked the next day (and for a number of days after, if need be) what was getting in the way of completing that task. One benefit of the daily call was that other team members often offered advice based on having dealt with a similar problem with another school and very often someone would volunteer to role-play or help in some way to get the goal accomplished. In addition, having to outline your goals in front of others led to more tangible goals that would have a real impact on the team’s results.
As a result of this and some other execution-focused initiatives, we renewed 100+ relationships (with no losses), protecting $250 million in revenues and significantly reducing the sponsorship fees we were paying, while increasing group-satisfaction scores by 20%. We also surpassed our goals for launching our Affinity Checking product by 200% (endorsements and accounts). All because we spent a little bit of time every day focusing on initiatives that would move the needle.
Interestingly, someone in the class responded to my submission with the observation that people probably worked that much harder to complete tasks and come up with good objectives for the day because they didn’t want theirs to pale by comparison to other team members. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s probably true
To be effective: Keep it short. Keep it focused. And try to have it at the same time every day — first thing in the AM.
How do you help your teams — or yourself — be more accountable and execute more effectively. Please share!
By the way, we’re getting some great traffic to our new website, Consultant Launch Pad, which is helping people decide whether consulting is a viable new career path and then helping them be successful if it is…Consulting/Project work is also a great way to generate short-term income if you’re one of the long-term unemployed or Over 50s who are having challenges finding a new position. Come check us out.
First, I apologize for my absence over the past three weeks. I’ve been building a new website, Consultant Launch Pad, which is designed to help new consultants and people whose job searches may be at a point where they have to think about alternatives to pay the mortgage. We have a lot of resources on the site to help you make your decision, set up your business, and get customers. I invite you to come take a look. Let us know what you think, suggest resources we don’t currently have, and join the Forum and ask — or answer some questions. I think you’ll particularly like the 30 Second Launch Pad feature.
I’m one of those people who believes that if you hear a good idea from three different sources, it’s probably worth paying attention to. Today’s idea is Limit Choice.
It started with coming across Groupon, which is one of those businesses where customers are a great deal on a single item. The deal depends on either a certain number of people taking it or it’s there until the supply runs out. I signed up and while I haven’t bought anything yet, it’s true that the deals are great and I anticipate I will participate before too long.
A few days later I was listening to an interview where Gary Vaynerchuk, the author of “Crush It,” was offering some advice to start-ups. He’s a bit over-the-top, but one of his pieces of advice had to do with simplicity and limiting choice. Gary was talking about how he had tested the “Groupon” model in one of retail wine story by replacing a rack near the front that held 10 bargain wines with just one. The result? ”We’re crushing it,’ he said. ”We’re selling these bottles at a staggering rate, one that trumps residual loss of not selling many products in that space.”
All this reminded me of one of the key “rules” we followed when offering credit-cards through the mail in a previous life. We tested everything and inevitably found that Choice Suppresses. The more variations on a card offer — different designs, different pricing, different value propositions — the fewer responses we received.
The reality is that people are overwhelmed these days. We bring a lot of that on ourselves — travel teams, dance classes, and the like — but at some point businesses decided we needed more and more choices. So that’s why today I can walk into a store and find razor blades with four, five, and even more blades when one can really do the trick (at a fraction of the price).
Think about places where you might be offering excessive choice to customers and what impact that might be having on their buying decision. Are there opportunities to reduce the choice — perhaps by careful targeting of benefits — and actually increase response?
As one group of students prepare to leave college and another batch of high-school seniors prepare to take their place, the importance of technical knowledge takes center stage. Whether you’re talking about undergraduate or post-grad admission offices or potential employers, GPAs and test scores that demonstrate students’ abilities to get the one “right” answer are seen as the primary determinant of future potential.
David Kelley — the IDEO chairman, not the legendary creator of great TV dramas — recently energized the Stanford d.school during the opening of the design school’s new building by arguing that while technical knowledge has its place, it is far more important to teach our future leaders how to work on solving challenging problems where nobody knows the answer. As Bob Sutton, a Stanford d.school professor who attended the speech explains it, the Stanford d.school teaches creative confidence — “the ability to keep pushing forward, observing the world and the people in it, identifying unmet needs, brainstorming solutions, and trying to develop prototypes that work and failing forward through the disconcerting process.” He went on to say that the d.school process — which I discussed in a January post on its publication of the Bootcamp Bootleg — encourages people to “have the energy and will to keep pushing forward, to be undaunted when ideas don’t work, to keep trying new ideas, and even when the deadline for the project comes and they do not have a decent solution, to believe that if they just had another few days, they would have come up with a great solution.”
Kelley has added a great personal-branding phrase to our lexicon. Even without the benefit of a Stanford d.school education, I think there are a lot of people with have struggled to describe a similar skill set on a resume or interview without the benefit of the “creative confidence” phrase. It’s a skill that many displaced corporate executives are using as they look at consulting or 1099 contract work, whether they use the phrase in the sales process or not.
But Kelley’s Not Alone In This
Yale’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel imagined what he’d say if asked to speak to this year’s class of graduating seniors in a posting on the Huffington Post. He also speaks of looking beyond the GPA and the job that awaits and judging oneself on a different set of criteria that mirrors this concept of creative confidence:
“What matters, and this is the heart of what I want to say today, is not how I might assess what you have done, or how your professors graded you, or what your friends and family might say, or even how a professional school or employer is going to view you, but rather how you would now evaluate yourself.
I wonder if you have thought to do this as yet, to measure yourself by standards that you would have to justify and explain, not to us, but only to the man or woman in the mirror. Not only are you the only one in a position to make a full and candid assessment, but you are the one to whom the assessment ultimately matters.”
He goes on to list some questions that might help in that self-assessment; most focus on the intangible. It’s a right-brain approach, which as Daniel Pink and others have argued in recent years is taking on increasing importance over the fact-based left-brain emphasis that has driven business for many decades.
All this resonated with me because I believe creative confidence is a more elegant way — with a bit more structure — of saying Bulldog Simplicity. I believe schools and corporations both need to spend more time focusing on developing creative confidence. And for those who have it, they need to spend more time documenting it as a skill and how it enables them to make a difference in their companies’ or clients’ success.
I’ve written before about focusing on that “one thing” that will remind you what’s important. I found myself recently trying to get myself organized (the catalyst for this is usually my wife telling me to get the piles off the dining room table).
I spent a bit more time on this exercise than usual (the piles often just get moved out of her sight) so I found myself asking what I could do to actually follow the principles of this blog and basically simplify everything, rodeo style. This required me to focus on my one-page project list and trash more than a few folders with articles and project ideas that I wasn’t going to get to in the near (or distant) future.
But then I realized it was more than that. I needed to start asking some tough questions that apply to just about every business — and most likely each of you. These are not questions with yes or no answers — the best questions rarely are. But as we near mid-year, it’s worth carving out some time to sit down, write down the answers, and then commit to focusing on execution.
- What’s the one thing I can do to improve my business and what are the specific actions I should take to do it?
- What’s the one thing I can do to improve my own performance/productivity and what are the specific actions I should take to do it?
- What messages am I failing to hear (or confront) in my business and personal performance and what are the specific actions I should take to overcome them?
- Why should someone hire me (or our company) over the competition? If you can’t be specific and passionate (and brief), you need to spend some time thinking through your answer.
This last question is a good one to ask the people who work for you. In fact, these are all good questions to ask the people around you about you. The inability to receive and process feedback is a critical barrier to success.
What questions do you ask yourself to help you get back on track?
A few days ago, someone asked me to explain what made me a “good marketer.” I had never heard the question phrased quite that way before and stumbled through an answer.
Later on, I realized I built a class around that very question 11 years ago. So I headed down to the basement and pulled out the class handout. We had spent more than three months asking that very question of some of the best marketing minds in the bank and organizing their answers into what turned out to be eight categories.
Times change; economies ebb and flow. Millions of trees have died in the search for answers to that question. But the answer never really changes. I won’t list all the tactics that made up the bulk of the class, but here are the principles, tweaked a bit to apply to everyone:
- Always remember that we’re in business to (Fill in the Blank). In our case, it was Make Good Loans. For others, it might be Sell Computers, Attract New Donors or Drive Traffic to Your Website.
- Be absolutely committed to knowing everything about your Target Audience. We were affinity marketers who worked with alumni associations, sports teams, professional groups, and a host of other partners. The most successful marketers went beyond being credit-card experts to being experts on their groups and the group’s constituents. That’s more difficult for marketers with a broader target audience, which makes No. 3 even more important.
- Everything begins with the “list” (or audience). Having a great product doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t know where to find the buyer. It’s OK to have multiple lists with different messages.
- Design compelling offers with a simple creative message. Two of the most important messages here were Offer is More Than Price and Your Great List Won’t Mean Much if the Offer Isn’t Clear and Valued by the Customer.
- Try lots of things. Test in a disciplined manner… Basically, remember that if there’s no control there’s no test and behavior is more important than opinion.
- …And keep what works. Measure your results. You need to share successes and failures. I was reading a book the other night where the author was criticizing another author who had focused only on his big successes. We often learn more from our big failures…and those lessons learned are even more important if we share them with others.
- Challenge everything. Never stop trying to make things better. Pay attention to the details. Part of this is about a commitment to “publishing.” I doubt there’s any such thing as the “perfect test.” Get to market quickly. Mail less more often. Make sure the affinity is “in” the package.
- Spend wisely. It’s real money. This may have been a bigger deal back in 1999 when marketing money flowed more freely, but this is really about putting some analysis behind your decision to test. What do you hope to achieve and what’s the cost in your best-case and worst-case scenarios?
I have followed these principles over the years, and made sure that the people who worked for me did the same. And that should have been my answer when I was asked what makes me a good marketer. I’m disciplined and I make sure I know my audience.
Did we miss something that doesn’t fit into one of these categories? Please let me know if you’d like me to elaborate on these strategies in future posts.
If your new tires fell off after installation, whose fault would it be — the mechanic or his tools?
If you’re a U.S. general, you blame the tool. At least that’s what they’re doing in an article in today’s New York Times about the military’s use of PowerPoint. Lost amid all the jokes and criticism of a “tool that has spun out of control” is a simple fact: PowerPoint done right enhances rather than undermines the quality of communication.
Great PowerPoint presentations seek to persuade rather than dump information. Great presenters crystallize their message long before they sit down to design slides. I was a multi-bullet, heavy-copy PowerPoint people in my previous life, but I now find myself spending more time thinking through the message and the appropriate visuals. I think about the story, the audience, the decision-making journey, and how to make my points as simply as possible.
It’s a joke to see these senior officers moan about the quality of presentations and the time wasted delivering them. As you read the quotes from the “PowerPoint Rangers” about the time spent preparing slides, ask yourself whether the generals delivering them had anything to do with crafting the message…or whether they even looked at their decks before delivering the presentation.
Hey, generals! Fixing this problem is simple:
- Limit the number of slides you can use in a given period of time. General McCrystal, you’re the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, for God’s sake. Tell your people that their slide limit for a 30-minute briefing is five. Period.
- Teach junior officers the right way to present. Start them at West Point, in ROTC classes, and at Officer Candidate School. Highlight the people who do it right; re-educate those who don’t. Reinforce the message at the senior-officer schools.
- At the beginning of a presentation, ask presenters to explain their objective. If they can’t communicate it quickly and briefly, send them back to the drawing board.
- Teach junior officers — and their bosses — how to WRITE clearly and persuasively. There are times you use PowerPoint and times you use memos. My high-school English teacher prevented us from graduating until we could put together a well-reasoned essay (thank you, Mrs. Banikowski). Our children hit college (and eventually the work world) with expertise in Twitter (how persuasive can you get in 140 characters?) and IM’ing. Ugh.
- Know your audience. I’ve spent time with Tyler on his college essays over the past few months and if he’s learned nothing else from our calm, collaborative sessions (he would characterize those conversations differently), it’s that you have to consider who is reading your paper (or listening to your presentation). I hope he brings the memory of our time together to college with him this fall.
Of course, these tips don’t apply only to our soldiers in Afghanistan. You can use them on your own personal and corporate battlefields. Click here for other posts I’ve written about bringing brevity, clarity, and simplicity to your communciations.
What advice would you give the generals?
My son Tyler has narrowed his college choices to two. How he got there gets to the heart of the importance of “sticky” presentations and why a two-day trip to two schools put one on the finalist list and took one pretty much off his radar.
We started at Syracuse on a chilly October morning. This part sticks with me because the presenter tried to make light of the weather from the moment we hit our seats. Maybe it’s just me (and keep in mind, I actually went to the school and grew up in Buffalo) but cold weather should not be on the list of key selling points.
The presentation was dry, and the presenter was not particularly dynamic (although she seemed very nice). She started with a video featuring famous and semi-famous alumni and appeared to have been made by an advertising firm that didn’t realize it was talking to teenagers. Did Admissions forget that its communications schools is a selling point and that it has not one but two solid film schools? Why not have a student film competition to highlight the school’s strengths.
The rest of the presentation was more informative than memorable, with no real sales focus (I seem to remember a lot of bullets). The worst part came as she dismissed the crowd by school for individual sessions. She’d call out the name of the school (e.g., Newhouse) and then start highlighting the merits of the program as her target audience struggled to their feet, grabbed their bags, and headed out the door.
The tour wasn’t much better and I honestly think Tyler would have crossed Syracuse off his list then and there, had I not been along to talk about concerts on the Quad, Dance Marathon, games at the Dome, and late-night snack runs to Marshall Street.
So we left Syracuse and headed to D.C. and our tour of American University.
Things were different there. A 20-something admissions person (and alum) talked about her experiences. Trick or treating at embassies. She illustrated her point about the high percentage of international students by talking about political science classes on Middle Eastern politics with students who lived through bombings and fighting in the streets. She actually made the pursuit of dual majors interesting. Last week — yes, five months later — I asked Tyler what he remembered and the kid who can’t remember to turn off his lights or stop texting while doing homework rattled off a number of memories from the presentation.
American has been the leader in the clubhouse since that visit. A recent visit to Drexel made it a two-horse race for a similar reason: The head of the film department sat down with Tyler to talk about her vision for the program, talking about her ability to “see beyond the curve” of the road. Once again, passion carried the day. She also had a great story — no deck, but a great ability to communicate the path — and that, combined with outstanding facilities and equipment and the willingness to put a camera in his hands from Day One, means it’s now a two-horse race.
I’ve posted here before about a story-driven, bullet-light approach to PowerPoints. Dan Heath is in Fast Company magazine this month talking about “sticky” presentations and has some great resources on his website (links are in the FC article). And both Nancy Duarte (slide:ology) and Garr Reynolds (Presentation Zen) have great presentation-centered blogs and are passionate advocates of storytelling.
I suspect many of you have had similar college-admissions experiences. Take some time to think about your story, your audience, and your message. What will you do differently the next time you have a presentation that’s designed to capture someone’s imagination or ignite their passion?
A few years back, I led a change to the way MBNA America — at the time the world’s largest affinity credit-card lender — negotiated with its partners (and ultimately with each other inside the bank). At the heart of it, we learned to prepare more effectively and taught people that the best way to get what they wanted was to help the other side get what it wanted (for both internal and external stakeholders). It’s my primary accomplishment…and a key component of my professional narrative.
Since being laid off 15 months ago, I’ve focused on consulting while still looking for a challenging full-time position. The reality is the job market is awful and there’s a growing trend toward building a portfolio career of 1099/consulting projects. I’ve been helping companies sharpen their brand and strategic messages, primarily through the creation and/or refining of value propositions, RFP responses, and annual reports. But I keep running into executive-level job seekers — many of them terrific, talented former peers — who are worried that their biggest success is behind them…and feeling their self-esteem slipping away in the absence of traction in their own job searches.
I invite you to watch this video in its entirety — it’s about 20 minutes and talks about dealing with these kinds of concerns, about wondering whether your best is behind you and about channeling your creativity in a positive way.
I’ve long believed that one thing that distinguishes successful people is their ability to consistently ”show up.” I also generally believe in the ”daemons” that Elizabeth Gilbert describes. I do believe you need to put distance between yourself and your creativity — partly because believing in daemons makes it difficult to give yourself too much credit) and partly because I don’t want to run the risk of alienating them.
Over at ChrisBrogan.com, Chris is talking about the importance of story in people’s lives, urging readers to read Donald Miller’s new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. For me, I harken back to A Chorus Line: “I’m a dancer…And a dancer dances.” The foundation of my story is my ability to communicate quickly and clearly (my ongoing challenges to simplify my own personal brand notwithstanding). Blogging — something I never had the time to do before leaving the bank – enables me to do what I love…and the research and effort to generate ideas helps me work through my angst. On my professional side, it can be challenging (but gratifying) to create for someone else, to capture their true voice and deliver something that the client can “hear” and feel as if they could have written or said it. And yet the thing that led me away from business journalism in the first place was my sense that I could be just as effective in business as the people whose lives I was chronicling.
But how do you keep delivering? How do you surpass your past successes? If I didn’t appreciate one thing before the past 15 months, I certainly do now: Creativity takes order and process. You need to eliminate distractions to give the “daemon” room to enter your consciousness.
There are times when I miss the hermetically sealed corporate offices where I used to work. As I sit at home today, it’s 80 degrees, sunny, with a nice breeze flowing through my home office. I’m resisting the urge to stop typing to go shoot some baskets or kick a soccer ball with my kids because I have deliverables.
The truth is, I probably will not resist those urges. But that break will enable me to create something better this afternoon because I freed my mind and let the daemon in. I now keep a little notebook to write down ideas when they hit. In my current situation, I don’t sit through long, pointless meetings and I can try to turn neat ideas into business opportunities (although that poses its own sort of distraction away from the dual goals of feeding my family and doing something meaningful).
I have always worked in a world of real-life deadlines, budgets, and conflicting goals. I’ve always been successful at balancing multiple priorities and executing on great ideas. But life is different today than it was 15 months ago and I have a much greater respect for the process. I thank Elizabeth Gilbert for reminding me that my greatest successes are not behind me…that the path to even greater ones requires me to keep showing up, respecting my daemon, and seeing them when I see them.
How about you? How do you maintain your confidence that your next great success is just around the corner?
I just finished The Art of Simplicity by John Maeda, who boils simplicity down to being about “subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.”
Nike “relaunched” its sponsorship of Tiger Woods today with an ad that subtracts any mention of its footwear or clothing, color video, music, or sight of Tiger hitting one of his extraordinary golf shots. It instead uses a single zoom shot of Tiger looking incredibly sad with background audio of his dead father talking about responsibility.
So there’s no question the ad is simple. But is it effective? For those who haven’t seen it yet, Tiger’s dad (who likely wasn’t talking about his son’s sexual indiscretions when he was recorded) is heard saying, “Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion. I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. And did you learn anything?”
I’d like to know Tiger’s answer to the question. Based on his decision to approve using his father’s voice in this way I’d say no. Did Nike achieve its goals? Everyone’s talking about the ad, so the answer there is probably yes. And it’s consistent with some of its previous ads focused on the personal branding of their spokespersons. Remember Charles Barkley and his “I am not a role model” ad? That was Nike too.
Tiger said during a press conference on Monday that he was just looking forward to getting back and playing golf. This ad undermines that goal and leaves many thinking it’s all about the press coverage for Tiger and Nike.
The ad is simple. The motives are not. I doubt many of Nike’s target audience will change their buying habits as a result of this ad. But the consistency of the brand message and subtly reminding people they didn’t drop Tiger may be enough. Not that it matters all that much, but I don’t see this ad as helping Tiger’s efforts to restore his brand, unless you want to view it as further penance.
Getting back to John Maeda and his Laws of Simplicity, I don’t believe Tiger and Nike satisfied the second half of his core law. The obvious was subtracted, but very little meaning was added. Perhaps a simple shot of Tiger juggling a golf ball at the end of a club, apologizing to fans and saying he’s back and committed to re-earning the trust of his family and fans would have been more appropriate…and more consistent with the Just Do It brand.