You’ll Never Have Enough Time. Thank Goodness.

This blog post would be better if only I had more time to write it. But the window I have to write it is now. And I like that. Because it mirrors the nature of a crazy, fun and manic business we chose to be a part of. The “Hurry Up and Wait” state of advertising agencies and marketing firms is something I’ve had to deal with in every culture I’ve been a part of, including my own.

Agency people like to imagine a perfect scenario like so:

Agency creates product. Client approves product. Product goes out into the world. Everything is on time. On to the next project.

Gosh, that was a fun daydream. Now let’s see what happens in the real world.

Rounds and rounds and rounds of tweeking and honing the creative product in the eyes of the Creative Directors, Account Executives, Executive Creative Director, Head Account person, etc.

The creative product gets beaten up more than Rocky Balboa before it even goes out the door.

Then it goes to the client. Client has to take it to their boss. Product sits on boss’ desk for a while. It’s a priority, but there are even bigger priorities to attend to. Agency waits and gets antsy – “Why haven’t we heard from them?”

Hours pass. Days pass. Then…BOOM! Client gets feedback back from their boss and tells agency to change A, B and C before the end of the day.

It’s here that the measure of a creative person is taken. They’ll complain right off the bat with a “What? Now? Before what time? You’ve got to be #$@*ing kidding me with this.”

But then, they’ll settle down, realize that the impossible is actually possible, come together and come back with, lo and behold, a better product than last time.

I’ve seen it happen over and over and over again. It does no good to complain about the pattern or try to wish for a more efficient production path. Instead, we have to embrace the beast, not fight it. And realize that yes, things don’t hit our desks exactly when we’d like them to, but it also gives us an opportunity to shine in the eyes of our client once more. Many of them do realize that the time they have to give us what’s required can be somewhere between tight and insane. They’re not clueless. But they’re also looking for partners who can make them look good in the eyes of their bosses, their peers, their board. The last thing they need is a group of whiners who lecture them by saying, “We could that better if only we had more time.”

We all wish we had more time in business and in life to do the things we want to do on our terms. But the funny thing is, when we are given more boundaries, we find ways to excel within those boundaries.

I truly empathize with any creative person who has to be suddenly brilliant on the spot. It’s not ideal and there’s a great deal of pressure involved with that. I suppose that’s why I’ve always favored teams brainstorming concepts rather than forcing one person or one partnership into their corners and telling them to bring me their deliverables like I’m the king of the throne. When we can be fighting the clock together instead of individuals, we can beat the clock, create a smart solution and go with the flow as our clients need us to be.

There will never be enough time. But we have to accept that fact and consequently set the table for an environment where one writer or one designer can have the reinforcements they need to take on Father Time. This kind of efficiency is good for the individual, it’s good for the agency from a business perspective (hello, we do have to bill sometime!) and it’s good for the client.

When it comes to prioritizing what to do, my friend and colleague Rob Jager from Hedgehog Consulting looks at it this way – “There are 6 things that can be done in a day. List them out in advance and put the least important thing 6th. That way, you don’t feel so bad if you have to kick it to the next day, but make that thing #1 the following day.”

Time’s up. Gotta run.

Maybe You Don’t Need a “Tricked-Out” Office.

I’m writing this post from a Starbucks, where I just had a meeting. Tomorrow, I’m having a one-on-one at a Panera. When not at either of those, I can be seen at Caribou Coffee or Einstein Bagels.

Seriously, I should just replace my regular office address with those 4 logos.

I know it’s a cool talking point to have an office with a basketball court, foosball tables, tiki bars (I’ve had that one before) and more. But do we really need it to be creative? I’m not suggesting everything has to be steel and grey in our workspaces. Far from it. I’m just wondering if we need so much excess in order to 1) impress clients and 2) come up with good ideas.

More often than not, I find myself going to their turf, not mine. Or I find us meeting on a neutral turf, like the aforementioned coffee/bagel places. And the more I’m going to their place or a neutral place, the more I’m wondering about the importance of having an office that’s “sick,” “tricked out” or whatever else you want to describe an office beyond belief. It may not matter as much because lately, I’ve noticed business is really becoming an Away Game, not a Home Game.

All of which leads me to put some things in perspective. Seems to me that when they do come to our place, they should see the work, the work, the work. In all its splendor. First and foremost. Yet some agencies are hiding behind it in their toys.

I don’t doubt that fun items aren’t good conversation pieces either. But consider this: If you had to pick one thing they talk about later, do you want them telling their peers about the ultra cool and swanky (whatever item here) in the lobby or the cool campaign/ideas/brainstorming session the agency had with that client?

The former is nice, but the latter is killer.

It’s entirely possible I’m just in a Monday sort of mood but sometimes it feels a little too fluffy for our own good. I’m not talking about small items that show personality here and there. I’m talking about items worth thousands and thousands that are more distracting. A conference table that used to be the wing of a jet plane is cool to look at, but again, do we need it to be successful? I like seeing and sharing pictures of fun office environments as much as the next person because it’s not my money on that overhead and in the back of my mind I’m wondering – what if that money was used on something more practical that people could benefit/learn from?

The ideas we come up with are worth far more. All I’m saying is let’s make those the star more often. That’s what helps build trust. Not the 50 foot lava lamp.

Agree? Disagree? Looking forward to your thoughts either way.

6 Cultural Changes Inspired by Theo Epstein (pt. 2)

Continued from the previous post, here are 3 more changes you can consider for a stagnant culture that Theo Epstein might think about in instilling a winning Cubs culture.

4) Losing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Essentially, if you believe you’re a bad team, you’re going to perform like one even though in reality you aren’t. Look, I don’t believe for 2 seconds that a curse has anything to do with the Cubs perpetual losing. It’s the same way in organizational cultures. Everything happens – or doesn’t happen – for a reason. If the management believes the team is as good as anybody or even better, yet the rest of the team doesn’t appear to believe it, where’s the disconnect and why is that happening? It could be lack of clarity or distant leadership. Lack of metrics that everyone understands. Lack of everyone in the organization understanding what’s valued most. Or lack of talent that just isn’t there and has been permitted to stay for far too long. And more.

“(In Boston), it wasn’t a curse. It was just the fact we hadn’t gotten the job done, and we identified several things the franchise had done historically that probably got in the way of winning a World Series, and we went about trying to eradicate those. That’ll be part of the process here.” 

Epstein talked about “a Cubs way of playing the game.” We’ve come to think of that as a bad thing. But his definition included better baseball fundamentals for better play.

5) Identify quality metrics for smarter decision-making.

In baseball terms, General Managers like Billy Beane, Epstein and others are part of a new breed that ties sabermetrics (objective statistics) to measure on-field contributions. I’m not sure that will translate into a signing of Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, but if it does happen, it won’t be merely because of home runs, RBIs and the common statistics we read about in the papers.

In a cultural situation, the more that metrics are locked away so that the rest of the team won’t know what they are, the more they’ll be unclear on vision and goals. I recently read a book entitled “Employees First, Customers Second,” in which the CEO of an Indian I.T. company opened up a company of thousands to be able to see performance reviews of one another, even management. You’d think it would cause a major company revolt, but instead, it brought the employees together to work even harder – particularly managers who had no idea they were perceived that way. Everyone knew each other’s areas for improvement. If this notion scares you, what does that really say deep down about confronting your weaknesses? We all have them.

6) A winning culture needs to be continuously fed.

Epstein clearly believes that this involves the development of a strong minor league farm system that feeds talent to the big leagues regularly for lasting results. A business may not have a minor league farm system, but it does need to grow talent and brand ambassadors by giving them the opportunity to be the face of the organization – like engaging in social media on behalf of the company, for example. And it means feeding contributors regularly with rewards that they value for their own life, not just what management thinks they should value.

The thought of cultural change busting 103 years of losing is mighty exciting. But cultural change that creates quite the dynasty of your own? That might be even more thrilling.

What kinds of things are you doing to shift a stagnant culture? Share them with us! We could all use a little push out of our comfort zone.

6 Cultural Changes Inspired by Theo Epstein (pt. 1)

When you’ve had a bad year for 103 years, what would you do to turn things around?

It’s practically incomprehensible for us to relate to a question like this because while a business can have a bad month, bad quarter or – in this economy – a bad year, we usually don’t know what it’s like to have consecutive bad decades.

It was something I couldn’t help but wonder as I was speaking at the Chicagoland Chamber about vision, brand strategy, culture, and how to keep that culture thriving. Maybe because, long before Theo Epstein ever came aboard as President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs, we’ve often heard of the need for the North Siders to instill a “culture of winning.”

“The goal is to win a World Series, but it’s about how we get there. We need to build a foundation for sustained success, including player development, for something that’s going to last. We don’t want to be the type of club that gets there and then disappears for 4 or 5 years. We want to be playing baseball every October someday.”

– Theo Epstein, Cubs President of Baseball Operations

How does one find this elusive culture of winning? Well, I think organizations searching for that may be able to learn a few things from Epstein based on his past stop and already what he’s doing here. And if you’re a Cubs fan, you should be encouraged by this too. Let me explain with 6 key observations.


1) Visions have to be clear, concrete and more specific, not broad core values nobody can understand.

What I find refreshing about Epstein is that, when he announced the search for a new manager, he let everyone know exactly who he was looking for in a candidate – one of those aspects being that the manager had to be someone with major league experience. For better or worse, that immediately ruled out hometown favorite and popular choice Ryne Sandberg.

But when you leave no doubt as to what you’re looking for in an organization as far as the kind of talent that belongs (and doesn’t belong), then you set a strong tone that people can get behind. The same holds true for your customers – you can’t be for anybody with a buck. So who are you for? And not for? Do your people get that too?


2) Locate the cancers in the environment as quickly as possible. Then remove them.

You can give someone with a poor attitude the chance to turn that attitude around (warnings, probation). But if they don’t, they should be removed before the cancer spreads.

I have seen environments where some people had become so jaded with “that’s the way it always is” and “we’ve always done it this way” and that’ll never work” statements that it permeates throughout the rest of the culture. You can’t build a winning culture with people that way and it doesn’t take many of them. And the more you make excuses for people who don’t deserve a free pass, the more others will be impacted. In relation to the Cubs, this is why Carlos Zambrano will probably never pitch at Wrigley again, unless in an opposing team’s uniform.


3) Winning cultures have to be accountable.

My colleague, friend and co-presenter Rob Jager of Hedgehog Consulting often speaks of this. Managers can speak all they want about how employees should do this or that, but if they don’t follow the same practices, the words coming out of their mouth have significantly less meaning. If someone is a nice person who doesn’t produce (and assuming they’re in the role they’re supposed to be in), they too should be removed. Mike Quade is probably a nice enough fellow, but the team’s fundamentals on defense were horrible. That points to poor management and is a big reason why Epstein wiped the slate clean by deciding, in order to have a winning environment, a change needed to be made.


In the next post, I’ll provide 3 more cultural changes you can make based on how Theo might run your organization.

Preventing The Negative Effects of High Employee Turnover

In today’s post, guest blogger Melonie Boone, Co-CEO and Owner of Complete Concepts Consulting (an HR consultancy focused on compliance and management) takes a look at how strong employee retention can have a positive impact on your culture and overall brand strategy. 


You may be thinking that your employees are happy and even if they do leave, it’s an employer’s market out there so I won’t really be affected, right?

If your organization is a revolving door, frequently churning employees it makes a negative impact on your reputation, current customers, prospective clients and business partners.

Your company brand goes further than your logo, company colors, and website. Your employees are your brand. Who you are and what you do is encompassed by who you employ. Moreover, the cost associated with high turnover can break the bank.

Nearly 70% of organizations report that staff turnover has a negative financial impact due to the cost of recruiting, hiring, and training a replacement employee and the overtime work of current employees that’s required until the organization can fill the vacant position.

So what can you do to retain your employees to maintain a dominant brand and minimize the costs of high turnover?

It all starts with hiring the right person.

  • Making sure the candidate is a good fit before the first day of work is critical.
    It all starts with sourcing candidates from the right place. While Monster and CareerBuilder have always been the staple go to, branch out and explore LinkedIn, niche job boards that pertain specifically to the job function you are recruiting for and don’t under estimate the power of your network. A quick email to your network could result in a referral that is a perfect match.
  • Use the interview as your opportunity to get to know the “real” candidate.
    Every time you sit down with a candidate, they put on their interview face. When the candidate with the interview face tells you everything you want to hear. They have memorized the job posting, researched good answers to common questions and smile the entire time with great eye contact. To get beyond the interview face, combine a structured interview process with behavioral based questions. Set clear company expectations and position requirements. Incorporate more than one hiring manager and don’t hesitate to have follow up interviews to clarify any concerns.
  • Don’t rush the hire and neglect conducting proper due diligence.
    We encourage companies to conduct background screenings, always check references and verify the candidates background. Use findings from this step combined with all the information obtained through the interview process to aid you in making the hiring decision.
  • Make it a great start.
    Once the position has been offered and the first day has been set, start the new hire off on the right foot. A new employee orientation can go a long way in setting the tone for your new employee.  Make them feel welcomed and a part of the team. Training from Day One helps build the foundation for a successful relationship.

So you have a great team – now, how do you keep them?

  • Make employees feel valued.  Create a culture that embraces and celebrates your employees and their accomplishments.  Train, mentor and develop your team from top down. Reinforce your employee’s value through recognition and make your organization the place your employees enjoy coming every day.
  • Provide feedback and opportunity for growth. Incorporate a performance management process that hold employees accountable, provides feedback and promote from within giving opportunity for growth.
  • Build trust and confidence in the leadership team.  Live and breathe your mission, vision and brand!  Employees have to trust their leaders and believe that they have the competence and passion to grow the business.  Inspire your employees to be the best they can be and follow that mantra in everything that you do.

It is no secret that happy employees are one of the most important components of your brand strategy.  Remember, if you recruit the best person for the job and nurture them as employees. they will stay – creating a powerful brand statement for your organization.

About the Author:

Melonie Boone MBA, MJ, PHR is Co-CEO and Owner of Complete Concepts Consulting;  a HR Consultancy specializing in Human Resources Compliance and Management for small to mid-sized businesses. With over 12 years of experience in Human Resources, Mrs. Boone has held varying positions from administrative to executive leadership. Mrs. Boone possesses advanced education in business management, human resources as well as business and employment law. She is a native of Chicago, HR enthusiast, novice runner and enjoys spending time with her family. To learn more email Mrs. Boone at mboone@completeconceptsconsulting.com.

There’s A Brand Waiting For You In Your Office.

A new Accenture survey of global marketers yielded some results that at first, may not seem that extraordinary. Among them, marketers said the three most important business issues were improving customer retention and loyalty, acquiring new sales and increasing sales to current customers. The survey went on to say that in the coming year, marketes expect to see their marketing budgets flatline or decline.

OK, that’s probably not a shock to hear. But CMOs also expect to see company sales grow in the coming year. Is this a mixed message? Not necessarily. The translation I see is that in order to move forward, marketers will be expected to do more with less. This is not necessarily as bad as it might seem. How?

Think about the most precious internal resource you have to be developed and most of us will arrive at an answer made of flesh and bone, not machine.

Yes, we have to get routinely smarter about what our customers want and using analytics will help with that. But we also have to get smarter about what our employees want – and that’s the side of the equation that I believe gets missed all too often.

If you have ever worked in an environment where employees are an afterthought, you know this. It’s seen in “meet these deliverables or else” career plans that managers don’t like doing and employees dread. It’s career planning as punishment rather than collaboration. Mass layoffs and severance offers are the routine answer to cost cutting rather than brainstorming on what we can do better to show more value or entice greater referrals. Employees see themselves as being there just to do a job – nothing more, nothing less.

The question we must ask is this: We work so hard to brand ourselves to the outside world but how often do we brand ourselves to our own people? What do they genuinely feel about us and can we be honest with ourselves to hear it? You can’t fake enthusiasm for your own workplace. It’s readily apparent and genuine or you’ll see forced smiles and sarcasm if not outright complaints.

Where does the enthusiasm come from? For one thing, a company that treats its people as investments rather than role fillers. Managers who are passionate about understanding what makes their people tick personally, not just professionally. What do they like to do in their spare time? How can you reward them with more of that thing they love? It’s time to look beyond the annual reviews and raises but instead think about your people’s lives on a regular basis.

This isn’t just touchy feely stuff. In fact, here’s how it can benefit your brand.

Just picture how that enthusiasm can positively affect customer retention and loyalty. Let’s say your customer calls up with a technical question and he’s not happy. Your patient employee takes the time to carefully walk the customer through the question like anyone else, but in the course of helping that person, also learns the person is a New York Jets fan. The person is sent a handwritten thank you card for calling with a Jets hat, wishing his team best of luck on the upcoming season.

Who’s going to forget that? Who’s not going to tell someone else about that? I think you get where I’m going with this. An investment in training that employee might just have led to a better customer service experience and in the larger picture, a tremendous feeling about the brand. Or perhaps they felt such an investment and support from the company for their own personal/professional goals that such a positive desired result came naturally – they’re not just doing their job. They’ve bought into a mantra. A mission. A purpose.

Think about your top 5 competitors. Are their technological differences between you all that different? I’ll wager the answer is no. You’ll invest in technology and so will they.

The true difference is your workforce. Your people with their various talents and skills are the differentiators. They are the people on the front lines who often have to deal with customers face-to-face. And even if they don’t, shouldn’t we treat them as the walking, talking representations of the overall brand they are anyway? After all, they do leave the office and associate with others, you know.

“Yes, but what happens when they leave the company? Won’t our differentiator leave with them?” I expect to hear this a bit. It’s natural for people to come and go. The question is how much and how often they’re leaving. Obviously if half the company walks out the door within a year, you need to take a hard look at your own management practices and communication style.

When it’s hard for them to move on to a new opportunity because the culture is so terrific and tears are shed on all sides, something that is special is happening – really. Because it’s a family-like atmosphere at that point.

Is it possible that we could do more with less by looking inward to the brand in front of our faces that we haven’t developed? And in doing so, could we find our outside sales and customer loyalty rising as a result of our internal investment?

One thing’s for certain. It’s a heck of a great place to start.

 

What types of initiatives is your company using to build the internal brand? Is it helping result in a better customer service experience, happier employees, etc.? Share if you’re comfortable doing so.

3 Times When Social Media Isn’t Right For You.

I’m a gigantic social media fan, but I can never automatically recommend everyone be on social media. True, I could analyze a company from a brand perspective and I’ll invariably recommend social media channels for them. But as I dig deeper, I come to realize that there are a few cases that it’s not right for. Less because it isn’t right for their brand or because their audience isn’t living on any social media channels, more because their internal culture just flat-out isn’t ready for it or isn’t fully behind it when they do decide to go down that path. I’ll give you some examples:

1. “I’m afraid of what people will say about us.”
If your customer service sucks, it’s going to get talked about whether you like it or not. So you might as well create a centralized place where you can funnel these thoughts from customers and respond to them accordingly. The beauty of social media is that it causes you to take a deeper look at your operation and see where there might be cracks in your service offerings. News Flash: We all make mistakes. Still, an overriding culture of fear or lack of understanding of social media tools can lead to overreaction – “Someone said something bad about us! Take down the Facebook Page before the CEO sees it!” Well, maybe you should just sit social media out for a while until you’re prepared to be honest with your organization’s shortcomings. Again, we all have weak points. If you don’t want to address those weak points, there’s an issue there that you’re glossing over. And the more you do ignore it, the more people will talk about that issue online in various places anyway.

2.  100% broadcasting rather than interacting.
I actually wrote a post about how the Cubs and White Sox in their Twitter streams were doing this within a monitored period of 72-hours – broadcasting almost entirely about themselves and not interacting with their fans on Twitter. Seriously, you’re telling me that nobody behind a computer in either of these front offices can ask daily questions of their fans and then respond to those questions? Come on!

The point here is that companies who want to exclusively post without any kind of interaction with their customer and prospect base are essentially just advertising to people. There’s nothing wrong with sharing all the pertinent news of your company with the outside world, but doing that without demonstrating any type of care for understanding their thoughts, wants, needs and questions is defeating the purpose of why they call it SOCIAL media. There are many other options to consider along an advertising or PR route if you want to go that way instead.

3. Expecting it to do everything while you do nothing.
Well, I just did some posts. Why isn’t my phone ringing?
Because you’re expecting Facebook to run your business instead of you. What phone calls are you making? What events are you attending? What appointments are you setting up? What prospecting are you doing (which you can partly do through social media among other things, by the way)?

If you’re in sales, then be in sales and sell. Social media can shine a light on your authority in wonderful ways but it can’t make up for a complete lack of sales initiative on your part. I’m not the world’s greatest salesperson, but I’d be kidding myself if I thought I didn’t need to press the flesh with real people as opposed to being behind a laptop all day. It’s when they have met me and then gone online to learn more (or perhaps done this in advance of the meeting – even better), that some solid credibility is hopefully built. If you don’t know how to get out there into the world or you’re timid about it, you’re not alone. Lots of people are not natural-born salespeople or networkers, yet strive to get better at it. Just don’t hide behind social media channels and then blame them for the weaknesses you’re not willing to address either.

Honesty. Transparency. Strong internal and external communication. Willingness to admit when things go wrong and a demonstration of what they’re doing to fix them. Taking action instead of merely planning and giving speeches. These are some of  the areas that can propel a company forward. It’s the companies that want to appear perfect, robotic and transmitting vs. conversing that probably want to take a long look at themselves before plunging into social media.

Fortunately, I’m finding those kinds of companies that have yet to understand the reality that they employ human beings and not robots are fewer and farther between. Innovation by its very nature is to say that what you did before was not as good as what you are doing today. So if we can be honest that we are getting better than we were before in product/service development, why can’t we be honest about how we’re striving to get better in other areas of the company? I think that’s a positive, rapport-building story waiting to be told with an audience. Not run away from.

How has your culture shifted from a closed loop to a more open style to your benefit? Share it! Or do you see challenges due to your industry that you’re not sure if you’re ready to be “social”? Let’s talk about them here if you’re comfortable sharing.