Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Right Way to Get Your Ideas Heard

The crossing light is already flashing red, reminding you to speed it up. You're in the middle of rush hour, fighting swarms of people, while simultaneously tapping out a message to wrap up that urgent issue back at the office. All around you — hustling and bustling — are people headed to the grocery store, to the gym, to... somewhere.
Nearby, you hear this voice, asking... "Do you have two minutes to...?"
Will you stop to listen? Not very likely, is it?
Work looks a lot like that busy street corner. Hustling to keep up, our colleagues are taking on more and working harder. Even strategic issues are getting shorted; we spend less than two percent of our time discussing strategic issues. Given this context, new ideas have a tough time being heard. It's no wonder that our colleagues resort to some aggressive approaches to get theirs on our radar screens. Here are some that I've seen recently:
Rapid-fire ideas. Don't pause to see if any of them are catching on — just keep going, guns a-blazin'. This is the Rambo approach, akin to Sylvester Stallone armed with the biggest-gun-you-ever-saw delivering a one-man barrage of shock and awe. Carried into work, it suggests that if you just fire off enough ideas, at least one will hit the mark.
Be super-friendly. Recognizing that trust and camaraderie can help get your ideas a moment of consideration, you work the relationships. This is the Sally Field approach (You like me! You really like me!). The problem is that the focus is on the personal relationship, rather than the merit of the idea.
Hijack the discussion. Just as someone else is putting forth an idea, use a contradictory word or phrase, such as "but," "no", or "I disagree." to interject. You could even do it more insidiously by saying "Great idea. We could also try..." As attention swivels in your direction, direct the conversation to your own idea under the guise of adding commentary. While you're at it, affectionately mention some of your previous ideas. This contrarian and dismissive approach — best exemplified for me by the movie critic Roger Ebert — is unfortunately commonplace. While acceptable with professional critics, it's just plain annoying at work.
As much as we'd like to deny we do this, we can at least admit to being tempted to use techniques like these to give our ideas a chance to be heard. Add (in the comments section) your own pet peeves from your work setting, and we'll have good collection of how not to do it. While any of these methods might be successful in the short run, they typically only result in surfacing the idea, which rarely influences others or gets acted upon.
And that is really is the point. Remember that the goal of offering a new idea is to move the organization forward. We want to serve the needed role of protagonist: someone who helps organizations become more competitive because of their ability to name issues, point to new horizons and create solutions. The goal then is to not only speak up but to be heard.
To be heard implies speaking up in such a way that the idea is given a chance to influence the organization and be acted upon. To be effectively heard, you need to recognize the context, plan your approach, and adjust your style to communicate ideas that, with any luck, will connect with the needs of the business.
Let me offer six better techniques to getting your ideas heard:
  1. Be an anthropologist. There are so many tools for learning about people — what topics they track, what they value, how they approach their work, their opinions. Figure out what your colleagues care about. If they blog, read 'em. If they tweet, follow 'em. Their LinkedIn.com endorsements also tell a story. Observe, learn what makes them tick, andshape your idea to the receiver's perspective.
  2. Have a perspective. Many people show up at meetings unable to offer a well-considered opinion. If you don't have an informed perspective, then you risk being labeled a Doer, someone ill-suited to being a protagonist. Doers don't need seats at the table; no, they can be told what to do via email. When we are working on tough problems — whether it is a new direction or a product or program — we will seek out the folks who are co-thinkers, to become co-creators of our destiny. If you want that role, then come ready to meetings, with a point of view. Sometimes offering a perspective can be as simple as knowing what questions you want to ask.
  3. Create relevance. Every argument can benefit from relevant quantitative data. Figure out which facts matter and get 'em. Even in early markets where the data is still fuzzy, you can figure out if something is the size of a breadbox or a Humvee. Real customer stories and anecdotes are great; backing those up with facts is even better.
  4. Choose your medium. If these are people who value numbers, use an Excel spreadsheet. If they value good graphics, invest there. Better yet, tell a story that weaves together facts of importance in ways people can get lost in. Facts go in and go out, but ideas that stick always have stories that create meaning and resonance.
  5. Answer the question of "why not." When we can understand the risks, flaws and options more fully, we go from being just an advocate of one idea to being an advocate for the organization. Complex issues deserve each of us thinking about them robustly.
  6. Be passionate. Our point of view is based on our experiences and observations; your idea may not be something that the rest of the group is thinking about yet. This means you're going to need to explain it to them. If you do it in a way that is about you being in love with the idea rather than about you being right, someone else just might fall in love with that idea, too. Being passionate does not mean having an outburst, but being clear-minded about your approach. A commentator on a recent post, wrote that the the best words are spoken with the most honest, curious (not challenging), and genuine voice. This speaks to a kind of ego-less-ness that is passionate about doing the right thing for the business.
There is a scarily fine line between being perceived as a self-serving scene-stealer vs. someone with valid ideas that need to be considered for the good of the organization. To be a protagonist, you've got to not only speak up and be heard, but to do it in a way that advances the organization's goals. That's the difference between street corner chaos and actually being heard.

Transparency and Mergers


When it comes to business growth, I have learned that communication is tantamount to internal and external success, especially when it comes to mergers and acquisitions. A merger or acquisition is a
sensitive process for all parties involved. Misinformation can abound, egos can be bruised and business relationships can be damaged.
In my experience, implementing a transparent communications program ensures that employees and the marketplace understand exactly how the deal will affect them. Without transparency, employees and stakeholders can lose confidence in the company. A flawless response time and communication routes are just as crucial when it comes to easing the concerns of employees, investors, vendors, customers and even the media. Here are some other lessons I learned:

Quick, Precise Response
When it comes to mergers, I make it a point to anticipate and respond to rumors as soon as a deal seems imminent. I do this by immediately identifying “key messages” that contain useful and comprehensive information. Initiating a proactive strategy—which includes face-to-face meetings with those most affected by the deal—a schedule of updates and a plan for eleventh-hour changes is
also essential when it comes to creating a smooth transition process.
To ensure the transition is unaffected by exigent circumstances, I identify communication vehicles that will effectively reach my target audiences. More importantly, I establish a plan for which communication routes should be employed first. Nothing is worse than having employees find out about a major change in the company from acquaintances. These concerns should be addressed long before the rumor mill kicks into action.

Internal Communications
When announcing a merger or acquisition, I try my best to provide accurate information and avoid making promises I can’t keep. Falsely assuring employees that jobs will not be lost is detrimental to the mergers and acquisitions process, as well as overall operations, employee morale and business. If time is taken to discuss the deal’s benefits and drawbacks, employees are more likely to respond positively instead of resisting change.
Over the years, I have found that employees expect straightforward and honest information; that’s no different when it comes to mergers or acquisitions. I try to anticipate questions that may arise and have a solid answer prepared for each. What’s more, I do my best to ensure that regular updates are communicated through management, Q&A sessions, staff meetings, company newsletters and e-mails.

External Communications
Alerting employees is not the end of my responsibilities. Stakeholders, customers, vendors, community members and other key audiences hold specific interests in a company. Utilizing media relations throughout the mergers and acquisition process can help me reach out to these groups. Furthermore, communicating with key media outlets offers a means for publicizing a name change, reducing customer loss and launching new market and/or services announcements. Fostering this relationship also allows me to better control the message that is being communicated about the company.
All in all, I’ve found that the perfect mix of internal and external communication plans involves implementing communications quickly, using all available communication routes and delivering clear and accurate messages. Companies that make communications plans a priority during a merger or acquisition will emerge from the process as an organization that stakeholders, employees and the media can trust. And trust is what good business is all about.

Tips for Writing a Compelling Job Description

Before we interview candidates, we have to get top talent in the marketplace interested and excited enough to apply. We have found that one of the best ways to do this is with a well-crafted job description. Here are some of the things we do to ensure we produce elite hires for our clients.

Known What You Want (Sharpen Your Focus)It is important that we focus our job description on capturing a prospective employees’ attention and interest, and that we have a clear vision of the type of person we want to hire. For example, we may be looking for a marketing guru to help us take our business to the next level. In this case, we would look for someone who understands the potential of the various marketing levers available and knows, or is interested in learning, how to use them. We would cater to this type of person when writing our job description, as this is quite often the only opportunity to “market” a role to a target audience.

Know What THEY WantBefore we can set out to create a job description that will attract top talent, it’s important for us to understand the things our client’s target demographic view as important. Job traits like frequent travel might seem great to young professionals who aren’t tied down, but they could be a deterrent to senior executives who value spending time at home with the family. We figure out what it is the target candidates value, and then we highlight the ones that our client offers.

Answer The “Why” (Benefits vs. Features)Many job descriptions simply list the duties and responsibilities of the position, followed by a list of skills or experiences the role requires. Since the opportunity we are describing also offers unique benefits to job seekers—like a chance to work with the agency’s most famous clients or get in on the ground floor of a new client/agency relationship—we ensure the job description communicates them. When a person asks themselves “Why do I want to work here?”, we give them the answer to that question.

Sell Your CompanyWhatever position we are recruiting for probably exists in other companies. While it’s important to communicate specifics about the role itself, it’s also critical to convey information about our client’s company. A great candidate is not just applying for an opportunity; they’re joining what they hope is an innovative team. There are a lot of great things about our clients that employees value, and we do our best to explain how the job will help the candidate achieve their objectives and fast-track their marketing career.

Make It InspirationalJob descriptions shouldn’t just be informational… they should be inspirational! When it comes to actually writing the job description, we have found that there are a few important points to consider. Here is what we do to make our job description stand out:
  • We write job descriptions in a natural voice that conveys some of the personality of our client’s companies.
  • We avoid clich├ęs and keep the business jargon to a minimum.
  • We ensure the most appealing aspects of the job are highlighted and stand out.
  • When we’re done, we read it back to ourselves. We also put ourselves in the reader’s shoes and ask: “Would I be excited about this opportunity?”
Finding a great hire in today’s viral network can be a daunting task, but with the right preparation and delivery, it can net some fantastic employees.

What Are Your Social Media Goals?

You log into twitter and facebook everyday,  you read tweets, you comment on your friends facebook wall, you retweet blog post, at the end of the day, what are your social media goals? What are you trying to achieve from social media?

A tweet caught my attention recently. It mentioned that if we post 20 tweets a day we should blog and pay ourselves first. It got me thinking about the amount of time that we spent on social networking daily and whether it is influencing our productivity time.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Unleashed Your Unique and Special Proposition (USP)

 Your Unique and Special Proposition (USP)

A few points on the definition:
  1. The USP must be very specific. E.g. “Head & Shoulders will remove your dandruff”, not “Head & Shoulders is an excellent shampoo”.
  2. Your competitors cannot or will not offer it. This is why it’s no good saying “I’m talented, creative and hardworking” on your resume, or “We provide outstanding service” on your website. Chances are your competitors are not writing “I’m clueless, devoid of imagination and lazy” on resumes, or “We never answer the phone” on their websites.
  3. Don’t worry about reaching ‘mass millions’. Rosser was writing in the golden age of mass marketing. These days, according to Kevin Kelly, a creator only needs 1,000 true fans to make a living, which is a bit more manageable.
Now I know a lot of creative people have a hard time with marketing language like ‘brand’ and ‘target market’ and so on. As an introverted poet, I can relate. But sometimes in the course of this course, I’m going to have to call a spade a spade, or in this case a USP a USP.

How do you develop your USP

Here’s how!
I’m a fan of Mark McGuiness’s worksheet for developing yours (and his work in general). So I highly recommend you take a look at his great way to break it down. I’ll delve into my answers below.
Mark suggests getting at least two answers to all of the questions below.
Firstly, answer them yourself. Secondly, get someone who knows you and your work well to answer them –your customers, colleagues or friends. That’s where you come in.
This is because a USP is about other people’s perceptions of you. What makes you remarkable in their eyes may not be obvious to you. I’m going to keep my answers purposefully short because yours are more important.

1. What are you better at than anyone else?

Being open to change and learning new things. I like to think I’m someone who lives a life of adventure, constantly challenging myself. My friends say I’m a motivating type and a connector.

2. What do you enjoy doing the most?

The art of entrepreneurship, travelling the world, meeting new friends who I inspire or am inspired by, and playing Ultimate Frisbee (and sports in general).

3. What do (or could) you provide that no one else is providing?

Show you how to run your business, if you choose to, from anywhere in the world by using efficient systems, online tools and social media to streamline your work and free up time to do other fun things.

4. What annoys people the most about your industry?

A lot of people talking the talk but not walking the walk of a life of personal freedom. Tim Ferris does not work a 4 hour work week nor would he want to. I’m not interested in never working. I love what I do.
If I won the lottery tomorrow it would not make me happier because I am doing exactly what I want to be doing. That’s where I want to help other people. To get to their ultimate place of happiness and personal freedom.

5. What is remarkable about you?

I believe I’m remarkable for having an eternally optimistic love of life that sees me through.
(You can read what others say about me on the ‘Testimonials Wall’, it reminds me why I do what I do to touch the lives of others – and gives them a shout out too. Thank you all).

6. Do you have an unusual combination of elements?

I’m an integrated marketer who loves new technology and sharing how to use it effectively with others. I am a free spirit with a strategic business mind.

7. Do you have a big personality?

I’m not Gary Vaynerchuk. But I have a big sense of adventure, a Kiwi accent, a cheeky sense of humour and the ability to laugh at myself. I just wish I could project my voice more!

8. Write a USP statement

This acts reminder of what makes you distinctive and here’s the format to follow:
I am unique and different because I provide [USP] which no one else in my field provides. No one else can or will provide this because [insert reason].
So. This is where YOU get to step up and tell me what you think my USP is. Go ahead don’t be shy. Please someone…;)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

31 Innovation Questions (and Answers) To Kick Off the New Year

  1. How do you define innovation? Something different that has impact.
  2. What are different types of innovation? Innovation is more than whiz-bang technology; consider different strategic intents (e.g., create a new category, extend current business) or innovation mechanisms (e.g., new product, distribution channel, marketing approach).
  3. How do I spot opportunities for innovation? Go to the source: the customer you hope to target.
  4. Which customers should I target? Look beyond your best customers to those who face a constraint that inhibits their ability to solve the problems they face in their life.
  5. What should I look for? As Drucker said, "the customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells him;" look for a job-to-be-done, an important problem that is not adequately solved by current solutions.
  6. How should I look? Start with deep ethnographic research; avoid focus groups!
  7. How do I come up with an idea? Remember the Picasso line "good artists copy, great artists steal;" seek to borrow ideas from other industries or geographies.
  8. What is disruptive innovation? An innovation that transforms a market or creates a new one through simplicity, convenience, affordability or accessibility.
  9. What is the best way to disrupt a market? Embrace the power of trade offs. Seek to be just "good enough" along historical performance dimensions but introduce new benefits related to simplicity or affordability.
  10. What does "good enough" mean? Performance above a minimum threshold to adequately solve a customer's job to be done; sacrificing performance along traditional dimensions can open up new avenues to innovate.
  11. What is a business model (and how do I innovate one)? How a company creates, captures, and delivers value; codifying the current business model is the critical first step of business model innovation.
  12. How can I "love the low end"? Build a business model designed around the low-end customer's job-to-be-done.
  13. How do I know if my idea is good? Let patterns guide and actions decide; remember Scott Cook's advice that "for every failure we had we had spreadsheets that looked awesome."
  14. How can I learn more about my idea? Design and execute "high return on investment" experiments to address critical unknowns.
  15. How can I get other people behind my idea? Bring the idea to life through visuals and customer testimonials.
  16. How long does it take new businesses to scale? Almost always longer than initial projections; be patient for growth and impatient for profits.
  17. Why is innovation so important? The "new normal" of constant change requires mastering perpetual transformation.
  18. Why is innovation so hard? Most organizations are designed to execute, not to innovate.
  19. Who are your influences? Academics like Clayton Christensen and Vijay Govindarajan, leading-edge innovative companies like Procter & Gamble and Cisco Systems, and thoughtful writers like Michael Mauboussin and Bill James.
  20. How do I encourage innovation in my organization? Stop punishing anything that smells like failure, recognizing that failure is often a critical part of the innovation process.
  21. What is "the sucking sound of the core?" The pull of the core business and business model that subtly influences new ideas so they resemble what the organization has done before.
  22. What is an innovation "safe space"? An organizational mechanism that protects innovators from the sucking sounds of the core.
  23. How should I form and manage innovation teams? Keep deadlines tight and decision makers focused.
  24. What is in a good innovation strategy? Overall goals, a target portfolio for innovation efforts, a mechanism to allocate resources to achieve that portfolio, and clearly defined goals and boundaries for innovation.
  25. What is the best way to manage an innovation portfolio? Make sure you correctly capture current activities and measure and manage different kinds of innovations in different ways.
  26. What does 'prudent pruning' mean? Recognizing that destruction is often a critical component of creation.
  27. What role should senior executives play in innovation? A big one.
  28. How can I personally become a better innovator? Practice - innovation is a skill that can be mastered.
  29. How can I find more resources for innovation? Shut down "zombie projects" that are a drain on corporate resources.
  30. How can I more quickly turn good ideas into good businesses? Remember what Edison said - genius is "1% inspiration and 99% perspiration;" get ready to sweat.
  31. Has anyone built the ability to innovate at scale? An increasing number of companies, such as Google, Apple, Procter & Gamble, Amazon.com, Cisco Systems, Godrej & Boyce and General Electric.

Six Social Media Trends for 2011

It was a banner year for social media growth and adoption. We witnessed Facebook overtake Google in most weekly site traffic, while some surveys reported nearly 95% of companies using LinkedIn to help in recruiting efforts. In my outlook for last year, I cited that mobile would become a lifeline to those looking for their social media fixes, and indeed the use of social media through mobile devices increased in the triple digits.
I also outlined how "social media would look less social" or more accurately exclusive, and indeed, we've seen the re-launch of Facebook groups, which focus on niche interactivity, and more recently, the emergence of Path, billed as "the social network for intimate friends" which limits your network to only 50 people. The past year also saw some brands go full throttle on Foursquare's game-like geo-location platform, attempting to reward mayors and creating custom badges for the network's power users.
In other areas, such as social media policy, I was less accurate. Conversations around the topic did begin to take place, But a global survey indicated that only 29 percent of companies even have a social media policy. That's not as high as I expected.
So what could we see happening in 2011? I'll take a stab at six trends again. In no particular order:
It's The Integration Economy, Stupid. From Ford, to Dell, to Starbucks (client), to Jet Blue, and a host of other companies who have pioneered early uses of social media for business, 2011 will be the year these companies take a serious look at integrating social media, not only regionally but globally. Don't be surprised if the same companies that piloted programs such as Ford's "Fiesta Movement" and Starbuck's Foursquare programs also become the first companies to take on the huge challenge of integrating social media into all facets of business from global marketing to crisis management and beyond.
Tablet & Mobile Wars Create Ubiquitous Social Computing. As competition heats up in the form of cheaper, smarter phones and an assortment of tablets that may hit the market (a $35 Tablet in India?), technology consumers will come one step closer to being connected 24/7, and in more powerful ways than previously possible. Social networking will be on the go, out of the house, and out of the office. More competition, variety, power, and affordability in devices will fuel the increase of ubiquitous social computing.
Facebook Interrupts Location-Based Networking. If 2010 belonged to Foursquare and its playful, competitive and sometimes addicting ecosystem of badges, mayorships and specials, it's likely that Facebook will rain on Foursquare's parade in 2011. With tons of data and the architecture behind Facebook's response to Foursquare about to be rolled out globally, Facebook is well positioned to actually make location based services useful to business.
Average Participants Experience Social Media Schizophrenia. While social media schizophrenia (the overload of multiple social profiles) is nothing new to tech mavens, it will become something that more and more "average" users experience as they tweet, Facebook, G-mail, chat, Skype, BBM, SMS, and Tumble their way across the social web. While many mavens have adopted ways to manage and cope, average users may find themselves at the beginning of the curve in need of a 12-step social identity program. This may lead to increased demand from typical participants to have a more integrated and simplified social graph and an opportunity for platforms and companies alike to meet this demand.
Google Doesn't Beat Them, They Join Them. In 2010, Wired told us that Facebook could beat Google to win the net. But even at the end of 2010 after failed attempts to create their own networks such as Buzz, Google could prove that the best way to beat Facebook, Twitter, and the rest is to do what Google does best: Index them to pieces. Indeed, I've already noticed Google's algorithm has become smarter about Twitter data. I only have to type in a few words to locate old tweets. It's possible that by sticking to what Google does best, they may be able to take advantage of the social web by indexing any and all social data they can get their hands on. Expect the Googleplex to "strike back" in 2011, and perhaps demonstrate that they may figure out their role and relevancy on the social Web.
Social Functionality Makes Websites Fashionable Again. After several years of being told to "fish where the fish are," businesses realize that users expect social integration to existing Websites. Sites such as AMEX Open forum serve as a model for how networks such as Twitter can integrate with the Web experience. Websites will increasingly serve as "digital hubs" that integrate social activity from many platforms. For example, Apple's music social network, named Ping, recently integrated Twitter. While the integration has kinks, it demonstrates that even the most iconic of brands realizes that they do not exist in their own walled garden. They must integrate to be relevant in a socially connected world.