Author: Lois Kelly

Focus

Happy planning season!

It’s that time of year — business planning, which means this is a great time to show how your idea supports whatever your organization’s 2014 mantra may be.

I’ve been fortunate over the past few months to facilitate strategic planning sessions in several very different industry sectors. Yet all shared a common theme:

How can we better focus, collaborate and simplify work?

Erasing a path

The appeal of subtraction

You may have heard the self-help gurus talk about how paralyzed people have become by all their stuff, jammed into their houses, garages, storage units. It’s overrunning people’s lives and making them miserable.

The same thing is happening at work. We have so many programs, processes, special initiatives, goals, strategic mandates, task forces, and focus areas that people are overwhelmed. I recently met with a company task force that was trying to figure out a way to communicate the brand messages, corporate vision, company purpose, employee values, and four new “pathway to success” programs, all with their own titles and acronyms.

12 things I learned during BIF9

BIF9

There is one week every September where I fully immerse myself  in ideas, possibilities and new people. Last week I attended the Business Innovation Factory’s annual innovation conference. Here’s what I learned and was reminded of:

1. Show up more.  (Or better, always.)

When we lay bare our vulnerabilities and dreams, we connect with people in rich ways. As author and venture capitalist Whitney Johnson said, “There are no regrets when you show up, and when you show up your dreams can find you.  Dreaming is at the heart of disruptive innovation.”

 

2. Good questions start good ideas. 

I’ve attended every BIF conference and have noticed that innovators ask good questions, and those questions get people thinking in new ways. One of my favorites this year were what educator  Angela Maiers uses to challenge high school students as part of the Choose2Matter movement: What breaks your heart about the world?  What can you do about that? What do you need?

 

3. Do the work, the path will appear.

Food geek Scott Heimendinger kept his day job in technology and on weekends and nights wrote a food blog and started experimenting with sous vide cooking.  Acknowledging that it’s OK to be risk averse, which he is, Scott just kept working away on his love for molecular gastronomy as a side project.  Eventually, he found his new path as director of applied research at The Cooking Lab.  Innovators just start without knowing what the outcomes should or will be.

 

4. Nothing is too big to change.

Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, has created a new higher ed approach, aimed particularly for disadvantaged, often marginalized adults who want to get ahead at work. For just $1,250 people can earn an associate’s degree and learn the competencies they need to get a promotion and access the social mobility needed to have a better life.   Rather than tweaking the traditional higher ed model or continuing to engage in side issues  like student loan rates, SNHU created a new model that goes to the root issues: people want to learn competencies in new, affordable ways so that they can get better jobs  FYI: Fast Company has named SNHU one of the worlds’ 50 most innovative companies.

 

5. Oh, God.

Speaking of not being too big to change. Just as Pope Francis’ stunning interview urging The Catholic Cburch  to preach more about mercy and less about dogma was published  last week (Hallelujah!), Rabbi Irwin Kula was speaking on stage about the urgent need to un-bundle wisdom and practices from the people who own them, and to make sure that our moral enhancements keep pace with technological enhancements. “Religion is just a tool box,” he said. “It’s time to consider blending practices from all religions and make love and empathy the source of what we are designing for the world.”  Amen.

 

6. “A network is worthless if you do not give it away.” 

The wise and generous innovation adviser Deb Mills-Scofield reminded people that it matters not how large or extensive your network is if you do not use it for good, sharing it with others to open up possibilities for them.

 

7. The fastest way to change is…

The easiest and fastest way to create more innovation in an organization is to accelerate generation change, said Bruce Nussbaum, former Business Week editor and now professor of Innovation and Design at Parsons The New School of Design.  My thought: how do we help Baby Boomers share their wisdom and transition to new roles so that younger people can step in and create more of the change that is so needed?

 

8. Sleep is not over-rated.

Towards the end of the week after many consecutive 16-hour days of intense listening and provocative conversations, I was reminded of how much I value sleep and quiet think time.

 

9. Optimism is the greatest form of rebellion.

The huge value of empowering the rebels inside organizations seemed to resonate with many, as did Carmen Medina‘s belief that optimism is the greatest form of rebellion and positive change. Rebels at Work see possibilities, not insolvable problems.

 

10.  Oh joy...

Playfulness, joy and unexpected silliness are essential to our humanity. Erminio Pinque, founder Big Nazo Lab, creates big, funky, life-sized foam creatures for parades and for their own special Big Nazo Shows. Erminio told me that the surprise of the creatures and costumes opens people up to being people. While going through airport security recently, the  TSA screeners pulled the foam creature masks out of the suitcase and yelled across to  their colleagues, “Hey Joe. Check this out.”  Everyone in line forgot their frustrations and frantic schedules and laughed together. Like children in awe of the world’s wondrous surprises.

 

11. Digital handshake, in-person hug

Tim McDonald, director of communities for the HuffingtonPost, and I sat together during the conference. As we said our goodbyes he gave me a big bear hug and explained that he sees meeting people via social media as “the real world,” and when he gets to meet them physically he likes to give big hugs.  I love his approach to digital handshake, in-person hug. Talk about connecting.

 

12. Control is for beginners.

 

The life of  Carl Stormer‘s wife was upended when she had a massive stroke at age 43, and they learned to keep going and find meaning in a life that is not what one would choose.  Carl’s wife believes that control is for beginners.  And that, dear friends, was my greatest takeaway of an intense week of learning.

 

 

Slow trends, emerging opportunities

Change

When life slows down during the summer I notice more, read more, and reflect on changing trends and emerging opportunities. Here are some of my random observations.

Chief Communications Officers/Chief Marketing Officers:

There are a lot of C-level titles in companies and one that is slowly fading away is the Chief Communications Officer. The duties of that position are increasingly being folded in under the Chief Marketing Officer. SAP, FedEx, IBM and other companies have all recently made this change.  Much of marketing and communications is similar, particularly the shared goal of building the company’s reputation.  But reputations need to be earned, not just communicated, and therein lies customer experience, product and service, front line employee engagement, customer service and a host of other factors that fall largely into the marketing bucket.  There are still some special communications skills distinct and separate from marketing but do they warrant a C-level executive and another organizational silo?

 

Press releases/one or two sentence explanation:

Not to pick on the PR profession here, but I am on a distribution list where I get  press releases and pitch emails, most of which seem kind of  dumb. Most are irrelevant to me and written in such gobbledygook corporate-speak that I don’t know what the point is. Please tell me in a straightforward sentence or two why your idea or news is relevant and worth me taking a closer look at.  You can also skip writing those phony press release quotes that no one publishes and probably lengthen the review process inside the company . If you use a formulaic press release style I just hit “delete.”

 

Less reading/ more tweeting:

As people spend more of their discretionary time on social networks they seem to be reading fewer books. I’ve talked with people of all ages this summer who told me they “just don’t have time to sit down and read a book” and yet their Tweets and Facebook posts are voluminous. While I find great value and enjoyment from social media, what I learn from reading a book is of much greater value, from learning and spiritual perspectives. Is there a future for both?

 

Newspapers at the end of the driveway/tablets:

When I walk down to the end of the driveway at 5:45 a.m. to pick up my New York Times in its blue plastic bag and The Providence Journal in its clear bag I look around at my neighbors’ driveways and realize we’re one of the few houses that still subscribe to the paper editions.  My ritual of reading the papers and drinking one good cup of strong coffee before the house wakes up may be ending. The online iPad editions of newspapers are becoming  good reading experiences, perhaps even better than the paper versions.  (And I do know that trudging through the snow and ice in the winter to get the paper is  miserable.)

 

Focus groups/unstructured data + communities:

A client recently asked for a focus group to better understand a situation. I was kind of shocked that he thought getting 10 people around a table  for a couple of hours would be worth the time or money. There are so many  easier and less expensive ways to quickly tap into the wisdom of the crowds and get a read on an issue or an idea. And the insights are likely to be better than the old facilitated focus group format.  By polling people in one of the company’s communities we had 140 thoughtful considered responses within 24 hours. Cost?  A few hours to design the questions and analyze the results.  For meatier issues where it does make sense to get people together to think more deeply about a topic I see the opportunity in the Art of Hosting type approaches.

 

Suburban McMansions/neighborhoods, co-housing:

With the middle class being squeezed financially and the Baby Boomers aging, the appeal and maintenance cost of big houses is diminishing. People are beginning to choose new options — smaller homes in neighborly neighborhoods and co-housing communities, like this one in Vermont that I recently toured, and this one in Rhode Island, focused on the arts and agriculture.  Or moving into cities and embracing the no-car life, like in new city centers like Brickell in Miami.  The real trend, however,  may be that people want to be part of communities with people, not just living next to people.

 

Large scale shopping malls/e-commerce, neighborhoods, Makers:

Those big sprawling shopping malls are starting to sag as people look to shop in areas with smaller stores and more of a neighborhood feel. The headline in Neilsen’s recent “Brick by Brick: The State of the Shopping Center” report — Go Big or Go Small — captures the trend.  The WalMart and Target super-centers are thriving, but the days of the shopping mall are waning. E-commerce continues to grow, as do smaller, more neighborhood-like lifestyle centers where you shop, eat, go to a movie, and take a walk. The big trend to watch, however, are inidivdual DIYers and craftspeople creating products and new markets for selling them, like  the Maker Movement and its Maker Faires and marketplaces like Etsy, a personal favorite.

 

Less consulting/more job seekers:

The hardest work of a consultant is developing business opportunities, and many marketing consultants I know are looking for positions with agencies or inside companies for this reason. I have a hunch too that it’s just much more rewarding to work with a team than work solo.  It’s similar to the desire to live in a neighborhood with people vs. living on a three-acre lot in a big house where you never see people.  People are longing for people. Many employers don’t look favorably on resumes where people have been self-employed for a while; they haven’t been on a neat track.  Keep an open mind, there’s some tremendous talent available if you change your lens (and don’t rely on those resume keyword scanners.)

 

Tans/diet & exercise:

Seeing people coming out of the tanning salon next to my dry cleaners with the goggle marks still around their eyes, makes me go, “Hunh?” People with those deep, dark Coppertone tans seem as trendy as people who smoke.  Fortunately, tans are fading. (excuse the pun). The opportunity: people who eat healthy food and exercise seem to have a healthy glow, much more attractive than tans.  While at a recent yoga retreat I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful women at all ages, up through the 70s, looked sans makeup. And tans. (Or maybe I’m just envious that I haven’t been able to get to the beach this summer and am justifying my longing for a wee bit of a tan from swimming and body surfing.)

 

Enjoy the rest of your summer, and keep on noticing the slow shifts that are opening up new opportunities in every field, as well as signaling what to let go of.

 

 

What a question

Every once in a great while you hear  a question that changes how you look at things, how you approach strategy, design, marketing, innovation, and maybe even your own life. Here’s one that’s rocking my thinking:

“Who do you want your customers* to become?”

 

In his book of the same name, MIT’s Michael Schrage says, “Successful innovators don’t just ask customers and clients to do something different, they ask them to become something different.”

Who do you want your customers to becomeBecause customers are always changing, strategy shouldn’t focus on existing customers but on who tomorrow’s customers will — and should — be, and then designing our offers to help the customer become that person. To realize new attitudes, behaviors, values, and habits.

  • Facebook asks users to become more open about sharing their personal information.
  • Disney helps little girls become princesses. Amazon has asked people to become different kinds of shoppers.
  • Google has asked us to  become impatient searchers who demand speed. Social business is asking us to share and tap into our collective intelligence.
  • My Rebels at Work movement is asking people to stand up and lead change within organizations.
  • Uber is asking us to demand lower costs and easier booking for chauffeured transportation.
  • The Khan Academy is asking us to rethink teachers as tutors and coaches.
  • Bobbi Brown is asking us to keep our make-up simple and easy.
  • FedEx is asking small businesses to consider the world their market, not just their local countries.

Once you articulate The Ask, you can more clearly see what you need to do to help your customers  become someone different. This becomes the strategy discussion.

Schrage notes that few company vision statements address the customer. Most are about the company and provide little direction on how to  add value to the customer.  “A customer vision statement, explicitly identifies the qualities and attributes the organization aspires to create in its customers.”

* Note that you could insert client, boss, donor, citizens, association members and other types of customers into this question. How do you want to transform that group of people? How will they benefit?  Do the benefits offset what they’ll need to do to transform?

Schrage’s short and provocative ebook is available on Amazon for $3.03. It’s a must-read, and its question is a must-ask.

Don’t Do It Alone

We can’t do it alone,

whether it’s changing things at work

or living through personal challenges.  

I have  often written about the need to find allies at work to  accomplish change and stay positive.

While I know this to be true, I have been guilty in trying to go it alone.  I am the fire-starter, the organizer, the person who gets things done.  My  husband has a similar mindset. So when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease two years ago, we found one of the most renown Parkinson’s neurologists, got the medication,  read the books, and decided that we wouldn’t let Parkinson’s define our lives.

It was with great apprehension that we went to a  five-day a “wellness retreat” with 57 other people with Parkinson’s and their care partners last week at Kripalu, the yoga and spiritual center in the hills of Western Massachusetts.  Since the program was sponsored by the National Parkinson’s Foundation, we thought that we would learn a great deal  from medical experts about research, symptoms, medications, resources, and what to be aware of as the condition progresses. And we did.

But what I really came away with is less anxiety and more confidence that I can do this, no matter how wonky the disease may affect my husband.  The wisdom, practical know-how, and generosity of those 57 people in the retreat was a stark reminder that it’s better not to try to take on difficult situations alone.  There’s always much to learn from people  who know more and have experienced worse. One self-less act really brought home this message.

 The one self-less act. Yoga Dance

Selfishly I wanted my husband to participate in a noontime event called Yoga Dance, open to everyone at Kripalu not just the PD folks. It’s like a wild-ass dance party with great music and free form dancing. Makes me feel like 19 again. I asked each man in our PD wellness workshop if he would go to yoga dance, explaining that if a bunch of guys went my husband would too.  They all agreed, including Ray who was having a particularly tough day with his PD.

Ray and his partner Richard went into the big dance room, music blaring, lots of athletic yoga people dancing like joyful fools.  Feeling very uncomfortable Ray told Richard he needed to leave, his body just couldn’t move to the music.  They left the room for a few minutes and came back, where Ray tried again.  He and Richard soon left a second time, and then they came back in for a third try.

Ray was upset that he couldn’t move. Richard was upset that Ray was upset. It was a horrible, unsettling incident that reminded them both of the realities of Parkinson’s.

While they struggled my husband and I danced like young lovers. Ray and Richard didn’t know, but it was our 30th wedding anniversary.

Genuine collaboration is what Ray did coming to that lunchtime yoga dance.  He came  from a deep well of thoughtfulness and wanting to help me.  Even though it was so, so hard for him.

As I reenter the “real” world on Monday, I keep with me a new question:

What would Ray do?

 

 

 

When did women stop raising their hands?

An incident last week jolted me awake about women in the workplace.

I participated in two days of new employee orientation for a financial services client.  About 70 percent of the 40 people in the class were women, the rest men. As part of a group exercise the instructor asked for a representative from each table to stand up and share the group’s work.  A man spoke for every group but one, that being my table where I stood up.

I was shocked and saddened. Why are women letting men dominate, even in non-threatening situations like work orientation games?

When I was in my 20s we women boldly stood up and spoke up, knowing that our views were as valuable as the guys, oftentimes even more so.  We weren’t very good at slinging the bull shit like some of our fearless men friends. So our responses were often more considered and thoughtful.

We knew we had to speak up.  Trailblazers like Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzeg had worked hard and sacrificed much to help us move into the corporate world. We wanted to pay it forward by succeeding and helping other women in their journeys.  Having a say and being heard was essential.

When I was working at AT&T early in my career I was promoted into a job where I made $22,000, taking over for a man who hadn’t been performing so well at the job but had been making $48,000.  More than double what I was paid for the same responsibilities. I raised this disparity with HR, which told me that the man had more experience, and, confidentially,  “if you keep speaking up like this you could hurt your career.”  I loved telling that story, and I more loved seeing the pay gap between women and men shrink.

We’ve made such gains over the 30 years, but apparently not enough.

Aside from my fear that women will continue to not get promoted as quickly or make as much as men if they do not speak up and believe in themselves, I worry about businesses being able to adapt and grow.  Research shows that the more diverse the thinking an in an organization, the faster and better it can solve problems.  If women are submissive, organizational performance will suffer.

I was recently planning a conference with a wonderful, enlightened European man.  He recruited the first 12 speakers.  Eleven of the 12 were men.  When I pointed out this imbalance, he was taken aback. He hadn’t even noticed that he had invited almost all men.  I am pleased to tell you that this conference is now equally represented.

Today the Fast Company blog  had a story that caught my eye, “Eight Successful Entrepreneurs Give Their Younger Selves Lessons They Wish They’d Known Then.”  When I clicked on the story all the entrepreneurs were men. Really? The writer couldn’t find one successful female entrepreneur?

Let’s call the media on this imbalanced view of business.

Let’s also get back to supporting and encouraging women in the workforce.

I don’t know about you, but I thought we had come farther.  I thought my  diligence in helping and promoting women had worked and now I could move on to new issues.

Not so.

Just as Sheryl Sandberg is doing with her LeanIn.org,  we need to help women stand up and be heard for their considerable talents and perspectives.   If they don’t speak up confidently they will be overlooked  for promotions and for increased compensation.

Worse, we wont be able to solve the complexity of today’s issues without the equal voices of both women and men, and not just women and men.  But people who think differently from one another.  Believe me, no one has the answers figured out in any industry.

 

PS — this Hay Group study just came out yesterday.

 

Is social media becoming PR?

Is social media becoming PR?

When I started my career in public relations it was a function that tried desperately to show value and “results.”   The assumption was that lots of press and “awareness” or “impressions” were good, less was less good.  None of the PR measurement models correlated to business goals like sales, customer satisfaction, brand preference, competitive intelligence — or the performance drivers of those goals.  PR was one of those “have to have” functions and leaders didn’t take it all that seriously. A career in PR, much like its pink cousin HR, was a “soft” career.

One of my good friends, a well known PR executive,  and I use to joke that our career goal was to get out of PR because it was so hard to convince executives that it could be and should be something more than publicity and crisis communications.  When I ask him how he is he jokes, “Still in PR.”

I see similarities between PR then and social media today.  Instead of impressions people are measuring  social media “engagement.”  But to what end?  How does what kind of engagement support what business goals?  Alas, I see company reports that show “results” being more and more engagement. 2,000, 5,0000, 10,000 Twitter followers.  3,000 likes on the company Facebook page.  2,000 views of the latest company video on You Tube.

My question is, so what.  It’s like the old publicity awareness goal. Awareness of what and how does that help what business strategy.

The potential value social strategies can bring to business is extraordinary.  Data mining of unstructured social data to see ways to develop new types of products and services way ahead of competitors.  Incorporating social apps into products and services to earn customer preference. Crowdsourcing to develop products and services more quickly and with much more predictable adoption rates.

These opportunities require heavy lifting.  Big brain data analysts, developers, new business processes. Willingness to experiment and iterate vs.  the traditional research, plan, develop, market (and publicize!) New types of external partner and developer relationships vs. “the agency.”  Systems thinkers vs. project managers.  You get the picture.

Most companies see social as a better way to communicate.  PR on networked, social steroids.

When I was a young woman in PR the president of my company advised me. “If you really want to get ahead, make sure there’s revenue attached to your job.”

If your company wants to get the most value from social, make sure it’s attached to revenue.  (Or a worthy strategic equivalent.) Not to meaningless impressions or  engagement numbers.

Just sayin.