Category : Smart company stories

CEO Nancy Schlichting: find the disruptive people

“Find the disruptive people in your organization. They have the ideas that will drive change,” said Nancy Schlichting, CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, a $4 billion healthcare organization with 23,000 employees.

Speaking at the BIF8 innovation conference last week in Providence, RI, Nancy shared what has helped her transform an ailing health care system and create innovations in health care such as a new  $360 million health and wellness facility that feels more like a luxury hotel than a hospital.

Transforming healthcare is all about leadership, she said. Her leadership approach focuses on creating an “incredible” environment for every person to reach their full potential.  How she has created such an  environment:

  • Making a large organization feel small.  When the board approached her about being CEO of the health care system she was reluctant to take it because she likes being involved with people and creating working environments that are positive, personal and open-minded. The board assured her that being CEO of a health care would not preclude how she like to lead.
  • Saying yes to unusual ideas, like an employee who wanted to be able to creating fun drawings  on the disposable gowns worn by the kidney dialysis staff. “This woman creates this amazing designs on her own time on the weekends. On Monday mornings the staff can’t wait to see what she has that week for them.”
  • Helping people who are disruptors. These, she says, are the people with the ideas that can help you change and transform. One example she shared: a surgeon who wanted to put health kiosks in churches in the Detroit community.  Doing so has been a hugely successful way to help people learn about health and wellness.
  • Hiring people in with non-traditional backgrounds to help you see things in new and different ways. “This is essential,” Nancy stressed. One example: she hired Gerard van Grinsven, a long time Ritz Carlton executive to be CEO of the new Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, even though Bernard had no health care experience. His “otherness” has been a significant reason the new hospital has been so successful in its ambitious goals. (Here’s a link to a video of Gerard sharing his story about going from high-end hotels to opening a hospital.
  • Bringing together different thinkers. Creative ideas happen at the intersections, said Nancy. Bringing different thinkers together across silos creates better ideas faster.

Hearing her talk I was reminding of the wonderful poem by Kaylin Haught, “God Says Yes To Me.”  Imagine if CEOs said yes, yes, yes to more of their employees, especially the disruptive corporate rebels?

Not only would organizations be able to innovate and change more quickly, a wonderful sense of joy would permeate the workplace — even in high-stress environments in struggling urban areas, like the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.

 

Purpose = Profits

Check out this analysis by Morgan Stanley of some of the largest public tech companies in the world: Companies with “simple, focused” missions achieve the biggest gross margins.

Fascinating, yes?  Note that QlikView and Salesforce have the biggest gross margins AND more simple, focused missions than the other companies.

A clear mission is so valuable, but so many companies struggle with finding the courage and commitment for standing for something.  Or they fall into gobbledygook corporate speak that lacks inspiration and clarity. Or the “mission statement by consensus” process is so draining that people end up with “whatever” missions rather than something simple and great.

Big hint: If  the mission process gets painful, you have the wrong people involved.

(See the story that accompanied the chart over at Harvard Business Review, “Employee Values = Stakeholder Value” by Lars Bjork, CEO of QlikTech.)

Leadership advice from JetBlue’s CEO

David Barger, JetBlue Airway’s president and CEO, shared some of his insights about leadership recently in the Sunday “New York Times” column, Corner Office column..  Highlights I found particularly interesting:

  • Simplifying complexity: “You have to be able to simplify things that are complex. At the end of the day, if the 13,000 people on the front lines don’t understand what you’re trying to do, forget it. You don’t stand a chance of making it work.”
    •  (Note:  Four years ago JetBlue had 23 objectives, 14 in year two, 10 in year three, and now just two key objectives. Also, the company has just five values and it interviews candidates with those five values in mind: safety, caring, integrity, fun and passion.)
  • To lead doesn’t require titles: “Be mindful that there is incredible leadership all around you. Go find it. Go tap it. Go mine it.”
  • Key question: “Would you want to report to yourself?”
  • Leading is teaching: “I think the best leaders are teachers…You’re not just doing and communicating what you’re doing — you’re teaching people why you’re doing it.”

Courage to lead: Providence Mayor Angel Taveras

True leaders are rare. Especially among  elected government officials, who tend to make tough decisions based on how it will affect their re-election chances.

One of those rare leaders is Providence Mayor Angel Taveras,  guiding the city and its people through some exceedingly painful yet necessary decisions in order to fill a $110 million  deficit.  And Providence isn’t just any city. It’s been historically  fraught with corruption, closed-door wheeling and dealing, and an unhealthy influence of self-serving insiders.

I often hear people excuse leaders’ inability to lead, saying things like, “Well he’s got a complicated situation to deal with.” Or, “It will take years for anyone to be able to change this place.”

Yet Taveras is deftly guiding the city through difficult change in order to get on firm financial footing. Imagine being a first-time urban city mayor and having to make tough decisions like closing schools and laying off community teachers, firefighters and police?

Despite these always unpopular decisions, Traveras is earning respect and collaboration from his constituents. The reason? He’s focused on doing what’s right, and working WITH diverse constituents. He isn’t dictating how to get to financial stability; he is collaborating in the true sense of the word with the people in the city who best know how to make changes on a tactical level.

Six critical leadership competencies that Taveras brings as mayor:

  1. Focus on a clear, shared goal: restoring the city to a sound fiscal foundation. Taveras’ message is clear about the urgent need to solve the deficit crisis.  Period.
  2. Honesty: revealing the city’s dire financial situation right after his election. No spinning bad news. No taking time to socialize ideas and tend to politics. Taveras has been a straight shooter, presenting the reality, and calling for people to come together to figure out solutions.
  3. Transparency, sharing: sharing the data to help everyone make better decisions.  Fire union president Paul Dougherty recently said that previous mayoral administrations would withhold financial information and often say, “Find it yourself.”  Taveras’ negotiators, however,  have “been straightforward, and they give you information when you ask for it.”
  4. Admitting missteps: acknowledging mistakes and learning from them. “They’re right,” said Taveras of crticism from the teachers union on how the city revealed teacher layoffs. “We certainly could have done a better job with our teachers and I learned from it.”
  5. Not having the answers: great leaders set goals and ask people with a stake in the outcome to create the best way to achieve those goals.  This approach speeds change. The solution isn’t dictated from above, it’s created by the people closest to the issues who know the issues, and will  be responsible for executing them. Taveras doesn’t claim to have the answers, and believes that Providence’s leaders have the ability to create the “how” now that the why is so vitally clear.
  6. Belief and fortitude: Taveras has a steadfast belief that the city will solve its problems, and he’s steadfast in his belief and his values. “He’s showing me intestinal fortitude that I didn’t think he had,” says Joseph Rodio, a lawyer for the police union. “Most politicians, in their first 60 days in office, become somebody different. He hasn’t.”

Quite simply, Mayor Taveras seems to have the courage to govern for the people and with the people.  That’s the type of leader — not politician — we should be supporting if we really want to make our cities, states and country a better place to live.

 

Putting words to why your company exists

A great company purpose  is a rallying cry that inspires employees and customers.  It moves people emotionally, creates a differentiation that has nothing to do with products or price, and can be explained by anyone in the company.

The best example is Nike. While most of us know the company’s 20 year-old “Just Do It” motto, there’s much more to why Nike exists. Simon Sinek, author of the great book “Start with Why” shares this story about Nike founder Phil Knight over on his re:Focus blog:

Looking across the audience, Knight asked those who run to stand up.  And a good percentage of the room stood up.  Then he asked those who run three or more times a week to keep standing; everyone else was asked to sit down.Looking out at the people left standing, Knight said, “we are for you.”

“When you get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to go for a run,” he went on, “even if it’s cold and wet out, you go. And when you get to mile 4, we’re the one standing under the lamp post, out there in the cold and wet with you, cheering you on.  We’re the inner athlete.  We’re the inner champion.”

Without a single mention of their latest technologies or which athletes wear their products, Knight makes a vastly more compelling case for Why we want Nike in our lives. Nike may or may not be better, but we are drawn to them because they have a cause.

Nike doesn’t want to make products for everyone, they want to make products for champions.  Champions are not the ones who always win races, champions are the ones who get out there and try. And try harder the next time. And even harder the next time. Champion is a state of mind. They are devoted.  They compete to best themselves as much if not more than they compete to best others.  Champions are not just athletes.  Champions are entrepreneurs, politicians, nurses, soldiers, students and Hall of Famers.  Nike wants to make products for all champions.

Most companies have clever or meaningless tag lines (marketing) and bland, gobbledygook mission/vision statements (corporate communications). Few can express why they exist in a way that inspires.

Imagine what might happen if you could?  And you can.

A simple workshop exercise is to ask people, “If our company were a cause, what would our rallying cry be?”

Be prepared to be amazed at what your own people believe. And if they are stumped? Time for some corporate soul searching. If you don’t know why you exist — other than making money and improving shareholder value — you really can’t lead effectively. Manage, sure. Lead, no.

 

The eight most important behaviors of managers at Google

People leave companies for one of three reasons: a terrible boss, dislike of co-workers or a lack of connection with the company’s mission or the sense that their work matters.

Managers at Google have a much greater impact on employees’ performance and how they feel about their work than any other factor. So Google embarked on an extensive internal research project to determine the most important behaviors of their managers on employee performance. Rather than apply generic management principles, Google uncovered the behaviors most important in its own corporate culture.

Since the company pinpointed the most important behaviors and started teaching them in training, coaching and performance review sessions they have achieved “a statistically  significant improvement for 75% of our worst-performing managers,” according to  Laszlo Bock, Google’s vice president for people operations.

More about Google’s data-driven project to understand how to develop management behaviors that make a difference can be found in this recent New York Times article, “Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss.”

Here are the eight behaviors that work for Google, ranked in order of importance. Do you know the most effective behaviors for your company culture? And which are more important than others?

1. Be a good coach

  • Provide specific, constructive feedback, balancing the negative and the positive
  • Have regular one-on-ones, presenting solutions to problems tailored to your employees’ specific strengths

2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage

  • Balance giving freedom to your employees, while still being available for advice.
  • Make “stretch” assignments to help them tackle big problems

3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being

  • Get to know your employees as people, with lives outside of work
  • Make new members of your team feel welcome and ease their transition

4. Don’t be a sissy: be productive and results-oriented

  • Focus on what employees want the team to achieve and how they can help achieve it
  • Help the team prioritize work and use seniority to remove roadblocks

5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team

  • Communication is two-way; you both listen and share information
  • Hold all-hands meetings and be straightforward about the messages and goals of the team. Help the team connect the dots.
  • Encourage open dialogue and listen to the issues and concerns of your employees

6. Help your employees with career development

7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team

  • Even in the midst of turmoil, keep the team focused on goals and strategy
  • Involve the team in setting and evolving the team’s vision and making progress toward it

8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team

  • Roll up your sleeves and conduct work side by side with the team, when needed
  • Understand the specific challenges of the work

One way to avoid corporate values going splat

Few people take corporate values seriously because they’re usually just good, well-meaning words on a page.  You know the common words: Be innovative. Honor integrity and  transparency in all we do.  The customer comes first. Excellence in all we do.

Most people in organizations have no idea how to live these words or use them as a guidepost to make decisions.

But here’s one example of getting it right.  To make sure its core value of “pursue growth and learning” happens, Zappos requires new employees to read specific books. They’re actively helping people live the value.

Hat tip to Ben Eubanks who included this point in his excellent post,  “Read This: Turning the Page on Employee Learning and Development,” over at the Monster Thinking blog.

Marketing assisted living homes: take two

The secret for  marketing assisted living homes: provide an extra ordinary client experience that makes people feel good.

Indeed, this is the basic marketing principal  for all services and products.

Sounds simple, but so many nursing and assisted living homes put operations first, client needs second, much like most industries. Whatever our fields, we become lulled into thinking that how we do business is the way to do business.  We rarely step back and question whether there’s a better way.

So let’s step back a minute.

Do you really need to  run your operations where  everyone lives on the same schedule, eats the ‘right’ foods, socializes with set group activities, sleeps at the appointed times?  Why must people live their last days in ways that may not fit how they lived most of their life? Does disciplined scheduling benefit your clients — or your organization, making it easier to run things?

Positive emotional experiences: good for people, good for business

New research shows that breaking away from operational norms and creating more positive emotional experiences is good for clients and good for business.

The New York Times recently wrote a fascinating article, “Giving Alzheimer’s Patient’s Their Own Way — Even Chocolate,” that explored the benefits of  flexible, client-centered care, finding that positive emotional experiences disminish distress and behavioral issues, especially among people with dementia.  (Note:  approximately two-thirds of people living in nursing homes have some dementia.)

In fact, providing a flexible living environment that works for each patient is proving to  dramatically reduced the need for anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic drugs, which often cause terrible side effects in the elderly. Flexibility means things like softer lighting, comfort foods, one-on-one vs. group activities, availability of food so people can eat when they’re hungry, encouraging clients to stay out of diapers, and personal touches, like using a perfume that the client so enjoyed earlier in her life.

The times article highlights the  research. More interesting to me are the interviews and stories of  Beatitudes Assisted Living in Phoenix, an innovator in client-centered alternative living. So innovative that many other facilities around the country are receiving Beatitudes training and now looking to adopt their practices.

These comforting personal touches improves behavior and enhances people’s lives because they “send messages that they can still understand;  ‘it feels good, therefore I must be in a place where I’m loved,'” explained Jan Dougherty, director of family and community services at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix.

All great marketing is the result of providing experiences that customers feel good about — and set you apart from the competition.  When people — usually adult children — are making decisions for their parents, most assisted living facilities “feel” the same and provide similar services and the same promise of keeping a loved one safe and healthy.

Beatitudes sets itself apart, providing emotional benefits to its clients and their families.  On top if it all Beatitudes has found that its innovative approach  saves money. This is marketing at its most effective.

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Note: I wrote a post about marketing assisted living facilities almost four years ago, and that post has become one of the most read posts since I began blogging in 2005, which tells me that the interest and desire to innovative assisted living marketing is significant.  I will continue to address this topic as the demand for assisted living is increasing, as is the challenge of running profitable, client-focused assisted living facilities.

An unusal and effective marketing channel

A few years ago at a conference I sat next to the head of the AIDS research organization AMFAR. Our conversation was about just how tough it is to get medical and public health information to people who really need it. We talked about all kinds of outreach ideas, but neither of us had a big “aha.”

Well here is the aha. The Hollywood Health & Society program, part of the Lear Center at University of Southern California, provides free medical and health information to television and film screenwriters and producers. The goal: make sure that television shows and movies accurately convey health facts.

Physicians and medical experts donate their time — ah, the allure of show business — and writers find fascinating story lines in the realities of medicine.

People watching networks like Telemundo, soaps like General Hospital, All My Children, Desperate Housewives;  cop shows like Law & Order, and the fictitious television doctors like Dr. Greg House, are not just being entertained, they’re getting  accurate, helpful information about all kinds of issues, from AIDS and organ transplants to child abuse and strokes.

There’s been so much marketing buzz about product placement on television shows. It nice to hear about television also serving as a public health educator, albeit in some very cool story lines.

Leadership in a social environment

“The first step for leading in a social environment is admitting that you’re not a genius,” explained Jim Lavoie, CEO of Rite-Solutions in his talk, “The Five Social Competencies of Highly Effective Leaders” at the Conference Board Social Media MeetUp. “When you admit that you as CEO don’t have all the answers you can then begin to harvest and harness the intellectual bandwidth of your organization.

Having once been a command-and-control CEO, Lavoie has learned that there’s a different way to lead, focusing on meaningful, trusted relationships vs.the typical transactional approach where I pay you, you do the job.  The results: more innovative ideas, cost savings, retention of highly-skilled people, and a work environment that is, well, fun. People like coming to work and feel that they have a say and are relevant.

Using collaborative platforms in creative ways also helps to draw out the introverts. “If you don’t make innovation and collaboration and introvert sport, you’re leaving behind more than half of your intellectual bandwidth.  Introverts don’t respond to ‘why don’t you put a PowerPoint together to explain your idea.’  But they do want to provide input and advance ideas they believe in. It’s leadership’s role to find new ways to help people provide that input.”

(This New York Times article explains how Lavoie and his business partner Joe Marino  have done just that in his company.)

Lavoie says senior management has to play the first pieces of this new relationship puzzle, making people feel important and that they belong.  Here’s a summary graphic of Jim’s relationship-driven corporate culture puzzle.

Social leadership LavoieJPEG

Social business

I don’t know about you but I’m hungry for real world  stories about how companies are infusing social principles into business strategy — and measuring the results in a way that makes sense to the CEO.

Next month I’m producing a conference for The Conference Board that focuses this. The Conference Board people just told us that  there are only a limited number of seats left, so register soon. Here’s why:

  • JetBlue’s CMO  is talking about new social competencies needed to lead
  • Humana is showing how to make social part of innovation
  • Kimberly-Clark and American Express are cutting through the data and talk analytics and measurement
  • FedEx is sharing how one of the biggest companies in the world is changing customer service
  • CEO Jim Lavoie is explaining how to change a corporate culture

And we’ll have other company folks talking about essential social practices, disruptive tools, and how work with  legal to innovate while minimizing risk.

A CEO's Twitter advice

smiley face JPEGMost companies tell employees what NOT to Tweet about, but Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, suggests to employees that they Tweet about these three things:

  1. What will cause my followers to smile
  2. What will enrich people’s perspective
  3. What will inspire

Thanks to Hollie Delaney of Zappos.com, for sharing this yesterday during out social media session at The Conference Board conference on extending your brand to employees. Thanks too to the other super-smart and generous panelists — Marietta Cozzi of Prudential Financial, Kat Drum of Starbucks, and Kelle Thompson of Liberty Mutual.

CEO's Twitter advice to employees

smiley face JPEGMost companies tell employees what NOT to Tweet about, but Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, suggests to employees that they Tweet about these three things:

  1. What will cause my followers to smile
  2. What will enrich people’s perspective
  3. What will inspire

Thanks to Hollie Delaney of Zappos.com, for sharing this yesterday during out social media session at The Conference Board conference on extending your brand to employees. Thanks too to the other super-smart and generous panelists — Marietta Cozzi of Prudential Financial, Kat Drum of Starbucks, and Kelle Thompson of Liberty Mutual.

Zappos' Sr. Human Resources Manager on Social Media

I’ll be moderating a session on how social media can affect employer brands at the Dec. 1 and 2 Conference Board “Extending Your Brand to Employees” conference,  with an amazing panel of executives from Zappos, Starbucks, Liberty Mutual Group and Prudential Financial.

I’ve asked the social media panelists to give us some pre-conference views on social media, using James Lipton’s “Inside the Actors Studio” question format.  Here are comments from Hollie Delaney, senior human resources manager at Zappos.com.

What is your favorite social media word?

Transparency.   At Zappos, we are obsessed with sharing our culture and way of operating our business with the outside world.  Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter have given us an outlet to do this on a higher level than what we ever thought possible.  One of our core values is to ‘Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication’, and this isn’t limited to the employees of Zappos; we would like for the outside world to be able to see anything that they would like about our business.

We have 450+ employees on Twitter, and there is no company policy to dictate what an employee can say. We just tell everyone to use their best judgment.  We even have a Twitter aggregate page which shows employees’ Tweets in real time, along with all public mentions of the company.

What is your least favorite social media word?

Expert/Guru. These are a series of new mediums, and we’re not sure that anyone can be an expert on a subject that we’ve only skimmed the surface of as an industry.

What turns you on about social media?

Its ability to engage with customers on a level that wasn’t possible just a few years ago.

What turns you off about social media?

When businesses look at these tools as a free way to spam customers.

What social media other than what you’re doing would you like to attempt?

We just try to form personal connections with customers.  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube all seem to be the best tools right now, but we know that will change/evolve over time.

What part of social media would you not like to do?

We would like to stay away from using the mediums completely for selling products. Our idea for Facebook and Twitter is that it’s a place where people go to engage with Zappos as a brand, and just making it about sharing our culture.

What would you like to hear your CEO say about social media?

http://blogs.zappos.com/blogs/ceo-and-coo-blog/2009/01/25/how-twitter-can-make-you-a-better-and-happier-person

What one thing do you hope people will learn from you at The Conference Board’s “Extending Your Brand to Employees Conference?”

That it’s not how many fans or followers that you have, it’s about how you are engaging them and if you’re forming a personal connection.  You can have 1M fans, but if they aren’t engaged in your brand and they just signed up with a click and then forgot about it, the point is lost on the effort.

10 takeways from BIF-5, Collaborative Innovation Summit

ShannonBIF5JPEG

Every year some of the most brilliant minds from business, science, art, technology, education and government come to the Business Innovation Factory’s BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit in Providence, RI for two days to share their stories about innovation. It’s sort of like the TED conference, but more intimate and relaxed. But, like TED, it blows your head off with new ideas. There are no rules, best practices, methodologies, how-to presentations. Instead, each person takes away something meaningful to them.

Here are 10 patterns and my personal takeaways from the 39 diverse speakers:

1. A positive view:  people who make new things happen are positive people, yet grounded in realism and a splash of skepticism. They don’t just see the glass half full; they see a tank half full. Their wrinkles indicate that they laugh more than worry. They want their work to make a difference.
2. Anger fuels action: anger fuels people to do things. Carne Ross, the Independent Diplomat, quit the British Foreign Service due to his anger over how issues in Iraq and Kosovo were handled by official powers, like the British government and the United Nations. MOMA’s Paola Antonelli nailed an interview that led to her position at the Museum of Modern Art by angrily addressing an interviewer’s dismissive statement on design. “Anger can make you do interesting things. Beneficial good can come from positive anger,” she said. Jay Rogers, CEO of Local Motors, started an open source automotive company based partly on his anger with America’s dependence on foreign oil – and his tour of duty as an elite Marine sniper in the Middle East.
3. Focus on the outcome: these people see possibilities, focus on realizing the big outcomes, and don’t worry much about any “right” way to get to the outcomes. As Alan Webber, so-called world detective and co-founder of Fast Co., said, “ There are those who want to do something and those who want to be someone. My advice is to do something vs. be someone.”
4. Sacrifice: inventing, creating and accomplishing require heavy lifting and personal sacrifice. If you want to “do” meaningful things, you have to be ready sacrifice – whether that sacrifice is money, ego, security, parental approval, and alienation from peers. So many of the speakers have jumped off secure cliffs, not knowing where they’ll land, and, frankly, not caring about the landing because the figuring-it-out-while-falling is where so much new thinking and creative approaches happen.
5. Cut through the b.s.: People who make things happen cut through the b.s. and tell it straight up, no pussy footing around.  They don’t couch a problem in jargon or bureaucrat-speak. Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman Management School at University of Toronto:  Business schools today are turning out “jargon-spewing economic vandals.  Stephen Trachtenberg, retired president of George Washington University: “Universities are in more denial than any other institution in society today… How did we get so outer directed that we let magazines like US News & World Report tell us how to run our law schools?”
6. Let go: Creating innovative ways often requires letting go of assumptions and presumed wisdom, Greg Matthews, director of consumer innovation at Humana, decided to not focus on “wellness” and getting people to make behavior changes like every other health insurance company trying to reinvent themselves. Instead Humana is creating new services that tap into what people already like doing, like offering cities bike sharing programs, creating games for health, and developing social media health applications.  Echoing the need to let go and look at issues differently was Richard Saul Wurman’s advice that “embracing ignorance is the only way to embrace a new project.
7. Slow way down: This was a shocker. Jonah Lehrer, science writer and author of How We Decide, talked about neurobiological research that proves that the mind needs to be quiet and in a state of relaxation to produce insights.  If you’re too focused, your attention will drown out the quiet mind, the right hemisphere “insight machine.” Jonah explained that there are two characteristics of those “aha’ moments of insight.  They are mysterious; the subconscious throw up the idea out of nowhere. And we have a feeling of certainty when the “aha” happens, we just know it’s the answer we’ve been searching for.
8. Revere humility: I’ve spent too much time in Silicon Valley and VC conferences where hubris reigns. (Merriam-Webster defines hubris as “exaggerated pride or self-confidence.”)  The people at BIF-5 were so incredibly accomplished, doing big things for our world, but humility was a marked characteristic. This vulnerability is a way to stay open to possibilities and new insights. My guess is this vulnerability also attracts talent. followers, supporters, fans and customers.
9. Stay grounded on the right questions: Almost every speaker kept saying, “ So the question I kept asking myself.” Or,  “ the question that needs to be answered is…” Good questions trigger good ideas.

Alan Weber recommended that we all “ask the last question first,” defining business victory before setting out on creating and running the business. Knowing what victory is – whether for our careers or our businesses — helps guide decisions.

Nell Merlino, founder of Take Your Daughter To Work Day and CEO of Count Me In, a non-profit helping women entrepreneurs, asked, “why do half of women-owned businesses never grow beyond than $50,000 a year. The answer to that key question is helping her organization focus on how to help women grow their businesses. (The two greatest obstacles: women are afraid to hire people and they think that if they pay attention to the numbers, their dream will die.)
10. Make it fun:  Invention is serious fun.  Humana is designing games to help people manage health. NYU’s Natalie Jeremijenko is creating wacky, fun ways to get communities involved in solving environmental health issues, like being able to text fish in the East River. (I didn’t quite get it, either.)  Sarah Endline is making sweetriot candy because it’s fun and because it helps farmers in developing countries achieve economic independence. Bill Shannon, CEO of kidney dialysis company DaVita, a Fortune “Most Admired” company, appeared on stage dressed as one of the Three Musketeers. (His picture is above.) Part of his message is that companies need to create environments where people share, learn, personally succeed, and have fun. “The work we do is so hard that we need to create the most fun work atmosphere.”

The Business Innovation Factory will be posting the videos of all the speakers within the next couple of weeks. Check them out here. Then, put it on your calendar to come to Providence next October. You will be inspired.

Hiring your own beat reporter: LA Kings jump onto trend

LA KingsJPEG

If there are no media left to cover your company or sports team, what do you do to build a fan base besides Tweet and run a company blog?  For the past two years our company has created independent blog properties for big companies, written by independent writers, free of any control by the client.  (The blogs focus on issues relevant to the clients’ businesses.)

This week the LA Kings adopted a similar approach when it hired Rich Hammond of the Los Angeles Daily News to cover the team  — not as a publicist, but as a journalist covering his sports beat but being paid by the team.

Sports teams used to have several full time “traveling beat writers” covering them. Now major league sports teams are lucky if they have one. For the LA Kings, they’ve had no one covering them, aside from spotty AP reports. (This is hockey, not major league football, but still….)

By  hiring a verteran sports reporter,  the Kings expect to see much more news about the team, not just about games but about player profiles, previews, etc.  A steady stream to connect with the fan base and hopefully attact new ones. It’s a trend that we expect more and more companies to adopt as well.

Here’s what Rich Hammond wrote about the move:

To put it as plainly and simply as possible, I will draw a salary from the Kings, but none of the stories and/or blogs I write will be reviewed for approval by any member of the Kings’ staff. Topics will not need approval and interviews will not have any additional supervision. I have been hired to blog, write stories — including coverage of home and road games — and produce other content for the website. This is not public relations. I have been told, pointedly, by the highest levels of Kings management, that I should continue to report and write as normal.

Be certain of two things: I will not “go easy” on the Kings out of any fear of retribution, just as I will not take gratuitous shots at the team and the organization simply because I have retained the right to be critical. Things will continue on course. Praise and criticism, to the extent I feel either is warranted, will continue to be distributed fairly.

That’s out of the way. Now let me tell you what to expect. I can say, with complete confidence, that you will have better, more comprehensive Kings coverage than ever before. When the team is away on its 10-day road trip next month — and on all of its road trips — I will be there, giving up-to-the-minute updates on the blog and writing stories for the website. For the first time ever in my career, I will be able to dedicate every working hour to covering the Kings.

It will be interesting to see of the Kings do give Hammond complete editorial control.  In our experience, it’s hard for “the owners” to be hands off when a writer writes something they disagree with, or knocks — legitimately – the company or product in some way.   Yet  research shows that people believe sources that provide the good and the not-so-good. Those souces have more credibility than the “official company spokesperson.”

And, who knows, if the Kings get this right, maybe the good karma will help them win more games too. :)