21st Century Marketing – The Good Guys Win

GenerosityAs a matter of principle, I have always subscribed to the notion that nice guys don’t have to finish last. In fact, they can and should finish first. This ideal has been challenged repeatedly throughout my career, but now that I’m running my own business I’ve come to the conclusion that helping the good guys be more successful is the best possible application of my time and talent.

Slate Magazine published an article titled “Nice Guys Finish First” by Seth Stevenson featuring the work of organizational psychologist and Wharton Professor, Adam Grant. Mr. Grant has published a book, “Give and Take” in which he identifies Givers (the good guys), Takers (aggressively self-serving) and Matchers (most of us).

Mr. Grant has observed that the Givers are abundantly generous with no expectation of reciprocity. They give expecting nothing in return. He also notes that the givers who protect their interests – who don’t allow themselves to be exploited – are likely to excel in organizations. In my experience (and ideal world) they also excel in business.

Givers, and the organizations they lead, are perfectly suited to modern marketing strategies. Because they focus on making the people around them better and more successful, their companies are more customer-focused. Because they place their customers’ interests above their own, Givers are better positioned to conduct the honest dialog that is so crucial to branding and marketing today.

David Packard once said, “Marketing is too important to be left to the Marketing Department”. I don’t think Mr. Packard was dissing the marketing department. He just understood that marketing is too big for any single person or group. Everyone has to be engaged in the important work of creating value and building a brand.

Marketing today is a very big picture indeed. And what gets me really excited about the work I’m doing these days is this: the people I’m working with think so too! They are good guys who care about their products and services. They care about their employees. And they REALLY care about their customers. That, to me, is what business and marketing is all about.

I have my own observations about the “good guys” I have worked with and watched over the years. These are women and men, founders, executives and managers who are never happier than when everyone around them is challenged and successful.

  • Good guys are never, ever done. Whether I’m working with the founder of a startup or an executive at a well-established firm, these leaders always want to do more and be better. They recognize that earning their customers trust and loyalty is an ongoing imperative, and they take that challenge very, very seriously.improvement image
  • Good guys want their people and companies to be the best. Most of the good guy leaders I have worked with have studied their competition enough to know if they have some catching up to do. But for the most part, they’re motivated by an unquenchable desire for self and organizational improvement.
  • Good guys stay sharp. These men and women are almost all voracious readers, and a lot of what they read is directly or indirectly related to their work. They read about marketing and leadership. They study evolving management practices. They’re fascinated by emerging technology and all the possibilities it promises for improved service and efficiency.Books images

I’m working with a founder now, Jack, who exemplifies these traits. Jack left the security of a full time gig at a major company about thirty years ago because he saw a void in the marketplace. At the time, the segment of the population he serves had a very poor menu of options. As a result, people were often forced to choose financial solutions that were inadequate to their circumstances.

Jack rushed to fill that void. Through self-directed education and hard work, he became a nationally recognized authority in a discipline he essentially created. He founded an organization for the practice and served as its first president.

Benefiting the industry at large, and by extension thousands of people he could never hope to serve, Jack also contributed to the development of an accredited professional training curriculum and designation. To top it all off, he lobbied at the state and federal level and served as an expert court witness to protect the interests of the people his business was built to serve.

This was all in addition to his day job.Teamwork

I spoke with some of Jack’s colleagues to get a broader perspective on the business. To each of these accomplished individuals, Jack was and is the embodiment of the firm’s culture, character and brand. He is the company’s most enthusiastic evangelist and its single largest revenue producer. Significantly, their high regard for Jack is only exceeded by Jack’s regard for them.

Mostly, Jack is passionate (an overused term I hesitate to use, but appropriate here) about the people he serves – a community whose lives his company is in a position to change in profound ways. Jack is a business “good guy”.

It’s a privilege (and a blast!) for me to work with Jack and business leaders like him. I benefit from their wisdom. Their zeal inspires and excites me. Together, we approach marketing from a big picture perspective, working to build brands and grow businesses around true stories that really matter. That’s a world where, I believe, good guys are destined to finish first.

 

Have you ever worked for or with good guys? How did their presence affect you and your organization? Do you agree with my premise – that modern marketing is well suited to supporting the success of good guys? Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you. If you like this, or any of my articles I hope you’ll share them. Thanks as always for reading ~ Michael 

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Change Is Pain. Do Something About It.

change imageRic Edelman and his wife Jean started their wealth management business in 1986, with no clients, no assets and no staff. Today, they’re one of the nation’s largest financial advisory firms with $14 Billion in assets under management, 26,000 clients, 100 advisors and 38 offices.

With these impressive accomplishments over nearly thirty, sometimes-harrowing years in the financial markets, it’s safe to say that Ric is an expert in the wealth management business. That’s why a recent article by Ric in FA Magazine caught my attention.

In “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”, Ric explains in convincing fashion that professionals in the wealth management and financial advisory business are facing a period of profound and rapid change. In the article, he offers three courses of action for advisors. Rather than repeat them here, I encourage you to read his excellent article. The point is that change is coming and the advisors who intend to survive must be ready to keep up.

This got me thinking about the phenomenon of change and the ways we humans deal with it. When an industry – or a business – is faced with the prospect of change, what can leaders do to ensure that their people and organizations are equipped to adapt.

We’ve all heard the expression “the only thing that’s permanent is change”, yet for most of us change is hard. In fact, according to neuroscientists, change is pain.

In “The Neuroscience of Leadership, Breakthroughs in brain research explain how to make organizational transformation succeed”, authors David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz offer an illuminating explanation for how our brains respond to change and some tactics for helping ourselves and our people deal with it more successfully.Scanning of a human brain by X-rays

What caught my eye in the research is the conclusion that leaders can mitigate the negative effects of change by changing the way they lead. This is accomplished in part by focusing not on past poor behavior, but on creating new behaviors guided by employees’ self insight.

Self insight, as I interpret it, is that aha moment each of us has when a concept, conviction or course of action forms in our mind, not necessarily because of what we were told or trained, but because it made sense for us in a certain place at a certain time.

Rock and Schwartz also observe that “Expectation Shapes Reality”, stating that “Cognitive scientists are finding that people’s mental maps, their theories, expectations, and attitudes, play a more central role in human perception than was previously understood.”

In other words, what we expect or how we feel about something – good or bad – has a defining effect on how we respond to the event. In this case, change.

Where does all this bring us?

  • Yet in “The Neuroscience of Leadership” we learn that Change is pain. That deviating from engrained practices and patterns actually triggers the same regions in the brain that process pain signals.
  • The negative effects of change can be alleviated by managing expectations and leading in ways that evoke self-insight among the people we lead, people whose contribution we rely on for our ongoing success. No more “my way or the highway”, if you know what I mean.

The sum of these circumstances is this: Change must happen and it’s going to be uncomfortable, if not painful. How we respond to these realities will, I believe, determine who wins and loses in today’s rapidly evolving business environment.

Companies who approach change as opportunity have the edge. These companies see change as the only way to remain valuable to changing customers and essential to the fulfillment of their mission. They engage all their people in the quest, and experience change as a shared challenge.Storyteller image

I approach this challenge as a communicator and a storyteller. Since we were kids, stories have had the power to demystify the unknown, define ideals, bring dreams to life and embolden us to overcome obstacles. The same things we want to accomplish together as we approach the painful business of change.

Through the power of story, companies have the opportunity to leverage change to their advantage: to transform their organizations, to make them more customer-centric, more efficient, more nimble, more competitive. Change isn’t the enemy, and complaining won’t make it go away. Change is the route you must take to realize the future you want to have.

Hero's Journey image

By framing the change in the context of a story you can set expectations and manage people in ways that brings out their best instead of triggering their fight-or-flight impulses.

My advice to advisors and their firms, to any business faced with change, is to be thoughtful about developing a story that explains and justifies the change. Why are you here? What got you here? Why do you matter? What would your customers be missing if you weren’t there for them, How are your customers changing? What must you do to continue to be an important part of your customers’ lives? Where are you going?

Your story should be personal, not corporate. It should honestly and openly communicate the struggles and victories along the way and gratefully acknowledge the contributions of individuals across your organization.

Mostly, your story must be believed, demonstrated and repeated. Over and over and over.

Through the power of story, you can transform change from an enemy into a demanding ally. You might also transform your company. Go get ‘em!

Wealth Management Marketing: Quick Fixes to Keep You in the Game

marketing imageI met with a former colleague the other day to discuss his wealth management firm’s marketing message and capabilities. The firm has experienced strong, steady growth since its inception, largely due to the hard work and strong reputations of its partners and some smart acquisitions. But now that the partners are approaching retirement and a new generation of advisors has been tasked with maintaining the firm’s growth trajectory, their marketing deficiencies have become a problem.

The tricky part is convincing the partners that the firm needs to invest in marketing today when it never had to before. They built a successful firm and careers without any kind of strategic marketing. Why should they start doing it now?

Here’s why…

competition

Your competition is – The financial services industry was late to this party, but it’s now common to see even small firms with clearly defined brands, great websites, slick user experiences and high visibility in multiple media. These companies tell great stories that illuminate and engage their audiences.

 

It’s crowded out there – The advisor community has experienced some consolidation and the pace of retirements will soon be picking up, but anyway you look at it there are a lot of companies and advisors all competing for the same clients. Anything that gives your advisors an edge – makes them more memorable or more credible – can make all the difference.

CROWDS

Who you are is just as important as what you do – Unless you really do have a one-of-a-kind planning or investment strategy, the surest way to win new business is by expressing your firm’s unique sense of purpose, the qualities that define your character. You’re working to win the trust of investors, a challenge that demands a real conversation about real people’s hopes and fears. You have to show them you understand. You care.Introspection image

You have to get – and hold – people’s attention – There has never been more competition for your audience’s eyes and ears. Getting through to them when and where you stand a chance of making an impression is hard. You need a plan, a message, a style and a system for making adjustments to capitalize on wins and correct underperformance.Attention

The senior members of your firm may agree intellectually to all of these arguments,

BUT,

They still find it difficult to make the investment.

If that’s the case for your firm, here are a few relatively quick, easy and affordable steps you can take right now to keep your firm and advisors in the game. These are no replacement for a strategic, integrated marketing plan, but it’s a start that could whet your firm’s execs for more.

mission_statement image

Develop a mission statement – Or better yet, a Vision – Mission – Values statement. This is a helpful exercise anyway and it provides you with content you can use for a variety of purposes. Click here for a great guide from BPlans with instructions for how to compose a strong mission statement.

Work image

Use it – Put your mission statement on your website and on your corporate and product brochures. If you really like it, put it on the back of your business cards. Heck, if you really really like it, make it the foundation for your company’s operating and growth strategies!

Develop or update your collateral – Investors want something from you to either familiarize themselves with you before a face to face meeting, or to remember you after a meeting. You have to have something and it has to look good. Check with a local advertising agency to see if they will quote you a price for copywriting based on your mission statement and a few interviews with the relevant subject matter experts and principals. The same firm can also bid on the design, but agency fees can climb fast. Check with graphic design students at a nearby college or university to help reduce costs.brochure03

Fix your website – Take a look at your website. Compare it to the sites of other wealth management firms, especially your most worrisome competitors. Chances are pretty good that you’re going to see some sites that look and work WAY better than yours. Make note of the content, style, and functionality you like most, then check with your web developer/designer to see kinds of changes you can make now to improve the look, content and user experience on your site without getting into the big bucks.website fix image

If you decide you need a new site entirely, WordPress, SquareSpace and others have excellent web development and content management platforms with a ton of terrific bells and whistles. Your developer probably has a preference and can tell you more about them, including how your staff can manage the content to help keep your site fresh and relevant.

bandaid image

These steps represent a quick fix, and will not be as effective in the long run as a strategic marketing initiative. But for firms with tight budgets and growth plans, even these adjustments can make a big difference for advisors competing to win new business.

Good luck!

A Great Vibe…Does Your Company Have One?

vibrationThe Houston Chronicle featured an article last year titled How to Identify and Fix Your Company’s Vibe. It’s a short, well-written article with some good advice for how to correct non-aligning perceptions and engage employees. It’ll take about 3 minutes to read it so what the heck, right? I’ll wait…

I want to take the concept of your company’s vibe a little further. Why? Because understanding your company’s vibe and being true to it will determine whether your company succeeds or fails. Or at least the degree to which you will succeed.

Back in 1977, one of Apple’s earliest investors, Mike Markulla composed what for me is probably the most elegant expression of a marketing and operating philosophy (a vibe!) I have ever seen…

apple marketing philsophyPay special attention to the term “impute” and its context. This is where your company’s vibe is born and raised. It means that every part of your organization and every customer interaction should be imbued with the same high sense of purpose.

In other words, if you’re proud of your core competencies (and you sure should be) then everything else you do should reflect that excellence.

According to this principle, it’s not OK to say “We’re good at managing money. We don’t need to worry about our website.” Or “people come here to work out, not to feel like they’re visiting a resort.”

Wrong.

Your customers and future customers want to experience you at your best – everywhere. All the time. Regardless of where that experience takes place.

guitar vibration

Think of a vibe, a vibration, as the rapid movement of a guitar string. Then imagine everyone and everything in your organization operating on the same frequency.

  • You’ve identified and corrected points of friction.
  • Your products, people and customer interactions are consistently great.
  • You solve problems quickly and gladly.
  • And you look, sound and behave in ways your customers expect and admire.

Now imagine how empowering this concept could be for running your business.

If you’re contemplating entering new markets or launching new products, you have to ask the questions, can we do this without losing our vibe? Can we have an even better vibe? What can we do to make sure our people are also experiencing the vibe?

Having a great vibe doesn’t necessarily mean you’re edgy or hip. It means there’s no dissonance, no disconnect between what you say, what you do and how you do it.

You’ve probably heard someone describe a shop or restaurant saying “that place has a great vibe”. These days, that’s a pretty profound recommendation. It implies a great product, great people and a great experience all coming together. It’s a place people talk about and return to. It could, and should, be your business.

The exact same principle applies to financial services and other professional services firms. Think about your vibe. Change it if you need to. Keep making it better. And most of all, make sure everyone in the organization is true to your vibe.

 

Would you say your company has a vibe? How relevant is this concept to your business? Do you think the terms “vibe” and “brand” are interchangeable in this context? What companies or businesses do you think have a great vibe?

 

 

Grab Some Heir – Connecting with Your Clients’ Kids

teacher studentFinancial Advisors who want to provide stellar service, accelerate or resume growth and preserve assets under management can take steps now to develop win-win relationships with their clients’ heirs.

A lot of advisors face a similar dilemma. As their practices have matured and their clientele has grown, their clients have matured too. As their clients retire, entering the distribution phase of life, many advisors have found it much more difficult to grow their practices.

Assets under management go into a slow, steady decline but the time necessary to generate new business is occupied by existing clients.

The decline in assets is exacerbated by the common practice among growing advisors of referring their younger, less affluent investors to junior advisors or investment management platforms that are better suited to younger investors’ more modest circumstances.

This idea looked great at the time. The advisor recognized that her more affluent clients had more complex requirements, so she chose to focus her time, attention and talent where it was most needed. Longer term, though, the outcome is a book of business that is heavily weighted with investors from the same wealth accumulating generation.

So what can you do?professor image

The most obvious answer is, of course, to establish a relationship with your clients’ kids and grandkids. Do this, and you have the next generation or two already predisposed to choose you as their advisor when the time comes for them to start investing on their own.

 

But wait. Didn’t I just say that it’s hard for an advisor to serve their older, wealthier clients and bring on younger, less affluent clients?

Yeah, I did. But in the case of investors and their heirs, there are ways to solve this time crunch and keep every generation happy. Here’s how…

Work with your client to engage their children early, when they’re still in primary or secondary school. Encourage your client to include them at your next review. Spend some time telling the kids why mom and dad invest. Show them how you work with mom and dad to help them achieve their financial goals.

Don’t get into the details. Just introduce them to the importance of planning, diversification and discipline. Show them how you help their mom and dad. They’ll see you as an important part of their parents’ lives and you’ll win a place of high regard in their (and their parents’) minds.

Work with your client to set the kids up with a small fund account (diversification). Get them used to seeing their statements and your regular client communications.

suppliesWhen they’re ready to start investing for real, let them know that you will be asking a colleague to help with their account for now, but you’ll always be on hand to answer questions.

Keep them on your mailing list. When the time comes, let them know that you are ready to serve them as you have their mom and dad.

Work with your client to engage, educate and prepare their young adult heirs

By the time they complete their educations, start work and are making their own investments, possibly with someone else, heirs are probably pretty curious about their parents’ finances and wonder what the implications for them will be.

Now is the perfect time to arrange for a family meeting. In this setting, you can educate the entire group about the plan to help with your clients’ retirement and estate. Discuss the clients’ Investment Policy. Show how the their financial plan and investment portfolio support the policy.

Young ProfessionalsFeel free to include the clients’ estate attorney and other trusted partners in the discussion. At D.A. Davidson, our trust company published a workbook titled “What My Family Should Know”, an invaluable instrument for discussing and recording important family matters like the whereabouts of assets and insurance, and the clients’ end of life wishes.

The key here is to be a participant in the process. Don’t just send the workbook to your clients. By organizing the discussion, you establish authority and credibility with the heirs. Let them see the wisdom and expertise you bring to their parents’ financial plan and its execution.

At this stage in the heirs’ lives, they probably don’t yet meet your account threshold. Make a decision about whether you have the capacity to add the relationship to your existing workload. If not, refer the heir to a less labor intensive platform. Again, keep them on your mailing list. Offer to be a resource whenever they have questions.

Work with your client to recruit the assistance and support of their mature heirs

Clients who have entered retirement may have children who are well into their saving and investing years. If these heirs are not investing with you, then attracting them will be difficult.

parents and grandparents

It makes sense. You know first hand how powerful the bond of trust is between an advisor and a client. Still, tens of thousands of investors a year switch advisors. An older heir might very well choose the advisor who served her parents so well!

As above, meet with your client and the heirs to discuss their plan and investments, then broaden the conversation to include roles and responsibilities – living will requests, executors, trustees, beneficiaries and more. Demonstrate your command of the client’s financial plan and your commitment to contributing to your client’s well-being, and the ongoing well-being of her family.

Want to win your clients’ kids’ business? Include your client’s family in the conversation from the outset. By encouraging their involvement, you open critical lines of communication and provide a valuable education.

In a business based on relationships and trust, this strategy is sure to pay dividends.

How do you connect with your clients’ children? Do you consider the next generation in your business development activities? What systems or resources does your firm or custodian provide to help you manage relationships with heirs? If you choose to include beginner investors in your client base, how do you manage the time? 

 

Thanks as always for visiting my site. If you like this or any of my other articles, please share it. Your comments are a valuable resource for me. Let me know what you’re thinking. I want this site to be valuable to you ~ Michael 

 

 

It’s a Wonderful Life – Three Business Lessons from George Bailey

It's a wonderful life titleFrank Capra’s 1946 movie classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a holiday staple and moving testimony to the power of a single person and idea. It is an unapologetically sentimental look at the life of an ordinary man doing extraordinary things.

Because of its sentimentality and its annual presence in the crowded schedule of holiday entertainments, it’s easy to overlook some practical, important lessons the movie has to teach us about business and life.

So, as you pack away all of the trappings of the holiday season for another year, let’s take another quick look at George Bailey to see how we can learn from his experiences to be more successful, more relevant, more peaceful and, frankly, happier… how we too can have a Wonderful Life, in 2015 and beyond.

George's purpose

Serve something bigger than yourself

For George, the Building and Loan established by his father and his uncle was often a burden. As a career, it fell far short of George’s grand personal ambitions. Nevertheless, when repeatedly forced by circumstance to remain at the helm of the struggling business, George was tirelessly dedicated to the Building and Loan’s mission: helping people no one else would lend to own their own homes.

Defending the memory of his deceased father and the Building and Loan to his competitor and nemesis, bank owner Mr. Potter, George understood that the people he and his business served did “most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”

You and your company have a mission too, and like the Building and Loan your mission is bigger and more important than might be immediately apparent. Know your mission. Talk about it. Internalize it throughout your organization. A mission asks the question “Why is the world a better place with you in it?” It is a powerful and empowering force.

George and staff

Respect your team and your customers

In the movie, George repeatedly places the interests of his customers and colleagues ahead of his own. Leaving the church on his wedding day with his bride Mary, George sees that there is something wrong at the bank and the Building and Loan. He’s tempted to continue on, but jumps out of the car and hurries to the business to try to calm his anxious depositors. Finally, he resorts to spending his own money to take care of his customers and keep the business afloat.

At a pivotal point in the movie, a substantial sum is misplaced by George’s absent minded uncle Billy, placing George and the Building and Loan at grave risk. And although he’s furious with Billy, George does not accuse him when seeking assistance from the villainous Mr. Potter. George protects his uncle, as he would any employee by publicly taking responsibility for the misplaced funds.

Your customers’ experiences with your company are a direct reflection of the way you and your company treat your associates. Treat your people with respect, give them the information and resources they need, and encourage them to go above and beyond for your customers. Amazing things will happen.

 

George Bailey in despair

Lean on your supporters

When he experiences a potentially devastating personal crisis, it never occurs to George that the good work he has done throughout his life has earned him the admiration of friends, family and customers.

Feeling absolutely alone in his despair, George contemplates ending his life when a guardian angel, Clarence, helps George understand the significance of his life by showing him a world where he never existed. It is, of course, a much darker world. Through this experience, George is allowed to see how impactful his life has been.

His belief in himself and his contributions restored, George returns home to his family not knowing what the future will hold. Shortly after arriving, George is overwhelmed by the love and support of his community of friends and customers, and grateful to Clarence (who has finally earned his wings).

George's community

In the conduct of our businesses and our careers, we all have the opportunity to make the world a better place for the people we work with and the people we serve. When problems, opportunities or challenges arise, look to your colleagues and customers for advice and direction. Don’t wait ’til you’re in crisis. Open up lines of communication. Ask for feedback. Demonstrate your eagerness to include your people in the conversation that drives your growth.

How does your company express its mission? What policies and practices exist to help people feel engaged and important? What systems do you have in place to listen to and respond to the concerns of employees and customers? Can you think of a time when you benefited from the support of an associate or customer just because of the quality of your relationship?

As we begin 2015, I wish you and yours a best-ever new year. I’m grateful for your interest in these posts and for your comments. As always, if you liked this or any other of my articles, I hope you’ll share them. I’m shooting for a much larger audience by the time 2016 rolls around.

A Christmas Carol: Mr. Fezziwig’s Lessons for Management and Marketing

250px-Fezziwig_Ball-_Sol_EytingeCharles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a much-loved staple of the holiday season, and a personal favorite of mine from one of my favorite authors. Presented for the first time in 1843 to wide acclaim and commercial success, the short novel or one of its many adaptations still entertains millions all over the world over a wide variety of media.

It’s easy to see why. The story’s message of forgiveness, generosity, hope and redemption resonates with people of many backgrounds and traditions. To this day, it possesses life – and business – lessons that are every bit as relevant as they were in Victorian England.

You know the story. Ebenezer Scrooge (among the best names in English literature) is introduced as a bitter miser, insufferable skinflint and cruel, abusive employer. Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s business partner who died seven Christmases ago, visits Scrooge as a tormented ghost to reveal the fate that awaits a terrified but recalcitrant Scrooge.

“I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chance and a hope of escaping my fate. A chance and a hope of my procuring, Ebenezer.”

What follows are visits by three “Spirits”: Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas yet to come. Each spirit guiding Scrooge through his own experiences and illuminating the experiences of the people whose lives Scrooge touches.

While in the company of the Spirit of Christmas past, Scrooge visits the workplace where he was apprenticed, Mr. Fezziwig’s warehouse, just in time for Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig’s annual Christmas party. What ensues is an evening of joy, laughter, feasting, music and dancing that awakens a long denied aspect of Scrooge’s personality.

As the evening wanes and Scrooge and his fellow apprentice are “pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig”, the spirit provokes Scrooge by saying:

“A small matter to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”

“Small!” echoed Scrooge.

“Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four, perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”

“It isn’t that”, said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking like his former, not his latter self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light of burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ‘em up: what then? The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

Upon making this exclamation, Scrooge reflects briefly and regretfully on the mistreatment suffered by his employee, Bob Cratchit, explaining to the inquiring ghost that, “I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now! That’s all.”

Scrooge’s elegant observation about the power of leaders to positively or negatively affect the lives of the people they employ is timeless. Further, it has profound implications for the experiences of our customers and prospects.

The true beauty in Fezziwig’s leadership, and the way it’s perceived by his employees and neighbors, is his sincerity and consistency. “…His power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ‘em up: what then? The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

Fezziwig’s leadership is born of high regard for the people he employs, and exhibited in ways too numerous to count. The Christmas party serves as a celebratory accent to relationships that are already rich and rewarding.

Ghost_of_Christmas_Past

Employees who feel valued and respected are happier. They provide better service. They’re more creative and more productive. They work harder, bounce back better and support one another more vigorously.

As a result, your products and services are delivered more enthusiastically. Problems are solved more quickly and the “vibe” your prospects get when considering a relationship with your company is better. It doesn’t take a social scientist or research analyst to figure out how important this could be for your business.

The onus here doesn’t lie exclusively with employers and managers. This positive dynamic exists only when employees, like the young Scrooge, are industrious, competent, collaborative and have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them. They also need to understand and embrace what your company stands for (aka YOUR BRAND). These conditions should be met by most companies’ hiring and training procedures. If they don’t, then you are at a disadvantage out of the gate.

As leaders, we can use Mr. Fezziwig’s example to create an environment where we’re able to depend on the people who bring our brand promises to life.

By setting high expectations, providing the resources to meet those expectations and celebrating great outcomes, you can make your company a place where everybody – employees, neighbors, suppliers, customers and prospects – are all happier. With “words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ‘em up…”. You can can build a culture where “the happiness he is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

I’m publishing this week on Tuesday because my ordinary Thursday falls on Christmas day. If you like this or any other of my articles, I hope you will share them with friends and colleagues and consider following my blog. As always, your comments are invaluable to me as I plan for future contributions.

Please accept my best wishes for a warm and wonderful Christmas. I hope you are safe and warm, and surrounded by people and traditions you love. Next week, I’ll be taking a look at what I think 2015 might hold. I hope you’ll tune in.

Where have you been happiest at work? How did leadership contribute to your happiness? Can you think of a business you patronize where people are clearly happy? How does it affect your experience as a customer?

3 tips: Brighten Your Brand Through Strategic Giving

giftYour corporate brand is shaped by everything your company does. More and more, even the smallest details of your company’s behavior are now plainly visible to the people you serve and the people you want to serve.

Brands have always been defined by how a company’s public (customers, clients and prospects) feels about it. The difference for your company today is that you are no longer in the driver’s seat. When it comes to orchestrating the impressions that mold your audiences’ feelings about your company, you now have to share that influence with your customers.

If your company is interested in polishing its brand (and you should be), you should seek to build an authentic relationship with your public. To do that, you need to be acutely aware of how your public regards you. You also need to understand how members of your public can contribute – individually and collectively – to your brand’s positioning.

Beyond what you tell the marketplace with your advertising, websites, publications and through other “official” channels, how your public feels about your company can be profoundly influenced by your company’s behavior as a corporate citizen. For this reason, the causes and charities you give to should be considered as deliberately as any business strategy.

Listed below are three tips to help you develop a cohesive philanthropic strategy that aligns with your brand, communicates your values and integrates seamlessly with your other branding activities.

planGive with Purpose

It’s easy to approach philanthropy on an ad-hoc basis, merely reacting to requests from nonprofits and employees. Most companies get more requests for donations than they could ever possibly fund. So too often, the result is a lot of smaller gifts spread across a large swath of charitable causes and services with no intuitive link to your brand.

Instead, think about what you want to accomplish as a donor. What conditions in your community do you want to see improved, and how can you be a legitimate force for positive change?

I suggest identifying 3 or 4 areas where you want to focus your giving. At one financial services company where I was engaged, our overriding giving mission was to improve the prospects for financial self-reliance among people in the communities where we operated. For us, that meant focusing our gifts on education, particularly to improve financial literacy, and human services to support people and families in transition.

Please note that having a “giving mission” doesn’t preclude occasional gifts to nonprofits that don’t fit in the category(s) you’re focused on. Your budget should have room to support special requests and local or business-specific giving opportunities.

authorityLeverage Your Authority

As a donor and corporate citizen, your philanthropic activities should align with your company’s business mission and expertise – areas where you have a uniquely well-informed perspective on relevant issues and their solutions.

Nike provides a perfect example. The global athletic shoe and apparel company gives generously to fitness related programs all over the world. The connection between what the company does and the causes it supports is clear and common sense. Importantly, it also serves an important and widely recognized public health concern: improved health through improved fitness.

Your donations should honestly reflect your company’s wisdom and values. They should also avoid controversy. Unless you are known for taking bold stands on divisive issues, don’t consider causes that might inflame of alienate your public.

volunteersDon’t Just Write a Check

Get your employees and your customers involved. Support and incentivize your employees with paid volunteer time. Share good news about the accomplishments you are helping to fund and implement.

Getting your people involved with the causes your company cares about can make a big difference in their engagement. Employees who are invested in what your company stands for are much better brand ambassadors than employees who simply know what your company does. The same goes for customers.

Look for ways to partner with the nonprofits you support. Yoplait Yogurt has done an exceptional job in support of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Through philanthropy and cause related marketing, Yoplait has brought heightened awareness to a vitally important problem. At the same time, they have reinforced their brand positioning as a company dedicated to improved health for women and their families.

In this season of giving, I hope your company is in a position to give generously to the causes you and your constituents care about. By giving strategically, with purpose, intention and inclusion, you can really make a difference. The fact that doing so can also brighten your brand is, well, icing on the Christmas cake.

What companies do you admire or patronize because of their charitable activities? Are there certain companies who do a particularly good job of integrating their business and charitable activities? How does your company use its charitable activities to help distinguish itself in the marketplace?

Give Thanks. Grow Your Business.

ThanksThis is the second of three articles leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday focusing on cultivating gratitude as a proven technique for improving your mental, emotional, and physical health – with real life implications for your business.

As a businessperson, I can be as pragmatic and analytical as anyone, but for me the human dimension has always been infinitely more interesting and rewarding than the technical or statistical.

I fully understand and appreciate the necessity of a healthy, well-managed balance sheet, of continually studying work processes, cash flows and optimizing for efficiencies and outcomes. I get that tracking and managing technical competencies and measurable outputs are essential to running a successful company.

I also maintain that these are the structural underpinnings to the real business of business – people.

Peter Drucker once wrote “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Customers, I hope we can all agree, are people – people with families, passions, dreams and frustrations. You and your company exist to help these people solve a problem or realize an aspiration. How well you connect with people to make them aware of your company, attract their interest, make a sale and maintain a relationship depends entirely upon your – and your company’s – capabilities as a marketer.

These capabilities are, in turn, directly related to the imagination, intention, enthusiasm and compassion you bring to the relationship. Qualities that are all enhanced, personally and institutionally, by being grateful. Here’s how…

Imagination

A 2012 Forbes Magazine article titled “Employee Brain on Stress Can Quash Creativity And Competitive Edge” by Judy Martin, reports that “with more than forty percent of American workers reporting chronic workplace stress, the long-term impact of stress and its influence on the human creative condition and business can be detrimental, says Rick Hanson PhD,  a California-based neuropsychologist and author of Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time.”

Research, much of it conducted by psychologist and leading gratitude expert Robert Emmons, has shown that people who feel gratitude are happier, report more life satisfaction, and also report less stress.

The conclusion is easy to draw. If you are grateful, you are probably less stressed. If you are less stressed, you are probably more creative. If you are more creative, you can solve problems and innovate more effectively. Pretty straightforward, huh?

Intention

Gratitude acknowledges the vital role that others, including our employees, suppliers and customers have played in the good things we experience in our lives and in our business. This simple act de-emphasizes the individual’s and the company’s internal focus (obsession), and places it where it belongs – on the people you serve and the people who help make it possible.

Enthusiasm

Just as gratitude can help alleviate stress, it contributes to better health and feelings of well-being. A 2011 Harvard Medical School publication titled “In Praise of Gratitude” reports that “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

Whether you are the CEO or just joined the mailroom staff, you will approach life and work with more energy, optimism and enthusiasm if you are happier and healthier. How you lead, how you collaborate and how you serve are all directly related to your enthusiasm.

Compassion

When we are freed from the negative affects of the flight-or-fight instinct triggered by stress and we become more generous about acknowledging the contributions of others to our own well-being, it’s easier to be more accepting, less judgmental and more eager to please.

Companies and employees who are open enough to recognize the challenges faced by their colleagues and customers are less apt to resort to “it’s not my job” behavior. Tell me honestly, as a customer aren’t you happier when the company and the person serving you is genuinely interested in you, solving your problem of helping fulfill your aspiration?

If Mr. Drucker was correct, and I believe he was, the purpose of business is to create a customer. Then, at all levels in an organization, and at all times through the development and execution of business strategies, people are the object of all your intentions. A deliberate and ongoing practice of gratitude makes people – leaders, managers, and employees – happier, healthier, more creative and more helpful.

That’s got to be good for business.

I am extremely grateful for the readers who take a few minutes out of their crazy-busy weeks to visit this site. I’m also grateful to my wife, Cathleen, my daughters Halley and Georgia Mae and to many friends and colleagues for their support as I launch my new business, Michael L Morrison Marketing. I am truly blessed. Thank you all.

I get very few comments on this blog, so I’m making a special request this week in preparation for my Thanksgiving Day post next week. Please share what you are thankful for and what, if anything, you do to make gratitude a regular part of your life. I look forward to hearing from you. – Michael

 

 

 

 

Let Your Customers Love You!

Nobodyvintage_heart_1 does business with a company because they expect to be disappointed. How ever you managed to win a customer’s business – your reputation, a product or promotion, a referral or just plain old convenience – that customer is predisposed to like your company. Get that first interaction right, and they might even end up loving you.

What a gift! Before you even try to answer a question, take an order, propose a solution or solve a problem, the customer is on your side. In the beginning, you have a big leg up.

Way (way, way) back when I was making a meager living as an actor, I remember reading a book by a celebrated acting coach. He suggested coping with stage fright by reminding yourself that the audience is already rooting for you. If the actors do their jobs well, the guests who expected to be entertained will be delighted. They’ll forget how expensive the tickets were and they’ll tell all their friends.

The same dynamic applies to you and your business whether you’re selling groceries, offering financial advice, or replacing windshields. Your customers want and expect to like you. They want to be happy with their experience. All you have to do is not let them down. Surprise them by doing more than that, by really knocking their socks off, and you’ll be on your way to building a base of raving fans.

There’s more good news. Knockout early impressions create a bank of goodwill you can draw on when problems arise. The restaurant business provides a perfect example. If the food and service is excellent the first time you visit, you’ll be much more likely to forgive a disappointing experience down the road.

If, on the other hand, you get bad food or your waiter decides to take a vacation to the Maldives before taking your order, and again before bringing you the check, there’s a very real chance you will never go back. Not only that, you’ll be telling all your friends and family about what a crummy joint it was. And, as we all know, negative reviews travel much faster and farther than positive ones, especially today with Urban Spoon, Yelp and social media all at our fingertips.

Customers give you a wonderful opportunity to win their trust and admiration. Your job as a business owner, manager or employee is not to blow it. Here are three principles you and your company can adopt to make your customers’ experiences exceptional.

Surprise Your Customers

The veterinary hospital where we take our dog, Alice, has a great staff of friendly professionals who go out of their way to greet and connect with their customers and their pets. The building is immaculate. The staff treats us as if Alice was the smartest most lovable and attractive dog they have ever seen. Their prices are competitive with the market, often better.

Surprised? We were blown away on our first visit and that experience has redefined the category in our minds. We enthusiastically recommend the place and, for as long as they continue to operate this way (and a little while after) we’ll be going back.

Some businesses attract customers and close sales by making extravagant claims about performance, product, price or service. Don’t be that company. If there is more than a random chance that your customer’s experience will fall short of your hyperbole, the consequences can be serious. Either modify your operations or your messaging. “Under Promise and Over Deliver” will always be good advice. Do it whenever you can.

Be Open and Honest

Years ago, I worked for a company that experienced a cyber attack. From the moment we became aware of the event, our chief objective was to share as much information as we could with all of the customers who were affected and to do all possible to shield them from risk.

In the span of a few days, we built, staffed and trained an emergency call center so we could deal directly and personally with concerned customers. Naturally, customers weren’t happy about the news, but our transparency and aggressive response to the problem soothed their concerns. What could have been very damaging to the business ended up being an opportunity for us to demonstrate the company’s commitment to, and genuine concern for, its clients.

In business, there will always be times when you’ll need to deliver information to customers that they don’t want to hear. Resist the urge to “spin” the message. Sure, you expose yourself to criticism, but the long-term benefits more than compensate for the pain.

Watch Your Front Line

It doesn’t matter what business you’re in. Competition is intense. The only way you can grow and keep business is to make all your customer interactions a success.

What distinguishes customer-centric companies like Zappo’s and Nordstrom is a disciplined, deliberate focus on every customer touch point in the organization. It doesn’t matter how skillful and attentive a sales person is if the people in charge of the delivery, installation or implementation are indifferent or – heaven forbid – hostile.

You need to pay attention to how phones are answered, how walk-ins are greeted, how (and if) you’re interacting in social media. No matter where and when a customer touches your company, you need a plan to make every interaction a success.

Where’s the love?

Seize the opportunity your customers grant you the first time they do business and you’ll have a lot to look forward to. Add a few extra flourishes, quick and earnest problem solving, focus on the details and you can be among the few whose customers proudly proclaim “I love (your name here)! They’re the best!”

What companies do you love? Are there companies in typically unlovable industries that have surprised you by going above and beyond? What changes can your company make right now to upgrade your customers’ experience?

Thanks as always for reading. Your comments and suggestions are welcome. If you enjoyed this or any of my articles, I hope you will share them. See you next week!

 

 

 

 

 

Passion, Schmassion. You Do What You Hafta Do

I’m sure you have heard the Confucian quote

“Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Every day, you and I are subject to a fairly constant stream of stories about how visionary entrepreneurs and fearless professionals have found success by pursuing their passions and encouraging us to do the same.

Bull.

I often think about the experiences of the people who touch my life over the course of an ordinary day. You know, the young man who poured my coffee at Stumptown Coffee Roasters yesterday morning, the three guys who for the last four days have been laboring in the hot sun to install a new patio at my neighbor’s house, the woman at the pet food store, our financial advisor, the guys who collect our garbage and recycling, my dermatologist. Are these folks passionate about their work? Probably not.

And if they are, do they approach their jobs with the kind of unbridled enthusiasm they bring to the things they really are passionate about? Their families? Their faith? Their hobbies? Well… maybe.

But that’s OK. Really. The simple fact is that the vast majority of us do work we have to do so we can live the lives we want to live. The trick is finding the passion in whatever you’re doing.

If your experiences have been anything like mine, at various times in your career you have struggled, compromised, gotten frustrated, been under-used, overworked and overlooked, and every now and then…knocked it out of the park.

At the same time, you’ve met amazing, wonderful, smart, funny and generous people. Been mentored in countless ways how to – and how not to – manage a project or staff and run a business. You’ve taken on challenges that made you work harder than you thought you could and gotten smarter and more resilient because of it. Pretty great, amazing stuff.

The Papa Murphy’s take-n-bake pizza place in our neighborhood is very, very busy. On weekend evenings, they might have four or five people squeezed in at the assembly line with two or three people doing prep work in the back. Others are scurrying to answer the phones, serve walk-ins and work the drive through. It’s nuts.pizza_hd_picture_6_167274

 

In the midst of this bedlam, the entire staff remains unflappably friendly and courteous. They answer the phones quickly and warmly. They greet each walk-in with an honest, welcoming smile. And they are all equipped to help customers with helpful tips and advice. It’s obvious that everyone respects her coworker and, believe it or not, actually enjoys the work, even if they’re not passionate about it. We love it, and we keep going back (thus this article in a “marketing” blog).

My wife and I are so impressed by the place and its team, we have actually had conversations about it. Many of our experiences at fine restaurants and resorts – as well as with other merchants and professional service providers – don’t measure up to the standard this small take-n-bake pizza branch sets.

The good work, happy people and great customer experiences at my neighborhood pizza place have a few lessons for both employers and employees who are interested in finding something to be passionate about.

Have a Big, Bold vision

People aren’t motivated by the work, they’re motivated by the product of the work.

Management has to have a vision and must share it. It’s not about pizza. It’s about taking a load off a busy mom or dad so they can spend more time with their kids. It’s about fun and nourishment. It’s about believing in the product and having respect for the customers who choose it. It’s also about respect for your coworkers and vendors. Make the vision as big and bold as it deserves to be. Then share it, share it, share it. Make it your mantra. Believe it and your people will believe it.

Be Proud

If you’re doing a job, it’s a job that needs doing.

The people you serve, whether they’re aware of you or not, are depending on you. Your coworkers are also depending on you, not only to carry your share of the load, but to be a responsible member of the workplace community. Be friendly and supportive. Take pride in your contribution and always look for ways to improve. I learned lessons dumping garbage at Sears in Spokane, Washington when I was in high school that serve me to this very day.

Find Ways to Celebrate

You don’t need me to tell you that work can be a grind, but it’s amazing how even the smallest celebration can pull people out of the stress of their workday.

  • Catch people doing something right and thank them personally and publicly.
  • Be clear about goals and get loud when they’re reached, really loud when they’re exceeded.
  • When you finish a particularly challenging day or project, thank the whole team. Be specific about the standout contributions from you star players. They deserve it, and it helps your bench players set their aspirations.

If you are among the fortunate few who loves your work so much it doesn’t even seem like work, I am thrilled for you. I would love for you to share your experience in comments. For those of us who find the passion where we can, I’d love to know more about how you bring your best every day, even when it really feels like work. Either way, you’re getting it done.

Crazy Socks and The Importance of Channeling your “Kidself”

crazy socks

 

I know you’re going to think this is a little weird, but for years I wore crazy socks along with my conventional corporate attire. There I was with my button-up dress shirt, tie and jacket, and just peeking out from beneath the cuff of my conservative dress slacks, there it was. Craziness.

Even when my company went business-casual, my socks were freaky enough to stand out. Bright neon green. Palm trees. Frogs. Architecture. Some were color-blind argyles. Others had decidedly eccentric holiday themes. I was stylin’!

I am otherwise a pretty decent dresser, (“snappy” according to one coworker. I’m still trying to convince myself that he knew what he was talking about but he probably just had really low standards. He was a straight guy after all). In any case, you get the picture. When it comes to dressing, I’d say I get a pretty solid B. But what do I know.

You may be wondering why I would want to wear crazy socks in a corporate environment. To place my career in jeopardy? To call attention to myself? Not at all. People never even noticed them.

I take that back. Our General Counsel often did, even going so far as to point them out to visiting guests. I think he was jealous. Lawyers.

For me, these goofy socks were a reminder that an important part of me, my “kidself”, needed to be present and active in my grown up world.

Because I work in marketing and communications, listening to my kidself is especially important to me.

In my kidself mindset, I find I am more imaginative. I have a bigger vision for what’s possible and I can see more easily how great ideas from other companies and industries can be made to work in my own.

But what if you are in information technology, accounting or ops? Can paying attention to your kidself help you too? I think so. Here’s why.

Openness. When you were a kid, nothing was off the table. I used to love listening to my daughters play when they were really little. They would have assumed some imaginative persona when one of them would say to the other “How ’bout?” followed by some outlandish circumstance. “How ‘bout you’re being chased by a great white shark in a jeep and your leg is in a cast?” or “How ‘bout Louise (our dog) is the king and you have to steal his brownies to save the princess?” There was never a “how ‘bout” that the other didn’t immediately take on. Anything and everything was worth trying.

In your kidself frame of mind, you are less likely to dismiss new ideas simply because they are unfamiliar or don’t conform to the dreaded way-you-have-always-done-it.

Creative Problem Solving. I’m painfully aware that in the grown up world problems and the ways we solve or don’t solve them can have grave consequences. That’s why so many of us dread them. On the other hand your kidself sees a problem not as a threat or an inconvenience, but as a puzzle. Watch a kid play with Legos sometime and you’ll see what I mean.  children-playing-at-home-thumb20446258

By listening to your kidself, you can approach the problem inventively, get help when you need it, and consider out of the box solutions you would never come up with when you’re stressed, afraid or bored.

Better Community. This might be the most important point of all.

When I say community, I mean the way we encourage and enable one another at work, or don’t. This is a big deal. The people we work with, their attitudes and willingness to give and take represent a huge part of our professional experiences. Tapping into your kidself can make your work better and make it better for the people around you.

Or not.

grumpy gif

I had a colleague who was a wonderfully capable technologist. He was a valuable asset and team member. He was also an Eeyore.

If you were a fan of Winnie the Pooh books or movies, you are probably familiar with Eeyore. He was the dour, relentlessly pessimistic donkey who saw only the negative side of things. Eeyore dreaded the future. To him, life is nothing more than a disaster waiting to happen.

We have all worked with or known an Eeyore. They are fun suckers. Worse, they make an already very demanding workplace experience harder. In my experience, Eeyores are often bureaucratic and inflexible. Too preoccupied with process and protocol to innovate or engage.

Well, I encountered this same colleague at a company social event and found him completely transformed! When we met, his usually downcast eyes met mine with a warm smile. He was animated and communicative. I even learned he was a musician and active in the arts. Who was this guy and what had he done with Eeyore?

Away from the pressures at work, he was channeling his kidself, an enthusiastic, attentive and positive person I actually enjoyed being with. Imagine how much more pleasant workdays might have been for him and the people around him if he had allowed even a glimmer of that positive, creative energy to emerge at work.

I don’t want you to think I am being critical. Working in information technology and systems admin (for example) sucks most the time. Day after day you’re working with impatient people, jumping from fire to fire. The risks and responsibilities are enormous and the hours are long. Hell, sometimes it just feels easier just put your head down. But if only for your own sake, you shouldn’t.

Think about your kidself. Pay attention to it. Be intentional about making her or him a part of your life and your work. And if you need help remembering your intention, put on some crazy socks. You’ll be glad you did.

How do you make your kidself a part of your work life? Have you had colleagues who you felt were in touch with their kidself? How did it affect their performance and the company?

 

If you enjoyed this article, I hope you will share it with friends and colleagues. More and more people are reading so I’m encouraged that at least a few of you are getting something valuable here. Your comments are a great way to extend the conversation. I encourage you to get involved and look forward to hearing from you – Michael

Fun at Work? Abso-freakin’-lutely!

 

Fun at Work imageImagine this. You’re on your way to work and you’re actually, honestly excited about it.

Wait…what? Really?

Abso-freakin’-lutely! Know why?

  • You’re working with people you trust and who trust you.
  • You’re busting your butt, and you know everyone else is, too.
  • Your boss has given you a crystal clear vision for where you’re headed.
  • She has coached you when you needed redirecting and
  • Encouraged you when you fell short.
  • You have what you need to do your job.
  • You feel safe enough to make mistakes and
  • Your company takes the time to acknowledge accomplishments all along the way.

It’s fun. Really.

Google is famous for operating a fun workplace. Sure, they spend big on employee perks, but these perks are not the source of the fun. What the perks do, whether it’s free meals, childcare, or concierge services, is free up employees to do the things that Google values most: imagine, collaborate, innovate, create and produce.

Google demonstrates its respect for its employees every day by allowing them to customize their workplace experiences so they can be at the very top of their games.

Fun at work has gotten a lot of attention, and it’s often easy for business leaders to think that fun is something you buy (an espresso machine!) or add on (lap pool?). It’s not. Fun is the outcome of policies and behavior that honor the people we employ, and unties the binds that keep them from being the rock stars they want to be!

Although it would be totally cool, you don’t need to add a water slide and margarita machines to promote fun at your company. There are small steps you can take right now to foster an environment where people aspire to great things and have the fearlessness to try.waterslide

If you make an honest, good faith effort, you can make work more fun for yourself and for your employees. And more fun means higher productivity, better retention, easier recruiting. Do I really need to sell you on this?

The best kind of fun is found in activities that take us out of ourselves and away from our fears and preoccupations. When you’re having fun, you’re in the moment. Focused. Even faced with tight deadlines, high productivity requirements and relentless resource constraints, it’s possible to have fun. In fact, it’s imperative.

Once, while working at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse in Bigfork, Montana, a few of my friends (actors and technicians from the Playhouse) and I walked up the old dirt road along the Swan River just outside of town. It was a blisteringly hot day in late summer and, because we worked at night and had nothing to do except play (those were the days), we were looking for an adventure that might also cool us off.

Now, of course we could have just walked the short ten minutes to Flathead Lake, but where’s the thrill in that? One of the more daring nut jobs from the group remembered a series of pools in the river that were deep enough to jump into, even from the cliffs (CLIFFS!) that towered well above the river. You just had to be sure you jumped far enough.

Well, it turned out that was pretty damn far.

I stood at the edge of the cliff looking down at the glacier-fed water rushing into a series of four or five pools that looked pretty deep. Probably deep enough, but to get from where I stood to where the first pool was required not only a considerable vertical drop, but a horizontal span that looked to me at the time to be about the length of a football field.

Probably further.Football field

Definitely further.

I couldn’t help but get a little shaky about it. OK, really shaky.

I’m not gonna lie – that first jump was terrifying. It was also thrilling. It was an amazing, fun day. I have had similarly exhilarating, fun experiences at work and I can tell you that I (and the people around me) were all better off for it. So was our employer.

I’m fascinated by the neuroscience of fun. Our brains work better when we are having fun. We’re more creative and energetic, even harder working.

It’s puzzling to me that companies don’t try harder to tap the potential in a happier workforce, but if more fun sounds like it’s worth a shot, then consider the following…

Fun is not the object. People and relationships are.

When I jumped like a madman into the Swan River, I was with people I trusted. The sense of competition between us was healthy and constructive because it nudged us all to push the borders of our comfort zones. Most importantly, we all knew that if we failed, although we may have experienced extreme bodily harm, we were still loved. Coincidentally, the same dynamic applied to our work together at the Playhouse.

  • We knew our objective (overcoming the distance between the cliff and the swimming hole),
  • We had the resources we needed to achieve it (knew where to go and had the physical ability to make the leap), and
  • We allowed every one to approach the challenge in his or her own way (with a little good-natured ribbing).
  • We were in it together. The day was better, more fun, more memorable and more stimulating because it was shared.

It’s not about buying ice cream between floggings.

Creating an environment that promotes fun doesn’t mean you have to break the bank throwing parties or providing perks. And it sure as hell doesn’t (in fact, shouldn’t) have to wait for the annual Christmas party.

Leadership can promote fun at any time by having a little fun themselves. Herb Kelleher, the legendary founder and one time CEO of Southwest Airlines, was known to greet passengers in an Elvis costume.

Herb created a culture that celebrated individuality, even eccentricity, while building the most successful airline in the history of the industry. It’s important to note that Herb was genuinely interested in, and respectful of, his employees and his fun was never at someone else’s expense. They felt safe to have fun and be crazy while they were working hard and recreating the experience of flying.

Fun should be part of fulfilling your company’s mission.

Achievement is fun. Remember how jazzed you felt when you aced that Chemistry test or finished your first 10-K? How about the time when your team at work successfully launched a new product or website? Setting goals and then achieving them is exhilarating. This is especially true when the experience is shared with others. This is where you get the real whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its parts mojo going!

Companies that are clear about their goals and excited about empowering people to get creative about accomplishing them can experience surprisingly great things. By encouraging people to contribute, regardless of their tenure or position, celebrating achievement all along the way, and taking the time to relax and appreciate the precious resource your people are, any place can be a fun place to work.

Do you have fun at work? Which companies impress you as offering a fun experience for their employees and customers? What can you do to make work more fun for yourself and the people around you?

If you like this article, please share it. Follow me for updates each time I publish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extracurricular Activities – Burnishing Your Brand

Wrapping up this week’s examination of Back-to-School season and the opportunities for renewal this time of year presents for businesses and their brands, let’s conclude with what for many are the defining experiences of academic life: Extracurricular activities.

Athletics, music, theatre, dance, technology, science…even chess, the passions and relationships we chose outside the classroom all had an enormous impact on our community, our satisfaction as students, our sense of self and on our reputations. The lessons we learned in these environments were often more valuable than anything taught in the classroom. It is in this context that many people finally figure out who they are, or want to be.

Group Hug

For me, it was theatre. Not being a particularly talented athlete, all of my forays into team or individual sports were frustrating if not disastrous. As a little kid, I had seen a few children’s theatre productions, and I still remember how enthralled I was seeing real people be something and someone they were not. It was magical to me then, and to this day a great play or movie still energizes and inspires me.

I was always a big fan of popular music and I knew I could keep a tune because I sang along with the radio constantly. In high school, I took choir but blended in with all the other baritones. I was destined for anonymity until auditions for “Carousel” were held during my junior year. Standing in front of an audience for the first time, I trembled as the choir director, orchestra director, drama teacher and my peers listened as I sang “If I Loved You”, the beautiful Rogers and Hammerstein ballad sung by the lead, Billy Bigelow.

I got the part.

I was told after the fact that my choir teacher said, “who is this guy and where has he been?” It was a good day. That was my first experience in a discipline that continues to inform who I am as a person and businessperson: a storyteller and communicator with a strong sensitivity for audiences, a good listener, a patient leader.

In business, the things we and our companies do outside the everyday also help define us. These activities do not directly reflect our capabilities, products or services – yet our customers and employees care about them. Importantly, they can also be a source of inspiration that energizes and strengthens your organization.

Considering your brand’s extracurricular activities, I want to focus on three areas Advocacy, Activism and Philanthropy, which often overlap.

Advocacy – Every company has at least three key constituencies: its customers (and prospects), its employees and its shareholders or partners. The people who populate these groups are, of course, interested in your business (the products you make and services you offer), but as a group they have other needs, interests and issues. You and your company are in a position to advocate for one or more of these groups by devoting time and resources to helping overcome common challenges faced by these groups.

For example, in the wealth management industry, it’s pretty safe to assume that people are interested in growing and preserving wealth. Advocating for this group can be achieved by supporting programs that promote strategies for reducing expenses or improving financial literacy.

For employees, advocacy may be wellness programs or retirement counseling.

For shareholders and partners, advocacy may come in the form of activism (below). What’s important here is the idea that you and your company care about something not because it has an immediate impact on the top line, but because it is important to the people you care about.

Activism – The interests of our persons, companies, communities and customers are affected (sometimes deeply) by government policies. We’re blessed to do business in a democratic republic. As citizens, we have a responsibility to understand and act upon policies that threaten to harm our ability to operate profitably, and to advocate for our customers (see above) when their interests are threatened. Through direct participation in the legislative process, and your influence among constituents, your positions can make a profound impact on your reputation and solve real world problems.

Philanthropy – Sometimes referred to as simply Corporate Giving, or more broadly Ethical Corporate Social Responsibility, how you give can have a huge impact on the way your firm is perceived. Large companies often have foundations with professional staffs, endowments and missions to guide their operations, but even small companies can be strategic about giving, both to make a difference and to accrue reputational benefits. I recommend having a formal giving policy that reflects your individual or collective values, and exploring methods to engage employees or customers in the effort. This is another very big topic I will address in a future post.

 

Which company’s extracurricular activities are you most aware of? How do you feel about the company as a result? Are there companies who you believe should do more?

 

 

 

 

 

Clubs, Cliques & Community – Companies are known by the company they keep

The concept I am exploring with this week’s unusually ambitious schedule of daily postings is this: Just as the beginning of each new school year gives students the chance to, in effect, reinvent themselves – this annual season of self evaluation and self improvement can also apply to businesses and their brands.

A lot of the preparation for a new school year is naturally very deliberate. What you’ll wear, for instance, and the supplies you’ll buy. But another very powerful influence on our school experience may be given decidedly less thought. Our connections, the people we gather with, love, emulate, admire, and maybe even fear. As much as anything (probably more) the world (our customers, employers and employees) makes decisions about us based on the people and groups we surround ourselves with and the way we treat – and are treated by – those groups.

Flamingos gifThink about it. In school, were you a jock? A nerd? A stoner? A Goth? Were you popular or excluded? As individuals, of course, where we’re accepted is often subject to circumstances and biases outside our control. Even so, by deliberately changing the groups where we lead, follow or just hang out, we can change the way we’re perceived and treated.

For businesses and their brands, I think this concept of affiliation demands a more conscious conversation about your company’s relationship with each of the following four essential groups:

Your employees – Employee engagement gets a lot of attention these days, and it should. Employees who believe in your company and its mission can do more to promote excellence and innovation if they feel safe and appreciated. Empowered with your firm’s vision, they can act as brand ambassadors, recruiters and salespeople. An engaged workforce is more productive, less susceptible to turnover and generates more revenue and earnings. Of course, really engaging your workforce means a lot more than just memorizing names and sending birthday cards. It calls for a disciplined, multifaceted approach to management and sets high expectations for leaders from the CEO down. An interesting study about this topic was published by the Harvard Business Review this summer and can be read at   http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/07/your-bosss-work-life-balance-matters-as-much-as-your-own/

Your competitors – You probably already monitor your competition for their products and pricing. You check their adverting, social media and media coverage. When you’re honest with yourself, though, you may have to admit that there isn’t much of a difference between you and them. If that’s the case, then I challenge you to think bigger and with more determination. Think about companies outside your industry that are doing exciting things to differentiate and grow their businesses. Make a decision to be different, better in a way that matters to your customers. Then, make the hard choices and do the work so that difference is real, not just hype.

Your existing customers – In school, these were your best friends. People who were with you through thick and thin. They had your back and you had theirs. You cared about what they thought and went out of your way to help them out. In business, existing customers are gold. You owe it to them to make their experience with your company as rewarding and personal as your resources will permit. Today, that means personalization and segmentation, communicating in a way that acknowledges customers’ individuality. It means honoring your best customers with membership on advisory boards and in loyalty programs. A retained customer is your cheapest source of revenue and your best advocate. Engage your entire company in the business of making clients’ experiences a success.

Your desired customers – Earlier, I mentioned that by consciously changing the groups a student chooses, she can change the way she is perceived. In other words, change her “brand”. Your company can do the same. As you conduct your business analysis and strategic planning, ask yourself if there is a segment of the market that you should have a bigger share of. If so, what has prevented you from seizing that share? What changes do you need to make to compete successfully for this business? Whether it’s people, technology or infrastructure (yesterday’s post), are your investments likely to generate an attractive return? If, on the other hand, you are already in your sweet spot customer-wise, this is a great time to review and refine your marketing and sales/ business development function. Technology is making changes to this discipline at a dizzying pace. You can’t afford to fall behind.

By consciously and deliberately addressing the needs and expectations of each of these groups, your company will enjoy the good will of all and the many reputational and financial benefits that come with it.

Have you ever worked for a company that did an exceptionally good job of considering and serving any of the groups mentioned above?