Category Archives: Human Behavior

Selling branded mud in a rainforest…

mud

I find a dark irony in the fact that a company which peddles one of the most cost-ineffective devices for recognizing employee or channel performance, and staked their credibility on one of the most dubious concepts ever for performance management (the ludicrous and dangerous “Crowdsourced Performance Review”) has now seen fit to air all of their financial “dirty laundry” for the world to see in an IPO filing that, as a novice investor, strikes me as doomed to fail spectacularly.
Over the past twenty-five years, I have witnessed some of the most remarkable disasters brought to the business services marketplace, from the web-crazed days of Flooz and Beanz, to the Hindenburg-like arrival and departure of Amazon.com in the recognition and rewards space, and the frenzied rush to load debit cards when cash was declared the “king” of all things recognition. Flooz and Beanz went away when the first dot-com bubble burst. Amazon got caught with its pants down and realized that having an army of peddlers out there selling merchandise for awards purposes left them exposed to have to charge sales taxes in all 50 states. And money was outed for what it is: great for compensation, but a horrible idea for rewarding and recognizing incremental productivity.
So here we are in 2014, with the latest truly bad idea that involves a company which has loaded up with red-ink cartridges to print their income statements, while publishing audited financial reports showing a profound inability to meet their short-term debt obligations without a quick injection of liquidity, readying themselves for what may be the most embarrassing IPO in memory. This company (which I shall refer to only as “Globo”) would appear to need money, and is willing to shoulder the scrutiny of merciless investment analysts in order to try to get some. What I don’t get is why anyone would buy into a company that: (a) sells a pure commodity product (one that does not deliver value to the buyer on any level); (b) is known largely for a laughable HR premise that serves no interest, beyond possibly that of litigators; (c) doesn’t seem to be able to find a path to profitability no matter what they have tried; and, (d) has 30-40% of their business seemingly wrapped up with one customer. Does that sound like a recipe for success to you? Me neither.
The lessons to be learned here are many:
First, if you are going to attempt to brand a commodity dispenser, you need to have some significant and patented value-add. Poor “Globo” has neither. Anybody can buy gift cards for WalMart, mark them up 30% and try to sell them. The question is: Who would buy them? And who would come back for more?
Second, if you are going to go so far as to have your CEO write a book, it is generally a good idea to have something of value to say. Not just “different” or “revolutionary”, but viable and sustainable. The notion of rating your employees’ performance based on how many friends they have and not the results they generate has the unanimity of appeal of outcome based education, but with fewer subscribers.
Third, Abe Lincoln knew “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Having read the S1 filing for our subject firm, you would have to take the leap that Mr. Lincoln did not know whereof he spoke in order to buy into the value of an investment. It’s not generally a good idea to challenge Abraham Lincoln on just about anything he said.
My advice to anyone who is still with me here: Create value. Hugh MacLeod reminds us that “the market for something to believe in is infinite”. The opportunity to build and sustain engagement across organizations, brands and markets, is also infinite. The idea of peddling a commodity product with a “one size fits none” technology (see my earlier post on “The Procrustean Approach to Employee Engagement”), based on a self-serving vision of corporate enrichment is a lot like selling branded mud in a rainforest. Don’t sell branded mud in a rainforest.

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The murmuration of life…

A murmuration of starlings over Gretna

Ask any starling…Time flies when you are having fun. Well, I sure must have been enjoying one heckuva good time the last six and a half months!! Wow. Has it really been that long since I posted up on ideationz? Yup. It sure has.

I feel as if I owe my friends and readers a little explanation. So, here goes: I have none. All I can tell you is that  I’ve been working with some wonderfully talented folks, creating global engagement solutions for some of the biggest household names in the land. I’ve been listening, reading, watching, speaking with, sharing ideas among, and mostly learning about a myriad of changes underway in organizations, cultures, brands, and channels.

New issues, from wading through the market realities of ACA, to the migrational shift underway in the workplace, to the global reallocation of resources and capital, to the impact of QE3 on worldwide equity markets, have made for no shortage of change in all aspects of business, politics, economics and lifestyles.

This hiatus from ideationz has provided me with more to muse over, more to ruminate about, and more time to re-energize my emotional batteries. Change is good, change is real, change is everything. And it is time to get back to the fundamentals of adapting, innovating, and enduring. The flock of thought is forming.

Thank you for being there while I was away. A new year of ideationz starts today. Hang on, it’s gonna be a helluva ride…

It’s what you aspire to, and what you fear…

aspirations3

I was reading a wonderful post on Tom Asacker’s blog (www.acleareye.com) about the business of change. Tom is a brilliant author, speaker and trainer on matters of inspiring and driving change, via marketing, sales, design, coaching and other important facets of our creative, professional and/or personal lives. You should seriously consider getting to know Tom’s most current book, The Business of Belief.

One very eloquent and simple point is that in order to manifest change, you must replace fear with aspiration. People don’t react negatively to the idea of change. More commonly we fear the unknown. Replace fear, uncertainty and doubt, with an inclusive, realistic and positive vision of the future, and people will flock to the idea.

There is a fundamental construct in the field of behavioral economics around a human quality referred to as “loss aversion”. What it means is that we fear that which we might lose by making a change more than we value the potential benefit that making a change would incur. In other words, we place greater emotional value on that which we have (even if it is glaringly imperfect) than we do on that which we stand to gain by changing a situation or a behavior.

You see this every day. Unhappy married couples stay together because of fear of the unknown, of what their lives could become if they were to separate. The degree of personal discomfort or pain needs to be exceedingly powerful in order to amass the emotional wherewithal required to overcome the inertia brough on by fear.

I recall years ago visiting with an older woman who had lived in Manhattan for over forty years. She was describing to me the times her car had been stolen, her apartment broken into, her purse taken, and other assorted maladies that accrue to someone who lived in New York City from the 50’s to the 90′s. When I asked her why she still lived there, she didn’t hesitate to reply, “What? And give up all this?”

Too often companies fail to articulate a vision of the future that their associates can aspire to be part of. Instead, the communications will point out organizational realignments, new units or divisions, changes in leadership, financial performance, and the like. What is lacking in that is something that the broader number of employees can attach their emotions to, that they can feel excited about being a contributor to. What’s worse is when new ideas are either ignored by senior leaders, or simply dismissed as “not how we do business here”.

The savvy leader  will actively seek out and accept (even if not adopt) the perspectives that are offered by those across the layers of the organization, and reciprocate with a positive outlook for what lies ahead, a realistic vision of what the years ahead may offer, a plan to get there, and a confirmation that everyone has a role to play in shaping and making the desired future.

Everything we do begins and ends with what we believe in and what we value. If you harness and leverage those qualities inside your company as well as in your marketplace,  there is no limit to what the future may hold. Show me that quality in your firm, and I will give you a better than even shot of making it happen.

Your most important organizational asset…

innovation

Your company’s most important asset….

Google “your company’s most important asset” and you will find a preponderance of articles, posts, and books with answers such as:

  • Your employees (who hasn’t read that in the CEO’s letter to the shareholders?)
  • Your intellectual capital (alternatively referred to as your intellectual property)
  • Your reputation (within the community of whom? Employees? Investors? Consumers? All three?)
  • Your brands, your brand promise(s), your brand messaging… (to some “it’s all about the brand”)
  • Something termed “Tribal Knowledge”  (this one sounds way too trendy…I’m thinking someone got carried away with the cave writings of Seth Godin)

It is very hard to argue with any of these (I could probably take the one who preaches on “tribal knowledge” to the mat). But while employees are key, they can be replaced, and often times upgraded to meet a fast moving marketplace. Intellectual capital or intellectual property is a rapidly depreciating asset at best. Your reputation, when taken across multiple stakeholder groups, is such a big one to tackle that it seems akin to solving world hunger by “feeding everyone”.

In my humble opinion, it is your organizational culture that is your most valuable, irreplaceable asset. It is what tempers the beast of change, feeds the marketplace what your customers are demanding (even when they don’t realize that they are), and what makes the whole “branding thing” possible. I suspect that your organizational culture is also important across all your tribe, whoever they are…

The care and feeding of your company culture is the most important role an executive leader plays. A culture doesn’t begin or end with one person, but if that individual is the Chief Executive Officer, she or he can most assuredly define, declare, displace or derail it. It takes a compelling effort, sustained and reinforced at all levels of the organization, to raise the cultural values across diverse social, generational, and geographic audiences. It also takes time to build…less time to destroy, but a long time to become a viable corporate life force.

A strong, positive culture demands the best of those who are tasked with putting values into action, and to create a favorable environment in which they can take root and grow. Values are not just words to those who truly grasp the potential they hold for building a common cause among all associates. It is far easier to be cynical these days than it ever has been in the history of commerce. It is hard enough to gain buy-in to traditional beliefs, even as simple as, “do unto others…”

Your company culture has no chance to exist without clearly demonstrated beliefs, put in practice, and hiding in plain sight at every opportunity. Failing to reinforce the values, letting moments of truth slip by with no recognition of an associate caught in the act of doing something positive, will create an unnecessarily perilous future for the culture you wish to instill. Communicating, demonstrating, reinforcing, articulating, recognizing, celebrating, commiserating…these are all terribly important to nurturing the culture of your firm.

What is the most important asset of your company? I would say it is the one thing that your company cannot exist without, and cannot be replaced if it’s lost, damaged or stolen. When you look around your company, whether you have fifteen or fifteen thousand associates, consider what is being done to create and support a culture that values each individual in accordance with a consistently defined purpose, vision and set of principles. If you find a more valuable asset than that, I would love to hear about it.

A collaborative model for employee engagement initiatives…

employee-engagement1

One of the most talked-about challenges in business today centers on more fully engaging your employees. We have discussed this need on ideationz a number of times, and from a variety of perspectives. From increasing key productivity metrics, to reducing unwanted terminations, to improving the customer experience, to building a more nimble, innovative organization, there are myriad ways to measure the benefits of an engaged workforce.

Recently, I authored a White Paper, “A model for collaborative design, definition and implementation of an effective initiative to drive and sustain employee engagement.” That’s a long title! But there are a number of key factors that must be addressed, including:

  • Where do I start the process?
  • How will I set benchmarks for the current situation?
  • What are the “New Rules” of engagement?
  • How do I approach the definition and design process?
  • What are the most important variables that  make up an effective plan?
  • What about implementation? How do I approach that?
  • Where should I measure the effort and how?

You will find all these questions discussed in the White Paper. Would you like to receive a copy? Simple enough. Please just complete the form below and I will send you a .pdf. All I ask is that should you desire to republish it, that you ask for my permission and acknowledge the origin of the piece.

In 2013, virtually all of the biggest marketing and organizational challenges we face tie back, on some level, to the willingness and ability of our employees to create and deliver new value in the marketplace, and innovation within our firm. Failing that, it will be awfully hard to maximize our potential, and, in some cases, even assure the sustainability of the company over the long-term.

I hope to hear from you, and look forward to hearing your thoughts on the subject!

Always, never and the 99% rule…

Miscommunication

Not sure what is expected of you? Receiving mixed signals as to what to do next? By my estimate roughly 99% of all of these are the result of one simple fact: We are really not that great at communicating expectations.

How about if we make a simple New Year Resolution that we all can live with? One that will eliminate 99% of our mutual frustrations, disagreements, and disappointments? It’s really quite simple.  If we resolve to both listen better, and express ourselves with greater clarity, the vast majority of problems we deal with can be eliminated. Imagine how wonderful our lives will be…

I don’t have to go into when, how or why these disconnects occur. They just do. We either don’t say what we mean or we don’t listen carefully enough to what we are told so that we can understand what the other person really means. The result is painfully obvious. And completely avoidable.

One idea to think about is to maintain an “Always / Never” list. It is a simple list of all those things that we need to either always or never do. That will knock off at least half of our frustrating experiences right there. Everyone has certain inviolable patterns. Whether we are talking about your customers, your boss, your spouse, your family, your friends or acquaintances, we know that there are certain, specific, words, acts or perceptions that will bring functional communications to an end.

For example, ask yourself: “What are the things that my customer always expects of me? Alternatively, what are the things that my customer never wants to see or hear from me? If you get these right, you are already ahead of the game.

If you are in business, you need to pay close attention to the “Always/Never” list of your best customers. You’d be crazy not to. Same is true for those people in your life who you interact with most frequently. This approach will take care of all the black and white issues. But since most of life is neither black nor white, you need to focus on what you say, and how you say it, if you want to take care of all the other chances for miscommunication.

Too often we say what we think the other person wants to hear, or we tell them exactly what they don’t want to hear in order to serve our own agenda. In either case, we are not necessarily communicating what is real, or what is true, or what needs to be said. If we don’t understand or if we don’t listen carefully, we will readily miss or misinterpret what others tell us. My advice: Don’t count on the other person to be a particularly concise or accurate communicator. Instead, make it a point to really listen, and then help them to find the real message. Sometimes it can take some digging or prodding. But in the end, it can save you a lot of heartbreak or confusion.

Effective communication is becoming a lost art. Text messaging, email, voicemail, headline news, and the all the rest of the ways we collapse what we take in, makes for plenty of chances to say or hear the “wrong thing”. The results range from mildly annoying to catastrophic. Step up to the situation, grab the proverbial “thistle” and say what you mean…make it more difficult for the other party to misinterpret you.

Simple enough, right? Let’s give it a go. It can’t  possibly hurt. And who knows, the angst you save just may be your own.