Category Archives: Personal Development

Always, never and the 99% rule…


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.

An ode to innovation…

Yesterday evening, I had the opportunity to participate in a seminar on innovation, sponsored by a wonderful, Minneapolis-based agency appropriately named “Ideas To Go”. This firm is composed of some very bright, creative folks who assist clients nationally to elevate their game when it comes to breaking through paradigms.

One of IDG’s “best and brightest” is Katie Konrath, whose blog www.getfreshminds should be required reading for all in marketing, product development, organizational development, or just plain interested in catapulting their thinking. I have known Katie for a couple of years, and have been so impressed by her perspectives and intelligent approach to opening new horizons. This is no real surprise to anyone who has met this young dynamo, especially if they have had the chance to become acquainted with her mom, Jill Konrath ( ).

Jill K is the author of several revelatory books on the art of selling in the twenty-first century. Her landmark works Selling To Big Companies  and Snap Selling,  have redefined the art of the customer-centric sales process. As a speaker, Jill is about as good as it gets, and as a sales strategist, Jill’s experience, wisdom and insight are priceless.

What amazes me about these two is how connected they are on so many levels, and yet so individually potent in their own domains. Truly, the proverbial “apple” did not fall very far from the tree.

During the course of the session on Wednesday, I learned more about the varying styles and degrees of innovation, and how we are best equipped to live and work together. Some highlights:

  1. Everyone is born with an innate ability to be creative. It is part of the human condition, and like other skills or talents, can be developed and honed.
  2. There is a spectrum of creativity which ranges from those who are defined as “Adaptors” to those who are identified as “Innovators”.
  3. The Adaptor is one who leverages their surroundings, either environmental or cultural or situational, to create new vision, beliefs, or values.
  4. The Innovator looks beyond what exists to reset boundaries, to create something never seen or done before, or to displace what “is” with what “could be”.
  5. Every company, society, family is populated with both Adaptors and Innovators…the key to maximizing potential is to establish a fertile common ground for both to function at a high level of productivity and satisfaction.

It is easy to identify Adaptors and Innovators (simply Google “Kirtin Adaptation-Innovation Inventory to learn more, or contact Susan Wandell or Cynthia Ryan at  Ideas To Go via their website (

Some examples come to mind: In the field of art, iconic Adaptors include Claude Monet, Pierre-August Renoir, or Paul Cezanne, all viewed as radicals in their time, as they created classical impressionist works. Similarly, one need only look to Salvadore Dali, Pablo Picasso or Joan Miro to find contemporary Innovators, courageously harnessing their respective visions to lead art to new dimensions. Both Adaptors and Innovators deliver a powerful impact, whether it be to the arts, technology, science or commerce.

What matters most is that they (indeed, we all) must be granted the permission and latitude to comfortably (if not, forcibly) and openly prosper new thinking to replace aging or obsolete paradigms. Thankfully, there are voices in our midst (such as Jill and Katie, along with so many others) to help us open the doors to greater opportunities.

Ready, willing, and able to engage…

What’s more detrimental to your organization than a large segment of disengaged employees? Here’s one answer: a large segment of previously engaged workers who have, for a variety of individual reasons, become disengaged from their employer. A recent report on HR Daily ( raises the important point that when an employee slides from engaged to disengaged, the degree of negative impact on the company is significantly magnified. When once engaged workers adopt a mindset that they are no longer being managed appropriately, the outcome is a perilous drop in productive, positive behavior, coupled with heightened frustration and anger with supervisory management , reduced output and greater levels of workplace stress.

The most current Towers Watson Global Workforce Study ( ) indicates that 63% of US workers are not fully engaged with their company. What’s more, the study digs deeper to find that of that group which is not fully engaged, about a 40% are completely disengaged, and the remaining 60% are split between those who have the tools that would enable and support engagement, but lack willingness to engage, and another group that is willing to be engaged, but lack the enablers that will sustain their engagement.

If you have read previous posts on ideationz, you will recall a series titled “I’m not married to the company, but I am engaged…” in which we discussed the critical need to align your employees, address both their ability (knowledge, skills, competencies) and their willingness (leveraging both intrinsic and extrinsic triggers), along with a solid platform for measuring, tracking and reporting their individual and/or group productivity.

If 40% of an organization are either unwilling or unable to sustain engagement, and another 23% are completely disengaged, then clearly it is time to examine the larger cultural and workplace drivers (including management practices and development, policies and processes, career path and latticing opportunities, and other big-picture elements). It also is key to visit what your company can do on a more local or individual basis to provide greater access to enablers and behavioral considerations.

A recent article in Forbes ( lent some suggestions around how to tweak your workplace in order to achieve an increased level of employee loyalty and commitment. Some examples:

  • Determine what aspects of their job excites the employees and seek additional opportunities to  pursue them;
  • Flexible work hours, particularly during the summer months;
  • Nurture micro-innovation by embracing those ideas for change that can be implemented locally and shared with other departments or units;
  • Encourage job latticing between departments (note: this is of particular importance if you employ a significant number of Gen Y or Millennials in your company);
  • Make your recognition “personal” by enabling first level supervisors and managers to acknowledge exceptional performance “on the spot” (i.e., at the time they witness the behavior).

Other facets of improving workplace engagement include:

  • Integrating career path planning into the performance management system, with an on-going dialog between manager and subordinates;
  • Providing readily accessible learning opportunities for employees who want to broaden their skill set and “marketability” within the organization;
  • Measuring and tracking manager utilization of the employee recognition platform, along with training first- and second -level managers on the critical need to develop trust, interactivity and engagement with their workplace teams;
  • Top-down visibility and communications regarding the key role of the employees in corporate performance, giving them a sightline to overall performance objectives beyond the scope of their  individual role;
  • Celebrating steps to the successful achievement of the firm’s strategic goals and objectives (e.g., if the sales goal is $500mm for the year, have a party when the company achieves significant milestones toward attainment).
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate… Employees are more likely to feel valued if they know what is going on, what the mission is, and how the company is doing on the journey.

Each organization is in a different place on the journey to engaging its employees to become emotionally committed, loyal, and productive assets that will go the extra mile to help the company attain its critical goals. Without proper tools in place, and a highly charged executive team to reinforce the value of being “ready, willing and able” to deliver growth, it is going to be unnecessarily difficult to deliver on the promise of an engaged workforce.

Note – photo credit: flickr creative commons commercial: Time For Change

An activist songwriter nailed it…

Bruce Cockburn, the renown singer-songwriter from Canada, wrote “the trouble with normal is it always gets worse”. This is more true than ever, and on far more fronts than geo-political, ideological or socio-economic. Contemporary standards place expedience, cost-reduction, and immediate gratification well above more traditional values of efficacy, reliability, and the corporate conscience. It is as true in product design, sales and marketing as it is in finance, manufacturing and logistics.

Each time we lower a standard, every instance of cutting a corner, and all the decisions made to disguise a defect in the name of “new and improved” serve to reset the bar for what “normal” is. In the post-9/11 months and years we heard the refrain “welcome to the new normal” to reference compromises in liberty, freedom and mobility. In the declining years of 2007 to the bottom-seeking of 2009 and the endangered job market since, we have seen “normal” unemployment jump from 4-5% to 8-10%. This is the world we live in now. The trouble with normal? It always gets worse.

As marketers, we can’t solve global warming, quell social unrest, or shift economic curves. What we can do is recognize, acknowledge, adapt, and innovate. Example: Every product made today, every service offered in commerce is a commodity. There are far fewer dollars chasing far more spending and investment options than ever before in history. Somebody is going to win, and someone else is going to lose.

Your first responsibility to evade complacency is to recognize that whatever it is you make, whatever it is you sell, is now competing with everything else that has been made or offered for sale. There used to be budgets, assigned in categories, with some assurance that needs would be met (even if wants were not). There are no more budgets. Instead there are unmet needs chasing scarce funding. Wants? Don’t even go there. You can’t afford it.

When you acknowledge that in this economy there are no sellers, only buyers, you have made the first giant leap. You can’t sell anything anymore. It was said once that “people don’t sell stocks; people buy stocks”. This is the number one reason social media has become everyone’s darling. People tend to buy less on what satisfies a need and more on what others will think of them and, most of all, on what they will think of themselves for having bought. Economics matter, but only to the extent that they define broad segments of purchase intent and relative timing. The decision-making process is going to come down to emotions first, and then the rationalization will occur.

This is why you either adapt or you become extinct. If adapting prolongs your life, reinvention offers survival, and innovation is the only real path to the future. The process is continually accelerating, making it necessary to creatively destroy what you have built before someone else does it for you.

What does this have to do with sales? With marketing? I would hope the implications would be obvious to all, but just in case… If you carry a business card with “Sales” or “Business Development” on it, you need to let go of any and every attribute of your company, its products and services that give you specific comfort. Instead, move beyond to the place where your customers are treading. Understand those unseen, unknown fears that they are living with. If you can show them a better (more predictable, consistent and reliable) path to where they need to get, you will be recognized for it, considered, and possibly adopted. For at least a while anyway. Until someone else comes along and renders you obsolete. Figure it will take at least six weeks to three months before you are outed.

For those in marketing, the best alternative you have is the one that makes people talk, either vocally or in some unpaid media. Paid-Owned-Earned is one of the most critical concepts around these days. Content is the currency that makes your product (or service) virtuous. You already know this, but we tend to be forgetful of what we have learned in our quest to see around the next corner.

The trouble with normal is it always gets worse. It’s been true since the dawn of time, only made more immediate by the technological explosion of the past twenty-five years. Your very future depends on how readily you can recognize, acknowledge, adapt and innovate. Anything less and you are Amtrak, Kodak, Rolm, Wang, Gateway, Nokia, My Space, or SuperPages.

What became of your expectations..?

A new year waits, just ahead, in full view. Just curious about one thing: This time a year ago you set some pretty aggressive goals, resolutions, objectives…whatever you termed them…essentially you defined a new set of expectations of yourself. How did that work out? In fact, if you are like most people (including me) the odds are that you did something similar two, three, maybe even five years back. How successful were you in realizing your objectives?

Full disclosure: I was successful on a couple of fronts, generally involving my business and this blog. At best, I batted about .500, which isn’t great, but it could have been worse. In these volatile times setting just about any goal and achieving it is at least worth some celebration.

The reason I ask in the first place is that I wonder if we sometimes layout some lofty targets, without enough forethought to realize whether or not they are attainable, and then just hope for the best. I don’t know about you but I really don’t have an abundance of time to devote to planning every aspect of my big-picture hopes and dreams. Most of my time is spent dealing with the here-and-now (also referred to as the “tyranny of the urgent” by many).

So this year, rather than set myself up for failure, I am going to create a moving set of outcomes to work against; the “steps to a resolution” if you will. For example, rather than declare that I am finally going to complete my forthcoming book, I am instead going to define some key milestones which are yet to be completed (most of them, in all honesty) and position myself for success instead. I may not get the entire work ready for presentation to a publisher but I am pretty sure I can pass several waypoints on that course.

We are conditioned to aim high; to be lofty in our ambitions. And we are also conditioned to accept failure, as long as we made some progress. I’m not so sure that’s a good plan. Being ambitious is good, don’t get me wrong. However, if we decide to undo years of paradigms, reprogram our behavior, and/or channel our focus in an entirely new direction, we may have honorable intentions without being realistic.

Instead, how about if we organize a strategic personal goal for twelve months, and create four quarterly tactical plans to get us there? Of course it makes sense. But how many of us put that level of thought into our “New Years Resolutions”? This approach forgoes the bravado of “I’m going to lose 30 pounds this year!”  In place of that, I declare that, “By March 31st I am going to have moved from two big meals a day, to four small meals a day with fewer carbs and more leafy greens”? Not as exciting, but doable, and moves me closer to where I can sustain a positive change.

Is this a good idea? I don’t know. But having largely never accomplished a New Years’ Resolution suggests that maybe it’s time to rethink a failed process. That counts for something, doesn’t it?

The imagination you inspire just might be your own…

Please. Put down the laser pen and back away slowly. Can we all just agree that in 2012 we will find a new, better way to deliver a message? If not for all the innocents who will have to endure the prattle, then do it for me, or for yourself.  Do it for the planet, to save the whale, or to bring peace to war-torn countries around the globe. Whatever your motivation, I emplore you, stop the madness.  P.S. Thank you, Tom Fishburne, for all the chuckles, all the grins, all the hearty laughs you brought to so many face in 2011. May everyone learn to love .


Setting the table for a high(er) performing organization…

Over the course of thirty-plus years in leadership, from a start-up retail organization to a global manufacturer to a small marketing agency to a somewhat larger behavior-change company, I’ve learned a few axioms of enterprise. One is that the vast majority of day-to-day issues arise simply because of inadequate, misdirected, or simply non-existent communications.

We have all seen it, lived it, and contributed to it.

At an extreme, poor communication can debilitate an organization. Exceptional communication skills may not insure perpetuity or success, but they do create opportunities that can’t exist in their absence.

There are three pre-requisites to improving communications, whether you run a company of ten or ten thousand employees. Unfortunately, they are easier to define than they are to execute. But if acknowledging the problem is the first step to solving it, then identifying a path to improvement surely must follow.

The first rule of effective communicating is to create realistic and mutually understood expectations. If people know what is expected of them, and what to expect of others, it is amazing how many sources of conflict disappear. Fully half (or more) of an individual’s frustration with the performance of others can be attributed to unmet or unrealized expectations.

The second basic law of communicating is to make accountability a priority. Not just of others…but for yourself as well. If I am accountable to those who work for me, as well as those whom I report up to, I create an environment where failure to deliver is unacceptable. As with setting expectations, being accountable is fundamental to improved relationships, both hierarchical and cross-functionally.

Finally, there must be active engagement between the parties. Engagement both serves, and is a byproduct of, commitment. If I am actively engaged in achieving the shared objectives of our team, and if I am accountable for meeting the expectations of others, there will be far fewer chances for disconnects and disappointment.

Expectations, accountability and engagement are the foundation upon which you can improve any functioning organization. Once you have these in place, it is a short hop to mutual respect, trust and cooperation, all of which thrive in an environment where communications are healthy.

There is no capital expenditure and no new investment required, and, best of all, anyone can begin the improvement process. Begin today to set new rules in place, and lead the way in your own company, division or department. You will be astounded by the potential results, and how quickly they accrue.