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Ryan’s Journal: Musings on A Tough Week For PR

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/tofu_mugwump/25716292035/

This past week we had one bad press event after another and all from different sectors. Let’s review what has transpired so far: Pepsi decided to release an ad that equated the giving of a Pepsi to a police officer as the answer to the protests that have occurred.

It was looked, at the very least, tone deaf, but was also offensive to many who felt Pepsi was attempting to capitalize on societal events that have true impacts.

Our President’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, somehow thought it was a clever idea to bring up Hitler as an example of how he was better than the current Syrian regime. If you missed it he essentially said that Hitler never gassed his own people, unlike what Assad has done in Syria.

A basic history lesson will show that Hitler may not have used gas attacks in a combat role but he gassed millions of innocent Jews in death camps throughout Europe. Not exactly a bastion of humanity there.

The event, however, that caught many by surprise was the viral video of a passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight after it was determined that they needed his seat for an employee.

This man was already seated and refused to leave, since he was a doctor and had appointments he needed to make. When he refused to leave, the police were called and he was dragged off screaming. To make matters odder he somehow got back on the plane, bloodied and rambling.

That event was terrible, but then the CEO of United decided to double down and call the man belligerent. Since then the CEO has issued several apologies, but the damage has been done.

What do these three events have in common? I would argue that in each of these cases the leadership of the company, who typically maintains the cultural norms, has failed.

Let’s dive in and see how this could have been prevented to learn from them in the future.

Pepsi had grand ambitions to have a meaningful conversation around current events and sell their product. One critical flaw here, they utilized their in-house marketing team.

They were operating in an echo chamber with no one to tell them to stop and think for a moment. This is something I personally must do in my own life. I must seek out feedback on a continuous basis to determine if I am on the right path.

My goal for this post is not to get political, but we can look at the Sean Spicer event as a leadership problem. He was hired by Donald Trump, who already had an idea of what Sean was like. Since taking the role Sean Spicer has been in hot water several times, this being the latest in a string of gaffs.

This man is essentially the voice of our President, twitter aside. The culture of the White House has enabled him to act recklessly and uncouthly. Similar to the idea that brilliant jerks are ok, we have a similar issue at stake here.

My take-away from this is to put yourself in the shoes of your listeners. Would what you are saying be divisive to your listeners or just plain wrong?

Finally, we have the United Airlines debacle.

Now the event itself was a shock but we need to look at the response since it came to light.

The CEO started by stating the man was belligerent and the CEO supported his employee’s decisions.

I get it, you want to reassure your workforce that you have their back, but in this case the CEO was also viewing this from a legal standpoint.

There is a law that allows you to forcibly remove a passenger if he is belligerent. The CEO labeled that passenger in such a way to protect himself legally. But we all saw the video and beyond refusing to leave the man really wasn’t much of a threat.

To me, this response is indicative of both pride and attempting to cover up rather than solve. That CEO has surrounded himself with folks that are unwilling or unable to push back and offer insight.

I have done that in my own life as well and so must always reach out to those that share different opinions than I or different beliefs, so I can continue to learn.

Image credit: Topher McCulloch

Words Words Words

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

http://www.dailyexcelsior.com/yoloclicktivism-among-new-words-in-oxford-dictionary/

A newish reader called me, mainly, he said, to see if I really did answer my phone (the number and an invitation to call is prominently displayed in the right-hand column). He seemed even more surprised that I would take time to chat.

The conversation covered several topics, but the question I found most appropriate to mention here was, “Do you really think word choice and punctuation make all that much difference or is it just your own personal hang-up?”

Fair question and one I’ve heard before.

Regarding the importance of punctuation I referred him to the lost lawsuit in yesterday’s post, which he hadn’t read, yet.

As to the importance of word choice you need to look no further than the care taken by the shared economy giants, such as the UK’s Deliveroo when referring to their non-employees.

The critical importance of using the correct terms (click the link above for a sample) can be found in Deliveroo’s bend-over-backwards effort to avoid having the government class their non-employees as employees, with all the associated rights and costs.

The six pages of do’s and don’ts are meant to serve as a template for how staff should speak to and about its couriers (though it prefers to call them “independent suppliers”). For example, they want to avoid saying “We pay you every two weeks”, preferring the more obtuse passive phrase, “Rider invoices are processed fortnightly.”

Words are incredibly powerful, as I wrote way back in 2009; more than 50 years ago James Thurber concurred.

Precision of communication is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair trigger balances, when a false or misunderstood word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act.

Of course, precision is just as important, if not more so, when intentionally creating false views and misunderstandings as proven beyond doubt by recent elections here and around the globe.

Image credit: DailyExcelsior.com

Golden Oldies: Deck the halls with honest feedback

Monday, December 19th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over nearly a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

It’s that time of year again and and my best advice hasn’t changed since 1977 or as I wrote it in 2007. The only difference is that now it’s the same advice you can find in dozens of places. Done right (as described below) reviews are the greatest gift you can give your people. So give it to them, even if you don’t get the same from your boss. After all, it is said that it’s better to give than receive and, as I tell clients, you can control the former, not the latter.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

performance-review-1I’ve written on and off about the importance of, and how to do, performance reviews and it’s that time of year again.So in yet another effort to convince you doubters out there that honesty is the best policy and your people really don’t want to hear feel-good fudging, prevarications or outright lies, especially around Christmas.

Social psychologist William B. Swann in a new study published in the Academy of Management Journal… People don’t like to be treated positively if they know it is not heartfelt. If people are coming across as inauthentic and forcing you to come across as inauthentic in return, that can be enormously stressful… His work has centered on an idea known as self-verification theory. All people carry around an image of themselves that tells them who they are, whether they are good-looking or average-looking, for example, or clever at math, or kind and thoughtful or largely self-centered. Inasmuch as people want to be recognized for the things they are good at, Swann’s work suggests many people also want honest acknowledgments of their flaws, and that when these flaws are minimized or wished away, people end up feeling worse rather than better.

Just remember, honest and authentic don’t mean abusive or destructive. Offering recognition of what the person does well and being candid about areas that need improvement are two hallmarks of a good review.

The third is no surprises, which means that you’ve been giving candid feedback throughout the year.

What kind of reviews do you give? Receive?

How to be a Great Boss

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hikingartist/3555349324/Being a great boss is hard work; it doesn’t always come naturally.

Being a boss means understanding the importance of culture.

  • “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game.” –Lou Gerstner, IBM turnaround CEO

Being a boss means clarity throughout 360 degrees of your communications, i.e., subordinates, peers and bosses.

Great bosses

  • provide their people with all the information needed to understand how to perform their work as correctly, completely, simply, and efficiently as possible.

They do this by

  • providing clear, concise, and complete communications at all times.

Being a boss means a strong focus on hiring.

Great bosses hire smart.

  • “Don’t hire jerks, no matter how talented.”

Great bosses hire sans ego.

  • “There’s two ways to manage. You can hire to be the smartest person in the room or you can hire to be the dumbest person in the room.” –Michael Lebowitz, founder and C.E.O. of design firm Big Spaceship (He says he works at being the dumbest.)

Being a boss means many other things, too, but master these three and you’ll be well on your way to being a great boss.

Image credit: Hiking Artist

Entrepreneurs: More About Naming

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

WhartonMy part of this post will be a brief, because I want to be sure you use the link I’m going to give you.

Have you ever noticed that when a subject, word or name comes up you suddenly start running into it from all sides.

Last week’s Entrepreneur post look at the challenge of naming a company or product and used CB Insights as a kind of case study.

Today I read an article from Knowledge @ Wharton (it’s worth subscribing) called How (Not) to Name a Company in the Digital Era.

“Name selection is more important now than ever before,” says Alexandra Watkins, founder of brand consulting agency Eat My Words. “Your name has to work harder than it did 20 years ago.”

Driving the charge are shifts in technology and consumer habits. The ubiquitous presence of internet domain names and web addresses, or URLs, social media and the prevalent use of smartphones and tablets with their smaller screens call for new rules on how a company, product or service should select its name, marketing experts say.

I thought it was very good and sent it to several serial entrepreneurs who have been through the naming fire multiple times.

They also thought it was excellent and said to share it.

So I am.

Now click the link.

Image credit:  Wharton

Golden Oldies: Verbal Avoidance

Monday, June 13th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

I wrote Verbal Avoidance in 2011, not because it was new, but because it was so prevalent — and since them it’s gotten more so in spite of all the talk about honesty and authenticity. Read other Golden Oldies here

1211065_danger_help_need_peace_and_silenceThere’s a bad habit I see sweeping through companies. It’s not really new, but it has gotten much worse in recent years.

This particular habit used to be more the province of arguing couples, relationship counselors and divorce courts.

Always more of a guy thing, I now find it on the rise among women.

I call it “verbal avoidance” and it is irritating to say the least.

It occurs when something happens, or is supposed to happen, and person A needs to communicate that to person B.

And doesn’t.

A doesn’t because

  • what happened is going to upset B and A either doesn’t want to be the messenger, since messengers are sometimes killed or deal with the fallout if/when B gets upset.
  • B is waiting for A to notify him of good news, but B doesn’t have the information yet, so rather than saying that, he doesn’t call.

Of course there are dozens of variations, but they all boil down to the same thing—A does not communicate with B as expected.

When B does reach A, A offers a variety of reasons why the contact didn’t happen, but reasons don’t excuse anything.

B feels frustrated/disappointed/disgusted/angry/betrayed.

Verbal avoidance for any reason breaks trust.

And trust is the basis for any kind of relationship, whether at work, at home or in the world at large.

Silence isn’t always golden.

Stock.xchng image credit: Sigurd Decroos

Ducks in a Row: Bulls**t Bingo at its Nerdy Best

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

KG sent this to me and I had to share it, in spite of the cease and desist letter I may get from the lawyers.

nerdy bingo

And for great information on how to avoid being a pointy-haired boss check out the January Leadership Development Carnival.

Image credit: Scott Adams

A Vision or a Dream?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

vision

I wrote the following in 2008 and, based on a number of recent questions/conversations I think it’s time to post it again, with some light editing.

The Vision Thing

Whether you head a company, run a department, or lead a team, you are responsible for that ‘vision thing’ as it applies to those subordinate to you.

It’s your responsibility to clearly identify (if you are the CEO/Prez/Owner) or articulate (at all other levels) the goals of the company.

Then it’s up to you to involve your people, working with them to turn those goals into specific actions for which they are responsible.

Most people are vaguely aware that work isn’t done in a vacuum, but often individuals, teams, or even departments, fail to truly understand the domino effect created by allowing their schedule to slip.

You can minimize this problem, and improve the quality of your workforce, by making certain that they understand how their own goals, their colleagues, those of the company and its customers and vendors interact.

The biggest rewards at all levels (using whatever incentives are available) should go to those who understand the company’s goals, and ethically do whatever is necessary to achieve them—especially when they put the company’s goals ahead of their own.

None of this is rocket science. 

It’s simple enough.

No matter your level, if you’re the boss communicating the vision to your team and aligning their actions with it is your responsibility.

Otherwise, the vision becomes a dream.

Image credit: Wordle

Ducks in a Row: Culture Made Easy

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/nerru86/7217600196/

I hear a lot form bosses who want to build good culture, but are frustrated because of an excess of how-to information — much of it contradictory.

By popular request here are the only two things you  need to know to build an effective culture — everything else flows from them.

First, you have to believe the basic premise.

  1. People are intelligent, motivated and want to help their company/boss succeed.

Second, you need to back that belief up with appropriate action.

  1. Provide your people with all the information needed to understand how to perform their work as correctly, completely and efficiently as possible.

Culture frames workplace relationships and, like any relationship, it’s about open communications.

Sharing information is a sign of trust and encourages people to become more involved.

When people know about their job/company/industry and how they all interact, they will perform their own duties better and more productively — because they understand what’s going on they are encouraged to take more ownership and care.

Valuing people and open communications are the bedrock of a great culture and a boss people want to work for.

Bottom line, what to do is simple.

Doing it takes discipline.

Flickr image credit: Mike M

Ducks in a Row: How to Communicate

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/britanglishman/5344115406/

All people interactions, whether short or longer, are, in fact, “relationships.”

They are grown and sustained through good communications.

When people are peers, both are responsible for making good communications happen — or should be.

However, when one person outranks the other it becomes the higher ranking person’s responsibility.

As a boss, what do you need to do to be sure you are heard?

What to do is simple; doing it takes effort.

Start by accepting that all people have a mental model through which they hear, so what they hear may have little-to-nothing to do with what is said.

The worst mistake a boss (or anyone) makes is assuming that the person listening has the same model as you.

That said, here is a three-point plan to make sure you are heard.

  • Start by carefully explaining your model and your assumptions when giving direction;
  • give your people clear, complete information; you do not want to be known as an information drip, i.e., the boss that makes her people come back again and again to fill in the details; and then
  • check to be sure that they have actually heard and understood what you mean, as opposed to their version of it.

Do it today, do it all the time and it will become second nature.

Your payback will come in rising productivity, more motivated people, and lower turnover—all positively affecting your bottom line.

Flickr image credit: Graham Dean

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