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In hindsight, the anticipation was part of the gift.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Suzuki Roshi
“Everything – Love = Nothing”
- Paul’s letter to the Corinthians as summarized by John Ortberg
“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds' wings.” – Jalaluddin Meylana Rumi
There are a lot of people who are looking for their next career opportunity. Either they left their previous companies and are in transition or they have outgrown their current role and are looking for a new challenge. Possibly both. Perhaps your are one of them. Or maybe things are humming along nicely for you at work, but you don’t want to get stale or forget your own development as you grow in place or seek promotion. Thinking about this in my own experience has led to me to some insights that might be useful to you.
1. The hiring manager has a reason they are recruiting
Chances are the hiring manager for your next role had to go to bat to get the requisition approved. They have an immediate need. They have lived without someone in the role and it is taking its toll on the remaining team and the business results. So much so, that their management has seen the gap and approved the spend. There are specific things that need to get done that are either going undone or being done poorly. The business is suffering. This is true in many cases. The hiring manager has asked the recruiter or posted a job with a very specific list of attributes for which they are searching. They don’t want to hire a generalist, just like you wouldn’t use a Swiss Army Knife to cut a sirloin, if you could use a proper steak knife. Recruiters will complain, I mean, observe that hiring managers ask for a purple unicorn steak knife with pink polka-dots, their requirements are so specific and unique. This is true. Why? Because…
2. The hiring manager doesn’t want to look the fool
Once getting approval to hire, the manager wants to make a smart hiring choice. They know that unless you have someone in the role who is highly productive in short order, they won’t be successful. Hiring a warm body isn’t enough. They want a candidate with the elusive combination of past experience, personal motivation, and future potential that will allow them to fill their need (see #1). Anything misstep in this search and they might be stuck with a bad performer (worst case scenario), have to swap out talent (losing more time), and damage their reputation as a leader and team builder in the process. All of these things are out of the question. The stakes are high to find the steak knife (see what I did there?). So, they go on the hunt for the perfect candidate for their role and you want them to find you in their search, so let’s switch focus to you.
3. You are bigger than the job
You are an experienced, successful professional in your field. You have done some amazing things. You have more capabilities, more raw potential, and undoubtedly more experience than your next job can fully appreciate. That is okay. It is preferred. Otherwise, you’d go into a role that would immediately bore you or to which you couldn’t apply your diverse background to make it your own. If you are not clear on what you want in your next role, you will confuse a hiring manager. They want a steak knife. You are a Swiss Army Knife. If you go on about all the things you can do (“I can uncork wine, pop bottle caps, open tin cans, and cut fingernails, and have experience cutting pork chops, cheese, and Duct Tape”), you aren’t going to jump out as the obvious choice to a would-be hiring manager. Plus, everyone describes themselves the same way. You have to stand out.
4. You are best in class at some things
Sure, the company probably does need a well-rounded athlete (more on that later), but they are recruiting for a runner, cyclist, or swimmer, not all three. Even the accomplished triathlete has an area of strength. So do you. If you are honest with yourself, there are parts of your past experience that have been sources of joy and energy and things you have done (perhaps even done exceptionally well) that drain you of energy and motivation.
Only you know for sure, although others can provide some useful insight you might be too close to see yourself. You can use assessment tools (like StrengthsFinders, Insights Discovery Kolbe, DiSC, Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, and others) to gain insight. You can hire a career coach to ask you better questions than you are asking yourself. You can read books. You can seek counsel from networking groups or colleagues. You can take a self-discovery or professional development class. You can spend time with yourself.
However it happens, you need to get clear about what you want and get good at describing your differentiation. What you do best. Not what you have done, but what you want to do in the future. What skills you want to use, what kind of role you want, what kind of company would suit best (by name preferably), what title would suit, and how you want to be measured and managed. This is essentially your personal marketing plan.
5. The job is bigger than you
It is highly likely that the job requires some things you haven’t done, or done in a while, or done well. That is just the nature of the dynamic, changing nature of the workforce. Technology, competitive pressures, globalization, and other trends are causing jobs to change rapidly. Sure, you can invest in training and certifications (you should!). You keep up on your industry. You join networking groups. You do some mentoring and reverse mentoring to stay current. All those things are important, but likely you will need to make some effort, starting in an interview process and through onboarding, to translate what you have done as transferrable skills to the role. And for the rest, you and the hiring manager will need to develop a plan (more on this in a second). The manager will need to be incredibly crisp on the non-negotiables for the role; the personality traits, motivations, and skills that translate to success in the role. Notice I didn’t say “experience.” Experience may not be a measure of future performance in the role and, frankly, as a manager is a really hard to differentiate on experience since everyone who applies and makes it through initial screening seems incredibly and equally competent.
Looking at these things visually, each candidate has a certain degree of overlap with the success profile of the role they are applying for. The overlap are the familiar responsibilities, personality traits, motivations, and skills that the job requires that you can confidently accomplish. Both hiring manager and candidates are well-served by having a high degree of overlap.
Or, ideally, you will find a way to shift the role definition itself (the edge of the job profile circle) to the left to encompass more of your skills. Let’s say you join the company as an individual contributor, but have management experience. Perhaps as the company and role grows, you can take over a team and be a people manager again to use those skills. Perhaps you can look for ways to expand the scope to cover things you are developing in yourself, like strategic thinking, new technical skills, or leadership.
On the other side of the Venn diagram are the job responsibilities that are not in your sweet spot. Perhaps you have spent years selling through channels, but now need to apply skills in direct selling models. Perhaps you have done digital demand generation using tools like marketing automation and PPC advertising and now need to add intention and analytics to your skill set in order to do account-based marketing. Perhaps you need to add cloud computing to your impressive list of IT credentials. Perhaps the job calls for other things that you are willing to do and have been wanting to do, but haven’t demonstrated yet. For these you and your manager have some choices:
Development: you could learn and practice the skills required to be good at your new (next) job.
Delegate: you could bring people onto your team who are experts in these areas to do the work and for you to learn from.
Design: you and your manager could actually design these tasks out of the job itself, giving them to another person or group, shifting your role to play to your strengths.
The alternatives to these things also start with D: disappoint and disaster. Let’s try to avoid that with some frank discussion and good planning and organization design at the start. In the past, I have found that having people on my team who could help me follow-up on detailed accountability plans was a useful corollary to my strategy and idea-generating creativity. Everyone has strengths and we should use ours and allow others the opportunity to demonstrate theirs. We have all had these things in our jobs in the past that we either had to get good at or find ways to accomplish in other ways.
Finally, if you are finding success and satisfaction in your job and want to continue to moving forward, these are still great principles to apply. Keeping up on trends in the job market, understanding the career pathing at your company, investing in yourself with additional reading, courses, and experiences, and talking with trusted mentors and advisors can help you continue to develop your skills and capabilities to be a high degree of overlap for your next role.
And one last note: Everyone can use a good activist shareholder on their personal board of directors (don’t know what an activist investor is? See here). You should have people in your life that are asking the tough questions, making sure you are growing, and sponsoring you for stretch roles. It may be uncomfortable to invite a disrupter or agitator into your inner circle, but it is necessary to combat complacency and avoid developing blind spots around your own development. If you don’t have an activist among your career advisors, find one.
Special thanks to Richard Banks for introducing me to personal marketing plans, for Minh-Ha Nguyen and Teresa Caro for helping me filter my own experience more clearly, to Rebecca Larson for helping me articulate my strengths, to Kelly Kannwischer for Younique and Susan Clark for HeartSpark, to Mike Allred at TechCXO for the Enneagram-based Print Report, to Brian Scudamore and Vistage for introducing me to Kolbe, Alyssa Gasca, Michele Sarkisian, Tanya Young Stump, Gina Riley, Balaji Krishnamurthy, Ben Clifton, and Herve Fage for being activists to me, to Sarah Carr Evans and Kevin Hickey for recently dissecting job success profiles for me, and for so many of my LinkedIn connections, friends, and colleagues for your help and encouragement in my own professional journey. So grateful for their investment in me and I hope that I have done a few things to make them proud (mistakes and opinions my own, of course).
As a marketer, we are asked to make smart investments without all the information. The ever-increasing pace of industry, competitive pressures and rising investor and customer expectations are having their effect. To remain at the top of our game, we must demonstrate a bias for action and the ability to quickly pivot and learn. We are often asked to be change agents, which implies some conflict with internal and external stakeholders, or even our own bosses. We want to make smart decisions. We want to make a difference. We want to be confident and gain the confidence of others. How do we accomplish that? I believe the answer is in being fearless.
The word “fearless,” is often used to synonymously with fear-free. “He ran fearlessly into the burning building to save the child,” the newspaper will report of the local hero. “She has a fearless brush stroke,” they will tell of an artist’s boldness. “He fearlessly changed the business model from traditional transactions to a pay-as-you-go service business,” magazines will report. “Her fearless investments in the new market segment put her ahead of her competition,” followers will admire. "We fearlessly moved our business to the cloud, leading our industry in digital transformation," the annual report will boast. But any of these people will tell you that they have doubts. They were not guaranteed success. There is not a sub-species with superhuman abilities not to feel anxiety (although, in fairness, sometimes when I see the professional snowboarders flipping through the half-pipe or surfers attacking a crashing wave, I might be convinced otherwise). But for the rest of us mere mortals, it isn't about being fear-free, but rather they are overcoming their fears.
What does it mean to be fearless in your business and how can fearlessness be cultivated?
1. It is a mindset change
The answer might be hidden in the word itself. The term “less” is a relative word. It implies that it is less when compared to something else. I am sure you can sting your eyes with “tearless” shampoo, but it is meant to imply a relative safety to other products on the market. We use words like seamless, matchless, baseless, careless, effortless, heartless, motionless, priceless, and thankless as if they are absolutes, but they are really descriptions of relation. You can be seemingly tireless, but still get tired. So, being fearless is to fear less than you did before when faced with uncertainty. That is a choice that you make each day. In marketing, we may shift investment from traditional advertising channels or events to new digital initiatives or approaches. We may change our go-to-market structures, introduce new solutions, target new markets, go after new types of customers. All of these can be seen as fearless moves in hindsight, but if we live in the moment and in the data fearing less, we can improve our chances of success, even when we face internal opposition or hesitancy, without taking on unnecessary risk.
2. It requires practice
Extreme sports athletes seem fearless, but they train for years, risking life and limb, to build up the skills and stamina to wow us in prime time. They overcame their fear one run at a time and practice managing their mind along with their bodies. Entrepreneurs are known for their fearlessness, but that was also trained with small bets and experimentation throughout their lives.
In my experience, confidence is not the opposite of fear: it is action. Fear can be paralyzing, especially when combined with a vivid imagination, but the fearless face it down, give it a name, and move forward. Not recklessly, but with calculated intention, identifying and mitigating risks. To be fearless is just to strive to fear less than you did the day before and you do that with action. Before long, you are accomplishing things never before possible and bringing others along with you on the journey.
3. It builds confidence
I recently heard Beau Lotto, the neuroscientist whose TED talk has generated over 5 million views, say that “courage is more important than confidence.” The best leaders are right a lot of the time and are worth betting on, but more importantly, they have a bias for action. You only have confidence after someone had courage and proved it could be done. Hopefully, of course, that someone is you and you can reap the early mover advantages. Others see the success and what is possible and may live a bit more fearlessly as well.
4. It changes your priorities
You can be 100% correct about things that happened in the past (like last week's lottery numbers), but since we live our lives looking forward, we do not have that luxury. Quite the opposite. In today’s changing landscape, the tactics and strategies that worked in the past might as well be guaranteed not to work in the future. Be skeptical of anyone whose marketing plan, marketing metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are not changing over time. That is something to be truly afraid of. To fear less means to learn more and that is bound to change what you are measuring and where you are aiming your attention and resources.
5. It changes the way you work on a daily basis
Sometimes as leaders we see fearlessness demonstrated in bold business strategies or big M&A investments, but not all fearlessness happens in the boardroom at scale. It is seen in the conversations we have that are awkward or difficult. The coaching conversations with a struggling employee. The negotiations with stakeholders for input or support. The fierce disagreements that result in a strong commitment to the decisions, whether they aligned with your ideal or not. This is where the strength of our backbones are tested. Where our fearlessness and our commitment to strategy is demonstrated. This is where we build our confidence, reveal our new priorities and practice our new mindset.
This article was originally published on Forbes.com.
Today it seems that every company is either in the midst of crisis, coming out of a crisis, or about to have one. It isn’t a matter of if. It is a matter of when and how you will respond. And crisis can put the tenuous alignment of your sales and marketing organizations to the test.
“Reputation and crisis have the potential today to define an organization, to send its community of advocates spinning, to disrupt financially its stock, its profitability, its leadership hold on the market,” says Dean Trevelino, whose professional experience spans GolinHarris, Ogilvy, and now Trevelino/Keller, a public relations, social media and brand communications firm located in Atlanta. And no company is immune. “Every month, a national brand showcases the potential impact,” he continued.
Here are 7 skills that you can build today, ahead of a crisis, to help you weather and prosper in the storm.
1. Plan Ahead
“One of the most valuable things an organization can do before a crisis strikes is to have a designated crisis team in place,” offers Anne Marie Malecha, senior vice president and partner at Dezenhall Resources, a leading high-stakes public affairs and crisis management firm in Washington DC. “The team should have a cross-functional representation of your business. It can’t be 15 people, because the group needs to make decisions and make them quickly,” she advises. “But it can’t be so small that it fails to consider your business as a whole.”
Of course, this crisis team supplements the existing practices regarding public spokesperson responsibilities. “It is critical that the culture and policies of the organization regarding who speaks to the public are in place long before there is a crisis. The ground rules need to be set early on,” Trevelino concludes.
Long before a crisis strikes, it is important to consider the goodwill you are creating in the communities you serve because often “giving back” becomes “paying it forward” in the times of trouble. Trevelino recounts a famous example from McDonald's:
"McDonald’s is a brand that invested in its communities early on. In 1992 during the Los Angeles riots, 53 people were dead, 2,500 injured, $2 billion in damage, including more than 1,200 buildings. McDonald’s restaurants were located in the heart of the destruction and not one McDonald’s was damaged. It was the one brand that people felt was an important brand in the community."
2. Recognize It When It Happens
“Crises take many forms without warning or incident. From a wayward executive to natural disasters, from criminal tragedies to nationwide product recalls,” he continues. “Sometimes they start as an incident with the potential to become an impacting crisis. Other times, they originate as a full-fledged crisis and our intent is to prevent it from becoming a disaster.”
In Dezenhall's practice, Malecha has seen the range. “Crises are often caused, or fueled, by motivated adversaries,” she asserts. “Those are companies, groups, or individuals with a position that is counter to yours. If you are a large oil company, you can bet that you will find environmental activists among your motivated adversaries. If your company is in an industry targeted by regulators, you may find motivated adversaries on Capitol Hill or in state legislatures.”
Sometimes they are expected and sometimes unexpected. “Any company finds motivated adversaries among their competitors,” she continues. Competitors in the market today with which you are familiar, or disrupters entering the industry. “If you are a grocery store chain or a business focusing on home delivery of groceries, and Amazon enters your space, that is a marketplace crisis.”
And do not forget that sometimes crisis can begin positively. “Mergers and acquisitions can be a crisis,” Malecha observes. “Depending on what side of the transaction they find themselves on and if the deal is struck between publicly traded companies, where the SEC has rules around filings and who is allowed to say what to whom and when” the communications can start to feel responsive.
3. Communicate, Early and Often
Malecha suggests that in the first few hours after a crisis, “you have to communicate. We advise clients not to overpromise in these early stages. To be empathetic to all the stakeholders, of course. But you have to communicate something."
"You can’t allow a vacuum to be created,” she continued. In today’s rapid-fire media landscape, “conventional and alternative news outlets will fill the vacuum with whatever they believe to be true or worse what fits their preconceived narrative,” she explained. And that can lead to a communications clean-up effort. “Often an initial crisis is followed by a crisis of misinformation that is flooded into the vacuum,” she said. “Sometimes the perception of a possible wrongdoing becomes the crisis,” adds Trevelino. “It becomes a reality that has to be addressed. The communications or lack thereof, around the crisis, becomes a crisis unto itself.”
“You should communicate progress, early and often,” Malecha urges. “One of the ultimate goals of crisis management is to make your crisis as unsexy and uninteresting as possible.” That is accomplished through regular updates of incremental progress and as Trevelino advises “relentlessly pursuing the facts.” You can err by under-communicating and you can error by over communicating, guessing or speculating before facts are understood and action is underway.
A Note About Social Media
“Crisis management is a containment discipline and social media is the opposite,” observes Malecha. “During a crisis, it can be difficult to combat the volume, velocity, and venom – what our firm calls the ‘fiasco vortex,’ – in today’s media landscape.” This phenomenon is explained in Dezenhall's CEO, Eric Dezenhall’s book, Glass Jaw. “Because of the sheer amount of content that can be spread, at warp speeds, with negativity and scandal prioritized over fact, organizations can find themselves in the center of the fiasco vortex in an instant.”
And social media platforms and user behaviors are also changing, especially among employees of affected brands. “No matter what level in the organization you are or no matter how old the Tweet was, people are losing their jobs, their careers, and their reputation,” Trevelino observes. “This heightened level of sensitivity of risk wasn’t there a few years ago.”
4. Align the Message and Equip the Field
A crisis is a distraction to normal operations and nowhere is it more distracting as with customers who want answers from front-line sales and service personnel.
“There is no one great solution to equip salespeople to talk to their customers about the crisis,” notes Malecha. “If they respond to their customers saying, ‘we can’t talk about it,’ that would be troublesome.” If they share too much or incomplete, or worse, inaccurate information, they make the situation worse. Here is what she suggests get prepared to keep everyone on the same page:
"You need an external message for the public.
You also need a message for customers that matter most. Usually, it is the broader public statement with some confidence-inducing talking points. There is no such thing as an internal document that stays internal, especially in a crisis.
We recommend nothing more than a page and to have it distributed through sales leads or their managers, rather than from the CEO’s office. This allows more direct escalation through trusted relationships.
The message should always be that we are providing information as we get it, in this developing situation, and that our customer relationships are important to us."
In an environment where you are giving updates to the market or press every few hours or seeing an unfolding situation that is likely to take months to resolve, it can be tempting to lean on one-way communications, but that can also damage trust and undermine the ongoing effectiveness of the crisis management.
“Customers must feel that there is two-way communication,” Malecha observes. “It can calm their nerves and helps inform the company about what questions are on people’s minds.” This outside perspective is useful. “What you are feeling and seeing internally, will be different than what your customers are seeing and feeling,” she continues.
This listening can take the form of face to face or phone conversations, a message hotline, email, or social media. Malecha offered this example from Southwest Airlines.
“They recently had a flight that needed to make an emergency landing after losing an engine. As pilots were in communication with air traffic control, Southwest’s sophisticated social media team was getting real-time information from passengers through social channels. A lot of corporations consider social listening an afterthought and as something non-critical, but in times of crisis, it is very important.”
No matter what tools you use, your attitude matters. “We have found you can keep the relationships intact, if there are honesty and continuity,” Malecha continues. “Customers can also be your greatest pipeline to gauge how you’re handling the crisis. If a lion’s share of your distributors are asking the same question, that’s something that should be communicated back to the crisis team to ensure the company finds an answer to.”
6. Stop What Isn’t Helping
“Companies should be ready to respond with appropriate action across the organization,” Malecha said. This often means impacting the ongoing marketing initiatives in light of the crisis. She pointedly adds “Do you stop running ads for the company when you are spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico? Yes. Do you change the tone of your social media accounts from irreverent to respectful when your product has allegedly hurt someone? Yes.”
It is often good to shut down marketing in the midst of a crisis to be sensitive and to not waste critical resources, Trevelino observes. Like a hurricane, a "crisis can swallow up everything in its path." This can affect a brand even “when the crisis is not directed at the [client] company,” but is in the industry or market segment. “Everything in its path becomes devastated, regardless of whether they had a role.” Monitoring the situation and brand closely ensures that resources are allocated responsibly. “You can shorten the life of a crisis by not crashing your own plane,” Malecha adds.
7. Maximize Your Learning
“Good companies allow the crisis to be a catalyst for positive operational change. Poor leadership can allow the crisis to drive the company to free fall,” Malecha offers. “Some go through a crisis and try to go straight back to normal. But the best companies recognize that there is a new normal. They intend to learn from their experience and not let it repeat, with worse consequences.”
“What is the objective of the company when crisis strikes?” Malecha asks rhetorically. “To return to business as usual as fast as possible. Sure, they may have to spend money that they didn’t intend to spend with lawyers, communications firms, and investigators.” Those are the expenses that come with the crisis. But if those are treated like tuition, the learnings can be substantial.
8. Diagnose Accurately and Take Action
“Crises are often misdiagnosed,” Malecha concludes. “They almost always arise as conflicts, not communication problems.” Since the issue or topics might be playing out in the media, some leaders will identify the crisis as a communication problem and are tempted to treat it as such. But “crises are solved through operational decisions, not just PR bandages. You might have a great statement or press release, but that is not going to build back the factory that blew up or fix the quality issue that led to the product recall," she explains.
"Crisis management is a series of deliberate decisions the company makes to dampen the broader impact of what they are facing. It isn’t just communications." It is about an opportunity make the company better, strengthen relationships with the customers that matter most, improve the operations, and even solidify the alignment and positive dependencies between sales and marketing that will serve the organization well into the future.
Disclosure: I recently volunteered to conduct a workshop for McDonalds restaurant owners, sponsored by Coca-Cola I have flown Southwest Airlines and have fond childhood memories of McDonald's Happy Meals.
This article was originally published on Forbes.
“Give you this to take with you: Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.” – Judith Minty
To read more from Jennifer Davis, check out "What Fire Teaches Us About Innovation."
You pray for a sign. Sometimes this is the sign you get.
You are one turn closer to where you need to be.
“Stepping onto a brand-new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation, which is not nurturing to the whole woman.” – Maya Angelou
To read more from Jennifer Davis about change, read her blog, "Motion Sickness: 3 Ways to Survive Change (Without Losing Your Head)"