Sunday, November 24, 2013

Advice for a New College Graduate, My Son

Sometimes You Win - Sometimes You Learn – John C. Maxwell (Center Street Press)

Call me proud Father; my son Thomas is getting ready to graduate from college in a few weeks. This occasion has spurred me to, once again, offer up some fatherly advice as he prepares to take on the challenges of the “real world.”

Quite naturally for me, I began to look around for just the right book that would offer Tom some solid, useful, advice that would not only help him to set off on the right path, but that he could turn to for advice and inspiration when needed. There are plenty of classics from the likes of Carnegie, Covey, Blanchard and Maxwell, that I myself have used often.

I started to look back over the course of my career and the many ups and downs and dramatic turns, that I have taken thus far and I determined that much of what I have done can be attributed to hard work; but not without a solid dose of confidence and faith in my own ability. It’s not something that you can really teach, but I firmly believe that you can set the table and prepare yourself to never be afraid; take the leap and the net will appear.

As I was looking for just the right book, I came across John C. Maxwell’s latest, Sometimes You Win - Sometimes You Learn and was struck that this might be the one. Maxwell has always offered up actionable advice and illustrated his thoughts with practical, real life examples of how the tools he writes about have been put to use.

Never be afraid to fail

If I could boil down once piece of advice that Maxwell offers early in the book that fits perfectly with what I would like to pass along to Tom, it would be, never be afraid to fail. If you are afraid of failure, chances are that you’ll never try something and if you never make the attempt, chances are you’ll never succeed.

There is never a “good time” or the “right time” to do something. It doesn’t exist. Waiting for the “right time” is just doubt and hesitation getting in the way of doing something. If you have an idea and you develop a plan, then pull the trigger and make things happen! If you fail…that’s okay. If you fail and you will at some point, then be sure to ask yourself “what have I learned?” If you don’t ask that question the chances are next time you won’t pull that trigger. It’s all about accessing what you have learned and putting that to use the next time you step up to the plate.

Learning is the key

While you have spent your time getting your education, learning never stops. Maxwell makes the case that much of what we do is really about being open to learning; whether it’s improvement, adversity, change or maturity.

While Maxwell offers dynamic leadership advice for people at all stages of their careers, and while Sometimes You Win - Sometimes You Learn can be useful to those farther along their career path, it is best suited for those new to Maxwell and those starting out.

With that I will pass the Maxwell on to Tom and let him know how proud my wife and I are of what he has accomplished and that we are confident, and he should be as well, that he will work hard, move forward with no fear, have faith in his ability and accomplish even greater things. With love, Dad.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Work From Home: Kicked Up a Notch

Remote: Office Not Required – Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (Crown Business)

Earlier this year Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer caused a firestorm of controversy when she announced that her company would be pulling the proverbial plug on their remote-work program and that those employees in the program would have to make their way into one Yahoo!’s traditional office outposts if they wanted continued employment. They outpouring of vitriolic response was staggering and aimed squarely at Mayer; ranging from questioning her intellect to downright rude street punk name calling. Oh so classy and professional.

Then came the story of the remote software developer who took a portion of his sizeable income and outsourced his work to China so he could wile away his days surfing the web and watching cat videos. Not exactly the best endorsements for the concept of using available technology to free workers from the constraints of the traditional office setting.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (the co-founders of 37 Signals, the software development company that produced Basecamp, a project management program) are out with their follow up to the bestselling Rework; Remote: Office Not Required, which makes the case that remote work is the way to go for companies to succeed. I found this book interesting based on the perspective that I live and work in both worlds; holding down a traditional office based, 9 to 5 job, while operating a successful content marketing company on the side and working remotely with clients.
There’s nothing too dynamic here; as Fried and Hansson make a pretty straight forward case for why remote work is the way to go. The book falls short of a how-to manual for pulling the trigger on making the transition to remote work. I think there are clearly huge advantages for creatives, developers and even engineers that can be gained by remote work settings. As technology continues its inevitable march, those opportunities will continue to expand. It also doesn’t provide actionable material for those already doing remote work to make their operations more robust.

The more traditionalist side of me kept looking for tools to measure the progress and success of remote work. I literally burst out in laughter when I read the section of one-on-one check in calls that the authors conduct with their own remote employees; that they conduct “every couple months.” I have direct reports that I trust to get their job done and I don’t spend anytime micromanaging what they do on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis, but I do check in with them a whole heck of a lot more often than every couple months.  I think its management 101 that folks in those positions know that I want them to have the tools and resources they need to succeed, so it’s only natural to check in on a regular basis.

While we certainly live in age where the tools to succeed working remotely are in place and new and advanced tools are coming online almost daily, that dynamic has not changed the need for traditional, results oriented measurements to be put in place. The innovator that develops an effective measurement tool for remote work will be the one who energizes traditional businesses to make the all in leap to remote work.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Story of Pervasive Influence

The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and It’s Secret Influence on American Business (Simon & Schuster) – Duff McDonald

I found Duff McDonald’s new book The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and It’s Secret Influence on American Business to be an interesting examination of the influence that the consulting giant wields not only in the corporate world in the corridors of government power. It is equally thought provoking when pondering the impact that business consultants have had in both positive and negative ways.

It got me thinking back over my career and how consultants have often negatively impacted the industries that I have worked in over the course of my career. McDonald makes a strong case that that the goals of the consultants don’t always work in harmony with the businesses that they are serving. Projects often snowball into seemingly lifetime appointments with lines being blurred and initial goals pushed to the wayside if not completely off the table.

While certainly there are any number of high profile successes that can be cited, there are an equal if not exceeding number of grand failures that can be laid squarely at the feet of the consultant class. The overriding question for businesses seem left unanswered; are the consultants delivering the expected outcomes or have they become just another crutch for a failure to lead on the part of upper management. Consultants can be the double edged sword of hero or scapegoat for leaders who fail to truly lead.
I have witnessed the limp leadership that is wrought by consultants. Having spent the first half of my career in broadcasting, I am firmly of the belief that the dire circumstances that radio broadcaster currently find themselves in can be laid squarely at the feet of consultants. In their determined rush to homogenize and make uniform the way “personalities” delivered their product, consultants gutted a business that thrived on creativity and left the door wide open for replacements like online streaming services and Ipods. Is it any wonder that advertisers have jumped ship and radio struggles to produce revenue.

It is that pervasive influence that is the underlying question that McDonald weaves through the McKinsey story. It is clearly a question that real business leaders must ask themselves as they ponder the role consultants play in their organizations.  


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Getting to the Why

Big Data Marketing: Engage Your Customers More Effectively and Drive Value – Lisa Arthur (Wiley)

Any marketer possessed of common sense will tell you that word of mouth is the most effective way to market. A potential customer of ABC Widgets expresses and interest in purchasing a widget and a family member, friend or trusted co-worker speaks positively about the experience they had with ABC Widgets and before long Mr. Potential customer is walking through your door or visiting your website and making their widget selection/purchase. Short of cloning a bunch of product or service advocates armed with antenna to scope out potential customers seeking your goods, and hone in to deliver your positive message; what is a marketer to do to reach those customers and drive business.

There has been a business section headline making fundamental shift in the way we do business in recent years; that shift has placed the consumer squarely in control of the of the journey from prospect to close. No longer are traditional methods of shouting at customers (advertising) driving business growth. Marketers are on the hunt not only for what works when it comes to effectively communicating to consumers, but also on a journey to discover why it works. It’s about getting to the why.

One of the most prominent business page headlines involves the phrase “Big Data.” Every day we are inundated by a firehose of information about who our customers are and what they want. Author Lisa Arthur tries to help marketers make sense of all this information and how to make effective use of it all in Big Data Marketing: Engage Your Customers More Effectively and Drive Value.

Arthur delivers a no nonsense approach to the entire process. If you go into this book looking for a way to justify your marketing strategy, you’re in for a wakeup call. This is about the customer experience being front and center when it comes to your marketing. Think about it; you have effectively researched and developed the product or service offerings for your business; you’ve right priced for the marketplace and then you deliver an awful customer experience. All the marketing, advertising, public relations and community outreach in the world won’t save your business.

This is not a book that delivers secret formulas or hard to understand process improvements. Arthur serves up five practical steps that marketers of every level of the experience scale, can take to drive strategic marketing decisions. In a day and age where the mantra continues to be “do more with less” Big Data Marketing offers up tools to understand what works and why and do things more effectively.