We Do This (and this and this and this and…)

Last week, I sat down to enjoy dinner with about 15 people, none of whom I had met face-to-face before (on-line connections with some of them). Which means that you begin to ask the standard get-to-know-you questions.

On this occasion, I did not have the following exchange (thankfully!) – but you’ve been there, right?

“So, what does your company do?”

“Glad you asked! We have a whole suite of enterprise human performance development resource platforms, addressing everything from talent identification, people management, on-line training, payroll obfuscation optimization, restroom supply chain aggregation, Pony Express scheduling, and cupcakes. How about you?”

Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, this kind of exchange sheds more darkness than light! Maybe you’re a great person, and maybe you offer something of genuine value, but you’re firing so many bullet points at me that I have to put on a Kevlar vest.

And tomorrow, when someone asks me, “Hey, do you know someone who can help me with such-and-such?” – do you think this new contact is going to be even a blip on my radar screen? No. Because the offering is not clear.

That’s the first thing we uncover during a Clarity Therapy session – What’s your key offering? It’s one of the Core Four elements we uncover in determining your professional DNA and message.

It’s always amazing to me how poorly-defined a company’s offering can be – it’s as if we don’t want to miss out on any potential revenue, so we say we do 10 things, when in fact only one or two of those things are truly aligned with our strengths and our desired goals. Which makes us….forgettable.

If you do everything, then in the mind of potential customers and network-referrers, you do….nothing. You have no memory hook, nothing distinguishing. You disappear into the mist.

What does Starbucks do? Coffee. Everything else they offer is secondary, planets revolving around the caffeinated sun. What does a small company like Vosges Chocolate do? Chocolate! What do they not do? Everything else.

So, before coming up with a marketing message or an advertising campaign, I urge my clients to take a deep breath and walk with me through the process of clearing the fog and getting a clear view of their DNA. Once we know what you really do well, what your greatest value is to potential customers, then we can proceed to your go-to-market message. Marketing without a clear identity is like attempting target practice with a shotgun – lots of noise, but nothing hitting the bulls-eye.

Coming in Part 2: Your Go-To-Market Message

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Clarity Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Customers Walking Past You

>> Fearing Obsolescence? Four Questions for your Future

You’re FIRED (5 times)!

Don’t take just Donald Trump’s word for it!!

Three Types of People to Fire Immediately (from Business Week, by By G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón)

Overboard: Dealing with Those who Refuse to Pull the Oars (by Anthony Iannarino)

12 Most Humane Incentives to Fire Your Employees (from 12 Most, by Mila Araujo)

The Art of Leadership when Letting Employees Go (by Lisa Petrilli)

How the Exit Door can Improve Results (by Steve Woodruff)

Sometimes, multiplied success comes by subtraction.

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Does your Business need a Lieutenant Commander?

>> Fearing Obsolescence? Four Questions for your Future

Fearing Obsolescence? Four Questions for Your Future

I was sitting by the outdoor fireplace last night, talking with a long-time friend (who is about my age) regarding his desires to start something new. Like many of us who have worked for others over many years, he’s looking ahead and wondering if there isn’t something he should be building for himself.

He was also facing the dilemma that more seasoned professionals often face as they pass the mid-point of their career and start looking at the late-stage: will my skills become obsolete? Am I expendable? If this current position is eliminated, can I be marketable? These questions can be particularly acute if you’re in the ever-evolving technology field.

He had passion about one very different direction, but during our discussion, it was quite difficult to see a business model there. It was too big a side step, without much established expertise, and it would require changing long-standing business models that would prove extremely resistant. There are things that we often really WANT to do (I have several), but for which there is just not an evident business model. And it’s different looking at that challenge in your fifties, than it is when you’re 24.

So we settled on a few questions, which actually began to tease out a pretty promising direction:

  1. What is core expertise have you deeply developed over the last (20+) years?
  2. What can you do that a young hot-shot just starting out can’t do, with their lesser experience level?
  3. What skills do you possess that transcend a given technology, platform, or market sector?
  4. What existing pain will business money-spenders gladly pay to get rid of (and you know how to solve that problem)?

He mentioned something he was quite good at – a problem that, with his experience bridging both the technology side and the end user/business side, he could solve for just about any company. An “evergreen” problem that would require a smart consultant to solve, irrespective of the particular platforms in use. Suddenly, an experienced professional who was worried about obsolescence began to look like a really smart guy who could help solve a thorny problem that exists everywhere. Not by trying to do something brand new. But by identifying a “hidden” skill that is absolutely not a commodity.

If you’re thinking of being a later-stage-in-life entrepreneur, it’s tempting sometimes to look far afield and make some huge leap into uncharted waters. But the fact is, the channels you’ve been successfully navigating for years probably have the best possible opportunities awaiting you. There are people with lots of money to spend who need a smart, experienced resource to come in and fix problems that a twenty-something can’t possibly understand. Obsolescence? – pfffffft. You may be perfectly suited to take a big leap forward – on the same trails that you know far better than anyone else.

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> How the Exit Door Can Improve Results

>> Cattle Disguised as People

Does Your Business Need a Lieutenant Commander?

Having just finished the biography of Steve Jobs (by Walter Isaacson – HIGHLY recommended, by the way), I am struck with the amazing combination of vision, strategic thinking, and operational excellence that percolated inside that brilliant soul.

Alas, his people skills were famously lacking, which the book discusses quite honestly. But Jobs was not content with painting pretty pictures of the future. He was obsessed with execution – with making things happen, and happen with envelope-pushing excellence.

There aren’t many like Jobs, are there? And that’s why we’ll be discussing the problem of visionary leaders who have trouble executing during LeadershipChat tonight (8 pm ET on Twitter – use hashtag #LeadershipChat).

The man who currently runs Apple, Tim Cook, was hand-picked by Steve Jobs to be his successor. This was not some random choice out of the air – Cook had proven himself time and again as a great operations guy, including during the medical leaves of absence that Jobs was forced to take as he battled with cancer. It was crucial to the future of Apple that there be a lieutenant that could step in. Tim Cook was that guy.

So what about the leader who has vision, and perhaps solid strategic thinking, but lacks the ability to execute? Do you try to transform that person into someone they are not? I consider that a waste of time. If it’s not already in the DNA (as it was with Jobs), then the best bet is for that leader to have one or more lieutenants who will help operationalize the vision and execute the strategies.

If you’re Steve Jobs, you can afford the luxury of some hubris (even though you will step on plenty of toes with that attitude, as he certainly did!). But for the vast majority of us who lead in one capacity or another, what we really need more of is humility – the recognition that we’re good at X and maybe Y, but not so good at Z. Bring on someone for Z.

Some leaders feel that they must live up to a god complex, and do it all. That’s a sure path to a nervous breakdown (and eventual business trouble). Hire or develop a lieutenant(s). Let the reasons be transparent to all. It’s a lesson from the top that will have many beneficial ripple effects all throughout the organization.

Join us at 8 pm ET March 20 to discuss this topic – bring your ideas and your questions (and be sure to read the prep post, 5 Reasons Visionary Leaders may Fail to Execute, by my brilliant LeadershipChat co-host, Lisa Petrilli). We look forward to welcoming you to the lively and diverse LeadershipChat community!

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> How the Exit Door Can Improve Results

>> Cattle Disguised as People

You or Me – Who’s on First?

Our LeadershipChat topic this week opens up a very interesting, even somewhat deep question – can we truly put others first?

We talk a lot about being customer-centric and focused on others – our conversations about business and networking often bring out these idealistic themes. But are they realistic? Or are we only talking about yet another form of hypocritical manipulation?

(admit it: you’ve wondered this with all the high-falutin’ talk about putting others first – right?)

Well, let’s talk about it, plainly and practically. Because this touches on business strategy, sociology, philosophy – and stark realism.

First, I will pull all my cards out on the table for everyone to see – I believe that every person is driven, primarily, by self-interest. Even our noblest, most other-reaching actions have, woven around them, tendrils of our hard-wired self-love. And, I’m perfectly OK with that. Because it’s reality. *

If you adopt a philosophy and approach of being customer-centric and/or placing the spotlight on others, you are doing so with the idea that in some way, and at some point, it will benefit you. That is actually the foundation stone of a free and capitalistic society. When pursuing our self-interest is made most fruitful by providing value to others, we have the basis of a healthy and productive community.

A lot – maybe all? – of what you do right now in the business realm would vanish if you were assured that you would not get paid for it. Your self-interest (which includes providing for your dependents) dictates that you plant, and sow, in order to reap a harvest. No need to argue it – you may as well argue with the necessity of breathing.

And there is nothing wrong with this self-interest! Really – it’s OK.

Here’s the point – we’ll take one of two approaches, mindsets which determine how our self-interest manifests itself:

  1. Short-term/Grasping/Scarcity
  2. Long-term/Cultivating/Abundance

Both, ultimately, are driven by self-interest. But the first appears very much to be selfish. And we recoil from it.

Enlightened leaders don’t have some magical capacity to become lily-white, angel-hearted, selfless dispensers of pure, unconditional, 100-proof sacrificial love. We must leave that for the divine. To be “Go-Givers” (as this week’s #LeadershipChat guest host Bob Burg puts it), we must suspend (so to speak) our instantaneous self-gratification in order to support the development and success of others. This, in turn, will lead to our success (and the success of others). Pursuing abundance, and the good of others, brings the most good – including to ourselves.

(please read the prep post of my co-host, Lisa Petrilli, who gives a nice outline of Bob Burg’s “Go-Giver” thinking).

Feel free to join us for this lively discussion on Tuesday, March 13th at 8 pm ET. This weekly Twitter gathering is for any and all aspiring leaders, globally – and, in your self-interest, you are bound to meet some very interesting and thoughtful people with whom you can build your network! (oh, and if you haven’t ever seen the classic Abbott and Costello skit about Who’s on First? – click the picture above!)

* some will dispute this rather stark description. I simply suggest that you meditate deeply on an almost universally-accepted maxim: Love your neighbor as yourself!

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> How the Exit Door Can Improve Results

>> Cattle Disguised as People

What’s Up With Kony 2012?

One of my kids came to me all worked up about the rapidly-going-viral, must-see video Kony 2012 (here’s the link on YouTube. Warning: half-hour length).

In short, this video is part of an orchestrated campaign to bring an unsavory African guerrilla leader (Joseph Kony) to justice. He is the one you may have heard about that kidnaps children and turns them into his soldiers. His track record as a scourge on the earth is well-established, but according to Invisible Children (the organization who made the video), he is not nearly well-known enough. The campaign aims to fix that.

I almost never watch 30-minute on-line videos, but I did see this one through. It is well-made, with solid production values, a well-constructed story-line, emotional appeal, and a big dose of aspirational involvement – viewers are urged to become part of something big, something ground-level. My guess is that it’s going to work as an attention-generating campaign.

So – is there a downside?

I’m not sure yet. Who could be against capturing Joseph Kony? Sounds like a noble cause – but the storyline of the video seems just a bit slick, the hype level a bit over the top. My vague unease about the whole thing finds some reinforcement in a few scattered Internet postings about the organization (go ahead and Google it), and with this level of exposure, I’m sure that the goals, and practices, and people behind Invisible Children will be much more intensively vetted in the coming days. There will be fact-checking. I hope that they won’t be found to be (mere) attention-grabbing mercenaries of media promotion. I don’t want to be cynical, but I’ve been around the block a few times. Where there’s fund-raising, there’s always potential danger lurking. And sometimes, when we jump very quickly on a convincing-sounding bandwagon, we later realize that a bit more prudence was advisable.

The little blond son (Gavin – see picture above) of the filmmaker makes the production, by the way. Very cute, and very effective.

As far as effective media production and promotion – give these guys a high grade. Another high grade for a creative campaign concept. As far as what we’ll see in the full light of day as more information comes out – here’s hoping.

And it’s doubtful that anyone will mourn if Joseph Kony is actually captured!

Update: The Invisible Children folks respond to a number of the criticisms/questions that have arisen.

Update: The campaign is now making news in traditional media outlets, like the NY Times.

Update: My friend Amy Fitch touches on one aspect of this phenomenon that has been quite remarkable – how many of us learned of this video from our kids.

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> How the Exit Door Can Improve Results

>> Cattle Disguised as People

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Cattle Disguised as People

Yesterday, I had the displeasure of going to a pharmacy and being treated as a non-human.

Walking up to the window with a prescription, the person behind the counter, busy inputting something-or-other into a computer, barely registered any recognition of my existence. Now I understand the desire to complete a task before moving on the next one, but to make no eye contact, to give no greeting, to not say (with a smile) “just a minute, please, sir, while I get this finished up, then I’ll be right with you.” – nothing?

I’m a person, a customer, not cattle. What a contrast from my recent experience being in the more hospitable South.

When it was finally my turn to exist, the person behind the counter, without even looking up into my face, extended his hand as the signal that he was now ready to process my paperwork. Not serve a customer. Not be an ambassador of good for the company. Just take on the next task, which happened to be me. Totally de-humanizing.

Yes, jobs can be repetitive and boring (read this article: Confessions of a former TSA agent). It can be tempting to treat customers as objects, particularly when those customers have no other options. But you can be outstanding – either as someone who brightens another’s day, or someone who darkens it. As we all seemed to conclude in last night’s #LeadershipChat, hire for passion and attitude – skill can be imparted. And fire the bad apples quickly!

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> How the Exit Door Can Improve Results

>> Charmed

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

How the Exit Door can Improve Results

You’re in business to generate results. To create positive outcomes. To add value and serve customers. To make profit.

And a good leader, like any experienced gardener, knows that the short-term trauma of pruning is necessary for long-term productivity and an optimal harvest.

In other words, fire the slackers. Remove the malcontents. Find some other place for misfits. Get rid of the bad apples.

Just because someone, for some reason, at some time, was hired for a job, does not mean that they merit an ongoing place in the organization. This is not a nursery school or therapist’s office. This is business. If you’re not in line with the organization’s goals and philosophy, if you’re not producing value, if you’re a form of deadweight or even resistance, then you need to be shown your next opportunity. Through the exit door.

Leadership is about making progress and producing results, not coddling the unproductive.

If you’re taking a flight from NYC to San Francisco, just how many outworn, ill-fitting, or defective parts do you want to tolerate on your aircraft? Exactly. No, people are not machines, I get that; but still – if someone is not functioning for the purpose needed, ought they not to be replaced? Sooner, rather than later? We should always have a charitable attitude toward people – but that doesn’t make running a business like running a charity.

Of course, this is not to say that we chop off team members every time there is some negative issue. A failure, or a fixable character flaw, or a customer service mistake, or a lack of skill in a particular area – that’s all just part of the human condition at work. What I’m talking about is people who won’t evolve, who won’t make efforts, who actually undermine, over time, the progress of the organization. People who, like a car front end out of alignment, exhaust the driver by forcing him or her to constantly fight off a pull in the wrong direction.

Align. Or good-bye.

These “bad apples” (or just plain mismatches) are the ones who, if tolerated, will dispirit all the other members of the team. They will require an inordinate amount of energy and damage control for leaders and managers. If the individual is a square peg and the role/company is a round hole, then the best thing to do is not to try to reshape the person. Quickly, with kind resolve, re-direct. Out. Everyone benefits. Including the person who really does need to find a more suitable “fit” for a work environment.

There is at least one area of diversity that is NOT good. And that is diversity in adding value. If someone is a net negative to the organization, inhibiting the production of results, and there’s no good place to re-direct them in the team, then take a cue from Donald Trump. Fire them.

You are not leading a business to make up for someone else’s bad parenting, someone else’s lousy schooling, someone else’s crummy work ethic or attitude. You’re there to build a results-producing team. You don’t win a rowing race by dragging an anchor.

Leading is planting, watering…and pruning.

Join us for a discussion of this important topic on Tuesday, March 6th (8 pm ET) during LeadershipChat on Twitter (use hashtag #LeadershipChat). Be sure to read the perspectives of my uber-smart co-host Lisa Petrilli in her prep post (The Art of Leadership when Letting People Go) – especially if you want to read someone who is perhaps just a tad less hard-nosed than me on this topic! And feel free to share your perspectives and experiences during the chat – we value your input!

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Role Your Own

>> Networking on Purpose

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Intensity

(This post will be a bit more on the personal level. Perhaps you’ll be able to relate to some of it)

Recently, I went to Nashville for 5 days – not only to attend BlissDom, but also to take a little bit of time to visit my old Tennessee stomping grounds (I spent 7 years in Nashville, including my college days).

While there in the pleasant and hospitable South, something unexpected came over me. I relaxed.

For all the joking around I do, I am, in fact, a rather serious-minded person. Even intense at times. When I put my hand to something, I have a hard time letting it go. One of the definitions of the word “worry” is summed up in the image of a dog ceaselessly gnawing on a bone; seizing it, shaking it, tugging it.

I do that with life.

Stubborn determination and intense drive can be a good thing, of course. But like everything else, when overdone – well, every positive has its own built-in negative.

When in the South, I became a bit more easygoing, but after moving to New Jersey 28 years ago, where the vibe is much more rush-rush and focused, the intensity took over. Building a career, bringing up children, launching a solo business, creating a network – I saw it as my role to build and create and lead and make things happen.

Yet, all the while, I was and still remain an introvert. I prefer the realm of ideas. My best work is in thinking and analysis. While in Nashville, I had some time to reflect, instead of just DO. I felt like I was being me again.

A lot of social networking is heavily weighted on the activity scale. Much of the drive is to get MORE – more posts, more readers, more connections, more Google juice, a bigger name, a larger platform, etc. Not that any of those things are wrong in themselves – they are not – but when taken on with an intensity that doesn’t know how to rest, it starts to bump up against the law of diminishing returns.

Which is where I am now. Trying to learn how to work at a pace that leads to optimal productivity, not mere intensity. Seeking to be honest with my nature instead of running someone else’s race. And I really don’t know how that will work itself out day-to-day.

It’s good, I guess, to have a bias toward both thought and action. But how do we give full vent to drive without living in overdrive?

I guess it’s time to find out. Any advice?

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Role Your Own

>> Networking on Purpose

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

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