How Soon Will You Be Obsolete?

November 3, 2009

In these strange economic times, too many good people are unemployed. I’m grateful for my job, yet I know there’s no such thing as complete job security. This is a scary time, yet I fear something more frightful than unemployment.

I’m afraid of obsolescence—becoming obsolete, irrelevant and dispensable.

Every employee, every worker and every professional has an expiration date (and I don’t mean a date with death). Like milk in the grocery store, everyone has a “Best If Used By…” label. Everyone has a skill set, a knowledge base or a network of contacts that will be outdated very quickly in today’s fast-paced world. No one buys sours milk, no matter how fresh it once tasted. Neither do employers hire or retain obsolete workers, no matter how productive they once were.

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Marketing Manifesto II – Team Performance

October 1, 2009

Shortly after I stepped into my leadership role at the American Red Cross, a member of my marketing group chose not to be part of the new team.

Her departure gave me the opportunity to recruit someone new, so I spent considerable time thinking about how to forge a strong partnership between 1) the individuals I inherited and 2) those I would select myself.

In consultation with team members that remained, I developed this list of 10 characteristics to describe the commitment, the loyalty and the engagement of every contributing member of my marketing group:

  1. We are inspired by the mission of the marketing department, knowing that our special group exists to ensure the success of the American Red Cross.
  2. As we visualize the role of marketing within the organization, we are proud to be a part of an exceptional consulting team working on projects that really matter.
  3. We value diversity within our team, knowing that each of us makes a unique contribution to the department, to the organization and ultimately to the community.
  4. We build synergy whereby the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In so doing, we recognize the interdependence of every member of the team.
  5. When one of us succeeds, that person appreciates and acknowledges the contributions of teammates, knowing that success is often a team effort.
  6. We celebrate when another member of the team excels. After all, we know that one teammate’s success reflects positively on our entire group.
  7. When something goes wrong, we avoid pointing fingers and assigning blame. Instead, we join hands with others to seek solutions and to look for the learning embedded within the situation.
  8. We assume positive intentions on the part of others. In circumstances where there is a potential for misunderstanding, we proactively seek clarification.
  9. We are loyal to other members of the team, especially in their absence. We focus on the positive, affirming attributes of our co-workers and teammates.
  10. We always operate from an abundance mentality that seeks win-win solutions. We refuse to believe that our win implies a loss for someone else, knowing that a scarcity mentality spawns fear, competitiveness and retaliation.

Marketing Manifesto I – Individual Performance

September 29, 2009

When I was chosen to lead the marketing program at the American Red Cross of Greater Kansas City, I wanted to make sure each person on the team was pulling in the same direction.

Within my first 90 days, I led my group through a two-day planning session to 1) discuss organizational priorities, 2) plan marketing projects and 3) enlist the commitment of each individual to the team effort. By the end of the retreat we had defined the following 10 characteristics that every contributing member of the marketing department should be able use in describing his or her dedication, passion and internal beliefs:

  1. I see the big picture.
  2. I see how the individual pieces fit together, and I understand the importance of my unique role.
  3. I prioritize my work and spend considerable time working in Quadrant II on projects that are important but not urgent. Because of this, I am proactive and in control of my job, my career and my life.
  4. I think strategically before acting tactically.
  5. As an internal marketing consultant, I ask affirming, empowering questions of myself and others.
  6. I approach consulting projects in a collaborative manner, finding ways to say “yes” and facilitate the success of others.
  7. I own and manage important projects where I assume responsibility for the entire planning, production and evaluation of my projects.
  8. I am a collaborative team player, contributing my energy and expertise to those projects managed by others.
  9. I have a deep desire to learn, to create and to explore. Knowing that the status quo often leads to obsolescence, I seek innovation and welcome change.
  10. I make a difference. I do work that really matters.

Questions I Asked Myself During a Career Transition

September 3, 2009

Everyone approaches a job search differently. Several years ago when I lost my job as a marketing professional, I looked at my career transition as a marketing opportunity.

I had watched others in similar circumstances as they obsessed on finding the right answers. I took the opposite approach. Rather than seeking answers, I began by asking myself a series of questions, recalling the wise words of James Thurber who once said, “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”

Only after developing what I felt were the right questions did I begin wrestling with the answers. The questions were incredibly easy to ask but excruciatingly difficult to answer. To my amazement, however, this turned into a most insightful and even invigorating process. I’ll share with you the questions, but first let me explain my process.

For a couple hours each day, I went to a local coffee shop and found a secluded table where I could engage myself in a private conversation. I left my laptop at home because I wanted to drill deeper. I used an old-fashioned method of communicating—handwriting on blank sheets of paper. I purchased a leather-bound book containing only blank pages and on the first page I wrote the title:  Journal for the Journey—A personal assessment, a scrapbook of ideas, and a map for navigating an important career transition.

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Why the Red Cross Launched a Facebook Page

August 27, 2009

In my opinion, too many nonprofit organizations have Facebook fan pages.

They were probably created because 1) everyone else was doing it 2) the technology was available or 3) someone with influence told them they needed to be on Facebook. The problem is they don’t know why they have a Facebook page.

At the American Red Cross of Greater Kansas City, we decided not to launch a Facebook page until we could tie it to our strategy. As marketing director, I did not want to naively launch a traditional 1.0 tactic using a new 2.0 tool. Though I’m a huge proponent of the social media revolution, I wanted to understand how a Facebook page would fit into the smorgasbord of all the communication tools available.

We had just redesigned our Web site (kcredcross.org) and I wanted our Facebook page to be complementary rather than redundant. Our Web site would continue to serve as a useful reference in the 1.0 world of broadcasting or pushing information, whereas our social media activities would hopefully spawn interaction, provoke conversation and ultimately engage members of our 2.0 community.

The strategy came into focus as I re-read Seth Godin’s book Tribes. The Red Cross Facebook page could become the place where our “tribe” would gather to share information and rally around a common cause. Read the rest of this entry »


Why Are You Telling Me This?

August 25, 2009

Too often I find myself sitting in a boring meeting, reading a dull newsletter or yawning through another pointless PowerPoint presentation.

I’m tempted to interrupt and ask, “Why are you telling me this?” Or “What do you want me to do with all this information?”

Quietly, though, I endure and amuse myself by mentally replaying a favorite scene from the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Steve Martin, as you may recall, turns to John Candy and says, “When you’re telling these little stories, here’s a good idea:  Have a point! It makes it so much more interesting for the listener.”

Excellent advice, Steve! Effective communication must have a purpose.

As simple as that sounds, communications planning too often begins at a tactical level. In a meeting someone might say, “We need to raise awareness!” My immediate question is “WHY?” Raising awareness is a means to an end, yet we tend to think that “getting the word out” is the ultimate, end objective.

Tactics not tied to strategy only contribute to the noise and clutter.

To help me think more strategically and communicate more effectively, I developed the following chart to visually illustrate how certain questions should be asked in the right sequence.

Strategic-to-TacticalPurpose and Goal. First, why do we want to communicate? What do we want to accomplish? What measurable outcomes do we we hope for?
Target Audience. To whom are we trying to communicate? What do we know about our primary audience? What is our relationship with them? Are there secondary audiences who might be looking over the shoulder of the primary audience?
Desired Impact. Once the target audience has received our message, how do we anticipate they’ll respond? What actions do we want them to take?
Key Message. In one sentence, what single message do we want to communicate to achieve the desired results? If time permits, what secondary messages would we like to communicate?
Barriers. What perceptions or misperceptions might hinder the effective delivery of our message? Are there other barriers that might obstruct our communications?
Media. What are the most effective ways to deliver the message to the target audience? What is the right combination of traditional and new media? A newsletter? Print ads? Web site? Billboards? Twitter? Verbal presentation? Facebook fan page? A blog? News release?
Communications Activities. What specific tasks must be completed to achieve the strategic objectives? Who will assume primary responsibility? Who else will be involved? When is the deadline? What budget is available? How will we measure success?

My mantra is simply this:  Think strategically before acting tactically. Anyone with me?


10 Things I’ve Discovered about Marketing

August 20, 2009

Having earned a master’s degree in marketing, I feel confident in asserting that marketing is not really all that complicated.

When I taught marketing at a local university, the CEO of a major company invited me to speak at the planning retreat of his regional managers. He sheepishly asked, “Can you condense into 15 minutes everything you teach in a 16-week class?” Tongue-in-cheek, I replied, “Actually, I only have 15 minutes of marketing knowledge. The hard part is stretching that over an entire semester.”

In more than 20 years of working on projects and coaching others as they engaged in their own marketing endeavors, I have learned the following 10 things about marketing:

  1. Marketing is based upon common sense, though such sense is uncommon.
  2. The social media revolution is the best thing to happen to marketing in a long, long time—even though the rules for marketing success are forever changed.
  3. Old-school marketers who try to tightly control the message will become increasingly frustrated, disoriented and ultimately obsolete.
  4. If you’re not creating community and engaging people in conversations, then you’re still living in a 1.0 world—even if you are using 2.0 tools and technology.
  5. Communications comes at the end of the marketing process, not at the beginning.
  6. If you aim your message at no one in particular, don’t be surprised if no one in particular responds.
  7. Marketing will always flounder when not in pursuit of a measurable goal.
  8. If a product, service or person cannot be differentiated, it cannot be marketed.
  9. Without a quid-pro-quo exchange, you’ll never have a solid marketing program. After all, marketing is the exchange of something of value for something you need.
  10. Value can be defined only by the customer, not the company producing the product or service. (Nonprofit organizations especially have trouble with this.)

From your experience, what additional observations can you share? Can you elaborate on any of these axioms? Do you disagree with any of them?


10 Things I’ve Observed about Vision and Strategy

August 19, 2009

Helen Keller was right when she said, “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.” It seems like everyone talks about the importance of vision, but very few people have a vivid image of what they hope their future will look like.

Following are 10 things I’ve observed during more than 20 years of work experience:

  1. Where there is no vision, people perish.
  2. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
  3. Tactics not tied to strategy are nothing more than busywork.
  4. When you and I are not pursuing the same goal, then we’re not on the same team.
  5. When you and I focus on the same goal from different vantage points, we have stereoscopic vision that gives us better depth perception.
  6. The effectiveness of a vision statement can be measured in its ability to inspire people to rally around a shared picture of what can be—and must be—their new reality.
  7. A compelling vision is future-focused and usually threatens those deeply vested in the status quo.
  8. Progress always requires change, but not all change is progress.
  9. Every project can be improved by periodically asking, “Why are we doing this?”
  10. As Stephen Covey says, it is essential to “begin with the end in mind.”

What would you add? Have you been inspired by someone who had an exceptional vision for the future? What did you learn from that person? How did he or she inspire you?


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