Mar 18

How would YOU motivate Boeing’s battered, bloodied and bewildered workforce?

Following the introduction of a Next-Gen Airbus in 2010, Boeing reportedly rushed production of the 737 Max 8, a more powerful and fuel-efficient upgrade of the existing 737, without providing ANY flight simulation training to unaware pilots soon to be situated in the cockpits of the new plane. Boeing, if the implications are borne out, knowingly sent unsuspecting pilots, flight crews and passengers to their deaths.

In fact, according to this New York Times piece, flight training on the 737 Max 8 won’t even be available until 2020 at the earliest (assuming the plane is eventually cleared to fly again).

While it’s obvious why the world’s press is fixating on what Boeing knew and when they knew it, I couldn’t help but think what it must it be like to be one of the Boeing rank-and-file who, until the two recent air disasters, felt justifiably proud of their corporation’s mastery of the skies. Seeking insight, I turned the Repman flight controls over to Ann Barlow, president of Peppercomm’s West Coast office, resident employee engagement expert and, ironically, a one-time baggage handler for People’s Express.

Here’s our exchange:

1.) If you were Boeing’s chief human resources officer (CHRO), what would you being doing right now?

Let me say first that we are feeling for Boeing employees, knowing that this must be a difficult time. I also believe their CHRO is a highly experienced and accomplished professional who’s spent much of her career in aviation.

But if I were in her shoes, I would want to ensure a few things:

  • A commitment by senior leadership to be open, humble and empathetic with employees.  Legal will understandably want to tightly control what is shared, but demonstrating a reasonable amount of transparency and humility could keep talented employees from heading for the exits.
  • That managers create time and space for employees to talk with one another about what happened and how they are feeling. That means carving time out of regularly scheduled meetings, or providing extra break-times, to allow people to connect in person and via video.
  • Use more formal channels to share information and inspiration from leadership – town halls, internal social media and other platforms, plant meetings, etc.
  • That we offer employees guidance on what to say to friends and neighbors when asked about the accidents and the aircrafts’ safety.
  • Keep pulse-checking with employees to understand what they know, think and feel.

2.) How concerned would you be about retaining your current talent and, critically, continuing to attract the best and brightest engineers, designers and scientists from the top colleges and universities? What steps would you take right now to assure neither occurs?

It depends whether leaders are open and humble, especially when it comes to making necessary changes. If they aren’t, I’d be worried about turnover across the board, not just among the most elite talent. I wouldn’t relish the prospect of attracting new talent, either. And I’d know how hard it would be to motivate employees still on the job.

3) How would you arm Boeing’s employees to deal with questions from families and friends alike who ask how they could possibly work for a company that allowed a flawed jet to stay in use?

Employees probably won’t feel like wearing their Boeing-branded hoodies and caps in public. It’s only natural, however, that they get questions from their circle of friends and family. If armed with both facts and guidelines, employees can at least feel more confident answering questions. And while their job isn’t to rehabilitate the company’s image, properly equipped employees can actually help convey information and rebuild some goodwill.

There you have it. So how would you answer my three questions if you, and not Ms. Barlow, were Boeing’s CHRO?

Feb 06

Yeah, so, um, we’re gonna go ahead and spend your fee on cyber security instead

 

Office space

Remember Bill Lumbergh, the out-of-touch, acronym-spewing manager in the classic movie, Office Space? Brilliantly portrayed by Gary Cole, Lumbergh would either preface or respond to any positive suggestion by saying, ‘Yeah, um, so, we’re not going to do that.’ And, as every Repman reader knows, corporate America is chock full of Lumbergh-types, both male and female. And, they account for the massive inertia that hamstrings many of America’s best-known organizations.

 

We recently sustained a head-on collision with a Lumbergh who toiled in the middle management ranks of a client organization.

We’d been working with the client for some time and, if I do say so myself, producing Silver Anvil Award-winning work. But then, one day out of the clear blue, Lumbergh called our day-to-day account manager and said, ‘Yeah, so, um, we’re gonna go ahead and spend your fee on a cyber security upgrade instead.’ Say what? A cyber security upgrade instead of continuing a breakthrough image and awareness campaign? Talk about institutional creep.

We’ve fired, and been fired by, clients for myriad reasons over a 16-year period, but this was a first. I’ve met C-suite executives who don’t understand the strategic importance of public relations and chosen, instead to invest in a sales force expansion or build an in-house corporate communications function. But, I’ve never, ever, seen the plug pulled on communications and diverted to technology.

The decision was so unexpected and positively primordial in its thinking that even this garrulous blogger was left speechless for a time. But, I’ve rebounded and, instead, now see this as a cautionary tale for any Arthur W. Page, Council of PR Firms or PRSA Counselors Academy member who remains convinced that PR has earned a permanent ‘seat at the table’ and no longer need to justify our strategic role.

There are still plenty of Bill Lumbergh-types controlling the budgets of Fortune 500 corporations and ‘Yeah, so, um, if you think PR is bullet-proof then, so, um, yeah, we’re just gonna go ahead and spend those fees on a landscaping upgrade instead.’

 

Oct 27

What a REAL Steve Jobs presentation must have been like

Wednesday's CommPR.Biz contains a blog authored by Makovsky's Gene Marbach and entitled, "The Art of the Presentation (and What I Learned from Steve Jobs).

Moses-Jobs72As might be expected, the blog contains all the smart things great presenters already know (i.e. Jobs strict adherence to The KISS principle, his not relying solely on PowerPoint slides, etc.). And clearly, in his public performances, Jobs was, indeed, a master presenter.

But, as is now finally becoming abundantly clear, the real Steve Jobs was a total perfectionist who terrorized everyone from Apple employees to hapless restaurant waitresses. By all reports, Jobs didn't suffer fools gladly; he actually pulverized the bejesus out of them.

So, knowing the real Steve Jobs for what he was, I wonder what one of his REAL internal presentations at Apple must have been like…

Scene: A large auditorium at Apple headquarters. Lights dim. Spotlight picks Jobs as he strides across the stage to thunderous applause.

Jobs raises his hand, asking for quiet: "Shut up, you worthless slugs and pay attention!" (Note: This is a superb technique with which to make an immediate audience connection.)

Jobs:  "Before I begin, there are a few ground rules even you simpletons will grasp. No talking. No arms folded or legs crossed. You in the first row, you're fired! That'll teach you to keep your legs crossed. Idiot! Now, the rest of you, listen up: you inhale and exhale on my commands only, got it? Now, slide one."

Slide One shows a classic portrayal of god in heaven with Steve's head superimposed on the body.

Jobs: "Excellent. This is just in case you had any doubts about my ultimate authority." (Note: Here's another tried and true presentation technique since Jobs establishes his credentials right up front.)

Slide Two shows an oh-so-clever, uber-cool, new type of communications device.
Jobs: "What you incredibly fortunate rabble are now viewing is the new iJobs. Quite simply, it is the greatest product ever invented. It will end war, world hunger and poverty. And it has some pretty neat apps too." (Note: A superb presentation technique. Rather than waste his precious time on features Jobs, instead, focuses on the new product's benefits.)

Slide Three shows the mushroom cloud that rose above Hiroshima in the moments after the first atomic bomb was dropped.

Jobs: "This is our competition. This is what you will do to our competition. And, if you don't, this is what your career will look like. Now, go out and sell, you morons!" (Note: What a superb way to quickly wrap up his remarks, motivate the audience and also suggest possible outcomes if they don't succeed.)

So, in just three slides and two minutes, we can see how masterful Steve Jobs was at presentation techniques. Like Makovsky's Marbach, I've sure learned something from Steve Jobs. Fear and retribution are powerful motivators and can make any presentation a total home run.

And, now, as Mr. Jobs might say if he were addressing you, go back to leading your lives of quiet desperation.

Feb 22

When an irresistible force meets an immovable object

Jack Griffin's breathtakingly brief stint as CEO of Time Inc. is yet another example of the wrong Empty-office person being in charge of the wrong place at the wrong time.

Griffin was cherry-picked from Meredith Publishing's magazine division to be a change agent and was the very first CEO in Time's storied history to come from outside the company. He lasted all of six months.

The reasons why are obvious in hindsight. According to reports, Griffin's brusque management style rubbed the establishment the wrong way. Several high-ranking executives bolted almost immediately. Others resented some of Griffin's seemingly insensitive words and actions. To wit:

– He retained strategy consultants to help identify what was broken. Old-timers saw that as an indication Griffin wasn't up to the job.

– He insisted his name appear at the top of every Time publication's masthead. (Even this egocentric blogger would never contemplate such hubris.)

– A devout Catholic, he likened Time Inc. to the Vatican as a way of illustrating its prestige and might. (That analogy might have worked well during the Spanish Inquisition, but certainly not now.)

– In his first town hall meeting, he joked that he “…finally worked at a company where he could read the magazines,” a remark that offended many women since his erstwhile employers publishes such titles as Better Homes & Gardens and Ladies' Home Journal.

As someone once said, success has many fathers and failure is an orphan. Griffin is taking the fall for a mistake that should be pinned squarely on the shoulders of the board of directors. They hired him. They misread his talents and management style as well as the culture of the organization. But, the board stays put while Griffin licks his wounds and decides how best to invest his handsome severance.

The real loser in this charade is Time's already-battered image. In an era when magazines are struggling mightily to stay afloat, it's critical to find a leader who listens and learns before acting. That said, desperate times call for desperate measures. So, if any readers know of a CEO who can turn around a set of floundering magazines while not offending the firmly-entrenched establishment, please alert the Time Warner board of directors. Something tells me they can use all the help they can get.

Jan 07

Who’s The Boss!?

Today's post is by Peppercomer Ray Carroll.

First, I was brought on for resembling Brendan, and then hired fulltime as receptionist for projecting courtesy and hospitality.  Never would I’ve thought I’d receive an offer to be managing partner in my first year with the agency!  Although short-lived, my coup of the corner office was just as enlightening as it was rewarding.

B&I The front desk can be merciless, offering myriad tasks.  At other times it is placid.  There, I assist on many levels and have become facilitator in certain respects.  While I meet and greet clients, I rarely see our executives orchestrating their business. 

The idea of job swaps isn’t original, but a CEO trading places with a receptionist is new to me.  And, better yet, I was happy to be involved.  Following the trail blazed by erstwhile (couldn’t resist it) Peppercomers, I was anxious for my chance to overtake the reins as CEO.  The opportunity would provide insight into business beyond the lobby threshold.

Steve and I began this experience coincidently meeting outside our office building.  We rode the elevator together on route to conquer new domains.  Arriving on our floor, I bypassed my usual tasks and, was already convinced I had the better half of the arrangement.

Sprinting past the reception desk, I made a beeline for the boss’s office.  I relished my own space that boasted a huge desk, comfy couch, and Park Avenue view.  More impressive, I had an elite personal assistant at my beck-and-call.  

My morning agenda, at this point, seemed light and things were quiet.  I’d conclude an agency can’t evolve or prosper with a CEO sitting complacently at their desk.  My expectations became self-imposed, and I’d devise a few plans.  I questioned just how much I’d get away with in my new role.

I balked at tyranny, and I mulled over pranks and abuses of power that could’ve potentially jeopardized my returning the next day.  Choosing wisely, I gave Dandy an abridged version of my executive requests.  She politely rejected each one of my highfalutin ideas, and casually redirected my enthusiasm towards conference calls and caucuses. 

Confident in my new role, I summoned Peppercom’s president, Ted Birkhahn, into my office.  We discussed service trends and economic forces hindering top quality production from low-level positions.  Surprisingly, Ted dismissed my notion to double our receptionist’s salary.  We considered the relevance of job rotation, as well as potential benefits from swapping jobs with clients.  Staying true to impersonation, I tried convincing Ted to take part in a job swap of his own. 

Being part of Peppercom for nearly a year, it’s clear to me that leadership is a value shared both founders.  So, I next brought individuals into my office to speak about their professional development. We’d address account work, stressors, as well as experiences from the past year and future aspirations.  I also managed to finagle my way into a possible RepMan podcast with Paul Merchan.

Time was flying by and my afternoon was booked solid, so with a break coming up, I hit the gym.  I had my choice of equipment, so I jumped on a treadmill with a street view following it up with circuit training. I took note: physical wellness and mental prosperity go hand-in-hand.  It’d been too long since I’d last been to a gym, so, Steve, my heart and lungs thank you. 

I returned to the office and had lunch waiting; excellent timing before a few meetings.  By now I was ready to delve into what really makes Peppercom tick.  For the afternoon, Dandy had included me in every pertinent meeting, so now I’d witnessed the lifeblood of our company. 

Various teams of executives shuffled into my office with their expertise in tow.  We’d review client updates, plan outlines, and media strategy.  I saw our progress-tracking Harte chart, and joined in discussing technique to maximize capability within a scope of work.  I also joined a publicity team meeting, discussed leverage and positioning initiatives, and joined client conference calls. 

I found the job-swap to be an extremely eye opening experience.  I feel inspired and rejuvenated both mentally and physically.  While my current gig pays a few bills, I’ll strive for the caliber of job I held that day.  It’s tough passing up the rewards that wait as a direct result of your own dedicated efforts and success.  Mr. Cody: Thank You for the opportunity!

** My one regret: At my helm, our company’s image may have taken a direct hit.  Mismanagement of an entry-level position, by yours truly, will now prevent Andrea from ever referring us.

 

Aug 26

The Main Event

BUSH-BOXING_s1-2741 Obama boxing1 Jim Lampley: ‘Good evening HBO fight fans and  welcome to what’s already being called the communications fight of the century, if not the millennium. We’re here at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Resort in Las Vegas for the long-anticipated and completely over-hyped World Heavyweight Communications Championship bout between defending champion Barack ‘The One’ Obama and the challenger, former President George W. ‘The Decider’ Bush.

As fight fans know, this special, one-round bout is being co-sponsored by MSNBC and Fox News, and the outcome will be determined by three Supreme Court justices sitting here at ringside.

As always, I’m joined by longtime boxing analyst, Larry Merchant, as well as a very special guest, Former President William Jefferson Clinton. Larry, Mr. President, thanks for being here.’

Merchant: ‘Jim, I haven’t seen this sort of excitement since March 8, 1971, when Ali and Frazier squared off for the first of their three classic bouts. Whether this contest will live up to the drama of that one remains to be seen.’

Clinton: ‘That’s funny, Larry. This sort of frenzy reminds me of my impeachment trial way back when. It’s really got something for everyone.’

Lampley: ‘It sure does, Mr. President. To begin with, who would have guessed just 18 months ago that The Decider would be entering the ring against The One to determine which of the two men is the better communicator? But, since being elected, Obama has made every mistake in the communications handbook, so here we are.’

Merchant: ‘For W, it’s a rags-to-riches story worthy of Cinderella Man, Jim.’

Lampley: ‘It sure is. Because as even the least literate boxing and communications fan knows, W was routinely pilloried for his verbal flubs and guffaws, and ridiculed as perhaps the least literate president in American history.’

Clinton: ‘I’d like to think that William Henry Harrison said more substantive things in his brief one-month stint than W did in his eight years, Jim.’

Lampley: ‘Be that as it may, Mr. President. Obama’s flip-flopping miscues are making many right-wing pundits wax poetic about W’s sophomoric, yet direct, communications style. Some are even suggesting W is the better communicator of the two. Well, that will be decided in the ring in just a matter of seconds. So, let’s go up to Michael Buffer now for the official introductions…’

Buffer: ‘Good evening to the thousands of communications fight fans in attendance here and the millions watching on TV around the world and on The Armed Forces Network. Now, ladies and gentlemen let’s get ready to RUMBLLLLLE! First, the challenger, fighting out of the red corner and hailing from Crawford, Texas, via Kennebunkport, Maine. He tips the scale at a lean and mean 185 pounds, and is wearing all-white trunks with bald eagles on either side. Ladies and the gentlemen, the 43rd president of the United States, George W. ‘The Decider’ Bush! And, in the blue corner, wearing the requisite red, white and blue trunks, tipping the scales at a tight and taut 166 pounds, and coming to us from our nation’s capitol, via Chicago and Honolulu, the defending heavyweight communications champion of the world, President Barack ‘the One’ Obama!’

Lampley: The two men are coming to the center of the ring now for their instructions from referee Katie Couric. Say, is that yet another new hairdo on Katie, Mr. President?’

Clinton: ‘It was all mussed up the last time I saw it. Oops. Wait. Hold on, I did not have sex with that woman!’

Merchant: ‘Jim, both fighters are in amazing shape.’

Lampley: ‘Yup. W’s been doing extra mountain biking on his ranch, while the president’s been playing lots of pick-up round ball games on the White House basketball court. And, there’s the opening bell for this special, one-round fight.’

Merchant: ‘Obama’s off to a great start.’

Clinton: ‘No question. He’s very focused on change. That’s confusing W. And, he’s using that very same ‘change’ punch that floored Hillary on more than one occasion. He looks sharp. Hey, get a load of that blond in section C!’

Lampley: ‘Careful, Mr. President. Man, this place is lousy with Presidents. Wait, there’s been a palpable change. Just like that, Obama seems to be back pedaling?  He looks confused. Larry?’

Merchant: ‘Obama’s confused all right. He’s trying to say do everything at once. There’s his health care backhand. Easily deflected. And, there’s his education overhand. Air ball. And, he just missed badly with his so-called Wall Street wacker. And what’s going on with his Iraq drawdown and Afghani build-up? Nothing is working for the sitting President.’

Lampley: ‘Simultaneously, W continues to throw the same, direct, methodical punch time and again. That’s the punch that he affectionately nicknames his “Yer either fer me or agin me” left. It’s hitting its mark, to be sure.’

Merchant: ‘That last shot staggered Obama. Jim, he looks hurt!’

Lampley: ‘Down goes Obama! Down goes Obama! Down goes Obama!’

Clinton: ‘I feel his pain.’

Merchant: ‘Obama’s up, but he’s on Queer Street. Could be because he never really addressed the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” military conundrum. Either way, this sure won’t help his approval ratings.’

Lampley: “There’s the bell, which mercifully ends this round and this fight. The decision will go to the judges. But first, let’s turn to our two experts. Larry, Mr. President: ‘Did Obama’s early lead pile up enough points to offset that damaging knockdown by W?’’

Merchant: ‘The onus is always on the challenger to prove to the judges that he’s done enough to win. I don’t think W has done that.’

Clinton: ‘I need to meet someone, Jim. I’ll catch you boys later. Go Obama!’

Lampley: ‘Well, let’s find out. We go now to Michael Buffer in the ring for the official decision…’

Buffer: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have a split decision. Judge Rosa Sotomayor scores the fight one to nothing for Obama. Judge Clarence Thomas scores the fight one to nothing for Bush. And, Chief Judge John Roberts scores the right one to nothing for the NEW heavyweight communications champion of the world, George W. Bush!!!!!’

Lampley: A shocking upset to be sure! Let’s go to Larry Merchant in the ring, who is with both fighters.’

Merchant: ‘Ok, Jim. First, President Obama. What went wrong? You were ahead early with your message of change. Then, all hell broke loose.’

Obama: ‘I went with change. But, then I changed change. Changing change changed my chances.’

Merchant: ‘I have no idea what you just said. But, good luck to you. Now to the victor. President Bush. How’d you do it?’

Bush: ‘Smoked him out, just like bin Laden!’

Merchant: ‘But, you never smoked out bin Laden.’

Bush: ‘Doesn’t matter. I’m the decider. Mission accomplished.’

Merchant: ‘Mr. President, would you consider giving President Obama a rematch?’

Bush: ‘Shucks no. I want to take on that feisty momma from Alaska. Now that would be a communications brawl. The English language won’t know what hit it.’

Lampley: ‘All right. There you have it. There you have it. A big George W. Bush upset. Clearly, The One wasn’t the one tonight. Bush now holds the heavyweight title for best Presidential communicator. Regardless of whether he entertains a rematch or takes on the woman who can see Russia from her front porch, be sure to join us next month for the world’s middleweight communications bout. It’ll feature Carly ‘The Confuser’ Fiorini and ‘Big Bad’ Meg Whitman (who’s been known to manhandle friend and foe alike). For Larry Merchant and the missing-in-action former President Bill Clinton, this is Jim Lampley.’

Jan 14

“I will personally dropkick your ass to f***ing Mars!”

A bunch of us piled into front row seats in a large auditorium to witness the first speech of anDragonfire incoming CEO of a major corporation. Needless to say, there was real excitement in the air.

The organization had been struggling, to say the least. It had shuffled CEOs more often than Elizabeth Taylor has husbands. The stock had tanked. Hostile takeover threats were in the wind and morale was lower than that of a NJ Transit passenger facing an indefinite delay.

So, the hundreds in attendance and the thousands connected by video sat on the edge of their collective chairs as the new CEO began. Would we be witnessing a corporate version of FDR's “You Have Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself” speech? An update of JFK's “Ask not…” clarion comments? We couldn't wait.

And, then the CEO lowered the boom and told the great, unwashed masses that a new, zero tolerance era had been ushered in. The organization would be lean and mean, with an emphasis on the latter. It would no longer be the media's favorite whipping boy. Nor would analysts be questioning each and every move. Most importantly, the CEO would put an end to “leaks” to the press, who had been gleefully reporting the organization's every misstep courtesy of myriad, in-house deep throats. The speech was a no nonsense, take no prisoners riff, more worthy of a Stalin than a Gandhi.

And then came the question-and-answer session. One timid guy in the back of the room tentatively raised his hand and asked: “A few of us engineers have direct relationships with reporters. Is it ok if we still speak with them?”

Oh baby. Duck and cover. First, the CEO screamed, “What a stupid question!” That was quickly followed by a very direct threat: “Speak to the press without permission and I will personally dropkick your ass to f***ing Mars!”

The silence was deafening. (I love that phrase, BTW.)

There were a few, more half-hearted questions and choice responses. But, that was it. The die had been cast. The tone had been set. The new era had been ushered in.

We were dumbfounded to say the least. I honestly hadn't experienced this sort of direct management-by-fear, screaming and cursing session since the mid 1980s when I worked for a CEO who’d once played for the Chicago Bears.

Needless to say, the message had been received. The organization battened down its respective hatches and the purge began. Scores of senior executives vanished overnight. Messaging was tightly controlled and the fear was passed down the organizational food chain until it reached the lowest common denominator: the external agencies.

We walked on eggshells for the 15 months in which we served the company and were routinely beaten up, back stabbed and patronized.

We've moved on and, truth be told, the organization has recovered some of its external mojo. But, at what price? Is living one's life in fear worth a paycheck? Not for me, I'd rather do what's right and work in a culture that allows risk-taking, supports humor, open communication and camaraderie. If that means a one-way ticket to f***ing Mars, then please reserve an aisle seat for me.

Feb 20

The Ad Guys Are Coming! The Ad Guys Are Coming!

With the traditional advertising model being ripped to shreds before our eyes, holding companies and their independent siblings are scrambling to find any possible new source of business. For the most part, the big guns are rapidly retrofitting their service offerings and going digital in a big way. But, being paid $50,000 to design a web site simply doesn't replace a multimillion dollar traditional advertising campaign (or offset those massive overhead expenses). And, so they continue to forage.

Adweek's most recent issue contains a fascinating story about one advertiser's "discovery" of internal communications. Recently, PepsiCo preceded the launch of an advertising/branding campaign with "internal communications devices" themed to match the organization's new "Word Play" campaign. The internal communications  campaign featured everything from placards and hall posters to elevator decals and an all-hands rally day at which the campaign was unveiled. PepsiCo has even coined a term for unveiling an ad campaign to employees: "invertising." That's cute.

Surprisingly, industry experts quoted in the article say PepsiCo is the exception and not the norm when it comes to educating employees about new campaigns. Most advertisers apparently never brief employees before launching a new initiative. That's not surprising since advertising is all about creating external target audience awareness.

Ah, but that was then and this is now. I'll bet smart (and desperate) ad agency types will see a revenue opportunity here and start pitching internal communications as a natural strategic value-add to any new campaign. And, that's where the trouble (or fun) begins. Internal communications has always been the purview of either corporate communications or human resources. Advertisers don't 'get' the need for open and transparent employee communications and will badly butcher this if given the chance.

PepsiCo seems to have done it right, limiting its "invertising" to placards, etc. But, woe betide the organization that turns its employee communications program over to a traditional ad agency and its top-down communications model. Feel-good, rah-rah ad posters are the worst possible thing to do at the worst possible time. Note to CMOs': keep alerting your employees to future campaigns, but leave the 'real' internal communications to the professionals who know it best.

Jan 14

The Devil and Miss Jones

I thought this headline might catch your attention. No, I'm not speaking of the Georgina Spelvin porn classic, "The Devil in Ms Jones." Instead, I'm referring to a 1941 screen gem starring Charles Coburn, Jean Arthur and Robert Cummings that provides some outstanding image and reputation lessons for businesspeople of all types and stripes.

The plot is a variation on the old Prince and the pauper scenario in which aDevil_and_miss_jones
privileged executive goes undercover to live among the plebeians and see how the other half lives. In "Devil," the world's richest man (Coburn) follows suit. He decides to become an hourly employee at Neeley's, one of the many department stores that he owns (and one that has been plagued by poor morale and productivity). What he discovers is a legion of smart, hard-working hourly employees, a belligerent middle management level and an out-of-touch executive group.

"Devil" wears surprisingly well for having been filmed just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It suffers from a needless love story but, in the end, it reinforces the need for executives in every business to get closer to their customers: whether those "customers" are employees or sales prospects. As some of you know, Ed and I did this at Peppercom a few years ago. We swapped jobs with junior account executives for a day and saw, first-hand, what they experienced. Needless to say, we instituted quite a few changes as a result.

It's interesting how timely and relevant Devil is to 2009. As organizations everywhere try to figure out new and different strategies for survival and success, they need to remember the basics: namely, that the success of any organization is dependent upon the morale and productivity of its workforce. And, the single best way to know for sure what "they" think and feel is to become one of them for a day or two. Trust me, it'll be one of the single best business investments you could possibly make.

Dec 09

What’s Become of the F Word?

I don't see it, hear it or read it anymore. In fact, the F word has literally disappeared overnight from the American vocabulary. Oh sure, some irate Manhattan cab driver will still employ it. A PR executive who's just been told his agency's 2009 budget has been yanked is likely to let loose. And, we Jets fans certainly call upon it on most Sundays.

But, that's not the F word to which I'm referring. You see, I'm speaking of an F word that's barely registering a pulse these days: "Fun."

Fun is gone. It's vanished, and it's bordering on becoming extinct. In its place, we've seen the sudden emergence of fun's evil twin: "Fear."

Kathryn Williams, the "W" in KRW, a top leadership/coaching firm who participated in our webinar last week, stressed the urgency of fun. She said the best leaders, the ones who will become heroes in this current economic cataclysm, are the ones who will take care of themselves first and then "administer aid" to their employees. She likened it to the airplane instructions in which adults are advised to don their own oxygen masks before applying their children's.

That makes perfect sense. I see too many executives walking around with a hangdog look on their face. Their expressions and non-verbals say it all. They're scared. They're paralyzed. They've never seen anything like the current economic climate. Well, guess what? They unknowingly project those feelings to those around them and, soon, very soon, an entire organization becomes paralyzed.
And, paralysis is a one-way ticket to business oblivion.

Heroes find a way to rise above the fray. They take time to laugh in the face of fear. They bring the other F word back to its rightful place.

So, cut your costs. Find your new revenue streams. But, don't forget about having fun, too. Williams suggests leaders find the time for neck and back massages, meditation or other forms of relaxation. Personally, I opt for a mix of stand-up comedy, long-distance running and any sort of historical/biographical/comedic reading material.  

I also go out of my way to inject humor in the workplace, whether it's through hallway banter or an e-mail comment purposely designed to elicit a chuckle. I told one of our senior directors that I see myself in the Bob Hope role at Peppercom, responsible for raising troop morale.

You can do it, too. And you should. So, check the doom-and-gloom at the reception desk when you arrive each morning. We'll get through this. And people will remember whether you led the way with cheery optimism or buried yourself in your office with a bunker-like mentality.