Nov 12

What has become clear to you since we last met?

November 12 - emerson Ralph Waldo Emerson was noted for greeting friends with the question, 'What has become clear to you since we last met?' His intent, say historians, was an invitation and a challenge to guests to assess the progress of their thinking.

I find the question profound in its simplicity and thought I'd share what's become clear to me of late:

1) Management by fear is alive and well. Despite countless studies, articles and books extolling the benefits of a great corporate culture, I continue to see our teams take a beating from misbehaving client managers. I also continue to see refugees from other agencies wash up on our shores with tales of shouting and screaming bosses. That said, I remain unclear how or why bullies survive.

2) President Obama is nearly as clueless as W. A great communicator prior to his election, the president has become hopelessly caught up in hundreds of issues that have clearly distracted him from accomplishing one or two truly important and critical goals: creating jobs, ending foreign wars and solving the healthcare mess. And, I don't see him rising above the abyss anytime soon.

3) Far too many businesspeople are jumping on the social media bandwagon without knowing why. The same holds true for 'consumers' who feel compelled to post each and every detail of their mundane daily lives on Facebook, Plaxo and LinkedIn. The latter two, in particular, have become the bane of my existence.

4) The quality of writing continues to devolve with each passing year. I'm now routinely receiving missives from people holding fairly senior positions that are rife with spelling and grammatical mistakes.

5) There's nothing quite as satisfying as the insights gleaned from a work of non-fiction. I've been on a Malcolm Gladwell tear of late and find many of his observations incredibly relevant to work and life in general.

6) My TV viewing is now limited to two comedies and one drama series. That's it. I no longer go to see movies, since the first-run flicks are absolutely pathetic.

I'd be interested in reading what's become clear to you since we last met. Feel free to post away.

Sep 02

Building sales overnight and brands over time

September 2 That’s a pretty catchy mission statement, no? It belonged to an integrated marketing firm for whom I once worked. It’s also one of the reasons I’m not a big fan of mission or value statements. The firm in question, you see, rarely, if ever, delivered on either promise. They didn’t walk the walk.

I bring all this up because I’m reading a new book by the same title. ‘Walk the walk: The #1 Rule for Real Leaders’ by Alan Deutschman is chock full of examples showing how great leaders such as Ray Kroc of McDonald’s really did walk the walk when it came to delivering on mission and value statements. Kroc, for example, insisted from day one that cleanliness be one of his company’s core values (quality and service were the others). To walk the walk, Kroc would clean up any debris he found when visiting restaurants (one employee even remembers seeing him scraping up gum with a putty knife). Employees bought into Kroc’s value system because he lived it himself.

Southwest and Amazon are two examples of organizations that walk the walk, says Deutschman. Unlike its competitors, Southwest didn’t furlough employees when times were tough and Amazon continually posted all customer reviews, even the most negative ones. The former demonstrated Southwest’s commitment to its people; the latter showed Jeff Bezos’s commitment to Amazon’s customers.

All of which brings me back to my former employer’s mission statement. Because management was so indifferent and inattentive to walking the walk, we worker bees actually made fun of the line and would often mutter it after being fired by a client or losing out on a big new business pitch.

The beauty of walking the walk is its simplicity. Organization mission and value statements are nothing but words if the leaders aren’t delivering on the promise in visible and tangible ways. As it turned out, my former employer neither built sales overnight nor brands over time. It did, however, go belly up about five years ago.

Aug 13

Striking the right balance

August 13 - pencil According to The Wall Street Journal, President Barack Obama has become quite the micromanager. He sets daily Oval Office meetings with his various direct reports and wades through minutia that surprised more than one source quoted in the text. That worrisome to me.

I'm not a big fan of micro-managing. Many historians say micromanagement cost Jimmy Carter the presidency way back when. The man was so caught up in the details of a failing economy and the Iranian hostage crisis that he lost sight of the wants and needs of the average American. And that, in turn, enabled erstwhile and ersatz Hollywood actor Ronald Wilson Reagan to sweep into office.

I've worked for micro-managers. They drove me nuts. One, in particular, was so anal that he actually decided in advance who would sit where at client and new business meetings. He'd also insist we 'scope' out a prospect's conference room the night before a pitch so that we knew every angle and nuance of the facility. And, he once famously rejected an order of agency-branded pencils because the office manager had ordered 'number one' instead of 'number two' models. 'We've always been a number two pencil firm. Send these back!' he barked.

I've also worked for totally detached managers. One, in fact, was so out of touch with the day-to-day operations of his New York office that the place resembled a Felini movie, featuring everything from very public and very torrid affairs to brazen rifling of client products ('Ok, who took all the Tumi luggage from the product room last night?').

The office would also shut down early every Friday, with most of us trooping over to PJ Charlton's for an afternoon of Bahama Mamas and god knows what else.

In management, as in life, striking a balance is key. People need to feel empowered to make their own decisions. But, accountability has to be enforced as well. We like to believe we've built a meritocracy that encourages risk taking, rewards success and enables people to fail without serious consequence. That said, fail often enough or in a particularly egregious way and you're gone.

Ed and I have totally different management styles, but we'll both swoop into an account if, and when, our instincts (or our people) suggest we do. As a result, we don't get bogged down in minutia, nor do we allow the inmates to run the asylum (although some would suggest that Ed and I are recovering inmates).

I hope Obama doesn't become so obsessed with details that he loses touch with what really matters. We need him to succeed. And, by 'we,' I mean the entire world. I, for one, will really start to sweat if I read a follow-up Journal piece reporting the President is setting aside time to review White House stationery, logo designs and, god forbid, number two pencils.

Jul 09

Omar’s flawed logic

July 9 - sports046 Mets General Manager Omar Minaya keeps telling fans the club's fortunes will improve once the 'good guys' return to the line-up. The good guys include such injured regulars as Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez and Carlos Delgado.

In the meantime, a ragtag bunch of minor leaguers impersonating as major leaguers have been playing. And, the word playing doesn't really do it justice. They haven't even been showing up. The team's record has nosedived as a squad once picked to contend for the pennant now finds itself vying with the hapless Washington Nationals for sole possession of the National League East's cellar.

Getting back to Minaya, his logic is flawed because the good guys won't make one iota of difference once they do suit up. Oh, they'll post some respectable offensive numbers and they'll go through the motions on the field, but Minaya has built a squad of individuals, not a team. They choked badly in two successive seasons, losing out to a less talented, but more motivated bunch of Phillies. And, they lack the intestinal fortitude needed to turn around this sorry excuse of a year.

Minaya and his current, rotten crop of Metsies need to be handed a one-way Metro card fare on the number 7 train heading west. It's time to blow up the model and, once again, start from scratch. Anything would be better than watching what purports to be a major league team botch yet another game.

Jun 19

Think you’ve got image issues? Try selling Buicks

The New York Times has a brutally depressing story about a failing Buick dealership in Columbus, Ohio.Buick_2
The piece is a sad, yet compelling, read because it encapsulates
so much of the pain being felt by Americans everywhere.

Buick has been in trouble for years. It’s perceived as a tired brand for an older, dying audience demographic (indeed, Buick owners average 60 years of age). That said, it took the recent gas crisis to apply the coup de grace to many dealerships like Len Immke Buick. Why? Because Buick doesn’t make any small, energy efficient automobiles.

Instead, what remains of the Immke dealership tries to peddle three different types of large, gas-guzzling boats. In their halcyon days, Len Immke sold 200 cars a month. Today, they’re lucky to sell that many in a year. Some days, no one even enters the store. The sales team was downsized a few years ago, everyone took pay cuts and the salesmen now double as janitors after hours since they can’t afford to hire an outside service.

Buick is dead. The body may still be showing a pulse. But, it’s just a matter of time before the plug is pulled. And, when it is, Len Immke Buick and hundreds of similar dealerships will close. The ripple effect will heighten the pain that already exists in towns and cities like Columbus. And, what will the salesmen, many of whom are in their 40s and 50s do for employment and health care coverage?

When senior management fails at its mission, everyone loses. And, when a brand’s image and reputation are beyond repair, it’s time to euthanize the body. It’s just too bad the men who mismanaged Buick over the years aren’t held accountable for this debacle. As one of my bosses liked to say, “Someone should take a bullet.”

May 06

Be slow to promise, but quick to deliver

I wouldn’t be writing this blog if the Continental Airlines pilot and flight attendants hadn’t waxed poeticPlane_2
about our arriving 30 minutes earlier than expected.

First, the pilot told us the good news. Then, the flight attendants chimed in as well. ‘Cool,’ I thought, ‘That doesn’t happen very often.’

And, as it turns out it didn’t happen this time either. Oh, we arrived 30 minutes early. But, then the captain announced the following, ‘Ah, ladies and gentlemen, the good news is we did indeed arrive 30 minutes early. Unfortunately, though, there are no gates available. So, we’ll have to sit and wait.’

Thirty minutes later and we’re still sitting.

One of the best pieces of image and reputation advice I’ve ever heard came from a ‘grey beard’ at Hill and Knowlton many years ago. He told me to wait before responding to an urgent client request of one sort or another. He told me to think through my response and said, ‘…be slow to promise, but quick to deliver.’ It was great advice.

Although I’m sure they couldn’t care less, the Continental Airlines crew should learn a lesson from today’s miscommunication. By mismanaging customer expectations, they now have a cabin full of restless, unhappy passengers.

Oh, and, guess what? We still haven’t budged.