Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Where storytelling meets social influence

August 12, 2013 1 comment

Experience may be the best teacher, but a compelling story is a close second. This is true as much in the workplace as it is in content marketing.

Let me explain with a story from my work life.

The meeting about meetings

In one of her first acts as the new manager, Sami called a staff meeting with one item on the agenda: meetings.

“We’re having a meeting about meetings? What’s that about?” several people wondered. I had my theory.

The weekly staff meetings were out of control. We never made it around the table for individual updates because each time the meeting would get hijacked by the same four people.

storytelling social influence

Storytelling at work.

They would consume the time with tirades about everything that was not working and how others in the organization were thwarting our efforts. Eventually others joined in:

“The sales reps are too lazy to pick up the phone and make a call.”

“I’m losing revenue because the plant is holding up production.”

“We can’t sell this product because the finance department priced it too high.”

The result was always the same: a rehash of the same issues every week with no solutions, but lots of hyperventilating. Mondays at 10:00 were my time of dread.

Sami had attended some of those meetings. My silent prayer was that she would bring change. That prayer was answered in a way I did not anticipate.

She opened the meeting that Monday morning with a statement that caught everybody by surprise. “I think we should discontinue the weekly meeting. I’m not sure anyone is getting any value from them. What do you think?”

The typically vocal group went silent.

Then one by one, people began to list reasons we needed to keep the meetings. This led to a discussion on how to make them more productive. Then the group came to agreement on new ground rules for interacting: offer solutions when voicing a problem; time limits to discussions; no sidebar discussions.

It turned into one of the most fruitful meetings we’d had in a long time.

At the end Sami added one last thing. “I’d like everybody to have a chance to lead the meetings. We’ll rotate each week and the leader is responsible for gathering agenda items, circulating the agenda beforehand and enforcing the ground rules. Everyone agree?”

They did. Enthusiastically.

The whole thing was handled brilliantly, especially that last part. It started a complete turnaround in the productivity of the meetings that spilled over into overall effectiveness of the group.

Related: The secret to bringing influence in any situation

From a management perspective, the lesson of this story could be about enabling teamwork or leading change. From an influence perspective, it is an example of the power of a narrative to motivate and inspire in the workplace.

But is it storytelling?

Lead with a story

Sami’s approach to tackling this management challenge follows a simple storytelling structure, with a beginning, middle and end. Paul Smith, author of Lead with a Story, describes this structure for business narratives with the acronym CAR: context, action, result.

Let’s look at the “meeting about meetings” and see how it fits into this model.

telling a business storyCONTEXT

The context sets the stage for the narrative. It is the who, what, when, where of the story. It also identifies the protagonist and antagonist in a conflict. On one side we have Sami, with a desire to improve productivity. On the other side we have the disruptors with a desire to vent.


This tells what happened when the protagonist and antagonist come into conflict. Sami opened with an element of surprise to break the thought patterns of the disruptors. They were drawn into a debate defending the merits of weekly meetings.


At the meeting the action shifted from negative fault-finding to problem solving. In hindsight, we can see the lessons learned: putting the audience into the story, team involvement in problem solving, leading and motivating change.

Stories at work

We often limit our thinking about storytelling to brand stories, case studies and marketing content or presentations. At least I do. But business narratives have the same power to inspire, educate, entertain and engage as brand stories in our content marketing. They can boost your influence in the workplace.

How do you put stories to work for you at work?

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5 lessons on leadership from the Andy Griffith Show

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The triage marketing death trap

marketing strategy trap

The road to extinction is paved with shortsighted thinking that neglects your customers.

One of the greatest marketing challenges for businesses large and small is to balance short-term tactics with a long range strategy. If you’re not mindful, you can get permanently stuck on shortsighted priorities.

I call this triage marketing.

It’s like triage in the television program M*A*S*H. Many a calm moment was cut short by the sound of approaching helicopters and Radar O’Reilly announcing, “In coming.”

What followed was managed chaos.

Outside the operating room was a doctor in triage, whose role was to examine the wounded to determine which needed immediate surgery. The rest were patched up temporarily and helped later. It was the epitome of a short-term strategy.

The marketing equivalent is to focus on quick hits: generating immediate leads for the sales team, running a promotion to spike direct orders, or other scattered activities. The trap is sprung when short-term strategy becomes the constant mode of operation.

Marketers walk a fine line here. To win at content marketing and online customer responsiveness requires real-time execution or you miss opportunities. Who wouldn’t want to be the next viral marketing or newsjacking success story?

Related: The case for getting a journalist on your content marketing team

However, in the heat of battling day-to-day priorities, it is easy to lose sight of the important long range vision for growing the business. In many cases short-term thinking is ingrained in the corporate culture.

A triage culture

I first observed this as a front line marketer in a large company years ago. There were two aspects of the culture that perpetuated a short-term mindset and shortsighted behaviors.

The first was the budgeting process and learning to game the system.

See if this sounds familiar. Your marketing budget was set in January, after a month long planning process. In April, senior management and the finance wizards would make the first of quarterly adjustments. This meant they were looking for unspent money to take back. This evolved from quarterly to monthly exercises.

triage marketingHow did marketers adapt? You spend or lock in everything you could in Q1. If you phased your budget to customer purchase preferences – in this case, they spent most of their budgets in the last quarter – you lose large parts of your marketing budget. It fostered a mindset that said ‘Responsible planning be damned; use it or lose it.’

A second, equally powerful culture driver was the compensation plan.

Like most companies, bonuses were paid out for reaching ever more aggressive revenue targets. The targets were based largely on new sales revenue. Since compensation drives behavior, this resulted in activity focused on acquiring new customers and new product sales.

I’m not opposed to bonus incentives or driving growth. Not at all. In my time, I made the company tens of millions of dollars and earned some great bonus checks. I also witnessed some chaotic, shortsighted and nonstrategic behaviors in the race for revenue.

Related: Don’t think about innovation like a CEO

One example was the pricing policy behind some of the year-end automatic shipments to subscription customers. All products were sold on subscription with the agreement that updates would be automatically shipped and billed. Want to guess where this is going?

Pricing for updates were set by the finance wizards based on the revenue needed to make revenue goals. That meant some customers where charged an exorbitant amount for very little value. In the process of meeting the short-term goal, we incurred high cancellation rates. This alienated customers and set us back for the upcoming year.

customer relationship marketingRemember me? I’m your customer

It’s too easy to forget the customer when in triage marketing mode. In the short-term, there is no incentive to invest in customer relationships critical to sustained business growth. You give short shrift to:

Triage marketing focuses on acquisition over retention. One study at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia found that retention pays dividends. If your business has a 70 percent customer retention rate, every revenue dollar today will be worth $4 in ten years. And an 80 percent retention rate will increase today’s revenue dollar to $6 in ten years.

Triage marketing focuses on promotions over customer loyalty. Promotions sell a product trial, but not ongoing brand loyalty. They may even attract the wrong customers, who never become loyal. It costs six-to-ten times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to keep an existing one. Conversely, a Harvard Business School study found that an increase of five percent in customer loyalty can increase overall profitability from 25-80 percent.

Triage marketing allows little time to create deep relationships with your best customers. Relationships continue to grow, encounters do not. For example, an automobile dealer once calculated that a lifetime of cars sold to one customer would be worth $322,000. The 80/20 principle, where 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your market (i.e. your loyal customers), literally takes a lifetime.

In the past 10 years, there has been a fundamental shift in the balance of power in the marketplace from seller to buyer. Customers have greater access to reliable information on the Internet. Social networks give them unprecedented power to talk about your product and service. They don’t care about your short-term objectives.

Marketing strategies based on short-term thinking won’t win you customers or sustain your business in the long run. Back in 1973, Peter Drucker said the purpose of business is to create a customer. If you’re in triage, you need to get back to the basics. Your survival depends on it.

What are you doing to combat the perils of short-term thinking in your organization?

Are you on a journey to marketing awesomeness? Let’s travel together!

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Don’t think about innovation like a CEO

leadership & innovation

Short-term thinking by business leaders is the enemy of innovation and competitiveness.

American business leaders have a perception problem about how innovative we really are. Harsher critics might call it denial.

Recently, Forbes ran an eye-opening article on American competitiveness that is must-reading for every CEO and front line marketer in business today. It is a detailed assessment of a Harvard Business Review study that explores the causes behind lagging growth in business and job creation in the U.S. over the past decade.

Two findings from the study point to startling disconnects between business leaders’ perceptions and reality. While businesses are not competing globally:

  • Leaders rate management as both strong and improving
  • Leaders rate innovation and entrepreneurship as strong and improving

What do leaders think are the reasons we don’t compete or innovate as we should?

The most common problems business leaders cite are government regulatory policies, tax and fiscal policies and an inadequate talent pool. These are all factors, but the researchers identify a root cause leaders will not like hearing: short-term thinking by leadership.

You are what you measure

The study tracks how corporate governance began to change in the 1980s. In response to globalization, managers adopted a mindset focused on stock price and short-term growth and profitability. Over time, innovation came to be about achieving greater efficiencies and cost reductions more than creating value to customers.

At the same time, business schools reinforced this mindset. By defining profitability in terms of ratios to be measured across industries, they trained a generation of MBAs to measure short-term performance as the gauge for success.

As a result, business leaders define innovation as incremental process improvements rather than breakthrough product ideas. That is how they can determine they are strong innovators when their companies are not competitive.

Think like an innovator

To revive innovation in business, leaders have to change the way they think. Beyond resetting priorities to more long-term objectives, they need to start using the other side of their brain.

Singular focus on productivity and profitability metrics give a limited perspective of your business. Creative inspiration does not fall out of a spreadsheet or accounting ledger. 3M learned this the hard way. In the last decade, it applied Six Sigma principles for manufacturing to the innovation process, and severely stifled new product development.

Analysis has its place, but innovative ideas come from the side of the brain where you explore, experiment and imagine.

For many, this is a new approach to problem solving.

leadership & innovative thinking

Research by psychologists Joy Paul Guildford and E. Paul Torrance has identified two primary thought processes we use for solving problems: convergent and divergent thinking.

In business, we are most familiar with convergent thinking which is analytical and logical. It is characterized by arriving at the one right solution. Accountants and business analysts excel at this kind of thinking.

The other, divergent thinking is flexible, intuitive and based on associations. It is characterized by arriving at multiple, unique solutions. Artists and inventors excel at divergent thinking. This is where we get innovative ideas.

Research shows remarkably few people engage in divergent thinking. This has to change starting with the C-suite.

Leaders have to lead

This shortsighted focus is nothing short of a leadership crisis. As the proverb says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

To bring about a revival of business growth and competitiveness, leaders must make a dramatic shift away from the short-term vision that has dominated the past 20 years. Awareness of the problem is the first step. But leaders must lead change.

The starting point is a renewed vision for serving customers, workers and shareholders. That means putting the wellbeing of the business ahead of their short-term rewards. Leaders must challenge the status quo of compensation that drives their behavior.

The Forbes article provides a stark account of this situation:

In his book, Fixing the Game, Roger Martin notes that between 1960 and 1980, CEO compensation per dollar of net income earned for the 365 biggest publicly traded American companies fell by 33 percent. CEOs earned more for their shareholders for steadily less compensation. By contrast, in the decade from 1980 to 1990, CEO compensation per dollar of net earnings produced doubled. From 1990 to 2000 it quadrupled.

With incentives based on short term value and stock price, executives earned more while shareholders earned less and companies innovated less. Leaders have to turn this around. They have to start thinking – and leading differently.

We need from them a new vision of success and innovation, and how to achieve it.

Without it, the people – workers, shareholders and society at large – as well as the economy will perish.

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How social media helped restore my sanity in adversity

January 3, 2013 6 comments
social media restored my mind

Social media was a great outlet for me once I got my thought life turned around.

One of the most valuable lessons I relearned this past year is this: adversity is inevitable, but misery is a choice.

This is the story of how I recovered from adversity with a renewed mindset and the help of social media.

I entered last year with a formidable laundry list of personal and professional setbacks, which provided many reasons to be miserable. If anybody had earned the right to be despondent, bitter, anxious and depressed it was me. The ledger read like an excerpt from the book of Job:

Job loss. Over the previous six years, I got caught in corporate downsizing crosshairs four separate times.

Job search rejections. I ran through a steady stream of interview gauntlets, reaching the final round only to get passed over each time.

Relationship train wreck. Self-explanatory, but awful timing.

Financial depletion. After going through my savings, I was forced to tap into my retirement account to keep the lights on. Twenty years of saving wiped away in 24 months.

Health crash. The cumulative effects of stress combined with a concussion and a knee injury took its toll on my body. I had gone from earning a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and being in the best physical condition of my adult life, to being unable to walk across the room. And no health insurance.

What thoughts can do

There was a battle taking place in my mind. Mulling over my circumstances led to a series of self-defeating thoughts:

Why should I lose my job while other less talented and less accomplished people hold on to theirs?

Where are all those I have helped to advance in their career? Why can’t one of them open an opportunity for me when I really need it?

This economy keeps getting worse. How can I possibly hold on until it turns around?

I can’t believe how unfair it is to have to use up my retirement savings to make ends meet. How will I ever make up for that loss?

I should be in my peak earning years right now, instead of struggling to find work.

Maybe I’m too old to be a desirable candidate.

All those years I paid into health insurance and never needed to use it. Now when I do need it, I don’t have it.

This is destructive self-talk. It’s natural for the rational brain to get highjacked by emotions. That is how we are hardwired. But focusing on the problem only enlarges it. The key to winning the battle for your mind, and rising above your circumstances, is to shift the focus to your desired outcome.

That is the daily battle, the principle I had to relearn during my time in the valley. There is a verse in the Bible that says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) It’s a very practical summation of what I experienced. The word “renewing” suggests an ongoing process, not a one-time event. With regular thoughts focused on what I could do and where I wanted to be, I began moving toward it.

Social media therapy

social media therapyHere is where social media comes into the story.

I refocused my thinking on three things I could do: network, learn and write. I decided to create a high profile digital footprint.

I already had a good profile on LinkedIn, but I wanted to make it ridiculously awesome. I studied and took webinars on how to optimize my presence and expand my network. I grew my connections from 400 to more than 5,000 in eight months. I optimized my profile to where I show up in search results 50-70 times a day, and my profile is viewed an average of five times a day.

I did the same on Twitter. Starting from ground zero, I built a solid following and a consistent content sharing plan. In eight months I made many great connections with marketers all over the world that I can interact and network with.

Then I put my writing and publishing experience to work by launching this blog. Initially my plan was for it to be a platform to show what I know to recruiters and hiring managers. However, through social sharing and search optimization my audience grew to include other bloggers and marketers. I began to think more like a publisher than a job seeker.

Blogging and social networking quickly became a passion. Social media became my therapy for personal development in a number of ways:

  • It gave me a sense of purpose. Each day of creating and curating content for the Web gave me an opportunity grow my network and engage with others.
  • It gave me motivation for learning. Every activity around researching, writing and discovering social platforms ignited my passion to learn more.
  • It gave me a path to develop my skills. The discipline of publishing a new blog post every week forced me to develop my writing skills and adapt them for online readers.

You could say social media helped restore my sanity. But it couldn’t happen until I took the focus off of what I didn’t have and put it on what I could do to improve my circumstances. My most important development goal for this year is to master my thought life.

How about you?

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All you really need to know about increasing your Klout score

Increasing your Klout

While Klout’s scoring algorithm is a guarded secret, there are some things you can do to increase your social influence score.

“The best strategy for obtaining a high Klout score is to simply create great content that your network wants to share and engage with.”

That’s a direct quote from the Klout website. It pretty much sums up all you need to know to increase your score.

SIMPLY create great content. SIMPLY engage your network.

The irony, of course, is that those things are not simple to do. Nor are they simple to measure.

Measuring your influence

In fact, Klout has a complex formula for measuring influence based on calculating 400 social signals across seven different networks for each individual each day. Most signals are derived from activities that rank influence attributes such as:

  • The ratio of reactions you generate compared to the content you share
  • The selectivity of those who share your content
  • Your engagement levels with a wide range of individuals

Attempts to crack the code for Klout’s algorithm are futile. It is refined daily.

However, Klout does offer insights into the core concepts behind its social scoring. Those guiding principles give you an idea which activities affect your score.

Connecting to multiple networks can help your score. It gives a bigger picture of your potential reach.

Influence is built over time. Scores are based on a 90-day window of activity to arrive at a more consistent measurement.

Influence is the ability to drive action. Engagement is more important than the size of your network.

Activity is not the same as influence. Beyond engagement metrics like retweets and likes, how much content you create is also an important factor.

In a nutshell, this boils down to three primary scoring factors: true reach, amplification probability and network influence.

Improving your Klout scoreImproving your Klout score

The key to improving your Klout score comes down to focusing your social media activities on those three scoring factors. In the excellent book on influence marketing, Return on Influence, Mark Schaefer outlines a practical three step process for accomplishing this.

For optimum amplification, your personal network needs a balance of size and quality. Of the three scoring factors, this is the most manageable. Some tips for building an engaged network include:

  • Create a benefit for those in your network
  • Seek out others with an affinity for topics you discuss
  • Weed out inactive connections that don’t move your content or provide value

You need a focused strategy for both curating and creating content on the social Web. To achieve the kind of influence measured by Klout, your content must be helpful, informative, interesting and entertaining. This is what will drive engagement and sharing.

When it comes to social scoring, Klout rewards consistency. You need to blog, link, post, tweet or comment regularly and consistently to elevate your influence rating.

Your Klout score also depends on how often you engage, and with whom. When other influencers move your content or otherwise engage with you, your personal influence goes up. So it is beneficial to interact with people who have a higher Klout score than you. Some ways to spark engagement:

  • Ask earnest questions
  • Show appreciation individually
  • Be witty and fun
  • Participate in Twitter chats
  • Keep tweets brief to enable sharing

The true benefit of raising your score

By following these three steps, you can make your Klout score go up. This content and network strategy is simple, but not easy. There are no shortcuts, tricks or black hat techniques to game the scoring system. It takes time and consistent effort.

But in the process of working these steps, you will not only see your score increase, you will also see your level of influence increase. Isn’t that all you really need to know?

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5 lessons on leadership from the Andy Griffith Show

leadership lessons from the Andy Griffith ShowWhen Andy Griffith died on July 3, the tributes and career retrospectives hit quickly. He is most remembered for the television program bearing his name which ran from 1960-1968. It was widely popular at the time and remains a favorite for new fans in syndication. One reason its popularity has endured is it combined humor with humanity and simple life lessons that resonate over time.

During the series’ run, Sheriff Andy Taylor provided many examples of servant leadership that are a great example for leaders in any capacity today. Here are five examples.

1. Earned authority

Much was made of the fact that he rarely carried a gun. While some might argue it added to the homespun feel of being Sheriff of small town Mayberry, he frequently noted his authority came with the badge he wore and how he wore it. He carried authority by earning the respect of the citizens based on exemplary conduct not by instilling fear.

In one episode he walked directly into the line of fire of a holed-up bootlegger and calmly took the rifle away while other law officers froze under cover. He later explained the shooter could have shot any of them if he’d wanted – he was just trying to scare them off. He respected Andy’s ultimate authority.

2. Let others fail

Sheriff Taylor occasionally had to risk turning over responsibility to his deputy. In one episode he had to leave town for a day and let Barney Fife act as sheriff in his absence. In his zeal to prove himself, the acting sheriff managed to arrest the entire town on minor infractions.

Upon return, Andy had to restore order and taught Barney the importance of exercising judgment in understanding the larger priorities versus going by the book. If a leader is unwilling to assign responsibilities to others, they are not taking enough risk to enable their growth and development.

3. Assume responsibility

In a story involving son Opie, Andy taught responsibility for Opie’s actions with his new slingshot. Opie accidently kills a bird leaving behind a nest of fledglings. With Andy’s prodding, Opie raises the birds himself until they are ready to fend for themselves. In the process, Opie becomes attached to them and wants to keep them as pets. Andy reminds Opie that the mother’s responsibility was to raise them up and let them go. As the surrogate, it was Opie’s responsibility too.

4. Facing fear

There are so many episodes with this theme it is hard to pick one example. One involves Andy receiving a letter from a convict he put away in prison. In the arrest, Andy had injured him in a shoot out. Now the convict was getting out and wanted to “settle some things” by paying a visit. Friends and family urged Andy to leave town to avoid another conflict. He didn’t.

In a poignant talk with Opie, he admitted to being afraid but had to face the fear. In the end the ex-con came to thank Andy for creating the circumstances for him to turn his life around and learn a trade for starting a new life after prison. Andy taught everyone that fear imagined is greater than fear faced.

5. Build up others

One of my favorite episodes is when Andy and his sweetheart get trapped in a cave. Earlier in the day Barney is humiliated when he mistakes the bank president for a bank robber. He is ridiculed by several of the men in town. Later, at a town picnic Andy and Helen venture into a cave and are trapped inside by a rock slide. They manage to escape through another entry, but not before Barney organizes a rescue operation enlisting all the men who had ridiculed him earlier. When Andy realizes this, they return to the cave so they can be saved by Barney.

After they are rescued, Andy tells all the townspeople how fortunate they are to have a take-charge leader like Barney Fife as deputy. He restored Barney’s confidence and stature in the community.


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The case for getting a journalist on your content marketing team

This is not breaking news …

Over the last few years there has been increasing discussion about the unique needs around creating content best suited to inbound marketing in digital media. It’s not promotion-heavy product copy. Not corporate-spun PR. Not even advertorials. In these circles, the focus has turned to a journalism-based approach David Meerman Scott has coined brand journalism.

Inbound marketing success: think like a publisher

In many ways, organizations are still adapting to the dramatic transformation in how to interact with the marketplace in emergent online channels. The transition from outbound, monologue-marketing to inbound marketing is a challenge for professionals coming from Advertising, PR, direct and classical marketing disciplines.

The internet has changed the game. Audiences on the web are seeking information that informs and edifies. Content creators need to think like a publisher first, weaving in brand messages through dynamic storytelling.

Enter the brand journalist.

If you need to think like a publisher, why not add a journalist to your content team? Not the Ron Burgundy broadcast news-reader type, but the writer-researcher newsroom type. Think embedded corporate journalist.

Looking at typical job descriptions for online marketers, you’ll notice the thinking is not quite there yet. There is still a primary focus on experience in digital media and marketing. Both are important roles on the content team. But there are at least four good reasons to get a journalist on your team as well.

Four content marketing skills you get from an experienced journalist

  1. Writing approach. Journalists are trained storytellers experienced in writing compelling headlines and lead-in copy and crafting a strong voice. This transfers perfectly to the need for attracting inbound traffic online.
  2. Focusing on what the reader wants. New and renewed subscriptions. Newsstand sales. Letters to the Editor. These measures of reader engagement are critical to publishing success. Without interested readers the publication fails. Without engaged online visitors, your content marketing is destined for the same fate.
  3. Objectivity. Journalists have a natural inclination toward skepticism. They are trained to take an objective view toward content for public consumption. This is a perfect antidote to impulses to overhype, oversell and over-fluff your online content. They will view stories and events from different angles and help to find unique ways to present information valued by your audience.
  4. Editorial planning. In the publishing world, journalists have gained real-world experience in creating an editorial plan – based on wants of the audience – setting a schedule and meeting deadlines to deliver content. This hands-on experience is of tremendous value inside the corporation.

These skills are not a substitute for a solid strategy. That’s a topic for another post. But they are critical to the successful execution of your content marketing strategy. And most of the time you won’t find people with these skills by looking exclusively within the marketing industry.

SOUND OFF: Tell me what you think. Are there other benefits to a journalist-content creator you would add? What is your approach to content marketing and building your team?

Related article: 3 Lessons to help content marketers stop thinking like publishers

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