Showing posts from May, 2013

Privacy in an age when privacy is gone

Branded Wood via Deviant Art
As employees, people do not want to be branded with your logo. They would rather see themselves as different, special and unique.
In fact the more you throw the brand (or even the word "brand") in someone's face the more they will rebel.

People don't want to be branded in a lot of ways.
We don't like relationship labels...religious labels...neighborhood labels...class labels...gender labels...any kind of labels.
Because there's always an exception to the rule. 
Because we need to preserve our privacy. Meaning, that gray space between our secret inner selves and the glaring harsh light of the outside world and how people judge us and label us.
In a world where privacy is functionally over - and let us be clear that it absolutely is - how do we attain and maintain privacy? Regain it?
The only way, I think, is to make the personal choice to respect it.
Just because you can see something, know something, doesn't mean you should.
Let people …

The Wrong People Are In Charge Of Your Brand

Photo by Deb Nystrom via Flickr
"One of our main criteria for joining the team was -- you could not be a jerk." - Anon.
Branding is always a marketing exercise, but its first and primary goal is the recruitment and retention of high-performing employees through continuous organizational development.  The brand tells you what kind of leader is right -- because the leader sets the vision for the rest to follow.The brand tells you what kind of planning will work -- because it's not just a matter of allocating resources but of institutionalizing processes that will work in the culture.The brand tells you what kind of person can actually earn you money, based not just on skill but also on the customer's preferences. For example, some brand consultancies take the academic approach while others are more design-oriented. Both are "accurate" but it's the customer's preference that determines which is chosen.The brand tells you what kind of person is needed to s…

That Yawning Gap Between Leadership Books And Reality

Look.  I am not here to lecture anyone.  But it is hard to understand how there can be so much good advice about leadership flying around, and yet there is such utter cluelessness about basic common sense. Like how to treat people when you meet them. How about saying: Hello? How are you? How's the weather out there? Or how to delegate an assignment. Or how to not scream at your subordinates and throw books. I was grateful today that my friend and colleague Jeri Richardson took the time to speak about leadership. Things like this. She came over and shared basic principles of leadership. More than that, she shared her personal experiences. Jeri told us how to get results, how she's done it over a period of decades: * Modeling leadership behavior * Focusing on underlying business needs  * Dealing with the customer as a human being ...and so much more. It was all good stuff. But I found myself wondering as she talked, how is it and why is it that so many people I know over the years -- across …

What The Most Valuable Brands Have In Common: They Are Boring

Screenshot via Futurebrand shows top performing brands in Global 50 Index, Jan. 1 - May 20, 2013
There is nothing a creative person likes more than to create a brand. And that is great when there’s a new brand to be built. But when the brand becomes familiar and established, it can be financial suicide to take it apart. Here’s why boring brands are more valuable:
1. You remember their name.
2. Knowing the name makes them sound legitimate.
3. Familiarity generates loyalty by default.
4. Consistency simplifies choice.
5. Fewer choices reduce stress.

Google, Samsung, Apple, and Amazon don't try to reinvent themselves every six months. They simply focus on doing what they do: serve the customer, to make more money -- which is in the end the object of business and what every marketer should be focused on as well.

Neat: Predicted Brand Stock Index, and Now It's Here

Screenshot via FutureBrand
It was only a matter of time before somebody did this. I'm just wondering what took so long.August 12, 2007, I wrote: "I have a major, major idea for Young & Rubicam: They should start a brand index mutual fund based on their Brand Asset Valuator ( The fund should tie to current strong and emerging brands."May 23, 2013, FutureBrand posts: "The FutureBrand Index is a real-time global stock market for brands offering a predictive view of brand strength. ....The resulting share prices create a real-time Index of the top 50 global future brands called the FBF50. As with all markets, the ranking is constantly changing as share prices rise and fall based on trading activity."Here is a link to the FutureBrand site where you can sign up to trade. Not sure when it launched, but it looks amazing, and glad that somebody picked this idea up.

5 Ways To Respond To The Critics: Lessons from McDonald's CEO

Photo by Steven Gray via Flickr
Superficially McDonald's and the government are different. But when you get closer they have at least one thing in common: an enormous, diverse customer base, many of whom rely on the institution for daily subsistence. Normally the government is very cautious about responding to its critics. The reasons are infinite and familiar: many different interests at play - the need to speak in unison - the wild and provocative nature of some of the attacks - the impossibility of answering every one. Plus there is this sense that to play defense is to lose. You don't want to get into mudslinging. (And add to that the fact that some back-and-forthing has to do with ongoing investigations, or confidential material that simply cannot be shared.) All of this is why the speech by Don Johnson, CEO of McDonald's at the company's annual meeting was so refreshing. According to a report in, "Nutrition Critics Get No Apology From McDonald&#…

Why Radical Transparency Is Common Sense

I think it's very hard, when you're at the center of a scandal, to know what to do. Frankly, you're freaking out.
And it is at that unfortunate time that people pile on you. So you get a lawyer. And you do as you are told: plead the Fifth or go silent. 
Which may keep your hide out of jail. But also damages your reputation forever.
Had you been investing in your credibility all along this may not have happened. You would have your ear to the ground. You would sniff out the slightest hint if a problem. You would banish it right away.
You would do many things on the positive side too. To make sure people know that you are on your game, on your guard and no bullshit allowed.
Like with scandals, people get heart attacks and cancer and we don't totally know why. But we know what habits are associated with disease. High stress, processed food, no sleep and little exercise - e.g. the typical person's life. We have to take active steps to avoid and hopefully reverse these.

Start By Firing Executive Bullies

It is a very big leap from the thesis "fire unproductive workers" to the reality of evaluating true productivity. Some employees are productive but not in ways that are listed in their job description - such as those who simply boost the morale of everybody else. Example - Read about "Zach Galifianakis' Red Carpet Date"

Others do crap work that nobody else will do, that doesn't need to get done, but that the organization requires. They are productive in the sense that they create social stability.

Still others are eager to learn and contribute but make too many mistakes to really generate much in the way of results. They will generate results in the future, but not now.

So what about truly unproductive workers?

Perhaps we should consider seriously evaluating those at the top of the pay scale. If they are receiving a disproportionate share of salary they should be held accountable for generating disproportionately high results, productivity or outcomes.

Comments On A Difficult Custody Case

Yesterday I read the following article, which has generated a firestorm of controversy, mostly anti-Chassidic. Been following the comments and adding my own.

"Ex-Hasidic Mother Loses Custody of Children: Judge orders custody switch, citing concerns that the mother's influence might jeopardize the children's religious upbringing.", May 20, 2013 By Shulem Deen Link here.
It's interesting to observe what happens when social media meets insular community. One thing is clear: people want transparency.
Below are my thoughts on reading the various threads. Bottom line: Nobody knows "the truth" except those who were there and information is more helpful than using gossip and hearsay to advance one's personal agenda.

Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal on May 22, 2013 at 6:27 am

Those who oppose the ruling and attack the judge are missing the bigger picture.

While it is true that the mother is entitled to be non…

(Someone just read this and made a billion dollars.)

There is a converging body of thought suggesting that the workplace of the future will not wait for leaders to find experts   - hierarchy is old school and so is matrix management - too slow, too complicated, impossible to administer. Rather we will assemble "flash mobs" of talent as a job needs to be done, then dissolve them afterward. "In the traditional company -- and agency -- structure, multiple layers of personnel exist for a purpose that often amounts to moving information around...Under the emerging new approach, "what you see happen over and over that you just don't have those middle layers"..."What happens when you release information [is that] people on an individual level create their own networks outside their offices," said Karina Homme, senior director of social enterprise transformation at "People can now create communities around their intere…

A Comment On "So Good They Can't Ignore You" by Cal Newport

Check out this interesting book, here, and discussion at GovLoop. This is a very good example of someone making money off of intentionally controversial hype. The author takes a nugget of truth and blows it up into advice that could seriously harm people. The nugget of truth is that employers reward skill not passion. Passion in fact can get in the way of career success. Why? Because it blinds your judgment when you get emotional about the work. The harmful part is that YOU cannot go to work without some form of motivation. Lots of things are motivating -- subsistence, engagement, meaning, control and empowerment (see Penelope Trunk's excellent blog post here). Work about which you feel passionate is also motivating. When I was young, I studied what I was passionate about - writing - and I have never, ever been sorry about that. I went to a college where I could create my own courses, shape my own major and eventually got a scholarship to study sociology, which is endlessly fascinating …

How Authorities & Experts Can Get Along

What are the rules for an effective working relationship between authorities (leaders and managers) and those with authoritative knowledge (technical experts)?

And the prompt for the question is that this traditionally decent relationship has deteriorated.

Reasons for that disconnect:

1. When younger more inexperienced people manage older experienced people

2. When politicals manage civil servants

3. When external factors prompt a rush to change established norms and safeguards

The step by step deterioration usually goes something like this:

1. Expert sees problem that leader or manager does not OR leader or manager makes unrealistic demands or does something inadvisable

2. Expert tries to bring it to leader or manager's attention

3. Expert is ignored

4. Expert blows whistle

5. Expert suffers retaliation

...and at that point it can easily tip over into an ugly, costly, public, drawn-out legal matter, fodder for the headlines.

From my own observation here are some things that authorities and a…

Marketing:Branding = Microphone:Fingerprint

Marketing consists of all activities associated with creating a customer for your product. So in business marketing is everything, really: "Business exists to create a customer" said Peter Drucker. It's like a microphone in that it builds awareness.
Branding is a subset of marketing, a meta-technique applied to all the assorted activities done in marketing's name. It's what makes you unique - your fingerprint. Branding is "the way we do things," "who we are," "our personality."

Branding is the long-term action of creating perceived value: adding value to your product over and above commodity.

Branding activities have less short-term ROI but they function as long-term insurance when the product is getting best up by the market.

You don't abandon your friends easily.

Think of marketing as generating positive attention for your product and branding as building a cushion underneath it. An insurance policy.
That cushion is that people want…

How To Lose An Interview In 30 Seconds Or Less

Interviews are a contact sport, where verbal sparring replaces fists. Don't ever walk into one unprepared. If you don't know what you're doing, you will get slaughtered.

Here are 10 tips to help you keep your reputation alive, even during the most brutal of Q&A sessions:

1. Know your subject matter cold. There is no such thing as "winging it." Study up. Get coached. Read. This should be happening far out in advance of the interview, because for the 24-48 hours beforehand you won't be able to retain any information by "crashing." If you are very knowledgeable and not just dancing around the facts, people will get that from the ease with which you speak (note they probably won't be able to follow the subtleties nor will they really care).

2. Know the interviewer or reporter. Everything is online nowadays. Study the kinds of questions they tend to ask, the articles they write, their point of view and interests, their interactive style, everything …

Messaging, Helpful and Not

A response to someone's comment about the Sunday talk shows, and learning nothing from them:
Messaging is useful when it helps the subject matter expert (SME) put their response in context rather than having the interviewer create the context for them. SMEs need to have that power because otherwise they are at the mercy of everyone else's agenda, axe to grind, point of view, ideology, etc.Messaging is not useful when it is used to distort or suppress the truth or to propagandize. Not only don't those techniques work, but they have the opposite effect of destroying the speaker's credibility.Over the past 10-15 years or so, coinciding with the rise of branding as a "mass" tool (meaning that everyone "gets" it and uses it for their own gain) -- we have seen the rise of phony marketing speak as a substitute for actual substantive responses to questions. Like others, I find it completely frustrating to watch a TV interview and feel that the speaker is so…

Crises Always Hit At The Level Of The Brand

Screenshot via - Free Educational Resources for Government Lesson Planning

It's a common mistake when it comes to crisis thinking. You see the situation nearsightedly. From a single instance outward, rather than from the outside in.
Consider government. You may think that one agency has little to do with another, and you may be right. But when a crisis hits, every agency becomes the same.
This is because crises always hit at the level of the brand. In the eyes of the American public, the brand is the government in its totality - the collective mush of the legislative, the executive, and the judicial; the civil servants and the "politicals" alike.
Thus a crisis response that is partial cannot ever be effective. Because the brand in its totality is "government" - all of it.
This is easy to see when you think of brands in the private sector. But it's difficult when your brand is not a "brand" in the traditional, fast-moving-consumer-goods sense…

Crises Are Always Predictable

There's this girl we know. Well actually, knew. Committed suicide by train. 
Saw that one coming a mile away.
It's not that I would have used the word "suicide." But "troubled" came into my brain whenever I thought of her. (Occasionally.)
A lifelong celebrity gossip hound, watcher of Donahue and then Oprah, raised in a world largely made up of women, I am highly attuned to drama. And talk of relationship crises. 
It is never a thing that comes by surprise.
I have studied politics, media and PR through the lens of branding for many years. It feels like my whole life.
One thing I've learned: Usually when the scandal does break, it breaks slowly. People don't see it for what it is at the time. It may even be out in the open.
And then suddenly it becomes "a thing."
The way to see crisis is not incidentally -- one thing at a time and not judged by order of magnitude. What you're looking for are patterns -- cracks in an otherwise clean facade.
Those …

The 10 Key Components of Crisis Communication

Screenshot via, "Time Bomb Deals"
The biggest mistake you can make with a crisis is not to expect one to happen in the first place.
Here are 10 elements that should be common to any crisis communication plan:
1. Transparency: Make information and documentation available as much as possible.
2. Accountability: Leadership "owns" the problem, apologies are made, and person/s responsible are disciplined.
3. Immediacy: There is very little pause between incoming questions and outgoing answers.
4. Rationality: There is no handwringing or drama but rather an objective provision of information.
5. Neutrality: Absence of ideological or other bias - only the truth matters.
6. Objective Third Party: Someone with no stake in the game is empowered to investigate and bring findings.
7. Accessibility: Firsthand witnesses and participants are made available to answer questions.
8. Legality: An attorney explains to the public what they have a right to know and what information…

We Are So Addicted To The Idea That Consistency Is Linear

I am weird, yes and I took this photo through the windowpane of someone's trunk, in a parking lot.

The reason I took the photo was that the chart caught my attention. It is not the first time I've seen people literally carrying around these kind of diagram charts in their trunks.

Possibly people in the Washington, D.C. metro area carry these things around because they are wonky policy types or academics very frequently. Maybe they have briefings on the Hill that just can't wait. Or they're consultants who want to show a process in play.

Whatever the scenario I look at these charts and I have to laugh. Because my life is not linear, my mind is not linear and neither is the life or mind of anyone I know.

It is true that I try to break things down into repeatable steps. In fact this is a lot of what I do at work. But I have found over time that steps and processes do not work they way they look on paper. In reality people work in a completely non-linear fashion, for at least …

So Talking Points Are Evil Now?

I get a call the other day: "How are you?" "Honestly," I say, slumping down in my Metro seat, "I am exhausted." And I am exhausted. I'm so exhausted I can't remember what exhausted means. Everybody I know is exhausted. We seem to be running at a faster and faster pace and accomplishing just about...the same as before we were so exhausted. ...back to the conversation. The reply: "Well I can understand that, what with all the talking points going back and forth there in DC." There I am, shoulders down. Literally waves of tiredness flowing upon me. It is late on a Friday, and the work is not done. Higher volume, limited resources, limited time. So much more to go. What do I do all day? Make sure the facts are right...get the facts right. We confuse the outcomes with the tools. When a patient dies on the operating table, we don't stop doing surgery. We do ask - was the surgery necessary? Doctor qualified? Environment sanitary? Were there compli…

Bigger Government Is Not Necessarily Better Government

It took me a long time to figure out what my political views were. It happened through dialogue with friends. We all shared the same kinds of views: * Socially, "live and let live" * Results-oriented * Process-wise, anti-bureaucracy ...and then it dawned on me that I am a Libertarian.  I had a lot of trouble admitting this to myself. After all: * The stereotype of a government worker is that you are all in favor of bloated, big government because it personally benefits you. * The other problem is that there are some people who identify with libertarian views who seem quite nutty. * Finally it seems like some kind of indictment of government to join a political party that seeks to shrink it. But after a lot of thought I've realized that there is a kind of logic to my thinking. * I've always been kind of a reformer in whatever social system I'm in. That's just my nature. * I'm pretty passionate about the missions of the agencies where I've served - protecting vuln…

Remove these 5 stubborn obstacles to workflow

If everyone wants to work better-faster-cheaper why don't we?
Wrong answer: We lack staff, funding, tools, training.
Right answer: We can't talk about the real issues holding us back.
These fall into 5 categories of fear: political, social, psychological, economic, biological.
* Political - I will lose power, influence. * Social - I will lose status, respect. * Psychological - I will feel anxious, jealous, weak, stupid. * Economic - I will lose work, my job. * Biological - I will not survive.
When you want to make a change for the better, focus on addressing the underlying fears.
Get the technical objections out of the way, then approach influential people one at a time.
Find out what the drivers of change really are.
For many, it's a form of cost-benefit: The cost of not learning is greater than the benefit of keeping one's feet stuck firmly in the mud.
You can't force people to change. You can only convince them that efficiency is in their best interests.

Personal Branding (Good), Self-Promotion (Bad)

This is a followup to the earlier post about not hogging the spotlight, which is distinct from the very important personal branding activity that I would recommend for every professional, government or not. Some additional comments in response to a question received on that post-- 1) Every professional should be accumulating things they can take credit for - titles, achievements, degrees, certificates, experiences - these are our trophies. A person won't be able to compete without them. I don't want people to confuse my recommendations on personal branding with thoughts on being a successful change agent. 2) As you get more experienced and go up in the ranks, the kinds of changes you want to introduce are subtler, broader and more sweeping. At that point you must let other people think it's their idea. Not just that -- you have to implant in them this evangelistic mission to motivate others themselves. Think about Starbucks -- it is not about Howard Schultz it's about th…