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CMO + OD = CEO (Uncontrollable Meaning)


The other night I needed help carrying my groceries to the car. I was embarrassed to ask, but I have a bad back and it is sometimes obvious.

The cashier at the grocery store asked me if the person bagging the groceries should also take the stuff to the car and I sheepishly said yes.

I felt bad having someone take my stuff to the car. I don't like asking other people to do what feels like menial work. I don't want to degrade them.

When we got to the car, I turned and said, "If you could help me I would greatly appreciate it, because I have a bad back."

What began as a sort of unimportant, low-level task was elevated right then. It wasn't about loading the groceries in. It was about helping me to not have my back get worse.

 McKinsey has just published an incredibly important article called "How Leaders Kill Meaning At Work" (free with registration) by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer.

It repeats something we already know - strategy without engagement is nothing - but with a disturbing twist:

"Senior executives routinely undermine creativity, productivity, and commitment by damaging the inner work lives of their employees."

In other words, leaders are supposed to make their employees feel valued and like their work is meaningful. But instead they do the opposite: DESTROYING corporate value by undercutting employees' emotional investment in the work at every turn.

Over the past four decades, hearing my grandparents' and parents' stories, my friends and colleagues and going through my own experiences of course, it has continually been amazing to me: Despite lousy bosses of every kind, people get up again and again to try.

People are so stubborn that way. They will make their jobs important. They will care. They will go above and beyond. All of this DESPITE and not because of poor leaders. Despite being told overtly and implicitly, seemingly at every turn, that they can be replaced in a second.

I believe in my heart there is something about being human that makes you want to serve something higher and more, and if you're focused on the meaning behind the work you can do almost anything.

So in a sense a CEO, or any manager, doesn't have to be all that talented to be successful at engaging people: They could more or less get out of the way, stop undercutting employees, and let them find meaning at work on their own.

This would take us in a different direction than Amabile and Kramer suggest. And I think potentially a better one. Follow my logic here.

1. The CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) part

What if CEOs let employees be the determinants of what is important to do at work? (See Vineet Nayar's book, "Employees First, Customers Second.")

For if employees are closest to the customers, then they know best how to keep them and to create more. As Peter Drucker aptly stated, a business (or by extension any enterprise) exists to create customers.

In fact, the CEO's first job is to create customers, NOT to do strategies - which are only roads to the destination of actually selling things to people.

The CEO is therefore the Chief Marketing Officer and every employee is really a business partner.

2. The OD (Organizational Development) part

What if the CEO's second but almost as important job was to make sure that the organizational culture was healthy enough that employee decisions made sense and were not driven by bad factors like groupthink, power politics, and so on?

What if they actively invested in the personal development and organizational culture formed by those employees? So that their second job title involved organizational development?

Because miserable people and dysfunctional groups are ill-suited to seeking out and retaining customers.

I therefore submit to you that the job of a CEO or any organizational leader is to synthesize the marketing function with the organizational development function to produce something I call "uncontrollable meaning."

"Uncontrollable meaning" refers to three new axioms of value creation:

1.  For value to be produced, the customers must want the product (they find it meaningful to their lives) and employees must find meaning in providing it to them. And this applies whether the work is private or public sector. And that meaning is internal to the person feeling it and therefore cannot be controlled.

2. For employees to do anything voluntarily (meaning unless they are being coerced into the job they are doing), they must have an inner life that is robust enough for them to produce, and a group life that is healthy enough to produce together - as a group. In other words, miserable people can't make great choices. But when healthy people make choices they hold on to them with great vigor, because those choices are as near and dear to their hearts as vows.

3. All meaning is produced locally. It is not handed down from "corporate."It exists at the periphery and can only live there, to be funneled back up.

So what is sort of shocking to me is that you have the CEO job defined as strategy + engagement when strategy is more or less irrelevant compared with marketing (because it is an outcome of what the customer wants), AND when so often they are killing the very thing they are supposed to foster.

When I think about it, it sort of makes me wonder how we get anything done at all :-)

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


15 Assorted Tips For Leaders

Based on my own experience:
  1. Provide structure. 
  2. Stick to the structure.
  3. Give other people control.
  4. Ask for negative feedback specifically.
  5. Laugh at yourself as you inevitably make mistakes -- admit it and go on.
  6. Do not reinvent the wheel.
  7. Look to others to contribute their unique skills.
  8. Encourage the shy.
  9. Teach technology actively and avidly. 
  10. Be a champion and advocate for people.
  11. Communicate your passion for the cause.
  12. Find others who can package your ideas for the mainstream.
  13. Be sensitive to others' need to be respected.
  14. Thank people often.
  15. And finally...understand that God is ultimately behind everything. You can only do your part. (If you don't believe in God then surrender control to the universe.)
 We are only human and can only try.

Have a good evening, and good luck!


Originally posted as a comment on GovLoop.

Why Robots Can't Do Advertising

Falcon assembly line, Ford St. Thomas Assembly Plant, 1968

So they asked me to chime in on tagline possibilities for a mentoring program at the last minute.

I was not convinced that a mentoring program actually needs a tagline but since they wanted one, I decided to try.

Not being fully in creative mode at the time I turned to the "Free Slogan Generator" to get me started.

What I came up with was so bad that I feel compelled to tell you: Robots can do a lot of things. But they can't come up with good advertising.

I was a little concerned because I know how people are, but I threw the bad taglines in there just in case.

Sure enough, when they read these two lines out loud, the laughter verged on shrieking. Seriously, I worried that someone would call the police. I believe there was laughter for about three minutes straight. Falling out of the chair guffaws.

Because a computer can come up with cliches but it can't overcome the human tendency to think at the 5th grade level. That's life!

The challenge was to communicate that mentoring programs can help you succeed without sounding like an extension of LinkedIn. I also felt a certain sensitivity about saying that relationships open doors, because it's the government and objectivity and impartiality are important.

These are the taglines I came up with on my own.  My comments are on the right -

The Goods:
  • The Right Relationship Opens Every Door - my favorite - sounds balanced despite the fact that it's talking about relationships
  • Build Your Career, One Relationship At A Time - this one I thought was pretty good - that's what mentoring is!
The Bads:
  • Let Someone Else Invest In Your Success - this sounds like money is being invested; it's really time
  • Work Smarter, Not Harder - too broad
  • Learn the Insiders’ Tips for Success - sounds like a get-rich-quick scheme
It also occurred to me that when you develop a tagline separately from the graphic identifier, a vital piece of the puzzle is missing.

In the end the customer wanted some other lines that aren't listed here. One favorite was, and I quote:
  • Lend a Hand, Take a Hand
Which the others thought was pretty good. I did not think this was so good. I said, "It sounds like a mass murder and there are arms and legs everywhere. I am having thoughts about the Holocaust." Now I always have this sensitivity in the back of my mind so I was being dead serious.

These are wonderful, sensitive people. But they had an image of mannequin arms and legs everywhere. It started them laughing again.

The human mind is a crazy and wonderful and often seemingly irrational thing. Really it is highly logical though. You just can't systematize everything it knows. Our minds operate consciously and subconsciously, and are sensitive to context and culture on myriad levels at once.

And that is why a robot cannot do advertising.

Hope this was good for a bit of a laugh but I mean something totally serious. People are so important - they are what make our organizations flow. You can't automate the humanity out of government, or business.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


Photo: Falcon Assembly Line, Fort St. Thomas Assembly Plant, 1968, from the Elgin County Archives via Flickr

Ignorance Is The Beginning Of Wisdom


The other night I stumbled across an interview Larry King did with Joel Osteen.

If you read my blog you know that I am a huge fan of Osteen's work. As a Jewish person his preaching enriches my faith, bringing hope, positivity, and trust in God.

Clearly Osteen is a spiritually knowledgeable person. But when a viewer, and then King, asked him about whether Christians are privileged in God's judgment over people of other faiths, he said:

"I don't know....only God knows that."

I was sort of startled and dumbfounded at this answer. I think King was too because he asked Osteen again and again to clarify his response. And again and again Osteen said, essentially, that he can only speak the truth as he sees it. That's it.

It occurred to me right then and there that Osteen's answer is the definition of wisdom.

Smart people are able to be ignorant.

Stupid people pretend to have all the answers.

Thousands of years ago (second century CE) there was a Jewish rabbi named Rabbi Akiva. Fascinating information here about how he, too, admitted ignorance and in the process became brilliant.

Rabbi Akiva was a shepherd who came from a family of converts to Judaism. He lacked a "pedigree" and was himself "a completely unlettered and ignorant Jew."

His wife Rachel loved him so much that she stayed with him even as her father "disowned" her.

She sent him away to an important yeshiva to study Torah.

There he committed himself to learning even though he felt extremely daunted. There he was, a middle-aged man who knew nothing and yet seemingly had to learn everything.

His inspiration was a simple stone.

The stone had been "worn away by the drops of water that were constantly falling on it."

The Rabbi decided that his brain was no different than the stone. He kept trying.

Ultimately he came back from yeshiva "revered as the greatest scholar of his time with tens of thousands of students" and was accepted by Rachel's father.

Rabbi Akiva was not afraid to be ignorant. And in his honesty he became a hero and a martyr of the Jewish people. Ultimately the Romans arrested him and tortured him to death.

Conversely, stupid people pretend to have all the answers and they try to make you think they have them too.

To this the Buddha once said, "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it...unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."

I am not familiar with other faiths very much, but I can imagine there are teachings to that effect in Islam and elsewhere. 

The bottom line is, it's great to learn new things, but at the end of the day it's just as important to know that you are ultimately ignorant. Like Albert Einstein once said, "If we knew what we were doing it would not be called research, would it?"

No matter how high you rise in the career ladder, it's OK to admit that you don't know everything - or even perhaps anything at all.

Ignorance is the beginning of wisdom.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


Photo by Brioso via Flickr

Why Strategy Should Start With Practice (Not The Other Way Around)

Homecoming "He's everything I hoped for a...
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Traditionally, a strategist operates remotely from the problem. While this is helpful in that the strategist has access to many different perspectives and can offer an academic response, it is also harmful in that this person is normally not frontline operational.
So we pose abstract problems, get a theoretical analysis, choose a path (for whatever reason, maybe logical and maybe political, cultural, psychological, etc.), write it down, call it a strategy, and then divide it up into parts. Everyone gets a piece to work on.

To my mind that doesn't work because as soon as you start working with a piece you get all sorts of problems that couldn't be envisioned at the abstract level.

Preferable to me is to start with the people who are at the front line, who would feel the impact of the desired end state the most. Give them NOT a strategy but a problem and then ASK them to fix it.

The people who work on the problem will be located in many different geographical locations, normally. They can develop a solution to their piece of the puzzle and then offer it up to others for analysis. A substantial number of problem-solvers working together can amalgamate a solution that is then distilled upward and pronounced a vision.

Here is the difference:

* Model 1: New parent reads a psychoanalytic best practice book on parenting and tries to implement it with baby. Can the parent implement that advice or does it need some adapting to the person's unique reality?

* Model 2: New parent has child, talks to other parents and goes online to read about particular issues, and basically crowdsources a philosophy of childrearing.

In a sense this is a feminist analysis of strategy.

- The dominant model is to isolate strategy from practice, formulate it in a hierarchical manner, and "distribute it" top-down with little specialized pieces going from person to person. Makes sense logically but with real people rarely works.

- The feminist model, a.k.a. the social media approach, has crowdsourcing via multiple nodes of interconnected networks, with none privileged over another, and the result emerging from practice rather than theory.


Originally posted as a comment on GovLoop.
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Corporate Attire Strangles Innovation

An illustration of a character from a story; a...
Image via Wikipedia
Look around yourself on the way to work one day. Look at yourself.

If you dress like a robot how are you going to think?

If you only hire robots, what does that say about your no-doubt often-expressed wish for unbridled, groundbreaking creativity?

The main purpose of professional clothing is to serve as a symbol. Clothes tell us what behavior to expect:

- A military uniform says "ready to kill."

- Jogging clothes and sneakers say "high achiever"

- A business suit says "takes orders well, socially appropriate, suitably skilled."

...and so on.

In the competitive world we now face, innovation is more important than ever.

- Warriors are helpful but not enough, because we all have firepower.

- Motivated people aren't enough because so many of us are hungry.

- And social graces-plus-MBA are unfortunately a dime a dozen.

What we need now are people who break every.single.mold.

If you only look for people who add B+ value, you end up at the bottom of the heap.

Encourage mad scientists and kids who can't take orders. Find out what makes them tick and hire them to think for you. Let them come to work in combat boots, with tattoos, or ten piercings all told.

Simple recipe for an A+ organization: Set the clothing, and the innovation, free. Trust the best and the brightest to be themselves.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

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Always Forward, Never Back

This weekend I watched two seemingly unrelated movies, "The Help" and "The Debt."

One is a story about the Civil Rights Movement, and the other is about the Holocaust.

But in the end I realized they had a lot in common:

1. The experience of being victimized for race or nationality or gender, or a combination of these.

2. The need to regain self-empowerment after being victimized.

3. Being torn between morality (seeking justice) and hate (seeking revenge).

4. The strange fact that victims and their victimizers often share close emotional bonds.

5. The inner struggle between moving forward and going back.

It is the last one that is most important for branding.

The key point to remember - the difference between movies and marketing - is:

1. Art done well takes you anywhere in time, moves time around, shifts you back and forth from past to future and back. You are fully immersed in the experience so tenses don't matter.

2. With branding you always should go forward. Even when you are looking back nostalgically, as with heritage brands like Ralph Lauren and Coca-Cola, it should always be from the perspective of how the past can inform the future.

In times of rapid change, a future orientation becomes ever more important to survival.

Imagine you are standing on a road in your hometown when a volcano eruption hits and the lava spills out, up to your feet.

You can't go home anymore. You can't stand still. You can only run forward, away, out.

In both movies I saw this weekend, the characters are torn between the past and the future. Times are changing and the volcano has hit.

In both movies, the ones who survive - well they came to the road with their sneakers on to start with.

Repetition repetition repetition repetition. Repeat.

English: A8 Autostrasse Switzerland. DF08 2004...
Image via Wikipedia
It's already well established that the way you act determines your mindset and your reality.
  • Smile and you become a positive person and you draw blessings your way.
  • Kvetch and complain and you make yourself miserable and push the world away as well. 
We already know that you can't wait to feel good to get out there and achieve. You just do it.

What we don't usually realize is that there is more to "acting as if" than the mere acting.

A critical aspect of this method is the repetition that it involves. Just like with the "over and over" quality of brand reinforcement, you create success in any area through the behaviors that you repeat.
  • If you want a promotion, you repetitively dress, act, interact, and behave like a higher-level executive.
  • If you want a healthier lifestyle, you repetitively do healthy things until eating fruits and vegetables becomes a part of your "natural" state of being. (More on that in a minute.)
  • If you want to become more religious or convert religions, you adopt the mannerisms of the new lifestyle until it becomes your own.
The reality is that there is no such thing as a "natural" state of being. "Natural" in fact is socially and personally constructed.

The way to do something new, the way to achieve the next level in your life, is to:
  1. Visualize the end state in your mind - what do you look like? Literally.
  2. Act like that person - imitate them.
  3. Repeat the imitation over and over again until it becomes your own.
Just like you can invent a brand out of nothing, you can take your life in any direction you choose.

There really are no limits.

Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!
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