If the data has no story attached - probably not.
You can give them a gigabyte of words and numbers and photos in an email. Who cares?
If they don't know why it matters then it's easy to hit "delete."
My experience has been that people expect very little from corporate communication. They know it is sensitive. A little hint goes a long way.
But covering the lack with oceans of no-context "information" doesn't cover it either. In fact it can make things worse - just like drinking salty ocean water when you're stranded in a boat.
Most of the time those stories are out there. Not on big broadcast emails. But in small informal gatherings where they must be shared. To make the speaker seem human, the organization real. To break the ice.
There are differences between audiences at work when it comes to communication preferences. There are those who already know the stories because they live them firsthand. For them the more raw the data the better.
Others are very far from the core. They don't know what's "really going on" and they need to in order to feel engaged.
The more shared story exists between organization and worker, the less explanation is required in any single instance. And then the data can speak for you.
It's about turning your heterogeneous dispersed workforce population into a nimble cohesive group that feels like a SWAT team.
To get real stories out takes a lot if courage at first. It means being real. The task is to share the conflict and the drama, the real challenges and how they are or are not resolved.
Communicating this way requires what Rabbi Nachman of Breslov called a "broken" heart. Not a depressed or pessimistic view. But rather the kind of openness that comes from realizing how fractured and uncontrollable any circumstance can be.
The stance of "broken" is not at all weak - not by a long shot. It is strength in humility and honesty before G-d (the Divine, the Universe) that witnesses and gives life to all things.
Broken communication is telling the story as a kind of living testimony. Neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, but always a struggle to achieve the mission.
Stories. Brokenness. Conflict. Drama.
A good laugh.
These are the things that people want to read. And once they get it, a little information goes a long way.
In the branding world there are only two things: superficial perception and the inside story.
There is no reality. There is only data. Data means nothing until you give it a frame. Nobody cares about the truth. (What is truth anyway? What is meaning? Graduate school made all that stuff debatable.)
Branding is a game of chicken. I put a story out there (the message), backed by an inside story (the framing of data), and you match me with two levels of perception. The first is what you think without thinking. The second is what you think upon consideration.
Now to Marissa Mayer. She has a serious problem on her hands. Which is that while the data may support her business decisions, her poor choices in communication have created a lot of negative noise around her personal brand. Translated into plain English that means: she's losing credibility as a leader.
From a completely outside perspective, watching only the news and the social media space, here are the communication mistakes she is making. All of them have to do with being tone-deaf when it comes to the brand.
Usually it's good to hire a high-profile, powerful-seeming person to turn a tanking brand around. But Mayer seems to have grabbed the spotlight. I seem to read about her in the news as much or more than I read about Yahoo. These days leadership is about helping the workforce to accomplish great things, not the genius leader. It's a lesson we all painfully learned when Steve Jobs passed (RIP).
Mayer comes off as a privileged person who has never had to work a day in her life. Maybe she had good reason to end telecommuting - maybe the workforce was taking advantage - maybe they were doing that a lot. But the fact that she built her own nursery at work and then denied others the same flexibility seems hypocritical. She should have known what people would think, and anticipated that in her communication on the subject.
Internal memos are routinely leaked these days. Media and social media scrutiny is ruthless. A skilled leader anticipates potential public relations crises and has a plan for addressing them, primarily going on the attack before the attacks come in. Mayer always seems like a deer caught in the headlights.
I've been reading about various things Mayer has been doing to try and turn Yahoo! around. Some of them seem good - particularly her personal focus on new hires. Others I can't figure out, at least from a branding perspective. As others have pointed out, why would she go on the Today show to announce the new homepage when they have a partnership with ABC and Good Morning America?
5) A Darwinian Approach
The worst mistake Mayer is making has to do with how she treats people. There are iPhones, free food - and unrealistic deadlines. While everybody wants to excel, it is infuriating to bring your boss an idea and have her take it, then threaten to throw you out if you can't deliver it irrationally early:
"Mayer told the team she loves the new product so much that she wants it shipped by December 1 – months ahead of the schedule the team itself had put together. Mayer told the team they had one week to figure out if they could meet this deadline. If, at the end of that week, the team decided they would not be able to meet the December 1 deadline, Mayer said she would find a team that could." - Business InsiderHad Mayer first looked at the Yahoo heritage and isolated its "Brand DNA" - or what made it great in the first place - she could have worked with the workforce to revitalize the company and bring it back to health along a steady path. Instead her moves seem disjointed and erratic. She needs to mend fences with her team, put them out front, then explain what the company is doing, why and how - over and over again.
As always, all opinions are my own.
- Mission specialist - deep subject matter familiarity with the specific mission of the agency.
- Communication specialist - ensure the flow of relevant, timely information internally, externally, etc.
- Relationship Specialist - help people to get along with one another.
- Data Specialist - find information needed at any given point in time from the masses of data out there.
- Technology Specialist - ensure that the most innovative and useful tools are being applied to do the job.
Iyanla Vanzant on ABC News
"Data, data everywhere" - and sometimes there is not a drop of insight to drink.
Don't get me wrong. I love data. Data takes us out of superstition, the Dark Ages of trusting opinion over fact.
But data can also be an excuse and an enabler of dysfunction. Data is sometimes our way of saying - "I don't want to see what I know is right in front of me."
Branding, really is intangible data. It's perception. You can't see it, you can't measure it, you can't prove it - and that kind of data is routinely ignored or dismissed as "not real."
She has overcome unbelievable obstacles and emerged to help the rest of us. Here are a few short videos that capture her in action. If you have a few minutes I hope that you will discover her contributions and think about the ways we can use them to improve the day-to-day work of government.
Video #1: "Do The Work"
- When there is a breakdown in a relationship, you must have the hard conversation.
- If you're willing to listen, if you're willing to tell the truth, it will open up.
- People are estranged because they don't have the tools to heal the relationship. They've got to do the work.
- You've got to be willing to be wrong about what you thought, what you judged, what you said, what you did.
- You've got to be willing to see another perspective.
Video #2: "Call A Thing A Thing"
- The only thing that goes on in your life is what you allow to go on in your life.
- You want to control people. Because as long as you're in control, you're safe.
- This is not about them, this is about you.
- You say one thing, expect something else, and when you get what you (said you wanted), you beat them up about it. And that's your racket.
- The truth will set you free.
- But to get to freedom, you've got to climb the barbed wire.
- If you can't face it, you can't heal it.
- If you can't say it, you will never come to grips with it.
- Go there.
- That's not a picture, that's your life. Look at it. What do you see?
2. Forward your calls to Google Voice - it transcribes the voicemails.
3. Doodle.com saves time scheduling meetings.
4. The 99 cent iVocal app for iPhone lets you talk-to-text (email or SMS). Set up a contact called "dictation" with your email address and use that for voice notes.
5. The Blogger app is handy for blogging during a boring train commute.
2. Instead, force yourself to take a break from work by working hard at other productive things.
3. Redefine for yourself what productivity means. If being a good partner or parent is one of your goals, then pure relationship time is productive.
4. Measure and manage your soft skills over time. Listening for example is an extremely challenging thing to do if you are an action-oriented person. Improved listening skills quickly yield tangible results - e.g. you understand people and situations better - and this can encourage you to develop such skills further.
5. "Play" hard. Workaholics are usually intense types. Do exciting non-work things or do boring things in an exciting way. Hiking without a compass is exciting because you can get lost. Grocery shopping where you time yourself to get it done in 29 minutes or less is exciting because it's a race against time.
6. Do freelance work, teach or volunteer. It is true that the busier you are doing different things the more you get done. It's like with eating - if you have many different foods on your plate you will eat more than if there was just one food.
7. Entertainment is a great way to unwind and also immerse yourself in another activity with no demands. Also, when you rest your mind in this way, your creativity gets sparked because you get into the story. This enhances the other things you are working on in reality.
- I don’t know how to do that (so I can't evaluate your idea)
- Sounds nice, but it would be extremely difficult (so we shouldn't try)
- No matter what we do it won’t matter - we’re just pawns in a larger game - they're out to get us - it's their fault
- I don’t like technology
- I don’t like your idea
- I don’t like you
- Technology is for the young people
- Bureaucracy is so old-school (e.g. for older people)
- You haven't been here long enough to understand
- That would never work around here
- This is the government not the private sector
- False Logic
- There is a flaw in your thinking (so the whole idea is unworkable)
- Somebody else has to do it first
- We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work
- I would need to see more data on that
- Everybody knows that's ridiculous
- I don't see the logic
- Blame/Threaten The Messenger
- You're being a little negative aren't you?
- You need to be more of a team player (drink the Kool-Aid) (more loyal)
- Change agents don’t last
- Why do you care so much?
- Invoke “crazy”
- You’re crazy
- That’s crazy
- It’s crazy
- I’m Smarter Than You
- I’ve been around a lot longer so I know...
- I’m an expert so let me tell you a thing or two
- Things are more complicated than you realize
- False Prophecy
- That will never happen
- In a few years it won’t matter because...
- It’s A Resource Issue
- If only we had more money...
- ...more staff
- ...more time
That's not really true. You can do a lot to build a personal brand that's easier and faster than a blog.
Plus the blog is often not connected to a professional lesson. I'm never sure where it comes from. Like a rock bouncing down a mountain the words sort of hit me in the head first, then are filtered through my heart. Boom, boom, boom. It hits the page.
Why take the time out of everything else in life that is fun, and potentially useful? It's not like there are millions of comments, or a big book deal waiting at the end of the line.
One answer, I think, comes down to control. Often it's like you're just walking down the street and life just gets you. Like a mugger who hits you in the head and takes your purse - you're simply helpless. Gasping for a breath.
Powerlessness is the moment of sitting there on the sidewalk, stunned.
Empowerment is shifting from the posture of defeat to to the mode of observation, then action.
You step outside your heaving body and take a good long look. Why were you hit in the first place? Were you distracted by the iPhone and the mugger caught you unawares? Did you take a bad turn at night down an isolated street?
This is not to suggest that blogging is an exercise in self-blame or a way to gain a false sense of control. It is to say that once you observe and document an experience, you give yourself a chance to learn.
In learning mode, mistakes become part of a bigger picture. The context is your journey in life from being less enlightened to more. The pain you experience at any moment in time is not only unavoidable. It's critical to growing as a human being.
So you write your life, or document it in pictures or music or any method you choose. What happens to all that?
Some people are more reserved - they put those lessons in a box in the drawer.
Others, like me and a lot of people - choose to post online, or publish a book. For a lot of reasons.
- It keeps me honest. Self-deception is very obvious in a blog.
- It helps to turn difficult experiences into a story with a meaningful lesson.
- I gain strength from seeing that effort is worth the result in the long-term.
- I feel like I'm helping other people and more broadly the community to accomplish positive change.
- Though a little laborious, it does build a consistent personal brand - which is important professionally.
If you have the impulse to express yourself, I hope that you take it that way too.
Trust in the Universe, trust in your gift, go forth and share it.
2. That executives won't talk - they will, but official communication is closely coordinated internally and externally and at all levels, for accuracy and consistency. They are very focused on getting it right.
3. That writers are devalued - the opposite is true, very good writers are highly valued and kept close.
4. That there is fear of negative feedback - it's not a fear, it's more like a desire for positivity and a solution orientation amid all the sniping, griping or silence.
5. That metrics are ignored in favor of subjective judgment - close attention is paid to whatever metrics are rigorous and available.
* All opinions my own.
Instead of taking what we see at face value - what they look like, what they say, what their resumes offer as narrative - it might be more useful to go a step beyond.
What if we looked at people (and groups, and institutions) as collections of experience, repositories of intention, higher beings with a mission in life?
What if we took in their energy, their histories, the memories they hold and the cultures that have shaped them?
What if we knew the families and relationships that our colleagues hold dear - or have hated?
I have never for once in my life believed that work is impersonal. Or that it can be divorced from your self. Your soul.
The truth is we are who we are all the time. And to deal with people well at work, you must understand the inner factors that drive them.
You may not have time, energy or inclination to pay attention to all this. But that sad reality makes it no less important to do so.
At the very least you can recognize - when you interact with anyone - that there is a wealth of background on their part, shaping their perceptions of you.
To find out who they are all you have to do is focus. Take the time to listen, question and observe. Try to find out what makes the clock tick -- the history in all its seen and unseen drama.
If you really take the time to work with others as human beings, they will likely give you the same privilege. And when you screw up, as everybody does, your character -- as exhibited through steady interaction over time -- will bear witness.
Slow down, pay attention, and pull up a chair. Sometimes the best thing you can communicate is nothing. Preferring instead to let others share a bit of themselves with you.
One of these is staying quiet when you have a valid point to make.
In battle situations this rule makes sense. War is not brainstorming. The leader makes the call.
But winning in the modern, knowledge-based and collaboration-based business world has different metrics. It's impossible to know or control all. So leaders have to take good advice. More than that. They will fail, utterly, without it.
Many people are afraid they don't have good advice to share. For whatever reason - they don't feel adequate. They censor themselves before one word comes out.
What's sad, and wasteful is that usually honest feedback makes some sense. We do not like to hear it, often, but its absence sends us spinning off into mistake-ville. The house of mirrors. Where we hear and see only ourselves. (Agreeing with every last word.)
We ought not punish people who give feedback. But the fact that we do is not a great excuse for its avoidance.
Instead, what's helpful is to learn better tools for sharing what we think. Emotional intelligence. Judgment. Creativity. Timing.
It is very very hard to say tough things. It can be dangerous if you swing that blade the wrong way.
But at the end of the day I think most recipients of that feedback know your true intentions.
If you say it sincerely, appropriately and you mean it for the good, most of the time you should be OK.
Even if it happens that you get misunderstood - and it will because no communication is perfect - you can persist and use the moment to start dialogue.
Life is a relay race, not a marathon or a sprint. You owe it to the team to pass that baton with best effort.
- The bad news is that hunting down answers always involves some form of challenge.
- The good news is that you can turn it into an art.
- Short but doable deadlines: Pressure makes for action. But if there's no chance of meeting the deadline people won't bother.
- Be Specific: Phrase the request in terms of the concrete rather than the abstract. If there is a constraint associated with the information, include that (e.g. fiscal year) but if not, be clear that any information is useful.
- Get The Source: Ask for a link to the original information or the original document. Along the way, find out if the data is a matter of public record or not, and treat it accordingly.
- Clarify Your Authority: Unless they're especially kind, most people will not give much weight to your request unless they feel they must respond. Explain explicitly or implicitly why you have the right to ask.
- Be Polite: Really, you're not G-d. Be nice.
- Restrict The Hours: Unless it's an emergency, bother people during a defined timeframe if possible. People can be trained to expect your interruptions, but if you are constantly and unpredictably intruding on their work, they will start to ignore you.
- Minimize Email Attachments: Store primary documents in the cloud and refer people to the link. Don't get stuck in the mini-mass email drama where someone has the latest version and it's impossible to track down.
- Use a POC: While it's convenient in theory to reach out directly to subject matter experts, a designated point of contact for inquiries is preferable. This person will be closer to the experts and will know when it's OK to ping them, and when to leave them alone. They will also be more likely to distribute your question to the right people.
- Check The Process: While it's important to deal with the matter at hand, it's even more important to make things better for next time. If you see that things tend to get stuck at a certain point in the process, apply Drano and then think like a plumber. How can you and the team get rid of the clog?
- Don't Overuse The Panic Button: There are always quick-response data calls. But if you're constantly asking for things as though the need were dire, then your words become not believable.
But that doesn't stop people from trying.
The way to tell truly authentic people from gamers is that relevant honesty stings.
When you ask someone, "How did I do?" and they say "Actually, not so well, and here's why" and it's accurate - that is valuable feedback. But it hurts, too.
People who step up to leadership roles - be they formal or in the community - are required to say uncomfortable things.
That is the essence of leadership: corrective vision, phrased as an actionable path.
People in leadership roles who talk, but say nothing, are just fakers. The market does not have much room for them, and even that gap is shrinking.
Say something of value, that is true - even true for you. Or don't say anything at all.
To make matters worse it’s intimidating to put yourself out there (“what if I say the wrong thing?”) and uncomfortable to be “self-promotional.)
Nevertheless you have to do it - because LinkedIn, like physical exercise, healthy eating or financial planning, works best as long-term insurance not as a short-term salve. It is reputation management in the form of a living, breathing, online resume.
Note that exercise, salad and money-saving are not fun things to do. But medicine, including preventive medicine, is often bitter.
You make an upfront investment (the profile) followed by a little deposit at a time (status updates, keeping accomplishments and projects current), and in so doing establish a professional brand that is real, consistent and stable.
Plus you can export your profile as a PDF and use it as your resume, so no need for separate documents.
The colleagues you work with every day look to your LinkedIn profile to establish your credibility. Not to Facebook where you post pictures of your cute kids, cat and dog and where you don’t want them to find you. Not to Twitter which is crowded. Not to email where they’re drowning with day-to-day work responsibilities.
Why Status Updates?
Status updates are the most important aspect of your LinkedIn profile after your photo, headline and basic information. They show you’re a thinking person who is committed to their profession consistently. If you used to use Twitter for status updates, note that it doesn’t send your status updates to LinkedIn anymore, but LinkedIn goes to Twitter.
Note that status updates do not imply original thinking. They can be you sharing original thinking, too. When you come across a headline that strikes you and that is relevant to your field, share it along with the link and let it go to your Twitter. (Make sure your profile photo matches on both sites, and that your name on Twitter relates to your personal brand.)
Update your status at least once a day.
The Profile: What To Focus On, Most Important First
- Profile photo. Don’t want to think about this? Embarrassed? Choose a day when you’re wearing a grownup outfit (shirt with collar, blazer, etc.) anyway. Get a smartphone, stand in where natural light is facing you, aim the camera at yourself, point and shoot. Email the photo to yourself. Crop it. Now you can post the photo to LinkedIn. We need to see your face. Don’t be all weird and shadowy.
- Headline. This is not your job title. Make something up that describes very well who you are and what you do well professionally. I was torn between “Brand Savant” and “Problem-Solver.” I chose the former because it’s unique. Both phrases could have worked.
- Current position. If you’re unemployed, it should show that you volunteer or are engaged in some career-worthy, financially in demand pursuit. For example let’s say you are in school learning to sell real estate. This is your current position. Do not write “student of life.”
- Previous positions. Do not provide a laundry list of every single thing you’ve ever done in an unfocused way. The narrative should tell a consistent story. Mine is about breaking through barriers with communication as the tool. You’ve done amazing things. Don’t be shy about sharing them.
- Additional information. A lot of people ignore this. Do not ignore it. You have done, over the course of your life, tons of things that are professionally interesting and useful. Were you around during the Y2K computer coding crisis? Did you stay at work all night fixing things so the systems wouldn’t shut down? That is a major project! Own it.
Complex Issues and How To Deal With Them
- Personal Brand vs. Professional Brand: Representing your organization is very tricky. If you do it, you’ve just tied your personal brand with your professional brand. Only do this if you are a C-level executive or if you own your company and the two reputations are tied together anyway. (If you choose to go this route make it very clear that the profile is a hybrid and distinguish what elements of it are your own, e.g. your status updates.)
- Quality vs. Quantity of Contacts: You want to connect with the right people not the right number of people. However, keep in mind that contacts are a gateway to other important contacts you don’t even know yet. These can be people who teach you, not just people who give you a job.
- “It Doesn’t Sound Like Me”: People are very self-conscious about promoting themselves. That’s natural. But often that leads them to write very badly when it comes to their own resumes. That is essentially what LinkedIn is - a living, breathing resume. If you don’t feel comfortable promoting yourself there, find someone who can help.
- Nasty Exchanges: It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen that people say nasty things to you on LinkedIn. Usually this is when you’re participating in a group discussion. If you work for the government and participate in an open forum expect to be personally attacked. My favorite is: “Since when does the government need a Ph.D. in marketing?” (I have a Ph.D. in sociology.) You do not have to respond to these. On the bright side, sometimes a seemingly nasty person can wind up a valuable teacher. One such person wound up sharing so much genuine insight in a group that it was like attending a graduate seminar in branding - priceless information. Plus she gave me good, free advice about my profile and how I sounded online. Finally, know that most exchanges are positive.
Paying For Help
Don’t get soaked, but don’t expect to pay peanuts either. A really good profile should take about 5-10 hours to put together; an excellent writer charges about $125 an hour; so at the most expensive end of the scale you would pay $1250. It will take more time, and more money, if you want to optimize your personal brand across Twitter, Facebook, etc. and make everything consistent.
If you are not an executive, but you need some help, look around you. You probably have a professional colleague, friend or family member willing to help out, if you will let them. If that won’t work, try a freelance service like Elance.com where you can get writing help for a modest charge. Any objective advice, taken sensibly, will elevate your professional presence about 50%.
1. Yes budget cuts are coming.
2. Yes we are at risk.
3. Yes we have some room to cut.
4. Yes your performance as a group can improve.
5. Yes we can tell you what improvement looks like.
6. Yes we will train you, if you commit to the plan for improvement.
7. Yes we want your ideas on how to save money.
8. Yes we want you to stay here.
9. Yes your years of service mean something to us. The more the better.
10. Yes we are in it together.
Note: All opinions my own.
When was the first time you realized yours was fallible?
Probably around 1976, my Dad and I spent some time, once, feeding the birds on our back porch.
That is literally my only such memory. After that he traveled a lot. I got souvenirs from an extended trip to Korea. At home, rarely saw him except to argue this or that.
Decades later. My Dad and I are actually friends now. I have become very similar in fact. Work too much, obsessed with technology, jokesters, politically almost completely aligned.
I spent 25 years angry at my Dad before we got to this place. And now - I'm over it. I think I realized that I am human just like he is. And responsible to make my own life worthwhile - not to wait for him or anyone to take care of me.
Mostly when we are angry at our leaders for disappointing us - we are working through some anger at Dad.
Maybe when we forgive him without false justifications, we can evaluate our leaders' foibles more objectively. Appreciate the good we've inherited. And stop making mistakes we have the power to control ourselves.
- Employees are more mobile than ever. They stick around only as long as the job makes financial, logistical and emotional sense to them. When they leave, information and insight departs with them.
- New information comes at the organization more quickly than ever. It's carried into the organization by employees as well as external stakeholders who interface with employees. As well as by the media, Congress, organization-watchers and so on who simply discuss the organization outside its walls. We are constantly bombarded with data.
- The insight generated by this information changes the scope of our projects, creates requirements for new projects, and obliterates the need for old ones.
Conferences and self-help books promote lofty ideas. At work that means empowerment, collaboration, "going virtual," and so on.
But when it's time to actually implement a vision it's wise to never talk about it on that abstract level.
Instead start with a requirement that is very specific and preferably tied to the introduction of a new technology.
You let people know way ahead of time that the requirement is coming. You talk about it frequently, knowing that most of what you say - if not all of it - will be ignored as people cling to the old way.
When the requirement arrives you let people continue to work the old way for a period of time that feels lengthy enough. Even if it does not feel efficient to you.
You hold meetings and training sessions and brown bags and forums where you talk about the technology tool - only briefly touching on the requirement if at all.
The people doing those sessions should be focused on building good relationships as well as on understanding the way things traditionally have been done.
There should be ample time built in for questions and for things to get off track.
People who resist the change usually have a good reason for doing so. Listening to and engaging with them means they will convince everybody else to go along.
You don't talk about trying to do a culture change when you're doing it. That much is axiomatic. You can tout it when you write the case study at the end.
But I think it's also fair to say - "most people's happy moments go completely unnoticed."
The other night, motivational speaker Tony Robbins appeared on Piers Morgan's talk show.
He said happiness comes from living a meaningful life. Set a goal, make a plan, find joy in a journey that matters.
Nothing new to talk about that.
What's novel is to choose a path that is meaningful FOR YOU.
I've never believed that you cleanly set goals and reach them. Too much happens to interfere with such a simple path.
Rather I believe that life throws you a baseball. You lean in with your baseball bat and give it a "thwack."
Somewhere in the process of being bombarded and hitting back, you clear a path forward and hopefully, occasionally -- or even once -- strike it big.
When you have those moments it is likely that nobody knows. Or cares. The only one who is truly aware of the significance is you.
And that's because you've spent so much time and energy building up toward that moment. Against every obstacle, you stayed the course, even plowed ahead.
Don't think you have to be Zuckerberg or Branson or Trump to be a winner. Not everything can, or even should, go on your résumé.
In the end the biggest winners in life walk around with quiet contentment on their faces. They put in the effort and climbed the mountain. And it shows.