Archive for December, 2009

Merry Christmas, everyone. 🙂

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Supergenius is this Wednesday in Chicago, and guess what: I’ll be there to discuss (you guessed it) R.O.I.

What else will be going on at Supergenius? Case studies, how-to sessions, and real-world business development, marketing, WOM and Social Media lessons from companies like Starbucks, Intuit, Lego, Coca Cola, Graco, etc. It’s going to be pretty badass.

AND, since it’s GasPedal honcho Andy Sernovitz’ birthday today, please join me in wishing him a very Joyeux Anniversaire.

If you haven’t registered yet, be sure to do so asap ,procrastinator! (And be sure to use the discount code in the above image to save a few bills.)

In case you have no idea what I am going to talk about, here is the interview (audio) I did with Supergenius a few weeks ago. It covers a few things:

Go check out the rest of the deets here, and I hope to see you there.

(Now can you crank up the thermostat up there? I’m getting reports of not-very-warm weather. Cheers.)

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Time to bring this post back for a second round.

This post is the continuation of a discussion started on Marketing Profs’ LinkedIn group on July 7th. (If you don’t yet subscribe to the group, consider becoming a part of it.)

Today’s video is actually two videos in one:

The first half (Part 6 of our Social Media ROI series) deals with defining ROI once and for all.

The second half (Part 7 of our Social Media ROI series) starts touching on the “how” of calculating the ROI of Social Media by outlining the investment-action-reaction-impact-return narrative.

If the video doesn’t load for you, you can go watch it here.

Let me start today’s post with a confession: Like many people in the business world, I have abused the term “ROI” from time to time. Yes, I admit it, even I have used “ROI” as a relative term on a number of occasions in the past. I’m not proud of it, but there it is.

Here are some examples of what I am talking about:

  • Q: What’s the ROI of adding 100 miles to my weekly cycling training?
  • A: Faster race times.
  • Q: What’s the ROI of writing better blog posts?
  • A: More traffic on my blog.

It’s easy to do, especially since sometimes, what you invest into something isn’t necessarily $$$. Perhaps you invested sweat. Perhaps you invested time. Perhaps you invested emotions. It doesn’t really matter. The point is that when the currency is variable, how you measure the “I” in ROI becomes variable as well. For lack of a better term, you start to refer to any kind of positive outcome as “ROI” even when you shouldn’t. It’s an easy habit to fall into, and if you aren’t careful, your definition of ROI can begin to get a little fuzzy. So I get it: I understand why this is confusing to so many folks, especially when it gets thrown into the world of Social Media.

But I’ve also spent enough time with executives (on the client side) to know that when THEY talk about ROI, the currency is NOT relative. In business terms, the currency implied in any ROI question or discussion is cold hard cash. Period.

Marketing professionals need to understand this: If the investment (the “I”) is $$$, then the return also has to be $$$. It can’t be eyeballs or impressions or clickthroughs. You have to tie your results to a $ amount. Anything short of that, and you’re not proving your value to your boss or client.

It isn’t to say that eyeballs, impressions and clickthroughs aren’t important. They are. But they’re one link (of the action-reaction-outcome narrative) shy of ROI. (They don’t tie the investment to the actual return.)

The best way to explain that narrative is this way:

$ Investment by company –> Action –> Reaction –> Non-financial impact –> Financial impact $

As explained above in the video, the relationship between a company’s investment and the return on that investment pretty much looks like this:


What happens between the investment and the financial impact (the return on that investment) is VERY important. And we’ll talk about the importance of monitoring and measuring it in order to tie the investment to the associated financial impact (and ROI) in future posts. But for now, I want to focus on the fact that eyeballs, impressions, positive WOM and social mention, even click-throughs and net new visits to websites do not constitute relevant currency when we are talking about ROI. Social media is no different here than any other business endeavor in this regard.

Impressions, eyeballs, net new visitors, etc. are forms of non-financial impact. In order to determine ROI, you have to take them to the next step: How they affect financial impact. THEN and only then can you tie the original investment to the return (financial impact/outcome).

roi1I know that bringing “media” measurement into the ROI equation is tempting , especially for folks with agency or media measurement backgrounds. That’s what the model has been for PR, Advertising and other marketing-specific firms for decades. And again media measurement is vital here, but when it comes to calculating ROI, that type of measurement is a lot like calculating a crop’s yield by estimating how many of X number of planted seeds will germinate come harvest time. It doesn’t work that way. You have to roll up your sleeves come harvest time *and physically count what the actual yield is. You actually have to do the work. ROI isn’t about potential. It’s about actual performance.

(*Luckily there is no seasonal constraint like a “harvest” in the business world, so ROI measurement – like most performance measurement – can be continuous.)

In order to adequately determine ROI, you must first understand how all the pieces fit. You have to see the entire equation, from start to finish. There is an order to how things happen, how, and why. You have to see how A leads to B leads to C in order to understand how an investment turns into a success or a failure, and to what degree. You also have to understand that the value of a pair of eyeballs, of an impression, is subjective until that pair of eyeballs actually does something. Then the body attached to that pair of eyeballs becomes one of three things: A browser, an influencer or a transacting customer. The first two don’t actualize a financial impact (yet). The third does. That’s where we want to focus when dealing with ROI.

Though we can infer and assign an estimated $ value to browsers and influencers, these values are subjective at best , usually measured in hindsight, and subject to change at any moment for any reason. So their value still falls into the category of non-actualized potential for now. (We will look at the financial impact of influencers in an upcoming post. No worries.) For the purpose of ROI calculation, however, you want to work with cold hard numbers. Not estimates, not potential, not yet-to-happen transactions, but “actualized dollars.” Real revenue from actual sales. Financial returns you can take to the bank and tie step by step through the above chain back to the initial investment.

(Incidentally, financial impact (ROI) manifests itself either as increased revenue or cost savings. Sometimes, ROI is revenue-neutral but cut costs internally. The model I just described above applies ti revenue-generated ROI.)

All of this to say that we have to be VERY careful not to a) mistake non-financial impact with ROI, and b) not to try and redefine “ROI” when dealing with business execs. (They won’t buy into “Return on Influence” or “Return on Interest” for very long, and anyone using these terms runs the risk of losing credibility with pragmatic decision makers in the C-suite.) Social Media is fun, but this is not a game. If a client doesn’t ask about ROI, great! Awesome. They probably get how Social Media is going to help them build relationships with customers and improve everything about their business. So to them, ROI is implied. It’s understood. It isn’t something they are going to worry about anytime soon. But when a client DOES ask about ROI, you have to a) understand what they are asking, and b) know how to adequately answer their questions and put measurement systems in place that will suit their needs and particular culture.

I hope this was helpful. Next, we’ll talk about the importance of timelines in the ROI determination process. (The next piece of the puzzle.)

By the way, if the video didn’t load properly for you or if you are accessing this post from a mobile device, you can go watch the video here (thanks Viddler).

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Judging by the close to 200 pages of comments left by readers on my last post, I guess we’ve hit on a pretty hot topic this week: That of “social media certifications.” (Who knew?)

So okay, let’s talk about it.

1. Do we even need Social Media certification?

To be completely honest, I hadn’t really given the subject much thought until a few days ago. To me, it seemed far too early in the game, not just from an academic standpoint, but from a practical one: Even if we happened to need certifications or accreditation for social media practitioners, there are no standards as of yet. No agreed-upon best practices for every business function and specialty that touches Social Media. There are no PhDs in the subject. No twenty-year veterans to teach anyone the ropes. In other words, there exists today no mechanism through which a social media “practitioner” might find himself or herself truly “certified” by anyone in any truly legitimate fashion, like, say, a PR professional, attorney, nurse, or even a hairdresser are able to be certified.

Part of the problem at hand can be summed up in the following two questions:

A. A “social media certification” would certify you in what, exactly? Your ability to create a Facebook fan page? Basic blogging techniques? Twitter usage? Social media measurement? Optimizing a LinkedIn profile? I could go on and on. So the question again: Certified in what, exactly? Some kind of general “Social Media expertise?” What does that even mean? (We’ll get back to that in a bit.)

B. Who would offer these certifications/accreditation and how? Accredited universities? Business schools? Professional organizations? Guilds? Private certifying companies? State boards? Software vendors? Consulting firms? Anybody with the ability to sell an online webinar? And who would develop and teach these courses? Academics with no practical social media experience? Internet consultants? Superstar bloggers? Who decides?

Check out this video and we’ll get the conversation started afterward:

If the video doesn’t play or open for you, go here.

2. A training certificate and a certification are not the same thing.

So, first of all, it’s important to understand the distinction between a Social Media certification and Social Media training. While training is… well, just training, a certification tends to be more structured. Standards have to be applied. Testing administered. Certification is a little more complex than just sitting through training. More often than not, certification is synonymous with accreditation.

To keep things simple, I hopped over to wikipedia and find this about the word accreditation:

Accreditation is a process in which certification of competency, authority, or credibility is presented.

Organizations that issue credentials or certify third parties against official standards are themselves formally accredited by accreditation bodies (such as UKAS); hence they are sometimes known as “accredited certification bodies”.[2] The accreditation process ensures that their certification practices are acceptable, typically meaning that they are competent to test and certify third parties, behave ethically, and employ suitable quality assurance.

One example of accreditation is the accreditation of testing laboratories and certification specialists that are permitted to issue official certificates of compliance with established standards, such as physical, chemical, forensic, quality, and security standards.[3]

The whole purpose of certifications and accreditations isn’t for social media practitioners to learn how to be social media experts. (You aren’t going to learn that by sitting in a class.) Rather, accreditation/certification is a process by which you are tested against specific industry standard and either proven capable/qualified or not. It’s a weeding out process.

And kids, that process has nothing to do with self affirmation. What it has to do with is separating professionals (with experience that can be demonstrated through an accreditation process) from people with no experience, no skills, and lacking the necessary qualifications to take on a social media management job, no matter how many fans they have on Facebook.

In other words, if certification/accreditation truly is needed in the social media world, its purpose is solely to help companies with very little understanding of the space get some notion of whether a consultant or job applicant has a particular skill level required for the job.

If you want to distill this down to its simplest form, think of this simply as third-party testing: Having a reputable certifying body vouch for the fact that you actually know how to do something. Period. That’s it.

Note my emphasis on the word “reputable” because this is an important point we will revisit.

Note: A certification/accreditation is not a substitute for real experience, demonstrable results or professional references. But it can help validate a candidate’s skill-set, which isn’t all bad. And it can also help ensure that an individual has sat through x hours of best practices training and demonstrated an ability to apply their training to the experience they’ve already acquired in the real world.

3. Social Media Generalist Certifications vs. Professional Certifications: Rebooting the model.

Where things get a little iffy is with the structure of a social media certification. What exactly should it look like?

Currently, many “certifications” tend to look at the social media “profession” as a form of general mass of quasi-expertise ranging from how to manage a blog, start a facebook fan page and customize a twitter account to how to measure ROI and manage online communities. (Pretty big and dangerously amorphous range, from my perspective.)

What seems more logical is a slightly more operational approach to both social media training and social media certifications/accreditation: Instead of looking at Social Media as some sort of broad ranging field of study with an endless list of applications, look at Social Media as a skill-set that applies differently to each function within a business. In other words, give social media training and certs specific professional focus.

Consider that a Public Relations professional and a Customer Service professional will probably use social media (professionally) in radically different ways:

While the PR professional will probably want to be trained in online reputation management, digital brand management, online monitoring, digital crisis management and some assortment of publishing best practices, their customer service counterpart will want to be trained in online keyword monitoring, digital customer relationship management, crisis management and some light community management. Will there be some overlap? Sure. But what we are looking at here are very distinctive tracks, leading to very distinctive certifications. In other words, a social media certification for a PR professional shouldn’t look at all like a social media certification for a customer service professional, or an IT professional, or a business development professional.

The specific nature of the jobs dealing with social media requires both specific training, and specific certification/accreditation – both in specifically relevant sets of social media competencies.

No more over-arching cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all social media certifications, please. If we’re going to get serious about this (and we should), let’s get serious about it.

4. The difference between established, reputable certifying bodies and… well… the other kind.

Okay, so in light of the fact that a certification process could now be geared towards specific types of roles as opposed to some vague “social media specialist” notion, let’s look at certifying bodies that might (at some point) be able to offer these types of certification for professionals. Is it possible that perhaps an organization like PRSA might be better equipped to certify Public Relations professionals in something like digital public relations management, maybe? As opposed to, say, a newly assembled social media certifying body trying to adapt its general certification to the PR profession? Something to think about.

Something else to think about is the fact that a certification/accreditation from a reputable organization or institution is pretty crucial here. Organizations like PRSA, AMA, and others of their caliber can’t afford to do this poorly. They HAVE to take it seriously in order not to tarnish their reputations. In sharp contrast, the social media space is filled with opportunistic individuals who would have nothing to lose and a lot of potential cash to gain. All you need to start certifying unsuspecting marks is a website and a Paypal account. Just create a social media certifying body out of thin air, create a series of webinars about whatever you want, charge a registration fee, and you’re in business. These types of operations are rampant in the US already.

So the point I am trying to make is that it would be great if the AMA, PRSA and other established and respectable professional organizations that already offer certifications for their members started moving in this direction – if only to ensure a pattern of legitimacy and accountability in the social media certification/accreditation process.

We could go on and on and on with this, but this is a good place to pause and get some feedback from you guys. The comment section is officially open. Agree? Disagree? Somewhere in the middle? Let’s hear it.


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Today, I received this email from a group calling itself the International Social Media Association. ISMA for short (not to be confused with the International Society of Management Accountants – or International Sports Management Australasia for that matter):

Hope you are having a fabulous day! My name is (…) and I work with (…) and (…) for The International Social Media Association, (ISMA).

Both (…) and (…) have expressed that you are absolutely amazing. You bring so much knowledge with such excitement to the social media world. Thank you for everything you do!

ISMA would love to invite you to be on our Certification Training Webinar on Thursday, December 10th from 2pm – 3:30pm est. as our featured guest trainer! For your benefit, you will be able to get great exposure and be known as the “Obvious Expect” within your niche!

Would you be able to accept this invitation? We would be so honored.

Here is the information if you do accept. Topic:

Social Media Objectives & ROI – Session 14 (December 10, 2009)  2-3pm est
*  Setting social media objectives
*  Create social media budget
*  Tracking & measuring ROI
*  Q&A

You will need to provide a Power Point Presentation and send it to us so we can upload it onto our server and a short bio and your picture.

The training with your power point is usually 1 hour and then it is followed with a Q & A session.

Please call me at 603 xxx-xxx or e-mail me back and we can go from there. You can promote yourself and gain more exposure for you and your business, however we ask that you refrain from pitching anything.

I am looking forward to hearing from you shortly! (…) and (…) just couldn’t say enough great things about you! Can’t wait to hear from you!

Before I share my reply – which I think will be pretty self-explanatory – let me share a few thoughts with you about where this email came from and what it is really about:

First, let’s start this discussion with a little basic background: ISMA is the brain child of Mari Smith and Mark Eldridge.  Bright people, I’m sure, but not exactly the international brain trust one might expect from an organization positioning itself as a – if not the – certification body for the world of Social Media. Internationally, at that.

Now, had the team behind ISMA been composed of people like Andy Sernovitz, Jay Baer, Valeria Maltoni, Maz Nadjm, Mack Collier, Chris Brogan, Beth Harte, Jacob Morgan, Andrew Gerrard, Amber Naslund, Francois Gossieaux and Kim Brater, (or scores of others – you know who you are) I would have been inclined to sign on. But no. Mari Smith and Mark Eldridge it was. Two people who – not to belittle any of their accomplishments – don’t seem nearly enough of a thought leadership force to create an international certifying body out of thin air… and immediately charge $2,995 for their  social media certification course, which seems to be the main impetus behind ISMA. (I could be wrong, but I guess we can rule out any not-for profit status for the organization.)

And there’s the real  rub: Aside from lacking the slightest sliver of real legitimacy in the space, what exactly is this certification program? Where did it come from? Who developed it? Who is teaching it? And why exactly does it cost almost $3,000?

From what I can tell from the email I received today, “guest trainers” are developing at least some of the content, and then delivering it via webinar. In other words, anyone desperate enough for attention and validation to lend their name to an organization essentially based on… well… volunteered material solicited through a form email can become a trainer for this “international” certification program.

Come on, Mari. For $2,995 per certification, the least you could do is properly recruit, then pay your trainers, don’t you think? Maybe call them up yourself? Discuss the project and the organization with them? Set up discussions about content and best practices? You know… the basics? Do it right, and for the right reasons maybe? Work with real professionals? Build a board of advisors composed of social media professionals instead of what appears to be a mix of affiliate marketers, entrepreneurs and motivational speakers?

But no: Let’s build a site, start selling a product, and worry about the details later… like content. And let a staffer send them an email full of typos in which we bait them with terse little sales tricks? Come on. Really?

I am not impressed. As a matter of fact, no. Let me take that back. I am appalled.

Aliza Sherman has a pretty solid writeup on the ISMA and its “certification” training here. I highly recommend that you guys read it. I am in complete agreement with her on every point. Another post on the subject this week: Leigh Duncan-Durst’s post on not being Social Media Shark Bait.

Mari and Mark, I’m sorry if this seems harsh, but you are going about this all wrong:

1. You could have started with a real board of advisors. You know… made up of people who actually play a role in the advancement of Social Media. Need a starter list? Try this one. Or this one. Or even this one. I’m sure the people you selected are brilliant and successful and all, but what do they have to do with developing best practices and training programs dealing with Social Media? How do they bring any legitimacy to your organization? I don’t recognize a single name on that list. Not a single social media director or strategist from a major brand? No one from IBM? DELL? The Home Depot? Starbucks? Ogilvy? Best Buy?

2. You could have partnered with at least one reputable university (like Chris Penn did with the University of San Francisco) to at least create an academic framework for your certification – if not to put it on a path of accreditation at some point in the future.

3. You could have started by creating frameworks for best practices, legal considerations, etc. before jumping straight to selling a certification course. It would have taken some time, sure, and the organization might not have made any serious money for a year or so, but it would have built a foundation upon which to build a real certification program. The Social Media Business Council is already doing this. You could have at least partnered with those guys, sought sponsorship of some kind, worked out a similar type of membership organization to constitute a working advisory board, but no. You went straight for the sale.

4. You could at some point clarify specifically what makes you an international body, aside from the notion that adding “international” to the name sounds important. I don’t see a whole lot of foreigners on your board of advisors. Maybe I missed something, but who represents the EU? Asia? Africa? Latin America? Real international organizations, like the IAB for example, have representation in more than one country – and usually more than one continent. Did I miss something? Is there a Canadian resident in there somewhere?

5. Had you given social media management any thought whatsoever, you and your board would have also realized by now that social media management is too complex to limit to only one certification track. As social media evolves within the organization, four clear tracks begin to emerge: Social Media program development (strategy), Social Media program integration (ops), Social Media program management (execution), and Social Media measurement (analysis). The execution piece alone can be broken down into online reputation management, community management, business intelligence, customer support, human resources, etc., each requiring its own very specific training/certification course. I shouldn’t have to tell you this. The emerging specialization in social media roles is something that seems to have completely escaped you, which doesn’t bode well for your “certification” program or your level of practical understanding of a discipline you aim to make your business to certify people in.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but as I recall, Fast Company named Mari the “pied piper of Facebook,” NOT “the pied piper of the online world,” as her profile now states on the ISMA website. Accidental oversight? Who knows. But when you’re going to quote a major publication like Fast Company, it helps to be accurate with what they actually said about you. You wouldn’t want anyone to accuse you of being purposely deceptive now, would you.

Update: Thanks to Mike Rudy, the Fast Company blog reference in question has been found. In a post written on the Fast Company blog by Wendy Marx, Mari Smith is in fact mentioned as both the pied piper of Social Media (body) and the pied piper of Facebook (title). My apologies for this oversight. I didn’t realize that the description was written for the blog, not for the monthly publication.

So Mari, Mark, and the rest of you at the ISMA, at long last, here is my reply to your email:

Hi, (…).

I am honored by the kind words and your invitation, but I have to respectfully decline.

I want to be absolutely frank with you as to why I don’t feel comfortable with your request. (I don’t think it would be fair of me to simply decline and not tell you why.) It pains me to say this, but I don’t feel that your organization is currently moving in the right direction or sending the right message across the Social Media space.

As far as I can tell, you have not yet been endorsed by any of the professionals or organizations in this field whose opinion I trust and respect. Not in the US, and certainly not internationally. Providing Social Media training to companies is one thing. Providing a certification program is another. Your “international” organization seems to be based on absolutely nothing of substance, and that worries me a great deal.

With all due respect to Mari, Mark and the rest of your team, I cannot lend my name to your organization – even as a guest presenter – until I feel that you are a legitimate body, at the very least backed by a board of advisors made up of leaders in the field. To do so could be seen as an endorsement of your certification program or status as a governing body of some sort, and I don’t feel comfortable with that at this time.

I am sorry if this letter seems harsh, especially in response to an invitation, but I felt that being honest with you guys was important.

Best regards,

Olivier Blanchard


In other words, thanks, but no thanks.

So for you, my readers, here’s some advice I hope you will share with anyone desperate enough to actually consider spending $3,000 on a webinar series:

1. You don’t need to be certified in Social Media. If one day, universities or accredited bodies start issuing social media degrees or certifications and companies want to favor them, then fine. Look into one of them. But until that day comes, just do the work and let that speak for itself. And if you do need help and training, shop around. There are programs out there that don’t cost quite that much, and I can guarantee that for $3,000, you can get a custom package developed specifically for your needs. More importantly, trust me when I say this: No piece of paper is going to validate you as a social media professional. Don’t you dare waste almost $3,000 on a series of webinars and a piece of paper. Even if:

This certificate gives you the privilege of displaying the official “Certified Specialist” ISMA logo on your website and other marketing materials.

The International Social Media Association offers a full 30-Day Money Back Guarantee on it’s Social Media Certification Program.

I swear I am not making this up. Even the typos are real. (I wonder if I call right now, they’ll send me two for the price of one.)

2. If you insist on spending $3,000 on training, fine. I will fly to wherever you live, and we’ll conduct the training there  for 2 whole days, face to face, with a skype connection to my network of SMEs from around the world who will answer any and all of your questions. If you’re going to spend $3K, we’ll teach you everything you need to know, and  we’ll do it right.

But seriously. Don’t.

3. If you are really looking for real training programs that won’t shred your finances, here is a short list of resources for 2010 that you should consider before dishing out $2,995:

Jay Baer

Marketing Profs

Chris Penn

Gas Pedal

And last but not least, Red Chair (launching soon) – In the meantime, go here

Hell, if you can’t wait until 2010 and plan on being in Chicago on December 16th, you can even register for Word Of Mouth Supergenius, which will be a valuable milestone along your social media educational path. Check out the agenda: Not bad. I’ll even save you some money: When you register, enter this discount code: olivierismyhero (Disclosure: I am speaking at Supergenius, which is how I know it’s going to be a pretty solid event.)

Okay, rant over. Think before you spend, do your homework before joining  an organization or registering for anything, and you’ll probably be all right. Have a great Friday, everyone.

PS: If you really need a certificate to frame on your wall, here you go. Reading this blog post has qualified you to be a genuine Social Media Guru, as well it should. We’ll hold a graduation ceremony for everybody on Twitter later today during which I will wave my magic wand and turn you all into vizir-level social media experts. We’ll all wear funny hats and exchange secret social media handshakes.




Update: Mari Smith called me Friday afternoon to discuss this post. I have to give her credit for having reached out to me personally and for having been both professional and cordial during that telephone exchange.

That said, Mari and I agreed to disagree on pretty much everything about the way she and her team went about building and packaging her “organization” and the certification program it offers.

Final Update: ISMA disbanded several months after this post was first published. For further details, click here.


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I agonized for a few days over what kind of brilliant advice I should share with you on this 1,000th post since the launch of the BrandBuilder blog before finally realizing that no. 1,000 is no different from 999, 1,001 or 356. So no more pondering, no more worrying about writing an epic post (the time for that will come again in due time), and no more waiting around for inspiration to strike. Today, instead of talking about social media, brand management, who does what well and who does what poorly, let’s just talk a little bit about leadership. Corporate leadership, that is.

And instead of doing all the talking, I will let people with a whole lot more experience than me give you some tips about how to become a better leader. Great stuff that transcends the typical leadership quotation mill.

Anne Mulcahy – Former CEO of Xerox

In a crisis, you have the opportunity to move quickly and change a lot – and you have to take advantage of that.

Change doesn’t happen if you don’t work at it. You’ve got to get out there, give people the straight scoop, and get buy-in. It’s not just good-looking presentations; it’s letting people ask the tough questions. It’s almost got to be done one person at a time.

There’s not a lot of room anymore for senior people to be managers. They have to be leaders. I want people to create organizations that get aligned, get passionate, get really inspired about delivering.

Stories exist at every level of the company. Whether it was saving a buck here, or doing something different for customers, everyone has a story. That creates powerful momentum – people sense that they’re able to do good things. It’s much more powerful than the precision or elegance of the strategy.

I communicate good news the same way I do the bad news. I thank people and make sure they feel a sense of recognition for their contribution. But the trick is always to to use the opportunity to talk about what’s next, to pose the next challenges. Where do we want to go? How do we want to build on it?

Margaret Heffernan – Author, The Naked Truth

Nothing kills morale like a staff’s feeling helpless. This often plays itself out when there are rumors of a new strategic shift or a major personnel move, or worse, when the papers are littered with bad news about your company. A big part of boosting morale is about constructing a haven of logic that offers individuals shelter from any storm. At its most basic, leaders have to communicate their awareness of business conditions and place their plans in that context. Each time [a CEO outlines] a future that comes true, he demonstrates his own competence and reinforces trust.

The happiest people aren’t the ones with the most money but those with a sense of purpose – a sense that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. At least some of this has to derive from work. The purpose of a business, then, must be explicit and go beyond boosting the share price or fulfilling some bland mission statement. People want to believe that they are part of something meaningful. The sense of purpose doesn’t have to be grandiose or revolutionary, merely credible and anchored in values.

Purpose is achieved through goals, and the acid test for any leader is defining the appropriate ones. Too small, and celebrations soon ring hollow. Small goals breed cynicism. But too-big goals produce helplessness. Although it can be temporarily thrilling to rally around a big corporate slogan like “kill the competition,” the reality is that employees can’t do it alone and they can’t do it quickly.

Alignment between corporate goals and personal development has never been more critical. The more unpredictable the outside world, the more urgent the personal quest for self-determination. What employees look for in leadership is a sense that their personal journey and the company journey are part of the same story. When these goals aren’t aligned, employees tend to whine with others, eager to share their sense of anger and injustice, polluting morale. The only way to combat this and get back on track is proper feedback. Give employees the tools to influence their own fate.

Get a life. Keeping morale high is like being on a diet: It requires constant effort and is never over. New ideas, stimuli and motivation come from all around you. It’s the larger life, after all, that gives purpose to the climb.

Alan Deutschman – Senior Writer, Fast Company – writing about how IBM builds new businesses

Look for opportunities that can become profitable [billion-dollar] businesses in five to seven years. You’ll probably find them by talking to customers rather than to brilliant researchers in the labs, who are are looking further ahead.

J. Bruce Harreld – IBM

You want to celebrate failure because you learn something. You need some level of security to say ‘I screwed it up,’ and be comfortable that you won’t be fired.

Marcus Buckingham – Author, Break All The Rules

Turn anxiety into confidence. For a leader, the challenge is that in every society ever studied, the future is unstable, unknown, and therefore potentially dangerous. By far the most effective way to turn fear into confidence is to be clear – to define the future in such vivid terms that we can see where we are headed. Clarity is the antidote to anxiety, and therefore clarity is the preoccupation of the effective leader. If you do nothing else as a leader, be clear.

Effective leaders don’t have to be passionate, charming or brilliant. What they must be is clear – clarity is the essence of great leadership. Show us clearly who we should seek to serve, show us where our core strength lies, show us which score we should focus on and which actions we must take, and we will reward you by working our hearts out to make our better future come true.

See? Told you these folks know what they’re talking about.

Thanks to Fast Company‘s March 2005 issue for providing much of today’s content. (I have quite the collection.)


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