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Archive for the ‘acts of rebellion’ Category

To celebrate thanksgiving this year, I thought I might share my Top 100 list of things I am thankful for. In no particular order:

  1. Blue skies.
  2. Night-time thunderstorms.
  3. Nutella crepes.
  4. Gravity.
  5. Specialized S-Works Toupe saddles.
  6. Cheese.
  7. Architects.
  8. Seat belts.
  9. Planet Earth.
  10. Special operators.
  11. The economy making a comeback.
  12. Oakley Factory Pilot gloves.
  13. Courage.
  14. Antibacterial soap.
  15. Power outlets. Especially in airports.
  16. Dependable 3G and 4G networks.
  17. Artists.
  18. My parents.
  19. The nº 2 pencil.
  20. The interwebs.
  21. Emergency exits.
  22. Toilet paper.
  23. UHT milk.
  24. Sail boats.
  25. Yogurt.
  26. My wife and kids.
  27. France.
  28. Sushi.
  29. A roof over my head.
  30. Deodorant.
  31. Bacon.
  32. Nespresso machines.
  33. Fishermen and farmers.
  34. Helmets and armor.
  35. Petits Beurre, de LU.
  36. Canon cameras and lenses.
  37. My friends.
  38. My enemies.
  39. Holographic sights.
  40. Sorbets: particularly cassis and pear.
  41. My extended family.
  42. Bikes.
  43. Washing machines.
  44. Power tools.
  45. Passionate car makers. Among them: BMW (way to hang in there), Ford (welcome back) and Hyundai (it’s about time).
  46. Modern refrigeration.
  47. Extra virgin olive oil.
  48. Spring.
  49. Summer.
  50. Fall.
  51. Winter.
  52. Birthdays.
  53. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, for what they started.
  54. Toothpaste, mouthwash and breath mints.
  55. NASA.
  56. Dogs.
  57. My childhood.
  58. HBO, Cinemax and AMC.
  59. Smart phones, tablets and laptops.
  60. Bespoke tailors.
  61. BodyGlide.
  62. Triathlons & Crossfit. Equally.
  63. Duct Tape.
  64. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.
  65. Performance fabrics.
  66. Kate Winslet.
  67. My EOR instructors in Lorient, and later my CIFUSIL NCOs.
  68. Belly laughs.
  69. French patisseries, but especially croissants.
  70. 120FPS.
  71. Cormack McCarthy, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Steven Pressfield.
  72. You guys.
  73. Medical researchers.
  74. US foreign policy in Europe since 1944.
  75. Antibiotics.
  76. The Walking Dead and Strike Back.
  77. Tactical denim.
  78. Designers (engineers and otherwise).
  79. Rubber bands.
  80. Paris, San Francisco and New York in the spring.
  81. Bees.
  82. Kenneth Cole, Calvin Klein, Façonnable, Yves St. Laurent, Ralph Lauren and Francesco Smalto.
  83. Benevolent space aliens.
  84. Air travel.
  85. Brave, selfless people.
  86. The Mediterranean in summer.
  87. The perfect gin and tonic.
  88. Snorkeling/scuba gear.
  89. The USA, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
  90. Que/Pearson Publishing.
  91. Matches and lighters (because rubbing twigs together takes way too long).
  92. Home-made terrine on a fresh, warm baguette.
  93. The International Baccalaureate.
  94. Cashmere, Merino wool and shaggy fleece. (By the way…)
  95. My health.
  96. Old-timers.
  97. True professionals.
  98. Traditional French cuisine.
  99. Stereophonic sound.
  100. Every single day.

Missing from the list again this year:

  1. Alarm clocks.
  2. Disease.
  3. Selfishness.
  4. Sociopathic managers.
  5. Celery.
  6. Pollution.
  7. Bigotry.
  8. Cancer.
  9. Religious and political extremists.
  10. Poverty.
  11. American Idol.
  12. Fox News.
  13. Easy-Listening radio stations.
  14. Awful advertising.
  15. Land mines.
  16. Plastic shopping bags.
  17. Long lines.
  18. Social Media hacks.
  19. Rabid raccoons.
  20. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
  21. Comic Sans.
  22. Mean people.
  23. Partially hydrogenated oils.
  24. Adolf Hitler.
  25. Greedy CEOs.
  26. Corrupt politicians.
  27. Child molesters.
  28. SyFy Original movies.
  29. Willful ignorance.
  30. Stale coffee.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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I can’t lie, every time I see a list of top social media or digital “influencers” pop up in my stream, I cringe a little. Why? Because 99% of the time, Top 10/25/50/100 lists are nothing more than linkbait and bullshit. Here’s how it usually works:

Agency/consultancy XYZ feels that it isn’t getting enough attention anymore. Their white papers or “content” aren’t all that great this quarter, traffic and lead gen are down, so they need to think of something to do to salvage their waning relevance. The quickest way to do that is to spend an hour or two creating an ass-kissing list that awards some measure of recognition to a predetermined list of social media gurus. It’s easy enough to do. Most of these lists are essentially clones of each other. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. The names are always the same and you know what they are. The process is as follows:

1. Google “Social Media, Influencer, Top, List.”

2. Cut and paste social media guru names from any of those lists. Make sure that you don’t include companies or organizations as it will defeat the purpose of the exercise. You’ll understand why in a minute.

3. Cut and paste the reason why they were selected by the person whose list you just ripped off, but change a few words so it isn’t technically plagiarism.

4. Come up with a really cool title.

5. Publish the list on your blog.

6. Ping every single social media guru on the list. Do this every hour until they respond and share your post with their entire network.

7. Remind them to do it again the next day and engage in small talk with them on Twitter and Facebook… err… Google Plus.

8. Enjoy free traffic to your blog for months.

Sometimes, gurus create lists like these themselves. It’s… well, you know. It’s done so much that I don’t even bother getting excited when I see a list of top influencers, top experts, top gurus, whatever, anymore. For the most part, they’re just copies of copies of copies. They provide zero insight into why these folks are experts or even valuable in their fields. They are the product of a lazy, cynical, unoriginal exercise in derivative self-promotion by proxy.

However…

Sometimes, someone takes the time to actually do it right. They take a careful look at an industry, research who does what and how, dig into their track records, weigh their actual influence rather than just their Klout score and the size of their network, and… well, sometimes, they put in the work.

This week, when I ran into BSMi’s 2012 Global Influencer Survey, I expected it to be another clone of top influencer/social media guru lists of Christmases past, but instead discovered a thorough, well-researched report that analyzes in detail what the top experts in three particular fields (social media, marketing and digital) have done this year, and explains why they are the best among us. This one really is different. When you browse through it, you’ll understand why. Clever way of presenting it too.

Just really great work all around from BSMi, as always. Click here or on the image below to check it out. (UK readers, click here.)

From now on, every time a “top” influencer list comes out, I want you to think about what you learned here today. 😉

Cheers,

Olivier

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PS: I also blog over at Tickr now, so go check out my posts there. (And take a few minutes to test-drive Tickr’s monitoring platform. Big stuff coming from these guys in the next few months, but shhhhh… I can’t talk about it yet.)

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And if you’re as tired of the bullshit as I am, pick up a copy of Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization. It was written to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. No bullshit. Just solid methodology and insights. It makes for a great desk reference.

(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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So yesterday, one of my well-meaning online friends sent me a private message on Facebook that included this bit of warning/worry:

You have a first rate mind .. I’m a little concerned, however about the the posts you make as they might limit your project/career options. You’re in the buckle of the bible belt and political sensibilities are hard to gauge.

This friend was referring to some of the political content and opinions I share on by personal Facebook account.

You may or may not have noticed that this blog remains for the most part apolitical. I keep it focused on business topics, and more specifically those which relate to brand management, marketing, communications, social media and overall leadership. I prefer not to discuss my political beliefs here for two principal reasons:

1. This is not a political blog. It’s a business and marketing blog. If I wanted a political platform, I would launch a blog with a political focus.

2. Politics aren’t particularly relevant to the topics discussed here anyway.

If you have ever worked with me, you know that my politics have absolutely no impact whatsoever on my professional life. If we work on a project together, I don’t care if you’re a liberal or a conservative, if your believe climate change is real or think it’s a hoax, if you think that President Obama is a decent man or a secret Muslim antichrist. I am probably too busy helping your business get out of the ditch to notice or care who you plan to vote for next November, and I certainly won’t be the one to ask. Your politics and religion are entirely your business. If you bring them up, fine. I won’t.

Having said that, I am not an apolitical creature.  I have opinions and beliefs, like everyone else, and right now, I feel free to express them on Facebook and engage in political discussions with my friends, and sometimes complete strangers.

The way it works for me is simple:

While I am my own boss, I have no reason not to express my views on Facebook. If anything I post today somehow offends someone’s political or religious sensibilities, there will be no impact on anyone’s business but my own. There will be no backlash, no boycott, no drama on HuffPo or The Blaze, and no awkward conversation with my boss, Legal and HR on Friday afternoon.

Conversely, if I ever decide to leave free-agency behind and take a position somewhere, I won’t feel as free to post or share certain things on Facebook anymore. Employment changes things. It reframes the kinds of discussions you can have online. Right or wrong isn’t relevant. That’s just how the ball rolls: you don’t want to become a liability for your employer. Ever. If self-preservation isn’t enough of a motivator, then professional responsibility sure as hell should be.

But something bothers me about that piece of advice up there. It implies that I should hide who I am or what I believe in order to be employable in the first place. As if being of one political persuasion would somehow make me more attractive to employers and clients than being of the other kind.

That really, really, really bothers me, and it doesn’t bother me because it’s bullshit; it bothers me because it’s true: declaring yourself a democrat in certain parts of the US can cost you a promotion, a raise or your job. Recruiters might decide to put your resume in the dump pile on political conviction alone. A lot of liberals I know in SC are afraid to “be found out” by their peers and bosses because their jobs could be at risk, so they pretend to be conservatives and just go with the flow. I know it sounds absurd, but then again, some people think that President Obama is a secret Kenyan agent working for the Muslim Brotherhood, so our frame of reference here might be a little shaky. This isn’t about logic. It’s about the reality of blind prejudice.

So yes, friend whom I will not name, the concern you expressed on Facebook is valid. Sad and depressing, but valid. And I appreciate your sharing it with me. But I’ve given this a little thought, and…

1. If you have to hide who you are in order to keep your job, you need to change jobs.

2, If you have to hide who you are in order to keep your clients, you need to get some new clients.

3. If your company is a cesspool of discrimination and everyone is too afraid to do anything about it, things will never change. Either accept it and strap-in, or go look for a better company to work for.

Now let me share how I deal with the fear of being black-listed for my political views, starting with what some “businesses” might find objectionable about my political views. Just this one time, let me share with you my deepest, darkest political secrets:

I like President Obama. He isn’t perfect, but I like him. I like Bill and Hillary Clinton too. That isn’t a crime, nor should it be. I don’t believe that women should be treated as second-class citizen (in and out of the corporate world), make less money than their male counterparts, or be called “sluts” when they admit to using birth control. I want gay couples to enjoy the same constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms that straight couples enjoy. I don’t believe that someone is “more American” if they are of Christian and Anglo-Saxon but somehow “less American” if they are Muslim, dark-skinned, atheist or vote Democrat. I actually like that the government defends our borders, protects our forests, our water and our air, and makes sure that our kids’ toys aren’t covered in lead paint or made out of carcinogenic materials. The government does wonderful things that the private sector either cannot or will not do alone, and contrary to Tea-Party anti-government mythology, it does most of them quite well.

People who hate the government so much that they want to do away with it are basically dumbfucks. They probably need to go live in Somalia for six months and see how they like the freedom of anarchy. Then we’ll talk about how evil and “too big” the US government is. Also, I’m a Christian, if that matters. I only tell you this because even though I fall into that particular Abrahamic faith category, I don’t believe that it gives me license to be a faith tyrant. For instance, insisting that creationism be taught in public school might seem like a great idea if you care more about forcing your faith on everyone than actually respecting the US Constitution. But the real problem with it is that it doesn’t exactly prepare our youth to be globally competitive. What it teaches them is to distrust science, knowledge and facts (things that would help them cure cancer, build bridges, design tomorrow’s cars, etc.). Meanwhile, the kids who will be hired for the jobs your kids won’t be qualified for are learning real science, real history, real anthropology and philosophy and literature. Speaking of science and facts, climate change is real. (Just like gravity, aspirin, glacier erosion and Obama’s birth certificate.) Get over it. It isn’t a question of opinions. Believing that there are space aliens out there is an opinion. Accepting the reality of basic science is called being a rational, responsible adult.

By the way, as someone who grew up with universal healthcare and still runs into it regularly, I can tell you from extensive personal experience that it isn’t death panels or the end of freedom; it’s just poor kids not dying of cancer in the gutter. It’s expectant mothers receiving proper prenatal care. It’s your mom not being turned down for treatment because of a bogus pre-existing condition. It’s people living longer, healthier lives and requiring less expensive care over time. Yes, Russia and North Korea probably do it wrong. But France, Canada and other countries do it mostly right. Look into it before parroting absurd nonsense you heard on AM radio.

Social Security isn’t a frivolous expense either; it’s a promise we made to retired people that guarantees that they will not have to choose between heating their houses in the winter and being able to buy food. Yes, it’s expensive to help your fellow Americans. Of course it is. But if you think that a better alternative is to let them starve and die, then you need to ask yourself what kind of person you really are. If money is really a big concern for you, then stop supporting nation-building in the Middle-East and start supporting nation-building right here at home. That isn’t socialism, by the way. It’s just called investing in your own country. Kind of like having a strong military, and fast trains, and good roads and drinkable water. It might even be called building a really cool model that will make you the envy of the world and make other countries want to invest in you again.

Welfare and food stamps are not dirty words, by the way. Go hang out with poor Americans for a few months and see if they’re really just the lazy parasites you keep hearing about. They aren’t. They want jobs. Desperately. You know, it’s really easy to dehumanize people. All you have to do is put labels on them and use stereotypes. It’s what the Nazis did with the Jews, and what the KKK did with African-Americans. It’s also what old white men in corner offices do to women, and what homophobic preachers do to same-sex couples. One thing I’ve learned in my years is that real patriots don’t turn their backs on their fellow citizen. They don’t preach hate or division. They do everything they can to help them. Always let that be your litmus test. Cynicism isn’t a virtue. Compassion is. Try it.

Since we’re on the subject, let me close with this: the political hate machine in the US has become appalling. We can talk about how people like Rush Limbaugh Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann are irresponsible, batshit sideshows of pre-packaged angst and faux paranoia, but they have vast audiences of people who think they are brilliant and spot-on and should be President. When I hear people repeat their rhetoric as if it were gospel, (and I do, a lot,) my spider senses flash passages of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale at me, and it worries me. It really does.

If all of that makes me a liberal, fine. Label me what you want. None of my beliefs stem from a particular political or religious philosophy or agenda, mind you. I have traveled around the world, served in the military, lived on two continents, and worked with people all over the globe. I make up my own mind on what is true and what is false, what is ethical and what isn’t, on what hurts people and what improves their lives. In the US, I happen to fall on the liberal side of the aisle. In France, I easily fall on the conservative side of the aisle. But I’m not the one doing the moving. It’s just that we’re talking about very different lines. So what am I in the end? A liberal? A conservative? Depends who you ask. For some people, I will never be conservative enough. For others, I will never be liberal enough. And for some, I will never be American enough, French enough, white enough or Christian enough. But remove political labels and stereotypes, and you’ll find that I am simply someone who won’t stand for racism, sexism, willful ignorance of the facts, xenophobia, fraudulent behavior, exploitation, irresponsible business practices, hypocrisy and fear-mongering.

If that world view somehow offends a particular business, then let me tell you quite candidly that I have no problem if that business decides not to hire me. In fact, if evidence of my political leanings weeds out businesses that would rather not work with “someone like me,” that’s great. I just  did myself a huge favor. It isn’t that I don’t want to work with conservatives or republicans. In fact, I love working with and for conservatives and republicans as much as I love working with and for liberals and democrats. It’s just that I don’t particularly enjoy working with and for small-minded haters.

“But Olivier, aren’t you afraid that admitting all this will hurt your business?”

Not on your life. Here’s why:

1. I am not sitting here all day trying to broaden my options. What I am trying to do is narrow them down as much as possible. The reality of my business model is that I can only work with maybe 100-200 more companies before I retire or move on to a completely different phase in my career. I want every one of those partnerships to count. I don’t have time for the kind of bullshit that invariably comes with working for companies managed by irrational, hateful pricks. That means that I have to sort through tens of thousands of businesses to get to the right ones. Businesses deselecting themselves over something this stupid helps me out. And if I were to decide to go back into the corporate workforce, I am looking at 2-5 employers before the time comes for me to leave again and go do something else. Believe me when I tell you that I have no intention of wasting my time even interviewing with mildly racist or sexist bullies, let alone wasting a few years working in a poisonous corporate environment that idolizes people like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck.

2. This particular crowd only makes up about 20% of the US population. I’ll do okay with the other 80.

3. The kind of business I want to work with doesn’t give a shit whether I am Christian or Muslim, gay or straight, liberal or conservative. It’s focused on people. More specifically, on improving people’s lives. I don’t care if that comes in the form of designing awesome cars or making killer 3D flat screen TVs or tasty coffee or better artificial organs or portable water filters. It just has to have that people focus, both internally and externally, and it cannot have it if it sort of hates African-Americans, gays, women, Muslims, the French, poor people and whatever other “minority” happens to get on Rush Limbaugh’s radar. I run into enough of that just going to my mailbox as it is. I don’t want it to poison my work life with it too.

So yes, letting my Facebook friends know what I stand for politically lets those opinions radiate outward. And yes, that probably limits my employment options in the deep South and some parts of the mid-west. But maybe that’s kind of the point. I work nationally and internationally. I don’t need to work for companies in the Bible Belt if they don’t want me. And for every company that won’t hire me because I don’t fall over myself to love on Mitt Romney’s charming indecision on every issue, or because I don’t get behind the next BBQ overdose-induced boycott of France, there are 10 who will hire me for what I can do for them. And they tend to be in cool places like San Francisco, Montreal, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Sydney and Dubai. Know what I mean? It’s a big world and it’s full of businesses looking for expertise that not a lot of guys actually have.

So thanks kindly for your concern. 😉 We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Cheers,

Olivier

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Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organizationisn’t a social media book. It’s a business management book, and it focuses on social media program strategy, management, measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, what are you waiting for? (Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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Read Part 1: Assholes are bad for business.

I know what you are going to say: “Olivier, what’s up with the poopy-words all of a sudden? The other week, it was “assholes”. This week, it’s this. Didn’t your mom raise you to be a polite young man?” Answer: She tried. But sometimes, the polite version of a word just doesn’t do the job. Case in point: I could say “care.” Care about your customers. Care about designing the best products. Care about giving it your all every day. Care about taking your business into the stratosphere.

Care.

Except no. This isn’t about caring. This is about giving a shit, and yes, there is a difference.

When the word “care” no longer actually means caring.

“Caring” about something can mean a lot of different things. I can care about matching my shoes to my belt. I can care about the way my rainbow sprinkles touch the peanut butter ice cream but not the ball of Nutella ice cream underneath. I can care about maybe watching Curb Your Enthusiasm tonight, or waiting until tomorrow or next week. I can care about trying to sound pleasant on the phone, or maybe not so much. I can care about something if the conditions are right, and care less about it if circumstances change. Caring lives along a broad scale, as demonstrated by this awesome home-made graph:

But when you give a shit, that isn’t any kind of passive caring. Giving a shit means caring to the max. It means committing heart and soul to caring about something. Giving a shit is to caring what running a full-on sprint is to jogging. It is the storm to the light drizzle, the bazooka to the cork gun and the bear hug to the friendly nod. Giving a shit means you won’t sleep tonight if you screwed it up. It means you are going to take it all the way to the line. It means you are going to excel rather than settle for average… or mediocre. Giving a shit means you are driven by something more than a paycheck. It means you are driven by passion. And that, boys and girls, is some mighty strong secret sauce. Nothing can crush that. Nothing can get in its way.

When I walk into a store and talk to one of the salespeople there, I don’t want them to “care.” I want them to give a shit. The chef in the kitchen, I don’t just want him to “care”. The customer service guy on the phone, “care” is just the price of entry. You want to make your company kick ass? You have to take it a step further. That politician I just voted for? Guess what: He needs to do more than just “care.” The surgeon operating on my kids, yeah, her too, what I want her to do is actually give a shit.

When you give a shit, excuses don’t work anymore. Falling short (failing) becomes less of an option, if at all. Giving a shit means you’re invested, and that is when I know you are bringing your A-game. You aren’t just there for a paycheck, the dental plan or the free tickets to Wally World every summer. You are there because you want to be. Because you give a shit.

Look, everyone acts like they care when you interview them. “Oh yes, Mr. Jones, I really want to work here!” Right. In six months, that new hire will be spending half his day complaining to their office-mates about you, about pesky customers and their temperamental complaints, about having to work late, and about how poorly he gets paid. When you walk by his desk, you won’t even catch a glimpse of the Facebook tab or the game of computer solitaire you just interrupted. That’s what “care” will get you. And you know what? You’ll be to blame. Here’s why: Because your company culture made them that way.

When I call a company’s phone number and get an automated message telling me “… we care about your call,” what that company has just told me it doesn’t give a shit. And since companies don’t think – people do, namely executives making decisions (like having a computer answer my call instead of a human being), I know that this wasn’t an oversight. Someone made a deliberate decision to communicate to me and everyone else who calls them that the people in charge of building the company’s internal culture don’t give a shit. Way to get things off on the right foot.

The importance of creating “I give a shit” cultures.

None of this is rocket science. If you hire people who aren’t passionate about what you do, about what your company is about, or even people who don’t particularly care about their profession save getting a big fat check at the end of the week, you are going to create a culture of mediocrity. If instead you hire people who love your company, who were fans long before the job ever opened up, you will get a completely different result. Likewise, if you hire someone who is passionate about what they do, they will probably not disappoint.

A few years ago, one of my then employees admitted to me (when her bonus didn’t seem as guaranteed as she would have liked it to be) that she was considering transferring to HR. Puzzled by that admission, I asked her to elaborate. She told me “they just make straight salary over there.” I studied her for a moment, and asked her “Don’t you want to do this? If HR is something you’re interested in, why are you here?” She sighed and told me “I don’t really care what I do. I just want a steady paycheck.”

This is someone whom, if asked, would have told the CEO that she cared about her job, that she was passionate about it, that she loved it. That’s the average value of “care.”

Nb: I made sure my team hit its targets that month and the one after that, and she did, in fact, hit her bonus.

People like this are everywhere. It isn’t that they are necessarily lazy. Some are, but some are just apathetic. Doing what they do is a job. A paycheck. Nothing more. They spend their day watching the clock. They are out the door as soon as their work day is over and not a minute more. This is not the kind of employee you want. I don’t care if you are managing a hospital, a restaurant or a global brand, people like this are poison. They are engines of mediocrity, lackluster service, and lousy customer experiences. And god forbid they should become managers, or worse yet, SVPs or C-suite executives.

Imagine a CEO who doesn’t give a shit, for example. Or one who at least gives the impression, through their actions or words, that they perhaps don’t give a shit? What would that look like? What would be the impact of that type of “leadership” on the entire organization? On the brand’s reputation? On decisions being made up and down the corporate ladder inside its four walls? What kinds of ripples would this create?

Ken Lay of Enron

BP's Tony "I'd like my life back" Hayward

Now imagine a CEO who does give a shit. What would that look like? What kind of company culture would that generate? What kind of profitability and customer experience excellence would that drive?

Tony Hsieh of Zappos

Sir Richard Branson, of all things Virgin

Company cultures don’t grow from a random churn of interactions. They are engineered and designed from the inside out, deliberately, by people who give a shit. Or by people who don’t. The difference in outcomes between the two is typically fairly spectacular. We have all seen amazing companies falter under the direction of this CEO or that, solely based on their degree of giving a shit.

Why am I emphasizing that company cultures are engineered? Three reasons:

1. People who give a shit tend to hire people who also give a shit, and so on. Companies like this tend to hire carefully because they understand the importance of only hiring what you might call kindred spirits. Fans. Like-minds. They aren’t hiring as much as letting the right people into their little tribe of believers. When your entire company gives a shit, customers notice and become loyal. Why? Because they like that you give a shit, and they respect that. Besides, since you give a shit, you treat them well, which is more than anyone can say about companies that don’t give a shit about either their employees or their customers.

2. When customers like you (see 1. above), they tend to do a number of things: a) They love doing business with you, b) they do business with you as long as you keep giving a shit (which could be their own lives), and c) they recommend you to everyone they know, which in turn helps drive your business.

3. One CEO can make or break a company. Just one. Remember what happened to Apple when Steve Jobs left, back in the day? Should I mention some of Home Depot’s ups and downs? Show me a company whose CEO gives a shit, and I will show you a company about to bloom like a flower in sunlight. Show me a company whose CEO doesn’t, and I will show you a company about to race headlong into a very rough patch.

More than anything, customers instinctively know that they will eventually get screwed by someone who doesn’t really give a shit. They also instinctively know they will never get screwed by someone who does. This is important.

Even if giving a shit didn’t generate better design departments, better products, better service, better customer relations and generally healthier businesses, this point alone should catch the attention of CEOs, boards or directors, and investors alike: Consumer perceptions, trust, loyalty, these things matter in the mid-to-long term. Heck, they matter today. This very minute. Every single consumer making a purchasing decision right now is weighing one company against another. One will win. The others will lose. How are you feeling about your chances?

Leadership isn’t all about skills and experience. It’s also about attitude. And giving a shit, boys and girls, is a pretty important component of the sort of attitude we are talking about today.

The reciprocal effect of giving a shit.

Hiring people who give a shit, but not those who don't.

The above diagram illustrates the process of engineering loyalty and positive WOM (word of mouth) by sticking to a no asshole policy (see Part 1) and making sure you hire people who actually give a shit.

Note the jokers in red ink who didn’t really give a shit and are therefore not hired. The fact that they are not invited to spread their apathy and inevitable passive aggressive disdain to their coworkers and customers like a CSTD (Customer Service Transmitted Disease) ensures that your company maintains its edge.

Now let’s look at another kind of organization – one which doesn’t discriminate quite so much:

Hiring people who give a shit, and those who don't.

Note how in this alternate version, a company having allowed such individuals to breach its inner sanctum begin to spread mediocrity across their entire business, and how that trickles down into customer experiences and perceptions.

In short, giving a shit is contagious. From the CEO on down to everyone in the company and outwardly to customers. Positive attitudes and perceptions spread virally through recommendations, discussions and general perception. In the same way, not giving a shit is contagious as well, and it too spreads like a virus across departments, front-line employees, customers, and to their social and professional networks.

This is how reputations are both made and unmade, depending on what kind of culture you decide to engineer.

What are some of the obvious symptoms that a company doesn’t give a shit?

This is important, because these are common red flags. When consumers spot any of these (or several,) they know that perhaps your company doesn’t really care a whole lot about you, your loyalty, or your affection for their products or brands.

1. Customer service is outsourced. (Because nothing says “We care” like handing you off to total strangers working under contract for less than minimum wage.)

2. The recording says “your call is important to us…” which is kind of funny coming from a recording.

3. The company’s employees look at the clock more than they look at you.

4. The CEO, in the middle of a crisis, says things like “I’d like my life back.”

5. Outsourced social media accounts, especially when it comes to customer service functions.

6. When the product fails, technicians will be happy to “look at it,” and repair it for about 70% or more of the value of the product in about 6-12 weeks. This is usually followed by “you could just buy another one” type of “caring” advice.

7. False or misleading advertising.

8. The company spams your inbox, twitter feed, phone, or otherwise valuable channel.

9. The average customer has no idea who the CEO of the company is. Until they see him or her on TV, defending pretty bad decisions.

10. After several interactions with company employees or management, you begin to suspect that everyone who works there might actually be some kind of asshole.

11. Poor product design, characterized by lousy user UI/UX.

12. The manager, in an empty store or restaurant, still manages to blow off his only customers… assuming he is even there.

13. The company sells your personal information to third parties.

14. The CEO’s Twitter account, blog and/or Facebook page – all proof that he “cares,” wants to “engage” customers and feels that social media is “important” – are all managed and fed by a proxy, (or ghost writer) preferably working for an outside firm or agency. (Sorry Mr. Pandit, but you have been advised improperly on this one.)

15. More excuses than solutions, followed by buzzwords and lip service.

16. The CEO spends more time on the golf course than he does listening to customers.

And there you have it.

Three questions.

So the three questions you have to ask yourself are these:

1. What kind of company culture are my customers experiencing whenever they interact with one of my employees, colleagues, bosses, products and services? The kind that gives a shit, or the kind that clearly doesn’t?

2. What kind of company culture should I be building?

3. Once I cast aside the propaganda, tag lines, mission statements and sycophantic reports, what kind of company culture am I really building?

Be honest.  Are you setting the right example? Are you hiring the right people? Are you teaching them to give a shit? Are you rewarding them accordingly?

… Or are you banking on a mission statement to communicate to your employees that they should “care”?

Giving a shit is hard. So is kicking ass. So what?

Yeah, giving a shit is hard. It’s expensive too. It requires all sorts of investments: Financial, cultural, temporal, even emotional. (Perhaps especially the latter.) Giving a shit means that your business isn’t just about balance sheets and incremental basis points of change. It’s about creating something special for and with your customers. It’s about building the foundations of a lovebrand – like Apple, Harley Davidson, Virgin Airlines and BMW. It’s about investing in market leadership, in customer loyalty and evangelism, in your own reputation, and in the strength of your own brand. In short, it means investing in long term success, in stability in tough economic time, and in a demand vs. supply ratio that will always be in your favor. Giving a shit is an investment, yes, and not one that might immediately make sense to financial analysts, but one that pays off every time. It is the genesis of everything that ultimately makes a business successful: Professionalism. The endless pursuit of quality, of great design, of remarkable user/customer experiences.

The moment you lose that, the moment you start giving a shit a little bit less, the moment you start cutting corners, that’s when you start to screw up. When you lose that competitive edge. When you start sinking into the fat middle with everyone else. That’s when you start to lose. Before you know it, you’re stuck picking between BOGO pitches and worrying about price wars with foreign imports. I’ve worked with companies like this. You don’t want to go there, trust me. It’s ugly. It’s stressful. You wake up one morning and realize that even if you tried to give a shit anymore, you couldn’t. There wouldn’t be enough time. It wouldn’t make a difference. It might even get you fired. Everything you’ve worked for all your life is hanging on the edge, and it’s a long, hard road back too the top. Most companies never make it back. I can tell you that it’s a lot easier to never fall than to have to climb back up again, but either way, it’s a daily battle.

In fact, giving a shit is so hard that very few companies do anymore. It isn’t how the game is played any longer. “The customer is always right” is a relic of the past, isn’t it?

Or is it?

Have you listened to what people are saying about your company on Twitter and Facebook lately? Do you know what they are saying about your competitors? In a year or two, do you think companies whose leaders don’t give a shit are going to be able to compete against companies whose leaders do? If you don’t see giving a shit as a competitive advantage yet, as a differentiator, even as a normalizing agent, then at the very least see it as a matter of survival. The age of the “I don’t give a shit” CEO is done. Game over.

Time to make a change or two?

*          *          *

Since it’s June, here are this month’s three quick little announcements:

One – If you haven’t read “Social Media ROI: Managing and measuring social media efforts in your organization” yet, you will find 300 pages of insights with which to complement this article. It won’t answer all of your questions, but it will answer many of them. If anything, the book is a pretty solid reference guide for anyone responsible for a social media program or campaign. It also makes a great gift to your boss if you want him or her to finally understand how this social media stuff works for companies.

You can sample a free chapter and find out where to buy the book by checking out www.smroi.net.

Two – If you, your agency or your client plan on attending the Cannes Lionsfrom June 19-25, I am planning something a little… “unofficial” during the festival. If you are interested in being part of it, let me know.

You can send me an email, a note via LinkedIn, a Twitter DM, or a facebook message if you want to find out more. (The right hand side of the screen should provide you with my contact information.)

Three – If the book isn’t enough and you can’t make it to Cannes later this month, you can sign up for a half day of workshops in Antwerp (Belgium) on 30 June. (Right after the Lions.) The 5 one-hour sessions will begin with an executive briefing on social media strategy and integration, followed by a best practices session on building a social media-ready marketing program, followed by a PR-friendly session on digital brand management, digital reputation management and real-time crisis management, followed by a session on social media and business measurement (half R.O.I., half not R.O.I.). We will cap off the afternoon with a full hour of open Q&A. As much as like rushing through questions in 5-10 minutes at the end of a presentation, wouldn’t it be nice to devote an entire hour to an audience’s questions? Of course it would. We’re going to give it a try. Find out more program details here. Think of it as a miniRed Chair.

The cool thing about this structure is that you are free to attend the sessions that are of interest to you, and go check your emails or make a few phone if one or two of the sessions aren’t as important. The price is the same whether you attend one or all five, and we will have a 15 minute break between each one.

The afternoon of workshops is part of Social Media Day Antwerp (the Belgian arm of Mashable’s global Social Media Day event), and I can’t help but notice that the price of tickets is ridiculously low for what is being offered. Anyone can afford to come, which is a rare thing these days. (Big props to the organizers for making the event so accessible.)

The event is divided into 2 parts: The workshop in the afternoon, and the big Belgian style party in the evening. You can register for one or both (do both).

Register here: Social Media Day – Antwerp

My advice: Sign up while there are still seats available, and before #smdaybe organizers realize they forgot to add a zero at the end of the ticket prices. :D

Cheers,

Olivier.

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One particular question from last week’s Q&A session struck me as worthy of its own blog post. It was this:

You’re very active in social media, speaking engagements/traveling, etc. How do you go about scheduling your day/s — balancing work and family life? – Kristof

What about your scheduling and what are the most interesting activities of your day to day life? – Robin Clerk

You ask, I answer.

Just… whatever you do, don’t share this video with anyone. These are trade secrets I am only sharing with you, so shhhhh…

If the embedded video doesn’t play for you, you can watch it here.

One final tip: If your teenage son asks you for a video camera for Christmas, think twice before obliging him. You might just create… a monster.

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