Thursday, December 30

Rule 15. You are accountable. Period. 

More from the cutting room floor of my FAST COMPANY presentation:

Rule 15. The most important thing a creative person can learn professionally is where to draw the thin red line that separates what you are willing to do from what you are not.

Another way to put this is simply: Accountability is in. Accountability is different than responsibility.

The bad news: you are accountable for a lot more than you are responsible for.

The easiest examples come from the world of corporate scandals. If you’re the CEO of a large organization and corruption is discovered within the company, you might not be directly responsible (i.e. you didn’t do it - really). But you’re still accountable. The buck stops with you. That’s not to say that you have to take the fall if you truly did nothing wrong; but it is to say that you have to make it right.

And even when you are not the boss (perhaps specifically when you are not the boss), you are accountable for what you are willing to do.
You are accountable for what you are not willing to do.
You are accountable for what you ask others to do.
You are accountable for what you require others to do.
You are accountable for what you forbid others to do.
You are accountable for what goes on without your permission.
You are accountable for what goes on without your knowledge.
No matter how you slice it, you are accountable.

I run into this misunderstanding all the time with my entrepreneur clients as well as within large organizations. I call this the “But alas!” Syndrome.

Knowing where to draw the red line is like knowing yourself and at the same time, acknowledging that your accountability goes far beyond your responsibilities -- and extends far beyond yourself.

Top Ten Year End Questions 

From Michael Angier (http://successnet.org/topten/TTyearend.htm) - a great year-end exercise:

Reflect upon what you did, how you felt, what you liked, what you didn’t and what you learned. Try to look at yourself and your experience with as much objectivity as you can—much like a biographer would.

Here are some suggestions to get you started in mulling over the past year—perhaps the last decade. Feel free to add your own.

  1. What did I learn? (skills, knowledge, insights, etc.)
  2. What did I accomplish? A list of my wins and achievements.
  3. What would I have done differently? Why?
  4. What did I complete or release? What still feels incomplete to me?
  5. What were the most significant events of the year past? List the top three.
  6. What did I do right? What do I feel especially good about? What was my greatest contribution?
  7. What were the fun things I did? What were the not-so-fun?
  8. What were my biggest challenges/roadblocks/difficulties?
  9. How am I different this year than last?
  10. For what am I particularly grateful?

Thursday, December 23

Rule 8. Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete  

I'm working on a presentation for FAST COMPANY's Company of Friends in Philadelphia in January. I have the toughest possible assignment - make a DIFFERENCE to these people in 60 minutes or less. So I'm paring my material down, partly based on a survey I sent to the group. A lot of good stuff is ending up on the cutting room floor... so I thought I'd share pieces of it here.

Rule 8. Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete with companies that champion creativity.

Nor can you bully a subordinate into becoming a genius.

But the facts are in. Creativity has replaced fixed assets as the primary generator of corporate and entrepreneurial growth. Ideas are your most potent competitive resources. Sometimes, both corporate executives and entrepreneurs lose some or all of their creative juices. Do you know what to do when your well runs dry? Can you jumpstart ideas to solve business problems, develop new strategies and processes, or market your offerings more effectively?

Creativity is valuable simply because it’s just another name for your “business idea engine.” And the engine needs to be turned on and backed up with plenty of gas before you can go anywhere interesting!

Creativity is more than brainstorming; more than problem-solving; more than fun and games. It’s a mindset of doing your work with a positive attitude, and proactively looking for ways to do better.

It’s the opposite of complacency; it’s the opposite of “good-enough” and it’s the opposite of “we’ve always done it that way” AND “we’ve never done it that way.” The real focus of business creativity is simply getting the job done in the fastest, cheapest, easiest, AND best way. It’s not about compromise – it’s about breakthroughs that look impossible on the front end and impossibly obvious on the back end.

Companies that champion creativity both formally and informally are much better at developing new business strategies, tactics, ideas, and value.

But, see, the group I'm talking to on 1/27 already know this. So... I have about 28 more pieces to work through. Expect to see at least 6-7 more rules get snipped onto the cutting room floor... and appear in this space soon!

Tuesday, December 14

Salvation Army: Stuck on Stupid 

Target stores announced that they will not allow the Salvation Army to place their famous red kettles on Target store property this holiday season. Their decision is due to ever-increasing complaints from customers about being solicited for donations on store property.

My reaction: Duh!

Let's review marketing strategies in order of effectiveness:
#1 (most effective): Direct contact and follow-up
#2 Networking and referral building
#3 Public speaking
#4 Writing, publishing, and publicity
#5 Promotional events/seminar marketing
#6 (least effective) Advertising/mass mailing/cold calling/ringing that stupid bell

It's a shame that the Salvation Army will lose a potential $8.9 million dollars this year that would have been raised on Target property; however, maybe it's time for charities to rethink their strategies and get off #6 as their main way to put dollars in the coffers. Yes, even charities need to come up with better strategies for collecting donations than the old-fashioned ways they're still using.

Here are some ideas:

1. Get me gift certificates to amazon or Apple iTunes or Ofoto or eBay. $10 for every $100 donation ought to do it. And those companies chip in the gift certificates as their donation. Win-win. It's called corporate sponsorship. Oh, and do all this over the web, not at Target when I'm cold and harried and in no mood to be philanthropic! [But you could do it at target.com]

2. Do it at work. United Way has this mastered. Perhaps a buffet of at-work giving options - much like there are a buffet of investments available for your 401(k) or health plans for your medical coverage. Although you can't "out-United Way" United Way, you could take a lesson from their playbook!

3. Go neighbor to neighbor. Again, there's a model here - March of Dimes. Why are they the only ones that rely on networks of networks and neighbors, friends, and family? It's called viral marketing, people. And again, REWARD me for giving.

3a. I want cool stuff. See public radio and TV fundraising for this idea - give away CD's, DVD's, books, something. Make me WANT to give.

4. Appeal to the wallet. Use discount/member cards. How about if all American Cancer Society donors got into every Museum in the nation for free on Mondays? Or got half-price tickets to selected football games? Or got a free meal a month at McDonald's? (or someplace even nicer?)

The world is rapidly changing and we all need to change with it, whether we're in traditional sales or not. Instead of losing money, our charitable organizations have the potential to raise more money than ever before if they would just innovate their methods and make people smack their foreheads and say, "WOW! What a smart idea!!" as they reach for their credit cards.

Northeast Sheep & Goat Marketing 

Well, I guess I've seen it all now...


The 10 Commandments of Retail Customer Service 

Lately, a lot of my clients have been in the retail sector - from banks to stores to secret shoppers that help THEIR clients with customer service issues. So I thought I'd blow the dust off an almost 4-year old collection of wisdom that, whether you run a retail business or not, merits your attention in the lessons it contains. The below is from Stores Magazine, January 2001 with bold comments from me.

1. Put Your Customers First
Retail stores cannot exist without customers . . . so welcome them and make them feel valued. Duh! But how many of you are doing this for REAL?

2. Make It Easy . . .
for shoppers to get into and out of your store, to find a sales associate, to gather merchandise and to locate fitting rooms, restrooms and the return desk. Or to meet with you, hire you for your consulting services, web design, accounting services, whatever. Have you packaged your services with the customer in mind? Is it truly EASY? How could it be even easier to do business with you?

3. Know Your Customers
Embrace every opportunity to notice them, listen to them and remember them. Know them individually, and know them collectively. Each segment in your marketing audience should have a profile - both demographic and psychographic.

4. Keep It Simple
Discount store shoppers don’t expect piano music, and commissioned sales help won’t fly in a warehouse club, but a friendly smile, a bit of empathy and a willingness to help work in every environment. You can't out-Walmart Walmart. Be where the competition isn't.

5. Cultivate a Service Culture
Passion for customer service must be part of the culture, not just part of the mission statement. Tip: Glen Senk, CEO of retailer Anthropologie says he encourages managers to only hire staff "whose parents have done a good job." You can train a lot of things, but you can't train people to be nice.

6. Be Consistent
Multi-channel is industry jargon. Customers expect customer service, prices and return policies to be consistent, regardless of whether they shop your store, catalog or web site. "Every deal stands on its own" is the catchphrase for negotiating, not for customer service!!Treat customers inconsistently and they WILL go away.

7. Play Fair
Do what you say you’ll do, when you say you’ll do it, at the price you promised. If you advertise something, have it in stock. If it’s out of stock, provide comparable alternatives. Tip: Erase the word policy from your vocabulary.

8. Empower the Front Line . . .
to make decisions and deliver results and counsel them when mistakes arise. Take care of the people who are charged with taking care of your customers and they will take care of your business. As Hal Rosenbluth said, "The Customer Comes Second." Buy his book here.

9. Use Technology . . .
to aid and abet customer service, not to replace it. Customer service from a robot is suicide. Read the article here.

10. Recover Quickly
Mistakes will happen. The true measure of good customer service is how quickly you can turn a negative into a positive. Darn tootin'!!!

Tuesday, December 7

Holiday networking tips 

This just arrived in my email box from marketing guru Robert Middleton (www.actionplan.com):

>>> Holiday networking tips <<<

1. Accept all invitations. Well, most invitations. Remember that
this opportunity to meet with so many people won't come around
again for another year. Also look around for holiday events at your
professional organization, chamber of commerce or other
business groups.

2. Go to the party prepared. Bring plenty of business cards and
a pen. Make it a goal to make substantial connections with at
least half a dozen people. What's a substantial connection? A
one-on-one talk that's ten minutes or more.

3. There are two types of people you'll connect with at a party
(no, not drunk or sober) - people you know and people you don't
know. For those you know, ask sincerely how they are and how
business has been this year. For those you don't know, be
prepared with your "Audio Logo," - "I help people in companies
who are stressed out because they have more to do with fewer
resources." Don't label yourself - "I'm a personal organizer."

4. Spend more time asking questions and listening than talking.
This is really THE KEY to effective networking at parties. "How
has business been going? How have the changes in the economy
affected your business? What are your plans for growth in
2005? What kinds of clients are you looking for these days?"

5. Have a strategy for staying in touch. What good does it do if
you connect with all these people and they never hear from you
again? Don't fall into the rut of suggesting you should get
together for lunch sometime and never following up. Instead say,
"You know, I have something I think you'd enjoy receiving. I've put
together a new article entitled 'Ten Ways to Improve Productivity
in Tight Times.' Let me send you a copy."

6. Follow-up with your new prospects after the party, if
appropriate. If some topics come up that indicated there was a
reason to talk further, give them a call in a few days with a very
specific purpose: "Alice, at the party you talked about some of the
challenges in getting projects completed within budget. I have
some ideas that you might find useful..."

7. Keep an open mind. If you're in the right place at the right
time, you could make some very profitable business connections.
If nothing happens right now, at least you've sowed some seeds
for the future.

8. Don't drink or eat too much. Well you knew that already, but
I couldn't resist. Happy Holidays!

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