Category Archives: Leadership

5 Signs Your Brand is Abusing Social Media

Everything and everyone has a purpose, an intended reason for being created. Birds were born to fly. Fish were formed to swim. Social media was made to________.

The word you used to fill in that blank reveals all you need to know about how successful social strategies will be at driving growth in your organization. Abuse – defined as “abnormal use” – simply means the utilization of something for a purpose it was not manufactured for. Pencils as cue tips, credit cards as therapists, food as a best friend and people as punching bags are all obvious examples of something abnormally used.

If you or your team have misaligned expectations about the role of social interactions there isn’t much chance fitting the proverbial square peg into the round hole. Over the last 3 years I’ve had the opportunity to speak to and coach business leaders across the globe and I’ve learned to spot the social media abusers fairly quickly. There are usually 5 ways businesses abuse social media so watch out for these warnings signs in your organization:

5 Signs Social Media Abuse - Adrian Parker Intuit

1) You get an email every month asking how much revenue was driven from Facebook. Social connections and peer recommendations hugely impact purchase decisions but using your channels as a direct response vehicle is the #1 sign you’re an abuser. This offense is worsened if you actually reply to said email with a dollar figure and no other context about your customers. Measuring the value of social activity purely in dollar signs is like measuring the ROI of your mom by her life insurance amount. It doesn’t make sense and actually impairs the ROI of your efforts by missing the bigger picture (lifetime value, media efficiency, loyalty, recommendations and trust). Click here for more on social attribution models and ROI.

2) Your customer care team isn’t actively monitoring social channels. When you said “yes” to using Twitter to connect with customers you also said “yes” to providing timely answers and follow-up to relevant inquiries. It’s a marriage. For richer or for poorer you have a responsibility to be present in the conversation even when it’s not convenient. Companies that sell or serve online have an obligation to treat online conversations in the same manner they would address a face-to-face interaction. Would you like to know how responsive you are as a brand? Try the Twitter Customer Analysis report from Simply Measured (it’s free).

3) You talk about yourself all day. Every day. Can you (Adrian is hot) imagine how (Adrian can’t cook) annoying (Adrian is from Texas) it is to attempt to (Adrian misses his hair) converse with (Adrian wants you to read this) someone who is constantly (Adrian has a budget meeting today) talking about themselves. Just stop it. Inside our companies we all spend an obsessive amount of time talking to, at and about our products as if the earth is still flat and the sun revolves around them. Outside your conference room is where the real world starts. It’s round, customers are real people and relationships matter. Here’s my 37-slide point-of-view on how to create content that drives connections.

4) The leaders who decide social budgets, staffing and resources aren’t active online. Your CMO doesn’t need to have a verified Twitter account or a custom WordPress blog but the key trigger-pullers in your organization do need to be present and participatory online. It truly is the only way to form an accurate end-to-end picture of how to best utilize social as a business mechanism. Imagine Jennifer Quotson, Visual Merchandising Director for Starbucks, procuring vendors to redesign their stores without ever stepping inside one. Better yet, picture Ross Meyercord, CIO of Salesforce.com, deciding next year’s staffing and expense plan without an understanding of customer trends or cloud adoption rates. It’s laughable but it happens more frequently than you think. As a leader, when you reduce your brand’s online experience to a row in an Excel spreadsheet you’re ill-equipped to make intelligent decisions about how best to drive growth. Shifting a company culture to a social first mindset isn’t easy but here are some tools to start the journey.

5) One team “owns” social media or mobile. Social media is ultimately about connections, not control. If one group holds the keys to the kingdom (either by design or default) you’re driving a Porsche 911 stuck in neutral. The true power of these peer connections is realized when a company’s culture embraces engagement as an opportunity to learn, hear and connect more with the people who keep you in business. It’s not a PR function or a marketing campaign, though those are key elements. With 1 billion people on Facebook and half the United States using a smartphone, digital and mobile strategy is everyone’s job. Realign your team and recalibrate your mindset or you may very well be the bottleneck to progress. Not convinced? Here are 4 reasons your social strategy is incomplete without mobile.

Abuse – abnormal use – can be expected with nascent, emerging technologies that require us all to flex muscles in new ways. With constant change comes constant learning. The opportunity lies in dispelling misinformation regarding interactive marketing and enabling both teams and leaders to learn new ways to drive growth from the inside out. Stop the abuse and take the time to do it right.

I’d love to hear from social media leaders and marketers alike. What are some ways you see social engagement mis-used in organizations and what are the barriers to increasing our social IQ? Leave a comment below.

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Filed under Interactive Marketing, Leadership, Social Media

Why Fat, Foolish, Nervous People Make Better Leaders

Fat Foolish PeopleIt only took me a few decades but I’ve learned the only way to get somewhere new is to ask for directions. If I’m never the new guy at the office I’ll never be the VP of the division. If I’m never the fat guy at the gym I’ll never be the fit guy at the beach. My nervous first date was a requirement for my eventual 30th wedding anniversary. Every MVP was a rookie and every star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was once a “nobody.”

The real lesson is that success is easier to envy than emulate. Acting like you have the answers is much harder in the long run than simply asking for help. I believe being unfamiliar and uncomfortable is the only path to being strong and certain.

In the short-term, it’s simpler to insulate yourself in a cocoon of comfort, convenience and predictability. But that same cocoon becomes a coffin when you starve off the very thing you need to ensure healthy growth – change. So I’m learning to embrace errors and seek surprises. For better or worse, problems pave the way to solutions. Permission to fail is the tool to succeed.

After all, smart  men were once fools who asked for help. Wise men never stop asking.

So be the fat, foolish, new, nervous guy – just don’t stay that way. Watch out for the know-it-alls, they secretly want to be just like you.

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Career Poker: Knowing When To Cash In Your Chips

Perform a quick Google search for advice on exiting or entering a job and you’ll find millions of articles dedicated to helping you make the critical hold ’em or fold ’em decision. Most of this guidance, however,  provides a very reactive, even passive formula to decision making. If you simply wait until you’re dissatisfied with your current role or presented with a better option, you’re paying huge opportunity costs in the form of unnecessary angst, frustration and inefficiency. Proactive career management requires a tops-down look at these decisions.

Admittedly, I’m a horrendous poker player (seriously, don’t even ask me to shuffle cards) but the dynamics of absorbing environmental cues, adapting to uncontrollable circumstances and risk management are a great blueprint for building better career decisions.

Career Poker Knowing When To Cash In Your Chips

1) Know how much you can lose

In poker, folding a hand isn’t losing – it’s quitting before you lose. Amazing winners are awesome quitters who limit their losses on bad hands. A winning game plan starts with a strategy for losing the right way. How much are you willing to bet and what are the indicators that signal you’re losing? Good poker players don’t play more than 50% of the hands they are dealt. Each one has a starting hand requirement that determines when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.

2) Play tight and aggressive

There are 169 possible starting hands in Texas Hold ‘Em. Tight and aggressive players limit their play to only the top 10 hands – or about 6% of the hands dealt. Career poker requires each player to predetermine and measure exactly when to bow out. I started my new role at Intuit 13 months ago and within the first 6 months I created 3 requirements that would signal its time for me to fold:

#1 – I’m in the way. My background and skills are insufficient to lead the team and there are better candidates present. Simply being temporarily insufficient isn’t a deal breaker because that doesn’t mean you’re not the best fit for the role. It just means you need to learn and get to a break-even point faster.

#2 – My leadership and management approach are no longer a fit for the requirements to be successful. There’s rarely a need to force a square peg in a round hole.

#3 – I fulfill the initial charter of my role (launch and lead a new Center of Excellence) and can expand my scope for greater impact in another capacity .

3) Count your chips

What’s the market compensation range for someone in your field with similar skills and experience? Don’t know? Find out using Glassdoor or any number of websites that provide a peek inside the salary mechanics of major companies. Winning is not solely based on income but maximizing your earning potential is a significant contributor to future opportunities. If you’re underpaid by 30% or more it may be time to address the value discrepancy or look to roles that provide more equitable compensation models.

4) Higher stakes mean higher risks

What’s the biggest difference between a poker game with $2 stakes versus $20 stakes?  Skill.  As the stakes rise so does the average skill level of the other players. Mastery of a low stakes game does not translate into continued success at higher levels. Smart poker players are intentional about where they play and who they play against. More often than not, your pursuit of higher positions and income is also a pursuit of more responsibility. Do you want your boss’s job? Do you want your boss’s boss’s job? Think about it before raising the stakes on your own game.

5) Pay attention to the other players

Poker is a game of odds and observation, with opportunities to flex both sides of your brain.  While you’re watching the cards don’t forget to keenly pay attention to the other players for tells, bluffs and play styles that influence your success. One supremely beneficial tool in the game of career poker is LinkedIn. It’s a great tool for identifying individuals who have positions you aspire to and then mapping their journey. Do they have MBAs? What’s the average age or tenure in a certain industry? What skills or past experiences are a common thread among certain roles? Another great observational tool on the job is the lost art of asking. Many senior leaders are refreshingly candid about their career history and offer simple advice for moves you should emulate or landmines to evade.

Have you ever seen someone move into a high profile role or promoted to a position ahead of their time? These aren’t accidents. They are the result of patiently and intentionally building up career value (chips) over a period of time and leveraging this value to place well-timed bets when the cards are right. Like anything worthwhile, it’s much easier said than done but the rewards can far outweigh the risks if you’re willing to invest the time to truly build a career, not just a job.

I would love to hear your thoughts. What are your requirements for doubling down on a role or taking a bet in a new position?

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The Top 7 Distinctions Between Weak and Strong Leaders

top 7 distinctions weak strong - adrian parker

Leading people is one of the most critical and challenging skills on this planet.  Aside from parenthood – which has many similarities – there aren’t many competencies that universally possess equal amounts of hope and horror depending on how you wield their power.

Leadership isn’t new.  Each year we spend more than $60 billion on leadership development programs, books, articles and classes to crack the code on how to successfully guide human organizations to a desired goal.  More often than not, they fail.  Why?  Because people don’t like change.  Both managers and direct reports are naturally resistant to change and leadership training is 3 times more effective at teaching knowledge than it is in changing behavior.  Simply put, knowing how to effectively lead and being an effective leader are two very different things.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about learning to lead, I’ve been leading teams for the past several years and I also invest a meaningful amount of resources into honing my own abilities.  Through direct and indirect experiences I’ve compiled this list of the top 7 distinctions between weak and strong leaders.

1. Weak leaders outsource their decisions. Strong leaders outsource their thinking.  Good leaders are like General Managers of sports teams: they put the right guys in the right roles but take ownership of the outcome.  Ineffective leaders, instead, will push partners, agencies and peers to make the tough decisions in an effort to diffuse potential failure or downgrade their accountability.

2. Weak leaders avoid confrontation. Strong leaders are comfortable with uncomfortable conversations.  All results-driven leaders relentlessly guard their time, their focus and their vision.  Just like the uncomfortable “no” is the only way to protect your time, the uncomfortable performance evaluation is the only way to protect your team.  Strong managers aren’t heartless ogres but they are OK with facing issues head on.  As GE business titan Jack Welch said, “The biggest cowards are managers who don’t let people know where they stand.”

3. Weak leaders manage by consensus. Strong leaders aren’t afraid to walk alone.  Lead long enough and you’ll inevitably come across a turn in the road where you find yourself walking alone.  The times when the vision is the fuzziest are the times when a leader longs for support the most.  It’s easy to succumb to the desire to be popular and change course for safer seas.  The only problem is, consensus is like the wind – it won’t tell you which way is True North.  Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, recently shared his experience during Amazon’s early days.  “One thing that I have learned within the first couple of years of starting the company is that inventing and pioneering requires a willingness to be misunderstood for long periods of time.”  Strong leaders are sometimes lone nuts.

 4. Weak leaders seek approval. Strong leaders earn respect.  In the wake of the 9/11 tragedies, Former President George W. Bush achieved a 90% approval rating in 2001, the highest in the history of the poll.  By 2008 it had plummeted to just 25%, one of the lowest ever recorded.  Approval is a great force to have in your sails but a leader’s journey can not depend on approval alone.  Respect, however, is much harder to earn, making it that much more difficult to erode away in the face of misunderstanding.

 5. Weak leaders see feedback as a pain. Strong leaders see feedback as a gift.  A few years ago I had lunch with a senior VP at the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group and he shared a phrase I’ve been using ever since – “feedback is a gift.”  He discouraged me from becoming a “yes but.”  These are the leaders who politely dismiss your perspective with the simple introductory phrase “Yes… but (insert excuse here).” “Yes… but I don’t have time to explain to you why we’re changing strategies.”  Yes… but you don’t understand the big picture.”  Weak leaders avoid feedback because it requires true humility to accept criticism in a helpful manner.  Pride hates feedback.

 6. Weak leaders focus on events and emotions. Strong leaders focus on results and relationships.  The urgent will always be the enemy of the important.  The valuable work that propels your team into tomorrow and truly makes an impact is always postponable because today has more than enough distractions.  Weak leaders stay so mired in the day-to-day maintenance of egos, emotions and entitlement that real results become a distant mirage.  Effective executives drive for results by putting relationships and resources into proper perspective and concentrate on the critical few areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.  As Peter Drucker admonished, “Do first things first and second things not at all.”

 7. Weak leaders assume they’re strong and don’t ever change. Strong leaders acknowledge they’re weak and embrace change.  Growth comes through resistance.  Like a runner training to conquer a steep incline, as we overcome various degrees of difficulty it increases our ability to take on even greater loads in the future.  The truth is this: being weak is a prerequisite for being strong.  Yet the only way to stay strong is to intentionally put yourself in situations where you are required to grow.  It sounds counter-intuitive but it’s the secret to how the good get better, the rich get richer and the strong get stronger.  When you invest in yourself the interest always compounds in your favor.

We’re all weak in some areas but strong leaders know it’s not OK to simply dismiss your shortcomings and it’s never OK to give up.  Strong leaders find a way and weak leaders find an excuse.  The leadership journey is just that, a series of opportunities to better yourself by giving yourself away to people and causes bigger than yourself.

What do you think?  Would love to hear your opinions on the key characteristics that you believe separate weak and strong leaders. 

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What To Do While You’re Waiting To Be Discovered

Waiting to be discovered - Adrian Parker

Most of us are waiting, wanting or wishing for something.  I am.  I’m waiting to meet my firstborn son in a few months.  I’m waiting for what lies ahead in my career.  I’m wishing for a better me.

I’m not alone. Recent research suggests that we’re all wired to wait longer for bigger rewards.  When given a choice between small rewards that are immediate and large rewards that are delayed, we instinctively choose long term success.  It seems waiting is natural but it’s how we wait that makes all the difference.

The 30-something hopeless romantic, the table-waiting pop singer and the self-published blogger are all waiting for a moment when dreams and opportunity intersect.  They’re waiting for a chance to be someone else’s solution.  Waiting for that defining moment when Morpheus offers Neo the red pill and changes life as we know it.  They’re waiting to be discovered.

waldo image

There’s only one problem.  No one’s waiting for you.  The few people doing the discovering aren’t waiting for you to show up.  In fact, they don’t even know you exist.  There is no American Idol for your dream or X-Factor for your future. No one holds open auditions for roles, assignments or challenges that really matter.  Instead they look for people who are already doing what you’re waiting to do.

Why wait for lightning to strike when you can make your own storm?  Your next big break, soul mate or dream job will find you when you start working.  Simply put, there’s a right and a wrong way to wait.  A wait that produces results is productive.  A wait that prolongs worry is unproductive.  As someone who has been on both sides of the coin and learned a little about being the waiter and the waitee, I’ll offer a few tips for things to do while waiting to be discovered.

Work More

Why wait when you can work? Work produces energy and results that just beg for attention.  Get busy in a small way each day.  When I started my own marketing company in 2007 I had big ideas and zero customers.  Once I began to actually plan the work and work the plan, clients rolled in.

Talk Less

I’ve never hired the candidate who wants the job the most.  I hire the one who produces results.  Talk less about how bad you want an opportunity and showcase how good you already are.  When your work speaks for you, people notice.  Increased competition means everyone is looking for the best and they have easy access to technology and information to help them decide if you are or aren’t.  Your reputation should create breadcrumbs that lead opportunities to you.

Refocus

Eliminate this phrase from your human hard drive: “This job is perfect for my career because…” Same goes for relationships, movie roles or whatever else you’re cooking up.  Focus on how you solve their problem rather than how they can be your solution.  What pisses you off?  What gets you super excited?  What pains you constantly? Focus on the problems you intend to solve and the skills you need to prepare for them.

Be Patient

When you can’t be useful, be patient.  During the course of most major endeavors you will inevitably reach your end – the point where you’re not in control.  When the money, time, contacts or desire are running on “E” it’s a great time to park and be still.  This one’s tough.  When my business hit a wall it felt like being stuck in quicksand.  Taking time to quiet my thoughts and engage my creativity was much more productive than flailing around for a quick-fix. (Note: Here’s what to do if you ever get stuck in quicksand)

Seek Help

It’s easier to help someone who is already helping themselves.  Once you’ve invested in pursuing your path don’t be afraid to ask someone for counsel, support or even a helping hand.  Oftentimes you have an arsenal of people ready, willing and able to pitch in if you’ve won their hearts.

The greatest strength is gained by waits.  Though it can be hard, resist the urge to seek short-term solutions for endeavors that are worth the effort.  There’s no shame in waiting for what you truly want as long as you’re doing it in a focused, productive and positive manner.

What are you waiting on? Any tips you would add for your patiently impatient peers?

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Why The World Deserves A Better You

The world needs a better you.

Why? Because I need you and you need me.

My goals and my gifts are the very answer to the question you didn’t know you had. I need your art, your beauty, your voice and your view to bring my dream to fulfillment.

Today’s you isn’t good enough. I need the best you. The you that is long-suffering and patient. The you that’s powered by purpose and a genuine desire to give. The you who has experienced regret and redemption. The you who has loved, loss and led a life worth sharing. Most of all, I need the you who knows it’s not about you at all.

The world needs a better you. It’s not about how much you make, it’s about the difference you make. It’s less about what you want to be called and more about your calling. Your actions outweigh your beliefs. It’s less about you and more about what you do.

Today is a door. Take one step towards being the you the world deserves. If I take that same step we’re already headed in the right direction.

You deserve a better you.

Image

Photo: Brevityness / Creative Commons

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10 Career Commandments to Learn in Your 20s

Modern life is rife with opportunities to make your mark, forge your own path or even fall flat on your face.  As knowledge work becomes the norm, there is no playbook for young professionals who have yet to learn how to manage their careers and personal brands in the information age.  Also, as competition for promotions and positions goes global, managing your professional reputation starts the moment you sign up for a Google+ account.  Now more than ever, careers are planned looking forward but understood looking backward.

How can early career professionals ensure they are following the North Star and building a truly successful foundation?  I’ve cobbled together some hard learned lessons that I often share with younger movers-and-shakers.  Take a read and let me know what you think of these 10 Career Commandments.

10 Commandments 20 Somethings

1. Reputation is everything.  There isn’t a short cut to building integrity but there are innumerable ways to cut your time short by breeding mistrust, dishonesty and conflict.  Stay far away from grey areas even when they seem shiny.  Remember, today’s emotional outbursts can easily be tomorrow’s missed opportunity.  People talk. (See earlier blog post: “3 Steps To Discovering Your Personal Brand“)

2. Fry the big fish first.  Contrary to popular opinion, it’s easier to start at the bottom of a world-class company than to squeeze in mid-career.  Intense competition only gets hotter in the most desirable industries and corporations.  If the Fortune 500 are on your hit list, don’t be afraid to start actively pursuing relevant opportunities via internships or entry-level assignments.

3. Mo’ money, mo’ problems.  After graduating from Florida A&M, I relocated to the NYC area and discovered my marketing coordinator salary didn’t go far in the Big Apple.  I worked hard and got promoted. Then I worked hard because I was promoted.  And so on.  As income increases so do expectations, visibility, rewards and risks.  Building wealth through employment isn’t impossible, just be sure what you’re signing up for.  How much you save is far more important than how much you earn. (Required Reading: Stop Acting Rich)

4. Don’t read your own press.  The biggest career blunders I’ve ever witnessed were the result of too much pride and not enough reality.  One former peer who worked in sports and entertainment marketing was so enamored of the celebrity lifestyle of his clients that he actually began to believe he was one of them.  He flaunted his Rolodex and glitzy relationships to anyone who would listen.  Then one day his wealth of unfulfilled promises became the very weapons of his demise.  Let your work speak louder than you do.  Never gauge your self-worth simply by work performance because failures are inevitable.

5. Bust your butt.  When I was a 20-year-old intern at Footaction USA, the CEO shared a simple, yet powerful piece of advice: “Bust your butt in your 20s.”  Hard work doesn’t guarantee greatness but nothing great was ever accomplished without hard work.

6. If you’re explaining you’re losing.  Unless sincerely requested, your boss’ s boss needs enough information to make decisions and anything more is wasted time.  Your confident communication of the right amount of information goes a long way in instilling trust in your abilities.  Like a former CMO said, “When I ask for the time don’t tell me how to make a watch.”

7. Know your role.  Were you hired for your digital creative chops or experience with Six Sigma process improvement?  Is your team positioned to launch a new product line or turnaround a lagging division?  It’s critical to know both your official and informal job duties from the lens of leadership.  If you want to change paths, let someone know and be sure you’re using your skills to solve an actual business need, not simply a personal passion.  As Greg McKeown noted, “At any one time there is only one piece of real estate we can “own” in another person’s mind.” (Required Reading: The #1 Career Mistake Capable People Make)

8. Work horses vs. show horses.  Busting your butt and working hard are now requirements to keep your job, not to thrive.  The “work horse” efforts of your 20s are the building blocks for more visible, far-reaching “show horse” projects.  Work horses manage projects, events and details.  Show horses may focus more on people, expectations and strategy.  We’re all called to be both at various points in our careers but knowing when is the key.

9. Define success for yourself.  No career nightmare is worse than pursuing someone else’s dream.  A book, conference, blog post or webinar can provide perspective but the job of discovering and pursuing your purpose is all yours.  Decide what you stand for, what’s important and where you’re headed.  Then deliberately work towards it with focus, fervor and flexibility.  (Required Reading: How Will You Measure Your Life?)

10. Opportunity knocks when you’re ready.  Professional and personal doors are rarely opened when we want them.  More often than not, I’m resigned to wait, listen and learn in preparation for what I thought I was ready for.  Thank God.  Sometimes the closed doors are there to protect me from an ill-conceived idea or an unknown, invisible threat.  Other times the closed doors are there for me to showcase exactly how bad I want something.  Knowing one from the other is crucial.

What qualifies me to create 10 career commandments?  I’m a former 20-something know-it-all turned 30-something student of life.  Let me know what you think.

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Why Leaders Should Learn By Walking, Not Watching

It’s easier to learn by watching.

You observe and inquire, research and report.  Gathering information and adding it to your own experiences is how many ideas are sparked.  It’s a mental exercise.

But learning by walking is different.  You have to get in the cage and interact with your customer, target, audience, competitor and even yourself.  It’s a human exercise.

Watching gives you control.  Walking gives you a connection.

Watching change is something you do. Walking changes you.

In 2013 I’m doing a lot more walking.  Watching is so 2012.

Walking on the beach san diego

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3 Steps To Discovering Your Personal Brand

Q: What words best describe Adrian Parker?

In its simplest form, your personal brand is the answer to this all-important question: what do people think about me?

Or, stated a more complex way, what equity does my reputation have in the minds of those who matter?

For most of us, our personal branding efforts consists primarily of doing a good job, working hard and treating people with respect.  After all, this is what leads to promotions and positive job evaluations, right?  Maybe, but why leave something so important as your reputation to chance?  Why not invests a little time to discover how your peers see you now, before you need anything.

We recently did just that at our office and I’d like to share how truly easy and eye-opening it can be.  In fact, the word cloud above is my personal brand at Intuit (so far, wait till they really get to know me).  Follow these really simple steps to get an understanding of what your peers think about you and start managing your proactively personal brand.

  1. Make a list of people you work with. They should be familiar enough with your work style and personality so that their feedback is relevant.  Also try to mix it up between direct reports, your supervisors, cross-functional peers and even people you assume may not have the most positive opinion of you.  The goal is get a balanced point-of-view from a good sample audience.  Try to list between 8 – 12 people.
  2. Send this list to someone on your team to serve as your “survey administrator.”  This person will send a quick email to everyone on your list (blind carbon copies or BCCs are OK) asking a very simple question:  What 3 – 5 words best describe your feelings and thoughts when you think about [your name]? What words best characterize the impression he/she has in your organization?In this email, ensure your survey administrator promises confidentiality while encouraging frank, direct comments.
  3. Collect all of the words and create a word cloud that reflects the feedback.  Have your administrator dump all of the words (duplicates included) into a word cloud generator so you can marvel at your brand blueprint.  Wordle.comis a free and easy word cloud generator that I used when doing this exercise.  After generating the cloud, your administrator simply sends you the finished product – read ’em and weep.

I was surprised by a few of the descriptors on my list (Acquiescent? My wife wishes…) and also pleased that there were positive attributes to be found.  I’m so glad someone thinks I’m smooth and happy.  Give it a shot and see what brand positioning you really have.  Asking for feedback is a step in the right direction.

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8 Lessons I Learned From Leading Change at Intuit

Five months ago I resigned  as Director of Social & Digital Strategy at RadioShack to embark upon a new challenge with Intuit.  As if the task of building an enterprise-wide social practice for one global brand wasn’t enough, I was brought to Intuit with an ambitious goal: do it again, faster.

But this time around things are different.  When I began crafting the blueprint for RadioShack’s digital proficiency, I was entering an empty lot.  There was no foundation or framework, no sheetrock or shingles – simply potential.  Conversely, at Intuit’s Accounting Professionals Division I’m more renovator than architect, responsible for casting a vision, enhancing the skills and upgrading efforts.  I traded my jackhammer for a paint brush.

In just a short time, I’ve learned numerous insights about effectively leading change for lasting results.  Last week I was invited to share these lessons with my fellow Intuit execs and I believe they apply to leaders outside our organization as well.

1. Package before distribution

During my first week at Intuit, before I memorized my telephone extension or PC password, I delivered a framework to the entire team that summarized how I would approach change.  This package, entitled Project R.U.N., immediately gave everyone a common language and chronology for the months ahead.  By packaging the ingredients of change into smaller, traceable containers the team was better able to understand my perspective.  Even the heaviest items are easier to hold when you give them handles.  (Note: I’ll unveil the inner-workings of Project R.U.N. in a later post)

2. Let the team in the lab

From re-orgs and acquisitions to layoffs and promotions, oftentimes organizational change is something that simply happens to us.  We waltz into the office one day and everything is different.  In some instances it is easier for a leader to administer change much like you would a drug treatment.  Lockdown the lab. Concoct the cure.  Convince the boss.  Inject the drug. Observe the behaviors.  But are the side-effects of this approach worth it?  In my case, I used surveys, one-on-one meetings, team offsite events and informal conversations to deliberately let the larger team into the lab with me.  Sure it takes more time in the beginning but I’m betting on the long-term benefits.

3. Decide how to decide

Unsurprisingly enough, great decisions are the product of good planning.  Effectively making decisions requires leaders to carefully consider the proper approach for gathering critical inputs that impact change.  Will you consult with select colleagues and then make a decision?  Or perhaps you seek 100% consensus among the team?  And then there’s the good ol’ fashion unilateral decision where you pull the trigger all by yourself.  No matter your approach, it’s important to diagnose your particular business situation and then select the criteria that works for you.

4. Acceptance vs. Agreement

Acceptance is critical, agreement is convenient.  Don’t confuse them.   Acceptance is the oxygen of change, an essential requirement for building shared vision towards an area of enhancement.  Acceptance listens to unique and opposing perspectives by going beyond simply respecting an individual’s right to an opinion and actually valuing it.  Agreement is simply the support of an idea, a convenient nice-to-have but far from a requirement for successful change.  On the other hand, acceptance of your team’s point-of-view helps translate individual perspectives into collective action.

Group session from a Project R.U.N. meeting at Intuit.

5. Inspire by doing

Just like Hernan Cortes sunk his fleet of ships when he arrived in the New World to signal to his men that turning back was not an option, leading change means modeling the behaviors you desire among your team.  I didn’t slash my tires to demonstrate to the Intuit team that I wasn’t turning back, but I did attempt to model social and business best practices to build trust and credibility.  For instance, when we wanted to incorporate more video content into our customer conversations I began incorporating videos into my team communications. The fear of uncertainty is the biggest enemy to progress, making a leader’s actions vitally important to cultivating courage.  As a leader, to figure out what actions need modeling ask yourself these 2 questions: What is the #1 thing only I can do?  What activity will have the biggest impact on the business if done with excellence?  The intersection of those 2 answers is your starting point.

6. Speak honestly and openly

Weaknesses, challenges, gaps, fears and hopes aren’t values you’ll find in any business case but they are all a natural part of leading human change.  While becoming a cyborg would certainly prove beneficial, a robotic approach to change is no replacement for honest conversations.  Don’t be afraid to share your own story and be transparent about the road ahead.  To spark real conversations, start with real inquiries: What would you do if you were me?  What are you most concerned about?  Given this change, what changes the most for you individually?  What big win would you like to contribute to?  How can I help you?  How can I do better?

7. Know yourself

For me, change in any area of my life has a way of becoming a much-needed mirror into areas of strength and improvement.  It’s beneficial to identify and own your personal attributes – both good and bad – since they affect your response to change.  What triggers you at work?  What workplace behaviors do you find totally reprehensible?  What actions encourage you?  Our team spent a day going through the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book and exercise to discover and share our natural talents.  By increasing your emotional and cultural intelligence and awareness of team dynamics, you increase your change IQ.

8. Fear fuels creativity

Margaret Wheatley says it best: “The things we fear most in organizations — fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances — are the primary sources of creativity.”  Conflicts are opportunities to change, invent and innovate for the better.  Remember, feedback is a gift you can only unwrap with your ears.

At Intuit, I’ve learned to embrace change and leverage it as a signature capability.  As innovation becomes the norm and disruptive forces shape how we go-to-market, leading change will become synonymous with leading.

What lessons has change taught you? Leave a comment below as I’d love to compile this feedback for future blog posts.

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