This Mindset Is Essential for Successful Business Comebacks

As we seem to be stuck in a chronic game of “Ready. Set. Wait.” while our local and national leaders decide how to move forward in the new normal, we have two choices to make:

  1. Hunker down and hold tight to what we have so we can resume the life we once knew when the storm passes.
  2. Focus on improving what we have, look for opportunities, and prepare for growth so we can hit the ground running and operate even better down the road.

When nothing is certain, it seems certain that the first choice of hunkering down makes the most sense: Hold on to what you have so you don’t go under when the ship starts to sink. After all, playing it safe is better than risking it all.

If the above is how you are thinking, think again!

The first approach is that of a Fixed Mindset, and the second reflects a Growth Mindset.

Which of these mindsets you apply to your marketing and business operations as you face the challenging environment in which we operate now will determine if you succeed or fail. It’s really that simple.

Historically, the companies that succeed through tumultuous and uncertain times are those with leaders who have a common characteristic associated with a growth mindset: psychological resilience. 

Wikipedia describes psychological resilience as follows:

The ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or return to pre-crisis status quickly. … Psychological resilience exists when people develop psychological and behavioral capabilities that allow them to remain calm during crises/chaos and to move on from the incident without long-term negative consequences.

While many may argue whether resilience is a trait we are born with or a learned skill, I am going with renowned psychologist, Stanford professor, and author of “Mindset,” Carol Dweck, who claims resilience is a skill, not an innate human trait. Dweck maintains that resilience is part of a growth mindset which is grounded in the belief that hard work, dedication, one’s intelligence and ability to overcome challenges can result in great accomplishments.

The fixed mindset believes your abilities are fixed, so you stick with what you have, and you believe your potential is predetermined by circumstances beyond your control. As a result, you don’t sharpen your skills and ability to identify opportunities, improve efficiencies, and make futuristic decisions vs. short-term choices.

When you look at companies that rose above past recessions stronger and better than competitors, creating and executing growth plans was the primary difference.

An article in the March 2010 edition of the Harvard Business Review, Roaring Out of Recession, reviewed winners and losers from three previous recessions – 1980, 1990, and 2000 – and found that businesses lead by a growth mindset rose above competitors substantially. In fact, their studies show that only 9% of businesses monitored survived and actually grew coming out of a downturn, 80% failed to achieve their pre-recession levels within 3 years, and 17% failed altogether.

What about that 9%? These were the companies leading with a growth mindset that balanced offensive actions, such as improving efficiencies and seizing new opportunities, with defensive tactics of cutting back on costs to prepare for the worst.

What they did:

  • Kept and even added staff instead of letting people go
  • Remained committed to marketing programs
  • Invested in assets for long-term growth

As a result, these 9% came out stronger than before. Office Depot vs. Staples is a prime example offered in the HBR article:

Office Depot cut staff by 6% in order to cut losses for the near term. Staples hired more staff and looked for opportunities to improve operational efficiencies and invest for the long term. As a result, Staples’ sales were doubled at the end of the 2000 recession and were substantially higher than Office Depot’s sales, which were billions ahead of Staples before the recession.

Lessons learned from the HBR study, and the impact of a growth mindset vs a fixed mindset, include:

  • Maintain marketing programs and brand presence during uncertain or down times so that when purchasers start purchasing again, they think of and come to you first. Keeping your brand presence alive is key to letting customers and influencers know you will be around when the dust settles.
  • Reduce operational costs not staff. Doing so sends a signal to all employees that you are committed to the value they add which in turn increases their creativity, drive, and contributions at a time these attributes are needed most.
  • Invest in assets you can likely get for lower prices due to the recession to save money. This way you will be ready to respond to future opportunities quickly, and enjoy higher profit margins while others are scrambling to catch up.

Staying the course and believing in your business’ ability to reinvent, reinvigorate, and rise is perhaps the most important strategy you can execute while our communities juggle the pros and cons of getting back to the old normal or the new normal, whatever it may be. If you lose customers now and have to start rebuilding your base when the recession is over, you will have a very hard time catching up with those that managed to keep their base and grow incrementally.

Remote Education Realities: Challenges Faced by Students, Academic Institutions – and Employers

Watching COVID-19 infection rates spread around the country – with record infection rates now predominantly in the Southern and Western Tiers – only underscores how hard a decision it is for public officials to resist science and public health experts and reopen their schools later this month. Colleges and universities, both public and private, also are weighing this tough decision.

In the private-sector companies, in the service sector, most workers will remain remote – connected by laptops, wi-fi and Zoom calls. It’s been an adjustment that employers and employees have had to make – some of us willingly in our comfortable home offices, summer houses and outdoor patios, and grateful to still be working.

Yet in the education sector, remote education is not so easy for many students (and educators). At least that’s what a Marketing EDGE student survey – conducted in late spring and released in a report last month – has revealed. It’s one thing for a student to pursue an online education by choice. It’s wholly another scenario when all students are forced into this transition by circumstances.

Remote Education, Not So Easy for Everyone

Marie Adolphe, Senior Vice President – Program Development, Marketing EDGE | Credit: Marketing EDGE

I recently spoke with Marie Adolphe, the study author and senior vice president of program development at Marketing EDGE, about what education – and the workplace – can take from the findings to improve the situation for “remote realities.” [Disclosure: I am an avid contributor to Marketing EDGE, a marketing education non-profit organization. Marketing EDGE also is a client.]

Chet Dalzell (CD): Thank you Marie for undertaking this research – which I have to say made me most curious as to how students handled this forced adjustment, heading home mid-semester from campus and picking up their studies online. In short, how have these young adults handled the situation overall?

Marie Adolphe (MA): The majority of students have managed the situation quite well; but, a significant minority, 23%, have struggled with this mode of learning. These students are in danger of being left behind, and the colleges and universities are looking for ways to support them as many go back online for the fall semester.

CD: What were some of the most cited challenges they have faced? 

MA: As you know, Chet, individuals learn in various ways, and for many students the interactive dynamics of the classroom is not only a preference, it is a necessity. The students we surveyed struggled to focus on their schoolwork due to the increased distractions of their home environment and the general chaos surrounding the pandemic. Students also struggled with the different teaching strategies generally employed online. Some reported increased assignments to make up for the lack of classroom discussions and stated that they felt like they were teaching themselves the material. One reason the results of this research were particularly alarming to those of us at Marketing EDGE is that some of the students struggling are also part of the diverse group of students who are the first in their family to attend college. It is a wake-up call for the marketing industry, especially in light of recent developments that have elevated calls for a more diverse pool of talent in our field. For the last few years, Marketing EDGE has heightened its focus on creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Given these tumultuous times, we’re doubling down on our efforts to work hand-in-hand with industry leaders and academics alike to provide support and resources so all students know there is a vibrant community within the marketing industry who is eager to welcome them into our field.

CD: What aspects of remote education do they appear to have well embraced? (My summer intern made the most of working remotely, but I wonder if it was as rewarding and engaging as it could have been for him.)

MA: Many students who participate in our programs have been making the most of the career related opportunities available this summer. We had more than 800 students participate in our EDGE Summer Series webinars where they learned about personal branding, sports marketing, e-commerce, and leadership. Students have also made the most of virtual internships, micro internships, and other opportunities to connect with brands and marketers. The resiliency that these students are learning will serve them well when in-person internships return and more importantly, as they prepare to take leadership positions later in their career.

CD: Is there any guidance or suggestions you believe educators, educational institutions – and employers with remote work forces – might take away from this study? Is Marketing EDGE planning any additional research or follow-up?

MA: It is important to find ways to connect with students (and employees) and to have them connect with each other. Our best advice to educators and employers is to first seek to understand the experiences of your students and workers by really listening to them. When possible, involve them in finding solutions and try to find consensus on how to move forward. We are all in unchartered waters and unleashing our inner creativity to solve these problems is a must. The solutions we find will not only support those who are struggling, they will help everyone else thrive, too. We will follow up with some of the respondents at the end of the upcoming fall semester to see if their experience of online learning has improved.

Student Struggles From Online Learning Transition

Source: “A Sudden Transition to Online Learning: The Student Perspective,” Marketing EDGE (2020)

The full report may be downloaded here.

The Value of Brand Communications During Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Corporate bankruptcy does not mean a brand will become extinct or that it’s time to halt all marketing and communications. Instead, a Chapter 11 filing is an opportunity for a business to restructure debt and remain in operation. A strategic approach to brand communications leading up to, during, and following a Chapter 11 filing is key to successful emergence.

The United States saw a 26% increase in Chapter 11 business bankruptcy filings, in the first half of 2020, according to legal-services firm Epiq. Many retailers, travel companies, and oil and gas companies were among the over 3,600 companies filing for bankruptcy protection, including Brooks Brothers, Ascena Retail Group (Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant), Hertz, 24 Hour Fitness, and Frontier Communications. In the coming months, there will likely be many more companies that are significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and changing consumer behavior, filing for bankruptcy protection.

However, Chapter 11 is not all doom and gloom. The objective is often to reorganize the business, not liquidate it entirely. A company going through Chapter 11 typically downsizes its operations. For example, many retailers who’ve announced Chapter 11 filing are closing down select stores and selling off certain brands.

There are many misconceptions about bankruptcy. Therefore, there’s a critical need to reassure a variety of audiences throughout the process. Brand communications play a vital role in sharing important information about the future of a business as it enters, manages through, and emerges from bankruptcy. 

Here are several central pillars to effective brand communications in support of Chapter 11 filings.

Create a communications task force. 

Internal alignment requires close coordination across leadership, legal, sales, marketing, and client-facing teams. Consider engaging outside communications counsel in the form of a specialized PR agency or consultant with relevant experience.

Craft the narrative. 

The brand should own the present and future narrative. Don’t let others tell your story. Communicate new information along the restructuring journey to guide the media, partners, and customers regarding your transformation. 

Find your allies.

Share and back up your story through parties who can support your communications, including analysts, influencers, partners, and ‘friendly’ reporters. Focus on the markets where you have a strong presence because of the vested interest in your future success.

Lean on leadership.

The CEO’s role is to set clear expectations and reassure customers, employees, and the general public. The top executive should focus on transparent and open communications that outline the organization’s future. Leadership can draw on brands who’ve successfully restructured and refocused their business.

Be consistent.

There are typically many audiences who will be following Chapter 11 developments and information. Orchestrate consistent communications that mirror your filing but tailor these themes by the audience.

The Chapter 11 process is not a time to neglect your brand communications and marketing. Rather, it’s an opportunity to provide information reflective of the company’s new direction. 

Brand Statements: What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say?

Right now even brands with messaging documents longer than most PhD dissertations are struggling to decide if and how to respond to current events. From COVID-19 to widespread protests tied to inequality, we’re seeing brands issue commentary on unexpected topics. Virtually all of my clients have asked about it, and it’s likely to keep coming up over time, so let’s answer the big question of the season — should we put out a statement?

The answer is not so easy. Yes, and maybe. It just depends who you’re talking to.

Addressing Issues Internally Is a Must

To build and maintain brand trust, employees have to be briefed. The internal audience always needs a statement. If you don’t know where to start, it’s absolutely acceptable to say that you don’t know what to say. Whoever delivers the message can also speak from their heart, referencing their own experiences or even talking about a personal commitment to examine biases.

What’s most important is that the message lets employees know their work environment is supportive. They need to know that if they’re experiencing anything — from instances of racism, to mental health concerns — they have options. Remind them who they can bring concerns to, and assure them that procedures are in place to protect and support them. One CEO I worked with recently even invited employees to share their concerns directly with her.

Sometimes these statements feel uncomfortable, but keeping silent internally is not an option. When it comes to making a public statement, it’s less cut and dried.

You Are Not Required to Make Public Statements

Scrolling through my inbox and social media feeds, it can look like every company is issuing a public statement. But of course you’re not seeing a list of everyone abstaining. Yes, the pressure is higher than usual, but there’s no need to rush.

Here’s the question I ask clients first: Is this in your DNA?

For some brands, a statement will feel like a regular extension of the brand. But if there’s no approach in place already, or it’s beyond the company’s comfort level, it’s better to say nothing than to say something and appear insincere.

If the decision is to keep quiet, now is a good time to consider if the approach will change in the future. Maybe you need or want to do a little genetic engineering to bring brand DNA into line with modern demands.

And finally, don’t forget that any content you do put out is going to be viewed in the context of recent events, which could mean it’s ignored or misinterpreted. I encourage my clients to trust their guts. If your gut tells you it’s just not the right time to put out certain content, pull it.

How to Build Teams While Breaking Organizational Silos

People often talk about the need to “break down organizational silos” or “enable more cross-functional collaboration” within a company. Sounds great! But it’s easier said than done.

People often talk about the need to “break down organizational silos” or “enable more cross-functional collaboration” within a company. Sounds great! But it’s easier said than done.

Consultants have spilled a lot of ink debating where analytics, customer data, e-commerce, or user experience functions should ideally live within organizations. I don’t participate in those philosophical debates, nor do I have a strong point of view on what should live where. (In fact, I think it’s naive and irresponsible to imagine that all Chief Marketing, Chief Product, Chief Technology, or Chief Experience Officers have similar skills or budgets.)

Instead, I’ve observed several factors that consistently predict success or failure when companies crack open legacy organizational designs.

  1. Do an organization’s leaders honestly share a clear understanding of their respective roles and responsibilities? If not, start there! Set aside ego and entitlement. Focus on the strengths, capabilities, and passions of both the leaders AND their teams. Look past conventional titles and seek opportunities where someone a level or two down might thrive, given responsibility for a critical function. (Is there someone the team naturally looks to for help with an emerging capability?) Ask, “Who is most likely to be successful with this function? What will they need to improve their odds?”
  2. Have leaders broadly communicated their respective roles and responsibilities in a manner that conveys alignment and shared priorities? Drafting and peer-reviewing such communication is an excellent way to ensure leaders are genuinely on the same page. You don’t need a full responsibility matrix. Directly comparing teams’ duties is usually enough to surface gray areas and blind spots in advance. (For example: “We agree that Marketing ultimately owns pricing and packaging decisions, while Product is responsible for designing an effective checkout flow. How might we identify similarly ‘bright lines’ around the broader user journey?”)
  3. Are leaders candidly revisiting these “operating agreements” on a cadence that’s consistent with the pace of the business? Are they soliciting and understanding feedback from the ‘rank and file’ about points of confusion or unintended friction? Military strategists know that “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Leaders will need to adapt even the best-planned approach. The key is to promptly, transparently, and humbly articulate what’s working, what’s not, and what will change.
  4. Are “borders” defined well enough that teams can intuitively address “jump balls” without losing momentum or consulting a referee? When you empower teams to make autonomous decisions — and that often means sharing more information than you’re comfortable with — it can be a real accelerator and force multiplier. Think of all the emails, conversations, and meetings that can be skipped when teams confidently understand leadership’s intent.
  5. Have leaders reviewed each other’s high-level goals? Even the appearance of conflicting objectives risks creating toxic divisions between teams. Avoid this at all costs. Explicitly encourage everyone to escalate perceived strategic collisions. Then quickly and transparently address any concerns. Use data, research, and customer feedback to turn potential “turf battles” into clear opportunities. (For example: “On the surface, it may seem like we can’t improve our user experience while also maintaining our advertising revenue. However, we believe we can achieve both with faster-loading web pages. We’ll clarify to teams that we aim to add genuine value for both our consumers and our advertisers.”)

When you reorganize or change teams’ responsibilities, it’s naturally disorienting to employees, suppliers, and sometimes your customers. By approaching it with a servant leader’s mindset, regularly assessing effectiveness, and communicating clearly and often, you’ll boost your likelihood of success… whether your ultimate business objective is reacting to supply chain constraints, adapting to changing consumer demand, or becoming more customer-focused.

This post originally appeared as an article on LinkedIn.

Remote Workflow Crash Course: Best Practices for Working From Home

So here we are. Whether by government mandate or executive fiat, at some point in the past few weeks the brand you and your team usually work on from a company office landed in your living room. It probably happened suddenly, in many cases with almost no time to prepare. So here are a few suggestions to point you in the right direction as you adjust to a remote workflow.

[Editor’s Note: While this piece was written for the publishing audience over at our sister brand, Publishing Executive, we know marketers have remote workflow issues to deal with as well. We think this article is relevant to our marketing audience, and hope it offers some additional advice as you navigate these uncertain times]

So here we are. Whether by government mandate or executive fiat, at some point in the past few weeks the publication you and your team usually write, edit, produce, market, and distribute from an office landed in your living room. It probably happened suddenly, in many cases with almost no time to prepare. And you may have discovered – quickly – that the workflow underpinning the whole operation did not make the transition with you.

There may be a lot of scrambling going on, so here are a few suggestions to point you in the right direction as you work on getting a remote workflow in place. The good news is that, once you make the transition to a digital workflow, life will improve. Possibly dramatically and probably fast. It is even likely that your remote workflow will become your regular workflow once you are back in the office.

Step 1: Assess the Damage         

You can’t fix what you can’t see. The only way to fix a broken workflow is to make it visible and start to tinker.

If you are the boss, bring everybody together in a virtual space of some kind and map the workflow you currently have. Identify problems together. Your job is to ask your team what they need and give it to them; their job is to brainstorm and implement solutions.

Step 2: Address Skills Training

Now that everyone is working from home, everyone needs to be self-sufficient with regard to technology. That means there may be skills gaps to address.

My go-to tech tools, which are simple and accessible to most people, are Zoom (useful to connect face-to-face, share screens, and host meetings), Google Docs (a group editing tool in which multiple people can make changes and comments in real time), Trello (allows list-making, process-tracking, and tagging for assignments), and Slack (useful for internal team communication).

Find out up front who is familiar with what, and how much each individual thinks they can handle. Then ask those who have more skills to bring those with fewer up to speed. Publicly document and track each person’s skill set as it evolves and make sure to celebrate improvements!

Step 3: Stop Emailing Documents

Immediately. Most of us no longer print out paper proofs and documents and send them around for colleagues to review, but emailing multiple rounds of PDFs so everyone can sign off on text changes is essentially the same thing. I’ve seen editors add weeks to an editing process as they lobbed a manuscript back and forth on email, and the lack of transparency means no one can ever be sure what state the text is in.

Use Google Docs or some other cloud-based tool to edit, and make the link available to everyone on your team. Use Slack for intra-team communication. And lead by example: I also once watched two CEOs stretch a two-day editing job into four months then wonder why their employees worked slowly.

Step 4: Create Checklists and Standards

Each part of your remote workflow should have a checklist and a set of standards. They should be available online so the whole team can access and update them as things change. (Do not keep these documents on paper; none of the dozens of paper standard books I’ve seen in 20 years were less than two years old.)

Consistently adhering to checklist procedures and applying standards simplifies and increases output per person. The New Yorker just produced their first completely remote issue essentially by following the rules – stored in checklists and standard documentation – that they created for each part of their workflow.

Step 5: Add Structure

Many editors are used to seeing exactly how a text will flow as they work on it, and continue to make small adjustments until the very end of the production process. This can create delays in an office setting and all-out chaos when remote.

The solution is shared access to a text for everyone who needs it, keeping editorial review and sign-off as far upstream as possible (in Google Docs). This allows copy editors to read rather than constantly reread the text, production people to make things fit only once, and I have yet to meet an art department that isn’t thrilled to avoid last-second changes. If you are an EIC who wants to reread entire articles, simply do so in the Google Doc stage like everybody else.

Step 6: Put Content First

Essentially, this involves each story working its way through the editing process as a single Google Doc. Everyone contributes to that document, and it includes all revisions, comments, research links, and images. The simplicity virtually eliminates the time and effort required to prepare content for specific channels, and anyone responsible for distributing that particular story – in print, on the web, on social media, or in audio form – need only verify that the text they are working with matches the master copy.

If web headlines, keywords, and social headings go through the same process before being routed to their respective channels, any fixes are made only once. It’s much easier to maintain consistency and fact checking is a breeze.

Step 7: Step Back

It may feel like a leap of faith, especially in a remote setting, but it’s important to give your workflow permission to operate. Make sure your people have the tools and skills they need, keep the communication channels open, and let them do their jobs.

These practices will pay dividends: One of my clients was able to reduce the lead time between idea and reader from four weeks to four hours. In another case, six editors now take less than three hours to write, edit, check, post, and send a weekly newsletter. America Media group-edits each text, allowing queries and changes to happen simultaneously, and the many hours (if not days) it once took to do exactly the same thing on paper have been reduced to minutes.

Most telling of all, America’s workflow has been fully digital for four years, and when the coronavirus closed their offices two weeks ago, the tweet from their EIC read: “Readers and subscribers should expect to receive their print issues as usual. Digital coverage will be similarly unaffected.”

Coach-Approach Leadership: 3 Steps to Make Your Teams More Effective

How can you get the people on your teams to be accountable? You can use quick tricks to fix behavioral symptoms, like being late, or you can take a coach approach to leadership and encourage your people to self-reflect so they can solve their real problems. Here are steps you can take to be a better coach.

I recently received an email with five tips to help my team get their work done on time, all the time. The tips were good: Schedule meetings 10 minutes early, don’t do “one more thing” before you leave, etc. The last tip, “trick your mind,” really hit home. It suggested changing your clocks to run ahead of the actual time so you will be less likely to be late (guilty).

These tips got me thinking about accountability, which is all about being effective. In The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability, Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman draw a line where those living Above the Line “see it, own it, solve it, and do it,” while those Below the Line ignore or deny what is going on, don’t take responsibility, wait for direction, and cover their butts so no one can blame them when things go south. In other words, Above the Line = being effective; Below the Line = shame and blame. But it’s not that simple – I find that most of us live somewhere in the middle.

Here’s the question: How do we get the people on our teams to be accountable and consistently see it, own it, solve it, and do it? You can use tips like the ones in that email I received, or you can take a coach approach, encouraging your people to do a bit of self-reflection so they can solve the problem instead of the symptom.

For example, being late is a symptom, and I am guilty as charged. I can change my clocks and trick my mind to increase my chances of being on time, or I can figure out the reason behind why I am late so I can choose to be on time. Pinpointing the “why” gets to the root of the problem, which allows me to transform. This is my approach as a transformational coach, rather than a facilitative coach, helping people to achieve long-term sustainable change from the inside out.

As a leader, a large part of your role is to be a coach to your people. I call this coach approach leadership. Let’s look at three steps you can take to coach your employees to find the root of their problems.

Step 1: Play the ‘Why’ Game

Asking “why” can be powerful. The key is to keep asking “why” until you get to a point of being stumped. This means you must ask “why” at least 3-5 times to get past the symptom to the root cause. That’s where the magic happens.

So, why am I late? I am late because I am always doing one more thing. Why am I always doing one more thing? Because my schedule is so full, I don’t have enough time to get everything done. Why is my schedule so full? Because I feel like I have to get everything done right now. Why do I feel like I need to get everything done right now? Because nothing is ever enough. Why is nothing ever enough?

Good question. This is what I need to reflect on. Doing it alone is scary and makes me want to walk out of my office and see what other people are doing – this is where you, the coach-approach leader, comes in.

Asking “why” gets below the surface and brings issues to light that have been simmering and possibly manifesting in ways the employee is unaware (see step 3). It starts to build awareness of their feelings, which builds emotional intelligence. It lets the employees know that you care about what is happening and, most importantly, why it’s happening.

Step 2: Be a Non-Judgmental, Empathetic Coach

It would be easy for me to say that I am late because I am being selfish and don’t respect other people’s time, or that too many people are pulling me in too many directions. I consider those answers to be the easy ways out, where I blame myself or blame other people. “I’m just a bad person and other people need to change.” Problem solved!

Notice how my answers in step 1 did not reflect any judgment on myself or others. My answers to the “why” questions were honest and non-judgmental. In getting to the root of a problem, the goal is to help people answer “why” with thoughtful insight rather than judgment. While judgment plays a very important role in our lives, it often results in shame and blame that can stop us in our tracks. The goal is to instead build awareness and be curious. As coaches, that means the buck stops with us. I can’t be non-judgmental with anyone else until I am non-judgmental with myself. As a coach approach leader, you need to walk your walk.

Coach approach leaders are vulnerable and sit in the uncomfortable spaces with their employees. They guide employees, support them, challenge them, and hold their hands. They are empathetic. But they also do not rush to turn on the light and make everything okay so that they can feel better. A coach doesn’t think about their own discomfort because it is not about them. Coaches are able to focus their energy on their players because they have already done (and continue to do) the work on themselves. My previous article, How Transformational Leadership Impacts Your Bottom Line, is a good place to start your own self-reflection.

Many times, what is going on in your employee’s world is a mirror for what is going on in your world. Yes, it may make you uncomfortable – there is a lesson here for you, too. However, being a coach approach leader is about serving. Your employee is also feeling uncomfortable. Discomfort will lead to growth for both of you.

Step 3: Teach Your Players to Look for Patterns

Once we get below the surface, find the root of the problem, and start exploring, patterns start to emerge. As I explored why it feels like “nothing is ever enough” for me, I realized that it’s not just about being late. It is also why I have a hard time eating only one Thin Mint, or why when I dive into a project, I work non-stop until my team and I are exhausted. Never Enough is a pattern that shows up in lots of places in my life. I also identified that I have another pattern, All or Nothing, that is closely tied to Never Enough.

Your role as a coach approach leader is to help your employees understand what patterns they have, and to work with them to establish new patterns. It is important to help each employee understand how their current pattern is an asset to their game as well. For example, my Never Enough pattern means that I strive for mastery in anything I do. My team and were able to produce some ground-breaking work because of my pattern. And yes, eating an entire sleeve of Thin Mints requires mastery! The flipside of this pattern is that I am chronically late, I often over commit, and I spend a lot of time judging myself for my shortcomings.

Now you must work with the employee to identify a new pattern – if they could choose exactly how they want to behave, how would that be? This is called a power pattern. This is the new pattern that they want to live into. I have replaced my Never Enough pattern with a pattern I call White Space Is Golden. And I have replaced my All or Nothing pattern with This and That.

Take the Coach Approach

Now it’s time for the experiments to begin! This is where you, the coach approach leader, really start to build a deep relationship with your employees and work with them to say goodbye to their old patterns. Work with them to identify experiments they can try to adopt new power patterns, and empower them to do new things they may have not felt supported or challenged enough to do on their own.

Keep in mind: Your employees will not live into their new power patterns immediately. It’s like learning to ride a bike — it will take experimenting, falling, scraping your knee, maybe even cracking your helmet. It’s thrilling, exhilarating, and a bit scary.

As the coach, you will sit beside them, guide them, support them, challenge them, and hold their hand. You will be empathetic. You will be vulnerable. You will celebrate their wins, listen to their challenges, ask curious questions, and help them be non-judgmental so they can learn, be accountable, and be more effective.

To Find Your 2020 Agency Partner, Look Beyond ‘Agency of the Year’

There’s no shortage of agency rankings, highlighting the “agency of the year” for advertising agencies, PR firms, marketing technology vendors, and more. Accolades are important, but often to the agencies themselves, where recognition serves as a recruiting tool and validation.

There’s no shortage of agency rankings, highlighting the “agency of the year” for advertising agencies, PR firms, marketing technology vendors, and more. Accolades are important, but often to the agencies themselves, where recognition serves as a recruiting tool and validation.

When selecting agency partners, you should focus less on who’s the “best” and more on what a great agency partner means for your brand. Look beyond “agency of the year” and strive instead for compatibility.

Finding Your Agency Mate

Before even beginning the search, you need clear goals and must identify what you are trying to achieve by bringing in an outside resource.

Word of mouth, reputation, and recommendations can help narrow the field to a shortlist of potential partners. But what happens next?

5 Focus Areas for Agency Selection

From my experience on both the client and agency side, I recommend focusing on five areas as you assess potential partners: cultural fit, talent, success metrics, adaptability, and unique, specialized expertise.

Cultural Fit

Cultural fit is perhaps the most challenging criteria to define. Agency-client compatibility requires a set of shared beliefs and behaviors. If you aren’t able to see eye-to-eye with your agency, you won’t be able to work together successfully.

Assessing cultural fit requires spending time in-person with the agency team, ideally in their office, and getting to know individuals across levels and functions. There may be people outside of the day-to-day agency team who could shed light on the company culture, including HR and communications. Speaking to client references is another important culture check.


Strong agencies attract strong talent — at all levels. You need a consistent, tenured team that understands your business. If talent comes and goes, it is a huge strain on the relationship, because you need to invest time and energy in building new relationships at your agency partners.

During the selection process, ask about the average tenure at the agency and learn about their recruiting and training policies. These questions will help you uncover how the agency hires, invests in and retains talented employees.

Success Metrics

Great relationships are formed when the agency and client are jointly successful. Yet success can mean different things to different people. A shared point of view when it comes to measuring success is fundamental to closely aligned agency-client relationships.

Review how the agency has measured success with other clients and research the latest measures being used in your industry and adjacent industries.


If you want the relationship to be long-term, then the agency must be adaptable. Leaders change. Mandates evolve. The industry transforms. Agencies that are flexible and adaptable can serve their clients, regardless of the circumstances.

Request specific examples of long-standing client relationships and ask about the evolution of those relationships. Discuss scenarios that illustrate how their mandate might shift over time and see how the agency would respond to those hypothetical situations.

Unique, Specialized Expertise

Most agencies have a secret sauce — something that sets them apart. If the agency has expertise specific to your industry or competitive set, you will need to decide if the institutional knowledge outweighs the potential client conflicts.

Throughout your discussions with possible partners, dig deep into their unique and specialized capabilities — technologies, data, processes, knowledge, etc. These differentiators could be the determining factor in selecting your agency partner.

Keep an Open Mind

As you search for agency resources, consider unconventional solutions. An agency isn’t always the answer. For example, ask yourself, should I build this capability in-house? Additionally, for some brands, a consultant or group of consultants can provide a nimble, strategic support model.

Don’t get caught up in the “best agency” hype. Seek a partner that is best for you.

Stop Expecting Data Scientists to Be Magical: Analytics Is a Team Sport

Many organizations put unreasonable expectations on data scientists. Their job descriptions and requirements are often at a super-human level. “They” say — and who are they? — that modern-day data scientists must be good at absolutely everything. Okay, then, what’s “everything,” in this case?

Many organizations put unreasonable expectations on data scientists. Their job descriptions and requirements are often at a super-human level. “They” say — and who are they? — that modern-day data scientists must be good at absolutely everything. Okay, then, what’s “everything,” in this case?

First, data scientists have to have a deep understanding in mathematics and statistics, covering regression models, machine learning, decision trees, clustering, forecasting, optimization, etc. Basically, if you don’t have a post-graduate degree in statistics, you will fail at “hello.” The really bad news is that even people with statistics degrees are not well-versed in every technique and subject matter. They all have their specialties, like medical doctors.

Then data scientists have to have advanced programming skills and deep knowledge in database technologies. They must be fluent in multiple computer languages in any setting, easily handling all types of structured and unstructured databases and files in any condition. This alone is a full-time job, requiring expert-level experience, as most databases are NOT in analytics-ready form. It is routinely quoted that most data scientists spend over 80% of their time fixing the data. I am certain that these folks didn’t get an advanced degree in statistics to do data plumbing and hygiene work all of the time. But that is how it is, as they won’t see what we call a “perfect” dataset outside schools.

Data scientists also have to have excellent communication and data visualization skills, being able to explain complex ideas in plain English. It is hard enough to derive useful insights out of mounds of data; now they have to construct interesting stories out of them, filled with exciting punchlines and actionable recommendations at the end. Because most mortals don’t understand technical texts and numbers very well — many don’t even try, and some openly say they don’t want to think — data scientists must develop eye-popping charts and graphs, as well, using the popular visualization tool du jour. (Whatever that tool is, they’d better learn it fast).

Finally, to construct the “right” data strategies and solutions for the business in question, the data scientist should have really deep domain and industry knowledge, at a level of a management and/or marketing consultant. On top of all of that, most job requirements also mention soft skills — as “they” don’t want some data geeks with nerdy attitudes. In other words, data scientists must come with kind and gentle bedside manners, while being passionate about the business and boring stuff like mathematics. Some even ask for child-like curiosity and ability to learn things extremely fast. At the same time, they must carry authority like a professor, being able to influence non-believers and evangelize the mind-numbing subject of analytics. This last part about business acumen, by the way, is the single-most important factor that divides excellent data scientists who add value every time they touch data, and data plumbers who just move data around all day long. It is all about being able to give the right type of homework to themselves.

Now, let me ask you: Do you know anyone like this, having all of these skills and qualities in “one” body? If you do, how many of them do you personally know? I am asking this question in the sincerest manner (though I am quite sarcastic, by nature), as I keep hearing that we need tens of thousands of such data scientists, right now.

There are musicians who can write music and lyrics, determine the musical direction as a producer, arrange the music, play all necessary instruments, sing the song, record, mix and master it, publish it, and promote the product, all by themselves. It is not impossible to find such talents. But if you insist that only such geniuses can enter the field of music, there won’t be much music to listen to. The data business is the same way.

So, how do we divide the task up? I have been using this three-way division of labor — as created by my predecessors — for a long time, as it has been working very well in any circumstance:

  • A Statistical Analyst will have deep knowledge in statistical modeling and machine learning. They would be at the core of what we casually call analytics, which goes way beyond some rule-based decision-making. But these smart people need help.
  • A Master Data Manipulator will have excellent coding skills. These folks will provide analytics-ready datasets on silver platters for the analysts. They will essentially take care of all of the “before” and “after” steps around statistical modeling and other advanced analytics. It is important to remember that most projects go wrong in data preparation and post-analytics application stages.
  • A Business Analyst will need to have a deep understanding of business challenges and the industry landscape, as well as functional knowledge in modeling and database technologies. These are the folks who will prescribe solutions to business challenges, create tangible projects out of vague requests, evaluate data sources and data quality, develop model specifications, apply the results to businesses, and present all of this in the form of stories, reports, and data visualization.

Now, achieving master-level expertise in one of these areas is really difficult. People who are great in two of these three areas are indeed rare, and they will already have “chief” or “head” titles somewhere, or have their own analytics practices. If you insist only procuring data scientists who are great at everything? Good luck to you.

Too many organizations that are trying to jump onto this data bandwagon hire just one or two data scientists, dump all kinds of unorganized and unstructured data on them, and ask them to produce something of value, all on their own. Figuring out what type of data or analytics activity will bring monetary value to the organization isn’t a simple task. Many math geeks won’t be able to jump that first hurdle by themselves. Most business goals are not in the form of logical expressions, and the majority of data they will encounter in that analytics journey won’t be ready for analytics, either.

Then again, strategic consultants who develop a data and analytics roadmap may not be well-versed in actual modeling, machine learning implementation, or database constructs. But such strategists should operate on a different plane, by design. Evaluating them based on coding or math skills would be like judging an architect based on his handling of building materials. Should they be aware of values and limitations of data-related technologies and toolsets? Absolutely. But that is not the same as being hands-on, at a professional level, in every area.

Analytics has always been a team sport. It was like that when the datasets were smaller and the computers were much slower, and it is like that when databases are indeed huge and computing speed is lightning fast. What remains constant is that, in data play, someone must see through the business goals and data assets around them to find the best way to create business value. In executing such plans, they will inevitably encounter many technical challenges and, of course, they will need expert-level technicians to plow through data firsthand.

Like any creative work, such as music producing or movie-making, data and analytics work must start with a vision, tangible business goals, and project specifications. If these elements are misaligned, no amount of mathematical genius will save the day. Even the best rifles will be useless if the target is hung in a wrong place.

Technical aspects of the work matter only when all stakeholders share the idea of what the project is all about. Simple statements like “maximizing the customer value” need a translation by a person who knows both business and technology, as the value can be expressed in dollars, visits, transactions, dates, intervals, status, and any combination of these variables. These seemingly simple decisions must be methodically made with a clear purpose, as a few wrong assumptions by the analyst at-hand — who may have never met the end-user — can easily derail the project toward a wrong direction.

Yes, there are people who can absolutely see through everything and singlehandedly take care of them all. But if your business plan requires such superheroes and nothing but such people, you must first examine your team development roadmap, org chart, and job descriptions. Keep on pushing those poor and unfortunate recruiters who must find unicorns within your budget won’t get you anywhere; that is not how you’re supposed to play this data game in the first place.

The Silent Killers for Brands Aren’t What Marketers Expect

What marketers expect is that we marketers must address human emotion when building out a customer experience. How we address these emotions can make the difference between brands that survive chaotic times and those that do not.

As much as we like hitting the snooze button when those wake-up calls come in “the morning after,” the results can often turn the best dreams into nightmares.

Recall the day after the 2016 presidential election, when thousands took to the streets, protesting and chanting “Not My President”? One of the many insights that came out of those protests was the fact that many of those protesting had not even voted. They, like countless other voter-age American citizens, had taken it for granted that their candidate was so far ahead in the polls that they didn’t have to make the effort to stand in line and fill out the bubbles on their ballot. One vote won’t change the outcome, right?

Complacency not only elected a president who has very likely been the most controversial and least respected of any U.S. president in decades, but it contributed to a change in the American psyche. People seem to be more outspoken about their opinions on politics and politicians than in the past, and don’t seem to hold back their corresponding emotions much, either. Many select their tribe, based upon posts and likes that support their now very vocal positions on issues and the people behind them. The lines seem to be drawn and few seem to be willing to change, or even smudge the boundaries.

The display of emotions around Trump’s election are examples of the human emotions we marketers must address when building out a customer experience. How we address these emotions can make the difference between brands that survive chaotic times and those that do not. As marketers, we are constantly developing programs to keep customers positively charged about our brands — enthusiastic, excited, engaged, and delighted.

What we don’t take time to do much is assess our own emotions about our customers.

  • Are we as excited about them as we want them to be about us?
  • Are we delighted when we engage with them?
  • Or are we, like many voters in 2016, apathetic and complacent?

These are important questions to ask ourselves. Consumers have learned to not sit quietly, to not take situations for granted, and they have learned to build consensus and communities to support their views and opinions and help others do the same.

This week while visiting Boston, my daughters witnessed voter registration taking place outside the Statehouse — where people were being sworn in as citizens. Voter registration groups did not take for granted that these new citizens would go register on their own and go vote now that they could. They made it easy, simple, and fast to register and join their “tribe” of voters ready for Election Day 2020.

Reverse marketing tactics are key for brands to really engage in mutually beneficial relationships. Consider doing to your own teams what you do with your customers:

  1. Survey Your Marketing, Sales, Customer Care, and All Employees who interact with your customers. Ask them how they feel about customers. Do they enjoy interacting with customers? Do they find it fulfilling to fill a need? Close a deal? Exceed expectations? Why and Why not? Are customers appreciative, grateful, or just going through the actions? These answers will tell you a lot about your customers’ attitudes toward your brand.
  2. Create Branding Campaigns for Your Staff. Communicate the emotional value you offer customers to your staff, so they can strive to create similar emotional outcomes in each interaction. And then create experiences that create those same experiences for employees. Delight your employees. Trigger those feelings of dopamine and oxytocin that create a sense of belonging. When you love your tribe, you love to get others to join to validate your place in that world. If this weren’t so, religions wouldn’t have missionaries who succeed in bringing others to the fold.
  3. Offer Loyalty: What are you doing to keep your employees loyal? It goes beyond just delighting them with ping pong tables, draft beer, on-site laundry, and other perks. What are you doing to create communities that make them feel secure and appreciated, like the communities you create online to make your customers feel like they belong to something really cool that other brands do not offer? Fun, collaborative, and rewarding communities matter and they make us want to stay with that community, despite attractive offers.

While we are building relationships with our staff and customers, keeping the staff our customers learn to love is critical! That seriously needs to take priority over customers’ loyalty, as losing one staff member who 10 customers depend on and love to work with could lose us 10 loyal customers. Not a small loss.

Complacency not only elects unlikely candidates, it kills brands. Just these three simple steps can create the kind of engagement between employees and your customers that take price and competitors out of the equation at the same time!