A message to managers: Engage your employees!

asleep-on-the-jobLast night I had the chance to sit down with a few really upset employees who wanted to blurt out all of the biggest troubles, worries, and stresses they had to me. It is always an intriguing situation when employees come my way. Most of the time all they are looking for is a simple head nod, an open set of ears, and for the most part a closed mouth.

This particular case involved a few employees who had each been in the industry for well over a decade. They were frustrated because for years and years they had been getting along just fine and working hard to produce great results. Now all of a sudden a shift in both middle and upper management has brought about great frustrations amongst all the staff. I can understand that a shift and a bit of change can be a great thing but learning how to do it in the right way is paramount for most managers.

This evening I was told about and shown a few very interesting emails. Most of the emails had no opening line, went directly into mass bullet point list of business “Do Not’s”, ended with a COMPLETELY BOLD AND CAPSLOCKED SENTENCE ALLUDING TO DIRE CONSEQUENCES IF THIS LIST WAS NOT STRICTLY FOLLOWED, and then ironically ended with it will be a pleasure working with you all and I hope you have a great night. I asked some questions about how long these managers had been there and how much truth there was to some of the apparently very pressing points, indicated by all the bold and caps and for a few points even the fervent use of exclamation marks the employees assured me that yes they owned some behaviours that could be changed. However they also noted that many were just outrageous and seemingly (key word here) had no real obvious purpose other than to dominate them (the employees, at least that is how they were feeling).

The key to all of this dissension and bad feelings lay in the last few sentences. Without me being there and being able to observe I have no idea whether or not the policies or procedures make sense but the base of this article is about how those managers implemented these changes. It was done through and very strong email instead of being done in a conversation with the staff. There were no two-way discussions there were no explanations there were just DEMANDS! Do it, because I’m the boss. Now I’m not saying that every boss or manager has to spend their entire day in conversations and hand holding everyone but what I am saying is that before you can get to this stage you have to build up respect and a desire to be loyal and trust you. These employees, like I have said were all decade long employees with opinions and ideas and they just wanted to be treated like human beings instead of robots.

Now do I fully blame the managers, no not at all. For the most part many managers make it to where they are because of how long they have been around with the company, they receive little to no training and are just pushed into a leadership role. Most learn from what they have seen before and since this cycle seems to repeat itself it can be hard to break. Power can also usually be a terrible thing for some managers. You, and you alone, as a manager often do have the power to bend employees to doing it your way, what a feeling. Where else do you get to control an environment quite like that? So at first when it is all new it can be hard to get used to, when to use the power and when to bow down to the power?

So here are a few pieces of advice, especially for those managers that are just stepping into a new role, or maybe you have been a manager for ever but now you are stepping into a new company.

1. Remember: Think about all the bosses you have had, good and bad and try think how each one made you feel.

2. Observe: You will see things differently and you will be looked at differently so take some days to get used to all of that.

3. Ask: Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Employees want to know that you value you them and appreciate what they are doing. So just try to learn a little bit about what makes them who they are and how they view the company.

4. Positivity can go a long way: This is probably one of the hardest things to do since we live in a society that is so driven by failure and pointing out mistakes. On the flip side though if you focus on those employees who are doing an amazing job and hold them in the highest regard you might just inspire someone else to strive for that higher standard.

5. Problem solve with not for: One thing I have learned over so many years is that the best managers/bosses/coaches work with their employees. This is where you get to be a little tough-when employees come to some managers (if they feel comfortable doing that, sometimes rare) they often come bearing problems and many times the manager uses his or her power to SOLVE all those problems. This is a great showing of strength and power but I often encourage managers to have conversations with employees. Don’t let your employee come to you with any problem if they haven’t at least thought about any kind of solution at all. This will make them feel appreciated and will give them a sense of worth that you want to hear what they say and not just dictate.

6. Don’t be afraid of feedback: One company I worked with told me they stopped having meetings because people cried and people’s feelings were being hurt. So instead let’s not talk at all, good idea. Work hard to create an environment where opinions and ideas are valued and encouraged. The people who are working on the front line have a totally different view than yours and although it is hard to learn that is a good thing. You have feedback for them and because they are humans they should have some feedback for you, so allow them to give it openly and honestly. Don’t let things get personal. You are all working at this company to grow and get better. Keep that attitude and your employees and the culture of the company will succeed I can promise you that.

These are just 6 tips to help managers develop a better culture and a better rapport with their staff. I have lots more and love being able to talk about them so drop me a line either on here or in private and I would be happy to chat.

Now enough about managers in a follow up piece I will be doing a “Message to employees”.

Going the wrong way can be fun

wrong-wayI have been living on a one way street for over 2 years now and I have to say it has never really been dull. I absolutely love watching people dart up the wrong way only to realize they are on a one way street and then watching what they do. Interesting how people’s minds work. There are 2 very different reactions I have noticed when it comes to dealing with the one-way.



1. Cautious and go back:

The first is always the slightly embarrassed driver who notices they are going the wrong way, looks around to make sure no one has seen them and then finds a spot to turn around quietly and pretend it never happened.

2. Damn it, to hell with it:

These folks quickly realize they are on a wrong way and then say to hell with it and speed down before anyone else comes in or ever realize they were there.

It is so very interesting that those who fit into part 2 always seem to have a bit of a smirk on their face as they realize they are going the wrong way but for some reason it is fun to them and at the end it seems like an adrenaline rush. They are so proud that they just went for it and it worked.

Most recently I watched as a nearly 90 year old grandmother was venturing down the street when she suddenly realized she was headed in the wrong direction and I thought for sure she would fit into category 1, wrong! She sped up in her 1988 Volvo and made it all the way to the end turned right.

Now I’m certainly not condoning jumping in your car and heading down a one-way street headed in the wrong direction but holy can it ever be exhilarating. Rather, I use this though more as a metaphor for how people deal with unexpected outcomes/barriers/challenges/opportunities in their lives. I mean sure you could back up slowly and turn around when it is safe and pretend like nothing ever really happened but just once maybe wouldn’t it be fun to just go for it. Just hit the accelerator do something a little out of the ordinary? You know kind of like Mr. Bean.

So this I ask of all you folk out there waiting for a good kick in the pants? What are you waiting for? Are you nervous? Worried? GOOD! Enjoy that feeling and learn to embrace that feeling. Believe me you will love it.

ps. If you have a great story about a one-way I would love to hear it.

A short take on strategic planning

doingthingsFor a couple of days now I have been doing presentations in various universities and adult learning seminars about entrepreneurship and business development. In addition to those seminars I have of course been attending all the end of year Christmas business functions and events. So I have had the pleasure of roaming around and chatting with all kinds of other entrepreneurs and business folk.

In one of the classes I was in, a student raised his hand and asked me about strategic planning and business plans. He asked how important they were and before I could get a word in his professor (who has never ran a business in his life but does have a PhD in something) jumped up and said “most important thing a business can do. It is the back bone.” I’m not saying he is wrong. I think strategic plans and business plans have a certain place in business but my response was much simpler. My response was that business plans can only take place AFTER you have been in business for a period of time. Yes that is right, before you build a plan you must first test and do. I don’t think anyone can build a successful plan until  they truly understand the markets, themselves, their business, their customers, the ebbs and flows of business, and no matter how much you read or how much you write you will not understand any of this until you DO.

While at a Christmas function I told this story to a fellow serial entrepreneur (without telling him the answer I gave) and he jumped right in and said this, “yes of course they are important, if you need a bank loan, but who the hell does that any more.” This colleague of mine then proceeded to ask, “did you tell the students to get out there and just DO? Test the waters, be adventurous, don’t be shackled down by writing plans.” He then went even further by telling me a story about a partner of his that once wanted to start a business, that was 3 years ago. What is this fellow doing now? Just putting the final touches on a really great business plan.

My lesson is this: yes indeed plan, but don’t become so overwhelmed by the plan but rather become overwhelmed by doing things and analysing things. Put your efforts into trying to understand rather than planning to understand something that is always changing. Yes there are trends and some stick but sometimes there is a lot to be said for debunking the trends and beating your own path.

Of course this needn’t be said but this advice goes for both business and life. Get out  there and DO. Then when you have done, LEARN and do again.

13 tips to growing business relationships

Today I had 3 clients give me a call about growing their business and they were looking for the BIG secret (dammit I hate the way society has interpreted that book) about how to make successful partnerships. Here is my advice:

  1. Be human.
  2. Love people (even if you have to pretend a little. *caution you are only allowed to do this for a little bit. See below for more on this topic).
  3. Look up people (businesses) you think are cool.
  4. Reach out with an email, a phone call, or my favourite a letter (you know with stamps and everything). Don’t be afraid if they say no, what do you have to lose? You don’t know them now anyway? Just makes room in your schedule to meet with other way cooler people.
  5. Stop being so damn stiff.
  6. Read as much about their stories before you meet them as you can. It is time well spent learning fun facts. It is also usually seen as someone really doing their homework.
  7. Have a meeting at an ice cream parlour, a bar, over some wine, at an art gallery, take them on a hike (aka be different. Show them part of your world or get to know their world a bit). My favourite meetings have been on the canal with some hot chocolate and beaver tails. And no this not some crazy younger generation thing. Last year I met with someone who I did work with on the canal and he was 56 years old and willing to try anything. Remember life and work can be fun if we choose to make it so. I mean all you have to do is ask (what’s the fear, they say no). Throw out the invite or ask them for an invite to a fun spot they love. Most of the clients I know are thrilled to get their butts out of the office.
  8. Listen to their stories.
  9. Ask questions.
  10. Tell a little bit of your story.
  11. Decide whether or not you want to spend more time working on something, anything with them or if you want to jump ship. Then proceed to go or no.
  12. Go away and brainstorm some cool projects and then throw them their way, see if they are interested.
  13. If they seem like good people then nurture that relationship and you just might find yourself beginning to love people, your work, and yourself a bit more.

My strategy all along in life (and it only keeps getting more and more engrained) is that I work with people who I love, who make me laugh, who I have a good time with. You know the saying ‘life is too damn short….well just don’t hang out with people you don’t get along with.

Of course sometimes this can be easier said than done because to be able to know the people you get along with you normally have to know yourself a little bit. If you follow along on here you will have probably figured out I don’t think too many people really do know themselves all that well. In fact I think part of us gets lost everyday when we aren’t doing the things we love. So maybe that is step 1. figure out who the hell you are and what you like first. Really think about it. What are some of your hobbies? When are the happiest, like really really happy? What are you doing? Who are you with? Inside or outside? Crowded or small group? What is something you could talk about all day long without ever knowing the time?

Back to my point, find the people that make you smile and harness all their energy. I have found so much power in reaching out and listening to their stories every day. Good or bad listen to what they have to say and you will learn lots, about them and about yourself. Who knows you follow this sage (hardy-hard) advice and you might just find some new friends along the way to building an amazing business.

ps. The biggest fear I hear all the time about reaching out is “well what if they don’t like me?” Well that is fine. Isn’t it? I mean if they don’t like you then you get to move on. Remember be yourself. I mean if you try to be funny, outgoing, and edgy but really you like being reserved and pretty calm then what is the point of putting on the fake personality? If they don’t like who you genuinely are then working together would probably only be a huge pain anyway.

Now get outta here and go reach out to someone you think is cool (this isn’t high school anymore, even though sometimes it might feel like it, you can talk to anyone. The playground is HUGE).

Word of mouth is social media

Lately I have been hearing a lot of the same comments be it in a training I am offering, a conference I am speaking at or attending, and/or a client I am working with, “I just don’t have the time to do social media.” This is usually followed by, “plus my business really runs on word of mouth advertising so social media isn’t really that big for me.” To all of that I sincerely say “bullshit!” I’m not sure if people have realized this or not yet but social media is word-of-mouth. I mean you are literally taking your word-of-mouth and exploding it’s reach. Therefore making time for social media is not something people should be scared of. I say scared quite deliberately because honestly I know what that feels like. “I won’t have anything to share”, “who will follow me?”, “what social media tools should I use?”, “couldn’t I spend a whole day on those sites not really being productive with my time?” These are all questions that flood people’s minds and I know this because they have all been a part of my thoughts as well at one point or another. All of this to say I am not touting social media as the ultimate solution to any business or even that social media should be king of all. What I mean to say is that social media is what it is. It is a way to build relationships and get to know others who you may never otherwise have the chance to meet (hi Gary Vaynerchuk and Sir Richard Branson). Social media is simply a tool. It is not something to be feared and it is not something to be overwhelmed by.

Of course not being feared and not being overwhelmed by it is easier said than done. My advice has always been for people to learn, to watch how others are using various platforms, to play with various platforms, to really take the time to understand how each of them operates and then and only then decide which one (or few) suits them. There is a social media platform to help just about anyone get more engaged with current clients, colleagues, future clients, and just people in general so you need to learn which one is best suited to your needs and capabilities. And yes it is going to take time. If you put the time in learning how to use Twitter properly and not just dismissing (without ever really seeing how people are using it productively) it as a 140 character narration of people’s useless lives with minute details then the benefits will be there. Social media is like anything else in your business it takes time to learn it but it can add great value.

One other thought on all of this, don’t ever let social media be all about you and what you are doing. While you are great and your services are amazing I don’t know how many times I visit a facebook page or a twitterfeed or anything for that matter only to see a sale notice or a discount notice or a new product being featured. Social media is an opportunity. It is an opportunity for others to get to know you. Interact with others, give opinions, take a stand, say what you are thinking and for goodness sakes be honest! Also just like real world interactions with business partners and clients social media is about relationships and conversations. Who do you trust? who do you listen to? who do you talk with? why? All of this translates directly into the world of social media.

Finally I must revisit the statement I am hearing over and over “I don’t have the time to do social media.” Fuck! if I hear that one more time from an entrepreneur who is struggling with customer engagement I’m going to pack up my bags and move into the woods (might do that anyway, still dreaming and scheming). Hello, Einstein can you say your famous line one more time? “by definition insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I mean holy crap people if you have been doing newspaper ads for hundreds of years and all of sudden they aren’t working like they used to (a very overused statement that I hear often, “oh but for years and years this has always worked”) isn’t it time to invest in learning a new form of communication and to try something a little different.

All of this to say I would never advocate ditching all the old methods because some of them are about who you are as a person and what the company’s character (do you think your company has character? what does it look like?) is all about. I still send old fashioned hand written letters to clients, prospects, and partners and I LOVE receiving them in the mail.

I guess the end result of this really long rant has been don’t be afraid to try new things and don’t forget all marketing or any selling is about RELATIONSHIPS. It is about having an open and honest conversation. So please go out and play, listen, learn, watch, and have a good time figuring out how best to connect with whomever it is you are trying to connect with (answering who you are trying to connect with is a great question and a much longer post at another time. Because believe me your business, even though you think it is, is NOT for everyone.)

The ever elusive viral video and the penguin.

So about 4 or 5 times a month I have a different business email me to ask if I would be willing to work to help them produce a viral video. I’m always excited to be contacted because of my creative design, my brainstorming skills, and my desire to work on the abstract and the abnormal. I always find it a huge compliment when people come knocking but I do have a few things to say about this so-called viral video phenomenon.

As a follow up to the viral video requests I usually send a message filled with all kinds of questions about their business, their message, their personality, their customers, and their expectations. This is the exact point where most of these conversations fall apart. Businesses know they want VIRAL and they know they want to make a video but what they rarely seem to know is their message. What is it that they will try to convey to their customers? I love asking 1 question in particular: What is the personality that you would like to show? A business almost never has an answer to this one. If you think about a business as it’s own entity then shouldn’t it have it’s own personality?

Here is my response to those that aren’t certain a personality is necessary but still want a viral video. I usually send them a copy of this video (mostly because I think it is funny and quite cute, wait can professional ass kickers say cute? Well I said it so get over it):

Then I ask them if I should make a video with a penguin in it because it has nearly 5.5 million views, pretty viral if you ask me, then we could just stick their website at the end (hmm…maybe I’m a bit too crass, what do you think?)

Yes video can be important and yes reaching out to potential millions if not billions of people on the web is an exciting thing but it takes a bit of time and a bit of planning. It also take a lot of getting to know what your message could look like? Then once you know your message how do you visually want to show it? 2 very important questions that will take time but should be fun creating if done properly.

So how do you hone your message? Your personality? I have a few easy tips from other projects I have had the pleasure of working on and some recent advice from an awesome guy I just had the pleasure of chatting with (thanks Drew Dudley).

1. Look at your current content and take all the individual words and images out leaving them by themselves on sticky notes. Then move them around and ask members of your team to pick only their top 3 words and/or images as it relates to the business. This should tell you something about your business and it’s personality.

2. Look at a competing brand/business and look at their messaging and images (are they doing some good work, some bad work, is it similar?). Now do the same thing as activity 1 only with their words and images. Do those words fit your business? Your brand? Your personality? Now ask yourself one VERY important question, how are you different? Why would a consumer want to pick you over them?

3. Ask. Throw out all the words and images you have and start all over. Ask both colleagues and consumers for 1 whole week to just describe your business over and over and over (you can do this in a million different ways-seek creative help if need be to do this in a fun and engaging way). Let those who work in your service and those who USE your service describe you. Believe me this will be an eye-opener for sure. Let it be honest and let it be anonymous (that’s usually where having someone like me come in can be helpful. I don’t work for the business and I can group lots of answers together so people tend to talk a whole lot more freely around me.)

4. Play! Brainstorm all kinds of ideas, play with words, do some colouring, redesign with some mock ups, let loose (again, something adults have become crappy at but an area where I can help most excel. Tends to be the number 1 reason most hire me). This means creating both time and space to do this.

5. Watch. Find some of the funniest and most impactful videos that you can on the internet and look for the cues that really got you hooked. How would those work with your message? With your personality?

6. Plan. Find a bit of time to go over various concepts and put together some storyboards (this by no means has to be a professionally drawn concept but rather a rough outline of how the whole production would flow). Ask yourself what could each part of the video look like? Do all the scenes lead to a strong message? A strong personality?

7. Finally this is a step I just heard about yesterday thanks to Drew. What about thinking about an Anti-Commercial. What would that look like? What kind of language would you use? What kind of corny nostalgic material would you put in it? Who would you get for a cameo? What if you wanted no one on the planet to buy your goods or services, what would that look like? I bet there is some hilarity in there that might just spark a few good ideas.

8. Ok now you are all done and you have shot your video, wonderful! Now what’s the plan for getting it to the masses?

These are some of the tips and a hint at just some of the process I would use to help you design any kind of video you like. So the next time you hit that send button to any company about making a viral video you better be prepared to share your message (a good company can help you craft this) and your personality (one last hint, if they don’t ask you about your personality then chances are that company probably isn’t the right one to work with). Also a good company will be able to gather stories and help you define your personality.

I guess in the end I can ask this: What is your penguin that you would like to show the world?