Singing in the Sewer.Creating Harmony in Your Brand

Creating Brand Harmony

Creating Brand Differentiation

Can you build a strong, enduring brand portraying jobs most people find repulsive? Mike Rowe did it. His Discovery Channel series Dirty Jobs and his CNN program Somebody’s Gotta Do It have positioned Rowe as a relentless advocate for the value of hard work and the importance of careers in the trades. Few people know that this trade activist, spokesperson, and philanthropist got his “voice” as a professional opera singer and a David Letterman type on-air host for the home shopping network QVC.

Josh Miller, COO and Derrick Hoog, Vice President of Strategy at 5by5 – a Change Agency see Rowe as an example of someone who has used an effective branding process—assessment, creating brand harmony, and driving a brand to build the strong brand presence he enjoys today. They recently shared their branding insights in an interview.

Assessment

When Miller and Hoog begin the branding process with an individual or company, they don’t start with a blank page. They ask the client to describe who they are, what they want to leverage and optimize, and what they want to communicate to a market. If the client feels they have “nothing to brand,” Josh and Derrick ask the client to talk about the problems they want to fix and the solutions they bring. The visual elements of branding emerge from this clear understanding of who a client is and the value they bring to the market.

An executive wanting to create a strong brand identity, begins at the same place—knowing and defining what problems he/she solves and how they do it. By the time an executive reaches a career mid-point, it is likely the leader has built a reputation—the foundation of a brand, as someone skilled in M&A integrations, someone that drives revenue growth, or someone who has a way of creating order out of corporate chaos. When built on delivered results, that reputation becomes the foundation for a brand.

Brand Harmony

Brand harmony pulls the brand message and communication mediums together so what is discovered in the assessment phase becomes the primary message to a market, reinforced by visual elements consistent with the individual’s or company’s identity. Josh & Derrick state that brand harmony means knowing who you are at the core and what you want to do. You then ensure “the brand agrees at all levels . . . you are the same person in every place. What you say and do is consistent.”

For an executive, this harmony is demonstrated by ensuring the same message in a resume, a results-focused biography, a direct and engaging LinkedIn profile, and social media communication—all the time. An executive building a strong brand recognizes that companies and people will use what they see on any platform, at any time to determine if someone is who they say they are and a fit for a potential role.

Driving a Brand

At a personal level, driving a brand requires using objective exercises and questions to “sift through all the different versions of truth” to map out a client’s story. In highly competitive markets, differentiation in driving a brand comes through the way an individual or company delivers what they promise. Derrick and Josh point out that when two companies—or individuals have the same solution, they create differentiation by answering, “Why do you want to do it?” Answering “why” creates the energy needed to drive a brand in a competitive market.

A brand needs clarity and reach to achieve its purpose. An effective branding process helps an executive determine the message to convey and create the best medium to reach the intended audience. From a sewer to the C-suite, branding is about knowing who you are and finding the best way to tell your message to the people who need to hear it.

The Ruse of Experience

The Ruse of Experience

Experience?Experience

 

The growth of technology and social media has generated new meanings for familiar words. Viral now refers to popularity, not an illness. A ping is an action, not a noise. A tool is someone with an over-inflated ego, not an instrument. Following means to subscribe, not to pursue.

Experience has expanded to mean you achieved something—not that you were there.

From a CEO trying to secure the trust of a board to an executive moving to a C-level role to companies working to gain a position in a competitive market, leveraging the word “experience” as a differentiator is wasted energy. Experience is about participation, observation, perception, encountering something, and practice that results in superior knowledge or mastery. In short, whether its an executive or a company, experience simply means you were there. You participated. You interacted with a situation or event. You maybe even learned something.

Companies can serve an industry for the same amount of time with very different results. A quick look at Fortune 500 companies shows that a decade committed to a task can yield widely differring results.

Texas Instruments has been in business 66 years. Their Fortune rank in 2007 was 185. In 2017 it was 206.

JC Penney has been in business for 115 years. Their Fortune rank in 2007 was 116. In 2017 it was 221.

Wal Mart has been in business for 55 years. Their Fortune rank in 2007 was 1. In 2017 it was 1.

Weyerhaeuser has been in business for 118 years. Their Fortune rank in 2007 was 105. In 2017 it was 341.

Apple has been in business for 41 years. Their Fortune rank in 2007 was 123. In 2017 it was 3.

A look at top executives reveals the same range of outcomes. During Jeff Immelt’s tenure at General Electric, stock slipped 25%. Since Facebook became public, Mark Zuckerberg has led growth from $153 million to $40 billion. In ten years, Indra Nooyi has grown PepsiCo from $39 billion to $63 billion, while Ginni Rometty has watched IBM shrink from $98 billion in 2007 to $79 billion in 2017. Obviously, length of time on a road does not equate to distance traveled—or results achieved.

Selling experience alone easily becomes a ruse. If you don’t have a story to tell, don’t try to pretend one exists. Without quantified results, your ability to distinguish yourself from competitors is diminished.

Your experience doesn’t differentiate. Your client’s experience creates market differentiation. What consumers tell about how you helped them, how your product or service impacted their lives—that sells. When a board or other execs talk about your impact in an organization, that creates more credibility than talking about your number of years of experience.

Strong brands sell what people buy—and people buy results.

Tactical Success. Strategic Failure.

High Potential Failure

High-potential
High-potential Failure?

Companies investing in developing “high-potential” employees also need to invest in helping top performers not drown in the wake of their own success.

From sales to finance to technology to marketing, the technical and tactical strengths that get an individual recognized and promoted are not the skills that will make the person successful as a senior leader. New executives often don’t realize that the independence that got them to a senior role can derail them once they arrive. Fast-tracking high-potential employees is another version of the scenario that has played in sales organizations for decades–a top performing sales person is promoted to sales manager where the individual stumbles, struggles, and eventually fails.

A successful marketing executive was hired by a world-renowned non-profit and she quickly set out to accomplish the aggressive agenda placed before her. She achieved what she was hired to do, but she did it without building a network of relationships in the organization. As soon as she completed the initiative, the executive’s employment was terminated. Tactical strength resulted in strategic failure.

Dartmouth management professor Sydney Finkelstein has conducted extensive research into corporate mistakes and failures. His insights are captured in his book titled, Why Smart Executives Fail. Finkelstein says that one of the most prevalent warning signs of executive failure is success and the arrogance that often accompanies it.

Outstanding results in one role won’t equate to great performance in a senior leadership position unless the individual is equipped with the interpersonal skills needed to interface with, lead, and relate to diverse groups of people. Finkelstein notes, “It is important to remember that corporate mistakes are about people.”

How to Know When It’s Time to Go

How to Know It’s Time to Go

What do Jeff Immelt, Travis Kalanick, and Howard Schultz share in common? Besides a healthy net worth, these executives were three of the 919 CEOs in publicly traded North American companies that either resigned, retired, or got fired in 2017—the most movement in the top spot in a decade. Transition.

Shultz wanted to get back into the workings of the business, specifically, the emerging Starbucks Reserve brand. After 16 years at GE, Jeff Immelt’s move was planned, but acccelerated by three months. Travis Kalanick left Uber after five major investors demanded his resignation—at the same time the company was short a CFO, CMO, Gen Counsel, Chief Diversity Officer, and Senior VP Engineering. But who’s counting?

C-level leaders with low social capital (a weak professional network) tend to stay where they are until forced to move. Executives with a broad network of business relationships are more likely to proactively explore options.

How can a C-level or senior executive stay ahead of the wave of corporate change and make an orchestrated transition rather than face an abrupt departure? Here are five questions C-suite executives need to answer when contemplating a move.

  • Does the company need to go where you can’t take it? While few of us are omnicompetent, boards increasingly expect the CEO to be successful at everything. While a C-level executive needs a broad knowledge and skill base, trying to do everything equally well or attempting to create the impression you can do it all is counterproductive. If the company needs to move in a direction the CEO isn’t equipped to take it, the top executive needs to demonstrate the courage to move to a job that is a better fit.
  • Are board conflicts increasing in frequency and intensity? Any group of highly-intelligent, honest people will engage in conflict. Patrick Lencioni reminds us that is a trait of a healthy team. The conflicts that signal it’s time for a move are more than disagreements about the business. When working relationships deteriorate into mutual toleration, board members transition unexpectedly, or when direction is determined without input from the affected executives, the forces of unwanted change are beginning to build.
  • Are there more bad days than good days? If a C-level leader isn’t having a rough day here and there—maybe even several in a row, he/she is likely not doing much. When a leader dislikes the job more than he likes it or finds that her energy is gone by 10 AM most days, it may be time to find a place that will again capture the leader’s passion.
  • Were you not selected for a promotion that fit your competence profile? While this is not a tell-all indicator, it is one to keep in mind. When an opportunity that fits a leader goes to someone else less qualified without explanation, or with an explanation straight from the marketing department’s pen, it might indicate it is time to move on. When you are not “in the loop” for important conversations, when decisions are made that affect you without input, or when responsibilities mysteriously get shifted to another team, change isn’t far away.
  • Do you have a reputation you can’t outgrow? Although he has performed in a wide range of roles, when you think of Jim Carey, Dumb and Dumber or Ace Ventura quickly come to mind. Even when acting in a comedy, Morgan Freeman comes off like a wisened Zen master. Alec Baldwin is one of a few people in the world who can be a jerk and get paid for it. Actors can get type-casted. A leader can get role or reputation-casted. If an executive can’t convince senior leadership or a board he can perform well in another role, it might be time for a move. Every leader encounters a failure or two. But if a mistake or a period of poor performance hang over a leader like a cloud, it is time to consider a move.

Novelist Ayn Rand is right—“You can ignore reality, but you can’t ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.” An effective leader is a prepared leader, someone firmly grounded in reality—even when that reality indicates it’s time to consider new options

Is Your Brand Positioning You for Your Next Job?

Prepare now for your future role.
Are you prepared for your future?

Are you prepared?

The perks of some jobs are nothing short of regal. How would you like a no-limits salary package, frequent first-class travel to exotic destinations, multiple residences, luxury cars, and guaranteed employment for your lifetime?

If that sounds like a job for a king (or queen), you’re right. The world’s 29 reigning monarchs enjoy privileges like these — and more. From the well-known House of Windsor to the lesser-known kingdoms of Bhutan, Brunei, and Tonga, being king is a career to die for—or more often, a career that isn’t yours until someone dies.

Earlier generations occasionally sped up a royal succession with a bit of homicide. In modern empires, the long life spans of reigning royals create a unique challenge for their successors: How do you prepare for and demonstrate you are ready for a job that won’t be yours for decades?

How Can You Prepare?

While most executives aren’t in line for a gilded throne, they share with future monarchs the need to use a current role to prepare for the next. For a leader wanting to move to the C-suite, using this interlude to enhance a personal brand is a vital step. Consider these actions:

  • Know yourself. Few of us are omnicompetent. While a C-level executive needs a broad knowledge and skill base, trying to do everything equally well or attempting to create the impression you can do it all is counterproductive. Leverage your strengths and develop the ability to quickly identify people who can compensate for your non-strengths.
  • Seek insight from those around you. Complete a comprehensive 360 review with anonymous input and use what it tells you. However far off something seems, there is a modicum of truth you are wise to consider.
  • Get a mentor. Very few companies provide the coaching and guidance a developing executive needs to move up in an organization. Find someone who has succeeded where you want to go, has nothing to gain or lose in your success, and learn all you can.
  • Cultivate accountability. The farther you go and the higher you get in an organization, the less people around you will tell you the truth. Accountability is not a tough conversation when you don’t accomplish something. It’s getting insight and input, so you don’t fail. Include regular conversation with someone you trust who will ask candid questions and challenge your thinking.
  • Invest in the package. The brilliance of a brand is easily dimmed by dated packaging. You can’t avoid the reality that people make an initial assessment about who you are by what they see. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Ensure you have the physical stamina to lead a team of energetic, young professionals.

In a highly-competitive market, investing in yourself while you prepare for your future is more than good branding, it’s smart business.

 

Adapted from Sharpen Your Life, by Joe Jordan. Available on Amazon Kindle.

Executive Presence: It’s More Than Commanding a Room

Executive Presence: It’s More Than Commanding a Room

executive presence
Executive Presence isn’t projected–it is a cumulative effect.

Executive recruiters look for it.  Leadership surveys try to measure it. A long list of consultants and coaches want to help people get it.

This hard-to-define, yet widely desired trait is executive presence.

Search for a concise definition of executive presence and the 1.2 million results Google offers include an endless list of attributes and behaviors—appearance, charisma, communication, gravitas. humility, social skills, style, body language, composure, decisiveness, and more.

One of the “experts” defines executive presence as “the ability to master perception.” That’s making people feel like you are honest or compassionate—even if you aren’t. Coaching people to master perception, project an image, and command the crowd makes the journey to develop executive presence sound like a manipulative sales technique or a one-style-fits-all formulaic approach to leading people.

Presence happens. Executive presence is a cumulative effect. What composes presence is paramount. Presence is the outcome of developing authentic character, expressed through the self-awareness, social awareness, likeability, engagement, communication, and appearance that frame genuine character into executive presence. Without character, executive presence is posing at best, and in a weaker moment, a well-positioned ruse.

Emerson said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”  When an executive focuses on perception and projection, people will likely see an inauthentic representation of who the leader supposes they should be—not who the leader is.

When you have authentic presence, you are able, as John Eldredge suggests, to “let people feel the weight of who you are.”

A New Edge for Ockham’s Razor

A New Edge for Ockham’s Razor

Ockham's Razor
Ockham’s Razor

Hanlon’s razor is funny – “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

Alder’s is alegedly sharper – “If something cannot be settled by experiment or observation, it is not worthy of debate.”

Rand’s is a bit of a head-scratcher – “Concepts are not to be multiplied beyond necessity, nor are they to be integrated in disregard of necessity.” Huh?

But since the 14th century, Ockham’s razor has sliced through more layers of complexity than any other philosophy. Friar and philosopher William Ockham proposed that “among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”

If Ockham were sitting in a corporate board room instead of his convent, he’d likely say something like, “Simplicity and focus lead to the best outcomes. Don’t waste time assuming anything, especially that more options result in better choices.”

Unneeded complication arising from superfluous options is a common malady in corporations today. Outcomes are often more related to individual competence than to the size or breadth of an organization. Diversification can dilute focus as much as it reflects versatility. Global sounds impressive, but not if you need help in a small town in Iowa.

The next time you face a decision, get out your razor and trim away the complexity. DaVinci reminded us, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

You Can’t Build a Puzzle (Team) if all the Pieces Are Round

Your Team: You Can’t Build a Puzzle if all the Pieces are Round

Think for a moment about your team.

team
Is your team cognitively diverse?

Those jigsaw puzzles with pieces that are all the same size and shape were designed by people who love to inflict pain on others. Imagine what kind of person would create a puzzle with pieces that are only round. That person seems to be driving how teams are built in companies today . . .

From Starbucks to Salesforce to Staples, workplace diversity is getting some much-needed attention. The Census Bureau says the U.S. population is over 35 percent multicultural. That fact and some uncomfortable analytics are promoting companies to actively pursue greater diversity in their teams.

Beyond it being the right thing to do, building greater diversity across our enterprises has a direct impact on results. McKinsey&Company found “a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance: for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent.” Boston Consulting Group’s study of 171 companies found “a clear relationship between the diversity of companies’ management teams and the revenues they get from innovative products and services.”

Cognitive Diversity

But one dimension of diversity we don’t hear much about—where the round puzzle piece is dominant, is cognitive diversity. Harvard Business Review researchers Alison Reynolds and David Lewis define cognitive diversity as “how individuals think about and engage with new, uncertain, and complex situations.”[i]

The impact of cultural diversity is lost if companies continue to hire “in their own image” or if recruiters take the safe route and only present candidates who are highly skilled and highly compliant. To streamline and accelerate decision-making, many senior leaders build teams of executives that think alike and readily agree, when what they need is a better process for making decisions within highly divergent points of view.

From problem solving to decision making to innovation to market expansion, executive teams accomplish more when there is both cultural diversity and cognitive diversity. In other words, the most productive teams don’t readily agree. They engage in what Patrick Lencioni calls “productive, ideological conflict: passionate, unfiltered debate around issues of importance.”

That kind of diversity will make people uneasy. It will challenge the insecure. Cognitive diversity will force static organizations to change their xenophobic cultures and willingly consider issues from multiple angles, giving equal consideration to unpopular options when making decisions that solve real problems and accelerate profitable growth.

Cognitive diversity is apparent in teams that pursue—

  • Collaboration more than cohesion.
  • Alignment more than agreement.
  • Unity of purpose more than unanimity of thought.

Regina Dugan, head of Facebook’s secretive Building 8 hardware team is right. “You have to get to the place where you aren’t made comfortable by the fact that everyone is the same, but rather feel inspired by how different we are.”

Executive branding helps a leader define that difference and use it productively to advance a career—and bring value to an enterprise.

 

[i] Harvard Business Review, March 30, 2017. Teams Solve Problems Faster When They’re Cognitively Diverse

 

 

A Second Look at the Value of Employee Engagement

If your company invested $700 million to $1 billion in a market opportunity with little or no revenue growth, you would quickly reconsider the proposition behind the investment. U.S. companies are spending that amount trying to increase employee engagement while Gallup tells us engagement remains flat at 32% in the U.S. and 13% globally.

The connection between employee engagement and productivity, profitability, client satisfaction, and absenteeism is well-documented. Separate studies from McKinsey and Gallup state that productivity improves 20-25% with connected employees.

To foster engagement, new corporate campuses look like city parks, loaded with places to collaborate, exercise, engage with colleagues, enjoy free gourmet meals, and relax. Deloitte’s list of factors that contribute to a positive work environment includes—

Employee ENgagement
Rethink Employee Engagement
  • Humanistic workspaces
  • Time for slack
  • Inspiration
  • Self-directed, dynamic learning
  • Culture of recognition

Accountability for results is not on the list.

Yet, telling someone their effort makes a difference, is one of the most powerful ways to fuel an employee’s passion and energy. Realistic expectations and accountability for achieving them are more impactful than any other corporate benefit. You can easily identify people not motivated by accountability. They are the people that don’t want to do what they are supposed to do.

Let’s rethink employee engagement. The desire for full engagement across an organization leads to the plethora of initiatives consuming that $700 million. What if companies stopped trying to engage everyone in the enterprise and focused those investments primarily on the emerging leaders, high potential employees, and the people the company can’t afford to lose to another organization—or to their own apathy?

If the Pareto Principle is true, wouldn’t it make more sense to invest engagement dollars in expanding the 20% producing most of the results to 40%? The ROI should increase exponentially for companies that focus more effort toward high-potential leaders most likely to become fully vested in their own and the organization’s success.  And, in the process, the same 20% are highly likely to influence the engagement of other key talent, now and in the future!

Job satisfaction, personal happiness, and engagement with life (including work) are not the result of a perfect environment. They are the result of personal choice. A percentage of every workforce is disengaged with life and will likely never become engaged at work. To invest equally in that group as in the people most likely to grow and contribute is a questionable strategy.

One component of executive branding is helping a leader recognize his or her unique value contribution and how a distinct combination of skills, personality, executive presence, and potential defines current and future success. Build the brand of the people willing to take responsibility for their—and your company’s success.

Treating every employee fairly is isn’t treating every employee the same.

The Texas Talent Grab

The Talent Grab of a Competitive Market

Texas Talent
Gone to Texas Talent Grab

In the mid-1800’s, as scores of people (outlaws included) pursued opportunity in Texas, the phrase “Gone to Texas” or GTT would frequently appear nailed to the doors of abandoned houses or on fences beside vacated property. More recently, the Texas Governor’s Office of Economic Development gave GTT a second life by attracting new businesses to the Lone Star State with the promise of “Texas: Wide Open for Business.”

This 21st century GTT invitation is working! As home to 54 Fortune 500 companies, Texas ranks No. 2 in the U.S., ahead of California and Illinois. In the past six years, 75 major corporations have moved to Dallas/Fort Worth. Start-ups, company expansions, and corporate growth in DFW generated over 119,000 jobs between February 2016 and February 2017. An accelerating business environment creates an exponential competition for talent.

The Dallas Business Journal recently detailed the talent grab spreading across north Texas. None of the companies moving to Texas have announced an interest in candidates from the bottom half of the talent pool. The best companies are implementing ways to find and hire the top ten percent—and they are getting what they want.

Talent Matters

Toyota announced their move from California and in a few months received 19,000 resumes aimed at the 1,000 openings the automaker is bringing to Plano. Tractor manufacturer Kubota’s move to Grapevine is driven by the need for innovation, efficiency, and talent. On a smaller scale, private equity firms are considering the talent in an acquisition as carefully as their quantification of a company’s financial results.

More than ever, human capital investments are being analyzed, quantified, and measured for impact to the business. In designing themselves for the future, companies must address the need for visionary leaders who can build a culture, the impact of workplace automation, and the on-going demand for employee engagement. These challenges become opportunities for differentiation when the leaders charged with resolving these realities are the most talented people the market offers.

How well is your executive leadership equipped to excel in a market where talent, technology, and transformation are driving forces in every organization?