Deidre Woollard has written for AOL.com, Realtor.com, JustLuxe.com, Pursuitist.com and more. She is the Community Manager for the Realtor.com Advice platform. and teaches in the University of California Irvine Extension Digital Journalism Program.
My latest piece on Social Media Today
I don’t believe they gave Ron Johnson enough time at JC Penney. He made some sharp turns, some too quick but overall he had a sound vision. Jerking the ship back to its original course seems foolhardy. The best you will get is to be back where you were, still losing value each year. Is it better to be a stable also-ran or to gut a company, deal with a couple of dismal years of collapsed stock prices and bet on the wisdom of your plan for reinvention? My impulse is the latter but its not so easy with billions at stake. I understand why the board pulled the plug on Johnson but I am not sure that move will save the company either. Sometimes a brand can be reinvented, sometimes it can’t.
If you were in charge what would you do? I would sell off as much real estate as I could, source only from companies that do their manufacturing in the United States and reinvent as “America’s true department store.”
It’s always dangerous to center a business around a charismatic leader/founder. Once a business gets to a certain size it needs to distance itself from its creator in order to thrive. This is currently going on with Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. I believe that part of the strategy of bringing the indomitable Sheryl Sandberg in was to make Facebook less Zuck and more empire.
What happens when this doesn’t work, when a company and its founder are inextricably tied? You get Apple. Yes, Jobs left the company he founded but he returned and the company’s best innovations are seen as his visions. Now in the wake of Jobs the question of just how much of his wisdom and innovation is in the coffers seems to continue to haunt the company.
I’m an Apple loyalist, it was the first computer I used and I’ve been an advocate of the brand for decades, back when we were the few, the derided, the often software-less. And yet I believe in order to survive in the post-Jobs era, Apple has to prove it’s more than it’s founder. That’s why I find it very bizarre that Tim Cook and the Apple leadership are going through with plans for the new circular Apple office planned for Cupertino.The massive four-story doughnut designed by Norman Foster is beautiful certainly and very Jobs but does it make sense for today’s Apple? I’m not sure.
Does it matter to the Apple consumer if the Jobs vision of a circular office space is realized? Is the building essential for the employees to have faith in the vision of the company? Image has its value but if you were to put a price on it would that price be the same price as Apple is about it spend on the new building? I don’t think so.
Instead, I think it sends a message that they are continuing to walk in fading footsteps. Apple should build new headquarters that reflect a new vision. Steve was one of a kind and should be honored by Apple always but not with a multi-billion dollar mausoleum. It feels like Xanadu, like Hearst Castle, a beautiful folly, the sort I’d like to write a book about but not the sort I’d like my investment in a company to finance.
The shadow economy, I knew of the black market of course but I first heard the term 5 years ago at the Milken Institute conference in a presentation by economist Alvin Toffler. It stuck in my head as economic models rarely do because it made perfect sense for how the future would evolve. The shadow economy is a similar concept to the much-vaunted “dark social” which is that not every transaction is trackable and appears in public space. Socially sharing can be private, through email, IM, etc. and not all people participate in public exchanges, duly tracked and taxed. People work “under the table”, they barter, they find other ways to exchange value. Now with devices like Square it’s even easier to do person-to-person transactions without even needing ready cash. Of course that leaves its own trail but still it’s increasingly possible to exist in this world without a job, on side gigs and piecework alone, the way it used to be.
The shadow has its downsides. Illegality lurks in the shadows, without accountability there are fewer protections. It’s not always a choice, it’s often sprung of desperation.
As the jobs numbers continue to shift, more and more people slip into the shadows. They disappear off the lists but they aren’t gone. They are in the shadows, they trade work and goods for whatever they can get.
I used to believe that the world would evolve into one economy, one currency, one government. The problems of the euro are disabusing me of that notion reminding me that all efforts to eradicate duality are doomed to failure.
For the past year or so I’ve been think about customer centricity. It is a marketing term but I think it has applications for writers as well because it’s all about shifting from audience on a vague level to honing in on those who like whatt you have done already and want more. Focus on your most passionate fans rather then always trying to get new customers. That’s part of the thinking in Think Like A Rock Star: How To Create Social Media And Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans by Mack Collier. Collier’s premise is that companies can learn a lot from rock stars and how they interact with fans.
What does it mean to think like a rock star? It’s about being with your fans and sharing your world with them. It’s not a top down conversation, it’s an equal one. Don’t just speak to your fans, be with them. Share their enthusiasm. Give them backstage access. Empower them by offering them direct access to a person at the company. People who are proud to be identified as fans need a name by which to identify themselves, a place to gather, and buy in from the company.
How do you create value for your customers? Don’t just talk about the product, see the bigger picture, sell the dream and then deliver on the promise.Teaching creates value and deepens engagement. Rewarding existing behavior rather than trying to compel new behavior helps create a stronger attachment. Love and commerce are intertwined, we support businesses we feel a connection with.
Brands have internal conversations all the time, exposing those conversations and making them part of the public narrative can increase fan engagement. Brand ambassadors are essentially super fans, willing to work on behalf of the brand and spread the word. Give them special access, empower them to advocate for the brand in public, and let them help grow your brand. Treat them with love and they will love you back. This should be basic for most brands but sometimes we are so busy focusing on customer acquisition that we forget that the most important customer is the one you already have.
What do employees want most? In The Culture Secret: How To Empower People And Companies No Matter What You Sell, Dr. David Vik says they are looking for purpose, autonomy, and compensation. Your company vision needs to take these factors into account, making it clear to employees what they need to do and why it matters. Having a vision is more important than a mission statement because it is the guiding force of the company that lets every employee know why it is so important that they work hard. Vision leads to purpose and why your company exists. This is where corporate philanthropy and a shared mission can come into play. It’s not just enough to have a vision and a purpose, these values have to be reinforced to employees on a regular basis.
There are two parts to successful office culture, the structure and the living organism. Culture is not about stuff. It’s not about ping pong tables, nap pods, and free snacks although those things can be part of a successful corporate culture. People, both customers and employees, want to feel like they matter. One of the most important lessons in this book is that poorly treated employees pass that treatment on to customers. If you want happy customers you need happy employees and that makes corporate culture vitally important to all successful companies.
Businesses and people also have to have something that distinguishes them from the rest. Treat your employees as individuals, each different, each special, and they will help you uncover what is special about your organization.
It takes time, purpose, and direction to create and live your values and they need to be the backbone of your organization. Be open about your culture so employees know upfront what they are signing on to. Even once you create the ideal culture there is no guarantee it will stick. Culture is not static, it is an organism that grows and changes over time.
One of the best lessons in this book for larger companies is to value your HR department, ditch the stigma, change it to a human empowerment department. Offer fun and educational experiences. Give your employees great experiences and they will provide them for others. Help them set personal goals first, professional goals second. We seem to have lost sight of the fact that workers are valuable. This wretched job market has made people seem expendable. They never are and strong corporate culture doesn’t just give you happy employees, it leads to a better business.
When I teach fiction or critique work one thing I always ask is what is the character’s motivation? Without motivation, nothing makes sense. Why we do what we do is nearly as important as the acts themselves. In the workplace however, things can often be quite different, often the only motivation is the paycheck at the end of the week. Frankly, that’s not enough. An employee who is working only for the money and not out of any pride in workmanship or joy in the work will never do any more than the basics of what is required and at any hint of more work, or even a change in the work, that employee will dig in their heels.
Motivating people through business change isn’t easily done but it helps if there is a good reason for what is taking place. What happen when what is in it for me also benefits the greater good? That’s a win-win for all. Successful change requires an acknowledgment of PROI, personal return on investment. Selfish Altruism by Moe Glenner looks at how to create change by focusing on potential benefits and how to make those benefits clear to all stakeholders.
Why do you do what you do at work? Is it because the boss told you to? As you might imagine, that’s not exactly the most compelling argument for doing great work. But if you feel like what you are doing is important, that you are the best one to do this work, and that it will benefit you in the long run, that’s a much better motivator.
How do you incentivize people to do what will benefit them anyway? Part of the battle is clear communication. When people don’t know why they are doing something, they are less likely to be deeply motivated. Feeling important, valued, and inspired can be a major incentive. The myth is that people work for money first but the reality is that we also work to feel both productive and valued. When we issue a directive without explaining what is behind it, people are only offered two choices, blind obedience or rebellion. It’s the same thing I say to people about both fiction and non-fiction writing: don’t just tell me what, tell me why. It’s a simple idea but a powerful one. Motivation makes the world go round.
I love business books and I read a lot of them. But I’ve noticed a trend that I find distracting, the same stories repeat over and over. I can’t count the times I have seen the story of the grandmother’s recipe which calls for cutting the ends off the roast. The daughter follows the recipe not knowing that the reason for cutting the roast (or the ham, or even in a weird variant reported by a friend, the potato) in order to fit in the pan. This story is repeated in book after book Some authors are even cheeky enough to claim it as a family story, similar to what happens with urban legends.
The other one I have seen a lot is the story of the three masons building the cathedral where one mason is breaking rocks and doesn’t know why and hates his job, the second mason is building a wall and is more engaged in his job, the third is the happiest of all because he knows his rock-breaking efforts are leading to the creation of a cathedral.
There’s nothing wrong with using these stories. The first illustrates why we need to question established routines. The second shows the value of making sure employees know what they are working toward and are engaged. They are good and powerful stories but when I see them in every single book they lose more and more of their ability to delight and engage. I can’t be the only person who has seen these stories in multiple places. Also these stories aren’t yours or connected to someone you know. They are allegories, they are universal, and ultimately they are generic.
We all fall into clichés, well-worn examples, and much-used case studies. I’m as guilty as anyone and I’m writing this post as a wakeup call for myself as well. If you are storytelling for business, get personal, get real, and get specific. The world needs original thought: yours.
Influence isn’t just about getting what you want, it’s about understanding what others want. In Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing And Gain Without Giving In, Mark Goulston and John Ullmen go beyond what we often perceive as influence, being persuading to do something in the short term, and into the deeper levels of really being able to connect with people. True influence as defined in the book is about leading others toward better results.
The book contains many examples of the type of misunderstandings that occur in the workplace all the time. When we try to push our agendas we often fail to get the desired outcome simply because we are coming from our point of view rather than theirs. We fail to see what others see. Being right has its own dangers and shortcomings. Don’t assume that others know what you know.
The people who are best at persuading aren’t forceful persuaders. People who are inspirational are the most influential to us. Relationships can’t be purely transactional or they will go nowhere. Real influence is about the long tail, creating real relationships without an eye toward making them transactional.
It begins with being able to truly listen and understand what others are saying. Can you get out of your own head and focus on the other person? Real listening is not just about what is being said but how it is being said. It is about being able to exist in what the authors term their there instead of remaining trapped in your own space.
Although this is a book about influence, it is also a book about using your power for the greater good. What is influence worth acquiring if not to use it do powerful things, even if it is just about making others feel better? This book is more than just a book about influence, it is about true and lasting connection.
We all like toll think we are good listeners. I’ve conducted interviews so I like to think I am a good listener but I watched myself this week. I do listen until, and this is a big until, until the person says something that sparks my brain then I jump in. I pop right out of listening mode and into my own headspace. The trick is to maintain active listening and stay focused on the other person.
If you’ve ever felt like the world kept asking you to choose who you wanted to be when you grew up but you never chose because you could never quite decide on just one thing: here is your book. Mash Up!: How To Use Your Multiple Skills To Give You An Edge, Earn More Money, And Be Happier by Ian Sanders and David Sloly celebrates the idea that there is no longer one linear career path.
Today’s careers tend to be made up of more places of employment and many different types of jobs. It’s a life that many creative types, artists, writers, actors, etc., have embraced for years but it is increasingly becoming more mainstream. I often say that Los Angeles is the land of the side gig but really these days more and more people are wearing multiple hats.
The authors refers to this transition as “going plural” and the book includes many profiles of those who have made the leap, from musician Dave Stewart to Gary Vaynerchuk. There are also full interviews with many mash-up artists, writers, film makers, even a zookeeper.
A career composed of many skills and gigs still has a common unifier. You are probably not your job title. A job title doesn’t convey much. It’s very easy to just keep going, doing what you are doing, without really thinking about what your overall niftier is. Take a look at your LinkedIn profile or job history, what links all your work? When I tried this I went into it with the idea that in my profile all signs would point to writer. But what my career really is about is information distribution and display from my early days in marketing and the advertising side of magazines through my career as a writer and as a member of a social marketing team. For me it’s not just the message but how it conveyed. So in my career, I am a writer, a researcher, and a teacher with a central focus on social media and communication. It’s not where I would have imagined myself but it is firmly where I am.
How do you carve out time for a plural career? It takes a lot of time management and a certain commitment to working a lot of the time. If you aren’t comfortable juggling multiple tasks this is not for you. It also involves self promotion. Essentially the hustle never ends and so you have to be up to the challenge. In today’s world things can change quickly having multiple paths means you are better protected if one of your jobs ends. I have found that agility and flexibility are the most important job skills of all because we can’t control what happens, we can only control how we responded.