Monday, February 28, 2011

The Ying And Yang Of Creative Management - Section One

All humans have an internal struggle between the ideas of good and those of evil, light and darkness. In some terms we could even look at the forces between creativity and business as being forces that tug and fight with each other. Many with a creative Zeitgeist see business as a drab “process” of churning out widgets and all about profit. While “the suits” look at creative types with concern and uncertainty. They see passion, creativity and expression and wonder, “how can we control this?

In the end successful businesses require chaos and order, creativity and profitability, process and open expression to grow, thrive and succeed. This tug of war creates great things, both to the bottom line and to the creative spirit of an individual’s life. The trick is to find the narrow, thin-line to walk as a creative business owner and leader, to allow the balance to take place – yet not create a schizophrenic organization.

"Discoveries are often made by not following instructions, by going off the main road, by trying the untried." - Frank Tyger

In The Beginning: Many creative companies come into existence because of a single person or a close team of players from an existing agency that decide it is time “to establish their own environment to operate in.” Usually this creative individual has a strong client base that they take with them, and in short order they are opening the doors on their own business.

The desire to establish their own business comes from the need to establish an environment where their creativity and business vision can come to life. It is also the drive to see the direct connection between their ideas and the financial success that comes from these ideas, creativity and vision.

It begins with a set of beliefs and experiences tied to either a single person or a small group. Over time, as the business becomes more successful it is necessary to grow the infrastructure, to add people and costs – and then the cycle begins. More clients to feed the cost demands, and in time the vision becomes less about the single vision of creative expression and instead grows into one of managing a full-fledged business. The ideals, vision and passions now need to be translated through layers of people and process. Creative businesses begin to seek the “holy grail” of how to keep the specific creative vision, the true specific values of the founder and/or founders alive? When the organization was 10 people it was easy to look each and every one of them in the eye and say, “I believe in you and what you are doing.” It was a big creative living room of friends working together towards a common vision.

Then growth happens. Can size impede the ability to connect each and every person to a common vision? Is what the creative leaders in an organization saying and believing the same as everyone else? Can the 50 people, 100 people, and a thousand people hold the same focused and connected direction? At the same time, the processes to manage 100 people (the business infrastructure), grows exponentially. No longer can an owner turn to someone and say, “hey could you throw together a rough design of…” without paperwork, concern on the impact on prioritization, etc.
"When you are completely absorbed or caught up in something, you become oblivious to things around you, or to the passage of time.

"It is this absorption in what you are doing that frees your unconscious and releases your creative imagination." - Dr. Rollo May

In many ways as a creative organization grows, the leadership migrates away from the actual workers within their business. The workers become an outward symbol, an ambassador of their vision and ideas to their clients, the industry and the media. Leadership spends less and less time by just“ creating the vision and focusing inward towards the team” instead of keeping the vision new and fresh. The stewardship of the business is turned over more and more to others. The specific functionality of operating a business leads to fragmentation and specialization. Financial teams, analysis teams, account management and sales, creative management, design, production and technology teams, all lead to a tugging of resources, focus and vision.

In the end it is possible for the cohesiveness of a creative organization to begin to erode. And the original vision, the passions of why and how it all began seem to drift away. It is important to stop from time to time and reassess where you are personally, and where your organization is. Do the results of the efforts of your business match what you feel they should be, both financially and spiritually? Is the work going out the door matching what you see as the quality and value you feel it should be?

Managing a creative organization, either as a stand-alone business or as an integrated part of a larger beast/corporation is different than managing any other business. It is about building a vision, a spirit and soul that others want to belong to. It is the act of creating a cause to sign on to, it is the act of managing fire, lighting and egos – getting them aimed at the right moments, actions and generating results for others (the nasty old client). The leadership of a creative organization is about creating an environment that other creative individuals want to be a part of, while allowing the chaos to exist while generating business results.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Thinking About Business Relationships

“I’m upset with you and your company. We need to talk…”

We have all had difficult moments in a client relationship or with a key partner. Things may have gotten a bit off track and we might not have noticed it. Life gets busy, distractions abound (email, iPhones, text, Angry Birds). The next thing you know, you have an upset or, even worse, a disenfranchised individual before you. But all is not lost. Good things can come from bad moments or situations – if you take the time to stop, listen, and do something different.

“A working relationship takes work.” – John Hanley

If you have a situation where a client or a partner is angry or upset, accept it as a challenge to grow the relationship. It’s your chance to shake off the old and say “Let’s try something new.” Go to the person and with an open heart and a listening mind and explore how and where you need to improve and grow. You need to make a change, even if the issue is not 100% your doing - take the first step.

Here are a few tips to growing successful relationships:

1. Schedule face-to-face time with the person. Don’t “do it on the phone” or by email. Relationship growth takes a commitment of time, face-to-face. Go to them. Do it soon and do it on their turf. Relationship issues do not age well.

2. Remember email, blackberry-speak, and cell chatter are not relationship-building tools or paths. A text message of "Sorry :-(" isn't going to cut it. You need to be willing to invest in the relationship.

3. Go with an open mind and do not be defensive. Even if somebody is off base, keep your cool. Hear them out, ask lots of questions, and see if you can grow beyond the moment. Listen not debate.

4. Try and get them to sum up what their greatest frustration or issue is. Have them review the scope or document or whatever it is that is driving the frustration. Get them talking about what will help get the relationship back on track. Again, you need not commit to a solution, but explore what and how to begin to build a path to one. I like to ask the simple question "I hear and understand what you are saying, so what would it take to get this relationship back on track?"

5. Whatever you commit to, follow through with it and be engaged. You only get one shot so make it your best.

6. Take the high road. In the end, even if there is no resolution, simply being present, listening, and showing and saying that you care makes a positive difference.

“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”
– Henry Winkler

Most business relationship issues are based on poor assumptions, misunderstanding, miscommunications, or just the fact that everyone is too busy. Use a flare up or a frustrating moment to demonstrate to the client or partner that you are willing to invest time and effort in strengthening the relationship. Use it as a way to build a stronger sense of not only who you are as a person is, but also what the relationship is about.

This is not a someone wins, someone loses. This is about being aware of your relationships. The challenge to you is to see even a difficult moment as a way to grow in your role as a trusted advisor and valued partner in a relationship.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Marketing Is Not What Many Think It Is

I have spent the better part of 30 years involved in marketing. Whether products, services, political candidates the fact is all need marketing at some point. The sad thing I have seen over the years is the lack of understanding on what marketing really is (even more so with marketing leaders).

While creativity, the 5 P’s (packaging, price, placement, position, promotion) and other classical thoughts around marketing are at play the real fact is, marketing is a tactical weapon. You need to know first and foremost what you are aiming at, what the end goal/ results are that you want. After that what you are going to do to be ready once the results start to happen. This means understanding the level of impact the results will have and can the organization handle the growth. In addition what is the appropriate level of marketing and effort? Do you need a fly swatter or a tactical nuke?

I have seen so many businesses have major issues in delivery, in the make up of the staff, loss of focus and they turn to marketing and say “make us better, make us succeed!” When a good marketing leader starts to ask the tough questions, to peel back the onion and the ugliness comes bubbling to the forefront. The reaction by the leaders of the business should be we will fix these underlying issues first before we try and grow the business OR the wrong response – hey this has nothing to do with marketing, stay out of operations, or delivery, etc. just do something creative to grow the business.

Many times the underlying issues are never fully addressed and “creative marketing types” push ahead with new campaigns, new marketing spin. In the end the issues are still there and the success is only temporary and next everyone is looking at the “failed marketing efforts” saying – see we don’t need marketing, give these dollars to price discounts or bonuses to the operational people. Remember poop is poop no matter how you package it.

The fact is, a business needs to be healthy, needs to have solid business operations and be able to deliver what they say they are going to deliver. If not there is no marketing in the world is going to make the difference.

So the next time your hear someone start to say that they need marketing to help fix the problem or turn to marketing to figure out both the strategy and the tactics without the key business leaders in the mix – stop and ask yourself – what is wrong with the underlining business? Don’t move forward with any marketing initiatives without the full alignment of the whole leadership team of the business other wise you will only have temporary buy in and success. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Strategy Smattergy

For some reason, the idea of strategy seems to cause two reactions in many business people today. The desire to over think the business processes or to lean towards a tactical list of action items. The fact that strategy is at the core the fuel that drives a business forward – it is also the understanding of what the business is, why it is different than others and sets it apart in the market. 

There are wonderful tools to help better understand your strategy, like SWOT analysis, What if scenario planning, and much much more. These are tools not the end result, like a hammer is not a house.

The definitions available on strategy are:

1. Strategy, a word of military origin, refers to a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal. In military usage strategy is distinct from tactics, which are concerned with the conduct of an engagement, while strategy is concerned with how different engagements are linked.

2.  Definition of STRATEGY

1 a (1) : the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war (2) : the science and art of military command exercised to meet the enemy in combat under advantageous conditions
b : a variety of or instance of the use of strategy
2 a : a careful plan or method : a clever stratagem b : the art of devising or employing plans or stratagems toward a goal
3 an adaptation or complex of adaptations (as of behavior, metabolism, or structure) that serves or appears to serve an important function in achieving evolutionary success <foraging strategies of insects>

How I look at strategy is at a few levels:
  • Define a perfect customer and why they are perfect?
  • Where does the cash register ring?
  • How do you make money and lose money?
  • What are you great at?
  • What is the focus and meaning of the business?
  • What is the value to bring to your customers?
  • Where do you want to be in 5, 10, 30 years as a business?
  • Are your resources, development and operations aligned with what you say you are as a business?

What is it going to take to be a success and why?

The step after you start to get a handle on the core thinking of the business, the real hard part starts - making sure you are honest with yourself and the business. Making changes to better align with the vision if what you want the business to be, to become. 

A big part of getting a handle on your strategy is talking and listening. Talking with your team mates, talking with customers (past, present, happy and unhappy ones), talking with the competition, with the market and taking it in and making a plan forward based on this.

In the end, it is the common sense thinking of the business. Do you know where you are headed and do you have the resources and the ability to get to where you want as an organization. Do you have a plan forward and is your team aligned to make it happen.

Strategy comes before marketing, before sales, before operations. It is a map forward.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Branding Schmambing

What Color Are The Business Cards Anyway?

I was asked to explain what brand means to an industry association. So I shared some thinking and background on how to look at the importance of branding within the mix of a business or a nonprofit organization. My background includes a large non-profit organization, where I found that branding was even more important in the growth of the organization.

A few high level thoughts.

  • Brand is not the logo (although the logo is a key brand element), the colors, the ads, or the website.
  • Brand is a promise. It is the outward meaning, understanding and value of the company (or product or service) being associated with that entity.
  • Brand must be aligned with the organization and what it represents.
  • Brand is the split second relationship feeling associated with an organization, its employees and the clients.
  • Brand is the spirit, the feel of an organization.

A powerful brand is 100% aligned with the value, the meaning, the movement forward of an organization/product/service. It is the most honest thinking and conversations you will ever have - if not, the brand promise is hollow.

So many people end up spending way too much time on colors and business card designs when they say brand, but they miss the underlying key thinking and drivers to a truly great brand. In technical environments this urge to jump into tactical stuff too soon is always prevalent. Branding should be the anchor point for the whole organization and the thinking from which other things flow - like design, message, actions within marketing, sales, etc.

Key: Brand allows for alignment of the whole organization. It brings the history and the future vision into the mix. It challenges us to ask, How is what we say we are demonstrated; how is it coming to life? Brand is the experience. It is the proof that what you say you are, you really are. I use a slide when I get to this point of a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger, all pumped up, with guns blazing and the wording "brand means you can say you are this...." But in realty you are this... and it is a picture of the Teletubbies. You know what I mean, we have all experienced it in our lives. A store that has a tagline, "friendliest store in town" and you never see a smiling face. Or an airline that says "on time and best in class awards for...." and they are hardest people to travel with, or the bank that says in their TV spots "you matter to us" and when you call them you never get a live person and it takes forever to push button your way to one.

I can fill up pages of examples like these. The fact is, the more aligned the brand is with the value you bring, and the people in the organization are living to that brand promise, the more successful you will be in growing and reaching more people. The more off you are, the less alignment there is - well the fact is you can actually create negative brand value and drive the business into the ground.

In the early 1980's (yes, I am dating myself now) I had the grand privilege of working for Air Products & Chemicals. Before "brand" was a fledgling thought in the eyes of the business, Air Products already understood how key this was to their future success. Not only did we have very well thought out brand standards (which I helped with), but they said across all 66,000 employees, the brand must be lived. We are about quality, safety, responsiveness and helping our clients improve results. Think about it, Air Products sold air. But how and what did the liquid nitrogen mean to that company, that hospital, that assembly line? Things like making sure the 3,000 tanker trucks and delivery trucks were designed and painted to match - to stand out. That we made sure the trucks were washed once a week (others in the industry never washed their trucks) or hand wiped every cylinder when it was delivered. To systems, we put in the first telephony system for the liquid cryogenics in the world so that the cryo tanks would call the customers and say (based on their desired refill points) "I am half empty do you want me to send a truck or do you want to talk to a live person?" To the training of employees, and to the safety truck rodeos we sponsored. Even the fact that we had research labs targeting the key markets that any client could use at no cost (food freezing, steel, semiconductor etching, etc.) These were all key to the brand meaning what it did/does.

I was hired in 2004 to help evolve the Centennial brand from stealth to the world class recognized industry leader that they really were and are. I started at the brand development side. I questioned everything from the mission statement, the core values, the development of a value statement, etc. There were difficult sessions from the president on down. I even talked with the competition. I wanted to know the perceptions, the beauty, the soft and the hard spots. The process took about six months to bring to a point were we could craft a branding statement and move forward.

We realized that our brand was about people, solutions, and living up to our promises and that we are a different kind of company. So we made sure that we pulled this brand thinking into our themes, our designs, and our approach to all the marketing and sales. Once the brand platform is crafted and believed and understood, the communications and marketing development efforts flow from here. We realized that our key growth efforts were building brand awareness and building a body of knowledge around JOC and Centennial. We also focused on the media and public relations side based on this brand thinking.

Brand is a challenge, because if left untended and cared for it can grow all weedy and diminish over time. People begin to change it, shape it to their view and next thing you know you are no longer aligned and it is hard to be honest with yourself and the organization all the time.