The summer session for my MBA is in full swing, and I’ve been a little frustrated with one of my professors. He’s an adjunct who recently attained his PhD, and this is his second or third semester teaching. He brings excellent practical application into the classroom, and he generally cuts out the academic jargon to get straight into what we’ll need as managers in our post-MBA positions. However, in an effort to treat us like professional adults, he wants to run the class like a democracy! Now, I’m all for giving team members a platform to collaborate in the office, but in the classroom? I’ve gotta support a monarchy (not quite dictatorship, there should be some give and take!).
The first night of class, he asked us what format we would prefer to be quizzed. In a class of 40 people, some wanted online, some wanted in-class, some wanted essay-style, others wanted multiple choice… and on and on and on! You can’t really put the format to a vote in a classroom situation. The timing of the quiz has also been the subject of debates and an actual vote-by-hand-raising in last night’s session. This drives me nuts, largely because everyone has some excuse about why they can’t take the quiz at this time or that. “I’m working, can we move it to Friday?” “I travel for business, can we do it in class?”
Here’s the thing: you’re in grad school, in a part-time MBA program, as in, you have multiple priorities right now. And, if you’re not going to put a high priority on your degree, you might need to re-consider your choice to attend business school right now. I’m not saying people don’t get busy, emergencies don’t happen, or homework isn’t an inconvenience, but if graduate education were easy, everyone would do it! In addition to the knowledge you gain in the classroom, the MBA is about time management, juggling priorities, and choosing the most profitable projects. Notice any parallels between your personal life and professional life? I certainly do. Sometimes I don’t want to crunch the numbers in a spreadsheet for the marketing budget, but that’s part of the job. Sometimes I don’t want to read my textbook or attend class, but that’s part of the program. Are you going to make excuses in your day job? If not, don’t start that habit in grad school!
I understand that the professor is trying to be fair, but I think it’s a much more valuable and true-to-life experience to realize that sometimes life ISN’T fair. Sometimes we have to take projects we don’t like, on a timeline that’s too tight, and a budget that’s too lean. Sometimes the office is a creative, collaborative place, but sometimes the head of the organization needs to crack down to make sure that projects are delivered in top quality for customer satisfaction. If I’m voting, I’m going to cast my lot in favor of a stronger leader, at least in the classroom!
My husband and I did a bridal photo shoot for our future sister-in-law last weekend. My husband is more technically proficient on the camera, so I was directing our model for most of the shoot, which sparked a lot of thoughts on managing well. I believe a manager’s job is to get the best work out of their people, not just delegate or revel in their power. If an employee is performing below average, I would first take a look at their manager. Sure, there are mitigating circumstances, but I’m willing to bet the sub-par adequacy can largely be traced to poor management. So, what did the photo shoot teach me about managing well?
Have a plan, and share it with your employees. We’re new to shooting with more than just each other, so having a plan was crucial! We went on a recon mission to map out locations, figure out the lighting, and generally know what we were getting ourselves into prior to the shoot. Once we arrived, I told my future SIL where we planned to shoot and the general flow of the afternoon, which made the shoot much more smoothly. Sometimes managers have no idea where they’re heading. Other times, they have a long-term plan, but they just keep that information to themselves. No wonder their employees can’t effectively prioritize their projects or integrate ideas into the big picture!
Preempt the pitfalls. We knew our model would sweat her make-up off, that the sun would go down, and that it was a little muddy in some places, so we used our plan to preempt the pitfalls. While my husband was shooting, I was walking around looking for the next pose, making sure the hair, dress, and veil stayed perfect, and generally making sure things were going well, so that he could focus on getting the shot. Managers should do the same thing for their employees. Is trouble brewing among the top executives? Managers should curtail the effects on their subordinates so that their employees can focus on delivering great work. Is a huge project coming down the pipeline? Managers should start re-arranging the project assignments to ensure the right people are available for each task. Good managers will think a move or two ahead, and work to create an environment that is free of undue stress or unproductive drama.
Be enthusiastic. It’s summer in Texas, which means it’s stinkin’ hot outside, even at 6 pm. Add to that the insane mosquitoes that graced our shoot, and things could get real annoying, real quick. So, what did I do? I did a jig. I did spirit fingers (don’t judge, you know what those are if you’ve watched Donnie Darko!). I gave a sassy hip pop, I laid down on the ground or scampered up a ladder, and I got all up in my model’s space. All of my excitement rubbed off on her, kept her in good spirits, and ultimately, we got the shots that we needed. These over-the-top strategies work in management as well. Think about it: do you want to work with a depressing, boring person who mopes about when you have to stay late to meet a deadline? Or, do you want to work with someone that makes you feel a rush of adrenaline and pride at a job well done? Employees mirror their manager’s attitude, and your enthusiasm is infectious. So do a little jazz square every now and again, climb on a desk if you’re so inclined, and give a joyful yell every so often… you might just make work fun!
I loved working on this shoot with my husband, and I think we learned a lot about managing a shoot and directing a model, and I love translating the lessons from the shoot to the office environment. What are your tips for managing well?
We’ve established that my privacy threshold is pretty low online, but this article on Forbes re-affirms my comments that people are, in fact, talking about you. The article takes a slightly different angle on your personal web presence, but I think many of the points transcend into the corporate brand as well.
Transparency. The author tells an anecdote about her friend that’s interning at a recruiting firm. The friend has become a gatekeeper in the hiring process, and her job is to check out candidates’ online life. The thing is, squeaky clean profiles actually throw up a red flag! If there’s absolutely no negative coverage, her friend starts assuming that the person must be hiding something, because nobody is that perfect. Ever felt that way about brands? If there’s no drawbacks to their product, no bad experiences noted in the reviews, doesn’t it make you wonder if the company has scrubbed the forums or written company-sponsored Yelp reviews? Even the best corporate brands have a bad incident in their past! A completely flawless online profile might actually make you seem more suspicious, and these days, companies want transparency.
Consistency. So your resume says you went to Harvard, but your Facebook profile doesn’t list a school. Your Twitter location shows Dallas, but your LinkedIn profile shows New York. Hmm…. that’s odd. Some of these inconsistencies could be easily explained, but in this economy, companies probably won’t take the time to hear you out. And, it’s not just companies that don’t have time, it’s customers of your corporate brand. When I’m shopping for a product or service, I want your marketing jargon to match up with customer reviews and my own personal experience. Every piece of your personal and corporate message should fit together, and inconsistent online evidence will hurt you in the long-run.
Compatibility. The article mentions that safe profiles make you pretty boring, and companies want to know that you’ll fit in with the culture around the office. If all your status updates show that you simply go to work, simply come home, and simply go to bed, you sound like a drag. Sure, you don’t need to be posting about raging parties every night, but show some personality! Do you kick butt at the gym every Friday night? Do you love taking pictures and scrapbooking them? These characteristics might be crucial in your ability to fit in with your future co-workers. This definitely does not stop at your personal brand! The movement toward green products and ethical sourcing is growing rapidly, and many companies are trying to differentiate themselves to customers with CSR programs. It’s not enough to just put the cliche “made from 50% recycled products” in tiny print on a label, you have to show that you really care about this movement! Are you trying to get in with the artists, the cool kids, the business people, or the sports addicts? You need to show that you understand your demographic, and that your products or services are compatible with their lifestyles, values, and needs.
Control the conversation. I’ve said it before, but I truly believe that the conversation is going to happen. Do you want to have a voice in the conversation, or do you want to let others talk about you behind your back? My name is fairly unique, so most of the content you find when you Bing me is most likely created by me. I did this on purpose! I don’t have enemies or competitors trying to ruin my personal brand, but many people and corporations do. Do you really want your competitors making the only comments in the conversation? Get involved, talk about your awesome product (for your personal brand, your product is YOU!), contribute to the online information about your services, and exert some control over your web presence. You can stay silent, but the internet will keep talking.
I thought this article had an interesting perspective on the advice about your social media presence. They’re talking about you… but are YOU talking about you?
As a marketer, you’d think I would love taking advantage of promotions and deals in stores, right? I mean, I’ve bought several daily deals online, but in general, I’m very skeptical of deals. My husband and I are quite frugal, so I’ve taken to looking at the per-unit cost on items, particularly at the grocery store. The fashion bloggers have taught me to consider a piece of clothing on a cost-per-wear basis, which has changed my whole outlook on purchasing clothes!
Sometimes, though, a deal is not a deal. I’m not talking about a blatant higher-cost-per-unit, or an absurd payback period. I’m talking about the fact that you would never buy it full price because you don’t need it. So, if you don’t need it, why would you buy it on sale? I’ve seen people buy clothes because they’re on sale, even though the item doesn’t fit right, or the color is wrong. “But it was on SSAAAALLLLEEEEE!!!!!!” Or, purchasing creamer or cereal in a larger size because the unit cost is lower than a smaller size, but you don’t really like the creamer or the flavor of cereal. Thus, the creamer will spoil and the cereal will go stale before you manage to force yourself to use them up, meaning you’ve wasted $2 instead of $1.25.
A deal is not a deal if you planned to spend $0, and you ended up spending $10 instead of $20. Your budget didn’t exist in the first place, so no amount of discounting or mark-downs can compete with zero. I think the best way to combat this, is to ask yourself if you would ever buy that item or a similar item full price. I look terrible in yellow clothes, so I would never purchase a yellow item at full price. Thus, no amount of sale can persuade me to purchase a yellow item. I love peppermint coffee creamer, and I regularly buy the big bottles at full price. So, if they go on sale, I have no problem stocking up on them, because I know I’ll drink them eventually. I’m even willing to switch brands or make substitutes to take advantage of a sale, but only if I already needed the item in the first place.
Next time you see a sale, control the impulses! Remember that if your budget is $0, that’s the cheapest sale you’ll find, and don’t succumb to anything more than your budget allows! (in this case, it allows NOTHING, because you don’t even WANT that product, let alone need it!)
My company uses a lot of open-source software, including the CRM system and email system. We use this software because it’s cheap. Except, it’s not really cheap when you consider all the man hours and system crashes we endure on a near-daily basis. What’s the true cost of this “free” software? Let’s take a look at a few unfortunate costs, shall we?
First, the IT costs. In theory, these costs are fixed overhead, since the IT team is on salary. But how long do you think you can keep their salary at the same level when they’re at the office on nights and weekends fixing a system that’s constantly broken? How many revenue-generating or cost-cutting programs can’t be implemented because the IT team is too busy wrestling with the open-source software that’s “saving us money”? It’s not just about the direct expense of the IT team’s time, but about the opportunity costs of having them focused on something that should be a given in a business environment.
Next, there’s the productivity issues. The CPAs in our Accounting department are required to complete a certain number of class hours every year. They are allowed to do this on company time via online webinars. Again, great in theory, costs nothing in theory. Except that 3 out of 4 of their webinars have crashed 45 minutes into the presentation, which means that they don’t get credit for that webinar. They’ve now wasted 45 minutes and will have to re-take the webinar and hope that the system doesn’t crash, again wasting 45 minutes and resulting in re-taking the webinar. That’s just one example. I’ve had my internet and network go down for an entire day. Sure, I could work on some designs… but I can’t email them to anyone for feedback or tweaking. Sure, I could just print the mock-ups for feedback… except that the printers are on the network, so no internet and network access means no printing. There’s other people that can’t even work on designs, so if the network is down, they are literally sitting at their desk twiddling their thumbs! But hey, it’s FREE!
Finally, there’s the cost of information and time. One time, the system went down, and we had lawyers sitting on the phone, waiting for a document to come through. These guys charge several hundred dollars per hour, and we were on a deadline with a bank, whose lawyers were also charging hundreds of dollars per hour. We had them on hold while we tried to fax (yes, this is in 2012!) a document because just as we sent the document via email, the system crashed. The CRM system still has bugs that don’t allow us to glean all the information we need out of it, so management is still flying a little blind. They didn’t want to pay for a CRM because they thought the sales reps wouldn’t use it. Now we’ve proved that the sales reps will use the system, but the system is still broken, so their motivation is waning! They spend time trying to input data, I spend time trying to pull out the data, and IT would spend time fixing the bugs… if they weren’t so busy fixing the email system that crashed. AGAIN!
In short, our free or cheap software is actually costing us a lot of time, headache, and ultimately money. Before you start claiming that your inexpensive solution is great, make sure you calculate the true cost. You might find that you’re paying more for less!
My standard answer to the interview question, “What is your biggest weakness?” is, “Outward organization. I know where everything is, and I tend to keep most things in my head, but my desk is always messy to the outside observer, and if someone else is trying to find something on my desk, it will be very difficult for them.” As mentioned in my post about my design process, I generally like to see everything to be able to work with it. In high school, my mom always tripped over my backpack, and kept telling me to, “put it where it belongs!” The thing is, my backpack was in the same spot on the floor every day! It “belonged” on the floor!
Oddly, though, my brain is the one place where I have some kind of actual organizational system. There are times when I literally imagine placing a piece of information in a folder, and filing it away under “short term memory” in my brain. Then, when I need to retrieve the information, I literally feel like I’m going to the short-term memory file in my brain, opening the drawer, extracting the file, and reading the information on the page. This is quite helpful during exam times, as I just read the notes from the page in my head. I don’t think this is photographic memory, but pretty close it to (or, maybe my years of memorizing scripts has taught me that skill!). Either way, my brain is generally a well-organized filing cabinet.
Except, when it’s not. Sometimes a piece of information is misfiled, or I don’t realized it was filed at all! This is when the fun starts, when your brain randomly goes into the mystery files to pull out some odd piece of trivia that you didn’t know existed. My husband is teaching himself to play piano, and he recently asked me to sit down and play the right-hand notes on a piece, while he played the left-hand notes. I’m not a pianist by any stretch of the imagination (no, seriously, I failed my piano juries during my freshman year of college, and my professor waved my hands off the keyboard because my scales were so disrespectful to the piano!), but somehow, I managed to sit down and sightread that right hand with only a couple of hiccups! Last week, he was complaining about pain in the area that connects the hips to the legs. I told him it was probably his Sciatic nerve… he looked it up, and I was right. Yeah, learned that one from an episode of “Private Practice” MONTHS ago!
All that to say, keep an open mind… you never know what information will seep in and be used one day in the future! I feel very Medici in these moments
As I mentioned in a previous post, I starting coming up ad campaigns for the products we used during our trip! This is the first campaign that struck me, and it has a great social media strategy tie-in as well. Note that I haven’t done any customer or strategic research to see if this would actually fit into Coleman’s marketing plan, it’s just what popped into my head while I was waiting for our fajitas to finish cooking.
The Campaign: “With a View”
The Concept: Coleman products let you enjoy life with a view. You can cook great food on a Coleman stove while enjoying the mountains. You can drink coffee from a Coleman cantina while kayaking down the river. You can watch the stars while snuggling in a Coleman sleeping bag, inside a Coleman tent. In short, if you want a view, Coleman can get you there!
The Tagline: “How do you________? With A View!”
The Ads: I shot these photos in Big Bend and Seminole Canyon.
The Customer Engagement: We would release one or two inspirational pictures in Q1, and hold a contest for customers to submit photos of themselves using Coleman products in cool, extreme environments. We’d ask them to show us what kind of views Coleman helped them enjoy. After 4 months, 3 winners would be chosen, and their photos would be featured in the ad campaign throughout Q2. Their photos would be shown in retailers like Academy and REI, and magazines that cater to outdoor enthusiasts.
There’s also Sweepstakes possibilities, where you win a trip, or Coleman gear, or some other fabulous prize. But, in this case, I think it works well to have the customer make a purchase first, and then win prestige later. I think this approach affords a win-win situation: Coleman makes money as people purchase products, they engage customers, and they get a new ad campaign. Customers win a feature campaign, just by taking a vacation!
Got an improvement on this campaign idea, or a photo that might work for the ad? I would love to feature your take here on the blog, so contact me with your ideas!
I was tasked with collecting biographies and head shots for our technicians in the shop. The plan is to send the customer an email at each stage of their engine overhaul with a little bit of information about who is doing what to their engine. We deal with many overseas customers, so it’s hard to put a “face” on the company. As a marketer and a millenial, I think this is a great idea. It keeps the customer apprised of the engine progress, assures them that a real person with real experience is doing real work on their engine, and makes all the technicians, customer service reps, and sales reps seem like one big happy family. We’re a unified company, partnering with you, our valued customer!
Interestingly, some people did not want their picture and a summary of their work experience put out into the world. Again, being a marketer and a millenial, this is very odd to me. I realize that my privacy threshold is lower than most people’s, particularly when it comes to professional information. You can put my name into a search engine and find out my entire work history, picture, and phone number in less than a minute. The crazy part is that this was intentional! I WANT people to find me. How else will I advance my blog, my career, and my success? If no one knows I exist, they can’t offer me an opportunity! In my profession, I’d wager that if a potential employer or client can’t easily find me on the web, they’d be suspicious of my qualifications and education.
This is not the case for prior generations, and particularly those in professions that require hard skills or specific licenses to practice. Marketing skills can be difficult to quantify or assess, so the big picture shown by my online presence is pretty crucial to my ability to prove myself. For technicians in an industry that will soon face a shortage of qualified workers, simply showing their A&P license is enough to get them to a probationary period, if not a full-time job. And, since many of these workers didn’t grow up in the age of the internet, the thought of putting their face and identifying history in print is pretty scary.
While I understand their concerns, it’s just so hard for me to relate. I don’t share every detail of my personal and professional life online, but if I can say it in polite conversation to a random stranger in person, why would I hesitate to put it online? I guess I feel that if someone really wants to steal my identity or cause me harm, I’m going to have to significantly disrupt my entire life to prevent them from doing that. I’d have to forgo all credit card use, online and offline (I mean really, we let 16 year old waiters take our credit cards out of our sight for an unspecified amount of time!), never put my address ANYWHERE, and ditch any phone communications! Is it really so bad for someone to know what I look like? Is it really so bad for someone to know that I attended UNT? Is it really that harmful for someone to know I go to boot camp on a regular basis? Sure, I keep my whereabouts off the internet, my schedule off the internet, and my super secret passwords out of publication, but I have a low privacy threshold. I wonder how this debate will change over the next 5-10 years, as millenials ascend to positions of power, and social networking becomes even more normal and pervasive than it already is. How’s your privacy threshold?
I’ve had some interesting conversations and read some interesting articles recently that made me wonder if you should even go to college at all! Obviously, I value the piece of paper, as I’m currently working on my MBA, so I’ll end up having more college than the average person. And, that’s the point, right? To make myself “above average” so that I can have a higher paycheck, more prestigious title, cooler work environment, and generally more awesome career! But in today’s economy, should you even go to college?
I will say that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that Americans put way to much value on college degrees. Or, at least, all the people I’m surrounded by put a lot of emphasis on it. I admit that I’ve always kind of looked down on people that chose not to attend college, that somehow, they just couldn’t hack it in the real world. This is actually quite false, as several people I know were more than able to hack it, they just opted out. Our generation has been told to “do something we love”, and quite frankly, not everyone loves a desk job. Not everyone gets warm fuzzies from a glowing computer screen. Not everyone wants to exercise only their brain every day. Some people enjoy… gasp… working with their hands! Or exerting their leg muscles! Or being a starving artist in a garret! How dare these people choose to forgo a boring class that lends nothing to their practical daily lives because it is required by a degree plan? How dare they accept hourly wages over salary, muddy boots over patent pumps, and wrenches over a briefcase? Sometimes I look out my office window at the gorgeous 70 degree day, and think that maybe I’m the crazy one. I could be out mowing a lawn in the sunshine to make a living, or taking tourists scuba diving to earn a wage, or heck, staying inside making cards to sell to pay the rent. There are plenty of people that make a living wage doing blue-collar work, and many of them love their jobs. What’s so wrong with taking a job that allows you to feel good about yourself while to make a paycheck?
This is not to say that everyone with a college degree is miserable, while all the non-degreed people live a life of rainbows and roses. In addition to “passion” you do have to be practical and realize that most college-educated professionals earn more over their lifetime. I would also say that there’s a lot of skills you can learn in school that will improve your ability to move up the ranks, which is difficult to do without outsourcing in a blue-collar job. And, since many blue-collar jobs take a higher toll on the body, you might face physical limitations that force you into retirement earlier than a white-collar profession (we’ll save the debate about stress-induced heart attacks when you’re 40 for another blog post!). For example, take landscaping or construction work. Both require significant physical labor, and to move up in the ranks or start your own business, you’ll need management skills, accounting skills, marketing skills, and possibly engineering skills. For many of those, you’ll need a college-educated or licensed professional, so if your aspiration is to move into management, going to college earlier might have been the better choice.
I do think that post-high school education is necessary to ensure that the US (and the world, since it’s a global economy these days) has an effective workforce, but I think we should make a path for technical or vocational education, the way we’ve done for college. For example, the aviation industry is facing the real concern of a shortage of trained, qualified technicians, because all the youth are heading to college, instead of mechanic school. This article details vocational programs in Arizona high schools, and mentions that in addition to training students for immediate work after high school, the vocational programs are actually encouraging students to attend and graduate from 2- or 4-year colleges! It mentions a shortage of welders and auto mechanics, noting that you can make great money in either of these professions. It’s unfortunate that many high schools are unwilling or unable to offer these types of programs to their students, and that many parents are unwilling or unable to allow their children to take advantage of these programs if they are offered. My cousin went to an ag-centric high school, complete with animals and farm land on the school property. She mentioned that some transfer students made rude comments about the smell surrounding the school. Her response? “That’s the smell of money! You smell cow manure and hay… I smell dollars in my pocket!” Note that my cousin went to college for poultry science (you know, the people that engineer a better chicken for power players like Tyson?) on scholarships from her winnings at county fairs and FFA shows!
So, who’s making the better choice? Me, with my MBA, and my sister in her pursuit of a doctorate? Our one-class-shy-of-a-bachelor’s degree friend, that’s currently working 7 days a week as an electrician, making $20 per hour? Or, a family friend whose son skipped college altogether, went to a trade school, and is now working as an auto mechanic? The word is that he loves his job, he’s contributing to society, and he’s paying his own way these days! I’m not saying that college isn’t important, and I definitely have a hard time accepting alternative paths. But, the more I read, and the more people I meet, the more I realize that a fancy piece of paper isn’t the only way to have a fulfilling, well-paid, successful career.
As you know, I just returned from a wonderful 13-day vacation. My husband and I did a road trip around Texas to make our way to a friend’s wedding in El Paso, and we went without cell reception and internet for several days at a time. What an odd sensation, to be unplugged for nearly two weeks! Anyways, back to the fact that I kind of suck at vacation: it took a few days to just quiet my own mind, and about a week and a half into the vacation, I started making up ad campaigns for all the products we were using! Sigh… I can’t even go two weeks without doing business.
I’ve come to realize that in order to truly shut off the distractions, I need about 4 days of vacation. This two-day weekend nonsense is not for relaxation, but rather for chores, errands, and other responsibilities that I put off during the week. Humans need some down time in order to function at optimal capacity, but I never schedule any down time. I tore through 3.5 books on the trip, including a murder mystery by Agatha Christie, an FBI-thriller by James Patterson, a philosophical and psychological rabbit-hole by Aldous Huxley, and great progress through a religious/philosophical challenge by C.S. Lewis. It’s amazing what my mind can contemplate when it’s not weighed down by all the clutter of daily life! You’ll notice, though, that only two of my four books were somewhat “mindless escape”. Even when I’m attempting to turn my brain into mush for a few days, I can only handle so much “blank space” before I start craving some serious mental stimulation.
Then there’s the physical stimulation… I REALLY suck at relaxation! Fortunately, my husband does to, and his inability to relax is actually worse than mine. We backpacked for the first 3 days of our trip, logging about 15 miles of hiking. We did a 14-mile, 2,000 ft. elevation gain hike, and a 6-mile “easy” hike during the last week of our trip. We meandered on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, and danced quite a bit at the wedding. In short, while most people gain 3-5 lbs. during their vacation, we actually lost a pound or two due to our level of physical activity. I think we managed to sit by the river to read for 4 hours one afternoon… and that’s as lazy as we could make ourselves!
And finally, the business of doing business on vacation. My company Blackberry went dead a few days into the trip, and I didn’t bother to charge it. This, however, did not stop me from dreaming about owning a Bed and Breakfast with my husband, starting a photography business, or working for a year at different State or National Parks. Then came the ad campaigns, complete with taglines, artwork, and social media strategies (I’ll be featuring some of my “work” on the blog over the next few weeks!).
My tagline here on the blog is, “When business is your life”, and my vacation really made this concept hit home for me. I love challenging my mind, making money, and being productive. I kind of suck at vacation in the traditional sense, but man, I feel energized, reinvigorated, and ready to take on the world after my random parade of ideas. I think that’s the real point of a vacation, so maybe I don’t suck after all