Transparency and Credibility Part 3

I’ve been steadily working my way through the perils of transparency and credibility, and I’ll wrap it up today with a discussion on publishing “personal stuff” on my blog. This fear stems from the fact that people who are close to me sometimes read the site, and maybe I don’t want my real-life connections to know some of this personal stuff. The seeming anonymity of the internet makes people much more willing to share their secrets and private information. In my case, this makes no sense, as I am clearly NOT anonymous. I’m easily identifiable by anyone who knows me, as I put my full name, resume, and contact information out for the world to see. Thus, it’s a false sense of anonymity that prompts me to consider sharing the more personal information about salaries and education costs. I think it’s because most of my readers are at least somewhat anonymous to me, so I feel like I won’t have to deal with the awkward real-life situation of readers knowing my salary and spending habits. So, what are some benefits to sharing this information?

First, my salary and cost of education are facts, so I shouldn’t really be embarrassed about the choices I’ve made. If I’m not doing anything to change those facts, I must be comfortable with them. As everyone else in the world also makes a salary and most likely has some educational spending, it’s not like I’ve got secret facts that are unique (like, say, if I’d killed someone. May be a fact, but I clearly wouldn’t want to share that if it was true.) Thus, my personal journey to my current salary, position, and educational spending might be very helpful to some of my readers. When I was considering the MBA, I researched costs and salary potential for months before deciding that this was the right direction to take my graduate education. I would love to be able to help someone else make this type of choice, with good information about where I started and where I progressed to after receiving the MBA. Did it really get me a salary increase? Was it really worth the hours spent in a classroom? Do I actually use the information I learned in my classes?

Second, in the interest of fostering a helpful community, I’m thinking that these facts would help others realize they’re similar to at least one other person in the world. Kind of a “if she can do it, I can too.” While discussing real estate options with a classmate of mine, I discovered that some options were available that I’d never considered. This classmate was kind enough to be completely open about the choices they’d made on real estate purchases, including total payments, monthly payments, long-term plan to pay off the loan early, interest rates, and other things that most people keep secret. Had this person not shared their experience candidly, I’d have no idea that my husband and I could do what they did! We tend to be very protective of our financial habits in the US, but this is not the case in much of the world. In some countries, “what’s your salary” is a common getting-to-know-you question. I think it’s because we tend to place a lot of our self-worth on what we make, and we know others will judge our worth based on our salary. So, if we just keep that number a secret, we can inflate our worth to whatever we want! As mentioned in the earlier parts of this discussion, I’m not fooling anyone into believing I’m perfect by not publishing “damaging” posts, so why not let people decide for themselves if I’m “worth it” by publishing my salary/educational spending?

Lastly, I think I could get some valuable feedback by posting this information. For instance, part of my strategy in pursuing the MBA, is to gain skills that I’m not able to gain in my current job or side projects. I’ve done extensive research on the types of positions that I would like to obtain, and then looked for some classes that help me gain the skills I’m lacking. Why not get some feedback from others who have these positions, or are similarly working toward them? I think the real-world feedback I might receive would be infinitely more helpful than the anonymous experiences of someone representing a company or business school… they’re paid to tell you that b-school is the right choice, that their company only hires the best, etc. How do I know if I’m getting paid what I’m worth if I don’t talk to other professionals like myself? How do I know that my degree is worth it if I don’t hear others’ experiences that also confirm what the internet tells me?

While I’m using this post to argue for transparency on salary and education costs, I’m still not completely sold on this idea. I might have to do baby steps on this one, starting with educational spending, and possibly working my way into salary issues. I’ve done well to be transparent by publishing this post and this post, and I’ve had positive feedback that this transparency increases my credibility, but you may have to wait a little longer for me to come around on this one!

Murphy’s Law

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” To be fair, the forthcoming situation isn’t really the best representation of Murphy’s Law, but my classmate mentioned it as an immediate reaction, so I figured it can’t be THAT far off base!

I’ve mentioned before that MBA students dress much better than undergrad students, mainly as a function of coming to class directly from the office. I’ve got mid-terms this week, so I intentionally came into the office early to allow myself time leave early to go home, change clothes, and eat a snack before heading to the exam. Lo and behold, the one day that I don’t dress like a professional to attend class, there’s someone there who I’d really like to network with! Our professor is speaking at a conference on the other side of the world, so his TA came to proctor the exam. She gave us a little bit of her background information, and it turns out that she was the HR Manager for a large company that I’d be interested in working for someday. Yeah, not the best time to be dressed in yoga pants, tank top, and casual sweater! Thus, I decided to send her an email to see if she’d have a moment to let me buy her a coffee and discuss future opportunities at the company. She’s a fairly young doctoral student at the moment, so I’m sure she would’ve excused my appearance on exam day, but still… the first impression is extremely important, and I think more professional attire would have been helpful in this situation.

Have you ever been caught in the perfect networking opportunity, but lacked a resume, business card, or professional attire? I think another cliche applies… “Be prepared!”

Dealing with a Debacle

As promised, here’s another “scary” post, in the interest of transparency!

So, I really enjoy sharing the times when I’ve done well on a project, but I feel that it’s only fair that I also share the complete debacles that I’ve had a hand in. Lucky for you, I happen to have a recent debacle that can actually provide some tips for fixing a screw up. Let’s take a look at the timeline and action steps, shall we?

10:33 pm: Ready to head to bed

10:38 pm: Receive text message from my boss that their shipment has not arrived at the hotel

10:39 pm: Kick into panic mode and call to find out the problem

10:45 pm: On hold with shipping company’s customer service

11:15 pm: Find out the physical address where package was delivered, Bing it, find out that it’s a hotel literally across the street from the correct hotel for delivery

11:20 pm: Call Wrong Hotel and ask if they’ve got our package, find out they had shipping company pick it up at 3:30 pm that day because when they called Correct Hotel, they were told there was no record of a guest by the name shown on the package (epic fail here as well, as this guest checked in the morning that the shipment was sent back, so at the time of the inquiry from Wrong Hotel, he was less than 24 hours from checking in at Correct Hotel)

11:30 pm: hold forever for shipping company customer service, find out that shipping company’s system doesn’t show that they’ve picked the package up to return to sender, they’re still showing it as “delivered”… AKA, sorry, we can’t help you

11:31 pm-2:00 am: Calling, texting, emailing, tracking online, generally running in circles to see where our package is currently located, and what we can do to get that package delivered to Correct Hotel by noon

7:15 am: arrive at the office to find out that the package is at a hub that is about 15 minutes away from Correct Hotel… SCORE

7:25 am:  shipping company won’t do an address correction because the package had special restrictions for delivery, so it must be picked up at their facility in person; also find out that it’s all my fault for putting the name of the Correct Hotel and guest, but the address of the Wrong Hotel

8:00 am: find out that the hub isn’t actually 15 minutes away, but an hour away; find out shipping company could try to re-deliver to Wrong Hotel, but can’t guarantee the shipment by noon

8:03 am: our in-house shipping expert arrives and sees the insanity in his inbox

8:10 am: in-house shipping expert pulls some strings to get a courier to pick up the shipment from the shipping company’s facility and deliver it to Correct Hotel


Whew, are you as stressed out and frustrated as I was? I bet not, and I hope you don’t ever find yourself in this type of situation. But the reality is, humans and software make mistakes, so let’s take a look at mitigating those mistakes.

Fast action. I panicked when I received the text that the shipment wasn’t at the hotel, and for about 5 minutes, I let the panic keep me from making an action plan to deal with the situation. Don’t let the panic take over… take a deep breath, put on your business brain, and make a plan for fast action. From the timeline, you’ll see that I was able to quickly find out what went wrong and where, which helped me begin to formulate a plan of action.

Bring in an expert. Dealing with a shipping issue is not my area of expertise, so as soon as I was able, I brought in an expert. This person was able to find a solution to the problem much faster than I was, and he used his connections to get things moving as soon as he walked in the office. While it’s good to try to handle things yourself if you are the person most available, bringing in an expert leads to a solution much faster. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, as you’re really seeking a solution, not saving face, at this point.

Be open to alternatives. Again, when I was in panic-mode, I took a very narrow approach to solving the problem. I kept pushing one solution to the forefront, when there were many solutions available. When my first attempt at a solution failed, I snapped out of my tunnel-vision and decided that I should be open to ANY possible solution. When I brought in an expert, he came up with an alternative that I wouldn’t have thought about, which ended up being the correct solution to the problem. Don’t focus on being right, focus on making the situation right!

There’s no doubt that this shipment was a complete debacle. But, with quick action and cooperation, the shipment arrived in time.


Power Ties


Can purple be a power color?
My photog husband told me to, “look powerful and commanding”.    Did it work?

Dress: JC Penney

Heels: Alfani

Belt/Necklace/Earrings: NY & Co.

Like the outfit? See more details here!


The standard “power suit” for a man is dark suit, white shirt, bold red tie. The tie is the key piece, the “power tie”, and it’s the red color against the other neutrals that seals the deal. I’m wondering if this dress qualifies as a “power dress”, since the whole thing is bright? The use of color and the meaning of color seems to be different for men and women, and I think this dress in particular, with it’s all-bright color, is probably more “demure” than “powerful”. It’s funny though, because I’ve seen men wearing purple and pink in the office, so I don’t think that these are “girly” colors anymore. Color plays a huge part in branding and recognition of products, and the use of color for personal branding is no different.

Conventional wisdom still holds that if you want to look serious, professional, and conservative, you don a grey, black, or navy suit, with a crisp, white shirt, and plain black shoes. However, it doesn’t seem to me that women add the essential “power tie” or other accessory. I guess women could wear a large, red necklace, but it wouldn’t read the same as the red necktie. It’s also interesting that red seems to be the only other color to add to this look, even though any other color in the rainbow would match.

Deep, rich, blues and purple generally represent royalty, which, one would think, is the epitome of power. However, blues and purples are not part of the standard power suit for men or women. And, I would argue, that a royal purple dress would not command the same level of professionalism, seriousness, and conservativism that the standard black suit conveys.

The feelings behind pastel and bright colors make much more sense to me when looking at them in personal branding. Pastels are soft and calming, so it would make sense that these are not generally used to convey power in the workplace. Bright colors scream fun, laid-back, and carefree, which, again, are qualities that you’d focus on less in the workplace. Thus, the bright colors and pastels are usually paired with an otherwise conservative suit or color palate to tone down the less-than-professional qualities they seem to embody.

Of course, this is all turned on its head in today’s workplace, which attempts to strive to more work-life balance, and values uniqueness. The person in the bright green dress appears to be more “creative”, and the person in the lavender shirt becomes “cool-headed”, both traits that are valued in today’s corporate environment. I’ve been trying to wear more color, since my choices generally vary between black and blue if left to my own devices! At least I’ve got one of the two power elements of an outfit down, right? Like the outfit? See more details here!

Pride Goes Before the Fall

“Pride goes before the fall” is conventional wisdom, often told to children to help them understand that arrogance will generally come around and bite you. The same conventional wisdom can be applied to corporations, especially in the slowly-recovering economy. I’ve had two conversations about corporate arrogance over the past week, so the resulting blog post stems from these discussions. Namely, the the companies in question are about to fall flat on their faces, due in part to their arrogance.Why is their pride about to lead to a fall?

Arrogance is off-putting. It’s a well-known fact that no one likes a bragger, so rolling up in your Lambo while the client is driving their old reliable Honda and then bragging about your new Ferrari sitting in the garage generally leaves a bad taste in the client’s mouth. This can foster an attitude of wanting you to fail, just so that you’ll be brought back down to reality. Do you really want your clients resenting you from the start? It goes back to knowing your customers. One company mentioned in the recent discussion with a colleague related that a corporation wanted to get more money from a client. The President of the client’s company always road coach, drove a sensible car, and made it clear that he was just a hard-working, normal individual. The corporation flew a private jet to the client’s headquarters, signaling that they were superior in work and lifestyle to their client. How do you think this affects the business relationship?

Arrogance reveals incongruence. As in the story related above, the corporation’s arrogance showed that their interests were not really aligned with the client’s interests. If the client is trying to make wise financial decisions to try to weather storm, a corporation’s careless spending does not signal an opportunity for a strong business partnership. Similarly, if you don’t treat your front-line employees well, a client might worry that those people will jump ship. This again signals a poor foundation for a business relationship, since the goals are not aligned from the top-down. The same is true of inter-company interactions. Top management may say they are committed to building and maintaining a talented team of satisfied individuals, but they can’t do that if they’re constantly flashing six-figure bonuses and denying reasonable compensation and perks to lower-level employees. Are you really keeping the company’s and employees’ best interests in mind when laying people off due to “budget restrictions”, while taking a huge bonus and buying fancy toys? This inconsistency leads top performers to seek an environment where top management’s goals are more in line with their personal goals.

Arrogance leads to isolation. Both discussions lead to comments that employees were leaving the company left and right, since management didn’t value the employees. These employees took their customers with them, since the corporations weren’t doing anything to make the customer feel valued. Guess what… with no customers, and no employees, you don’t actually have a successful corporation! The big bonuses and flashy lifestyle that accompany a big paycheck rely on the “little people”… you know, the customers and employees? If you’re so amazing all by yourself, customers and employees are happy to go to a place where they’re needed and appreciated. Since arrogance is off-putting, people will try to get away from the discomfort, leaving an arrogant corporation without a means to support the “stuff” that made them arrogant in the first place.

It’s one thing to have options, which makes you confident and successful. It’s another thing to be so full of yourself that you think you can’t fail, which causes you to alienate customers and talented employees. Recent discussions about corporate arrogance have proven that pride really does go before the fall.

On CRM and CMS

With the website and sales updates we’re doing for my company, I’ve got CRM and CMS on the brain! Then I find out that apparently people don’t actually know what these acronyms mean, how they work, or why they’re useful. No wonder they haven’t been implemented yet! Let’s have a little primer on CRM and CMS, shall we?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems help sales teams maintain relationships with their customers, just as the full name indicates. This is usually a web-based tool where sales people track leads, estimates, contacts, and projects to make sure that they contact customers at just the right time, with just the right offer. CRM systems help sales people and management forecast sales and timing the cash flow. For example, car dealerships do an excellent job utilizing the forecasting component of their CRM. They tend to combine the information about your purchase date, date of last oil change, and hopefully, average mileage per year, to send out reminders for your regularly scheduled maintenance. They’re hoping that by sending you a branded reminder, you’ll be more inclined to return to the dealership for your routine car maintenance. CRM systems are also helpful to keep track of contacts, ensuring that multiple sales people don’t contact the same lead. You can upload documents to most of the CRM systems, which allows your team to access estimates, invoices, and other customer contacts from any location, saving valuable time and hassle of digging through their laptop or having someone email the form to them. Having all the information in one place saves time and money, and improves communication throughout the organization.

Content Management Systems (CMS) help you organize, edit, and distribute content. We’ve implemented a CMS on our website, so that I can make edits and updates on-the-fly, instead of having to contact a third party programmer to make the edits. WordPress has a content management system as well. These systems are designed to make the updates and distribution simple for non-technical users. Instead of having to go into the complexities of coding, I can use the interface to perform functions like I would in a Word document or web-based browser. Adding links to a post requires the “link” button commonly seen in email interfaces, and uploading a document involves the “upload” button, just like attaching a Word document to an email. Similar functionality applies for images, videos, and audio files, making updates easy!

As I mentioned, I’ve been dealing with both of these acronyms over the past few months, so hopefully this quick review will be useful when you’re discussing these tools in your organization.

It’s Friday!

This has been a slow week compared to what I’ve seen in the past month or two, so I’m kind of excited about relaxing at home this weekend. Here’s what I’ll be reading during my relaxation:


For the entrepreneur, via Paul Graham: Relentlessly Resourceful

For the advertisers, via XKCD: Mathematically Annoying Advertising

For brand-launchers, via NY Times: Hosting Parties to Introduce Brands

For the marketers, via Forbes: Are taglines relevant in a Twitter-driven world?


Like the links? Follow me on Twitter for links and blog posts daily!

Brand Recall Fail

My husband and I were on a tight time schedule to attend a wedding last weekend, so I asked him to bring all of the necessary items that I needed to dress for the event. He was a groomsmen, so we had to be there early enough that it would work best for him to pick me up straight from the office. In true “too busy” fashion, we didn’t discover this until I was already at work, and hadn’t packed the items to change. Part of my list of things for him to pack, was clear deodorant, since I planned on wearing a sleeveless black dress. Unfortunately, I have two types of deodorant sitting in the bathroom, so I thought I’d describe the brand, packaging, and messaging to him to ensure that he grabbed the right stick. This turned out to be an epic fail, as I mixed the messages and imagery between the two brands I own, AND random TV commercials I’ve seen. Sigh… I think marketers everywhere are shaking their heads in shame at this failed attempt at brand recall.

“Little black dress approved” has become a popular tagline for a lot of deodorant makers, so naturally, I assumed that my clear stick had some version of this tagline. It turns out that neither brand in the bathroom featured this tagline, but I assumed it should be there, since the deodorant I wanted to use was designed specifically to address the issue of wearing black garments. The good news is that this tagline stuck with me enough to pull it out of my memory without any help. The bad news is that I can’t for the life of me remember which deodorant maker actually coined that phrase and prints it on their packaging. Marketers should be a little wary of being too generic and clever with their taglines, and make sure that the tagline lives with the brand, not with the item. Just as “Google it”, “Xerox it” and “Kleenex” are now synonymous with their respective functions, becoming ubiquitous can damage a brand’s ability to be recognizable and memorable.

Imagery is a powerful tool to aid in recall of a brand. However, as with the popular tagline, the “little black dress” has become a popular image to associate with clear deodorant. Thus, I told my husband to grab Brand A, and that it would have a picture of the little black dress on the front. Wrong… it was Brand B that had the picture of the little black dress! In theory, I look at these sticks every single morning, and yet all that stuck was that one of them had a little black dress. Brands need to make sure that common images have some distinguishing characteristic that’s unique to their brand, to ensure that customers aren’t just filing the image away. If I go to the aisle and want to use the “same” brand as last time, but I incorrectly associated that brand with a particular image, marketers have failed to obtain the sale. Most clear deodorant commercials feature a woman slipping into a black dress and checking the mirror to make sure there are no deodorant marks on her garment. The brand may only flash for a second, so if you’ve engrained the little black dress in my brain, make sure that you’re packaging re-enforces what you’ve been showing me on TV.

Finally, color played a role in this case of mistaken identity. Both sticks have a greenish-bluish hue to the packaging, so it’s hard to distinguish when you’re already confused the other characteristics like tagline and imagery. Some deodorants seek to change their colors to stand out to customers in-store. Since most sticks have the same size and shape, color is one of the few distinguishing characteristics to play on. Hair care and skin care products do a much better job of differentiating by color, but it seems like a lot of deodorant makers are using the cool, calm colors in their packaging. I understand the sentiment: you won’t sweat as much when you’re cool and calm, and the color gives a customer a sense of “refreshed and relaxed” when using the product. But, if every competitor is giving this same feeling to the customer, you’ve got to find another way to stand out. Take Teen Spirit, with it’s loud colors and bold imagery. They’re using colors to say that your deodorant should aid in your fun, spunky life, and they stand out in a sea of “calm and cool” showcased in most deodorant aisles.

So, can your customers get their husbands to grab the right stick of deodorant?  The situation is a little humorous (he just grabbed both), but the dilemma is real: are your distinguishing characteristics really helping you stand out? Can customers readily pinpoint your brand based on your advertising and packaging? It’s literally the million dollar question!

Temps are Rising


Skirt and light-weight cardigan

Summer is here, and as the temperatures rise, the dress code rules seem to fluctuate as well. I’ve talked before about the illusion of professional dress, but this article in the Wall Street Journal made me laugh. It talks about shorts suits being all the rage this season, and how they’re perfectly office appropriate. I find this to be hilarious, as I would never consider wearing shorts to the office. But, as in the original post about the illusion of professional clothes, how are skirts different than knee-length shorts? There’s also been several comments in the discussion of this article about the fact that men don’t get to wear shorts to the office, so why would women be able to? Again, with the modesty issue, how is a woman’s calf more modest than a man’s calf? And, don’t calves look the same in shorts and skirts?

I did see a comment equating shorts suits to the suits that little boys wear for Easter, so they are not inappropriate due to modesty, but due to age. This seems to make more sense to me, since relatively the same amount of skin would be shown. It leads me to think about women’s dresses and skirts, too. You rarely see women wearing ankle-length dresses and skirts in the office, but young girls regularly wear full-length skirts and dresses. So, why do men’s pants get longer with age, but women’s dresses get shorter with age? This is contradictory if a large part of professional dress is modesty, since longer skirts cover more skin.

In short, I don’t like the shorts suits, and much prefer the skirt look shown above. However, I can’t really give a firm reason for disliking this style, since the young/old, modest/immodest debate is contradictory! Like the outfit? See more details here!

Quick Turn Times

So, the Dallas Mavs won the championship! I’m not a sports fan at all, so this didn’t rock my world, but a lot of people went pretty nuts about this event. So nuts, in fact, that they bought championship t-shirts the night of the game or the morning after the game. It makes me laugh, because you’ll hear from companies that they can’t turn products that quickly, or they can’t get them delivered that quickly. Incorrect. They should be saying, “For what you’re willing to pay me, I can’t turn it that quickly or deliver it that quickly.” Clearly, they were able to get something done, as shirts were for sale on Sunday night after the game. Granted, there’s probably some hedging of bets by printing and delivering shirts before the outcome is known, but even then, it proves that with the right mix of time and money, companies can achieve quick turn times. I’d be interested to see how the “gamble” goes when making shirts that depend on out the outcome of a game. At what point do they start buying the materials and printing the items with an educated guess that one team will win? Or, are they really just that fast at printing the items and getting them shipped? I don’t think it’s the latter, as there are some things that just take a certain amount of time, like shipping. If your center is located an hour away from a retail store, there’s really very few options to decrease that time. Then again, you could have all your centers in operation, vs. just a small number that are further away from the destination. Either way, the infrastructure and tooling are available to make turn times a moot excuse for companies. It’s just interesting from a marketing stand-point and sales stand-point. It’s rarely a matter of “if it can be done”, but rather, “how much are you willing to pay to get it done?”