The Rules of Improv for Business

I set a goal to read 36 books this year so this blog post comes to you courtesy of Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Great read, by the way. As a retired actor, I can relate. Ms Fey talks about the “Rules of Improv” and how you can make them work in a professional environment.  In the book, she talks about how they helped her career as a writer/director/producer. I took a little liberty and came up with a few pointers of my own.

Don’t Deny 

If someone on your team makes a statement. Don’t deny it publicly and immediately. Take a moment to reflect. Discuss it privately and then circle back with the right information if necessary. You may not agree. You may have conflicting information but throwing egg on someone’s face never created a good environment for anyone.

Find a Way to Say Yes

This is almost a subset of Don’t Deny. I can’t stand a roadblock. The people whose knee-jerk reaction is always NO drive me nuts. I want to work with the people who say “What if we tried this…” The people I admire most found ways to do things no one thought were possible. I want to be like them. I want to be the person that finds a way to make a project work.  I don’t want to be the roadblock.

You Can Look Good IF You Make Your Partner Look Good

What a radical idea for the workforce! What if we looked for ways to help our colleagues every day? What if you tried to make your team members look good? We’ve all been in the environment where every man is out for himself. We’ve worked for the senior team member who just wanted to point out the errors at every opportunity. The robot managers who refuse to resend an email. Those are not the people we gravitate towards. Those are not the people go out of our way to help. Think about your career. Are there people who you would walk over fire for? I bet they made you look good.

There Are No Mistakes

All the successful entrepreneurs I know have made mistakes along the way. The people I admire most make mistakes. If you are not making mistakes, you’re not making progress. We  need to learn that our mistakes are sometimes the best opportunities for growth and learning.

There are lots more improv rules. Feel free to suggest some I may have missed in the comments.

I’ve learned that mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success. – Jack Welch

Referrals…The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

After a much too long hiatus, enjoy this blog post that has been literally sitting in draft form  for months.

You hear a lot about building your network and your “personal brand” these days. It’s one thing to market Product Y-O-U but how do you market referrals within your network?

Everyone has their own point of view on referring someone. There are those that are very selective with their recommendations because that “stamp of approval” says as much about them as it does about the person they are referring. They worry.  “What if that person doesn’t work out?” you might say.  I don’t want to feel responsible for the outcome. It will reflect badly on me.  Then there are others, those who really want to help other people.  Giving that recommendation outweighs the possible backlash. It’s a balancing act, for sure.

In my case, I appreciate the help I have received over the years and feel a responsibility to pay it forward. It’s the reason I write reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor. It’s the reason I help people connect for job or business opportunities. It’s the reason I’ll recommend my exterminator. If I am going to take something from a community then I feel the need to something give back. Now the risk is….. sometimes this backfires. What do you do?

THE GOOD

I worked hard to build a strong network. I get emails all day long asking for referrals for jobs, good IT vendors, sprinkler guys….you name it. I send along some information. The person reviews it and makes a decision. When it works out, I get a nice note (or sometimes a nice dinner date!) to say thanks and everyone is happy. But there are those times when things go bad or – god forbid – worse.

THE BAD

The bad in this case is just a lack of consideration. The bad is not saying thank you to someone who helped you out. The bad is letting the person who referred you find out from others that you have been working at the job you referred them to for several months now. My point here is to remember to say thank you. Remember that thing your parents taught you when you were five? It doesn’t have an expiration date when you turn 21. Need a refresher? Refer to my Gratitude blog post

THE UGLY

In some cases things go horribly wrong. You recommend someone. They are hired. Yahoo! Two months later they just don’t show up for work one day. Boo! Or you recommend someone and they blow off a scheduled interview. Boo hiss! There are tons of scenarios here. I guess my takeway here is that you cannot feel responsible for this. Don’t let the actions of someone else stop you from what you believe is the right thing. Odds are the person you gave the recommendation to, doesn’t blame you. You shouldn’t feel responsible and just throw in the towel on referring people at all. I might not recommend that person ever again but….I won’t let it stop me from trying to help others.

I know I have to remind myself that I believe in gratitude. That my desire to give back to the community outweighs the ugly scenarios. And I can’t let the actions of some numnut ruin my good intentions. What if we all did that? What if we all stopped trying to help one another? I just can’t stop trying.

So for those of you who need a refresher I have included this short video to teach your infantile mind how to say THANK YOU!

Your Authentic Self At Work

I think this blog is becoming a once a month task and it really should be a once a week task. My apologies to my four subscribers. Let’s see if I can embarrass myself back into a regular publishing schedule. Note to readers: I am not easily embarrassed. Unless it involves nakedness, then I run for the hills.

Let’s just make this one short and sweet. A brief commentary on “professionalism”. I believe that in order to be successful at the office, you should rely on those qualities that make you unique. During my last job hunt I had a post it note on my monitor that said “Smile. Be Yourself. And Shut Up”. It reminded me to let my sincerity shine through, and more importantly, not to ramble. I tried my best to do the same thing in the interview. Let the company see who you are and what you bring to the table. Don’t put on an act trying to be something you’re not. I’ve seen so many people over the years who have two very distinct sides. It strikes me as a mild case of schizophrenia.

At my first job I worked with someone who was a really great person outside of the office but a nightmare at her desk. She felt that she could not be herself at work because she needed to “be professional”.  She wasn’t being professional. She was just being a giant a-hole. No one liked working with her. No one wanted to invite her to meetings. No one wanted to have lunch with her. No one wanted to have anything to do with her. I always wondered how she kept it all straight. It seemed like an exhausting proposition to “play a role” every day in the office. Who am I today? I asked my Dad if I should have a “professional version of myself”. Would my future success depend on this alter ego strategy? His advice has stuck with me to this day. “Just be yourself, Tracy. If they liked you enough to hire you, then deliver on that. Don’t worry about trying to fit into someone else’s definition of who you should be” I think I have done a good job living up to that advice.

The definition of professionalism is a larger topic but, in general, do you feel you need to be someone else at work? I’m curious.

Why a Caring Culture Counts

I’ve been MIA these past few weeks. Not because of the holidays. Not because I started a new job (even though I did). Not because of any of those typical reasons you hear about. I’ve had a tough month. Let’s leave it at that. I’ve made it through thanks to the love and support of my amazing husband, not to mention the helping hands of friends, neighbors, business associates and new coworkers.

I started a new job working  for a top-notch organization. Top notch by a definition that goes beyond the traditional meaning. Yes, it’s a global company. Yes, we’re a leader in our industry. Yes, I work with talented, smart and hardworking people.  But this organization is top-notch to me for reasons that go beyond conventional classifications.

During the hiring process, they were responsive. This sounds like a no-brainer but I can’t tell you how many companies I met with that went dark even after a second meeting. Whatever happened to common courtesy? From a candidate perspective,  we’re always working to put our best foot forward. I think companies should focus on doing the same. Perhaps they think since the economy is struggling so they don’t need to be responsive. I say they do.

As I navigated my second interview, I was impressed. The person I met with introduced me to a few staffers. Unlike a certain CEO I know, he did not wave his hand dismissively with a “these are my minions” attitude. This person had meaningful, personal and genuine praise for each person. “This is Mark, without him our databases would be a mess. This is Sheryl, she built a new software program that helped increased our efficiencies by 20%”. I was hooked. This was my kind of place!

When I needed to delay my start date due to personal reasons, they were phenomenally supportive. It meant a lot to me to get emails with sincere sentiments that my new team was ready to help in any way they could. When I arrived at the office, even the President of my division made a point to seek me out and offer his assistance. I have told them all what a rare and wonderful place they have built and I am received with quizzical looks. “We’re just acting like anyone else”, they say. I can tell you they are not. I’ve worked with organizations that talk a good game but the ones who walk it are few and far between.

My new company has extremely low turnover. It also has achieved profit margin goals (and performance bonuses based on business metrics) for several years. I truly believe a caring culture of mutual respect and encouragement creates an efficient and wildly successful business. Personally, I know I am even more excited and committed to bring my A game every day. I can’t wait to play a direct role in creating revenue for this company…and THAT’S the stuff a success business is made of.

Read more about caring to create a successful business

Why A Caring Workplace Matters As Much As Your Annual Budget via Inc Magazine

Culture Key to Success via AdWeek

Culture’s Impact on the Bottom Line

5 Traits of a Great Marketer

Originally titled Good Marketer” but then I thought to myself… Who wants good when you can have GREAT!?

A long time ago, I worked with a woman who used to love to tell people she was a marketer. “You wouldn’t understand. You’re not a marketer like me,” she would say as she patted your hand during a lunch meeting. Aside from being slightly uncomfortable (I mean, who pats someone’s hand in a business meeting?) It was also extremely insulting (probably because she would utter this phrase when meeting with the Corporate Marketing team). Over the years, I am often reminded of her patronizing confidence. Here’s my humble assessment on the subject:

1. A GREAT MARKETER ADAPTS TO NEW INFORMATION

I interviewed for a job with an amazing company a couple of weeks ago.  I met with the CMO who asked me some extremely non-traditional questions. At first, I was a bit taken aback but soon found the experience to be a lot of fun. At one point, I changed my answer to a particular brain teaser. At lunch we talked about it. He told me he rarely hires the marketing candidate who doesn’t change their answer. Why? Because someone who digs their heels in and does not adapt to new information is doomed to fail. Doing things the way they have always been done and being extremely stubborn will only leave you scratching your head when your old tactics aren’t working anymore.

The Art of The Rolling Goal via Brass Tack Thinking

2. A GREAT MARKETER KNOWS THE CUSTOMER
How can you communicate with your customers unless you know them intimately? What do they like? What frustrates the hell out of them? Recently, a local software company Ultimate Software won a Forrester Research Groundswell Award for social media. The Forrester Groundswell Awards program was developed to support and recognize the principles outlined in the Forrester Research books Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies (Harvard Business Press, 2008) and Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business (Harvard Business Press, 2010).  Ultimate Software created an Ideas community for users of their UltiPro product. The community allowed Ultimate users to share, collaborate and provide direct feedback to the company. Since its inception in January 2010, the Ideas Community has 5,469 users. As of July 2011, 72 of these ideas have already been implemented into UltiPro. Another 35 ideas will be included in UltiPro’s next release – Fall of 2011. On top of that, an additional 96 more ideas will be in one of 3 releases in 2012. That’s how you connect with your customer in a powerful way.
3. A GREAT MARKETER IS A GREAT COMMUNICATOR
What are good are good ideas if you can’t communicate them? Have you met the executive who has great ideas but can’t seem to verbalize them? How about the boss who can’t give good direction or feedback to the team? Communication is key to marketing success any way you slice it.  If public speaking is your issue,  join your local Toastmasters group. They provide a safe haven for sharpening your public speaking skills. You’ll be a pro in no time.
4. A GREAT MARKETER IS NOT AFRAID TO BREAK THE RULES
Disclaimer: I am not an Apple fanboy but I have mad respect for Steve Jobs. And I can TOTALLY relate to the “square peg in a round hole” message on this one.
5. A GREAT MARKETER IS A TEAM PLAYER WHO LOVES TO BRAINSTORM
I don’t care who you are. I don’t care who you THINK you are. You cannot do this alone. And I have another shocker for you. The best idea doesn’t always come from you. If you are one of these over confident marketing divas, count your blessings. Your days are numbered, my friend. You don’t always have the best idea. Have a little humility. Share the wealth. Give credit where credit is due because, whether you like it or not, that little empire you think you’re building will crumble unless you have the support and talent of a great team.

Positive Inspiration

I was completely floored by the wonderful feedback for the last post on Gratitude. The last few days have been a love fest of past and present friends and peers sharing their stories of gratitude and staying positive. In the spirit of keeping things moving in the right direction,  I give you this short list of blogs that I enjoy. They keep my chin up when the going gets tough and allow me to learn something new every day.

Check them out. Subscribe. And be inspired!

ZenHabits – Leo has six kids and still finds the time to do amazing things!

Positively Positive – This is a new one that my friend Billy Pike from Just Like You turned me on to. I am digging it!

TED Talks – I dare you to find something here that doesn’t rock your world either spiritually or intellectually

Productive Flourishing – I need to spend more time on this one

The Happiness Project – At one point I was going to “work the program” and then I just don’t know what happened

Note to self: Write future blog post about blogs that make me laugh. :-)

Gratitude

I know what you’re thinking…here we go, another gratitude themed blog post in honor of Thanksgiving. Truth be told, this topic did not come up because of Thanksgiving. It came up during a recent search for my next career move. I approached this challenge like Joan Rivers trying to win The Apprentice. I defined my goal, made a list of targeted companies I wanted to work for and aggressively pursued my goals. But I did something else that I believe tipped the scales. I helped other people. 

  • I connected people with job leads
  • I scheduled “pick-me-up” calls with others who were in “career transition”
  • I made a conscious effort to connect with people who supported me
  • I recommended qualified people to jobs I felt were a good match after meeting with a Hiring Manager
  • I volunteered my time
  • I started a little MeetUp of other career seeking professionals to keep our collective “chins up”
  • I connected with people on LinkedIn and tried to connect them in return
  • I started this blog
I’m so grateful for  the opportunities and choices that are in front of me. They are there because of a strong network of friends and colleagues who believe in my value. They are there because I make a genuine effort to help other people whenever possible – not just when I am searching for an opportunity. They are there because I work hard at my relationships with people every day. I care.
I read a blog post (I apologize that I cannot find the link to give the author due credit) that suggested you write at least one HANDWRITTEN thank you note a week. A sincere, heartfelt card with specific words of thanks to someone who helped you. I know you can think of at least 5 people who helped you in some small way this week. I am sure they would enjoy getting something other than junk mail in their physical mailbox. Go old school. Buy some cards. Buy some stamps. Get to work. You’d be surprised how good it makes you feel.
Need some inspiration? Check out these little gems of positivity I stumbled across this week. They’ll help you find that corner of your heart. And then write those notes!

3 Ways to Prepare for ANYTHING

“Luck is a crossroad where opportunity and preparation meet”

I’m getting ready to “run” my first 5K this evening. I’ve done my training runs with the Couch Potato to 5K runner program. I got a good night’s rest last night. But I keep asking myself,  what else should I be doing to get ready for my big race? Are there some standard rules one should follow when preparing to undertake any task? After a little research, I’ve discovered that there are some basic tenets you can follow to get you on the path to success.

Whether you’re undertaking a personal or professional project,

here are 3 things that will get you ready to take the first step.

 And isn’t that first step the most important one of all?

1. RESEARCH

Before undertaking that pay-per-click campaign, do a little research on your target audience and appropriate seed keywords. If you’re looking at a better way to communicate with your customers via email, then research the Email Service Providers to begin the selection process. For my 5K, I have been reading lots of great articles during my training that have helped guide me through the process. I’ve also got some great tips for race day from blogs and other sources. I feel confident in my efforts thus far. You can easily apply the research step in anything you do. Thanks to the World Wide Web lots of great information is only a few keystrokes away!

 2. SET AN APPROPRIATE GOAL

Sounds like a no brainer but you would be amazed at the number of businesses that skip this step. How  can you develop a roadmap when you have absolutely no idea where you are going? I can’t tell you how many times I have counseled clients to take a step back and clearly identify their business goals. And the most important word is APPROPRIATE. I love a BHAG as much as the next person, but why set yourself up for failure personally or professionally? Set a realistic and appropriate goal so you’ll have the confidence to go for it! I’m visualizing the little celebration I’ll have when I finish under 45 minutes – that’s my goal.

3. SIGN UP/ENROLL/MAKE A COMMITMENT

Set-up your AdWords account. Sign up for WordPress. Get a MailChimp account. Take that first step towards your goal. In my case, I downloaded a training app and schedule run dates with a friend. The first step may look daunting when you are standing at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro but it’s lot easier to put one foot in front of the other than tackle the whole mountain in one bite.

I’m looking forward to the race tonight with a combination of nerves and exhilaration. I’ll definitely report back on my results. In the meantime, I’d love to hear how you prepare for your personal and professional challenges? Please share in the comments.

Cleaning House

I’m practicing the art of relaxation. I am not going to panic. I am not going to let others goad me into walking down the path of Uy-Vey-God-Forbid. I have been cleaning my karmic house. I have been taking inventory of those people who bring me peace, calm and loving support and those that tear me down. There is no room for energy suckers, Debbie Downers and people who generally make me feel icky when I interact with them. I’m limiting my exposure to the icky people. It’s just something I need to do. I’m also trying to be cognizant of my own ickiness. I certainly don’t want to spread the disease. It’s a personal, and somewhat professional initiative. I’m choosing to be positive and see the sunny side of the street. Don’t want to join me? Get off the bus.

When was the last time you took a good hard look at your marketing house? When was the last time you inventoried your campaigns? Hopefully, it’s something you are reviewing frequently. Is there a campaign that isn’t performing? Could you be doing a better job managing your social media channels? Are you actively cleaning the clutter and the ickiness from your marketing plan? You should be…

  • Optimizing your PPC campaigns
  • Creating new RELEVANT content on your website based on an editorial calendar
  • Assessing your email campaigns on a 24/48/72 hour basis
  • Reviewing your Analytics KPIs on a monthly basis or even a weekly basis

Those are just the basics. Are you cleaning your marketing house?

Is Customer Data Collection Scary?

Cookies. Customer profiles. Email subscriptions. Surveys. Halloween has got me thinking of all things scary….to some. What scares one person doesn’t scare the next person. For instance, I have an extremely active imagination so if I watch a horror movie, I will have horrible dreams and at the very least, sleep talk. I’ll sleep walk if my brain is in overdrive. So, no, I have not, and will not, ever see The Ring. For others, horror movies are no big deal. Scary movies are baseline in my scary barometer.

As a marketing person, I get into great conversations with peers, friends and families about online privacy. Don’t ask. It just comes up. I don’t know why. For some, marketing data collection is just another boogeyman that keeps them awake at night. They don’t like Facebook. They don’t like any company collecting any kind of data about them. To be fair, these are usually my conspiracy theory peeps. The ones that think the cops are using that bar code on your driver’s license to “scan” you when they see you sitting on a park bench. They also think the movie Enemy of the State is real.

As a consumer (and as a marketing professional), I like data collection that I control. I don’t mind completing my profile on Amazon or another favorite online store if it means these companies will target better offers to me. Don’t waste my time sending me an enewsletter about the latest baby book releases. I don’t got no baby.

I haven’t quite decided how I personally feel about cookies and the Do Not Track legislation. It’s one thing if I am voluntarily providing information about myself but it’s quite another when you collect data about me without my knowledge. I understand this is the lifeblood of many websites and ad networks. Without this data, some sites would have to charge for access (ahem ahem Facebook). Where do you draw the line for your data?

Cookie consent: It’s Not Optional It’s the Law via Silicon.com

Do Not Track, Online Ads and the End of Anonymity via CNET

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