you can’t afford to be irrelevant

A recent Fast Company article noted that ““You simply can’t afford to be sentimental about the past. Future-focus is an imperative for businesses: Trying to replicate what worked yesterday only leaves you vulnerable.”

It has never been more true that ‘what got you here won’t likely get you there’.  Outside of hard work and creative thinking, whatever you did ten years ago isn’t likely to give you the same results in the next ten years.

Fear of deconstructing and reinventing a historically successful business model is holding so many companies (and people) back today. For me, it feels like pent up innovation when I go in and talk with clients about growing their business – after years of focusing entirely on the cost side of the margin equation, they literally don’t know how to think of their business in any other way as a collective.  What’s worse, individuals lower in the organization who might have great ideas get lost in the maze of governance, idea funnels, and gating processes, and the executive suite is too focused on the day to day to really envision something dramatic.

Take a good look around. Is your work – meaning what you personally do – becoming irrelevant (be honest with yourself, you don’t have to tell anyone else)? What about your company’s products and services?  If they haven’t changed in the last 10 years, there’s a good chance they are.

executives in the social world

According to one report, less than 5% of CEOs are participating on a social platform on behalf of their brands. Some are online but under aliases as they engage in personal discussions, but keep professional interactions out of the mix. And then there’s the fact that they just don’t fit the demographic. They tend to be older, male, and conservative – not exactly a Pinterest posterchild.

I believe part of the challenge in getting executives online is distinguishing between personal and professional engagement online. Executives who neglect social on behalf of their brands because they don’t understand how to manage this split risk missing out on a rich and rewarding experience for their customers. It is important to be clear about when you are speaking on behalf of your brand, and when you are making a personal comment. In the case of executive leaders, if their names are associated with the brands, delineation becomes more challenging but not impossible.  An account associated with your brand is absolutely held to a different standard than an account from which you can feel free to let your thoughts fly.  Common sense and a dose of training can go a long way in this regard.

Rupert Murdoch recently made news with his Twitter interaction with a customer in Kentucky who was missing his home delivery (see the story). Whether this was ‘really’ Rupert or a person assigned to the account doesn’t really matter – the customer got a personalized and fast reply and resolution that had a touch to it that couldn’t be replicated in a call to a call center, an e-mail sent into a pit of customer despair, or even worse a form filled out on the so called ‘customer service page’ on the website.

The Wall Street Journal recently had a great article about executives online – it is nice to see that Murdoch (who’s company owns the WSJ) is testing the waters himself.

our best product is a good crisis

I talked with a client the other day who commented to me that her company’s ‘best product is a good crisis’ – something they serve up internally and to clients on a regular basis. Best of all ‘it’s free!’ she explained.  They are lucky they have a product with high switching costs, but that will only sustain them for so long – their percentage of churn at the end of a contract is increasing at an alarming rate.

Clients don’t want you to be a hero and exceed their expectations by your amazing response to crisis. They want reliable, dependable, wonderful service and products that meet their needs and expectations and don’t create anxiety and tension where it isn’t needed.  Think about how much time your company spends responding to crisis versus just doing things right.  Do you have ‘crisis addiction’?  Might be time for an intervention….  sound the alarm if that’s what you are good at doing!

Sometimes it’s good to be scared

Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged us all to do something every day that scares us. She was one of the more unusual first ladies, someone who followed her own path, and I suspect took her own advice.  It is timeless in many ways. It is a good reminder – have you done anything recently that scares you? Are you sitting in a job you’ve been doing for 10+ years, and where you are comfortable but slightly bored? Is there anything exciting happening for you day in and day out? If not, you might want to reconsider where you are, and think about doing something that scares you.

George Bush reminded us that “Just because you’re an old guy, you don’t have to sit around drooling in the corner,” he said. “Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life.” Double check yourself.  Are you playing the old guy sitting in the corner, far before your time?  Note to self: your chronological age is not relevant in this case.

George Bush skydives on his 85th birthday.

Expertise measurements

How do you claim your expertise? Do you refer to your years of experience?  Or the recency of your experience? Maybe a little bit of both?

A challenge for mid-career workers occurs when years of experience is used to mask outdated knowledge and understanding. If it has been more than a few years since you ‘got your hands dirty’, you might want to re-tool and look for opportunities to dig into something for a while.

Vision and details

A few weeks ago I posted about the dangers of certainty in leadership (  This past week I was reminded again of that challenge as I watched a executive leadership team present in excruciating detail a new ‘business model’ that dove deep into the specifics while repeatedly saying they were committed to being ‘visionary’.

Make a mental note…. if you have to keep telling people you are being visionary, you probably aren’t.

Management, Leadership, and Titles

I was talking with a client recently about his frustration that his company wasn’t putting him in leadership roles.  As we chatted, it became apparent that what he meant was that he was frustrated about not getting promoted.  It is fine to want to get promoted and achieve the social and visible markers of success, but confusing it with leadership leaves you in a grey zone.

At the end of the day, you are a leader if people want to follow you, and that doesn’t require a title to achieve. So if you are frustrated about not being a leader in your organization, figure out why people don’t want to follow you – if you are a leader, your title and position won’t matter.  If you want the title, work for the title. Get to know the rest of the management team, demonstrate your contributions clearly and visibly, and deliver on financial results.  Oh, and while you are at it, be a great leader, regardless of your title.  That in my experience is the best way to get promoted.

Measuring Social Media and Politics

No on measures presence and marketing like a political machine.  And yet, even they have trouble really quantifying the impact of efforts in social media.  I think going forward when clients ask me how to measure, I’ll refer them to this quote from the NYT:

“What’s the return on putting your pants on in the morning? We don’t know,” said Jan Rezab, the chief executive of Socialbakers, a social media analytics firm. “But we just know it’s bad if you don’t do it.”

For the full article check out: Campaigns Use Social Media to Lure Younger Voters