Friday, 19 February 2010

The value of ordinary

Nicholas Winterton is causing a bit of stink and the debate in our office is how accurately does this reflect (as suggested by Labour) the true face & attitude of most Conservative MP’s – do they all believe ‘ordinary’ people are the great unwashed, unintelligent and so dumb that we have little right to complain about their shenanigans?

My own feeling is that MP’s, footballers, business leaders and most cosseted celebs inevitably become totally out of touch with us ‘ordinary people’. Inevitably because they surround themselves with trusted sources who filter, spin and massage what reaches their privileged ears and so they stop listening to the very people who can tell it like it is.

I have said many times that business leaders would discover far more about how their brand is experienced and perceived simply by talking to and listening to their front line staff. These ‘ordinary’ people are critical in communicating a brand message, and they do so far more eloquently than any marketing executive or glossy campaign.

I wonder what stops them? Fear of being challenged? Fear of discovering how things really are? In the current climate many are retreating to autocratic styles simply because they have the employee by the short & curlies – this may give them a short-term gain and put a stop to all that complicated people management stuff but ultimately it will come back to bite them on the bottom.

At the first opportunity people will leave them, a cost to the business with both downtime and recruitment. Meanwhile and more troublesome, the cynical, de-motivated and disempowered employee remains in position to cause untold damage because of sanctimonious, autocratic management who fail to listen or even grasp the notion that ordinary people are creating their customers brand experience – the purest form of which is with face-to-face encounters.

Lets hear it for the ‘ordinary’ people – I look forward to meeting you in standard class!

Labels are for jars

We’re all no doubt aware of the heartbeat judgements we make about others we encounter in our lives. The labels we give them, the herds or groups we put them in. It’s a matter of human instinct after all – it kept us safe in the past and served us well. As we’ve evolved it’s become ever more instinctive yet a little less sophisticated, perhaps no longer serving us quite so well.

Having the privilege to discuss these ideas with young graduates I’ve learnt that more damaging than the labels we give other people are the ones we put on ourselves.

I figure in modern life this begins with how we’re labelled in the school system. Interesting debate on this week’s radio 4 Woman’s Hour about our love/hate relationship with the subject of Maths crystallised my thinking. Children as young as 5 are labelled on their abilities in this subject, and very few learn to rip the label off – children after all, learn to live up to our expectations, however low or high they may be.

Having been given many labels during my life I’m increasingly aware of the ways in which my continuing to wear them has hindered or helped – I was literally given a badge to wear in my geography class for the last 2 years at school which read ‘I am a disruptive element’ (shame on you Mr Webber). I believe a more accurate one would have read ‘I am so bored’ but this sounds a little defence doesn’t it?

Some labels have been placed on us by others, although many more we have stuck on ourselves. Take time to consider which labels serve you well and remove the destructive ones, the ones which hold you back, the ones which feel at odds with who you truly are. In particular think about the labels which start with ‘I’m not’ …..these are the real demons.

Finally, a Friday thought from Malcolm Forbes “too many people overvalue what they are not, and under value what they are”.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The real message behind the gesture

Don’t know about you but I just love surprises. But what happens when the surprise becomes a bit of a disappointment? Do you shut up because it was a surprise so ought to be a bonus, it didn’t cost you anything, and anyway, it’s the gesture behind it that counts ….or is it??

My recent surprise was winning a Mood clock from Orange mobile; I didn’t even know I was entered into a competition, so this made the surprise even more lovely.

Well, the Mood clock arrived in the mail today and it doesn’t work! I’m now caught between feeling like an ungrateful mare & a person who should get out more – it just leaves me feeling a tad disappointed that this was the best they could do. And yet I can’t help wondering about the thought process behind this marketing initiative by Orange.

Have they fallen into the BTN (better than nothing) style of thinking? Like all surprises they at least require a degree of thought – so what was the thinking for Orange when they send this duffer of a ‘prize’ out? The Mood clock arrived in a beautiful glossy box, complete with a ‘with love from’ gift tag – all very cute and classy, very on brand for Orange …..then I took the clock out, and oh dear, oh dear. It was almost as if they’d come from different brands! One who takes their customers and themselves seriously and one that’s a bit of Rhett Butler (couldn’t give a damn).

My whole take on the surprises thing is do it well or don’t bother. This includes personal as well as branded gifts (think cheap tacky pens at trade shows, or in this case cheap tacky mood clocks which don’t work). BTN thinking is damaging on so many levels; imagining it is better than doing or giving nothing rarely is. It remains in the mind far longer, suggests you’re a bit of a dullard and finally that you’re a cheapskate – none of which was the intention I’m sure.

Think about the quality message you’re communicating – it will determine how much I’m willing to trust you, how much I’m prepared to pay for your goods or services, or even whether I’m prepared to continue to do business with you.

Harsh but true.

Better than nothing rarely is …….

Monday, 15 February 2010

Can you afford to wear eau de self-doubt?

Have you ever met someone who simply doesn’t appear to love their own brand? Rather like Eyeore from Winnie the Pooh the fragrance of their doom & desperation fills the room. Perhaps there’s something in the air right now, maybe the moon is spinning in a different direction, but it just seems I’ve encountered this several times over the past few weeks with new coaching clients.

I’ve taken a huge risk on these occasions by saying its not sales or presentation coaching they need, it’s a boost of brand belief and a change of fragrance (metaphorically).

The risk has been because us Brits rarely want to offend or upset people, so we collude by staying silent instead of being courageous and saying it how it is. Now this doesn’t mean being offensive, personal or in any way cruel; it has everything to do with holding the other person in great respect. I’ve ‘owned’ how I’m experiencing them, how they project themselves and on every occasion they have said “thank you, I had no idea”.

If I were to put a name to their fragrance then I’d call it eau de self-doubt, and it really is a stinker! That wonderful line from the film The Incredibles keeps coming to mind ‘self-doubt is a luxury we can no longer afford’ … is an expensive luxury so needs to be viewed as such. Only indulged on rare occasions, best savoured alone or in the company of trusted sources (ie: those who will tell us it stinks and help us wash it off).

I figure we all experience moments of self-doubt – even the best have these moments , however I’ve come to realise it’s how we handle it when it pays a visit…..

I like to adopt my nieces approach to life & the people we have around us – a wonderful, sparkling and giddy carousel. Who do you have riding on your carousel? Do they truly deserve that space? How much time does the carousel spend stopping at self-doubt central? Does it have the smell of self-doubt?

Get yourself on the most amazing carousel, surrounded by fab people and saddle up for the ride. This doesn’t mean you won’t face adversity or set backs; plan for these, for of course they will visit from time to time – just make sure you’re not wearing eau de self-doubt when you’re preparing for the ride

Thursday, 11 February 2010

simple not easy

Having just spent a couple of hours with students at City of Birmingham Uni I was struck by a couple of things. Firstly how open and how free from agenda they are – they’re not looking to prove their point, protect their position or otherwise have a vested interest in maintaining fixed beliefs.

Don’t misunderstand me – this certainly doesn’t mean they’re lacking in opinions or thoughts of their own – their challenges and questions demonstrated they have this in abundance – what it means is they’re genuine free-thinkers.

Corporate leaders overlook and ignore these guys at their peril.

I couldn’t help wondering how many of them are currently employed, albeit part-time, by brands that could genuinely benefit from engaging with them, asking for their perspective and finally taking on board their ideas?

My guess is very few, if any, of their managers have the courage or the wisdom to do this simply because they see them as part-time students rather than a source of valuable and deeply relevant perspectives.

Secondly, many of the comments made were how simple the Romancing message is, that it’s really, well, pretty obvious stuff and what is it with corporate brands that simply don’t get this?

I honestly believe that it is because it’s so simple and jam-packed full of common sense it gets missed. That it’s not complicated to implement or because it’s so obvious, somehow devalues its currency?

Sometimes when we live close to something we become so familiar with it we tend to stop paying it the attention it deserves. It’s almost as if this familiarity renders our instinctive knowledge to the ‘irrelevance file’.

Couple this with the fact that obvious and common sense things are often incredibly simple ….. but they’re not easy. Not easy to adopt. Not easy to implement. Not easy to recognise.

For if it were easy then we’d all be doing it wouldn’t we?

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Warm & Fuzzy feeling

Just finished reading an article from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) about the unhappiness being felt by workers at the moment. It seems the biggest single issue isn’t earning more wonga (although this may help in the short-term) it’s to do with the lack of opportunities to learn new skills.

Training and marketing are the easiest, so first budgets to cut in response to the recession but I think they’re the one’s that lead to permanent and lasting damage once there’s an up-turn. With almost a quarter of workers developing an ‘itch’ (23% according to the CIPD) the up-turn could see an increase in employee wanderlust if employers fail to romance and inspire their key staff.

Leaders may be screaming “there’s enough to do with managing the business!! I can do without high maintenance staff” but it’s a little like concentrating on bringing home the money and never being around to share the benefits. Sooner or later one or both parties start to feel lonely and taken for granted.

Keeping staff happy, loyal & motivated doesn’t mean having to spend squillions – it means making those tiny, heartfelt gestures that create wonderful memories, oodles of ahh moments and armies of loved up employees.

Perhaps listen more attentively for hints of what would bliss them out –

  • Their favourite biscuit
  • Pens running out – get them a new one
  • Mugs chipped – replace it
  • Picture of their favourite pin-up
  • Cakes because it’s a day with the letter Y in it
  • Crunchie bars because its Friday
  • Send a ‘you’re totally fab’ card/message

The approach takes imagination & care – its simple not easy – but it means you get to prevent costly break-ups, you reduce stress levels and best of all you get to do something really rather lovely.

And, now prepare for the warm and fuzzy feeling to happen …….

Friday, 5 February 2010

Trip down memory lane

Listening to Prof Mary Beard on Desert Island Discs this morning resulted in affectionate reminder of my angst ridden teenage world – the simple mention of ‘first bra’, PE and the girls changing rooms acted as unwelcome triggers.

For females reading this, who remembers ‘training bras’? – training for what I now wonder?? For the male contingent read on to better understand any teenage girls you may be Father to.

Training bras (sorry, unable to say this without a titter, erm I mean giggle) were wonderfully soft, powder blue or baby pink, came in packs of two, and were totally useless!! They fitted over your head and my yearning to wear one was fierce.

Unfortunately the yearning was not matched by breasts.

Similar to the humiliation faced by Prof Beard when ‘walking the line longing to be picked’, I made the painful discovery that the appeal for teenage boys did not include girls who were 5ft 10” with tits like two fried eggs - and no amount of training bras stuffed with cotton wool or Kleenex tissues* was going to alter this

So, the message for Fathers of teenage girls pleading for training bras is yield – they are a necessary part of growing up and the joy of ownership will far exceed the lack of breasts needed to fill them.

*on reflection it may have been the appearance of lumpy breasts which was so off putting

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Without thinking - what's the answer?

I would love to discover what your immediate perception is if I said ‘utilities’ – so, rather like word association, I say utilities you say ????
Answers on tweet please – warmest thanks