A Lack of Action Verbs is Causing Leadership Failure

At the risk of being obvi­ous, lead­ers should always inspire action. But if a strat­egy isn’t inspir­ing action, maybe it’s not a good strategy.

It’s easy for the planner/leader to for­get that my “aha” moment (strate­gic insight) needs to action­able, not just vision­ary. I have to turn “be bet­ter at cus­tomer ser­vice” into a list of actions, like “show each cus­tomer you under­stand before mov­ing to a solu­tion or a sale.” This means lead­ers need to use more action verbs.

The Trap

We trick our­selves into think­ing we get it. The funny thing is that lan­guage can tell us when we don’t under­stand. When some­one says “What do you mean by that,” and you don’t know what to say. Hint: “It is what it is” doesn’t actu­ally add detail.

I real­ized this while read­ing Leisa’s very smart blog post about strate­gists who spend months work­ing on a plan that nobody else seems to understand.

This means lead­ers need to bridge the gap between strat­egy and actions.

Why Strate­gists Strug­gle with Clarity

Strate­gists and busi­ness con­sul­tants don’t always under­stand how their strate­gies will meet every­day tasks. They sim­ply stop at the higher-level things with­out con­nect­ing them to the every­day (either because they don’t offer to see it through or the client doesn’t want it).

This is where the leader needs to trans­late what he can (to the rest of the orga­ni­za­tion) and push the strate­gists (with good ques­tions) to better-develop the rest.

How to Start

First, remem­ber that action is evi­dence of strat­egy. Great writ­ers know that action verbs show, and mod­i­fiers only tell. So pay atten­tion to the words you use. Strate­gists should show by using action verbs to con­nect peo­ple to their part in the big­ger plan.

Sec­ond, tell each per­son only what mat­ters the them. If you’re try­ing to inspire that jan­i­tor, it’s okay to be gen­eral (not vague; just gen­eral) until you get to his level in the orga­ni­za­tion. Then be spe­cific about why his job mat­ters. So it’s like “We’re doing x. This is how it might affect your work.”

Third, call me. I’ll tell you why it might be bet­ter to ask the jan­i­tor how he thinks it’ll affect his work.

This isn’t a magic wand, and many lead­ers aren’t able to take the time or energy to get this sorted out. As a teacher and con­sul­tant, I’ve helped orga­ni­za­tions coor­di­nate long-term strat­egy and action with­out dis­rupt­ing the orga­ni­za­tion. If this sounds famil­iar, give me a call.

This post inspired by: Every­one is doing strat­egy right now. – dis­am­bi­gu­ity.

3 Instances Brands Shouldn’t Offer “Unlimited Vacation”

I’m a huge fan of Base­camp, Under­cur­rent and other com­pa­nies that seem to take a more lib­eral (low­er­case “L”) approach to man­age­ment. Why? Because it’s so con­sis­tent with brand think­ing and inno­va­tion. These com­pa­nies cre­ate effi­cient processes using prin­ci­ples of how humans nat­u­rally oper­ate. The unlimited-vacation pol­icy is a case-in-point.

This is why I was so glad to run by Jacob’s arti­cle on why unlim­ited vaca­tion could be a prob­lem. He inspired me to make a short list of rea­sons a brand would fail at insti­tut­ing such a pol­icy. Here are my 3.

Instance #1

Your com­pany shouldn’t offer unlim­ited vaca­tion if you have a high sen­si­tiv­ity toward treat­ing every­one the same (which is one of the cost­lier ways to ensure equality).

The best lead­ers (in my esti­ma­tion) don’t insist on treat­ing every­one fairly, which I’m sure would be anath­ema to many cul­tures out there. Great lead­ers make it about the worker’s con­tri­bu­tion to suc­cess, not about obsess­ing over unim­por­tant equal­ity issues.

Instance #2

Your com­pany shouldn’t offer unlim­ited vaca­tion if you hire peo­ple who legit­i­mately need to be babysat. Don’t hire peo­ple you can’t trust to nego­ti­ate a mutu­ally ben­e­fi­cial situation.

Let me add that great brands often have a com­bi­na­tion of great lead­er­ship and process. Process requires effi­ciency (peo­ple who can take orders and repeat tasks), and great lead­er­ship means flex­i­bil­ity (inde­pen­dent thinkers). There’s no shame in hav­ing processes you can plug unskilled, inex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple into. But be sure you know why your com­pany is set up that way, or you could be over-processing your com­pany into inef­fi­ciency. And how ironic would that be?

Instance #3

Your com­pany shouldn’t offer unlim­ited vaca­tion if you proves your cre­ative by buy­ing Mac­in­tosh com­put­ers and a foos­ball table. Remem­ber that you actu­ally have to have peo­ple buy into your lead­er­ship before you can inspire them to work in an orga­ni­za­tion built on team­work and trust.

In Clos­ing

Now Jacob is clearly an intel­li­gent guy, and I can’t fault his analy­sis. I was right where he is six months ago. Still, con­trol takes a lot of work. Wouldn’t we rather cre­ate an orga­ni­za­tion that attracts tal­ent and rewards inspi­ra­tion rather than one that mea­sures what’s ulti­mately not very important?

I think the unlim­ited vaca­tion con­ver­sa­tion is tak­ing us in the right direc­tion. Thanks for the arti­cle, Jacob. Good luck in your journey.

Ref: The lim­its of “unlim­ited” vaca­tion « Jacob Kaplan-Moss.

Want Stability in a Business? Write the Brand Plan before the Business Plan.


Business Plans Don't Have All the Answers

If you’re like me, you love the idea of pro­ject­ing into the future to find out what you need to do today. This involves busi­ness plan­ning. But but that busi­ness plan needs the solid foun­da­tion it gets from a brand plan. Here’s what the brand plan does:

  1. It unites your part­ners and employ­ees. Noth­ing makes your team more pro­duc­tive than hav­ing a shared goal and shared val­ues. Deci­sions hap­pen faster at the part­ner level and the employee level.
  2. It cre­ates cus­tomer con­nec­tion from day one. You see, your cus­tomers don’t see your brand as an orga­ni­za­tion; they see it as they’d see a per­son. They need to be able to trust it like they’d trust another per­son. Can they read your char­ac­ter from how you speak?
  3. It speeds you through the busi­ness plan. If you under­stand your val­ues, you can make quicker deci­sions about how you want to set things up.

Some peo­ple will come back with this objec­tion: “Brand­ing is to make peo­ple think about you a cer­tain way. It’s not some­thing you have to think about the first day.” But brand­ing is about char­ac­ter. Ask the great brand­ing agen­cies how it chooses col­ors and tone for its clients. They’ll tell you any col­ors, lay­outs or visu­als reflect the char­ac­ter of the com­pany, not the other way around. In other words, take a minute to write down your mis­sion, vision and val­ues. Then take the next step: talk about what you would do and what you wouldn’t do and why. What kinds of val­ues do you have, and how do they look when they take the form of a busi­ness? So before you crack open the busi­ness plan­ning soft­ware (which I sug­gest you do), get some of these moral ques­tions answered, so you can set that busi­ness plan on a solid foun­da­tion: one that’s not likely to shift so much. How to Write a Busi­ness Plan | Entrepreneur.com. For more info on brand plan­ning or audit­ing, get in touch.

2 Steps to being a Rad Intern

It’s hard to put your­self in the posi­tion of your intern­ship man­ager (whether that’s an art direc­tor, writer, account exec, etc.) Here’s what they want:

  1. Guess at the answers. If you have a ques­tion, guess at the answer before ask­ing. Force your­self. This some­times gives you the answer. Other times, it shows how smart you are. But it almost always helps you avoid ask­ing tedious ques­tions. Remem­ber, you still need to actu­ally ask the ques­tion if there’s much risk in hav­ing the wrong answer.
  2. Do the obvi­ous work really well or do it quickly. If you’re an account exec, do the obvi­ous work quickly, so you’re avail­able for other projects or have mind space to be a smart trou­bleshooter. If you’re a cre­ative, do the work well; immerse your­self and think of all the pos­si­bil­i­ties; edit for clarity.

Bonus: Orga­nize your­self with a mind map and keep using them. A good mind map turns very quickly into an out­line, which turns quickly into prose. So whether you’re orga­niz­ing work or a paper, use the map/outline/prose method, and you’ll save time.

Optional: Do you have a part-time intern­ship you’re hop­ing to turn into a job? When you’re only there 20 hours a week, they don’t get a chance to really know you or use you. That’s why you end up doing crap work. So start being there the whole day and into the night and make sure you know about what’s going on; give them a rea­son they can’t live with­out you. It’s up to them to pay you what you’re worth; it’s up to you to prove you’re worth it.

These have been just a few sim­ple con­cepts to help you make the most of things. Please com­ment below if you have ques­tions. Just be sure to guess at an answer first.

Demographics Vs. Worldviews | The Story of Telling


Demo­graph­ics Vs. World­views | The Story of Telling.

One of my favorite blogs hits it on the head. In the cre­ative brief, adver­tis­ing folks want to know, about the prod­uct: What is it? Who’s it for? And why does it mat­ter to them?

Under­stand­ing the audi­ence helps us under­stand why the prod­uct will mat­ter to them; what story we’ll tell.

Demo­graph­ics and psy­cho­graph­ics can aim you in the right direc­tion, but once you know who your audi­ence is, there’s no way around sit­ting down, look­ing into their eyes and talk­ing with them.