ROI Alone Just Slows Your Descent

Picture of Bayham Old Abbey Ruins

Photo cour­tesy of Simon & His Cam­era on Flickr at

I was talk­ing to a smart mar­ket­ing guy who swore up and down that brand­ing is a waste of money; that mea­sur­ing ROI is bet­ter than brand­ing. He didn’t under­stand that brand­ing is lead­er­ship: look­ing ahead. And ROI is mea­sur­ing past performance.

It’s like say­ing cars are bet­ter than trucks, or alge­bra is bet­ter than geom­e­try or this.

Let me Illustrate.

So a guy gets mar­ried and pays a lot of atten­tion to his new bride, lis­ten­ing to her and find­ing out what she enjoys. He finds out she enjoys hik­ing, camp­ing and pic­nics. So he makes a plan to, for the rest of their mar­riage, do those same activ­i­ties and, to make sure she’s never dis­ap­pointed, mea­sure his effec­tive­ness. In other words, he com­mits to ROI.

Then, 5 years later, she wants to have a baby. But he’s mea­sur­ing ROI (because ROI is the no-nonsense approach to get­ting results). So instead of under­stand­ing her per­son­al­ity, becom­ing more rel­e­vant and grow­ing with her, he just dou­bles down on ROI.

No lis­ten­ing or insight required. And no lead­er­ship needed.

He spends the next two years study­ing the data. His notices sales num­bers are drop­ping: she’s less and less inter­ested in those ini­tial out­door activ­i­ties they did when they got mar­ried, so he increases his sales bud­get, tak­ing her to din­ner more often, so he can deliver his mes­sage with­out distraction.

Two years later, she leaves him.

ROI only lets you look back­ward. Impor­tant, but not suf­fi­cient. ROI, by itself, just slows your descent into irrelevance.

Generous Leaders Don’t “Make it Happen”

Lead­ers lose sleep over the pres­sure to force things to hap­pen. But what if you could could make more for­ward progress through gen­eros­ity: by NOT hav­ing ideas and NOT forc­ing things to hap­pen? This arti­cle will give you three prin­ci­ples that will make a big dif­fer­ence today.

But first, do you ever won­der why you always hear that lead­er­ship is a lot about gen­eros­ity and encour­age­ment? It’s because many good lead­ers aren’t try­ing to make things hap­pen. Instead, they’re find­ing ideas and energy and coor­di­nat­ing them to the larger goal. They’re using their time to be with peo­ple. And they’re allow­ing their peo­ple the sat­is­fac­tion and the glory that comes with success.

Here are three prin­ci­ples that help lead­ers to be gen­er­ous (and have more time in their day):

Prin­ci­ple 1: It doesn’t need to be your idea

As a leader, it’s not your job to be the smartest. It’s your job to help oth­ers do great things. This means fos­ter­ing rela­tion­ships and con­ver­sa­tions, cap­tur­ing their ideas and help­ing develop them. It means find­ing the energy hotspots in the orga­ni­za­tion and fan­ning the flame. It’s about find­ing ideas and energy in other people.

Prin­ci­ple 2: You don’t need to make it happen

Once you find those hotspots and turn energy and ideas into a clear goal, you help them find team­mates. Since your net­work is big­ger, you con­nect them with peo­ple who might also see value in their idea. Then you find peo­ple who can sup­port and man­age move­ment toward those goals using project man­age­ment skills and good peo­ple skills.

Prin­ci­ple 3: It doesn’t always have to work out

You’re putting teams together to try stuff. You’re ask­ing ques­tions about fea­si­bil­ity, risk and reward, all the while keep­ing things on-strategy. But it’s okay if peo­ple have ideas, and it makes it halfway and dies. You can’t always con­trol that, and it can be waste­ful (read: costly, both in dol­lars and indi­rectly, through man hours) to try. So encour­age peo­ple to boot­strap until the idea reaches prototype.

So get out of your own way, breathe eas­ier, work less and see more fruit: let oth­ers be smart and let ideas fail if they should. Find smart peo­ple, develop them and their ideas, and then con­nect them with peo­ple who can help them make it hap­pen. And then let me know if your job gets eas­ier and you start see­ing more suc­cess and energy in your teams.

Note: Ask me why you don’t need to actu­ally man­age any­one to use these prin­ci­ples effectively.

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. In this arti­cle, I’ll tell you how a lack of action verbs is caus­ing lead­er­ship failure.

It’s easy for the planner/leader to for­get that, to be suc­cess­ful, my “aha” moment (strate­gic insight) needs to action­able, not just vision­ary. I have to turn state­ments like “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.

Remem­ber that “be” is a goal. As in “I want to be famous.” But actions reflect process, and process is what gets you there. Like “I will learn to post inter­est­ing twit­ter con­tent that makes peo­ple want to share.”

We Trick Our­selves into Lead­er­ship Failure

We trick our­selves into think­ing we get it. We invent a goal, but fail to cre­ate a model of what it looks like and the actions it takes to get us there. We share our goal, and some­one asks us “What do you mean by that,” and we don’t know what to say.

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.

The solu­tion? Lead­ers need to bridge the gap between strat­egy and actions.

How Lead­ers Can Bridge the Gap

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 (using good ques­tions) to better-develop the rest.

The Good News: This can be Learned

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, accel­er­ate the process by call­ing me. If I can teach col­lege stu­dents to do it, I can help you by work­ing through a project or two together, giv­ing you sup­port and insights, while mak­ing sure you’re the owner of the project.

This isn’t a magic wand, and many lead­ers aren’t able to take the time or energy to get this sorted out.

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

About Chris: As a uni­ver­sity instruc­tor and con­sul­tant, he’s helped orga­ni­za­tions coor­di­nate long-term strat­egy and action with­out dis­rupt­ing the orga­ni­za­tion. If this sounds use­ful to you, get in touch.

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 | 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.