Collaboration is the Key to Providing Consistent Brand Value

by Libby Gill

As much as people love to over-complicate the topic of branding, simply put, a brand is a promise of value. The most successful brands – the ones I call Mindshare Brands – are those that deliver or over-deliver on that value promise consistently over the long haul. Think Coca-Cola. Think Mercedes. Think Apple. Think any brand that you count on to deliver what you want every single time – or pretty darn close to that. Even the big guys slip occasionally, though mistakes well handled can actually be terrific branding opportunities.

So how you do you continually commit and re-commit to going the extra mile for your customers? How do you stay focused in the face of crazy busy workloads and constant change? The key to providing consistent value, despite the obstacles you will inevitably encounter, is to build a culture of collaboration where everyone’s goal is to delight the customers and ensure their swift return.

In today’s highly competitive business climate, it’s nearly impossible for anyone to succeed by going it alone. So it’s well worth the time and effort it takes to create a collaborative atmosphere based on trust, respect, and openness. Here are some strategies you can employ to jumpstart the process:

  1. Establish high standards for communication. Set the tone for the highest levels of communication, which include candor and kindness. Don’t let anyone indulge in badmouthing or finger pointing – it’s non-productive and destructive. Yes, people are human and you can’t eliminate all bad behaviors, but you can let it be known that respect for others is not only expected, but demanded.
  2. Set ground-rules and enforce them. It’s hard to play by the rules when you don’t know what they are. But if you want to create a more collaborative culture in your organization, decide what’s fair and what’s off-limits and communicate it clearly. Lead by example and let people know that you don’t operate in silos. Instead, you pitch in when needed and you share your wins – and losses – as a team.
  3. Share information appropriately. Information is the organizational life-blood on which decisions are made – and customer value created – within every company. Except for confidential or proprietary data that can’t be shared, pass information readily both up and down the pipeline that can help others make timely decisions.
  4. Expect – and invite – conflict. Encouraging collaboration means that you’re also inviting conflict, that is, if you are the least bit authentic in your interactions. If you stick only to your inner circle to discuss challenges or to brainstorm possibilities, you are likely to get answers similar to the ones you’ve come up with in the past. But by broadening the collaborative circle and inviting opinions from people who might offer dissenting views or new information, you may open yourself up to more conflict, but you’re also a lot more likely to enterprise new solutions for your clients.
  5. Manage collaboration with the proper tools. Once you’ve opened the pipeline of rigorous conversation and idea sharing, you’ll want to capture all the great insights you’re having. Put the proper tools in place, or you risk losing all that great brainpower. Try customer relationship software, project management programs, or whatever captures your ideas and helps transform them into action. Even in a small business, systems like Salesforce.com or Zoho.com can ensure that your ideas stay flowing and organized – to the ultimate benefit of your customer.

 

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Capture the Mindshare

An internationally recognized executive coach and branding expert with over 20 years of industry experience, Libby Gill is the former head of communications and PR for Sony, Universal, and Turner Broadcasting. She is known as the “branding brain” behind the launch of the Dr. Phil Show. Her clients include ABC-Disney, Nike, PayPal, Royal Caribbean, Wells Fargo, and many others. Libby’s previous books include Traveling Hopefully: How to Lose Your Family Baggage and Jumpstart Your Life and award-winning You Unstuck: Mastering the New Rules of Risk-taking in Work and Life, which has been endorsed by business leaders including Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh and Dr. Ken Blanchard.

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Why Every Business Is a SERVICE Business

by Libby Gill

Last week, I had the privilege of delivering a presentation to 650 of the most important people on the planet: fire fighters, 911 dispatchers, paramedics, and law enforcement officials.  These dedicated folks are on the front lines keeping all of us safe and I am eternally grateful for their service.

But you don’t have to be a first responder to protect and serve others. In my book You Unstuck, I profile San Antonio-based Rackspace, a web-hosting company famous for what they call “fanatical support.”  Rackers – as employees refer to themselves – don’t just talk about fanatical support, they live it.  In the aftermath of Katrina as hurricane victims were streaming out of New Orleans, Rackspace Chairman Graham Weston offered the city an old department store he owned for temporary housing.  Tapped out, the Mayor accepted the offer, but cautioned Weston that he would have to manage the location entirely on his own.

And that’s exactly what happened. In a closely knit company like Rackspace, word travels fast.  Within hours, dozens of Rackers showed up to convert the store into a shelter that could house 2,500 people. The volunteers set up cots, outfitted a cafeteria, created a children’s play area (several, actually, to accommodate kids of different ages) and built men’s and women’s showers.  Rackers also put their technical know-how to work and established a communications center with cable television, phones and computers so the residents could watch the news and stay in touch with friends and family throughout the sad unfolding of this great American tragedy.

While still working their regular shifts, Rackers did double-duty to greet buses of newly arriving refugees, serve food, comfort kids and listen to the stories of frightened and homeless victims. Interestingly, what the Rackers remember most is not that they were able to serve others – which they most certainly did – but the gift the company did by giving them the opportunity to serve.

  • Ask yourself what you can do to go beyond the bounds of service that your company routinely offers others.
  • Think about what gives you the greatest sense of purpose at work. Now think about some ways you can step it up even more.
  • The next time you or your family calls upon the services of the police, fire, 911, or paramedics, be grateful that these folks are fighting the good fight for us! And be sure to say thanks!!

Why Confidence is King (or Queen)

by Libby Gill

I just turned in the manuscript for my new book, Capture the Mindshare and the Market Share Will Follow, which comes out next June.   I found the following research onconfidence so intriguing, I wanted to share this excerpt with you now…

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 You can fight its unfairness all you like, but people are who are extroverted, confident or even over-confident are at a definite advantage in the workplace.

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley  found that people who demonstrate confidence tend to be more successful than their peers, even when those peers have greater talents and abilities.   In a series of experiments conducted with college students, professors and administrative staff at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, individuals who talked and participated more actively in group tasks were considered more competent, even when they handled the assignments less well than others.

In one of the studies, the researchers asked masters’ candidates to examine a list of historical names, events, book and poems, identifying those that they recognized.  While some of the items on the list were real, others (like Bonnie Prince Lorenzo andWindemere Wild) were invented by the researchers.  Subjects who included the made-up names among those they recognized were considered to be more confident because they appeared to be more knowledgeable than they actually were.  Interestingly, researchers found that many of their subjects truly believed that they were more talented, socially adept and skilled at their jobs than the testing actually reflected. In fact, in one study, a statistically improbable 94% of college professors concluded that their work was above average.

This research sheds some light on why overconfident people (who are rarely seen as arrogant or selfish, by the way)  are so often rewarded and even promoted over their more talented peers.  While the  study authors surmised that that their research would encourage people with hiring power to look beyond confidence and evaluate talent instead,  I have a slightly different point of view.

While I’m not advocating that people start tooting their own horns ad nauseam, it’s clear that lack of confidence can be a career killer.  So get your confidence into high gear with these strategies to help you get you the recognition you deserve:

  • Participate at meetings.  If necessary, prepare some data or comments ahead of time so you’ll have something relevant to say. Force yourself to speak more often than you normally do, even if you consider it “too much.” (This is doubly true for introverts.)
  • Check the news.  When you know the latest about world news, company updates, the stock market, or sports scores, you’ll be able to make small talk. Women, if you know sports, jump into the dialogue. Most people will assume you don’t know a hockey puck from a baseball and it’s up to you to prove them wrong.
  • Head for the person standing solo.  At a networking event, after you get your beverage, head for someone who is standing alone. Chances are, they’re as lost as you are.   Ask how long they’ve been involved in the organization, how they spend their time (as opposed to the utterly obnoxious “what do you do?”) or where they’re from. Get the conversational ball rolling – just remember to do your part, that is, talk.
  • Sit in the front. When I taught a course at California State University, I used to joke that students who sat in the front got automatic A’s.  Most people, and not just students, enter a conference, training session or meeting and head straight for the back of the room.  Resist the urge to hide out and instead be a presence at whatever event you’re attending.  Ask questions, chat with your peers, introduce yourself to the presenter. If you act like a person who deserves some attention, you’ll get it.
  • Dress well.  Being carefully groomed can immediately boost your confidence.  If you don’t know what that means in your world, it’s well worth the investment in a personal shopper or stylist.  In general, dress a notch above your customers, clients and colleagues, without looking like you’re headed to a funeral or job interview.
  • Focus on contribution.  Get your attention off yourself by adding value to other people’s projects and priorities.  Whether it’s a brainstorming meeting, company gathering or community event, doing a solid for someone else is always classy.
  • Join Toastmasters.  A great non-profit organization that’s been around since 1924, there are more than 13,500 clubs in 116 countries – all dedicated to helping you speak more confidently.  Check out Toastmasters.org to find a location near you.

Final word of advice?  Get out there and fake it ‘til you make it!

Does Your Leadership Legacy Have a Long Tail?

by Libby Gill

I know it’s hard to think about such lofty concepts as legacy these days.  So many business fires need immediate putting out or preventing.  Add to that the unhappy job of disciplining or laying off your people, and sometimes it’s hard to stay passionate about your own work.

Is it time to lift your eyes to a more inspiring horizon? You’ll be doing both yourself and all the people who work for you a favor that will last not only beyond today or this quarter, or even this job. It will take your influence into generations of people whom you’ll never meet.

What am I talking about? Significance.  There’s the significance that’s intrinsic to your own work and job description – the organizational responsibilities that you have to get the job done and to rally your people around the cause of helping you deliver. But there’s also the intangible significance that you have in your team members’ careers – which largely stems from helping them recognize the significance that they have in the work they do – and their own children’s potential for success.

This is also the source for your own long-term power and sustained energy as we continue to try to make sense of building a career in a crazy business environment.  Here’s how to build your leadership legacy long tail and stay inspired in your own career:

Recognize that your behavior is a role model for all your employees.   The way you manage your behaviors and moods at work teaches your people how to manage their own behaviors and moods at work.  As their boss, you’re their most important teacher and mentor, in an area that survey after survey reports as essential to top talent – the development of their own careers.  They’re learning how to be a manager by watching you be a manager.  How’re you doing along those lines?

Remember that how you treat your employees will influence how your employees will treat their children.  This is where your own legacy long tail gets really long – extending off the charts deep into a future you can’t even imagine.  If you mistreat your employees, they’ll go home and take it out on their kids, at the very least telling them that work is miserable and there’s no point in dreaming their own dreams.  But treat your people fairly, respecting their individual potential and talents, giving them every opportunity to shine – and they will take these wonderful, positive stories home.  Those children in turn will be inspired to succeed and seek out bosses who treat them as well as you treated their parents.  And they will take their own positive, empowered stories home to their children. And so your influence extends deep into generations.

Be intentional about the legacy you want to leave.  What exactly do you want your influence as a manager stand for? In other words, what leadership brand do you want to build? When people think of you – or talk about you – what words do you want to come to their minds?  Specifically, how do those words translate into actions and behaviors that you can implement now? This is your mission that rises above the day-to-day challenges of your job. This mission will keep you inspired to be greater than the daily, short-term demands. This is the mission that will build your career as you positively influence the lives of everyone who works with you.

The 3 Biggest Website Woes

by Libby Gill

Quick!  What are the three critical elements your website homepage must have?  I say “quick” because you’ve only got about five seconds to capture the attention of your site visitors.

I’m asking you this now because I’ve got a fun freebie on the homepage of my site called The Ten Stupid Things People Do to Mess Up Their Websites (and How to Fix Them). But it’s going away, soon to be replaced with an excerpt from my brand new You Unstuck Workbook, which you’ll also be able to download for free.

Make sure you sign up right here and get on my mailing list. I promise to give you great branding and business strategies and to never inundate, overwhelm or spam you.  If I do, I deserve your unsubscribe.

Time’s a-wastin’ so here are those three things you need to watch out for web-wise:

  1. Clarity of message.  While it’s nice to be clever with your copy and images, if your customers don’t get who you are and what you do at a glance, they’re gone. Make sure you have a concise and compelling message.
  2. Visual appeal.  Just because your 8 year old nephew can build your website, doesn’t mean he should.  Your site needs to look professional, stylish and up to date.  Get a professional on the case.
  3. Call to action.  You’ve probably heard the old Sales 101 adage “ask for the business.”  Well, it’s the same with your website.  You need to ask for the business by telling your visitors what to do.  Whether it’s sign up for your free tips, buy a product, click a link, or join a community – take them by the hand and lead them along.

Stay tuned for more info about my Monthly Mindshare segment on the very cool Catalyst Business Radio and also my new book coming out next Spring!

xo,

Libby

Who Won This Race? You Be the Judge!

by Libby Gill

As we close out Olympics 2012 with some rousing performances by the US Basketball, Diving, Swimming, Track & Field and more, here’s a recent story that redefines sportsmanship.

Meghan Vogel and Arden McMath are two young Ohio track stars who made the talk show circuit earlier this summer. Not because they won the race, but because Meghan intentionally lost the race to help her rival Arden cross the finish line after Arden collapsed on the track. But Meghan did more than forfeit her own interest in winning – she draped Arden’s arm over her shoulders and led her to the finish line.

Meghan actually positioned Arden in front of her so that Arden could walk across the line and finish before her. Cynics might say that Meghan was already losing the race. She was, after winning a grueling competition just an hour before. But think about it – would you stop to help a struggling competitor?

I wondered, so I asked around. And one friend candidly said, “It never would have occurred to me. I would have been so busy pushing myself toward the finish line, that thought would have totally escaped me.”  Was her coach proud of Meghan, even if it meant her losing the race? Gosh, I hope so. But since coaches’ careers are built on making winners – and there is only one winner in a race – it would be understandable if the coach felt a sting of disappointment, since Meghan will be off to college next year and under another coach’s tutelage.

In four years, she’ll be entering the workforce. Will her new employer welcome aboard someone who has a record of giving her edge to a direct competitor? Again, I sincerely hope so.

But let’s be honest: The workplace is not typically a setting where the leadership is pleased when its employees hand over the company’s best opportunities to a competitor.  Though maybe that’s short-term thinking and we should be looking at the long-term. That is, making those tough calls where we may lose in the short-term but ultimately win by capturing the mindshare of our colleagues, customers and our competitors with generosity and good sportsmanship.

Still not sure? Quick. Tell me. Who won the race that Meghan Vogel intentionally lost?

Your Behaviors are Your Brand

“Your Behaviors are Your Brand”
by Libby Gill

When I was growing up, most people had no clue who the big deal CEOs were in this country.  In some cases, it would have been a fair bet to assume that people didn’t even know who the CEO was of the company they worked for.  In those days (and it wasn’t that long ago), it didn’t really matter. No one talked about culture or corporate values then.  As for leadership style? Forget about it! 

Today we know many CEOs like they’re superstars. Steve Jobs, for instance. Donald Trump, of course. Meg Whitman, surely.  How about Tony Hsieh? The CEO of the online shoe giant, Zappos?  Unless you read business books like I do, you may not know his name. But you certainly know his influence. He’s the one whose leadership style has infused his company’s culture with excitement, positivity, and over-the-top customer service.

 

Ever since Steve Jobs died last year, a trend among leaders has been to ask themselves, “How can I be more like Jobs so I can have the success that Apple is experiencing?”  Believe me, only Steve Jobs could pull off being Steve Jobs. If you tried some of his less popular but nonetheless effective behaviors, you’d risk losing your talent – not to mention your customers – or maybe coming off as downright mean.

You might not want to be like Tony Hsieh either.  Oh, he’s very nice and deeply authentic as a wonderful, inspiring leader. (In fact, you can read my interview with him in You Unstuck.) But you may not be in a position to let your salespeople chat at length with an indecisive customer, only to not close a sale at the end of the marathon call.  That works for Zappos, but it might not work for you or me.

But here’s what you can do: You can be yourself. This is the only way you can deeply and authentically connect with both your employees and your customers. And inspire them to buy.

No one can tell you how to be you except you, of course. But if you’ve been busy adapting the behaviors of your favorite CEO (or if you haven’t thought about it at all), I can help you walk yourself back to your authentic self. These steps will help you uncover what I call your Leadership DNA – that code that is uniquely you and that no one else can copy.

  1. Study your company’s values statement, like you’ve never seen it before. If you’ve been with your company for a year or so, it’s likely that the values statement has lost its freshness, and has faded into the background like white noise or easy listening music.  If you’re a business owner, write or rewrite your values statement – in people speak, not corporate jargon.
  2. Ask yourself what specific behaviors bring the values statement to life– not only for your customers but also for your employees. How far are youwilling to go to make that statement real for all your stakeholders? Do those behaviors even feel natural to you? Or would it be like putting on a costume?
  3. Discuss the values statement with your trusted staff, colleagues and even some hand-picked customers.  How far do you want to go to bring those values to life, when it comes to working with each other or serving your customers?  How far do they expect each other to go?  What do they tell you that they need from you to feel supported to consistently deliver the quality of work that you are looking for?  Are you willing to take your leadership behaviors and style that far? (If you think this might be a silly question, imagine the Apple staff telling Steve Jobs, “We want you to be nicer.”)

Being a leader these days is more than just driving your team to deliver a product or service that’s consistent with your company’s brand promise.  It’s about modeling behaviors and a personal style that will inspire your people to take personal initiative to fulfill your company’s best vision.

When you do this exercise thoughtfully and with specific intention, you will be connecting with your customers and employees in a deeply authentic, inspiring and sustainable way.  And then it will be your Leadership DNA that will be the stuff of stories and legend for generations to come.