Be a Leader that People Want to Follow – Invest in Talk!

Kevin P. Dincher

People say that talk is cheap, but it’s not.  Businesses spend a great deal on talk:  on communication systems so that employees can talk with one another, on meetings and strategy planning sessions, on getting customers to talk with them, on telling their stories at trade shows, and much more.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh invests heavily in talk.  The company’s renovation of Las Vegas’ old City Hall for its new offices includes the cost of making the building deliberately inconvenient—by creating collisions points that encourage people to connect with one another and talk.  For example, many of the original 19 entrances to the building will be closed off so that arriving and departing employees collide with one another through a central plaza, and restrooms will be located in the center of the building so that people from different departments collide with one another.  The design makes it more likely that people will connect with one another rather than being isolated and never seeing each other.   Hsieh says he envisions a culture where people talk and build relationships;   he believes that the best ideas and productivity occur serendipitously when employees engage in constant casual contact and conversation.  “We don’t really telecommute at Zappos,” says Hsieh.

We Don’t Really Telecommute?

That is a radical idea in today’s business environment—and it challenges the studies that say working from home makes some workers more productive.  It is also an idea that can get you a great deal of negative press.  Ask Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer.  The reaction to the memo ending telecommuting at Yahoo! was immediate and virulent.

Hsieh and Mayer, however, are two CEOs with roughly the same idea:  bringing people together creates a different creative energy that they both want to tap into.  But while Hsieh has been called an innovator, Mayer has been chastised for disrespecting her employees, blaming them for Yahoo!’s problems, and failing to support working parents.  Why the difference?  There are certainly many possible reasons—but one may be the differing levels of investment in talk.

Leading by Memo?

Hsieh has a pretty clear picture of what he wants Zappos to become—a community of workers that is integrated into the larger societal community—and  because he never tires of talking about this vision, everyone knows what he is about and where Zappos is going.  Therefore, when people hear “we don’t really telecommute” they aren’t particularly surprised.  It fits.  It may or may not be a good idea,  but people know that it fits.

As for Mayer, while Hsieh is constantly talking about a vision and how Zappos is going to get there, she wrote a memo.   Actually she didn’t write the memo.  HR did.  Mayer didn’t even tell people about this monumental change herself.  Whether eliminating telecommuting at Yahoo! is a good change or not, she didn’t invest in enough talking.   She needed to talk more about her vision for Yahoo! and how Yahoo! was going to get there.  Then whether they thought it was a good idea or not, they would know that eliminating telecommuting fit.

Actually, Mayer’s need for investing in talk is greater than Hsieh’s.   Zappos is a small (1500+ employees), growing and vibrant company whose culture already bears Hsieh’s stamp.  Yahoo! is a large (14,000 employees) company which is considered stodgy and lethargic in comparison to its competitors—and Mayer is trying to create a corporate culture that supports her vision and her strategy to rebuild the company. Anyone who tries to convince you that re-engineering a company’s culture is anything but difficult is doing you a disservice.   Mayer’s job is much harder than Hsieh’s—so she should be talking much more about her vision.

But the question is:  what is Mayer’s vision?  In her first six months as CEO Mayer made big changes—and not just by ending telecommuting.   As Dan Farber wrote for a recent CNET blog:

Six months into the job, Mayer has sprung for free food worldwide, ditched the BlackBerry, instituted weekly company update meetings, recruited ex-Googlers, revamped sales, launched flagship products including Yahoo Mail and Flickr, and signed deals with top content providers, such as NBC Sports and Wenner Media.

But Mayer’s most important job is to articulate a vision of what Yahoo can be beyond what she has described as giving “end users something valuable and delightful that makes them want to come to Yahoo every day.” That mission statement is not different from that offered by her many CEO predecessors at Yahoo.

Invest in Talk

A clear vision helps everyone understand why you are asking them to do something.   When people see for themselves what you’re trying to achieve, then the directives they are given tend to make more sense.  People may still not like those directives, but at least the directives make sense.  But in order for that to happen, you need to talk—and talk often.   Talk about the vision every chance you get.

Of course, it is also important to “walk the talk.”  Talk may not be cheap, but actions do speak louder than words.  What you do is more important and believable than what you say.  Lead by example, not by memo.

Let’s talk, Ms. Mayer.  It won’t be cheap—but it will be worth the investment.

Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

Personal Branding: How Do You Spell “Success”?

Kevin P. Dincher

I was once told that I am persnickety when it comes to grammar. Okay, I have been told that more than once. Apparently, it was supposed be a criticism.  Having lived abroad and experienced the frustration of conversing in a language I hadn’t mastered, I do admire those for whom English is a second (or even third) language.  But it is also true that I cringe inwardly (and probably visibly) when I hear native English speakers say “between you and I” instead of “between you and me.” And truth be told, I will never really understand why it is so difficult for native speakers to distinguishing among (among, not between) there, their and they’re. Most of the time, however, I will probably understand what you are writing with no real harm done beyond my momentary psychic spasms.

Paying attention to grammar can be mildly amusing. The title of Lynn Truss’ book bemoaning the state of punctuation in the United Kingdom and the United States, ” target=”_blank”>East, Shoots and Leaves, is a joke derived from bad punctuation.

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons. “Why?” asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder. “Well, I’m a panda,” he says at the door. “Look it up.” The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Sometimes Spelling Counts

In a 2004 review of Truss’ book in The New Yorker, Louis Menand pointed out several dozen punctuation errors in the book—including one in the dedication. If you are going to write a persnickety book about grammar and punctuation, then you probably should get your own punctuation right.

Most people generally know that it is a bad idea to show up late for an interview. But hiring managers consistently report that having a spelling or grammatical error on applications or in resumes is worse that arriving late for an interview—and worse even than swearing during an interview. This is not about being “grammar fascists. It is about the impression you create:  if you are careless with something as important as a resume, the first impression you create is that you will not care enough about the work you send out representing the company and your boss. Your personal brand suffers.

Your Personal Brand:  Who You are and What You Want to be Known For

These days there is a great deal of talk—both pro and con—around creating a personal brand. What a personal brand boils down to is this:  whenever you interact with people, they build up an image of you. That image can either help you or hinder you in achieving success.

You are constantly creating impressions—sometimes purposefully, but more often unintentionally. What can you do to manage those impressions so that what people see about you is what you want them to see?

Be genuine.

  • Know yourself, and be yourself. Judy Garland once said, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself instead of a second-rate version of someone else.” Branding is not about creating a false persona. It is based on what is authentic in you. Authenticity is the reason we put our trust in certain brands and not in others. Being yourself ensures that you are seen as genuine and trustworthy. Being yourself also means that you will be able to deliver on what you say about yourself.

Be clear.

  • Know the impression you want to make. Personal branding is successful when you are clear on the message you want to send about yourself and what you have to offer. You want people to know what you are good at, what sets you apart from everyone else. If you are not clear about that yourself, then you will send mixed messages.

Be consistent.

  • Rolex would destroy its brand by selling watches in drug stores for $19.95. If you are trying to establish yourself as a dedicated and hard-working employee in the mind of your boss, don’t contradict yourself on Monday morning by complaining about how tired you are even if your boss doesn’t mind—or is complaining too. If you want to establish yourself as a good communicator or as someone who has an eye for details, do not undermine that message with spelling and grammatical errors. Once you are clear about the impression you want to make, you need to deliver that message with consistency—regardless of how you are communicating, with whom you are communicating or where you are communicating.

We all have a personal brand, whether we realize it or not. Our brand at its best helps us achieve our goals; at its worst, it sabotages our efforts and limits our chances for success. But your personal brand is ultimately in the eye of the beholder; it is the impression that people have of you. And sometimes spelling counts.

We all have a personal brand. Is yours intentional?

Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

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