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The expert who won't consider other opinions may cease to be the expert.

The expert who won’t consider other opinions may cease to be the expert.

Who doesn’t love to be the expert? You get to draw on all your experience to make sure mistakes you’ve seen don’t get repeated. You get to recommend best practices that you’ve known to work before.

A good expert can help an organization avoid a lot of mistakes.

An expert can also help an organization avoid valuable new learning that could lead to better, more innovative solutions.

An expert might have blind spots that prevent ideas better suited to current circumstances than a previous best practice.

So wear your hat of an expert high and proud—high enough to still see and hear other ideas. Secure enough to consider them before you decide they aren’t a new best practice.

Before you pass your judgment, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What’s different about this organization right now that might require an innovative solution?
  2. What is the context that a colleague might be using to frame a new idea, and what can I learn from that point-of view?
  3. Is the problem we’re trying to solve different than the best practice I would recommend?

Keep an open mind, respect the ideas of others, promote a learning organization, and instead of an expert’s hat, you might find that it’s the mantle of a leader that you’re now wearing.

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When was the last time you talked about a sandwich shop that served toasted sandwiches? Or featured artisan breads? Or delivered freaky fast?

What'sYourMission

Those might make good advertising stories, but not particularly compelling stories to share with friends.

I share my sandwich shop’s story. It’s about a mission to feed each and every person who walks through its doors with dignity regardless of the customer’s means.  I tell of Panera Bread’s community cafes where payment is optional and amount is discretionary.

How do they make money? What a cool company? How does that work? My friends get engaged in this story.

I like the food at Panera, but there are plenty of other good restaurants, choices. I would consider Panera to be a commodity if it weren’t for its mission. Instead, it’s where I go.

It’s the same for employees.  Without a mission that engages them—that gives them a story they’re proud to share with friends—the company they work for is just a commodity until the next better job comes along. Those who feel part of a company’s mission are less likely to leave.

Find your mission, separate from profit, and you’ll attract a fan base that will elevate your company from just a commodity to a brand.

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A Happy and Creative New Year

My first ever sonnet

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Here’s a short video offering two simple lessons for nurturing innovation and transforming a corporate culture. Try it. You might like it.

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Last year about this time I announced that 2011 was to be my year to dive into social media.

Here’s my grade for the year: Incomplete.

In retrospect, it’s no big surprise. Even getting from toe-in-the-water to knee-deep took a significant effort. The deeper I got, the more I began to grasp the depths of what I didn’t know. And then there’s the matter of constant change in the social media world—you learn one thing and four new things pop up.

I count as my accomplishments for 2011:

  • Launched my blog in earnest
  • Increased use of Facebook and LinkedIn, including connecting my blog posts to these sites
  • Opened a Twitter account and have a few followers, though I don’t tweet nearly enough to enough people, nor interact with people who I follow
  • Have a YouTube channel and have posted a few videos
  • Started a Google + page but have only a very small circle (Hello Elliot, Anabel and Bernie Sanders)
  • Played around with MerchantCircle
  • Just began to explore Pinterest
  • Joined 20 or so LinkedIn or Yahoo groups and have contributed to the conversation in many of them
  • Received countless e-letters devoted to social media and attended several on-line presentations on the subject

I still have a lot to learn and do better. I will have to commit to SEO tactics for raising my profile. I need to grow and better integrate my social media efforts with each other and with other marketing tactics to make a bigger impact. I must create (useful) content even more regularly.

I need to do all of this, without spending so much time, money and other resources that I have little left for doing the work that’s suppose to come from the effort.

But bottom line in my social media journey is that I need to be more social. That’s my challenge.

That ought to help me get waist deep and almost ready to swim.

Who’s with me?

Thanks to http://webdesignledger.com for the free social media icons.

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I’m about to purchase a pair of basketball shoes. At my age, basketball is a combination of exercise and mental health therapy, with no hope of ever dunking the ball or even developing a nasty crossover dribble (note to those who guard me: I rarely go to my left).

So why should I care what basketball shoes I buy? Perhaps I’ll buy the most comfortable shoe I can find. Or the most durable. Or the cheapest. Or even the coolest looking ones. But no. The first thing I look for is the Nike Swoosh. Why? Because, like all of us, when I shop I take with me the part of my brain that processes emotion. It’s not that I don’t have the rational part of the brain with me, too. It’s just that the emotional part makes the decision, often unconsciously, and the rational part justifies the decision I make.

Ergo, I look for the Nike Swoosh, and then rationally choose the coolest, most comfortable Nike basketball shoe at my price point.

Where did my emotional connection with Nike come from? Certainly design plays a big part of it, though some of the Nike basketball shoes I’ve purchased have been pretty garish. It’s because Nike has connected with me on an emotional level higher than a maker of basketball shoes.

Three levels of needs: A strategy for earning brand loyalty

In my last post, about deepening employee engagement, I offered three levels of needs: articulated, un-articulated and unknown, un-articulated needs.

Let’s apply those need levels to my shoe purchase:

  1. Articulated Need: It would be great if I had a comfortable, durable and stylish basketball shoe at the price I want to pay.
  2. Un-articulated Need: Why would that be great? Because I would look and feel good when I’m on the basketball court.
  3. Unknown Un-articulated Need: Why would that be great? Because I would feel more confident, which would help me maximize my athletic potential.

My un-articulated need, then, is for a coach to help me maximize my basketball abilities. Enter the Nike theme line: “Just do it.” Sounds like a coach to me. Enter all the iconic Nike commercials designed to inspire us to higher performance. Looks like a coach to me. Enter the iPod+ shoe—a shoe with a training tape built right in. Acts like a coach to me.

This is obviously not a rational connection I have with Nike. It’s an emotional one—the kind that can withstand a rational sales message from a different label claiming a more comfortable, durable, fashionable basketball shoe. That label won’t be my coach.

What brands do you love?

Try the same laddering exercise with a brand you love. Ask yourself when you buy this product, what are you hoping for? It would be great if what? Why would that be great? And why would that be great?

Apple doesn’t just sell me an elegant, easy to use computer. It doesn’t just make me more productive. It’s my creative co-conspirator, always innovating ways in which I can express my creativity. Therefore, I am an emotionally connected Apple evangelist.

Next time you go shopping, note brands to which you’re most loyal. How have they connected to the emotional part of your brain? I’d love to hear your answers.

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I’ll admit to those of you playing Buzzword Bingo that I know the word engagement is most certainly on your card. I’ll chip in that perhaps it’s there precisely because engagement is worth talking about. Exploring engagement is really about helping employees identify for themselves, Why should I care? And how much of my effort is really required to max out my rewards?

How many of you have thought about engagement in relationship to your own work? Have you asked your employees and other stakeholders about the character of their engagement with your organization? Or is it, something that you just feel?

Three Levels of Needs: A Strategy for Engagement

The extent to which you, an employee or other stakeholder is engaged, is based on three levels of needs:

  1. Articulated Needs: Am I getting what the organization promised me?
  2. Un-articulated Needs: Am I getting what I want, but haven’t told anyone in the organization?
  3. Unknown Un-articulated Needs: Are there things I could get that I haven’t even considered?

The first level of Articulated Needs, known to both organization and employee, likely comes from a formal or tacit job description and is the focus of most discussions regarding employee satisfaction and performance.

Strategy: When a formal review is performed, it’s good to provide a written list of the organization’s promises for the employee to check against.

The second level of Un-articulated Needs can be most insidious in diluting an employee’s engagement. Here, a set of expectations is known only to the employee, leaving up to luck, the organization’s ability to deliver. Meanwhile, the employee is thinking, why can’t they meet my needs?

Strategy: Ask the employee, is there anything you expect from the organization that you haven’t told us, and we haven’t met? Perhaps it’s more frequent feedback, a raise, more visibility in the organization. Then follow that with a discussion of how the organization might align to help deliver on those needs.

Often there are job benefits that an employee hasn’t even considered. This third level of Unknown Un-articulated Needs is potentially the most powerful in securing an employee’s buy-in, loyalty and increased productivity. This is the gift that the organization gives to transform good employees into ambassadors for the organization.

Strategy: Ask the employee to finish the thought, It would be great if the organization and this job would provide me with what? Why would that be great? and What else would be great? Find some areas in which the organization could satisfy those needs. Perhaps it’s personal or career development opportunities, such as a chance to grow a network, learn a new skill or have a platform for industry-wide visibility.

The Other Side of the Equation

All of these employee needs for engagement should be balanced against the organization’s needs from the employee. If the employee isn’t certain that his or her rewards are equal to or greater than what the organization expects from the employee, then burnout will ensue and the engagement won’t be sustainable. And because needs and responsibilities change, this equation should be revisited on a regular basis.

Implications to Your Organization’s Brand

If you’re wondering what employee engagement has to do with branding, then you are probably missing one of your most potent branding tools. Smart organizations brand from the inside out; that is, they understand that before you begin building a brand with customers, the employees have to buy into and be passionate about delivering the best brand experience. Customers can spot a half-engaged employee a mile away, and it certainly dilutes the brand promise beyond the moment of a less-than-satisfying interaction with that employee.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how these employee engagement principles might apply to customer engagement. In the meantime, any feedback you have for me would be a gift.

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