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It’s Not Business. It’s Personal.

The Godfather started it. You may not know the scene but you know the line from Michael Corleone played by Al Pacino:

“It’s not personal Sonny. It’s strictly business.” 

It’s a statement being used somewhere today in a conference room or over lunch or on a putting green to justify doing something that’s going to feel personal to somebody but the decision is good for the organization. You’ve may have said this. You may even believe it. Undoubtedly you’ve been on the receiving end of it at some point.

Another movie sought to take this idea on. In 1998, Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail pushed against it. Joe Fox, the corporate book retailer played by Tom Hanks put Kathleen Kelly’s (played by Ryan) little bookstore out of business. He said it wasn’t personal. Just business. But it was personal:

Joe Fox: It wasn’t personal.

Kathleen Kelly: What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?

Joe Fox: Uh, nothing.

Kathleen Kelly: Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.

She’s right. It should begin by being personal. Your organization is being graded on a variety of things every day like the quality of your products or the helpfulness of your customer service representatives and if your organization’s culture begins by being personal you’re going to make better products and hire better customer service reps.

It’s not the easier path but it is the better path. The implications are vast:

  • If business is personal it doesn’t happen at arms length.
  • If business is personal it requires transparency.
  • If business is personal it demands the truth.
  • If business is personal then you’ll honor your word.
  • If business is personal you’re looking for everyone to win.

Unless your business doesn’t involve people in any form or fashion (and I’d like to know what that might be) then it’s personal to someone. A particular business decision may not be personal to you but it’s personal to someone else. If you’re lucky, you’ll never meet the person impacted by a business decision, but in today’s connected, sharing, venting out loud type of world, the likelihood that you’ll find out who your decision impacts is more probable than ever and then you’ll have to deal with that in whatever form it takes.

Of course, you could just recognize that business is personal and make decisions with that in mind too. It’s your call.

Photo credit: “Life Passes By” by Tinou Bao with permission from Creative Commons license.

Posted in Philosophy of Work | 5 Comments

The Art Of A Meaningful Email: Real-Life Example

I’m going to guess that when you think of email you don’t think positively about it. It’s regarded as one of those necessary evils of the modern worker. You want to sort through and be done with it. People declare inbox bankruptcy and celebrate inbox zero. Email is something to conquer and short, rapid responses tend to be method for victory.

But what if you didn’t see it like that…at least not all the time? What would it take for someone to be so impacted by an email you wrote that she would want to print it out and post it in her cube?

Or consider this: is it possible to construct an email that you get what you want with no questions asked? It is. I’ve done it and you can too.

You Can’t Buy Their Hearts
I’ll never forget the time I sent an email to the PR team that was working with a client of mine. My client and I had just completed a day of planning with our new PR agency for a product launch. The problem was that the PR firm was a big, national agency and my client was a small company with a small budget. My client and I were both concerned that the agency would be excited for the first few weeks but then move us to the back burner and move on to bigger, more substantial clientele. We didn’t have the budget to buy their time so we needed to earn their hearts. I sent them an email with that goal. Here’s what I wrote them:

Subject: Reflections on yesterday

PR Team:

The 1996 film, Jerry Maguire, added three statements to the American conversation. These are still around today and likely aren’t going anywhere soon:

1. Show me the money.
2. You complete me.
3. You had me at hello.

What you guys probably don’t realize is that you had us at hello. From the first time I spoke to James on the phone I was almost certain we would work with you guys. I hadn’t even completed all the initial agency interview calls yet, but I had this sense in my gut that you were the one. Then, after a follow up call when our team we spoke with Vicky, we all said, “I really like them. They’re it.” I agreed, but the process was not over, so we continued. A few weeks ago our VP joined us as we spoke to your team along with two other agencies to make our final decision and it was immediately clear. You were the one. There wasn’t really much of a discussion. It was that clear of a choice. So while the process seemed all professional and stuff, I was thinking last night about how you guys had us at hello and you should know that.

Our expectations for you were high coming into the meeting yesterday. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), we felt like the meeting would be at least a 9 and likely a 10. Now, having completed our initial meeting together, I think it’s fair to say you guys were somewhere around 100 on that same scale of 1-10. So yes, our expectations were high and you greatly exceeded them. Your agency is not only the right fit for us but this team of Vicky, Noah, Christy, Nicholas, Maddy and Paige is perfect for us too. So while it would be premature to say “you complete me” in this relationship, we like the direction it’s going.

Of course at the end of the day we want to take our little brand and show it the money. This time last year this company was a hope and a dream that was about to launch. Today we’re having conversations with major tech companies about mutually beneficial relationships and we stand on the edge of a product launch that we hope will propel our brand awareness and sales into the stratosphere. We want to be ridiculously and unapologetically successful but do so in such a way that we all keep our dignity. Obtaining success with honor is more rare than it should be but it’s possible. You guys share that philosophy which, again, is why you’re right for us.

So, while I could have just said, “Good meeting yesterday. We’re excited to be working with you,” it seems to me you guys deserve something with a little more thoughtfulness…hence this email.

Whether you’re a Jerry Maguire fan or not doesn’t really matter but I like what we have here and Jerry seemed to provide an appropriate backdrop to these thoughts. Thanks for being great hosts yesterday. Let’s roll.

And that was it. We found out later that day that several people on the team printed the email and that one person started crying. James, the agency president, said it was one of the best emails he had ever received.

Here’s the thing, I meant everything in that email. I wasn’t trying to manipulate them but I did want to earn their hearts for the project and it worked.

Over the next several months we saw the PR team give our little brand their heart and soul. The vice president, Vicky, even admitted secretly that they spent more time on our project than the budget allowed but they were so committed to our success they just had to do it. We had their hearts on the project and that was all we could ask for.

5 Keys To A Meaningful Email
You can draft a meaningful email too. Start with these five elements:

1. Be Sincere: If you don’t mean what you say they’ll know it. Insincerity is hard to cover up. Sincerity is hard to fake.

2. Be Personable: Speak in first person and infuse the email with your own personality.

3. Be Vulnerable: Speak plainly and don’t hold back on your fears, concerns, excitement or any other feelings. You’re writing emotionally to connect emotionally.

4. Be Clear: Make sure your intentions are obvious and your reason for sending the email is abundantly clear to everyone who reads it.

5. Be Candid: Say it like you would say it if you were talking to them. Address the difficulty or admit that the email is unusual for you. Put your guard down if you want them to put theirs down.

Email is just another way to communicate the written word. Sure, it’s usually for information or data, but what if it actually moved someone. Put some heart into that next significant email and see what happens if you attempt something more meaningful.

Posted in Case study | Leave a comment

Social Media Crisis? Try the OFF Method

This might be a wake up call, but social media has altered the style and tone your company should use in its communications. This will never be more evident than when you’re dealing with a crisis. You need to be personal, sincere and most of all keep the human element in front of you at all times. The last thing you want to do is sound like a heartless corporation run by robots tasked to save the bottom line at all costs. Humanity and humility are like gold on social media. The more of each you inject into your responses the better you’ll be.

The lifeblood of social media is people connecting with other people. The temptation in a corporate crisis situation is to create generic responses for the masses. That’s the opposite of what you do in social media. You need specific responses for individuals. Even if you’re saying the same basic thing to a hundred people on Twitter, just taking the time to respond individually to people is huge. It shows that you care. It shows that you’re human. It shows that you’re trying. It shows everyone else who’s observing the situation that you’re genuinely attempting to make things right. Don’t do what Epicurious did after an unfortunate few tweets following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. As you can see, it’s hardly a comforting response:


Be On The OFF Method
It may sound strange but if you have the endurance and have handled a crisis well from the outset you’ll find you can actually make gains after the dust settles. To do this use the OFF method from the moment you learn about the crisis:

O – Own it.

F – Fix it.

F – Flip it.

Own it
Owning the problem doesn’t mean you’re admitting you’re the problem. It means you’re going to take the lead on getting to the bottom of it. If you find out your product is, in fact, the issue, do what needs to be done to remove the products and make the appropriate public announcements. Be sure to follow up specifically with people who reached out to you early on. Don’t assume that a public announcement will help those early individuals concerned about the problem as much as a more personal comment and apology.

Owning it also means that if your company has done anything wrong, you’re going to say so. When you apologize you don’t want to use words that sound like you’re dodging responsibility. Be direct. Be specific. Be genuine. Perhaps you need to record a video message from your CEO explaining the problem, apologizing and then outlining the steps the company is taking. Post the video to YouTube and your Facebook page. Make it available on your company website. Once you own a problem you greatly help your chances of controlling the message and the long-term impact on your brand.

Fix it
Now that you own the problem it’s time to start fixing it. If you need to issue a recall or follow a series of procedures, you’re obviously going to be in full swing there. On the social media front give regular updates about the process. The people who have been impacted will care. In the absence of communication consumers can begin to assume things about you that won’t necessarily be true. In the presence of communication, they will have to work much harder to come to those same assumptions. This means you may show pictures of your product being loaded back into boxes from a grocery store just to drive the point home that you’re on top of a recall.

If you’re in the unfortunate position of being innocent while public perception is that you’re guilty, work to publicly build trust by joining the hunt for the truth. Even if it becomes clear that your company is innocent, you can choose to stay involved in order to leverage the new connections and attention on your brand into something positive. This is the beginning of flipping the situation into something that works for you and bolsters your brand credibility.

Flip it
Flipping a problem is looking for the silver linings around even the worst situations. When there’s a crisis your brand is given a platform you would not normally have. Once the problem goes away that attention could go away too unless you choose to stay engaged with it. Maybe that means you make a donation to a fund started to help people in some way impacted by your actions or send handwritten notes to people thanking them for understanding that you never intended for any harm to come and that you’re taking full measures to make sure nothing like this happens again. Maybe it means your CEO records a series of personal apology videos for people most concerned or hurt.

If it was determined that your products were not at fault, you now know a lot more customers directly and you might want to give them some free product to thank them for sticking with you through the tough time. Whatever the case, if you push through the hard part of the situation and muster up the emotional energy to stay engaged a bit longer you’ll be able to find those opportunities that can only arise on the other side of a crisis.

It’s Not Business. It’s Personal.
Social media connects all of us. It connect individuals to each other and it connects companies to individuals you never thought you’d hear from. The bottom line is that you have more direct communication methods at disposal than ever before. You can use them well to make a bad situation better. As long has you remember that you’re using personal communication tools for talking with real people, you’ll be well ahead of the curve to deal with any situation that may arise.

Posted in Social Media Strategy | Leave a comment

How To Have An Awkward Conversation: 5 Steps

You know that feeling you get when you need to talk to someone about that uncomfortable topic and it’s just time to finally address it? Yeah, I hate that feeling too.

When you know it’s time to have that conversation, you should have an idea of where you want the conversation to go. Don’t start the conversation without an end in mind. It’s like the difference between cutting someone for the purpose of surgery versus cutting someone and walking away leaving them to bleed and fend for themselves. Don’t do that. If it’s going to hurt at least know you’re doing it for a good reason and be prepared to stitch them up at the end.

Here’s an outline of how you might enter into your next awkward conversation:

1. State The Obvious
I like to take a straight forward approach to starting the conversation. If I need to have a difficult conversation with Joe I would find a time and place where we can talk privately and I would literally start the conversation like this: “Joe, we need to have an awkward conversation.” I’ve found that leading with that brings a touch of levity to the whole situation but also makes it clear that it’s about to get serious and you’re not going to hold back.

2. Don’t Give Compliments
When someone knows you have something serious to say they’re ready for you to get to the point. Any compliment you say in an effort to delay the real reason for the conversation is going to be ignored because they’re waiting for the hammer to fall. Just skip the compliments. Those can come later in the conversation. You said it was going to get awkward so go ahead and get awkward as fast as you can.

3. Assume There May Be Facts You Don’t Have
The nice thing about the awkward conversation is that you will feel awkward too. You’re in the same boat as the person you’re talking to. After you say what you need to say ask them if there’s a side of the story you’re missing. It’s possible there’s more going on than you know. Giving them a chance to clarify or inform the conversation shows that you’re willing to listen and haven’t already shut the door on the opportunity for them to redeem themselves.

4. Now Give Compliments
By now you’ve said all the hard things you needed to say and the other person may have as well. This is a great time to compliment the person. You might compliment them for their attitude or candidness or overall contribution to your organization. Find something to say and be as specific as you can so they know you really mean it.

5. Don’t End Awkwardly
While you start the conversation with awkwardness you don’t want it to end that way. Throughout the conversation you will be stuck in the middle of what you’d like to happen and listening to them for additional, potentially contrary, information. You may need to adjust your expectations or desired outcome on the fly, but whatever the case conclude the conversation with something that isn’t awkward. Depending on how the conversation goes you may have additional conversations that need to take place with other people. If so, make it clear to the person you’re meeting with to state that you need to do that. Do you need to think further about the situation in light of this conversation? If so, tell them. Do you need to apologize? Do it. Find a landing spot and try to land as smoothly as possible.

The awkward conversation should ultimately serve a purpose and if you can enter into it with clear purpose and a willingness to hear the other person out, you’re going to find the clarity needed to make things much less awkward.

Photo credit: “Still Awkward” by Joe_Focus licensed under Creative Commons.

Posted in Misc | Leave a comment