Sunday, January 24, 2010

So Who Is Responsible?

My post today offers a valuable communication lesson that comes from an unlikely source - an unfortunate chapter in my life at Broad Meadows Junior High School. In the ninth grade, I ran track for only that one year, largely because back in those days I hated running. I only did it because our rather large phys-ed teacher at the time made me do it. (This was back in the day when teachers/coaches could cause you bodily harm without any repercussions.)

I typically ran the mile, but at the last track meet of the year I was also asked to fill-in as the third leg on our undefeated one-mile relay team. (You've probably already guessed where this is going.) No problem I thought. Well, to make a long story short, I ran the third leg, starting slightly back in second place. By the time I was ready to pass the baton I had taken the lead. Our anchor leg was the fastest kid in the city. No way we could lose. As I was passing the baton, I felt a brief moment of excitement, until of course the baton hit the ground. So much for our undefeated season.

After the race, I was searching for answers as to how this may have happened. The coach offered me some clarity by telling me in no uncertain terms that it was my fault. The rule is that you don't let go of the baton until you're certain the receiver has grasped it.

It's hard to miss the relevance to our business. Like it or not, the responsibility lies with those delivering the message, not those receiving it. We can't just say, "it was in the e-mail" or "sure, it's right there in paragraph 8." We as communication professionals should never let go of the baton until we know that our target audiences have received the message. It's only at that point that we can relax and let them run with it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

First Who...Then What

In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins describes the concept of considering who before what. To paraphrase, he states that leaders of good to great companies understand three simple truths: 1) If you begin with who before what, then you can more easily adapt to a changing world. Employees are there because of who is on the bus, not because of where it's going; so if changing direction becomes necessary, it's OK with them; 2) The right people are self-motivated and want to be part of something great. 3) If you have the wrong people, you'll never be a great company - even if you ARE headed in the right direction.

So during this year of client service excellence, I suggested in an earlier post that to get off to a good start individuals should look at themselves and think about what education, resources, or relationships they will need to raise their game - to explore ways they can provide even better client service than the year before. Likewise, PR agencies and major corporations should consider operating on the "first who...then what" principle if they aspire to raise theirs.

Today's employment market is a sea of riches. The problem is that most agencies and companies are squandering this opportunity because they tend to embark on hiring strategies designed to eliminate people rather than engage them. It seems counter-intuitive, but here's the dynamic: The more applicants in the job pool, the more specific the agency/company becomes in its selection criteria. Unfortunately, that means HR people review resumes based on specific qualifications of "what" and often fail to consider people whose experience is different from their pre-set criteria. By eliminating "who" because of "what," they fail to consider some of the very best people for their organization. As a result, lots of great people who are hard working, smart, creative, etc., don't even receive the courtesy of a return phone call, let alone any serious consideration for an open position.

Consider the expression often spoken the day an employee quits or gets fired, "Well, (s)he looked good on paper. Not sure what went wrong." I suggest this approach: Hire people, not paper.

I have a number of brilliant, hard-working friends in the job market that any organization would be honored to have as part of their team. (They can't even get an interview). These are the kind of people of which great companies and agencies are made. Executive recruiters and hiring managers should embrace the current job market as the sea of riches for which it is. Finding the pearl involves something more aggressive than an elimination strategy. That means coming up with ways to include and consider rather than segregate and discard.

By taking a look at the person behind the resume, even going so far as to interview everyone, which I discussed last year, you'll discover the kind of people who won't just fill a slot, but will make your organization great!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

To Counsel Leaders, It Helps To Understand Leadership

I spent about 20 years searching for a master's degree program that would meet my needs as a public relations professional. Having worked in PR all my life, I wasn't interested in a straight PR or communication graduate program, and an MBA just didn't seem quite right for me either.

One day, I discovered Seton Hall University's Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership (MASCL) online program. The university has delivered this program to 25 Learning Teams in just over 10 years, and Seton Hall's experience in providing a rich and rigorous learning experience really shows. For me, it represented the perfect combination of strategic communication, leadership, organizational change, and a host of other disciplines that are so crucial to my clients' success. Now that I've completed the program and serve as one of its instructors, I would without hesitation recommend MASCL as an ideal master's program for the professional communicator, regardless of industry sector.

That said, I'm a firm believer that you can't be at your best counseling leaders if you don't understand the dynamics of leadership and the many challenges they face today. Since I've declared 2010 The Year of Client Service Excellence here at CSI, I thought: What better place to start than to explore what each of us can do to raise our respective games? How can we take our skills up a notch so that we can provide an even higher level of client service excellence in the year(s) ahead?

The best news is that you don't have to wait. Check out the MASCL link and learn how you can be part of the next Learning Team. I also invite alums to share their experiences with MASCL and for others to share programs they would recommend as well! A prosperous 2010 will begin with you!

Monday, January 4, 2010

2010: The Year of Client Service Excellence

Let me start 2010 with a brief but important reminder. For many of you, today is your first day of the new year back in the office. What better time to commit to client service excellence and its critical role to growing your business.

Back in 2006, Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company reported:
  • Over a 5 year period, businesses may lose as many as 1/2 of their customers.
  • Acquiring a new customer can cost 6 to 7 times more than retaining an existing customer.
  • Businesses who boosted customer retention rates by as little as 5% saw increases in their profits ranging from 5% to a whopping 95%.
The math is fairly simple and the disruption of client churn is often much greater than just the hard costs incurred. In reviewing various sources, the cost of acquiring new clients ranges from 5 to 10 times more than keeping the ones you have. What's more, new clients want to work with agencies that will serve them better than their predecessors. Starting today, make client service excellence the centerpiece for your growth strategy. Make 2010 the year of client service excellence!


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