Kids Teaching the Workplace: Three Tips to Getting Along

Business Communications, Communications, Leadership, Life

It’s that time of year again where students of all ages head back to school.  From kindergarten to grad school, brilliant minds are being molded and shaped. So why are office dynamics still so challenging? Why is it that seemingly grown adults still get caught in “I don’t like so and so from marketing, they just have it out for me.”

I wish I had the one solution…I’d be an instant “business guru” making $50k a day on the corporate speaking circuit. (*Note here- I may not be a guru but if you like this post, I’m significantly cheaper that the $50k crowd. Call me.)  Thus, like any good communications professional, I went to my best source.  I asked my wonderful, brilliant daughter to share how people should work to get along.  Her points are brilliantly simple and truly do remind me of the principle of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  Really, after years of study we should all know this but here goes.

1) We get along because we’re one class.  We’re a team.

An honest point and realistic understanding that, unless you’re the CEO, you aren’t going to have the ability to build your team *exactly* as you might like.  Fact is you’re always going to have different personalities, styles, and talents on any team.  It’s not always fun to work with, or for, people who you may not love but the sooner you can accept that life isn’t always a bed of roses the better.  You’ve got your team, the key is to best fit in and make the team better in any way you can.

2) If we disagree, we still get along.

Really? Kids at five and six get this, why don’t we?  Disagreement happens and in the grown-up world it can actually be a good thing.  In my experience, if you never disagree it means that you’re probably not trying hard enough and thinking about ideas that will really make a difference.

There are ways to disagree professionally.  It shouldn’t be a personal issue when someone questions an idea or a particular effort.  Give feedback that will move you toward the ultimate good of the company and accept feedback or questions that do the same.

3)  If we have problems, we talk to the person first.  Then you go to a teacher after you try to work it out.

Seriously, if everyone did this there’d be so much less drama at the office.  It is so much more effective to go to “Bob” in accounting if you’re having an issue than complaining to your boss about Bob. Nobody (CEO’s, Presidents, Exec Directors) likes a crybaby.  If you haven’t even made an effort to professionally resolve a potential issue with a colleague before raising the issue with your boss and making it a high corporate priority you very much risk damaging your own reputation as much or more than that of the person you’re discussing.  Obviously there will be times in your career when higher-level intervention is needed and there are cases when a co-worker is seriously inappropriate and in need of an attitude adjustment.  Just be sure you’ve done all you can reasonably can do to solve the issue directly first before pointing fingers.

I had a blast hearing how simple this all seems to a child.  What else have you learned and what other tips do you have to avoid needless office headaches?

That Sucks…Kidding, Haha. No, Actually That Idea Does Suck.

Business Communications, Communications, Growth

You’ve probably been there too.  Maybe in a meeting, maybe at an awkward social gathering where an idea is raised then gets rolling and all you can think is “how did this catch on?” “Am I crazy? Is this brilliance that I just can’t see?”

You may not want to be the naysayer in the bunch and be perceived as negative but you really don’t want to get stuck with a lousy idea either. We in Minnesota especially struggle with this issue as we’re taught to be Minnesota Nice. Ok, now I’m obviously just having a little fun here as no matter where you’re from it can be a sensitive subject in shooting down someone but in an attempt to help, here are a few ways to actually try to get at the age-old issue of delivering feedback in a work setting.

Blunt Honesty Approach

Pros: Should be clearly understood, To the point with minimal wasted time filled with less than sincere positioning.

Cons: Can leave bad feelings on part of recipient, You can wind up looking like quite a jerk.

Some can pull off blunt honesty and be just fine with the approach.  Heck, some are actually praised for their “straight shooter” nature.  Doesn’t work in practicality for many people though.  If you need practice in this method, perhaps turn to where most of life’s answers are found, Office Space.

The “Help me Understand” Method

Pros: Allows you to be “nice” but still hoping to poke a hole in the idea, Can provide actual constructive feedback in some cases.

Cons: Still may put you in a position to just need to go with blunt honesty if your hinting doesn’t get it done.

This one is a regional favorite here in the Midwest. You can ask questions to make it seem like you’re confused and asking because you care….however, most that use this method are actually going with this as a defense to avoid the direct route. Ask relevant questions to help you understand where they are coming from and maybe see if there is some good thinking going on that you’re missing. It can also help them start to see some possible failings if they haven’t thought of some of the pitfalls you’re seeing.  You know you’re losing the positive vibe and need to switch approaches when you hit phrases like “huh, that’s one way to look at it” or “that’s a different idea” and maybe even the granddaddy of them all “well, that’s unique” (accompanied by slightly rolled eyes for style points).

Idea Building and Constructive Feedback

Pros: Can really lead to better ideas moving forward, Doesn’t shoot down a person that really does feel good about an idea.

Cons: Still may not wind up with an idea you entirely believe in but you can collaboratively determine that based on this style.

Idea building is a way to begin with sucky idea number one and help add some thinking to it in order to help move it to a more palatable concept.  In finding a piece of the idea that has merit, you may be able to support a concept if not the exact model that someone brought forward for execution initially. You’re actually working to engage in a good discussion and brainstorm at this point which can keep you in a positive mode and helping someone improve their own thinking. This really is the best option in giving feedback though it can be challenging and while it can be hard to tell anyone that their ideas just don’t work for you, it’s going to be the best option most of the time.

Or just try to distract them so you can run out the back door….kidding, haha….mostly.



The Building Blocks of Success- Entrepreneurship as Growth

Business, Business Communications, Communications, Entrepreneurship, Growth, Marketing

I’ve always been interested in a variety of industries and just generally in how businesses are built successfully.  So, after hearing some positive things about a local company here in Minneapolis and its team, I set out to sit down with Mike Rynchek and get to know him a bit better.  In chatting with him, it became extremely apparent to me that he’s one of those people that was really predisposed from birth to create and seek to build.

When I sat down with the July/August edition of Inc. Magazine I couldn’t help but catch the cover featuring a bold headline of “Bring on the Entrepreneurs” and it got me thinking again of the need to create and build successful, creative business models in the communications and marketing industries.  The traditional agency model, if not broken, is certainly in need of some good maintenance work as fewer companies are seeking single agencies to handle all their needs.  There is so much specialization needed that selling a one-size fits all model doesn’t make sense.   I again thought of my conversations with Mike and asked him to share a little more about his background and thoughts on building a business that is conducive to ongoing growth.

Q: What attracted you to the concept of starting and running your own business?

A: Two words, flexibility and opportunity. Since childhood, I’ve always wanted to be a CEO and I truly enjoy the power of marketing. Put them together and I found my passion.

Q: What can marketers/communicators learn from entrepreneurs in other industries that should be applied to this industry?

A: Marketers, much like entrepreneurs in other industries, should always be looking for inspiration. Now, with the advancement of technology, both entrepreneurs and marketers have the freedom to be creative and innovative in ways never thought possible.

Q: When you think about the creative process, what stands out you and what do you try to do at Spyder Trap to create an environment that is unique for your clients?

A: Consistency is key in any creative process, while forward thinking is crucial in defining our objectives. In combination, these elements help to capture the core needs of our clients. Additionally, our clients provide an external viewpoint for inspiration.

Q: How would you describe the business community in the Twin Cities? What have you found helpful, and what has been challenging?

A: The business community is lively in the Twin Cities offering an abundance of social engagements and community events to engage in. From simple coffee shops to extravagant galas, there is always something social happening in the Twin Cities business community. Social networking helps to establish, to connect, and to build upon professional relationships. One challenge I encounter is time; there is never enough time in a day. I often find myself needing to be in two places at once, if only I had a clone!

Q: A lot of entrepreneurs mention a constant nagging feeling of wondering what’s next. Do you experience that and how do you channel those thoughts into a productive model or path for new experiences?

A: “What’s next?” is a common question among entrepreneurs. This is a question I ask myself everyday! I have found that the best entrepreneurs are perpetually striving to find the pulse for what’s next in all areas of their business and environment. In my experience, the question of, “what’s next” has had a positive impact in aiding my growth as an entrepreneur. I am confident this question drives the growth and innovation necessary to remain successful in marketing. Larry Page and Sergey Brin had to be thinking, “what’s next?” before they launched Google in 1998.

Q: Who has served as an inspiration/mentor for you as you looked to build a successful business?

A: I am fortunate to have numerous mentors in my life who inspire me daily. As long as I can remember, I have found it important to gain insight from people in all areas of my life ranging from high-level executives to family and friends.

Recently, I have been incredibly inspired by philanthropic events that I am involved with, as I have learned that giving back is truly humbling.

I appreciate Mike’s help on this post and sharing some of his thoughts. I’d also like to hear more from the community on taking on an entrepreneurial mindset and what you believe is critical in creating companies that raise the level of quality in a creative manner. How do we collectively break into a new level of achievement that benefits clients and the organizations we serve?

Before You Hit Send

Business Communications, Communications, Public Relations, Writing

Photo courtesy of jannemei via creative commons

Email has been a truly transformational tool in the business world. Information sharing is fast and much more efficient than anything that came before it.  Some of you can think back to the days of faxing documents with hand-written changes back and forth to update materials in development.  Email is also a great too as you can select every word and know it will be delivered exactly as you want.

But, will every word be *read* and interpreted exactly as you want?  Probably not. Every recipient of an email has a unique perspective based on their role, their relationship with the author, and environmental factors including whatever else is happening in their world.  It can be a challenge to effectively use email with larger groups to deliver a message that you’d like received and understood in a singular way.

I had an interesting experience discussing this issue based on how members of a group read the same message with entirely different interpretations.  While email is a simple tool, before blasting out that next message to a large group, remember to consider a few essential elements to avoid pitfalls within your audience.

  • Timing: Be mindful of the timing of the message as one sent at a time that can be viewed as inappropriate can create significant problems.  If sending a message to a large team, the day before a deadline isn’t going to endear you to them.  If the message is in response to something that happened recently that should be done differently in the future, be aware it may be viewed as a direct correction to someone who took action and it can generate a response akin to “ooh, who did that?” or “Dave’s in big trouble for that one.”
  • Role of the author: Every organization has a different culture but there are some core similarities.  If the president/owner sends out an email, it is viewed as a big deal regardless of the topic.  Whenever leadership communicates something to team members it conveys the message that this is the official position of the company.  This can be a good thing, when it reinforces the culture and style you want to have in the organization.  When Woot CEO Matt Rutledge send his letter to employees about becoming an independent subsidiary of Amazon it was in a style that fit with the culture they’ve established.  Or it can create a storm of new fires for the company like Dan Gilbert’s letter as owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. (and I didn’t even mock the fact it was comic sans font)   So, when determining who the author should be, take some time to decide if it really needs to be from the top of the  organization or if another member of the team might be more appropriate.  You are delivering a message before readers ever get to the content.
  • Tone:  This is a given but often where everyone struggles due to the nature of email communication.  It’s never good to let someone sit down and fire off a snarky message to everyone because of frustration.  It’s not helpful and will likely just reflect negatively on the author and hurt the success of the team. When communicating with others in the company the tone must remain professional (you must remember how easily these can be forwarded), but think about what the tone should be based on the content.  Does it need to be inspiring and motivating?  It is to solicit feedback?  Policy memo and you don’t want feedback?  All have very different styles that should be used in getting the response you want.

All-in-all, email is a great tool.  However, it is not a cure-all for communicating.  Be mindful of what you’re trying to achieve and evaluate the good and bad that goes along with email to decide if it fits or if you’re better off delivering the message in another manner…maybe even (shudder) in person.

The Growing Pains of Growth

Business Communications, Communications, Life

I’m going to go way back in my bank of stories for this one but that’s part of the point. In one of my high school history classes, which is getting far too long ago for my comfort, I had a teacher that would push us in all kinds of ways.  He was a former member of the military and you’d better believe that you *were* going to listen and behave in class.  If not, you could wind up standing with a foot in a garbage can during class, perhaps doing push-ups, or (my personal favorite) running laps around the parking lot…clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on the day of the week and you got it right or you did it again.  He could be both extremely funny and brutally tough on you as well.

One day in class, he was looking for a response on the War of 1812 that he wasn’t getting.  A few people threw out guesses but nobody had struck on the right approach to get the answer he wanted.  Eventually, after thinking for a while, I got a bit tired of the silence and thought I’d give it whirl.  The question?  Who was most responsible for the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States.  My answer- Napoleon.  Well, his response was enough to make a relatively quiet student like myself squirm more than a little bit.  In a tone eerily similar to Jim Mora’s famous “Playoffs?” rant, I received “What, Napoleon is French?!?”  How could he be responsible for the war?

At that point, I began mumbling my rationale and was summarily cut off with “France wasn’t even in the war.  You awake over there?”  The nervous teen embarrassment heartbeat began.  Not sure what the pulse rate was but I’m sure it’d be the equivalent of a great workout today.  My already dim dating hopes dashed, surely my academic future was now on thin ice,  perhaps I’d wind up in a garbage can for such crazy thinking the rest of the hour.  Some of my other classmates then tried jump in and save me, throwing out other names to move the discussion along.  Each one shot down as the teacher went through the events of the war.  I was hoping for the bell to ring soon, kind of like a beaten boxer just hanging on to survive.

Finally, after seemingly four hours in a 45 minute class, he came back and said “You know who was responsible for the war?” Everyone was more than ready to take our lumps and move on…”Napoleon.”  He looked and smiled a bit at me.  At that, a chorus of “he said that” went up to the heavens.  For goodness sake, why had we all (and mostly me) been subjected to the torture and embarrassment for an extra ten minutes??

The teacher wanted us to think critically and be confident in our opinions.  It was another in a long line of tests and challenges that we needed to meet.  I *had* the right answer but he could tell I wasn’t entirely comfortable with my view.  How was a guy not directly involved with the war responsible– well, my thinking had something to do with destabilizing a region and then encouraging the upstart U.S. with trade agreements and support.  However, the most important lesson I learned that day of challenging each other and how we think is one that applies equally well today in the business world.  It’s not easy, really it can be agonizingly difficult like those moments I sat sweating out my high school future and reputation as the “Napoleon idiot” from history class.

Challenges help us grow.  And, in an era of shorter attention spans and more distractions than ever, spending a little more time thinking critically and challenging how we think is essential to advance the work we do each day.

P.S.- I have a story about this teacher and nearly having to wash a car too if you’re interested. ;)