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The Learning Continues

27 Jun

3 Suggestions for New Grads

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Guest Contributor:

Matt Hillman, Creative Director

As I approach a quarter century working in the marketing & advertising field, I’ve begun exercising my hard-earned right to be a curmudgeon. And a recent article in AdWeek offered some interesting reflections on the latest batch of graduates headed out to “conquer” the advertising world, and that helped me get in some quality scowling.

The article’s subhead “Traditional job titles can be shackles for multitalented grads” really grabbed my attention. It got me to thinking about not only new grads coming to advertising, but to the workforce in general.

The article opens:

Meet Jason. He’s an art director/filmmaker/editor/web designer. Or say hello to Sarah. She’s a writer/art director/journalist/photographer. Over there’s Ayusha. She’s a planner/art director.

From the rest of the article, it would seem like these new grads, nurtured by advances in technology and social media-fueled collaboration, are a force of multidisciplinary wunderkind poised to change work as we know it.

But the first problem as I see it isn’t in their state-of-the-art training or access to vast information, it’s their lack of experience—or rather, their confusing of ability with expertise. The notion that graduates arrive at agencies or offices or warehouses or any full-time job with a fully functional collection of self-defined skill sets is absurd at best and dangerous at worst.

The tricky thing about experience is that it takes experience to gather it, and time to realize that knowing is not the same as understanding. One of my favorite parts of the film Good Will Hunting is where Robin Williams’ character explains life to the young, troubled genius played by Matt Damon:

“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling, seen that.”

The desire for those entering the job market to somehow bypass the vitally important experience-phase seems to have grown more pronounced in recent years, perhaps fueled by the interactivity and immersion available from the internet. But there is no substitute for actually working in a real-world environment, removed from the safety and surety of the classroom.

The second problem is the idea that job titles are “shackles.” Job titles are intended to define a function or role, but not a person. And this is not a new idea. People coming from the exact same educational program with the exact same degree would still offer very different skill sets because their backgrounds, personalities, and experiences are different.

If job titles were what defined a person’s abilities, then based on my own skills and education, I could have easily started my career 24 years ago as a “writer/editor/illustrator” or even a “designer/coordinator/announcer” or any number of combinations that would have tried—futilely—to capture what I could contribute.

But instead, I selected one job title and worked to master it. I made a decision and commitment to be the best I could in that one area before setting out to tackle any others. And in the process, I not only made valuable mistakes, but I was able to surround myself with incredibly talented people in the fields that touched mine. In other words, I continued to learn well past graduation.

And that’s where I found the idea for 3 simple suggestions for new grads—let me know if you don’t agree:

Your 20s: Find Your Strengths.

Brimming with information, ideas, theories, and youthful exuberance (do not discount the value of that!) this is the time to figure out what you’re truly good at. Choices will need to be made routinely that will impact the course of your career and life; spend this period honing your skills in the real world, daring to be bold, taking risks, and asking questions. And in that process, learn from mistakes and build on successes.

Your 30s: Know Others’ Strengths.

Once you’ve sorted out what your core strengths are, surround yourself with talented people who are different—and even better!—than you are and learn how you can benefit from their strengths. Continue to polish your craft, but figure out how it relates to those of others. Whether it’s through helping directly, anticipating needs or simply having everything accounted for on your end, focus your energies on being the person everyone else can count on—that person who “gets it.”

Your 40s and Beyond: Understand the Balance.

By this time, you’ll have had some struggles—between life and work, between the job you have and the one you want, between your role and those of coworkers, between being someone who does the work and someone who leads it. This is the stretch where applying what you’ve learned comes into play. Understanding what’s really important and what really isn’t can only come from experience, and now is when you apply what you’ve learned over the years. This is the period where those hybrid job titles aren’t so farcical because they’ve been developed over time and are backed up by tangible experience.

While having multiple talents and being versatile can definitely be an asset, there’s an inescapable truth to the term “jack of all trades, but master of none.” With the ability to move laterally in different roles, the generalist will always have a place in an organization, but being a true master of your craft is the surest way to move up instead of just around.

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Book Review 3: The Fred Factor (Part 2/2)

12 May

4 Steps to Find and Develop “Freds” in Your Organization

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I recently wrote a blog post on Mark Sanborn’s book, The Fred Factor. While that post focused on explaining what a Fred is (long story short: a passionate employee who delivers an extraordinary customer/client experience) and how to identify one, this blog post will dig into how you can find and develop Freds within your own organization.
But first, why go to the effort? Quite simply, Freds—the most passionate people in your organization—are different. They do ordinary things extraordinarily well. Not surprisingly, Freds are also generally happier because people doing good work feel good, and people doing exceptional work feel, well, exceptional.

Sanborn uses the acronym FRED to explain how to develop “Freds”:

  • Find: There are three main avenues for finding Freds within and for your organization:
    1. Let Freds find you. If you really want your company to be world-class, it must become the kind of place that attracts Freds. To accomplish that, you must empower the Freds you have so their impact will be felt not only in the work your company does externally, but also in your internal culture.
    2. Discover “Dormant Freds.” There are many employees, also known as Dormant Freds, whose inner Fred has yet to blossom. To find them, watch for people that do things with flair (not to be confused with showing off or trying to attract attention)—an exceptionally well-done project, an elegant client meeting, or a clever suggestion are all possible tip-offs that a Dormant Fred is hiding in plain sight. Here are some questions to ask yourself about a potential Dormant Fred:
      • What do I remember about this person?
      • What’s the most extraordinary thing he or she has ever done?
      • How badly would this person be missed if he or she left his or her current position?
    3. Recruit and hire Freds. When you have exhausted your internal Fred pool, you may have to look externally to find them. Here are some great interview questions to find those prospective Freds:
      • Who are your heroes? Why?
      • Why would anyone do more than necessary?
      • Tell me three things that you think would delight most customers/clients/consumers.
      • What’s the coolest thing that has happened to you as a customer?
      • What is service?
  • Reward – Implement a rewards program to make sure Freds are recognized and appreciated, even if you are only recognizing good intentions and not a good final result. While nobody likes to fail, it is important to encourage employees to take chances. When people feel like their contributions are unappreciated, they will stop trying. And when that happens, innovation dies. My company, ER Marketing, recently implemented an award system in which employees nominate each other for exceptional work and attitude. This is meant to encourage employees who live up to the ER Marketing values of Curiosity, Respect, Accountability, and Performance (yes, we know what that acronym spells) with peer and management-level recognition.
  • Educate – Find examples of “Freds,” (both inside and outside of your organization), analyze those examples for commonalities that others can learn from, teach others to act extraordinary everyday—not just when there is a crisis—and set an example (invite others to act similarly).
  • Demonstrate – Set an example by inspiring, involving, initiating, and improvising. Here are some ways you can set an example and inspire employees to better serve your customers, vendors, and fellow employees better:
    • Inspire, but don’t intimidate.
    • Involve by creating a “Team Fred” of leaders in your organization.
    • Don’t wait for the “right” moment. It will never come—you have to make it.

One final, important thought from the book: Pull, Don’t Push. You can’t command someone to be a Fred. You can’t require someone to practice the Fred Factor. Command-and-control short-circuits the spirit of the Fred Factor, which is about opportunity, not obligation.

Invite people to join you. The most powerful tool you have to spread the Fred Factor throughout your organization is your own behavior—the example of your life and the effect it has on others. The best “Freducators” are themselves Freds. As John Maxwell says, “You teach what you know, you reproduce who you are.”

 

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Book Review 3: The Fred Factor (Part 1/2)

7 Apr

4 Lessons Anyone Can Learn from Fred’s Example in Customer Service

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I was at an event recently and had a chance to visit with different people with varied backgrounds and professional pursuits. Someone asked the group, “are you a Fred?” and maybe more importantly, “do you have any Freds in your organization?”

That intrigued me enough to pick up a book written by Mark Sanborn titled The Fred Factor. What a simple, yet compelling book for anyone to read and think about to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.

The book starts out with a story about how Sanborn’s mailman and his mail delivery created an extraordinary experience. According to the author:

“This postal carrier stopped by my house right after I moved in to introduce himself and welcome me to the neighborhood. When he learned I traveled almost 200 days a year, he suggested I give him a schedule and he would hold my mail, bundle it up and only deliver it on the days I was home. I suggested he just leave the mail in the box on the side of the house and I would pick it up when back in town. Fred, the mail carrier, suggested that was a bad idea because burglars watch for mail building up in the box. He suggested putting what he could in the box and the balance between the screen door and front door.

I started to wonder if this guy was for real and really worked for the U.S. Postal Service.

Two weeks later, after coming home I noticed my front door mat was on the side of my porch. Under it was a note from Fred. While I was gone, another mail carrier had delivered a package to the wrong address. He went and got it, left it on my porch and covered it with the doormat so it was safe with a hand written note so I knew what was going on.”

Over the next 10 years, the author received exceptional service from Fred the Postman. He could always tell when a substitute was on the job, as mail was jammed in the box as opposed to neatly bundled. These encounters inspired the author to figure out what the “Fred Factor” is and what it takes to become one.

So, how can we get more Freds in the world? That’s easy to answer: Be a Fred! Only if you make the ordinary extraordinary will others see the possibilities for themselves. One thing seems common to all human beings: a passion for significance.

So, what does it take to be a Fred? There are lots of nuggets and good points in this book but a great place to start is with the 4 main principles the book outlines: 

Principle #1: Everyone makes a difference.

Only employees can choose to do their job in an extraordinary way. Yes, the right management, structure, procedures, and culture of a company all matter, but in the end, only employees can CHOOSE to do their job in an extraordinary way. Nobody can prevent you from choosing to be exceptional. The question to ask yourself everyday is what kind of difference you made on that day. A good reminder is to know more and notice more.

What we haven’t been told nearly enough is that people give work dignity. There are no unimportant jobs, just people who feel unimportant in their jobs. B.C. Forbes, the founder of Forbes magazine, said, “There is more credit and satisfaction in being a first-rate truck driver than a tenth-rate executive.” Think about that for a minute!

The Fred Factor emphasizes that the more value you create for others, the more value will eventually flow towards you.

Principle #2: Everything is built on relationships.

Fred is proof that, in any job or business, relationship building is the most important objective, because the quality of the relationship is what differentiates the quality of the product or service. Most mail carriers can get the mail in the mailbox, but Fred got to know the person so he could deliver exceptional service custom tailored to them.

Principle #3: You must continually create value for others, and it doesn’t have to cost a penny.

Don’t have enough money? The necessary training? The right opportunities? In other words, do you ever complain that you lack resources?

Then consider Fred. What resources did he have at his disposal? A blue uniform and a mail bag. That’s it! He walked up and down the streets with that bag of mail and his heart and head full of imagination. By the end of the day, Fred had beaten a silent competitor that threatened his potential. That competitor is mediocrity—a willingness to do just enough and nothing more than necessary to get by.

Principle #4: You can reinvent yourself regularly.

The only difference between a rut and a grave, as the old saying goes, is the depth.

Become a sponge for ideas. Learn how to distinguish between activity and accomplishment. If you want to reinvent yourself, answer these questions:

  • What are the most important lessons you have learned?
  • What did you once deeply desire to accomplish that you never attempted?
  • Whom do you most admire?
  • Which of their skills and characteristics would you like to develop in your life?

Work on your IQ (implementation quotient). How many good ideas die for lack of action and follow through on your part? Knowing you could have made someone’s day and actually doing it are two different things.

You might want to practice the one-a-day plan. If you do one extraordinary thing a day, whether at home or work, your work will be a record book of the extraordinary.

These four lessons can apply to anyone in any industry, but it is especially true in the building products industry. Building is unique in that, despite all sorts of modern and technological advances, it is still almost entirely built around relationships. Likewise, it doesn’t matter how smart or creative we are with marketing if the people making, maintaining, and nurturing the relationships aren’t acting like Freds.

So, how about giving it a go? It’s time for those in the building products industry to learn from Fred—and help create more of them.

Stay tuned for part two of this book review, which will cover how to find and develop Freds as employees.

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Learn Something New from These B2B Marketing Accounts

15 Mar

Follow on Twitter

Your B2B Crash Course Is Just a Follow Away

Guest Contributor:
Jenee Meyer, Office Administrator

After 15 years building my career in advertising and account service, I took 14 years off to be a stay-at-home mom. Needless to say, my focus changed dramatically. Snacks and play dates became much more important to me than Facebook, Twitter, search engine optimization, and blogs.

Now I’m back in the advertising world as an office administrator at ER Marketing, and it can sometimes be scary teaching myself new things. But in marketing—and especially in ever-changing industries like building—it’s important to always strive to learn and try new things.

While I was a stay-at-home mom, I took my daughter and son to a Google® event called CoderDojo. The kids would sit at long tables and the mentors would write a few words on the whiteboard stating what the goal was for the day. Maybe it was creating a weather page or maybe it was making a simple game. The beginners had some on-line lessons they could work through to get started while the more advanced kids just started working on their projects, asking questions of mentors when they were needed. At the end of three hours, two or three kids would come up to the front and show what they had created.

No elaborate instructions were given. No one was “taught” anything by listening to an instructor standing up front. It was up to kids who were 10+ years old to figure out how they were going to create something. It was amazing to watch how kids aren’t afraid to teach themselves new skills. So why, as adults, are we often afraid to learn new skills ourselves? More importantly—what can we do to learn them?

For me, I’ve turned to content: blogs, tweets, whitepapers, studies—anything I can get my hands on. Admittedly, the amount of content there is on the web can be intimidating. It can feel like everyone is talking and no one is listening. If I want to listen, how do I find the blogs and posts that will nurture my career and mind vs. ones that will leave me feeling like I’ve eaten too much candy? It’s a conundrum.

Here are a few of the Twitter accounts I’ve followed that help teach me new things and give me the B2B marketing information I need to get back in the game:

  • @ERMarketing, @EltonMayfield, @RenaeGonner: Okay, so it’s a bit of a shameless plug, but the founders of ER Marketing, Elton and Renae, are all over this stuff. Their accounts are focused on B2B marketing, with a slant towards the building products industry—but the insights are applicable for any industry.
  • @MarketingB2B: Not only does this account keep you up-to-date with helpful articles and trends, it also tweets helpful news roundups of the latest in B2B marketing.
  • @B2Community: Business 2 Community is all content, all the time. They have an open community of contributors, meaning that you’re getting insights collected from people across industries, careers, and experiences.
  • @MarketingProfs: Run by Ann Handley of Marketing Profs, this account is all about content. What I like about it is that it doesn’t just grab any random article—it’s carefully curated so no matter what you click, you get good, useful content.
  • @CMIContent: This account is great because it gives you a breadth of topics—everything from social media to search engine marketing to paid search. For someone like me, trying to jump in and give myself a crash course on what’s current in the marketing game, it’s very helpful.

Whether you’re new to B2B marketing, trying to jump back in, or just trying to stay current on the latest industry trends, it’s important to remind yourself that there is no right or wrong way to go about this. Just start following blogs and Twitter accounts, and if something isn’t working for you, you can always unsubscribe or unfollow with a simple click.

After taking 14 years to raise my family, I’m back in—and my game plan is to follow more people on Twitter and subscribe to more blogs. But most importantly, I’m going to actually take time to read those tweets and blogs. I can subscribe to everything in the world, but if I’m not reading it, it does me no good.

That’s my game plan. What’s yours?

 

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10 IBS Insights You Need to Know (Part 1/2)

27 Jan

Part One: 5 Building Products Marketing Lessons from IBS 2016

This year, several members of the ER Marketing team and I attended the annual International Builders’ Show (IBS) and KBIS in Las Vegas, NV. As anyone who has ever attended can attest to, this is a big event that can be overwhelming. We’re not talking your average trade show. It’s one of the biggest—if not the single biggest—event of the year in the building products industry. While there, you see all the cutting edge technology that will be setting trends for the coming years….not to mention educational sessions, model home tours, and more. And hey—as a bonus, it’s in Vegas. Who can complain?

While there, the ER Marketing team was using #IBSDoubleTake to share all the things that made us do a double take at the event—the things that really caught our attention. Here is a quick list of the top 5 marketing lessons those in the building products industry need to know.

Top 5 Marketing Lessons from IBS 2016:

  1. When it’s not easy to explain your products or services in a booth, sometimes it’s a good strategy to go all in on your brand. ARCAT did that well with their booth.
  2. When you can manage it, taking your booth from product showplace to play place can work well. CertainTeed’s wall climbing demo and celebrity guest, Mike Holmes, proved it; they had high traffic and buzz throughout the event.
  3. If your product is easy to install, don’t just say it—show it. Plastpro doors drew a crowd with some fundamentals of door installation. It just goes to show that good lessons are always interesting to those in building.
  4. Speed is now a matter of trustworthiness. Whether in marketing or customer service (and some would argue those lines are getting blurry), responding quickly is proven to increase trust with your audience.
  5. Booth tech makes a difference, especially when prospects can engage with it. Johnsmanville had a spray foam simulator at the event that felt a little like a game. We competed, using the actual install gun, virtually pointed at a screen so users could spray the fill area with a virtual, 3-inch expanding insulation. What a smart way to showcase this product!

If you want a taste of what it’s like to experience the IBS show in person, we also put together a short walkthrough video. You can view that video here. (Dramamine recommended—we cover a lot of ground.)

Look out for part two of this blog series—coming this week. We’ll be discussing the Top 5 Design Trends from this year’s IBS that building products marketers need to be aware of in 2016 and beyond.

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