Thursday, September 18, 2014

Don't Gap the Boomer

Since moving in the direction of business development and doing a little consulting and on all sorts of things, I cannot help but take a particular interest in the Millennial Generation (Gen Y).  I figure I can take a little license on the topic, because I have been teaching Business (Dining) Etiquette for over a decade. While I continue to provide my popular program at the local Universities here in St. Louis, I thought it time to dig a little deeper into the grey matter of our youth.  For good reason.  

It's been a pretty significant jump into the psyche of those born post 1981 to 1994. I sought first to find out what is in store for my kid, who sits smack dab in the middle. Some folks think Millennials could be the most influential generation yet. I tend to agree with this but feel there is a significant disconnect between the two. Take senior management for instance, now often represented by the Baby Boomer.  Enter the Millennial, our beloved Millennials and the widening interpersonal communication gap. We both need each other, desperately.

I have immersed myself in many studies and reports on the topic, most outlining needs, likes and dislikes, peculiarities, values etc..  Being a Baby Boomer, I find it quite interesting the similarities. One being that we are consistent in the numbers that we represent during our periods of coming to age.  The Harvard Business review predicted that in 2016, Millennials will make up over half of the work force.  Way back in 1965, the same thing was happening, over half of the American population was over the age of 25.  

What makes this even more interesting is how advertising and marketing shaped the Boomers self-perception, and now shapes the Millennial; who they are, what they are entitled to and what motivates them.  Marketeers, just like back in the 60's, focused diligently on the volume to sell consumer products; music, fashion and technology, with less attention placed on other demographics by default. 

In my new module, we will discover together how the Boomers match up with the Millennial; how they line up with one another.  I will draw attention to the gap that has been created by (you guessed it) technology.  I will present compelling evidence that a focus on conventional relationship management still requires skill building and commitment. As obvious as the Boomer having much to learn about what ignites the next greatest generation, is the the gap by which Millennials communicate face to face. Don't Gap the Boomer!    

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Gap the Boomer

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“Authentic brands don't emerge from marketing cubicles or advertising agencies. They emanate from everything the company does...” ― Howard Shultz

A brand is more than a logo, name, tag line or slogan.  It’s the experience that prospects, clients and customers live while engaging us.  There are ways to get buy in from employees and performance that not only encourages others to perform, but utilizes these employees as ambassadors promoting the business externally.  It is employee enrichment through cultural meaning. Authenticity is key. Think Whole Foods. 

First you need a dream. Personifying the culture you want also means committing to a (loftier) version of whatever personal policies manual you have.  It has been my experience that companies who embark and embody the collective spirit process (pursuit of the dream) get better results. While conventional manuals are ever so important to meeting HR best practice methods, if executed correctly, the dream can have much more impact than any policy driven mandate.

It is a way of life, the dream; an expectation and delivery of the coolness factor in the work environment, purposed for the new employee and the outer community.  The dream can be documented and utilized within a performance management strategy if positioned accordingly. Think bike shop employee being active in the local amateur bicycle race scene, or music store employees performing or teaching lessons. These are endorsements to user groups, audiences recognizing credibility and seeking cultural connection to the products or services that the employees sell.  Authenticity is what our customers are looking for. The more front and center the dream, the better connection to your employees, prospects and customers.

When determining the dream, it is important to identify what's going on in the business. The life cycle of every company requires cultural improvement at some point. Some cases are worse than others and most have conflict stemming from poor alignment.  Alignment problems often come about from a lack of trust on how and when to express oneself; if it is accepted, if it is encouraged, feared, subject to retaliation.  The best performance plans comes from within, the worst come from the top, from fear.  Fear comes from people not understanding one another.  I will try and explain...

There are reasons Baby Boomers are considered more conventional than the Millennial. They are a product of what happened during their lifetime and also what was passed on to them from their parents, the Silent Generation.  They consider themselves differently and are looked at differently.  They think that their work ethic is measured by the number of hours worked vs. the importance placed on productivity by today's standard.  They also think that close personal relationships are crazy important to getting results (this I live by).   Loyalty too. These values are significantly different than folks 25 or 30 years younger working in the same organization, often the Millennial reporting to the Baby Boomer or early X'er.  

The less conventional Millennial has different values.  This group, having grown up with cell phones and computers all of their lives, want instant gratification and prefer that everybody wins and gets recognized. They feel entitled due to parenting styles of the Late Boomer or early X'er. This group searches for the individual who helps them achieve their goals and wants open and constant communication, ongoing and when they want it.  They need fulfillment and prefer to work together with peers. They want to work when they want to work.  They work to live rather than live to work, unlike the Boomers.

The Gap has to be assessed, exposed and managed.  There is hope.

In consideration of the Gap, the people and the dream then become the necessary components of the Cultural Brand Strategy found in some of the hottest companies out there, Google, Whole Foods, Virgin, Apple; companies committed to attracting employees who get it. Regardless of the age (or generation) of the employees, declaring the dream is putting forth first the commitment to collective personality and second the authentic presence of how, together, they enhance the community. This is important to customers even though they might not consciously reflect upon it during the buying process.
And while the brand certainly always includes the logo, color palette and slogan, these are only basic creative elements that convey meaning. Instead, the brand lives and breathes in every day-to-day interaction with anyone connected to it.   

The people and the dream are a companies biggest asset.  A solid Cultural Brand Strategy then includes:

  • the images necessary to frame the look and culture (unique to the marketplace) and able to be conveyed in all media types.
  • the messages delivered consistently on websites, social media platforms, brochures, signage, product identifiers, proposals, training materials and sales campaigns, email and uniforms, salutations, hello's, goodbye's. 
  • the Dream; purpose and message transparent to all stakeholders, prospects, clients, customers, their parents, children, competitors, vendors, lenders, employees and anyone in community.
  • the style, pride and delivery of how employees interact with customers; body language and broadcast of excellence (living the dream).
  • a distinguishable reference to how our customer’s opinion of us stacks up versus our competition.
  • a significant community presence outlining altruistic, ethical, moral and world-focused endeavor specific to the customers appeal.
  • a clear understanding of who our customer is and what makes them think the way they do.
I think the development of a Cultural Brand Strategy can happen at any time in the course of business. Usually at a point of conflict or at the collision of process over innovation--the inability to grow horizontally because of too much process.  Cultural change requires an open an honest inventory of the Executive team; a loosening of the ties to fit in a little better with employees.  Which often fits in a little better with customers.  ifyouknowhatimtalkinbout.  


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Jeff Zornes; Farmer

I was given a bit of counseling not long ago from someone I respect immensely.  He said, (like in grasshopper): "There are three things that are certain--everything in your life is impermanent, everything in your life is imperfect and everything in your life is impersonal".  "Go now and think about it until next time we meet".  He said.

And I have been reciting this all week; meditating on the meaning turned mantra, a perfect fit to go along with some of the interesting places that I have journeyed this week.  I have been out and about, on a path to become educated on small business incubators, regional and municipal economic development agencies, non-profits, for profits, start-ups, wind downs, a whole hodgepodge of influence from some really cool people.  All in the spirit of discussing business development, and particularly referring to our various local economies. Something has summoned me to this recently. It is too early to suggest what the outcome might be.

I have spoken with farmers and grocers, entrepreneurs at local accelerators, real estate brokers, church pastors, bankers, beer makers, coffee roasters, musicians, lawyers.  It has been a busy week and it is merely Wednesday.  There is much to understand.  I will keep you posted on my journey.

The reason for this post is to highlight one of the people that I encountered on my recent journey.

Meet Jeff Zornes; Farmer.

At first glance you wouldn't think Jeff was a farmer, and if you were to ask him 10 years ago if this would be his vocation, he likely would have laughed, having been on the executive real estate development scene for many years.  However, Jeff Zornes is indeed a farmer and a businessman on the verge of creating something great in the name of cause marketing.  His local farm is located at Ranken Tech, in the heart of North St. Louis, in the parking lot, inside of a steel shipping container.

There will be lots more to discuss with Jeff and his goal to help ignite a funding mechanism for one of my favorite local non-profit organizations, Urban Future.  Take a look at this technology.  Jeff's first harvest is tomorrow, basil, and some of the best I have ever seen and tasted.  Right here, local and cultivated with purpose in North St. Louis!!!

Jeff utilizes discarded freight containers for the farm.

Utilizing space at our local technical training school, Ranken Technical College

Jeff monitors the staging of plants until harvest time.

A view down the center of the container.

So how is that for innovation?  I could have written about any of my visits this week; all so inspiring. But Jeff's story is unique, and interesting, like all the stories of our innovative heroes out there. 

When I asked Jeff how it has been going, he mentioned that he had not quite perfected the process, this being his first harvest, and he still needs to pack and prepare for distribution by local distributor, Old Tyme Produce

He also mentioned that the single unit container was not at all what he has planned for the bigger picture.   Rather, once things get dialed in better, and some of the challenges are overcome that he has had to deal with on the technology, he plans on expanding his capability.   

When I asked him if he minds being a farmer rather than a real estate executive from his past, he simply smiled and said he has work to do. 

This speaks to the kind of spirit we find with innovators like Jeff, doers like Jeff. I felt the urge to tell him what my council told me a few short days ago.  Jeff's start up condition isn't at all permanent, his technology not perfect and I am pretty sure he wouldn't take it personally if one of his old real estate cronies questioned his reasoning.  

Jeff gets it, as all of us should, ifyouknowhatimtalkinbout...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What is your MBA?

I have had a handful of conversations recently where the term "MBA" was used figuratively rather than in the traditional academic sense.  I thought that this would be a good topic to discuss.  

My question is: who has the better MBA, the hard knocks trial and error ass kicking entrepreneur or the (conventional and/or unconventional) student/professional going the academic route right out of college?

Out of coincidence, I just spoke with an MBA candidate last night.   He hasn't quite yet gotten through his undergrad economics degree and has another major along side it too, Philosophy.  He noted that the double major is important to rounding things off.  I do get this.  But he was already getting in the mindset of an MBA, the summer after his junior year.  He is under the impression that, without an MBA, the remarkable achievement of applying for, being accepted, attending and paying for 4 years of undergrad college might be flat; not good enough. Flat in the sense of his own marketability.  Flat in the sense of his own distinction towards his classmates and other employment candidates upon graduation.  I can't really argue this, but there is another way of looking at it.    

When I asked him what he wanted to do after all of this school he said: "I don't know, but first I gotta get my MBA and then I will figure out what I want to do". Case in point.

Since when did this become the standard?  And why such a gap between academic success and figuring out what students want to do--especially in business?  Is it practical to sink funds into what "could be" versus that which is necessary for the target of tangible result?  At what point does practicality weigh in for our graduating seniors.  Let's consider the ROI folks.

There indeed continues to be a lack of practicality driving conformity into our educational system.  Is there not so much more to learn from starting and/or participating in the start-up of a business rather than investing in a degree on the come.  Is there nothing of value in the trial and error, success and fail journey of being an entrepreneur?  I would argue that everything represented and covered in most MBA programs might equal or run about the same cost.  While this might sound a bit lofty, I am living proof of education for the sake of education and the incremental use of funds for the purpose of generating other funds.

And since I mentor a handful of graduating seniors who all want to discuss what they should do next, I typically always get answers like:  "I don't know, I may get my masters, after I pay my debt down".  

The average debt of a graduating senior at the end of 2013 was $29,000.00, this according to the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS).  Seven out of 10 seniors graduated with student loan debt, and over a 5th of it owed to private lenders who charge higher interest rates. 

That said, the odds of getting a job are still in favor of the college graduate, CNN reported in 2012 that high school grads can expect unemployment rates of 17,9% compared to that of college grads at 7.7%.  I think these are awful figures and wouldn't attempt to spin it like CNN. While tuition rate increases seem to have tapered off, possibly due to future declining enrollments, if there is no return on this investment, nor any real and apparent tangible return in sight, is the debt worth it?  This is elementary.

I got my MBA by electing to go into business; by making mistakes and then work-shopping the results with others like me; business people with experiences similar to mine who have made similar mistakes like mine.  I got my MBA by going through a recession, by over investing in a housing market, by failing to provide my customers with increases while they were passing increases on to their customers, by going through an acquisition.  I got an MBA by experiencing the banking industry turn from a lending community to a checkbook facilitating community.  My MBA was written in the form of an Ode to the IRS (and that is a whole other story).

I am proud of my MBA.

Students, I am not knocking higher education, but consider your options.  Use some creativity, pay some dues instead of debt, and seek to emulate your heroes.  But don't fall victim to the debt by conformity.  Either way, get your MBA.  Which one is right for you?--ifyouknowwhatimtalkinbout.--rp


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Unplug your Function and Focus

A couple important things to reflect upon just after my most recent business group meeting.  I belong to a group called Vistage, which is a pretty high level entrepreneurial group of folks who act as board members for each others businesses.  It's really a good format and I enjoy it.  We work through lots of things and, as business owners, most of us have the same problems.  This group genuinely likes each other, so we have a wonderful time drilling down, helping each other where needed; usually the "been there, done that" reminders of similar situations that we can all relate.  I find this group most helpful, and am thankful and feel fortunate that I can participate.

Lately I have been centering myself on "unplugging".  Not in the sense that you would think, based on any of my previous musings; in the past I would tout the necessary reasons for getting the hell out of the business to recover outdoors; gain control of that which brought you to the point of near collapse.  I have been there so many times I can't even count.  But I didn't really benifit because of what was missing.  What I have learned in this past year in this group and with the help of my new partnership, I need to unplug in a different mannor.

Wapiti Adventure Entrepreneurs in Tucson, AZ
I spent a bunch of years advocating the "getting out" of the business to renew, re-charge, re-invent, re-animate.  We even started a business called Wapiti Adventures (just before the recession mind you).  This businesses catered to the needs of business owners, burnt toast folks, needing some "oxygen inspired thinking" (this was actually our tag line).  We had a great time with this and I hear that it is moving forward soon.  From a marketing perspective Wapiti was great.  And at the time, the company had cash to do all sorts of crazy entrepreneurial stuff. I am in the process of selling that business for virtually zero; the second in a year that I have shaken off of my shirt-tail.  I won't be putting another dime in to anything like that in the future.  Staying focused is a whole other topic.

Nope, the un-plugging that I am referring to is a much broader, more meaningful thing to me now that I have been exposed to some practical concepts with my new partnership and with my new group of fellow business owners.   Should I choose to adhere, I will join an elite group of folks who are just that much more successful in their businesses than the standard.  If I am successful, I will have performed for the two most important things in my work life; my clients and my employees. 

I will not work "in" the business.  I will work (and this is so cliche) "on" the business.  If  plugged-in to a function, whether it be Field Operations, Sales and Marketing, Human Resources, Finance or whatever, if I take a functional role in any of these areas, I will lose perspective.  Not to mention the fact that I am not really proficient in any of them to the extent that I can make a difference after years of doing whatever it is that I do. 

What I am proficient and/or need to be proficient in, is managing the continued improvement of these functional areas, and the relationship by which they interact with each other.   My "functional" role is to establish the appropriate partitions and perpetuate a transparent culture of priority  and continuous improvement.  It helps if you have a basic framework of performance management delivered by your HR department.  I am not smart enough to do that, so I surround myself with the best in this and all the functional areas.

This isn't new stuff, and certainly not considered ground breaking material.  But there is a real moment of clarity after a couple months forcing yourself to stay on the periphery--staying out there long enough to gain the perspective--that little dashboard in your head that visualizes a harmonious interaction of productivity--information flowing upward versus downward from you.  You must start a communication process necessary for everyone to understand their role and why the roles would likely change, evolve and or in some instances go away.  These concepts are found in the Rockefeller Habits and the Great Game of Business.  Google!

For me, I wasn't doing a very good job of communicating any thing other than the need to keep motivated, stay positive and good things would happen.  This worked for quite a while but we never broke out and got to the next level. For 13 years our company rose out of basically nothing into a business with credibility and poise.  But we all know that if we are not growing, not continuously improving, we are moving backwards, and that erodes capability and sustainability. 

If you are interested in more of this stuff, I'd be happy to share, simply drop me a line. 




Friday, November 9, 2012

Ozark Trail Association Steps Out

I get inspired by interesting stories of interesting people and things.  Interesting being the key word here.  Interesting meaning those stories and the people in them centered on things a little off the beaten path, a little less conventional and, perhaps, a little misunderstood.  I am that way in part.  I prefer to apply myself in areas outside of the normal sequence of popular culture.  Because it's better.  But rather than get in to a discussion on that, I wanted to share something really cool that will more than likely take front stage for me in the upcoming years.

I was introduced to the Ozark Trail Association a couple of years ago when my buddy Jim Davis aka Team Trail Monster (TTM), and his wife, endurance Mountain Bike Champion, Wendy Davis, started blasting social media stuff about their involvement.  Jim and Wendy?--nope, not your typical folks.  They subscribe to a lifestyle centered on the outdoors, active living and in my opinion, the real pleasures of the outdoor experience.  They both have been members of Team Seagal and Jim an active member of GORC (Gateway Off-road Cyclists), that amazing trail building/access advocacy  responsible for the amazing multi-use trails all over St. Louis.  Missouri has some wonderful trails and GORC has been responsible for their renaissance.

From left to right
Steve Coats, Greg Echele, Ralph Pfrermmer, Matt Atnip and Jim Davis
Wendy is a writer, and I have hired her to do a couple things here and there.  So when she told her readers on her blog  about doing a story for the Ozark Trail Connector, an annual magazine of the association, I took interest.  After reading it I became a little more interested in what has now become an obsession, The OTA!

I had heard of the trail and the association, but never embarked on what the history the mission of the organization was.  Like others I know, I took for granted that it was a state agency or something, a trail funded by the State or Department of Natural Resources and that it was simply part of the Mark Twain National Forest trail system. It hadn't occurred to me the importance of this self supported non-profit organization and Natural Resource, until now.

Last night I met with some members of the board of the OTA including Steve Coates, President, Matt Atnip, Vice President, and board member, Greg Echelle.  Jim Davis felt it necessary to set things up because, on a recent day trip to the trail, my fifth in less than two weeks, I kept asking questions about the organization.  Questions about the history and how it started, what was most significant about it, what the mission was, where it was going, what the plan was to connect other parts of Missouri.  With every answer came another question.  I had more questions than he had the patience for, so Jim set up a meeting at The Wolf Public House in Ballwin.  The Wolf, known for its allegiance to outdoor activity and advocacy for active living, is where I hang out for good food, beverage and people of the like.

So I wanted to share this with you; what seems to be a new journey in the making, with a whole new topic to pontificate about.  I am so inspired by these people and the good work that they do, I have decided to get involved and help promote that which I think is Missouri's most incredible natural resource.  I'm jumping in with both feet with these folks, the board, the volunteers, the culture of outdoors people whose lives are enriched by the mission and story of a guy named John Roth.
John Roth (1959 - 2009)
Founder Ozark Trail Association
Take the time to read the story at the link provided.  And watch this video too.  You will hear much more from me on this.  Please feel free to get involved.  The TTM and I will be hosting a handful of hikes and rides, #getchasum.

**As I come to the end of my term as Chairman of the Board of the Endangered Wolf Center, it appears obvious the need to use my skills learned there to help another eco-focused non-profit organizations meet their goals.  The Endangered Wolf Center now sits on firm ground after some very tough years. In 2010 there was the possibility that the center would close.  I was helpful in providing a style of leadership necessary to stabilize and eventually attain sustainability.  Managing the crisis and persevering through this crisis has been a lesson in life that I won't forget.  And I am thankful for my colleagues in choosing me to help provide perspective.