The New C-Level Position

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There’s a reason we never had a Chief Culture Officer at Zappos. Tony Hsieh, CEO said it’s everyone’s responsibility. The moment we elect one person in charge of it, people can assume it’s being done without their efforts. That’s far different from a CFO. It’s good to someone stress the money so that everyone else can do their jobs.

Now that everything is going virtual (including big companies like Twitter telling their people they don’t have to come back to the office), there is a new need emerging.

When we lose the office, we lose a real sense of place that connects us. Imagine if your family suddenly went virtual. Your spouse and kids all in separate buildings, only connecting on Zoom. Think it would feel different? It would change your whole sense of identity.

That means the glue that’s holding a company together is communication itself.

That’s why I believe enterprises will need a new C-Level position:

Chief Communications Officer

Many companies already have someone in this position at the director, or VP level, but there’s a problem in that. This person is usually stressed out because they don’t have a team and they have to deliver tough messages, all while being positive enough to keep their job. They also don’t have the level of authority they need to be properly respected, and thus end playing politics far more than they need to.

At the C-level, this person would have the following responsibilities:

Advise CEO to C suite communications
Advise CEO to board communications
Facilitate C suite group discussions
Craft messages from C suite to upper/mid management
Work with mid management to craft message to supervisors and front line.
Set company wide communication standards and protocols
Educate the company on virtual communication
Set the tone of appropriate humor

This is all the WHAT.

But what’s also important is the HOW, because the game has changed. This is no longer about long emails that people never read. We are now in the Instagram TikTok age. I saw this coming early on at Zappos – People realized that messages would not necessarily get read when they were sent out to the whole company. So they would include funny images that get people’s attention.

This Chief Communications Officers would direct the graphic designers, photographers, video producers and writers to create:

Short form video
Infographics
Memes
Virtual events
Scoreboards / Dashboards
Short impactful emails
Internal Podcast
More that I haven’t even thought of. 

When disruption is happening as quickly as it is, it’s time to make bets based on the intersection of our values and trends. 

How to Stay Relevant

Culture of Chaos

What COVID has done is increase the speed of a timeline that was already happening.

That timeline is decreasing the amount of time that is the NOW. The NOW is getting smaller and smaller, shorter and shorter in duration.

For example, in the early days of America, news cycles went in weeks if not months. We’re now seeing news cycles that last less than a day. Our expectations have changed. We want everything now and on-demand (remember when you actually had to wait till something was on TV live to watch it?). So the space between the past and the future is getting smaller and smaller.

This concept is well developed in my friend Jim Selman’s book, Living in a Real Time world. He outlines the core mindsets and behaviors to live in this new time. My thoughts are inspired by his work (though there is no crossover).

The new reality:

-We all have a new channel (virtual communications)
-We all have a new audience (an at-home audience)
-We all have a new timeline (if it’s not relevant now, it’s just not relevant).

New mindsets include:

-Lack of patience (ironically with more time, comes greater chance of changing channels)
-Online fatigue (zoom calls get exhausting)
-General sense of unease (even for the best of us)

Here are my tips on how to be and stay relevant.

1. Go quickly to the value

Ever read a book and thought, “That really could have been just an article.” Take that further out. No one wants to hear all the intros and bios, and backstories. Get straight to the point. Get to the value. If you have a podcast, start with a cold open, like Breaking Bad. Give us the juice from the middle that makes us hungry to know the whole thing. Running a call or a webinar – what value can you give me immediately so I am confident to invest more of my time?

2. Be funny

Everyone loves funny. It works in all markets. And we inherently trust those who are able to laugh at themselves and others (in a grounded way. Not in a psycho, Tiger King Carole kind of way). And notice I didn’t write, “Try to be funny.” I mean actually be funny. I know, that’s ridiculous to say because even the best stand-up comedians don’t know what’s funny until they test it with an audience. That’s why they don’t focus on funny. The focus on truth. They focus on their own unique points of view. They focus on being true to their voice. AND… they don’t take themselves or others so freakin seriously. Relax. I’ve spent 10 years in improv comedy, and the funny always comes from being authentic, open and listening deeply. Funny is a side effect.

3. Speed Up

You can get away with slow talking speeds in face to face to world. Online – you’re getting boring by the second. Facebook is just one click away from whatever you want them to focus on. Talk a little faster, but play with speed, tone and volume so you don’t hypnotize the audience (and yourself) by staying at the same levels. Take that long story you love to tell and compress it down to the key points. Learn to talk in sound bites. You can always go longer if you’re in the flow, but going longer isn’t a skill. Anyone can do long. It takes mastery to get down to the simple elegance. It took a lifetime of long equations for Einstein to get to E=mc2.

4. Tell a coherent narrative.

Dan Mezick said, “Everyone loves a coherent explanation, even when that coherent narrative is… a fabrication.” Think about it from a nervous system perspective. We respond well to leaders who are calm, collected, grounded, and tell us a story we can understand. Now contrast that with someone losing their shit, spouting a bunch of facts that people can’t follow. Even if this person tells the truth, they won’t be believed. I can’t believe how many articles I’ve seen on COVID that I can’t even follow because the narrative gets so distorted in all the point/counterpoints. I tune out.

5. It’s the audio, stupid.

If you didn’t catch the reference, it’s a play off Bill Clinton’s campaign mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid.” He made the point that even though all the debate and rhetoric was on politics, it’s really the economy that’s important to people’s everyday life and livelihood.

The equivalent today is that it’s not about the video. It’s the audio! We can tolerate bad video, but when audio is not pristine, we lose touch with it. We trance out. It doesn’t FEEL Real. You want it to feel as real as possible. So if you do anything online (I mean even date online – this will help for that too). GET A GOOD MIC. You can get amazing microphones for less than $100.

Those are my tips. What are yours?

The New Normal

Culture of Chaos ,Great cultures

Twitter just announced they may never go back to the office:

Wow. “Forever.”

Okay, let’s just forget for second what this means for the commercial real estate market.

What does this mean for culture?

I just gave a talk for Intel on how we can lead virtually and here are a few points to consider:

Leading by video is a different art form

You can’t get away with long, boring meetings anymore. You will lose everyone. You have to learn to get to the point quicker, get everyone on the same page, and keep people engaged.

The 8 Hour workday was never real

You really think your people were productive for 8 hours a day? Try three.  The good news, is we can do more in less time than we thought. But it’s going to take massive focus skills, which are dwindling away as everyone spends more and more time online with infinite distractions.  You no longer have the luxury of 10 different priorities. Focus your people.

Align people through time

I used to spend a week at a company to determine the health of its culture. Now I just ask one question – “Do you start and end meetings on time?” Cultures that value everyone’s time equally value integrity and the culture as a whole over any one individual. Cultures where leaders are late signal that some people can break rules while others can’t. And leaders convey that they’re actually out of control when they can’t even control their own calendars.  Be the example, be EARLY to everything, and notice how your respect levels go up and your stress levels go down.

The Hiring Hack

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This hack comes from the brilliant business coach, Cindy Ertman. It’s the answer to the question, “How do you get the real story from a reference when you’re hiring?”

It’s a dilemma for the reference, because they want to be helpful, but they don’t want to share the person’s weaknesses for fear of keeping the candidate from getting the job. So how do you hack that?

Culture hacks are in language…

1. “What’s the one thing they could do to improve?”

Boom. They’re about to tell you the candidate’s weakness.

2. “Would you hire them again?”

This is a true test to see if they’re a quality hire. If there’s any hesitation to say yes, you know what the answer is.

Part of the culture hacking process is to find the vulnerabilities within a system and the new hire process is very vulnerable because you could get someone who makes your life easy, or tanks the company from gross negligence. These culture hacks will make sure you see early warning signs.