Posts on CMO

Digital Transformation is Cultural Transformation

Posted on 05/13/2015

Studio shot of butterfly over digital tabletAsk any group of CMOs, CEOs, CIOs or CDOs (Chief Digital Officers) what they think is most important in the digital transformation of a company and you get a range of answers… Choose the best technologies…  Make sure you have the right talent… Most of us overlook that a digital transformation is first and foremost a cultural transformation long before it is a technology or HR change.

Transforming culture is hard. You and your organization live in the current culture all day – this is how you work, how you communicate and much more.  Inc. defines corporate culture as “…the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature. Corporate culture is rooted in an organization’s goals, strategies, structure, and approaches to labor, customers, investors, and the greater community.”

As an executive you often inherit a corporate culture.  CMOs or Chief Digital Officers are often brought in from the outside specifically to drive digital transformation. Being new to the company, they are not jaded by the current culture; yet have to work within it to transform it. This takes finesse, diligence and a lot of data. Assessing talent for the ability to successfully change their capabilities and the culture is a critical task that you end up doing this a few times throughout the transformation.  This assessment is defined by someone’s willingness and ability to acquire or exercise the needed capabilities in the timeframe required.

Over the years, I’ve built a simple model to do this assessment. It can be used in any company or industry. Before you start, you must get to know your people – what are they good at; what do they like to do; what do they want to do; what do they not want to do; etc. You need to build an org chart with empty boxes.  That’s right – not a single name, totally empty.  The org chart should have functional descriptions and key capabilities including soft skills in each box. Think holistically about what and how you need your organization to be, do, think and interact.

Then use this simple model to plot the people in your organization. The model has two dimensions – willingness and ability. Willingness is someone’s desire and motivation to add new or exercise digital skills and to embrace cultural change. People are either willing or they’re not – it is that simple. Willingness is driven by motivation so you need to know what motivates each person – do not assume all motivations are the same or that they are static for any individual over time. You and/or your direct reports have to get to know them to make the call on this because if you ask them directly, you’re unlikely to get any answer other than “of course I’m willing to do this” because large-scale change breeds fear of layoffs therefore this is the only answer you’ll hear.

Ability is whether the person has the know-how to add digital skills and change their behavior to the new culture in the time you have to make this transformation happen. Know-how does not mean they have to do this change solo. Know-how is a combination of being a self-starter, self-learner as well as an ability to take experiential or classroom learning and apply it to their role and team.  You must add the time dimension to this assessment. Open-ended transformations rarely go well. You have business metrics to deliver on, customers to serve, boards to answer to – you are operating on a timeline and your organization’s digital and cultural abilities must align to your timeline.  Assessing someone’s ability to add capabilities and change culturally has to have a time element that aligns to your business goals. Do you have six months or maybe a year to do a full-scale transformation? If so, then the ability assessment needs to include that timeline.

Time to plot out everyone in your organization. Stay objective and do not let yourself be clouded by how long or how well you know your colleagues.


The Stars:  These individuals express both a high degree of ability and willingness to add needed digital capabilities as well as to embrace and lead a cultural change. These are the keepers and will be the backbone of your new organization. Place them in their preferred roles first, compensate them well with the things that motivate them and take care not to burn them out during the transformation.

The Skeptics: These people have all the abilities but for some reason seem to waver on or lack the willingness to make a digital transformation a reality. Try to get to the bottom of the lack of willingness and resort them in to either the Stars or Dead-Weight category. Perhaps they need more information or clarification on what the organization will look like after the transformation; perhaps they don’t agree with the need to transform; Perhaps they need more compensation or recognition to embrace this change; Perhaps it is something else all together. Skeptics and Dead Weights will derail your transformation the fastest. It is important to identify them early.

The Dead Weight: These people have neither the ability nor the willingness to make this journey of transformation. It does not mean they are bad people, it just means they are not the people for the next phase of your organization. Eliminate the Dead Weight early, cleanly and succinctly. Not only does this send a clear message that the digital transformation is real, it frees up valuable space to bring in new talent that has the willingness and abilities you need.

The Wanna-Be’s: Most people are in the Wanna-Be category because they don’t appear to be able to build the needed capabilities in the time required. The Wanna-Be’s will be the trickiest to deal with – they will tug at your heart with their enthusiasm for the digital transformation yet they simply won’t have the capabilities you need fast enough. So, if you have some more junior roles that will allow them to grow then that is an option for them or perhaps they would be better suited in a different organization in your company. If neither of these choices are an option, then they will need to move on from the company in a reasonable time frame.

As a CEO, CMO or Chief Digital Officer, a big part of one’s job is to parse talent, deliver today, build for tomorrow and ensure the company has the needed capabilities to deliver successfully on its strategy for the long term.  This framework has worked well for me for many years across different industries. I hope you find it helpful as well.  Please add your own learnings and ideas to the comments below.

Reading to Change Up Your Thinking

Posted on 03/31/2015

Jumping GoldfishIt’s officially spring and a time when many of us pause to take stock of things, revamp plans and renew our energy and thinking. Along these lines, I’m often asked what I read regularly. While I don’t read a lot of books and when I do, I read mostly non-fiction (I love biographies), I am an avid reader of news and other information. I read mostly in digital formats – anything on my Kindle, online magazines, various websites, blogs and various lists on Twitter. Below are some of my favorite blogs and sites to read that are not part of the mainstream news media. I hope you enjoy them as well and add them to your favorites list this spring.

The Drew Blog: Drew Neisser is the CEO of Renegade and is one of the most connected and articulate experts on marketing. His frequent interviews with CMOs are insightful and great quick reads. If you need ideas, this is the blog to spur new thinking.

Margaret Molloy’s LinkedIn Posts:  Margaret is the CMO and Head of Business Development at Siegel and Gale and a brilliant writer. She can distill key themes, trends and insights into simple posts that anyone can use. Margaret is a well-known thought leader in B2B and digital marketing. She also has a fantastic twitter stream @MargaretMolloy.

The Five Abilities: Rick Wong, a long time master of enterprise sales, is one of those rare people that every time you talk to him, you learn something new.  Whether you are in an official sales role or have a role that requires you to convince executives and others to adopt a plan, this site has solid, actionable advice.

Digital Age of Marketing: This blog by Tami Cannizzaro, VP Global Marketing for IBM, is a must read for current trends and thinking in digital marketing. Tami writes from the front lines of marketing with a style that is pragmatic and engaging. Her posts are both insightful and actionable.

Bryan Kramer’s Blog Posts and Podcasts: Bryan is Social Business Strategist and CEO of PureMatter. Bryan writes about topics at the leading edge of social business and its intersection across digital. Both his blog posts and podcasts (which are often heartfelt interviews with some of the world’s leading executives) are a must read/watch if you work in marketing.

Of course, one must have balance in one’s life and not only read about work or business in general. Here are a few other blogs that I enjoy beyond things relevant to my career:

Stormy’s Corner: Stormy Peter’s blog and site is about life, technology and making each day count. One of the brightest minds in technology, Stormy is the Director of Websites and Developer Engagement at Mozilla and a founder and board member of Kids on Computers. Well read, tech savvy and engaging, her posts are always interesting and thought provoking. Stormy is also a frequent speaker on technology and non-profits. If you have the opportunity to see her speak, make sure to go – it will be great.

The Daily Connoisseur:  A delightful lifestyle blog by New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Scott, this site if full of fun and useful information. Her corresponding YouTube channel and books are equally great and useful for those of us looking for a high quality life that isn’t high maintenance or highly expensive.

Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat site: Mireille is a best-selling author and former CEO of Clicquot, Inc. (maker of the famous Champagne Veuve Clicquot and part of LVMH). Her writing is to-the-point and unapologetically French with an American twist from of her many years in U.S. If you are a female executive you may also enjoy her book Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense and Sensibility. I enjoy seeing how she has taken a long-time passion for quality living and transformed that into a retirement career after an extremely successful corporate career.

I hope you enjoy these sites and add them to your ongoing reading list. What do you like to read for information and inspiration?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Please follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter for new posts or visit my website for more information.


3 Steps to Being Today’s Digital Executive

Posted on 03/08/2015

Digital people network82% of people are more likely to trust a company if the CEO is active online, particularly in social media according Adweek. Per Brandfog, in the US 80% of survey respondents said active engagement in social media enhances the image and reputation of c-suite executives as forward-thinking, trend setting leaders. In the same research, 77% of respondents agreed that social media was a powerful tool to build thought leadership and c-suite credibility with stakeholders including the press and media.

This data all makes sense when you consider over 52% of online adults regularly use 2 or more social media channels and fully half of college-educated online adults are on LinkedIn per Pew Research. And, Americans tend to follow news on 4 different devices or channels. The devices of choice are laptops at 69%, mobile phones at 55% and tablets at about 28% as noted by the American Press Institute.

As an executive who no doubt values the brand of your company, you are doing yourself and your company a disservice if you do not actively create and manage your digital presence. Your career and indeed your company’s future depend on it. While your marketing and PR teams can help, authentic engagement done yourself is the most powerful differentiator you can have in the digital ecosystem.

The good news is that this is really easy to do.  As an executive you should at a minimum have well-done and active profiles on LinkedIn and Twitter. Beyond that, depending on your business, you may go to Instagram, guest blog posts, LinkedIn posts, Tumblr, Pinterest or any number of other sites whose followers mirror your customers and key influencers. You should also actively curate your PR presence to include significant mention in digital publications whether the digital version of traditionally print publications (such as the WSJ or NYT) or fully digital journals such as the Huffington Post or any number of trade news sites. Make sure your PR team has top-notch digital and social media skills so your placements and mentions have deliberate digital weighting.

As for the content you share on these channels, similar to a solid PR strategy for any executive, you should pick 3 pillars of focus. Only do 3 so your message has some cohesion and you become increasingly known for these 3 areas. Choose your 3 as follows:

  1. Key topic for your industry – If you’re the CEO of an oil company, then a particular trend or overall momentum of the oil industry is a good place to start.
  2. Differentiation topic for your company – Keeping with the oil company CEO example, let’s say your company is investing significant time and resources to minimize the company’s impact on the environment. Talking about the technologies and processes that let your company do this along with general innovation in this area could be your differentiation theme.  Another may be investment in alternative fuels or partnerships and industry groups that collectively make energy more efficient.
  3. Theme or topic that has personal significance to you – Still as that oil company CEO, perhaps creating the next generation of leading edge engineers is a passion of yours or maybe mentoring kids is something close to your heart. Whatever it is, this is the theme that will humanize your voice and presence in the digital ecosystem. If you skip this third pillar, you risk looking like you outsourced your whole digital presence to your PR team or some agency. You will loose the authenticity advantage and the negative blowback could be significant.

After you’ve chosen your 3 pillars, simply go about your business. As you read things, share them. Love that NYT article on green technology innovation? Well click on the share by Twitter icon and tweet it. Finished a keynote at a major event? Once your marketing team has the presentation and/or press about this posted on your website then share the content on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write a great guest post? Click share from the post to let you network know so they can read it as well.

All this takes actually very little time and the impact is significant as the long-term benefits for you, your company and your network are huge. As the Borenstein Group accurately stated “Personal is the new corporate”.  I couldn’t agree more.

Good luck and I’ll see you online.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Please follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter for new posts or visit my website for more information.

5 Ways to Go Digital as a CMO in 2015

Posted on 01/19/2015

Lightbulb modernWhether your title is officially CMO or you run a marketing organization of some flavor, 2015 is the year digital will be mainstream in your role if it isn’t already.  Understanding the digital space and opportunities can be daunting so here are a few suggestions (and please add your own in the comments) to go digital in 2015:

1.  Get mesmerized by mobile: While much of what is written about mobile centers on mobile commerce, if your focus is more content marketing you still need a solid mobile strategy. Email is opened first on a mobile device more than 65% of the time; mobile optimized websites are increasingly important for search rankings and mobile advertising is now over $43B in spend due in large part to mobile. Mobile is no longer on the fringe of your marketing strategy; it is part of the core.

2.  Engage the influencers: Influencers are people in-the-know who may not be official press but who write, comment and otherwise drive what is news. Their opinions shape perceptions of your customers, analysts and broader press. Challenge your PR team to come up with a tiered structure for influencers – market-wide, product area specific and industry-based, as an example. Follow and engage these people online. If you need a primer on influencer marketing, WOMMA wrote a guidebook that is excellent.

3.  Stop being a Twitter twerp: You can, should and I would argue must be on Twitter if you are a CMO. Whether you post often or primarily lurk, Twitter is your most current, in the moment source of news affecting your industry and brand. So set up your profile, get yourself a dashboard, make lists for news, influencers and your brand and READ. No more being the “I-don’t-have-time-for-that” kind of Twitter twerp.

4.  Join or form a mentoring group for CMOs: Join and participate in an organization focused on advancing the role and capabilities of the CMO. Digital will be a frequent topic in these groups and it is an excellent way to learn. Personally I belong to The CMO Club and have found it invaluable. From this group, a small number of women marketing executives have formed a dinner group and we meet every 6 weeks or so to talk through ideas, ask each other advice and have a good laugh. Digital is frequently a topic for us. These two things have been the most valuable investments I’ve made in my career in recent years. So go join an organization or set up a small group for drinks or a good meal and talk.

5.  Make one strategic digital bet this year:  Pilot a brand ambassador program with your employees; run a series of influencer campaigns; try out content syndication… pick something outside your brand comfort zone in digital and go for it. Worst case you’ll learn a lot about your brand and your customers. Best case, you’ll show impact in brand perception and revenue that you can scale further.

These five things will give you momentum in digital and the organizational confidence to expand further. compare hotel prices If however, like many of us, you’re still catching up on goals from 2014, you also may enjoy my 14 Digital Imperatives for 2014 post.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Please follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter for new posts or visit my website for more information.

What to Do When Authentic Isn’t Likeable

Posted on 12/07/2014

Goldfish wearing shark finAuthentic is a word thrown around a lot. Brands need to be authentic; executives need to be authentic; everything should be authentic. It makes me wonder what types of inauthentic people and products we were dealing with all these years. It also made me wonder… what happens when an executive’s authenticity makes them unlikeable? Does the brand suffer? Do customers flee? With the transparency resulting from the digital age, I would say yes.

First, let’s be clear what authentic means. Authentic is defined as “being of undisputed origin; genuine” and “accurate in representation of the facts; trustworthy; reliable”.  Somewhere along the way, we seem to have added “likeable” to the definition of authentic. Marketing and PR people often use authentic to mean relevant, approachable and likeable. In reality, someone can be authentic and not be likeable at all.

Frankly, I’ve known many business people who were truly authentic jerks. I’ve also known many business people who were authentically good-hearted people. So what do you do if you have an executive who is authentically a jerk or rude or just plain not likeable?

First see if the executive is aware the impact of their authentic self has on those around them. Gone are the days when positional authority such as a c-level title was license to be rude, condescending or abusive of the power that position enabled. Digital will out an executive’s authentic self faster than ever in the history of business and there are countless PR people out there with the scars to prove it. If the executive is unaware, coming to this realization will be a difficult but important step to crafting new approaches in their communications and presence. If their authentic self is viewed unfavorably by customers and employees it will show up in higher prices paid for services (the “maintenance tax” of doing business with them); lower prices demanded by customers (if they have to put up with this, then by goodness they don’t want to pay for it) and in possibly higher employee turnover.

Second get the executive some coaching.  This is not about changing who one is at their core – many of those authentic jerks are very bright and don’t mean harm, they are just dealing with deep seeded lack of confidence or fear that comes out in unproductive ways. A good coach can help reset an executive while not making them feel like they are being overly crafted into someone they’re not. Practice putting the coach’s advice in motion with business meetings and debrief on a compare/contrast of the impact of the new versus old approach. Adjust as needed.

Third, reinforce that no one is perfect. Authenticity is about being real. Real people have good days and bad days.  No one is 100% on message and on their game 100% of the time – it simply isn’t possible. So identify the triggers that send an executive into their “red zone” and have strategies in place for what to do when they find themselves there. This may include excusing themselves from the conversation; suggesting the conversation continue later; or injecting a bit of humor to diffuse the situation. A good coach can help with a plan to try and tailor over time.

Being authentic is about being real. Being likeable follows when you have a high level of self-awareness of your impact on those around you.


Being More Than a Brand, On Purpose

Posted on 11/09/2014

A set of employees riding arrowsCompanies are increasingly aware that their brand is bigger than the products the company sells. In fact, per Edelman’s Carol Cone, who has done extensive research on purpose driven business strategy, a full “86% of global consumers expect business to place at least equal emphasis on social interests as on business interests.” The same holds true for executives who lead these companies.

An executive’s personal purpose typically aligns with the business they lead in some way, whether directly or tangentially.  This personal purpose, however, is bigger than their role as an executive. The digital age allows an executive to connect on purpose more broadly and with greater impact than ever before.

We see the pronounced value of this connection in employees and customers from the Millennial generation who now make up roughly a third of the workforce. This generation grew up with computers; speed-of-light news; and the ability to search for any information in the world with Google. Transparency and giving back for the greater good is so common to them that it is unthinkable to operate any other way. Per Forbes, 81% of them have donated services, goods or money to charity. And this generation will make up 75% of the workforce before 2025. Add to that a full 89% of them expressed increased likelihood to buy from companies that support solutions to social issues. To that I say bravo, as they will make the world a better place as a result.

Putting this all together, executives are now a new type of celebrity.

Some great examples include Howard Schultz of Starbucks who built a company around the joy of experiencing great coffee. Schultz though was not only someone who was all about great coffee; he firmly believes that people should have good quality lives and that we should do what we can to help each other out. Civility and cooperation permeate all he does from campaigns to help people get jobs; to the benefits Starbucks offers employees; to the urging of politicians to do right by the electorate. His actions show his core value and belief that being good to each other and working together to solve problems can transcend all the things that typically hold people apart.

Sheryl Sandberg is one of the most powerful business people in the world. She is known for transforming companies through superb operations coupled with high quality, rapid growth. She did it at Google and again at Facebook. Sandberg has always stood for more than excellence in business. She firmly believes that women can and should be leaders in business and that they need not sacrifice their career dreams in the name of social norms. Sandberg made that dream a plausible reality for many through her books and lectures as well as in her daily life by redefining the concept of a power couple with her family.

Arianna Huffington built a highly successful media company. She did this at a time in her life when most people would never consider taking such a big leap. One of the best business stories you’ll ever hear is how she started The Huffington Post and how her friends all told her she was crazy because this “Internet thing” is for the young people and she should go back to her books. Huffington pioneered changes in the media and publishing business that are now standard practices. But she has also always stood for more than that. Huffington always wanted the stories, successes and needs of the everyday person to be heard because we all have a voice; have a story. In recent years she has taken up the mantle of personal well-being and has actually made sleep a business topic. Huffington’s crusade has made well-being a right not a privilege for workers.

If you think about it, the executives with the most gravitas and impact on the world by and large all have some higher purpose than their day job and they are not afraid to be vocal about it. The digital age has made it both ok and easier to be open about one’s higher purpose and values. Now an executive can connect with countless people who believe similar things and that is a power that truly can change the world.

What is your higher calling? What do you value in your core? Do you let this come through in genuine ways by what you do and say each day? Do people respect you for who you are not just what you do for a living? If you’ve not let the world know this side of you, give it a try. south sudan Open up a little and you may be amazed at what happens next.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Please follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter for new posts or visit my website for more information.

The End of the Line…

Posted on 08/03/2014

Woman shopping in cityFirst customization blurred the marketing premise of “above the line” broad awareness marketing and “below the line” transactional or promotional marketing. Now the combination of personalization plus customization has removed the theoretical line and replaced it with a unique, personal line for each potential consumer.

Customization allows customers to state their preferences and configure, if you will, the product choice that suits their needs. Personalization uses a combination of explicit and implicit data to present a potential consumer with a most-likely-to-meet-your-needs proposed solution up front, thereby minimizing the customization work required by the consumer. Personalization saves consumers time, which is why people generally like personalization, as long as it doesn’t go over the creepy line.

Per eMarketer, 56% of brand marketers said personalization improved response rates in marketing and created stronger brand perceptions. Agency decision makers saw personalization even more favorably with 70% saying it improved response rates and 63% saying it improved brand perceptions.

Whether you believe the brand or agency view, personalization is here to stay and for good reason. In our ever more information-cluttered lives, personalization gives brands an opportunity to connect through the noise uniquely with a current or potential customer. Generally consumers, particularly younger consumers, tune out the formerly known as “above the line” marketing because it sounds too fluffy and esoteric to be useful and it requires them to do some work to figure out how the brand and product will fit their lives. Instead, they want to know what the brand promise is for them and them specifically. This is both the opportunity and challenge for brands in the digital era.

So if the line doesn’t exist, what do you do as a CMO? Marketing has always been about telling stories – stories of possibility, stories of fear alleviated, stories of happiness and joy… all stories of life as we’d prefer it.  Personalization, as the end of the line, simply means your stories multiple endings, depending on the person you’re reaching and what is important to them. Personalization is about seeding possibilities and letting people build their own connected story as a conversation with your brand. ask jud You may seed these stories through TV, web, apps, social media, events, print and any combination of marketing tactics. The end game is to spark an interest, start a dialogue and build a connected story that is personalized, relevant to the individual, authentic and human.

Personalization via digital marketing may be the end of the marketing line as we’ve known it but it is the beginning of a new era of highly personalized, connected marketing and that has huge potential for a digitally savvy CMO.

Being a Truly Digital Executive

Posted on 05/31/2014

Slide1Digital channels have forever changed the role of an executive. No longer can you hide behind your PR person, chief-of-staff or other handlers. You are a real person and what you say and do does matter to your employees, customers, investors, the media and more. So… do you have a digital footprint that helps both your company and personal brand?

If your primary bio is only a PR-laden page on your company’s website then you have a problem – you look dated, out of touch and aloof. These are not characteristics that will win you favor long term.

Many executives frown on personal digital marketing whether it is Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or blogs… they don’t understand the potential positive impact or worse simply dismiss these channels as being for more junior people in an organization. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Think about it for a minute… who would you rather do business with: a company with executives that stay ahead of the curve on new technologies and new ways to communicate or ones that cling to history and the past? What an executive does says a lot about their company so if the executive is clinging to the past then how forward looking and “future proof” will their products actually be? If you’re trying to hire the best talent why would they choose to work for a company trending to the past versus building the future? The expectation is that an executive at a minimum stays current on trends and nowadays these trends move quickly therefore so must you.

If you need a little inspiration or think only executives from start-ups or smaller companies use digital channels, then take a look at LinkedIn’s list of top CEOs using digital channels.  Notice the range of companies and channels people use from Tumblr to Twitter to traditional blogs. The point is to choose channels that reach your target audience and that fit your personality. Not everyone is pithy enough for a great Twitter stream but may be truly brilliant at traditional blogging for example.

Another good example of an executive embracing digital channels for a variety of reasons is Jean-Philippe Courtois, President of Microsoft International. Needless to say, his job is huge and the revenue impact he garners is significant. Jean-Philippe Courtois uses a combination of Facebook and Twitter to highlight some of the community work Microsoft does; showcase his engagement with his teams around the world and add his take on some Microsoft news. Jean-Philippe is authentic in his social media which makes the appeal of his posts that much more compelling. If you Google (or Bing) his name you’ll see a combination of press mentions, his official company bio and many posts and profiles he uses in social media. This is an example of a well rounded digital footprint for an executive.

Many of these executives do have some help. They have help researching topics and curating trends, often done within their marketing or PR teams. So yes, you can enlist help but you still need to be active in your own profiles and know what you’re saying and when. You should actively seed and grow your digital presence to get the full benefit of your efforts over time.

Beware the HiPPO Drone!

Posted on 05/11/2014

HiPPO graphicIf you work in tech or know a lot of west-coasters then you’ve probably heard the term HiPPO – Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. The term is going increasingly mainstream as more millennials enter the professional workforce and as the world becomes inherently flat through digital networking.

A HiPPO-Drone is someone who declares their opinion as fact and enforces said opinion without seeking more context and ignoring any context offered – even if that context comes from non-HiPPO experts in the topic. Their opinion-turned-fact-turned-plan comes out of nowhere and drops on you like something falling out of an unmanned drone. Despite all your best efforts to correct, steer or otherwise influence the HiPPO you will fail because you are now a victim of a HiPPO-drone incident.

Companies of all sizes have HiPPO drone incidents, but they become a real issue when they are a pervasive part of the culture – the HiPPO Syndrome. Traditional, very hierarchical cultures based on positional authority rather than current topical expertise are ripe breeding grounds for the HiPPO Syndrome. These companies’ cultures were formed when people moved up the hierarchy because they (in theory) knew the most about a topic and these companies still operate under the assumption that positional authority and subject matter expertise are one and the same. In today’s world this is a dangerous assumption to make.

How do you spot a HiPPO Syndrome culture? Symptoms include high turnover of outside hires, especially experienced hires in areas the company is trying to grow; decreasing ability to hire young talent and to retain them; and the tell tale sign…. when people are asked why they are doing something and the most common answer is “because HiPPO told me to”. When you reach this last sign get ready for some major market or competitive disruption to hit your company and rock it to its foundation.

In fairness, not all HiPPOs are bad or misinformed. Many are extremely capable and do keep their information, skills and perspectives fresh and sharp as the world changes. The problem is the people who have not kept pace with the changing world and refuse to open their eyes despite the best efforts of those around them to show them the way – they are the HiPPO drones in the making that you must find and remove from your culture. Let them fester and you’ll have a HiPPO Syndrome on your hands.

As an executive how can you check yourself and your organization to make sure you don’t fall prey to the HiPPO Syndrome? (please add your thoughts in the comments as well – I’m sure you have fantastic ideas and experience to share

Ask your leadership team to back up their decisions with a mix of data and qualitative input that is recent. Experience is important but so are current data and forecasted trends

Never accept as an answer “That’s the way we’ve always done it” without a further explanation of why the ways of the past are still the best and most valid approach.

Manage your talent base by bringing in new people regularly and setting a culture of learning, experimentation and innovation so your employees keep their skills fresh. You actually want to be the company that recruiters actively target to fill jobs because it means your people have leading edge skills.

Lead by example. Meet with people at all levels of your organization and listen, listen, listen. Look for the eager learners; the diamonds in the rough; the ones with the ability to think of break-through ideas and nurture them. Check your own decision-making inputs regularly – are you a HiPPO drone at times?

Ask your leadership team where their ideas are coming from and really listen to the answers. If they claim all credit, or most of it, beware. If they have a mix of inputs from a variety of people in their network, from reading current information, watching your competitors and taking learnings from other industries in addition to their own ideas then that person is a keeper and less likely to be a HiPPO drone.

Great ideas, expertise and advice for your business can and should come from anywhere in the organization. This culture is not always easy to create but in this incredibly digitally connected, flat world it is truly a must. As an executive it is one’s responsibility to create an environment free of the HiPPO Syndrome and with very few HiPPO drone incidents. Culture can be a competitive advantage if you eliminate the HiPPO Syndrome.

Meet the Mobile Generation: Millennials

Posted on 03/15/2014

This was a fun post to write and originally appeared as a guest post for Benchmark. Hope you enjoy it.

Millennials seem to be a puzzle for most brands. Born between 1982 and 2000 and numbering 78M, Millennials came of age together with the Internet and mobile phones. Technology to them is no big deal and is a helpful rather than frustrating component to getting things done and being entertained.  

According to eMarketer, 72% of Millennials have a smartphone, more than any other age group. 29% of them own an iPhone; 20% own a Samsung; and 35% own either an LG, Motorola or HTC phone meaning Android and Apple platforms reign supreme with this group. Millennials also have the highest app usage on phones and tablets.

In fact, MediaBistro says 53% of Millennials would rather give up their sense of smell than their technology.  Wow.

When it comes to mobile, Millennials’ mindset and activities tell us a lot (great Infographic from Badgeville with more):

89% prefer to choose when and where they work – so mobile technology must allow them to work from and be connected from anywhere via voice, email, social media and other apps

41% (and growing) rely solely on their mobile phones for telephone connectivity

58% of mobile shoppers are Millennials; 41% of whom have made a purchase via their smartphone – clearly they like to shop when and where they want as well

50% use their smartphone to research purchases – search and show-rooming are big with them

So as a brand, how do you tap into this mobile Millennial mayhem?

Well, if you’re selling consumer products you need to make sure you have a high quality, seamless mobile commerce experience. Mobile commerce should have fast search, good prices, integration of promotions including social media promos and be secure. You should blend the physical and virtual shopping experience so they get the most out of your mobile experience, however they choose to shop. User reviews are important to Millennials as they expect to be able to read about others’ experience with your products and to be able to share their experiences as well. Your website should have social sharing built in throughout the experience so Millennials can ask their friends about your products in advance of purchase and share their excitement when a purchase is made. Mobile apps are important for consumer services from banking , to parking meters, to all sorts of travel related services and more.

If you are selling business products or services, you want to enable as much self-service and ease of information gathering as possible. You need a phenomenal SEO strategy so your product information, reviews, articles and blogs by influencers rank high. You also should enable mobile commerce as much as possible. If you’re selling repeat value services, a mobile app strategy may be the way to go, but at a minimum you need a responsive design website that renders well on smartphones and tablets.

Mobile support is critical for all brands. No one wants to use up their battery waiting on hold with your call center. Mobile Twitter support via smartphones and tablets is a good alternative avenue for support and one Millennials in particular will gravitate to. Email support that is mobile optimized is a must-have too.

So in the end, the mobile experience of your brand isn’t an add-on experience for Millennials, it is THE experience. So put mobile at the center of your strategy if this generation is key to your success and they’re likely to reward you with engagement and repeat purchase.