First and lasting impressions matter (review of Cindy McGovern’s Sell Yourself: How to Create, Live and Sell a Powerful Personal Brand)

Yovana Mendoza Ayres is either a cautionary tale in personal branding or another sign of the apocalypse.

Ayres was a social media influencer and raw vegan evangelist who called herself Rawvana. More than 1.3 million people followed Ayres on YouTube as she made vegan breakfast drinks and meals while wearing short-shorts and midriff-baring tank tops and reminding the world how she was living her best life.

But then Ayres committed the cardinal sin of walking into a restaurant and going off-brand. Someone posted a video of Rawvana eating fish. It was an entrée too far for Ayres’ faithful, and deeply invested, followers. They called her Fishvana and much, much worse.

Ayres posted a 33-minute video in her defense that only ramped up the backlash. So she quit social media for four months. She returned as Yovana, continuing to promote healthy living minus the veganism. While she’s rebuilt an audience in the hundreds of thousands, there are former fans who refuse to forgive, forget and move on with their lives.

It’s not only fish-eating social media influencers who go off-brand. Many us didn’t show up as our best selves in Zoom rooms during the pandemic. Bedhead, sweatshirts, never quite giving our full and undivided attention and routinely muting our mics and turning off cameras for extended periods of time became our pandemic brand.

“Your personal brand is how you behave, what you say and how you treat others,” says Cindy McGovern, author of Sell Yourself: How to Create, Live and Sell a Powerful Personal Brand. “It’s not only what you say about yourself, it’s what others think and say about you, based on how you behave and what you do.”

According to McGovern, we need to do three things with our personal brands.

We first need to put in the time and effort to create thoughtful, deliberate brands that are true to who we are and want to become. “The first step seems easier than it is, but because you are a complex, multifaceted person, your brand must also be complex and multifaceted. Like all things in life, your personal brand will be more successful – and so will you – if you spend time planning it. You can’t wing it. You have to intentionally create your brand or it might not stick.”

We then need to live our brand every day, without exception. “It’s hard work to live up to your brand every time you interact with someone, post something on social media or shoot off a quick text after having a couple cocktails or getting some unfortunate news.” Pay particular attention to what you’re saying on social media, especially if you’re forever yelling at clouds, picking fights, virtue signalling and trying to score likes at someone else’s expense. Think carefully if snarky, sanctimonious and bullying is really how you want to brand yourself.

Finally, we need to sell our brand whenever we’re presented with opportunities in our professional and personal lives. “It’s short-sighted to create a brand – even a great one – if you’re not going to sell it. That would be like plunking down a year’s salary on your dream car, but never driving it. Everyone talks about how important it is to ‘sell yourself’ but too many overlook the truly important world in that cliché – sell.”

It’s never too late to build or revisit our personal brands. This is especially true if you joined the Great Resignation or the quiet quit movement. To land your dream job, you’ll need to know how to create, live and sell the best, and 100 per cent authentic, version of yourself. You’ll likely need a new brand for a new career.

Personal branding can also help those of us who’ve passed our career peaks and have an unobstructed view of retirement on the near horizon. This is where branding turns into legacy. “All of us have a personal brand that we live and sell every day by the way we behave and treat others. And that is what will become our legacy. You get to choose.”

McGovern shows us how to make good choices whether we’re starting out, starting over or winding down.

This review first ran in the Sept. 10th edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

The one question you should (but probably won’t) ask a dream candidate (review of Talent by Tyler Cowen & Daniel Gross)

You just hit the jackpot and can’t believe your luck.

You’re interviewing a dream candidate who’s knocking it out of the park and checking every box when it comes to experience and education.

You’re ready to make an outsized job offer that’ll be impossible to refuse.

You may want to check in first with Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross. They could save you from making an offer you’ll regret as your dream candidate turns into a nightmare.

Cowen is an economist and Gross is a venture capitalist. Together, they’ve studied the art and science of finding top talent.

They’d start by reminding you that if someone seems too good to be true, they probably are.

They’d also want to know why someone as educated, experienced and accomplished as your dream candidate wants to work for you and your organization.

If you’re the industry leader and the best at what you do, the answer’s obvious. 

“It is different if you are from the middle or bottom tiers of your sector,” say the authors of Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives and Winners Around the World.

“In that case, not everyone will want to work with you, and perhaps most people won’t want to work with you, as they will be hoping for something better, whether realistically or not.

“If you are in this position, as many of us are, you need to think especially carefully about what is wrong with the people you are trying to hire. Why aren’t they already working somewhere much better? Why are they talking to you at all?

“Maybe they are totally lacking in self-confidence, or their personalities will turn out to be poison, or they plan on leaving after a year and they are just using you in the meantime.”

Also beware of the highly credentialed and supremely talented who are forever moving from job to job in a restless, unhappy search. “They are good enough to keep on getting hired, but still, most of the time you should avoid them,” say Cowen and Gross.

And finally, Cowen and Gross would tell you that you’re looking for a good match and “not some supposed vision of candidate perfection.”

If you’re running a start-up, small business or non-profit, look for undervalued talent. You can’t afford to pay a premium for the candidates that everyone’s chasing.

“Large companies can afford to overbid for the ‘obvious’ talent, but if you are in a smaller institution you might not be in a comparable position. These days, the top talents are paid what they are worth, and so there is a much stronger incentive to find quality talent that has not yet been identified as such.”

Even though it’s 2022 and we shouldn’t need to be told, Cowen and Gross recommend hiring talented women, minorities and people with disabilities. “Disability is a complex concept, the label probably is a bad one, and apparent disabilities can be correlated with some really good hires. Keep an open mind.”

Your search for talent will run smoother if you flush out what Cowen and Gross call the kludge and sludge that build up in overly bureaucratic hiring processes. 

“Virtually all of you are familiar with the standard bureaucratic interview setup. A bunch of people show up in a room, armed with scripted questions (and answers), often bored by the process and hoping for the best; they are trying to find someone who seems ‘good enough’ and capable of commanding consensus by being decent but most of all sufficiently unobjectionable.”

That decent and unobjectionable candidate likely lacks the creative spark needed to take your organization to a better place.

By delving into the research, Cowen and Gross will get you thinking in new ways about intelligence and personality and what to look for in potential new hires.

There’s also lots of practical advice. What to ask better interview questions? Try these. What are the open tabs on your internet browser? And how do you spend your time away from work. Studies show that our true personality’s revealed by what we do and don’t do during weekends and downtime.

Before making a job offer you might regret, let Cowen and Gross help you do a better job of finding overlooked and undervalued talent.

Jay Robb is the communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and spends his weekends reviewing business books for the Hamilton Spectator.

Lost a step at work? Prepare to jump (review of Strength to Strength by Arthur Brooks)

Brace yourself Gen Xers.

Our careers are about to peak, if they haven’t already. What follows once we’re past our prime is a swift and steep drop.

“When it comes to the enviable skills that you worked so hard to attain and that made you successful in your field, you can expect significant decline to come as soon as your thirties, or as late as your early fifties,” says Arthur C. Brooks, author of From Strength to Strength. “That’s the deal, and it’s not fun. Sorry.”

Brooks says we have three options. One’s bad, one’s sad and one’s our ticket to a new kind of success, greater happiness and a deeper purpose in life’s second half.

We can deny reality and rage against the inevitable.   This means working harder and faster, tempting fate with our health and hoping no one notices that we’ve lost a step.

This traps us in a vicious cycle where we’re “terrified of decline, dissatisfied with victories that come less and less frequently, hooked on the successes that are increasingly of the past, and isolated from others.”

Our second option is to give up and make peace with our slide into irrelevance. For a preview of where this leads, take four minutes and 20 seconds and listen to Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days.

Or we can work up the courage to jump to what Brook calls the second curve where there’s a new strength waiting for us.

“If you choose door number three, congratulations,” says Brooks. “There’s a bright future ahead. But it requires a bunch of new skills and new way of thinking.”

In our younger years, it was fluid intelligence that fueled our career. It’s this intelligence that let us come up with new ideas, solve hard problems, learn quickly and focus hard.

As that intelligence fades, crystallized intelligence takes over and draws on our lifetime of knowledge and experiences.

“When you are young, you have raw smarts; when you are old, you have wisdom,” says Brooks. “When you are young, you can generate lots of facts; when you are old, you know what they mean and how to use them.”

So why are we so reluctant to jump? Brooks blames our addiction to success and our need to feel special. We’re not ready to give up the money, power, prestige and adulation.

“The symbols of your specialness have encrusted you like a ton of barnacles. Not only are these things incapable of bringing you any real satisfaction; they’re making you feel too heavy to jump to your next curve. You need to chip a bunch away.”

The trick is to redefine satisfaction. On life’s first curve, we believe that satisfaction equals continually getting what we want, success equals continually having more than others and failure equals having less.

There’s a different equation on the second curve. Satisfaction equals what we have divided by what we want. The key is to want less of what doesn’t matter.  Brooks recommends loving people rather than things. “To misplace your love is to invite frustration and futility – to get on the hedonistic treadmill and set it to ultra-fast.”

If you’ve hit the peak of your career, it’s time to gracefully step off that treadmill and put your crystallized intelligence to work on life’s second curve.   

 “No matter how you find your passion, early on, pursue it with a white-hot flame, dedicating it to the good of the world,” says Brooks. “But hold your success lightly – be ready to change as your abilities change. Devote the back half of your life to serving others with your wisdom. Get old sharing the things you believe are most important. Excellence is always its own reward, and this is how you can be most excellent as you age.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Getting out from under the social media influence (review of Gabrielle Bluestone’s Hype)

Who needs a business plan when easy money can be made with a little social media savvy and a whole lot of chutzpah.

In our post-truth and lonely world, there’s no shortage of easy marks online for scammers, grifters and fraud artists to overpromise and then shamelessly underdeliver or deliver nothing at all.

Nothing is what thousands of partygoers got when they flew to the Bahamas for the Fyre Festival back in 2017. There was no Instagram-gold weekend with supermodels and celebrities on a private island. Instead, they wound up stranded in a gravel pit with nowhere to sleep, no shelter from the sun and nothing to eat but cheese slice sandwiches. Meanwhile, Fyre Media CEO Billy McFarland was just offshore on a borrowed yacht living his best life thanks to other people’s money.

“Like most people, my first glimpse of the Fyre Festival was on Instagram,” says journalist Gabrielle Bluestone, who broke the story about the festival’s implosion in real time while working at VICE. “The slick commercial venture exploded onto America’s social media feeds in December of 2016, as hundreds of verified influencers – blue-check Instagram celebrities with tens of millions of combined followers – started posting the same ambiguous burnt sienna square, suggesting their fans #joinme by purchasing tickets to the mysterious event.

“The festival organizers who had hired the internet stars to promote the event were promising ticket buyers ‘two transformative weekends’ of fabulous luxury on a private island formerly owned by Pablo Escobar, where they’d be flown in on private jets, pampered by a dedicated wellness team and nourished with meals designed by celebrity chef Stephen Starr.”

Along with scamming thousands of ticket buyers, McFarland defrauded investors of $27.4 million. He’d eventually be charged with wire fraud and sentenced to six years in federal prison.

In her book Hype, Bluestone also takes a critical look at Insta-famous influencers like Danielle Bernstein and Caroline Calloway who fuel the hype machine.

Bernstein is a 20-something fashion influencer and founder of WeWoreWhat, an Instagram page with more than 2.5 million followers. She gets $15,000 per post to flog brands on her site.

“In a sense, she’s the version of me that I (and many other millennial women) could be if I weren’t too lazy to work out regularly, if I had an unlimited clothing budget, fashion sense and a general lack of shame around dancing in public,” says Bluestone.

“Calloway was someone who was clearly determined to become famous, but her goals didn’t appear to extend all that far beyond her follower count.” She pitched a mini-version of the Fyre Festival, inviting her 800,000-plus followers to sign up for cross-country $165 writing workshops, with the added bonus of handwritten notes in personalized journals, home-cooked salads and wildflower gardens to take home, which Bluestone says is “Influencer-speak for a bouquet of flowers in a mason jar.”

The pandemic may be making us more immune to hype and helping us remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Attention-seeking celebrities and affirmation-needy influencers who lounged in their McMansions or jetted off to parties and island vacations while telling us that we’re #inthistogether have come under increasing fire for being tone-deaf and self-absorbed. Once-faithful fans and followers who’ve been laid off, let go and holed up in studio apartments are pushing back, prompting tearful sorry / not sorry apologies from misunderstood influencers who seem too sad to even get out of bed.

“If any good can even be said to come of something like this pandemic, I think it was that it stripped away a lot of our everyday artifices,” says Bluestone. “And it turned a lot of cynical forgone conclusions into open-ended questions. What do we really need to survive in this world? To thrive? What kind of legacy are we leaving behind? What truly matters when every day is an emergency? Unfortunately, the celebrities did not get the memo.”

This review first ran in the April 24 edition of the Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton, Ontario and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Talk less and interact more with your online talks & events (review of Standout Virtual Events)

I was quick to register for a pair of free online conferences that featured four nights of very impressive people talking about very important issues.

But I never logged on.

Instead, I binge-watched Homeland with my wife and channeled my inner 80-year-old by working on a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

I’m Zoomed out. My attention span is shot. And the novelty of filling my pandemic days and nights with professional development webinars, workshops, talks, courses, summits and conferences is wearing off.

So how can you win over audiences like me when speaking and running virtual events for employees, customers and the general public?

David Meerman Scott and Michelle Manafy have some suggestions.

“The best virtual events reimagine what is possible rather than recreate what is familiar,” say the authors of Standout Virtual Events. You can’t simply move your in-person town hall or conference online. Hanging out in virtual lobbies and sitting through 45-minute keynotes will be a tough sell for Zoom-weary audiences.

“Virtual events are more like television than theatre. In a theatrical performance, the audience is present. Their feedback is immediate and palpable. You know right away whether your performance is resonating. You are on the big stage and have to play big and bold to connect with those in the back row.”

At a virtual event, every attendee has a front row seat. We want intimate conversations rather than performances. So look into the camera so you’re looking into our eyes.

“Speakers who are skilled at in-person events may not be skilled virtual speakers,” say Meerman Scott and Manafy. “If speakers play to an audience as they are used to doing in-person, rather than playing to the camera, they will not be as successful in delivering their messages and the entire event can suffer.”

We’ll also log off if you do nothing but talk at us. Passive experiences don’t work with virtual events. We expect to interact with you and each other.

Meerman Scott and Manafy recommend breaking your talk into a series of five to seven-minute segments interspersed with real-time polls, trivia contests, Q&A sessions, interviews with surprise guests, video clips and small group discussions in breakout rooms.

“If a speaker can do all of those things in 45 minutes, the talk will be quite different from an in-person talk but it is dynamic and engaging in a way that is ideal for a screen.”

If you’re organizing a virtual event, take the money you’ve saved on renting a venue and feeding and watering the audience and invest it in a skilled production team and host. Don’t saddle an intern or overworked executive assistant with the responsibility of running your virtual event.

A skilled host will bring out the best in camera-shy speakers and guide conversations that’ll hold our attention. “Journalists make terrific interviewers and many have experience in front of a camera,” say Meerman Scott and Manafy. “It will be critical to ensure that a panel moderator or interviewer for a fireside chat is highly comfortable with the subject matter, the medium and confident enough to lead the discussion if it lulls or heads off track.”

Meerman Scott and Manafy predict that we’ll be attending hybrid town halls, summits and conferences post-pandemic. Some of us will pay for the in-person experience while many others will opt to save time and money by logging in from work and home. The upside is that you’ll be reaching even bigger audiences.

So don’t keep postponing events until we can meet again in person. Start moving events online now and heed Meerman Scott and Manafy’s expert advice.

“The best virtual events are more than televised keynotes. They must go beyond the charismatic talking head. The best virtual events create a compelling and engaging digital experience. The key is that we need to use the power of the online medium rather than trying to recreate an offline experience.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton, has reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and never finished the 1,000 piece puzzle.

How to recruit & retain Gen Z as your Baby Boomer workers call it a career (review of Zconomy by Jason Dorsey & Denise Villa)

Want to win the next war for talent?

Fund scholarships, offer paid internships and help pay down the student loans of the freshly minted grads who’ll be replacing your retiring Baby Boomers.

Those moves will warm the hearts and win the loyalty of Generation Z. Born between 1996 and 2012, they’re financially prudent, debt averse and big savers. They watched their Gen X and Millennial parents get hammered by the Great Recession and buried in mortgage and student loan payments, credit card debt and home equity loans.

“The generation read the headlines of people losing jobs and houses, and certainly had a front-row seat to seeing many parents and adults lose their confidence,” say Jason Dorsey and Denise Villa, generational experts and authors of Zconomy.  Their book is based on more than 65 generational studies.

Expect Gen Z to be even more frugal once we get through the pandemic. Twenty-somethings have been among the first to get their hours cut, laid off or let go. The World Bank estimates the pandemic could cost 15-24-year-olds $10 trillion in lost income over their lifetimes.

Nearly 90 per cent of Gen Zers plan to go to college or university. Yet half of them aren’t willing to run up more than $10,000 in student loan debt. Nearly 30 per cent say they won’t want to take on any debt.

More than half say they’ll finance their education with scholarships and nearly 40 per cent say they’ll juggle work and school.

If helping to finance their postsecondary dreams is a recruitment tool, standing for something bigger than your products or services is one way to retain your Generation Z employees. “They want to know that their work is contributing to something bigger than the task at hand,” say Dorsey and Villa.

Equity, diversity and inclusion is table stakes for Gen Z. Declarations and noble intentions won’t impress them. They expect to join a diverse and inclusive workplace.   

If you’re the boss, drop the stiff and formal pontificating and go with candid, authentic and personal communications. Get comfortable talking on camera because 20-somethings would rather watch you on their smartphones then sit and suffer through an all-staff town hall. But know that they want your recognition for a job well done delivered in person.

Genuinely care about your Gen Z employees, mentor them, offer retirement matching (they’re already saving for their golden years) and invest in their professional development from day one.  Do this and Gen Z will be your best recruiters. They’ll go on social media and tell the world that you’re a great place to work. But they’ll also let everyone know if you treat people badly and you’re a lousy employer. Positive online reviews are essential because Generation Z looks for jobs the same way they shop.

Here’s the key takeaway for employers. Gen Z really wants to work and they’ll take whatever job you have if you just give them a chance. “They want to work hard,” say Dorsey and Villa. “Gen Z can make great employees. They want to work for a stable company (it’s true: they’re not all ditching traditional work for the gig economy). They don’t all want to be YouTube stars – many want actual jobs, and they want to grow within their company.”

Employers got caught off guard when Millennials joined the workforce. Dorsey and Villa have the research to help organizations get it right with Generation Z. “This generation is bringing a new worldview, talent and energy that can bring out the best in each of us. Yes, they are different. But in that difference is tremendous possibility if we take the time to understand them.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and is the proud dad to two amazing Gen Zers.

Want your organization to thrive? Bureaucracy needs to die (review of Humanocracy)

Days can drag during the pandemic but the future’s arriving way ahead of schedule.

COVID-19 is accelerating changes in how we work, learn, shop and play. Trends that would’ve played out over years are happening within months.

While working from home is a hot topic, Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini make a convincing argument for also rethinking how we work.  

The authors of Humanocracy say we need to seriously shrink our organizations’ Bureaucratic Mass Index.  

With a lower BMI, every job has the potential to be a good job.

Much of the work now being done by legions of well-paid administrators and managers could be transferred to frontline employees working in small, multifunctional and self-managing teams.

Turning low-skilled, dead-end jobs into get-ahead, automation-proof jobs would benefit individuals, organizations and our society as a whole.

And instead of wasting time, money and their careers on busywork, bureaucrats could be moved into jobs where they’d provide far greater value to their organization.

“Bureaucratic organizations are inertial, incremental and dispiriting,” say Hamel and Zanini. “In a bureaucracy, the power to initiate change is vested in a few senior leaders. When those at the top fall prey to denial, arrogance and nostalgia, as they often do, the organization falters.

“Worst of all, bureaucracies are soul crushing. Deprived of any real influence, employees disconnect emotionally from work. Initiative, creativity and daring – requisites for success in the creative economy – often get left at home.”

Bureaucratic organizations have timid goals, shun risk-taking, lumber along at a plodding speed, repress creativity, cramp autonomy, punish noncomformity and in return get tepid commitment from disengaged employees.

By comparison, a humanocracy maximizes everyone’s contribution. Organizations become as resilient, creative, innovative, adaptive, entrepreneurial and energetic as the people who work in them.   

“Rather than deskilling work, we need to upskill employees,” say Hamel and Zanini.

They profile humanocracy pioneers like U.S. steelmaker Nucor and Haier, the world’s largest appliance maker. These big companies show that it’s possible to have the benefits of bureaucracy – control, consistently and coordination – without the crippling costs of inflexibility, mediocrity and apathy.

“The experience of the post-bureaucratic rebels testifies to a single luminous truth: an organization has little to fear from the future, or its competitors, when it’s brimming with self-managing ‘micropreneurs’.”

If you work in a large organization, you already know the transition to humanocracy won’t be easy. Bureaucracies are fiercely defended. “People with power are typically reluctant to give it up, and often have the means to defend their prerogative. This is a serious impediment, since there’s no way to build a human-centric organization without flattening the pyramid.”

Hamel and Zanini’s book is a manifesto and manual for overcoming that impediment.

“Bureaucracy must die,” say Hamel and Zanini. “We can no longer afford its pernicious side effects. As humankind’s most deeply entrenched social technology, it will be hard to uproot, but that’s OK. You were put on this earth to do something significant, heroic even, and what could be more heroic than creating, at long last, organizations that are fully human?”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

5 career and business-boosting New Year’s resolutions

This review first ran in the Dec. 21 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Here are five New Year’s resolutions courtesy of the best business books I reviewed this year for the Hamilton Spectator.

trigger1. Give us something to talk about. 

Word of mouth is the least expensive and most effective way to grow your business, say Talk Triggers authors Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin.

Do something different, unique and unexpected and we’ll rave about you online and in person. Check in anytime and every time at a Doubletree Hotel and you get a fresh-baked cookie. That warm cookie reinforces the hotel chain’s promise of a warm welcome

“A unique selling proposition is a feature, articulated with a bullet point, that is discussed in a conference room. A talk trigger is a benefit, articulated with a story, that is discussed at a cocktail party. Done well, talk triggers clone your customers.”

2. Start answering the questions we’re asking.

Every business and organization is a media company, according to Marcus Sheridan.

they ask“As consumers, we expect to be fed great information,” says the author of They Ask, You Answer. “Are you willing to meet their expectations? Or would you prefer that the competition be the one who answers the question for them? Remember, they’re going to get their answers from someone, so wouldn’t you prefer they get their answers from you?”

Sheridan saved his pool company by doing exactly that. He told prospective customers what it would cost to put a pool in their backyard, why his pools weren’t for everyone and made referrals to his competitors. So quit talking about yourself in 2019. Stop cranking out content that we didn’t ask for or care about. Instead, be the best teacher within your industry. Earn our trust and our business by answering our questions with fierce honesty.

3. Skip the wine and cheese mix and mingle and instead put us to work.

“Research suggests we are better off engaging in activities that draw a cross-section of people and letting those connections form naturally as we engage with the task at hand,” says Friend of a Friend author David Burkus

friend of a friend“You may not be focused on networking while you participate in such activities, but after you finish, you’ll find that you have gathered a host of new and interesting people that now call you friend.”

If you score an invite to a Jon Levy dinner party in New York City, you make the meal together. You can only talk about what you do for a living once you’ve sat down at the dinner table.

Pixar Animation Studios runs an in-house university with courses that bring together senior executives, front-line staff, veterans and new hires. Everyone is treated the same, can take up to four hours of paid time each week and can skip meetings if they’re supposed to be in class.

4. Instead of the golden rule, follow the mom rule.

Treat us the way you’d want us to treat your mom.

momJeanne Bliss, the godmother of customer service and the author Would You Do That To Your Mother? The “Make Mom Proud” Standard For How To Treat Your Customers says you need to respect our time, take the monkey off our back, stop asking us to repeat ourselves and don’t leave us in the dark.

“To put this in the simplest terms, do you deliver pain or pleasure? Do you make it easy and a joy for your customers to do business with you?” Your mom would want you to the do the right thing. So make her proud by taking customer service seriously and making it personal.

5. Prepare ahead for a viral video starring an employee doing something truly dumb or way worse. 

“We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea,” said a Domino’s spokesperson after employees violated every imaginable health code in a kitchen.

“Even people who’ve been with us as loyal customers for 10, 15, 20 years, people are second-guessing their relationship with Domino’s, and that’s not fair.”

crisis readyMelissa Agnes, author of Crisis Ready, lists eight expectations you must immediately meet if you have any hope of recovering when your reputation takes a mortal hit. Make building a culture of crisis readiness a priority in 2019.

“You want to get your team to a level of preparedness that is instinctive, rather than solely being dependent on a linear plan that cannot possibly account for all the variations, bumps and turns that may present themselves.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

 

Five ways to tell better stories that win hearts, change minds & get results

storytellingThis review first ran in the April 14th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Unleash the Power of Storytelling: Win Hearts, Change Minds, Get Results

By Rob Biesenbach

Eastlawn Media

$22.75

A father and son are on vacation.

They’re walking on the beach when they find hundreds of stranded starfish baking in the sun.

The boy picks up a starfish and puts it back in the ocean.

The dad tells his son there are too many starfish to save. “We’ll be here forever,” says the dad.

“Relax dad,” says the boy. “I’m just saving one starfish so CEOs and motivational speakers can repeat this story over and over again whenever they need to drive home the point about how one person can make a difference. Now let’s go have breakfast.”

We all know that telling stories is better than inflicting death by PowerPoint on an audience. We’re hardwired for storytelling.

But don’t be lazy and recycle whatever comes up when you Google search “stories to inspire an audience.”

Skip the often-told starfish story and instead follow Rob Biesenbach’s advice for telling more compelling tales.

“A story is a character in pursuit of a goal in the face of some challenge or obstacle,” says Biesenbach.

To tell a great story that sticks with your audience, ask yourself five questions:

Is the character in your story real and relatable? We don’t care about processes and programs, says Biesenbach. We care about people. “Your character is the heart of the story. Bring your stories down to the human level. If a problem exists it must surely affect actual people.” Tell us about someone like us who’s in a similar situation and facing the same kind of challenge. Share a personal story or introduce us to one of your customers, clients, patients or students.

Is there sufficient conflict? If there’s no conflict, there’s no drama driving the narrative of your story. “Conflict arises from the tension between the character’s goal and the challenge facing her.”

Are the stakes high enough? Go big with the challenge. “For a story to work, there has to be something important at stake – a serious problem that cries out for action.”

Is there clear cause and effect? Tightly link the chain of events in your story. “Causality is more meaningful to us than mere coincidence.”

And is there an emotional core at the heart of your story? “Emotion fuels stories,” says Biesenbach. “When your audience feels something, they are more likely to do something.”

Once you’ve checked off these boxes, structure your story in three parts.

In the beginning, introduce us to your character.

In the middle of your story, set out your character’s challenge.

At the end of your story, bring things to a resolution.

“Think of your story as a Hollywood blockbuster. In the end, the enemy is vanquished, the boy gets the girl, justice is served. There’s a reason these movies are so popular: they give audiences what they want – a satisfactory conclusion.

“Your story should not be in the style of indie or art house cinema, where the characters don’t really change and problems go unresolved. The indie film may be truer to everyday life, but it’s not particularly satisfying for general audiences.”

Biesenbach’s written a practical guide to help anyone become a better, more focused storyteller. The stronger your stories, the better your odds of winning hearts, changing minds and getting results.

“Our stories help define who we are and what we stand for. They set us apart in a noisy, competitive world. And they help ensure we’re remembered. Don’t be intimated. Storytelling isn’t reserved for artists and poets and folksy cowboys huddled around the campfire.”

@jayrobb tells stories as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.