Be A Chicken!

best practices chickenI have nine chickens, supposedly for the purpose of laying eggs (you can see a few of them in the photo with my husband). I say “supposedly” because I’ve become so attached to them that I don’t really care how productive they are. They live in a coop in my backyard most of the time, except for when they’re pecking around inside my house, which happens more than I’d like to admit. Of course, there are the tell-tale signs of feathers everywhere.

My husband and I have been interested in chickens before it became cool, although we’re much more likely to talk about it now that it is in vogue. I’ll just come out with it: We love our chickens. They’re sweet. They like for us to pet them. They like to sit on our shoulder. They like to admire our jewelry. After a hard day, to see them running around joyously with worms in their mouths gets me back on track. They’re endless entertainment for our kids. They eat scratch from our hands and follow us around. One chicken farmer suggested we walk them on leashes, but that just seems wrong. People who say chickens are mean or dumb either have never owned chickens or just don’t get them the way some people don’t get cats or snakes (we have those, too).

So, what do these chickens have to do with a blog about leadership? There’s much we can learn from their serious side. These are hard-working animals. They’re tough birds who don’t know what it means to give up.

Well, if you’re currently challenged with leading effectively or struggling with managing a team, then I’d recommend getting yourself some chickens and follow their lead. To ensure a diverse group, get at least seven, and strive for a mix of male and female. Get different types. We have Rhode Island Reds, Black Silkies, Buff Orpingtons and Americanas (which lay blue eggs).

Everybody could stand to learn something from chickens. Here’s what I’ve learned from mine:

  • Respect the pecking order. You need to respect the chain of command. So do the people who report to you and the people who report to them. Reporting structures are in place for a reason. They help ensure the flow of information, the sharing of knowledge and efficient use of resources, among other things. And if you have a group that’s particularly challenging, know that nothing’s forever. My chickens’ pecking order changes over time as new chicks are added to the mix.
  • Scratch below the surface. Don’t take things at face value. Even when it looks like a bunch of dirt to me, my chickens scratch away to make sure they’ve discovered every edible morsel possible. They’re often rewarded for their hard work.
  • Give clear and direct feedback. Don’t over think feedback or beat around the bush. Sometimes the best way is fast and direct so the recipient easily can put the feedback in context. Otherwise it’s like, “Remember that day when you…” My chickens let each other know how it’s going every second of the day through clucks, squawks, pecks and wing-flapping. They’re constantly communicating and adjusting.
  • Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s business. Don’t be thin-skinned. If something does sting, don’t stay mad. Leaders need to stay above petty behavior. Don’t forget that not everything is personal. It’s business. So encourage whiners and complainers and gossipers to get back to work. There’s always plenty of work to do.
  • Care for your group. My chickens stick together. They mix and mingle with our other pets every day, but they always have each other’s back. Even when they’re annoyed with each other, they come to each other’s defense. A team can’t truly thrive when even one member is unhealthy.
  • Don’t be afraid to fly. Don’t think you can’t do something. We’ve found our chickens 20 feet up in the trees. Something probably scared them up there in the first place, but now they’re sitting pretty – taking in the lay of the land at their own pace. And imagine how inspiring that chicken is to the others.
Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Bloggers Are Forgiven Errors That Advertising Is Not

Range RoverBlogging is a forgiving medium. I couldn’t care less if a blogger stumbles over his or her grammar, as long as I’m interested in what they’re saying. In some cases, I’d say it’s actually a good thing for blog posts to be slightly imperfect. Kind of like the old women who sew a mistake into their quilt tops because “only God can create something perfect.”  It reminds us that bloggers are human beings. It helps our impression of their authenticity.

In advertising, not so. Any sort of mistake in a published ad is a major fail. When a brand is talking, rather than a person, there’s really no room for error. It’s like the difference in someone stumbling over their words in conversation and misspelling the name when you’re chiseling a headstone.

Get a load of the headline on this Land Rover ad, which ran on the inside back cover of New Yorker magazine this week. (Full disclosure: I drive a Range Rover myself.) It bugs me when people mix up “its” and “it’s” but it really bugs me when a brand that’s already a little too pompous for its own good makes that mistake. A British brand, at that. If those folks can’t get the Queen’s English right, I guess the pressure’s off for the rest of us.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

6 Tips For The Care and Feeding Of Your LinkedIn Account

Webinar2Today’s  “Social Media for Old Folks” webinar topic was LinkedIn. Here are six recommendations we made that may be useful for you too:

1. Make invitations personal. The form-letter invitation generated by LinkedIn is not all that friendly. “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” just doesn’t strike the same tone as “Hey, Joe. Great to see you today. Want to link?” In the same vein, when you accept an invitation to connect, take two seconds to send a message back that acknowledges you’re both human beings. It takes two seconds to type “Thanks for the invitation. Hope you’re doing great.”

2. Don’t make your personal update too personal. LinkedIn is not Facebook. Let your LinkedIn update be some fairly major business milestone or at the very least, business related. Also, you don’t need to update this one as often as you might on other networks. It’s perfectly acceptable to leave the same update up there for a month or so. (As long as it doesn’t say something like “Two days before the Christmas rush is over!”

3. Skip asking for recommendations. If you’re a high-level professional, we don’t recommend having recommendations on your profile. If you’re still in the early years of your career, or job hunting, they’re fine. But everyone knows how those recommendations get there (a message from you asking your contacts for a recommendation) and that they’re sort of a command performance of glowing praise.

4. Participate in the Answers discussions. If you see a question that you can answer, take a minute to do so. It’s good to invest in helping others, so you’re not using LinkedIn exclusively for getting what you need. Besides, it’s nice exposure to be the guy who knows what’s what. Also, when you need to know something, use this Answers feature. You can access some legitimately useful expertise on just about anything you need to  know, and it gives other people a chance to be an expert on something.

5. Join groups. Your group memberships offer a quick snapshot of your interests and affiliations. If a friend or contact invites you to join their group, it’s showing support for them to join, as long as it really is a topic appropriate for you. Then, participate in the discussions. Making comments there is a good way to be involved in the LinkedIn community.

6. Start your own group. This is an excellent way to claim your area of expertise, particularly if you can narrow the scope of the group to a small niche or audience. You can begin to own that niche (or at least to be recognized as one of the players) by starting and maintaining an active group.

Measuring Social Media for Internal Communications

88639432A lot of people who are launching their first internal social media campaigns want to know: “How do we measure it?” Hasn’t that been the age-old question for both communications and employee initiatives? My question is, “How do you measure trust?” And, “How do you know if an employee really cares?”

While you can assign numbers to almost anything, cracking the code can be complicated. Measuring the results of your social media plan can be a challenging process, ranging from completely quantitative measurements to wholly qualitative. A good first step is to set some basic quantitative objectives, but don’t lose track of the main goal: to give employees an open channel for communications. Fortunately, simple measurements, like how many people are reading the CEO blog or what’s the top post, are usually built inherently into the technology.

While you’re at it, set goals for yourself for posting new social media content three to five times a week. Make it a priority to review and answer all of the comments you receive on a daily basis. One of the most difficult things about a social media plan is constantly keeping it updated, even if it doesn’t require huge chunks of time. Employees won’t keep coming back if they’re seeing the same things over and over again.

Some companies test out their new social media channels on a small sample group before introducing them to the company as a whole. This can also be a great way to get feedback early on, so if you’re more comfortable letting a small group be the guinea pigs, you stand to learn a lot. (Just make sure you keep things moving along, and don’t get wrapped up in trying to do everything perfectly on the first try.)

However, it seems that the most successful companies using social media for communications don’t spend a ton of time worrying about measurement. Social media is organic and always changing. When you have a good plan in place, you’ll know it. Employees will be excited and actively voicing their opinions with high-quality feedback that you can’t always get from other channels.

What do you think? Should social media be measured “strictly by the numbers,” or is this channel better suited to measurement by feedback?

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Social Media for Old Folks, in an Old Media Format: the 52-Card Deck

smcardpileThey’re back from the printer! Our Starter Cards deck called “Build Your Brand With Social Media” is hot off the press, literally.

If you’re one of those people who’s got a LinkedIn account but you don’t really get how to use it; if you’re using Facebook, but mostly to spy on your kids, if you’re just  plain confused by the 140-character hullaballoo of Twitter, then this is the tool for you.

Build Your Brand With Social Media” was created for those of us who were born before faxes were invented, much less outdated. This is a way to easily get up to speed and be linking and friending and tweeting like people half your age.

Here’s the idea. There is no shortage of information out there about social media. In fact, there’s so much information, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Can’t somebody break it down into a series of manageable steps? Isn’t there anywhere you can get all the basics of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and blogging, all in one place?

As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what this “Build Your Brand With Social Media” deck does. It walks you through the whole process, one step per card, with simple directions for that step on the back of each card. It’s as close as possible to having me sitting there with you, taking you step by step.

Want to give it  a whirl? You can find the cards on the Starter Cards website.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Friday Afternoon Feng Shui Ritual

photoHow do you like to end the work week? I have this thing about clearing everything off my desk and either filing or tossing all the stuff stacked on my credenza. Then I wipe it all down to remove the week’s accumulated coffee circles and other debris.

Our Feng Shui consultant got me started on this, years ago. She said it was important to clear out all the old energy of the week, to make things ready for a fresh week to come. She advocated the use of Clorox Wipes, and suggested leaving a blank pad of paper square in the center of your work space to signal to the universe that you’re open to receive more business.

I swear, I think this weekly ritual helps. I love coming back to my office Monday morning and seeing that wide-open expanse of uncluttered desk space. And somehow, it lets me leave Friday afternoon feeling like I’ve got everything squared away, with no loose ends hanging.

Lately though, I’ve started to notice  how action-packed that 4:00 to 5:00 PM hour is in the social media world. Tweets are flying back and forth, Follow Friday is in full force, people are posting on Facebook, checking their LinkedIn account. Twitter, particularly, is like a weekly 60-minute cocktail party you don’t want to miss. Maybe it’s people killing that last hour of the week when they feel like they should be at their desk, even though they’re not about to start something new that close to the weekend bell.

So either I’ve got to start my little OCD clutter-clearing ritual a little earlier, or I’ll miss some of the fun online. What do you guys do to close out the work week? And what’s your must-click time of the day or week on social media?

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

500+ Contacts on LinkedIn? Can You Really Know that Many People?

LITurns out you can. I used to be skeptical of my few friends who had that 500+ notation beside their names. I had a hard time believing they could possibly know that many LinkedIn contacts if they ran into one of them on the street.

I also used to think LinkedIn was kind of dull, compared to the friendliness of Facebook and the concise wit and wisdom of Twitter. My opinion was that LinkedIn was probably a great tool for jobseekers, but that there was nothing in it for me.

Recently, I decided to jump into my LinkedIn account with both feet. At that point, I had 178 contacts, but only because a colleague had challenged me to a competition a year or two ago. We were sitting through a long day of shooting a TV spot, and to pass the time between shots, we each tried to invite as many people as possible to connect. The one with the most connections at the end of the day would be declared the winner. (I think Stacy won.)

My collection of 178 contacts included lots of interesting, accomplished and well-connected people. But the list was a little random, and depended heavily on people I had in my email address book or that I just happened to think of, off the top of my head.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve about doubled my number of contacts. Now I’m up in the 350s somewhere. And I gotta tell you, LinkedIn becomes a much more colorful and lively cocktail party as your number of contacts grows.

My assumption was that after the first couple of hundred contacts, you’d be stretching to find any other people you actually new. But the opposite is true. The more people you connect with, the more names you think to search — and the more people find you. Tons of old co-workers, clients, vendors and acquaintances have popped up, many of whom I was delighted to be in touch with again.

As your list of contacts grows, it also becomes less weird to invite someone you know less well. I’ve reached out to people who are peers in the industry, although we’ve never actually been introduced. You can invite those people who know of you but don’t really know you — and vice versa. You can link with people you’ve emailed with but have never met in person.

How do you decide if someone’s too far removed from you to invite? You don’t want to overstep your bounds and ask someone who has no idea who you are. Some people say stick to people you know and trust, or people you’d like to know better. My rule of thumb is to ask myself if that person would pick up the phone if their assistant said I was on the line. If I think they’d take my call, I feel comfortable inviting them.

LinkedIn would appeal to a border collie, or any herding dog — if only  dogs could get online. LinkedIn lets you herd everybody together and corral them in one place. The more people in your corral, the richer and more interesting a resource LinkedIn becomes.

So yeah, I think I could end up with 500 or more contacts on LinkedIn, and still recognize everyone if we bumped into each other on the street. If nothing else, I’ll be familiar with their little headshot at the top of their profile.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

“Have You Made Any Money from Your Blog?”

Webinar1_25Yesterday, we gave a Webinar on how to start your own blog. We talked through the business reasons for having a blog, worked with participants to help them define the topics of their blogs and then walked them through establishing the beginnings of their blogsites on WordPress.

Afterwards, one of the participants called my office and asked me, “Have you made any money from your blog?” The short answer is no. A blog is not a direct sales channel.

But the answer would be yes, if she’d asked a slightly different question. Has blogging been good for our business? Definitely. Has blogging helped us connect with people who are key prospects for our company? It has.

One of the most important benefits of blogging is that it changes the dynamics of the sales process. Instead of making cold calls, trying to set meetings with people who’ve never heard of you, blogging allows you to reach out as more of a peer. Instead of trying to force your foot in the door, you start out as part of their community already. As a blogger with a special expertise in your narrow niche, you’re beginning the relationship as someone who has something to offer, as opposed to someone trying to get them to buy something.

A blog also can give you a great excuse to introduce yourself to a key prospect. Call them up and ask to interview them for a post. If someone is a highly desirable prospect for your company, that person probably has plenty to say that would be interesting and helpful for the readers of your blog. Rather than having your first conversation with a prospect be all about you and how wonderful your company is, you begin the relationship by listening to what they have to say. Just like your mother always said, one of the best ways to make new friends is to ask questions that get them talking about themselves.

5 Best Practices for Communicating Bad News

26668403You can’t shield your employees from the stress of the recession. For one thing, it’s everywhere. It’s on the news. It’s the topic of conversation among friends and family. It’s visible as you drive down the street and see closed signs and empty storefronts. It’s the background noise to which we have all worked and lived in 2009.

Even though you can’t control the messages your employees receive outside your company, you are in control of what they hear from leadership about your company. It’s important to differentiate your company’s strategy, plans, goals, hopes and dreams from the general perception of the public and media.

A lot of companies are planning to not make any big moves till 2010. But when you don’t explain to employees why that is, they’ll start to think you’ve either tuned out or thrown in the towel. Entering a “no talk zone” will have a huge impact on employee morale and, consequently, the bottom line. And, who can afford that right now?

Even though much of the news you have to share right now might not be good, the way in which you channel and share news will greatly impact employee morale (more than the actual news itself in many cases).

You don’t want employees to be so distracted by the “what if” that they are underperforming. The recession will end (the debate only centers around when), and it will end for companies sooner if their employees are focused on future success and growth rather than the “recession depression” that is overtaking some companies’ employees.

Employees take their cue from you as to how hard they should try to make a difference. And now is the time for all hands on deck. The best business move you can make right now is to fully leverage your assets – and your people are your biggest asset.

Here are five best practices for communicating with employees during tough times in a way that helps employees get the right message for how to move forward:

1. Focus on what you can impact. In other words, don’t waste precious time on things you can’t control. As much as you’d like to, you can’t control someone’s response to a message. And, you don’t have the luxury of changing the message to suit each individual (although you might wish otherwise). Your job as a leader and communicator is to deliver messages and news in an appropriate and timely manner. That’s the most sensible and kind way to handle difficult communications.

2. It’s about tone. It’s tough to deliver bad news one day and then move on to more mundane or even positive news the next. But, you must. You can’t dwell on the hard decisions made yesterday just as you can’t rest on your laurels. Think of a newscaster whose job it is to report on a tragedy and then talk about a random act of kindness. Change your tone accordingly.

3. Have a post-announcement plan. Even if you’re plan stops after the message is delivered, the message keeps going and going and going. Plan for follow-up. Have checkpoints to gauge how it’s going. Invite feedback and be open to changes. Employees will feel more engaged if you involve them in the process.

4. Don’t be surprised if employees think change is bad. If you don’t know what to tell them, it comes across as if you haven’t thought everything through and they’ll doubt that you’re doing the best thing for the business. Sometimes, even when the news isn’t bad, it’s still a major change, and people tend to be scared of change. But they tend to be less scared if they know what to do.

5. Carve out roles for employees. Companies sometime worry that if employees know too much they’ll worry about things they can’t control. Or suddenly feel like they have to comment on everything. This can be avoided by making sure you clearly define and communicate what everyone’s role will be in the turnaround.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Chris Brogan and the Spirit of Helping in Social Media

palmWho could not love Chris Brogan? He looks like some tough guy, and he turns out to be sweet as pie. He’s been doing some video blogs the past few days on his “Overnight Success,” mostly it seems, to prove the point that it’s not all that glamorous, and that his fame in the social media arena certainly didn’t happen overnight. In his Part 2 video, he opens shooting down from his hotel balcony to the pool below, surrounded by palm trees and lounge chairs. Then he shows us around his room, explaining how it’s not a big vacation, but is actually where he gets a lot of work done. “It ain’t all pretty,” he says, “This is where it all gets done. It’s just doing what needs doing.” (One of my favorite parts is when he’s swooping the camera around to show his laptop on the hotel room desk and pans by a row of miniature Maker’s Mark bottles lined up neatly in arm’s reach of the computer.)

What I really love about his Overnight Success, Part Deux, is Brogan’s ernest plea that we all reach out and help other people. This willingness to help seems to me the most powerful undercurrent in the social media world right now, and it’s a far cry from the business attitudes that were prevalent in the early part of my career, back in the 80s and 90s.

That makes me wonder if some of this might be the influence of Millennials in the workplace. The under-30 crowd offers a much less selfish approach to business, and they believe they can change the world, starting right now. When people my age were coming along, nobody was talking about win-win. We believed if one person one, someone else necessarily lost. Us Boomers also assumed we had to pay our dues before we could have much of an impact. These Gen Y kids seem to believe they’re ready to be the CEO from day one. I like that about them.

In fact, that attitude of doing it right now is another part of Brogan’s hotel room rant. He urges his viewers to take action, to quit talking and get in the game, to get some projects out there in the world. He says, “Let’s help people. Let’s lift each other up.”

What’s not to love about that?