If you're going to miss a deadline (as we all do from time to time) reach out in advance, communicate that you're going to miss (leave the excuses out) and share the date and time when you will deliver on your commitment.
Matt Tillotson is the marketing partnership director at PODS. All opinions and attempts at lame humor are his and his alone.
This just in: Apple is pretty good at marketing.
But even Apple can make a PR mistake.
Last week, Samsung launched its latest iPhone competitor, the Samsung Galaxy IV. Apple put together a couple of initiatives in an attempt to drain away some of the hype. On one front, Apple attacked Samsung. That went poorly, as competitive attacks often do for category leaders. On another front, Apple talked about its product leadership and did very well.
(By the way: You can argue that the iPhone isn't the category leader, because there are more devices running some form of Android out there than iOS. But when you make 70% of the profits in the smartphone category, you're the leader.)
A public relations misstep for Apple
In an unusual move, Apple marketing VP Phil Schiller gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal just before Samsung's announcement. The first sentence written in the story?
Apple is on the defensive.
Schiller's attack backfired, because his attack was the story. His message points were completely lost because the PR move was so out of character for Apple. When a leader attacks, it sends a message that it is feeling jumpy about a competitor. Apple lost the narrative.
Framing the conversation on its own terms
Then Apple did something well, something that marketers for category leaders can learn from. They crafted a page on their web site called "Why iPhone?" It's a textbook example of how a leader should respond to competitive messaging to lead the conversation in an advantageous direction.
The page launched on the heels of Samsung's announcement of the Galaxy IV smartphone, and stole some of the buzz away from Samsung at a time when Apple doesn't have any new products to announce. Just releasing the page gave the press something else to talk about besides Samsung. It worked.
Evidence of leadership
Apple doesn't just claim it offers the world's best and most popular smartphone. Instead it reinforces its position with data points throughout the page, such as:
If you're the category leader, then you have evidence of that fact. Use it to add credibility to claims.
Framing the conversation
Apple uses the page to frame the conversation from its point of view, not to respond to specific competitor messaging points. You won't, for example, read a lot about technical specs on the page -- and specs are something heavily emphasized by competitors. In Apple's view, customers only care about features and benefits, not things like specific computer chip speeds.
So when Apple tells you about the iPhone 5's chip, it doesn't talk about clocking speeds. Instead you read about the benefits of the fast and energy-efficient chip: smooth games, fast browsing and better battery life. Competitors like to tout their latest spec advantages over the iPhone; Apple refuses to play that game and stays focused on customer benefits instead. That's the conversation Apple wants to have and believes that's what customers really care about.
Category leaders and the critical importance of how a conversation begins
Being in front comes with privileges and responsibility. A leadership position affords you extra attention which must be used wisely. What your company does will drive the conversation for the space -- for better or for worse. Apple showed us two great examples of that. When the company acted out of character and attacked the #2 player, it came off looking defensive, nervous and unsure of itself. But when it framed the conversation in its own way, focusing on the benefits of its products and supporting its leadership position with evidence, it received much more favorable coverage -- the kind of coverage a category leader wants.
No, marketers and PR pros don't own the conversation anymore. Which puts even more importance on the way a conversation is started by communications professionals.
Do you dread giving or receiving performance reviews? Some argue performance reviews should be banned altogether. Reviews are career and financial milemarkers, a signpost to where an employee has been and where she is headed, and the high stakes adds drama and tension.
Reviews can be productive. Really. Bosses, try using these simple communication strategies to give better reviews.
And employees: if you're boss isn't doing these things, be proactive and suggest them. It's in your best interest to get clear direction and feedback in your review. These strategies will help.
#1: A review should be a recap of communication that took place throughout the year.
If you're leading well, you laid out clear goals and expectations at the beginning of the year. You've reviewed the goals and progress against them with your team member periodically throughout the year.
Constructive criticism needs to be delivered as events unfold -- not just at review time. It should be delivered kindly but honestly, without over- or underplaying the problem. And it should be followed with a clearly defined corrective path and expectations for going forward.
If you didn't do these things throughout the year, then your review will reveal suprises to your employee. This is what a bad review process looks like, and you're failing as a leader.
If you're uncomfortable giving constructive criticism, read Crucial Conversations, which has excellent strategies for navigating important and difficult discussions.
A badly conducted review reveals new truths and other surprises. An actually, that means your failing as a leader. You may be j comfortable giving constructive feedback, or maybe have an issue giving prsise. Good communication doesn't happen once; it happens systematically, over and over. If your employee is surprised -- good or bad -- you've failed as a communicator.
#2: Tell a story for the year ahead.
Reviews aren't just for looking back -- they are a perfect time to look ahead, too. Metric-based goals are the foundation for evaluation. Numerical markers ensure parties can agree on success or failure without bias (or at least get you reasonably close!).
But I tried something new with my direct reports this year -- three words. I gave each team member three words that represented themes for them to focus on in the year ahead. In essence, I wanted them to build the story of a successful year in their minds. Stories have become an important part of business communication because stories are the best way to persuade people. Using the three words as your story elements, help your team member picture a successful year ahead that aligns to your expectations, your employee's career development, and, obviously, the needs of the business.
For example, you might have a direct report that isn't getting enough credit and recognition in your company. They need to step out a bit and better demonstrate the value they are delivering. In this case, visibility can be a theme. Challenge them to think about ways to raise their profile, like volunteering on a committee, or heading up a new cross-departmental project. Help them envision their own character arc in which they become more visible.
The three-word technique is a simple way to focus your employees and you should come back to your employee's story elements throughout the year (see rule #1).
#3: Use real examples to illustrate your points.
This one is simple: evidence builds your case, so use real examples to support your points in your review. If someone excelled at a particular goal throughout the year, use an example to support that viewpoint. If someone needs to improve in an area, use a real example of where they fell short -- and provide a clearly corrective path to help the employee grow.
If you can't think of any real-world examples to support a position, then is that position really correct? Challenge yourself. Providing real examples isn't just good for the employee -- it's an exercise for you to think through your opinions and ensure they accurately reflect what took place throughout the year.
#4: Rehearse ahead of time.
Performance reviews are emotional and personal. Employees want to know how they measure up not just in your company, but in your personal viewpoint, too. Your words carry weight. They will resonate emotionally and resonate long after the conversation ends. So do yourself and your team member a favor and take a few minutes in advance to plan your key message points.
#5: Be selfish: Listen.
Bosses tend to focus only on what they want to say to the employee during a review.
But you need to be more selfish that that. Ask questions that make you a better leader.
What do you want to know about the employee's state of mind? What do you want to know about their career goals? Does the employee have the tools and support they need to succeed? If not, what resources are missing? Get actionable information you can use to make your team more effective.
Performance reviews can be a valuable tool for employees and bosses. These rules can help you communicate more clearly, demonstrate concern and leadership and set the stage for a successful year ahead. And isn't that the point of good leadership -- to help employees grow, be happy in their work and be more productive? Make reviews an important tool for you, not an experience to simply be endured.
David Allen, creator of the super-popular Getting Things Done productivity system, is sweating bullets right now. Because I am about to share with you my simple task management and productivity system, an act that will surely bring down his Getting Things Done empire, leaving his followers distraught and confused as they wade through the smoldering remains of their intricate and well-pruned 43 folder system.
You get this for free -- no charge. To get started, you will need:
1. An iPad Mini, preferably in white.
2. A stylus, I like the $10-$15 Targus red ones you can get at Office Depot. But you can certainly spend more if you like.
3. Moleskine's free journal appfor iPad.
Actually, you don't need any of that stuff. A paper note pad and a free pen from the Hampton Inn will work just as well. Not nearly as nerdy, however.
Here's how my complex and revolutionary task management and productivity system works, and it works really well:
1. At the end of your workday, or at least first thing in the morning before starting your workday, make a list of things you need to get done the next day. Include all the big stuff, like drafting your client presentation or building your department budget, and the little stuff, like ordering lunch in ahead of time, returning phone calls and critical emails. Get it all down on paper and out of your head. But physically write the list -- typing doesn't work as well.
2. Pick the task that is creating the most emotional resistance. Do that first. This concept is called "swallowing the frog." The task may be the most time-consuming of the day. It may be the task that requires the most deep thought. Or not. It could simply be an unpleasant phone call you have to make. Pick the task you're resisting the most and do it first. When you're done, cross that item off your list. Take a few seconds and enjoy the feeling of relief and accomplishment. Now the momentum starts to roll.
3. Pick another item. Do it. Cross it off the list. Feel accomplished. Repeat until list is all crossed off.
That's all there is to it. And this system works for two reasons:
1. The list is in front of you all the time, so you stay focused on what needs to get done.
2. The physical act of crossing an item off the list creates positive emotional momentum that becomes a self-fulfilling action loop. "Hey I finished that task and crossed it off the list. I feel like Superman/woman. Let's do another one." This works even with the smallest tasks.
I know, I know. I don't have a book or seminar or expensive materials to sell you. But simple and effective is what we're all about here -- and this system meets both criteria. I have laboratory proof of it's effectiveness, because it has created better focus and productivity for someone I know well who had long struggled with organizational challenges: me.
The larger lesson here is this: to accomplish your goals or conduct self-improvement, you don't necessarily need expensive systems or consulting help. You need to experiment, to try simple solutions until you find something that sticks. All that costs is your time and effort.
It was another internal company battle, sales vs. marketing, spittle flying, blood pressures rising. It took place years ago, at a long-gone technology company I worked for, over whether to bolt on a feature to a product that didn’t work anyway. The argument was more entertaining, but the outcome was pre-determined, as always: TKO, sales.
Sales nearly always wins these kinds of arguments. Why? Because sales holds the customer relationships, which provides leverage and perceived credibility to drive change in an organization on behalf of the customer.
Professionals in all other areas of a company must push out from behind the desk and go on customer calls from time-to-time. Marketing, communications, finance, IT, operations. You must do this.
Are you nervous about calling on customers? I get it – I lean to the introverted side myself. Here's the one thing you need to remember:
It's not about you.
It’s not. At all. You don’t have the pressure of securing a purchase order or a renewal. You don’t need to go out and dazzle a customer and make them your best friend for life like that John Elway commercial:
Focus on the customer and on learning. Stop being so self-conscious. Your genuine interest will probably end up impressing the other person more than you know.
It's really this simple: if you don't visit customers, you damage your career. You will fall behind the learning curve and networking strengths of your colleagues who do get out and interact face-to-face with real, bill-paying customers. So, in summary:
Not visiting customers:
Don't find time to do this. Make time. You, your customers and your company will all benefit.