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Establishing a Vision and Then Getting Your Team to Buy Into It

As I wrap up my first week in Chicago, I've fully realized the advantage of working with the same people for years – they knew exactly how I thought about PR, social media, communications, and branding. They knew what I looked for in their work, what questions I would ask, what points I wanted them to make. Over the years, they had heard me say the same things so many times that they had all bought into the same approach to our work. This wasn't because it was mandated  or because I beat it into them (I don't have, what you might call an intimidating presence), but because we were worked together to form these axioms and bought into them collectively. 

The "Follow Me" statue in Infantry Hall at Fort Benning, GA

This past week however, has been a bit of a trip back in time for me as I again have to not only share my unique approach to our work, but also get my co-workers to see the value in the way I do things and buy into that approach. This is one of the differences between management and leadership. Can I get my new team to buy into my approach not because they have to (they don't) or because they'll get fired if they don't (they won't), but because they believe it's the right way? 

That's one of the big things I'll be working on over these next few months. So what are those things? Here are a few of the things my old team probably heard me say a million times:

  • Ten actions that will define how you look at PR – Too many PR practitioners have become so focused on the message that they have totally forgotten the relations part of public relations. Let's not fall into the same trap.
  • It's not about the technology, it's what the technology enables – Something I've said ever since I started using social media. All the bells and whistles and new features are great, but don't get distracted by the latest tools. Stay focused on our clients' goals and objectives and if the latest tech will help achieve that, then great. But don't try to use Pinterest, Highlight, Path, and Google+ just because you saw some social media nerds saying it's the "next Facebook!" Use them if and when they can help your clients achieve their communications goals.
  • Be you and be you all the time – Don't try to act/dress/talk like someone else just because you think that's what you need to do to get promoted  or to be accepted. Know your strengths, know your weaknesses and be confident in your unique abilities.
  • Don't be afraid to take risks – If it's been more than a few months before someone had to pull you back from an idea or you got scolded for pushing the envelope a little too much, you're probably not doing your job as well as you could. Don't be afraid to take calculated risks, but don't be reckless. Have a rationale for your decisions and try new things. I'll trust you and provide you with the top cover to take those risks. 
  • Don't become a social media ninja – use social media to become a better… – Social media technology offers tremendous tools for PR pros, and yes, I think we all need to be aware of their impact on our industry. However, I have no desire to create a team of gurus and ninjas. Instead, I want my team to understand how to best incorporate social media into their PR strategies and tactics. Social isn't the be-all, end-all of communication.
  • Don't forget that you're a human being so remember to talk like one – The Cluetrain Manifesto said it best – "In just a few more years, the current homogenized "voice" of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court." Remember that your goal is to develop and strengthen relationships with actual people, not just to sell something to a faceless, nameless customer.
  • Let's not look for "established best practices" for our clients – let's create the practices other people call best practices – You should absolutely continue to research what other companies and agencies have done or are doing. See what you can learn from their successes and failures, but don't identify a best practice and then try to replicate it. Use these best practices and lessons learned as source materials and then come up with your own idea, an idea that no one's ever thought of before. Sure, maybe 90% of your ideas will end up on the cutting room floor, but that one idea that makes it will be ten times better than if you had taken the easy route and followed the best practices laid out in the PR person's handbook. 
  • Be a trusted adviser – Your relationship with your client should be a partnership, not a dictatorship. Learn how to do more than just do what your client says. Build your relationship with them so that you can be candid (both positively and negatively) with each other.
  • Nothing is more important than your people – If you need something, I will get it for you. If you're interested in something, I'll do my best to give you those opportunities. If you ask me a question, I'll get you an answer. If you send me an email, I'll reply as fast I can.

I'm sure there are many more that I've forgotten here (if you've worked with me before, what else would you add?), and many more that I'll learn along the way. I'm excited to find out how these views fit into the culture here, and how they might adapt over time.  Until then, I guess it's time to go annoy a whole new group of co-workers with my little sayings 🙂

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What Steve Taught Me

The following is a guest post from some of the people who worked the closest with Steve over the past 4+ years at Booz Allen. His impact on the firm and individual people within the firm will be realized for many years to come. We’ve captured a few of the top lessons learned from Steve that we will carry with us in our work and life forever.

Steve taught me…
·         …that fortune favors the bold and fearless. Specifically, he taught me that creative, thoughtful ideas that have the potential to transform and disrupt should never be held back.  —Michael Dumlao
·         …that you don’t have to wear a suit jacket to play with the big boys!!! —Mike Robert
·         …how to navigate in a large consulting firm after spending my whole life in the education & research world –Don Jones
·         …the power of empowering others to build something new by boldly leading –Don Jones
·         …that great ideas can change powerful institutions, even when their tendency is to remain in stasis –Don Jones
·         …that be willing to speak up and shake the status quo can pay off –Don Jones
·         …that you can take the boy out of Pittsburgh, but you can't take Pittsburgh out of the boy –Don Jones
·         …that people come first. Time spent developing your "second team" is the most strategic investment you can make in your career. — Jacque Myers

  …to lead by example. Don't tell people what they should do–show them, and then empower them to take the lead. –Jacque Myers

  …to take risks, but choose your battles. Sometimes you have to ruffle feathers to get things done, but make sure it's truly necessary. Don't be a rebel for the sake of rebelling. Work within the system, and if it's something worthwhile that can't be accomplished the traditional way, blaze trails. –Jacque Myers

  …to network, network, network. I can't even count the number of times Steve would say to me, "You know (so and so) right?" He has a way of identifying people that matter and then building – and sustaining – relationships with them. Fortunately, he freely shared that network with me. One of my biggest challenges (and opportunities) moving forward will be to expand my own network in his absence. –Jacque Myers

  …If you believe in something, don't stop until you make it happen. Steve had a vision for transparency and collaboration in government long before the Open Government Directive and the #gov20 hash tag, and he would talk about it to anyone who would listen. He found people who shared his vision, and he worked with us to challenge our clients and transform the way they do business. His vision has been realized, and now it's time to move on to new opportunities and new challenges. Steve – Best of luck to you as you begin this new chapter! –Jacque Myers

·         …how to say yes enough to earn the right to say no.  –Tracy Johnson
·         …that getting your hands dirty almost always pays off. –Tracy Johnson
·         …that being a great leader has nothing to do with a title.  –Tracy Johnson
·         …how important it is to be a champion and mentor for other colleagues. I can’t thank you enough for being my champion over the past 3 years. Your support and encouragement has changed my career and life for the better. –Tracy Johnson
What has Steve taught you? How did it change your career or life? Please share your thoughts and well-wishes for Steve’s new adventures in the comments section!
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Time for a Change

Eight years ago, I left my job(s) delivering pizza and operating a crane in a steel mill in West Virginia to become government consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. Consulting. For the government. I can honestly say this was something that never even entered into my mind while I was majoring in Public Relations at Bethany College, and here I was picking up and moving further away than anyone else in my family to do it. My plan was to move down to Northern Virginia for a few years, get some experience and then move back to Pittsburgh where I’d get a job in public relations.  This Wednesday, more than 3,000 days later, will be my last day at Booz Allen. This week I'll be moving to Chicago and then on March 19th, I'll be joining Cramer-Krasselt's PR team as a Vice President, Management Supervisor. 

My first day with Booz Allen was October 6, 2003. To give you some idea of how long ago that really was, consider this:

  • Facebook didn’t exist (it wouldn’t launch on Harvard’s campus for another five months)
  • The #1 song in the country was Beyonce’s Baby Boy
  • The #1 movie at the box office was School of Rock
  • The Red Sox defeated the Athletics in the playoffs and would go on to play the Yankees in the American League Championship Series (the Aaron Boone game was 10 days away). In the National League, the Cubs and Marlins were about to play in the National League Championship (the Steve Bartman incident would happen on Oct. 14th)
  • The most popular TV shows at the time were NCIS, Two and a Half Men, Fear Factor, Chappelle’s Show, and Survivor.

Things never really work out according to plan, do they? What happened? For one, I never expected to still feel challenged after so long with one company; I never expected to have even half the opportunities that I’ve had here; I never expected to enjoy working hand in hand with our clients as much as I did; and most of all, I never expected to love working with the people here so much. Over the last four years especially, I felt as if I was at the tip of the spear when it came to things like social media policy (this blog and my Twitter account were the first transparent, employee-owned, external social media properties), Enterprise 2.0 (I created our now 6,000 member+ Yammer community more than three years ago), and Gov 2.0 (I was on the Programming Committee for the first Gov 2.0 Summit). It was exciting to be among the leaders in the burgeoning social media community in the DC area, and I had a lot of fun in these roles.  That’s one reason why I enjoyed working here so much – my proclivity for challenging and changing the status quo was encouraged and often rewarded.

Eight years at one place is an eternity anymore though, and over the last year or so, I found myself itching for a change and a new challenge. For a long time, I really enjoyed the role I was playing here, disrupting things that are being done “because that’s the way they’ve always been done,” and helping create new roles, processes and policies for my colleagues. However, as I've alluded to here before, being a change agent at the tip of the spear can be exhausting. I was spending just as much time, brainpower, and energy trying to make changes internally and take the organization new places as I was on the client delivery and marketing tasks that I was being paid to do.

You know how you feel when you feel when you’ve been dating someone for a really long time, but don’t want to get engaged because you're not ready to commit for the long-term? How you end up breaking up because you’re not ready to settle down yet?  That’s how I felt. I came to Booz Allen right out of college and have been there ever since. It was time for a change. It was time for me to move on to something new, something different, something that would help broaden my experience beyond the federal government and something that would strengthen my communications skills. It was time for me to experience something entirely different.

It's not without mixed feelings that I say goodbye though. At every step of the way over these eight years, no matter what crazy idea I had, there were always people supporting me and making me better. Sometimes that was my leadership giving me the top cover to take a risk (I wouldn't be where I am today without my mentors, Grant McLaughlin, Terry Mandable, and Jim Hickel). Other times, it was one of our Vice Presidents challenging my ideas and forcing me to back up my ideas with data instead of assumptions. It was people like Jacque Myers pulling me aside after a meeting to tell me very candidly that I was going too far and needed to pull it back a little. It was seeing people like Michael Dumlao, Tracy Johnson, Anna Gabbert, Don Jones, and Mike Robert help me not because they had to, but because they shared my vision and passion for social media and the potential it had to impact our business. Seeing them progress in their careers, get promoted, win awards and develop their own teams is one of the things I’m probably most proud of. I'm excited to see where they take social media after I'm gone. I can't wait to see how they develop their own teams and the next generation of leaders following in their footsteps – people like Margaret Lahey, Matt Allen, Colleen Gray, Amanda Sena, Emily Springer, Liz Helms, and so many others behind them.

I'm looking forward to my new job, employer, colleagues, clients, city, and of course, all of the new friends that I'll be meeting in Chicago. At the same time, I'm really going to miss DC and all of my friends and colleagues out here. Ultimately though, I'm think I'm most excited for the start of something new.  While I'm at C-K, I'll continue to blog here about social media, PR, advertising, and branding as well as my experiences in the PR industry – I hope you'll continue to read and engage with me here. 

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Are You a Corporate Rebel?

One of my new favorite sites is www.rebelsatwork.com/. Started by Lois Kelly and retired deputy director of intelligence for the CIA, Carmen Medina, the site is meant to give corporate rebels a platform to share their stories and ideas and help more corporations and big organizations succeed because of (not in spite of) their rebels. 

What's a corporate rebel you ask? According to the Rebels at Work site – 

You hear about innovators in start-ups all the time. Rebelliousness and restlessness are accepted qualities of entrepreneurs. But what about people on the inside of big organizations? How do they blaze new trails and find ways to change business as usual. What are their characteristics? What makes them tick? How do you find them? Could they be an untapped resource for creating more innovative, engaged corporate cultures?

Good rebels also tend to be outstanding employeesThis idea of a "corporate rebel" has always resonated with me because I've always been known as the squeaky wheel, the guy who was never satisfied with doing something because that's the way we've always done it or because the boss said so and the guy who was never satisfied with doing what everyone else was. I've annoyed many a manager by acting almost like a three year-old at work, constantly asking why? Why not? And why can't we do that?  So when I saw Carmen and Lois' site, I recognized that I wasn't alone, that I wasn't crazy for trying to challenging and trying to change long-held assumptions and policies in corporate America. So when they reached out to me on Twitter to share my story being a corporate rebel, I jumped at the chance. One of the questions I answered for my rebel story was, "what advice do you wish someone had given you earlier in your career?" I said: 

"The biggest piece of advice I wish someone had shared with me is to be yourself and be yourself all the time. Don’t listen to the people who tell you that you have to talk a certain way or dress a certain way to advance your career. Don’t try to be someone you’re not just because you don’t see anyone like you in the levels above you. Understand the unique skills, experience, and characteristics that YOU bring to the table that other people don’t have. Don’t assume that just because you’re a junior level employee that you’re at the bottom of the ladder and you have to go up. Look at it like you’re filling a different role, an important role in the organization. You bring strengths to the table that senior leaders don’t – you’re not jaded or cynical, you’re still full of ambition, you’re more likely to take risks, you’re better connected to the rest of the staff, etc. Understand and properly value your strengths."

You can read my full rebel story here, but I would encourage anyone who works in a big government agency or a big company and finds themselves frustrated by the bureaucracy and the inertia of the status quo to bookmark the site and visit it often for inspiration and encouragement. Making change happen in a big organization when you don't have a "Vice President" or "Director" after your name is incredibly difficult. It requires rebels who know how to be disruptive without being insulting, who can offer solutions in addition to identifying problems, who can energize others others to follow, not hold other people back, and who are almost optimistic to a fault. 

If you're the type of person who asks why? why not? how come? what if? or can we?; if you're the type of person who just can't accept "because that's the policy" as a reason for doing something; if you've ever found yourself emailing suggested changes to a corporate policy to your boss solely because you wanted to, you may be a corporate rebel. And guess what? Not only is that ok, you're probably one of your organization's best employees. In fact, most corporate rebels also share many of these nine traits of outstanding employees, so if you feel like your rebelliousness is being punished instead of rewarded, I wouldn't worry – I suspect the job market for an outstanding employee is pretty good :).  

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