The Continual Beatdown While Keeping Upbeat…?

I can’t be the only person that has to be experiencing this, but the unrelenting negative commentary, news, photos, predictions and even local weather are really testing the best of us. I wake-up hoping to hear that The Curve is flattening, I hope that someone mentions the economy is on the uptick, jobless claims are ramping down and even something as far fetched that positive cases have crested and are on the downward trend. However, assuming (regretfully acknowledging fact) that we (USA) are only on our second or third week of the crisis and depending on where you live and who you believe, it’s still pretty early in this saga. This puts us right back to where we were weeks ago, while you wish you could control things you can’t, you need to practice keeping Positive. Unfortunately, for some of us in the parts of the US where it’s still late Winter, or early Spring…it’s cold, rainy, sometimes snowy and often dreary outside. You may have colleagues that mention going out for a walk to keep their sanity and you wish you could do the same. However, this is just another straw on the proverbial back of the camel. So while you suck it up, wince a little at their triumphs and hope tomorrow brings a little sunshine and a moderately milder day, there is still more ahead in the tunnel of terror you will need to navigate.

I guess what I’m trying to convey is that no matter how much negative “information” you may subscribe to, or be an unwitting participant of, there is still more to be had at this moment and what you do to process it, is up to you. There are plenty of false saviors out there, such as movie stars, celebrities, influencers, musicians and other personalities that already live in artificial environments that are now providing support and/or guidance. But be aware, most are doing this out of a lack of attention, hits to the revenue stream, that has occurred since focus has been turned away from them and onto real-life situations. Let’s say I have a relative, or someone close to me suffering from the negative consequences listed above, a celebrity posting on TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube post will not ease my anxiety. Yet it will get them attention and admiration, especially as they check the “right thing to do” box. I don’t fault them if they truly believe they are assisting in the crisis, but as many have witnessed over the years selfless and discrete charity has done more than posting, for the sake of posting. However, if it makes you feel upbeat to have your favorite celebrity jump into the crisis fray, then so be it and enjoy the euphoric feelings.

In Summary

At the end of the day, only you can measure positivity and its impact on you. If you wake up in the morning in a better place than you went to bed in…then all the better. However, if you wake up looking for false deities and quick fixes, I would hope you remember that we are all in this together and often reaching out over the virtual table or even phone-line will have a greater impact on your day than not, plus it creates relevant relationships going forward.

Lemonade from Lemons…

Today I was the recipient of news that my favorite local news publisher, was ceasing operations going forward. Yes, print journalism is not viable in any fashion going forward, but others have found ways to go behind a successful paywall, or leverage advertising and diversity in their content to attract a wider audience. While I enjoyed the weekly print copy in my mail, I could see items relevant to my town or school district, it was often loaded with print advertisements to make it capable of being delivered weekly. The ads would be for merchants inside and out of my neighborhood, I would quickly peruse the 15 or 20 pages to see if there was a picture or article of interest and would often find minimal content that pulled me in, thus tossing the periodical into recycling. Back in the day, there may be an editorial written by a historian of the area…but that has long passed. Now we will find a political, sponsored or vanilla piece that has as much interest as the Reddit post that I just scrolled past. But you know what will be missed by the “Print” version of these outlets…the picture in its glorious black and white, color on inky paper. I had dozens of clipped pictures / articles that I would send to relatives about the exploits of my offspring.

Ironically, I have received over the last few years a physically mailed note from my parents about an article they saw in their local newspaper related to something that may have been going on in my neighborhood. I often was torn between saving the mailing and / or wondering why I received this from them nearly seven days after I read about it online. So with a guilty complex, I would save it for a few days and then ultimately toss in that weeks recycling. Bottom line, nostalgia is only worth as much as the person receiving the material and what they envision doin with the content. That being said, I want to propose the following to the local media providers / outlets. You need to fully understand the following before transformation:

Audience: Do you know who they are (you have subscription lists, social media follows, unsolicited comments and other interactions)

Contributors: Most engaged individuals (participants, audience, family members) are posting content about the event with disregard – They have become your reporters

Analytics: Do you know what articles have had the highest page views, clickthroughs and retention based on exposure

Demographics: Do you know who prefers online versus print, you know the segmentation of your audience (ex. age, sex, location, socio-economic…etc.)

Content Preference: Who prefers Sports, Cultural, Ethnic, Religious, Philanthropic content as this can be derived from various content streams that receive the most interaction and engagement

Delivery Preference: Where did you have your highest interaction – online, published or direct via social interaction.

Contributors: Who is most likely to contribute to the content – Family members, Students, Faculty or professionally hired resources

The Next Step…

If you fully understand the above observations and the desire for the general public to receive their news in a timely manner, but with personalization, I think you know the direction I’m going. Engage, Interact, Promote Participation and you create a “crowd sourced” media aggregator and the heavy lifting of content is taken care of by your advocates, while the detailed dissemination is provided by the professionals. Revenue is derived by personalization and retained audience.

Blueprint to Follow…

Dear Customer, should I go deep or wide??

Okay, a bit of clickbait on that title but I’ll try to describe a constant gripe that I have with my small business merchants that I deal with on a daily basis. As you may have noticed in my About section, I have over 25 years in the management consulting field, specifically around Customer Relationship Management (CRM and Master Data Management (MDM). I typically, assist large corporations in the deployment of programs that advance their customer experience objectives by helping them understand how to better interact via acquired data, programs and ultimately offerings that lead to greater customer retention and revenue. But enough about me…I want to provide some observation that is truly relevant during the current economic downturn.

Going Wide

On a daily basis we deal with merchants online and locally (brick-and-mortar) and while the interaction may be quick and painless, the lost opportunity for CRM by the merchant is critical. What did I mean about “Wide” in the title…simply this is the breadth of information the merchant is willing to capture about the customer. For example, I frequent my local hardware store – Do they know I live in the neighborhood, have they seen me before, am I a professional or just a DIY guy? By capturing some of these data points, perhaps they can begin to offer additional information like unannounced sales, workshops, or inform me of a network / community of similar shoppers. But Mike, how does a small business do this? I would suggest a feedback card, or request for simple contact information (don’t be intrusive, you want participation, a postal code and email may be enough at this point) and ideally what they may be interested in to personalize the communication. This would be the start to your CRM and MDM program at the foundational level. At a bare minimum, you now have a database of customers that you can reach out to virtually, that self volunteered to be a member of your community and will be “interested” in communication from you as long as relevant.

Going Deep

I mentioned above that I frequent a local hardware store and by frequent I mean at least once a week. Therefore, I have made the (personal) decision that this will be my go-to choice for hardware accessories and services, but I don’t believe my chosen merchant even knows this. Let’s say that I keep stopping in for painting, plumbing or lumber supplies. The next level of engagement by my merchant should be to go “Deep“…what project or specific activities are you working on, providing an additional level of detail about you? The merchant can now begin a level of personalization that is above and beyond their competitors. This could be accomplished by having a survey of no more than five questions that help to identify what interests their customer has. There is a phrase in CRM called “Know Your Customer” (KYC) and many are still struggling to perfect this, because it takes work, needs an objective and often is subject to resistance by the customer. If the merchant approaches the objective with I’m here to assist you versus, I’m here to sell you something…the customer will feel a bit more at ease and be more receptive to the effort. The benefits of KYC in small business are extremely positive, you can become their trusted advisor, partner and create a long-term relationship that survives turbulent times. Once this relationship has been built, expanding outside of the comfort zone can be profitable. For my hardware store example, if they analyzed their data, they would see that I typically do the same projects based on the season. Pushing information to me just prior to that season may make me more prone to visiting the store to procure my supplies for that season.

Engaged, thank you

I think the ultimate goal for many merchants would be the migration of on-demand transactions to a subscription service. I’m going to pick on my hardware store on last time. If they successfully accomplished the above levels of engagement, they may now pursue getting the customers to “sign-up” for subscription based components. This could be as simple as…Mike always buys furnace filters, of a particular size every four months, he also buys fertilizer every three months and we noticed a particular pattern in cleaning products. I hope you see where I’m going with this, if the merchant can put the customer on a subscription and ships, or tells the customer the product is ready for pick-up, they will now have a fully engaged customer for specific items and ensure repeat purchases.

I will cover each one of these areas in depth over time, but I believe you can see the value in CRM and MDM for all merchants and more importantly while these merchants struggle to keep their clientele during tough times.

A Case for Factual Positivity…

The hourly barrage of disappointing news, statistics that highlight the negative trends which can be culled from any sample data and the dire warnings of things to come can really take its toll on you mentally if you let it. However, there is also a problem with “only” hunting for and regurgitating the positive (trying to find that silver lining), ironically you may start to imagine / embellish / inflate stories you have heard that may not actually be factual. So, what am I trying to say here…Positivity is beneficial, when it is grounded in fact and comes with a reputable audit trail. This is a lot harder to produce than the alternative. Yes, there are always people that will gravitate to the negative, salacious and / or outrageous commentary. Why, because it’s exciting and can be used to attract an interactive and boisterous audience which equals more pageviews and more clicks. Positivity is typically not going to be as “sexy” as a negativity, especially when that negative statement is rooted in controversy. We’ve all heard of the term Hot Takes and the provocative nature they are derived from.

Understanding the above, leadership needs to know their audience (I discussed this in a previous post)…will the audience listen to facts, will it be confusing to the group, does it meet the expectations of the reader? The author may want to begin the dialog with controversy / negativity / rumor just to gain their audiences attention, pique their interest and then begin to address the individual topics one-by-one with a positive spin, containing the facts that will ultimately push the negative elements to the back of their audience’s mind. However, be aware in that audience there may also be…

The Troll

Unfortunately, there has been a whole new online personality that has developed over the last few years (Internet Troll) – Those that love to poke the bear for a reaction and ultimately receive notoriety that they would not have normally had in “normal” society. They would not dare do this in public, so they will hide behind avatars, burner accounts, handles and any other user id that gives them anonymity. Once exposed, they will quickly dispose of the ID and start a new one to continue their lust for attention. While often easy to shut them down via facts and figures, they are not limited in their pursuit of a crowd. They will often say the most outrageous comments, just to see / get the reaction. Getting out in front of them is key in your communication strategy to shed positivity, where positivity is warranted.

In summary, the case for factual positivity is absolutely warranted. It provides that proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” which helps to keep the team / organization motivated, but also aides in knocking the troll nation down a peg by hindering the notoriety and fame they are desperately seeking.

Collaboration Tools in The Spotlight…

Now that most of us have been asked / forced to work from home, collaboration tools are getting a lot of use and hopefully your organization was ahead of the move and not scrambling to deploy and adopt during a crisis.

Over the years that I’ve spent in consulting, I’ve been exposed to numerous tools, some good, some bad, but they all seemed to meet the immediate need at the moment. I witnessed the progression from messaging to full fledge collaboration (sharing, editing of files live) and with each iteration there were always hurdles and learning curves that needed to be overcome. Messaging always seemed to be fairly straightforward…type a comment or response, click send and repeat.

Then came the Calendar and Scheduling functions…a bit trickier as you need to filter between public and private entries, have access to others calendars and even the more complex ability to schedule conference rooms. However, if this capability is functioning as expected it becomes very efficient in scheduling meetings / calls and ensuring that participants are available and not double-booked. I found folks that would “block” certain hours out during the day so they weren’t swamped with back-to-back meetings, or requested for attendance during their lunch hour. This practice is highly effective when working in a global culture and when individuals forget about timezones.

Then came the more exotic and truly collaborative functionality of live / in-line editing of files (documents, spreadsheets, project plans…etc.). This often requires a lot of education and more important governance around who, what and when documents should be manipulated. There have been too many times when someone forgets they are actively updating, or worse, deleting a document. When you are working as a team on a file, you have to remember that someone else can be in that file at the same time. I’ve found that the old SharePoint method of checking-out and checking-in documents was a bit safer. However, new tools will show you when a person is in the document and what they may be updating at the moment. This often works well when your network, WiFi and connectivity are top-notch.

Here are some Pros and Cons of collaboration tools: (per my colleagues)

  • Pro:
  • Higher productivity in a team environment
  • Accountability across the team versus individual
  • Greater visibility within the team to workload and availability
  • Intuitive collaboration – Sharing of ideas with immediate feedback
  • Standardization of applications
  • Fairly easy deployment of tool(s)
  • Con:
  • Managing individual calendar more difficult (being invited to everything)
  • Collaboration governance not adhered to – Too much access is granted to files (files deleted, modified or moved)
  • Tool adoption is more complicated when someone has used another tool they are more comfortable with – Bring Your own Tool (BYOT)
  • Fear of Big Brother – Opening my calendar, or current status allows management to see what I’m doing every minute of the day

Finally, while there are numerous offerings out there with a lot of options for small to large corporations and even families or groups, you should spend some time defining your problem statement – what is it that you want to address and make more efficient. Perhaps starting small and then rolling-in more complexity will make your team adopt the tool more effectively. Either way, this is the ideal time to do your research and see how a collaboration application can help keep your team’s communication optimal.

In no particular order, here are some tools that I’ve used and / or deployed:

Communication –

General Collaboration –

In future posts I will explore the content management systems (on-premise / cloud), repositories and digital asset management systems that have linkage to the products listed above that I’ve been exposed to.

Keep Your Assets Fresh…

No, I’m not talking about daily hygiene, however there are some that should heed this recommendation. You know who you are.

What I am hoping to explain is that during a mandated “Stay at Home Advisory” via our local, state or federal government, there will never been a better time to retool, or at a bare minimum keep yourself fresh with the latest technology and professional offerings being provided (often at zero “temporary” membership fees) by many vendors. Companies are providing professional skills training and also high tech, pre-certification courses to the population in response to our current situation and we need to accept their offerings as required.

Some of the current offerings can be found at: (many more are available)

I would hope that after this period, you don’t look back and wish you spent a few hours a week, developing a new skill or polishing a skill that you may use daily, but haven’t explored the outer reaches of. There was a lot of buzz prior to the start of the year (2020) around, Artificial Intelligence, Robotic Process Automation, Cloud Computing, Predictive Analytics and numerous other cutting-edge technologies. Now that the world is taking a short pause, there is no better time to get a jumpstart on some of these concepts. Once we re-emerge from scenarios taken out of our control, why not be ahead of the competition and ready to lead the resurgence that most of us are anticipating going into 2021.

In just a matter of weeks, we will be back to long work weeks, short weekends and the limited bandwidth that never allows us to fill in the gaps within our skill set repertoire arsenal. Motivation may be waning at this point, but it’s your decision to execute or look for another excuse.

Leadership During Uncertainty…

During times of uncertainty and the resulting anxiety it brings, most people are looking to leaders, or voices of reason for words to continue move forward with. Keeping conversations clear and concise is critical to communication. Trying to project alternative messaging, make a statement, taking a stance is not going to be helpful and should be avoided. Sure, leaders do not possess a crystal ball to give us what we really desire (answers to the complex questions) but they do have an engaged audience and the attention that others may not have. They are not the voices that need to publish to be heard, they are typically a voice that is subscribed too. Therefore, an element of positivity and total clarity is key to the communication.

For example, if someone was to ask…When is this all going to end, when do we get back to normal? (use a checklist)

  • Be Positive: Simple statements – We will get back to normal, this is not status quo
  • Be Factual: Over the last “x” days, or weeks we have seen the curve flattening in “x” countries – This has happened because of “x” actions
  • Be Clear: Don’t make your audience guess what you mean, or interpret it differently than stated
  • Provide Perspective: Prior to this situation, here is where we were with regards to the economy, opportunities and technological advancement
  • Be Open-Minded: Answer with – That’s a valid point and lets address this offline and get back to everyone as a whole on our finding
  • Provide Guidance: In “x” days, we will reassess where we are and make the next set of decisions – This will be based on the following criteria and here is where you can find that information
  • Assign Accountability / Ownership: Each item that was not answered, needs to have an individual assigned and estimate on delivery provided – The audience will know who to go to for resolution of “x” issue

Remember – Facts, ultimately speak louder than emotion in the end. Of course, people will tend to gravitate towards emotional, loud, salacious and wild commentary versus a dialog surrounded by facts and figures. Facts don’t get the pageviews and clicks that controversy will. But at the end of the day, people will remember who “lead” them in times of uncertainty and if or when these times happen again (and you know they will) hopefully they will call upon the voices of reason to provide guidance they desperately need.

Staying Positive…

There are currently two channels of communication out there…folks trying to be positive (via any method) and others that will claim the world is burning and it’s just a matter of time before we see the end-of-days.

However, it’s interesting to see where the source of this information is coming from. The positivity will often come from individuals that would typically see positive themes during a time of negativity. They comment about the righteousness of religion, friends, family and even health. While being positive, they are hoping for the best, keeping their heads-up, reaching out to friends and family…soul-searching. I respect these individuals more than you can imagine. They have built a foundation of trust, belief and confidence that I can not imagine building during a time of ambiguity. I’m truly impressed by their resilience and ambition.

Then there are the negative folks, those that thrive on spewing the worst of a situation. Things like…this pandemic, quarantine, shelter in place situation we are in will last forever…our government let us down, Gen-Z are screwing the progression of flattening the curve, the Baby Boomers are making this worse because they didn’t prepare. We have politicians / mass-media battling about calling things racist or incompetent, yet people are still getting sick, or infected. Do these folks go home at night and check the box…yep, I’m happy I satisfied my objectives for today.

I may be asking for too much, maybe a balance between the negative and the positive, but the extremes are continually unproductive. At this point I would be satisfied with just a target/goal…by “x” date, we hope to be able to have “x” available to the population. This way I can measure if we are ahead, or behind our goals.

Some thoughts about latest commentary on and off mass-media…

What Could Have Been…

Did you ever have that idea that was so outstanding you were bursting with energy to let the world know all about? You were so confident that this was life-changing, it’s even unbelievable that no one else has even thought of this?

However, did you also know that your personality, or for that matter the members of your “Idea Team” were less than aggressive executioners (odd phrase) and risk-takers, meaning that the idea will never get off the runway, let alone the blueprint phase of putting it down in writing?

I live among individuals that are creative and ambitious, but not necessarily risk-takers. The ideas are often flowing at a rate that will make your head-spin, but a week later none of us can remember what that world changing concept was the previous week. Even worse, the ideas that needed “effort” beyond a concept, are left to die unceremoniously because someone needed to do “something” beyond ideation.

What makes a person pursue their idea, concept, or thoughts? I’m guessing it’s Passion…yes, you’re the one willing to go above-and-beyond the thought process to see your idea come to life. Does this mean sacrifice and heavens no, failure? Sure, that is what passion means…you’re willing to embody failure and feel the pain of embarrassment, if your cherished idea is not accepted with open arms by the unwashed of your audience. Do you give-up, no new iterations of the idea…back to brainstorming? – I’ve seen this too often to count.

But let’s say it is embraced, now what? I have witnessed colleagues that say “Excellent, let’s hire people to deliver this idea”without taking ownership in the growth and maturation of the concept. This is when the critical nature of “Passion” is called upon and all to often left to flounder. My colleagues had a great idea, but did not have the vision to develop the full roadmap that would bring it to fruition. The phrase “Passion” resonates once again in this scenario, while it may be easy to think of a concept, it’s much harder to foster its growth into a tangible deliverable.

This is where I will end for this post. I honestly believe people have great ideas, but too often lack the motivation to bring them to life. I think if you truly possess the passion to see you concept come to life, you need to ignore the inherent roadblocks (time, money, resources) the best you can, or forever regret what could have been.

As a side note, there are individuals/organizations willing to listen to fully vetted ideas, that may fund your pursuit if they feel you are passionate and have done the due-diligence. I would highly suggest the following sources to mature your idea, while fleshing out objections:

I will dive deeper into Design Thinking and Customer Journey Mapping in future blogs (that’s what I do for a living).

Isolation (Let's See How This Goes)

Winter to Spring – During this time of mandated self / social distancing, when you are formally asked to not “physically” interact with individuals, unfortunately many alternatives will lead to social media…fortunately, this is where you can choose to be the consumer, or the publisher of the messaging.

During these undetermined and apprehensive times ahead, I’m choosing to be the publisher.

But Mike, why so optimistic, things seem to be going from bad-to-worse? Well, the following are items that I hope to accomplish, or at a bare minimum attempt during this period: (keeping focused, keeps me calm)

  • Self instruction via e-learning and audio books
  • Develop a deeper understanding of technology (AI, RPA, DevOps, SaaS)
  • Healthier Habits
  • Organize my environment
  • Better my photography skills
  • More creativity on Instagram and YouTube

We are going to take this one day at a time and see how things shake-out. But in the meantime, here’s hoping for a quick start to Spring, more blogging ahead and a quick end to COVID-19.

Daily Image Seen on TV – March 2020