Who “framed” your career?


Gecko Jones 117It was practically at the start of my post-college work life. Okay, maybe a couple of years into it. 

I was working at CCI and we were about to explode on the scene in multiple product areas.

Our management team determined we should bring in an advertising agency. Among the contenders was a group from the Boston area.

When the agency’s team arrived, our VP Marketing & Sales asked me if I’d give their Creative Director a tour of the manufacturing area and, in the process, quickly educate him on our products, technology and markets.

The gentleman was quite enjoyable to interact with. As we walked around, he asked good questions and clearly understood what we did. It was unexpected, by me, when he made several precise comments about my briefing, all quite positive.

We returned to the meeting room and had a few more minutes to chat. He raised the subject of careers and surprised me, again, by mentioning that he had written a novel that Disney made into a movie. He even shared some fun moments from the negotiations he and his agent had when the studio bought his book.

Two weeks after the “tour”, a package arrived to my attention. My new professional friend had enclosed a copy of his book, autographed with an additional observation about me.

His comments (verbal and written) not only encouraged me to continue in product management and marketing roles, but gave me confidence that these are areas where I had real abilities. He had helped me “frame” my career path.

Let me ask you two questions:

  1. Who helped frame your career?
  2. In your current organization, are you helping to frame a co-worker’s career?

Guiding others can be by steering him/her (no matter what his/her age) away from a functional area where that individual is not cut out to succeed. Or, like Gary Wolf did with me, provide motivation for that person to stay the course.

If you find reason to motivate, you’re now obligated to outline areas for improvement or growth, and to help coach that professional to reach the next level.

In case you didn’t recognize Gary by name, his book is Who Censored Roger Rabbit, and the movie, of course, was titled Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Continue reading

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    Whose job is it?

    Gecko Jones 116As part of my duties throughout my career, I’ve named quite a few companies, web portals and products, and participated in multiple logo creations. As with anything in the world of marketing, everyone has an opinion on things being worked.

    It toughest to get the best possible outcome when conflicting opinions come from the CEO or any of his/her direct reports. The most challenging example came when we were redefining Emerald Systems Corporation to be a new business with a new product. My team had to name the company, craft a logo, productize our new technology and name the new product.

    It was quite a process to get to where my proposal to name our new company St. Bernard Software reached a decision point. Our always serious CFO said “I’m not working for a dog company” and left the staff meeting. Our CEO said he’d leave it up to our Board of Directors to approve the name, but that I would be on my own to present my case.

    Short version of a very entertaining Board meeting: Name approved! In fact, our sales team claimed for years that the name and logo were the strongest assets we had, though our new product was an A+, for sure.

    Whether we thrived with the choices or didn’t, the bottom line is it was Marketing’s responsibility. If you have confidence in your VP Marketing, let these types of decisions be made in that office. If you are unsure of the person/team, change personnel.

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      A possible reason why your company has stalled

      Gecko Jones 115Do you set goals for every department, every quarter (or month)? Do you measure things that lead to real value – not just actions, but results?

      The bar you set for each goal shouldn’t be “match (or beat) last year’s outcomes”, though sometimes that might be hard enough. In most cases, if you’re doing the right things, you should expect more.

      In one company, I restaffed most of the Marketing Department upon my arrival, due to a mix of voluntary and forced terminations. We then doubled the lead count from the previous year’s participation at our industry’s largest annual trade show. The next year, we doubled those results. Yes, quadrupling the leads from just two years earlier.

      I had never worked with any of those teammates before. However, each was a true professional and energized by having to step up to a measurable challenge.

      Put the right people in the right positions, give them aggressive, but reasonable goals, and quantify the output. If you do this well, the results will make you very happy.

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        No need to wonder, it’s happening in your company

        Gecko Jones 114Political analysts often observe that each country gets the leadership it deserves. In other words, you (or a majority of your fellow citizens) voted for the particular president or governor or mayor. If the reaction (polls) afterwards is “that wasn’t a great choice”, well, that’s who people chose.

        The same thing happens with each new hire in a company (at any level of the organization), with a powerful twist: You can take a great hire and minimize that individual’s contribution. Equally, new hires can grow and perform beyond their previous accomplishments.

        Elected officials do what they (or those whom they allow to influence them – staff, sponsors and lobbyists) want to do. In any case, it’s the official who ultimately decides what he/she will do.

        In companies, the CEO or department head determines what will be permitted: New activities, new policies, etc. So, unlike voters who lose control once elections are over, the hiring manager shares responsibility with each team member for what does or doesn’t happen on an ongoing basis.

        Over time, companies get, keep and derive the employee value each deserves. Where does your company, division, department stand?

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          Are you Colonel Jessup or Lieutenant Kaffee?

          Gecko Jones 113You may not recognize these movie characters’ names. In “A Few Good Men”, Jack Nicholson (as the Colonel) uttered the famous phrase to Tom Cruise (the Lieutenant):

          “You can’t handle the truth!”

          You may have sided with one character or the other, depending on personal acting favorites, the roles they played or your view on the issue of internal discipline in the military.

          Nevertheless, Colonel Jessup’s point was well taken and has relevance in the business world.

          In an earlier executive role, I teamed up with our CEO to land the three biggest possible OEM partners in our product niche. It got us over a financial obstacle and helped us dominate against the large elephant in our industry.

          As a result, our business model shifted. Our revenues from these accounts became larger than our direct sales, making our Product Management (which was part of my charter) and Software Development efforts (managed by a very skilled colleague) a partnership with these other companies.

          One day, I got a call from an executive I’d worked with earlier in my career. He never made casual, keep-in-touch calls, so I was quite intrigued with what he would say. He quickly got to the point: “XYZ company (one of our OEMs) is committing resources to create a product that matches yours. They predict the extra margin in their sales will make it worth the up-front investment.”

          That same afternoon, our product manager for that program walked into my office and closed the door. He said “I just got off my weekly call with XYZ’s implementation team regarding future feature requirements. They acted odd through the meeting. I think they’re planning their own product.”

          This was significant, not only for the revenue we could lose, and the new competitor we would have, but how we would allocate precious internal resources for future development, and how much information we should share with XYZ’s employees.

          I couldn’t compromise my source, but I went into our CEO’s office and told him that both our product manager and I had separate sources that gave us the confidence to suspect XYZ was moving forward with their own internal development.

          He brought our CFO and Sales Director into his office. When he told them what may be happening, they both ran into an office to call a common contact they had inside XYZ. They returned to insist there was no truth to our story.

          Our CEO preferred that XYZ not move ahead on their own. The two others on his staff were clueless on how to broach the subject directly, instead of lightly. None of the three wanted this to be true. They were panicked more about the loss of a major account than taking any number of possible steps to head off or prepare for this scenario. They “couldn’t handle the truth”.

          For other reasons, I moved on to another corporate opportunity. The final scene of this real-life movie went as you might expect. Shortly after I left, the OEM publicly announced their newest product. There was no valid Plan B in place to make up for that loss.

          There’s a saying that “hope is not a strategy”. Neither is living in denial. Business is getting past situations that aren’t ideal. Pretending they aren’t happening is useless. Success demands you handle the truth.

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