Friday, January 15, 2021

How Will Your Team Decide If You’re a Good Leader?

It's time for a three-peat appearance by Ron Thomas since he appeared here on my Blog in 2011 and 2015. Ron's specialties are human resources and leadership, and his international experiences are both eye-opening and inspirational. Ron and I met on Twitter in 2011 when social media was still relatively new. We spoke by phone when he was based in New York, and he soon moved to the Middle East to work for a company that recruited him via social media. I’m thrilled to welcome Ron back to my Blog. Highlights of our discussion follow his bio below.

Ron Thomas is the Managing Director of Strategy Focused Group, an international consulting firm based in Dubai and Singapore. He was the former CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and CHRO of Al Raha Group, based in Riyadh. Previously, he worked in senior level roles for IBM, Martha Stewart Living, and Xerox HR Services (HR Consulting) in the United States. He is a visiting Executive Faculty member at the Global Human Resources Leadership Institute at Howard University School of Business in Washington, D.C., and an Adjunct Facilitator at American University in the Emirates, Dubai. Ron was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia, and his work has been featured in The Wall St. Journal, Inc. Magazine, and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India, and the Middle East. Ron is a sought-after speaker throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific Region and USA. Connect and follow on Twitter @ronald_thomas.

QUESTION: From your experiences since March, how has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the employee experience in Dubai?

Like the world over, it has had a tremendous effect. Since my work covers the Middle East, Africa, as well as Asia, the impact has been jarring. Inadequate workspace in the home, slow internet speed, entire families home with parents working, and children being schooled all in one space. However, on the flip side, commuting time has been drastically cut, and there is the possibility of more work-life balance.  

Organizations should begin developing managers for the new WFH/WFA dynamic (work from home/work from anywhere). Virtual management skills are different from in-person. Zoom burnout is much talked about as being the default method of communications. I have tried and successfully shifted back to personal calls as needed and have advised my clients to do the same as needed. The default communication should NOT be Zoom.

QUESTION: You appeared here on my Blog in a Q&A back in 2011. With that in mind, I'd like to circle back to a question I asked you then to see if your perspective has changed: What are the five most important qualities of a good leader?

One thing that Covid has showed a lot of leaders is that leading in a crisis is a lot different than leading in a normal environment. I have heard from numerous leaders that it has exposed the lack of skills needed in managing in ambiguity, decision-making, etc. While on the other hand, some leaders and “non-leaders” have stepped up to fill the void. The past few months have shown the cracks in the armour of leadership that will have to be addressed while It’s hot.   

That being said, my five qualities of Covid Leadership are:
(1) Empathy
As workers return to the workplace, leaders will become counsellor-in-chief in many ways, whether they like it or not. Indeed, this tragedy has touched so many in such profound ways that many workers will be essentially working while grieving. Empathy must be authentic, which means that a lot of managers are not equipped for that role. Developing them is key.

(2) Candor
Be honest. If you led with honesty pre-Covid, you will be fine as long as you stay the course. While honesty has always been an important leadership trait, this moment requires another level of honesty – candor. Arguably, the best antidote for a workplace climate of anxiety and cynicism is being honest and open. People respond so much better to the known, than the unknown. Managers should be open, and their people should feel this as truth being spoken. “We are all in this together” is the mantra for Dubai citizens.

(3) Communication
Communicate, communicate, and communicate some more. “Information is the oil that greases an organization and keeps it running smoothly,” Klann says. “This is especially true during a crisis.”
Repeating and reinforcing information on a daily basis and via multiple delivery methods helps it to sink in and be retained.

“Remember, when information regarding what is happening is scarce or non-existent, people revert to gossip and rumours.” I learned this when I was VP of HR at Martha Stewart Living, when she was convicted. An employee told me one time “I spend 8 hours a day at this office and nobody is addressing this issue and what it means for employees. I have to go home and watch the news to get information as to what is happening although I just left there.”

(4) Listening – Be an Active Listener!
Don’t focus only on the words that your employee is using; nonverbal cues can convey essential information if one knows how to read them. Look out for changes in intonation, volume, pace, and flow – and keep an eye on facial expressions and body language. All of these can be quite informative and reveal a lot. Think of it this way: if you have kids or you are married, you can sense when something is wrong by the responses. STAY WOKE.

(5) Collaboration
Bring your team closer in your decision-making. Ask their advice, seek out their opinion more. Create an environment where they feel trust.

TWEET THIS: The five most important qualities of a good leader are empathy, candor, communication, listening, and collaboration. –@ronald_thomas #COVID19 #leadership

QUESTION: You also appeared on my Blog in 2015. I'd like to circle back to a question I asked you then to see if your perspective has changed: We agree that, for all new employees to be successful, an effective onboarding strategy must be implemented. What are your three must-have tips to all businesses when it comes to creating effective onboarding strategies?

Imagine getting invited to someone’s house and when you turn up, it is a lukewarm welcome, you feel like they are looking at their watch until you leave. That was my experience at a former company. It was the worst experience ever, and I said then that if I had the opportunity to run this program, I would fix it. When the opportunity did come, we built an award-winning Onboarding program that was profiled in “Creative Onboarding Programs” book.

Three Must-Haves:
(1) Make them feel welcome and correct that they chose the right company.
(2) Check-in at the end of the first week and every month thereafter. At the end of the quarter, bring back a cross section of the new hires. Mission is to find out how are things and how could they be better. Those check-ins should last one year.
(3) Think of them as new customers and not new employees. This will alter your thinking and re-frame the conversation.

QUESTION: You wrote a recent post entitled, “You’ll be a better leader and manager if you don’t believe the hype.” Can you please elaborate?

“I know that I am a great manager.” When I hear that phrase, I am looking at possibly a candidate for the worst manager. Your team will brand you as a great manager, it is not self-anointing. Leadership branding is earned over a period of time. It is a journey NOT a one-time event. My test is to go back to previous jobs and count the number of people that you still keep in touch with. How many of them reach out to you to keep you abreast of their career or to seek career advice? How many of them still count on you as their coach?

TWEET THIS: Your team will brand you as a great manager, it is not self-anointing. –@ronald_thomas #LeadershipTips #EmployeeExperience

QUESTION: You included a business tip in a recent blog post: “My rule is that if the email goes back and forth twice, I get up, walk over or pick up the phone to get the issue resolved.” Of course, that was pre-Covid, but once we are in the post-Covid world, it will become relevant again. Can you please elaborate?

Since the phone was invented, it was the go-to tool to keep in touch. Covid has driven everyone to video calls, but if you are like me, the visual portions add an extra layer of stress. I have found that just picking up the phone is better for clarification or just to check in. Because every call should not be just about business. Remember how we react when we notice certain calls pop up. Do we eagerly pick up or do you, like me, respond by saying “Not now, I will deal with it later.” Create the relationship so that you are in the former category.

My extreme gratitude to Ron for sharing his leadership insights from across the miles.

Image Credit: Gratitude to Josh Winters of The Brooks Group (@TheBrooksGroup on Twitter).

Blog post referenced in #4:
Blog post referenced in #5:
Blog post Q&A in 2015:
Blog post Q&A in 2011:

Lastly, if you are interested in taking a job in a foreign country, read Ron’s tips on the TLNT website:

Friday, January 1, 2021

Top 10 Marketing Highlights of 2020

With 2020 now history, it's time for my annual “Top 10” marketing highlights post – incredible that this is my 11th post featuring annual marketing highlights.

What do you remember from the 2020 marketing reel? What stood out as marketing innovation, and what will go down in history that was as memorable as Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad? Without further ado, let’s get to it! 

With a nod and thank you to David Letterman for the format, here's my list:

When it comes to signage, everyone knows about the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign from 1959 that greets visitors at the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard. But during 2020, a new downtown landmark appeared, the Gateway Arches. The 80-foot-high twin interlocking steel arches dangle a seven-ton, pink, retro-style City of Las Vegas emblem framed by more than 13,000 LED lights.

Numerous brands changed their names in an effort to show their sensitivity to diversity, equality, racial injustice, and inclusion following the death of George Floyd and the #BlackLivesMatter protests.

Here are some of the new names: The Dixie Chicks became The Chicks, Lady Antebellum became Lady A, the Washington Redskins became the Washington Football Team.

The following food brands also made some changes:  

  • Uncle Ben’s Rice became Ben’s Original.
  • Eskimo Pie decided on a new name three months after it acknowledged its original name was offensive toward native arctic communities. In 2021, the chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream bar will be called Edy's Pie, after one of the company's founders, Joseph Edy.
  • Land O' Lakes rebranded its packaging for its 100th anniversary, “to better tell its farmer-owned story” and removed the lady (a Native American Indian) from its logo.
  • The Aunt Jemima brand of syrup and pancake mix will get a new name and image – this 130-year-old brand featured a Black woman named Aunt Jemima, whose look perpetuated a racist stereotype.
  • Mrs. Butterworth and Cream of Wheat are in the process of a complete brand and packaging review.
  • The Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves major league baseball teams may also change their names, logos, and uniform design in the future.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away. Soon after her death, protests started because the person nominated to replace her had completely opposite views on all matters. However, women and men vowed to continue to honor Ginsburg’s legacy of equality for all. Shirts, hats, and pins appeared everywhere with Ginsburg’s likeness and famous quotes.

No retail store is more associated with Christmas than Macy’s, but in 2020, Santa Claus ended a 159-year tradition and did not visit Macy’s stores for his annual meet-and-greet with children. This decision was made due to concerns about the Covid-19/corona virus pandemic. According to the company’s press release, “To replicate the magical experience of visiting Macy’s Santaland for children and their families, we will shift to a virtual engagement this year. The experience starts with a greeting from virtual elves who lead the way through Santa’s village and workshop, stopping to see the sights and play interactive games. At the end, kids will meet Santa through an interactive video, where they’ll be able to share their holiday wish list and take a selfie with Santa, which families can download immediately.”

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Prince Harry and wife Meghan) gave up their status as “senior working royals” and moved first to Canada and then to Beverly Hills, finally settling near Santa Barbara. Their goal was to become financially self-sufficient – made easier due to deals with Netflix and the New York-based Harry Walker Agency, also used by the Obamas, the Clintons, Oprah Winfrey, and Jane Goodall, to arrange speaking engagements. The couple wishes to create their own philanthropic foundation called Archewell, and to focus on issues such as racial justice, gender equality, environmental concerns, and mental health.

Little boys like to play with plastic toy soldiers, and until 2020, toy soldiers were all male. A seven-year-old girl, Vivian Lord of Little Rock, Arkansas, wondered why they weren’t any female toy soldiers. So, she wrote a letter that read in part, “Why do you not make girl army men?”and sent copies to several army toy manufacturers. Jeff Imel, owner of BMC Toys in Scranton, Pennsylvania, agreed with Vivian, and now, BMC Toys has a line of 22 women army toy soldiers. This action was demonstrative of the difference one person’s voice can make – as well as the change in the toy industry, especially for BMC Toys.

Scientific American magazine broke its 175-year tradition and endorsed a Presidential candidate for the first time. The magazine endorsed Joe Biden due to his concern for the environment and his ideas to combat the Covid-19 crisis.

Throughout the United States, women celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920. The National Women’s Party began wearing three distinct colors in 1913, and the United States Post Office created a stamp featuring purple, white, and gold. Purple was the color of loyalty, constancy to purpose, and unswerving steadfastness to a cause. White was the emblem or purity and symbolized the quality of the suffragists’ purpose. And gold was the color of light and life.

The COVID-19/corona virus pandemic changed life dramatically. With a start in a small town in China, the virus traveled to all corners of the world infecting millions and killing thousands. This virus changed the way everyone lived and worked during 2020. Offices closed, which resulted in many people working from home or losing their jobs - some even lost their homes. Restaurants closed, hotels closed, stores closed, etc. One example of a retail store that closed was Lord & Taylor, which was the first department store in the United States - it closed after nearly 200 years. Sports teams played in empty stadiums. The 2020 World Series was played with less than 20,000 lucky fans in the stands. Stay-at-home orders were imposed, lifted, and imposed again in many cities across the world. While there are rumors that several drug manufacturers are developing vaccines, everyone hopes that vaccines appear in large quantities in 2021.

Online commerce was the only place where sales increased, thus, creating an opportunity for creative digital marketing.

And NUMBER 1 on my 2020 Marketing Highlights List:

Drum roll please...

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 Presidential Election in November. Biden, formerly a Senator from Delaware and Barack Obama’s Vice President, chose Harris, formerly a California Senator, as his Vice President. Harris will be the first woman vice president, the first black vice president, and the first South Asian vice president. Inauguration day will be on January 20, 2021. The amount of marketing swag with the Biden-Harris names and likenesses appeared almost overnight following the announcement of their win. And their marketing team was quick to act with the creation of social media accounts for the Biden-Harris Presidential Transition using the Presidential seal, the number 46, and their tagline of “Build Back Better.”

To quote President Elect Biden, “I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American President. I will work with Democrats and Republicans, and I’ll work as hard for those who don’t support me as for those who do. Because that’s the job of a President.”

To quote Vice President Elect Harris, “What a testament it is to Joe’s character, that he had the audacity to break one of the most substantial barriers that exists in our country and select a woman as his Vice President.”

Despite one’s political beliefs, there is no doubt that this was a memorable election and certainly an appropriate one to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

What would you add to this list? Here's to 2021 and another year of marketing highlights. Happy New Year!

Image Credits: President-Elect Joe Biden's Inauguration campaign, Amazon, and US Post Office.