Managing Your Own Career

A while back, Ashley and I got the pleasure of meeting John Porcaro, Director of Marketing for the XBOX 360.  It was the first time I got to meeting someone whose blog I followed before ever knowing them (I'm still waiting to cross paths with Scoble and Penelope, two of my other unofficial career advisers.).  While John is the curator of the GamerScoreBlog, he also has his own marketing blog, which is how I originally found him.  He slacked off for about a year but - suddenly - has come back to the blogging world (welcome back, John)! Waaaaaaay back when... a looooong time ago, John posted this about writing employee reviews.  The post is tailored to the way Microsoft does their employee reviews, but there is a lot that you can gleam from it regarding how to act at work. Four years later, he returns to the concept. Go read those posts, then continue on... What I really like about John's suggestions is that they are practical and relational.  It's easy to get caught up in the fear of a career going badly, so we end up trying to be mediocre.  A few of his thoughts that I'd like to expand upon: Sometimes Mistakes Can be the Best Thing: This is so true.  Mistakes happen; we're human.  But what makes a great employee is one who can recover from a mistake.  If we mess up and decide to just drop everything... then we come out looking bad.  Mistakes are opportunities. Doing your job really well will make you mediocre: Yes, yes, yes.  To pull a quote from the post:
You were hired to do a job.  You’re being paid to deliver results that are worth a lot of money to the company.  Your reward for doing everything you committed is collecting your paycheck.
Yes!  Look - I, of course, love the idea of incentives and bonuses.  And, if you bring in way beyond the expected value to the company, I think a nice bonus is great encouragement.  But, ultimately, we are NOT entitled to a paycheck.  We have to work for it.  If I aimed to just do my job really well, I wouldn't have nearly the amount of fun that I get to do.  Open Access isn't in my job decription, neither are the LifeWay Conversations.  But going that extra mile means I get to have so much more fun and - in the process - acquire the skills needed for where I want my career to take me. Make It About You: This is one that I struggle with, especially in light of the culture where I work.  We're all too humble.  It's awkward trying to say, "Hey!  Look what I did!"  It's looked down upon, and intentions are questioned.  But... it's important to your career.  The key is finding a balance.  I hope my employers continue to give me the grace to figure that balance out.  Thankfully, I work for great managers who often point out the good that I do to me, not the other way around.  It's a luxury (note to other managers in the world: your employees will love you if you come to them to tell them how awesome they are.  It's honoring, humbling, and will make your employees work even harder to be great). Be visible: again, a potentially awkward one.  Here's my take on it: if I have free time in my schedule, I ask for more work.  This is how I've gotten to attempt and e-Bay Store, ran usability tests, got on the Open Access team, and am now working on a product proposal for something that I think will go through (amongst other various tasks).  If you have free time in your day, don't just chill and surf.  Enhance your skills and further your career.  Oh, and sit near the front at important meetings. and the last one to point out on here (seriously, go read his posts... he's got other good points and speaks with much more authority than I do) is the one that will best help manage your career. Ask for the promotion before the interview: Wild concept, eh?  Think about the reality of employment... there are budgets to consider, work flows to manage, and daily meetings to go through.  If you're a good employee, your manager isn't going to want to see you move on... they want you to keep working for them.  So... you might have to nudge a bit that you're ready to venture upward.  What's great about this is, almost always, the manager isn't going to have an open position to magically put you in.  Instead, you might get more responsibilty given, to try and test you out.  More responsibility for no increase in pay?  Yes!  That's OK.  That's how things work.  How else are you going to get that valuable experience? Thinking about your career is a must.  You can't just expect to be a superstar employee that HR will magically want to promote; you have to work towards it.  One of my favorite past times right now is looking at random job postings.  Not because I want a new job, but because I'm trying to see what are qualifications and experience that I'll need for the next steps in my career.  If I can manage to bring in some of those qualifications into my current role... then I'll be better prepared for the next job.  The only thing worse than never getting promoted is getting promoted to a job you can't handle.
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Where Are the Beatles?

So tonight, Ashley and I watched Across the Universe, the Beatles musical.  The movie was - literally - trippy, and the music was simply astounding.  As it should be; it is the Beatles, after all. As I was watching the movie, I recognized most of the music but there were some songs that I hadn't heard before (I really loved "Dear Prudence" and "Happiness is a Warm Gun," both of which were new to me).  Here's the probelm with the Beatles, though: they aren't accessible to me. While watching the movie I thought, "man, I need to download their music" since I have a Zune Pass and can download whatever I want.  But it's not there.  Amazon MP3?  Nope.  iTunes?  Not there either. The only way to get the Beatles music is via CDs.  And I don't buy CDs. It's not that I couldn't go out and buy a CD... obviously that's humanly possible.  I just... don't.  I don't want the cluttler.  I don't want to have to keep up with a disc.  I don't want to be bothered to go to the store.  I don't want to have to buy a whole album if I only want a few songs.  It's just not how I consume my music anymore. So here I am, a willing customer.  I want to listen to the Beatles and would love to get to put their stuff on my computer, and let their art entertain me.  But - because I'm spoiled with the convience of doing everything digitally - it's not going to happen until someone convinces them to put it out there. I jsut don't understand why it's not out there?  In today's fast moving marketplace, why would a band so integral to the shape of today's music not want to be involved in today's marketplace?  Why silo your work to an old media type that people would be fighting over to be able to distribute for you?  Seriously... it's not that hard to publish content online. Ah well.  It's a shame that the Beatles don't want me to listen to their music.  Instead, I just got the Across the Universe soundtrack, and it's pleasing to my ears. When you decide to play nice, Beatles, I'll be waiting.
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Being Open and Transparent: Another Reason I Love My Job

Whenever I begin a new role in life, I seek to set some milestones for myself.  In my current role, I recogonized some immediate needs (exceeding revenue expectations, improving the quality and diversity of the product), but also ancillary tasks I wanted to complete.  One of those was to bring our customers into the walls of LifeWay to see the personalities and passions of the incredible people that I get to work with.  So far, over 20,000 people have viewed the various LifeWay Conversations strewn about LifeWay.com (and collected right here for my blog readers). I'm proud to say that LifeWay has had the foresight to offer a product that's based on this very concept: to not only give an open look at how LifeWay crafts its resources, but to give the customers a chance to contribute as well.  This project is called Open Access. Last week, I got to see the fulfillment of my dream to help bring people into the walls of LifeWay.  Somehow, the team decided that it was okay for me to shoot one of our meetings.  The entire team approved the idea. I know... it's a strange thing for me to be so excited about.  But I love the fact that we can be open enough with our business that we're able to give people a glimpse into what it's like to work here.  Sure, it may be a boring video and you might get dizzy with my movements (the filming was just me and a handheld... we've got to look at a better way to film in the future), but it's raw with real people doing real work and making real decisions. You can view the video here. I think it would be great to see other corporations have the boldness to pull back the curtain a bit and give a glimpse into their corporate culture and processes.  Being able to do things like this makes me honored to be an employee here at LifeWay.
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Perspectives of our Fathers (hello, dad!)

I found out today that my dad really does read my blog.  It's honoring (and humbling) that my father thinks that the things I have to say are worth his time and effort to read/watch/interact with.  Hello, dad. ;-) My dad called because he was concerned that I would get into trouble for my previous post.  I think he misunderstood the point of the post (that I was highlighting a company that is effectively using new media formats to due some unique things; specifically, building a young, talented and loyal workforce).  My dad read the post as saying I'd rather work at company where people can dance rather than my current job... which is totally not the message I was trying to convey.  The wisdom of fathers often comes with age and, as such, I appreciate that he was concerned enough to let me know how he interpreted the post.  Though it was not meant at all to convey such a message, either there was something in the post that made him think that or the post was poorly written and, thus, easily misunderstood. I chose to feature the dancing video because it showed, to me, how embedded new media is into the culutre at Zappos.  At LifeWay we're getting there, but it's the work of just a few of us.  At Zappos, everyone has joined the party.  I mean, their corporate blog posts recipies even.  To me, the reaction to seeing such seemingly non-sensical work that is, essenitally, about creating a corporate image should not just be gawked at but figured out if it works or not. My dad, having years of experience over me, asked how long they've been in business (to which I guessed 4 years). He said to look into them when they've been around for ten years.  Turns out, they were started in 1999 and, this year, they expect to bring in over a billion dollars in revenue. I could go on and on about how I think they're doing things right in the digital space and innovating with their online transparency.  I don't know that I'd want to work there though, to be honest.  It seems almost like too much "fun" and pranks amidst the work.  Perhaps I'm too old already? The point is, it's interesting to me how blogs can be interpreted so many ways.  My dad interpreted my post spotlighting a cool company doing things the way I consider to be "right" thought new media marketing as me saying I'd rather work there and that I dislike my job.  This is, simply put, not true.  I love my job and have no intention of leaving.  I enjoy the challenge of helping my workplace find how we can best use new media for our business and to help our customers, churches.  The reason I write articles for Collide and do videos for the Leadership Network is because I want to share my experise and my understanding of digital-culture-as-it-is with those who maybe aren't as connected to it as I am. I welcome the struggles of my job and only hope to have more; if it was easy I'd get bored and there would be nothing for me to work towards.  But, instead, I get to go to work every day and wonder what the experience will be like, what will I get to learn, and what will I get to teach. Thankfully, we have the wisdom of our fathers to help us see when our zeal and enthusiasm might be interpreted for something that it's not.  It's that experience and outside perspective that always will be valued.
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Why You Should Blog about Work Frustrations (if you love your job)

1) First read this post by my career guru, Penelope Trunk, for clarifications about ever talking negatively when dealing with your career. 2) There is only one particular state of mind in which you should ever, ever blog about your work frustrations: while you love you job.  The reason for this is, if you love your job, you will be wise enough to censor your thoughts and not say anything too stupid.  If you're disgruntled already, then you'll let things slip that you shouldn't (unless you're independently wealthy and don't intend to go to work next week anyways). 3) I had a rough day.  This rough day is the catalyst for this particular post.  But here's the key (and here's why you SHOULD blog about it): thinking about what/how I was going to blog this experience led to something vital to my work life, career, and actual job responsibilities; it cause me to do a lot of introspection.  It made me analyze my work flows, the processes for all people involved, and what the next steps need to be for improvement. In other words: by deciding to blog about my frustrations, combined with the fact that I truly love my job,  I spent more time being proactive and positive instead of being reactive and reckless. So what's been going with me at work? cont'd Last quarter, I released almost 150 pieces of content.  It was my first full quarter of working, and the results were way "over achiever" results; to use a cliche, I knocked it out of the park.  This quarter - which ends in three weeks - I've been unable to release any content.  Zero.  None. The hold ups have been, effectively, completely out of my hands.  Basically the success of last quarter got people's attention and - as such - there was a scramble to attach some of the same processes we use for traditional media regarding workflow to the digital media assets I push out.  This makes sense; I want to play nice and have proper performas and market-competitive pricing. So because we were successful, the attention was put on us and we had to pause for a moment to get those print media processes implemented.  However, because what I'm doing is still so new... getting those things in place were not nearly as important as some other projects (and rightfully so... they [currently] have a larger audience and revenue stream).  Which meant we had to wait.  And wait. Until finally, the last working day of May, we got approval. So, bursting with joy, I created an agressive release schedule that would see the nearly 300 pieces of content I have prepared have a stagger launch throughout the month of June.  But nothing happens.  Why? More processes.  Even though we had recieved approval on the processes that we were waiting for... the work that goes along with that approval had yet to be done.  And still isn't. It's no one's "fault."  I'm not attempting to trace anything to any particular person, nor would I want anyone to be implicated as the fault point.  The problem is a rather exciting/humbling one: I'm working faster than the processes can keep up. So my actual dilemma is: how can I speed up/better prepare the external processes that I can't do.  I already do responsibilities far beyond my job description and responsibilities (I'm not just the digital media producer; I'm also the graphic designer for the cover images, the marketing specialist for the product pages and release posts, the web designer for the downloads landing page, the flash designer for the web page, the metadata planner, the original content creator, etc etc....), but I had to accept today that I can't do other people's jobs for them. But I can make their jobs easier. So, my three pronged attack upon my frustration at hand: 1) Develop a 15-month release schedule That's right, I sent out documents today seeking initial approval to begin the digital media production process from July 2008 - September 2009.  This means that rights can get cleared ahead of time, ISRCs can be assigned (by me, of course), pricing can be settled, and I should have enough media conversion to last me until at least the end of this year. 2) Develop detailed status updates Currently, we don't use Microsoft Project or Lombardi, or anything fancy and fun to keep track of where these are in the workflow.  Instead, we have an excel worksheet.  With little boxes we're supposed to put x's in.  It's in a folder on a server... and no one looks at it. Moving forward, I'm going to be emailing weekly (hopefully) updates with a detailed report on where each title lies in regards to all the steps in the process.  Information and communication is key with this many products. 3) Become an internal Digital Media Evangelist and develop a team Again: I can't do other people's jobs for them.  I have to find a way to get them excited about the work that I'm doing and the potential it has not simply to change our company, but to literally change the lives of our customers.  By mere virtue of my position, I am probably the most qualified person in our company to talk about how digital media is effecting the world and our customers.  I also have more knowledge about where we stand on different products (and what they are) than anyone else. I have to find other people in the workflow process that are as excited about the opportunities as I am.  When there are so many processes beyond my control, I must have the support and enthusiasm of those who are working with me.  For right now I think it's just another product and just another point of data entry for many people.  I've got to find a way to make this as exciting for them as it is for me.
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Macromarketing vs Micromarketing

It's an ugly word that's surrounded by controversy into today's hyper-transparency culture: marketing.  But is there a difference between macromarketing with one consistent message, and micromarketing and targeting the real needs and interests of individuals?  Is there a place for marketing ideas in the Church?  And, if so, what are the macro and micro messages we are sending? [kyte.tv appKey=MarbachViewerEmbedded&embedId=32464978&uri=channels/30223/149163]
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turning thoughts into organized documents: why use multiple digital distribution channels?

I've learned enough to know that what separates a rambling visionary into an organization-changing visionary is being able to communicate their thoughts in a way that is consistent with their firm's culture. My self-endowed task for the next few days is to take my thoughts: and turn them into a document worth reading.  Essentially, I'm justifying the repurposing of our digital assets for distribution in additional media channels. While it may seem like a logical choice in the new media realm, you have to dig a bit deeper into the business case to truly justify it.  When working with additional distro channels, you have to take into account what percentage of the revenue they will take, and what awareness they would bring to the product.  Essentially, are you gaining customer accessibility, or diluting the worth of your centralized digital distribution channel? I am of the opinion that we should have our media in as many locations as possible, because we are such a niche publisher.  By simply having our media available in other channels we serve not only our customer by putting our media in whatever their preferred service is, we end up marketing our products and brand to other users of that service who, otherwise, would never know who we are. So now I am distilling this whiteboard design into words (and a few images) that convey the process and possibilities for our digital media.  Should make for a good Thursday/Friday task!
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What I Didn't Get in my MBA

So my friend Andy messaged me on Facebook and commented that he mentioned me on his blog.  Somehow, I missed the memo that he even had a blog... so of course I jumped over and checked it out.  His blog brought two things to my attention: 1) Catching up on a blog that you care about but has been in existence even only for a few months can take a while. 2) Andy totally caught what I was missing in my MBA program at Liberty: the chance to meet people and create a network of friends and peers. I chose Liberty because I wanted a fully online education experience.  With as much online work as I do, it was important to me that my education encompass the very same strengths and weaknesses that my career might have. Where Liberty totally missed the boat is creating any kind of social structure for us.  There was interaction, but it was all just names and assignments for 90% of the classes.  There were no faces put to names, no conversations outside the flow of the assignment, and no way to keep in natural contact after the completion of a course (or the program). I think this is a vital part of the Master's experience: to be able to learn from, lean on, and grow with your peers.  There should be a camaraderie between us.  We should care about how the knowledge helped us a group.  I should be able to share about new media with the hr guy and i should be able to learn from the military men that I took classes with.  But Liberty dropped the ball and didn't set anything like that up for us. I feel like I missed out on a lot of great people because of this; whereas I walked away from my undergrad with friends for life and social growth, I leave my MBA program with too few new friends and contacts.  This is an issue that must be addressed by online learning programs. I could take some of the blame onto myself and say that I didn't try hard enough to build the relationships.  However, trying to force something like that to happen when you're in the throws of course work, full time employment, being a husband, having friends, etc etc... it just isn't going to come if it takes effort upon effort. Now that I'm done, I wouldn't mind going back and tracking down some of the cohorts that I thought were interesting, intelligent people.  But it's too late as the classes are closed and none of us will likely ever check our Liberty University email addresses again.  Sigh. So enjoy your classmates, if you ever get the opportunity to take a Master's program.  They are a key element you don't want to miss.
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is it ok to want to excel at my career?

A while back, I wrote about my struggle with being a "career Christian."  I am still struggling with what this means. Last week, there came a day when I was tired and - to be honest - a bit frustrated.  My boss swung my office to just check in and see how my day was when I let my guard down and expressed my frustration. My current position was created with some very specific expectations upon it to be considered a success.  The expectations were settled upon with the idea that there would be two of me.  In my first full quarter, we hit 75% of the expectations for the year (and there's only one of me).  In other words, I did pretty well and far exceeded expectations. I'm not saying that to be bragadocious; just practical.  It is also important to note the the various people throughout the organization who touch the work also deserve tons of credit for being able to handle the flow of work that my products added to their load. Unfortunately, we hit a snag or two this quarter on getting my content released.  So when my boss asked how I was doing I explained my two frustrations: 1) We have content that should be available, that's not.  This means a loss in revenue and - if we truly believe that our products spead the Gospel - it means people aren't hearing the Message as we planned (in digital format). 2) Last quarter I was a star for getting 75% of the expectations in one quarter.  This quarter I wanted to be a super-star. Now then... we should be getting the flow of content going again this week.  This post isn't about that.  This post is about how I felt after saying I wanted to be a super-star. It hit me hard that what I was saying and wanting was, simply put, not humble.  It wasn't me trying to help raise the calibur of my co-workers.  It wasn't me being meek or quiet or going with the flow.  I wanted to be recognized for the work I've done and I wanted to be given the freedom to do even more, better work. So I'm torn, trying to figure out the balance.  Is it ok for me to want to excel at my career, wanting to be the best, wanting to succeed head-and-shoulders above what was expected of me?  Is it ok to fight to go from doing 75% of my year's expectations in one quarter to try and get 100 or even 150% of the expectations the next quarter? Or, am I supposed to be humble and just accept the things get in the way and that things just are the way they are?  Am I supposed to be content with being a star when I feel like we could have done so much more this quarter?  Am I allowed to challenge myself to levels of success for my area that are far beyond what LifeWay envisioned, or should I be content in knowing that I could simply relax and do nothing until July and my work still be considered a success? I don't want to be content with great if I know that my work could be excellent.  I don't want to be excellent if I know that my work can be stellar.  But how do I balance success beyond anyone's expectations with humbleness?  Do I have to push down my own expectations of myself and my role so as to not be "too successful" or "too agressive" in making a great product?  Is there such thing as too good of work?
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Aaron Linne, Master of Business Administration

As of Saturday, May 10th, I have officially completed my school work and been given the degree of Master's of Business Administration from Liberty University.  It's quite nice to be done and completed, having successfully gone through the courses and learned the concepts and structures of business on a Master's level. I chose Liberty as my school of choice for this program because I wanted a fully online experience, which I what I got.  I never made it to the school, I never met any of my professors and I never met any of my classmates.  I was able to do everything asynchronously and learned my studies through my own will and determination. The program was quite interesting, as it requires of its students to be very mature and adult.  Unlike undergrad work, there is no hand holding involved.  You either read the materials or you don't.  You either learn the concepts or you don't.  You either do the work or you don't. The education through the MBA program has helped me feel secure in my knowledge of business plans, economic theories, and given me a solid foundation to more forward with exploring the business and marketing application of new media. And so, with much pomp and circumstance, you are more than welcome to call me "Master Linne" from here on out.  ;-)
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What's Really Happening with Twitter

in a meeting for a new project at LifeWay yesterday, we discussed the idea of using twitter during the project experience.  at first, the team thought I was joking.  they laughed about how twitter is just for people to do constant life-updates, like "i'm going to the bathroom now."  there's a distinct seperation between those who have not used twitter, those who use twitter, and those who embrace twitter. twitter has become an asynchronous, world-wide chat room. i remember when i was younger logging into AOL chat rooms and trying to find neat people to talk with.  it was a desperate attempt at entertainment and hopes of new friendships... but it was all with random strangers and now lating ties. with twitter I'm able to, instead, engage in conversation with people I know whether they are online at that time or not.  and any of my friends get to see what i'm talking about and chime in too.  and - here's the kicker... I get to see the conversations and thoughts (and maybe even talk to) people that I have no business talking to.  as work and life continue to become more social and networked, things like twitter allows us to peek into the lives of people/topics/politics/companies that we want to be associated with. twitter turns our sphere of influence into an open hall for the world to hear and for us to hear others.  one giant conversation piece. i believe that work is becoming more and more intertwined with entertainment, with our social lives, our identities, and our dreams.  how many times have you heard "i'd love to work at..." or seen pictures or cool offices or thought about how to improve your own work place? I know that there are many people who would love to work for LifeWay, and I am blessed to be a part of the talent that's employed there.  I know our competitors would love to know how we work.  I know there are people who will do everything they can to find out what our VBS themes are going to be early so they can be the one to break the news.  I know that people want all the details about the next Beth Moore or Priscilla Schrier study and will follow any blog (or twitter account) that might drop some hint about it. And that's a good thing.  It means that people are finding people, places, jobs and products to get passionate about.  It means that we don't have to accept the spoon-fed media of network television and ClearChannel music.  it means there are people out there talking about the alternatives... and that people are listening. and this new/secret project I'm working on at LifeWay that will (tenatively) launch at the very end of this month? we're going to use twitter. UPDATE: my personal twitter account is here.
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Successful Meetings: Know Your Boss's Opinion

This is one of the lessons I learned through observation, that actually had fair unfortunate after effects. Back when I was in charge of usability for my company, I was called into what I thought was a discovery meeting for a new usability test.  Back then we were still trying to convince people of the benefits of usability, and most of my meetings and conversations were about how it could be used and customers wanting to do it - but to do it cheaply. It turned out I was walking into a mess of confusion and conflicting opinions.  The meeting that I thought was a discovery meeting was actually a working meeting.  Not a big deal, I just shifted gears and settled in to plan the session.  It simply meant my job was easier; the requesting project team had already decided they wanted to do the sessions. The other two people in the meeting was the project manager and the representative customer from the requesting component.  Our department worked as a service department, so each project had a customer from the requesting component and was assigned a project manager; so far, very typical of our work. The customer had suggested they wanted to bring in some specific people to run through the tests, including airfare and hotel.  The project manager was adamantly against this.  The project was in the very early stages of development and - next on the agenda - was the consideration of whether we were going to do paper prototyping or an actual mock-up of the program. This is where the problem occurred: the project manager attacked the idea of bringing in people from across the country to view the project so early on.  There was definite frustration in his voice, and I knew that something deeper must have been going on. The customer responded well, and entertained the idea of using local testers.  The conversation ended up consuming the entirety of the meeting. Later, I was brought in to our director's office and the explanation was given: the director had made the suggestion to bring in the key customers.  It was part of the larger plan for the project. The problem was that the department direct and the project manager didn't have a miscommunication; they had no communication on the subject.  As a result, the project manager unknowingly mocked and put down the director's idea/plan. Note to everyone: openly putting down your boss's boss's plans... hardly ever a good idea. The problem is that it raised all sorts of issues:
  • Which is better? To fly in testers or use locals?  Either the director or the project manager had to be wrong.
  • Why wasn't there communication between the director and the project manager?
  • Was the lack of communication a bigger issue with the project?
  • Why was the project manager so stern about how bad of an idea it was to fly people in?
  • Who was in control of the project: the project manager or the director?
As such, whenver I go into a meeting on a subject for the first time I always do my best to learn what the department opinion is on the topic, or if I'm free to express my own ideas publically.  If not, and I disagree, then I'll be sure to communicate my concerns behind closed doors within my dept... but externally I always want to show that the department I'm working for presents a unified opinion. It's also important that - with many issues and conflicting opinions - the boss usually has a better grasp of what's actually involved in the decision: how promoting one agenda may take away from another project, how delicate relationships need to be handled, or what confidential info they might be aware of. Again: tearing down your boss's idea in a formal setting (particularly when the boss isn't around to explain or shut you up) is seldom the right choice.  Know your boss's opinion.  If nothing else, it might help you get a promotion.  
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Amazon.com's Customer Service

This coming week Ashley and I are taking a nice little vacation to Seattle.  We've not been a true vacation for any length of time that didn't involve a wedding of some sort for quite a while, so we're definately looing forward to it.  We've grown weary of our old digital camera we have, and had been considering getting a digital SLR like I've wanted for years. However, the practicality of carrying a big DSLR around Seattle didn't seem quite right... and I've had so much fun doing video snippets as of late... that instead we decided to get a handheld/pocketable HD camcorder.  Though their open-box buy deals, Amazon had a great price on the one I wanted, almost 50% off of the retail, so I bit and ordered it last Weds night. But this came in the mail instead:

Somehow, someone put the Sanyo Xacti HD700 sticker on a Sony DCR-DVD308 box.

So I emailed Amazon and, as usual, their customer service is far and above the norm for any company.  They offered a full refund (if I shipped it back), as one would expect.  The problem came that it was an open box buy, so they couldn't simply send me a replacement order.  Instead, I would have to place a new order at full cost.

The full cost of the product from Amazon was still nearly 30% cheaper than Best Buy or Circuit City, so I was going to place the order again... but I emailed them back because one thing bothered me.  I had already paid shipping for the order and - because they sent the wrong thing - I'd have to pay shipping again.  I emailed them back to see if they could pay for the shipping on the new order.

Their response was that they would give mea refund for the difference between the new product and the open box price!  The difference was, obviously, much more than the shipping cost.  Amazon Customer Service agents like to go above and beyond whenever they can.

My only dilemma now is that I did have to pay for overnight shipping so that the camera would get here before we left for Seattle.  On the principle of the matter, I feel I shouldn't have to pay for the shipping, because it was their fault for shipping the wrong thing.  But on the practical level, the discount for giving me the open-box price is more than the cost of the shipping.  However, I have now paid shipping twice for one order.

It's an interesting dillema.  On a principle level I'm disappointed about paying for the shipping.  But, for all intents and purposes, the customer service agent went above and beyond and took care of me at a rate better than simply paying for my shipping.

So, while it would have been best for Amazon to get the order right the first time, I have to say that their response time and the quality of their responses have been above and beyond any interaction I've ever had with a company.  Thanks, Amazon, for proving that digital communication can work, and empowering your agents makes for happy(ish) customers!

(And, hopefully, we'll have some great little videos of our trip to Seattle!)

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Successful Meetings: Dress Up a Little

First, read this.  Penelope Trunk has a way of getting right at the heart of matters and always provides excellent research on anything that might seem unorthodox or controversial.  And, in my own career, I've found her advice to almost always be spot on. Did you read it? One of my friends would get upset, almost to the point of quitting, because the job he was in had a dress code.  Many of us in our 20s are concerned with things like identity and wearing jeans to work and getting visible tattoos.  I, personally, would love to grow a big, long massive beard.  But more important is the knowledge that appearance can make or break perceptions and attitudes.  Those perceptions and attitudes that are formulated will continue to stick with you. I have worked for the same company for six years now.  When I first started I was fresh out of college and was not, how might you say... "kempt."  Sure, I wore dress pants (kind of), but they also had holes in them.  I didn't own an ironing board.  I didn't own a real razor (just an electric one). When I got a promotion here in 2005, I started wearing suits once a week, to help change some perceptions abot how serious I was about my career.  Earlier this week, I ran into one of the guys I worked with back in my first role here.  I didn't have a suit on, just regular casual dress clothes.  As I got off the elevator, he mentioned that I looked very dressed up. His image of me, the one imprinted from working with me every day for two years, is still an unkempt, out-of-college guy.  What is now a dress-down day for me stood out in his mind as me being dressed up.  I'll likely never be able to change his perception of my attire, and all the stigma that comes from that. So what does this have to do with meetings?  Everything. Every day before I leave work, I check my schedule for tomorrow's meetings.  I scan the attendees and am looking for two things: 1) Anyone I don't know 2) Anyone in a higher position than me, who I don't normally interact with/have a working relationship with If either of those are true, I plan on wearing a suit coat the next day.  It's that simple.  It doesn't matter if the person I don't know is an entry-level, new employee or a peer by all accounts; if it's the first time I'm meeting them I do what I can to make the best impression.  If it's someone of a higher position, you always want to make a great impression - you never know who you'll be working for/with someday. What if dressing up isn't your style?  Get over it. What if you can't afford nice clothes?  Go to Goodwill.  Half of my suit coats are from there.  The majority of the other half are from Target.  I don't make a ton of money, but that doesn't mean I should look like I don't know what business casual means. So dress it up a little and - if you have to - find your own way of adding a little more identity to the "costume" of dressing up.  One of my favorite belts to wear with a suit is a little studded belt I have.  I save ties for only the super-important meetings (once or twice a year).  My formal brown shows are actually RocketDog shoes. There are plenty of ways to make it work for you, but just be sure to make it work.
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Successful Meetings: Make Everyone Smarter Than You

If the meeting you are hosting is a discovery meeting, then there is one very simple rule to live by: Everyone is smarter than you. This is one of my favorite bits of advice because of how true it is, but we often forget it.  There is this undercurrent of pride in setting up a meeting: "i'm in charge," "i know what needs to happen here," "i have the research," or "i have the agenda."  As soon as the meeting starts, however, there should be a not-so-shocking discovery: there are other people in the room with you. And everyone in that room, for the remainder of that meeting, is smarter than you. How do I know that?  Because you invited them.  Your brilliance, your shining wisdom, your skill was bringing the right people to the table.  Now let them talk. If the people in that room aren't smarter than you, then you picked the wrong people to be in the room.  Shame on you.  And this makes them smarter than you; they're going to get credit for working on a project that they aren't going to need to effectively contribute to, because they aren't the smartest people in the room. The key to leading the discovery meeting isn't about sharing your ideas, it's about aquiring other people's thoughts.  Give them the chance to contribute.  Your hard work comes after the meeting, sifting through the myriad ideas and suggestions to create something out of concept. If you get the right people in the room, they really should be smarter than you.  They should be experts in their field.  There should be a reason you brought them to the table; some skill or knowledge or connection that you don't personally have.  Otherwise, why call the meeting at all?
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The Miscommunication of Teamwork

I'm approaching the end of my MBA.  At this point, I expect that my fellow classmates have taken a few courses and have, at least written a few research papers in their academic career.  So, knowing my own skills with writing and the level of academia I bring to the team, I assume the best of my peers. A common thread in online courses is the team project.  Whether it be something abstract or something concrete - like a research paper - the largest grade in most of your classes will be dependant upon the work of other people.  In one course I'm in my group had seven people... which results in mass confusion trying to get things organized.  It also means you have a myriad of personalities... some aggressive (I was called out in the class for not having turned my section of a report in... four days before it was due...) and some never showing up to work. But this story is about my other class, where I have three other people in the group with me.  Because it's smaller, we got to learn a little bit more about each other and have all kinds of fun conflict.  It's a course on global studies, so it's only appropriate that I learned a global lessons: Not all countries consider a research paper to be the same thing.  So when you sit down to compile everyone's portions and three are the common American way you and I would think a research paper should be... and then the fourth section is an outline with data points... how do you make it work? I think it's lessons like these that make persuing a formal education worthwhile.  I could read dozens of business text books and gleam knowledge from them.  But interaction - and the dreaded group project - helps focus that learning into something tangible. In the real business world, if you're on a team (or a manager of a team) and someone does something totally different than what's expected, or their work simply doesn't match the work that everyone else is doing... how do you compensate?  If it's something that you thought was so clear that not defining words need to be given (do a research paper) and you get back something totally... just... not on the mark... is it your fault for not better describing the task, or the person who missed the mark's fault for not understanding the task? So, being the one to compile the paper, I was presented with an option.  Do I (a) rewrite the outlined data into a paper, (b)request that the author make it right, or (c) simply put it in as-is, suffer the grade, and complain to the professor? I've chosen a combination of (a) and (b).  I've contacted the author and requested the changes.  However, we're on a super tight schedule... we have to turn it in tomorrow.  As such, I'm taking my laptop with me and - if I don't hear a response by lunch - I know what I'll be doing tomorrow night. The option of turning it in inaccurate or just complaining to the professor is simply not an acceptable solution.  At the workplace if something isn't right and you have a chance to fix it but don't... then you're just as much in the wrong as the person whose error it truly was.  The trickling of blame simply isn't acceptable if yuo have the means to catch the error and correct it. This is one of the reasons I'm on such a mentoring kick.  I want to hear stories of other people's victories and mistakes so I, too, can learn from them.  What is the point of folly or success if there is no one to share it with? I have one class left in MBA, and it starts next week.  When we get to the group project, you can rest assured that I will make sure that the style and expectations of the paper are made clear to the group.  And so, a little learning lesson about miscommunication of teamwork goes in my picket of life. P.S. Did I mention the author got the assignment mixed up, and wrote not only the section assigned to them, but the section assigned to me as well?  The author, by the end of the project, will have likely done more work than anyone else, all because of misunderstanding the assignment.
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Successful Meetings: What Kind of Meeting is it?

One of the keys to hosting a successful meeting is knowing, upfront, what kind of meeting it is.  Without the proper direction - and, thus, goals - a meeting can flounder and get nothing accomplished.  Meetings can be very expensive for a company.  It's always a motivator to look around a room and guesstimate how much an particular meeting is costing a company.  If you are pulling coworkers away from their desk, be sure you at least know what you're pulling them away for. Here are just a few of the types of meetings I've been a part of: (1) The Discovery Meeting.  This meeting has the most potential; the most potential for something to go wrong and the most potential for something great to happen.  A discovery meeting is needed when a project is first getting off the ground.  The goal of a discovery meeting is to find out who are the experts in the project, what the true scope of the project should be, and who is going to do what. Leading a discovery meeting is a bit like being a coach.  You know (hope) that you have all the right players on the team.  In the few short minutes of the meeting you need to figure out where the players go on the field, and whether or not they are going to cooperate.  Discovery meetings will often set the tone for the project going forward; if the meeting comes off as a mess, that impression will last with all the participants.  If everyone can walk away feeling their time was well used, you'll be able to leverage their skills and abilities in the coming tasks for the meeting. (2) The Informational Meeting.  This meeting is usually chaired by the manager of a team or director of a division.  The key is not for interaction, but instead for information assimilation.  These meetings are often very costly due to the number of people in the audience, and the managers know that.  In other words, you as a participant had better listen. If a topic is covered at an informational meeting, be sure to remember it.  Anything covered at an informational meeting is assumed to now be in your knowledge.  If it's a divisional meeting and you didn't get to go (out sick?), be sure to get the notes - seriously!  Being the only person on a floor not to know about a new project or time tracking rule can not only be embarassing, but seen as totally unprofessional.  Careers are not high school where you can feign ignorance; it's your ownresponsibility to have the up-to-date information. If you are in the position to be leading an informational meeting, remember that your participants (even though they should be listening) might not (probably aren't) listening.  They are still processing through whatever work they left in their inbox.  If you aren't asking for participation, they are going to disengage. One final not to participants of informational meetings: if you have a genuine question about a topic covered at a meeting, you should follow up and ask it.  It will show that you have an interest in the project and that you were one of the few people listening.  If it's not a genuine question, don't; no need to be a suck up. (3) The Working Meeting.  This is the hard one.  I've found that these actually come few and far at levels below management.  If you're a working professional, you typically have a normal ebb and flow of work to do, whether alone or in a team.  So when a working professional gets pulled into a working meeting, it's usually a bit of adjustment and we often come unprepared. A working meeting is just that: thirty minutes to an hour to solve a problem.  If the wrong people are in the room, oh well - there's no time to stop.  Whoever is in the room will get the outgoing assignments.  Whoever is in the room are the experts for the organization at that moment.  Whoever is in the room will solve the problem.  If you're in that room, enjoy the challenge and put a smile on your face. A working meeting can be anything from hashing out taxonomy to deciding what a marketing message will be.  The intent isn't simply to discover possibilities and then reconnect later, but it's to walk away with an answer to a problem.  It's ok to walk away with new questions, but the initial problem must be solved, or at least have a tentative solution.  Otherwise, the company just spent a lot of money on a conversation that should have just been had over email. The problem, of course, is that working professionals usually get pulled into a working meeting and aren't prepared for it.  This is where listening back in those informational meetings comes in handy.  Keeping a finger on the pulse of the projects going on around you and their status will lend favor to you knowing when your expertise might be called upon. These are just some of the general meeting types I've come across, but I wanted to go ahead and introduce the language that I'll be using in future posts.  The key here is being able to sense what kind of meeting you're attending, or letting participants know what kind of meeting you're hosting.  When people know what's expected, they will come to the table with the right mindset and, hopefully, the right goals in mind.
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How to Have a Successful Meeting: Why bother?

I completely messed up my first job at LifeWay.  I was fresh out of college (10 days between graduation and day 1 on the job), had a creative position, and thought I was something special.  The dress at LifeWay is business casual; I work ripped pants and often forgot to comb my hair.  I kept odd hours.  I was, for all intents and purposes, a mess. One magical day, however, I surprised everyone and dressed up - suit coat and all.  The reason?  I had a meeting to go to, I had a goal I wanted to accomplish, and I was meeting people outside of my department who I hoped I would one day get to work with.  In short, I looked forward to that meeting with Scott Allen and Ken Dean more than any other thing I had done up until that time. I'm an odd bird in this: I love meetings.  I seriously, absolutely, love meetings.  One of my favorite moments of my job was when I realized that I had 16 meetings in one week.  I get a thrill out of it because so many times I'm able to come out of a meeting and think, "we're changing things for the better."  And, at LifeWay, changing things for the better means changing people's lives forever. As such, as I continue to learn tips and tricks about how to have successful meetings, I'm going to share them here on my blog for the world to see.  I hate that meetings have gotten such a bad rap.  I always feel like the awkward kid a dance; I'm excited for another meeting when so many other people see them as nothing but a nuisance. The most important key to a successful meeting is this: is the meeting necessary? The reason people have such an aversion to meetings is because they've been to too many meetings that were pointless.  There was no goal, there was no outcome and that was truly accomplished was a distraction from the daily work.  Pile too many memories of wasted time, and meetings become something to dread and despise. So what makes a meeting necessary?  Why should one even bother with a meeting? A meeting is essential when, simply put, two humans abilities are not enough.  If two people can get it done, no meeting is needed; instead a simple conversation or working lunch will get the job done.  If the work you're doing requires the input, abilities and acknowledgement of two others (or more... and less than say... six others), a well-planned meeting is the most effective tool. A meeting is not strictly a scheduled time at a scheduled place with a set agenda; a meeting should be a literal meeting of the minds.  A meeting should always result in an output that is greater than the sum of its parts.  A meeting is where you get support, buy-in, and - sometimes - can disperse responsibility. I have seen magical things happen at meetings.  I've seen people invent entirely new marketplaces, I've seen people break down a "no, it's impossible" to "we can do that, just let me know what you want," but I've also seen dreams fall apart and uninformed decisions alter the course of good products. I'm an optimist, I know.  I go into every meeting with wide-eyed wonder and excitement about how my job might change in the next 45 minutes.  Hopefully, over the course of these little tips, we can learn how to better control the expectations - and outcomes - of your meetings.
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