Friday, July 20, 2018

The Only Metric That Really Matters

As I wrote recently, I applied for admission to a professional honor society. My application was not accepted. 
Why? I needed "better metrics" to support my achievements. No doubt, I could have been more precise in determining my impact. Affirming you have a "significant" impact does quite ring as loudly as a numerical increase. I wouldn't quarrel with this feedback. Yet I have a solid repository of metrics related to many parts of my professional life. I can present with precision my effectiveness as an instructor. I can show the significant impact I had on my clients' condition. And in their own words no less! This data proved insufficient in this instance. The experience leaves me wondering about many things. The most significant is which metrics matter the most. I've observed that there's no consistent correlation between my results and employment status. That is, I've done well and lost clients regardless.  Consider one example. At one full-time job I could do no wrong. I was deemed indispensable and given a large raise. Several months later, I was "too expensive." My position was eliminated. So I'm skeptical about metrics in a practical sense. All that matters seems to be continued, gainful employment. Sure, I'll do my best and strive to produce the best results I can. But if I don't work, I don't earn money. And that's a problem. In short, employability or hireability seems to me to be the only metric that really matters. So much for others' admission requirements for selective (or even semi-selective) groups. They can have them. I'll be busy working.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Once Again, I Learn That There Really is No Such Thing as a "Sure Thing"

Many years ago I was invited to offer my services to a local general contractor seeking to improve its marketing. The CFO, a friend of my wife's, arranged a presentation.

I felt great the day of my scheduled visit. Not only did my presentation feel solid, but everyone who needed to be there would be there. I was assured of the latter after repeatedly questioning my wife's friend about the audience for my talk.

I delivered the talk, left the building, and headed home. By the time I arrived I had a voicemail on my answering machine (in the days before cell phones) from my wife's friend. "Mitchell, it's a slam dunk," she said. I had won the business!

One day passed, then two, then three without any further word. I called my wife's friend. In a tone dripping with sarcasm she stated, "The owner's wife was not in the room when you spoke. Therefore, she vetoed the decision to hire you." 

End of discussion. 

My wife's friend soon left that company, frustrated by this and other similar instances.

I learned a valuable lesson: there is no such thing as a "slam dunk."

Apparently, I had to review and relearn the lesson given my immediate reaction to today's developments. Let me explain. 

I recently applied for admission to an honor society for public relations professionals. The process was long and occasionally complicated. Along with other applicants, I was assigned a mentor to help me through it.

I submitted my materials well in advance of the deadline so my mentor could review them and provide feedback. I received this email from him after he initially reviewed my documents:

"I've reviewed your materials. I think you have a very strong application. . . I think you have a very good chance of being part of this year's class."

I made all the changes he suggested, resubmitted a revised version, then made additional changes per his feedback. 

Today I learned that I was not accepted into this honor society. 

Once again, what I wanted to be was a "sure thing" wasn't. 

Was I foolish in this instance to believe the positive feedback offered by someone I considered a reputable source? No more so than in the other instance when my wife's friend spoke. 

Once again, I've learned that there really is no such thing as a "sure thing" even if evidence suggests there is. It's a painful realization, to be sure. Nonetheless, it's another reminder of the complexities and tentativeness of so many aspects of my life. In short, I cannot control things--only myself. And so I'm moving on from this latest disappointment a little wiser but no more jaded. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Communications Golden Hour (A Guide for Public Information Officers During Emergencies)

Consider any high profile, life-threatening emergency that has occurred recently. A bevvy of trained, dedicated professionals serves as first responders. They tend to individuals directly affected. At the same time, they mitigate the consequences of threats to public health and safety.

Among this cadre of professionals are public information officers (PIOs). These individuals gather and disseminate information critical to those affected by the emergency. Typically, they assume these emergency response duties on top of their routine work. These responsibilities require different skill sets and training, with little margin for error. 

Doug Levy wrote The Communications Golden Hour to help PIOs in emergency situations. It aims to guide them as they work to “prime the pump of credible, shareable information” (pg. xii) during the most trying circumstances. 

Levy is ideally suited for the task. He’s had PIO duty in emergency incidents and was incident commander in several, mostly while he held university administration jobs at Columbia University and University of California, San Francisco. Perhaps more importantly, Levy has guided, advised, and trained command staff before, during, and after emergencies. He also helped to craft communications protocols and plans. 

In short, Levy has “been there and done that.” He's grappled with what PIOs confront in emergencies: rapid-fire communications and decision-making processes.

The “Golden Hour” refers to the initial period after an emergency. It demands quick, calm, and accurate communication. The scale of the emergency must be determined. Messages need to be refined and tailored for individual audiences. Appropriate spokespeople are assigned. Finally, the optimal mix of tools to communicate are employed. Here Levy emphasizes the need to identify the SOCO (single overriding communications objective). He also elaborates on the elements in effective emergency messaging. 

Levy deftly addresses the aforementioned topics and more. He poses probing questions to challenge practitioners. He urges them to reflect on emergency response responsibilities before they need to. To this end, Levy provides detailed, minute-by-minute communications from the initial phases of select emergencies. These model the lessons he’s attempting to impart to the reader elsewhere in this work. 

To that end, Levy argues persuasively for the need to plan in advance. This effort includes knowing your “circle of influencers” (pg. 18). It requires spending time getting to build relationships. It means getting to know emergency response team members in your community and organization. 

To assist the PIO further, Levy provides a series of check lists and templates in the Appendix of the book. These pages help to pull together information PIOs need to manage future “communications golden hours.” 

The Communications Golden Hour covers a lot of ground well in a very concise work. That’s a distinct advantage for time-pressed yet information hungry PIOs. That said, the book would have been even more useful had Levy:
  • Introduced key concepts such as the “Communications Golden Hour” and SOCO earlier. Also, he might have weaved them more consistently into the remainder of the text;
  • Incorporated a one-page glossary with definitions of key terms and acronyms. This list could include specialized vocabulary used during emergency situations. See, for example, the Emergency Alert Systems (pg. 100);
  • Included references throughout the text to worksheets in the Appendix. These connections would help the reader apply Levy’s lessons more expeditiously. Along the same vein, he might have included an introduction to the Appendix. This context would help the reader to better navigate its individual documents; 
  • Included an actual plan in the Appendix;
  • Addressed how PIOs work with other members of the emergency team during the “Communications Golden Hour;” and
  • Provided additional insight into what “traditional” news media look for in an emergency and how they work.
These suggestions aside, Levy should be commended for his ability to meld his experience and insight in this highly readable work. He has delivered an invaluable “how to” guide for practitioners. It undoubtedly will benefit PIOs regardless of their level of experience.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Supercharge Your Self-Development with Progoff’s Intensive Journal® Program

I’ve been keeping a journal for 20 years. For the most part, I’ve relied on pen and paper. At times, I made entries on my computer using Microsoft Word or other note taking applications. Regardless, my commitment to writing has had a major positive impact on my life, as I described here.

Yet I hit a wall. Upon reviewing past journals, I realized that I was covering the same ground over and over. I wasn’t able to move forward in a number of areas of my life. I saw that even despite the immediate relief I felt after pouring out my thoughts and feelings onto paper. 

I knew there was a lot more to journaling. I turned to a book my wife had obtained many years early which described Ira Progoff’s intensive journal method. I was intrigued by what I read. I liked its grounding in psychology.  I felt inspired by its promises to help me deepen my awareness of diverse areas of my life and thus live more meaningfully. 

I signed up for a workshop in 2014, and subsequently applied what I learned. I just returned from another two-day workshop.  

It works. It really does. 

Progoff’s methods have supercharged my journaling practice. They have been invaluable for my personal and professional development. And they promise much, much more! I can rely on what I've learned at the workshops to help me address future challenges related to my own aging, different career-related initiatives, and countless others.

Want to learn more? I encourage you to check out a special edition of Progoff’s program. It’s scheduled for September 8-9, 2018 in Oakland, California. The facilitator offers years of insight gleaned from intensive study and practice in Progoff’s approach. You’ll learn a lot from her and other workshop attendees. I guarantee it.

Go here to learn more about the September 8-9, 2018 Progoff workshop and to sign up. You’ll be glad you did. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Time for Success: A Goal-Getters Strategy (Key Takeaways)

Volumes have been devoted to the art and science of goal setting. I've read more than a few of them, but still I need to be reminded of core principles from time to time. That's why I found Alec Mackenzie's Time for Success: a Goal-Getters Strategy so valuable. It succinctly and incisively addresses core principles in inspiring fashion. Here are my key takeaways from the book

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Why I Stick to My Side of the Street

I feel good when I stick to my side of the street. Why? I get to set it up and do my best to maintain it as I wish. I know I’m not in control of many things that come my way, but that’s okay. Working on my side of the street doesn’t merely just keep me busy.  I’m engaged and stimulated in life-affirming ways. 

That is, my side of the street has a lot going on. It’s filled with every aspect of my life. That encompasses work, relationships, spirituality, health, and everything else. I don’t need to look elsewhere for nourishment, much less to find someplace to expend my energies. I have everything I need right here. 

I could spend all my time tending to my side of the street. 

Besides, If I don’t tend to my side of the street no one else will. And it will suffer. And I will suffer. I have little choice. I have to tend to my side of the street. 

That means if I try to take care of your side of the street, I’m not tending to mine as I need to. Now, if you seek out or enlist my help, that’s one thing. But more often than not, I’m overreaching. I’m into your business—your side of the street—because it’s easier (and even more fun) than tending to mine. I’m offering my opinions. I’m passing judgement. I’m commenting on what should or shouldn’t be done. I’m engaging in gossip with others about your side of the street. And that all hurts me—and likely you and our relationship. 

So, I’m taking care of my side of the street before I venture beyond it. Because when I do I’ll be in a lot better condition when I choose to do so. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Confronting My Own Passive Aggressiveness to Help Others To Do The Same

Before you try to help someone with a problem, I believe you need to look at yourself first. Do you struggle with the same problem? And if you do, have you taken steps to address it? And in so doing, can you claim even a modicum of success? What have you learned in the process? Such efforts and results put you in the best possible position to help others, in my very humble opinion.

This philosophy enabled me to take on exciting training and coaching opportunities. A current example comes to mind.  

For most of my life I’ve pleaded for directness in interpersonal communication. If you had something to say to me, well, I simply wanted you to say it and not sugarcoat it. In turn, I committed to do likewise. In this worldview, silence meant that everything was okay. 

I lived under the spell of this myth for many years. Silence in fact did not always mean everything was okay. On the contrary, on more than one occasion. More importantly, I wanted you to be direct with me but in fact only to share good news. Nothing negative or critical, mind you. Just praise me for my many wonderful attributes and outstanding achievements. In contrast, I would right all the wrongs I encountered. I’d point out your foibles and those of others who I encountered along the way. In the process, I would trivialize anything good or positive. And I’d trample on the feelings of those around me. 

On occasion, I lashed out verbally. More often than not, I seethed in self-righteous resentment. I would not say what I meant, and I on occasion I didn’t mean what I had said. In other situations, I responded with biting sarcasm and incisive negativity. In short, I had unconsciously internalized an approach I had resisted and abhorred in others.  

It took me a long time to identify the aforementioned patterns. I describe them as passive-aggressive as it’s defined as “indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation”—which applies to my behavior and attitude.  And now, guess what? I’ve been hired to develop and deliver a Webinar on how to deal with passive-aggressiveness in the workplace. Ironic, eh? I think so. 

I approach this assignment humble and grateful. I’ve spent the time and energy to get at the root causes of my past behaviors. As a result, I have had modest success in jettisoning the accompanying beliefs and mindset. Yet I remain vigilant. I must. The detritus of my former passive-aggressive self remains. It’s ready to emerge sometimes when I least expect it. It still doesn’t take much for me to respond sarcastically, or to cast a critical and pessimistic eye towards developments around me. 

In short, I must confront and reject my own passive-aggressive tendencies every day. I believe this diligence is essential before I can ever hope to offer any insight to others grappling with the consequences of passive-aggressiveness in their organizations. Here begins my work on the Webinar.  

Thursday, June 7, 2018

"Communications Consultancy" Course Challenges USF Graduate Students to Develop Campaigns for Local Nonprofit Organizations

Tonight is the first in-person meeting of my class "Communication Consultancy," attended by students enrolled in University of San Francisco's MA in Professional Communication program (MAPC). This class provides the practical skills and real world experiences of working in a communication consultancy in partnership with a professional organization facilitated by MAPC faculty like me. 

My 9 students are divided into three teams. Each will develop an appropriate communications initiative to help a local non-profit organization to address a key strategic objective. Organizations working with my students this summer are LatinaVIDA, Randall Museum, and SFMade.

The class concludes on August 9, 2018, when students present their campaigns to representatives of the three organizations. 

Go here to view the syllabus for the course. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Power of Intention (key takeaways)

I've been revisiting the concept of intention, which I first came across about a decade ago. Dr. Wayne Dyer's classic book, The Power of Intention, defines the term as the presence of purpose or aim melded with determination, so what is dormant comes alive. As I reread this book along with related works such as The Master Key System, I'm hoping to gain new insight that in turn inspires positive changes in my thinking and behavior.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Stop Trying to Be Original

The cacophony of voices from the so-called experts is deafening. 

Think outside the box! 

Be disruptive! 

Brand yourself! 

Be an original! 

Attempting to heed their cries makes our lives far more stressful than they need to be. That’s in my very humble opinion.

I'm reminded of the words of Keith Johnstone, author of Improvisation and the Theater. They resonate with me every day long after I first encountered them about 15 years ago. Two selections from page 88 in the book will suffice in this context:

“Striving after originality takes you far away from your true self, and makes your work mediocre.”

“People trying to be original always arrive at the same old boring answers. Ask people to give you an original idea and see the chaos it throws them into. If they said the first thing that came into their head, there’d be no problem.”

In short, you can’t be anybody else but yourself. Work hard to do so and share the fruits of your effort with the world. That’s a far better and less anxiety producing approach than any other I’ve encountered in my life.