Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Leaders Must Lead Across Social-Media Landscape

Social media is becoming a bit of a tail wagging the marketing dog these days. Witness the recent preoccupation with social-media missteps both committed by, and imposed on, some well-known brands.

Burger King and Jeep had to cope with hackers on their Twitter feeds. And social-media gatekeepers for Dodge and The Onion -- presumably either inexperienced, under-managed, or both -- created messes for their bosses to clean up by trying to create "relevant" comment about the meteor that exploded over Russia and about the youngest-ever  best-actress nominee for an Oscar.

But 24x7, ubiquitous, often tripwire-timed social media obviously is here to stay, and will continue to grow in its importance for external and internal corporate communications and marketing.

So the best leaders will only increase their attention to harnessing social media in the best ways for engaging both employees and customers.

That's why a piece in the new issue of McKinsey Quarterly caught our eye, about "Six social-media skills every leader needs." There are lots of lessons in the piece, but one of the most interesting has to do with how leaders can promote social-media literacy throughout their organizations.

"Excitement often runs high for [social-media] technology's potential to span functional and divisional silos," the publication wrote. "But without guidance and coordination .. social-media enthusiasm can backfire and cause severe damage."

So, McKinsey consultants suggest, leaders "must play a proactive role in raising the media literacy of their immediate reports and stakeholders," becoming "trusted advisers, enabling and support5ing their environment in the use of social tools, while ensuring that a culture of learning and reflection takes hold."

Toward this end, the article goes on, leaders "must become tutors and strategic orchestrators of all social-media activities within their control," including setting up new roles such as "community mentors," "content curators," "network analysts" and "social entrepreneurs."

All of this makes sense to us. And as fellow travelers across a new landscape, we're interested in ideas about how companies and leaders are actually implementing social-media leadership inside their organizations.

Comment on this post or drop us a line at

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Employee Engagement Rocks, USA Today Story Affirms

We know it, and our clients know it. And most businesses suspect that it's true. But it's always nice to get a fresh endorsement from a disinterested party in the power of employee engagement.

That has come today in the form of a story in USA Today about the influence of truly engaged employees on important business metrics ranging from rising sales and strong brand equity to solid investment returns.

"Maybe people don't want to be married to their jobs," the sub-headline on the piece read, "but it seems to help if they're, to use a buzzword, 'engaged.'"

We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

The article went on to testify about the advantages that "benevolent" and engaging employers enjoy in the marketplace, including those with renowned corporate cultures such as Google and Marriott as well as lesser-known enterprises.

USA Today notes that engaged employees not only feel better about where they work but that this translates into doing a better job, being more willing to put in extra hours when necessary and wanting to extend their careers with the company.

"The data strongly support the fact that organizations that focus on the engagement of their employees deliver stronger performance," Julie Gebauer, managing director for talent and rewards at Towers Watson, told the newspaper. "It's not just making them happy -- that's not a business issue. Engagement is."

That's why Gebauer said that effective employee treatment means more than a good dental plan. "What makes the biggest impact are things that don't have significant costs," she said. "How expensive is it for a senior leader to give an employee a pat on the back, or give someone the opportunity to work from home for a day or two?"

Exactly. And the more employers understand such truths about employee engagement, the better off they -- and the results that matter to all their constituencies -- are going to be.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Domino's Grabs Customers, Employees with 'Pizza Theater'

Domino's Pizza has spent the last few years remaking its brand and has created an industry juggernaut.

So the "pizza theater" that it is rolling out at its prototype new stores will just be icing on the cake -- or, rather, mozzarella on the pie.

But Domino's CEO Patrick Doyle is quickly embracing the way that the open architecture of the new stores is engaging customers in the thrill of seeing their pizza made -- and is drawing Domino's employees into the enthusiasm as well.

He stopped by one of the new outlets in Seattle the other day and described the adoption of the new format as "one of those lightning-bolt moments" where chain management decided to be as open with its pizza as it was being with its brand overhaul.

"You walk into these stores and see how they're operating and it's a completely different sort of interaction," the head of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Domino's told us. "Because the wall is literally gone. And the true loyalty to any kind of retailer comes from the interaction between employees and customers."

What Domino's has done in the handful of new-format stores opened so far by the company and franchisees is to establish an open-kitchen format where customers can see their pizza being made, up close and personal. A monitor tells at what stage of construction their pizza resides.

There's also a floor-to-ceiling chalkboard where patrons can -- and do -- leave their comments and, in some stores, a big-screen TV for entertainment and a few seats for people who want to eat their Domino's on the go.

The brand has done a lot of overhauling during the last few years, including a marketing campaign -- starring Doyle himself in some ads -- in which Domino's admitted that its pizza used to taste bad. Its online business is burgeoning thanks to the IT efficiencies that a big pizza maker can apply, and more Domino's customers are getting a taste for its chicken wings and other menu additions. Overseas sales are booming as well.

But Doyle told us the possibility of the pizza-theater stores as they spread across the chain could become one of the most revolutionary changes yet for the company.

"It's open and honest and transparent, like our brand, and you don't build a wall that hides everything from consumers," he said. "Just things like our employees stepping around the counter to hand customers their pizza rather than sliding it over the counter.

"Opening up the stores has powerfully impacted the behavior of our employees."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Southwest Airlines Soars On Employee Engagement

Southwest Airlines just reported its 40th consecutive profitable year in a 41-year history during which the company has never furloughed employees.

That's a remarkable accomplishment in one of the most competitive businesses around.  All the more so considering that the Dallas-based carrier was able to add to that record during the economic and industry turbulence of the last few years.

There are many reasons for such an achievement, but Southwest Airlines people themselves will say that their long culture of employee engagement is one of the biggest.

Southwest's institutionalization of employee-recognition programs, company-wide surveys, special awards, distinctive Halloween celebrations and an annual company-wide blowout at a city on its route system have combined to help create an enthusiastic and committed workforce whose evident glow, in turn, rubs off on Southwest passengers by the millions -- and continues the company's cycle of prosperity.

"Customer service internally is what's critical, so that it spills over externally; and that trust that employees have in the company, and our leadership, is key for them to support the airline in a rapidly changing world," Cheryl Hughey, director of culture services for Southwest, told us. "We say we can have fun at work, and that's unique -- other organizations may not see the value of that."

And when "something comes up," as it often does in an industry as dynamic as air travel, the proven effectiveness of Southwest's employee-engagement culture helps the company perform best in whatever situation arises.

For example, Southwest was able to smoothly digest Trans Air after acquiring it in 2011, and integrate its 8,000 employees, partly because of a program in which Southwest employees volunteered to "adopt" a Trans Air employee via e-mail and guide them through the transition, then meet with them personally when their new Southwest orientation brought them to Dallas.

"We avoided having that 'takeover' feel because of that program," Hughey said.

Among other things, Trans Air's former employees learned about "the Southwest way," which describes the company's core values and expectations.

"We want to ensure that we have that fun-loving characteristic but also we do extremely hard work," Hughey explained. "And we have a servant's heart: putting others first."

Also contributing to Southwest's highly engaged culture is a small operation that, according to Hughey, has a huge impact: a handful of staffers who process letters and e-mails and other messages from customers about Southwest employees. Certainly there are complaints, but the group mainly exists to feed commendations of employees to those who need to know.

"The research that goes into this is huge," Hughey said. "Our people figure out which employees [took the commendable actions] and exactly what happened. We let their leader know, and we want the world to know internally and externally about these great feats of customer satisfaction, and the way our employees treat each other as well as our customers, and in times of need the way they come together.

"There's a lot of work that goes into that. A lot of companies may like what they hear about their employee, but they aren't willing to put in the work that it takes to make sure they're recognized."