Secrets of Success: Calling It Quits

Jonathan Wright, our Leadership Quantified Expert in Business Development, takes a look at a subject near and dear to my heart: knowing when to cut your losses, make something that isn't working stop and move on to new successes. I've written about it before - and you've been great about commenting. Do the same for Jonathan. Even better, do what you need to do - with Jonathan's help.
When I first started writing what is now this post about calling it quits, I had intended it to be a Leadership Quantified Working Paper providing guidance to you on knowing when to pull the plug on a Marketing or Social Media Campaign. (I'll be writing about that too, but first this.) Due to circumstances, I decided to generalize the topic for any situation - professional or personal.

What were those circumstances? I fired an employee.

It turns out that managing staff is very much like managing a business plan - because the steps are surprisingly similar.

Let me summarize the situation - or at least my actions leading up to the firing:
  • I Coached and coaxed...
  • Met this employee in the middle (or tried)...
  • Reviewed what previous managers had done and how that had worked...
  • Took into consideration personal issues I knew existed that I assumed were part of the situation I was dealing with... 
  • Set myself outside my feelings and looked at the situation without emotion and, finally, 
  • Realized that sometimes you just cannot turn someone around. 
It's the same with a marketing or social media or sales plan. Sometimes you have to trash it all and move on.

I hate to admit that I failed. We all do. But to succeed you need two or more willing participants. If one of those participants is disengaged, you have no hope of winning.

Accept it and don't waste any more time or resources.

But how do you know when that time has arrived? We've all heard the Perseverance speech, the Never Give Up speech and the Try One More Time Even When You Just Can't speech. Yeah, I tried all those approaches and still...nothing.

I'm an eternal optimist - almost annoyingly so. I want so badly to make my plan work that I'm willing to push and push to get it accomplished. That's admirable to a point - until it's not and not taking the necessary steps becomes the problem. Yes, you, yourself,  become the problem - because you're not taking the actions necessary.

So, let's take a look at the three steps you need to take to know when to call it quits - whether you're dealing with a staff member or a plan (business, marketing or sales):

1. Review the Situation as It Currently Stands
  • Review the plan as strategized (Note: Every plan must have a timeline to measure against effectiveness)
  • Review the steps taken to implement and look for missed opportunities
2. If Missed Opportunities are Identified
  • Try those options/opportunities with a strict timeline
  • Review to see if the new options/opportunities had any impact
If Yes: Continue on that path
If No: Move to the next step
3. Do One Final Push to Succeed
  • Set a short timeline - no longer than one month 
  • At the end of that time period, review to see if any significant changes have occurred to the positive
If Yes: Revise the plan to adjust and adapt those positive outcomes for growth and expansion and continue
If No: Set a date - no longer than two weeks -  to pull the plug and implement a new plan.
Thanks to the internet, life moves at light speed - both personal and professional. Technology has given us the tools to track, monitor and measure every campaign, decision and post.

That makes wasting precious resources irresponsible - most importantly, time. At the end of the day, you're not helping yourself, your company or your plan.

There are clearly visible warning signs your plan might be failing, such as:
  • No changes in behavior or sales or marketing goals (i.e. 'Likes' on your Facebook page)
  • No willingness to take new direction
  • No willingness to engage in communications that the plan is failing
  • No metrics to measure success or failure
  • No timelines attached to milestones
  • No way to quantify engagement
  • No excitement over the plan or daily activities to execute the plan.
Sometimes a simple, small change in approach or messaging can make all the difference between success and failure. But without a mechanism built into your plan to measure those changes and a benchmark to say This is Success, how will you know if you're succeeding?

In my consulting practice, I'm profoundly confused by some executives' and business owners' refusals to set metrics for success along the way. They're "afraid" to set those milestones because they're afraid of this "new idea" or unsure "how to implement new media." Some flat out don't want to be able to label an effort a success or failure because they see that as a projection of their success or failure.

Not one of those excuses is a reason not to put appropriate measures into place.

Even freshman business students know that there's no "100% Success" plan. One product may have success and another similar product may try exactly the same plan and fail miserably. Hundreds of small details go into the formula and they determine success or failure. Some of them are concrete, but, often, they're gauzy intangibles like "tone" or "response time" or "personality" that there's no definable label for - but can make or break a campaign.

Ultimately the formula is the same no matter the situation:
  1. Make the plan then be willing to follow it. 
  2. If it's not working...take a deep breath and pull the plug. 
  3. After a brief mourning period - no more than a day - begin strategizing a new plan.
What you will find, much to your surprise, is a renewed energy around the situation and that, by knowing what didn't work, you and your team can concentrate on what did and how to build on that in new directions.
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The Toilet Paper Game Changer

Kimberley-Clark has not had what some would call a sterling reputation in the eco-world, according to an article in USA Today.

That makes their announcement that they are test-marketing a new tube-less toilet paper roll even bigger news.  It follows on their Smart Flush Bag, a water-saving device for the toilet, announced last year and is part of a larger strategy to reverse their reputation and take advantage of a more environmentally conscious consumer marketplace.

Good for them.

It's also not by accident that they're introducing the new product through Walmart and Sam's Club (a part of the Walmart corporation).

By being the only provider of the product for the foreseeable future, Walmart simultaneously increases its enviro-cred and gets a jump on the rest of the market ahead of when the product goes national.  Or global.

And, typical of Walmart, they are setting the competitive price base point against which every other shop or chain that sells the product will have to compete.

But there's another game changer in here and it's one worth looking at by every corporation - because it shows just how valuable innovation can be.

First, the numbers.  According to the article, Kimberley-Clark estimates that:

  • 17 billion toilet paper tubes are produced each year in the United States
  • If placed end-to-end, the tubes would do a double round-trip to the moon
  • Because the tubes aren't always recycled, they account for as much as 160 million pounds of landfill-bound trash.

By doing something as simple as figuring out how to get rid of the tube, Kimberley-Clark can make the case that it's changing the world.  It's doing good.  It's supporting the environment and the consumer's need to contribute to the protection of planet earth.

Great marketing.

But what it has also done is energize a product and market that has been stagnant for years.  Sure there were advertised changes to softness, aesthetic design and scent - but, for the most part, toilet paper has been toilet paper for decades.

Now, through innovation, there will be a completely new reason for consumers not only to think about which brand of toilet paper to buy, they will be able to clearly discriminate between Kimberley-Clark's brands and any others with the tube still in.

Big win.

Moreover, Kimberley-Clark is looking at extending the technology to paper towels - another market that has had little movement over the years.

Bigger win - because it's simply building on what it's already achieved.  The hard work is done.  Now it's just profits.

Too often, innovation is seen only in the context of new information technologies.  If it's not an Amazon or a Facebook or a Twitter - let alone all the b2b applications that make up how every company does business every day - it's not innovation.


From changing how you answer the phones to finding a way to remove a tube from a household product, innovation is innovation.  It doesn't have to be big and sexy.  It just has to represent positive, developmental change in how you do business and what you offer your customers.

So, manufacturer or service provider, the question for you is:

What innovation opportunities are out there as well as within your enterprise that you can start to access and move on - now - to create an even more successful future?

Figure it out.  Because someone else is already working on it.

Twitter, TARP and Getting Your Message Across

Recently, there were two interesting articles in the New York Times - one having nothing to do with the other.  At least on the surface.

In fact, they were both about exactly the same thing:  Messaging and communication.  In their own ways, they both dealt directly with how and whether those who are communicating are getting their points across.

More importantly, they were about the risks that different forms of communication have for those who convey them.

We'll take them one at a time.

First, Andrew Ross Sorkin, whose DealBook column is always worth the read, addressed the "good news" that the US Treasury periodically, strategically, leaks to make it sound as if the bank bailout is working.

Sorkin's point is not whether it is actually working or not (and, depending upon the measure you use, it can be argued either way).  It is that, more importantly, people don't believe that it's working.

It doesn't matter what the Treasury is saying.  Or Congress.  Or the bankers, themselves.  Especially the bankers.  And Congress.  And the Treasury.

To the people who are listening, it doesn't feel like the bailout is working - at least not on their behalf.  The actions that people see don't agree with the outcomes that are being lauded.  Loans are still hard to arrange.  Small businesses are still suffering as a result of limited credit.  The low interest rates the banks are benefiting from aren't being extended to the consumer.

All of which - and more - means that, to those who are listening to the "good news," it simply isn't true.  And that makes those who are conveying the news liars to those who are listening.

The second article of note is the announcement that the Library of Congress is going to save and archive Tweets.  Starting back from the beginning.  Every day's cache of Tweets.  At today's utilization rate, that's a treasure trove of fifty-five million Tweets a day.

Why this is of note is because, in direct contrast to the Treasury's, Congress's and the bankers' careful messaging, Tweets tend not to be as well thought out.  Nor are they usually considered legacy communications.

They're just thoughts.  Random.  Fun.  Sometimes pointed.  Sometimes mean.

And now discoverable.

Sure, the Library of Congress says that it is only for scholarship and research and, sure, Twitter says that only those without the necessary privacy settings will go in the archive.  Sure.

Which raises the question:  What have you been Tweeting?

One of the things my clients know about me - which usually drives them nuts - is that I am a great believer in information management.  You need to be forward thinking in deciding, carefully and strategically, what information needs to be conveyed, when and to whom - and what needs to be held close.

Internally, you need to make sure that your employees know what they need to know - usually more than many executives think they need to tell their people.  That's because unless your employees at all levels know why they are doing something, with all the good intentions in the world, they'll do their best and unintentionally go the wrong way.

They won't know the outcome you're looking for so, they won't know that they're taking the organization further away from it rather than directly to it.

Worse, if they're getting their information from elsewhere - anywhere else - they're getting someone else's version of what you want them to know.  And that is simply dangerous to the future of the enterprise because now you're dealing with someone else's agenda.

Not yours and not your organization's.

So you need to talk with your employees about strategy and finance and competitive landscape.  You need to engage them and encourage their thinking.  Then you need to listen to the answers that they give you - from the sublime to the ridiculous - because somewhere in there is an answer to a question you never even knew you needed to ask.

In contrast, if your message is too well constructed - to the point of being the equivalent of media "talking points" and all anyone hears is the exact same phrase over and over again (much like the information on the bank bailouts - no matter which side you're on), that won't engender belief or support.  Just mistrust.

Then you need to think externally.  That side now consists of the often too casual commentary that comes out in executive blogs and Tweets.  On Facebook and MySpace.  Even the commentary you include with your Flickr images of everything from family photos to vacation videos to professional conferences and presentations.  All those places where you just say what you say - not thinking that anyone beyond your immediate circle will see it or be interested.

Not anymore.  Especially not now that Tweets will live in the Library of Congress.  Forever.

Think back to when the internal Microsoft emails were, for the first time, included in an anti-monopoly lawsuit against the company.  They were a turning point in the consideration of the case and led to an international change in how that company had to do business.

No one ever thought they'd be out there for anyone to see.  They were wrong.

Now, inclusion of any accessible communique is considered normal in legal proceedings - civil and criminal.  Every possible form of communication is going to be subpoenaed and discovered to see if the content will help the cause.  Either side.  It doesn't matter.

But it has to matter to you.

What you say - no matter what the medium or venue - has importance.  Your employees, shareholders, analysts, customers - everyone in any way connected to your organization, no matter the size, industry or sector - is impacted by your words.  Because your words become the drivers for their actions and reactions.

Communication is an art and a science.  At least the messaging part of it is.  Most particularly the construction of those messages.

But if you're consistent in your dealings and messages; if you don't patronize or underestimate your audience; if you think ahead to the outcome of what you're trying to get across and what it will take to get there; and, most important, if you're honest in giving the information that those who access your message need to know, the extent of the outcomes will surprise you with their upside.

There is nothing more valuable than trust in an executive.  Your name.  Your reputation.

When you pay attention to what you're saying - and say it right - you'll create wins that extend and expand long after the message, itself, was conveyed.