The Value of Value Difference with Harvey Miller

This last semester I had the privilege of taking a class with Chris Howard, the current CEO at Northstar Investors amongst his involvement in many other successful business ventures. In Chris’s class we were given his view on value creation and management, it was a brilliant class. But that’s not what I want to talk about in this piece. Chris had three guest speakers all of whom gave their view on the same topic. I want to emphasize “view” here because in each instance, including Chris’s, they never gave us budding business students absolutes on how it is or was, but only their view if it. There’s a difference. One of those guest speakers was Harvey Miller.

Harvey is the VP and GM at Glacier Glove, a sporting goods company headquartered in Reno, NV. Harvey is also is involved in or has been involved in many other successful business ventures and when he came to our class he did a presentation on value creation and management from a marketing perspective. Afterwards, I reached out to Harvey about a possible interview and he graciously accepted. Here are a few of the great things we talked about.

Elton: “One of the things you talked about in your presentation was ‘the purpose of an organization is to enable ordinary people to do extraordinary things’ which had a big impact on me. One of your strengths is your ability to develop a strategy or tactical mode of operation for a startup business. If you were taking over the marketing portion of a startup, how would you develop a process for ordinary people to do extraordinary things?” Harvie Miller, Picture

Harvey: “To begin with, I think for an individual organization to follow that type of strategic path requires an understanding of who that organization is. I truly believe in any organization you have unique features, and it’s whether those unique features are important or significant enough to your target audience. If you can differentiate yourself to your employees and in turn your employees can share that with the potential customer you can create a unique organization. At that point you start to empower your employees when they understand what your unique position is, and what that value difference is when it comes to the competition.”

Expert’s Input: I know we’re just getting started but recently I was reading a piece by Dave Stein titled: “What’s Your Difference? Achieving Competitive Advantage with your Customer by Establishing a Value Edge.” There’s a lot of good content about that value difference Harvey is referencing but to briefly share Dave says: “When you demonstrate that you understand your customer’s value expectations, it’s likely you are having conversations with your customer that no one else can have. You have gained the value edge.” That directly supports what Harvey is talking about so now back to it.

Elton: “That was also something you hit on in your presentation, that ‘management of differences.’ Is that along those same lines?”

Harvey: “Once the differences are understood, then the employee can make decisions with a level of confidence and that is what you want them to be able to do. To make the decision and not feel like they need to necessarily get things approved all the time. It gives them the ability to proceed with confidence either to resolve an issue or to move forward.”

Elton: “That’s a high level of empowerment going on with the employees. By enabling them to actively make decisions and ultimately that’s why they were hired in the first place. Enabling you to step in as needed otherwise your focus can be on that vision.”

Harvey: “I like to see recaps in what has occurred, whether it’s daily or weekly so I know what is going on. It also gives me the ability to follow up if I am concerned about something, to gain additional information for clarification if you will. It can also become a teaching moment depending on if they made the right decision or not. Now if they made the right decision then you want to give them positive reinforcement. If they didn’t make the right decision, well then what can they learn from it and as an organization how can we have others learn form that also?”

Elton: “So you are seeing not only moments for correction but opportunity?”

Harvey: “Constructive guidance is the best way to describe it. Most organizations take a negative approach when there is a problem, they see it as a situation where they need to reprimand someone. That should only be considered after a continual repeat of the same problem, then you need to take corrective measures. There has to be a learning curve, that’s how organizations grow.

Elton: “That is something that I have been keying on in my own business interactions, these moments as being real opportunities for growth. That is where a lot of us in management and those we work with make some of our biggest strides, but only if we see it as opportunity?”

Elton: “Another thing you discussed in your presentation was a brand development strategy. That it’s not what you say it is, but what they say it is. Building enough trust for them make the purchase which ties into service marketing. How are you giving the customer that perspective or enabling them to glean that perspective on their own?

Harvey: “Some organizations look at the product independent of service, but if you stand behind your product and service that product, then that service leads to more product and that again comes back to service. So you are connecting the two rather than treating them independently i.e. once the product is out you feel removed from it and don’t allow for that service to take place.” 

Elton: “So, it is a constant service review from service of the product to the customer and back to service again? Kind of a service feedback loop?”

Harvey: “We do it on a regular basis by looking at what our top performers are, and then kind of taking the Jack Welsh approach like he did at GE. By looking at the bottom performers and cutting 10%, we can then introduce new products and have room to grow without the clutter.”

Elton: “That ties into another thing that I wanted to touch on and that is: ‘keep raising the level of the conversation with the customer.’ Is that part of that relationship? That cutting from the bottom portion while improving the top portion?”

Harvey: “We see it in when we take a look at sales and we break it down by product. We know what of our product mix is being accepted through the number of purchases. At the same time we take a look at the stuff that’s not moving and ask why. Is it bad product? Is it a bad price point? Is it a combination of lack of value because it isn’t a good product or it’s priced to high? Then we have to seek out additional feedback and we may do very informal focus groups to drill down on some of those points so we can get to the root of the issue.”

Elton: “Do you feel that conversation with the customer is taking place and you’re not just sweeping away the non-performers? But rather asking why they didn’t they perform and then determining how can you improve in those areas?”

Harvey: “There’s an overlay to that and that’s when we introduce a product, sometimes there is a ramp up period. We work on the product and we think we understand the market very well but why isn’t the market jumping in? The reason might be we may have reps that don’t know the subtleties enough to empower the customer. For us, it’s about finding reps that understand and can be empowered, at least to a certain degree since their independent, what is it we are trying to achieve and what makes our product unique, understanding those differences. How are we differentiating and is there enough difference that if it’s a high price point people will still see value?”

Elton: “What I would like to wrap up with is in regards to data base marketing. As you said in your presentation to us: ‘marketers know more about us than ever before and some of them know how to use that information.’ As a leader in your field and given what you see going on around you, how do feel we should be responsibly managing this information while using it effectively? Again, with the customer’s needs and there safety being at the forefront.”

Harvey: “I am going to give you an example of different sales metrics becoming valuable in making a decision. Most of our business is business to business vs. business to customer. But a trend we have been seeing is our target market has been predominately male. As a result, a sizing of the gloves are skewed towards medium to xx-large. As these males are crossing over into fishing and hunting, spouses are getting involved and they’re bringing in their children at various ages. Now we’re finding our mix has been skewed towards the smaller size so we are changing to include small and even x-small in some situations. So its understanding how our target market is shifting a little along those lines of different product mixes. People are also becoming more aware of sun damage and when you are out fishing, you don’t want a lot of lotion on your hands so we’ve found that sun gloves are well received. That market is growing at a phenomenal rate both because people are active and because people are looking for that sun protection. So as we become more educated to the dangers of the sun, so does the customer allowing us to provide a product that is functional and helpful. That is a significant change in our market place.”

Elton: “Do you feel that there are some out there that are misusing this type of information they’re getting from the customer in this data based market? And if so can you think of an example?” 

Harvey: “I will share an interesting story about a company that we don’t compete with directly but is also in the outdoor industry. This company is called Outdoor Research or OR. When Outdoor Research started into the outdoor industry, they had very high-tech product that was very well researched based upon the needs of the target audience. They provided apparel that really had unique features and that provided that extra dynamic whether it was the way they sealed seams or the way the product was cut. Then they started to get into hats for sun protection and now they have gone so far into the hat line that they’ve become fashion. Meaning they have lost the focus of where the company started from. Now I don’t know why they went that direction, whether it was because of a test market from their bae or because it’s a larger market? But to me the competition is so much greater in the fashion world that they may be able to move more product but that may come at a lower price point and smaller margins which affects the bottom line. Just not sure if strategically it was well thought out.”

Elton: “To conclude, you made the statement in our presentation that: ‘whatever it was that got you here today, is not going to be enough to keep you here tomorrow.’ So, you have to keep raising the bar or cut away from the bottom. Which is what it sounds like you’re doing here at Glacier Glove and unless you have anything else to add, I would like to thank you for your time.”Harvie Miller, Sketch Retouched

Again, I want to thank Harvey for his time and his marketing view on value creation and management. So, when looking at your own business, any business, look for that value difference. If it’s not there, how can you create by empowering your employees and in turn your customer? If it is there, how can you sustain it?

Image Credits: Picture, and Sketch by Author


A Selfie with the Mayor of Reno, NV

I waited a while for the opportunity to sit down with Hillary Schieve the Mayor of Reno, NV. As you’ll read she’s justifiably quite the busy person. For me, after completing this blog post, it was worth the wait. During our sit-down we had a chance to talk candidly about growing up in Reno, screwing up tweets, and ping pong. But also we discussed management topics such as delegating authority, leadership as a role, and transparency. So let’s get to it.

CofR Final

Out-of-the-Box Thinking

Elton: “As you built your private business, it was out-of-the-box thinking that set the stage for you to excel in Reno even when we were in a decline. Can you tell me about that type of approach when it comes to being the mayor?”

Hillary: “As an entrepreneur, I have this drive and this way of thinking that is a little different. It’s typically creative and innovative. When tackling similar challenges in government, something totally creative and innovative is very difficult to put into an ordinance. You have to go to the legislature and have a bill passed to make a difference here. In my business or in being an entrepreneur, when faced with a hurdle I can immediately get creative and think outside the box. As much as I think we need more elected leaders that think that way and have that creative side when it comes to getting things done, you can still do it in government it’s just a little more difficult.”

Hillary: “For instance, we have local motels that are very dilapidated and a lot of are police officers are continually having to go to them when 911 calls are made.”

Elton: “Right, I saw some of those posts on social media referencing this.”

Hillary: “What happens is that it takes all of our resources to one property all the time instead of our police being out there with other citizens.”

Elton: “Instead of doing the job that they’re supposed to be doing?”

Hillary: “Right, exactly! My idea and it seems very simple and easy, is that when there are excessive calls were going to start charging you for those services. The business managers running these motels making excessive calls and consuming our resources; there has to be a better way. Unfortunately that’s not something that you can just do, you have to go down to the legislature and have a bill passed which takes a lot of work and time to get something like that and acted upon. That’s where it can get a little challenging but also this is where you can think outside the box. Now I’ll go down there and pop into these businesses and have a one-on-one meeting with these managers which can have a dynamic effect. But we also have to be very thoughtful and sensitive; for instance the same motels are being used for low income housing. You have to think “how am I going to work around this?” That is the one thing with government is that it can be a little challenging when it comes to wanting to get something done right away.”

Elton: “You’re actively engaging which I’ve found in business and as I’ve written about in my blog, if you get up out of your seat and actively engage individuals’ face-to-face, talk to them one-on-one, the results are ‘dynamic’ as you said.”

Experts Input: Readers please pause for a moment here. In a great piece about the dynamic engagement approach titled “A few Management topics in Brief” by Sree Rama Rao, he talks about how an organization’s environment is not some set of fixed, impersonal forces. The entire piece relates to my interview with the mayor but I’ll leave fore to you to read, it’s full of great insight. But to this idea of dynamic engagement he says: “… managers must not only pay attention to their own concerns, but also understand what is important to other managers both within their organizations and at other organizations.” It sounds like Mayor Schieve is doing just that by listening to what it important to these motel manager and their tenants. Let’s keep it rolling.

Delegating Authority

Elton: “When you’re down at these motels or wherever you may be and you’re getting that dialogue established, do you ever feel that some of these duties or some of this facetime should be delegated? Because what I see from the outside is that you’re all over the place. By delegating some of this might allow you to focus your attention to more quality results rather than the quantity of visits?”

Hillary: “I really want to connect to our community and that means being involved in many different issues and initiatives. I’m very much involved in being hands on with our community that’s why I focused on bringing back the neighborhood advisory boards (NABS) which I found are really important to the citizens of Reno. Other things like the university movement, the revival of downtown, and bringing in large economic drivers for businesses are also very important to the city. My focus on downtown issues revolves around cleaning up the blight, addressing homelessness and addiction, and again the university movement. People really want to live downtown, there’s a new generation of community that we’re seeing in technology and arts and culture so I’ve really tried to stay focused on these types of things; we all want a downtown that were proud of. But at the same time, I’m out in the community a lot because there are so many other issues that need to be addressed. I want our city to see me out there all over the place, I want them to know that I’m engaged and that I care. I think there’s a problem if you don’t see the mayor out and about.”

Elton: “Those are some things that were a part of the platform on which you ran, so seeing that you’re following through is tremendous. It sounds like that active engagement we were talking about earlier is keeping you focused rather than spreading you too thin and your energies are concentrated on the areas that are the most important to you.”

Hillary: “Well, I think you’re right, my first year in office it was really important for me to engage with our community. That’s the only way we’re going to change our community for the better, buy how our citizens want to shape it.”

Elton: “All of us?”

Hillary: “Yes, I was out there a lot getting lots and lots of feedback. If you saw my State of the State address there were five hundred people that attended. It goes to show that when you engage with the community it allows them to say: ‘Hey I am part of this city, I own part of this city.’  And that’s where things change, that’s where private and public partnerships happen, more opportunity happens. Because we can’t do it all, but we can certainly do some maybe most of it if we’re all in this together.”

Author’s Input: Pause again just for a moment here readers, and re-read or listen to that last statement:

“And that’s where things change, that’s where private and public partnerships happen, more opportunity happens. Because we can’t do it all, but we can certainly do some maybe most of it if we’re all in this together.”

That was off the cuff but really resonated with me after listening to the interview again. It allows for perspective and is realistic about what can and can’t be done by an individual, but also what is attainable in a united community.

Leadership as a Role

Elton: “For you, it’s a ‘dynamic’ relationship that you have with the city and at the same time the city council. As a focal point for both, how is your leadership style effective when you’re having to step in and step out of that leadership role?”

Hillary: “I think people might perceive leadership in different ways. For instance, our last mayor had a different leadership style and people were used to that style for over a decade. In the past I’ve been criticized that I don’t strong arm my council into enough votes. But that’s not the kind of leadership that I like to aspire to. I like to bring the council along with me at the same time, we’re all in this together. They’re all free thinkers and talented people, I want them to come to the table with their own ideas and be respectful of that. Remember, they were elected just like I was and we work for you so it’s important that we take into consideration what your wants and desires are. But we still have to make decisions and typically half the people like them, and half the people don’t. That’s difficult, one side wins and the other side loses. As we discussed earlier, I started out as an entrepreneur that was frustrated with the process of government, not a politician. I don’t want to rule with an iron fist, that’s not my style of leadership. Like I said, I’ve been criticized because people were used to what we had in the past.”

Elton: “And it’s different now?”

Hillary: “Yes, my style of leadership is very different from that, I believe that were all doing this together.”

Elton: “But is it still effective leadership?”

Hillary: “Absolutely.”

Elton: “So, if the results are manifesting themselves, and it’s effective, don’t challenge the style of leadership that got them there to begin with? That’s a big thing people can improperly focus on, when they’re critical of how you do something and aren’t necessarily focused on the results. Which,in the case of a governmental timeline, is even more difficult as the results might not be seen for a long while to come.”

Hillary: “And my personality is very positive and sometimes people perceive that as weakness. I really believe in having a community culture, one in which all us can shape this community, that’s more my style of leadership.”

Biased Perceptions

Elton: “Besides being the mayor of the city, you have outside business connections that might make you appear biased when making mayoral decisions. How do you fight that perception that you’re making decisions about the city to favor your business connections? How do you maintain an unbiased approach?”

Hillary: “Reno is a small town and we all sort of know each other, it’s just part of living here. People come before the council all the time and people will always perceive the same thing differently. There was an incident where we were appointing people to a board and one of those people happened to be a friend of mine so I abstained from voting on that item. I know the council very well and I believe them all to vote their conscience and how they feel about a matter. I don’t go to them and say: ‘Do this or else.’ As I said earlier, they’re all free thinkers and incredibly talented and bright. But there are a lot of people who felt I put this individual in that place when again, I actually refrained from voting. So at the end of it you have to do what’s right towards the council and towards this job with a moral compass because no matter what your decisions are, you will always be judged by them.”


Elton: “Can you tell me about the evolution of transparency in the way that you interact with the council and bringing the citizens of Reno into the governmental process?”

Hillary: “Transparency is very important and a lot of it comes down to opening the doors to city hall so that everyone has a voice. I felt like before, and remember I’ve experienced being a council person prior to being the mayor, that business was only open to a select few. I felt that this was wrong and we needed to open the doors for everyone. So now you see people that are investing and doing business in the City of Reno that never would have been seen here before. We’re pulling in people from Silicon Valley, Arizona, even people from Japan. So it’s very diverse now which is healthy and a lot of that has to do with transparency. We want to be a city open to everyone, especially the residents. We want their voices heard because that’s what’s going to change the dynamic and the culture and make this city for them, for us.”

SelfieThat wraps it up and what a great piece to be a part of. As you can see the Mayor of Reno is a very busy individual and so I would like to thank her for giving openly of her time and focusing on the questions in a genuine manner. She gave me some great insight into dynamic engagement which is a twist on active engagement, a topic I hit upon last year. In closing remember this dynamic engagement doesn’t just involve the mayor and her interaction with us, but it involves all the citizens of this wonderful city. It’s our responsibility to be dynamic with our voices, with our actions and with our convictions when it comes to Reno. The door is open, we just need to step through and engage.

                                                             Image Credits: Video, Picture, and Sketch by Author

Solid Business Principles, with special guest: Dr. Bret L. Simmons

We’re back after a very short break and  before we pick up where we left off, I want to recap real quickly. In the last post I was talking with Dr. Bret L. Simmons about his classes (projects) and how he manages them each semester. We also touched on what he tries to instill in his students and how he might fine tune from semester to semester. In this post, we’re going to talk about this transformational period we’re in right now when it comes to social media but first we hit on a very specific incident that I witnessed in one of his classes and it’s got some good stuff so let’s get straight to that.

Elton: “Okay, I might be getting off topic here but I was in your 720 class last spring and there was a point at the end of the semester where the final was put up on the screen (the class was being recorded) and there was the possibility of a screen shot being shared publically. What drove the decision to give everyone the same grade across the board with no exam as opposed to creating a new exam for the final?”

Bret: “You know, I was trying to be consistent with the principles I was teaching. Because, one of the core principles is fairness, justice. And a couple of students had notified me that the exam had been compromised, they had gone and seen it on the recording. So, if you had gone and seen the recording, you could see the whole exam.”

Elton: “Oh wow!”

Bret: “It was all there because I had scrolled through all the pages. And so, essentially, if I had given the same exam, some students would have had an unfair advantage. Which was one option. I could have lived with the fact that a few students had an unfair advantage. That would have advantaged some, but disadvantaged most.”

“The second option was to rewrite the exam totally. And with the principle of reliability, that would have disadvantaged the entire class. So, the only option that would advantage the entire class, was the one that disadvantaged me on the surface. And that was to just not give the exam.  That was the only way to be totally and completely fair to everyone was to say it was compromised and give everyone the complete score.”

Elton: “That’s interesting.”

Bret: “It was the only way to be utterly, completely, and totally fair. Any other choice, someone, at least one person would have felt slighted. And to me that just wasn’t acceptable because it was my mistake.”

Elton: “That solution is indeed in line with those principles that you were really driving in the class, the ones we had been talking about from the beginning. Now that I hear your version of it, it is dead on with what you …”

Bret: “… yep. It was the only thing to do. I thought through all the possible alternatives and really pretty quickly arrived at the conclusion that this is the only way to be fair to everyone is to just not give it.”

Elton: “Wow! I glad I brought this up because I think there are some important things that relate to the things that I deal with, the things that other project managers are dealing with on a day to day basis. And that is this consistency (I touch on consistency in another post with Sean Ostehagen). And that is such a powerful thing that I believe lacks and could be practiced in a much stronger fashion in a lot of business these days.”

Bret: “Well, it’s also very much a business principle. You know? If you make a mistake, the customer shouldn’t have to pay for it. I made the mistake, and in any other decision, at least one of my customers would have had to have paid for my mistake. So, the only way to do that, really, was to give the customer a freebie. The customer got a freebie on that one because I screwed up.”Clip #3

Elton: “And from that standpoint, it makes total sense. If you really relate it to, and I’m not saying this isn’t real world, but if you relate it to the outside world, practicality, it is clear, very clear.”

Bret: “Yeah, to me it’s just a solid business principle.”

Elton: “Good stuff. Well, I’d like up wrap up this interview with this. As you read in my interview with Mark Babbitt, I’ve really bought into this idea of being social. So, I’d like to ask how you’re trying to implement social not just into the 726 class, but into the other classes as well. Because I see that you’ve bought into all of this stuff, and there’s got to be a point at which you’re trying to convey some of this stuff to the other classes?”

Bret: “Actually no, I don’t try at all to bring social into my other two classes. I’ve been to a session at a professional meeting where they were talking about how they were trying to do that. How they made the whole class get on Twitter and have discussion groups. And to me that, that makes it very uncomfortable. To me, at its core, social should, in the education realm, should be voluntary. So, 720 and 722 are mandatory classes, therefore I will never force anyone into the social realm. Because some people will say ‘I just don’t want to do this, you shouldn’t force me to do it.’ And they are correct. So, I’m really uncomfortable in having social as an integrated part of every class. Except in that I’m social, I tweet stuff that’s related to my classes, I write about stuff that’s related to my classes. You’re welcome to find me online and engage with me online, but that’s all totally optional.”

Expert’s Input: There is a plethora of information online about whether or not we should be teaching social in the classroom and it’s probably as split down the middle as gay marriage was 10 years ago. But, ideas and attitudes are changing and in a piece titled: Should teachers be using social media in the classroom? the pros and cons are briefly evaluated by two different authors. In the pro category, Don Goble says: “Yet in most cases, students are not learning social media skills. Think about it: would you give the keys to a brand new Ferrari to a 13-year-old with no driving lessons and say, have fun? This is essentially what we are doing with social media.” I think there is a lot of validity there. I am myself just behind the wheel of my new “Ferrari” learning to drive under the guidance of this 726 program.

In the cons category, Gail Leicht says: “Other teachers have told me that students are actually participating less than they did a few years ago. And instead of encouraging them to share their thoughts, maybe we should be teaching them that no, they don’t have to share every thought.” This is another important point that I believe applies here and it ties directly in to the “pros” stated above. Teachers could be teaching what could be considered appropriate, and what is not. Teaching how to align their image on all platforms, and how to know when and when not to click that “friend” button. More on that “friend” concept later so let’s get back to it. We were talking about how Bret does and does not use social in his classrooms.

“For the class you’re taking, 726, it is not a mandatory class, it is an elective. In fact, at the undergraduate level I used to teach a required class that was social and I don’t teach that class anymore. If I am going to teach this class, it has to be pure elective so that people have an opportunity. And I try to tell you before you even ever walk into the class, I’ll send you an email stating that we’re getting ready to write blog posts, get on Facebook, Tweet, LinkedIn, and if you don’t want to do any of that, then don’t take the class. It’s entirely optional. And that’s the only way to approach it. You know, I teach it as an immersion experience. But, that is a voluntary immersing experience. So, my assumption is that at the beginning of the semester, everyone knows what their getting into and they’re volunteering for that.”

Elton: “And there are still, even a couple of weeks in, there were a few raised hands: ‘Well, what if I want to do it this way?’ And I’m thinking: ‘we’re you there for the first class?’ (Chuckle)”

Bret: “I said it pretty clearly in that first class, exactly like that! Because that’s how I hear it. Because three weeks in, like you said: ‘Well, what if I want to do it that way?’”

Elton: & Bret: “NO!” (Both laugh).

Bret: “That’s very purposeful on the first day because that’s what I typically hear three to four weeks in.”

Elton: “With this thing social, why do you feel it’s important for the students? And maybe in a broader sense, why is it so important to you?  Because I think that translates directly to the students.”

Bret: “Well, for a number of reasons. But, it is the most transformational change I have seen in my lifetime; we are living through a time of transformational change. These technologies and the things people are doing with them, as Clay Shirky says: ‘When the technology gets boring, the application gets interesting.’ We don’t think about all the software behind these things, we just take them for granted. Twitter works, this video chat program we’re now using works, Instagram, etc. We don’t worry how it works, we just worry about how we want to use it. And it’s radically transforming how people communicate which radically transforms so much of what we do, especially in business. So to me, it’s the practical lesson of immersing yourself in the experience. But then you also have a metacognitive evaluation of it. You don’t just go along for the ride, you step back and you think about: ‘Now what am I really doing?’

Elton: “Oh yeah! I’ve felt that!”

Bret: “And so, A World Gone Social was a great treatment of that. It was very much two steps back and saying: ‘Let’s just think about what’s really going on here.’ Which is one things I really appreciated about that book so much was it wasn’t just: ‘How do you do this’, A World Gone Social was two steps back saying: ‘All right, let’s look at the big picture, let’s look are what people are really doing. Let’s think where this is going and what the end game is and what this means.’ So, that is my huge lesson that I hope people won’t just be along for the ride because their lives are going to be like this for a long time. Don’t just go along for the ride, step back and look at what you’re doing and ask yourself some questions.”Social

“You know, the prime example was Facebook. Facebook uses this term ‘friend’ and we buy it hook line and sinker. We think: ‘Oh, it really is about friend.’ And yet, the metacognitive activity recognizes that’s just a word, it’s a word they selected. And if we interpret the word that they selected, then we allow them to govern our behavior. Just so simple, that a piece of technology governs our behavior when if you really stepped back and thought about it, you’re really not constrained by their interpretation of the word. When you click on that button, there’s just software that starts moving that connects one profile to another. So, you can totally reframe it as a tool, for your purposes, and not necessarily what they intended it for.”

Elton: “I understand about that taking a step back because this whole semester has been about me getting ready to hit that button. But also, at the same time, taking that step back and saying to myself: ‘Okay, this is really going out there, and once it’s out there I can’t take it back. Is this what I want to share? Is this in line with that brand that I’ve been trying to establish the whole semester long?’”

Bret: “And that’s one of the big questions in A World Gone Social is that it’s easier than ever to speak, but it kind of ups the ante on responsibility. You have to realize that you’re responsible and accountable for everything you say and do. And if you’re not comfortable with that, then don’t say it, and don’t do it.”

Elton: “On the inverse, this idea of stepping back and being responsible, being accountable for what you send out, this is also such a powerful tool to direct and to manage your life and in a right manner, and in an effective way. To get your voice out on these different platforms, I am really coming to appreciate more and more on a daily basis.”

Bret: “Well, you appreciate it more because you’re doing it, you didn’t just read a book about it. Again, the immersion experience is different than just reading about it.”

Elton: “Oh yeah! And this is truly immersion, I’ve referenced it as ‘Social Media Boot Camp’ a couple times to friends but …”

Bret: “… (Chuckles) that’s exactly what it is …”

Elton: “… I’ve said: ‘Take it, you will either love to hate it. Or, like me, you’ll hate that you’re loving it.’” (More laughter)

Bret: “That’s a good way to say it.”

Elton: “So, I don’t have anything else, I really appreciate you taking a brief amount of time from your day and I’ll see you in class on Tuesday.”

Bret: “Very cool, thank you.”

Well, that wraps up a glimpse into how this professor juggles multiple classes. Or, in my view, how this leader effectively manages multiple projects/businesses to the satisfaction of his clientele. We also got some insight into, like it or not, the social you’re engaging on in even reading this is. And how it’s radically changing the way we communicate. So, allow that metacognitive to step in more often, and remember that button that says “friend” has a more connected to it than those seven letters. Consciously take control of those clicks, you’ll be on the path to your own Social Ownership. I want to thank Dr. Bret for a great conversation regardless of the fact that I was in Hawaii while conducting the interview; technology is awesome!

Note: These last two posts were in continuation of the interviews I’m conducting with other project managers and leaders from a WIDE variety of industries and fields. See my 1st guest speaker post for a more detailed description.

Image credits: Sketch and photo by author

Finding Hidden Gems, with special guest: Dr. Bret L. Simmons

In a previous interview with Mark Babbitt, I mentioned that this blog started out as an assignment in Dr. Bret L. Simmons Personal Branding class (UNR MBA Program). As the class wraps up, I did have the pleasure of getting Bret to agree to an interview himself and in these next two (not last) posts, my interview with Bret represents the finale of the interview series for his class.

While I was recently on the Big Island of Hawaii for one of my own projects, over the video conferencing service Zoom.US, Bret and I talked about the different projects he manages each semester, what he tries to instill in his students, fine tuning over the years, and this transformational period we’re in right now when it comes to social media. Here’s how it went.

Elton: “So, as a professor that juggles three different classes each semester, what is the system that you have in place that is effective for you, to keep it straight in your head. And also for it to be effective for the students as well?” Business

Bret: (Laughs out loud!)

Elton: “What? Is that too general?”

Bret: “So, it looks like I have a system, and I do. But, I am by nature emergent and not really well organized. So for the courses I have to impose structure on myself. Interestingly enough, all three classes I teach are taught entirely differently. The 720 class (Organizational Behavior) is the most structured. It’s very much show-up, listen to a lecture, participate now and then and take some exams.”

“The class you’re in, 726 (Personal Branding), is very unstructured. Show up at the beginning of the semester, learn how to do all this stuff, and then go do it, produce a product during the semester. And as you know, it’s impossible to grade all that content. So it really relies on that self-accountability system and that’s the only way to do it. There’s just no way I can review forty students complete content every week.”

Elton:  “And at that point, honestly, you should be to where you shouldn’t have to.”

Bret: “No, no I shouldn’t. People should be self-monitoring and providing self-feedback is my philosophy. You should be doing it for yourself, not doing it for me. Then, you’re self-reporting on how you’re doing and I do put some structure around the reporting system. But for those that are doing the work, the reporting system is a non-issue. The reporting system only becomes an issue for those that aren’t doing the work. It only constrains those who are not self-authorizing, accepting responsibility, and doing the work.”

Expert’s Input: I want to interject something briefly here to really drive home what Bret is talking about. In a piece by D. Deubel titled A Classroom’s Hierarchy of Needs, he builds off of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and relates them to the classroom. I will leave it to you to read what the bottom four of the pyramid are but the fifth is Self-Actualization. And in the piece there is a quote that reads: “Teachers cannot be leaders until they understand that students are no longer obligated to follow them.” – Phillip Schiechty. From my experience in Bret’s classroom, I would be comfortable in saying he has crossed the line from teacher to leader. Now, back to the interview, we were talking about the difference between the classes (projects) Bret manages each semester.

“Finally, 772 (Changing Environments of Business), it’s entirely different too. It’s an output based class but a different structure. I try to teach courses that I want to learn something in. So, I want to learn something about social media, and change so I teach 726 and 772. And I’m actually thinking of ways to reinvent how I teach the basic 720 course so that I can learn more new things. I do learn new things every semester but I’m looking for a way to radically reinvent that course. Radically.”

Elton:  “So what you’re telling me is that you have three different projects and you’re treating them as such.

Bret: “Yes, I approach each as a unique stand alone. So, this is my most challenging semester because there are three very distinct things and I have to totally switch gears during the week.”

Elton: “Walking from door to door pretty much?”

Bret: “Yes.”

Elton:  “Like you said, you’re going to try to radically change the 720 course, for the benefit of yourself and for the benefit of the students, because when you’re benefitting from it that’s when that teaching can be effective for the students?”

Bret: “Yep, yep.”

Elton:  “So, these changes or non-changes, how does that carry over if you see something like a red-flag? Where you’re saying ‘I need to stop doing that, or I need to keep doing this.’ Is that something you can incorporate in the summer, change and bring it in softly?”

Bret: “Well, I don’t think you can do it mid-stream. Because once you decide on a course of action and you develop a syllabus, it’s kind of a contract. But at the end of it, then I can reflect back and I make changes next semester going forward.”

Elton:  “In keeping with the change process, with the professor/class reviews that we do and the end of each semester, do you kind of look at the extremes not necessarily in the middle? About where the students are and how they feel about the class?”

Bret: “You know, interestingly enough I give very little weight to the severe complainers. Because really, they are complaining because they had to do the work essentially. The ones I really pay attention to are the ones who find the positive things about the course. Because I believe every course I teach is overwhelmingly more valuable than it is a pain. There are some small things that need to be tweaked but is the entire course a disaster? No. I have enough confidence in what I’m doing to know that’s not true.”

“So, where I find the biggest gems is among the people who are finding the bright spots but then also saying: ‘You know if you would do this a little bit differently it would work a lot better.’ That’s the more valuable feedback because it’s coming from a more credible source, for me anyway.”

Elton: “And then they are seeing something not only that might be tweaked but also offering solutions at the same time?”

Bret: “Right. And for the most part, the people that speak in that voice actually really wanted to learn something, but maybe something got in the way of them learning something. The other people, they just wanted to get the grade and if something got in the way of them making the grade, now they’re pissed and they’re just going to take it out on me.”

Elton: “I find that in the projects that I work on, if a guy comes to me and says: ‘You know, this is awful. But let’s find a way around it for the betterment of the project.’ That is very effective in not only getting my attention, but also in getting it addressed.”

Bret: “Yeah, you could treat each comment as a signal but you need to look for a pattern of comments over a number of semesters. And when you see a pattern, when taken together, that can be treated as a signal. But individual comments that you’ve never seen before should only be noted and not necessarily reacted to. You should watch to see if a pattern emerges in the comments. Then, as it emerges as a pattern, and it looks the same when looked at in different ways, now you’re got something you can really act on.”

Elton:  “Right. Similar to what I’m finding as I go through these courses, the answers are in the numbers, the data doesn’t lie. If you’re able to record and chart those data points, that’s where you’re really going to find the answers and that process applies to a lot of different things.”

Moving on: “In each semester, is there something that you try to instill? Beyond the objectives of the course, beyond why the students are there? Is there anything you want the students to take away when the semester finishes? Something positive? Or do you leave that to them? Let them chose to take something positive out of it?”

Bret: “Yeah… well that’s kind of my approach to all of it is you’re going to get out of it what you put into it. And I try for that to be a message that comes through each course. That: ‘Don’t just chase the numbers.’ I’m just here to put the structure in. As you approach this material you should figure out what the potential is for you and what you could learn from it and go beyond the simple structure that I have provided. And so hopefully, every semester I’ve created a course where people have the opportunity to do that. Most people don’t; most people are focused on the grade: ‘What do I need to do the make the grade? How do I get the grade?’ And that’s not just their posture towards class, that’s their posture towards life. It’s hard to get the message across.”

Elton:  “Right.”

Bret: “But every semester, some people get it. But it’s not many.”

Elton:  “This really reminds me of the conversation I was having with Mark Babbitt. When we were talking about the role of a facilitator. Talking about giving them the tools, creating the channels and then walking out of the room. Then, it’s when they start coming to you, and say ‘Hey! We did it! But we tweaked it, we made it even better. We really improved on what you allowed us to do.’ So that role as a facilitator, I really see that being a part of your role in a big way.”

Bret: “Yes. For most of my classes that’s what I’m trying to do. For the 726 and 772, it’s a lot more of the facilitator stuff. 720 is again the most structured because it’s ostensibly the first course people are going to take in the MBA program.”

I think that’s enough for today. We got into a very honest and candid discussion on Bret classes (projects) and how he manages them each semester. What he tries to instill in his students plus a little on the fine tuning aspects from semester to semester. Tomorrow, we’ll get into a very specific incident that I witnessed in one of his classes plus we’ll talk on this transformational period we’re in right now when it comes to social media. So, stick around for some more expert’s input, and more insight into this leaders effective handling of his projects.

Image Credits: Sketch and photos by author

The Biggest Little Interview, with special guest: Kristin Stith

In her office at Bristlecone Holdings I sat down with Kristin Stith. But I didn’t sit down with her to talk about Bristlecone, an incredible start-up in Reno, NV. No, I sat down to talk about her involvement in the BiggestLittleCity movement. A different incredible start-up in a different way. The movement is comprised of a group of volunteers who became inspired to create a campaign that is unique to the BiggestLittleCity (Reno, Nevada). They believe this type of effort has to come from the community so it can speak to the community. We’re here to build something great for the city we love. That’s from the about page at BiggestLittleCity and I went to see Kristin to lean more.

Elton: “You were actually in my Personal Branding class with Dr. Bret L. Simmons class recently, and you were talking about the BiggestLittleCity project and I would like to know a little bit more.  So, in that initial talk, you talked about how it evolved and kind of what’s going on and I would like a more personal view of the interaction inside and outside the group. So maybe if you could start, we could talk a little bit about how the dynamics of your team work?  Where’s everybody coming from and then how does that interaction go out to the community?”

Kristin: “So, what’s really unique about this group of individuals, this group of volunteers is that during the day, for the most part, all of us are entrepreneurs.  They all own their own businesses, well I don’t, I work for Bristlecone Holdings, but just about 90% of the group is entrepreneurs. So during the day, they are all competing for clients within the city and within the same industry because for the most part, all of them own their own marketing agencies. That was the cool part, a lot of these people compete with each other during the day and when it came to this task, I mean all personal egos had to stop at the door. Then when we walked in, anything that was BLC related, it was not about us.  It was not about who’s better at this or who’s better at that, it was all about getting the job done. You see, we would have multiple photographers and multiple web designers and if anyone wanted it to be about them, or made it anything personal, we were ‘Get out’ because there’s no room for that.  We all had to be collaborative.”

Elton:  “Especially since it was volunteer work?”

Kristin:  “Yes, yes especially. And we all agreed that our name was not going to be on anything we produced; we didn’t want that. We didn’t want any attention like that. And the people that did, some people kind of got filtered out.  But for the most part, everyone was very, very capable and effectively left that ego at the door and we all came together to get this job done.”

Expert’s Input: Short intermission here. After some digging, I found a great piece about an accelerator program for entrepreneurs and start-up’s by TJ Muehleman, titled Check Your Ego at the DoorIn it, he talks about the title but he also lists five things to keep in mind before entering the program. They are:

  1. Prepare for brutally honest feedback.
  2. Move fast. Real fast.
  3. Take advantage of mentors and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  4. Don’t forget who you are.
  5. Have fun.

Something tells me these are things every member of the BiggestLittleCity team experienced/agreed to when the program started, and every day after. Something that, whether or not was verbally discussed, it was necessary for the movement to succeed as it did. Let’s get back to Kristin.

“So, how it was broken down is that, we are all from the marketing industry so we had PR, we had copywriters, we had photography, videography, social media, and we had web developers. Then, we had straight creative directors who were just, kind of the whole mental magic behind the campaign. We all came together and we all kind of knew what talents and what kind of what pools we should group ourselves into.  The creative team, they were in charge of what this whole campaign was going to look like, what the movement was going to look like, what we were going to do.  Because we knew we wanted to gather all of the good that was going on in Reno, and combat all of the bad. But how were we going to do that?  That was up to the creative team.”

“So the creative team started, they developed this genius campaign, colors, fonts, taglines, the whole concept was developed by them.  Then all the other teams kind of grabbed pieces that they needed and went out on their own. So for instance, the web developers got all of the things they might need, whether it was images or fonts or copywriting and pulled all of that stuff and then plugged it into the website as needed.  The social media team kind of grabbed the same types of assets and then pushed them out on social.  Again, the creative team was really kind of the engine behind all of it.”

Elton:  “The brains?”

Kristin:  “Yeah, the brains. But then all the other aspects were the legs that made that brain move.  That’s how that all happened.”

Elton:  “And then from that structure, you guys had all these ideas that you put together. How did it get to the people?  How did it get to the public?”

Kristin:  “So these legs each had a responsibility that touched the public in some way shape or form.  For example, the PR leg, they were in charge of press releases and getting the word out via the news or the newspaper. They were in charge of really spreading the word in a more traditional fashion. Typically the PR professional is also very talented at writing so they would also do some pieces for social. Anything that they developed got pushed to social and then that got pushed out. Photography, same type of deal. They were developing imagery that got put on billboards that was touching the public. We had a woman on our team that was strictly in charge of all of our media buys and so she gets on the phone with owners of all the billboards in town, local radio stations, and local news stations and says, ‘Hey, I have this group of volunteers, I need some pro-bono space from you.  This is for the betterment of the city, I need you to jump on board. I need you to do me this favor.’  She basically called her whole phone book and said “Remember that one time?  I need you to do me a favor now.” We were on the radio, we were on TV, and we were on billboards.  We got all of these spots produced and again, all of the artwork for that, for the actual spots was created by the creative team and then taken by media and pushed out on all those media channels.  That was more of the traditional and digital channels of reaching out.”

“Then, we also had one-on-one contact.  We had several different events where people would come out. For instance, we advertised for people to come down to Campo one night, from six to eight and tell the BiggestLittleCity your story; we want to hear your story.  So people would come down, tell us their story and we actually had a laptop set up that we were typing up people’s stories to put on the website.  And that was just more content, more content for us to speak into the campaign and more content to go on the website. Bottom line, it’s more content for us to generate why Reno is a great place to live.”

Elton:  “And who better to talk about that than …”

Kristin:  “… the people! Right?”

Elton:  “Exactly.”

Kristin:  “We did a lot of work, again, this whole creative marketing campaign, but what made it genuine was that these people were telling their stories. They were just pouring it out and some of these stories were really heavy, they were really dramatic of what living in this town has done for them.  Love and loss, just all kinds of really, really cool stories that these people were offering to us to put on the website because we informed them of the cause and they were ‘Sure, yeah, love to do it.  I’d love to tell my story, tell what this town has done for me.’  I specifically remember an event we had at Whitney Peak. This was about two years ago when Whitney Peak first opened, a couple restaurants had come and gone and I was thinking ‘Is this hotel going to make it?  What’s going on here?’ But now, it’s really cool hotel and doing really well.  So, they opened up a bar or a portion of the bar for us.  We had a ton of people come in and we just shot videos of them. We had them sit down in a booth, we had great lighting (we had a lighting team that was doing that) and we just asked people ‘Why do you love Reno?  Tell us your story.’  Some stories were 15 seconds long and some stories were much longer.”

Elton:  “Lots of content?  (Haha)”

Kristin:  “Yes! Lots and lots of content.  So then after that, we went out and spoke to any organization, class, business or non-profit, anyone that wanted to hear about what we were doing. For example, Century 21 would called us up and said ‘Hey, we are a local office, and we want our office to get involved. We want all of our employees to submit stories.  Can you come down and tell us what you’re doing?’ And so we’d all go down and show up.  Microsoft in Reno has gotten involved, the casinos have gotten involved, and that’s the one-on-one part of it. So, on top of people seeing it wherever they were going, we were also trying to put a face to it too. To give it that grassroots, cause how grassroots is it if you are just seeing it all over the TV?  Versus seeing people walk into a room and talk about what they are doing? That was really impactful.”

Elton: “There needs to be that connection?”

Kristin: “Yes, yes!”

Elton: “Well, it’s a tremendous project and I’m in awe of it.  And so, as we wrap it up, what would you like to see happen with it?  You guys have been doing this for a couple years now, where do you want to see it go?  What happens from here?”

Kristin: “I may have a different opinion than everybody else, but I am being completely realistic with you, this, this is not about us.  This whole campaign is about the people so it needs to get to a point where all of these volunteers who have put a lot of time and resources into the project, can step away and it grows and it moves. What I think would be really effective is if we got an organization that has money, that has some manpower, that has some talent, if they can take what we developed and continue to push it on. Ideally the City of Reno. If the City of Reno would take a marketing campaign, a logo, and a tagline that was actually developed by a group of volunteers of their own volition, I think that would be adopted really well. So instead …”

Elton: “… not just adopted by them but adopted by the community at large?”

Kristin:  “Right! It’s not like a group of people who are getting paid to come up with this brilliant tagline that could be applied to any city in the United States.  But it’s a group that did it for free, because they love this city and actually put a lot of blood sweat and tears into it. That is grassroots and that’s how things can get adopted. And that is how they sustain and that is how they move. So, instead of these agencies that are getting paid (and that’s fine, that’s what they’re supposed to do), instead of them kind of shouting what we’re going to be, it was our own core telling them …”

Elton:  “… you had to ask too right? You guys went out and asked Reno: ‘What do you want to be?’  That is so powerful!”

Kristin: “Yep, absolutely.  Again, we’re not getting paid to do this, it’s not about us, and it was strictly because we wanted to develop something that would stick with the people. I do think it’s going to need that extra push for it to really stick.  We’re not going to do this forever. We’ve done it for a long time and it’s fun and it’s great …”

Elton:  “… but it needs that new energy.”

Kristin:  “Yeah, new energy, someone else.  And I do think we’ll stick as long as we can.  We’ll stick because we’re all stubborn I think.”

Elton: “And you care about it.”

Kristin: “Yeah, we care about it a lot and a lot of outside people care about it.  They ask, ‘What’s going on with that?  I haven’t heard from you guys in a while.’ A lot of people want to see this move on. I think it needs to get adopted by someone big in order for this to really sustain.”

Elton:  “Well, like I said earlier, I am in awe of the project and I am very thankful to you and the group as a local for the tremendous work and for the perception that is changing out in the world about us, about the Biggest Little City.”

Kristin and Me


Expert’s Input: Concluding this piece, I would like to share a post by Esther Schindler titled Tips for Project Management in Volunteer OrganizationsThere are some good tips is you ever find yourself in a project manager role in a volunteer organization and I’ll let you look for yourself. But, I do want to share this one part: “In a volunteer organization people have to be motivated to get the job done, and they do it for every possible reason besides being paid. As the person in charge of the project, it means you need to develop different motivational skills, some of which do not come naturally.” It’s clear that BiggestLittleCity is exemplary if this and probably a few steps beyond.

I want to thank Kristin for taking the time to sit down and chat about something that she obviously is passionate about and something that I’m going support in any fashion possible. So, if you’re in the Reno area, or even if you’re not, look BiggestLittleCity up, it’s an amazing outreach program and they are broadcasting the truth about Reno, Nevada. The truth that comes from the people that live here and that have lived here for a long time. And that truth is “Reno, Nevada is a great place and live and we love ya!”

This post is in continuation of the interviews I’m conducting with other project managers and leaders from a WIDE variety of industries and fields. See my 1st guest speaker post for a more detailed description.

Image credit: Photo by Author

Value by offering value first, with special guest: Michael Tragash

With the permission of the Whitney Peak staff, I had a chance to sit down in their lobby with Michael Tragash of YelpReno. We got to talking a lot about some the things that Michael has been doing with YelpReno, with his staff, and with the community at large. Being new to Yelp in an active manner, Michael helped explain how it works for all those actively participating and what it means to him.

Elton: “I’m going to start really broad hear because I think you hit on some great things when it comes down to the product, the people, the event and your interaction with all three. So, can you tell me how your views on all three drive YelpReno?”

Michael: “Well, for me, it’s all about the people. It’s not so much about the business or a product. It’s about the people that are creating that product, making that happen here in the community. And those are the stories that need to be told. Yelp’s mission is to connect people to great local businesses. And, I’ve adapted that mission to connect the people (you and me) to the people that operate those great local businesses and share those stories with the rest of the world. You know, you love walking into a business where you feel like you know the guy behind the counter. And that’s the bottom line so if those people are out front, then mission accomplished! You get to know the business owner.”

“But at the same time, the premise of everything for me is partnership, it’s a two-way street and it’s about establishing value by offering value first. You know, I could ask you to lone me twenty bucks and you’d be like “who are you?” But if you had asked me first, and I had given it to you, when I came to you and said I need forty, you’d be like “yeah, no problem. He loaned it to me the first time of his own good will.” So that’s kind of how I like to make it work. I will continue to offer so that I’m of value to someone else. So when the time comes to have that value returned, it’s just natural”

Expert’s Input: I brief interruption here. I really liked what Michael was saying about “establishing value by offering value first.” So I did some digging and I found a blog post that I believe encapsulates this idea. Its’ a Life Skills type of blog titled Create Success by Creating Value for Others and amongst some other great stuff it defines this value by value first as a shift in thinking. It says:

A quantum shift: When we focus on creating more value for other people, it completely shifts our perspective. We will naturally start to move away from self-serving motives as we increasingly consider the welfare of others. This causes our own happiness and success to become a byproduct of our efforts to contribute to the happiness and success of others.”

I think Michael is a great example of someone who has moved away from these “self-serving” motives the post references. And the results is not just a happier Michael, it’s a more successful YelpReno. Now, back to the conversation.

Elton: “Right, I think I got it. But to clarify, how would you put that into the terms of bringing me, who may not know this individual or what this product is about “in”? What is driving you in getting me to know this individual or this product? How are you facilitating that type of interaction?”

Michael: “So, say we’re talking about a “Yelper.” As a Yelper, you’re already passionate about local businesses. You write reviews to let people know what’s great, you share the not so great in a manner that is constructive, that’s letting business owners know what they can do better. So your interest and your passion for these local businesses and learning about them already exists. Right? So, I’ll explain that to a business owner, that Yelpers are positive people that are here to support your business. Their reviews will live on for a long time and will help lots of other people find your business. And it will also help you improve your processes over time. So I focus my efforts with business owners on explaining that premise in a way that they can relate too in two ways. One, I understand the processes of businesses and in looking at Yelp reviews, you can understand where exactly something went wrong. And two, when it comes to a business owner, their passion is running a great business, end of story. Whether that’s producing awesome pasta, making great pizza, or selling a great widget, it doesn’t’ really matter. A great service, that’s what their passionate about, that’s why they’re in the industry they’re in.”

“And so, giving them an opportunity to sit on a stage and explain their passion to people whose passion is to understand their passion, it’s a natural two-way street. Yelp is just the conduit between the two. And what’s written and shared it just one way, one other way of getting the word out about what they do. Yelp events are that platform for showing it off. Yelp is the way to share that dialog and tell that story through photos and writing. But also, it’s within a community of individuals who share that same passion for understanding what’s happening in our local business community.”

Elton: “That’s a great way of putting it. That’s a great way of explaining it to me, someone who is new to this online community you’re talking about. I definitely now have a better understating of it.”

“A little bit earlier we were exploring how the next phase for you and YelpReno is really about cementing down some of these processes you’re talking about, some of these events and what you are organizing. Can you tell me how, in bringing in that new staff that we were talking about, how that’s going to enable you to do this in an even more effective manner than what we’ve been talking about?”

Michael: “Well, as a community manager I wear a lot of hats that involve everything from event planning to marketing the site and to social media. And it’s a manageable work load for one individual but it doesn’t allow you the time to focus your efforts on any one specific thing. And there are things that “move the needle” for what I do, and there are other things that are part of the bigger picture of continuing a strong presence here in Reno. And so, over the last eighteen months in this role, I’ve learned where my skills are best suited to help me accomplish my goals, and which things are helping to move that needle I’m talking about in the right direction; where my time is essentially best spent. And as anyone might know, a good CEO isn’t good at everything. They surround themselves with professionals that can help support exactly what’s going on. And while I am effective at all of the hats that I wear, in all of my hats there are people out there that are going to be better than me.”

“And so, I have hired two interns to help augment my skillsets in two specific areas. One, to help me execute ideas that will both make what they are doing, and also that “hat”, for that effort, more effective. In this way they will learn the “why”. Because as we discussed, understanding the why we’re doing this is so critical. We’re not just posting to Facebook, “what” are we posing to Facebook? “How” is that helping to connect people to local businesses? It has to support the mission statement. So:Michael and Me

  • How is it helping YelpReno be more effective?
  • Why are we facilitating these relationships?
  • What are we doing to maintain those relationships?
  • How can we make more relationships more effective?

That’s one area. The other area is helping with marketing and special events. How to make those events have more of a “WOW” factor? Make them more exciting, more attractive and more facilitative of those relationships we’re talking about. The people not on Yelp, the people on Yelp, and of course the people on the business side.”

Expert’s Input: What Michael is doing in bringing on the two interns is key for him, but not as key as how he’s going to incorporate them into YepReno. The best way to describe it is in a piece titled Why You Need to Delegate to Be Effective by Pamela McClinton. She really nails down what Michael is doing:

“So, while it may be easier to “do-it-yourself,” raising the bar on your leadership involves making sure your team is fully equipped to handle their day-to-day responsibilities. Delegating tasks helps improve the skills of your team members and creates an overall collaborative culture that shares knowledge and prevents information silos.”

Michael is going to equip his staff effectively, and the results will be a more effective YelpReno. And avoiding those information silos referenced is so critical, even in a three-person team, those communication channels are vital for Michael’s system to work with the outside community. Let’s wrap this up.

Elton: “Because when it comes down to it, from what I’m understanding about Yelp and the community, it’s not about the product, it’s about the people and the people?”

Michael: “Well, you still have to have a great product. I don’t want it to seem that you can make a bad product and have a win. The fact is that Yelp reviewer’s reference service of the product, and who’s providing that service? The People. So, if you understand or know the people that you’re interacting with, then the likelihood is your service experience is going to be a little bit better. But, you still have to have a good product, you can’t bad food and have a nice décor and have that be an excellent experience.”

Elton: “Okay, I believe I have a much better understanding of what Yelp is, what it is for you, and where it’s headed. Michael, I don’t have any other questions for you at this time. I think that what we touched on was at the heart of the great things that you’re doing right now.”

Reno is lucky to have Michael on board as the YelpReno representative and I would like to thank him again for his time in sitting down with me, an up and coming Yelper, and explaining the “why’s, what’s, and the how’s” of YelpReno. Look for him at upcoming events which you can check out on the YelpReno Events page. You can also check him out on the YelpReno Facebook page and Twitter.

Note: This post is in continuation of the interviews I’m conducting with other project managers and leaders from a WIDE variety of industries and fields. See my 1st guest speaker post for a more detailed description.

Image credit: Photo by Author

Situational Introverts, with special guest: Mark Babbitt

This is part II of my interview with Mark Babbitt, co-author of A World Gone Social and CEO at YouTern. It’s been a couple days since Part I so it should have had a chance to hit bottom by now. Let’s just jump right back in and pick up where we left off … where were we? Oh yes, Actionable Inspiration.

Elton: “I like that, ‘actionable’. It’s not just those inspirational words, those key words I think that even close to a few years ago you heard and still hear bandied about in the conference room or on the internet. It’s taking those things and putting them into practice and that’s the difference from what I’m finding. “

“So, (a little more history) the last three posts I did on my blog were interviews and what I’m doing is I’m trying to tie this leadership, this project management idea across all industries so the first one I did was with an adjunct professor at UNR and we talked about his mortgage brokerage firm and about him and his team and something that he was very passionate about and that was trust; I believe it was a great post. The next one I actually interviewed my brother.  He’s a father of four and he and his family have a goal to move up into a farm or some sort of ranch and so we talked about how the families goals are aligned with each other, with the end result, how that works in his home. And also this idea of leading by example, him as a father, so I tied that into the post. Then, the most recent one was a post with a local lawyer who does personal injury and we talked about again trust, we talked about getting to know the client, getting to know them personally and them getting to know you. And about your staff, relying on them, expanding on that team concept.”

“I’ve also done two other interviews but I haven’t posted them yet but what I’m finding is that engaging conversation that you’re talking about, answering questions directly, is something that well, the social exists out there but sometimes that’s not enough. And people want to talk about what their passionate about, they want to share their experiences associated with these passions and so sometimes it’s that platform, that social that isn’t enough. I’m finding that being a facilitator of those platforms, of these ideas is really bringing people, mind you in the five that I’ve done so far, has really cemented in my mind that there is this opportunity as a leader not only to practice these things but to get in there and it move along those lines of the stuff that goes on when you’re not in the room, allowing for that to happen, creating a path for it to happen or a downstream affect where it just come out at some point. And so, as I’m talking about this, I would like to hear what your thoughts are on being that facilitator in a social world and what that really can produce.”

Mark: “Well, Elton, I think especially as you do these you’ll find two things happen, at least I have. One it sounds like you’re very comfortable in that chief facilitator officer role and that’s important because what you do in the process is you not only show a vulnerable personal brand, I mean it takes guts to do what you’re doing you know? It takes guts to be the guy asking the right questions and it takes commitment to do the research so you know which questions to ask and so that’s not an easy thing to do. But the end results is you’re providing value to those who eventually become members of the community that you’re forming whether intentionally or not. As you do more and more of these interviews and they provide value to the viewers, you’re opening yourself up and you’re providing content that’s worthy of peoples time and it doesn’t get any more social than that.”

“You know before we had social media, and this is where the tools finally do come in Elton, you and I would go have a cup of coffee and we would have this wonderful conversation and it would stay between the two of us and the eavesdroppers at Starbucks right? And that’s it, right? Now, with social and YouTube and Twitter and Instagram and all the rest and now Periscope we can now share these conversations right? And I don’t know about you but I digest them in a unique way for me, even though I’m an author of a book and have another one I’m working on I haven’t actually read a book in forever. I listen to them, I’m a huge Audible.Com fan right. So I listen to them as I’m driving or thinking, or working on a project at home. And I was doing that yesterday! If you would have seen me yesterday I was snow white with drywall dust listening to a book and that’s the way I digest it. Well, it’s the same way with these videos, the kind you’re creating now, I don’t watch them often but I can listen to them while I’m thinking or as I’m doing social medial catchup or writing a new blog post. They actually inspire me to do better things. You don’t have to be Guy Kawasaki or Jay Baer to do what you’re doing. What you’re doing right now is important work and the more of us that take that facilitator role very seriously and provide really good content, value instead of noise, the better off we all are.“

Elton: “That really roles right into with where I want to wrap up at and I mentally noted something that you said but … well that’s lost. Anyway, I also love too, by the way, avid fan. I do some of my best learning that way. The time to be able to sit down and read a book, this semester anyway I’m finding, except for the books of course that have been assigned (haha).”

“So, in my own life, and this is more on a personal level to wrap things up, this idea of more social less media how it’s affecting me and my life, like I said earlier, a few months ago I had zero presence. The mind shift and you even commented on the outward view in how you interact with people and life itself has changed significantly. You touched on something in the presentation the other night, ‘how many of you are uncomfortable on twitter? How many of you are uncomfortable doing blog posts?’ And I raised my hand because social media has destroyed my comfort level.”Mark

Mark: “Just for the record, you were the only one brave enough to raise your hand. Just so you know, just so the audience, just so everyone one knows (haha).”

Elton:  “I couldn’t help it! I was thinking: ‘Me! Me! Me! This is scaring me so much!’ And so before this class, I knew where I was at, I was very comfortable in it and I was intent to remain there. And then getting into Dr. Bret’s class it was like ‘okay, here you go!’ And there is this thing, a feeling that you get when you get when you get out of that comfort zone, kind of anxious energy, a little bit nervous, at least for me, and that anxious energy is now constant, it’s always there. Like there is this eye one me for lack of a better term, and I love it and I see the value in it. Being actively engaged, doing these interviews, asking the questions, you’re right, it’s not easy. I love the idea of it being social, and I think this is the biggest idea I’ve taken out of it personally and incorporated into my life: less media.”

“Being social is not about everything that I’m doing right now on these platforms, it’s about everything I’m doing right now off these platforms. The platform is giving me a voice for all those actions. It is giving me a place to put those things so that can be received and interpreted and consumed as needed, as necessary. Right now there’s not a huge audience or a big following but that’s not the point I think. I think the point initially for me, in this exercise I’m going through, is creating a mind shift within me that is going to affect not only my coworkers but my personal life. And so to wrap things up, I would like to hear, on a personal level maybe, a little bit more into how this has, what we’ve been talking about, has taken root in your life.”

Mark: “Well as we talked about and as I talked about in the book, social did not come naturally to me at all. I’m basically an introvert. My wife calls me a ‘situational introvert’. You know, I love getting up in front of people, I love talking about my passion, I like to make people laugh once in a while, make people think. But basically I’d rather be at home drinking a beer or on the river throwing a line in the water, right? So, it did not come naturally to me at all, but here’s what I found. I found that I could express myself say on Twitter, one-hundred and forty characters at a time. I could express myself much easier hiding behind a keyboard than I could in person. And, I have a little Irish In me and sometimes things just come out of my mouth and I’m not exactly known for having the best filter in the world …”

EltonElton: “… I can relate to that one-hundred percent …”

Mark: “… so, at least when I’m keyboarding I get to think for a second before I hit the send button where you, you saw me in my presentation, I said a couple things that got me into trouble. And that, that comes naturally to me and social didn’t. I had to work my way into it and I found it a comforting stream for me eventually. Now you throw blogging and you go from one-hundred and forty characters to six-hundred to eight-hundred words at a time and you get to expand on those thoughts, right.  And then you start doing interviews and eventually you write a book and the whole thing just kind of grew. And it has absolutely and completely changed my life. And here’s how: I’ve always been what I’ve considered to be a social leader and as a leader I can be a dictator, I have five kids, I’ve coached sports, youth sports for almost thirty years now, I have three companies I’m helping to run, I can be a decent dictator …”

Readers: My apologies, the computer I was on “hic-upped” and so a string of Marks words were lost here. I decided the context could be lost if, what would have been a large chunk, was omitted. So let’s continue.

Mark: “… groupthink, and this social allows me to do that. And I’ll tell you how else it’s changed my life, Elton, really quick. Is, I have met more people on social media that I would have never met otherwise. I know people that have helped me with YouTern, helped me with SwitchandShift, helped me write a book. Brilliant brilliant people that I’ve looked up to for years and would have never had a chance to meet otherwise. And on social we can meet all those people, and we can reach out and jump on a Skype call or have a Zoom meeting. And you’re talking with somebody that you’ve read his book twenty years ago and now you’re having a conversation like you and I are having right now … it’s freak’n amazing how social opens doors and starts conversations and connects people that have something in common. And for that alone social has completely changed my life. I mean, I was at this thing in New York the other day and I literally looked around the room and I looked at the people that were there and it was like a who’s who of social, a who’s who of authors and I just sat there and I thought ‘holy crap, I’m sitting in the room with these people’ right, ‘this is amazing.’ So this is how much social has changed my life and so I admire you for jumping in with both feet I admire you for leaving your comfort zones behind and I’m telling you, you keep doing that and really cool things are going to happen because you’re gonna meet people that you would have never met otherwise and you’re going to do things you never would have imagined before.”

Elton: “Well, it’s happening already, this interview right here is kind of blow’n my mind, I’ll be honest about that. So, I don’t have anything more, you really hit on the four things I wanted to touch upon. I appreciate your time so very much and enjoyed your book immensely and I want to wish you the best.”

Mark: “Well thank you Elton and any time I can help you, please let me know.”

Elton: “Absolutely! Absolutely. Have a great day.”

Mark: “You too Elton.”


I’ll reiterate what I said in Part I, “WOW!” Even when I transcribed the video I got excited all over again on where social has to potential to take me as a project manager and as a leader. I hope that you perhaps are at least glimpsing some if its potential now too. Not only from a digital perspective, but from a personal perspective. Because remember, A World Gone Social is not about the media or the platforms, it’s about that chance to embrace that Social that exists in all of us, that social that makes us nervous and anxious and has the power to positively affect us all in a very big and a very real way.

A Few Notes:

  • This post was not a plug for Marks book though if you decide to pick it up, you won’t regret it. It was however about sharing an intimate coffee style conversation with a world that hose gone social.
  • I tried to keep the syntax of mine and Mark’s conversation in tact as much as possible so that the emotion we were both expressing while talking about social and leadership had an opportunity to be transferred to our “eavesdroppers” in the “coffee shop.” I hope it was somewhat accomplished.
  • This post is in continuation of the interviews I’m conducting with other project managers and leaders from a WIDE variety of industries and fields. See my 1st guest speaker post for a more detailed description.

Image credit: Photo Clips by Author