Outraged cereal-lovers unite!

General Mills recently announced it was reversing a promise to take artificial colors and flavors out of their cereals. They were reverting back to the original recipe and the more familiar, brightly colored Trix would be on store shelves in October 2017.

Wait what happened? Two years ago, the company thought they were doing the right thing for customers and sales when they changed their recipe.  Their intent was to keep up with the times and changing consumer preferences for healthier, more natural foods.

However, it didn't quite work out the way they'd hoped. While there was a bump in sales, the new and "improved" version was drab and lacked that delicious chemical flavor. Nostalgic, long-time loyal customers were furious and let them know via social media.

Here are some of the funnier tweets I saw on the topic.


All of this pressure added up and prompted General Mills to change their mind. We were never allowed to have "sugar cereals" growing up and I'm still upset about it. Not only did I miss out then, I'm missing out on the opportunity to be outraged now. I'm trying to imagine how these people feel and had the thought-- what if they changed Reese's Peanut Butter Cups?! Ugh, the horror!

Anyway, this was fun.  Silly Rabbit! You thought Trix were for kids? Nope. They're apparently for grown-ups who don't want to let go.



Why metrics matter to me

Performance metrics matter. We know this and yet we continue to track things that have little to do with our goals. The better alternative is to make sure that you're measuring progress against the things that matter most to you and your future. Here are four steps to think through that process.

I'm trying to move away from outputs-- such as number of contracts-- and focus more on outcomes. Did I create a connection with a client? Did a client come back after the project to ask more questions or start another task? Would we both want to work together again?

What do you track on a regular basis?

Bad Boss Stories

Collections aren't cool as they used to be, you know, with all of this tidying up we're doing.  So if you've been good about clearing stuff out but still have the urge to pile up some random stuff in one place, consider adding to this short, e-collection of bad boss stories.

  • "Giving the first employee of the month award to himself.", Huffington Post
  • "My first boss was the founding partner of a mid-sized law firm in Boston….He used to come in every morning, vise-grip my head with his hands, kiss the top of it, and say 'hello my luv, ho-e-you, ho-e-you'. Then he'd proceed to shred me all day long. His best moments were after I was sick and lost too much weight, used to walk around screaming 'where's the damned stick with t*ts?.' Really. I worked for him for 15 years. , Huffington Post
  • “I had a boss who tried to fire a retired employee. She had told him that he could not retire because there was too much work to be done, but he retired anyway. When she found out, she was heard throughout the office screaming into the speakerphone at the personnel director that she wanted to fire the employee. The personnel director chuckled as he told her that she could not fire an employee who had already quit.”, PennLive
  • “The first thing he does that is horrible is he points to his office when he wants to see me. He doesn’t call me by my name. Then he gives me a list of things that the higher-ups specifically told him to do and tells me to do it. He then tells me that the higher-ups don’t like me and I shouldn’t be friends with them. ( I know this isn’t true from talking to the higher-ups). He goes golfing and says that it’s company business and gets paid to go golfing while I do all his work and mine.”, PennLive

To Master Social Media, Simplicity Wins

Social media is overwhelming. The very thing that makes it remarkable and powerful also makes you feel like you're lost in the woods, at night, in heels, with only half of a Lara Bar in your purse. The volume and constant flow of messages can lead to an urge to stay constantly engaged to keep up-- let alone make any progress in getting your message out.

In working on a piece for Inc.com in collaboration with Vendeve, these bonus tips were shared with me.  They come from Julie Lowe. Julie is a Facebook Ads expert whose mission is to make online marketing feel accessible and empowering - rather than mysterious & stressful - for every online entrepreneur.

Here's what Julie says...

  1. Use automation to your advantage. While you can't automate relationship building, you can schedule posts in advance. (Sit down once a week, create your content, and schedule posts to go out at set dates and times.) I use hootsuite but I know there are others out there like tweetdeck.
  2. Curate content to round out your posting schedule. Every post you share doesn't have to be your own original content. (Use tools like Postplanner or Scoop.it to find value-add content and avoid the burnout that can come from constant creation mode.) I use Feedly and am looking to change this up a bit. 
  3. Set some boundaries. One of the reasons people get social media burnout is that it becomes a time-suck. You can easily lose hours of productivity each week if you're not careful. (Schedule social networking into your day like any other business activity, set your intentions for how to use that time, and set a timer if you have to!)

You can find Julie at SociallyAligned.com

deliciously technical and controversial

My meetings started here this morning. As my grandfather would have said it, "We couldn't have had a prettier day." And, it's AUGUST.  In DC.

Gorgeous weather aside, I had the pleasure of working with a group of scientists gathered in DC this week to share their climate change research and talk about the challenges they see in doing this work going forward.

As is so often the case with highly-skilled experts, the technical challenges are big-- no doubt-- but those don't scare them. The issues that keep them up at night are around talking about their findings, building understanding and acceptance, gaining support, and, ultimately, seeing behavior change. In short, all of the communications stuff. I learned this week that answering the common question, "what do you do?" can start a debate in a bar.

The vested man above is Paul Ollig. He's a National Park Service employee and the Chief of Interpretation for the National Mall and Memorial Parks.  He's a fantastic storyteller-- if you ever have a chance to walk the Mall with him, you're guaranteed to learn something new. So, Paul led a tour today for this group of climate scientists to talk about climate change impacts to the Mall and the city and park's adaptation efforts-- including the construction of a massive levee to protect the monuments from storm surges.

Before setting off, he opened up a discussion on what techniques are effective when talking about climate science. The insights shared by the group were great-- and I think can be a good starting point to communicating any highly technical and controversial material.

  1. Humanize your work. Describe why you personally are drawn to the specifically challenges. What experiences or beliefs lead you to this point?
  2. Chunk the message. Talking with someone who is incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their work can feel like being sprayed with a fire hose. Be able to chunk your message into "bite site" points and know how to sequence them in case people ask for more information.
  3. Avoid trigger words (audience-dependent). Know your audience and what trigger words might cause them to shut down and stop listening. For some, "climate change" are those trigger words that have such a strong association that it might be difficult to overcome someone's position. The goal often is to talk about the impacts, the risks, the behavior changes needed, etc. Being flexible enough to do that with more general language can keep a much-needed conversation going.
  4. Make it visual. Snow, I learned, is a visually compelling way to talk about climate change. What are the pictures that help people understand the risks and impacts of your issue?  Use those.
  5. Take opportunities to talk with kids. Of course, any conversation with a kid has to be age appropriate-- and ideally pre-approved by a parent or teacher.  The point is though that kids help you test how accessible your message is. Can a 5th grader understand your point? Kids will also has great questions and will typically come to a conversation with fewer preconceived ideas. If nothing else, you both might learn something.

One of my colleagues has this great picture of Einstein with a quote that reads, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."  I love this because it's so true. Times (many, many times) in the past that I've stumbled over technical messages have come down to precisely this problem.  My understanding was more superficial that I realized. Engaging with an active listener can quickly reveal those holes.  

So, if there was one overarching recommendation, it would be to know your topic well.  Know it so well that you can avoid jargon or terms that only another technician would understand. My key takeaway from meeting with these awesome scientists this week is that they're not out to impress anyone with their smarts-- though their knowledge and skills certainly are impressive.  They've trying to make a difference in the world and you can only do that by bringing others along.

move right

When we win a new consulting job there is excitement and movement. The win justifies the research, writing, thought, and collaboration work invested. That’s exciting. The hunt is over and it paid off this time. 

There is also movement- a state of being our business model depends on.  Without much seasonality to the sales cycle, we need a reason for things to happen. Wins mean new project assignments and elevated responsibilities that are certainly good for the victors. The vacancies left create a trickle-down effect that is generally good for everyone else.

Without the swirl and churn of a periodic win, the business feels stagnant—even as billable hours flow and profits earned.

So we go in search of more wins. Because of the limits on discretionary spending and the finite nature of most budgets, we push beyond the clients serve today to find a client we’re not yet serving. In and of itself, this pursuit isn’t wrong but in practice it is distracting. 

Between wins, there is a better way to create movement. Instead of bouncing to the next RFP, we can dig in—really dig in—on the issue we were hired to solve. While fulfilling the client’s need, we can find the others working this issue (wherever they might be), start conversations, do the primary research, explore, talk to, test out, and refine the solutions. 

Every win should mean fulfilling the commitment to the client AND making a contribution to the community.


Shake it off

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Taylor Swift was in town this week. According to the dozens of Facebook posts I saw, everyone who is anyone (with daughters) but me knew this and they were all at the show. Of course, my girls are too little now to go to a concert like this but it made me look forward to bopping and gushing along side of them over future pop stars.

All in all, it was a good week.  How about you?  

I made progress on a couple of big client assignments, hit "save and send" on series I'm writing on management consulting for another publication (more on that to come), and tried a bunch of simple, new recipes with all of this summer produce.

One big downer midweek was receiving some scathing, poke-in-the-eye feedback on a piece of writing I'm doing for a client. The piece itself is a nothing special little memo on an uncontroversial topic communicating a deadline far in the future. So at first I wasn't sure why it got any attention-- positive or negative-- at all. Who would really care so much that they'd take the time to write a page of comments in an email, then (as if totally exasperated) dramatically suggest a complete re-do in their closing line?

The feedback came a bit out of left field from someone not directly involved in the project. As I tend to do, I first took it personally and got defensive. Check. I felt picked on. After all, what did he know? It was fine.

It took a day or so to calm down and 4 times reading through the comments (which stung less with each reading) before I could effectively process them. In the end, I decided that, while the tone was harsh, some comments were fair so I worked them in. Actually, I would have had to do this step anyway because that's what's they're paying me to do.

Taking a little advice from Ms. Swift, I'm going to shake it off. With that, the week is almost done.  Have a great weekend!

what are you talking about?

No, really. It's an honest question. What are you talking about?

I came across The Good Men Project during a typical click to click to click browsing session. I was curious to learn what was meant by "good men" and why the hell this too had to have the "project" bit at the end. (I think PMI's relentless marketing is to blame for the runaway use of this term for anything and everything people want to say, do, or explore on the Internet. Time for a universal find and replace!)

Anyway, I got sucked in and spent a good hour or so clicking around trying to understand what good men are talking about. Scanning the site, I saw stuff on social and family issues, professional challenges, and personal values. This are thoughts on how to raise good children, achieve work/life balance, and improve relationships.

I was surprised. I guess not surprised that men were talking about these things (after all there are men's opinions all over the place) but previously unaware that they were swapping views within a circle of other men.

Prior to coming across this site, I'd imagined that most man-to-man conversations (outside of work or direct father to son type stuff) were focused on sports, maybe a little politics, and on the one slow sports day each year, you might get a a calendar review that went something like, "I went to X, then ate Y, then sat in traffic back to X."

To my knowledge, no such site exists for women. In fact, women have been trying to un-have the conversation about what makes a "good woman" for more than 50 years now.

It made me wonder what people are talking about within their circles of same-ness.  For me? I have a pretty good handle on running conversations among federal management consultants (procurement is broken), working moms (there's never enough time), and half-assed vegans (green smoothies count, right?)

Reflecting on what people are talking about with others they view most similar to them (in life stage, circumstance, interests, race, religion, and so on) provides a lot of insights into their worries and priorities. Understanding these ongoing conversations is important-- not so that we can parachute in to solve them-- but so that we can better understand each other, be more empathetic, and more helpful when the opportunity presents itself.

It's sometimes difficult to answer the question-- what's on your mind? To get to the same place we might instead ask, what are you talking about?