Lessons from the Trenches: Adjust Your Focus

On a patch of dirt roughly 45 yards wide and 50 yards long, not a blade of grass in sight. Nestled on a city street next to an old junkyard piled high and deep with car parts and pieces of rusted metal machinery…a blistering 95-degrees with 90% humidity on balmy August mornings transformed into 35-degrees with a 20-mph wind on weeknights at the end of October.  The Manhattan skyline so close across the Hudson River you could touch it, pride tattooed on your chest for the whole world to see…

An economically and ethnically diverse lot of 50 freshman traveled six days a week to this infamous, dreaded practice field from 30 towns across Northern NJ, some with a commute more than an hour long each way.  Every player was a gridiron star in their hometown now embarking on a journey to see if they could endure the daily grind on the field and in the classroom at one of the state’s most challenging athletic and academic high schools – St. Peter’s Prep.

There were good days and bad days just like anywhere else.  However, at the corner of Grand and Warren in Jersey City, it seemed like every day was gameday – commute to school, six or seven classes, practice 3-6 PM, commute home, 2-3 hours of homework, repeat – for FOUR years. Everyone learned quickly and it wasn’t a secret, this lifestyle and level of commitment for 48 months was simply a battle of attrition.

So the 50 freshman players stood in alignment with the traditional “silver dome” helmets next to them forming perfect rows ready to stretch out before another grueling practice.  A million things going on in the mind of a teenager, and though geared up and ready run around and hit and get rocked, football was often the furthest from top of mind.  Fast-forward to the mid-point of the season and the combination of pure physical exhaustion and perplexing exams made the toughest kid feel like crap.

From the deep in the belly of a boisterous, big guy who worked as a police officer by morning and life coach moonlighting as a football coach in the afternoons, Ed Roselle bellowed loud and proud every day across the stretching lines, “How do you feel?!” The team replied in unison, “Good.” He repeated, “How do you feel feeeeel?!” 50 strong replied, “Good good.” And last in escalating tone and pitch, “I said how do you feel feel feeeeeel?!!” The freshman squad yelled, “Good good goooood!” Then practice began.

No one ever actually felt good. But thanks to Coach Roselle, suddenly no one cared. No one cared about their parents being upset about a bad test grade or their girl friend breaking up with them. At that moment in time 50 minds became focused on the task at hand – playing football. The lesson? It’s what you focus on that matters. Focus is what separates top performers from everyone else. There’s always going to be good and bad; focusing on the right thing at the right time is what gets you through the bad and leads to more good.

Do you have that feel good focus? Does your team?

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Lessons from the Trenches is a series about leadership and success from experiences in athletics and the corporate world.  Joseph Nolan is a Los Angeles-based marketing and digital executive with over a decade of experience at leading companies in retail, ecommerce, entertainment and health/fitness. Opinions expressed on JoeSocial.com are his own. Please direct business inquiries and suggestions for future posts to joe@joesocial.com.  

 

Startup Interview 101

The pitch is tough to pass up: work really hard (like you do anyway), talented colleagues, fun office environment, change the world and get rich doing so. But before you swing for the fences there are few things you need to know to ensure the homerun isn’t actually strike three.

The questions below should each be answered by the interviewer in 30-seconds or less; if not,  RED FLAG.  Of course he/she may be having an off day, but the well-run companies of any size have consistency in message top to bottom and it transcends from words into actions. Unfortunately many startup executives can’t answer these questions succinctly, even the ones who’ve received funding. But, it is absolutely possible.

One founder was asked his vision and the answer was “be a billion-dollar online mattress company.” He’s well on his way. Another was asked and the response was “I want to make suits and fashion available to men anywhere in the US.” 1,200 stores later he succeeded. A third was asked and the feedback was “I want to end metabolic disease.” Nearly a billion-dollars in protein bars and powders later he is succeeding. These responses take 3 seconds. You’d be amazed at how many take 5 minutes…

1.  What is the ideal state, grand plan? Not a vision, a clear depiction. HINT: Unacceptable answers include, “we’re just riding the wave,” or “startups start then pivot, having an end goal is contrary to what a startup really is,” or “I don’t know that’s the fun part.”    

2. What is version 2.0 1-2 years from now? HINT: Unacceptable answer includes “we’re going to keep doing the same thing we do now.”

3. How do you make money? HINT: Can often be more complicated and fragile than actually appears.

4. Why don’t the big guys do what you do, what is preventing them? HINT: They're too big and bureaucratic doesn't always count, too easy of an answer. Look for some novelty. Novelty means the idea has some legs. 

5. If not included in answer to Question #2 - what are other streams of revenue you can utilize quickly?

6. Why should a customer buy from you and what is so impressive to make them stop buying from someone else?

7. Is there $100M demand for your product now or in the next 3 years? Why or why not?

8. Discuss your philosophy of people management. HINT: Likely the best answer is something like “we hire the best talent that fits our corporate and individual team culture then enable them the best we can to succeed.”

9. What gets you excited, totally completely amped, every day you go to work? HINT: Arguably the best question I’ve ever been asked in an interview…and have only been asked it once.

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Joseph Nolan is a Los Angeles-based marketing and digital executive with over a decade of experience at leading companies in retail, ecommerce, entertainment and health/fitness. Opinions expressed on JoeSocial.com are his own. Please direct business inquiries and suggestions for future posts to joe@joesocial.com.  

FIRST. BEST. MOST.

Does this pep talk from the boss sound familiar? “We need to break through. Where is the excitement in our marketing? Go innovate. Market share is on the line. Budgets are tight. We need a big idea!” Or, the opposite side of the pressure to perform equation…"Let’s just keep doing what we’re doing. What we’re doing has worked in the past but research shows it’s starting to fade. Where do we even start with trying to find new campaigns and ideas?”

FBM to the rescue – FIRST. BEST. MOST. Years ago I was part of a completely new marketing department at a major company tasked with reinventing an antiquated brand in a highly competitive industry. When it came time to develop our annual plan, the direction from the c-suite was crystal clear: cut ~50% of existing run-the-business (RTB) activities and allocate the resources to programs that are First, Best or Most.

More recently I found myself a part of a marketing organization that prided itself on being “world-class.” First week on the job in an annual planning meeting with the CMO and after hearing “world-class” about 60 times in 4 days, I asked him to define what the phrase meant to him. His response was an unequivocal, “You’re to create programs and bring ideas to life that are first of their kind, best in our industry or will garner the most sales, engagement or media attention. Anything that doesn’t fit into one of these categories should be discontinued or not considered.”

The unfortunate reality is many, if not most, marketing departments don’t operate by the FBM philosophy or weave it into their portfolio to some degree, perhaps most obviously with RTB activities or for major product launches. There’s an aisle in the library packed with volumes on why organizations choose not to operate this way – too risky, stressful, corporate culture, weak leadership – so let’s focus briefly on why it works.

First, having clear objectives aligns teams on goals/KPIs and creates a solidarity leading to greater efficiencies that tend to outperform 5 teams doing 5 different things. Second, FBM programs are likely to receive considerable scrutiny from across the org and external partners. So although perceived as high risk on Day 1, by the time an idea is agreed upon and vetted, it has a better than average chance at succeeding – otherwise it wouldn’t go to market right?! (bulls eye - sarcasm) Anything that strays from the beaten path always encounters skepticism and when the product launch is on the line, it’s amazing the ends to which people will CYA and try to make the campaign a winner.

Last, FBMs can replace some RTB efforts and should theoretically beat their performance. At inception FBMs are often incremental initiatives, not everyone has the luxury of scrapping 50% of their daily duties. But if executed successfully, FBM programs make it considerably easier to let go of the sometimes years-old ways of doing things and transition to the new school. No small feat indeed.

So where do stand with FBM? Is your upcoming campaign the FIRST of its kind? Do you have a program that is BEST in the biz? Did your last launch reach the MOST people and drive the most sales? Does the first line your agency brief read First-Best-Most? Look forward to your comments below. Don’t be afraid to boast with your FBMs!

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Joseph Nolan is a Los Angeles-based marketing and digital executive with over a decade of experience at leading companies in retail, ecommerce, entertainment and health/fitness. Opinions expressed on JoeSocial.com are his own. Please direct business inquiries and suggestions for future posts to joe@joesocial.com.  

LESSONS FROM DAD

The dad was a football man, former college player turned member of a top-rated HS officiating crew, but at an early age his son initially took to the sport of baseball instead.  Not possessing knowledge of the sport near that of football, he sought ways to learn the ins-and-outs as quickly as possible so he could teach his son. Reaching out to colleagues and friends, the dad discovered a renowned 3-day coach’s clinic about an hour from home. The best in game, top college and MLB coaches staffed intimate seminars for groups of ~40 discussing everything from mental preparedness and proper warmups to situational hitting and pitching strategies. For several years the father took time off from his busy corporate schedule and attended the clinic with his son, each year met with the same excitement and anticipation. They achieved their goal of continuing to learn about baseball, and more importantly, strengthened their father-son relationship and expanded the son’s perspective on the world around him.

Lesson 1: Never stop learning (continuous improvement). There’s always more to learn. One is seldom the smartest person in the room and those who think they are often aren’t. Surround oneself with the best possible talent and together everyone will be more successful.

The main ballroom was standing room only, packed wall-to-wall with 200 H.S. coaches from around the country. The father and son duo had skipped an earlier seminar to spend time testing the latest gear from vendors – but primarily so they could score 3rd row seats for the most anticipated presentation of the event. The sound of tobacco and bubble gum chewing men frantically clicking their pens and sharing exaggerated stories of victories and standout players of times past while waiting for the session to start was unforgettable. Then without notice a hush fell across the mildly rambunctious crowd and the discussion on the philosophy of coaching baseball began…

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He strode onto the stage with uncanny charisma, authority and confidence. Simply put, when it came to college baseball he was legitimately THE MAN. Inventor of LSU’s renowned homerun power hitting offense dubbed Gorilla Ball and, more impressively, winner of 5 NCAA championships along with 11 NCAA World Series appearances, the guru himself Skip Bertman stood before the crowd. In the previous season his LSU Tigers were a favorite to take the national title for a second consecutive year but were eliminated early in the post season shocking the baseball world. He spoke of how his staff employed all the usual tactics after a devastating loss: working harder in the offseason, “recommitting oneself” to the game, reducing distractions and so on. Everything good coaches do in any sport.

But then one day during an off-season practice suddenly it all became clear to him. An assistant coach hit a ground ball to their star infielder who scooped it up and threw it over to first base, routine play like always. Skip muttered to his assistant, “That was pretty good.” What was immediately clear was that he had allowed his staff and all-star cast of players to accept “pretty good” as their normal way of working. They’d become complacent and simply figured that “pretty good” from the best players in the country would be good enough to win a championship. The “pretty good” mentality stealthily crept its way into the program, Skip was honestly upset about it and he took full responsibility. The hall of fame coach’s closing remarks left the crowd silent and were the buzz of the remainder of the conference: “If you learn anything during this seminar, it should be that sometimes pretty good is in fact good enough. But, pretty good isn’t great. Everyone else works hard. Everyone else has good players. So to be a champion, it often takes being something great. Don’t let ‘pretty good’ infest you and your teams.”

Lesson 2: Humility. As the crowd exited, the father’s words to his young son were as unforgettable as the coach’s. “You see that man? He’s the best at what he does in the entire country. He just stood up here in front of all these people and admitted he made a mistake. No one’s ever too good to admit they screwed up. What’s important is you learn from it and don’t make the same mistake twice.”

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Joseph Nolan is a Los Angeles-based marketing and digital executive with over a decade of experience at leading companies in retail, ecommerce, entertainment and health/fitness. Opinions expressed on JoeSocial.com are his own. Please direct business inquiries and suggestions for future posts to joe@joesocial.com.  

GREAT TEAMS

Few people have the opportunity to build their teams from scratch, while others make a career out of it. Undoubtedly the longer you’re in business the more likely the situation is to present itself. Creating a winning team is nothing short of a challenge and depending on the industry or corporate culture it can be a herculean effort. Absolutely you’ll face pressure from all sides, but staying focused, continuing to move forward and keeping your eye on the prize should lead to success - easier said than done. Take some tips from the pros on how to turn team building from a nerve-racking game of high risk poker to a hand full of aces.

1- Read Switch Now

Park the extension courses, webinars, seminars and white papers. Read this book and implement the winning approach. The Heath brothers lay out the perfect roadmap for regime, culture and people change. Book is a grand slam.

2- Add 25%

Among the most important principals deployed by Silicon Valley’s top entrepreneurs - add 25% to everything you can, especially time. No matter what - seriously - it will take you longer to accomplish goals than you originally think, especially if it’s your first time team building or the group is new at the company. Add 25% to project timing, budgets (you’ll likely settle for 10% more $$), technology, etc. You don’t know what you don't know, and neither do the countless coworkers you’re relying on to execute and make you successful.

3- No Substitute for Talent

The uber principal of hiring. The reality is talented people are good at what they do for a reason and it often includes hustle. So think twice about hiring the hustler who lacks talent. You’ll be expected to hire quickly and HR has a quota to fill. The pressure to hire fast is immense, but avoid wrong hires at all costs to prevent myriad problems in the future.

4- Hire Top Down

Strong management is critical to success. Leaders need to mesh well with their subordinates; hiring bottom up conflicts with this principal and creates a greater propensity for friction. You don’t have to work with the level 1 employee, your manager does - remember that.

5- Over Communicate - PLEASE!

Unfortunately many senior executives opt for less cross-functional communication when teams are being established, often purposefully suppressing interaction. Politics, personality, silos/power - dozens of reasons why this happens. Can be particularly common in disciplines where strong communication skills are not a core prerequisite. Think about it - the colleagues helping you get things done should be kept aware of what’s going on, right?! Common sense. Establish and monitor communication boundaries and avoid proactively fostering a toxic environment that takes too much time and stress to remedy. One team, one dream - don’t you forget it.

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Joseph Nolan is a Los Angeles-based marketing and digital executive with over a decade of experience at leading companies in retail, ecommerce, entertainment and health/fitness. Opinions expressed on JoeSocial.com are his own. Please direct business inquiries and suggestions for future posts to joe@joesocial.com.  

JoeSocial Returns

Thank you, it’s good to be back. You asked for more, so we have returned! Welcome to the poser-free zone. Your newest escape from the monotony of the status quo….you know what we mean - posts about content “amplification,” productivity hacks to improve your life and the regurgitated career advice you’ve been reading in your LinkedIn feed every day for the past 3 years…

There is demand for the new, the different, the knowledge that wins. JoeSocial aims to satisfy this demand. How to do it? Contribute to the collective conversation a perspective that challenges, that clarifies and certainly one that excites. This blog, a destination you feel you need to visit because you simply can’t wait to see what’s published next. Absolutely we’ve set a high bar, but we wouldn’t want it any other way. And the only way this experiment works is if it is a two-way street so don’t be bashful, don’t hesitate to let us know what you think and what topics you want covered next. Remember, 100% of the time your opinion matters most of the time…

So, from marketing to measurement, communications to crisis management, whether “IRL” or on the interweb, and of course the Holy Grail fundamental of leadership, we’re bringing fresh thinking from the best and brightest. DISCLAIMER: please buckle up and continue reading at your own risk. Be careful, content on this site might just blow your mind. Real talk, this biz blog is about to #crushit. Let’s get started…

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Joseph Nolan is a Los Angeles-based marketing and digital executive with over a decade of experience at leading companies in retail, ecommerce, entertainment and health/fitness. Opinions expressed on JoeSocial.com are his own. Please direct business inquiries and suggestions for future posts to joe@joesocial.com.