Secrets for CEOs: How to Be a Savvy Hirer of Top Talent, Part One

For CEOs of entrepreneurial and middle market companies, solving the talent puzzle is critical to the success and future growth of the company.  A Fortune 500 monolith can absorb a hiring mistake once in a while, as the work is distributed among thousands of people.  But, in a smaller organization, there is a bigger impact.  A wrong hire or even worse – on-going turnover — can bombast customer relationships, poison employee morale — or actually sink the ship.

According to the Bersin human capital consulting arm of Deloitte, improving the quality of hire doesn’t start at recruitment, i.e., the actual solicitation of candidates.  I agree.  It’s the upfront planning that relates to your business model, talent market, assessment of needed skills, competitive dynamics, succession planning — and more.

This is the part that often gets short shrift — resulting in weak hires, culture clashes and disappointments.

1.  What do you want?  As chairman, founder or CEO, you’re the visionary!  Where do you want the company to go?  What markets and opportunities do you foresee?  What will it take to get you to the next stage-of-growth?  What skills are already resident in your organization?  What experience and market relationships must you acquire?  How much are you willing to invest? What do you absolutely love to do? As leader, you should be the decider…then build the team around you.  What is taking time, holding you back from spending more time on what you do best?  This is the starting point.  Enjoy the imagineering!

2.  Engage your leadership team.   Now it’s time to solicit the input of your kitchen cabinet.  Those who report to you — plus trusted outside advisors.  Expect a dose of reality.  Your team probably spends more time on tactical matters in the trenches, so their views might be more conservative.  The outsiders can provide a broader market perspective.  Create a safe environment where people can be candid.  You want more than yes-talk.

3.  Get specific. With the team, drill down to the specifics of the position.  A new role creates a realm of open possibilities. When replacing an incumbent, you may want to elevate what you seek in a candidate to reflect a more complex competitive environment.  Go through a complete list of wants/needs.  Title, reporting structure, qualifications, track record, revenue experience, industry knowledge, performance expectations.  Plus the soft skills.  What personal attributes are compatible with the culture of your organization. What would cause chaos?  See this previous blogpost for for more secrets. 

4.  Consensus or Compromise?  Change is challenging — often threatening — to those comfortable with the status quo.  You need team acceptance and enthusiasm in order to achieve successful on-boarding and retention of a new player.  When targeting a talent upgrade, expect differences of opinion.  That’s OK.  It’s more important to be united in the specifics of deliverables and prioritization of initiatives.  Then, you can set a range of horsepower and credentials to evaluate.  Seeing candidates in the flesh will give a close and up-front view of what might comprise the perfect fit. 

5.  Reporting structure input.  Once your leadership team has weighed in, invite the participation of those in the reporting structure and daily interface of the position.  This is a great time to get people talking.  What do they love about their current roles? How might a new player enable them to do more of what they love and do best that can have a material difference in the company? It’s an excellent way to discover underlying issues that might be looming. Be sure the new role complements the existing team. Otherwise, be prepared for unhappiness, i.e., additional turnover.

6.  Summarize the position.  You’ve now compiled your laundry list of requirements and responsibilities — typically an internal HR document known as the position description. DO NOT use this to market the role to prospective candidates and referral sources.  It’s the most boring type of eat-your-vegetables mandate — like listening to your mother telling you what to do. Not what attracts star talent to an opportunity.  But you need it.  Put in the files and use later in the interview process.

7.   Merchandise the position.  Here’s the secret sauce.  The za-za-zu that will deliver to you a targeted, robust pool of possibilities for the position.  First imagine an actual person.  Whom would you envision coming into your organizational family? In what industry might you find him/her?   Why would someone leave an existing position for your opportunity?  What is the unique selling proposition you offer?  What are the essentials of the requirements and personal traits you seek? Incorporate all of this into a document written to appeal to prospective candidates.  The position specification must weave a vibrant story that resonates and captures the attention of the person who can walk in the door and make a difference to your organization.  It must also be rooted in truth. You can’t pitch Utopia if your reality is a turnaround.

8.  Sourcing email. This is a condensed, bulleted version of the position specification:  a summary of the must have qualifications, headlined with the attractions of a fresh new future that a prospective candidate might find with you. This can be used for a round of sourcing with your business contacts, vendors, friends of the firm. The content may also be used for posting via social media or internet career websites. When you tell someone you’re looking for a new (fill in the blank),  it provides a very specific response to the question “What are you looking for?”

9.  Consistent messaging.  Recruiting talent for a new position inside your company is like a new product rollout.  Having a consistent message and well-defined target audience will provide a strategic advantage, not to mention positive buzz about your company within influencer and customer circles.  Whether you handle the assignment internally or use outside resources, it is important to spoonfeed the message you wish to convey. This is important in discussing the role with outside contacts and referral sources, not to mention each internal team member who interviews/interfaces with the candidate.

If your company does not have an internal HR/recruiting team, you could use use an outside resource to facilitate the planning phase or designate an internal project leader.  Your goal is to explode into the talent marketplace from a springboard of strength and savvy. With the right preparation, you now have everything teed up for a successful launch — not to mention efficient use of your talent budget.  Mis-steps and do-overs are expensive and time-consuming.

Next….Deploy! Now comes the dizzying part. The actual recruitment phase.  Who will carry your message to the market?  Who will review, reject and prioritize the slate of possibilities.  Who will organize the schedule of internal interviews, evaluations, feedback, reference interviews, background checks, etc.

There are many options in today’s market — from your own internal resources to industry/alumni career boards to social media and internet resources such as LinkedIn, TheLadders, contingency search resources, retained executive search firms, staffing companies, temp-to-hire options, fractional executive timeshare, do-it-yourself or a combo approach.  What is the perfect fit for you?

Stay tuned!

To be continued….in a future blogpost.

copyright 2014 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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What Motivates Change?

You’re buzzing along in life, minding your own business.  Then, an announcement implodes the routine.

Another re-organization in your company.  Or worse, downsizing.  You receive a rejection from (fill in the blank).   A key client defects to a competitor.  Your #1 salesperson quits.  Your (fill in the blank) calls in sick.  An ice storm is forecast the day of an event you’re chairing.  You have to upgrade your iPhone to the new OS.


Scream-inducing change is the worst.  But, in a way, it is also the easiest — because you don’t have a choice.  You have to act.  You have to move forward, the mantra of Don Draper in the TV show Mad Men.

As a blogger and consultant, I’m both a student and purveyor of change.  I’ve led presentations, created tools and implemented processes to increase sureness and ease the pain. But it’s complicated.  In these days of uncertainty and risk-aversion, what might motivate someone to invoke change if it wasn’t absolutely necessary or thrust upon you?

The underlying motivation is a four letter word.  L-O-V-E.

The power of the heart is what propels us to break the pattern…do the uncomfortable…try something new.  The reward is simple. All related to something — or someone — we love.

The principle is applicable in matters of work, family, community, career, school, friendship, romance.  It’s the theme of the most popular and enduring songs of all time.  Just scope this historical roster from ASCAP. ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Love is deeper than happiness.  It’s an ocean vs. a puddle.  A feeling of happiness is to be celebrated.  But it’s a moment — until you need more happiness (another Don Draper-ism).

But love sustains.  It nourishes.  It’s at our core — in brightness and darkness, sickness and health, togetherness and alone-ness. It encourages us to stand up to others.  To focus where we know we can deliver and succeed.  To delight in the solace and comfort of those we love and enjoy most.

Love is the bond-builder in teamwork — those persevering in the trenches together when danger threatens.  Love rewards us for who we are.  It draws out the best in us even when we doubt ourselves.  It requires sacrifice.  But oh what a reward!

It’s an energizing force that also moves the economic needle.  Customers buy products they love. Team members go the extra mile for a boss they love.

Love tips the scales and moves us to do something we’ve previously avoided.  Tap into its power for purposes of relationship-building — or for deep understanding of those you are trying to influence or understand.

Change your mind.  Change your business.  Change your outcome.  Change your life.

When you unleash the power of love, that’s when the magic happens.

copyright 2014 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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The Networker

Growing up, our families imprint us with traits, values and habits. Some we strive to emulate. Some we struggle to avoid. Others slip unnoticed into our daily patterns. The DNA continues into adulthood.

In ten years of executive search, it was my opening interview question:  Tell me about you as a little person. Who was in your family? What did your parents do? Who were the role models who influenced you into becoming the person you are today?

Dead silence.  No one has a standard sound bite for this query.  Then the interviewee opens up and tells a stream of heartfelt meaningful-ness.  You can look right into the soul.  Then, you see the threads of family throughout the discussion of career path. The CPA father, the artsy mother.  The parent who survived a concentration camp.  The leader-of-the-pack eldest of seven kids.

I’ve already written about my father’s influence — The Toastmaster.  Here’s a rundown on my 91-year old mother, Mary Vetakis (photo above, circa 1991):

Networker.  My husband still marvels at the multiple circles of friendships evidenced at my mother’s 80th birthday party.  She worked the crowd like a politician!  Friends — young and old — from the neighborhood, church, choir, widows support group, three card clubs, not to mention family.  She became a networker as a young wife in a newly-developing suburb.  Every afternoon, she would pop me into the stroller and go door-to-door introducing herself.  She drew on this skill for successful on-boarding into a retirement community later in life and passed onto us her gift of connecting.

Communicator.  Having built a network, she stayed in touch.  The phone in our house was always in use!  She chaired the St. Rose Telephone Squad, a brilliant outreach devised by our monsignor for mobilizing parishioners during the building of a new church and school. It was the equivalent of a blast email or Facebook post.  The chair would call ten women, who would each call ten women, etc. My mother has always been curious and interested in others.  She can draw people out. Skills my sisters and I have used in our careers.

Infrastructure.   There was a rhythm and routine in our household, from sunrise to bedtime.  Things were smooth-running on a predictable schedule.  My mother ran the show, thus we girls could apply our energies to our own pursuits. We emulate this in our own work/life world. Create a good foundation, then focus on the important things that add value and make a difference.

Family First.  We grew up seeing our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on a weekly basis.  When life delivers some nastiness, you can put it in context — bolstered by a cushion of family love.

Sixth Sense. My little Italian grandmother would close her eyes and say “Hon-eeee.  I can-a see-a things.”  We inherited a strong set of antennae — picking up on details and nuances that go unnoticed by others.  Pieced together, it’s a powerful tool, client service-wise, in addition to the usual processes and practices.

Giver, not Taker.  Mary V. was always first at the doorstop with a batch of blueberry muffins in times of illness or death.  She set an example of community service, undertaking leadership roles for every type of fundraising vehicle imaginable.

Fun and Irreverent.  Who wants to be around boring people?  Nobody!  My mother has a quick wit and a love of “dish.” Always up on news and current events.  Quick to award nicknames.  Says what she thinks.  Joie de vivre!

Talent-picker/Toupee-spotter.  Everyone has secret gifts.  My mother could always scope future media stars.  She was an avid Anderson Cooper fan from the first moment he appeared on CNN.  She predicted Ann Curry would not make it as Today Show co-host. She is also a top spotter of fake hair, both in-person and on-screen.  (You know who you are, anchormen, politicians and pundits!)

Not a Nervous Eater.  No reaching for the chocolates in our family.  When we stress out, we can’t eat.  #ThankYouMV #NoFoodObsessionDNA

In-Style. My mother grew up in a small town, but my grandfather had a free pass on the Pennsylvania Railroad and she would visit cousins in New York, fascinated by the fashion vibes of the very best stores.  She has an eye for proper fit.  Not too tight, i.e., “It spans you.”

Customize It.  When my mother went gray in her 30s, there weren’t many choices in hair color.  She had the salon create a custom shade for her — to avoid the blue-black tinge of the very darkest shade of her era’s Clairol.  Weirdly, I do my own blend of nail polish. Always an Essie color mixed with a lighter frosted shade.

Una Bella Figura.  It’s an Italian phrase.  Make a good impression.  She taught us well.  Never show up empty handed.  Dress well.  Compliment others.  Be polite.  Earn trust.  Don’t track dirt into someone’s house.  (See below.)

Clean-a-holic.  The core element of my mother’s brand.  In high school, my friends dubbed her Mrs. Clean.  Our home was a fortress against the enemy of dirt, dust or germs.  She is a fanatic, fixated on a battle which, to me, has no end.  I rebel!  Much better to handle housekeeping via outsourcing and project management.  I am an advocate of Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn anti-perfectionist philosophy:  Done is good enough.  (But not for you-know-who!)

I could never understand why my mother didn’t apply her talents to a professional career.  Maybe my Aunt Rose, age 90, has a point.  “We’re living this long so we can show the right way to be.”  (I’m not kidding.  She actually said this.)  All along, our mothers have been running family-focused consulting practices.  And we’re the clients!

So…step back and examine your own derivatives.  Give gratitude for the traits that underlie your own success. Continue to strike your own path. Love you, MV!

copyright 2014 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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Seniors and Alumni Sparkle at Garza Early College H.S.

There is a shiny glimmer of hope in urban education and I saw it with my own eyes at Trinidad Garza Early College High School.  Long title…but very innovative program.  It’s a joint venture of Dallas Independent School District and Mountain View College.  Students go to classes year-round and have the opportunity to earn college credits — as much as a two-year Associate’s degree –along with a high school diploma.

Continuing on to a four-year degree is less daunting.  Students already have a taste of the academic rigor that will be required.  And they don’t need to fund the cost of a full baccalaureate program — just a couple of years.  This is a winning proposition and upward path for families in low socioeconomic circumstances.  The school motto:  College Ready, Career Ready, Life Ready.

Students at Garza are 85 percent Hispanic and 13 percent African American, 86 percent of them are eligible for free/reduced lunch and 27 percent are limited English proficient.

Did I mention award-winning?

  • 2012 winner of Excellence in Urban Education Award from National Center for Urban School Transformation
  • Silver Level – U.S. News & World Report, Best High Schools
  • Ranked #6 in  Top High Schools of North Texas by Children at Risk Association
  • A Texas Honors Circle Campus –  Texas Comptroller citation for fiscal accountability + academic performance
  • Garnering $2.7 million in scholarships and grants

I met principal Dr. Janice D. Lombardi at the kick-off of the Big Read Dallas program featuring the school’s step team, then ran into her again at a Communities Foundation event where Garza student Jonathan Gonzales was an articulate and impressive panel member.

Lombardi is a dynamo with a big heart — a performance-driven, metric-savvy administrator who is passionate about her purpose and the students, families and faculty she serves.  She is a turnaround maestro with young people who were previously underperforming.

The teaching approach at Garza considers the whole student: behavior, academics, strengths and weaknesses. “We have a culture of learning and college readiness here,” she notes. “Our instructional emphasis is effort-based; working hard does matter.”

Lombardi invited me to speak on campus as keynoter for Senior Leadership Week.  What an experience!  Parents, grandparents and other family members came for a special breakfast and morning of presentations.   Translation services and headsets were offered.  It was a celebration of milestones and hope for the future.  The class of 2013 has a 100% graduation rate — with 46 out of 90 also earning a full Associate’s degree.

My favorite part?  The alumni who returned to share advice and encouragement.  Nine amazing examples of the Garza product  – juniors and seniors in four-year colleges, including UT/Dallas, SMU, University of North Texas.  19-20 years old.  Poised and polished.

Their messages were meaningful — not only for the new graduates, but for any of us who engage in lifelong learning and pursuit of dreams.  Some very good reminders!

  • You can accomplish what you set out to do.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  • Aim high!  Why not?  You will progress in steps.  Some forward, some backward.  But keep going.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others.  You are unique to yourself.  Do your best on the path that is right for you.
  • Learn time management.  Accomplishing everything you need to do is not easy, especially if you are working while you are completing your studies.   It takes organization, self-knowledge and discipline.
  • Take care of your health.  Beware of burnout.  Eat properly.  Get enough sleep.  Recalibrate when you need to.
  • Network!  Knowing others is the key to growth and identification of new opportunities.  Add to your circle of friends, mentors and advisors.
  • Get out of your comfort zone.  If you only know people like yourself, you are limiting your options.  Learn how people behave and how things work in different environments.
  • Watch for opportunity and be ready!  By actively engaging in new relationships and new situations, you will learn about jobs, school projects, scholarships or internships.
  • Surround yourself with those who share your values and vision.  Do NOT get drawn into the wrong crowd.
  • Make good decisions for yourself and your dreams.
  • Risky and reckless behavior can have a derailing and irreversible effect.  YOLO-You Only Live Once is a dangerous outlook.
  • Love your family.

Lombardi and her team are changing lives.  Isn’t this what public education is all about?

copyright 2013 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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Are you a YES-aholic? Try this 12-step cure.


Every time you say yes, you give away a piece of yourself.  It’s a commitment of time, energy, brainpower and bandwidth. If you are operating at full capacity, there is little margin for error.  When you experience a spike in demand, something must inevitably drop off the list.

For someone who is a YES-aholic, prone to taking on new commitments, the aspect of reneging can be particularly painful.  Instead of one big up-front no, there can be a recurring chain of NO, SORRY, SOMETHING HAS COME UP, I’LL TRY AND FIND SOMEONE TO STEP IN.  Or…you get into a vicious cycle of multi-tasking, rushing, lateness, splintered effort and having less of an impact than what you originally intended.

To succeed in any endeavor, it’s critical to be focused on what counts.  If you are fragmented with a crazy quilt of commitments and activities, the distractions can impede the achievement of the goal, not to mention quality-of-life along the way.   It’s about setting boundaries, as Sheryl Sandberg recommends in her best-selling book Lean In.

Here is a 12-step roster of remedies, based on the Changeometer  decisionmaking tool.  Don’t worry, there is no To Do list.  More of a Not To Do list.

1.  Clear the decks!  Have you recently undertaken something significant in your life?  Perhaps a new job.  A relocation.  Or a new baby.  Congratulations, you’re in a mission-critical ramp-up.  Quick!  Step away from recurring commitments, old habits and routines.  Re-set expectations of family and outside organizations.  Give yourself at least a year to navigate the newness.

2.  Goodbye work/life balance.  Hello ebb-and-flow.  Balance infers something calm, peaceful and predictable.  A wonderful ideal — but real life today is messy and sporadic.  Maybe better to plan for the crazy, high-demand times, then scale back and celebrate when the onslaught subsides.

3.  Forget complex time management techniques.  Why spend time learning how to manage what might be an erroneous excess of action items?  It’s a fast-changing world.  What was relevant two years or two months ago may not be pertinent today.  Take inventory, evaluate and purge!  Like cleaning out your closet or garage, there is stuff you can get rid of.

4.  It’s complicated.  Saying yes 5, 10 or 15 years ago entailed much less of an obligation than today.  Organizations of every ilk and purpose are under much more pressure from an economic as well as human capital standpoint.  More demand.  Fewer resources.  Intense competition.  Thus serving on a committee or board is more stressful and time-consuming.  It’s not that you are any less capable or competent.  Just a higher level of neediness at every turn.

5.  Fresh approach to commitments.    A officer-level slot in an industry, school or community group can involve monthly responsibilities for at least a year.  Board positions can be open-ended.  An option is to look for high-value projects where you can plan ahead according to your schedule, deliver a big hit and – boom! – be in and out in a defined, short-term period of time.

6.  Your life as a media channel.  A master schedule board fills the wall in every program executive’s office.  Think of your life in the same way.  You can’t add on-air hours to a finite 24/7 grid.  But you can move things around.   Make the most of prime time periods.  Test new concepts. Mix it up in the new season.

7. Create a Zone of Serenity . No matter how busy you are, find a sliver in your week that you can protect and savor.  Be vigilant in reserving it for your purpose.  Something dedicated to your significant other, family or friends.   A quiet retreat for you.  Do not incorporate other programming.  Differentiate it from other time slots on the calendar.

8.  GatorRassling GroundRule .  If an interaction becomes frustrating and painful, give yourself permission to resign immediately (“I so enjoyed serving on the XYZ committee, but feel it is now time to offer someone else the opportunity…”).   If it’s a boss, client — or even a demanding family member — create boundaries and keep it away from your Zone of Serenity.  No emails, phone calls or action items on Saturday night, as an example.

9.  Everyone needs a tribe.  When aligning with a group, look for multiple benefits that can accrue for the effort expended.  For professional organizations, play at the highest level possible to expand your range of relationships.   Seek the company of like-minded individuals that can result in new business, friendships and social circles.  Commit!  Be active and engaged.  Take on a leadership role.  You don’t have to be involved in ten groups.  If you identify the right one or two, you can enjoy a lot of value and satisfaction.

10.  Tune out peer pressure.  It’s a form of adult bullying.  Period.

11.  Outsource process, not interaction.  A comedy legend broke the gender barrier in the stand-up world.  To manage family and a demanding career, she had a retinue of helpers for household, travel and logistics.  But she personally handled all of her correspondence, fan mail and booking requests, identifying a unique add-on path as a concert pianist with symphony orchestras — something her Hollywood agent might have overlooked.  Delegate mundane chores and focus on what can really make a difference.

12.  Thank you for asking.  Develop a predisposition to saying no.  Master an approach that fits your personal style.  Give yourself time to evaluate the request.  Be confident and comfortable in your right to decline or delay.  Be polite, but firm. If you keep saying yes, yes, yes, you are enabling others to be strategic at the expense of what is meaningful to you and the vision you have defined.

copyright 2013 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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Betty Draper vs. Sheryl Sandberg: We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

In the TV show Mad Men, Betty Draper epitomized the ideal of American womanhood in the go-go era of the 1960s.  She was Grace Kelly gorgeous and Bryn Mawr-educated with a drop dead handsome husband who was minting money as a successful Madison Avenue ad agency partner.

She presided over a stately Colonial manse with a spectacular wardrobe and a housekeeper to help look after her children.  She was a poised and effective corporate wife, the perfect accoutrement for client and business functions.  “Is this the one where I talk?  Or the one where I don’t talk?”  

Betty had it all.  A blonde version of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, if you will.  But it wasn’t as it seemed.  And like many women  women of her time, she had no clear path to fulfillment and a happy life beyond trading up to a different husband.  She had to rely on her core offerings of beauty and charm, the currency for women of that era.

Flash forward to the future.

Sheryl Sandberg is the new icon of feminine success.  She is armed with two degrees from Harvard and a career foundation at the World Bank, McKinsey and U.S. Department of the Treasury.  She gained entry to the alpha male enclave of Silicon Valley as Vice President of Google, then hopscotched over to Facebook where she serves as Chief Operating Officer.

Like Betty at the beginning of Mad Men, she is attractive and stylish with a successful husband and two children.  Plus a seat on the Board of Directors at Disney and Facebook.  Plus an equity stake with stock valued at half a billion dollars.

Sheryl has it all.  At a pretty daunting level, considering the broader context of what that uber-package of achievement entails.  To help others, she has documented her path in a new playbook and social movement called  Lean In:  Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

It’s creating ripples, to say the least.

Sheryl says that women themselves are to blame for the gap in ambition and achievement.  She lists the shortfalls and outlines a strategy for top-line growth.  ”Of 190 heads of state, nine are women.  Of Corporate America top jobs, 15% are women. Of full professors around the U.S., only 24% are women. Women became 50% of the college graduates in this country in 1981,but we are nowhere close to 50% of the jobs at the top.”

The fur started flying. Some criticized her elitist perch.  Others say she can’t relate to a “regular” woman juggling work, children and aging parents in a struggling economy.

Women hurt themselves by “leaning back,” she points out.  ”They say, I’m busy or I want to have a child one day, I couldn’t possibly take on any more. Or I’m still learning on my current job. I’ve never had a man say that to me.”

To me, that’s the whole point.  In today’s world, women now have an open-ended range of options.  You can follow the path that suits you.

You can be a Martha Stewart-inspired domestic diva.  A soccer mom.  Or Yoga entrepreneur.  You can be a single mom.  A trophy wife.  Community activist.  Part of a two-career couple with no kids.  A home office blogger.  You can be a lawyer on the partner path.  Then segue to the mommy track.  Then back to partner.  Then start your own boutique firm.  You can be the most powerful person in your industry. You can re-invent the wheel.  You can be CEO.  The possibilities are endless.

Not everyone wants to climb the rigid structure of someone else’s ecosystem.  That’s why there are more than 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., generating nearly $1.3 trillion in revenue, according to a study commissioned by American Express OPEN.

Why do women lean out instead of leaning in?  In her Career Diva blog, Eve Tahmincioglu writes about the Company Man syndrome.  She is right.  The leadership positions by which Sheryl Sandberg and others define success are throwbacks to an organizational structure created in the era of Mad Men when there was a retinue of support on both the home and office front to bolster the careers of high-potentials destined for the C-suite.  You need to replicate that team on an outsourced basis in order to succeed, as outlined in Lean In.

Smart enterprises are beginning to lean in to capitalize on the power of diversity.   Chairman and Senior Partner of PwC Robert Moritz is designing an inclusive culture, he reports via LinkedIn. For example, Full Circle is a PwC program that allows parents to “off-ramp” from their careers, stay connected while they are gone, maintain their technical credentials, and then return to the firm. Formalizing this option gives people permission to pursue non-linear career paths. Mentor Moms is a PwC effort to match women returning from maternity leave with experienced mothers who are successfully juggling family and careers.

Jacki Zehner reports a disappointment at Goldman Sachs in this blogpost, due to a Queen Bee who did not want to help others lean in.  We’re not at the right win/loss ratio.  But I am heartened by the efforts and dialog.

Fifty years ago, Betty Friedan discerned the rumblings of unrest on the domestic front.  In the beginning of her book, The Feminine Mystique, she described the problem that lay buried, unspoken, for many years:

“It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries … she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question. Is this all?

Women of that era were hemmed in.  Betty Draper was not maternal, but she had children because that’s what you did.  You might have itched for something more, but when Betty delved into the truth of her existence, she discovered a deeper horror.  Don Draper was a man of many secrets.  He was a serial philanderer who had left behind his sad early life and reinvented himself by stealing the identity of a dead soldier.

Betty Draper had limited options for Plan B, thus she divorced dashing Don and married the more stable and sedate Henry Francis.  Even Jackie Kennedy tapped the second marriage option to Aristotle Onassis before forging a fuller life of her own in publishing.  Today, there would be more possibilities for revitalization and renewal.  You could run for office. Write a book.  Start a company.  Host a TV show.

I love the range of choice.  Like the tagline of the ad campaign used to introduce Virginia Slims, a cigarette designed and debuted for women in 1968, my view is that “We’ve come a long way, baby.”  Compared to then.  It’s not where Sheryl wants us to be.  But it’s a pretty big step forward.

copyright 2013 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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A Morning with Seth Godin

The brilliant thought leader and marketeer Seth Godin shares his views on upheaval and opportunity in a brave new world, powered by the Internet.  The venue:  Wyly Theater, hosted by Dallas Social Venture Partners via luxury/retail guru Steven Dennis, a former classmate and partner of Godin.  Oh, it was a morning brimming with inspiration, generosity and encouragement!

Some snippets:

More is the mantra of the old industrial age — the era of Henry Ford who pioneered mass production for purposes of getting more work out of workers and processes for purposes of more productivity, profitability and power for Ford.

The model of an industrial era company was based on hierarchy, how everything is organized — with interchangeable parts and people.  Think of an org chart.  You have to fit in the box.  Someone else moves the boxes around.  You can be in one day and out the next.

That era is over, according to Godin. We are in a permanent recession, he says, with an entire way of life going away.  Old economic development models are dead.  There will be no new factories coming to town with a bounty of 10,000 new jobs.  He sees the end of six-figure jobs where someone else tells you what to do.  In the new era, you will have to make it happen — on your own or in a dynamic environment.

We’re in the midst of a revolution, now adjusting to the new vibes of the connection economy.  Old paradigms and power structures are dying.  The old record industry is dead, due to changes in technology and distribution.  But music is doing great — with new artists, content, platforms and fans.

It’s all about connecting.  No one person can build a computer.  It takes a team of talent, suppliers, supporters and innovators to deliver the final product.  Thus, we have to think that way in re-inventing with our own ideas, opportunities and enterprises.

Being boring is a bane.  No one wants to pay for something boring.  Plain white socks that you make in China and sell to WalMart vs. cool, colorful designer socks that might not even match.  Don’t laugh.  It’s a $40 million business targeting tween girls.

Customization and quality equate to value.  And people will pay for the experience/benefit of saving time.

In the new world,  average rarely leads to anything beautiful.  Average products can no longer command and demand attention.

Today, you have to expose yourself to risk and have the grit to stand for something.  Those who fear innovation seek out regulation and protection.  It is a false barrier.

Godin talks about the importance of creating art, which he defines as anything a human does that connects with something else.  Art is risky.  You have to be first. (Otherwise it’s just reproduction.)  You have to bring a different value, to put yourself out with your offering:  “Here, I made this.”

It’s virtually impossible to create something to sell to the mass market in the Internet era of so many choices and channels and platforms.  Thus, better to build a model that targets a niche where you can connect and create true fans.  Start small.  Be generous.

Find the confidence inside yourself.  Fight the resistance — all the messages and fears that squelch us.

There you have it.  Permission granted, Godin-style.  Get out of the box.  Innovate!

copyright 2013 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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NSFW: Exploring Issues of Gender in Media

Photo Copyright 2012, Nancy Keene

British playwright Lucy Kirkwood staged a brilliant storyline at London’s Royal Court, the prestigious venue for new theatrical productions.  NSFW (Not Safe for Work, alluding to inappropriate internent content) parses the image of women in contemporary media.  First, from the point of view of a bawdy men’s magazine, Doghouse.   Then, a perspective from women’s fashion/lifestyle magazine, Electra.  Sadly, the images are both the same.  Must be perfect, thin, beautiful, bosomy.

As the play opens, the Doghouse editorial team is astir, navigating the decline of traditional print magazines and the need for revitalisation via social media.  But then the unclothed winner of their 2012 “Local Lovely” competition turns out to be a 14 year old girl, Carrie Bradshaw — whose consent forms were forged by her boyfriend.  Uh oh.

The outraged father (Kevin Doyle, who plays Joseph in Downton Abbey) shows up for revenge, but the glib and wily editor Aidan turns the tables, Racehorse Haynes-style, shaming him for discovering the uncovering as a Doghouse ogler himself. Aiden  villainously corners Mr. Bradshaw into accepting a £ 25,000 pay-off.

Editorial staffer Sam, a romantic planning a poignant proposal to his one true love, is distraught and teetering toward career derailment, as he was in charge of the contest — reviewing nearly a thousand submissions by young women or their boyfriends, seeking affirmation of desirability and the prize of media spotlight.

They didn’t have to surruptitiously connive victims to the camera lens.  As Aidan tells the father, “We don’t have to.  Why?  Because they queue up.  They come to us.”

Call it the Kardashian effect.  The young girl Carrie is given every range of educational and cultural advantage by her sacrificing parents.  But a designer dog and cosmetic surgery top her Christmas wish list and, according to the father, “her friends are bright young women who don’t give a toss about anything but shopping.”

Then it’s a quick switch to the sleek offices of upmarket woman’s magazine Electra where editrix Miranda is intent on erasing every female imperfection before the next issue goes to print.

The character is an uber-thin, golden maned, fast-talking fashionista.  Smart, sarcastic lines, seductively delivered.  Delivering guidance to anxiety-filled readers who write to say “Thank you. Thank you, Electra.  I thought I was alone and then I read an article in your magazine and I realised that I wasn’t.”

Former Doghouse staffer Sam — unemployed for months after the Carrie Bradshaw fiasco — is applying for a position and Miranda puts him through the paces.  He is to examine a photo of a gorgeous celebrity, then put red circles around her body flaws via Photoshop, and then caption them.

He is confused. “But she’s perfect….I mean she’s an actress.  She’s a film star.  It’s her job to be perfect.

Miranda counters.  ”She’s not perfect.  Nobody is perfect….I need you to point out the ways in which this woman is not perfect.”

As the Doghouse editor bullied the upset father, Miranda pummels Sam to think of flaws in his former girlfriend that made him flinch.  He truly adored everything about his beloved who abandoned him in the wake of the Doghouse scandal.  To survive and regain a paycheck, he has to conjure imperfections and complete the Photoshop audition.

Kirkwood’s satire about power and privacy in the era of internet exhibitionism is both comical and disturbing — a worthy addition to the conversation of gender portrayal in media.  There is a ripple effect from media to the workplace, according to powerful research funded by actress Geena Davis.  The topic is a strategic initiative of the Dallas Women’s Foundation which is sponsoring a Gender in Media Forum on February 8, 2013.

“I don’t think the play offers any solutions,” Kirkwood says. “It tries to suggest love as a thing to cling to when everything else is being eroded. But of course I don’t have any answers; none of us does. ”In different ways, both men and women betray women.”

Note of irony: As I was shooting a photo of the theatre marquee,  a red double-decker London bus pulled up — emblazoned with a massive Victoria’s Secret lingerie layout.  (see photo, above)

Sign of the times.  Art imitates life.  Life imitates art.

copyright 2012  Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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Report from the Eurozone: Milan Fashion Week

Designer T-Shirts -- Fashion Icons @ 10 Corso Como

Milan Fashion Week is a strategic convergence of style, branding and commerce.  The world comes to visit and the Italians live up to the mantra:   Una bella figura.  Make a good impression.

The city is abuzz and alive.  Storefronts glisten with seasonal fashion statements. Window-dressers add the finishing touch to glamorous mannequins.  Limos line the curbs.  Delivery trucks shuttle props and Prosecco for the runway shows and showrooms.

A happy coincidence to experience due to a last-minute business trip.  Alas…insufficient lead time to maneuver a way into a main event.  But scope the street-view and you’ll sense the sizzle. Photo round-up here. 

It’s not just about looking good.  The fashion business represents the essence of the Italian economy and way of life based on a discerning eye, fresh creativity, impeccable craftsmanship, high-quality manufacturing and global tastemaking.  It is a mission-critical export.

Innate style is not something that can be outsourced to China.  It’s a core competency that drives trade and tourism in Italy based on centuries of culture.  We can’t lose such unique country-specific contributions in a big, interdependent global market.

Women Making a Difference

While in town, I attended a meeting of the Milan Professional Women’s Association featuring author and digital strategist Sara Rosso on Personal Branding.  Thank you for welcoming a visitor to this impressive and vibrant group!  Proud to see women taking charge and making inroads in the European leadership landscape.  To promote women for corporate directorships, the PWA compiled and marketed a dossier of Board-ready members, thus refuting the rationale for all-male Boards.   It was a delight to meet Joyce Bigio who was elected earlier this year to the Board of Fiat-Chrysler, where she serves on the Audit Committee.

There is an entrepreneurial bent to the mix of members.  About 40%  of the attendees are pursuing their own businesses and consulting practices.  While the women were upbeat about their own ability to contribute and thrive, concerns about the economy, now and in the future, are top-of-mind.  What will await their children?  What can parents do now to equip their sons and daughters for the uncertainties of tomorrow?

Promoting Self-Reliance

Entrepreneurism is the root of the American success story, but much less part of the European sensibility.  In the 1990s, I observed at a Scottish Enterprise conference that it was much more prestigious to have an endowed professorship at a university, as an example, than to be a start-up CEO.

That viewpoint is changing, thanks to a public service campaign developed by the European Association of Communications,  in partnership with M&C Saatchi and other ad firms, to encourage young Europeans to take charge of their economic future by starting businesses.  Story ran in International Herald Tribune, available here. 

“We wanted to introduce a positive voice into the European debate,” said Moray MacLennan, chief executive of M&C Saatchi in London. “The idea was to take young people and say: I will not be a victim of other people’s pessimism. I will control my future.”

“Entrepreneurship is one of these things where everyone says we could do things better, but nobody gets on and does it,” said Robert Madelin, director general for communications networks, content and technology at the European Commission in Brussels, which is supporting the campaign. The campaign, he added, sends the message that “entrepreneurship is part of the European dream.”

Love to see the American spirit of enterprise being embraced internationally!

copyright 2012  Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved

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The Power of Focus: Success Attributes of Steve Jobs

                              Flashback to Esther Dyson’s PC Forum, 1984, year of Macintosh launch.  From left:  Nancy Keene; John Sculley, Apple;  Steve Jobs;  Apple;  Robert Toda, Seagate Technology.   Photograph © Ann Yow-Dyson                             

I had a ringside seat during the ramp-up of the personal computer industry — serving as public relations counsel to CEOs and entrepreneurs who were re-inventing the way we would do business in the modern world.   A pretty heady experience for a young, non-engineering female, not to mention an amazing learning laboratory.

A key barometer of industry clout was Esther Dyson’s PC Forum, where the elite players would convene, preen and be seen.

You could see early on that Steve Jobs was a different kind of cat.  He had an aura of cool amid a sea of self-proclaimed tech geeks.  He was a marketing impresario, not a programmer.  A liberal arts major, not an engineer or MBA.  He even dressed differently.  (Note blazer and bow tie, forerunner of the black turtleneck, in photo above.)

He didn’t play nice with the other kids.  When the industry moved toward standards and compatibility, Apple stood alone with a proprietary system.   When the IBM “clones” (Compaq, Dell, HP, DEC et. al.) dominated the high-volume Enterprise sector, the Mac was beloved by students, graphic designers and creatives, a much smaller niche.

Today, Apple reigns as the world’s most valuable brand with a market capitalization of nearly half a trillion dollars.

Competing in the ultimate leaderboard of brains and brilliance, how did Jobs accomplish this feat? Here are some clues:


Instead of letting product lines proliferate or permitting a thousand ideas to bloom, Steve Jobs insisted that Apple focus on just two or three priorities at a time, according to the best-selling biography by Walter Isaacson.

“There is no one better at turning off the noise that is going on around him,” said Tim Cook, now CEO. “That allows him to focus on a few things and say no to many things.  Few people are really good at that.”

Jobs had a rigorous whittle-down process that started in a retreat with the top 100 people in the company.  He would stand in front of a whiteboard and, according to the book, ask:

 “What are the ten things we should be doing next?”  People would fight to get their suggestions on the list.  Jobs would write them down and then cross off the ones he decreed dumb.  After much jockeying, the group would come up with a list of ten.  Then Jobs would slash the bottom seven and announce, “We can only do three.”

2.  Buck the Trend

There is a frenetic pace of activity inside companies today. Consider the ferocity of global competition and technologies that enable 24/7 access. Add this jaw-dropping statistic:  Since 1989, more than 18 million jobs cuts have been announced, according to the outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

The mandate is to do more with less.  Leaders, managers and individual contributors are straddling unwieldy ranges of responsibilities with minimal support resources — resulting in fragile bandwidths and decreases in workforce productivity,  as reported by PricewaterhouseCoopers Saratoga Group.

At Apple, Jobs did the opposite.  He did less with more, i.e., putting more effort into fewer initiatives.

“In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities.”

3. Go for a Hit.

My former ad agency colleague Deborah Stapleton worked with Jobs for six years as outside investor relations counsel for Pixar.  ”He was focused on hits, much like a musical producer.  He would always say, we’ve got to make this a hit.”    Thus he looked to build in a masterful formula of performance features and design elements that would deliver a high level of market enthusiasm and customer delight.  Other companies focused on quantity and variety, pumping out volumes of products and line extensions.

According to the Isaacson book:

” …he would care, sometimes obsessively, about marketing and image and even the details of packaging.  ’When you open the box of an iPhone or iPad, we want that tactile experience to set the tone for how you perceive the product.’ “

4.  Be Curious.

Jobs was constantly collecting input from diverse sources, Stapleton reports.  ”I didn’t see him dismiss an idea out of hand,” she says.  ”He listened, evaluated and decided.”  He explored outside the business/technology box — with an appreciation for music, creativity and the visual arts.  He was influenced by the zen of simplicity.

5.  Dump the Dogs.

The Newton was Apple’s early design for a tablet-sized personal digital assistant.  It was ten years in the making, but did not deliver on the goal to re-invent personal computing.  When Jobs gained control of the company a second time, he did not want to build a new product on an erroneous foundation.  He wanted to ditch the Newton architecture and start fresh.

“Shut it down, write it off, get rid of it.  It doesn’t matter what it costs.  People will cheer you if you got rid of it. “

6.  Pursue the White Space

By clearing the decks, Jobs could target unoccupied territory that offered high opportunity.   Apple was successful in crossing industry lines to penetrate new sectors and create new categories — a sneak attack on those facing inward in the silos.

The iPod upended the music industry. The iPhone stole business away from mobile, cameras and fired up a whole new market for apps.     The iPad became the Big Daddy of gamechangers:    eReader.  Show-and-tell device.   Near laptop functionality.  Fit-in-your-purse convenience.  It hooked tens of millions of fervent new users into the Apple world.  And here’s the brilliance of Job’s compatibility conundrum:  Kludgy syncs with BlackBerries and PCs drove additional migration to iPhone and Mac.

7.  Too Much can Miss the Mark

The writer Malcolm Gladwell, who probed secrets of success in the best-selling book Outliers, suggested in a talk to the Association of American Publishers that many professions need essentially editorial skills.   This from Publisher’s Marketplace:

In terms of national security, “…We didn’t have too little information [before 9/11], we had too much. We needed an editor…to take what mattered and throw out what didn’t matter.” 50 years ago, all you needed was a spy plane. Today you need something much more sophisticated–you need an editor.”

In another real-world example, Gladwell painted Steve Jobs’ great skill as editing down to what was most important.  Gladwell said “an expert’s job is to place limits and impose standards” and “it’s the editor who is the king.”

8.  Curator of Not-Invented-Yet

Jobs could see how components of design and innovation could be combined and calibrated to be presented optimally in products that no one ever imagined. He had the genius of creating demand for something you didn’t know you wanted — at a premium price, to boot.

Individually, these strategies are not earth-shattering, but combined, they are transformational. What will work for you?

copyright 2012 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved


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Copyright © 2012 Nancy Keene