Career Limiting Words: “That’s Not My Job”

I’ve been doing quite a bit of interviewing over the last year for a variety of positions – both junior and senior. One of the questions candidates always ask is, “What’s the profile of someone who is very successful in this role?” or “What are the attributes of your ideal candidate?” or “What do people who are very successful in this role do?” And while I can give specifics to people that ask, in general, I just want to tell them, “Say yes.”

If I look back at all the moments that have “made” my career so far, or colleagues I’ve seen be successful, or even the members of my team whose work I elevate and advocate for, there’s one big thing in common: the ability to see beyond the clearly defined roles & responsibilities of their “job” to the possibilities of what could be for their career. It’s being the person who says, “If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.” Or the person who says, “I’d love to take that on.” Or even better, the person who says, “I’ve been thinking about X and feel like it could be addressed by Y. Can we talk about it? I’d love to take it on.”

I get really frustrated by people who say, “That’s not my job.” It shows a lack of initiative and a lack of imagination about the possibilities of what could come. It also smells a little of laziness.

A personal anecdote: at my first grown-up job, the VP of marketing sat in one of the few offices in the building and, occasionally, after 5:15 when the majority of the office had cleared out, he’d come out and talk about projects that were going on or ask for perspective or help. One day, he came out and said, “Jennifer, have I got a project for you!” In my head, I thought, “Oh wow, this is it. My first big opportunity to contribute to a high profile project; bring it on!” Instead of asking for a new market analysis or a product launch plan, he said, “I’d like you to plan the Christmas party for this office.” Now, technically, this was my job because my job was to do what the marketing leadership asked of me but… I spent six years in business school to coordinate caterers? I enthusiastically responded that I was on it and over the next six weeks meticulously coordinated the details of a fantastic party – from digging out the massive fake tree out of storage, to recruiting & rehearsing a group of people to sing some company themed carols, to buying the company gift for multiple locations, to managing the budget. It was a huge success. Six-ish months after that, I was asked to take on a leadership role in our national sales meeting. The next year I was put in charge of the largest customer-facing event (and second largest annual marketing expenditure). My unfailing ability to say, “Yes!” put me in a position to demonstrate skills needed to take on much larger tasks.

So, for those of you looking for promotions or new opportunities, don’t underestimate the importance of just saying yes.

How about you, any great examples of how saying yes paid off professionally?

(Disclaimer: Obviously, some things just aren’t your job and it’s okay to get those tasks to the right people.)

Economic Quandries: Checked Bags & Gas Station Attendants

Okay, friends, there are some things in my life that are bugging me, because I just can’t figure out the economics behind them.

Quandary #1- The Checked Bag Conundrum

Okay, so everyone knows that a couple years ago, most of the airlines started charging a fee to check a bag. As such, a large number of travelers now opt to carry their bags on to the plane with them. (Which, ew, right? I haaaaate lugging my suitcase through airports and I require far too much hair product to adhere to the 3 oz. or less rule.) Then, because so many more people are carrying on luggage, the overhead space on the plane runs out of room. So now, before almost every flight, they make an announcement that there won’t be enough room to accommodate all the bags, so they need volunteers to check their bags at the gate – for free. Essentially, the airlines are creating a disincentive to check a bag prior to getting a gate. Off the top of my head, this means slower security lines and more work for the airlines. (I assume that it takes more effort to get a bag from the gate to the plane than from the conveyor belt at the ticket counter to the plane.) This system seems incredibly broken? What benefit does the airline get from this? Or am I just underestimating the revenue upside because I don’t see that but I do see the inconvenience downside? Anybody have any insider information about this?

Quandary #2- The Gas Station Stumper

In other places, I’ve seen gas stations that charge more per gallon if you use a credit card. Usually, it’s a nominal amount. Here in California, essentially every gas station does this and the price differential is fairly substantial – like $.08-$.12 per gallon. This seems INSANE to me because, again, I don’t understand the economics of it. Essentially, you’re being given a disincentive to use a credit card to pay at the pump. This means that the gas station attendants have to do more work by having people come in to pay. I mean, how much is the average credit card fee? Isn’t it less than the average amount it takes to pay a gas station attendant? Anybody have an insider information on this? Or, am I underestimating the amount of incremental revenue on packs of gum and bottles of soda that gas stations get from forcing people into the store?

So, what do you think? What am I missing? Do the economics make sense and I’m just not seeing it because these things make me cranky?

Marketing on TV? New Girl

In addition to being fired up about marketing, I’m also a fan of television; I DVR a whole bunch of shows and catch up when I can. Recently, a couple of popular TV shows have taken on my beloved marketing. Let’s see what ‘New Girl’ has to say on the topic, shall we?

The set-up: Perpetually adrift roommate Winston asks alpha-business guy Schmidt about his job, leading to a situation where Winston shadows Schmidt at work. The day the shadowing takes place, Schmidt is asked to show the new guy, Ed, around the office. Ed is significantly older than Schmidt and though he plays clueless, he presents Schmidt’s big idea – the one Schmidt hopes to get him a promotion – as his own. Schmidt then sabotages Ed’s presentation by making it so Ed has to use a computer instead of hard copies – problematic because Ed cannot, in fact, use the computer. Ed fakes a heart attack to get out of the meeting.

Let’s check out how realistically marketing is portrayed, in the framework of some of my favorite quotes from the episode. (Realism score based on a 1-5 scale where 1 is getting to be a CMO as a 23 year old undergrad with no experience and a Communications degree and 5 is a marketing manager painstakingly lining up boxes in a powerpoint presentation.)

“Advertising is a dog drinking beer, a fat moron falling down the stairs, a snot-nosed brat kicking his rapping grandpa in his testicles. I am in marketing, Winston, the backbone of capitalism. Without it, you’d be dead in two days.” (Schmidt)

When Winston mistakenly notes that Schmidt works in advertising, Schmidt delivers, perhaps, my favorite televised quote about marketing ever. I identify with Schmidt here – I often bristle when people assume I’m in advertising (as noted when I last spoke about ‘Mad Men’). Marketing is much larger than just advertising. And, although I wouldn’t distill advertising only to gimmicky ad campaigns, I can empathize with Schmidt’s vitriol. I’m not convinced we’d all die in two days without marketing but… I’m going to give them this one.

Realism Score: 4

                                                                                                                                                  

“Where do we do the marketing? We do the marketing everywhere. You’re about to see life happen at the speed of business.” (Schmidt)

When arriving at the office, Winston asks where they “do the marketing”. Schmidt’s response made me crack up. We do, indeed, do the marketing everywhere. Played for laughs, sure, but no less true. I do just as much marketing from hotel arm chairs, airport gate areas, and my own couch as I do from my desk at work.

Realism Score: 5

                                                                                                                                                  

“This is a big part of the biz, my man. Networking, face time, making deals.” (Schmidt)

Schmidt, explaining to Winston why he was taking Ed out for happy hour that afternoon. This is one of those statements that sounds so cliche, like somebody’s perception of what a marketing job entails. I’m pretty sure most marketers wouldn’t say “I’m making deals.” However, a large part of any job I’ve had has been working with people. So, though this was presented in a terribly trite way, it’s not untrue, per se.

Realism Score: 4

                                                                                                                                                  

“If I’m going to take Gwen’s job and be the next CIO of Aztrack [I have no idea what the actual company name is] I can’t just embrace modernization. I’ve got to make babies with it; you know what I mean? It’s time to unleash my baby: micro-marketing. We target our messages to the individual consumer.” (Schmidt)

Schmidt, explaining his career plan and strategy for promotion to Ed. And this is where I thought it fell off the rails. First, based on everything we’ve seen of Schmidt at work, I would see him in a pretty junior position – ie. he still sits in a cube in an environment where individual offices seem important. I’m not sure that a C-level position is his next step. Next, if Schmidt’s a marketing guy, why is the promotion he wants CIO? Shouldn’t he be angling for a CMO position? That seems off. Additionally, micro-marketing? Really Schmidt? Your big idea is to target messages to individual consumers? That is certainly not a new concept. Perhaps he’s going to overcome some pretty barriers to implement it at his organization, but just presenting it as an idea? That’s not promotion worthy. This whole speech sounded like what somebody thought a marketer would say.

Realism Score: 2

                                                                                                                                                  

“Big data’s knocking. Let’s open the door.” (Ed)

True! I talk all the time about how though marketing is definitely still a mix of science and art, the split is shifting more and more in favor of the science side of things. We live in a world where obtaining, housing, and analyzing data about customers is easier than it has ever been. To not take advantage of those abilities seems silly. Of course, I’m pretty sure Ed was just parroting something he heard on a Today Show segment or something, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Realism Score: 5

                                                                                                                                                  

“Now before I begin, my little helper here will distribute some hand outs… Well, I’m sure there’s a printer that works; I’ll just wait for the hard copies… Dum-de-dum-dum-dum.” (Ed)

So, it’s time for Ed’s presentation and Schmidt was supposed to print hand-outs for everyone, but instead loads a powerpoint presentation, causing Ed to have to fake a heart attack to get out of the meeting. Okay, really? Even if he is older, there’s no way an employee at Ed’s level at a company like the one being portrayed would not be able to use a laptop & powerpoint. Absolutely no way. Second, nobody would ever say, “Use the technology Ed,” as Schmidt’s boss did. You don’t call a laptop “technology”. Third, what kind of hand outs did Ed have? How did he create them? It must be a digital file of some sort, right? Plus, how did he learn enough about micro-marketing to put together a presentation without using a laptop? The whole thing just makes no sense.

Realism Score: 2

                                                                                                                                                  

What do you think? Was the profession of marketing portrayed accurately? Do you think Schmidt will ever be CIO? Were you so distracted by the plot about basketball to pay attention to nit-picky details about how corporate America was presented in the episode? Let me know what you think!

Not Breaking the Chain

Buoyed by the response to my life scorecard post, I thought I’d walk through some of the tools I use to keep myself on track in meeting the goals I set for myself. Because, obviously, if measurement isn’t easy, it usually doesn’t get done.

One of the most popular methods of keeping track of things comes from Jerry Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” advice to a just starting out comedy writer. The idea is simple – you get a calendar and for everyday you do the thing you want to do (in this case, write), you put an X over the date. After a couple weeks of diligence, you start to build a chain of Xes and it becomes really satisfying not to break the chain.

There are a couple of ways I’ve employed this idea in the past, each with some pros & cons.

The first time I got serious about diet & exercise tracking, I used a cheap, promotional wall calendar I had from work and colored in the days on the calendar with a sharpie. This can also be accomplished by using a printable calendar template.
Pros:
- This is portable. I travel for work a fair amount and it was easy to slip my cheap calendar into my work bag so I could color on the fly.
- It’s easy to break down each day’s square into smaller boxes to keep track of different goals. Splitting squares in half or quarters (and even using different color markers if you want to get fancy) makes it easy to keep track of everything in one place.
Cons:
- Not as visible as some of the other methods; the calendar usually sat on my dining room table and sometimes got buried.
- You lose the visual of the “chain” from month to month; each time the first rolls around you’ve got to start over.

For those of you more digitally inclined, I really like the Lift app (and I’m sure there are others like it out there). The app allows you to add activity goals and then “check in” each day you complete them.
Pros:
- Constantly accessible via your mobile device.
- Others who share your goal are able to give you kudos and/or comment on your activity; there’s a social aspect.
Cons:
- You have to “check in” on the actual day. So, if you do your check ins before bed and go to bed after midnight, it looks like you missed a day (this drove me CRAZY).
- Also easy to ignore.

This year, I’m trying out a method most similar to the one Seinfeld suggested. I printed up a bunch of “Don’t Break the Chain” calendars (which are pretty cute) and hung them on the wall. Though it’s only been a few days, here’s what I’m anticipating as good & bad.
Pros:
- Very visible. I walk down my hallway constantly.
- Easy to see the cumulative progress over time.
- Good for things that you don’t actually need to do everyday (ie. I am determined to get through the 100 push ups challenge this year [I say this every year] and that means push ups every other day.) Visually, this is a great way to keep track of non-daily goals.
Cons:
- May be difficult to manage when traveling.
- I can’t tell the “blue-green” and “green-blue” markers apart in low light which means that I am going to make myself crazy every time I use the wrong color on the wrong calendar.

Break The Chains

The five that you see are push ups, track food, Nike Fuel, write/publish, and floss.

How about you? Are there systems or tools that you’ve had success with when trying to reinforce a new behavior or establish a new habit? How do you keep track of your goals? Any applications you can see to your professional life (for example, I’ve used Lift for inbox zero)?

Creating a “Life Scorecard”

First, some vignettes.

1.
Once upon a time, I worked for a guy who was obsessed with scorecards. There were individual scorecards, team scorecards, project scorecards, cross-functional scorecards, non-functional scorecards and more. They made me insane because we lacked the manpower and infrastructure to maintain all these scorecards – some months it felt like I spent more time updating my scorecards than trying to accomplish things that would lead to scorecard updates.

2.
Everyone is familiar with the SMART method of goal setting. You’re much more likely to accomplish a goal if it is specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timely. Every year, when millions of corporate employees describe what they want to accomplish in the coming fiscal year, they are challenged by their HR colleagues to evaluate their goals on those five attributes. Additionally, goals are often charged with being linked to specific corporate values or initiatives.

3.
J.Schmid, a direct marketing & branding firm has a principal they use with all their clients. Presented in concentric circles, the idea is that all organizations focus on what they do (the outermost circle), most organizations focus on how they do it (one level in), but great organizations focus on why they do what they do. Dubbed “brand why”, it’s the essence of the organization. Logic stands that if you and your employees really understand the mission of the organization, it becomes much easier to make decisions. On any issue, simply ask, “What outcome brings the organization closest to their why?”

Way back in the dark ages (late 2011), I thought my life needed a bit of a shake up. I needed to re-evaluate my personal brand, figure out the components of my corporate identity, and become more focused on being the person I wanted to be. Thus, the Jen-identity board was created.

Jen Identity Board

As you can see, I created (on a piece of $.79 poster-board), I outlined all the things I want to be. (It’s worth noting that this poster-board is more than two years old and made a cross-country move). In case it’s tricky to read, I’ll list them out for you:
Healthy (nutrition, fitness, medical)
Stylish (clothes, personal care, hostess skills, environment/home)
Successful (position, compensation, proud to talk about it)
Interesting (well-rounded, cultured, well-traveled, constantly learning, well-networked)
Passionate About What I Do (work/career, hobbies, be an expert)
Loved (family, friends, give back)
Financially Secure (debt elimination, planning for the future, independent)

Now, some of this is reflective of where I was at that time – “proud to talk about it” in the “Successful” bucket was because I was working in a boring industry at the time. But, by and large, these attributes hold up. These are the things I want to be. I think the most important part of the poster, though, is the other side, which acts as a constant challenge: “Is what you’re doing – RIGHT NOW – making you that person? If no, DO SOMETHING ELSE.” It serves as a constant challenge to me for how I’m spending my time.

Once I identified all the things I wanted to be, how did I go about becoming them? I developed a “life scorecard” – a list of SMART goals that I could measure, on a monthly basis, to see the progress I was making. For 2012, I had goals related to applying for & finding a new job, completing a wardrobe inventory, reading books, paying off my car, going to the gym and more. And, by and large, I was very successful at completing the goals I set because, at the end of every month, I knew I had to fill in the boxes with what I accomplished. Plus, the poster hung in my dining room where I had to look at it everyday… a constant reminder.

I didn’t do any goal setting like this in 2013 and, honestly, I missed the implied structure of having things to work for on a regular basis. So, for 2014, the life scorecard is back and I’m excited to see what I can accomplish!

2014 Scorecard

photo3

Again, because the photos may be difficult to read, here are my 2014 goals:
15000 Fitness Minutes
Track Food 75% of Days (273 days)
3000 Nike Fuel 90% of Days (328 Days)
100 Push Ups Program
3 Side Hustle Projects
Read 25 Books
Visit 4 New Cities
50 RTE Posts
40 JL.com Posts
Evaluate & Execute RTE Brand Extensions
12 Meet Up Events
Birthday Cards for Everyone
Pay Off ****
Pay Off ****
Max Out 401(k)
4 Shopping Ban Months

Some things to note:
- By and large, these are incredibly specific and measurable – it’s easy to plug in a number at the end of the month
- The goals are color-coded to the matching attributes from the “what do I want to be” poster
- Everything here is 100% achievable with some effort
- I’m still fleshing out the list; I think I’m missing a charity component of some sort

But, that’s it. When I have unexpected free time or am in a funk or am feeling unmotivated, I just have to look at my poster and know the things I’m supposed to be working on to be the person I want to be.

How about you? What kind of goal setting do you do in your personal life? Have you co-opted any corporate best practices in your own life?

Am I Evil?

So, it’s Christmas-time! Yay! While wrapping presents, writing cards, and spreasheeting way too late into the night, I’ve been watching a lot of ABCFamily 25 Days of Christmas On Demand and something struck me when reading through the descriptions.

Let’s take a look:

Christmas Cupid: “In the vein of A Christmas Carol, Sloane Spencer, a higher powered PR agent, is forced to…”
Desperately Seeking Santa: “Jennifer is an ambitious young marketing guru who dreams up…”
A Holiday For Love: “A grizzled businessman returns…”
Holidaze: “Melody Gerard, a high powered corporate executive is in for…”
Santa Baby: “Uptight and driven MBA Mary Class…”

Notice any similarities? Apparently, the only people who need to learn lessons about the meaning of Christmas are businesspeople? Particularly those in marketing? Way to stereotype ABCFamily! I happen to think I have a good handle on the meaning of Christmas, even if I am a marketing professional.

What do you think? Are those in corporate America more likely to need a lesson in the meaning of Christmas?

Happy Holidays from JenniferLev.com!

Ryan, the Delta Mechanic, Blew My Mind

So, this is a crazy couple of travel weeks for me – three full days of flying, five hotels, six cities, ten days being on the road attending various professional functions, with a fun 48 hours in New Orleans stuck in the middle. Anyway, to start of the trip, I flew SFO>ATL>MSY and when deplaning at MSY, I left my Nook in the seatback pocket. I didn’t realize it until I was in the taxi line; when I have multiple things to keep track of for a trip, I always write my travel details on an index card and put the card in the cover of my Nook. That way, if I have any technology issues, I still know what I’m doing. I went to pull out the index card to double check the address of the hotel, discovered it missing, and took off tearing to the customer service counter, SUPER annoyed with myself.

There had been a big group of people at the gate when we landed; I assumed they were getting ready to board the plane I had just gotten off of and therefor, time was of the essence. The customer service line I stood in was the slowest moving line. Oh goodness, so slow. It took me 40 minutes to reach the counter, 40 minutes in which all six people in front of me were helped. By the time I reached the counter, the plane had already taken back off and nothing had been turned in. I cursed the fact that Delta’s lost items page wasn’t mobile friendly while in the taxi to my hotel, completed the form when I got to the hotel, and resigned myself to having to buy a new e-reader.

Fast-forward to today. It was 12:15 or so, and the phone in my hotel room started ringing. I assumed it was the front desk telling me I was late to check out. I answered it. It wasn’t the front desk, but this, “Hi, this is Ryan, one of the mechanics for Delta at the Atlanta airport. Did you lose something on a flight this week?” He had found my Nook, tracked me down at my hotel using the travel itinerary on the index card, noted that I’d be flying back through Atlanta and wanted to make sure I got my e-reader back. He gave me his phone number and told me to call him when I landed in Atlanta. Instead, when I got off the plane, there he was – on the jet-way – with my reader. I thanked him profusely, told him he made my whole week-end, and walked away with a little more faith in the human race.

So, Ryan, the Delta mechanic in Atlanta – thank you for being a class act and for going WAY above and beyond for one of Delta’s customers.

Your turn – any great customer service and/or faith in humanity stories to share? Let me know in the comments!

Hunting? Or Gathering?

Once upon a time, when I was just a young marketer, fresh out of MBA school, I worked for a dynamic, personable, interesting Vice President of Marketing. He was super smart and a total character – also author of my favorite interview question ever. Additionally,he was a big hunter.

On Friday afternoons, he would sometimes come out of his office and strike up conversations with those of us that sat immediately outside his door. As it was close to deer season, one week, the conversation turned to hunting. One co-worker noted that her husband was excited to get out to the land. I mentioned that my step-father was an avid woodsman, though, ironically, had not gotten a deer since he & my mother had relocated to their hunting land.

When asked why I didn’t want to get out there and hunt myself, my explanation went something like this: “Bargain shopping is my hunting! The thrill of digging through the clearance rack to find the perfect thing at a significant discount has to be equal to the rush of sitting for hours in the woods only to get the perfect shot. The patience, the anticipation, the triumph… it’s got to be the same emotional journey. Plus, my 60% off Coach bag probably lasts longer than your deer’s worth of venison, if cared for properly. Well, that and I don’t have to coat my clothes in fake deer pee.”

I’m pretty sure he looked at me like I was nuts, but I thought I was onto something.

While preparing my multi-part book review/ look at brands & branding inspired by Debbie Millman’s ‘Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits’ (coming soon), I found this passage among those I’d highlighted:

Re: shopping

“I think that has to do with our hunter-gatherer instinct. We’re hardwired to be hunter-gatherers: You shop, you find something pretty and shiny, and you bring it home. Maybe that’s why there’s that old stereotype that women love shopping more than men. Women were typically the ones who were out… gathering for the nuts and berries, and the men were out killing animals.” (p167, Sean Adams partner at AdamsMorioka)

So, who’s right? Is shopping more like the killer instincts of hunting or the patient tenacity of gathering? When unloading your purchases, do you feel the sweet victory of the kill or the satisfaction of a tidy stockpile? Who’s better in tune to the analogy – some woman on the internet or a partner at one of the most successful agencies in the country? Let me know what you think!

Gmail’s Attack on Email Marketing?

So, everyone’s been upgraded to the new Gmail, right? The one that segments out “primary” mail from “social” mail and “promotions” mail?

What does this mean for promotional emails? I can say that I have only gone into the “promotional” tab once a week or so, since it was rolled out – normally when the number gets really high and starts to stress me out. It seems like removing these from the main inbox does a great disservice to the companies relying on promotional emails as a go to market strategy. Does segmenting these emails out, almost like spam, decrease the likelihood of them getting opened? Will corporations see universally lower open rates now? Has the new inbox impacted how you interact with promotional emails?

Capitalizing on Current Events – Mizuno

So, we can all agree that Wendy Davis is the best, right? Her tenacity, passion, and refusal to be marginalized was a sight to behold.

The follow-up piece of her filibuster that has been most fun to watch has been the excitement around the shoes she wore that day. Knowing she was in for a long day, Ms. Davis wore appropriate footwear – some highly supportive Mizuno sneakers. The internet has embraced these sneakers whole-heartedly, creating mock-up ads and contributing hilariously to the sneakers’ Amazon reviews.

Several of the best Amazon reviews have been aggregated by Buzzfeed; this one is my favorite:

So, what do you think? How could Mizuno best capitalize on this unexpected moment in the spotlight? Should Mizuno capitalize on this moment? If you were part of their marketing leadership, would you be nervous to take a political stance or enthusiastically embrace the hype?