A View from Blue Grotto

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Can You Afford to Be More Strategic?

I look forward to the Monday edition of the Wall Street Journal. The break from the WSJ on Sundays is unnerving for me. I am an info junkie and on days I cannot read the entire Journal, I save up those sections for Sunday reading, helping to augment the now thinner Sunday edition of my local newspaper.

Monday’s WSJ reserves space for a “Journal Report” – on topics varying from issues facing Boomers during retirement to new medical technologies or, in the case of Monday, February 23, 2015 – C-Suite Strategies with an article titled: The Way to Become a ‘Strategic’ Executive.

And, even though the title may hinder your interest, if you don’t consider yourself a C-Suite tenant, I think every worker bee can glean some concrete suggestions for developing more strategic perspectives.

After surveying executives Ms. Herminia Ibarra, author of Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, concluded that execs are better at acting strategic than actually thinking strategically, and most of the people she surveyed admitted that they don’t necessarily know how to hone their strategic thinking skills.

They do share some common challenges:
- setting a clear and differentiating strategy
- communicating the strategy and getting buy-in for it
- allocating resources to support the strategy in a meaningful way
- ensuring day-to-day decision-making aligns with the strategy, and
- translating strategy and operational decisions into action

Of the four practices she identified that could help you to be more strategic I thought Collaborate at the Top was the most interesting. We forget sometimes that, as executives of the same organization, we share in the same mission and though our exact deliverables differ, we bank on – and contribute to – the success of the whole.

Sharing ideas and best practices is key to implementing this practice for increasing strategic thinking. Inviting others to better understand how you and your team are creating success or overcoming challenges helps them to brainstorm ways they can adapt and modify – creating tools they can bring back to their own divisions or functions.

How do you share what you’ve learned, the good and the bad, in a way that helps others, but also helps you yourself to broaden your toolkit for ongoing strategic thinking? Could you be transparent with others about what is and what is not working? Can you really afford to be more strategic?

One of my recent blogs was about the power of the TED Talk. TED-style infomercials are a platform for sharing, but maybe just as importantly for organizing your knowledge and expertise. The worker bee to the C-Suite executive and everyone in between is required to organize and manage hundreds of pieces of data and processes and outputs and …the list is endless. Identifying an effective way to share what we are learning and what still needs refining is an important process in building our capacity for strategic thinking.

I asked in that blog: what would be your TED Talk topic? It would be a great exercise to engage your team in a brainstorming session that challenged them to “present” to one another on the best practices that could help others to break out of a rut. I bet it would help you break the cycle of Ms. Ibarra’s challenge #2: communicating the strategy and getting buy-in for it.

Email me with ways that you and your team work on building strategic aptitude.

For a copy of the WSJ article (if you don’t already subscribe): http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-key-to-becoming-a-strategy-minded-executive-1424664606

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

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Monday, February 02, 2015

Statistics versus Storytelling

I love it when other people cite Harvard Business Review! Guidestar cites Claremont Graduate University Professor Paul J. Zak’s October 28, 2014, article titled, "Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling” for their January 2015 newsletter article: Using Stories for Fundraising.

Now, to be fair, Guidestar’s mission relies on providing accurate, detailed information:

To revolutionize philanthropy by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving

but, Guidestar also recognizes that donors can pretty quickly source the statistical evidence they need in funding decisions. What donors – everyone from grant makers to major gift makers to episodic Give to the Max Day donors find more compelling are the narratives that express the impact an organization or program has.

Guidestar even quotes Professor Zak’s hard evidence of the impact stories have on your brain: "By taking blood draws before and after the narrative, we found that character-driven stories do consistently cause oxytocin synthesis…the amount of oxytocin released by the brain predicted how much people were willing to help others; for example, donating money to a charity associated with the narrative."

Every nonprofit has a carefully thought-out mission statement, how can you communicate more effectively with those stakeholders and decision-makers who will sustain you and help you grow?

Maybe, most challenging for nonprofits today: the need to communicate, or narrate your story in 140 characters or less. Social media and all of the channels open to us through social media are challenging the traditional story-telling process. You can embed video clips, you can take a “picture is worth a thousand words” approach, you can #hashtag your message. But are those the best way to share your stories?

People across Minnesota learned recently of local nonprofit Hope 4 Youth as they raised $1M in just 45 days at the end of 2014, and then an additional $77K just after the first of the year. The campaign relied heavily on the incredible speed of word of mouth from Facebook and other social channels. A strong narrative pivot was to tell the story of their development chair John Sitarz and his passion for the organization’s mission. Hope 4 Youth also tried hard to include their major gifts, matching gifts and in-kind gift donors in the storyline. An element of urgency also likely helped Hope 4 Youth’s storyline – no one wants to imagine anyone homeless in a Minnesota winter, especially a young person.

And though statistics are an organization like Hope 4 Youth’s friend (“…on any given night there are 4,000 youth and young adults who are homeless and unaccompanied by an adult”) the story of their Angels 4 Youth challenge is as compelling as any individual’s narrative. Exactly as Guidestar and Professor Zak described – “your brain loves good storytelling.”

A huge round of applause goes out to them, for not only telling their story right, but for compelling their donor base into action. $1M + is no small feat, but then neither is solving the homeless youth crisis.

I would love to know: what was the most compelling nonprofit story of 2014?
Hope 4 Youth’s Facebook page is the best place to find out more info about the successful campaign: https://www.facebook.com/pages/HOPE-4-Youth/387555927998095
Here's the video that kicked it all off for the Angels 4 Youth:

You can find Professor Paul Zak’s article in the Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2014/10/why-your-brain-loves-good-storytelling. And, of course he has a TED Talk, my favorite!

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Storytelling for the masses - the TED Talk

I love that TED Talks are available on I “Heart” Radio. I found them one morning on a run and became entranced as I listened to an obscure topic presented by Mark Ronson – whose official title is music producer and DJ. Ronson spent sixteen-plus minutes expertly describing and demonstrating the art of sampling music.

At first, Ronson’s topic about artists co-opting elements of other popular music tracks may sound very niche, you might skip it if you thought you had nothing to learn from a guy who first made a name for himself DJ’ing in New York and Atlantic City night clubs, but I was hooked.

The track Ronson chose to highlight was by Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh, titled La Di Da Di. According to Ronson, it is the fifth most sampled song of all time – sampled 547 times – and by artists including Notorious B.I.G. and Miley Cyrus, who, Ronson noted was not even born yet when the track was first released in 1984.

Then, months later, I heard a song on the radio written and produced by Ronson featuring Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk – with a beat and even lyrics that reminded me of Twin Cities’-artist Morris Day and The Time and I could hear what Ronson was talking about: an artist’s desire to insert themselves “into the narrative of a song while pushing that story forward.”

I circled back to his TED Talk. We all have a desire to incorporate ourselves into a narrative and we all feel compelled in some way to help push a story forward at one time or another. That is why storytelling, as a concept, has become so popular – in social media channels, in the corporate conference room, in nonprofit fundraising. We co-opt the storyline from many places, mostly in an attempt to learn from someone else’s experiences.

TED Talk storytelling is not just a version of campfire lore. It’s the telling, and our re-telling, of another’s story that can motivate us, inspire us, educate us, and even protect us. Sometimes an anecdotal account helps keep us from making the same mistake ourselves.

That’s why the TED Talks work. They not only allow a storyteller to engage a live audience but there is an opportunity to share the storyline around the planet, literally. Think of how many times a TED Talk, whether it’s as brief as six minutes or as lengthy as sixty-one minutes, is streamed around the planet. Anyone with a connection can plug in. That’s how I heard Mark Ronson that day, on I “Heart” Radio.

As I said, anyone could easily have passed over his Talk, for a more well-known speaker, like Melinda Gates, talking about fighting disease in Africa. But the TED Talks make it easy to hear the stories of many other people. People whose own lens of their work or their passion can inspire and educate the rest of us. And that is why right below the ‘play’ button are the ‘Share’ icons – you can “Share this idea” on Twitter, Facebook and by emailing a link.

That’s the part where we come in – pushing the story forward, as Mark Ronson says. By sharing these narratives we help to spread the word, we subtly encourage reflection and dialogue, and we expose a little bit of ourselves letting others in on the things we find worthy of sharing (you now know my obscure interest in pop music).

The TED library claims “1900+ talks to stir your curiosity” and though I listen to many, I could never get through them all, and they add more every year. I am curious to know which TED Talks you have listened to and enjoyed or recommended. And I am super curious to know what your TED Talk topic would feature given the chance to expound to a live audience. Mine would likely be something along the lines of “are you really capturing and sharing your own story?”

Below is the video of Mark Ronson’s Talk: (https://www.ted.com/talks/mark_ronson_how_sampling_transformed_music)

And the Uptown Funk video: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPf0YbXqDm0)

Tell me if you hear the similarity to Twin Cities-funk leaders Morris Day and Prince.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Glass half empty, or glass half full?

I had to laugh when John Davis used the words ‘coping strategies’ in the very first sentence of his article about management styles in family businesses for the November 14 Harvard Business School Working Knowledge newsletter. How appropriate, I thought – because coping strategy is a term often used in dysfunctional families.

What he went on to say in this installment of a series of articles on Managing the Family Business was that the traits of optimism and pessimism are both important to the success of a business. But in a family business, how members of the team react to and respond to these leadership styles is what is important.

It was especially interesting to me, an admitted optimist, to read his thinking on the how the two traits conversely affect everything from operations to strategic planning to investment. Not every family illustrates dysfunction. Many family businesses run smoothly because of their innate ability to balance perceptions and personalities.

In response to a slow economic recovery, Davis writes: “When the news is bad and likely to get worse, a pessimist is your best ally because pessimists thrive on fixing errors.”  There is the need to balance these two traits, too. Davis found, “When testing strategic plans, deploy defensive pessimism, imagining all the things that can go wrong in the future. But when the task requires flexibility and had work toward uncertain goals, build teams with optimists.”

The Working Knowledge series by Davis includes topics of Firing the CEO, Entrepreneurs Needed for Long-Run Success, and designing Leadership Roles for success in your family’s business.

Even though it should not be, leading, managing, and governing a family business is arguably different. Personality traits aside, glass half full or half empty, the operations of family businesses – mom and pops or multinationals – are different from other business structures.

Davis’ articles give reflection to the strengths and capacity of family businesses. The Blue Grotto team has been lucky enough to work with several family-owned and operated businesses. One of the things that fascinates me most about family businesses is that even though, generationally, family members’ perspective – on the business, their industry, innovation, and the changes in things like social media – may be radically different, they share in a commitment to the success of their company and the personal responsibility for the health and livelihoods of their employees, their customers, their vendors, and even the communities in which they operate.

Thank you, to HBS and John Davis for continuing to highlight those strengths and opportunities of family business leaders.

A link to the Pessimism versus Optimism article: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/7513.html

I, myself, am a product of family businesses.

My grandfather, George Hammond,

founded St. Paul-based Awards By Hammond

more than 60 years ago.
Email me with your perspectives on the nuanced styles of family business leaders.

As a matter of disclosure, I, myself, am the product of family business leadership. Many generations of my family have served as sole proprietors, opened new businesses, and turned struggling businesses around. And optimism is met with pessimism in any family J.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Does Your Organization Need a Strategic Planning Overhaul?

What do you think of when you hear the term ‘strategic planning?’ Does dread fill your mind? Does the term conjure up images of middle managers stuck in a window-less room, droning on about SWOT analysis, goals and tactics, and ultimately a document that would collect dust for the next three years until it was time to go through strategic planning, again.

What if strategic planning could result in tools that helped you to develop a formula for continual evaluation and course correction if necessary, and, more importantly, develop an organizational capacity to replicate success and address uncertainty? You’d say “sign me up!” Right?

As I led a client’s leadership team through strategic planning this past fall, I decided to work toward the outcome of developing that formula for decision-making informed by their strategy. What I really wanted was for them to actually use the strategic direction once they had it fleshed out. No reams of paper necessary, I expected to produce a single sheet that influenced how they made tactical decisions - a simple game plan that helped them to commit to what their team would or would not focus on in the coming months.

I forewarned the team about my intent to refrain from taking the easy way out - establishing a series of goals they would be pretty sure at which they could succeed, along with a tactic-heavy work plan. And, instead, I would be asking them to consider how they would leverage their strategy to create a cultural advantage and replicate success. Hoping the team would be receptive to this change in approach, I assigned some relatively light reading as homework.

Dana O’Donovan and Noah Rimland Flower of the Monitor Institute tackled the topic for Stanford Social Innovation Review with The Strategic Plan is Dead. Long Live Strategy. In today’s fast-changing world, why freeze your strategic thinking in a five-year plan? They advocated for developing a plan that is adaptive and simple.

For Harvard Business Review’s blog, Roger Martin instructed very simply that there are Five Questions to Build a Strategy, treating strategy-making as developing a set of answers to five interlinked questions.

One simple takeaway: debating tactics that may or may not be relevant in even just a few short weeks feels like a waste of time. Prioritizing what your team wants to focus on as an organization for the next twelve months and identifying the best practices you can rely on to guide the decisions made by everyone from the front line customer service to the corner offices makes perfect sense.

Email me with your own anecdote about how strategic direction makes a difference in your day-to-day work. Or, with resources you found helpful in making the case for more effective strategic planning.

Links to the articles: http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/the_strategic_plan_is_dead._long_live_strategy
Stanford Social Innovation Review Nonprofit Management The Strategic Plan is Dead. Long Live Strategy. In today’s fast-changing world, why freeze your strategic thinking in a five-year plan?
By Dana O’Donovan & Noah Rimland Flower

Harvard Business Review Five Questions to Build a Strategy By Roger Martin

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The party principle

As I prepare to give my workshop on celebrating nonprofit milestones, I am reminded of all the discussions from our Beyond the Birthday Cake participants. I’ve worked with folks representing a nonprofit staff of one, volunteer coordinators, executive directors, and members of boards of directors. Many have gone on to be Blue Grotto clients, deploying thoughtful and clever tactics to celebrate, reinvigorate and, of course, raise money.

I reviewed proposals and PowerPoint presentations I’ve given over the last few years, and came up with a few salient bullet points for nonprofit staff and boards of directors to consider. Am delighted to share them as a blog post.

What anniversaries are not
Anniversaries are not simply a celebration of your organization’s past. The groundwork for your vision of the future is laid with an anniversary program, ensuring that the leaders of tomorrow are guided and inspired by yesterday’s dreams, ethics, and best practices. I use the term ‘leaders’ broadly in this statement – consider not only the leaders of your nonprofit, but also the individuals whose decision-making can impact your organization: members of the business, government and legislative, media, and philanthropic communities.

Anniversaries are not simply about throwing yourselves a party. A bash is a one-time event. A one-time event that costs money, and time, with a lingering message that only says: “That was a great party.” Unless you plan to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars at your party, your nonprofit should be considering additional tactics - some that require little investment, but can offer amazing impact.

Anniversaries are organic…
Milestone activities should be reflective of your organization’s overall strategic direction and vision. Don’t get sucked into seductive tactics (like a party) that redirect your energies, often with diminishing returns.

Anniversaries are a non-manufactured opportunity to connect with key stakeholders. Consider audiences you would like to grow, or reconnect with, or audiences you would like an introduction to. What tactics will allow you to communicate with them?

You didn’t get to be 100, a half-century, a quarter century, or even five years old with out the hard work, determination, and development of your staff, directors, volunteers, funders, even your vendors. Celebrate in meaningful ways, reminding stakeholders of your stewardship of their resources, and highlighting the role they play in your history of success.

I am presenting the Beyond the Birthday Cake workshop for Hands On Twin Cities next week (November 10). Email me for more information, or with questions or suggestions on creative ways nonprofits are leveraging their milestones. I will blog again with suggestions that bubble up from participants next week. And remember, Tom Peters once reflected “Celebrate what you want to see more of.”

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

What are your nonprofit's values worth?

As nonprofits become more knowledgeable in the areas of planned giving, they are all trying to better understand the process donors go through in deciding how they want to allocate their estates.

According to David Bromelkamp, President and CEO of Allodium Investment Consultants, his team takes their clients through a detailed planning process as they prepare them for the future. Many of Allodium’s clients are philanthropic, and take their giving decisions seriously. Bromelkamp says that nonprofits need to be more strategic and planful as they approach donors, working to connect people to the organization’s core values and to engage them in its mission.

I have heard Bromelkamp speak on several occasions about a variety of topics regarding investment and best practices for nonprofits. Each time, what impresses me most is not just his strong financial advice, but his ability to speak the language of nonprofits. With his background as a CPA and financial advisor, I find his proficiency in the nonprofit world a rare combination.
His own volunteer involvement includes serving on the Board of Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

I interviewed David recently in the hopes of bringing some of that knowledge and perspective to Blue Grotto clients and my blog readers.

Each time I hear you speak about Allodium’s nonprofit clients, I am impressed with your proficiency and knowledge of the nonprofit field. How have you built that expertise?

Our financial advisors have extensive experience working with both individual and institutional investors.

Individuals are philanthropic, and they think about giving. Nonprofit institutions think about donors and receiving. If you can look at it from both sides of that same coin, you understand the connections between donor intent and a nonprofit’s mission.

When those align, that’s when a nonprofit gets gifts. In my twenty years of financial experience, I know that the really big decisions individuals make, they make based on their core values. Organizations, similarly, are driven by a mission and set of core values.

An individual investor who has taken care of their priorities - put their kids through college, taken care of their retirement - may then turn their attention to charitable giving. They get very values-oriented, and become increasingly thoughtful about how an organization fits their values before they make major gifts, whether through planned gifts or campaign contributions, like a capital campaign.

How can a nonprofit be more strategic about their development efforts?

Personally, I am very planful and strategic. So, things like planned giving make a lot of sense to me. Estate planning makes a lot of sense to me, retirement planning makes a lot of sense to me.

We have seen a trend in development - nonprofits are becoming more knowledgeable about the importance of planned giving and that donors want to do more than simply write a check. So the idea of estate planning, and planned gifts and trusts, is becoming far more important

It is all about planning. Investors make plans. They make estate plans, retirement plans, etc. They think ahead five or ten years and make plans. Organizations need to emphasize the strategic planning element of their development efforts, and how that dovetails with donor values.

Why do you think values are so important to the development-philanthropy relationship?

Donors make decisions based on their values. The larger the financial amount, relative to their financial situation, the greater likelihood it will be a values-based decision.

If you asked me for $100 for your organization, I might give you $100 because I’m trying to be nice to you. But, if I have to decide how to carve up a $10 Million estate between three organizations when I die, I’m going to think about what three organizations are the most important to me and my life, and what I want to leave as a legacy. Those are going to be values-based decisions, not seat-of-the-pants decisions. They will be very values driven.

People tend to go to their core values when they are forced to make hard decisions. In periods of stress or duress, you’re going to revert back to your core values. And there are different sets of values that drive people’s decisions.

You’ve talked about converting that $100 donor into a significant or a lifetime donor. What do you think nonprofits can do to help make that conversion in their donor base?

I think the most important thing is for organizations to develop a relationship with donors – relationships that enlighten the donors about how the organization’s mission dovetails with the donor’s core values. The better that the organization can get at that enlightenment of the donor, the larger the gift they can achieve. Or the larger share of the wealth from that donor.

It’s all about enlightening the donor about what the true mission of the organization is, and connecting it to the donor’s core values.

Nonprofits also have an opportunity to demonstrate their own strategic map to donors– for growth, or a narrowing of focus, for improvement or delivery of service, even fundraising strategies. Donors of large gifts want to know that you, too, are being strategic in your stewardship of their gift.

Sometimes it’s a chance to more deeply engage a donor in the organization. One organization I think does a good job is St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN. They often invite alumni to give counsel on a specific issue. For example, if they want to build a new library, they include donors in the discussion on their approach to launch such a major capital campaign.

Getting donors involved in that strategic planning process engages them more deeply with the organization, and reminds them how much they value the organization and its mission. Increasing their commitment to the organization philosophically will inevitably increase their commitment to the organization financially.

David Bromelkamp is President and CEO of Minneapolis-based Allodium Investment Consultants, an award-winning independent investment advisor. Contact him at 612.230.3702; dbromelkamp@aicria.com.

And email me with examples of how your organization is passing the values test.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Values drive nonprofit donor investment - Part II

Values-based resource development requires nonprofits to examine and articulate their values as reflected in their philosophies of service, strategic planning, and the stewardship that sustains them.

The 2010 Minnesota Council of Nonprofits directory lists more than 2,000 nonprofit members, so your donor base has thousands of options for spending time, money and resources. Today’s donors are a savvy group; they are approached frequently and in a variety of effective ways. Donors of the highest level carefully consider whether or not to align their giving strategy with your fund development strategy.

I interviewed David Bromelkamp, president of Allodium Investment Consultants here in Minneapolis, for his insight on how nonprofits can be more strategic in their relationship with donors.

Our interview appeared as a guest blog posting on The Ritter Group’s website. You can read the full interview at www.therittergroup.com (part 2 of the interview has now been posted).

Email me with examples of how your nonprofit is building relationships, especially in the 2010 financial landscape. What has changed? What has improved? And remember, Bill Gates once said, “Giving away money effectively is almost as hard as earning it in the first place.”

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Values drive investment in nonprofits

A colleague, Nicole Harrison - partner in the Ritter Group, asked me to write as a guest columnist for the Ritter Group's webpage/blog.

Delighted to take her up on her offer, I submitted an interview I conducted with David Bromelkamp, president of Allodium Investment Consultants here in Minneapolis. I've attended several of his company's quarterly presentations on fiduciary responsibility and stewardship of nonprofit boards of directors and am so impressed by his fluency in the language of nonprofits.

Increasingly, nonprofits are using their core values to strengthen their funding relationships. At the same time, leaders in both corporate social responsibility and individual philanthropy are choosing organizations based on values of stewardship including management, decision-making, leadership, innovation and business philosophy.

As you know, Blue Grotto Inc., works closely with organizations to develop organic communications strategies that articulate their vision for the future.

Link here to the Ritter Group's site www.therittergroup.com where you can read the blog. Would love to hear your feedback, and commentary on the relationship-building process for nonprofits.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

From barista to venture capitalist, what's your company's giving strategy?

I came across a slightly dated (May 2007), but interesting report from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. Target Corp commissioned the report to find out more about innovations and best practices in corporations’ support for nonprofits.

The fairly short list of companies that were interviewed for the study included: Boeing, Cisco Systems, General Mills, IBM, Levi Strauss, Proctor & Gamble, Starbucks, Target, Toyota, and Wachovia.

Companies I assume have strong corporate giving programs would be Target (think 5% back to your local school), Starbucks (one of the most prolific values-driven companies on the planet), and General Mills (one of Minnesota’s early members of the “5% Club” – contributing 5% of their pre-tax income through philanthropy).

I was eager to learn more about the giving strategies of companies like Cisco and Levi Strauss. And I couldn’t help but think about how the corporate social responsibility strategies of Toyota and Wachovia must have changed since the report’s 2007 date. Yikes.

The kickoff sentence of the overview is especially appropriate: “In the last two decades, corporate giving has gone through a transformation from an afterthought directed by a CEO’s preferences to professional staff with strategic objectives.” I think it’s safe to say that in the last two years, corporate giving has gone through a transformation. With the economic stall out, companies are forced to be more strategic than ever about their community dollars. And I don’t mean just how well community outreach boosts their image. According to the report, companies are more thoughtful, more purposeful, and are looking for results.

Two criteria that stand out for me: 1) companies are looking for greater employee development opportunities in their nonprofit partnerships – giving employees and their families a chance to engage with an employer on a different level, and 2) corporate giving programs have shown a direct positive impact on sales for consumer driven companies – customers are taking note.

The full report is a little wonky, but a relatively quick read, even at 42 pages (1 ½ inch margins all around). I found the callout statements the most interesting. I began to wonder how the companies’ philosophies might have changed, or tweaked ever so slightly, in the three years that have passed since their interviews.

Here’s a sample:

* Toyota takes on environmental issues – even some that have little to do with automobiles – in part because proprietary research for that firm identified the environment as an important issue for people when thinking about cars.
* Target provides consumers with a direct opportunity to choose where Target’s philanthropy goes, through its Take Charge of Education program.
* At Starbucks, a good charitable “fit” for a national Starbuck’s funding partners is an organization that baristas can explain to customers when preparing an order.
* At Cisco, staff members compete for the opportunity to be matched with a non-profit partner because projects were a chance to test knowledge and develop new skills.
* Levi Strauss employs a venture capital-like model - giving a large amount of its grant making dollars in one-time grants to launch new efforts.
* General Mills works with consulting firms it hires to offer no-cost capacity building and leadership sessions for nonprofits in General Mills’ headquarters community.

I did locate an online PDF copy of the report:

Email me with ideas on the next generation of corporate philanthropy innovations. Baristas are essentially venture capitalists, too.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The more things change...

So much change is happening today. In fact, it feels as though if something does NOT change, there is something afoot. I recently saw a billboard for the College of St. Catherine: “Do you have what it takes to lead change, not just manage it?” And I got to thinking about just that, managing change. It is one thing to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem here, and we need to fix it.’ And quite another to roll up your sleeves and help others see the problem and agree to be part of the solution.

When I Googled the term leading change, thousands of references to John Kotter’s work on the topic popped up. But, on page three of the search was a 2005 article in the Graziadio Business Report, published by Pepperdine University. Way back when, in 2005, PhD and research scientist Christopher Worley wrote a series of articles, one of them titled “Leading change management involves some simple, but too often forgotten rules.”

Worley and co-author Yvonne Vick outlined six of those forgotten rules:
1. Do no harm
2. All change involves personal choice
3. The relationship between change and performance is not instantaneous
4. Connect change to business strategy
5. Involvement breeds commitment
6. Any good change effort results in increased capacity to face change in the future

I would venture to guess that these six statements may be rules of sound business strategy in general, not just in an organizational change situation. And I think that all six are essential to managing change, not simply mandating it – that manage versus lead question.

All too often executive leadership hands down directives of change to those in the middle tiers of management, but without the tools to help their peers and their own direct reports to understand the change, adapt to the change, and to perform in this new environment.

Within the outlined rules, I found some simple wisdom.

Not everyone will be excited about change (sorry to sound so obvious). Even the people who know, deep down, that there has got to be a better way. Many companies help navigate change by offering mentoring and coaching strategies to the team leaders who will be responsible for implementing new processes.

Give the gift of time. Knowing that there is no silver bullet, but that systemic changes will take time and effort on everyone’s part can help alleviate anxiety about immediate performance.

And lastly, and always my favorite, give people the opportunity to reflect. By allowing staff time to “…pause from “doing” the work to reflect on how the work was going, what they had learned about implementing change, and how they would do things differently in the future…” you keep the team motivated and ready for new challenges.

Email me with ways your leadership is preparing you and your team for managing change.

You can find a copy of the Worley article at: http://gbr.pepperdine.edu/052/change.html#cworley

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Opportunity knocking

I sat down to write my blog this morning, after just having 'tweeted' a link to the College of St. Catherine on their flash book of the Centennial 100 celebrating my alma mater's anniversary, and I got to thinking about all the fabulous, and creative, and sometimes not so expensive ways organizations are honoring their milestones.

It is a natural tendency to focus on major milestones, for example, a centennial. But even the smallest anniversaries - of programs, product launches, leadership and leadership changes, partnerships - offer unique opportunities to celebrate, to reinvigorate and to learn.

So, I decided to use this blog post as an anniversary montage, with links to some of the coolest anniversary tactics I’ve come across. Maybe you’ll see one or two you can replicate or use as a brainstorming launching point for your own milestone celebrations.

A quick top ten (eleven if you count St. Kate's):

Loved this very clever milestone opportunity – a ring tone to celebrate Big Ben’s sesquicentennial in London http://www.parliament.uk/BigBen/.

In addition to being able to book your flight and handle online check-in, Virgin Atlantic’s website is loaded with fun 25th anniversary stuff - http://www.virgin-atlantic.com/en/us/25thbirthday.jsp. My favorite: a retro television commercial – makes the job of flight attendant look hip again.

NASA used its 50th anniversary to offer scholarships for middle school and junior high student winners of an Essay Competition - http://www.nasa.gov/50th/home/index.html.

The Guggenheim organized free and city-wide events in celebration of its 50th anniversary, including its first live music series - http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/about-us/50th-anniversary.

Lego, of course, celebrated 50 years with what else? A new brick! http://cache.lego.com/2057/anniversary.htm. And 100 other new products – way to supersize that half century mark!

Barbie fans worldwide celebrated the “Small doll. Big deal.” 50th anniversary of her royal pinkness. I particularly enjoyed the eight stories about Barbie milestones - http://barbiestyle.barbie.com/history.aspx.

The Colorado Nonprofit Association celebrated 20 years with a narrative video on the history of philanthropy in Colorado - http://www.coloradononprofits.org/news_20thanniversary.cfm. Truly inspirational stories!

Securities America used their quarter century milestone to give back with 25 weeks of community service in the communities they operate in – http://www.securitiesamerica.com/downloads/Invest%20in%20our%20Communities%20release%2009-09.pdf.

Similarly, the attorneys of Williams Mullen committed to 100 hours of community service or pro bono work to honor their law firm’s 100 year anniversary – nearly 300,000 hours of service to the communities the law firm operates in. Wow! http://www.williamsmullen.com/one-hundred-years-of-service/.

Share Our Strength, a nonprofit dedicated to ending childhood hunger, used their 25th anniversary as a platform for discussion, to generate ideas and to build momentum for their plan to end childhood hunger by the year 2015 – http://strength.org/conference/.

And, of course the College of St. Catherine created an entire year of Centennial activities in 2004-2005, even creating their own Centennial rose plant – http://www.stkate.edu/centennial/ … “putting a woman in the corner office for 100 years.”

Milestones are a chance to examine and celebrate what differentiates your organization from your competition. Be creative, be realistic and be proud of your accomplishments – big and small. Most of all, don't waste this opportunity.

Email me with examples of anniversary activities,

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

It's not a popularity contest

Do you ever find yourself pulling teeth, cajoling, even bribing others to get a project completed?

You are not alone. I recently unearthed a June 2005 HBR article titled: Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks, in it authors Tiziana Casciaro and Miguel Sousa Lobo studied the work-related interactions of employees.

Their research broke individuals into a four-part matrix: the competent jerk, the lovable fool (nice but dim), the lovable star (nice AND smart), and the incompetent jerk. Notice how those labeled ‘jerk’ need no further description.

Obviously, most people would prefer to work with the lovable star. But not everyone can offer both attributes – high likability and extremely capable. Maybe not surprisingly their research showed that if you can’t land the star, you’ll settle for the competent jerk. One executive said, “I can defuse my antipathy toward the jerk if he’s competent, but I can’t train someone who’s incompetent.”

Likability is, of course, subjective. As Casciaro and Lobo note, one person’s idea of charming is another person’s reptile. Likability also relies heavily on familiarity - seeing similar values, beliefs and attributes in a colleague. Simply being around a colleague for a length of time can breed that familiarity and then likability. But, is it entirely healthy? To rely only on people who reflect your preferences? Would a devil’s advocate – the competent jerk – afford a different dimension to the team?

Throughout the article, I found myself wondering if the context of their research would be different in today’s economic climate. Does personality matter right now? Is doing more with less, cost cutting, and holding our collective breaths taking precedence over personality differences? Or does it matter now more than ever?

I also found it interesting that the authors framed much of the conversation around knowledge sharing – the competent jerk may hold some incredibly valuable information, but at what price? While the lovable fool is likely to offer up his menu of nuanced information, contacts, and opinions more freely.

The meatiest content comes when Casciaro and Lobo offer suggestions on how best to leverage the array of personality types. How do you capitalize on that lovable star performer, so that they don’t burn out too quickly? Can a leopard (the competent jerk) change its spots? And most importantly, can you build a culture where everyone learns to play nice with one another?

Email me with examples of how you navigate personalities in your organization.

Link to a free copy of the article from the world wide web: http://www.rotman.utoronto.ca/facbios/file/Competent_Jerk.pdf

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Communicating like a CEO

An MIT Sloan Management Review article by Paul Argenti, Robert Howell, and Karen Beck caught my eye. Though the article was published in the spring of 2005, their topic is still timely: The Strategic Communication Imperative.

The article begins by lamenting the age old challenge of ‘from strategy to implementation.’ How do you get from point A to point B? Or more importantly, how do you get your company – your direct reports, the guys and gals in accounting, the folks in production, even the janitor – to all be going in the right direction on that point B path? And, then, how do you communicate that map to your other constituencies: shareholders, Wall Street, federal regulators, and your customers?

The strongest argument of the authors is that the CEO is seen as the chief communicator. The article gives excellent real-time examples of how important communications are to, well, communicating. Thoughtful planning in how you communicate will get you a whole lot further than a press release and a prayer.

Often, communications strategies are born out of a crisis. But as these CEOs illustrate, crisis communications are not the same as having a communications strategy. A communications strategy is really a new opportunity to articulate your messages.

Here’s my top five take away based on the CEO’s reflections:
* Communications professionals need to have a seat at the strategy-making table. Don’t relegate communications to a marketing function. Consider it a senior level priority.

* Communicating with key constituencies is obviously important, but how you interpret constituency responses as they relate to organizational strategy is the real bonus. Communications should be a two-way street.

* As companies grow in complexity, consistent communications become paramount – consider the variety and layers of your audience.

* Because audiences may over lap – your suppliers may be your customers for example, it’s important to have “harmony” in your messages. Make sure you are not sending mixed signals, and assume that your audiences are savvy enough to access all your messages.

* And, maybe most importantly, messages need to be truthful, based on something real. That’s a given. Again, assume your audiences are pretty darn savvy, and with Google – they have access to just about everything you say.

And here are my top five of the CEO’s quotes:
“A key part of strategy is communicating it.” Michael Dell, Dell Inc.

“You can’t execute strategy if you can’t communicate it.” T. Michael Glenn, FedEx

“The only way to communicate is to communicate with passion, face-to-face, all the time with the same messages.” Lewis Campbell, Textron

“You can never over communicate.” Henry Silverman, Cendant

“You only have to go through one or two communications debacles as a senior executive to understand the importance of communications.” Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo

Well said.

Email me with examples of how you have elevated your communications to a strategic proportion.

For a copy of the article: http://files.cxo.com/ep/uploads/WorkshopArticle.pdf

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Ecosystem of corporate culture

A culture of innovation. That was the topic presented in a 14-minute video interview of Soumitra Dutta, Professor of Information Systems at INSEAD Business School.

Dutta’s newest book Innovating at the Top was written based on interviews with CEOs at companies he considers “highly innovative” – including Bosch, Genentech, Nokia, 3M, and Toyota.

Though Dutta sought out diversity in industry and across continents, not surprisingly, these successful CEOs consider innovation to be a part of their core responsibilities – as CEO. These executives see themselves as champions of innovation within their organizations, rather than delegating innovation as a task of the “men in white frocks” as Dutta described R&D departments.

Dutta tries to dispel the characterization of innovation as simply the playground of the quirky folks who wear mismatched socks. He argues innovation can be embedded in an organization’s culture, a process to encourage/enable innovation can also be created.

I found the most interesting few minutes of the video to be Dutta’s commentary that innovation is no longer an internal function of a company – deployed to R&D departments. Rather, innovation extends outside the company – to include partners, suppliers, and customers – in a new environment of “collaborate and compete…Opening the ecosystem of innovation” as Dutta describes it.

I got to thinking…if you are going to share knowledge about your innovation - outside your organization - a culture compatibility becomes paramount. Beyond the intellectual property concerns, partnering with other companies, potentially competitors even, requires a certain understanding. A similar set of values. Nearly every company lists innovation in their “values” (see my previous blog). But valuing risk-taking, and a shared responsibility in taking the risk, regardless of success or failure, runs much deeper than the statement “We at Blue Grotto value innovation.”

Here’s where a company’s culture becomes an asset, demonstrating to a potential innovation partner, similar to a merger or acquisition candidate, what truly is important in your organization and how you stand behind it. As important as a strong culture itself, is a company’s ability to communicate those values. You can’t simply post it on your website.

Blue Grotto clients work hard to not only define and capture their organization’s culture and values, but to articulate that culture. Our single most effective platform for communicating a company’s culture is the narrative process – storytelling. Concrete examples of your values in action are more richly illustrated through the narrative process, helping to reinforce your integrity and commitment to your culture.

Note how Professor Dutta chose to document the practices of the highly innovative CEOs – through interviews.

Think of how you communicate your organization’s culture. Email me with examples of how you are leveraging the anecdotes and history that illustrate your values and best practices. And, what would you consider adequate evidence of a potential partner's commitment to those same values?

And, you can view how 3M chooses to communicate its own culture of innovation, with a 250-page publication - A Century of Innovation - a project the Blue Grotto team is incredibly proud of: http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/our/company/information/history/century-innovation/

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Stop the presses

Values matter.

I couldn’t blog fast enough about the February 2009 Fast Company magazine article on Olympic snowboarder Shaun White.

Mark Borden’s article starts off with a quick tally of White’s accomplishments, and the clichéd endorsements expected to follow this daredevil with blazing red hair. Borden tells of how, at the tender age of 15, White was keen to control his image, being sensitive even to the quality of photos he was autographing for his young audience.

And then I read the stop-the-presses moment when he describes White’s formula for sponsorship: “…White has sought out companies he truly connects with…White sees these deals as a long-term investment portfolio…”

At the (still tender) age of 22, this phenom recognizes the value of his values.

Branding is still king in business right now. Just Google the phrase “brand is everything” and see what you get.

To most, brand equals reputation. So little time, and marketing dollars, are spent on communicating a company’s values. Isn't your brand a direct result of your values? Your brand identifies you, allows your customers to expect consistency, and can be trademarked. Your values allow stakeholders to decide if they will ‘truly connect with you.’ Shaun White seems to understand that he is more than a branding opportunity.

So why don’t companies exert more effort articulating their values? Is it because we innately expect a ROI report to pop up when we use the term value? Because values don't translate easily into an ad campaign?

Is it generational? Boomers did not grow up in a touchy-feely corporate America, but generations X, Y, and millennial rank company values high on the reasons for joining, or leaving, an organization.

Is it too expensive? Branding is big bucks. Would a company have spare change left over to spend on an expression of what matters to the company?

Most companies have values statements, usually clearly posted on their websites. Most include some statement about diversity, innovation, community and the environment. What company would not want those as core values? I tire of the bullet-pointed list of your “values” – Microsoft’s values read the same as Chrysler’s.

But what do they tell me? As a customer, as a potential employee, as a shareholder, as a merger/acquisition candidate? WHAT DO THEY TELL ME?

Here are links to a few company values statements I found. Some are simple, others much (in some cases much, much) more complex. Who would you truly connect with? And, flip side, who is/could/should connect with your company? Who would include your company in their long-term investment portfolio?


Email me with feedback on companies you believe articulate their values, not simply bullet-point them.

As Roy Disney so eloquently put it: "It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are."

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

118 years

I read with great sadness a January 26 WSJ article – Recession Batters Law Firms, Triggering Layoffs, Closings.

The article leads with the closing of 118 year-old San Francisco firm Heller Ehrman, and further recounts 160 year-old New York firm Thatcher Proffitt & Wood’s closing.

My sadness was not simply because the article signaled again how hard hit every industry is during a financial crisis, but because centuries-old companies are forced to close their doors. The US itself has only 233 years under our belt, so a 100-year-old company says a lot.

And each time I hear of another American institution shuttering its doors, I despair. Each community, each industry has their own landmark institutions – in Minnesota they include 107-year-old 3M, makers of Scotch Tape; the dry goods company General Mills, founded in 1928; and the nearly-50-year-old Target, originally a subsidiary of another, now since gone, MN icon – Dayton’s. Target opened its first store in Roseville, MN in 1962. My family shopped at that very Target store from that first year. Now, I shop at the Super Target on that same footprint in Roseville.

Members of the Blue Grotto team worked on 3M’s centennial celebration, producing a significant publication that documented not just ad campaigns of Scotch Tape, but their 100 year road to success – with the bumps and bruises that come with being a centenarian. Think of your own family, your grandparents…if they lived to be 100…what they could tell you. Not simply nostalgia (in MN, it’s stories about walking to school, up a hill, in -5 degrees, in the middle of a blizzard, before Thinsulate), but having lived through war(s), Depression, recessions, Presidential firsts like JFK – the first Catholic president, and Ronald Regan – the first divorced president, the Cold War, and the coldest year on record. One hundred years of life buys a lot of experience, for people and businesses alike.

Maybe your grandparents were small business owners, or big business owners, and you are responsible for the next generation of success. Maybe you are following in their footsteps as a lawyer, a grocer, an ad exec, a mechanic, a publisher, a CEO. Maybe you are carving your own niche and you are the pioneer for your family. What would you most want to pass down to the next generation of your family, your employees, your community?

With extremely harsh financial conditions, the kind that force 118-year-old law firms to close up shop, it’s hard to justify spending money on your history. But, if for nothing other than posterity, think about how you would/could/should take an accounting of your organization’s past. And how you would like to be remembered.

Email me with examples of ways you are capturing and communicating your organization’s history. I’m pretty sure the folks at Heller Ehrman did not expect that their 118th anniversary party would be their last.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Raising your IQ

“Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.” Alan Kay, computer programming pioneer

Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos was interviewed in the October 2007 issue of Harvard Business Review on the topic of leading strategic change. In an article titled Institutional Yes, Bezos talks about creating, and sustaining, a culture of “entrepreneurial optimism.”

It was interesting to read about a company I must admit I know little about, other than having made purchases at Amazon.com. Bezos was incredibly candid about the culture of the company and their guiding principles.

One of the questions the authors asked: does strategy rely on a key ingredient – the CEO/founder? Or is it an institutional capacity? Bezos’ reflections indicate he and his team (he demurs on the imprint he naturally has on the company) have built a culture that propagates breakthrough ideas, as well as the capacity to implement them.

For example, Amazon’s senior team meets weekly for four hours to discuss strategies. That’s a significant chunk of time each week to devote to throwing stuff against the wall. But that overall commitment to strategic planning is affirmed throughout the company, and, as Bezos says, “is informed by a cultural point of view.” The company relies on everyone from senior staff to fulfillment center guys and gals to bubble up ideas on everything from customer service improvement to cost savings.

It’s true. Every level of your organization contributes to your success. I quoted Scott Thurm of the Wall Street Journal in an earlier Blue Grotto blog: “Trying to make conversation during a recent elevator ride, I asked a package-delivery courier whether it was more efficient to start at the top of the building and work down, or start at the bottom of the building and work up. "It depends on the time of day," he replied.” So, instilling the value of your employees’ perspective only increases your chances of success. But you have to ask for, and they in turn need to expect to give, their input.

Bezos explains one of the challenges of success is to create repeatable processes, and a culture that reinforces Amazon’s commitment to its customers is paramount to their growth and continued success. Every employee spends time in the fulfillment centers within their first year on the job and every two years they spend two days working in customer service. “Everyone has to be able to work in a call center.”

I’m guessing that some of the more refined perspective comes out of the call centers. And, greatly impacts those strategic planning sessions.

Email me with examples of how your organization is “informed by a cultural view.” And whether or not you leverage your culture to your advantage.

My favorite Bezos quote: “Be afraid of our customers, because those are the folks who have the money. Our competitors are never going to send us money.” Good advice.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tie a bow on that milestone

Everyone is hunkering down. It’s obvious. The evening news, your colleagues’ sales reports, the Sunday sermon, all point in the direction of a holding pattern. How then, can you motivate – yourself, your direct reports, your customers, your shareholders?

Even though Christmas is strained on many levels this year, I am reminded of the ever optimistic Auntie Mame – “We need a little Christmas right this very minute.”

And almost every company has a “Christmas” they can pull out of their hat, or their stocking, every once in a while – a milestone.

Why a milestone?

Milestones are the chance to celebrate, and to reflect. With the pressure on managers to produce more, with less, celebration and reflection may be the last thing on your mind. How do you keep your team innovating, creating, and moving forward in a climate of anxiety and layoffs?

Give them something to celebrate. One of the greatest gifts a company can give to its employees is the celebration of their culture and history. Especially at a time when they need it most. Being reminded that you are a member of a company that has been a leader can go a long way in developing the resilience a corporate culture needs to sustain and grow itself.

Reflecting on what brought you success is one of the greatest opportunities to help you refocus and propel you forward again.

It's natural to focus on major milestones, for example, a centennial. But don’t wait for that major milestone. Even the smallest anniversaries - of programs, product launches, leadership and leadership changes, partnerships - offer unique opportunities to celebrate and to reinvigorate.

Macy’s is reminding us this Christmas of their department store’s magic in a one-minute television spot that underscores the company’s place in American history – “Only one store has been a part of your life for 150 years.” The message: During a holiday season that follows economic crisis, they are a reliable, known commodity. The chicken soup for the retail soul. They’ve seen, and weathered, crisis before. And many of their customers have, too.

OnStar has been running full-page ads in the WSJ highlighting their 100,000 crash activation system. Something to be said for good news in the auto industry.

Marriott introduced "250 ways to use your points" in honor of the 25th anniversary of their Rewards program. Good resource for folks hoping to economize on everything from dinner for two to a five-night stay in Latin America.

Blue Grotto just completed a project with nonprofit Wilderness Inquiry for their 30th anniversary. What started as an anniversary party transformed into an amazing evening that helped Wilderness Inquiry celebrate three decades of outdoor adventure, reflect on what has made them successful, and reaffirm the real nature of the organization’s mission. Thirty years of stewardship is a great marketing tool.

Email me with ways that you have leveraged your organization’s milestones. And remember - People want to celebrate your success.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I have to give a shout out to my friends at ReadyTalk. ReadyTalk offers audio and web conferencing services. And what better way to advertise their services than with FREE webinars – the ReadyTalk Web Seminar Series. This series offers a hugely diverse range of speakers and topics. I subscribe to their newsletter and regularly receive updates on upcoming seminars. I forward on links to colleagues I think might find the topic, or the speaker, of interest. I am also a regular participant on the calls.

I’ve prepared content for many clients that use ReadyTalk services to communicate with audiences ranging from the local and national media, to key shareholders, and even a volunteer recruitment effort.

The very best thing about the ReadyTalk Web Seminar Series (beside the fact that they are free, which I cannot emphasize enough) – they catalog and make available (for free) each of their previously recorded seminars. If you miss the original broadcast, you can go back and peruse the topics/speakers at your leisure.

And that’s what I did when I found myself with an extra hour on hand and the need for a blog topic.

I was thrilled to see the webinar titled Storytelling and Strategy, hosted by Mickey Connolly, the founder and CEO of Conversant, a communications consulting firm based in Boulder, Colorado.

I was super impressed with, and super envious of, Conversant’s client roster which includes McDonald’s, Johnson & Johnson, Capital One, and Honeywell to name only a few. Mr. Connolly rightly acknowledges that their client list illustrates the investment companies are willing to make in storytelling.

An interesting observation Connolly made was that stories are told before, during, and after meetings and that the stories told after a meeting concludes often have the greatest impact. Meetings, especially meetings of the “marathon” kind, are chocked full of information, data, bullet points. Storytelling allows people to put that concentration of info into a more useful context.

Of the hour-long webinar, I found his list of five key purposes stories have in an organization to be right on. According to Connolly, stories:
1) Need to make sense
2) Create relationships among people
3) Improve your memory, and help you to better retain information
4) Inspire insight
5) Stimulate action

Since we consider ourselves of an expert level in storytelling at Blue Grotto, we agree that storytelling can reveal many valuable lessons about your organization’s management, decision-making, leadership, innovation and business philosophy.

And, storytelling may be your best approach to duplicating your key messages. A story, more so than those flow charts or power point presentations, can motivate someone to action.

Email me with an example of how you leverage storytelling in your organization.

And visit http://www.readytalk.com/web-seminar-series to peruse the webinars offered.

One amusing comment by Mr. Connolly: “Not all stories are valuable.” Hmmm.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Houston, we have a problem

Who can forget those infamous words from the crew of Apollo 13 during its 1970 trip to the moon?

And though, now, those words ring hollow to describe the smallest of hurdles, they can still categorize the same magnitude of crisis.

Today Denise Tyrell, spokeswoman for Metrolink, resigned after making statements this weekend regarding the horrific commuter rail crash that has tallied up 26 deaths. Her statements indicated that the failure of a Metrolink engineer, by ignoring a red-light warning signal, caused the crash with the Union Pacific freight train.

Though her statement may be factual, Metrolink, has tried to rescind her comments as “premature,” saying they will wait for the NTSB to investigate.

Lots of companies prepare for and regretfully struggle through emergencies that threaten their public image as well as their bottom line. Think of Tylenol, DuPont, Lockheed Martin, Exxon. Just this year, we had a nationwide warning of possible salmonella contamination of tomatoes.

Twenty-six deaths is definitely a crisis.

How do you prepare for a situation that is so unexpected, so overwhelming, and so grave?

I came across a 2004 interview with Annette Veech, senior lecturer of business communications at the Olin School of Business at Washington University, who acknowledged that the nature of emergencies does not leave a company or organization a lot of time – time to analyze, synthesize, and prepare to deliver a response.

She offered three lessons to consider before a crisis occurs:
1. Expect the unexpected.
2. Own the problem and apologize.
3. Match the facts to spokespersons' words and the company's actions.

The first, expect the unexpected, seems a little trite. But the second and third points are legitimate and I believe can have the greatest impact on your outcomes. Both speak to a company’s authenticity. And both are a reflection of a company’s values and culture.

A company’s values are tested and revealed in times of crisis. What would your organization’s actions and statements reveal about your company? Is your leadership team empowered by your company’s values? Would your spokesperson be able to deliver a sincere, credible, and truthful message?

I was amazed when I first heard of Ms. Tyrell’s statements over the weekend. Refreshing, I thought. Admission moves you to the next step, restitution, and then to regaining trust.

Now, I fear, by trying to take back her statements, and calling for her resignation, Metrolink has simply delayed the inevitable – a suspicion of future statements and conclusions by the families of victims, the communities that rely on Metrolink for transit, and regulators.

Godspeed to the fall guy, or gal, in this case. The Wall Street Journal quoted Ms. Tyrell in an email: “The statement was and is accurate. It was the right thing to do regardless of how ticked off it made the NTSB."

Email me with examples of how you have prepared your leadership and staff to speak and act with the conviction of your company’s values in the face of a crisis.

To view the Washington University Olin School of Business article: http://news-info.wustl.edu/news/page/normal/4352.html

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Christmas comes early

It’s like Christmas at our house.

I love elections. I must admit it – I am a political junkie. Even more so than I am a history junkie. I was riveted to the television these past few weeks, watching every minute of both the Democratic and Republican conventions – the Republican convention being held right here in my home town of St. Paul. What I wasn’t able to watch live, I taped. I mean DVR’d.

I loved Michelle Obama’s speech. I was moved by Fox News commentator Juan Williams’ emotion as he spoke about watching an African American woman speak to the nation as a possible First Lady. I cried during the video introduction of Barack Obama, when he talked about the influence his grandparents had on him as a young man.

I cheered for Sarah Palin as she spoke about the delicate balancing act of mother, wife, elected official and hockey mom {Go Girl Power!}. I cried as she brought that beautiful new baby out on stage and held him, face out, for all of us to see, and to cheer for. I was awed as I shook Henry Kissinger’s hand as he inched along the concourse of the Xcel Center – people mobbing him to have their photo taken with him, to exchange a few words with him, some reaching out just to touch him.

All-in-all I cheered for, was awed by, and inspired by the real meaning of this election, of any election – the history of our country.

The milestones represented by this particular election year interest me most, and might surprise many. Hillary Clinton was not the first woman to run for President. But, she was the first First Lady to seek the top spot. And Sarah Palin was not the first woman to be nominated as Vice President.

Even with the furor over Barack Obama’s campaign, he was not the first African American to run for President. In fact, it was an African American woman, Shirley Chisholm, from the great state of New York to run for the Democratic nomination for President in 1972. Ms. Chisholm was also the first African American to be elected to Congress in 1968.

As I listen to the evening news and ongoing coverage of the election {and for those of you not nearly as excited as myself, as of Primary Tuesday there are only 56 days left} I catch snippets of some great American election trivia. For example, 2008 is the first election to see two sitting Senators face off. I did not know that. Today, I heard an Obama defender cite President Abraham Lincoln’s short experience of only two years in the Senate. I almost laughed out loud. Not at her choice of defense, but of the little-known, and probably never recited factoid about Lincoln. There is a mini-history lesson in every segment on CNN, MSNBC and FOX.

Love it or hate it, the election cycle is a great opportunity to learn, to remember, to appreciate, and to be proud.

Email me with your favorite factoid or American history question from Trivial Pursuit.

And don’t forget to vote on November 4.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Model T celebrates the big 100

This week, in Richmond, Indiana, Ford Motor Co. celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Model T.

People must think I am a car enthusiast, several of my blogs feature tactics of the auto industry. I am not – a car enthusiast. But I am a Ford Motor Co. fan. I LOVE Ford, not necessarily their vehicles (though I do drive a Volvo, a member of the Ford family with sagging sales, unfortunately).

I love Ford because of its rich history – in America, in the auto industry, and in the lore of true car enthusiasts.

I love that a member of the Ford family, William Clay Ford, Jr., plays a prominent role in the company’s leadership as Chairman.

I love Ford because of the sense I get that they are really trying. That the Ford team is still working hard, despite the sometimes grave conditions they work within: demands in supply chain efficiency, the forces of environmental sustainability, competition within the industry, even retiree benefits are now affecting the legendary cradle to grave employer.

I list these not to impress you with my Market Weekly language proficiency, but to acknowledge the environment Ford operates in, and that I am not simply nostalgic and hoping for the return to the good times. The really good times may be over forever for the auto industry.

But I cheer for Ford. That rich history is powerful. In my last blog I lauded former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca for helping to inspire workers at his one-time auto powerhouse. Ford has an even greater opportunity for inspiration, in my opinion. The Model T alone being the first mass produced auto. Did you know that Henry Ford inaugurated the $5 a day minimum wage for his employees? Revolutionary at the time. You probably didn’t know that WWII icon Rosie the Riveter was in real life Rose Will Monroe, a worker at Ford Motor Company's Willow Run plant. And Ford denotes the Mustang as “an instant legend.”

The century-old involvement of the Ford family is impressive. To me, it shows that they still care. They care enough not to sell out. I’m sure it was hard for Bill Ford, Jr. to read rants pegging him as the “worst CEO in history,” and admitting defeat in some people’s eyes when he handed the reigns over to Mullaly. And despite the value of the Ford family's stock being cut a half a billion dollars, there is resistance to overtures by Kirk Kerkorian to buy out the family's shares in the company. One reason, bloggers speculate, is Kerkorian’s suggestion of retiring Mercury – a division close to one young Ford heir's heart. Elena Ford began the turnaround of Mercury in 2001.

That’s the illustration of a great company’s history.

It’s that all-American, apple pie thing. That security, knowing that things may be bad, but they are still cranking out sedans back in Michigan. I cannot imagine a U.S. without a Ford. And I hope I never have to. What can we do? All run out and buy a Ford? Not likely, but we can cheer for them, and celebrate with them the innovations a significant American company made to American culture and business.

Email me with examples of companies, or products, with rich histories that impress you.

One great quote from the man himself… “You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do.” Henry Ford

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Legendary leaders

“Talk to people in their own language. If you do it well, they'll say, 'God, he said exactly what I was thinking.' And when they begin to respect you, they'll follow you to the death.” Lee Iacocca

I was inspired today by Bill Vlasik’s article in the NYT - A Pep Talk At Chrysler – Hailing Its Hero of the 80s.

I have commented over and over again about the indelible impression a leader makes on the culture of their company.

If ever there was a leader to make an impression, I’d vote for Lee Iacocca, beloved CEO of Chrysler. Iacocca was invited back to Chrysler, 16 years post retirement, to deliver an important message – don’t give up.

I am impressed that current CEO Bob Nardelli astutely chose Iacocca to rally the troops. Understanding the need to root yourself in the fact that you once were great, and deferring to a leader with celebrity-like status to deliver the message takes courage, considering Iacocca was “welcomed back Thursday to thunderous applause from Chrysler workers who are, once again, facing tough times.”

Stories from a company’s past – Chrysler’s repayment of the $1.2M government loan in three years, and the launch of the American minivan for example – have the power to inspire, excite and support everyone in the organization, from the CEO to the janitor. And sometimes, it’s the storyteller who most captures the audience’s attention.

At one time in Chrysler’s history, Iacocca was the storyteller. He served as the ultimate spokesperson for the company. He brought an authenticity to Chrysler. Do you remember Mr. Iacocca appearing in Chrysler ads – “If you can find a better car, buy it.” What modern day CEO appears in television advertisements? Not H. Scott Lee, Jr. of Walmart. Not Rex Tillerson of Exxon. Not Jeffrey Immelt of GE. Not even Bill Gates. You wouldn’t be interested in them if they did. And they likely would be much less convincing in their sales pitch of their companies products.

And though many of Chrysler’s current employees were barely out of grade school when Iacocca retired, the stuff of legends carries on throughout a company’s campfire lore. These same employees have never known first-hand the enormous success of being one of the Big Three. On the contrary, they have been plagued by layoffs, metro Michigan mortgage foreclosures still rank the highest in the nation, and just today, the company fended off rumors of bankruptcy.

One of the greatest gifts Mr. Iacocca can give to the people of Chrysler, and to the auto industry in general really, is the celebration of their culture and history. Especially at a time when they need it most. Being reminded that you are a member of a company that was a leader, part of an industry that led the country in manufacturing, part of American history, can go a long way in developing the resilience a corporate culture needs to sustain and grow itself.

Email me with examples of other corporate leaders you think people would “follow to the death.” And you can’t say Jack Welch. He’s too obvious.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Link to the NYT article

Thursday, February 21, 2008

To brand or not to brand?

Is “branding” losing its relevance?

I love the whole concept of branding. As a consumer, I truly buy into it. I am brand conscious. Helping clients, I am acutely aware of their branding when producing materials that need to reflect that brand.

Most people understand a brand to be a promise. A promise of value.

I continue to argue that a brand is a reflection of, an extension of, a result of a company’s culture. And that promise is a promise of your values, not necessarily a valuation of worth. A brand promise is a statement that reflects the brand’s core values in a way that pays off for the customer.

So, how is branding changing? Umair Haque addressed the issue in his February 15 post -The Shrinking Advantage of Brands - for Harvard Business School’s Discussion Leader blog.

Haque pointed out that the most powerful brand in the world today is Google. Not surprising to me, a Google addict. But then he also pointed out that compared to other brand legends like Coca Cola and Procter & Gamble – Google spends nothing on advertising.

Branding of old, Haque says, just won’t work in today’s 24-hour information access environment…“Now, for the economics of an industrial era, branding made sense. Interaction was expensive – so information about the expected benefits of consumption had to be squeezed into slogans, characters, and logos, which were then compressed into thirty-second TV ads and radio spots. The complex promise of a Corvette, for example, was compressed into shots of cute girls, open roads, and lots of sunshine.”

More unorthodox strategies of what Haque calls “cheap interaction” are filling the advertising gap. And, when consumers have access to one another, “information about expected costs and benefits doesn’t have to be compressed into logos, slogans, ad-spots or column-inches.”

It’s challenging to sum up your company’s culture and values in that logo or slogan. I wrangle with clients all the time over silver bullet messaging. Not every company is suited to a Nike’s “Just Do It.” How can you communicate culture and values to multiple audiences? And through what meaningful medium?

My favorite line of Haque’s posting: “The cheaper interaction gets, the more connected consumers can talk to each other – and the less time they have to spend listening to the often empty promises of firms.” Yikes! An ad exec's worst nightmare.

Email me with examples of how you are combating, or embracing, the changing landscape of advertising.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.