A View from Blue Grotto

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Anniversary fit for a Queen

I read today that Jamestown, Virginia is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of America’s first permanent English settlement. 400 years – now that’s an anniversary!

Not many of us will ever plan for or participate in an anniversary with quadruple centuries, but the Jamestown example offers some key lessons on celebrating a milestone.

Beyond the hoopla - the parties and souvenirs a quadricentennial naturally brings - anniversary organizers have created a calendar of events and activities to showcase the role Jamestown colonists played in the creation of American democracy.

Hoping to draw more than 2.4 million visitors during the 18-month celebration, organizers found ways to engage every level of the community through events like a symposium titled the State of the Union: African American Imprint on America, a series of conferences in Williamsburg to discuss the future of democracy, an American Indian Intertribal Cultural Festival, and a children’s essay and poetry contest.

There is even a trans-Atlantic angle to the festivities. The Queen of England is considering a state visit to Virginia some time in May to commemorate the anniversary, and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine attended Jamestown-related events in England this past December, to “celebrate the friendship between the United States and Great Britain.” This would be only the fourth visit of Her Majesty to the US, a real distinction for anniversary organizers.

The Jamestown anniversary team appears to have worked hard to frame the celebration in ways that connects us with our past - the seemingly insurmountable challenges and risks of founding a new nation, the unequivocal belief in freedom and democracy - and inspires us for our future.

Cities across the country will mark centennials, sesquicentennials, bi-centennials in the next few years. My own home city – St. Paul, will mark its 150th anniversary in 2008. It will be exciting and interesting to read about, and compare, how communities plan to mark the occasion. Email me with examples of how your city plans to celebrate and inspire, or email me with a suggestion for how a city might expand beyond the balloons and birthday cake.

For information on Jamestown’s anniversary events, visit www.Americas400thAnniversary.com.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Spirit Week

Last weekend my husband and I found ourselves cheering on high school students from across Minnesota in the Spirit of America Cheerleading Championship at the Mall of America. They wowed the crowds in the Rotunda of the Mall with truly daring pyramids and stunts. And, as we stood there, applauding our approval, I turned to my husband and beamed a smile – “It feels like spirit week at high school all over again.”

The music blared, the energy was undeniable - of the squads performing, their families and friends anxiously awaiting their favorite team, and the relief after each performance. There was evidence of the event throughout the Mall with parents proudly wearing t-shirts emblazoned: Proud Parent of a Sibley High School Cheerleader, and young women in cheerleading garb talking excitedly in line at the Gap Store. I commented to my husband that the Mall could not have asked for a better event to host – think of all the discretionary dollars of 14-18 year-old young women who would be spending the better part of the day, or maybe even the weekend, at the Mall.

Retail dollars aside, I started to think about all that unbridled energy as we headed home. I told my husband ‘I think we need a Spirit Week in corporate America.’ My husband, showing early signs of becoming a curmudgeon, replied, “Isn’t that what your paycheck is for?” Now, that may be the expected response of a lot of middle management, folks who find themselves sometimes pulling teeth, cajoling, even bribing others to get a project completed.

Employment research data shows that employees need motivation. Today’s top talent can shop around for an employer culture that is compatible with their own values and they don’t hesitate to job hop when their needs are not being met, often regardless of compensation levels.

The Small Business Association lists seven key areas for creating an environment that “inspires people to do their best day in and day out,” and Appreciation tops the list. Tangible demonstrations of thanks for work well-done, pride in your employees and celebrating successes are all contributing factors to work environments.

Now, can a Spirit Week assuage all ailments of troubled morale? Probably not, but a little bit of fun, energy and pride can go a long way. Email me with examples of how your company injects a little energy and excitement into the workplace. Pajama Day not required, though I did find one – SouthEast Telephone in Kentucky that even documented Pajama Day in the Corporate Photo Gallery.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The experience economy

I just came across an article from the July-August 1998 Harvard Business Review that seemed to prove timely even now – Welcome to the Experience Economy by B. Joseph Pine and James Gilmore. And even though eight years ago feels like a lifetime in the context of 24-hour news, text messaging and Tivo, I clipped it way back then because their topic – creating value by creating an experience for the customer, not just by simply providing a service or product – seemed so cutting edge.

In the article, Pine and Gilmore discuss the evolution of economies as moving from distinct products and services to a business climate that demands more than widgets. They claimed the “next competitive battleground lies in staging experiences.” Walt Disney aside (he may have been the original purveyor of experiences for sale), their examples would appear today to be obvious: Niketown, Cabella’s, the Hard Rock Café – all offer activities, displays and interactive opportunities during the shopping/eating excursion.

Now, eight-years later nearly everything feels like an experience. I wonder if the authors realized how prophetic their research would prove to be. Pine and Gilmore took up eight and a half pages of HBR, with charts and graphs to boot, to academically outline the progression of this new experience economy of which I am not capable of a full translation.

But as I read through it again, I was struck by one of the call out quotes: “Companies should think about what they would do differently if they charged admission.”

Two relatively simple observations from the authors: 1) You don’t have to develop your own theme park to convey a sense of experience {“…when a Rainforest Café host declares, ‘Your adventure is about to begin,’ it sets the stage for something special.”}, and 2) The challenge of ensuring the integrity or consistency of the customer experience.

We work with Blue Grotto clients to document their best practices. Documentation interviews allow our clients to better gauge things that may not be obvious to management – the nuanced information as we like to call it. Anecdotal research often offers a more realistic reflection of what is and isn’t working. A dialogue with customers, employees, partners, even people in the communities you operate in gives you a better foundation of what’s needed to inspire, excite and support those who are vital to your purpose.

Email me with examples of how your company has generated value by making your business more than just a transaction. And I will scour my collection of past issues of HBR for equally interesting ‘research.’

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.