Michael Baer's Stratecution Stories

"Strategy is overrated. We have a strategic plan. It's called doing things". – Herb Kelleher

Tag Archives: Psychology

The Inevitable Extinction of the A-hole

There was something I learned in college  in Psychology 101 that stuck with me. I read about a study that showed that, as a kid, having any nickname was better than having none. I found it hard to believe. Really? Being known as “Fatty” or “Doofus” was better than being known as Steve?

Well for years in the advertising industry, it had always seemed that being known as an “asshole” was also better for a person. No one seemed to be penalized for it. Not only was it acceptable, but also it seemed to earn a person more respect. There were the prima donna creatives, who threw things and cursed at people for expecting them to do their job. There were the know-it-all strategists, who treated everyone like idiots and as if they were doing you a favor working on your project. There were micro-managing leaders, who could never be satisfied and always assumed the worst of you. And the over-bearing, patronizing executives, who treated everyone like children. All these a-holes somehow got promoted, took on more important jobs and got paid more money. And no one thought anything of it.

And I’m not talking about demanding, tough, high-expectation types – everybody should be demanding and have high expectations. I’m talking about real assholes. And, I’m here to say that their days are numbered. Here’s why these assholes can’t succeed in the “new normal”.

1. There’s too much collaboration
The new way we work is way too collaborative and integrated to allow for the success of the a-hole. The digital revolution has us working in real time, across channels, with internal and external partners. Command and control is dead and “soloist” leaders can’t succeed – it’s now an ensemble performance that requires a talented maestro to bring the best out of lots of different people and different temperaments.

And those folks who stab others in the back, talk behind peoples’ backs, make fun of others? Those guys won’t get by in this new world either. It’s impossible to keep secrets – so ill intentions and sub rosa communications will always get aired.

2. Everyone needs to grab a shovel
Gone are the days where a senior leader doesn’t have to get his hands dirty. Flat organizations, decreasing fees and tight margins have made teams smaller and less hierarchic. And the “always on” nature of the business demands that everyone be ready, willing and able to do anybody’s job, at any time.

3. Creative is no longer a department
Creativity has never been more important, but it no longer resides in the hands of a few special people wearing black and 3-day stubble. Creativity now is just as likely to come out of an analytics insight or a media idea as a print concept. So this drastically reduces the tolerance for bad creative department behavior. Plus, it’s also just as likely that the writer or art director will be working on designing an email template or writing search copy as a Super Bowl TV spot or a high impact print assignment shot in Tahiti. Try doing that with a chip on your shoulder.

4. Strategy is nothing more than a hypothesis
Strategy is obviously important – it’s the foundation for everything. However, it’s not the bailiwick of a person or a department. In fact, since everything is activated integratedly, strategy needs to be developed and approved jointly by those who will deliver the integrated program.

But more importantly, as the theory of stratecution stipulates, a strategy is just a hypothesis. And it’s just a starting point. It’s nothing without the combined strategic and creative execution and activation that will bring it to life.

5. Digital demands iteration
In the old way of working, a creative idea for TV or print was the execution. There was some evolution, naturally, but the work of execution was simply bringing it to reality. And that gave creative directors incredible power – because only they knew what the idea “really” was, and how to bring it to life.

But the new way of working in the digital world is all about iteration. Everyone learns as you go. A creative idea for a website or a display ad is a beginning – the team will iterate what it will do, how it will work, what to have the viewer do to interact with it, etc. It’s now an ensemble activity, with evolution, and sometimes revolution, a core part of the process. This gives the power to a much broader team – which can include technologists, user-experience specialists, media planners, in addition to the writer and art director.

6. You will be measured
In the old days, anyone could get away with saying the work was great. If it didn’t move product, drive leads, increase consideration, it wasn’t their fault. People could be self-proclaimed successes. But not anymore. We’re all only as good as our results.

So everyone needs to relish the opportunity to focus on measurement. To ensure all programs have mechanisms to track and to read results. And to be watching and attending to those results regularly, eager to adapt and optimize programs to improve their performance. This is hard for the old-school a-hole to accept.

Of course, this doesn’t mean failure isn’t accepted. But what you do with that failure, i.e. what learning you take to the remainder of the program and future efforts, is another form of measurement.

7. Talent needs empowerment
The A-hole executive was able to treat people poorly. Get as much work out of them as possible by controlling them with fear and politics. People were viewed as underlings who were replaceable – and small in comparison to the greatness of the executive.

The new focus of organizations has to be on empowering people – enabling them to accomplish more and be more successful. The move towards calling employees “talent” is a big step towards recognizing the respect and empowerment necessary. Treating people poorly doesn’t accomplish this.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to these dinosaurs becoming extinct. How about you? Have any stories you can share?

All You Need Is Hate

I normally write about things I love, care about or believe in. Today, I write about things I’m equally passionate about: things I hate. These are people and behaviors that drive me crazy – and kill teamwork, collaboration, productivity and success. And I believe hatred is ok – as long as you are also passionate about what you love and care about. See if you recognize some people in the list below!

I’ve talked about these folks in a prior post.  These are the “we’ve tried that before”, the “it’ll never work”, the “the client won’t buy it” people. The wind-out-of-the-sails people. The ones who never add to ideas, but instead sap energy, enthusiasm and forward progress out of them. Keep these folks off your teams or they will always underperform.

I honestly don’t know how these people do it. They look you in the face and tell you something they know is wrong. Lying comes in lots of flavors – sometimes people lie to avoid taking responsibility for something that went wrong, sometimes to discredit someone else, sometimes it’s to take credit for something they didn’t do. But every flavor is bad.

And the problem with liars is that, once you know they’re capable of lying to your face, you never know if you can believe them again. And in our business, with collaboration a must and teamwork and team communication demanding, working with liars breaks down team trust and effective communication.

There are no doubt times when everyone would prefer to do nothing instead of something, especially something difficult. But let’s face it – that’s not an option in business today. So when you come across people who actually DO choose to do nothing, it’s almost remarkable. You can’t even believe it. Does this person actually think this behavior is acceptable?

And laziness isn’t just doing nothing, it also can be manifest in the way someone does something. For example, just pushing paper, not adding value, not digging deeper into things. Working with those not eager, willing and able to pull their weight is a killer.

Very similar to the above are the “Easy-Way-Out-ers”. These are folks who do the least possible to get by – the “phoning it in” types. They hand you work that demands follow up, they provide information full of holes and without context, they don’t do any homework to add value to their work. And they don’t ask questions – e.g., are these the right objectives, does this fulfill our brief, could this be stronger? They simply pass-along the work, like hands in an assembly line. They want to be done with something fast, no muss, no fuss. But this doesn’t help anyone, least of all them.

Smugness isn’t just an ugly personality trait. It’s a symptom of some of the worst behaviors of leaders. First, it’s a symbol of the opposite of humility. This over-confidence and being overly pleased with oneself turns off partners and direct reports. Who wants to work with that?

Smugness is also a demonstration of the need for taking credit, for trumpeting one’s achievements, for a focus on “me” over “us”. This behavior will never lead to productive, effective teams. And, in the end, will result in failure for the smug one.

People who constantly talk about past efforts and successes
We all know them – in group meetings or brainstorm sessions, they always talk about what they did in the past on X campaign and with Y client in some loosely analogous situation. Of course analogous situations can be helpful springboards for new thinking. But when those analogous situations are used EVERY time, it becomes ridiculous – how could this same prior experience be helpful for every situation? In addition, as I’ve stated in the past, past experience actually can be a hindrance to creativity and innovation. First of all, it can put a mental box around thinking what’s possible, vs. a true exploration of “what if?”. But in addition, the “analogous” experience can be so different from the current that it could lead you astray to some irrelevant thinking.

The Vanilla
These are the people who give a good ice cream flavor a bad name. These people are the passion-less folks who “strike things off the to-do list” and “make things go-away”, instead of passionately doing their best with the ambition of doing great work. And this doesn’t mean always aiming for untouched territory and never-been-done before ideas. It means not taking pride in their work, no matter the context. Believe it or not, you can develop a passionate competitive report, a “flavorful” contact report, a great analytics recap. People need to have ambition and passion in all they do. Period. Or they should try doing something else.

People who don’t use their turn signals
Anyone who knows me even a little knows this is one of my giant pet peeves. But c’mon! There are lots of things that you are “supposed” to do, tasks that are required in order for society to function. Some of them are a pain in the ass – paying your taxes, shoveling the front walk, taking showers. But using your turn signal? This is not difficult. It takes zero effort. In fact, if you think about it, it’s kinda’ fun – one click, a blinking light, and then magically the light goes off by itself when you’ve completed your turn. But I find that more and more people are not using them. I view it as a sign of the downfall of humanity.

Similarly, there are team members and business partners who don’t communicate their intentions, don’t let you know what they plan on doing, don’t hold up their small responsibilities to the group. These seemingly small mis-communications and failures of conveying or living up to intentions can lead to big time sucks and screw-ups.

“Because it’s cool”
Don’t get me wrong, I like “cool” as much as the next guy. But never do anything because it’s cool. It should be cool because it’s right for the objective, it’s smart and creative, and will deliver the right solution to the problem. If ever you do something just to say you’ve done it, you’ll be wasting precious time and resources that you could be using to develop successful work.

So these are some of my hates and pet-peeves. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a start. What are your hates?

%d bloggers like this: