Engagement Musings

Worried Much These Days?

Unlike MAD Magazine’s “devil-may-care” poster boy, Alfred E. Neuman – described as “someone who can maintain a sense of humor while the world is collapsing around him” – many people I know are worried. They’re worried about COVID’s resurgence, especially as flu season approaches, in addition to feeling stressed over continuing political and environmental issues.

I’m worried about my friends and family members who feel this way. And although the music video is entertaining, suggesting to people that they “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is insulting.

What helps me cope is to try to maintain a sense of perspective about worrying itself.

“Worry is a by-product of feeling powerless. We fear the unknown and are frustrated that we can’t do anything about it. We also want to influence daily events, but some things are beyond our control. The key is to face that reality and go with the flow. Most things that we worry about never come to pass … In fact, in most cases, worrying is a lot worse than the actual outcome.” – Frank Sonnenberg

Please know it’s not my intention to make light of or dismiss the seriousness of dealing with anxiety issues. I’m just sharing what helps me cope, and here are some of my favorite quotes on the subject:

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality. – Seneca

“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” – Swedish Proverb

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” ― Corrie Ten Boom

“If the problem can be solved why worry? If the problem cannot be solved worrying will do you no good.” ― Shantideva

“If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today.” – E. Joseph Cossman

A sense of humor (ala Alfred E. Neuman) is also helpful.

“[One fellow] worried so much that he decided to hire someone to do his worrying for him. He found a man who agreed to be his hired worrier for a salary of $200,000 per year. After the man accepted the job, his first question to his boss was, “Where are you going to get $200,000 per year?” To which the man responded, “That’s your worry.” ― Max Lucado

Besides a sense of perspective and humor, check out this helpful article on coping tips this season.

[Image: Alfred E. Neuman, created by Norman Mingo for MAD Magazine]
Customer service Engagement

Attention, please

Pandemic-induced stress and other reasons have led to decreasing workforce numbers and increasing pressure on remaining employees. Demanding, rude, and uncivil behaviors by some customers – and employers – only exacerbate the situation.

Please be patient, understanding, and considerate. Thank you.

[Image credits: “Dude breathe” photo by Kyndall Ramirez on Unsplash.jpg. Sign posted in office or store window – source unknown.]

Volunteers Get to the Heart of the Matter

Q: How would you facilitate a meeting-of-the-minds between two competitive nonprofits?

A: Very carefully.

That was my challenge when I was asked to facilitate a special meeting of two organizations striving to enhance their impact in their community: one was a local affiliate of an established nonprofit and the other was a grass-roots start-up. Both groups were dedicated to helping people with cancer.

Concerned with competing for limited donor and volunteer resources, the established nonprofit felt threatened and candidly admitted they wanted the new organization to just “go away.” Fortunately, they accepted the new group’s invitation to sit down together and explore how they could co-exist to serve the community.

Focusing on what matters

I remember my feelings of trepidation as I prepared for the joint meeting – I was a facilitator, not a peace-keeper! But my fears dissolved after interviewing several volunteers from each organization. Their message was clear and consistent: “We don’t care who we work for as volunteers, we just want to eradicate cancer. So find a way to work out your differences.“

These volunteers provided the critical reinforcement and reminder both nonprofits needed to hear: purpose supersedes politics. It also proved to be the perfect framework for a dynamic and fruitful dialogue.

I’m happy to share both organizations took the volunteers’ message to heart as they continue to successfully co-exist and collaborate in their efforts to help people with cancer.

[Image by Lou Kelly from Pixabay]
Engagement Musings

Time for a Play Date with Your Inner Child

The arrival of spring combined with advent of mass COVID vaccinations is the perfect time to refresh ourselves as we emerge from our winter cocoons and quarantines. This year in particular, it’s also the perfect opportunity to safely indulge in a little fun with a re-visit to one’s inner child. Here’s why:

“We’re living in a world that’s more conducive to anxiety than playfulness … Play offers a reprieve from the chaos, and it challenges us to connect with a key part of ourselves that gets lost in the responsibilities of adulthood, especially during a crisis.” Kristin Wong

Here are several play date ideas for you to safely engage your inner child:

  • read a favorite story book or book of poems from childhood
  • weather permitting, roll down a grassy hill … look for four-leaf clovers in a green field … play hopscotch …
  • share favorite childhood memories with friends (and they don’t even have to be the ones you made the memories with)
  • dance to the music of a favorite band or recording artist from your youth
  • bake a family favorite cake or batch of cookies
  • draw pictures with crayons or color in a coloring book [Remember the scent of opening a fresh box of Crayola crayons?]
  • build with clay, LEGO® bricks, or other building materials
  • read comic books or race Hot Wheels® or Matchbox cars
  • watch your favorite childhood cartoons or movies [I love that I can now watch an hour of Bugs Bunny & Friends on Saturday mornings!]

Whatever your inner child decides to do, be playful … whimsical … let your imagination take you wherever it leads … Just let go and enjoy.

“What all play has in common is that it offers a sense of engagement and pleasure, takes the player out of a sense of time and place, and the experience of doing it is more important than the outcome.” Stuart Brown

[Image by Gustavo Rezende from Pixabay]



How Marketing Makes Its Work More Difficult

I often hear marketing staff commiserate about how they struggle to get respect and buy-in for their programs. Several reasons account for this:

  • given its work with advertising agencies, media firms, and incentive and premium providers, marketing is primarily associated with creative (aka “fun”) processes to promote the brand
  • marketing teams typically work within functional silos such as research, market development, brand identity/management, marketing communications, etc.
  • marketers neglect to educate others in the organization on marketing’s fit in “the big picture” and how everyone’s individual and collective actions impact the brand.

Just because the Marketing Department is on the organizational chart doesn’t mean people know what it does and why it’s important

It’s hard to be taken seriously when people dismiss marketing as necessary “fluff.” By not taking action to correct this misperception, marketers make their work more difficult and compromise marketing’s effectiveness as every employee in the organization (not just those in the Marketing Department) play a role in delivering the brand promise.

From awareness to action: the missing link

What’s missing is marketing marketing’s purpose and role in the organization — not for its own glory or credit, but for strengthening its internal relationships and integral connection to the bottom line. Marketers have the requisite knowledge and skills to communicate marketing’s value, yet they’re so busy taking care of everyone else’s marketing needs that they neglect their own.

The solution isn’t difficult or complicated. It’s a matter of intentionally and proactively educating employees about marketing is, what it does, and why it matters to the organization by:

  • increasing awareness and visibility of marketing’s various roles as brand promoter and steward … collector and interpreter of market/consumer insight … product/service/brand communicator … customer advocate … etc.
  • increasing the perception of marketing’s value to the success of the organization
  • and strengthening relationships within the organization in the process.

Marketing marketing’s value is not a once-and-done campaign. It’s an on-going strategy that’s needed to build and maintain mutual understanding and respect between marketing and the rest of the organization.

Unless, of course, marketing is okay being known as the “Department of Fluff.”

[Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash]



Favorite Quotes on Pandemic-Related Changes in the Workplace

Last year’s disruption by COVID-19 led to copious content on its impact on the workplace discussing how leaders could navigate, cope, innovate, sustain and/or continue to grow in anxious and uncertain times.

As an advocate for a positive and engaged organizational culture, I was fascinated with the discussions and resulting responses to the pandemic. And I’m excited that aspects of the workplace have actually changed for the better. Here are some of my favorite quotes that reflect these changes.


“While no organization has the exact answer yet (that we know of), many are seeing the office of the future as a meeting place for collaboration, connection, and innovation and much less as a heads-down cubical farm for individual work.” Aaron De Smet, Laura Tegelber, Rob Theunissen, and Tiffany Vogel, Overcoming pandemic fatigue: How to reenergize organizations for the long run

“If there’s a silver lining to crisis, it’s that it shakes up structure … Many teams have seen people across functions step up and speak up with effective results — and now that they’ve found their voices, taking them away would be both difficult and wrong. Leaders and teams alike need to learn a new style of collaborative decision making.” Lolly Daskal, How to Prepare Your People for the New Normal

Employee wellness

“This crisis has presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reinvent the workplace. Things that might once have seemed impossible have proved surprisingly workable … Focusing on well-being and social connectivity will serve [an] important purpose: helping employees to recover faster from what, for so many people, has been a traumatic, painful, and stressful period. And that is not only good for business—it is good for people.” Adriana Dahik, Deborah Lovich, Caroline Kreafle, Allison Bailey, Julie Kilmann, Derek Kennedy, Prateek Roongta, Felix Schuler, Leo Tomlin, and John Wenstrup, What 12,000 Employees Have to Say About the Future of Remote Work

“In unprecedented, rapidly changing situations, play is a critical capability. As well as providing much-needed stress relief – how many of us are currently working from dawn to dusk? – play can end up being counterintuitively, very productive. We can make interesting, new connections between ideas when we allow ourselves to loosen up from our regular goal-driven, laser-focused, instrumental approach.” Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller, We Need Imagination Now More than Ever


“This is a time for leaders to try to invoke or provoke a degree of reflection, spending the time to talk about a shared sense of purpose and core values while also spending the time to emotionally check in. In fact, it will have the dual benefit of helping people move past the present suffering and begin to envision and create their new future together.” Richard Boyatzis interviewed in Psychological safety, emotional intelligence, and leadership in a time of flux

Better Workplace Culture

“… companies are waking up to the need for greater empathy and compassion to create a workplace that can unleash the full potential of their people even beyond the crisis … introducing new, more human-centered principles that truly put talent and people at the heart of organizational success. [These principles] all have one thing in common: a vision of successful organizations that are intensely human, nurturing the very best elements of emotion, creativity, human connection, and empathy and inspiring emergent leadership at every level.” Aaron De Smet, Laura Tegelber, Rob Theunissen, and Tiffany Vogel, Overcoming pandemic fatigue: How to reenergize organizations for the long run

[Image by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash]
Engagement Training & Development

“Hands down, face-to-face is the best” (pun intentional)

Confession: I have as much fun talking about LEGO® bricks as I do working with them.

I actually use these colorful plastic building blocks in team development as a Certified Facilitator in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) – a novel approach that enables participants to “think with their hands and listen with their eyes.”

I had a special opportunity to share why I find this hands-on method so powerful with fellow LSP facilitator, Peter Tonge, host of “LSP – Face-to-Face,” a podcast produced primarily for the global LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® facilitator community. Peter is a member of the Brickstorming team whose founder, the brilliant Kristen Klassen, trained me in LSP.

In our conversation we discuss some of my favorite early participant LSP models (shown here in this post) to illustrate the power of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® in people’s hands. I’m amazed how deeply participants engage in individual and collective discovery as they create and share their models with each other. That’s why this hands-on approach must be held in-person — LSP’s potent immersive experience cannot be duplicated in a virtual setting.

One of my takeaways from our discussion was this insightful quote from Peter, “The [LSP] Method doesn’t require it to be complicated. The Method requires it to be thoughtful.” This quote ties in with why I cite the single grey brick as one of my favorites. Take a listen to learn more, including what the models included in this post mean.

A special thank you to Peter for allowing me to post our conversation here.


Customer service Engagement Marketing

How to Better Engage Your Customers and Their Ideas

In the quest for product/service innovation, it’s easy to overlook an obvious source: your own customers. How to effectively involve and engage them – and make them feel valued in the process – can be found in Chip Bell‘s just-released book, Inside Your Customer’s Imagination: 5 Secrets for Creating Breakthrough Products, Services, and Solutions. Renowned customer service consultant, speaker, and author, Chip knows that customers can provide an “untapped resource for ideas and inspiration that can result in breakthroughs.” In this new book, he shares the secrets of “Curiosity, Grounding, Discovery, Trust, and Passion” that facilitate effective co-creation partnerships.

“Partnerships at their best are not about contracts, controls, and compromises; they are about respectful connections that enliven, ennoble, and enchant.” Chip R. Bell

Chip lays out the foundation of successful partnerships and illustrates them with applied examples from a variety of organizations. Equally important, he shares customer experiences from the customer’s perspective. (My favorites involve frustration with a computer part replacement and inconvenience at a fast food drive-thru window.) Examples also include employees and suppliers as important partners in the co-creation process.

“Breakthroughs come from an instinctive judgment of what customers might want if they knew to think about it.” Andrew Grove

Granted, customers may not always know what they want. It’s a poor excuse, however, to overlook them as partners in co-creation. Inside Your Customer’s Imagination gives you the insight and guidance needed to effectively engage both customers and employees in improving your products and services. Offering customers the opportunity to contribute their ideas and suggestions sends the message “we value you and want to know how we can better serve you.”

Truly, a win-win situation. That’s why I recommend this gem of a book along with Chip’s other best-sellers I proudly include in my business library:

  • Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles
  • Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service
  • The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service
  • Wired and Dangerous (with John Patterson)
  • Take Their Breath Away (with John Patterson).



“Don’t Waste This Crisis: How Strong Values Improve Strategy” – Guest Post from Matthew Fenton

[Note: I’m pleased to share this timely post from Matthew Fenton, a Chicago-based marketing professional and founder of Three Deuce Branding that specializes in brand clarity. Here he offers a fundamental strategy to uncover the brand values a business needs to survive and thrive in these challenging times. More on Matthew’s work can be found at the end of this post.]

There’s a question that’s asked far too rarely as we develop brand and business strategies. It’s simple but extremely powerful, since it shapes everything that you’ll do as a team or organization.

The question: Who do we want to be?

It’s challenging to lead an organization in the best of times. In a time of scarcity – like the one we recently, abruptly entered – it can feel impossible.

But navigating difficulty is one of the roles of a leader. As FDR said, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”

Matthew Fenton
Matthew Fenton

I’ve been working with my clients to answer questions like “How can we serve our consumers in new ways?” and “What trade-offs must we make to get through this?” You’ve no doubt asked and answered similar questions. At some level, these are questions about what we value.

Think for a moment about the choices recently made by your teams, your leadership and your organization. Which choices are you most proud of? What values do these choices reflect? Take a moment – right now – to make note of these. We’re going to come back to this.

Our values are being tested, which is to say this is an opportunity for personal and organizational growth. So don’t waste this crisis. It brings the opportunity to rethink, reorder and solidify what we value – and who we want to be.

Brands Are Already Showing Us Who They Are

For years, brands have fallen all over themselves trying to convince us that they’re values-based and purpose-driven. Now we get to find out who was serious.

Some brands are failing miserably. For example, a brand I’d never heard of, Parlour H, took the opportunity to start spamming me with hair-care tips for the quarantine. Timely, yes, but also wholly unrequested. Parlour H, is this really who you want to be?

To be fair, there have also been plenty of examples to the good. Companies have repurposed manufacturing facilities to make respirators, ventilators, hand sanitizer and masks, or are donating goods and services within their communities. Major brands have earned the most PR, but I encourage you to look for examples of local businesses who are doing the right things. You won’t have to look too hard.

These businesses should be applauded today and remembered when this is all over. By taking positive action, they’ve shown us who they are (and who they want to be).

“Brand” Values Are Actually Personal

When I ask, “Who do we want to be?” I’m deliberately using the first-person plural. I’m talking about people, not brands.

Brands are sometimes seen as these detached entities that sit between a company and its consumers. But companies that rely heavily on front-line personnel – such as restaurants, retail and service providers – know that their people are the brand. (One potential positive outcome of this crisis is that front-line staff will be viewed not as cost centers, but as value creators.)

There’s been a lot of talk about brand purpose and values in recent years.  And, yes, you may associate a certain brand with certain values. But let’s be clear – brands don’t choose their own values. How could they?  Brands aren’t sentient beings.

A brand is simply the collective intent of the people behind it.

As Jim Stengel has said, “A brand is simply the collective intent of the people behind it.” As brand leaders, we decide which values our brands will exemplify.  This means choosing some things and not choosing others. Whenever a brand makes a move, remember that there’s a team of people that made it happen.

Also note that I’m asking, “Who do we want to be?” and not “How do we want to be perceived?” That’s because the latter question allows for the possibility of faking it.  nd you can only fake it for so long before the jig’s up.

This is one of the areas where old-school thinking on branding – that brands are “costumes” that are easily changed, or “shields” that hide our true inner workings from the world – falls tragically short in practice. In branding, as with people, we reveal who we are by what we do, not by what we say.

Your brand is not a shield between your company and your consumers.

Where Values Fit Within Strategy

My positioning and strategy workshops always include at least one module rooted in values. During these modules, there’s a noticeable shift in the energy in the room. People aren’t thinking about tasks to execute or positions to claim; they’re thinking about what they could be and do, as a team, pulling together.

Asking questions like “Where will we play?” and “How will we win?” are absolutely necessary to crafting a successful strategy. But if these aren’t guided by a clear sense of who you want to be, the answers may lack cohesion and grounding.

In short: Your values should outlast any strategic or tactical decisions. So ignoring your values while crafting strategy makes zero sense.

This is to say that your values are a necessary part of the diagnosis that precedes any smart strategy. You’re establishing a core aspect of your worldview: “This is who we are and what we stand for. This is what we won’t sell for any price.”

The Strategic Process

Getting (Back) to Your Values

So as you consider how you’ll lead your way out of this crisis, start with the values you and your team truly live and embody. Ask questions like:

  • In our response to COVID-19, what decisions did we make that we’re particularly proud of?  What do those decisions say about our values?  (Refer to the notes I asked you to make at the top of this piece.)
  • In our company’s history, what are some stories that we’re particularly proud of? Think about both “diving catches” and “everyday wins.” What values do these stories exemplify?
  • What core values do you personally bring to work?
  • What core values would you want your children to exemplify when they begin their careers?
  • If we were to start another business tomorrow, in a completely different line of work, what values would we take with us? (I borrowed this question wholesale from Jim Collins.)
  • What values (as opposed to traits) would you like to demonstrate to customers, clients, partners and each other?

You can answer these questions individually or in small groups. Then share the outputs, with an eye toward both sensible clusters and intriguing outliers. The end goal should be to align on a small set of core values. In practice, this means about three values, and never more than five.

If, like many companies, you already have a Values Statement, this crisis presents an opportunity to revisit it. Which values did you really stand on during this time? Which might be improved or replaced?

When you’ve answered the question of “Who do we want to be?” you’ll have a powerful set of boundaries for the rest of the strategic process. You’ll instantly discard some avenues, since they don’t get you closer to who you want to be. (In some cases, you’ll find yourself saying, “That’s a great idea, but not for us.”)  Other avenues will elevate in priority immediately.

Most importantly, you’ll set down markers for how you behave within your walls – which will greatly shape how you’re perceived beyond those walls.

When we respond to major challenges, we often reveal who we truly are. But we can also transcend old limits and grow new strengths.  During this crisis, I’ve been inspired by numerous examples of generosity, creativity and resilience. I’m sure you have too.

So, again: Don’t waste this crisis. Make decisions that Future You will be proud of. Identify the values that drove those decisions. And ensure that those values live within your organization for years to come.

Please reach out with questions about (re)defining your values or resetting your strategy. I’m happy to help.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew is a former CMO who helps brands to focus, grow and win. Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.” His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation. Contact Matthew here. He’s based in Chicago.

Copyright 2020 – Matthew Fenton. All Rights Reserved. 


Customer service Engagement Training & Development

What’s Reflected in Your Brand Mirror?

To hold on to your customers amid strong competition, it’s important to provide a positive customer experience. But where do you begin?

You start from the inside out with the employee experience because the way employees feel is the way customers will feel – and if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers. 

Picture the relationship between the two as a mirror. If employees are frustrated by company policy or internal politics, their attitudes can be reflected in their dealings with customers. Who wants to be served by employees who feel hassled or ready to disengage? It takes only one or two such encounters before a customer goes elsewhere. And who knows how many other customers will hear of their experience?

What do you see when looking into your company’s employee-customer brand mirror?

  • a shiny reflection of positive experiences with your internal and external brand?
  • a blurred image that needs polishing to be more employee- and customer-focused? or
  • a cracked image opening up opportunities for your competitors?

Three keys to creating a positive and polished brand reflection:

  • Proactively pay attention and listen to employees to better understand their experience in your workplace; e.g., employee surveys, management by wandering around, engagement discussions, exit interviews, etc. Do your employees have the tools, resources, and information they need to effectively serve customers?
  • Based on what you learn from listening to them, involve employees in improving business operations to better care for customers and each other.
  • If your organization is in transition or stressed with limited resources, positively acknowledge those who rally the energy and enthusiasm to serve customers and co-workers despite the situation.

If you need a reminder :

“There is no way to deliver a great customer experience with miserable employees.”  Steve Cannon

“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.”  Stephen R. Covey

[Image credit: Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider on Unsplash]