leadership dot #1613: boo humbug

My sister sent me a Halloween card in which she wrote: “May all the trick-or-treaters pass you by — ha ha!” If only.

I think that trick-or-treating is a tradition whose time has passed. It is a vestige of an older, safer, simpler time:

  • when neighbors knew each other and those who came knocking;
  • when little kids were the ones going door to door;
  • when people put sweat equity into their costumes instead of paying outrageous prices for commercial versions;
  • when parents could trust that it was only candy being distributed and not something bad;
  • when sugar was seen as a treat instead of a health hazard, and
  • when not every tenth kid had a food allergy.

I am not sure it was ever prudent to open your door to strangers at night, and my hesitation grows with each passing year. I often find reasons to be gone, but even then, I fear that I may return home to signs of a trick-or-treater’s displeasure.

Each year, Halloween grows in prominence. There are homes with elaborate outdoor decorations, stores full of costumes, magazines with recipes for intricate treats and aisles of treasures to be distributed. I am not suggesting any of those go away, rather that they be relegated to private parties for those who choose to hold them.

Let’s celebrate Halloween the way other holidays are celebrated: with friends and families gathered in your home — rather than with strangers on the streets in the dark.

beth triplett

leadership dot #1612: scan and go

First it was the express lane, then came the self-serve checkout, followed by Apple Pay and other convenient ways to check out. Now the quest to speed up purchasing has gone another step further.

Sam’s Club has introduced a new Scan & Go mobile app that allows customers to scan items on their phone as they shop and pay directly from the app. No waiting in lines at all. The clerk at the door will verify purchases on your e-receipt, but otherwise you are handling the whole transaction.

I wonder what impact this will have on purchasing.

On one hand, it may make people buy less as they can see totals right when they put something in the cart. There has been more than one occasion when I was surprised by how things added up at the checkout, and that would be alleviated with instant accounting for items.

Or perhaps it will entice people to buy more as they come to Sam’s because of the convenience; tossing items in the cart and scanning them without thought as if using a scan gun for a gift registry.

What I do know is that if it works, we’ll be seeing apps for every store.

How is your organization utilizing the power of the phone? With all your customers carrying around a computer, the expectations keep rising that you’ll find ways for them to use it.

beth triplett



leadership dot #1611: pretending

I purchased a beverage and I lamented that it was served in a standard plastic cup. “Another item in the landfill,” I thought to myself.

Later, I purchased another beverage, this time at a new coffeehouse. I was delighted to see that they used “GreenStripe Eco Products” for their drinks. I inwardly applauded their commitment to provide environmentally friendly products.

When I came home and went to recycle the cups, I learned that appearances could be deceiving. The first cup was a “5” and did recycle in our area, but the “Eco Product” cup was a “7” — meaning that not only is not recyclable in most areas, but it is of mixed origin. In other words, it’s not friendly at all.

It’s easy to give a product or brand a name that has appeal, but much harder to deliver a brand promise that has integrity. And pretending to be environmentally friendly is worse than not trying.

Take a look at the alignment between what your organization appears to value, and what it really does. Which cup are you?

beth triplett


leadership dot #1610: reminisce

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) has been celebrated in Mexico for centuries. The holiday is an occasion to gather in celebration and remembrance of loved ones who have died. As I understand it, many people believe that the gates of heaven open on October 31, allowing the deceased to reunite with family on November 2.

As with every holiday, traditions and rituals accompany it. Those who partake often create elaborate altars (ofrendas) in tribute to those who have passed, and fill them with special food and colorful flowers. Elaborate sugar skulls are decorated for the festivities and have become one of the iconic images for the holiday.

Dia de los Muertos has always been celebrated outside of Mexico by those with Mexican heritage, but this year the holiday has taken on a new life of its own in the United States. One website called it “America’s Newest Holiday” and decorations have appeared for sale at many retailers.

Perhaps you will choose to add a new dimension to your end-of-October celebrations and incorporate Dia de los Muertos traditions into your family. But whether or not you make altars, candy skulls or special loaves of bread, I hope you use the occasion to reminisce about those who have gone before you. Take some time to tell stories about what made them special to you and how they impacted your life.

Let the day of the dead bring meaning and reflection to your living.

beth triplett

For Dia de los Muertos resources and instructions on making altars (ofrendas), click here.

Sources: Wikipedia and MexicanSugarSkull.com

leadership dot #1609: nebulous

I just received a text from my cell phone company notifying me that I was almost out of data for the month.

Data is one of those life mysteries that is important to regulate and measure, but is impossibly difficult for the average person to regulate and measure. What caused my data to be higher than usual this month? Perhaps it is the “smart travel study” app that was likely running the whole time I was in the car for six hours? Maybe it was the extra podcasts I listened to while going on longer walks with the dogs? Or something else entirely. I really don’t know what caused it, making it guesswork to try and change my actions.

Electricity is the same way. A few months ago, my electric bill was significantly higher than the previous year. I racked my brain trying to figure out why. What had I done differently? The answer turned out not to be my behavior, but my leaking air conditioner coil that was working extra hard in attempt to provide cool without coolant. I didn’t guess that, so didn’t (initially) fix it, leaving me with two giant bills before the A/C died and I discovered the cause of excessive energy use.

Food, exercise and calories are also nebulous when trying to truly measure impact. Yes, the donuts have more calories than the apple, but it is difficult to know what really makes the difference in weight loss or gain. If you go for a run does it mitigate eating a piece of pie? Or if you had to choose between the evening glass of wine or dessert is there a better choice? Is the salad really a low calorie option?

There are so many new gizmos and apps that attempt to quantify aspects of life. But the text about data usage, my electricity bill and the bathroom scale all communicate about the past. By the time you get to that point, the damage is done.

I want new ways to link data to immediate choices. An app that says: “If you download this movie, it will take this many bytes of your data plan.” A thermostat that says: “If you turn the A/C down 3 degrees, next month’s electric bill will cost you $X more” or a control panel that shows before you print what it will cost in electricity/ink/paper. Or a fork or fitness app that can tell you: “if you eat this, you’ll have to exercise for X minutes to maintain your weight.”

Instead of using more power to learn what you did, try to invest your energy in systems to track what can make a difference in your present.

beth triplett

leadership dot #1608: equal access

Today brings one more lesson from the One Iowa workshop I referenced yesterday.

The facilitator, Keenan Crow, noted that addressing discrimination or oppression is not about making everything the same for everyone. Instead, the goal is to provide equal access for all.

He used this illustration to demonstrate the difference:

Think about an eye doctor.  

If we treated everyone the same way, everyone would receive the same prescription and same glasses. While this would work for some, it would not work for most.

Instead, we should strive to provide equal access — meaning making it possible for everyone to see an eye doctor. It is better to offer access to the service than to find one solution to address individual needs.

Think about what your organization is trying to do be inclusive and to avoid discrimination. If your emphasis is not on equal access, you run the risk of leaving out one group when you provide special rights to others.

beth triplett

Keenan Crow, One Iowa Outreach Coordinator at the Iowa School Public Relations Association Fall Conference, October 20, 2016, West Des Moines

leadership dot #1607: George W

I recently attended a workshop about concepts underlying LGBT identities. Representatives from One Iowa used this simple yet powerful exercise to help people understand how cultural context influences our perceptions of identity and reactions to others.
Keenan Crow said that George W was his favorite president, and asked us to picture in our head what he wore to his presidential inauguration. [You can do that now.] Most said things like a tie, suit, flag lapel pin, coat, etc.
Then he showed the picture below.  [Scroll down]
George W stood for George Washington, not George W. Bush as most people assumed. And on George Washington’s inauguration, he wore a powered wig, ruffled shirt, high heeled shoes and tights. If someone wore that today, inferences would be made about their identity or sexual orientation, but in the culture of the time what Washington wore was perfectly acceptable. Both men, at the same function, being inaugurated to the same office — all the same parameters except for time — and that made all the difference.
The next time you are tempted to jump to conclusions or make inferences about a person or an idea, remember George W. You need to first understand the context before you can understand anything at all.
beth triplett
Keenan Crow, One Iowa Outreach Coordinator at the Iowa School Public Relations Association Fall Conference, October 20, 2016, West Des Moines

leadership dots #1606: fly the W

I am cheering for the Cubs to win the World Series. And it’s not because they haven’t won a Series in 108 years. It’s not because many of my friends and my whole family are life long Cubs fans (as was I until I moved to St. Louis.) It’s not because I have anything against the Indians.

I am rooting for the Cubs because I love it when the non-sexy, behind the scenes grunt work of building an infrastructure and crafting a culture pays off in a big way. And that is what has happened with this organization.

After assembling his cabinet, General Manager Theo Epstein started with a 4-day meeting of 150 scouts, coaches and minor league staff. He knew that he had to build the organization from the ground up and impart his vision of what the Cubs of the future could be. That was four years ago.

Since then the club has addressed almost every aspect of the organization. They added 77 new positions (but still have the smallest front office in baseball.) They invested $6 million in technology so they could modernize operations and rely more on statistical measures. They built new facilities for the farm team, for scouting in the Dominican Republic and for offices in Chicago. They spent $750 million to upgrade the neighborhood around Wrigley and make substantial improvements to the park itself. The Cubs renegotiated broadcasting contracts and worked with the Disney Institute to improve customer service.

Oh, and they acquired a manager and made player trades that favored a new infusion
of energy and those who wanted to play in the culture they were trying to create. They modeled in the minors the culture they wanted in the Big Show, that of “playing loose and with confidence.”

The Cubs honestly communicated the long term plan with their fans to align expectations. The owners acknowledged that the team would become worse before they became better. They were right.

But now, here they are. Seeing the results of a half-decade of systematic effort. Reaping the benefits that come from an aligned culture, supportive infrastructure and methodical progress toward a larger goal.

Yes, I am cheering for the Cubs — and for all other organizations who do the work off the field to enjoy success on it. Learn from them so your organization can fly its own W flag too.

beth triplett

leadership dot #1605: clarity

The implementation of EMV chip readers was supposed to have occurred by October, 2015, but as anyone who has been in a retail establishment lately knows, the transition is still in progress.

Most outlets now have the machinery, but a maddening number of them still work only with the “swipe” function rather than the chip. From just looking at the machine, there is no way for the customer to know whether to insert the chip or to swipe, which I am sure results in undue frustration for people on both sides of the counter.

I was recently at a convenience store that provided a perfect solution to the dilemma. They inserted a blank gift card into the chip mechanism and wrote “no chip.” Problem solved. Everyone can know with clarity what to do with their credit card in that machine.

I am not sure why the manufacturer did not provide a similar feature, perhaps more eloquently stated and professionally done. All chip readers could have come with an insert that said “Chip feature in progress,” or something similar instead of having people fumble through for the months that installation was in progress.

If your organization is continually asked the same question or sees its customers hesitate about what to do (eg: which door to enter, where to find the restrooms, what something costs, etc.), spell it out for them. Even if it is a simple sign written with a Sharpie, eliminating the little annoyances goes a long way in the overall customer experience.

beth triplett

See Dot #1329, chips, January 21, 2016 for more on this topic

leadership dot #1604: recombobulation

A friend sent me this photo from the Milwaukee airport. It’s the space just outside the TSA checkpoint and is identified as the “Recombobulation Area.”
It’s an appropriate word, since after you pass through security you often feel like you need to put yourself back together. Shoes, jewelry, pockets and luggage are all disrupted and disheveled and you need to take a few moments to get yourself back into the condition you were when you first entered the line.
While Milwaukee literally labeled a space for recombobulation, I think that similar zones are needed in far more locations. Maybe malls could have one at Christmas? Or it could be a special room in a home where parents could go after a children’s play date or party. Offices could have them for employees to use after divisive meetings or stressful deadlines. They would be useful for visitors in hospitals or for anyone who has to visit an emergency room.
We all get discombobulated at points in time. Even though there likely isn’t an official space for you to decompress, I urge you to create one of your own. Take a moment to breathe and to gather your composure before you continue on to the next gate.
beth triplett
Thanks Demetria!