leadership dot #2800: anthropomorphize

Apparently, it wasn’t enough for retailers to cash in on the $20.7 billion that Americans spent on Valentine’s Day last year. Now they are trying to extend the holiday sales by targeting dog owners to spread the love from pet to pet.

Milk Bone created bones that are imprinted with popular names of dogs, calling it Bones for Friends. They also created special treats embossed with heart shapes – allowing you to send a valentine to your favorite pooch. Just like you decorate your house for each season, now there are toys, collars, and clothing that allow you to accessorize your dog for each holiday, too.

Obviously, the animals have no sense as to whether the treat has a heart shape or the bone has their name or a nemesis, but the human tendency to anthropomorphize their pooches has led to the creation of these types of products.

Can your organization capitalize on this phenomenon? Maybe your next bake sale can include dog biscuits where you write their name in spray cheese or frosting. You could make holiday pet bandanas as a craft project. Or you may consider hiding treats instead of candy and allow dogs to hunt at Easter.

People are crazy in love with their pets. You’d be wise to find ways to direct some of that exuberance to benefit your organization.

leadership dot #2799: reciprocal

It’s easy to shake hands, smile for the cameras and proclaim that you’re partners with another organization when you think that you will benefit from the arrangement. But it’s a whole different story when your partner needs something from you.

Such is the case with our “sister city.” In 1983, the governor signed a formal agreement with a city in China, hoping to “bolster U.S.-China relations.” I’m sure people thought it would benefit us, and maybe it has, but now that city is asking us to send large quantities of medical supplies to help control the coronavirus in their area.

This poses many interesting questions. Should we do it? Who should pay for it? How would we even get them there since many carriers have temporarily stopped traveling to the country? We have a medical supply company in town and everyone looks there first, but I’m sure their demand has skyrocketed and they are able to garner premium pricing – why should they be expected to make a donation? The same is true for the hospitals; should they be held responsible for meeting the obligations of the whole city?

I am not sure how this will be resolved, but it serves as an interesting lesson when considering partnerships in the future. You shouldn’t sign an agreement because of what you think you can get if you’re not willing to retain the partnership when it’s time to give.

leadership dot #2798: duplicity

When I went to mail a package, the clerk quoted a price of $24 instead of the $15 flat rate that I was expecting. I had used an official Post Office box and couldn’t understand why it did not qualify for the “one rate, any weight” postage. It turned out that I had unknowingly used the “mailing box” instead of the “flat rate box”.

As a result, I experienced bureaucracy at its worst.

Both boxes are distributed at the Post Office. They are so similar that they remind me of those “find the differences” pictures – where everything is exactly the same except for the most minute details. These boxes are less than ½ inch different in dimensions: 13.375 vs. 13.625 by 12.125 x 11.875 (yes, they list the size to three decimal places!) – so alike that the only real difference is the name the Post Office gives them.

Because of my egregious error, I got out of line, discarded the incorrect mailing box and repackaged the same exact contents in the clone of a box — and paid $9 less as a result.

What would it have taken for the Post Office to use one box where the clerk could just check off the flat rate option or to have crossed off the wrong title and used it anyway? I wonder if the duplicity isn’t intentional deception: how many people mailing a box even know that there is a flat rate and instead pay whatever price they are quoted.

Don’t let this kind of nonsense happen in your organization. Designate one day to do some “bureaucracy-busting” in your area. Offer incentives for people to point out ridiculous practices like three-digit measurements on a box or twin packaging at different rates. Celebrate those who are brave enough to question your status quo or who make things easier for the user. Maybe you could even mail them their prize – using the proper box, of course.

leadership dot #2797: restaurants

In a fascinating New York Times article, Pete Wells highlighted 8 ways restaurants have changed in the past decade. Number one: “We ate with our cameras.” Wells recounts that not only has the proliferation of camera phones and Instagram changed the habits of the diners, but it has caused chefs to alter their presentation of the food and for other chefs to become quick to copy them. In this decade, it is as much about how the food looks as how it tastes.

Another trend is the online delivery service – something I would have thought was a good thing for the restaurant business but Wells includes it in his “the future looked grim” trend. Restaurants already faced increased costs of rent, labor, insurance and taxes – and now they must add in delivery services (which take a commission from the restaurant for all their orders) as well as fees for the increased use credit cards.

Consider how the shifts impacting the restaurant industry affect your organization, too. Have you altered your offerings to make them more “Instagramable”? Have you considered whether the widespread use of delivery intersects with your organization’s services or influences your budgeting?

We live in an intertwined economy. Paying attention to what’s on the menu outside your industry can help you thrive in your own.

 

leadership dot #2796: user interface

In the introduction to the 25th-anniversary edition of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Jim Collins wrote: “I think of what he [7 Habits author Stephen Covey] did for personal effectiveness as analogous to what the graphical user interface did for personal computers…Covey created a standard operating system – the “Windows” – for personal effectiveness and he made it easy to use.”

What a high compliment that was – how nice for someone to say that I am the graphical user interface for supervision or for the organizational behavior or leadership classes that I teach.

The wisdom of simplification is often overlooked. On too many occasions, people feel like they need to make their message or proposal sound sophisticated or full of big words and jargon when in reality it would be much more powerful if it was communicated through an analogy or story. Synthesizing the key lessons into a memorable list (e.g. 7 Habits or STAR supervision) is harder to accomplish but far more memorable than having tomes on the subject.

Covey sold over 25 million copies of his 7 Habits book and Microsoft claims over 400 million users of Windows. The next time you are working on a project, think about the graphical user interface and attempt to elegantly simplify the complex.

 

leadership dot #2795: cheeky

If you have a product that was released in 1941, you can do two things to keep it refreshed: change the ingredients or modify the packaging. M&Ms has certainly extended their brand by adding peanuts, peanut butter, hazelnut, mint, almonds, etc. and now they have created a new campaign strictly around how the candy is packaged.

M&Ms released 36 different bags for their “share” size, offering both serious and tongue-in-cheek messages for a variety of occasions. The packages include saying such as: “You’re lucky to have a friend like me,” “I love being socially awkward with you,” “I miss your face,” and “Congratulations on that thing you did.” The packages are colorful and fun and had me wanting to take several bags home with me.

If you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive way to boost the morale of your staff or a way to acknowledge a colleague or friendship, the M&Ms message bags may be just the way to do it. And even if you don’t purchase the candy, think about the lesson it can teach you about how to alter your packaging to boost your appeal. What product or service do you have that could benefit from a cheeky new look, even on a temporary basis?

leadership dot #2794: rush job

People frequently ask their printer to rush jobs for them – needing the finished product ASAP or requesting special consideration to get the project printed on a short timeline. One printer capitalized on this phenomenon and made it their business model: promising four-color printing within tight deadlines.

Fresh Color Press is “the home of superb fast-turn, short-run digital collateral printing.” Translated, that means that they expect you to need your print job on a tight timeline, and are set up to anticipate it and accommodate you with a smile. Instead of being made to feel like the printer is doing you a big favor to process your job under an impossible timeline, Fresh Color replies with “no worries, we can still easily get them done.” Even their shipping labels say: “We get it. We’ve got this.” And they do!

Fresh Color is a living example of the high-end firm doing well (see dot 2769). They cost more than the average printer, but their quick service is priceless.

Think about what your clients really want from you. What do people ask for that you aren’t set up to provide? What causes you inconvenience but people frequently request it? What would you like from others who provide what you do? Maybe there is a niche waiting for you to leverage.