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Showing posts from February, 2016

Zenefits and the Problem of the Chief Enabling Officer

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal had an article about the rowdy culture at Zenefits, a health insurance brokerage based in San Francisco. They'd gotten their hands on an email to employees which read, in part: "Do not use the stairwells to smoke, drink, eat, or have sex. Yes, you read that right."The article detailed the difficulty that new CEO David Sacks is having in terms of curbing the out-of-control culture there. In memo after memo, says the Journal, he's been urging employees to act in a way that's more suitable to the type of work they do - but frankly admits “it is too difficult to define and parse what is ‘appropriate’ versus ‘inappropriate’ drinking in the office.” Yet Sacks appears very clear that the company's cofounder and former CEO, Parker Conrad, is to blame for its problems. As the newspaper reported several weeks ago, the new CEO sent an email to employees that read as follows: “The fact is that many of our internal processes, controls, and a…

You Never Know Who You're Dealing With

I accepted a new position last week and it will involve once again being a supervisor. I've been preparing for the role by asking seasoned managers for their input on how to hit the ground running, and for 360 degree type feedback about their perceptions of me at work. You can never ask enough. Ask, and ask, and ask. And I was walking past the desk of an administrative assistant I am friendly with and she had a few minutes. So I asked if I could "interview her." After about thirty seconds I realized that I was talking to someone with extensive managerial experience, in the military and in the private sector.  For months and months she had seemed to belong to a certain category, but after all this time it was clear: I didn't know who I was dealing with. It's funny, I think people are naturally this way, but branding has made us even worse. We've become so accustomed to making quick and simple decisions. We need to; all of us suffer from information overload. So it&#…

Talia Jane Just Set Yelp On Fire

I don't know this young lady from Adam or Jane.  I don't know a thing about Yelp's corporate culture. But as an outsider looking in, I can tell you the brand of this company just went southward today - significantly. As an employee got fired after writing a negative review of her salary. It's a bit hard to understand. It looks like a temper tantrum. Not a reasoned response to one employees' perhaps impulsive move. Think about it. The entire mission of Yelp is to promote customer reviews. More broadly, to encourage the customer to "talk back" to the merchant who sells them goods and services. Here is an employee doing just that - she is reviewing the values of her company. Maybe in a cheeky way, but nevertheless in line with all the things that Yelp! has taught her. Now, they've canned her. And as we all know, in any traffic accident both parties look bad.  But in a corporate traffic accident, the rich CEO always looks worse than the employee. It's always e…

Just Burn Your Money Instead

The year was 1987 and they paid me a lot of money to work as a temp. Nobody uses the word "temp" anymore, but when I was sixteen that was a real thing. In Manhattan. I typed fast because my high school taught me how to do it and I'd studied piano, so there it was, something like 110 WPM (words per minute). The typewriters were electric by then, and I got called in to substitute when the regular secretary was out. I understand that administrative work is real. Please don't think I'm putting it down. But let's put our thinking caps on for a second. If you call me at 7:00 a.m. because someone is out sick that day and I park it at your desk and read the paper all day for $160 (that's $20 x 8, the rate I commanded in those days, which was good) - I guess I'd have to ask you why? Imagine me and a hundred thousand other temps, on any given day, just sitting there. What for? Sure I understand, it's an image thing, you want the office to look populated and real…

Parshas Terumah - On Giving The Honor To G-d

This week's Torah reading is Parshas Terumah, in the book of Shmos (Exodus). The Jews are told to make a Sanctuary within which to worship G-d. Very glorious and full of gold.

Finding the instructions about Temple-building pretty dry I didn't even want to read the commentaries. I closed the Bible.

And then I realized...this Parsha is a pretty big deal.

G-d doesn't need our gold or our sacrifices.

G-d, being G-d, doesn't need ANYTHING.

The purpose of all this is our well-being.

To give us peace, in a world full of people who can get pretty nasty and dictatorial. That we serve only Him and never them.

Similarly when we get dressed in the morning it's good to wear clothes that are as nice as we can.

Not because we're egotistical, but because we're creations of the One True G-d, and as such we need to show a certain amount of self-respect and not put ourselves down.

5 Typical Factors Preventing Brand Alignment

1. Lack of understanding about what branding is - misconception that it's just a logo or seal when in fact it's about rallying employees and the public around your clear, compelling MISSION or identity. 2. Fighting about who is going to get the spotlight - the sense that if the organization overall has a brand, then my particular subgroup will not get recognized for its work. Related to this, a lack of understanding of brand architecture - that a brand can be organized to accommodate various sub-brands without compromising the overall identity. The tendency is to think in extremes - either there is one brand overlord at HQ who won't let anyone else have their own identity, or there is a completely decentralized system where any logo goes. 3. Chain of command thinking - failure to see that a brand is only as good as the people who support it. You can't tell employees what to do and how to feel. You can only educate, motivate, and inspire them to be passionate advocates fo…

The False Intimacy of a Facebook Friend

"Well hello Dannielle Blumenthal," she said to me, a complete stranger. I stood there for a moment, bewildered. Am I supposed to know you? If I am, I can't remember your name. "Hi, uh..." I replied, trying to buy time and avoid having to say her name in return. But before I had to say anything else, she said something else to me. "I loved your post on the donut," she said. "Uh..." Who is this woman? What is the post she's referring to?  I tried doing an internal Google search of my brain of all posts on all media with the keyword "donut" somewhere inside.  Not an inkling, and it showed. "We're Facebook friends," she said, which made me turn red as I obviously did not know who the hell I was friends with on Facebook whatsoever. "It was your post on the struggle not to eat the donut. How you Googled 'emotional eating.' You must know that one, it was just the other day." She looked a little worried about me,…

Why Aren't You Happy Already?

This morning I was trying to find this coffee shop in uptown D.C., in the freezing cold. The entire job consisted of walking southbound on Wisconsin Avenue. Four blocks from the train and I would have been there. I took out my iPhone just to be sure. Aha! Go that way!I love this thing! Gleefully I skipped along the cobblestones. It is freezing out here, effing freezing, I said to myself, but I am so, so happy that I will be there in five.  Ten minutes later I was standing on a street corner, thinking angry things.  I hate Google! I hate this stupid phone! I hate Washington, D.C.! I can't even feel my fingers! I HATE COFFEE! (OK, that last part I definitely did not think.) With a sigh of resignation, I realized that I cannot get directions off of any phone. Because I am directionally challenged.  But somehow I figured it out and there it was. I virtually breathed it aloud: Oh, what a lovely coffee shop! Coffee Nature in Washington, D.C. (4224 Fessenden Street NW) It was early in the morning but …

Brand Management: It's A Marathon, Not A Race

I've been on a healthy lifestyle plan for five weeks now. Basically a New Year's resolution. Got on the scale yesterday after a two-week break. Nothing had changed. I tried to tell myself that it must be the blazer I was wearing. Also the shoes and the fact that it was nighttime. You know you lose 5 pounds between nighttime and morning, right? But soon enough my resoluteness faltered and I was tempted to go home and fix myself a gigantic bowl of noodles. And cheese. Fortunately then my rational mind took over and reminded me: "It's a marathon, not a race."I realized that having green tea and spinach and avocados was a long-term investment in my health, and it's not so much about weight loss. Whereas eating a lot of noodles with accompanying muenster, cheddar and pepper jack cheeses would definitely result in getting seriously overweight. I realized that the key metric for wellness is not weight but whole-self wellness. And that the right habits are going to get you t…

Your Own Very Personal Rocky Moment

The Rocky myth is about Rocky winning. That is why the classic Rocky poster shows him with his arm upraised, literally on top of his world. Philadelphia, known as "the city of brotherly love," but which he had to conquer through "blood, sweat and tears." But Sylvester Stallone, who produced the most recent Rocky movie, Creed, has a different view of the character. If you watch that movie closely, it's not about dancing around the ring - not at all. Rocky tells his best friend's son not to go into boxing, period. It's too dangerous. The spirit of Rocky is your back against the wall. It's blood all over the boxing ring. As in the lyrics to the movie's theme song,Eye of the Tiger: Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance
Now I'm back on my feet
Just a man and his will to surviveSo many times, it happens too fast
You trade your passion for glory
Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them aliveYour personal Roc…

Suggesting a New Global Brand: World Peace Cafe, by McDonald's

Very briefly: I was thinking about how Trader Joe's can't keep riced cauliflower in stock. And about how McDonald's is always struggling to stay relevant, and reinvent itself. About how McDonald's is a global symbol of America. And about Bridge of Spies, where Tom Hanks (playing a lawyer defending a Russian spy) says that we have to follow the law, because the law is what makes us Americans. All of this came together in my head and it occurred to me that a concept I've thought about many times - the World Peace Cafe - would be ideal for McDonald's to implement. Think about it: McDonald's is uniquely able to produce tasty, nutritious, cheap food on a massive scale.McDonald's has already shown the capacity to adapt to domestic and global trends at its outlets all over the world.McDonald's has experience purchasing and further commercializing standalone brands, as it did with Chipotle.McDonald's brand values are "food, folks and fun" - perfect …

Inside a High-Tech Brainstorming Session

It was a bright and sunny day in California, unseasonably warm. The staff gathered in the open atrium at the base of the stairs. It was their first day together as a full team, their first day as a real company with a headquarters. None of the employees dared speak. Instead, they witnessed. The meeting was basically a conversation between the CEO and the COO - partners and founders of this promising high-tech startup. The CEO and COO were male, and most of the small staff was male as well.  All of the employees needed their jobs. Let's listen in. * * *  "I want to make it great," the CEO was saying.  "How great?" said the COO. "Insanely great, said the CEO. "I want a place where ideas go to have sex." "Wow," said the COO. "That is inspiring." "I want a company so great its ideas are testicular." "No way," said the COO. "That is unbelievable." "That's right," said the CEO. "I don't want …