This first appeared in the May 30th issue of PRNews.

The best sports teams in the world are continually obsessed with recruiting the right team members, building a team that will have the right chemistry to win and then retaining those same people after they have achieved some level of success.

If the top teams in the world have trouble getting this exactly right with nearly endless resources, we can all see this as a dose of reality.  Building best teams is hard work!

I’ve had the benefit of watching amazing leaders build teams in Fortune 500 companies and we do this ourselves at our firm.  If I think back over 30 years and imagine what the key learning’s are, here is what comes to mind:

Recruiting Team Members

#1 – The balance of capability and curiosity – many are capable, but few are curious.  When you have both, you have a person who has the hunger to learn and the ability to do something about it.  It’s what we often refer to as the fire in the belly.  The difference is you have to have the talent and the fire to do really well.

#2 – Diversity of thinking – great teams often say one very important thing.  They will talk about how there are so many people smarter than they are in certain areas at this firm that they can benefit from and they love it.  They realize that they have to think effectively and differently and be willing to accept the views of others to achieve excellence.  When you know you can learn more by staying, you often do, so diversity of thinking and retention go hand in hand.

Building Teams

#3 – Avoid the “box-in” and focus on the “unlock” instead – sometimes, in an effort to show great clarity at the time of a hire, the new hire’s responsibilities are so clear that there appears to be no room to evolve the role.  When you do this across an organization, it works great if you are in the military.  It is terrible if you are encouraging innovation and freedom of thinking.  Great leaders have the ability to give guidance on what you should do and then watch you, shape you and help you unlock.

#4 – Coach managers on how to manage – no matter how many teams we may have managed, we’re all always learning how to deal with new personalities, new issues and new marketplace realities.  We need to conversationally coach managers so they can see what they need to do and then do it in the way that works for them.  Just like we should not box in a person, we also shouldn’t micro-manage when we coach.  Help people discover what to do. It’s more powerful and long-lasting.

Retaining Talent & Teams

#5 – Focus on intellectually scalable models – it’s a reality that talent will come and go.  So, leaders must focus on building intellectually scalable models that outline how to work, how to achieve results, which processes to follow and what great results look like.  High performance teams, in turn, will define these models to meet their team’s skills.  And when one team member drops out and another comes in, the team can continue to excel.   If you establish clarity in how you achieve success together, you can build teams that do well in a sustainable fashion.  Each team will make the models better for the next team.

#6 – Retain team members who remain hungry and focused – we should never be worried that someone will leave.  Rather, we should be focused on helping those who are eager to succeed do exactly that.  If we keep our focus on those team members who are positive, forward-thinking, client-focused and who bleed the company’s vision, you’re in good shape.  If you find your time being dominated by the unhappy few who often are also the ones with the largest egos, then you are spending your time unwisely.  As Jack Welch said a long time ago, don’t focus on the type IV’s, get rid of them.  Type IV’s, in his model, were capable of high performance, but they worked against the social fabric of the company.  Just being smart isn’t enough.  You have to be smart, high performance and a cultural fit.

Overall, the biggest learning that I’ve had is the most simple and it is really a series of insights that I’ve learned by watching my favorite team, the New York Yankees, over the years.

Great chemistry and talent can lead to being the best in your business.  Talent is easy to spot.  Chemistry is a process of getting the right people together, giving them the right amount of space, the right amount of coaching and supporting them with the right resources.  Chemistry is super hard.

It’s really a never-ending formula that we will tweak for the rest of our careers. We’ll win some championships and we’ll lose some as well.  That we can count on.

What matters is what we choose to do tomorrow and for every day thereafter.

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Learn more about W2O Group:  About  Work  Contact

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Over the past 10 years more companies have moved to an open office architecture for a number of reasons such as cost savings, encouraging/enforcing collaboration, and breaking down silos. While many companies want to develop the next innovative and open workplace like Google did, some actually believe, “Google Got It Wrong.” However, those who believe Google got it wrong may have missed a crucial component when describing why other companies have failed in matching Google’s success of the open workplace design. The problem is that other companies have been trying to mirror Google, which is not a one-size fits all workplace. Google’s open architecture works because it matches the company’s culture.

It is crucial that all workspace designs are customized to the company’s culture and business model or is a shift towards the type of culture the company is trying to create.


Expected Reaction from the Workforce

While matching culture to design is crucial, it is just as important to keep in mind the entire workforce when making a change, not just one group, like Millennials. A 2015 article from Forbes, identified that both Millennials and Boomers have different outlooks on working in a workplace with open architecture.

Studies have shown that Boomers struggle with an open workplace, since they value their workplace privacy and see office space as representative of one’s status and level of achievement. Boomers have always been working towards a corner office or at the very least a window. Without this status they find it difficult to measure success at work outside of compensation.

As for Millennials, this group seems to be the biggest proponent of the open workplace as they understand the importance of collaboration and working in teams. Millennials want to connect with colleagues outside of the office and find that working in an open office helps them make connections. While Millennials acknowledge that conversations and noise near-by can be distracting, they believe the trade-offs of fostering collaboration within/outside of their teams is worth it, according to a 2012 study from Emerald Insight.

Implementing a New Workplace Environment

So, are you thinking about make the change? Keep in mind that business functions and leadership have a place in ensuring a smooth transition and putting employees in the best position to succeed in a new environment. As it may be a culture shock to most employees, there are ways to avoid the day-one madness. To this end, each business function such as, tech, operation/facility, HR, and leadership should have a key role in design discussions and keeping employees informed.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • IT involved in initial conversations for office redesign as they will help to determine layout and connectivity
  • Operations/Facility should identify options other than desks, such as sofas and breakout rooms to encourage open collaboration
  • HR involved to identify where management/teams are placed keeping in mind that grouping teams together fosters more collaboration
  • Leadership should train managers by providing them with questions they should expect from employees, such as the use of specific spaces (rooms, sofas, desks, etc.). Leaders should also encourage employees to interact with colleagues in a shared space. This new space will be a bit shocking for employees (especially Boomers)
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As I mentioned in my kickoff post, we will host a series of blog interviews over the next two weeks with speakers from our upcoming PreCommerce Summit (March 10) and Movers & Shapers Summit (March 12). Today’s interview is with long time friend, founder of the Social Media Club and serial entrepreneur, Chris Heuer. Chris will be part of a panel called “Future of…” at our PreCommerce Summit on Thursday, March 10.a - ChrisHeuer

According to Chris’s LinkedIn profile, he has been “engaged in interactive communications since 1993, and launched his first agency, Guru Communications, out of South Beach, Florida in 1994. Over the years he has helped numerous startups with go-to market strategies, product design, web site development, online marketing campaigns, eCommerce and what is now widely referred to as Social Media.” Some of the skills he’s been endorsed for by his peers are entrepreneurship, start-ups and social media marketing.

  1. Aaron: How do you define innovation?
    Chris: Two words. Failure and iteration.
    This is why most corporations do it so poorly, they think innovation is some magical process where someone just hits upon a big idea that will change the organization. A product or process that will change their competitive position in the market. In the real world, just as in our history, it takes 9,999 tries to find the right filament that can light your way forward.
  2. Aaron: What are you or your organization doing to drive innovation?
    Chris: Rewarding courage and squeezing out fear. It’s the only way. On a personal level, it is a topic I speak on often, but I am also involved with the innovation community and have been studying what large organizations are doing now to get it right. While at Deloitte, I advised on the deployment of our innovation platform and often engaged with the different innovation exercises around the US and in Canada.
  3. Aaron: Who is someone in your industry (or outside) that you admire? Why?
    Chris: Curt Carlson, former CEO of SRI, has done a tremendous job advancing innovation. His book, Innovation is a must read.  I’m also a huge fan of what Tom Chi has been doing in the area of rapid prototyping with Factoryx.
  4. Aaron: Where do you see your industry being in 3 years? 5? 10?
    Chris: Somewhere completely different then we ever imagined. Being cross-industry, cross-discipline, it’s hard for me to pick one prediction, but I am very much interested in contextualized collaboration using augmented reality with cognitive assistance and a voice based UI.
  5. Aaron: What book are you reading right now? How did you choose it?
    Chris: Matterness: Fearless Leadership for a Social World. As for why choosing, see answers above. It’s essential to deepen our humanity and find better ways to create alignment so that we can all benefit. The only way to do this is to stand up for what is right and keep pushing on a vision of a #BetterWorld. This is why, even though I don’t have the time or resources, I have started working on a new non-profit, Rysing Tyde, to help lift all people to their greatest potential in the emerging economy that lies ahead.
  6. For fun: what three things would you make sure you brought with you in a zombie apocalypse?

Can opener, so I can eat brains easily without chipping my teeth.
Salt. Brains without salt are just gross.
Fava beans. Obviously, a good side dish is important.

Good running shoes, samurai sword and an iPhone packed with appropriate zombie killing music.

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When searching for the “perfect” job applicant, organizations are beginning to find more often than not that they are willing to overlook a lack of specific qualifications in favor of ensuring the applicant is a good fit for the existing culture.

More and more employers want to know who they are hiring and how they will relate and work with other employees. As many organizations have already figured out, recruiting shouldn’t only be focused on an applicant’s GPA and past experience anymore. Rather a focus on the individual and what their interests may be outside of the workplace.

Employment site Glassdoor has collected hundreds of thousands of questions asked by hiring managers, and the following four ranked among 2015’s 50 Most Common Interview Questions, though they have little to do with work:

  1. What are your hobbies?
  2. What’s your favorite website?
  3. What was the last book you’ve read for fun?
  4. What makes you uncomfortable?

Why does this matter?culture fit and experience

According to a research paper conducted in 2004 by Development Dimensions International (DDI), an international talent management company, 78% of respondents believed that organizations and hiring managers do not assess for culture fit because they do not know how to do this.

Oh how the times have changed. Employers now seem to have a much better understanding of the importance of colleagues being able to relate to one another to accomplish any given task. In recent years there has been a shift to hiring for culture and focusing on training and developing employees who may be new to the workforce, such as millennials.

With the workplace changing and more millennials climbing the corporate ladder, more research is being conducted by experts like Dan Schawbel, author of Me: 2.0, who identified specific needs of millennials in search of positions. According to Schawbel, “millennials want a culture that’s less hierarchical, more flexible, and more understanding of difference, because millennials are the most diverse generation.”

As culture continues to become increasingly important and effecting employee attraction and retention, making sure you pick the right people is crucial. You now not only need to make sure a candidate has the background criteria you are seeking, but can also thrive in your existing culture. As culture begins to play a bigger role within organizations keep these five questions in mind to help you identify a candidate who will help keep your business moving forward.

Read the person behind the paper.

  1. What unique talent does this applicant add to the existing team?
  2. What similarities do they have with existing team members?
    a. Did they attend the same school?
    b. Do they have similar interest outside of the office (traveling, sports, etc.)?
  3. Does the applicant’s personality match that of the existing culture?
  4. How will the company leverage the applicant’s expertise to help grow the current staff’s skill set?
  5. What will this applicant add to the team aside from their experience?


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Tata, debatably one of India’s best known brand’s, boasts over 300K employees in over 60 countries. Pradipta Bagchi, VP and Global Head of Corporate Communications for Tata Consultancy Services, knows that internal communications through its digital channels is the most crucial way to maintain satisfied and connected employees.

In a discussion at the PreCommerce Summit with Lord Chadlington, Pradipta talked about his insights on the challenges and benefits of running internal communications on such a grand scale. His guiding principle is to always keep employees first, staying ahead of the news that affects employees and maintaining a rapid response to any issues.  Essentially, treating your internal communications just as you would your external communications.

For example, with India being a very hot country and many of Tata’s employees riding motorcycles to work, an employee discussion started last year about whether employees could be allowed to wear half sleeved shirts rather than the full sleeved shirts. This digital discussion on an appropriate internal platform led to a change in HR policy, allowing employees to wear short sleeved shirts.

This example shows how important digital is for employee communication and connection. Tata has given its employees a platform to discuss internal topics openly, offering a suite of apps that allows them to do their timesheets and expenses remotely, and offering a learning platform to continue their digital education, putting digital at the heart of the company’s global employee engagement strategy.

Lastly, Lord Chadlington asked Pradipta about how Tata mobilizes its employees as brand ambassadors. Instead of using the push method, Pradipta explained how Tata uses social media and its various networks to engage employees about things they are passionate about, such as fitness and family. When Tata reached its important milestone of having over 100K women employees last year, it asked for women working at Tata to post their selfies online and created a social media collage celebrating this milestone in it’s internal networks.

These examples and insights showcase how Tata is leveraging its digital tools to connect its vast network of passionate employees.

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Despite Edelman’s recent announcement that the PR firm is going to stick with what they’re best at (PR / Earned Media), there is no doubt that most agencies are converging their offerings, crossing swim lanes and aiming for the “integrated” value proposition. As a smaller firm (425 employees is relatively small in the agency world), W2O Group has been able to pivot and grow in this direction more quickly than others. Rather than hearing, “Oh, you’re the PR firm,” or “You guys are the digital agency,” we’re frequently hearing, “Where do you guys fit? Who are your competitors?” For us, this is a great place to be.

As we made the transition from a PR heritage, there is a critical but often overlooked mind shift that accompanied this change. This is the mind shift from people asking, “Can I Do It?” to instead asking, “Who Is the Best Person to Do It?”

Traditional public relations is inherently a “jack of all trades” or generalist discipline. Although things have evolved and become increasingly specialized in recent years, traditional PR firm staffing charts really showcase only one kind of talent – “Account” people. These people may be better or worse in different areas, but for the most part are responsible for planning, monitoring, writing, executing, client service, measurement, etc. In this sort of agency structure, people are rewarded for “wearing many hats” and being able to get things done on their own. In a nutshell, when a project comes in, they learn to first ask, “Can I Do It?” and if the answer is no, then look for help elsewhere.

Advertising and digital agencies, on the other hand, are inherently specialized in their staffing mix. You’d never find a copywriter also doing the measurement report or executing a media buy, and digital agencies are required to work more collaboratively given the diversity of technical skills that are required. In these constructs, people are rewarded for efficiency in their tasks, fitting into the supply chain, and knowing their role. When a project comes in, they learn to ask, “Is it My Job?”

Over the last 5 years, W2O Group has transitioned from a PR firm into an integrated marketing leader in the digital world. Perhaps the most important learning has been defining the middle ground between the generalist approach of PR agencies and the supply chain approach of Advertising agencies. Successful integration requires a different staff mix and approach to the business than either legacy model. Three things stand out as being critical:

  1. Having the right structure – if PR firms are a soccer team (anybody can score, defend, etc.) and Ad agencies are a basketball team (the Creative all-star with a team of supporting role players), the successful integrated marketing firm is a football team with a strong quarterback and a wide variety of players who are all excellent in their positions.
  2. Having the right people – not everybody wants to be integrated or specialize in their position, and lots of people would prefer to pad their own stats rather than let somebody else carry the ball when it’s the right play call.
  3. Having the right mentality – there are two mission critical perspectives.  The first is to always start by asking, “Who is the Best Person to Do It?” and the second is to approach every conversation by first assuming your colleague wants to do the right thing.

It took us a while to first understand, then plan, and finally institutionalize these three success factors at W2O Group.  And, as some people opted out for more traditional jobs, we learned that it wasn’t what everybody wants.  But, as the fastest growing agency of our size for several years now, we’re pretty confident it’s what clients want, and where the market is going.

One thing Richard Edelman nailed in his AdAge interview – the marketing mix is going to be jostled over the next decade, and Paid Media will no longer eat like a King while Earned, Shared, and Owned fight over scraps from the table.  We believe clients will need integrated partners to navigate this transition, much like Edelman believes they will need agencies who are good in their traditional disciplines.


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Earlier this week, Yammer announced Klout would become one of its 60 integration Yammerpartners, allowing employees to publish public Klout scores and areas of expertise to their profiles, and admins to set up internal scores based on employee activity. This is arguably the most visible announcement connecting social media influence and organizational communications. As such, there’s been a lot of speculation and discussion (the Mashable article alone has almost 2,000 shares).

Personally, I am not the biggest fan of Klout’s methodology in determining influence, as complete automation has significant limitations (fair disclosure: digital analytics is a WCG core competency, particularly influencer identification). But if this new feature gains significant traction, organizations wKloutill have to turn their ambassador/influencer programs inward on themselves, and realize the true value of analytics for internal communications.

So as Yammer nears 8 million registered users, the WCG Corporate & Strategy team proposed a few benefits, limitations, possibilities, concerns and questions surrounding the partnership between Yammer and Klout:

  • Group Director Vicky Lewko – The benefits depend on how companies roll out this new functionality, and the context that they provide. We work with companies measuring their employees’ social footprint as part of job performance metrics. It isn’t that far of a leap to see internal functions doing that as well.
  • Manager Stephen Yoon – This kind of high-profile partnership could be useful in shifting opinions of communicators to look toward analytics in internal comms, realizing something like this can be useful when developing internal engagement programs. That being said, I feel Klout scores have gaps and lack perspective, particularly around connections, and have the ability to be gamed by sheer volume. But the identification of subject matter expertise could prove valuable.
  • Director Jack LeMenager – Will the presence of Klout and employee awareness of it encourage or discourage involvement in internal social media? In some minds, it can impart the feel of Big Brother.
  • Associate Blair Mikels – I’m playing the healthy skeptic. To me, tweaking motivation to align purely with some sort of “score” isn’t promoting the quality of engagement between teams and individuals, just the quantity. I fear employees may begin posting just to keep themselves on the organization’s radar.
  • Managing Director Nancy Fitzsimmons – I think corporations and employees may see this as a double-edged sword. On one hand, an organization now has a lens into often hidden workforce interests and expertise. More cynically, many corporations remain fearful of how employees use social networks, and this could result in a rash of new policies and guidelines intended to protect the corporation, but having the unintended consequence of limiting employee speech and privacy.
  • Director Molly Rabinovitz – At first, employees may think: Why should I care about my Klout score … what does this do for me if it rises? But that’s not the issue. It’s culture. Companies need to drive the use of any desired platform through cultural change, helping employees recognize its value for their daily lives and business.
  • Global Analytics Director Andrew Tucker – Diplomatically speaking, increasing organizational awareness for the benefits of internal analytics to achieve business goals is a good thing – Klout notwithstanding.
  • Finally, Practice Leader Gary Grates posed the underlying question being considered by communicators everywhere: Will this new functionality help unlock the restraints currently placed on employees participating in social spaces? Will it allow for a whole new level of engagement, recognition and contribution?

What are your thoughts about the Yammer/Klout partnership? What kind of impact do you think it could have – positive or negative? Let us know in the comments.

Now, to sign off in the Yammer tradition: “I’m Adam Pedowitz. Today my Klout Score is 51. I’m influential about Social Media, Public Relations, Analytics and Beer.”

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I learned a very important business lesson recently and it happened on the little league field of all places. As a business leader and a parent, often my worlds collide and sometimes those collisions lead to remarkable insights that help me on both fronts.

My ten-year-old daughter Sam started playing softball only last season. At first she was very focused on understanding the game, playing on a team, having the courage and confidence to hit and catch the ball.  As we entered her second season we were very focused on helping her continue to develop these skills.  A few games into the season she told me she was going to ask the coaches if she could pitch.  My immediate reaction was to encourage her to continue to hone her basic skills and if the coaches asked her if she wanted to pitch she should say yes.  Her reaction was “Mom! Do you not think I am good enough to pitch!?!?”…I struggled with how to answer that and simply said, “no, but it would be good to take your time and work on you basic skills for now.” I was wrong.

Sam proceeded to boldly ask her coaches if she could pitch. Their reaction was similar to mine except they said that they would give a few girls a chance to try in the next few games and she would get her shot.  Fast forward eight games later, Sam was one of the three starting pitchers, made it to the playoffs where she shut down the game at the top of the 6th with a man on 3rd, and made the All Star team due to her pitching. She had a natural ability to pitch and none of us knew this….except her.

Besides being a very proud parent who was proven very wrong, my lesson as it applies to business is always allowing people to dream and act on what is possible.  This is especially important as it relates to coaching and developing millennials who can’t stretch enough or get enough opportunity.

Many of us grew up in business achieving certain milestones that enabled us the skills to move up the ladder.  The ladder is now a jungle gym (to quote Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In) and we need to flex as leaders and managers and allow people to go with their guts, maximize their natural skills and abilities, and skip a few rungs here and there to get to the place where they will flourish and maximize their talent…. and maximize our opportunities.

It is vitally important to observe and listen to uncover people’s talents.  When they ask to take a chance and try something new we should let them and give them the appropriate coaching, support and guardrails to do it.

Take it from me, to have a team of All Stars it is vital to let them play the field and find their position.

Top 5 tips on bringing out the best in your team and yourself:

  • Understand strengths and talents of all team members and maximize them in the right roles rather than trying to fit everyone in the same box.
  • Support people’s desires to try new things and support them to take risks.
  • Create an environment where people grow horizontally…learning different skill sets to grow vs. climbing the ladder.  This is much more valuable for the company and team members in the long run.
  • Provide an environment with a lot of running room – keep hierarchy and levels to a minimum and ensure there is plenty of opportunity to flex up, down and sideways.
  • Do not wait for an invitation.  If you want to expand your skill set, take on a new challenge or have a great idea you want to blow out, make a case, write a plan and go ahead!

For additional lessons from the baseball field to the boardroom see another recent blog post from my colleague Jack LeMenager.

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Question: When does technology become a burden?

Answer:  When it’s not assimilated into the operations, culture and management of the enterprise.

More and more organizations are introducing internal platforms to encourage collaboration, innovation, discussion, and more effective work styles.  Just as many are finding the technology lying dormant as managers and employees continue to conduct work in the same old manner.

This issue of CommonSense…for the C-Suite provides answers and specific questions for handling this dilemma.

We hope you find it useful and relevant.


Abigail Rethore

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