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Trudgectory The final element of accomplishment branding is - at the same time - both intimately personal and intimidatingly public:  Does your brand have a DIRECTION?

We're all familiar with the term, trajectory.  We may not know the exact formulas for tracking a trajectory, but we know it's a path with a purpose.  There is a set direction for a projectile, and by golly, that projectile is headed in that direction.

But what if your accomplishments are on a "trudgectory"?  What if you're trying to accomplish things with no direction?  I've shared before about the danger of having a WUHOT on your team.  WUHOTs are not on a trajectory; they're on a trudgectory.  They're slogging through the swirly of failure and mediocrity, hoping that something happens TO them... or happens FOR them.  The term, trudgectory, was coined by a close friend of mine who was on the verge of ending his career working under a vile and venomous excuse for a human being.  Every day was a trudge from start to finish.  Now that he's out from under the weight of the waste of oxygen, he's in a different career, and I've been able to hear and see the energy return... he's a new man... his accomplishments again have direction... and HE KNOWS what that direction is.  He moved from trudgectory to trajectory.

The key for a DIRECTED accomplishment is alignment to something greater than itself.  Mission, vision, values, purpose, or (if you're in a project setting) portfolio will make the difference.  It's all about having the direction set to change the world and make it a better place... even if it's just your small corner of it.

So there you have it.  If you really want to brand your accomplishments, you have to be DRIVEN:

  • Directed
  • Real
  • Identifiable
  • Valuable
  • Engaging
  • Noticeable

And now, when it comes to branding, you can tell people that for the past week, you've been "DRIVEN" in reverse.  Now it's time for you to go VROOM, VROOM on your own accomplishments.  Are you ready?

Toddlers In Suits

"To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius."  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Toddler_suit I suppose I should have known better.  But it really was there for the taking.  And looking back, I wouldn't have done it any differently.

I was interviewing for a project recovery contract, and it was my second interview.  I was facing four members of the C-Suite.  After all, it was one of the top two projects in the company, and they wanted to make sure they had the right person.  One executive asked the question I was expecting:  "How do you like to communicate with executives?"  I don't think they were expecting my answer.  Sure, I could have gone all "text book" on them, but when a critical program is being recovered, you know that there will be difficult discussions with executives on the horizons... and I had to be sure my response would reveal my accomplishment brand.

My answer?  "I'll be honest with you all:  I've become much better at executive communication since I became a parent and realized executives are simply toddlers in suits.  If I give you lots of pretty pictures with nice colors and manage your ADD correctly, nobody gets hurt."  I got the job.

In the coming months, I was able to have excruciatingly frank discussions with them.  When I left the project (on my terms and in my time), I knew I had delivered the value that was necessary to get the project back on the right track.

So the next issue for your accomplishment brand:  are you keeping it REAL?  Are you being authentic, honest, and up-front about issues, status, and progress?  There are a lot of people out there who want to be someone else.  We're nearing Halloween where many will dress in costume.  But what about the other 364 days of the year?  What costumes are you wearing which prevent you from being true to your brand?

Are you able to let others see the "real you" when you're accomplishing something?  Sometimes setting the stage up front by being real will save you a lot of headaches on the back end.

Topless And/Or Faceless

Autumn_trees_barren We had a rather large wind yesterday, which did a number on many of the autumn leaves still on the trees.  Now, many trees are sitting buck naked while the ground is a colorful mural of reds, oranges, and yellows (with a smattering of greens and browns).  Not being an avid arborist, I have enough trouble identifying trees when the leaves are on them... yank off the leaves and I'm toast.  A whole season's budding, blossoming, and leafing productivity gone in a day... and now most of the trees look the same... a topless commodity.

But yesterday's windstorm is today's blog post.  If you're going to brand your accomplishments, are they IDENTIFIABLE as yours?  You've arrived when somebody can look at the output of your labors and say with confidence, "Yup, Fred did that... I can just tell."

I have that experience on a couple of fronts.  The first is on project planning.  Most people who have worked with me know when I've had my hand in a project plan because of the structure and formatting.  On the second front, I've been pushing myself recently.  Working in academia, I've become increasingly annoyed with text-heavy slides.  With that in mind, I've made a concerted effort to drastically reduce the amount of text in my presentations; instead, I show an image and tell a story to make my point.  It makes my message stand out... especially in a never-ending sea of bullet points.

Being identifiable can be negative as well.  Ask Jack the Ripper.  OK, since he's dead and gone, there is plenty of evidence of cubicle career killers lurking around our offices.  I once worked with another consultant who insisted on editing everybody else's work before it went before the client.  It would be one thing if a majority of his edits added value, but it got to the point where we referred to said edits as his having peed on the document (i.e., marked his territory so he could get credit later).

But even worse is having no identity whatsoever.  If your work, your project, your accomplishment looks EXACTLY like everybody else's, why do we bother keeping you on the payroll?  You're just a tree that's lost all of its leaves in a forest of other trees who have lost their leaves.  You're all just a bundle of topless, faceless trunks and twigs with no accomplishment to show for yourself.  Oh well, maybe next spring.

Having an accomplishment that is well branded means that you have "marked your territory" in a positive light.  People are ecstatic to see your stamp of approval.  They know you own it.  They rest assured that the accomplishment is/was/shall be in good hands.  You are the Steve Jobs of your domain.

However, a caveat to being identifiable:  Scott Ginsberg, an expert in personal branding and identity, shares some of his wisdom on this topic: "What identifies you doesn't define you. Don't walk into a room assuming people care about your nametag, when what people crave is the committed heart behind it. Are you living larger than your labels?"  But we'll get to that later.


Goldkey It's great if your accomplishments are noticed, and even better if they are engaging, but when people unwrap your accomplishments, will they find something VALUABLE at the core of your accomplishment's brand?

There are a lot of projects out there that are pure fantasy.  I recently blogged at IowaBiz about this phenomenon, how many IT departments like to drive unnecessary projects through the pipelines... just because they can.  I've observed many CIO's who have authorized projects for "really cool technology" just because of the "bells and whistles."  At one client, I referred to the CIO as "the little engine that shouldn't" because of his ability to materialize non-vetted projects... I don't think he liked the title very much.

But how do we define "value" in our accomplishments?  The dictionary calls it "having desirable or esteemed characteristics or qualities" or "of great use or service," but I don't think either of these really cut to the chase.  Your accomplishment has to be relevant.  In other words, the recipient/user/customer of the accomplishment has to care that you've accomplished something.  If they don't, you have New Coke... or Gap... sure, you accomplished something, but your audience did not find anything of value.  Look at the gripes every time Facebook changes something... you'll see a tremendous lack of accomplishment value.

Often, value is - as Malcolm Gladwell would put it - "thin sliced."  We can just look at an accomplishment and deem it to be valuable.  How?  Brant Fetter made a good observation on his blog:

I think we humans use any kind of cue to assess the value of something. That’s why branding works. Just as someone who has a clean appearance and speaks in an articulate fashion is going to be more trusted initially than others. We try (whether we know it or not) to use this shorthand from gut reactions all the way up to deciding multi-million dollar contracts and mates. Any human knowledge is based on those that go before us, such as science is just one body of work based on the previous.

Whether it's a snap decision or well researched, value will be vetted out over time.  So it's great if your accomplishment brand is noticeable and engaging... just make sure it is valuable as well.  People will notice.

Mastering the Art of the Flirt

Flirt Many, MANY years ago (before kids... before wife... barely into adulthood), I was shopping with my sister-in-law.  We had gone into a men's clothing store, and I was looking around.  The clerk was helping us out, and I remember her being very friendly.  As we left the store, my sister-in-law turned to me and stated: "Wow, I can't believe she didn't propose to you right then and there."

"Huh?" (The typical male response in clueless state.)

"She was completely and totally flirting with you."

"Really?  Cool."  (End of conversation.  Acknowledged with a slight puff of ego.)

If you are going to brand your accomplishments, you're going to have to ENGAGE those who will benefit from your accomplishments (or potentially benefit from them).  To engage them effectively, you're going to need to master the art of the flirt.  While flirting gets a bad reputation for being superficial or lacking serious intent, it does do the one thing you want it to do:  builds curiosity.

To be engaging, you want to draw attention.  That's where being noticeable helps.  But being noticed isn't enough.  You have to create that spark of curiosity.  That sly smile and quick wink that says, "I have something you want."

As a project manager, I encourage other PM's to master flirting in their communication.  You can't barf every piece of information you know on the page and expect people to read it, let alone want more.  If your accomplishments are going to engage others, you need to flirt with their brains to build their curiosity and draw them in.

Look at the next two paragraphs

The testing report was not completed yet again this week because Fred forgot to talk to the IT team lead, who had most of the detail surrounding the report since December, but refuses to discuss it with any of our team because of office politics.  Anyway, after our project sponsor forced the IT team to comply, he called Fred to set up a meeting last Tuesday at 3:30 PM in Room 702 of the East Campus Building.  Fred was called away by his wife to attend their son’s school program (which Fred had also forgotten to make note of), and when he left to go to the program, he neglected to mention anything about the meeting.  So it is now three months since the requirements were completed by IT, and our team still does not have the testing report complete.  Our sponsor will be discussing Fred’s dropped balls with him next week, and this will probably appear in his performance evaluation (at least it had better)
The testing report is not complete.  We are now three months behind schedule on this deliverable (originally due 12-28).  Fred is accountable for this deliverable.

Which one would you rather read in a status report?  They both essentially say the same thing.  But which one does a better job of flirting with your brain, building your curiosity, giving you just the critical facts while engaging you to ask for more?  (The first one just makes my eyes glaze over, and I'm the one who wrote it for sake of example.)

So if your accomplishments and going to be branded effectively, can you master the art of the flirt?  Can you invite your audience into your accomplishments and leave them wanting more?

Sarah Palin is a New York Yankee

Sarahpalin One of the first components of branding yourself and your accomplishments is getting NOTICED.

But what does "getting noticed" look like?  Obviously, you have to be just different enough to knock through the perceptual filters of your audience.  Let's be real here folks:  how many meetings do you attend in a week?  how many emails do you receive?  how many phone calls do you take/make?  You, my friend, are bombarded with a whole lot of stuff vying for your attention.  It's like we're surrounded by a roomfull of ADHD youngest children, jumping up and down, screaming "Hey! I'm here! Pay attention to me!"  That's why Seth Godin's Purple Cow was such a huge seller.

Yankees While I wasn't a big fan of Drake's D+ ad campaign (more due to forgotten constituencies and communication thereto), President David Maxwell did a great job of explaining the concept behind this campaign for its target audience:  high school seniors.  While every other college's brochure had a beautifully composed picture of happy students on a well landscaped lawn under a tree with their laptops, Drake slapped them in the face with a plain blue brochure with a huge white D+.  It grabbed their attention.  It was different enough to be noticeable.  And it has worked with the target audience.

Which leads me to the second aspect of getting noticed:  you have to be comfortable with being hated.  Kathy Sierra's model of strong branding says it all.  If you are loved or hated, you're getting noticed.  We don't like the "being hated" part very much.  It makes us uncomfortable.  We just want to be loved, and if that's not attainable, we want to be liked.  Being liked is not a strong brand.  Ask Sarah Palin.  If you agree or disagree with her politics, she continues to be noticed.  And people love her or hate her.  And she's pretty cool with either side of the equation.  Same with the New York Yankees.  If my Facebook and Twitter traffic is any indication, there are A LOT of people who hate the Yankees (either that, or the Rangers have generated a TON of ad hoc fans suddenly).

What about you?  Are you getting noticed?  Are your accomplishments?  Why not?  Well, are you only tackling the "popular" projects at work?  When it comes to making a decision, are you always playing it safe?  Are you comfortable with being hated for doing what is right?  Are you putting yourself out there with how your projects and accomplishments are being branded?  Are you infusing a part of yourself into your projects?  I've mentioned before the time when I was put in charge of a HIPAA training project (insert yawn here).  I went out on a limb and did the whole training video like an episode of Cops.  It was a hit with the client, because it was different enough to be noticeable.  Make your accomplishments noticeable.  It will help you be more noticeable also.

Brand Flakes

Branflakes In the world of accomplishment, there will always be perception.  It's a two-edged sword.

That's why it is so critical for every professional to own his or her personal brand.  I've been a big fan of Mike Wagner for years.  What he has done for company branding with his DIRTY model is brilliant.  It's been proven over and over:  companies with strong brands are more successful.

But what about you as an individual?  Do you have a brand?  (Psssst... the answer is "yes")

If you are going to achieve "Carpe Factum" you'll need to figure out how to brand yourself... and your accomplishments.

Unfortunately, many out there think they can accomplish great things without managing their individual brand.  Many of the letters I've answered on Office-Politics.com have been caused by individuals who have let others define their brand for them... and discovered it too late.  They've flaked out on owning their own identity.

We can create check marks to denote our accomplishments... but are we owning the story, the perception, and identity behind them?

What do you think?  Do you have a grasp on your personal brand?  When something great is accomplished, do those around you say, "I could tell that was YOUR work. Congratulations!"?  Branding yourself and your accomplishments applies to everyone from superstar CEO's to custodial staff.

Over the next few posts, let's figure out what it takes to brand ourselves... and our accomplishments.

Fed Up with Feedback Loops?

Dem_donkey_states Ah... those wild and wacky Democrats.

There was a great article by Robyn Goldwyn Blumenthal in Barron's last weekend about how Democrats and debt go together.  True, one could argue the Republicans have done their fair share to rack up debt in the last decade; I wouldn't argue.   However, according to the article, states that tend to vote Democrat "run average per capita deficits more that 2.5 times their Republican counterparts":

TJ Marta, chief market strategist of Marta on the Markets, has found that states that voted more heavily for Democrats in the last five presidential elections racked up average per capita debt of $1,896, versus $729 in those favoring Republicans.

"It's astounding," says Marta, who got the idea to run the numbers after seeing a story on CNN that showed a map of the U.S. color-coded by debt per capita. "It looked surprisingly similar to the political red versus blue state maps," he says.

One of the more interesting parts of systems thinking is when the feedback loop reveals itself.  In systems terms, the feedback loop represents the consequences of our actions (positive or negative).  If somebody is deliberate in designing their system, the feedback loop is rarely a surprise.  Even if the results vary from what is expected, the changes can be traced, explained, and corrected.  It's when people don't pay attention to the system that the results are a surprise.  Sometimes the results get people's attention and prompt change.  Other times, people just dismiss the results.  Why should we care about numbers as long as our political agenda is furthered (or the other side's agenda is hindered)?  Well, according to the article, these same "blue" states have worse bond ratings, translating to higher interest rates on debt, meaning the taxpayers are bearing more of a burden.  So this system feeds yet another system.  Funny how that works.

I'm not trying to politicize here; I just found it an interesting example of what I've been saying about systems (ALL systems) for many, many months.  If you are not designing your systems with a purpose, the feedback loop will reveal what you designed by accident.  What about YOUR systems... at work... at home?  Do you know what the feedback loop measurements are saying about your output?  Are you prepared for results?  Are you willing to accept the numbers and make changes accordingly?  Do you even agree that there's a correlation?

(Image source: Barron's)

Giving One For the Team

Aoc3-cover First of all, I owe Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton an apology.  There was a "bum rush" last Friday for Age of Conversation 3:  It's Time to Get Busy.  Due to the wonders of technology and this random invention called spam filters, I totally missed it.  So here is my chance at redemption.  Even though we missed Blog Action Day, you can still purchase a copy and help a great charity.

The charity that benefits from each and every sale of each and every book, is Charity Water. Charity Water is a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. 100% of public donations directly fund water projects.

Amazingly, just $20 can give one person clean water for 20 years. An average water project costs $5,000 and can serve 250 people with clean, safe water – so purchasing a copy of the Age of Conversation 3 really can make a difference to someone’s life!

Buy the Book and send others to buy the book. If you work in an agency, get your agency to purchase multiple copies and give them out as year end gifts. (NOTE: Please buy 1 copy at a time because Amazon counts bulk orders once, and please use these affiliate links, which will help us in tracking sales.) Remember, all the proceeds from the book sales and referrals will go to charity water:

◦    Kindle Version

◦    Paperback Version

◦    Hardcover Version

So while I missed the October 15 Bum Rush, you and I can still make a difference.

And while talking about making a difference, IT IS NOT TOO LATE to donate to the Race for the Cure to see me hop 5 kilometers in a pink bunny suit.  A special thanks to Pete Jones for his shout out. Donations received by Friday night will be counted.

Mine! Mine! All Mine!

Chilean-miners Congratulations to the Chilean government and to the 33 brave miners who survived 69 days underground after their mine caved in on August 5th, keeping them trapped 2300 feet underground.

Following the story, there are some definite lessons about accomplishment to be learned:

  1. When disaster strikes, it does not necessarily mean certain doom and gloom.  Having that many guys trapped that deep for that long was not exactly the most positive news... but a solution was found.
  2. Sometimes you have to dig deep - really deep - to find the accomplishment buried in the rubble.  But taking the time for the dig is always worth it in the end, especially if it leads to your accomplishment's survival.
  3. It may be depressing to wait... but there are ways around it.  For the miners, it mean government-supplied clothing and games and anti-depressants.  For us above ground, it may mean a little vacation (even a 5-minute mental vacation) or some other change of scenery or something inspirational.
  4. Keep communication open.  One of the things that helped the miners (and their families) was the ability to communicate with each other.  In project management, communication is 90% of the game.
  5. Slow and steady wins the race.  I talked about this in my first book.  There's ALWAYS a race against time in any accomplishment, but rushing just for rushing's sake generally leads to stupid mistakes.  Taking 69 days meant all 33 miners made it back to the surface safely.
  6. Set expectations wisely.  Nobody made false promises to the miners.  They knew it could take months to be rescued.  Knowing that helped make the endurance test a little more bearable.
  7. Know your role.  Many of the miners underground served specific roles to keep up morale and health, as well as stay organized.  Leverage those around you for their strengths to keep your accomplishment alive.
  8. Determine ownership of the accomplishment.  Poor Yonni Barrios.  To have his wife and his mistress "discover" each other while he's trapped had to be... well... um... AWKWARD!  He's probably the only one who wishes he could have stayed underground.  When your accomplishment makes it to the surface, make sure it's clear who really owns it (and hopefully it's you)

So, again, congratulations to the miners and to the many people who helped them survive and make it safely to the surface once again.

I Was Told "No"

No Last week, I was told "no."

I didn't think my request was unreasonable.

Nor did it come as a surprise to the requested party, as the other person has known for the better part of a year what was on my mind, and that the question was on the table for that length of time.

There was really no argument about it, since the other party and have a strong friendship and lots of mutual respect for each other.

Was I disappointed?  Yes.

Was it permanent.  No.

Both he and I knew that he wasn't really telling me "no."  While it was the answer to the question on the table, that "no" was actually a much more empowering "yes" to pursue the same problem from a different angle.  As a matter of fact, his "no" was more of an invitation for me to find a slightly different "yes."

Sometimes we take "no" as a final answer.  When dealing with questions of legality, morality, or ethics, the "no as a final answer" is a pretty good thing.

But for everything else?  Well...

At a former client, we had a running joke of being told "no" up to five times before an idea took root.

"No" is actually the seed of the "Yes" plant.  If you plant a "no" and the soil is fertile enough and well watered, you can't help but grow a "Yes" eventually.  If the "no" is planted in the desolate soil of defeatism, then "no" stays just that, just like a seed shrivels and dies rather than producing a plant.  And all you get is a frustrated farmer.

My "no" seed is currently germinating quite nicely into a "yes" ... a future accomplishment in the making.

What about yours?

Hopping to a Solution

Today is my birthday, and I love to give other people gifts on my birthday.  As you know, today starts Breast Cancer Awareness month, and this is a topic which became very near and dear to me last year.

I'm also at LavaCon, where I delivered two workshops yesterday.  The workshop on personal branding was delivered in the ever-famous pink bunny suit.  I still get asked about that suit a lot.

So here's the scoop:  I'm slated to walk the 5K in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Des Moines on October 23rd.  I will do the entire route wearing the pink bunny suit IF I can raise $5000 in the next 3 weeks.  Why $5,000?  Well, the event generally raises a half million dollars, and I'd rather be 1% of the solution than 99% of the problem.  Why did I wait so long to post this?  For starters, I like a challenge, and three weeks is a great challenge to raise $5,000 for a great charity.  Second, I know how busy people are and how they procrastinate, so I'm not giving them the chance to delay.

Contact me to find out logistics.  For those sending checks snail mail, Post Office Box 7832 in Urbandale, Iowa 50323 (make sure your checks are made out directly to Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure).  For those using Paypal the email is transact [at] carpefactum [dot] com.  Finally, Ben Milne and the folks from Dwolla have set up a special account for this promotion.  For both Paypal and Dwolla, remember to put "Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure" in the memo section.

Together, let's HOP to a solution.

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