What does it mean to be a Tall Poppy?

Being different. In some countries it’s undesirable. I use to work for an Australian company and we’d hear mention of ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’. Australia has changed greatly over the last decade but Tall Poppy use to be part of the culture. I had to ask when I first heard it too. The term originated with Aristotle, that’s how old it is. The idea is that a uniform field of poppies is ideal and the ones that are taller than the rest should be cut down. The official term is actually intended to be pejorative.

I feel like this Tall Poppy sometimes- at least I hope I am. Is that odd?

So how is it relevant in this day and age?

I see this in corporate contexts. Say the boss spends $1M on a outside consultant to deliver a finding. The Boss agrees with the finding and cascades it out to the generals and then to the troops. In a corporate culture, the people closest to the the customer, the troops, have no say in the strategy. It would be a rare example to hear about a soldier (keeping with the analogy) who pointed out flaws in the finding and was able to make positive change to the project. Soldiers may be able to affect the implementation, but we do see a higher scrutiny and less tolerance for someone in the ranks to question leadership decisions. The Tall Poppy Syndrome is that feeling that the soldier who makes waves will be scrutinized. That is how it’s been explained to me and how I interpret it.

I’m a passionate person – passionate about my industry and my work ethic. I thrive on making educated leaps, being a first mover, and persistence. I believe that if you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried hard enough. In an environment that favors diplomacy, following protocol and subtlety, you don’t do well being celebratory, insistent, innovative, disappointed, or proud. Some would say that until you reach a certain level you’re best to just tone it down, go with the flow. (It’s the opposite in the start-up environment. The more personally invested you are, the better.)

I’ve worked with my share of battle-worn colleagues who have been put in one box on the org chart and then moved to another box the next year then back again. And with the economic downturn these are the lucky ones to have survived numerous waves of lay offs. Perhaps this has something to do with mellowing of emotions in large corporate environments. And it’s the culture of tan cubicles, layers of management, but mostly keeping your eye on the horizon of long term goals.

My field of Digital Marketing is constantly reinventing itself and it excites me to no end! So being housed inside of a 40k person company has been such a juxtaposition of large and nimble. Working in the corporate environment has made me a better professional and employee. I don’t want to lose the Tall Poppy in me, that entrepreneur. I’m not going to change the way corporations work but I’ve come to understand the perspective. Corporations are built for long, steady progression. But even though we invest ourselves in our work, sometimes at our own personal expense, corporations manage in thousands not by individuals. The loyalty and passion you invest has to be rewarding to you first. Brave the harsh winds, the sun is worth it.

Imagistic Grantastic Awards 2012

Imagistic, an innovator in technology and marketing services, is taking holiday giving to a new high. The company, located in Westlake Village, CA, has expertise in business technology strategy, technology forensics, RFP/RFQ/RFI consultation, internet and custom software development, content strategy, project management, design, and information architecture. They have designed and built some fantastic projects for Hollywood.com, CarsDirect and Network for Good.

Until last year, they did like most agencies do and sent holiday gifts to clients to thank them for their business. Being on the client side I have received these gifts too and love it when I get something really creative and useful. From reading my blog you my might foresee that I love the idea of giving to charity in lieu of tangible presents. And that’s exactly what Imagistic has done.

Imagistic has created a grant worth $20k in consulting services and will award the prize by selecting from the best applications. I’m honored to be a judge for 2012 and to help to select the project that will contribute the most impact toward bettering our planet.

From the Imagistic website: Grantastic from Imagistic

We would bang our heads trying to think of cool and innovative holiday presents to send to our clients and partners. We’d done it all – Mugs, Red Staplers, Canvas Bags, Feel Good Bundles (tea, incense and organic goodies) – you name it, we’d sent it.

So last year we decided that we were finally going to do something different. Rather than sending a cool tsotchke (one that will most likely end up in a landfill), we decided it was time to give away something with value – something that gives and keeps giving. We realized the idea was right in front of us. Why not give “ourselves” away?

So we decided to offer a grant of our services to one company or organization that doing something to better our planet. Isn’t that fantastic? We think so – in fact. we think it’s Grantastic!

I’m so impressed with the generosity of this agency and their clients who share this value and forgo their luxurious gifts in order to contribute to the winning cause. Applications have been submitted and are ready for the 2012 judging. By the end of March the winning project will be awarded $20k in technology and business services, the results of which will benefit the world for years to come.

Happiness at Work – Who’s Responsible?

It’s human nature to want to be part of something important and to feel relevant and uniquely needed. After years in our careers those desires get sanded down a bit and replaced by confidence, armour and some healthy reality.

In an economy like this, where we have an employers market, there’s less focus on retaining employees, career development, team building, and succession planning… though we’ve seen reports that employee happiness contributes ROI. Well, except for the Digital space.

I ran across this shining example of a new company who is committed to its mission and has created an environment that cannot help but attract committed, high-achieving, positive people.

HealthTap.com, Palo Alto, CA

Sure, they have job descriptions to describe the skills they are looking for, but they also have illustrated clearly WHO they are looking for:

You’re passionate about what you do: Being passionate about everything we do – from coding to creative design to building our physician community – ensures we’re always at our best.

You have a change-the-world-attitude: Everyone likes to talk about changing the world, but we’ve got the special kind of excitement, capability, and dedication to make it happen.

You want to build a great company with us: It’s a lot more exciting to be the one who shapes and builds a truly great company where people love to work than to just hear people talk about how they did it later.

You are adventurous: It’s about the journey, and not just the destination. It’s important to take risks with a fearless spirit, and to embrace successes and failures in the spirit of learning.

And let’s not forget the silly pictures of everyone in casual attire with dogs and babies in the office. In the Bay Area where the market is reversed, where it’s a employees market, and talent jumps from place to place, it’s a completely different paradigm. This company is about the people, about helping people and about passion. But if they have constant role changes, managers who don’t gain consensus, or excessive stress this passion isn’t a guarantee for a happy staff.

It doesn’t come down to money. Research shows that sales, productivity, and accuracy increase when the team is happy. Where is the real stumbling block?

  • Companies still think it costs too much money to make employees happy?
  • They don’t feel responsible for employees happiness?
  • It’s too much effort to implement or measure?
  • They don’t know HOW to make employees happy?
  • Companies think employees should find ways to be happy

I believe it’s the last two. What creates happy employees is not free food or holiday bonuses. Employee engagement is not tangible and takes really understanding the culture you have created and how that culture changes from year to year. The company can only create the environment, the flavor is added by the staff.

Ultimately, in life and in work, we are all responsible for making the most of our lives and work, for our happiness, continued training and succession planning. When you rely on yourself, you make it happen. Discover what you need at work to make you happy. You be the difference.

Remembering Howard Goldberg, Qantas

When I think of Howard I think of him more as a friend or family. But he was also my previous boss at Qantas Airways and my mentor. While I was trying to connect with my feelings over his recent passing I started sifting through old files. I ran across a document I wrote nominating Howard for an eXcel Award- a Qantas internal recognition award. I don’t think Howard ever knew I submitted this for him. Politically, I knew it was a long shot so I just didn’t mention it.

Here is that letter circa 2005:

I have had the opportunity to work with many powerful and entrepreneurial managers before and thrive well working with visionaries. But above all other Presidents, Vice Presidents, and CEOs I have followed, Howard Goldberg manages with the most important leadership characteristics.

Customer and Company Loyal: Howard runs the sales and marketing department with the mission of improving our relationships with our partners and customers. He finds ways to reduce strain and barriers that would otherwise hinder our partners’ success. Every contract and project created or overseen by him assures that the company’s best interest is first and foremost. Howard leads by example and it is very easy to see his loyalty to Qantas and his genuine love of his staff, the product and the potential for growth in N. America.

Challenges the staff: Howard doesn’t have to create superficial expectations and milestones for his staff. In his own way of showing his motivation and eagerness to succeed, Howard challenges his employees to achieve increased results and improve our region’s earning potential. He leads through encouragement when he focuses more on what we are doing right than on what we are doing wrong. Consequently, we are all motivated to keep improving and optimize our methods for the good of the company. Personally, Howard takes the time to meet with me and discuss my strengths and foster my career.

Chief Fireman: In the course of every project, problems arise. Howard has a unique ability to not only listen but to also advise the best ways to solve problems. No matter how busy he can get, he always makes time for face-to-face meetings to help us straighten out our business issues. It takes a lot of energy to juggle all the projects and personalities in Sales and Marketing but Howard has proven incredibly adept at being a chief fireman and leading us to find ways to prevent future outbreaks.

Respects Me: Howard lets me do my job the way I know it needs to be done. If I find myself in conflict with a colleague, vendor or policy, I can always ask Howard for advice. No one likes to be micro-managed. By allowing me the latitude to do my job and set my own course, he is actually gaining productivity from me. I feel more invested in my position and work to achieve my personal best with goals that are set very high. The best bosses manage by being very clear about what’s important and what are critical success components of a job or project.

Howard encourages us to stretch and take risks. Taking risks is essential to the field of online marketing. There is nothing ‘tried and true’ for this new and evolving form of marketing. It is only by trying new strategies and media partners that we can test and measure for future success. Great leaders encourage employees to make mistakes (small ones). Even more important, they treat those mistakes as learning opportunities.

Howard recognizes our strengths and thinks of his employees as individuals. He is very supportive and effective at nudging me toward the goals I have set for myself. He praises my work when I am heading in the right direction and is available with helpful advice when I go off the path. He celebrates my success, which makes me more motivated to exceed previous performance.

Has a sense of humor: One of Howard’s most endearing qualities is that, a long time ago, he learned that having a sense of humor is an important survival skill. It is with this optimistic and funny outlook that he guides us through budget cuts and swings in bureaucracy and helps his team weather many situations.

Shares information: In a company that receives directives from head office, it would be easy to feel lost or disconnected from the company’s mission. Howard makes it a priority to continuously communicate pertinent information and elicit our responses and feedback.

Howard comes to work everyday with a refreshing outlook and genuine goal to help Qantas grow revenue and create lasting relationships. He always tries to make customers happy and present Qantas in the most favorable light. It is with great enthusiasm and pride that he leads his team.

Howard has the unwavering respect and admiration of his staff because he has earned it. It does not take 5 years working with him to see that he is a man of his word. Truly most of us hold Howard in such high regard that we follow his decisions and advice and are eager to make his team a success. He is a model boss and a major contributor to the success of Qantas North America. He is an amazing, caring boss who I personally and professionally respect and recommend for an eXcel award.

Building On Your Strengths

My eyes have been opened. (Dramatic, huh?) I have always believed that I was an introspective person, old enough to know who I am and young enough to know who I want to be. The difference between last week (above) and this week is that I can put my finger exactly on my top 5 strengths.

If you haven’t taken the Strengths Finder 2.0 online test, stop reading this, go to Amazon, purchase the book (which has a unique code allowing you to take the online test). My Marketing department did this as an exercise and over 90% of the team agreed the results were shockingly accurate. What an experiment too! We had many core strengths in common- achievers, analytics, ideation, futuristic- but we also had some interesting outliers like woo, fairness and consistent.

The premise of strength-based research is that success can only be achieved by improving and operating from our strengths. To that end, we cannot become accomplished by trying to improve our weaknesses. It’s a common behavior to say, I’m horrible at xxx, so I’m going to take classes to fix it. The book argues that you can only become competent this way, but not excel. Managers who only focus on weaknesses, like parents, are only creating more problems. By focusing on our strengths we become happier, more engaged and our creativity shines.

See what you think. Open your eyes.

Book description from Amazon:Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day? Chances are, you don’t. All too often, our natural talents go untapped. From the cradle to the cubicle, we devote more time to fixing our shortcomings than to developing our strengths.

To help people uncover their talents, Gallup introduced the first version of its online assessment, StrengthsFinder, in 2001 which ignited a global conversation and helped millions to discover their top five talents.

In its latest national bestseller, StrengthsFinder 2.0, Gallup unveils the new and improved version of its popular assessment, language of 34 themes, and much more (see below for details). While you can read this book in one sitting, you’ll use it as a reference for decades.

Reinventing a Company Toy Drive with Social Media

Learnings from my latest cause marketing program at WellPoint December 2011

I’m very proud of the success and fun we had with our WellPoint holiday toy drive providing happiness to the families at the RAIN center in Camarillo, Ca. This was the first year we used social media for our internal Blue Crew programs. I designed the social media strategy using Yammer to seed our message to company employees. Using an Amazon Wish List helped make the wishes more real and provided reporting and tracking on the gifts that were received or needed.

Outreach was driven through Yammer (facebook for companies) where we created a new group for the Blue Crew and enlisted our colleagues to join and spread the word about the online forum. Building this group created an opt-in audience for our future campaigns too. Employees who provided toys or furthered our cause were awarded badges and called out on the news feed. Every day we would highlight a special wish reminding everyone how little it costs to make a difference. And with the Amazon wish list we eliminated the hassle of shipping so all employees from New York to San Diego could participate- and heavier toys (like a skateboard for Angela that came from a colleague in Maine) were not left out.

The program also acted as a Yammer sign up campaign though I don’t have the stats on that. Because the conversations we hosted were engaging and viral, we saw daily new sign-ups to the Yammer site that had been online for over a year.

Our Intranet editor posted this out to the company:

The Blue Crew had another great success with its holiday toy drive for RAIN transitional living facility located in Camarillo, California. WellPoint associates from across the country heard about the toy drive and donated 64 gifts for the children and families, far exceeding the wish list of 27 items. Many thanks go to Vicki Karayan, Marketing Coordinator, Sr. who organized the drive while Suzanne Appel, Internet Marketing Manager, drove internal awareness for the drive. “Day by day the Amazon boxes arrived and we saw the kids’ wish list fill up. It was so exciting to feel that kind of generosity from these amazing WellPoint Associates,” said Suzanne. RAIN supports families in our community trying to get back on their feet in this tough economy. Way to go!!

Amazon Wish List for Rain

RAIN supports families in our community trying to get back on their feet with in this tough economy. The RAIN Transitional Living Center has provided housing and services to families and single adults in Ventura County, California, to help with the transition from homelessness to permanent housing. You can learn more about them at http://www.raincommunities.org

Learnings:

  • Make it easy to donate, and make it real to know where the money is going
  • By removing the shipping issues we were able to make great gains on a short 2 week campaign at the holiday time
  • Technology isn’t for everyone so make sure to provide tips for people who prefer offline channels
  • Creating a universal, up-to-date wish list allows you to see your progress daily, add to the inventory, make adjustments as the prices change and delete items when someone notifies you they bought an item offline
  • Having the audience is critical, having the right message will help you grow that audience
  • When you love what you’re doing you’ll thrive to innovate

The Tall Poppy

Being different. In some countries it’s undesirable. I use to work for an Australian company and we’d hear mention of Tall Poppy Syndrome. Australia has changed greatly over the last decade but Tall Poppy use to be part of the culture. I had to ask when I first heard it too. The term originated with Aristotle, that’s how old it is. The idea is that a uniform field of poppies is ideal and the ones that are taller than the rest should be pulled. The official term is actually intended to be pejorative.

I feel like this Tall Poppy sometimes- at least I hope I am. Is that odd?

So how is it relevant in this day and age?

I see this in corporate contexts. I’m a passionate person – passionate about my industry and my work ethic. I thrive on making educated leaps, being a first mover, and persistence. I believe that if you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried hard enough. (You just don’t want to fail too badly). And because of this, I stick out. In an environment that favors diplomacy and subtlety, you don’t do well being celebratory, insistent, disappointed, or proud. Some would say that until you reach a certain level you’re best to just tone it down. (It’s the opposite in the start-up environment. The more personally invested you are, the better.)

I’ve worked with my share of battle-worn colleagues who have been put in one box on the org chart and then moved to another branch and the next year, back again. And with the economic downturn these are the lucky ones to have survived numerous waves of lay offs. It can’t be blamed on the culture of tan cubicles and layers of management, though I would like to because cubicles are no fun. The reason is – large companies are like ships and they must keep their eye on the horizon. Their direction is long distance and long term.

My field of Internet Marketing is constantly reinventing itself and it excites me to no end! So being housed inside of a 40k person company has been such a juxtaposition of large and nimble. Working in the corporate environment has made me a better professional and employee. I don’t want to lose the Tall Poppy in me, that entrepreneur. I’m not going to change the way corporations work but I’ve come to understand the perspective. Corporations are built for slow, steady progression. But even though we invest ourselves in our work, sometimes at our own personal expense, corporations manage in thousands not by individuals. The loyalty and passion you invest has to be rewarding to you, the employee.

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