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Are You Getting The Most Out Of Your Social Network

Are You Getting The Most Out Of Your Social Network?
I hear them all the time; I don’t get Social Networking.  I have a Facebook account but what good is it?  These things just waste time.  I don’t have time to Tweet.  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, how do you choose?
First an admission.  My name is Randy and I use social networks.  What does that mean?  It means I am no longer just a casual Facebooker.  It means I actually use social networking tools as business tools.  This isn’t new.  Business professionals have been networking for generations.  Formally and informally people have been using their connections to benefit their business.  All the social networking tools have just moved this into the digital age.  I no longer have to physically interact with someone to make contact.  I can be in front of my network multiple times a day while still in my office, or sitting on a beach.  This in no way replaces personal interaction.  Face to face meetings are, and always will be, the best way to build relationships.  Social networking allows me to enhance these relationships very efficiently.  It allows me to be in front of my networks and interacting, in at least a limited way, with these people far more often than is possible in the physical realm.
I won’t get into a discussion here as to weather or not social networking is a beneficial activity.  I will assume if you are still reading that you have already come to that conclusion on your own.
So now to the heart of the discussion.  How does one “get the most out of your social networking”?  Like most other things I have experienced in life I find the old saying to be true: “what you get out is directly proportionate to what you put in”.  This means I have to be proactive.  If I want people to pay attention to me I have to be relevant.  I have to post comments that are consistent with the image I want to portray.  But one of the keys in this statement is that I do have to post comments.  Just like in the physical realm, people are attracted to people who are interesting to them.  So if you want to build a network of business professionals then post interesting comments on business.  Talk about your business world.
The other key is that developing a good social network takes work.  If you are developing a social network in the physical realm, you have to get out and meet people.  You have to interact.  It is the same in the digital realm.  There are some things you have to do.  I have already discussed the importance of posting regularly but that is just the obvious part.  You also have to work at building your network.  You need to invest time.  LinkedIn has done a good job of helping us do this.  You will notice they have 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree connections.  Look at the connections of your connections (2nd degree).  Invite people who interest you to connect.  The most obvious of these are the people you already know but are not connected to already.  You can of course also do this with Facebook and Twitter.
The bottom line is that being a great networker takes work in both the real world and the digital word.  So if you want the benefits of having a great network then you have to put in the time and effort to build one.  The other tricks and tools for building your network will be another blog.  Hopefully this one just got you thinking.

Always Finish The Deal

Always Finish The Deal
I have been reminded lately of the importance of finishing the deal.  Any deal.  In the eloquent words of Yogi Berra, “It isn’t over until it’s over”.  Or put another way, the deals not done until it’s done.
Too often people get a deal agreed to without having it formalized and then proceed as if the deal exists.  Make no mistake; until you have the deal defined and agreed to in writing it can, and will, change.
Time has a way of effecting people’s perspective.  Views on what is fair, what is enough, who should pay for what, what should be interest bearing, who should have control, all change regularly.  They are based on perspective.  It isn’t that anyone is trying to cheat anyone or trying to squeeze out more money.  Although these things do happen, it is usually just that at least one persons perspective has changed.
When two parties are focused on getting a deal done, their focus is different than it may be in conducting day-to-day business.  There is an energy that contributes goes in to working a deal that is gone once the dance is over.  Just this week I have seen three examples of people struggling with what feel like changes to a deal that was supposedly agreed to some time ago.  The challenge in each case is that the deals were never actually formalized.
My point in all this is that whoever is driving the deal needs to keep their foot on the gas until all the paperwork is in place.  The best time to get agreement on paper is while everyone involved is still in their “let’s make a deal” mind set.

Bell And Rogers Buying Maple Leaf Sports And Entertainment Is Wrong On So Many Levels

So Bell and Rogers have joined forces to purchase controlling interest in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.  Bell and Rogers are direct competitors in the telecommunications business.  They beat up on each other every day for your cell phone business and your land lines.  Bell owns TSN and Rogers own Sportsnet.  So they compete for advertising dollars and viewers on sports television every day.   Bell also owns an interest in the Montreal Canadiens.
Ok first let me start with these two company’s core business.  They are in the telecommunications business.  A business that in Canada is protected by the CRTC.  Protected because to assure that all Canadians have access to telephones, both land lines and cell service, our government feels it is necessary to guarantee these company’s profits by not allowing outside competition.  As a result of this protection, we pay some of the highest cell phone rates in the free world!  That’s right.  While these companies earn record profits from Canadian consumers the government protects them from competition.
They then reinvest these profits by going into the broadcasting business by buying up Canada’s network broadcasters. Bell owns CTV and Rogers owns many television and radio stations.
Then they set their sights on the Canadian sports world.  Rogers already owned the Toronto Blue Jays.
Remember all of these purchases are with dollars generated in a business where they are suppose to be competitors but thanks to our government protecting them from any real competition they generate uncontested record profits.  I am about as right wing a free enterprise, capitalist, Conservative as you could find.  So I have nothing against profit.  Profit makes the world go round.  What I am against is government intervention protecting profits at the expense of the tax payers.  I am against companies that are supposed to be competitors climbing in to bed together.  These two companies are just a little too close for my comfort level.
Then there is the whole NHL/Independent teams/Broadcaster/Ownership conspiracy that this situation just begs for.  This will make a great movie some day because only in fiction could this really exist, right.

Will There Be A Backlash In Alberta Politics

Will There Be A Backlash In Alberta Politics?
Alberta has seen two big election surprises this year.  First Naheed Nenshi is elected Mayor of Calgary and then Alison Redford wins the election as leader of the Alberta PC party, which automatically made her the provinces premier.  Neither of these candidates were favored going in to the election.  So, what happened?  How did these two long shots both capture unexpected wins?
One of the things these two candidates had in common was that Stephen Carter was their strategic advisor.  The tactics he employed were brilliant.  For years pundants have been talking about social media playing a larger part in politics. The belief was that if you could engage voters through social media you could energize a segment of voters who had never before become involved in the process.  The thought was that the reason these voters had not been involved to date was that conventional politics didn’t resonate with either their needs or their interests.  So they tuned out.  The challenge was how do you get them to listen to your messages.  Many analysts have credited the Obama campaign with employing tactics that successfully engaged this group of voters.  In Alberta however this social networking engagement theory was just that, a theory.  We had never seen it actually make a measurable difference in a campaign. That all changed with the Nenshi win in Calgary.
Although the Redford campaign employed the same effective use of social media they also employed another successful tactic that no one saw coming.  They believed they couldn’t win the party election within the conventional party members so they aimed their campaign messages at non-party members.  They engaged people who had never been members of the PC party and probably never will be again.  The campaign message was so good these people actually joined a party they would not normally support just to get Redford elected as the party leader and thereby the provincial Premier.
What was the same in both of these campaigns is that engaging voters who were not being addressed by any of the other candidates won the elections.  In both cases the strategy worked brilliantly.
What isn’t known is what the final result of this strategy may be.  I am sure a large group of people woke up in Calgary the morning after the election and asked; “We elected who?”  Similarly many members of the PC party of Alberta are asking themselves the same question.
So we know how these campaigns were successful in getting their candidates elected.  The challenge now becomes how do they hold power.  The single biggest voting block in all areas is still the Baby Boomers.  These Boomers are not the social media generation and in the case of the Alberta PC party are the group who to a large extend just stayed home rather than voting in this recent leadership campaign.  But if these Boomers aren’t happy with the results there could be a backlash the size of a tsunami.  You can engage whatever groups you want but these boomers still make up a huge majority if they decide to take action.

A Valuable Team Building Weekend

I spent this past weekend at Kananaskis golfing with the Edmonton management team of one of my clients.  There were 16 of us in the group.  The experience brought back many memories of the great times spent on get-aways with the Creative Door management team.
These experiences are invaluable team building times.  The small talk and jokes on and off the golf course bond the participants and build comfort as well as trust levels.  It is also amazing how much business talk takes place in a non business setting.  From a cost justification perspective the business issues resolved by putting this group together for two and a half days would easily pay any expense incurred by the company.  The dividends paid in the future will be immeasurable.
The experience was new for this company but they are already talking about doing it again.  They also have a high level national management team that will no doubt benefit from similar experiences.  This trip was purely recreationally focused.  My experience is that when you add focused business meetings to the agenda the benefits to both the company and the individuals grow exponentially.
I want to congratulate Bee Clean on their first successful business retreat and thank them for honoring me by including me in the group.

Lunch With Brett Wilson

KPMG hosted a meeting in Edmonton last week with Brett Wilson of CBC’s The Dragon’s Den fame.  A group of about twenty business leaders were invited to meet Brett over lunch at the Royal Mayfair Golf Club.  I would like to thank Tony Bencivenga for my invitation.
I am a fan of The Dragon’s Den and have particularly liked Brett since his first appearance on the show.  He appears to be a down to earth businessman who mixes an astute mind with common sense.  I’ve respected the reason’s he has used to fund certain projects on the show as well as his willingness to stand alone amongst the other Dragon’s when his principles dictated he was doing the right thing.
Having met him I was even more impressed.  He really is the epitome of “what you see is what you get”.  Brett is a bright, energetic, charismatic businessman who really believes that being successful in business and being a good steward of the world can not only co-exist but that they may actually be symbiotic.  He talked about Marketing, Entrepreneurialism and Philanthropy as going hand in hand.  It is his personal mission to see these three subjects as core courses in all post-secondary education programs.
A shining example of Brett’s actions matching what he talks about is his investment in The 7 VirtuesBarb Stresemann, the founder of The 7 Virtues, accompanied Brett at the lunch and told the story of the company.  Barb is a fantastic woman.  Her company is truly an amazing story of what can happen when you combine a bright energetic entrepreneur with a passionate cause.
Brett is an engaging speaker, a principled entrepreneur and a great man.  I enjoyed our time together and hope to spend some more time with him in the future.

A Great Compliment

A Great Compliment
Anyone close to me knows that at this stage of my business life, I don’t solicit business.  Indeed my much debated retirement label means that I am actually not supposed to be “working” at all.  I have talked often, and written about, my love of the game of business and how I couldn’t know the game was being played without me having a seat at the table.  I find myself at an unexpected place in the business world.  I am serving on three corporate boards.  These are all paid board positions and I must say, I am really enjoying board work.  I learned that being on an effective board can be a very rewarding experience.  I get to be “cause in the matter” without being on the front lines.  Ok the value of an effective board is a topic worthy of it’s own blog so I’ll refocus on the topic at hand.  Aside from the boards, I also do some executive or corporate coaching.
I’ve talked about my client selection criteria in previous blogs.  Suffice to say, I am very selective in who I will work with.  In the past week I have been approached by two company presidents asking if I would help them.  I have known each of these people for years.  What I really appreciate is how they came to approach me.  They have a mutual friend who happens to be a client of mine.  From the things the client had told them of what we were doing with his company they each decide they needed me involved in their companies.  My client wasn’t soliciting business for me or even thinking they could or should use my services.  He was just talking about his experiences.
I haven’t decided yet whether I am going to work with either of these companies but the strength of the accidental referrals has been really gratifying.  I’ve always believed that if you have to ask for referrals you probably don’t deserve them.  I feel these unsolicited referrals are a great compliment and I am truly flattered.  It’s both gratifying and humbling to know I am making that much of a difference in someone’s business life.  Making a difference is why I do what I do.  It is a great compliment.  Thank you Jason.

A Great Customer Service Experience

I had a great customer service experience this past Tuesday.  I seldom see good customer service in these days of fast food, box stores, poor economy, consolidation and companies owned by venture capitalists who believe the god of ebitda will be their sole salvation. When a company and their people all “get it”, that is indeed a rare experience worth sharing.
I walked into an Apple store.  It was midmorning so the store wasn’t crazy busy like it is on the weekends.  There were lots of people browsing but still an abundance of staff available.  I walked to about the middle of the store when a young man noticed me and left the other staff members he was conversing with to come over.  Now in my recent experience this in itself is unusual.  It shouldn’t be, but it is.  We all know that most 20 somethings working in retail would much rather talk to each other than be interrupted by a customer.  This young man was different.  He approached with a big smile, introduced himself as Cameron and asked if he could help me find anything.  When I told him I was looking for a Superdrive he absolutely bubbled with enthusiasm.  “You must have a new MacBook Air” he exclaimed.  “Was it a Christmas present?”  I told him I’d had the first version for a year and love it.  We chatted about the virtues of my computer for a couple minutes and then he took me over to where the Superdrive should have been.  There were none on the shelf so he said he knew there were some in the back and that he’d be right back.  He reappeared quickly with my new Superdrive in hand.  After confirming that there was nothing else he could help me with he asked if he could check me out.  When I said yes he lifted his iPod, which I hadn’t even noticed he was carrying, tapped in a couple things and then asked how I would like to pay.  He took my Visa card and swiped it through a slot on the back of his iPod.  He then asked if I would like a printed receipt or if he could email it me.  Now this I really liked.  An email receipt option instead of adding to the paper collection in my wallet.  Hook me up.  The next surprise was that he already had my email address.  It must have been connected to my credit card from a previous purchase.  Now the fact that my personal information is floating around yet another data base bothers me somewhat but I was enjoying the experience so much the thought of mentioning the negative aspects of this didn’t even cross my mind (hmm, a whole new blog on the power of a positive experience).  One more tap on the iPod and he pealed a sticker from somewhere and with a handshake I was on my way.
Wow; well selected staff, properly trained and then incorporating applied technology.  There are so many great business lessons here.  Old lessons that many companies have lost track of as well as new lessons many haven’t even considered yet.  Perhaps Apple becoming one of the most valuable companies on the planet hasn’t just been luck after all.
Thanks Cameron, thanks Apple.  I’ll be back!

The Alberta Party Meets With The Business Community

I was invited to a very interesting business meeting last night.  The invitation came from my friend Chris LaBossiere.  I was pre-disposed to accept just out of my respect for Chris.  In retrospect I am really glad I did.  The meeting was held at the new offices of Yardstick Software.  I hadn’t seen the new digs yet so that in itself was another reason to attend.  By the way Chris, the new offices are fantastic!
I was told it was an Alberta Party meeting and would be attended by a group of business leaders from the Edmonton area.  Indeed it was an eclectic group made up of a mix that went from young twenty something leaders in the tech field to seasoned gray hairs who are seasoned veterans and acknowledged leaders in the business community.  The focus of the meeting was to discuss the Alberta economy.  Some of the leaders of the Alberta Party were there but we had all been told it didn’t matter whether we were interested in the Party or not.  The Party was interested in us. They wanted to hear what we thought. As part of their policy development initiatives they are reaching out to the community to get open feedback on topics like the economy, education, healthcare and others.
What a great evening!  It turned out the room was full of great minds that really care about the future of our province.  The dialogue was stimulating and engaging.  The agenda consisted of discussion on three specific questions: What do we think of the present state of the Alberta economy?  What are our hopes for the future of the Province?  How could these hopes be translated in to policy?  Everyone was encouraged to speak openly.  The result was that each of us was challenged to express our thoughts and consider the thoughts of the others.  I was exposed to a diverse selection of thoughts, beliefs and ideologies.  This discussion certainly expanded my intellectual horizons.
What’s really significant here is that this was an Alberta Party initiative.  The Party wanted to hear what was said in that room and what is being said in many other rooms like it all over Alberta.  Wow!  A Party that wants to respond to what the people want rather than telling them what is in their best interest.  What a revolutionary concept.
I have been a Conservative my entire life.  It is the only party I have ever voted for.  I have served on the executive of constituency associations; attend AGM’s, and policy conferences.  Last night was the first time I have ever thought a party was really interested in hearing what was being said as anything more than a patronizing display.
I haven’t joined the Alberta Party yet but I might, I just might.

Wrong Is Wrong No Matter How You Spin It

Wrong is wrong no matter how you spin it.  I don’t believe that unethical business practices are ever justified.  I am on the board of a private Edmonton company that is being attacked by a union.  I know the word attacked is very strong and some readers are going to automatically think I am just a “union bashing” Capitalist.
While anyone who knows me will tell you I am definitely a proud capitalist, that does not automatically mean I am anti-union.  In some cases I believe unions are beneficial to their membership and can form an important part of a company’s culture.  For example, unions can at times be an important communications link within an organization.  In this company however that is not the case.  I do not believe the union would bring anything constructive or beneficial to the table within this organization.
The company is a family owned business with a 35 year track record of taking care of their people and growing through their employees.  This growth has been so successful that they are the acknowledged market leaders in their particular business sector.  That success is what has put them on the radar screen of the union.  There is no unfairly treated workforce, no history of abusive work practices and no line up of workers pleading for help.  This is a good company filled with great people who just happen to be extremely good at what they do.  Their success means they now employee a large number of people and it is that labor role that is attracting the union.  The union has not been called in to fix some great wrong or to defend some poor weak group that needs a voice.  The union’s motives are clear and simple.  They see a great potential of dues, income, money!
This particular union has a well-documented track record of moving across North America using media smear campaigns against the employer and intimidation tactics against the workers to further their own success.  In this case the union is smearing the name of a good company with no regard for what is right or wrong or who might be getting hurt.  The family that has proudly grown this company for generations feel like they are being personally attacked and they have a lot of trouble understanding why.  The basic principles of providing a quality product and offering superior customer service to customers with whom you build a relationship and respecting and take caring for the people who deliver these services mean nothing to this union.  They will say anything and do anything to achieve their own goals and who they are doing it to or what the truth is seems to be irrelevant.
So the court documents are being filed and the lawsuits are piling up.  This reputable Edmonton company finds itself in full defense mode.  New skills are being learned about how to proactively defend yourself from an unwarranted and unfair attack.  The owners of the business feel attacked, senior management is angry and the front line workers are scared and confused.  But to the union it’s just business.
It is disgusting that this can occur in our business community.  Wrong is wrong no matter how you spin it.