Monthly Archives: April 2013

Never leave home without it

I’m a cliche, I know, but I seriously  never leave home without it. If I do, I turn around. It’s not out of fear. I don’t worry about breaking down on the side of the road or missing a status update (traumatic!). It’s that as a working mom with an inability to say no to projects I believe in, I have to be efficient with my time, making the most of every opportunity to get things done. My phone lets me do that.  But really, can we keep calling it a phone? Or just a phone?


From my mobile device, I’ve negotiated employee contracts, led conference calls, conducted interviews, set up meetings, planned potlucks, updated bank data, mediated conflict, supported teams, watched TV, researched homework questions, shot videos, uploaded photos, managed multiple social feeds, drafted presentation notes, organized date night, purchased a dress, planned menus, shared calendars, edited reports and wrote this blog post.

My “phone” is also my GPS, encyclopedia and main news source. It gives me freedom. Others concur as eMarketer released 2012 data saying the total number of smartphones increased by 31%. I believe it. My device allows me to continue to be a HR leader, non-profit board director, community manager, school volunteer, study group facilitator and, most importantly, a wife and mom. Because I’m no longer tied to a desk, I can pick my kids up from school and still meet a deadline. And because I haven’t wasted time while mobile, I can set it down, confident that I’ve met my goals for the day, and fully engage with my family.

In conversation with my kids recently I had to admit I didn’t know the answer to a question. To which my son replied, “Just ask God… or your phone.”

Just don’t do it while driving.

Illustration credit unknown

Leadership Development Mad Lib

I’m a people person. And as a human resource leader, I get to spend the majority of my time with people. I love it. Because I’ve observed that my leadership abilities evolve through relationships with others. My style of management is formed from qualities of respect, openness, observation, and good humor. And knowing that I’m not always right. This is a style I bring into my organization.

Organizational development is much like leadership development. You focus on key strengths and attributes. Paying attention to values and point of views. Identifying areas of growth then implementing plans for positive change.

It’s not terribly complicated, but it can be complex. And it takes time. I recently consulted on a leadership retreat for a communications agency. There was one simple fill-in-the-blank statement that was posed to each executive:

The future success of our company depends on ________.

But because we’re dealing with people who each have their own world view, goals and objectives, the answers were anything but simple. There was much conversation. Respectful debate about what success even means. Whiteboards and vats of coffee. But through open dialogue and a genuine desire for a united mission, the organization is on a path to success. With committed leaders.

The same exercise can be applied to personal leadership development. And at times, can be even more compounded since you are pulling from within, and although you may learn from and lean on others, you alone can identify who you are as a leader. So please don’t be your worst critic. And ask yourself:

Success means ________ to me. My future success depends on ________.

And let the responses flow. Think of it as the leadership version of Mad Libs™. Don’t limit yourself and see where your mind takes you. Then start to identify themes and begin to put together a plan of action. Take it step by step and pretty soon you’ll be running.

Also published April 19th, 2013, on the SOS Leadership Blog

Purposeful play

In one month at my agency, SicolaMartin, we had… a talent show (the rappers won), an ugly tie contest in honor of Father’s Day, held a rooftop happy hour with a V8 Supercar driver (long story), toasted random Tuesday morning mimosas, hand delivered ice cream to employees (it was hot!), hosted a reunion so current and former Martians could swap stories, had an “Avengers” showing and enjoyed a watermelon keg while watching a co-worker kick off her new show for the Food Network’s YouTube channel, HUNGRY. And this is not a-typical. We like to have fun. And we do this on the clock. We’re not goofing off. We’re working.


Research out of California State University shows that “people who have fun at work are more creative, more productive, work better with others and call in sick less often.” And yet a William M. Mercer survey shows that “only 29 percent of employers nationwide encourage humor as part of their company culture, and only eight percent have a policy of using fun to reduce employee stress.”

That makes no sense to me. Fun is one of our core values; right alongside respect, honesty, passion and accountability.

We work incredibly hard. We are incredibly strategic and partner with our clients to produce award-winning work. But to keep producing exceptional work we must foster creativity. Which is why our art directors have a couple punching bags and an Xbox set up. It’s why we have Martians painted on the walls and an intranet named Uranus. When you are free to be open – to be silly – and not be judged, trust is established. And trust makes way for greater creative risks.

Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, gave a great TED Talk on “Creativity and Play”. One thing he talks about is how companies known for their innovation have a symbol of fun. Google has dinosaur statues on the lawn and Pixar employees have elaborate workstations. IDEO created a foam finger rocket.

At SicolaMartin we give everyone a collectable KidRobot Dunny. What this does is set the stage for every new Martian.

“Welcome to SicolaMartin. Here’s your toy.”


It gives permission to anyone joining the agency – from copywriters to accountants – that we’re here to enjoy what we do, enjoy each other and as a result create great work. Because at the end of the day, it’s still about the work. All the playfulness does is allow you to get to more creative solutions. Which is exactly what we’re hired to do.

Originally published July 2, 2012, on

Creating Culture Enthusiasts: Part 3

In the past two posts, we’ve identified our culture and discussed three opportunities to help create company enthusiasts. Today, we’re going to talk about why it’s important to your bottom line.

Over the past few decades, both academics and practitioners have spent time focusing on the issue of corporate culture and whether a company’s culture does, in fact, impact its overall performance and effectiveness. In 1983, a study of organizational change called The Change Masters, Innovation for Productivity in the American Corporation demonstrated how companies with progressive HR management practices outperformed those with less progressive practices. In 1984, using survey-based measures, another study by the name ofCorporate Culture and Organizational Effectiveness showed that apparent involvement and participation on the part of a company’s employees predicted current and future financialperformance. And then in 2005, a book entitled The Future of Human Resource Managementnoted, based on research, that culture not only drives behavior and unites employees but that 46% of a business’ financial performance results from corporate culture. That’s impressive. Your leadership will think so, too. Show them this isn’t just feel-good stuff. More and more companies are starting to believe it. And why wouldn’t they? Look at this graph from a 2009 Towers Perrin study. It shows clearly that companies that scored high in employee engagement had greater financial success.


In 2011, research out of the UK reported 96% of employers interviewed would hire someone who did not have a complete set of skills but displayed the right attitude over an applicant with the perfect skills but who lacked the right mindset. That’s a corporate attitude I can get behind.

Ron Finklestein is an author and business coach and I recently came across this quote of his that I think sums up this post nicely.

“When you take the time to define and create your corporate culture, you are telling others what kinds of people will flourish in your company; it tells the market the companies you want to do business with, and it defines the behaviors that will be accepted in your organization.”

I’ll go one step further and say it creates enthusiasts, from both within your company and in the marketplace.

And that, my friends, is win-win.

Originally published February 9, 2012, on

Creating Culture Enthusiasts: Part 2

In the previous post we talked about utilizing your culture to ignite enthusiasm in your employees. Let’s get into three key opportunities I see as critical to accomplishing this goal through recruitment, onboarding and continued career development.

First, I’m a big fan of just putting it out there. Be authentic. Through all of your recruitment efforts speak about not only the skill requirements, but also the qualities needed for success at your organization. Be honest about expectations from the beginning. Tell your company story. More importantly, have other employees—other company enthusiasts—tell the story for you. Give candidates the opportunity to interview you. Let them talk with others on their potential team or department. Make this part of your recruitment process. Our economy has not yet fully recovered, but it is recovering—and talent placement and retention is going to become more competitive. As such, you need to take every advantage. Genuinely being able to set your organization apart based on your culture is a huge plus. Beyond just getting the hire, you’re setting this employee up for greater success in the long-run because you’ve kept the organization in its entirety in mind. Again, you’re hiring in addition to a specific skill set. You’re also looking to make a culture match.

From the beginning at SicolaMartin, we would talk about Mars and Martians. We’d talk about summer days and being a best place to work. We’d give tours to candidates and let them meet lots of people. We may take them to lunch. We may meet for drinks. It does take time. And it is an investment, but it can pay off. We had an average tenure of 7.5 years. The average in the advertising industry is a little less than two. Two years is all most in our field get out of talent. I wanted us to be an exception. We were an exception. We had an attrition rate of less than 5%. This came from my strategic goal of making SicolaMartin a career destination for really smart, really creative people. And I would tell everyone who came on board that it was a commitment I’d make.

The next step in creating culture enthusiasts is to onboard all new employees with a consistent company message. I would take new hires through a two-day orientation. Not training… training comes from the departments and teams and that goes on quite a bit longer than two days. But we would specifically orient for two days. All teams, all managers know they don’t get their employee until orientation is complete. Included in this process, of course, is all of the paperwork, policy overview and benefit information that HR has to do. But that’s not the meat of it. What’s more important is that we’d take every new hire through the “great 8”. It’s an eight-slide presentation that sets the foundation for “making the complex compelling.” It’s a capabilities presentation, one that we would give to new clients, and so every Martian on day one could tell that story. We’d go through the history of SicolaMartin. We’d talk about our leadership and our departmental organization. We’d define our recognition programs, get them enthusiastic about receiving an award and let them know how to nominate their co-workers. We’d talk about our communication channels—like our blog, our twitter and FB feeds, our intranet, staff and department meetings. We’d discuss schedules and expectations. We’d review the performance planning process. And every new hire would sit down with our Leadership Team. They’d sit down with representatives of every department. Every department. Because every agency, every company’s process is a bit different and we wanted to educate from day one on how we operate. There are several benefits to this: 1) we’re setting the employee up for success. They are going to know how to do their job. 2) Because of that, there aren’t any excuses. Sure, there’s a learning curve, but we’re decreasing it exponentially. 3)By placing current employees in the position of representing SicolaMartin, and specifically their department, to new hires, they are organically becoming company enthusiasts. Yes, you have to keep your company in mind and, granted, you may have to scale this, but it can work. Think about how this type of submersion orientation may benefit your company.

Ok, so you’ve hired with your culture in mind and you’ve fully saturated them with your company story, now comes the follow though. You have to do all the things you’ve promised. You have to be who you said you are. Education is going to be crucial. Continued training through the department, ongoing performance conversations with managers, outside development opportunities to build skill sets. And theseare important, not just for those recently hired, but for all employees. I would argue they’re even more critical for those that have been with the company for an extended time. Don’t lose sight of your super stars. Don’t get complacent. If you are enthusiastic about them, they will continue to be enthusiastic about you.

I know you all can agree with me that this is good practice. But will all of your management teams agree with me? And that’s the trick, I know. Getting your leadership on board with these practices. Next, I’ll conclude with some statistics that may surprise you and help you impress your boss.

Originally published February 8, 2012, on