Shiny Object Syndrome – Are You Ignoring Talent?

Shiny Object Syndrome. We all get it. A new pair of shoes. The fad diet. That super-cute garden gnome. In my case, probably a new synthesizer. We’re all susceptible to Shiny Object Syndrome, but when corporate or departmental leaders get it, they’re in danger of making a huge blunder – ignoring or demotivating the talent they already have on staff.

A client I worked with needed deep expertise and new ideas in an area where it had been stagnant for a decade or more. They found a consultant who came in and dazzled everyone. So much, in fact, that they hired her outright. But within a year, the same leadership team who thought she was worth that massive investment was, instead, second guessing nearly every recommendation she made. Confidence had eroded to the point where they hired another consultant to come in and review everything. The new consultant gave almost identical advice, but it carried greater weight. Frustrated with being increasingly marginalized, the employee eventually left for greener pastures.

For some reason, we value the opinion of the outsider more than the people we work with. Consultants are often brought in to make a recommendation that people already know is the right choice, but that nobody trusts if it comes from inside the organization. Why is that?

The outside expert is mysterious and educated. The persona they’re presenting to you is the part of their act that they’ve practiced over and over. They’re polished. They have the luxury of doing most of the hard work somewhere else, so you never see the sausage being made. They’re applying the same solution to your problem that they’ve implemented with a dozen other groups. And there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s a big part of the value in hiring a consultant. Outside expertise is often the fastest and cheapest way to jump start a solution, especially in areas where the company doesn’t already have in-house knowledge.

Once the outsider becomes an insider, though, we lose the polish and the mystery. You’ve heard their vacation stories, bad jokes, and personal politics; you’ve seen them make a mistake or two. Your trust level has changed.

Occasionally, this is valid – some people really are one-trick ponies. But more often, it’s just an expression of confirmation bias. You stop agreeing with them because your previous expectations aren’t being met anymore. They’ve become mere mortals or,  worse, they’re challenging someone’s worldview and that someone is too inflexible, dogmatic, or arrogant to change.

So how do we make people shiny again? Sometimes the best way is to review why they were hired in the first place. Are they living up to the image they presented in the interview? Are you and your company living up to the image you presented?

When I get bored with one of my synths, I go back and read the reviews that helped convince me to buy it in the first place. I normally rediscover a passion for what it does; sometimes I learn about functionality that I never explored during the shiny object phase.

Your company made a conscious decision to hire every employee on the payroll, presumably because they add more value than they cost. There’s a high probability that everyone in your company has at least one valuable skill outside what you hired them to do. Have you made an effort to find it?

How will we build The Digital Society?

Tomorrow, I head to Florida for Gartner Symposium/ITxpo. I’ve attended this amazing event for the last few years, and it’s always energizing, thought provoking, and challenging. As a side benefit, I always get my 10,000 steps in each day.

The opening keynote this year is titled “Building Platforms for a Digital Society” which is timely for many of the things I’ve been contemplating lately. How will we transform our cultures to address the new technological realities never before faced in human history: machine intelligence, economics of abundance, disruptive and exponential advances in nearly every discipline?

How will we rectify increasing lifespans and population growth with the threat of mass unemployment as more and more jobs, even non-manual jobs, are automated? The old rules increasingly will not apply. New ways of thinking and new ways of acting will be required, new legal frameworks crafted and refined.

We face unprecedented change and opportunity, and the 12,000+ people I’ll be hanging out with next week will be among the vanguard. I can’t wait for the discussions, debates, presentations, and workshops in the coming week!

If you’re going to be attending #GartnerSYM, send me a tweet (@raytoler) or message me on LinkedIn and let’s connect!

Marketer, Brand Thyself!

Much of my career has consisted of helping companies develop, establish, promote, and maintain their corporate brand. I love branding! It’s a complex and nuanced subject, equal parts psychology and design. It all reduces to a fairly simple concept, though: reputation. When you see a logo or hear a product name, what do you picture in your mind? How does it make you feel?

A key thing about branding: you aren’t in control of it. The brand exists only in the mind of the recipient. You can do things to influence it, but ultimately, the best way to do that is to create an honest picture that reinforces your strengths. The most trusted brands, and reputations, are the ones that are consistently reinforced by supporting actions.

As we move into the connection economy, we’re now all vendors. And products. As a result, we need to embrace the concept of a personal brand. What’s the concise summary you want people to have in their heads when they meet you, whether online or in person?

While I’ve been successful in helping others to develop their brands, I’ve ironically found it to be very difficult to develop my own. Self-promotion has never been a huge priority for me – I’ve been more focused on promoting the achievements of my teams, colleagues, and clients.

Quote from a friend: The Ray I know doesn't shine through. The writing is more clinical. My recommendation is put a little more of your personality and story telling talents into this.
Is the real you showing?

With the help of many friends and trusted advisors, I’ve been refining my branding elements. My web site is getting back into reasonable shape. The resume undergoes routine refinement and clarification. My social media channels are getting aligned. All of the things I would do for a client, I’m now working on doing for myself. This is a critical effort, because I’m making a lot of first impressions without the benefit of making them in person, and some of the feedback I’ve received indicates that I might not be showing the “real” me very well.

What’s your personal online brand? Is it consistent? Is it clear? What have you done to strengthen it?

What are you looking for?

In April, I let my boss know that I was going to start looking for the next challenge in my career. It was a difficult decision – I work at a great company and with great teams. However, when I looked objectively at what the company most needed, my personal growth and career goals, and the likely opportunities in the next five years, it became clear that the next chapter was upon me.

When you tell someone you’re engaged in a job search, the inevitable question is, “what are you looking for?” Part of my success has been the ability to see many options and possibilities, so answering that question isn’t as easy as it might seem.

In short, though, I

  • want to be part of a team focused on strategy and performance improvement.
  • love to help people / departments / companies find creative ways to solve problems, improve performance, or define strategy.
  • am comfortable supervising and managing teams and departments, but that’s certainly not a requirement. Leadership doesn’t require supervisory responsibilities.
  • find the most engagement and energy when helping others reach their potential, and in planning solutions. Architect more than general contractor.
  • would like to work with a company that’s forward thinking on technology, but am not particular about the industry segment.

Do you know of an opportunity that fits? Let me know!

Energy, Disruption, Fear, and Passion

I’ve just finished up at the Gartner CIO Leadership Forum in Phoenix. While it’s less than three full days, it’s easily the most energizing event I attend. The focus this year was even further in to the future of IT and its rapidly emerging role smack in the middle of the business model, even in segments that don’t think of themselves as technology driven.

Where IT has typically been an operational cost center, it is now quickly and relentlessly becoming a revenue producer and product development hotbed – the companies that don’t adapt to this change will perish or be consumed by more nimble competitors. Disruption is the order of the day, and more than likely it’s not going to come from your current industry.

Amazon providing property and casualty insurance… Facebook getting into healthcare… Google reshaping transit… Sounds silly? Some of it’s already happening. Who would have thought in the 90s that “beleaguered Apple,” perpetually one quarter away from complete demise, would today be responsible for some of the most radical changes to the software, music, entertainment, and communications industries? If one of the digerati even blinks in your direction, it’s too late.

There’s so much potential ahead of us and I’m thrilled to be part of the industry that will drive it. I also am excited that this is happening just as I reach a point in my career where I have the right blend of skills, including ideation, marketing, IT, staff development, and culture building, to make a positive difference. Now to find that mentor who’s under 30.

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