May 21, 2013
But it’s not easy.
Scenario: You set out to make a list of the top 3 strategic initiatives and end up with 20. You just can’t help adding the rejects to the bottom of the list…or the little things. Just in case they make it. It makes everyone feel better to have them captured, so you keep them. But in fact, there’s nothing so demoralizing for the team as the list that never gets done. We need to stop thinking of it that way.
The top initiatives are just that. It doesn’t have to include the little things. The little things are the things we do everyday to support the big things.
Does your company excel at identifying the top few things? One company I worked for called it the “critical few initiatives”. It made it very clear, at all levels of the organization, how to make the right decision about what to focus on, everyday.
It’s not so different from having a clear brand position: once you have it, everyone can use it as a guiding light for behavior, decisions and how they articulate the voice of the brand and apply it to what they specifically do every day.
But why is it so hard to do? How do you do it well?
It’s hard because it requires sacrifice. You can’t do it all at once, with the resources you have. You have to know what’s really important. Startups do this everyday- they have a few good people laser-focused on a clear goal. So they get it done. I’ve been with big companies and little companies, and I can tell you that it’s not size that defines a clear business strategy- it’s courage. That’s right- it’s the courage to take a stand on what’s going to drive your business forward, rather than a mega diner-sized menu that will have something for everyone, and nothing spectacular for anyone.
J.Crew does this extraordinarily well.
Mickey Drexler, in one of his recent features in Fast Company, says: “Simplicity is very difficult to achieve.” But he has done it- over the past 10 years, with Jenna Lyons as the extraordinary creative lead- they have completely reinvented one of America’s favorite brands. They have a vision, and it has paid off, big time- with Michelle Obama and Jessie Jackson (this Jessie, not the reverend), among many others, as devoted fans to the brand. Why? They don’t do just what’s expected. They keep it fresh and creative. And they don’t try to have something for everyone. Each collection has a point of view. It has become the single most coveted American fashion brand at an affordable price point. You don’t achieve that by being indecisive about your priorities. You can find links to Fast Company’s recent features on Mickey and Jenna, here.
Learning Agile Methodologies helped shape my thinking about how to keep it simple. It’s a flexible, yet highly structured way to prioritize and execute on an on-going basis. It requires decisive action and attention on a daily basis to remain focused. And you can still keep your wish list (your backlog), on the fringes to pull from when each new sprint planning meeting comes up. This isn’t a long term strategic planning tool- but it’s a great way to organize the work to support your key strategies. What it does for strategic planning is give you a better sense of how much time things take- how to structure the research around your plans and whether they’re achievable in the desired time period. It’s a great way to support your strategy company wide, and keep everyone focused.
But it all starts with keeping it simple. You have to start by defining the high level goals. And then constructing a plan of the things you need to have in place to get there. And then editing, editing, editing down the list to the things that REALLY matter. And then staying focused, every day, on those things.
It’s not easy, to plan to do less. But what I’ve found in the past year is that planning to do less actually empowers you to do more- both because you don’t have to rethink your priorities every single day, and because you make a bigger impact with a few great things than with a zillion insignificant ones.
May 17, 2013
All this bad press about Mike Jeffries and his reprehensible statements has created a firestorm in social media. Has he gone too far this time? Well, yeah. He always does. But…
Is Abercrombie bad because of what he said, or because of what they do?
Indeed, his comments are awful. While I could argue that Abercrombie’s aspirational brand vision goes too far (something that’s been hotly debated for years- ever since they launched the magalog with naked teens on the cover), it’s not a new marketing tactic to use shock-value to get media attention. Abercrombie has always pushed the limits, and in fact, revels in going over. But they’re not really doing anything new, now. They’ve always marketed the brand for cool, skinny people. They’ve always had teeny-weeny little sizes that could fit your toddler. So why is everyone so hopping mad about it, now?
Because he crossed the line. He didn’t just cross it, he leapt over it. He said what no one would say. And defies the ideals of inclusion, acceptance and diversity. In the 2006 Salon feature that’s been so widely publicized this past few weeks, the interviewer asks him how important “sex and sexual attraction are in what he calls the ‘emotional experience’ he creates” and Jeffries says:
“It’s almost everything. That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he says. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
(“The man behind Abercrombie & Fitch“, Benoit Denizet-Lewis for Salon, 2006)
Is this exclusionary strategy so different from other high profile fashion brands? Or is he just brutally honest? Let’s focus on the sizing issue. Abercrombie’s sizing is notoriously small. It doesn’t carry extra large sizes for women at all. Even the men’s sizes are downsized: a men’s size XL sweatshirt fits like a women’s size 12.
If you look at the sizing for many upscale fashion retail brands, it’s not really that different. Abercrombie defines a Large as equivalent to a size 10. Many fashion brands define a large as a size 10-12. Some go even smaller, defining it as an 8-10. And others (the less trendy) define it as a 12-14 or even a 14-16. There’s no standardization for sizing, and we all know it, as frustrating as it is. It always differs by brand. Some are just cut slim- others more generous. We all know the brands we can wear, and the ones we can’t. So Abercrombie is hardly unique when it comes to size range.
Considering the brand issue, Abercrombie is not unique in having a passionate and specific vision of its aspirational lifestyle and target customer. Countless fashion brands have an aspirational look that celebrates, young, thin, beautiful women, with a target customer that exemplifies the aspirational lifestyle. That’s not news. The key difference? Most brands don’t celebrate the exclusion. What’s hateful about the Jeffrie’s incident is that he didn’t focus on what’s good about his brand- he focused on what’s bad about the people that don’t fit into his brand image. And that’s bad business.
Jeffries has since posted an apology on facebook that reads:
“I want to address some of my comments that have been circulating from a 2006 interview. While I believe this 7 year old, resurrected quote has been taken out of context, I sincerely regret that my choice of words was interpreted in a manner that has caused offense. A&F is an aspirational brand that, like most specialty apparel brands, targets its marketing at a particular segment of customers. However, we care about the broader communities in which we operate and are strongly committed to diversity and inclusion. We hire good people who share these values. We are completely opposed to any discrimination, bullying, derogatory characterizations or other anti-social behavior based on race, gender, body type or other individual characteristics.”
This isn’t the first time Jeffries has hurt the brand he worked so hard to build. He’s been dragged through the mud on many other occasions for discrimation against…well, just about every group except his target audience. So far, Abercrombie has always weathered the storm. But I wonder, will the cool kids really want to keep buying into this? Time will tell.
April 15, 2013
This is a bad, bad day.
I’m re-posting this from Facebook- it’s worth the read.
But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.
So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”
November 18, 2012
Nice to see people back to work in force, last week. The roads were slow and congested with the many shuttles going into NYC from NJ, while trains along the Jersey coastline were still undergoing major repairs- there was a tugboat that hit a railroad bridge over the Raritan river, and washouts along the tracks. An NBC news employee at the bus stop told me there were over 193,000 commuters displaced by the train shut-down. That’s a lot of busses on the roads.
They’ve brought in busses and drivers from all over to make it work. I’ve had drivers from Rhode Island, Boston- and some who said they were driving into NYC for the very first time. Admirable, really. Nice people- all of them. The commuters in the front row would help them find the way and make sure they found the bus lane. Most of the subways are running, except downtown. Reports there were that the water actually reached the top of some of those tunnels at one point. Today, the Brooklyn Battery tunnel- which had been severely flooded, was opened. And many of the trains will be starting to run tomorrow, too. Lots of progress.
It’s still mind boggling to see some of the footage that’s coming out as people are able to share videos from some of the harder hit areas. Tonight, we saw a National Geographic special on that showed aerial and ground tours of the worst areas. In the aftermath, it showed people coming together in streets, lighting fires to stay warm, together. We saw one woman going into her home for the first time- seeing the water lines near the ceiling, seeing all her furniture moved and in disarray- so disoriented by it, she kept saying, ‘We didn’t move anything. We kept it nice in here. We really did’, and then, seeing the refrigerator sideways on the floor, “that’s my fridge. I filled it up before the storm, thinking…”.
They explained how the force of the tidal surge can actually shear houses from their foundations and move them- showing footage of houses or second floors of houses, moved out on streets, into marshes- one on a bridge. They also explained how lower manhattan was actually built out into the water with landfill over the past 100 years- and how the water actually came up to its normal level, where it used to be.
Amazingly, no one died in the fires that destroyed almost 100 homes in Breezy Point, Queens. In today’s New York Times, there were lists of the deaths associated with the storm and how they happened. People drowned. People were hit by trees. They died from carbon monoxide poisoning from generators in enclosed basements. You can see it in today’s NYT, Mapping Hurricaine Sandy’s Deadly Toll.
As people sort through the rubble, a heartbreaking task, there are moments of joy when something precious is found. The NYT has been posting daily images that are awful and heartbreaking, and sometimes hopeful, all at once. One was an image of a woman and her husband smiling amongst the complete wreckage of their home, because they’d found a safe containing their family genealogy. You can see that image and others here: NYT daily photo, Nov 15. One photo from last week showed a man shoveling sand out of his house- it looked like a foot of sand, at least- and he’s chipping away at that, one wheelbarrow at a time. From his entire first floor.
There are areas, most notably, the Rockaways- where there’s still no electricity- no heat or water. And no estimate for when they’ll get it. These are people who don’t necessarily have the resources to relocate. It’s awful. In the areas hardest hit- there are so many people who are now homeless. So many lives that will be forever changed. I can’t help thinking about all of the children who are not able to go to school, and how we’ll remedy that. There’s a school nearby in Union Beach, NJ, that is collecting via an Amazon wishlist to gather supplies for its students- it’s an easy way to help: Union Beach wishlist. The NYT published a list of ways to help- where to contribute money or supplies, and lists of what’s needed.
There’s so much to be horrified by- the devastation, the people who’s lives have been turned upside down, the damage that remains, even now, to the infrastructure of our power and transportation services. But there’s comfort in getting to work and doing what we can to help those less fortunate.
So let’s do that. Live on. And help out. Keep it moving forward.
November 11, 2012
We got power on thursday- it was such a surprise, I almost didn’t register what it was. Such a relief to start getting things back to normal. Laundry! Cleaning! Hair dryers! Refrigeration! Nice to have it all back. It also made it much easier to start gathering more things to donate. A friend of a friend had her house ruined in Staten Island- she was in the worst area. She had just moved there 5 weeks ago to start fresh. She lost everything except a few books and pictures she was able to gather a few days after. Luckily, she had evacuated, and her son was away at college, so both were safe. But she’d left just with an overnight bag- and now that’s almost all she has left.
We’d donated lots the day after the storm, but now I’m focusing on her- collecting bedding, dishes, silverware- trying to think of everything someone who’s starting over will need. She doesn’t have anywhere to put it yet, but hopefully she will soon. Thankfully, she still has her job. There are so many more like her- who lost everything. So awful.
I’m so touched by all the helping I’m seeing. Today we drove by a vacant Foodtown, which has been taken over by the Red Cross. They had piles and piles of donations, and people were collecting bags full of whatever they could use- clothes, shoes- and more. So many friends on Facebook are taking up collections and delivering supplies. There are occasional reports of looting, but for the most part- people are giving.
In some of the worst hit shore areas, people were beginning to get access to their homes to try to retrieve critical things- like passports, pictures, important records. There were busses and checkpoints- homeowners of one island community were allowed one hour only- they had to leave only with what they could carry in one suitcase on their lap. They had to leave their license with the police to go in, and come out only with what they could carry in one bag. Can you imagine having to make those kind of choices? That is, assuming, your house was intact enough to actually find anything- I guess there are a lot of levels of lucky here.
The NJ shore train is completely out of service- the tracks were badly damaged by debris and water. The ballasts washed away and there are areas of track that were dislodged. NJ Transit isn’t even predicting when the trains will be back in service. They’ve responded by adding lots and lots of busses. I normally take one from PNC Arts Center, and all week they had busses lined up with drivers from all over- I had one from Rhode Island, and another from Boston- they’d never driven into NYC before. They did great. The passengers helped them navigate the way in. Coming home is a bit more challenging-on friday, the line stretched outside the terminal and down almost an entire avenue block. But it’s impressive for the most part, how they’ve managed to provide alternate transportation for us.
It will be quite some time before we get back to normal.
November 6, 2012
8 days post Sandy. Still in the dark. Getting cold outside. It was 29 degrees last night, but we have managed to keep the house above 50 by keeping a fire going and boiling 4 pots of water from the moment we get home to the time we go to sleep. We’re very lucky to have gas and hot water. We are warm when we sleep with piles of comforters and our 95 pound yellow lab. Our cat warms himself up by sleeping with my daughter every night. He’s typically not a lap cat, but has become one as he’s cold, too.
I hit the wall today- with frustration, exhaustion- and wanted to leave here for a warm friend or family’s house- we have lots of wonderful offers to do so. But we fear if we don’t keep the house warm our pipes could freeze and then we could have a worse issue.
On a positive note, the gas crisis seems to be getting better, at least in NJ. Was able to top off my tank today with no line, and no police presence. From what I hear, it’s still an issue on Long Island- long long, lines, still. My sister-in-law texted that she was number 70 in line and hoped they’d still have gas when she got up there.
Today I pulled up to a group of utility trucks to ask if there was any hope of getting power today or tomorrow- and encountered a Texas ranger- yep, a Texas ranger, up here in NJ to help get the power restored. He was here with a big group to help out, and said that they could move faster, but the power company (PSE&G) is keeping everyone waiting for sign offs and approvals and paper work before they can do anything. He said, ‘so if you see people sitting in trucks, it’s because we’re waiting on them. We just want to get to work.’ Wow. How awesome that they’re here. How awful that they are unable to do what they came to do. The inefficiency of it is astounding.
On the one hand, I get that PSE&G needs to protect the quality of the work, and maintain standards- but to have people and trucks waiting to work for hours on end- that’s a serious management problem. We had a line hanging down in the middle of our road- low enough to touch- for 8 days. They finally moved it today when I called for the 3rd time to say it was a danger. They moved it off to the side. They didn’t fix it.
So, we wait. We have a new routine when we get home, my daughter and I. We go out and collect kindling, get wood for the fire, set the pots to boiling, and then pile on the sweaters and jackets for the evening. She has been an amazing trooper through all of this. Not a single complaint. Just layers up and sits there and reads with her headlamp on. I am so impressed by this,
In spite of my temporary meltdown, I can’t help but remind myself how good we have it. We have hot showers and a gas stove that is working. We have our home intact and our family safe. We have jobs. What’s a few days of discomfort in comparison to the lives lost- the homes and entire communities destroyed, and forever changed? We’ve seen more and more images showing the devastation- houses and boats strewn along the beach like tinker toys. Mounds of garbage from flood-wrecked homes in Staten Island. A new inlet made by the storm surge that will forever change the geography of Mantoloking.
We are the lucky ones and we must never forget our good fortune.
I have been so touched by your many comments and expressions of support. For those of you who have asked what you can do to help those less fortunate, I can tell you that the Red Cross is taking donations, and the FEMA website has a link to organizations that are collecting as well. They advise that sending money is better than clothing and supplies, as the organization and distribution of the contributions becomes difficult. For those of you that are local, lots of churches are collecting, and volunteers are needed in many locations. I’d suggest google or local websites for ideas.
November 4, 2012
A good weekend.
Still in the dark. No heat. Had been worried about upcoming forecasts for temperatures dipping below the 30′s, as the house was getting a bit colder each day. We’ve found ways to warm up.
There’s nothing more valuable than community when things get challenging, and There’s a lot of it going around. Everywhere, there are signs up to help: churches with signs out front saying ‘water, ice, food’ or ‘hot food and coffee’, and fire stations offering charging stations for cellphones. Target and Costco offered tables for charging computers, phones, whatever. My cashier at Target asked me if I would like to come to her house for ice when it turned out they’d sold out of the chemical ice packs I needed for my swelling knee. She said she’d gotten power back and would be happy to share. I was so touched by that.
I could see all this, because I’d finally been able to get gas. A friend gave me a tip that the local gas station was getting a delivery and would be opening at 8am. I went at 6, and there was already a line. By 7, the line stretched out behind me as far as I could see. By 730, I drove away with a full tank of gas, feeling newly free. Free to pick up supplies. Lowe’s had just gotten a delivery, and I picked up gas cans, batteries and water. Then, off to Target. Supplies were needed for the shore towns.
Information is so critical- and yet so hard to get, when phone lines, internet, and TV are cut-off. Our local mayor had been providing daily updates via a cell phone alert list and USPS about power status, school closures, gas availability and supply stations. Supplies were desperately needed for displaced families who had lost everything. They were collecting at several local parks and churches.
When we arrived at Thompson Park, the National Guard was there and highly organized about directing traffic, emptying out cars- and getting donations ready for delivery. You could see the supplies going into one door of the barn, and pallets of organized supplies separating food, water, clothes and blankets- out the other. It was impressive. They had students helping as well. Nice to see.
Next, we headed to St. Catherine’s church, where they were taking used clothing, blankets, towels, food and water-anything. We walked in to see dozens of tables and volunteers sorting and organizing huge piles of donations. It was great to see. And great to contribute to.
We were starting to see more and more lights and businesses open. 7/11 had no lights, but were open for business. The movie theater. A few restaurants. We picked one and had a warm lunch in a warm place. Nice. Then off to search for ice. We found it at a liquor store, where the owner said he’d gone to Brooklyn to get it himself, because he couldn’t get a delivery. I think we made his day- seeing us get that excited about ice. Believe it or not- the food I had in coolers had stayed cold for 4 days just with the extra ice I had from the freezer. Now I could buy some food for the next few days.
The Facebook community has been a powerful thing. It’s how we stayed in touch with friends and family so easily- locally and long distance. Last week, a friend posted ‘Gas?’ And got quick answers about where stations were open. Today, I asked if anyone who had power would invite me over to do a load of wash or point me towards an open laundromat- We were running out of clean, warm clothes. There were instant responses. A friend I had connected with recently that I haven’t seen in 10 years invited me right over. There was also an open laundromat, and the ‘tide’ truck in Eatontown where you could drop off your laundry, and they’d do it for you. I warmed up reconnecting with my old friend and had a wonderful afternoon.
Sometimes we think we’re too addicted to our technology, but it’s such a lifeline, too. We don’t all live in close communities where you can see everyone just by going out and about your business. It’s really been the source of my connectedness through this whole ordeal. We’re lucky to have them. Those of us who still do, that is.
As of today, 2.5 million people in the NY/Nj area are still without lights. 20,000 people are homeless. There’s a long way to go. But it’s encouraging to see so much goodwill, determination and good community going around. People are helping. Belmar, one of the Jersey shore’s most popular beaches, has a sign up today, painted on driftwood, saying, ‘thank you everyone, for helping Belmar.’
It’s a good start.
November 3, 2012
Today was a good day.
We are 5 days past hurricane Sandy, and we’re still in the dark. No lights. No heat. A bit nippy at night, especially tonight, going down into the 30′s. I’m sitting here by the fire, writing this on my ipad, wearing a down vest, down coat, ugg boots, and a scarf pulled over my head.
In the aftermath of the storm, we had no idea how bad it was. No one did, initially. We were glad to be safe, our house intact. We lost power as soon as the storm hit, so we were in the dark- no news. Cell phone service was limited- we couldn’t access the internet or even make calls, only texts, and with very slow delivery at that. Stranded at home, since all transportation to NYC was suspended, I felt news-deprived and isolated. My husband was able to get to work on tuesday- driving up and across the lawn to get around the fallen tree that blocked the driveway, taking detour after detour as he encountered tree littered roads, downed power lines, and debris. His reports were all the news I had for two days- and it was shocking. The shore- devastated. A massive water surge- flooding Staten Island, lower manhattan, subway tunnels and hoboken. A entire neighborhood in Queens, burned to the ground.
It was shocking to see our always strong, impervious manhattan vulnerable.
It was heartbreaking to start hearing some personal accounts: the woman who decided, too late, that she should evacuate with her children, the car stalling as it hit water, then getting out of the car and losing her grip on the children as the massive storm surge came. The woman on Montauk, who took her dog for a walk and never came home. They found her body the next day. My mailman, who reported seeing bodies floating the day after in Union Beach- just a few miles from here, a town that’s right on the water on the bay side. All so heartbreaking.
And then there are good stories. The off-duty fireman who evacuated late and heard the cries of a stranded family- who went back to help the entire family, the dog, and parakeet to safety. The people who donated their much needed batteries and gas to keep generators going so that the fish and animals at Jenkinsin’s aquarium could survive. A friend’s neighbor, who has been driving every night to Pennsylvania, to get gas for his entire neighborhood- coming back and distributing up to 25 gallons a day to neighbors for cars and generators. A neighbor offering a neighbor access to a generator. So many people helping each other out.
On day 3, we started seeing the images on our ipad and tablet. Boats piled up like tinker toys. Entire complexes of houses, thrown off their foundations and tilted or flattened- or moved altogether. Houses incongruously landed on roadways and bridges. And still, in the dark, we started seeing the full force of destruction Sandy had wreaked upon the NY/NJ area.
Something like 93% of NJ homes and businesses lost power with this storm. I started seeing the local impact when I tried to go out for gas. There wasn’t any. Stations that were listed as having some were sold out, almost instantly, because there were no deliveries coming in, and most stations couldn’t pump the gas they had, because they had no power. One station would fill only cans- no cars, and people were lined up for blocks to get a gallon of gas. There were no traffic lights. Crossing highway 35 to get to a gas station was a frightening experience- a 50 mph, 4 lane road. No police anywhere. The few convenience stores that opened were dark and took cash only. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before.
Also on day 3, people started getting in to my offices. Transportation was limited. The subways were mostly closed, tunnels flooded. Two employees walked across the 59th street bridge to get to the city; another employee living in flooded battery park, walked down the 8 flights of stairs in the dark, before wading through water in the basement to get his bike and ride to work.
Hardly anyone came in. There were no trains or busses from NJ or Westchester.
On day 4, a friend texted that busses were running, so I ventured to work for the first time. I was struck by the luxury of getting on a heated bus, after being cold for 3 days. I was relieved to see Times Square and midtown looking normal. It was reassuring to see signs of normalcy- lights and tourists, and open stores. At home, it was all still dark. No stores open. No gas. No ice.
The Jersey shore was completely devastated. Countless beaches, homes and entire towns were destroyed by this massive storm. And so many lives lost.
So, sitting here in the dark, by the fire, with my down coat and scarf and dwindling battery on my iPad, I feel lucky. My family is safe and my home intact. Sitting in the dark just isn’t so bad, in the context of all that’s happened. So it’s a good day. A very good day, indeed.