Missed opportunities, or what if you spent $4M and no one cared?

[Editor’s Note: Due to the horrible performance by this author’s team, the game itself shall not be discussed.  I mean, seriously – what the heck was that?!]

Every year, the Super Bowl audience breaks down to two camps – those who care about the game and those who care about the commercials.  Ever since Apple’s ‘1984’ ad aired, the Super Bowl has risen in prominence as THE place for companies to make a marketing impact.  With the increase of on demand entertainment, live sporting events on the level of the Super Bowl offer one of the few places where millions of eyes will be watching at the same time.  And given the mythical status some Super Bowl ads attain, this is one of the few times that people WANT to watch the commercials. So you would think companies would do their best to make the most of this moment.

Sadly, this year’s crop fell short.  In fact, recent years have revealed some lackluster attempts to get our attention.  We long for the days of EDS’s “herding cats” or the CareerBuilder chimps. Instead, we get a Maserati ad that everyone hoped was a horror movie trailer and others that made Joe Namath’s coat the highlight of the evening. [Ed. Note: The Budweiser Puppy/Clydesdale ad was still awesome.  Because….puppy.  Duh.]  Not exactly everyone’s idea of $4M well spent.


We’ve all had situations in which we had a great opportunity to make a positive impression…and fell flat on our face.  Or worse, made no impression at all.  By examining the possible mistakes made by this year’s Super Bowl ad companies, it’s possible you can avoid a similar problem when provided a high visibility stage upon which to make a statement:

  • Playing it safe:  A lot of the ads toyed with audacity, but couldn’t quite get there.  That $4M price tag might have kept companies from wanting to go too far out of the norm.  As a result, there was a lack of creativity.  And I’m not the only one who thought so.
    What it means to you: When you get a chance to play on the big stage, decide whether or not you want to swing for the fences.  If you’re going to take a risk, take a real risk.  A jazz instructor I knew once said, “If you’re going to make a mistake, make a mistake of passion.”
  • Not managing the message: If you followed the Twitter feed for Super Bowl ads, you saw a wide range of negative comments – some deserved (and funny), some bizarre and intolerant. As a result, the ad’s message was lost in the aftermath.
    What it means to you: It’s not possible to anticipate all reactions to the content, but it’s good to have a backup plan. When you take your moment in the sun, consider the audience, the possible response, and how you’ll handle any backlash.
  • Losing sight of the goal: This one can also be thought of as “Letting the size of the stage dictate your message”.  Bud Light, who has had some winners in the past, decided to feature a regular guy who doesn’t know he’s in a commercial – and not just any commercial, a Super Bowl Commercial.  So you ended up with Don Cheadle and a llama, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in inappropriate shorts.  And how is this about beer? Or even about the Bud brand?
    What this means to you: Just because you’re in a high visibility situation, it doesn’t mean you should forget why you’re there.  Whatever message you want to send, keep the core of that message.  What do you want people to remember – you and your message, or the fact that you had a dancing bear introduce you?

Chances are, your stage isn’t as big as what we saw on Sunday.  But every single time you have a chance to make an impression, you should think of it as your personal Super Bowl.  Seize the opportunity to tell your story, share your message, and be memorable – in a GOOD way.  Don’t spend the social equivalent of $4M just so people can say, “meh.”

 Do you have a story about how a time you made an impression on the big stage?  Share in the comments?

Apparently your cat hates you…and your employees might, too

You may have seen it online or in the news lately – there’s a study that claims your cat hates you, or at the very least, doesn’t really care if you’re there or not.

My first thought upon reading the article…you needed a study to learn this?  Seriously, just own a cat.  [Full disclosure: I’m a dog person.  But cats have been in my life from time to time.  Hence the dog. :)] The level of disdain even the most “loving” cats have for their owners is remarkable.  Awe-inspiring, even.

Shortly after that, I thought how similar this behavior can be to employees.  I’m inclined to believe that employees also have an “anxious avoidant” attachment style – they really don’t care if their leader is present or not present.  Not in a positive way, anyway.  Sure, employees may care to avoid an abusive or incompetent leader.  But just like a cat who snubs the owner who feeds them and gives them a loving home, employees may turn their nose up at a leader who cares about his/her employees.

If you don’t know Grumpy Cat, you are missing out!!

Leaders, try not to take it personally.  There are a number of factors that play into this dynamic:

  • Employees are hard-wired to hate “The Man”: Well, maybe not hate.  Perhaps “intense distrust” is a better term.  By and large, authority figures have it rough in the workplace.  Ask any popular employee who was promoted and then spurned as a pariah – it can be tough to be the king.
  • Leaders kinda feel the same way about their employees: Just like employees are hard-wired to hate “The Man”, there are a number of leaders who look at the privilege of leading with a sort of resignation.  They know it’s important, it’s just….tiring sometimes.
  • Leaders struggle with boundaries: There are many leaders out there who just don’t get the balance between BFF and hard ass.  This can lead to credibility issues with the team that cause employees to wish “the man” wasn’t around.
  • Most employees don’t really need a manager: Of course, teams need a manager.  They need someone to help run interference, be their champion, set the vision, etc.  But on a day-to-day basis, not so much.  Think I’m wrong?  Next time your manager is out of the office, take note of how much work you get done.


So what do you do to combat this indifference?  We might be able to learn a lot from cat owners:

  • Don’t try too hard: Most cat owners know that when the cat wants to interact with you, he/she will do so.  Create an environment that is conducive to interaction, exercise some patience, and see what happens.
  • Catnip works: In this case, catnip can be rewards and recognition.  Make your employees’ interactions with you positive and you may see them more often.  Figure out what motivates your employees, help them achieve that, and you should see an improvement in your relationships.
  • Know what baggage they bring to the table: As anyone who has ever adopted a shelter cat knows, some of these guys come with serious issues.  Sometimes employees do, too.  Maybe they had a crappy manager 3 jobs ago and you’re paying the price.  Patience, positive reinforcement, and a good dialogue can help overcome that.
  • Some people just aren’t cat people: If it really bothers you that your employees don’t like you, or don’t think you’re cool, or don’t want to hang out with you…maybe you aren’t the leading kind.  Re-examine your motives for getting into a leadership position in the first place – if they are still pure and you just need an attitude adjustment, do it!  If not, that’s okay, too.  Just don’t subject your employees to a non-leadership ready leader.

Do you have any advice for the leader whose employees are a little too cat-like in their attachment?  Share in the comments below!

I would like to see anyone, prophet, king or God, convince a thousand cats to do the same thing at the same time.
– Neil Gaiman

“Other duties as assigned” (why it’s a good way to work)

I had a streak of bad luck at one point in my career.  Three of the companies I worked for either went out of business or closed the office of where I was working.  I was the William H Macy of business.  I could have been hired as a cooler for competitors.

After the third company went down and the job went away, I wanted to take a little bit of a mental break and just do some temp work until I figured out what was next.  So I was assigned to a small company to do data entry.  About a week into that, I started asking questions.  Why were the forms all hand-written?  What about a web form? Wait, you don’t have a web site?  Well, why not? And who the heck is managing the network?  And shouldn’t you have a single point of contact for general questions?

All of that question-asking led to a full-time position building the company’s web presence and setting some communication infrastructure that’s still in place today.

I share this story not because I want to brag about my mad skillz and the fact that I landed on my feet.  I share it to illustrate that I landed on my feet as a result of asking questions that were outside of my assigned responsibilities.taking out the trash

All too often, I hear employees use the phrase, “It’s not in my job description.”  Or I encounter managers who want a copy of the job description to prove to an employee that there is a task or behavior that they should be doing.  And it sticks in my craw a bit because I find it SO limiting…and it’s so indicative of where a company’s culture currently is.  Employees who think they aren’t responsible for the success of the company will limit themselves to the specifics of their job.  Managers who can’t explain how an employee’s actions contribute to the overall success of an organization rely on job descriptions to “prove it”.  It handicaps both parties…and hinders the business.

There’s a reason that other duties as assigned is included in job descriptions – because there are times when the unexpected happens and the business needs its employees to step up and do some things that are outside of their normal day-to-day.  No business can promise exactly what your daily routine will look like (maybe some manufacturing jobs can get close, but there are still variables).  The company needs some flexibility to succeed in an ever-changing business environment.

Other duties as assigned should be the way you approach your job every single day.  Yes, there are actual job responsibilities you need to complete (duh).  But this phrase is a license for innovation!  You are responsible for adding value – if you can add value outside of your ‘job box’, you will be successful.  For those of you who complain you’re getting burned out or want more development, here’s the phrase for inspiration.  Look around you and find a problem to solve.  If you’re always complaining that one department doesn’t seem to talk to another, call a meeting with the offending parties and see what you can do to help.  Maybe it’s not “technically” your job…but if you see a way to add value by doing it, by all means – do it!

Now, there is some risk inherent in performing other duties all willy-nilly, so here are a couple of suggestions on how you might do it successfully:

  • Tie your other duties to a business need: It’s harder to fault an employee when you’re helping the business achieve its goals.
  • Target pain points: The others will thank you.
  • Don’t make it all about you: Sometimes the problem/pain point you’re solving benefits you…but what would benefit others?
  • Let people know what you’re doing: No one likes an end-around.  Keep your manager up to speed on what you’re doing and why.

So when you’re tempted to grumble or make fun of other duties as assigned, change your mindset.  You may just land on your feet.

Got an example of a time when an “other duties as assigned” mindset helped you?  Share in the comments!

If you’re not stubborn, you’ll give up on experiments too soon. And if you’re not flexible, you’ll pound your head against the wall and you won’t see a different solution to a problem you’re trying to solve.
― Jeff Bezos