Leadership Lessons from the Music Industry

The music industry continues to change. Falling album sales eroded by on-line streaming, questions on how artists get paid and make a living, and technology making it easy for anyone to become a producer. It’s another industry that got hit by the internet twenty years ago (remember Napster?) and continues to get sucker-punched over and over again as the technology evolves(1).

With a young step-son who’s been a professional musician since age 15, and is now recording his sixth album, it’s a topic of interest to me personally – how is he going to make a living doing what he loves,  in an industry famous for manipulators and scumbags, and keep being that good person I know him to be? He’s a talented guy and decent human being, and I look forward to helping him figure it out where he wants my help.

I got to sit in on The Gathering(2) afternoon’s music panels on Friday, and came away impressed with the thoughtfulness and depth of discussions. There seems to be an intersection between artists, brands, marketing, and the people who act as in-betweens.

There are successful artists who have become their own brands (not only making music but also clothing and other products, and doing their own marketing); brands that bring marketing in-house (for example Dr. Dre headphones, who started as a musician(3)); and marketers who love music doing amazing things in the world even though they don’t make music (like Andy Cohn from the FADER).

Turns out music is more than just music. Social justice, innovation and creativity, self-identify, story and narrative, commerce, influence and motivation all get mixed up in a wonderful goulash(4), or maybe a Chili Verde(5). You decide.

Music is unique in the human experience, but it costs money to make it. Surprisingly people want to be able to make music and eat at the same time. Go figure. So music is also commerce, and not surprisingly music also overlaps business and leadership. This became clear to me while listening to the panelists and hearing themes that leadership and business people have been talking about for decades now: values, vision, and people.

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“Nobody Speak” by DJ Shadow, currently on heavy rotation at my house

 

Here are some of the things I heard:

Your Values

Be really clear about what you’re offering, what you expect in return. You can trade your talent and identity for fame and money if you want to, and that’s okay, but don’t expect it to last, don’t expect it to have an impact, and don’t expect anyone to have your best interests at heart.

You can do better than that. There were some powerful stories told on the stage, but they’re not mine to tell. Let’s just say that music not only influences and changes lives, it also literally saves lives(6).

…or as Joe Belliotti put it, “You don’t have to be an asshole to be successful.”

Your Vision

Overused, oversold, and yet so important. What’s the thing that you would be doing even if you had to pay to do it?

Of all the panelists who shared their “vision statement” (and they all had one, it’s de rigueur don’t you know), authenticity was believable, even if it wasn’t messianic: “Feed my family.”, “Take care of the people important to me.”, “Protect my fans, because they got us here.”

People

“Touch your people every day, because you’ll be sad when they walk out the door.”  – Jason White

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory, but I will add this from my own experience: if you think you’re doing this well enough, you’re not. Very few people actually do, many fewer than think they do.

It’s more than likely that you’re just fooling yourself. No shame in that, it’s easy to do. It even has a name: confirmation bias. Take a long hard look at how well you treat your people, and what you tolerate in terms of how others treat them, and do better.

 

(1) See also publishing, newspapers, manufacturing (robotics), transport (self-driving cars), entertainment (pirated movies), etc. Next up professional services such as lawyers and doctors (artificial intelligence). Time to buy an acreage and some goats and move to the country?

(2) In its fifth year, it brings together brands and marketers. Three years ago they added music, integral to telling any story, which is what good marketing does. Plus I love any excuse to head to Banff despite the tourists – they’ve done a really good job of extending tourism past the summer holiday & winter skiing crowd, and I admire that.

(3) If you haven’t watched “Straight Outta Compton” you should, even if rap isn’t your thing. Good movie.

(4) My mother’s signature dish. That and rouladen. Mmmmm.

(5) What’s in the slow cooker right now, and it’s making me drool. Pardon me if I’m distracted by food.

(6) For one example, check out Paul Brandt’s #notinmycity campaign, imagined and executed by marketing students from Mount Royal University. As an added bonus the campaign has ruffled establishment feathers, which delights me because that’s what’s necessary to drive change.

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One Email Outta Do It

Fourth in a series about communication and change management.

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Face to face communication is always best

I love email. It’s fast, it’s easy, its’ cheap. It also provides us a record of what was said. Sometimes it’s important to have a record.  Also I don’t have to ask people how their day’s going, or remember their kids kids’ names. But maybe that’s just me.

So what’s the problem with email? Words themselves make up only as much as 40% and maybe as little as 7% of communication. Words themselves are only a small part of what’s being communicated. So for trivial or strictly objective communication (“Where are we having lunch?”, “Please send me the numbers for the third quarter.”) email works just fine. After that, the chance of mis-communication goes up.

The more complicated the message, the greater the chance for mis-communication. The more emotionally laden the communication (“I think you have an attitude problem.”) the greater the likelihood of misunderstanding. The more people involved, or the less time people have worked together, the greater the opportunity for misinterpretation. Add all those together and the chance of added drama, resentment, and wasted effort is almost certain.

My experience, both as a manager and as a facilitator, is that mis-communication is really easy. You have to work really hard to *not* mis-communicate. Yet we often choose on one of the worst ways to talk to others about complicated, potentially emotional issues with people we don’t really know that well – email.

Fix #4  Talk to a Human

Talk face-to-face. Wash , rinse, repeat.

Mark Hortsman has an amusing saying (I paraphrase): “I’m glad to hear you want to work with people. All the jobs with trees and dogs are taken.” As managers and leaders we manage and lead people, not email. If our jobs were to manage email I wouldn’t have to write this blog post.

Keeping a record isn’t going to engage and influence people to change behaviour or create enthusiasm. Repeated human interaction, building relationships and trust, is the only thing that does.

Phone calls are better than emails for engaging human beings. Video-conferences better than phone calls. In person meetings better than video-conferences. One-on-one, face-to-face meetings are better still. Regular, repeated contact.

If you need a record of agreement, write it afterwards. First pick up the phone, walk down the hall, learn to speak publicly. Tell stories, have a vision, be passionate. Email is efficient  but it’s ineffective. If you’re a manager of human beings, learn to manage human beings. If you’re a manager of trees or dogs, carry on.

I’m Going to Provide an Overwhelming Rational Argument, and then Fail

Third in a series about communication and change management

An Aurora Police Department detective takes a witness statement following a shooting outside the 16 movie theatre in Aurora. Aurora Police responded to the Century 16 movie theatre where police confirm at least 14 people are dead and 50 others injured. AP Photo/Karl Gehring Shooting at Batman screening

“Fact, just the facts ma’am.”

Great if you’re investigating a murder. Insufficient if you’re inspiring action or driving change. It is a mistake to believe that any solely rational, logical, or well-constructed argument will persuade people to set aside their own perceived best interest in favour of doing what’s right or doing what’s correct.

Many people will listen to a rational arguement, analysis, or well-constructed thesis and wonder what you’re up to. What do you really want? What are you trying to hide? Even executives – especially executives – know that any one set of numbers and facts can be tortured to confess whatever is needed to support both sides of the same arguement  Most of us make decisions based on gut, and rationalize that decision with facts and analysis afterwards.

I’m not saying you don’t need to be skeptical, or that you don’t need to do that analysis. As Stephen Lynch once said, “You can run your business with discipline, or you can run it with regret.” But rational  arguement is not going to overcome behavioural inertia in others.

You are going to need more than just the facts.

Fix #3 Appeal to Their Hearts Too

Martin Luther King didn’t say “I have a plan.”

He said “I have a dream.”

Stories, vision, passion, vulnerability. These are what persuade. Concrete, tangible, visual goals are what drive action.

Yes, your plan has to be based in reality. Businesses have to make money to live. But the purpose of a business cannot and should not be just to make money. Your body needs to make red blood cells in order to live, but that’s not your life’s purpose. A doctor gets paid well, but doctors don’t exist to make money.

Businesses need a higher purpose too. Maybe you’re not going to solve world hunger, but you should have a vision beyond just X percentage growth, or Y dollars revenue. Have the guts to stand for something. Something that inspires people to leap out of bed in the morning and eagerly embrace their work.

Amazon’s goal is to provide “Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.” Henry Ford wanted to “Democratize the automobile.” Google wants to “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Not every purpose is going to appeal to every person, but you want it to appeal to the people that are working for you.

Hopefully your change is tied to the higher purpose of the company. An emotional, human connection that impels the actions, and energy needed to overcome inertia and drive change deeply and quickly in your team or company.

Or you could write another policy change. Your choice.

Tell Them What They Want to Know

The second  article in a series about communication and change management.

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Tell Them What They Want To Hear

Mistake #2 *I* Know What You Need To Know

When we’re excited about a new project or initiative, our brains light up. It’s a cool feeling. We want to tell people all about it. We want to tell them everything they need to know so they’ll be excited as us. Now. Right now.

Please take a deep breath. Change freaks people out. Please think about who is affected and how. Try to think about it from their perspective. We all have a finite but varied capacity to handle it. Everybody can deal, but only so much at a time.

Yet we must constantly change to adapt and thrive in a changing world. It’s a conundrum. How do we connect with people, instead of alienating them under an avalanche of confusing avalanche data and buzzwords?

Fix #2 Tell Them What *They* Want To Know

Every message needs a purpose. Every communication needs one and only one intent. What’s the one thing that your audience wants to know? Not what do you want them to know, what do *they* want to know? Ask yourself, if you were this audience, what questions would you ask?

This shift of perspective is very powerful. People, for the most part, don’t care about you and your brilliant ideas. Sorry. Despite best intentions we’re self-centered creatures.

Let’s use that to our advantage. If you talk to their needs, and what you’re proposition means to them (not you, not the company, to them), they’re more likely to hear what you have to say. If you answer their questions, they’re more likely to listen.

Bonus points for tying this to a “higher purpose” that speaks to their heart. I know for some this sounds corny, but if you speak with sincerity about the vision for the company, this is very powerful.

A fantastic example of an inspiring message (“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”) see Simon Sinek’s “How Great Leader’s Inspire Action

Over-Communicate to Drive Change

First in a series about communication and change management

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Mistake #1 They Know What I Know

You and your team have create a brilliant plan during that conference, workshop, planning session, meeting, brain-storming, or tiger-team. It is so blindingly obvious (to you and everybody that was in the room) what needs to be done. You’re inspired and energized. Momentum and success are sure to follow.

Yet think about the time your boss came back from a conference or a retreat full of vim and vigour, thoughts of incentivizations dancing in her head. How well does that usually work out? You try to carry out your brilliant plan, it falls flat. Bitterness and disappointment soon follow.

Other people cannot read your mind. They do not know what you know. They have not experienced what you experienced. They were not at the retreat with you. Your plan, initiative, or strategic shift may be brilliant, but it needs to be as inspiring for the people on whom we’re foisting change as it is for us.

Which is a shame, when may just need a little explaining and inspirational communication .

Say you’ve decided to roll out a performance review process. Please don’t, and I’ve seen this done – really, tell your managers: “Do performance reviews. Follow this process [hands over slide deck], use these forms [hands over forms], have it done by this date.” It will fail.

Fix #1 Over-Communicate

Back in my Air Cadet days, they forced us to practice “public speaking”. One of the simpler tools in our tool box was: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them.” This pattern works for change management too.

That new employee performance review process? Your first communication might be just for managers who will be performing the reviews. Announcing the initiative, explaining the process, and inviting them to a training session. Tell them what you’re going to tell them…

Consider repeating this first step for different audiences. Your first communication to non-managers might be an all-hands e-mail announcing the initiative, explaining the process, and inviting people to an in-person information session (like a lunch-and-learn) where they can ask questions.

Now your managers are ready for the questions that will come from their direct reports (which inevitably won’t be asked when you’re at the front of the room), because you’ve already told them what you’re going to tell them…

After the review process is complete, you might consider having a “hot wash”, inviting feedback, and compare how the process was supposed to be carried out and against what actually happened. Share this analysis. Tell them what you told them…

When You Don’t Over-Communicate

When people don’t know what’s going on and why, they make stuff up. And not the good stuff with fluffy bunnies and unicorns farting rainbows. The bad stuff. Worst case scenario stuff. Corrosive speculation and rumour-mongering follows.

Over-communication will save you time, energy, and grief in the long run. It’s worth the effort.

The Only Thing That Has Ever Changed the World

This RSA talk on the 21st Century Enlightenment grounds us back to thinking where we *should* be going, and is a thought-provoking bit of animated lecture (which is also fun to watch!).

Some highlight from just the first four minutes:

  • If you want to be happy throw away all those self-help books and surround yourself with happy friends
  • We are bad decision makers
  • We are very very bad at predicting what will make us happy, but also bad at understanding what made us happy in the past.
  • Recent insights into human nature help us make better decisions.

The only thing that has ever changed the world? Watch the clip and find out.

Other posts about change:
How to Persuade – and what doesn’t work
Take Care of Yourself First – because performance isn’t the only thing you’re judged on
When You Screw Up (and you will) – turning failure to your advantage, or at least take the sting out

How to Change When Change is Hard

Turns out that self-control is an exhaustible resource. We only have so much of it, which explains why after a long day of focusing at the office we might come home and snap at a spouse or have one drink too many.

This might be why making one change at a time is longer lasting. It just takes the self-discipline and self-confidence to choose what’s most important.

Why Change Is So Hard: Self-Control Is Exhaustible

The Difference Between Learning and Knowing

In Verne Harnish’s book “The Rockefeller Habits” he tell the story of a management consult visiting a steel mill. “With our services you’ll know how to manage better.” The CEO blew him off.

“What we need around here is not more knowing, but more doing! If you’ll pep us up to do the things we already know how to do, I’ll gladly pay you anything you ask.”

The consultant got the CEO to write down the five most important things he needed to get done in the next business day in order of importance. Then he told him:

“Put the list in your pocket, and start working on the most important number one. Look out that item every 15 minutes until it’s done. Then move on the next, and the next. Don’t be concerned if you only finished two or three, or even one, by quitting time. You’ll be working on the most important ones, and the others can wait . . . then send me a cheque for whatever you think it’s worth.”

The consultant was Ivy Lee, the CEO was Charles Schwab, and the mill was Bethlehem steel. Two weeks later they sent him a cheque for $25,000. Still a lot of money today, but a king’s ransom when this story took place.

When we are trying to learn something new, change a habit, modify our behaviour, or try to become more disciplined executing our commitments, all humans will hit a wall. Reading a book, going to a course or participating in a workshop are all great ways to keep “sharpening our saw” and learn new things, but if we don’t do anything with what we’ve learned, then we’ve wasted our time and money.

The wall we hit is the limited human capacity to change. We can only change so many habits at a time. Trying to force ourselves to lose weight, quit smoking, keep our e-mail caught up, and give a bit of positive feedback to every employee all at the same time, we are doomed to failure. We would be better off choosing the one thing that’s most important to us and just working on it until it becomes part of daily routine. Then choosing the next most important one, and working on it.

How long does it take to learn a new habit (or unlearn an old one)? The current research tells us about three months for the big things like quitting smoking, losing weight, or becoming competent at a complex skill like managing our time. That seems like a lot, and it is. If we try to rush things, however, we’ll just have to start over again later. Or give up and feel guilty about or inability to improve our lives.

Be patient. We can learning faster by doing, and we can go faster by slowing down.

So what’s the best way turn a good idea from a book, conference, course, webinar, blog, podcast, lunch-and-learn, or other learning into action? When I got sent on a training or conference  or read a book, I liked to find the one good idea. Then I would take that one good idea and summarize it on a sticky note. The sticky note went up on my monitor, and I would do something towards making that learning reality every day. After about two weeks the concept, process, or habit became ingrained in my daily routine, or it didn’t. With this focus on implementing a single good idea and reminding myself of it on a continuous basis I had a success rate of about 60%. Without it, I was able to succeed 0% of the time.

If it’s a really good book, course, etc., I set up a reminder in three months to go back and review my notes or re-read the book. Then I can pick out the next best thing to implement, and repeat. If I totally failed, then revisiting the source material would help me get re-inspired about making the change. Sometime I even decided that, no, that was a stupid idea after all, and I moved on.

It’s tough at first, but you’ll get better at it. It’s kind of like compound interest – the better you get at learning and executing, the better you get at executing and learning.

Bernie works with small, medium (and sometimes) large companies, start-ups, and volunteer organizations to help them set a vision that is executable, effective, and to surround themselves with people who will help them succeed. I believe the workplace is a place to thrive, not just survive. Call me if you want help transforming your business.