Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Fixing 3 Things In Sports

Monday morning quarterbacks, coaches, players, and fans are nothing, if not opinionated when it comes to sports. We can all typically agree on the things that need to be fixed. But, the solutions people bring to the table rarely satisfy all the audiences.

As a fan and parent of two kids involved in youth sports, I’ve observed a LOT over the years. There are things that drive me crazy; for example, the offsides rule in soccer and hockey. But, not everything that drives me crazy is worth fixing. Sometimes, it is what it is.

My dad was a big believer in the idea that it’s easy to point out that something’s broken, but if you do that, you have a responsibility to offer solutions. I’ve always tried to live up to that philosophy. In this post, I’m going to focus on 3 very specific problems that exist and offer up some solutions.

Video Assistant Review, aka VAR

The English Premier League makes it clear, that “VAR is constantly monitoring the match. VAR is used only for “clear and obvious errors” or “serious missed incidents” in four match-changing situations: goals; penalty decisions; direct red-card incidents; and mistaken identity.” The idea of VAR was great. Referees can’t see everything and be everywhere all the time. Making the correct calls ensures more accurate outcomes. However, the implementation of VAR has universally been panned. Fans hate it. Pundits hate it. Players hate it. In fairness, a major reason people hate VAR has less to do with VAR and more to do with the actual rules being enforced by VAR. For example, the handball law. But, the other major reason is that so much of VAR comes down to interpretation. I can’t change the laws of soccer, but I do have some suggestions for improving the execution of VAR.

VAR rules out goal based on armpit.
  1. Acknowledge it needs to be improved. Swallow the pride.
  2. All goals are reviewed. Each manager is given 2 additional challenges/calls for a review. Maybe it’s an offside call, a foul, or the ball going out of bounds. Basically, stop trying to legislate everything.
  3. Make the VAR review a 3 member panel of refs and former players. Consensus must be reached to overturn the original call. If 2 out of 3 can’t agree, it’s not “clear and obvious.”

That’s it. As the kids say, that’s the tweet.

Youth Sports

The elite young athlete: strategies to ensure physical and emotional health

I have seen, up close, the horrible underbelly of youth sports. I’ve written previously, in a now-deleted post, about the racism I experienced while growing up in Vernon, NJ. Some of it was overt. Some of it lived in the shadows. For example, when it came time to pick the Little League All-Star team, magically most, if not all the kids of coaches were picked. Some were selected at the expense of more deserving players. In particular, my dad received a call from another team’s coach apologizing that his kid was selected ahead of me. He shared what took place in the manager’s/coach’s meeting and said it wasn’t right. But, I’ve also seen it as both of my kids have played in a number of youth sports programs.

There’s a lot you could fix in youth sports. For example, stop charging to attend basketball games. Just build the “revenue” into the season price in the same way that soccer does. But, I want to focus on the hero worship that comes from how programs operate. Programs are designed to drive success, not develop players. Development is a byproduct, for the most part. Even at young ages, athletic programs are looking to retain the best players in hopes they’ll drive their High School programs to success. So here’s what happens:

  1. Talented kids are identified early on.
  2. Their parents are asked to be on boards and to coach.
  3. Conflicts of interest arise, but are swept under the rug. Programs take care of their own and from what I’ve observed the complaints originate from parents of kids who are less talented, and thus less valuable.

Parents of kids shouldn’t be allowed to coach their children’s teams, oversee the programs their kids play in, or hold positions on boards that drive talent selection and development decisions. At a minimum, any concerns parents would have about shady practices, favoritism/nepotism, and ethics go away.

Let me offer a real example situation that wouldn’t have happened if my recommendations were in place. Two parents made a complaint about a coach being a bit too handsy with the players. To an untrained eye, the physical interactions might be seen as typical coaching. One of the parents was a victim of sexual assault and saw it as something more. A formal investigation, as recorded through the minutes, never took place. The coach’s child was a very good player, was being allowed to play up, and they didn’t want to create friction. They were told to bring their concerns to the police if they were that concerned. With everything we know about the sexual assault of athletes by trainers, coaches, and staff, the only logical conclusion was that this program was protecting the coach of a talented player.

If most well-run, ethical companies prohibit family from managing family and influencing the hiring of family members, shouldn’t youth sports?

NBA Scoring

3-Point Shooting Growth

I confess, I basically stopped watching basketball 2 years ago for a variety of reasons. We had season tickets for our local team, the Minnesota Timberwolves; even though I’m a Chicago Bulls fan. I tried. Really, I did. But, the over-emphasis on no defense and jacking up 3-pointers simply doesn’t appeal to me. The James Harden approach to basketball is not my cup of tea. I am not the only person who has this opinion.

Most opinion pieces focus on the 3-point line. They either want to change the shape or make it further away from the basket. Others have recommended the NBA adopt an MTV Rock N Jock style basketball court where certain areas, beyond the 3-point line, are worth more than 3 points. I’m not going to touch the 3-point line. I’m not advocating for more lines or ways to score more than 3 points.

My solution is much simpler. I want to bring back the pre-mid-1990s hand check rule. The hand check rule allowed defenders to place one or two hands on an offensive player to “check” their movement. The rule was significantly modified after MJ’s first retirement and then went away completely after the 2003/2004 season. Here’s how I’d like to bring it back:

  1. You can only use one hand.
  2. The hand check can only be used between the half-court line and the 3-point line.
  3. The hand-check can only be executed on the ball handler.

If you adopted my 3-point plan, no pun intended, here’s what’s likely to happen.

  1. We’ll see more offensive balance. You can still move quickly from the inbound to the half-court line.
  2. The mid-range game comes back into play.
  3. We’ll see a resurgence of post-up play.
  4. There will be new offensive creativity requiring more movement and off-the-ball play to free up the best shooters.
  5. A new era of defensive creativity will be born, evolving us from the binary choices of zone and man-to-man.

I do think you’ll also see better youth development. Walk in to a gym these days and you’ll see kids chucking shots from deep, with horrible form. Bad habits are being created early.

The net-net should be a more balanced, enjoyable, and fun game.

There you go, problem, with solutions, as my dad would have approved of!

The State of Inbound SPAM Sales Messages – It’s Bad

SPAM from MSNBC

Inbound sales messages, emails, and phone calls aren’t new. The proliferation of social networks made sending SPAM easier. Despite attempts by federal and state governments to corral SPAM, things haven’t really improved.

I’d argue, things have actually gotten worse. There are 3 things, in particular, that helps explain why they’ve gotten worse:

  1. Cyber Breaches: Did you shop with company X? Did they have really bad security around their consumer data? Were they hacked? Was your email address exposed? If so – you’ve probably been on the receiving end of a lot of SPAM.
  2. Registration: Have you ever looked at the nitty-gritty terms and conditions of many registration forms? For example, are you signing up for a promotion or a chance to win something? What about signing up to attend a conference or to gain access to white paper? Many of those registration forms automatically opt you in to have your contact information shared with all of their sponsors and vendors.
  3. Social Media Connections: To some, the idea of becoming a follower, friend, or connection equals permission to try and sell you. You’ve seen this play out a million times on LinkedIn. You’ll receive a connection request. You accept the connection request. 5 minutes later you have a message from the new connection offering to sell you something.

I’m a firm believer that you can only control, what you can control. To mitigate cyber breaches, I try to never register for an account with the retailer and I try to avoid using my credit card. Where possible, I use Apple Pay to mask my account info and my credit card info.

To avoid SPAM coming from registration, I make sure to check the box opting me out of communication, when they’re available. When they aren’t, I either don’t use a primary email address or I use a dummy email address. Sometimes, you need to use a real email address. The minute I get that auto-confirmation, I click the unsubscribe link. This doesn’t work 100%, but it makes a difference.

Social media connections are the most challenging. I’ve tried to educate salespeople. I’ve tried to make it clear in my profile that I’m not interested in inbound sales and/or I am interested in hearing about certain things. For example, there was a point, several years ago, where I did want to hear from different programmatic buying platforms. You can choose to ignore them, but many are very persistent. You can remove the connection, but what happens if, at some point in the future, you actually do what to hear from them?

I’m at the end of my rope with social media SPAM. So, as an experiment, I decided to create a templated response that would be as random, unwelcomed, and off-topic as their original message to me. My hope is that seeing such a random message will help train/teach inbound salespeople to be better. My response to every inbound, unwelcomed, random, and off-topic message is:

Are you looking to sponsor youth sports teams? I have a girls soccer team in need of a sponsor. Could that be you?

As you’d imagine, I haven’t received many follow-ups. Actually, I’ve only received two follow-ups. 

LinkedIn Message Exchange

As you can see in the exchange above, salespeople are very persistent and almost seem to be bot-like. In sharing the above, I’ve made every effort to anonymize the message. It’s often not their fault; they’re typically being forced to follow a script. Additionally, while youth sports sponsorships are great, I’d never trade sponsorship for a meeting or anything else. That type of quid pro quo is wrong and unethical.

My hope is that by offering something random, that also makes an appeal, it will drive inbound salespeople to reflect on their actions. We’ll see how the experiment goes, but I’m not optimistic.

By design, the LinkedIn’s of the world need spammers. Spammers equal users and users are how valuations are set. Additionally, it’s the spammers that are likely paying for the “advanced” features that average users don’t buy. It’s an unhealthy symbiotic relationship that’s unlikely to change in the near future.

The Changing Formula For Winning

Formula and Equations

Sometime in the near future, I’ll be publishing a deeper dive on youth sports, how programs operate, the politics, and more. But, for now, I want to focus on an interesting parallel between success in youth sports and success in the office.

My son, John (11), and daughter, Cora (13) have been playing sports since they were both 4. I’ve seen, what feels like, a million basketball and soccer games. I also grew up playing sports and played well into college. What’s very clear is that the winning teams do succeed because of:

  1. Tactics: Did the coaches put in place a winning game plan?
  2. Personnel: Were the right people playing in the right positions?
  3. Quality of Play/Effort: Did the players perform?

For the most part, I’ve avoided coaching my kids’ teams. As I’ve written about before, being coached by my dad was a tough pill to swallow. On occasion, I’ve filled in, and once I was an assistant coach. That one year as an assistant validated that tactics, personnel, and quality of play/effort are the 3 critical elements that drive a winning team.

These same 3 areas make all the difference in the office as well. We simply tend to label them differently. For example, tactics are often considered strategy. And the quality of effort is often called execution.

What’s fascinated me and inspired this post is how different the priority order of impact is for different sports and office/work environments. For example, in basketball, a single truly dominant player can trump tactics and the quality of play. Or, as my dad used to say, “Son, you can’t coach height.” I remember a basketball game when Cora was about 8 years old where they had a player that was a good 2 feet taller than the next player, and ~50 pounds heavier. Regardless of the tactics, or how hard the team played, there was simply nothing you could do about this player. She was unguardable.

Conversely, even a single dominant player on a futbol or football field can be completely stifled by tactics. This happens all too often in futbol, when managers employ tactics designed to “park the bus“.

When you step out of sports, youth, professional, or otherwise, and look at companies, things get even more complicated. The best “personnel”, could be trumped by a great set of tactics/strategy and vice versa. For example, see Snapchat vs. Facebook. Snapchat is routinely applauded for having brilliant product strategies, that are often quickly copied by Facebook and then scaled. In this instance, Snapchat might have a great strategy and the best people, but Facebook’s tactics of simply copying Snapchat’s ideas and then scaling them trumps Snapchat’s approach.

Additionally, few people would challenge the notion that at the time, Blackberry had some of the best and brightest engineers and a tremendous product. But, Apple’s strategy of making the phone a phone, an iPod, and an internet device was bold and ultimately, won them the day.

You can chase yourself in circles trying to formulate the perfect order or ratio of these 3 categories. If forced to rank or ratio these 3 categories, it would be:

  1. Tactics (50%)
  2. Personnel (30%)
  3. Quality of Play/Effort (20%)

But, here’s the thing I’ve come to realize after leading teams and developing organizations for the past 10+ years – you can’t blanketly apply a model consistently and to every scenario. For example, if you’re a mature organization, with the capital flexibility to make a mistake, you can afford to prioritize getting the “best” people, while you figure out the best strategy/tactics. But, if you’re in growth mode in a competitive category, tactics, and execution make a world of difference.

When Walmart was at the very beginning of developing its digital and e-commerce capabilities, it was clear they lacked the personnel and the quality of play/execution mastery needed to win. So, what did they do? They grew through a number of smart acqui-hires. Kosmix was the first big one, with Jet.com being the most recent significant acquisition. Their ability to constantly juggle the order of these 3 categories, over time, based on the environment is one of the major reasons they’ve been so successful.

Keep a watchful eye on the operating environment, so that you can adjust the priority order and emphasis of strategy, people, and execution is what top organizations do. And, yes, even when those organizations are sports teams! We’re seeing this play out during the pandemic, specifically in the restaurant world. The best chefs, at top restaurants, where the dish by dish execution was second to none are struggling as other eateries are changing their tactics to adjust to the environment.

David Chang, the restauranteur behind Momofuku, amongst others nailed the intersection of sports and business, as it relates to strategy, people, and execution in an interview with Bloomberg.

BG: Your thoughts about the difficulty of it all — I imagine they’ve been amplified by the coronavirus pandemic?

DC: Yeah, absolutely.

BG: Will young chefs now have to find a very different path, because of the way you came up is no longer possible?

DC: Well, we all have to pivot. We can’t do what we did before, because what we were doing before wasn’t working that well. A lot of chefs are asking themselves very serious questions, because they signed up to express themselves through food in a way that’s no longer possible. Dave Beran is a chef in Los Angeles and he just closed down Dialogue, one of the most intimate, best restaurants in the country, an expression of himself. He trained his entire life to do that, and that no longer exists. There’s no guarantee that comes back.

I’d be lying, straight lying, if I said I have the answers. But before we start asking the questions [about how to cope with the crisis], we need to ask what was working and what wasn’t working before, so we don’t repeat the same mistakes if and when we’re going to start over again. If you have a three-Michelin-star restaurant and you’ve had to close down, would you reopen the same restaurant?

I’m just trying to figure a better analogy. Do you watch any sports?

BG: I’m a soccer person.

DC: Alright. Let’s just say there’s no more television footage of Chelsea, or any Premier League club. That’s going to have a dramatic impact on sponsorships. And that changes the players’ salaries and the club revenues. Everything has to be recalibrated. It doesn’t take away the people’s love for the game but players ask themselves, “Can I make a career?”

And that’s where we’re at.

It’s not just the player. Say you’re the owner of the franchise: You always wanted to own a soccer team, and now you can own it but you’re not going to have the guaranteed revenue. There might be new ways to raise revenue, but you don’t know. That’s where we’re at: we just don’t know.

I’m not sure there’s more I can add to that fantastic exchange. Sun Tzu famously said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Over the years that philosophy was overtaken by Peter Drucker’s, the famed management consultant’s, quote, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. I think we’re at a point where agility and adaptability are the driving forces to success. How you balance and emphasize strategy, talent, and execution is what will drive wins.

2021 Will Be A Defining Year – My Predictions

Zoltar Machine

Predicting 2020 was already challenging. Adding a global pandemic to the mix made it even harder. To see how I did with those 2020 predictions, click here.

Typically, I focus the majority of annual predictions on marketing, advertising, digital, and technology. Those are the verticals I know best and I try to stick with what I know. However, when I started making predictions a decade ago, the pervasiveness of “digital” was still fairly limited. As I look at 2021 it’s nearly impossible to decouple digital from anything. From education to shopping and from travel to entertainment, digital is everywhere. With that in mind, my 2021 predictions will seem to stray a bit from predictions in previous years. But, rest assured, my focus is still digital.

Additionally, please note, I stay away from any prediction that might even be in the realm of what my employer focuses on. These are my predictions and don’t represent them. 

We will still have COVID-19 acting a hangover in 2021. What became clear in 2020 was the state-by-state impact of COVID-19, based on specific policy choices. This makes predicting 2021 harder. To that end, here’s how I’m approaching my 2021 predictions:

  1. Short and Long-Term: I wanted to have a healthy mix of both. Yes, 2021 still ends on December 31st, but I wanted to look at things that would happen because of the longer view many are taking.
  2. More of a National and Global Focus: I wanted to avoid, where possible, the influence of local policies. By local, I mean a specific country (e.g. France), state (e.g. Illinois), or city (e.g. New Orleans). There are a few that toe this line, but again see #1.
  3. No Layups: We’re keeping the no easy predictions rule.
  4. Categories: Instead of a random list, I’m going to categorize predictions into 4 specific buckets.

With that out of the way, let’s get on with it.

Category 1: 2020 Pull-Forward

These are all predictions I made for 2020, that didn’t happen, but I’m still bullish on.

  1. We will see an ad-supported version of Netflix in 2020 or some other option beyond a monthly fee model.
  2. Snapchat will implode. TikTok and other snackable content platforms/apps will create a more competitive environment.
  3. Tesla will start to license its battery technology to other car manufacturers as a means to bring in an additional revenue stream, increase the number of electric cars on the road, and make the environment better.

Category 2: Long-Term Impacts from COVID-19

These are predictions that will happen in 2021, based on the impact of COVID-19, and people/society/investors/etc. taking a long-term view.

  1. The number of private schools will increase 20%, along with enrollment in private schools increasing 15%. Both are an increase on 2020 numbers. If there’s one area that has failed completely during COVID-19, it was education. We have already seen a significant shift away from public schools and with few concrete and consistent plans in place for public schools, this is going to scale. While I am avoiding “local” predictions, I do think you will see a greater call for school choice models across the country.
  2. Movie theaters are not done for. Much has been written about their demise. I’m not suggesting they will thrive. But, I think some combination of these 4 things will happen. A theater chain or two (e.g. AMC) will sell to a “movie” company like Disney. Alternatively, we may see the reverse of this happen. For example, maybe Cinemark buys/becomes a production company. Blockbuster movies that were held back, that some speculated would be released digitally first (e.g. Top Gun 2), will be released in theaters, sparking their rebound. Theater companies will band together and/or merge, to create a streaming alternative service. If this happens, you could totally see some type of hybrid offering where you can subscribe to watch at home and see X number of movies a month at a theater.
  3. Social and shopping will continue to grow as we finally see the social deliver revenue at scale. Instagram’s shopping redesign was the big 2020 signal. But, there’s been a steady and slow drumbeat for a few years. COVID-19 forced companies and in some cases, whole industries, to embrace digital sales and revenue models. Unfortunately, there’s not a great deal of publicly available data to use as a starting point for a tight prediction, so we’re going to have to get creative. We will see two things happen. The first is fairly straightforward; major retailers (e.g. Gap, Nordstrom) will launch “shopping fronts” on major platforms (e.g. Instagram) and we will see more shopping options/features from social platforms. The second will be the increases in references, during quarterly earnings, about social+commerce growth, from retailers and social platforms.
  4. The digitization of models, industries, and services that accelerated in 2020 will go even further in 2021. Food delivery, retail pickup, high education, car buying, house buying, and so many other services fully-embrace digital services transitions in 2020. Some of these happened after years of fighting digital purchase models. Ahem…car buying. I think the most likely one here is actually government services and actions. Think about how many things have to be done in person. Your license, passport, marriage certificate, and so many other tasks, all require mail-in forms or an in-person visit. This is going to change. How do we make this something we can analyze and evaluate? In preparation for the 2024 presidential elections, all states will either offer or announce their intent to offer online voting, in place of in-person ballots.
  5. We will see a reduction in the usage of video conferencing. The meteoric growth was almost, you could argue, necessary, as people transitioned out of the office. However, the number of early studies that indicate how poor the constant use of videoconferencing is people’s mental well-being, will yield more studies and eventually actions. For the purposes of a prediction, let’s say 1 of these 3 things will happen. Microsoft will announce A.I. powered features to help managers manage “zoom” fatigue. Videoconferencing usage will drop 30% from 2020. A formal study between Cisco, the makers of WebEx, or someone similar, and a higher-education institution (e.g. Stanford) to study the mental impact of “zoom” meetings will be announced and findings will be shared.

Category 3: Simple, Straightforward, and Digital Industry Focused

  1. Jack Dorsey will step down as Twitter CEO. Continued poor earnings, the Section 230 shadow, and Square’s growth will force this to happen.
  2. Facebook will prevail in defending its position against the Federal Government’s antitrust investigation. What does prevailing look like? They’ll be able to keep Instagram and WhatsApp.
  3. Digital music sales, as defined by single songs and full albums, will fall to less than $500M in revenue. We are living in a streaming world folks.
  4. Pinterest opened 2020 at around $18.50 a share. They closed the year around $65. I’ve always felt like they’re the one to watch. Their stock is going to hit $92 at some point in 2021.
  5. We will see draft legislation in the United States for something that starts to mirror Europe’s GDRP. I have a feeling that privacy and transparency in advertising practices are going to remain a focus in 2021.

Category 4: Digital Influenced

These are predictions where digital, in some way, shape, or form is a reason for something to happen but isn’t the overriding one.

  1. NBA, MLB, and NHL viewership will increase relative to 2020, but will be down significantly to 2019. The decrease will be so dramatic, the salary cap for at least one of these leagues will go down by at least 10%.
  2. As cryptocurrencies become more mainstream, their growth curve will normalize. I think Bitcoin, closes 2021 at less than $40,000. While the scale of the growth slows, this will be a good thing for the average person/consumer. While not a prediction to be judged, I do think you’ll start to see more public companies investing in cryptocurrencies in the same way they invest in commodities and futures.
  3. As work from home, becomes work from anywhere, we’re going to see more and more tech-industry corporations relocate their headquarters from California. In fairness, this started to happen in 2020 (e.g. Tesla, HP). While it won’t be Google or Facebook, expect 3 significant names to announce moves. This isn’t part of the prediction, but likely candidates include Uber, Lyft, Cisco, Nvidia, and Adobe.

Phew. If you read all of that, thanks. Get yourself a cup of coffee; you deserve it. As I always do, I’ll assess these predictions at the end of 2021, and possibly mid-year.

Cheers!

Reviewing and Analyzing My 2020 Predictions

2020 Dumpster Fire

When I said, “2020 is going to be a firecracker;” I wasn’t forecasting a once in a lifetime global pandemic. COVID-19 changed the course of so many industries and lives. Too often, this year, we’ve focused on the grave, sad, and tragic aspects of COVID-19. With so many other people having covered those stories so well, I’ll pass on adding my voice to that dialogue.

However, COVID-19 accelerated and brought about positive changes in a number of areas. To start:

  1. Mental health and the stigma associated with it, change, for the better. Access to a plethora of mental and emotional wellness services seemed to double overnight.
  2. The scaling and adoption of telehealth services increased access to healthcare like never before.
  3. The digital transformation in organizations was like nothing we’ve ever seen before. We saw the updating of legacy systems and the changing of end-to-end supply chain operations (e.g. order online and have someone deposit your item in your trunk). And, of course, wholesale changes in business models (e.g. launching new movies on-demand first). We saw it all.
COVID-19 and Digital Transformation

A quick reminder, I’ve been offering predictions since 2012, with a historical scoring rate of:

  • 2019: 8.5/20 for a 42.5% hit rate.
  • 2018: 18/22 for an 82% hit rate.
  • 2017: 7.5/10 for a 75% hit rate.
  • 2016: 8.5/15 for a 56.7% hit rate.
  • 2015: 6.5/10 for a 65% hit rate.
  • 2014: 8/10 for an 80% hit rate.
  • 2013: 3/5 for a 60% hit rate.
  • 2012: 9/10 for a 90% hit rate.

As I review my 2020 predictions, there will not be a COVID-19 curve. The scores are what the scores are. The original prediction is in bold font, with my assessment in regular font.

  1. Apple will continue its efforts to be seen as the tech company that cares about your privacy by taking one or more of these actions. They will buy/launch a VPN service to keep your internet usage data private from telecom and internet service providers. They will buy DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo is the de facto search engine for people who care about their privacy. In many ways, they are the anti-Google. Purchasing DuckDuckGo and making it the default search engine for all iOS devices and Mac Computers would be a significant declaration. There will be a mass expunging of apps from the App Store that originate from China, Russia, or other countries in the Middle East and/or new rules brought about for the App Store that imposes higher thresholds for data collection transparency. A lesser person would take a full point. But, I specifically said there would be an acquisition and there wasn’t. But, everything else happened. iOS 14 brought about massive new privacy features. Apps were kicked out, suspended, or forced to change. Oh, and there was the whole TikTok thing, that wasn’t a thing, that was a thing, that might be a thing. Net-net, Apple was tougher on privacy, expunged apps, added hire thresholds, and became more transparent about data collection. But, they didn’t acquire a company in this sector. 1/2 point.
  2. Global TV Ad Sales dropped by 4% in 2019. Many ad executives believe we’ll see a massive rebound in 2020 because it’s an election year for the United States and the Summer Olympics take place. I don’t think this is going to happen. I see more money in politics shifting online at the expense of TV. In my opinion, this was going to happen no matter what. COVID-19 simply made it worse. By all accounts TV ad sales were dismal and most of the money shifted to digital. I’ll take the point.
  3. Speaking of politics, President Donald Trump will be re-elected. This did not happen.
  4. This will be a very pivotal year for the retail industry. We’re going to see 3 things happen. First, iconic and historical brands like Macy’s, J.C. Penney’s, and Gap will shrink their footprint. Second, we’re going to see 3 brands of significance change their CEOs and/or file for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Likely candidates would include L Brands, Ambercrombie, and Bed Bath and Beyond. Third, we will see brands that were once shuttered come back as online-only operations. For example Radio Shack. ALL of this happened. Seriously. Here’s what GAP said, “We will be shrinking our North America footprint and getting out of mall-based locations, and by 2023, we will have reduced our store fleet by 35 percent. The goal is to create a new operating model in a cost-effective way, and all of the changes will help us become a digitally-led brand.” On the bankruptcy protection side, you can take your pick. I said, 3, so here’s 3: J. Crew, JCPenney, and Nieman Marcus. Radio Shack did come back as an online retailer, as did Pier 1, and a host of other formerly traditional retailers. We will take the full point!
  5. Despite the slings and arrows that continued to be thrown at Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook will continue to thrive. We will see stock growth, record revenues, and 2 or 3 meaningful acquisitions. I could see them buying Roku to bolster TV/content streaming offerings…that would be personalized, of course. Yeah, this happened. Despite being in the cross-hairs from both sides of the aisle, the reality is, the business has never been stronger. They also made acquisitions that are clearly aimed at diversifying their revenue streams. Specifically, Giphy and Mapillary. A full point here.
  6. Apple will make all their “+” offerings free, so long as you are enrolled in the Apple upgrade program, have an Apple credit card, or have a phone/iPad that’s less than 2 years old. This includes Apple News+ and AppleTV+. These services become choice differentiators for why you would pick an Apple device over a competitor. I AM NOSTRADAMUS!!! This was the obvious move from Apple. Buy something new and get things for free. Although, it’s not really free; it’s more like free for a period of time.
  7. Netflix can’t continue to spend what they’re spending on content creation. The debt they’ve racked up and the current cost structure won’t allow for it. We will see an ad-supported version of Netflix in 2020. This didn’t happen. But, I wonder if COVID-19 hadn’t happened, if we would have seen this shift. I think Netflix was getting a bit of a pass on financials because of short term adoption numbers during COVID-19. They’ve already announced another fee hike for 2021, which gives a tiny indication of things. All that said, it’s a miss.
  8. Snapchat will implode. There are too many short-form content platforms to compete with. One of these years, I’ll be right about Snpachat imploding. This was not the year.
  9. Related to #8, TikTok will implode as well. The concerns over data privacy will see it stricken from app stores and parents taking more action to restrict access for their kids. Boy, this is a tough one. I’m taking the point. If your business is forced to sell because of privacy concerns and without the sale, you can’t operate in the U.S.A., I think that’s an implosion – regardless of usage metrics.
  10. Much like vinyl sales and record store growth, we will see a resurgence for independent book stores. This happened and based on the data, one could argue that without COVID-19, it wouldn’t have happened.
  11. We will see the start of companies like Facebook or Google, offering to pay off your debt and/or fund your health insurance, if you actively use their platforms. Impressions and MAUs are the currency for ad dollars. Without them, platforms make less money. Someone will figure out a model where it’s financially sound to pay down $X against your student loan so long as you agree to be tracked in a way that allows the platform to monetize your usage habits. Maybe next year. I’m still bullish on this one.
  12. Tesla will start to license its battery technology to other car manufacturers as a means to bring in an additional revenue stream, increase the number of electric cars on the road, and make the environment better. This could happen through a direct license for building the car or by allowing other car manufacturers to leverage Tesla’s Super Charger network. The critical word in this prediction was, “start”. While Musk and Tesla did announce they would be willing to license their technology, it hasn’t started to do so. I missed this one.
  13. With real estate being one of the most costly line items for organizations, 2020 will be the year we see a sizable shift in companies actively pushing for more remote workers and leveraging co-working spaces as part of everyday business. By the end of 2020 will see the % of remote workers go from under 5% to above 5%. That seems small, but it’s a massive number of people. Is 33% above 5%? Um, I think so! Clearly, getting this right was influenced by COVID-19. But, I think it would have happened without the pandemic’s impact.
  14. One of these two new California laws enacted in 2019 will be repealed and/or found unconstitutional. AB5, the law the impacts regarding freelance workers, seems the most likely. But, the mandate for a quota system on a company’s board of directors, SB826, is the other likely candidate. Both were challenged. Those challenges, thus far, have been squashed. I’m not surprised about AB5. Though, in the end, it might be irrelevant given the stance of companies like Uber. They’ll simply elect to not operate in California and may relocate to Texas or Florida as so many other tech companies are doing. But, the feeling from most legal minds was that SB826 would never persist. They were wrong, as was I. No points.
  15. The robot/automation/AI economy will finally arrive in earnest. There will be more than 1 million jobs lost to robots, automation, or artificial intelligence in 2020. While there won’t be any federal laws enacted to combat this trend, it will be debated and discussed as part of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. We get half a point here. There have been more than 2 million jobs lost to automation this year. But, A.I., automation, robots, etc. were not part of the debates.
  16. Peloton is going to have a challenging year. Every few years a new workout fad takes center stage. Eventually, they all fade away, some permanently. The model isn’t sustainable. One of 2 things will happen. The “talent” will seek to unionize, go on strike, or demand something that will reduce the number of personalities that riders have grown to love. There will be a data breach/breach of trust in the data collected from members. This was actually happening, and then COVID-19 happened. The gyms couldn’t open. Places like Soul Cycle couldn’t happen. Peloton and companies similar to them took off. We don’t make excuses though. No points here.
  17. Disney will have a down year at the box office. After carrying 80% of the box office hits in 2019, there’s simply no place to go but down. But, Disney+ will be a massive success. In fairness, everyone had a bad year at the box office. Disney+ has more than 60 million subscribers. That’s simply astonishing. It’s also a massive success. Wow!

Ok, so how did I do? Well, I struck gold on #2, #4, #5, #6, #9, #10, #13, and #17. I got half a point on #1 and #15. I completely missed on #3, #7, #8, #11, #12, #14, #16. For those of you without a calculator that means 8/17 for a 47% success rate. Ouch!

Like many, I’m already looking toward 2021! If you read the whole piece and made it this far, thanks. Have a safe and healthy New Year!

Whiskey Reviews in the Time of Quarantine

With fewer opportunities to eat out, I spent the last seven months redirecting that money into several other avenues. One of them being many new whiskeys to try and add to the library.

My network of whiskey friends spans the entire country, including Washington, California, Ohio, Massachusetts, Texas, Nevada, Wisconsin, Illinois, and more. I’m fortunate to have a great group of people who enjoy the brown stuff. 

All told, I tried some 20+ new whiskeys since the COVID-19 quarantine setup started. Some have been life-changing. Others made me wish I’d lit my money on fire because it would have been more satisfying. I’m not going to go through all of them. Instead, I’m going to share five that were exceptional, two that were bad, and three just weren’t for me – but, might be great for you.

Winners

  1. Garrison Brothers HoneyDew: This one surprised me. I typically hate flavored whiskeys. But, I have never been disappointed by anything from Garrison Brothers. This review swayed me to give it a try, and I’m glad I did. Honestly, I don’t even taste the “honey”, but what I do tase are subtle layers that seem to build on one another. There’s a sweet and approachable nose. Then oak and vanilla on the tongue. And the finish is just where I want it – upper 3rd. It’s enough to let you know it’s there, but not so much as to overpower the dram. It’s pricy at $89.99 a bottle, but worth it.
  2. Joseph A. Magnus & Co. Murrary Hill Club: So, I walk into a liquor store. I’m checking out. Behind the cashier is this bottle for $115 that I’d never heard of. I ask him about it. He doesn’t know much. $115 for a bottle that I’ve never tasted is straight-up bananas. I text my buddy who lives in Cinci about it. He says the same thing. But, he also says, everyone he knows who’s tried it loved it. Hmm. So I head back to the store, and it’s gone. Well, those are the breaks. A few days later I’m at a boutique grocery store/deli. And, well now, there it is! So, I buy it. And, just wow. Honestly, it’s better than $300 bottles that I’ve tasted. Everything about it is delightful. It has the right amount of everything. From the heat to the oak on the nose, to the apricot on the tongue, it’s basically flawless. This review gives a great background and more tasting notes.
  3. Maker’s Mark 101: I like Maker’s Mark. The whiskey is as reliable as it gets. There’s nothing spectacular about it. But, at $22 or so, a bottle, it’s a good value for cocktails to sipping neat. But, I always felt it lacked some punch. Maker’s 46 was supposed to address some of that. It just wasn’t for me. I had heard about Maker’s Mark 101, but it was basically a white whale. It was only available at the distillery. But, this year, it hit the shelves. For $35 – $50 a bottle, you will not find much better. It gives you the familiarity of Maker’s Mark, with some extra heat, spice, and depth. 
  4. Basil Hayden 10 Year: WOW. This is my whiskey of the year when you factor in price, availability, flavor, and any other variable you want to throw in. I was bummed to miss out on the first release. Then, one day, I’m killing time while my daughter is at soccer practice. I pop into local liquor store and there are three bottles on the shelf. I grabbed all three. I’m glad I did. Getting age statements on bottles is becoming harder and harder these days. And having a 10-year statement is nearly impossible. This bold release from Beam-Suntory hits all the right notes. As this review details, you get some Summer fruit, caramel, and oak. At $60 a bottle, you aren’t breaking the bank.
  5. Smoke Wagon Small Batch: Whiskey, from Nevada? Ok, you have my attention. I started seeing Smoke Wagon in my Instagram feed, a lot. The name turned me off. I tend not to like smoke flavored whiskeys. But, one day, I decided to read up on the whiskey. There is no smoke. Smoke, in the name, has nothing to do with the taste profile. A good friend was able to track down some bottles and get them shipped to me. Spicy, but the right spice, was everywhere. It’s in the nose, the taste, and the finish. But, when I say, “spicy”, I want you to think of spice as flavor. Yes, there’s rye, but there’s a nice toasted element, brown sugar, and maybe some nuttiness. I dug it, a lot.

Hard Pass

  1. Kentucky Owl Confiscated: I should have known better. Really, I should have. This overview should have been a giant red flag. But, when you say rare, hard to find, and give it a killer story, I’m hooked. This was bad. The flavor was all over the place. A big tell for me is if I smell or taste pine. I caught it the minute I opened the bottle. You live, you learn.
  2. George Dickel 9 Year Hand Selected: This should have been awesome. I love Dickel. I dig small batches. Age statements are typically a good thing. The reviews were generally very positive. But, honestly, it was bad. It’s like bad jazz that portends to be some freestyling. There was too much oak, it was thin, and it just burned. I couldn’t really get a distinct flavor profile of any kind. When Dickel #12 is so good at $20, the 9 year is criminal for charging nearly $60.

Not for Me, but Maybe for You

  1. New Riff Single Barrel: Everyone was telling me, I had to try this. The reviews were all solid. But, it was not for me. Spicy, yes. However, the spices aren’t what I wanted in a bottle. This moved almost immediately to the cocktail shelf. When I have whiskeys that I don’t enjoy neat, I transition them for use in making an old fashioned, sazerac, or manhattan. With this many great reviews, surely it’s me. So, give it a whirl.
  2. Heaven’s Door Straight Bourbon Whiskey: I had high hopes for Bob Dylan’s whiskey label. The reviews were great. I love a good Tennesse whiskey. Specifically, I really dig George Dickel #12. Many suspect the whiskey is sourced from Dickel. But, despite all of that going for it, I was disappointed. There was nothing wrong with it. However, there wasn’t anything that stood out.
  3. Stagg Jr. Batch 12: I’m all over the place with Stagg Jr. Some batches are great. Some are not. You know you’re going to get heat with Stagg. But, this was over-powering for me. It really required an ice cube or two. But, I feel horrible doing that to such a great whiskey. If you like heat, you’ll love this whisky.

So there you have it. Ten different whiskeys, all with a different story. The thing I love about whiskey is that each person experiences each pour differently. What I love, you might hate, and what I might hate, you might love. Either way – keep tasting!

The Right Way to Leave an Organization

Office Space Quitting Scene

In November of 2010, I wrote a post titled, “The Line At The Door Is Always Long” that focused on some of the best work and life advice my manager at ConAgra Foods had imparted on me. A decade later the advice and stories from that post are as important as ever.

Change is inevitable. Sometimes we seek the change. Sometimes the change comes to us. Some change is welcomed. Some change is despised.

While we may not have control over change, we do have control over how we manage that change.

Several years after I wrote that post, without realizing it, one of my leaders at Walgreens extended the “Gamma One” story from that November 2010 post. She said, there are two things you can always control: how you enter an organization and how you leave an organization. At some point, I’ll write a post that outlines how to enter an organization the right way. Today, I’m going to focus on how to leave an organization the right way.

So – you think it’s time to move one. Fair play to you. We all eventually get to that point. I’ve seen some epic “goodbyes” that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend, and I’ve seen some text book examples of how to leave the right way. Let’s break it down.

First, are you clear on why you’re leaving and have you allowed the organization to address your concerns or requests? This is a major one and it’s pivotal to everything that comes next.

The best managers I know look to remove obstacles, barriers, and offer honest feedback. Let’s say you think you should be promoted. It’s a common reason why people leave organizations. A good manager should hear your request, understand it, evaluate it, offer feedback, and then take appropriate actions. For example, they might agree with you, but explain that A, B, and C must first happen before a nomination for promotion can be approved. Get A through C accomplished might take 4 months. Are you willing to wait? If you haven’t given your manager or the organization the opportunity to address your request, in my opinion and from what I’ve observed over the years, you’re doing it wrong.

But, let’s assume positive intent. You did your part. You explained your interest in a promotion. Your manager agreed you’ve earned it. Steps A through C were accomplished. But, for some reason, the promotion doesn’t happen or won’t happen in the time frame you believe is fair. It happens. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.

On the basis of not getting what you want (the promotion), you decide to puruse other opportunities within and outside of the organization. That’s your right. It’s your call. My advice and the advice of others, let your manager know, based on the inability to drive planning to accomplishment, you’re going to evaluate other roles. But, while you’re consider other roles, you will remain a top notch team member. Why should you do this? Why should you offer that courtesy? There’s a few reasons:

  1. The honest dialogue may enable your manager to leverage that information to impress upon others the urgency needed for taking action.
  2. Good managers and leaders will want you to interview for new roles. It’s actually part of the development process.
  3. Your manager can plan for the future and in doing so, your team, your colleagues, the people you’ve worked with – won’t be adversely impacted.
  4. The likelihood you’ll cross paths with your manager in some way, shape, or form is high.

So – you’re still planning to leave, right? Got it! Ok, be clear about why you’re leaving and what you want in your next role. In my experience, the dominate reason for leaving should never be:

  1. Title: For the most part, they mean nothing.
  2. Patience: Or, rather, the lack there of. In soccer, “la pausa” basically means the ability to take a moment, before you take action. Have you taken that moment? Let’s use our promotion example, if your promotion will happen in 6 months (2 months later than the plan), and you want it now, is that really a good reason to leave?
  3. Immaterial Money: Only you can decide what is and isn’t material. My dad would often ask, “can you feel the difference on your life?” For example, a $5K increase works out to $192.31 each pay period, assuming a bi-weely pay schedule. However that’s before taxes, social security, etc. So reduce that by 30% and you get $134.62. I have no idea if that’s material for you. It might be. It might not be. But, if you’re leaving because of money, make sure it’s material.

So – you’re still leaving. You took that moment, the money is materials, and it’s not for a title. So now what? Well, be decisive, diligent, and decorous. Let’s start with decisive. You’ve decided to leave. You’ve shared those intentions, after doing things the right way. You’ve now been offered a great new role and you’re going to take it. Congratulations! Seriously. Don’t hedge. If your current employer throws a haily mary to keep you, don’t take it. This rarely works out.

Be diligent on your way out. Continue being a great team member. Remember, you’re still working for your current company. You have a job to do. You have a team to support. The expectations don’t change.

And, lastly, just because you’re dissatisfied doesn’t mean everyone else is. Some people like their role, their manager, the company, etc. Avoid an approach where you look to impress upon them your feelings. It’s toxic, not helpful, and creates resentment.

Remember, you might want to come back. You may work with many of the same people in a future role. You might work for your manager again. Seriously – all of these things happen.

Make no mistake, there is a right way to leave an organization. Google offers you millions of pieces of advice! While, every scenario is different, everything I included in this post is consistently represented by eperts and Human Resources leaders, in addition to being aligned with the experiences and observations I’ve had over 20+ years.

The Instagram Shopping Problem

Shipping Label Created, USPS Awaiting Item

COVID-19 and the quarantine lifestyle has shifted an unprecedented amount of shopping online. That isn’t all that surprising. We can’t go out. Or, if we can, the places we want to shop at aren’t open.

Amazon has been the biggest beneficiary of the massive shift to e-commerce. Walmart and Target are right behind. But, if you’ve scrolled through your Instagram feed, you’ve probably seen at least one ad for a product. In 2019 1/3 of ALL Instagram users bought at least one item, directly from an Instagram ad. We’re you one of them?

In 2019, I had only bought one item from Instagram, a pair of Allbirds. After being inundated by ads from them for a year, I finally caved and bought. Their shoes were a great buy. I can’t say the same for everything I’ve purchased in 2020.

Let me place a sharper point on that. The end product might be good, but the shopping experience is broken. Instagram isn’t necessarily to blame for this problem. It’s probably 90% the company advertising and 10% Instagram.

Let me break down the typical experience:

  1. You see an interesting product. It catches your eye. So, you click.
  2. The page you land on often doesn’t include the item you were advertised or, it does, but it’s not in stock.
  3. But, for argument’s sake, let’s assume it was in stock. You add it to your cart and you check out. The check out process is typically through ApplePay, AmazonPay, or PayPal.
  4. So, you pay the retailer. You might even pony up for the expedited shipping.
  5. Within 48 hours you’ll receive 3 emails. The first email is an order confirmation from the retailer. The second will be a notification from the payment platform (e.g. Amazon). The third will be an exciting email that tells you your item has shipped!!!
  6. But, your item hasn’t actually shipped. The clock of the promised ship to receive time frame hasn’t actually started. When you cross-reference the tracking code, which is often a USPS code, with USPS’ site, you’ll get this message, “Shipping Label Created, USPS Awaiting Item” – this is code for, your retailer hasn’t actually shipped your item; they’ve only created a label.
  7. Your item will sit in purgatory. The retailer will claim it has shipped and to be patient. USPS will tell you they don’t actually have the item. Many days later, which the retailer blame on COVID-19, USPS will finally receive the item you ordered. And now the shipping window you were promised will be in effect.

In essence, from the minute you’re targeted, a long con and pseudo bait and switch scenario will have started. You are the sucker. And you’ll be duped again and again.

Over the past few months, I’ve ordered from a number of retailers. 75% of my experiences match the above. I want to be fair, for the 25% that didn’t, it was a perfect, almost Amazon-like experience. For example, t-shirts from Ultras, face masks from Ledbury, and sunglasses from Sunski are a few great examples of positive shopping experiences. On the other hand…we have PingPongly, where 90 days later, I still don’t have the item I ordered. Avoid them at all costs. Then there’s Elegatto, which issues a label immediately and then ships ~10 days later. The clothes from HIPSTOW are nice, but take 3x as long as they promise to deliver and they follow the formula above.

I started this post by saying, this is 10% on Instagram. Here’s why; they have a responsibility to make sure the ads being served are legit. Here’s 3 easy things they could do to fix the experience I outlined above.

  1. Feedback Loop: If you purchase directly from an ad you should get a survey. That survey should enable you to provide feedback on the product and the entire experience. Retailers who fall below a certain threshold are booted off of Instagram.
  2. Improved Ad Standards: This is simple. You shouldn’t be able to advertise a product that’s no longer available or not in stock. Not only is that good for the consumer, it’s good for the retailer.
  3. Built in Reviews: Amazon and eBay do this really well. Before you click on the ad, you should be able to see the retailers rankings and feedback across dimensions from the “feedback loop”.

All of these are simple to make happen and they’d make the shopping experience better.

Why The Athletic is the Only News Paywall Worth Paying For

How many times have you seen a post on Facebook or Twitter that links to a news outlet? For this example, let’s say the news outlet is the Wall Street Journal. You’re intrigued. You click on the link and you start to read the article. You get one paragraph in and then BOOM – you’re presented with a call to action to log in or signup for an account.

If you’re like most people, at this point you click the back button. Paywalls are incredibly ineffective but are still widely implemented. The general belief from studies is that:

For most print media firms, the net effect of a paywall on digital sales is negative, as digital subscription revenue is offset by a significant decrease in digital advertising revenue due to reduced website visits.

In addition to paywalls, media outlets are becoming an echo chamber for your political ideology. The chasm between “red” and “blue” news outlets has grown and with it, the distrust from readers. This Pew study outlines it really well:

As an N of 1, I can tell you that I’m less invested than ever before in reading and consuming news. The hyper-partisan tone means I need to read at least two versions of the same story to feel informed enough to have a point of view. Additionally, I’m less and less entertained. I think this comes from the lack of quality in the people who are writing these stories.

Ok – The Athletic. Why should you pay $10 a month or $60 a year for their content? Here’s 5 reasons why – but, to be clear, you have to be interested in sports. The Athletic is a sports news publisher. So, if you’re looking for information about The Bachelor, changes to laws, or election coverage, look elsewhere.

  1. There is no “blue” or “red” slant. Well, unless, you’re talking about Manchester City vs. Manchester United. The content you get is factual, leverages data, and presented without bias. Even the “beat” writers for a team aren’t partisan. Sam Lee, who drafts most of the content for Manchester City, isn’t even a Manchester City fan!
  2. The best writers and reporters work for and produce content for The Athletic. For baseball you have Peter Gammons, Jayson Stark, and Ken Rosenthal. You’ll get David Aldridge and John Hollinger for basketball. The afore mentioned Sam Lee, in addition to Michael Kay and Sam Stejskal. The list goes on an on. If you will – imagine only reading books from the best authors or watching movies from the best directors; sounds great, right?
  3. They don’t focus on “breaking news.” Yes, they cover news of the day and trending topics. But, you won’t see 2 paragraph “stories” announcing a trade. They have made a clear decision to emphasize quality over quantity.
  4. The Athletic is fully customizable and cross-platform. You pick the sports, the leagues, the teams, and yes, the writers. A custom feed is built for you based on those choices. Desktop, mobile, tablet, app – it doesn’t matter. You get a great reading experience regardless of how you choose to read.
  5. While I’ve emphasized the writing, The Athletic offers far more than just articles and stories. There are podcasts, videos, and chat rooms/discussion rooms. Again, many of these are specific to YOUR interests. I can listed to a Manchester City podcast, and watch videos specific to the University of North Carolina.

Let me be clear, The Athletic is not paying me for this. But, their approach to content is simply worth talking about. The one thing I haven’t mentioned at all to this point, but is yet another reason to spend $60 a year for a subscription – there are NO ads. None. No pre-rolls. No interstitials. Nothing stopping you or interrupting you from consuming the content you’re interested in.

Nothing is perfect, not even The Athletic. There’s one feature I feel like they should add – a section called From the Fans. Here’s how it would work:

  1. Let fans submit pieces for consideration
  2. Eventually have a small group of consistent fan contributors and…
  3. …A consistent pool of new perspectives
  4. They could narrow the scope and focus of submissions to being Season Previews, Game/Match Reviews, Mid-Year Perspective, End of Season Feelings, etc.

But, if that’s the opportunity for improvement, it gives you an idea of how good The Athletic is. They’re setting the stage for how a modern news website can succeed and succeed with a paywall.

Speaking Up

Nike Ad from Twitter

If the tragic events of the past few weeks have shown us anything, it’s that there is value in speaking up. You can, in fact, make a difference by speaking up. You can drive change by speaking up. You can enable opportunities by speaking up.

It has also shown us, there will be retribution for speaking up. Speaking up is not easy. Some will seek to punish you for speaking up. People will tell you they’re right behind you and then when you look over your shoulder, you are alone and yet those who are committed, will continue to speak up.

I’m not qualified to ramble about the struggles so many have had for so long; despite being a person of color. I’m not an expert on criminal justice reform. I haven’t lived the same life like so many others.

However, I do feel qualified to ask – if so many are being so brave, by speaking up, knowing their lives are actually at risk; then why do so few people speak up about things in the office? When not looking for updates about curfews, the scale of the dangerous rioting, and how peaceful protests were being carried out across the country, I spent the last week researching organizational cultures and why speaking up rarely happens.

I wanted to start with this passage from HBR Ascend:

When employees speak up, companies benefit. Thus not surprisingly, lots of leaders say they want to encourage their employees to speak freely, whether it’s by offering creative new ideas, identifying process improvements, or even calling out unethical behavior. But several studies suggest that leaders often undermine their own efforts to get employees to speak up.

Research by Ethan Burris, for example, has shown that leaders generally react quite negatively to employees who challenge them, even when employees do so constructively. Employees trying to resist certain changes or demands in non-hostile and constructive conversations are more likely to be labeled poor performers by their supervisors.

The bolding for emphasis was my addition. Those parts of the quote stuck out to me.

Then, there was this passage from Inc.:

Your door isn’t really open: Asking people to give you feedback, and being available to take it are not the same. Make sure that when you say your door is open, you really mean it! Even better, don’t mention that “your door is open”, but instead that you’ll come to them!

And, lastly, this quote, pulled from an article by Cosmos, one of the leaders in enterprise compliance:

One of the major challenges in business ethics today is creating a safe environment where employees can raise concerns about possible misconduct and wrongdoing. Despite the proliferation of helplines and ethics offices, creating a safe environment where employees can raise concerns about possible misconduct without experiencing retaliation is still one of the least well-developed elements of most business ethics programs.

Throughout my career, I’ve consistently spoken up. It hasn’t always been met with open arms. I’ve certainly been penalized for it. I was once “downsized” 4 days after speaking up about a possible significant breach of our company’s ethics policy. Despite that situation, I continued to speak up throughout my career. Why? Well, it goes all the way back to my first job at Fallon. I hadn’t even graduated from college yet and I was working at Fallon’s Minneapolis office. One of my mentor’s Katie McGough and I were in a tense creative review meeting. Some things happened. There was a heated argument between the creative director, designer, and account director. Pat Fallon always pushed for a healthy debate and wanted to make sure only the best work left the office. But, this debate blew my mind as someone who had only had a job for ~7 months. After the meeting, I asked Katie was that common, and weren’t these people afraid of losing their jobs by pushing back so strongly and with the language used? Her answer sticks with me to this day:

Adam, if you want to make it in this industry, you have to believe that you can get fired today and get a job tomorrow. Your very best is in high-demand and the minute you stop bringing your very best, you’ll be let go anyway.

I think her point was that you have to have confidence in your convictions. Today, I see that as speaking up based on facts first. Facts are real, they’re objective, and they’re substantive. But, facts alone, are generally worthless. So, those facts must be coupled with a point of view built upon experience. When you can say, “in a previous role”, or, “I encountered this same challenge last year”, or something similar, those facts take on added credibility.

Speaking up can have consequences and often we only consider negative consequences. But, there’s also the possibility of positive consequences. Change can happen. You can make a difference. But, it does start with speaking up.

There are people speaking up right now, protesting on city streets, and demanding change. They could be physically injured, or worse. Sorta puts things into perspective, right?