The Importance of Leadership In Managing Change

When change is imposed (as in downsizing scenarios), clearly the most important determinant of “getting through the swamp”, is the ability of leadership to…well, lead. The literature on the subject indicates that the nature of the change is secondary to the perceptions that employees have regarding the ability, competence, and credibility of senior and middle management.

If you are to manage change effectively, you need to be aware that there are three distinct times zones where leadership is important. We can call these Preparing For the Journey, Slogging Through The Swamp, and After Arrival. We will look more carefully at each of these.

The Role of Leadership

In an organization where there is faith in the abilities of formal leaders, employees will look towards the leaders for a number of things. During drastic change times, employees will expect effective and sensible planning, confident and effective decision-making, and regular, complete communication that is timely. Also during these times of change, employees will perceive leadership as supportive, concerned and committed to their welfare, while at the same time recognizing that tough decisions need to be made. The best way to summarize is that there is a climate of trust between leader and the rest of the team. The existence of this trust, brings hope for better times in the future, and that makes coping with drastic change much easier.

In organizations characterized by poor leadership, employees expect nothing positive. In a climate of distrust, employees learn that leaders will act in indecipherable ways and in ways that do not seem to be in anyone’s best interests. Poor leadership means an absence of hope, which, if allowed to go on for too long, results in an organization becoming completely nonfunctioning. The organization must deal with the practical impact of unpleasant change, but more importantly, must labor under the weight of employees who have given up, have no faith in the system or in the ability of leaders to turn the organization around.

Leadership before, during and after change implementation is THE key to getting through the swamp. Unfortunately, if haven’t established a track record of effective leadership, by the time you have to deal with difficult changes, it may be too late.

Preparing For The Journey

It would be a mistake to assume that preparing for the journey takes place only after the destination has been defined or chosen. When we talk about preparing for the change journey, we are talking about leading in a way that lays the foundation or groundwork for ANY changes that may occur in the future. Preparing is about building resources, by building healthy organizations in the first place. Much like healthy people, who are better able to cope with infection or disease than unhealthy people, organization that are healthy in the first place are better able to deal with change.

As a leader you need to establish credibility and a track record of effective decision making, so that there is trust in your ability to figure out what is necessary to bring the organization through.

Slogging Through The Swamp

Leaders play a critical role during change implementation, the period from the announcement of change through the installation of the change. During this middle period the organization is the most unstable, characterized by confusion, fear, loss of direction, reduced productivity, and lack of clarity about direction and mandate. It can be a period of emotionalism, with employees grieving for what is lost, and initially unable to look to the future.

During this period, effective leaders need to focus on two things. First, the feelings and confusion of employees must be acknowledged and validated. Second, the leader must work with employees to begin creating a new vision of the altered workplace, and helping employees to understand the direction of the future. Focusing only on feelings, may result in wallowing. That is why it is necessary to begin the movement into the new ways or situations. Focusing only on the new vision may result in the perception that the leader is out of touch, cold and uncaring. A key part of leadership in this phase is knowing when to focus on the pain, and when to focus on building and moving into the future.

After Arrival

In a sense you never completely arrive, but here we are talking about the period where the initial instability of massive change has been reduced. People have become less emotional, and more stable, and with effective leadership during the previous phases, are now more open to locking in to the new directions, mandate and ways of doing things.
Did you know that a high percentage of conflict at work and at home is a result of ineffective use of language? It’s true. The best part is that you can learn to alter your communication and language so that what you say is perceived as more cooperative, and less confrontational.

The result? Less conflict incidents, and less severe conflicts.

This is an ideal time for leaders to introduce positive new change, such as examination of unwieldy procedures or Total Quality Management. The critical thing here is that leaders must now offer hope that the organization is working towards being better, by solving problems and improving the quality of work life. While the new vision of the organization may have begun while people were slogging through the swamp, this is the time to complete the process, and make sure that people buy into it, and understand their roles in this new organization.

Conclusion

Playing a leadership role in the three phases is not easy. Not only do you have a responsibility to lead, but as an employee yourself, you have to deal with your own reactions to the change, and your role in it. However, if you are ineffective in leading change, you will bear a very heavy personal load. Since you are accountable for the performance of your unit, you will have to deal with the ongoing loss of productivity that can result from poorly managed change, not to mention the potential impact on your own enjoyment of your job.


Must Read Tips to Start a Small Business Blog

A friend of mine who is an experienced corporate marketer started a new business. The store just opened and being the good pal that I am, I was able to provide some advice regarding marketing on the web – specifically regarding blog marketing.

This is a new small business, so considerations for what to do about a web site included: cost, functionality, flexibility, ease of maintenance and marketability. The web site needed to serve as both an online representation of the business, but without transactional functionality, as well as a host for landing pages used with email and PPC campaigns.

My recommendation for a low cost, easy to use and search engine friendly content mangagement system? Blog software.

What often happens when friends ask for advice regarding web marketing is that I’ll make some recommendations in a casual setting or email links to a few resources like this one on blog marketing tips, then a few weeks or months later, the conversation will turn to, “So, how is your blog or web site doing?”, and I find out that the site/blog was either not started at all, it was created in a way that blows away any chance of SEO or marketability outside of advertising or it was built using resources with no cost of entry but without the capabilities to scale if successful.

Something along those lines happend with my friend’s blog.

What was the issue? The blog was started using Blogger.com, which by itself is not a problem, but the blog address selected was: nameofstore.blogspot.com. This is understandable because it’s the default URL selection when you create a blog with Blogger.com.

However, picking a third party domain for the blog address violates one of the most important rules in sustainable blogging: Always host the blog address with a domain name you control. That means yourdomainname.com/blog or blog.yourdomainname.com or yourdomainnameblog.com.

Otherwise, you give up control. How so? What if the blog host goes down? Free services rarely provide support. Also, what if the service does not support the functionality you need? You can’t change their entire platform to suit your individual needs.

There are other reasons for keeping the blog address as part of your own domain name including the ability to change blog software services without having to change your blog address.

Of course there’s also a benefit for search engine optimization if you host the blog as a sub directory of your main company domain name such as yourdomainname.com/blog. Blogs are very linkable entities and other blogs tend to be enthusiastic about linking, so any links to your blog can be percieved as a vote of credibility to your main web site since the blog and the web site share the same domain name.

Now back to our tale of the small business blog. My friend had only made one post on the blogspot.com URL so nothing would be lost by moving to a dedicated domain name. My own experience with Online Marketing Blog was different. After blogging for nearly 2 years at a blogspot.com address, I decided to move to a dedicated domain name and WordPress. It took some talented optimization and 6 months of aggressive promotion to recoup the linking footprint (100,000+ inbound links) that was lost. Of course, now our traffic is multiple times more than what it was.

What my friend decided to do was register a domain name and setup a hosting account. Since there was no main company web site to attach the blog to, this makes the most sense. Essentially, the blog became the company web site. With more and more businesses, this is becoming a very practical, cost effective and functionally efficient way to manage web site content: Using blog software as a content management system.

As my friend asked what to do next, writing everything down in a notebook, it became clear that there’s a litany of things you COULD do with setting up a blog. Even if we filtered it down to what one SHOULD do, the list was amazingly long. As someone new to the whole idea of blogging and this not being a formal consulting arrangement, I decided to create what I think, is a short list of what a small businesses CAN do when starting a blog.

1. Decide the purpose of the blog.

Do this before going out and registering a domain name or anything else. Is the blog going to serve as a journal for starting the business? Is it a search marketing tool? Is it to be used to demonstrate thought leadership and create credibility? Will it be a communication tool for customers? Will it also serve as the main company web site? Is the purpose some or all of the above?

I could elaborate on setting up each of these types of blogs if I ever decided to write that book, but for now, we’ll stick with a blog that serves as a company web site, hosts landing pages, serves as a small business resource and marketing tool.

2. Pick a URL.

If the purpose of the blog is to support company brand and audience, then the URL should be part of the company web site. Ideally, the blog hosting situation allows for a sub directory such as companysite.com/blog.  Otherwise, a sub-domain such as blog.companysite.com will work and you can can host the blog elsewhere, separate from the company web servers. IT will like that.

If the purpose of the blog is independent of the primary company brand, or messaging, then a dedicated domain name such as topicgoeshereblog.com might work better.

It’s tempting to use a keyword only domain name, but those keywords will not be a silver bullet for search engine rankings. A catchy, meaningul brand name for the blog will go much farther as content can always be optimized for search engine rankings.

3. Pick blog software.

In most cases, WordPress is the way to go. An inexpensive Linux platform hosting account that supports PHP and mySQL can be secured for $10-$20 per month. However, should the blog get really popular, expect to upgrade to support increased demand. It’s entirely worth it.

The blog software will need to be installed on the server that will host it and the database will also need to be set up. This is fairly straightforward, but in all honesty, it’s best to have someone that knows what they’re doing help. As an example, I do very little of the technical work on our blog and prefer to have a specialist (Thomas McMahon) take care of maintenance, adding plugins, design and functionality updates. We have outside programmers do any heavy lifting in the application development department.

WordPress software is open source, ie free, so if you are code/technically savvy and you have the time to figure it out, it’s certainly doable. There is no one “right way” to setup a blog. There are literally hundreds of shades of gray.

It can cost a hundreds to thousand of dollars for a blog consultant to install, setup and customize the design of your blog. You’re not paying for the software, you’re paying for expertise that will save you MONTHS of time and allow you to get to market more quickly and efficiently.

4. Customize the blog.

After installation of the core blog software, there are a number of customization tasks.

First, the blog design should be modified to match your branding. If you don’t hire a consultant to do this, there are many free templates that can then be customized, but many of them require a link to the author at the bottom. Personally, I’m not a fan of those, but they are a low/no cost place to start. Design customization involves modifying the CSS, JavaScript, graphics and possibly a few database elements.

The second set of customization tasks involves plug-ins to improve the adminstration, front end functionality and the SEO friendliness of the blog. Thanks to Twitter and Thomas for this recommended minimum list of plug-ins:

  • Redirection
  • HeadSpace2
  • Google XML sitemaps
  • Gravity forms
  • All In One SEO
  • PostPost
  • ACE WP Plug
  • ComLuv
  • Disqus
  • Members only
  • Cookies for comments
  • Section widget
  • Page order
  • Related posts
  • FeedSmith FeedBurner Plugin
  • Sociable
  • Askimet or WP-SpamFree
  • Post Teaser

5. Create a content plan.

In concert with the purpose of the blog, it’s important to generate a basic editorial guideline for creating content. The easiest way to manage this is by creating categories for the kinds of content you plan on posting.

Before you create those categories, it’s a good idea to do some keyword research as the categories will become excellent repositories of related content. Why not make it even easier for search engines to understand and rank them?

Common keyword research tools include: WordTracker and Google. Paid keyword tools include WordStream.com and KeywordDiscovery.com

Once you identify which keyword phrases best represent the content you’ll be publishing, use them to name your content categories. Each time you make a blog post, that entry will be associated with one or more categories, creating a very search engine friendly repository of content.

Create an editorial calendar or schedule of posts to keep you on topic for your audience and true to the purpose of the blog. Leverage interactions with blog readers as well as your analytics to know if your content and keyword picks are productive or not.

6. Pick your blogging team.

In the case of most small businesses, the blogging team is a team of one. That’s fine, just be sure to document what’s working and what’s not so when the time comes, you can get your blogging team mate up to speed quickly.

Since blogger’s block (like writer’s block) can really dampen a good thing for a small business blog, go ahead and keep a good number of posts in draft mode. Add to them as you get new ideas and inspiration. Or facts and examples. That way, you’ll have a steady stream of blog posts ready to publish in advance. In fact, you can schedule blog posts in advance using WordPress.

7. Make it easy to share.

Blogging in a vaccum is inevitable blogging death. It’s essential that you solicit comments in your posts, respond to comments quickly, create and enforce a commenting policy. Being responsive is an essential part of attracting subscribers.

Don’t covet the comments either. Visit other blogs in your industry and write useful comments. Those bloggers may notice you and it can become something more, like an invite for a guest post, collaboration or simply a new online friend.

Make it easy for readers of your blog to save and share your content with sharing buttons or widgets. It pays to create accounts on the more popular services and develop social networks there. Your contacts on Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon and similar services will watch for your next post and vote for the good stuff, which can drive your content to be exposed on more popular areas of those web sites. More exposure can mean more traffic. The social bookmarks tool is handy for adding such functionality to any web page and Thomas offered several new blog promotion tips last week.

8.Get your social on.

RSS feeds come with blogs and it’s worth taking the time to make sure the RSS feed is readily available and obvious for people to subscribe. Submit your blog and RSS feed to our HUGE list of blog and RSS directories.

Set up social profiles on sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as appropriate and automate the sharing of links from your blog posts to those services. In other words, you could use a service like TwitterFeed to publish your latest blog post to Twitter and Facebook automatically.

Be sure to publish your blog URL everywhere you publish your web site address.

9. Make static.

If you’re using the blog as a CMS for a small business web site, then make your static web pages such as those for About our Company, Product/Service pages, Contact Forms, etc. The blog can be customized to have a home page like any other web site as well. That way, visitors arriving on your site can see what they expect from a company selling products/services. At the same time, blogging creates a rich and frequent source of useful content that’s syndicated via RSS, promoted automatically to relevant social channels and leaves the door open for interaction via comments.

10. Measure. Test – Test. Measure.

It’s important that you set goals for the blog, a plan to execute tactics and most of all, measure progress. Most web site measurement is focused on web analytics and metrics specific to different types of marketing such as with email, SEO or PPC. Standard web analytics software such as Google Analytics will address the vast majority of your needs.

I would also recommend social media monitoring and analytics. Monitoring can be as simple as the RSS feed from search.twitter.com combined with the RSS feed from the results of a search on Google’s blog search. You could also use services like socialmention.com, trackur.com or more robust social media monitoring tools such as Techrigy SM2, ScoutLabs or Radian6.

Social monitoring tools will help you understand what your customers are saying about you on the social web as well as uncover new interaction opportiunities with influentials. Real time search means real time marketing and social monitoring can facilitate that. One example would be if a competitor Tweets a deal on a product. Your Twitter search on that competitor or product would create an alert. You could then decide to offer a deal at a lower price or some other counter offer.

Another example is if a customer complains about your company. Before others jump on the bandwagon, your social monitoring tools would alert you and you can then qualify and address the situation quickly.

As web analytics and social media monitoring tools become increasingly intertwined, you’ll be able to identify many other key metrics for the effect of your social participation on bottom line business goals.


B-2-B to social media

B-to-b organizations are well along in their measurement of social media. This was just one of many findings in a just-completed survey by BtoB and the Web Analytics Association.

The “B-to-B Web Analy-tics Survey” found that nearly half (48.3%) of respondents are already measuring social media. This finding seems to map with another clear interest among the survey respondents—reputation management. Nearly a quarter (24.3%) said they planned to increase their budgets this year to monitor public sentiment.

“It’s 1993 all over again,” said Jim Sterne, chairman of the Web Analytics Association and author of “Social Media Metrics: How to Measure and Optimize Your Marketing Investment” (John Wiley & Sons, 2010). “Everybody knows that social media is important, but it’s so new that only a few are measuring its business impact with any sophistication.”

Sterne added: “Knowing who the influencers are is far more important and powerful for b-to-b firms than for consumer-facing companies.”

Alex Langshur, president of PublicInsite Web Analytics and current president of the WAA, said the survey brought forward three themes: “The desire to have a more integrated view across all channels, a jump in investments to measure and understand the impact from mobile and social media, and that the skills shortage remains acute.”

According to the survey, social media measurement was higher than mobile measurement (17%) or video measurement (14%). The highest score for a tracked marketing channel was Web sites (88%), followed by e-mail (76%).

The online survey, conducted from Jan. 21 to Feb 12, collected 679 responses. Of these, more than two-thirds (69%) said their company’s marketing was primarily b-to-b; the balance of respondents said their business was a combination of b-to-b and b-to-c. M