The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for our blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 200,000 times in 2011. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 9 days for that many people to see it.
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Christine Fruechte, president and chief executive of Colle + McVoy, an ad agency in Minneapolis. She observes, “We put up all of our ideas, and they are there for everybody to see and to give feedback on.” As a result, she says, it has no room for big egos.
To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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Where Ideas Are Always on the Wall
Bryant: What were some early leadership lessons for you?
Fruechte: I’m the oldest of four children, and I think my entrepreneurial spirit was instilled at a very young age. My dad worked for a lot of Fortune 500 companies, and then quit the corporate world to start his own business, a management-training consultancy, out of our house. I spent a lot of time working with him on his business — opening envelopes, stapling things — and it instilled a really strong work ethic. A lot of people say to me: “You’re from the Midwest, yet you seem to be very direct. Where does that come from?” The answer is that every night at dinner, my father’s management training consultancy kind of spilled over to the dinner table. We’d pass around feedback like we passed around the bread. We’d talk about the day, what happened and how things could have been done better.
My dad was a management training consultant by day, but he was also a magician by night. Before he would perform for the Twin Cities Magic Shop, he would perform for his family. He would say: “O.K., I’m going to try something. Tell me what you think. How can I be better?” So it was very natural. I would say, “O.K. Dad, if you do this or do that, it will be better.” And he’d say, “Great, great.” So I saw his excitement and enthusiasm for me giving him feedback.
Bryant: What was your first management role?
Fruechte: I had supervised account executives, but I think the biggest challenge for me was when I left Minneapolis for an opportunity in Honolulu. And for the first time in my life I was leading a department. I was 28 years old, and I was not really aware of what I was walking into. First of all, there was age bias. There was gender bias. And I was also from the mainland. It taught me a lot about how you have to earn respect. Just because you have a title, respect isn’t necessarily given. And it also taught me to be very direct with my expectations and how I’m here to help people achieve greatness in their role. It was really about sitting down with people one-on-one, understanding how I could help them be best at their jobs. I didn’t know what they needed, so spending that time together was really helpful.
I also just tackled a lot of the biases head-on. I would say: “What is your problem with me? Obviously I’m sensing that there’s some frustration with either me in the role, or the way that I’m managing the situation, or the way that we’re working. Help me. Tell me about it. Let’s talk about it.” I’m not going to walk on eggshells. We’re all too busy.
Bryant: Were there other early lessons for you as a manager?
Fruechte: A great lesson for me was to learn to open up more and let people get to know me, because I can be very buttoned up. And that tends to be somewhat intimidating. If you want to be approachable and if you want people to let down their guard, you have to be a bit more casual. And people want to know your personality. They want to know what you like to do on the weekend. It doesn’t need to always be about work. Learning to humanize myself as a leader was something that was really important. After that, it was a different level of engagement and interaction with my team.
Bryant: Can you share your thoughts on how you build a corporate culture?
Fruechte: An effective culture is grounded in having a collective purpose. And a culture also is deeply rooted in core values. You know what your principles are, so if you hire someone and they’re not operating by your core values, even though they may be incredibly talented, they’re going to be rejected from the culture. If you don’t act quickly, they’re not going to be healthy for the culture and it will turn cancerous very, very quickly. You have to live by the core values, and reinforce them constantly. We remind people what the core values are anytime we have agency meetings, and they’re built into our performance reviews. If you’re not living by the core values of the organization, you’re not going to be allowed to advance.
Bryant: What are those values?
Fruechte: One is integrity. I have a very short fuse for anyone who is not going to operate with high integrity. If they step over that line and start to do things that are suspect when it comes to ethics, they’re out immediately. And yes, I have terminated people very, very quickly, and it’s a very easy decision to make for me because I’m not willing to compromise when it comes to that.
Another core value is entrepreneurial passion, and a third one is collaboration, and they kind of go together. To be successful in our environment you have to be an entrepreneur and you have to have passion for the business, and you have to be a builder and someone who wants to invent. Some people are very comfortable in a very corporate structure — they say, in effect: “I do this, this is the only part of my job, I’ve never done that, that’s kind of scary, that’s someone else’s, someone else should figure that out.” That’s not to say that’s good or bad, but you will not thrive here unless you have the mind-set or DNA of entrepreneurial passion and are constantly trying to figure new things out.
Collaboration is a word that’s overused a lot, but we do practice . it. Our offices are completely open, and all of our work is posted on the wall. So if you’ve got a big ego, leave it on the elevator because the creative business is a very vulnerable business. We put up all of our ideas, whether they are strategic, digital, media, and they are there for everybody to see and to give feedback on.
You have to have a lot of confidence in the notion that the endgame is the best idea. It’s not about whether you look good, or are the smartest person in the room. Every idea, every project that we’re working on is basically all on the open wall. So if I’m gone for a week, I can come back and literally walk along the walls and catch up on the majority of everything we’re doing. People will rewrite headlines. People will say we need ideas for this or that. People will submit. We post it all up there. And then you don’t know whose ideas they are. You just start circling the ideas that you think achieve the objectives.
Bryant: What else?
Fruechte: “Creative” is not a department at our agency. We expect it from everyone within the organization. You aren’t just defined by one little role. We’re all defined by really trying to create standout ideas. And we also expect insightful thinking. And that means always having a point of view. I don’t care if you’re the receptionist, or if you are a new copywriter, you have to have a point of view about anything. It’s not just about shiny objects or the latest and the greatest products, it’s about how they add value to human behavior. And you have to be very, very insightful to uncover that.
The other thing that I really try to foster is a grass-roots culture, so people can feel empowered that they have ideas of how to enrich the culture. One copywriter asked if the company could offer interest-free financing for bikes. Within 15 minutes we said, new policy — bike financing program — and we talked about it at our next all-agency meeting. You have to celebrate those victories to encourage more people to look for more opportunities to do things like that.
Bryant: How did you come up with the core values?
Fruechte: There was a core group of about 12 individuals, but we vetted the ideas with the people who would be living them every day as well. It’s not just about the words, but it’s also about defining what the words mean, because if you say “creativity” or if you say “collaboration,” you can define them a lot of different ways. We actually conducted internal focus groups as we refined the core values. Talk to us, we said. Push back. What are we not thinking about? How else should we describe it? What can make it more accurate? Is this real or is this not real?
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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times’ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his new book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.
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