Archive for the ‘Management’ Category

In the news…

October 1st, 2012 Comments off

Over the last year or so, I’ve been fortunate enough to receive some press for the digital marketing my firm has been doing.

At the end of August this year, Investment Executive released their 2012 Advisor Scorecard. Within the scorecard was a story titled “Apprehension over social media” by Clare O’Hara talking about how some financial firms are still having difficulty understanding how to use social media effectively while staying within regulatory guidelines. I was quoted in the article:

Even before IIROC set its guidelines, Macquarie was one step ahead, having created a social media committee and an advisor pilot project in early 2011. “We never wanted to block social media,” says Silu Modi, Macquarie’s vice president, digital marketing, banking and financial services group. “We always wanted to figure out how we can use it.”

In July, I was quoted in the Wall St. Journal in an article about how advisors are using social media and what role a financial advisor should play on Twitter:

“Tweets and points should not be timely but timeless–we shouldn’t be the ones breaking the news,” said Silu Modi, vice president for digital marketing at Macquarie Group Ltd.’s (MQG.AU) North American operations.

And finally, in May 2012, I gave a talk at the Digital Marketing for Financial Services conference. ran an article about my presentation titled “Regulation doesn’t stifle social media” taking excerpts from my talk:

He adds, “If you aren’t using these social media tools, you are throwing away a huge chunk of your potential market.”

Modi stresses, though, “Social media is not a digital or marketing strategy. It’s only one part of a complete strategy and you need to fold it in with your other efforts.”

In a future post, I’ll add more recent press our work has received.

Categories: Basics, Management, Press

Asking for responsibility

September 15th, 2012 Comments off

I work in the financial services industry. I’m fortunate enough to work for a company that’s forward thinking, yet the financial industry as a whole is tough place to be if you’re trying leading edge digital marketing. Not only is it (by nature) risk averse, the financial industry is also heavily regulated. Every marketing word and action has to comply with internal and external regulations.

It takes tenacity to succeed (or as one of my brilliant colleagues likes to say, “Consistent Persistence”). If you’re in charge of the digital direction of the firm, nobody is going to point you in the right direction to make the next leap for the firm. In a risk-averse culture, I’m the one constantly sticking my neck out, recommending a possible new solution to a problem that hasn’t even hit the radar.

Going back to one of my favourite authors, Seth Godin recently had a piece that explained it much better than I could above:

Achievers in traditional organizations often say, “I want more authority.” They mean that they want the power to make things happen, the mantle of authority that will allow them to get things done.

This is an industrial-era mindset. Management by authority is top-down, risk-averse, measurable and perfect for the org chart. It’s essential in organizations that are stable, asset-based and adverse to risk.

There’s a different approach, though, one that’s based on responsibility instead of authority. “Anyone who takes responsibility for getting something done is welcome to ask for the authority to do it.”

Ah, your bluff is called.

Asking for responsibility (or better yet, taking it) is very difficult. If it succeeds, there will be a team of people that helped you make it happen. If it fails (and it will sometimes), you have to *gulp* and take the hit for it, knowing you tried and learned something from it.

Categories: Management

Novices vs. Experts

December 6th, 2011 Comments off

I’ve been doing digital strategy for a long time now (over 15 years!). I seem to have found a pretty good niche recently, specializing in digital strategy for the Canadian financial services industry. I’ve been doing this long enough now that I feel confident to call myself an expert. However, it wasn’t until recently that I got an inkling of what it means to be an expert in a particular field.

Then I stumbled across this excellent post from Eric Barker at Barking Up The Wrong Tree. The line that tweaked with me was:

…novices sought and responded to positive feedback, and experts sought and responded to negative feedback…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have an ego as big as the next person’s (well… maybe a little bigger). I still like it when I’ve been told that something I’ve done has been helpful / useful / profitable . However, I get more juice from someone teaching me something or guiding my thinking into a direction I haven’t been. I’d like to say I like getting pulled out of my comfort zone, but like most people I get that little feeling in my stomach that resists the move initially. But I’ve gotten to where I am because I’ve been able to take the chance to do something I’ve never done before and figure out how to do it.

Of course, it reminds me of a post I saw recently on Joey deVilla’s Accordion Guy blog:

Categories: Basics, Management, Strategy

Reasons stop mattering

June 18th, 2011 1 comment

I’m proud to say that I worked my way through the ranks to get to the position I’m in today (VP, Digital). I started as a junior programmer for McGill Multimedia back when there was no such thing as .com (or more accurately, almost nobody had heard of it).

A long time ago, I made the transition from individual contributor to manager. That transition was difficult. I was no longer responsible for just my own work, but for the work of several others. I learned a lot of lessons the hard way. As I reacquaint myself with people that used to report to me or that I used to report to, I always feel like I should apologize for some of the things I said or did while I was learning to be a manager.

One of the key lessons I learned as I worked my way up the managerial ranks was that excuses don’t exist. I’m given goals to achieve and my job is to achieve them. If they are not achieved, I cannot go back and say that “X didn’t do what he was supposed to do.” There is no X… it’s just me and I hold all accountability for anyone that didn’t deliver on my initiative.

When I ran across this article from Business Insider about Steve Jobs and the speech he gives to new managers, it struck a chord. I wish someone had given me this speech several years ago. It would have saved me from stepping on a lot of land mines and driving my bosses crazy as I figured out the lesson above.


Jobs tells the VP that if the garbage in his office is not being emptied regularly for some reason, he would ask the janitor what the problem is. The janitor could reasonably respond by saying, “Well, the lock on the door was changed, and I couldn’t get a key.”

An irritation for Jobs, for an understandable excuse for why the janitor couldn’t do his job. As a janitor, he’s allowed to have excuses.

“When you’re the janitor, reasons matter,” Jobs tells newly minted VPs, according to Lashinsky.

“Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering,” says Jobs, adding, that Rubicon is “crossed when you become a VP.”

Remember that as you climb the ranks, at a certain level there are no more excuses. Only success or failure.

Categories: Management

Managing vs. Running a project

December 6th, 2010 Comments off

I keep an online notebook with quotes and articles I want to hang on to (thank you Evernote!)

I’m usually pretty good with keeping the source, but in this case I lost it. However, the quote is so insightful that I wanted to post about it anyway.

If you choose to manage a project, it’s pretty safe. As the manager, you report. You report on what’s happening, you chronicle the results, you are the middleman.

If you choose to run a project, on the other hand, you’re on the hook. It’s an active engagement, bending the status quo to your will, ensuring that you ship.

Running a project requires a level of commitment that’s absent from someone who is managing one.

We’ve all worked with ‘project managers,’ but very few of us have had the pleasure to work with ‘project runners.’ I like to consider myself a runner. If I’m responsible for delivering, I own it all and find every avenue to ensure the project delivers.

Which one are you?

P.S. If this is your quote, or you know where it came from, please ping me and I’ll make sure to give you the proper attribution.

Categories: Management

Congratulations! You’re in charge!… Now what? (Part 2)

June 12th, 2010 Comments off

In part 1, I discussed the initial tasks when taking over the digital strategy for a company. As you start getting the analytics, interview your stakeholders and devise a plan for the quick wins, it’s time to start assessing the overall infrastructure. So, what’s next?

1. Get a list of all domains:
Chances are high that your company owns more domains than your main website’s name. Go to your IT group or your hosting provider to find out which other domains you own. There were probably several campaigns that had URLs purchased and are currently sitting unused or have outdated content. Also find out if you have any micro-sites or vanity redirects (i.e. that are still live and have outdated content. In many instances, you’ll find sites that people have long forgotten about that have old prices, old logos and are still crawled by search engines.

If you don’t already own them, try to purchase as many mis-spellings of your main company name, as well as defensive names (

2. Internal Assessment:
Find out how the sites get updated. Who has to approve the content? Who writes it? Who creates the artwork? How long does it take the change a comma on the live site? To update a graphic? To create a new page? To create a new vanity redirect? Is it all done in-house? Do you rely on external people? Are you beholden to just one or two? The best way to do this is not to ask what the process is, but to live through the process. Make sure you have actually updated all of the above on your website(s) within the first two weeks to truly understand the processes. Chances are, the real processes are slightly different than what you’ve been told they are.

You also need to understand the reliability of your websites. What has the uptime for your site been for the last 12 months? What is the escalation process? When the sites go down, who finds out and how? Is there an automatic notification? Who’s on pager support? Do you get called? Do you have to take action, or is it automatic to get them back up?

3. Budget and ROI
How much money do you have to play with? What are your monthly costs for hosting? For resources? Do you have internal billing for IT help? For Legal sign-off? What is the process for justifying more budget? How will the executive level determine if you are making good use of your budget? What level of sign-off authority do you have? Can you pick your contractors and vendors, or is there a preferred list?

4. What is the importance of Online?
Finally, you need to determine how important the online properties are in the overall strategy. When new products are launched, is the online group part of the planning process? Or are they brought in when the strategy is already determined? Or worse yet, are you just given the collateral and asked to put it online with no input? Do the sites generate revenue (directly or indirectly)? Or are they just seen as a cost centre with no impact? If they are not seen as important, is that because of historical issues? If you show value, is there an appetite to change perceptions.

If the answers to question 4 are not encouraging, then your tenure may be frustrating and short-lived. However, if you sense there is an appetite to make the digital strategy an important facet of company strategy, you’re well on your way to making a significant and measurable impact to your company!

Categories: Management, Strategy

Congratulations! You’re in charge!… Now what? (Part 1)

May 27th, 2010 7 comments

Congratulations! You’ve been hired or promoted to take charge of your company’s online strategy and execution! At some point, the elation will fade and you’ll confront the same question everyone faces when they’ve been put in charge… “Where do I begin?” There are many different places you can start, and many would be correct. But if you are stuck in indecision, maybe this can be a path to get you moving.

First things first, and this has nothing to do with digital strategy. I suggest you read “The First 90 Days” by Dr. Michael Watkins. It is an amazing guide to getting up to speed in a new organization, helping you survive the transition and come out at the other end with solid momentum and a strong reputation.

Assuming you’ve read the book, here are a few things to get you started on your digital strategy:

1. “In God we trust, all others bring data.” — Framed plaque from the ‘60s at NASA’s Johnson Space Center
First, get the analytics. Very soon into your first week (and ideally, your first day), open a corporate account at Google Analytics. Throw the analytics code into the bottom of every page (ideally in a common element of all sites like a footer).  As well, get an account at Google Webmaster Tools, put the confirmation file on your root and start collecting the data. If you don’t know how to do the above, your IT group should be able to help you. Don’t worry about the data for at least a month. Let it collect.

While you’re waiting for that month of data to accumulate, you need to understand how to interpret the data you’ll be collecting. To do that, you must read one book. “Web Analytics 2.0” by Avinash Kaushik. I’ve been looking at Google Analytics stats for years and thought I understood what the numbers meant. After reading Avinash’s book, I realized that I had no idea what I was looking at. It changed my entire outlook on analytics.

2. Understand the needs of your internal stakeholders:
Most likely, the reason you were hired or promoted to that position is that some powerful people within your organization realized there is potential online that the organization is not tapping effectively. The power brokers probably have an idea of what they’re expecting to see online (and what you need to accomplish to be considered a success). Don’t guess at what that is. Ask! If you want some great guidance on how to find that out, I again direct you to Manager Tools and their excellent podcast on “Jump Starting Internal Customer Relationships.”

3. Find the ‘Low Hanging Fruit.’:
Based on your data and the remarks from your stakeholders, you probably have a sense of some low hanging fruit or things you can execute and launch quickly to build momentum. Momentum is often overlooked. Early wins help everyone see that ‘something’ is happening and it’s not going to be all talk and analysis. It also helps spark conversations. As the old saying goes, “It’s far easier to critique than create,” so give the stakeholders something small to critique. It provides low-risk feedback and helps hone your longer term strategy with minimal effort.

This advice will probably get you through the first week. In Part 2, we look a little longer term and talk about how to get an assessment of your team, understand your corporate culture and how to define your own measures of success.

Categories: Management, Strategy

How to Work Better

October 3rd, 2009 Comments off

workbetterI’ve had this image printed out and kept in the back of every notebook I’ve carried around for the last couple of years. It’s very simple advice, but if taken to heart, can literally change the way you go about your day-to-day. I think the image to the right of this post is the original photograph, but below is a much better rendition of the same content:


If you’re reading this on a small screen, here is the text:

  1. Do one thing at a time
  2. Know the problem
  3. Learn to listen
  4. Learn to ask questions
  5. Distinguish sense from nonsense
  6. Accept change as inevitable
  7. Admit mistakes
  8. Say it simple
  9. Be calm
  10. Smile

Allow me to highlight a few of these that changed the way I think when I’m working. The first one… ‘Do one thing at a time’ is a very important one. I don’t believe that human beings are capable of multi-tasking. There is a huge reduction in returns when you try to do more than one important thing at a time. I’ve tried. When I try to do two things, neither one is even 50% as good as if I had focused on it completely. Prioritize, concentrate on the most important item and either complete it, or leave it at a logical point where you can pick it up again.

(On a side note, I read a sage piece of advice once that works beautifully. If you’re going to leave something to pick up again later, leave it in mid-sentence. When you pick it up again, as you get into the flow of picking up that sentence, you’ll get back into the flow you were in when you left it… which is exactly how I left this article in draft for a couple of weeks.)

The next important one is ‘know the problem.’ I deal with it quite often. The first thing you think about is the problem. Usually, you’re wrong. There is an old saying that you have to ask ‘Why’ 3 or 4 times before you get to the heart of the problem, or the Root Cause. Until you know the problem, it will be difficult to work on the solution.

‘Learn to listen’ and ‘Learn to ask questions’ are related. Learning to listen means more than just keeping your mouth shut. It also means more than just sitting there silently waiting for your turn to speak. I relate it more to Stephen Covey’s line of “First seek to understand, then seek to be understood.” Your questions should clarify the other point, not subtly drive the person to your view point.

‘Say it simple’ relates directly to an article I posted earlier about being able to explain it to a 6-year-old.

… and again, if you’ve ever worked with me, you’ll know that when all hell is breaking loose, I’ll be sitting there with a calm smile (whether I feel it or not). I’m a big fan of the duck analogy. “Calm and serene on the surface, but paddling like hell underneath!”

Categories: Management

Quote of the Week

September 22nd, 2009 Comments off

My favourite quote of the week:

“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” – Margaret Thatcher

Categories: Management

Theory and Practice

September 9th, 2009 Comments off

I can’t remember where I’d heard this quote, but if you’ve ever worked with me for more than a few weeks, you’ve probably heard me say it out loud:

In theory, theory and practice are the same
In practice, theory and practice aren’t

Going back to a post I wrote earlier, this ties right into Point 4 in Seth Godin’s “How to create a great website.

Categories: Management

The essence of Digital Project Management

August 27th, 2009 Comments off

Nobody has ever said it better than the guys at Manager Tools. The art of project management in a digital world boils down to a simple question:

Who’s going to do what by when?

300px-MagrittePipeIt doesn’t get any simpler than this. And this is what project management on a digital project is all about. It’s simply defining the task list of what has to get done in chronological order, getting a name beside each task, and setting a realistic deadline to each item.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to a typical PMO in a large organization. The PMO “process” has many other steps, reports, meetings, documents, etc., that have to be filled out in triplicate to push a project along. But those steps (in my experience) are not there to help a project get completed. They are there to protect management from being called to task for a project that failed. Piles of paper can be pointed to that prove that, even though the project failed, the process succeeded!

If you actually listen to the podcast, they make mention of the picture of a pipe. It’s a metaphor that speaks loudly to the mistake many project managers make. Many PMs point to the BRD, TechSpecs, MSProject Plan, QA Plan, Go / No Go criteria and call it the project. As Mark Horstman so beautifully states, those are *not* the project! Those are representations of the project. The project is what the hands on the keyboards are working on, not the reports.

The picture of the pipe says it all. If you’re not literate in French, the text essentially reads, “This is not a pipe.” Meaning, of course, that it is *not* a pipe, it is a representation of a pipe!

Your project plan is a representation of your project. It is *not* your project. Your plan shows “Who’s going to do what by when.” The Who, What and When are your project.

Categories: Management

If you can’t explain it…

August 20th, 2009 Comments off

scratching headChild

One rule I trust is that if you can’t explain your concept, idea, technology to your own mother in a way that she’d understand it, you are either don’t understand it yourself or you’re bluffing (and I don’t mean BLUF‘ing).

I’ve seen this at both end of the spectrums. The “Strategist” talking about trending, friction, positioning, audience interactions, etc. but never getting down to a basic strategy that is simple and graspable. On the other side, the technology guru that talks about CMS, CRM, PHP, SQL, etc., but can never explain whether or how it will work in any human readable form.

Anyone that’s ever worked with me is used to my question of “Explain it to me like I’m a 6-year-old.” It frustrates them because they think I don’t get it. That may be the case, but quite often, I’m questioning whether the person explaining it to me “Gets it.”

Categories: Management

Search Engine Stats (pt. 1)

August 19th, 2009 2 comments

lens_magnifying_glass_266925_lThe search engine on your site can provide some meaningful brand insights, if you look at the stats in the right way.

There are the standard sets of data that web site managers pull off as a matter of course:

  1. How many searches were performed
  2. What % of users use the search engine
  3. The top searched terms
  4. Whether any results were clicked through

But dig a little deeper and some interesting data appears. For example, pull a report on which search terms were entered that returned exactly ZERO results. What does this tell you? It means that someone typed in the URL for your brand. In their mind, your brand = what they were looking for. And your search engine told them to go elsewhere. There is some incredible insight there! What if you looked at all the “Zero” returns and provided a page or a redirect that gave the user what they wanted from your brand?

A real-life example of this is in one of my previous lives at a financial company. When we examined the search engine logs, we found several users had typed in the search term “Wrap Products.” (For those that don’t know the Canadian Mutual Fund industry, a wrap product is a specific type of mutual fund that consists of other mutual funds).

My client didn’t offer Wrap Products, so there were no results. The company essentially said, “We know you came to us wanting a Wrap Product, but go away!”

A slight tweak to our search engine and the addition of a single page, and now the search term “Wrap Product” brought you to a page that explained why we didn’t offer Wrap Products, and pointed you to some of our products that competed with the Wrap market. Now we were saying, “We know you wanted a Wrap Product from our brand, but we have something better for you!”

A 0.1% tweak to our search engine, an 110% improvement in user experience and the user’s perception of our brand.

Categories: Management, Strategy

Thoughts on a PMP

August 14th, 2009 Comments off

In 2003, I studied for, took my exam for, and received my Project Management Professional designation (PMP). Since then, I’ve come across several people with their PMP, some even in Project Management positions!

I’ve been asked several times whether getting a PMP is worth the time, effort, and yes, money. I’m of two minds on this.


  1. There is no doubt that having those three letters after my name on my resume have pushed me into the interview pile. Many job postings require a PMP. If I had to guess, the main reason would be to have another point of exclusion amongst the pile of candidates.
  2. Some of the theoretical knowledge gained from studying for the PMP has been useful. I can talk the lingo, understand a project plan (and often, see the faulty assumptions faster), understand the risks and can work with the PMs with the same language.
  3. It’s provides some credibility with Senior Executives when explaining why you can’t have nine women create a baby in a month.


  1. Unfortuantely, the PMP is geared towards big IT or Engineering solutions (at least is was in 2003). It doesn’t scale down well. In the world of digital, spending weeks on the Project Charter and more weeks on the Requirements means that someone else is going to eat your lunch.
  2. Much of it is not applicable to the iterative processes like Agile / Scrum, that are more prevalent in digital agencies. A die-hard PMP project manager would have a heart-attack when asked to start building before the second requirement comes in the door.
  3. In my experience hiring and working with Project Managers, the true test of whether someone will cut it as a PM on digital projects is “Notches on the Belt.” How many projects has the PM actually taken from a gleam in the eye to live? That is the true test for any PM in an interview. I’d rather hire a PM that’s launched sites, but does not have a PMP, than any professional Project Manager with a PMP that has taken very few projects to the end (no matter how big).

So… bottom line at the bottom (ignoring my earlier advice). Is a PMP useful? It can be in certain scenarios. If you are looking for a new job, and you can get the cost of a PMP covered, and you have already taken projects end-to-end to back your PMP, I think it’s worth it.

Otherwise, the theoretical knowledge received from the PMP will come back to bite you when the reality of a digital project gets in the way of your beautiful WBS.

Categories: Management

BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front)

August 14th, 2009 Comments off

Being a people manager, I receive many emails from my team and from others regarding an issue or a situation with which they require my assistance. Quite often, I have to read an entire story before I get to the question or issue at hand.

I’m a big fan of Mark Horstman and Michael Auzenne from Manager Tools. Although the concept of BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) is not theirs, they discuss it in their (very excellent) podcasts quite often.

I’ve gotten to the point where I insist that any member of my team sending me an email must state in the first sentence or two what the point of the email is about. I’m also brutal in my own email editing to ensure that the first two sentences tell the main story. If someone chose to stop reading there, my point would still be clear.

A recent example…

I raised an issue regarding a project that was in danger. I was throwing a red flag. The email was going to all sorts of Senior Executives. My first draft of the email started like this:

Three months ago, Project X was started with an estimated completion date of Oct 31. Shortly after starting, the project team discovered that there was a discrepancy between the requirements as documented and the actual needs of our users. Also, the hardware available to complete the project was discovered to be inferior.

The team has since tried various avenues to resolve this sitiuation, such as…

Thankfully, I usually let important emails as this sit in draft while I moved on to the “Next Big Thing” for a while. I’m a big fan of David Silverman’s advice on how to edit an email. In re-reading this, I realised that the reader would have to read quite far down to understand whether I was raising a flag, asking for help, or patting myself on the back for a job well done in averting disaster.

The email was revised to start with the following:

Project X is tracking to be approximately 6 weeks beyond the expected date of Oct 31, with an expected budget overage of $x. We are currently projecting a Dec. 15 live date. This is mainly due to discrepancies in requirements and an unforeseen hardware issue.

From here, the rest of the email outlined the pertinent details of how we got here, what the impact is and what mitigation has happened to ensure confidence in the new date.

When communicating professionally to anyone, via email, voice or in person, giving the bottom line up front sets the landscape immediately so that the other person doesn’t have to guess where you’re going and reorganize everything you have said up to the point of the grand reveal.

Categories: Management