Observations from the War Room

IMG_7209I was recently involved in a project that spanned almost two years and culminated in a “big bang” kind of moment. People were gathered; additional resources brought in; the requisite food and caffeine provisions were on hand. The command center was established – and with it all the buzz that comes from excitement, anticipation, exhaustion, uncertainty, and ultimately, relief at the completion of a successful endeavor.

Knowing the kind of round-the-clock stress this event would bring to hundreds of staff and outside support personnel, leadership made a conscious decision to address the tension directly, offering team members some tips and strategies to expect and (more importantly) manage the situation. There was nothing earth-shattering about the advice. However, it continues to serve as a reminder that we need to take care of ourselves to take better care of each other – which can just as easily apply to our personal lives as it does in the workplace.

Here are the top five observations from the War Room:

  1. Take care of yourself.

It sounds silly to tell grown adults that they should get a good night’s rest, remember to eat (preferably the healthy stuff), and get some exercise. But these are often the very basic duties that we shirk when feeling overworked and stressed. How counterproductive is that?

Get outside, breathe fresh air, walk around, talk about anything other than work. You will return to the task at hand in a better mental state.

  1. Keep your sense of humor.

No matter how well planned and executed a project may be, there will be bumps in the road. You just can’t please all the people all the time. They may have project-related woes, or they may not like the selection of salad dressing options you’re offering for their free lunch.

You need to care and you need to take your job seriously – but if you fail to laugh – then the days will seem endless and the tension will grow to uncomfortable levels.

  1. Cut each other some slack.

Exercising patience will go a long way. We all react differently to stressful situations. It is important to keep in mind that everyone has the best of intentions when it comes to the success of the project. Approaching colleagues with an attitude of understanding and cooperation will be contagious and will break down many of the barriers that can be created in a high-stress environment.

  1. Communicate clearly and directly, but respectfully.

Reporting progress or asking for resources is best done without a lot of extra information. But using ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can go a long way. Making sure that colleagues or team members are feeling okay, getting breaks and taking care of themselves is still possible when you are trying to work toward a specific end. Appreciate the time that others are devoting to the project.

That said, group dialogue can often get off track quickly. One question or comment can take the conversation in a different (or wrong) direction. It is important to understand what your team is looking to accomplish with each meeting or report out.

If you see the conversation steering off course, or the larger conversation is being taken derailed by sidebar conversations, don’t hesitate to redirect. Encourage colleagues to take a sidebar conversation into another setting at a different time. Making sure the team is clear about meeting objectives and project status is paramount to keeping everyone in lock step.

  1. Celebrate success as a team.

It is never too soon to begin the recognition of team accomplishments, both large and small. Be sure to use every opportunity to celebrate and call out great work. Don’t just wait until the conclusion of a project. This can be as simple as offering some public thanks in a meeting; a hand-written note card (electronic notes are nice too if they are sent sincerely); or supplying your colleague with a favorite snack or drink are very simple ways to show appreciation.

Open a meeting with a couple minutes of upbeat music, capture some photos, and use these opportunities to decompress and celebrate. Finally, once the project reaches a successful conclusion or milestone, make sure to take the time to reflect, recognize, and celebrate the teamwork, long hours, and accomplishments.

And then, if you’re like most organizations, you pivot your focus and get to work on the next project. So, congratulations and good luck!

Contact me at kim@vanink.ink to talk about how VanInk can help you enhance your communication strategy.

sid cash collage
*Outtakes from our photo shoot…dogs are not always cooperative!

 

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Observations from the War Room

False News on Facebook? I Can’t Believe it (Said No One, Ever)

img_6387The recent “news” that Facebook and Google have allowed the sharing of false media stories should really surprise no one. I’ve seen countless debates about what roles and responsibilities these sites now have to police the news. That’s largely driven by the fact that we, as a world of connected users, are increasingly using social media sites as our exclusive news source. Whether we follow media outlets by choice, are served sponsored content, or discover stories shared by our friends, people increasingly learn about world events via social channels first.

There has always been a certain amount of deception inherent in social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and, dare I say…Pinterest. I mean, can anyone really decorate for the holidays using cat toys, mismatched socks, and fishing wire?!?

There is much that is good about the opportunities to connect and converse across the globe and social media sites have advanced so many valuable, entertaining, and important issues. But with the good must come the bad, right? And now we are hearing about how many of these sites are plagued with the proliferation of fake news. No kidding. Whether it’s your sorority sister’s wonderful life, complete with perfect kids, a great job, and charitable works, or “Woman Gives Birth to Monkey” headlines, we all should develop a healthy skepticism that everything in your newsfeed is hardly representative or true.

I’ll date myself here and admit that I remember when there were news cycles. You know, morning news delivered via newspapers, TV, and radio to begin the day. That was followed by noon TV broadcasts, then came the evening news and your cycle culminated with the 11 pm news (if you were willing to stay up late and tune in). For those of us in the business of media relations, there were rules about when to pitch a story; when to break news; and when to provide updates based on these defined periods of time.

What began with dedicated cable news programs and then networks has evolved into an explosion of niche media outlets available 24/7 via the internet and further promoted by social media. Mainstream media is, frankly, a term that really doesn’t have a place in the modern news landscape.

Add to this the blogger-sphere, the trend for businesses to curate and share their own news, and the fact that anyone with a smartphone has a platform to report anything from anywhere, it’s no wonder companies like Facebook are not willingly jumping headfirst into the role of internet police.

As we have shifted from the traditional news cycles and outlets to the constant bombardment that comes from cable news, internet news sites, and social media, we seem to have created several realities – all existing in the same time and place. It’s equally fascinating and scary to me.

While most people can spot clickbait at 50 paces, there are ever more clever strategies being dreamt up as I type. What may not be as obvious to many people are more subtle differences that come from bias in coverage, which can be different from outright deception. The amount of fact-checking and verification that any given story on the internet has been exposed to will vary. Trusted news source? Depends on whom you ask. It’s very much a reader-beware (or as I prefer to call it: reader-be-aware) process.

False News on Facebook? I Can’t Believe it (Said No One, Ever)

Stories that Leave a Mark

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Heart transplant recipient, Brooke Briggs, on a visit to Sentara Heart Hosptial to visit with staff and physicians.

When you spend your career telling stories, there is a tendency for details to blend or fade over time. Then there are stories that leave a mark in some way. The impression or lessons or vivid details remain branded in your mind like it was yesterday. One of my favorite storytelling opportunities came when I was working for Sentara and I met a charismatic young heart transplant recipient. Initially, she was significant to the organization because she was a milestone patient – the 300th heart transplant for the facility. But when I met her I quickly realized that she was significant for so many more important reasons.

Her story was remarkable then: young, active and very unlike the “typical” transplant patient, she thought she was sick with pneumonia and woke up in a hospital to learn that she needed a new heart. Her five-week stay had a happy ending in the form of a new heart and a new lease on life. When we met I was immediately struck by her overwhelmingly positive attitude, her gratitude for the staff and doctors who had seen her through this health crisis, and her thirst and appreciation for life. I remember watching her conduct media interviews from her hospital bed, talking about her resolve to make a difference with the second chance she had been given in life.

I also walked away from that encounter struck by how down to earth and comfortable it was to be around her. She would joke with the media and the staff. She lovingly poked fun at her surgeon’s hair and its resemblance to a cartoon character. She was a genuine person, and even in the face of such uncertainty she was radiating hope.

I came home that particular day with my own feelings of gratitude and humility. Meeting this person and hearing her story put so many things into perspective for me. I felt as though our chance meeting was a gift just for me. A reminder to appreciate this life and embrace all its struggles because even in your darkest times you can be a light to someone who needs it more. I came to realize that was her gift – not just for me – for anyone who interacted with her.

In the years that passed, I was blessed with several opportunities to revisit this story and talk with the patient, who went on to do exactly what she promised in her hospital bed. She became a model organ recipient, proving that life with a donated organ can be full and happy. Some of our follow-up stories had to do with her participating in a boot camp exercise program at the Virginia Beach oceanfront (at five a.m. no less), her visits with the hospital staff and physicians where she would distribute baked goods and share laughter and hugs, and even her career moves – all of which were centered around championing causes and helping others in her community. Her second chance at life was lived to its fullest.

But not every story can have a happy ending. I was very saddened to learn of her passing this week at only 35 years young. Her light shone bright and she accomplished more in her brief time than most of us. Her loss is, no doubt, felt throughout the community because she has personally touched so many lives. And while my heart is heavy, I continue to feel blessed to have known her and to have helped (in a very small way) to share her story. Her legacy of grace, ambition, and positivity will remain an inspiration to me and so many others. Rest in peace, Brooke Briggs. It was truly an honor to have known you.

Stories that Leave a Mark

Happy Anniversary, VanInk

11947719_10208021571484213_2041455284202126055_oA year of reflection…

It hardly seems possible that I’m working to compose this blog as a reflection of my first official year in business as an entrepreneur. My decision to leave the comforts of a long and fulfilling career in “corporate” America was never taken lightly. There was a confluence of factors that seemed to be pointing me in a new direction, but the risk was intimidating. You can analyze a decision from every angle, but you sometimes just don’t know until you close your eyes, hold your breath, put your faith in others (looking at you, God and family), and above all else believe that all things are possible.

This post is meant to share some of my lessons learned (or at least reinforced) during Year One.

The gift/curse of an empty inbox.

Know this: starting a business from scratch, in a practical sense, is nothing like starting a new job. There is no new business culture to learn; there is no orientation that lays it all out. When you start a business on day one you have no clients, no to-do lists, no deadlines. And while I spent years dreaming about an empty inbox, it was not dreamlike bliss that I felt when I was staring at a completely empty screen.

What could have been a lonely and ego deflating endeavor was instead a time to reconnect with colleagues, stretch to meet new challenges and truly understand what my business could be. I’m pleased to say that this phase did not last long, and I appreciate a full inbox more than I ever have before.

Your skills and perspectives provide great value to business clients.

In building my career I spent years forming relationships, acquiring and fine tuning my skill set, and just doing the work that was required. I valued every piece of feedback, as it helped me improve along the way. Whether formal classroom education or through a professional mentor relationship; I’m grateful for every piece of advice that helped me develop over a 20-year career. As a self-employed consultant, I needed to harness the collective results of my career into a narrative – my own story, if you will – to help potential clients understand how I could help them. The knowledge is there, but the ability to talk about myself in those terms was a new (and sometimes uncomfortable) place to be.

Finding my own voice in this process has been one of the most rewarding outcomes and I wake up every day eager to add another chapter.

Never stop challenging yourself.

There are so many milestones in life that will change your worldview, challenge your beliefs and (hopefully) make you stronger in the end. I felt this way when I got married, had my children, changed jobs, moved. These are all important factors that can have great impact. I have grown both personally and professionally over the course of the last year. Learning to navigate a new world was scary, but there is no question it was worth it. The confidence and experience I’ve gained over the past year reaffirms that my decision was right for me.

Never stop loving the work.

I have spent the last year falling even more in love with storytelling and I feel so blessed to do what I love in a way that provides value to my clients. Someone told me before I started my business that most people work just as hard, if not harder when in business for themselves. That has proved to be true, but for me, it has been a labor of love. Being able to share my work with my family, to have flexibility, to develop new relationships and look more intentionally at the lessons of life has been a gift.

Simply believing that all things are possible does not mean they come easy.

It is true that I have more sleepless nights worrying about things that never would have crossed my mind before. I love to tell stories, but that does not mean I love writing proposals to place a financial value on that work or slogging through accounting spreadsheeets and back office necessities, but that comes with the territory and I’m learning. With each new challenge faced, I’m appreciating this journey more and more. Easy is great every so often, but I find that most of the good stuff happens when your limits have been tested and you’ve come out on the other side.

Growth in life is never confined to only one area.

I remember naively telling my husband that our crazy life would need to be settled and stable for me to feel good about starting a business. That sentiment almost seems laughable to me now. First of all, with a pre-teen and newly minted teenager in my house life is never settled and stable. I think my chauffer duties (which is all they think they need from me anyway) increased ten-fold. As with every family, there were heartbreaks, celebrations, setbacks, new opportunities and many, many challenges. My reflection is about the last year in business, but it seems impossible to talk about my life over the last year in only business terms. We are so much more than what we do for a living and it’s the patchwork of family and friends that add the color. It’s been a colorful year…I could give Crayola a run for its money.

Thank you is never enough.

There are so many people in my life that I’m blessed to know, trust, love and like a lot. This story, my story, is incomplete without recognizing that they play a role in everything. Whether you let me pick your brain endlessly; listen to my stories; offer advice or well wishes; refer or give me business; provide love and support; or any of the other countless ways you add color I am grateful from the bottom of my heart.

One year down…with many more to come.

Happy Anniversary, VanInk

Do you Understand the Why?

sid_whyGreat stories have a universal impact. They can inspire, entertain, provoke thought and discussion, highlight an issue, spur action, and so on. Organically speaking, most of us love storytelling because it makes almost any topic digestible and more relatable. When used in a more deliberate way, stories can advance an agenda and there are examples of this everywhere in mainstream and social media channels.

As someone who works on messaging quite a bit, I spend a lot of time thinking about language and tone. I cannot read a news article, watch a video clip or even view a show without paying attention to the purpose.

I often work with business clients who want to tell their story. And while I can craft a message using careful or measured prose, it will almost always fall flat if the person delivering the message doesn’t believe or personalize the story to make it their own. Think about sitting through a speech or presentation where slides are read and there is nothing to engage the audience. The idea behind story creation is not just to impart information, but to somehow make it more compelling to the audience.

So how do you ensure that the right message is ultimately being delivered in the right way to achieve your objective? Creating the message is really just part of the successful equation. The person who crafts the message as well as the person delivering the message (whether they are the same or different individuals) needs to understand the “why.” What are your objectives in sharing the information? Are you trying to spur an action, make an emotional appeal, inspire a group? Spending some time thinking about your desired outcome will help to keep your message and its delivery on point. Once you understand the purpose, you can evaluate your story through the appropriate lens.

Do you need help finding the why? Contact VanInk for help developing a great story with purpose and intent.

 

 

 

 

Do you Understand the Why?

The Story of My Life

executive_sid

I recently participated in a women’s leadership panel. I was honored to be among a group of esteemed women leaders who were committed to community service while in pursuit of various professional accomplishments. We were talking with a group of college students (all female) and we were asked to discuss what we studied in school and how that related (or not) to what we did professionally. In addition, we were asked to address our experience providing community service, both then and now.

I think it goes without saying that these kinds of experiences are often as educational for me as they are for the intended audience. Hearing the perspectives of so many people I admire, learning new things about each individual and collectively sharing our experiences and advice in that setting was stimulating and inspiring for me…and I hope for the college students as well.

And while this very bright group of students seemed eager to learn the secrets to success, I was struck by several recurring themes that serve as valuable reminders for people at any stage of their career.

With age comes wisdom.

I have officially entered middle age, which is not necessarily a fact that bothers me. Of course, I could do without the increasing aches and pains or laugh lines (sounds better than wrinkles) that accompany this current phase of life. But I now recognize that with age comes a wisdom that is hard to explain to the young. As the saying goes, hindsight really is 20/20. There are things I have learned as my life has been shaped by experience that I could never have understood when I was in college.

For example, I always knew I wanted a husband and family “someday,” but I had no idea how creating my family would alter almost everything about my younger self’s world view. How could I have understood the idea that the pursuit of professional dreams sometimes takes a backseat to the needs of your family? Or that life as a new mother – a time of balancing work and daycare and regulated schedules that I thought was stressful – seems vastly different from the worry I currently have raising pre-teen and teenage daughters.

I don’t know it all, but I do know that the phase of life I’m in now will ultimately be just another chapter in a story that is constantly being written and revised. If I can learn to pause and appreciate the now – a discipline that is very hard to develop – then I’m already doing better than my 20-something self.

It’s okay to change course.

I was not the one who made this point during the panel discussion, but boy, did it resonate strongly with me. The women in our audience were all high-achieving college students who, no doubt, strive for that next great grade; great internship; dream job. But what if they decide that the career path they set at 19 or 20 is not really everything they thought it would be? As I sat among women who had studied everything from business to sports management to architecture, only some of whom had found that line of study to be their ultimate calling; I felt so completely normal and validated that my own professional path was filled with twists, turns, and redirects.

Public relations sounded cool to me in college as I dreamed of working with high profile people negotiating national news stories. My actual professional experience – while still public relations – has been quite different. And when I encountered a boss who promised to convert me to health care, I simply thought he was crazy. That seemed too practical at the time. What did I know?

By stating – out loud – that there is nothing wrong with changing your mind or revising your dream, I hope the audience of college students felt some relief in the fact that no one is expecting them to have all the answers now. It’s okay to be unsure. That’s what makes life a great adventure. Trying to live without regret seems too lofty, but having permission to learn as you go is much easier to grasp.

Women really are the ultimate multitaskers.

So admittedly, this was a panel of women and we were talking to an audience of women. No matter what the career choice or volunteer commitments, as a group it was obvious that multitasking was a honed skill across the board. Life is not linear and the balancing act is real.

Multitasking is a skill that will translate well in life – from the Boardroom to the kitchen. Whether making time for family, travel, work priorities, community service, hobbies or passions, there will always be something else competing for your time, your talent, your resources. The need to control that ebb and flow will make you crazy (quick) if you aren’t able to prioritize and delegate based on what is most important right now. And once you think you’ve got it all figured out, life will present you with another curve ball…you can be sure of that.

It takes a village, and that’s okay.

Which leads to my final take away from this experience. In the pursuit of dreams, no one should feel like they have to do it alone. Having a support network is vital. You can find that in many different places – whether it comes from your family or friends, colleagues at work, advisors at school. You will need to develop relationships that can be tested and trusted.

Our life is our story. Some chapters are more interesting than others. But the storyline will continue to unfold, revealing more life lessons as we go. I was glad to be reminded through this experience that we’re all just at different stages of creating the ultimate work of art.

The Story of My Life

Stories Can Change Your Heart

As a fresh-faced college undergrad studying Communications and Public Relations, I often dreamed of a fascinating job that involved celebrities, world travel, my name printed on a book cover…you know, the stuff of movies. While my reality turned out a little different, I found professional fulfillment working in health care marketing and communications.

I have counted my many professional blessings over the years, being a part of projects and organizations that constantly remind me to appreciate my family and friends, my health and my community. When I started my own business, I gained an even deeper appreciation for flexibility, responsibility and the satisfaction that can come from helping clients tell their story.

Some days, my work is work…but some days my work is a privilege. Today was most definitely a privilege. I had the opportunity to hear Sorrell King address a room of health care professionals. She is a woman I admire for so many reasons.

In patient safety circles around the world, Sorrell King’s heartbreaking story has inspired a movement. Fifteen years ago this month, her 18-month-old daughter died at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Josie King had suffered burns in a bathtub and was well on her way to recovery…only days from being discharged from the hospital.

Then, in what can only be considered every family’s worst nightmare, a series of communication breakdowns and medical errors among the caregivers entrusted with her care led to Josie’s death. As a parent, it is heart-breaking to think about losing a child at all…let alone in such a preventable way.

Josie-King

To hear Sorrell King recall the experience and her feelings of guilt, grief and overwhelming anger during that ordeal is difficult. To hear how the King family turned this tragedy into a touchstone event for an entire industry is remarkable. In their darkest hours, the Kings turned a tragedy into a force for good. As I listened to her speak, I was struck by Sorrel King’s candor and her unwavering belief that a culture that supports good communication leads to better, safer care.

Health care, at its core, is always about the patient. As the Josie King story reminds us, in health care organizations, communication breakdowns can cost lives. What seems like a simple concept – good communication – is actually a huge hurdle for hospitals, both large and small, to overcome. Sorrell King has a fierce determination to change the culture of health care, beginning with communicating openly about our mistakes. We can’t improve if we don’t acknowledge what went wrong. And in this time of increased access to data and research, it is still the power of a personal story that can change hearts and minds.

Much of the work that the Josie King Foundation has funded in the years since its formation have been focused on improving communications. Sharing Josie King’s story was really just the beginning. Sorrell King has worked tirelessly over the past 15 years to initiate conversations with doctors, nurses, patients and families about ways to communicate better, more clearly and without fear in the sprit of delivering better and safer patient care. Ambitious, yes, but if anyone can tackle the challenge head on – Sorrell King and the Josie King Foundation are in the best position to bring us all along.

Sorrell King’s passion is contagious and her message is powerful. I’m in awe of her courage and the entire audience was touched by her honesty and enthusiasm.

Her story has certainly changed my heart.

Stories Can Change Your Heart