The Art of Delegation

Learn to delegate.” It’s the most fundamental management advice, for good reason. When you delegate well, you empower your staff and build their competence, experience, and confidence. You spend more time thinking about strategy and watching the organization at a high level. You create an amazing management team. And the organization becomes more nimble and able. When time and resources are scarce (and when aren’t they?), delegation is the most crucial leadership skill.

But having people always tell you “delegate more” doesn’t get you there, does it? Here are some tips.

The most crucial skill is learning to recognize the opportunity.

More often than not, whatever needs to be delegated is something you have done before, that you know how to do, that you like doing, and feel satisfied when you get it done. You may be so enamored of your skill in doing this, that you think no one else can do it, at least not as well as you can.

This is the competence trap — the belief that no one else can do this as well (if at all). It is hubris that will keep you from growing and worse, it will quash the motivations and growth of all your staff.

The organizational efficiency trap is the belief that because you can do it faster and better, you will cost the organization resources if you hand it off to someone with less skill. That may be true, but it may not be and as others gain experience, it will become less and less true.

Then, there’s the closely related personal efficiency trap, the notion that teaching someone to do the task will take more time than just doing it yourself. When you fall for this trap, it’s because you think of the time you’re spending as an expense — but training others is an investment.

The next question is how to delegate. On one hand, you want to give it away, to empower. But on the other hand, this is something you have done before, that you know how to do, that you like doing, and feel satisfied when you get it done! Naturally, that makes us reluctant to delegate. Rather than just toss it over to someone new, try these steps:

  1. Choose someone who you think can probably do it. You do not need to be absolutely, 100% sure they can handle it — failure is an option, and you’re there to help if something goes awry. Operating on edge, in the presence of risk, helps people grow.
  2. Tell them what you would like them to do. Describe the outcome you want — what results, by when, what it will look like. Give them good detail but do not tell them a lot about how they will get there.
  3. Very important: Tell them why we want this. Why you want it, why they want it, why the company and the customers want it. This is critical context.
  4. Only now, do you get to the how — and you should tread lightly here. Rather than telling them how to do it, tell them how you would do it and then make clear they have no obligation to follow your idea. Something like this: “I’ve done similar projects before and the approach I would take is (1, 2, 3…). But please do it your way — I am interested in the results.”
  5. Agree on progress reports. How often will they advise you of progress? This is a mutual agreement. You want them to be empowered but you also have the need to know what’s going on.
  6. Ask them to keep notes and document their work as a best practice. One of the results you should specify is a set of policies, processes, and procedures for next time.
  7. Ask them for their agreement. Are they bought in? Anything they need? Are they ok with the specs, resources, and the timetable?
  8. When they report on progress, remember to praise results. Give greater autonomy as they succeed, more oversight and guidance when they miss targets. Try not to provide unsolicited help and if asked, encourage them to find their way.
  9. Then, the hardest part of all: Get out of the way. Do not let yourself be tempted by something you have done before, that you know how to do, that you like doing, and feel satisfied when you get it done.

Over and over in my career, I was surprised and thrilled by employees who exceeded my expectations. I shouldn’t be surprised, really. After all, they had the benefit of my experience (remember, I told them how I would do it) plus their experience, plus they are not encumbered by my limitations!

When the project is complete, do a complete debrief. Give the employee public credit when it succeeds, discuss in private when it doesn’t. What worked, what didn’t? Why? How can we do it better? Update the process and procedure to capture what we learned.

Then repeat.

And once they get really good at it — once it becomes something they have done, that you they how to do, that they like doing, and feel satisfied when they get it done — guess what you will ask them to do?

Managing Up

In business, we often coach our managers on how to manage people, projects, resources, expectations… We don’t usually coach our staff in how to manage their managers, but this is an important business (and life) skill. I liked this article, 8 Ways to Manage Upwards: Build Trust With the C-Suite and Help Your Marketing Team Succeed, by Sridhar Ramanathan of Aventi Group.

To me, #1 is the most important: “Think Like Your Leadership.”

If you think like your leadership, you are also thinking strategically, and that enhances your career possibilities, while serving the needs of the company and its customers. In a work context, that would look like this: You know (or should know) your company’s mission and elevator pitch. You also know (or should know) the mission and goals of your workgroup. So if you want to get something done, think about these missions and how you can serve them while moving your own program forward.

We’re excited to announce…

why excited to announce is bad practice

How many times have you seen email or a news release that begins, “We are excited to announce our new…”? Or, quotes from a company executive talking about how “thrilled” or “delighted” they are to be offering this “innovative solution”?

There are two reasons why this is poor practice.

First, it’s radically overused. A Google search for “excited to announce” (with the quotes for an exact match) delivers 95 million matches. You sound derivative, unimaginative, and trite when you use this phrase.

More important, it’s company-centric and narcissistic. Does your customer care how thrilled you are? Instead, give them reasons to be excited.

There are marketing articles that give alternatives to the word “excited,” but let’s do better and eliminate the self-absorbed point of view altogether. Talk about the customer, the top benefit (you know — the one you’re excited about) and the value they will get from whatever you’re announcing.  Most important, start with why. Why should customers be excited about your announcement? Show how you solve the customers’ problems.

Now, that’s exciting.

What you believe: The road to your “why”

What you believe — your values, your heart and soul — are the key to your why.

Simon Sinek’s famous TED talk, Start With Why is the first place I go when working with clients on product and company messaging. Why? Because most of us naturally think about what we do and how we do it. It takes discipline to get to what really works: why we do it and why the customer needs it. Sinek has helped us all switch to a far more effective approach: Start With Why.

Simon Sinek Start With Why


The most powerful way to get to the Why is through our values: who we are, what really matters — what we believe. Here’s a new video with a more developed version of Sinek’s talk. It incorporates a super-important feature that had scant mention in the earlier video: how what we believe connects to customers.

Funny, but I hadn’t really noticed how often he used the word “believe” in the original Start With Why presentation; and since then, I have been noticing how often it comes up in the values statements of the best companies in the world. 

In particular, listen at the 4:50 mark as Sinek uses Martin Luther King and others to explain how “we believe” is how you connect to the why. Your values — your beliefs — are what moves you and moves your customers into relationship with you.

“The clearer you are about what you believe, the more disciplined you are in how you do things and the more consistent you are in what you do, everything you say and do becomes a symbol for your values and beliefs.” — Simon Sinek

Every company I work with has heartfelt values, but few have enumerated them — or even discussed them. But most companies are motivated by more than just making money. For instance, my company is here because I believe in startups and entrepreneurs. I believe that bringing them world-class marketing will help them succeed, which makes the world a better place as their great ideas become commercially successful. They do not need a big budget and an expensive marketing executive to have quality marketing. A marketing strategy built on straightforward processes delivers a roadmap that even junior-level marketers can execute.

Those values — my beliefs — translate into my why, and I think all companies benefit from knowing what they believe, and why.

Hilarious brand mission video spoof. No, wait — what?

Because I work with clients on brand messaging and corporate missions, I was curious about a new brand, introduced with a full page ad in the business section of the newspaper. (Yes, I still read newspapers.) I couldn’t tell who they were or what they did — were they being deliberately coy?

What I found was amazing: A hilarious parody of corporate branding videos! Full of lofty but meaningless phrases, set to happy faces in corporate settings. Pretentious and phony, over the top! Clip-art-y graphics, fancy production. Someone spent a lot on this elaborate, beautifully executed joke. It was very funny — until the horror crept in.

It’s real.

Andeavor is the new corporate brand that combines Tesoro’s refining operations and their acquisition of Western  Refining Logistics. Visit and click play. Check it out right away because I wonder how long it will be available (so far, it’s been months). Surely, someone in the $38 billion, 13,000 employee company will realize how ridiculous this is.

Some excerpts:

“We are creating our future, building on our experiences to achieve more than we once thought possible.”

“We are more dynamic than ever.” (What does that even mean?)

“We are determined to be better today than yesterday; and better tomorrow than today.”

“We are strengthened by our diverse backgrounds and experiences, limitless in our combined talent. And we work as a team, sharing a belief that when we combine our knowledge, experiences, and drive to make a difference, we can create something better, in a spirit that celebrates where we’ve been and sees no limits to where we can go.”

I work on mission and values with most of my clients and the number one rule is authenticity. A cynical view of corporations is that they care only about profits but in my experience, most want to make the world better through what they do. A good mission statement honestly and humbly reveals who the company is at heart, what values move them through their days, and helps customers, employees, and partners know what matters. It guides everything.

I expect that Andeavor is run by well-meaning people who are proud of their company. It’s a shame that their fancy video got away from them because further down the page, they communicate some real values: They have a solid set of Strategic Priorities: “Operational efficiency and effectiveness; value chain optimization across our system; financial discipline; value-driven growth; and a High-Performing Culture built around collaboration.” They focus on safety, community, performance, customer relationships, and their workforce.

I wish they’d said all that in the video. Instead, they said: “Go for extraordinary.” I would say they achieved that today. Andeavor says to Go For Extraordinary

Managing Online Discussion Groups and Expert Communities

Social media is not just for hobbies!

Even experts in deeply technical, specialized areas are gathering online in discussion groups and expert forums. I have worked with discussion groups and forums for many companies in high-tech and consumer markets. It requires an investment and a long-term commitment but can return tremendous visibility and credibility with users and influencers.

discussion groups and expert forums exchange ideas

Here’s how you can be present, learn from your customers, establish credibility and authority, and be found by search engines. Some points to ponder:

  • Your users and potential users may already be using online communities to solve each others’ problems. They may already be talking about you! What are they saying, and how can you influence the conversation?
  • If you’re not part of the conversation, how do you become known? Can you become part of the community without seeming like a self-promoter?
  • You can offer support in public forums. Often, users will step in and do the support job for you.
  • Communities are a great place to see the voice of the customer first-hand. What are their problems and needs? What will they need in the near future?
  • If there are no communities, maybe you should start one!


Consider the benefits of online community participation. Online forums:

  • Foster learning and creates a loyal community.
  • Turn users into experts. They are especially good in fields where just a few people have expertise and many want to learn.
  • Can assist product definition. In three companies where I managed the online programs, developers were on the boards, hearing first hand from customers. One said they had a “fast measure of what customers want, motivated programmers. The design team … felt a calling to not let members down.” I often saw product development debates settled by talking to the online communities.
  • Help develop and enter new markets, by building reputation and establishing authority.
  • Lead to an intimate understanding of customer problems through close relationship with real customers. One R&D Director told me that their group “reaches (their technical customers) on their own time, in their passionate pursuits, where they are more available and have greater discretion.”
  • Bring up ideas that lead to new products. In hockey, you skate to “where the puck will be.”
  • Can serve as a technical support vehicle. These groups usually develop gurus who answer the bulk of the questions.
  • Can develop into an excellent loyalty vehicle: Members generally champion the company. Members who evangelize on our behalf have high credibility, as impartial third parties. When I led the marketing for a consumer electronics that produced video editing equipment, our forum was frequented by fans who jumped in and supported each other and championed our products.
  • Fosters company image as the expert.
  • Can deliver heavy reach into universities: A semiconductor company whose products required development and application found that “professors and students participated and created class projects.”
  • Provide a competitive edge. If your competitors are neglecting discussion groups, you become the leader and own the conversation. In one discussion group populated by influencers, our startup company dominated Sony, Canon, and Panasonic, because they weren’t there. Conversely, if they are present and you are not, you are operating at a disadvantage.


  • It is hard to demonstrate the value. It is easy to judge the costs (which can be considerable since we’re investing the time of some of our most valued employees) but depending on the business, may be hard to show revenue.
  • It’s definitely not for all products and businesses.
  • You are open to fire from disgruntled customers. Your mistakes (e.g. product issues) are fodder for public grumbling. However, consider that unhappy customers will vent one way or another and you can benefit from being present when it happens. I have good experience with controlling the conversation. In a well-managed forum, loyal list members generally defend the company and in the end, it generally ends up positive.
  • There is no way to keep competition out. You must assume they are present.
  • If it’s someone else’s forum, you need to obey the local customs and tread lightly, especially with commercialism and the forum operators’ egos or sense of ownership. The whole thing can backfire if you irritate the locals.

Where are the communities?

  • You can establish a presence on expert communities such as Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, Twitter, Quora, Reddit, or industry-specific sites like StackExchange.
  • There are still web-based discussion groups and “bulletin boards.”
  • Many platforms and technology ecosystems have user groups associated with the product.
  • Some trade magazines maintain discussion boards.
  • You can use comment capabilities on your own content such as blogs or technical articles, using commenting platforms like Disqus.
  • You can also build your own. The infrastructure is pretty easy — the hard part is promoting and running it.

Running the Group

Running a group is probably easier than you think but it does require a commitment. You need two people (to provide coverage for vacations and such) who commit to visiting at least once a day. Once your presence becomes known, visitors will develop an expectation of response within a day.


Step one: Listen. Visit the group and just read for at least a week. Learn the cadence and tone. It’s an extremely bad idea to walk into a room and start talking.

Who’s in charge?

When you’re new to a discussion group, find out who the moderators are. It’s a good idea to introduce yourself and ask if there are any guidelines. Moderators can greatly support you (and if you do make a mistake, forgiveness will come much more readily if they know who you are.)

What (not) to say

General rule: Less is more. The less often your staff speaks, the more likely members will participate. If you jump in on every question, group members will almost never chime in. You want to avoid killing a thread by satisfying the question too quickly!

Members have an impartiality that gives them a special credibility. In the video editing forum I ran, we had a 24-hour rule and it worked perfectly. An interesting thing happened: Members responded to almost every new visitor or question.

Knowing that we were present, group members rarely said anything critical of the company and were quick to chime in if visitors were critical. Supportive comments from a third party always carry greater clout than anything company employees say.

Our guideline was that the company never answers unless:

  • Someone says something that is blazingly wrong and no member corrects it.
  • Something goes unanswered for 24 hours.
  • The question is specifically aimed at the company and no member answers. But we learned that even questions aimed at the company were usually better answered by members!


Remember that the group is public and archives mean you can never un-say anything. All communications must be professional, polite, and restricted to public information. Assume that everything you say will be read by customers, the press, your competitors, and your boss.

Fostering Communication

Much more important than answering questions is fostering discussion. Leave answers incomplete, with room for others to chime in. Leave a hook for further discussion. Steer people to the website wherever possible (e.g.: “Good question. There is an technical note that covers that here: <list the web address>“).

Abuse and Problems

In case of technical issues, offer massive support — jump in with free replacements, a phone call from the right person, a private message from a company director — whatever it takes to make these people happy. Even if it’s just a college junior or small company engineer, what you do is in public view of an important community.

Most of the time, hot situations are best answered completely candidly and if appropriate, taking the detailed discussion off-list.

Credibility and authenticity

Having a company in a user community can feel like having a fox in the hen house. Your commercial interests may seem at odds with the community’s common interests. How do you become part of an online community in a way that enhances authority and credibility and makes the community a better place — all the while, avoiding the appearance of self-promotion?

Be very careful about anything promotional. Announce new products but keep in informational. Tie it into discussion topics if you can. You want to scrupulously avoid having people think this is an advertising forum.

I have had great success with an approach that sounds strange: Freely mention competition. For instance, if someone asks who makes a certain product, mention the competitors as well as your own offerings. This impresses people and makes them think you are confident of your products. And it really gives nothing away — you know they will find the competitors anyway.

If someone asks about your products, it’s perfectly ok to answer but avoid sounding like a pitchman.

Steering the Discussion

After the list has matured, feel free to toss in thought-grenades to stimulate discussion. Ask about what people would like in future products, how they have addressed certain challenges. Ask legitimate market attitude and product feature questions. You want to stimulate interest without appearing to manipulate or control.


Building a brand is more than just the a name, a logo, and t-shirtable colors. But those are the most visible elements and the ones likely to garner the most attention from a company’s executives.

As daily consumers of these high-visibility branding elements, we all lay claim to some level of expertise. That’s why selling the branding elements inside the company is sometimes the hardest part of brand development. (When we rebranded Maxim Integrated in 2012, we spent a year selling the brand inside the company before anyone outside saw it.)

Image result for Maxim Integrated logo. Source:

I’ve written here about the challenge of naming products and companies. Here’s an episode of the podcast, 99% Invisible, Making a Mark: Visual Identity with Tom Geismar,” that talks about the development of some of the world’s most iconic logos and what it took to make them happen.

Logo sketched. Source:



Moe Rubenzahl Marketing is five years oldFive.

It was five years ago that I left the thorny, cozy cocoon that is corporate life and formed my own consulting business building marketing strategies for amazing companies.

It has been great. I love the flexibility, the variety, and most of all, working with the most amaaaazing people. Great clients, all over the world who truly get the value of marketing and smart marketing strategy (unlike the corporate world, sometimes); great allies and experts; networking buddies.

And I get to work with clients who are committed to their VALUES — who understand we have to make a profit but we can make a difference while we make a dollar. Like Network Development Group, Go2Group, Avontus Software, West Marine, Atlassian, Xpand IT, Praecipio Consulting, Cantaloupe Systems, Spartez, ThinkTilt, catworkx GmbH, K15t Software GmbH, Communardo, Coyote Creek, Swagelok Northern California, DailyAlts.

It rarely feels like work.

Finally, a shout out to some of my allies and partners, like Steve Cross, Sridhar Ramanathan, Aventi Group, LLC, Matthew Lewsadder, Liam McInerney, David Rand and I am so sorry for all the ones I am forgetting at the moment!

Ho Ho Holiday Branding

A little cleverness from FedEx deftly makes the brand festive:

FedEx brand meets Santa: Clever use of holiday branding





Business hint: Right now, make repeating calendar entries prior to holidays that can have meaning for your brand. And have your content marketing crew do the same. When the holidays first appear on your radar, it’s usually past deadline for the really good ideas.

Holiday Marketing Opportunities: Does Your Customer Want Sleigh Bells?

How do the holidays affect your content marketing? Maybe the obvious ho-ho-ho themes are not for your business-to-business (B2B) audience.

I was running web marketing for a large B2B company that sold mainly to engineers and technical people. One November, we were in a meeting with the CEO and a couple of business managers. One of the business managers wondered whether we should introduce a new technology campaign until after the holidays, figuring it would miss a lot of audience if we ran it over the holiday break.

Holiday marketing? Santa knows, engineers are never off lineThe CEO was Jack Gifford, an outspoken exec who an uncanny marketing sense. I had learned to never disregard Jack, even if what he was suggesting sounded crazy. He claimed that engineers would be a better target during the holidays.

Jack explained that engineers don’t stop working on holidays and in fact, at family gatherings, you could bet that they were stealing away to poke around the websites to find things to read and learn.

I ran some stats from prior years and while overall traffic was down on holidays, we had plenty of traffic to technical articles. So we ran the campaign, geared it as an opportunity to learn about a new technology, and promoted in our weekly emails and on the home page.

It worked. Jack’s intuition was spot on.

The lesson for B2B companies is that if you are thinking of a holiday-focused theme, forget Santa, sleigh bells, and snowflakes. Think instead of your customer — maybe bored, maybe holidayed out, with a churning, analytic brain thirsting for a good tech story, or eager to learn a new skill.

Your competitors are probably not thinking the way Jack did, so this is your chance to do some targeted customer education and relationship-building.

Ho ho ho!

Illustration by Matti Mattila, CC BY 2.0