About Jeri Denniston

Jeri Denniston is a certified Strategic Management Professional with proven performance in strategic marketing, social media strategies, management, public relations, and business planning. During her career she has mentored and trained co-workers and staff in communication and leadership skills, facilitated board and management retreats, led workshops in strategic management and systems thinking, and directed strategic planning projects for the development of new products and markets in the financial, marketing information and publishing industries. Skilled in digital marketing, she teaches internet marketing and social media & mobile marketing at Yavapai College. Jeri's language skills include high level fluency in Spanish and proficiency in French. She has a masters in international management from Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, AZ.

Fall Weather Causing Writer’s Block?

Have you ever run into “writer’s block”? Seriously, I usually don’t have trouble finding things to write about and share, but this month I’ve been stymied!

Perhaps it’s the change in weather. While September is ending on a warm note, fall is definitely in the air. The leaves are turning. The mornings and evenings are cooler, and there’s a crispness to the air.  I just want to sit out on the porch and read.

Then again, maybe it’s because I’ve been preparing for the late start of the social media marketing class I teach online through Yavapai College. The college changed learning platforms over summer, from Blackboard to Canvas, so I’ve had to re-build the class in the new platform. It was a bit time-intensive, but it’s fairly intuitive, and I think it will prove to be a better learning platform for the students.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently been immersed in speaking Spanish with some friends from Argentina. They’ve been visiting with very close friends who speak very little Spanish. Since Eric is natively fluent and I’m quite proficient, we’ve spent quite a bit of time conversing with them in Spanish. As a result, I find I’m talking to myself in Spanish instead of English! That’s a good thing, but it’s derailed my thought process a bit.

TIPs to overcome writer’s block

glass of water and skyA quick internet search for tips to overcome writer’s block turned up this link: 7 ways to overcome writer’s block, by Chuck Sambuchino, writersdigest.com.

One suggestion is to stop trying to write and do anything creative. Paint, draw, write poetry, design pictures in PhotoShop or Illustrator, etc. (I may have to try this, although it makes me feel unproductive, and I hate wasting time).

Another is to get up and move – do tai chi, exercise, go for a walk (been there done that already this morning). Another tip is to write early in the morning. Now that I agree with! I am my most creative in the morning, and it helps to read or watch stimulating, creative, motivational quotes or stories to get my mind flowing.

His #7 technique is the most interesting though – the glass of water technique. Before bed, fill a glass of water and speak an intention to the water. When you wake up in the morning, drink the water and then sit down at the computer and start writing. I may have to try that!

What’s your favorite way to end writer’s block?


Why we have too few women leaders

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg looks at why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions — and offers 3 powerful pieces of advice to women aiming for the C-suite. Women Leaders systematically underestimate their own abilities.

She focuses on three things women must do in order to stay in the workforce and make it to the C-suite.

  1. Sit at the table
  2. Make your partner a real partner
  3. Don’t leave before you leave

Feedback Moments can Lead to Root Cause Solutions

One of the things we talk about in our practice is the importance of accepting, and in fact, seeking out feedback, both positive and negative. Without feedback, you have no idea of how your project, idea, or behavior is impacting others. Feedback is also an important part of your strategic plan, for without it, you don’t know if you’re progressing down the right paths to achieve your future desired outcomes.

What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall GoldsmithMarshall Goldsmith, in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, talks about looking for feedback moments as a method for improving your personal behavior. Here are some of the ways he suggests to get feedback by paying close attention to how others react to you both verbally and physically.

1. Make a list of people’s casual remarks about you. For one day, write down all the comments you hear people make about you, both positive and negative. At the day, review the list to see if there are areas you need to address. Do this for a week, both at work and at home and see if there is a pattern that you need to change.

2. Turn the sound off. When you enter a meeting, observe everyone as though you couldn’t hear them. What are they doing? Where are they sitting relative to you? Do they make eye contact with you? Look for the subtle behaviors that might be obscured by their voices. Get to meetings early so you can see where people sit and how they acknowledge you when they enter the room. This will give you important feedback about what they think of you and areas where you may need to improve your interpersonal skills.

3. Complete the sentence. Pick one area where you want to improve; then list the positive benefits you’ll get by improving in that area. This method will help you get at the root cause of the behavior you want to change. The first few sentences will be more corporately focused or correct, but by the time you get to the fifth or sixth sentence, you’ll start to get at the heart of the issue. Keep doing this until you have no more sentences to complete.

Getting at the root cause of a problem

This last exercise is an excellent one to do with a team when problem-solving an issue. Go around the room and have each person complete the sentence, writing each one down on a flip chart. Continue doing so until everyone runs out of sentences to complete. Then review the sentences and see if there is a pattern or theme that is actually the root cause of the problem.

Once you’ve identified the root cause, you can begin to work on resolving the problem by asking, so it this is the root cause, what do we need to do to change it? Ask each person for ideas and write them on a white board or flip chart. Prioritize the answers in terms of 1) what can be done immediately, 2) what can be done in the next 3-6 months, and 3) what can be done in a year. If there are costs associated with the solutions the team has chosen, identify them, or assign someone to research what the costs will be.

Focus first on what can be done immediately; identify specific tasks for each solution, and assign a person to lead each one. Once the most pressing solutions are completed, focus on the next list of those that will take 3-6 months to complete, and so.

This way you have identified the root cause of a problem, the solutions to resolve it, and taken action to create change.

Top 10 Technology Trends for 2015

At their Orlando, FL IT/Expo last October, Gartner analysts identified the top 10 technology trends for 2015. Since the 2015 year is half over, let’s see if some of these trends are coming to pass.

  • Computing everywhere. Gartner predicts there will be a greater emphasis on serving mobile consumers. Yup!
    In April Google released an update to its algorithm to give extra focus on mobile-friendly websites. Called #mobilegeddon among other names, the update one of the more significant updates of the year. Search Engine Land offers a mobile-friendly test tool you can use to see if your website passes the Google mobile friendly test. Apple also released its Apple Watch which is basically a computer on your wrist. More wearable devices are on the way.
  • The internet of things. According to Gartner, “The combination of data streams and services created by digitizing everything creates four basic usage models — Manage, Monetize, Operate and Extend.”
    We’re already seeing these in operation with services like Square and Apple Pay, Uber car and bike services, Air BnB, and cloud services such as Google Drive, DropBox and MS OneDrive.
  • 3D printing. Gartner predicts “Worldwide shipments of 3D printers are expected to grow 98 percent in 2015, followed by a doubling of unit shipments in 2016.” Yup, again!
    Forgot your hairdryer in your rush to catch the plane? No problem! Just order a new one online and it will be waiting for you at the nearest Fed-Ex Kinkos in the city of your destination. We may even see 3D printing machines in places like Walmart and CVS similar to the instant photo and card machines today. Just put in your order, go do your shopping, and come back to collect your 3D object. Then pay with Square or your watch or your smart phone before walking out the door.

You can read about the rest of the trends in the gartner.com article online.

Why Should You Blog?

We all are pressed for time. After all, we have our businesses and consulting practices to run and clients to support. So where do you find time to write a blog? And why should you blog anyway?

One reason is to stay top of mind with prospects and customers. Blogs are one of the most popular ways people learn about you and your business. And because they tend to be updated frequently, they’re more likely to show up in online searches. Blogs are one way Google and other search engines know they should check your site frequently to see what’s new.

Blogs are also a way for others to share your posts with their networks. This helps you get found through social networks. Each blog post gives you the potential to generate new leads to your website, and having a call to action at the end of the post is one way to do that.

Hubspot wrote a post listing 6 Stats You Should Know About Business Blogging in 2015. One of the stats is that marketers who use blogs receive 67% more quality leads than those who don’t. Another is that companies that blog receive 97% more links to their website. See the Hubspot post for more stats about blogging.

If you hadn’t noticed, most of our articles in our newsletters go to our blog, which is also integrated with our website. This way we are driving traffic in both directions.

Blogging gives you an opportunity to educate your target audience about your services and knowledge. By sharing valuable content your prospects are seeking when they type those keywords into Google, you become known as a thought leader and resource.

Eventually, if you’re doing everything correctly (and there is a LOT to do), those prospects may turn into paying customers. And that’s the objective for most of us, right?

Contact us to learn more about how we can help you with your social media and blogging challenges.

Simple Planning Model for Small Businesses

A while ago I came across an article written by Noah Weiss for Medium.com (Nov. 2014),  which describes a simple planning model he calls #now, #next, #later. In it he discusses a method for smaller businesses and teams to create effective action plans using what he calls “Priority Buckets”.

Priority Buckets

Original image by Arvid Rudling,Flickr creative commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/arru/4919629582/sizes/l/

As I read on, I realized this might work really well within the systems thinking planning model. You still need to have a direction, a Desired State or Vision of what you want to achieve. But once you’ve identified that, it would be fairly simple to then ask yourself the following three questions:

If XXXXX is what we want to achieve or what we want our organization to BE in 12-18 months, then…
1) What do we need to do #now to make sure this happens?
Now is within the next 2-4 weeks. These are the most critical actions that will make the biggest difference in the shortest amount of time. They are usually easy to identify, and many may already be underway. Once those are identified, then ask…

2) What do we need to do #next to achieve this Desired State or Vision?
These are the actions or activities that must be accomplished in the next 1-3 months AFTER the #now activities.

These are harder to identify, so sometimes a simple exercise of “If this, then that”, may be necessary here. Developed by a colleague and project management pro, Terry Schmidt, this consists of asking “If this is to occur, then what needs to happen to make it so?” Keep asking that as you identify each of the steps or activities needed to achieve a specific goal.

For example, if your team is trying to determine which of two software investments to make, you might ask….
A.  If we make investment #1, then what else will need to happen? These could be
> additional IT resources will be needed for new programming, for example, and
> we’ll need to create new training programs for the staff who will use the new tool.
The initial investment may be the least out of pocket cost, but what are the internal costs of additional resources being diverted for extra programming and training? How many months will it take to get approval for the resources, do the internal programming, and create and deploy the training modules?

B.  If we make investment #2, then what else will need to happen? These might be
> no additional IT programming since the tool exists in the cloud, not on the company servers.
> no need to create training programs since the investment comes with pre-recorded training videos.
This out-of-pocket investment may be more, but it will enable the company to hit the ground running and be up to speed faster without diverting additional resources for programming and training.

3) What do we need to do #later?
This is the final question to ask and concerns the activities that may take place 3+ months AFTER the #now and #next activities. Essentially, this is a place to park the ideas that various members have a passion for, but which aren’t necessarily critical to achieving the Desired State or Vision. Just list them here and re-visit them again in three months to see if anything has changed.

By asking these questions, your team has essentially created a simple action plan that includes your Desired State or Vision with a date by when that’s to be accomplished, and then the critical actions that need to take place to achieve it. Each action needs to have dates by when they must be achieved and a leader to move that action forward. You will also need to identify the minimum acceptable goal for each activity.

For example, if purchasing the software in the above example is the decision, and you don’t have all the funds in place, then you need to identify the minimum dollar amount you need to raise within the next 3 months in order to purchase the software. Remember, the purchase of that software is one of the critical activities that will help you achieve your Desired State in the next 12-16 months.

You also need to identify the specific activities you need to undertake to raise that minimum dollar amount to purchase the software, who will lead each fund raising activity, and by when each will be accomplished. Then gather together again as a team within the next 3 months to review your results, make any changes, and adjust your #now, #next, #later activities.

Each team member can then tag their own actions as fitting under #now, #next, #later to help them prioritize the detailed activities they are working on under each of the larger action items.

It’s easy to get mired in the details the further you go down this path. It’s somewhat like following Dorothy down a rabbit hole and getting lost in the woods. So it frequently helps to have a facilitator in the room to keep you on track and help you find your way to the “yellow brick road”.

Contact us if you have questions about this and/or would like help implementing this at your organization.

Desired State vs. Vision

Takeaways: Desired State and Vision are two powerful tools for helping to build cohesive teams. The subtle differences can be used effectively depending on the situation.

The other day I was coaching a friend about what can be done in the shortest amount of time to help her build a cohesive board. I suggested that having everyone agree on the future Desired state would help to build unity. It’s a small non-profit that funds the un-sexy need of school bus transportation so children can experience music, dance, art and science as part of their education.

Many board members are new to being on a board. The organization is not well-funded, everyone volunteers their time and skills, and most of the funds raised go to funding the bus transportation. There are no clearly defined roles and everyone just pitches in to do things. This has created ineffective communication, duplication of efforts, and finger pointing, with everyone turning to my friend to solve the problems and answer all questions.

I suggested to her that two of the most important things they could do were to get agreement on what and how the organization wants to BE a year down the road, their Desired State, and to clarify roles. Clarifying roles she understood. But she wasn’t clear about what I meant by Desired State. I explained that it’s similar to a Vision. That she understood.

That got me thinking about the distinction between the two. It’s subtle, but very powerful. This has become clearer after proofing my friend Timi Gleason’s re-write of her book, Coach as Strategic Partner. In it she describes effortlessly what a desired state is, and how to turn tactical conversations into strategic ones when they get mired down in details (Look for it soon under a new title.)

Desired State is a future state of BE-ing vs. DO-ing according to Timi. When you describe a Desired State you talk about it as though it’s already happened. You’ve already accomplished this. You incorporate all five senses –sight, feelings, sound, touch, and taste – to describe what it’s like to stand in that future situation.

Vision is a powerful magnet that draws you forward. It’s a possible Desired State to which you aspire. It sits in the future as something you are working towards. It’s the carrot held in front of your nose to keep you moving forward towards the goal.

With a Desired State, you see yourself already there. Once you write it down, you put it aside and let your subconscious actions start working to help you achieve that. You don’t need to think about it because it’s already done. You’re there. You act as though you’ve already accomplished that state. Team members begin to work more collaboratively from the perspective, ”If we’ve already accomplished this Desired State, then for this to be reality, Sales needs to be meeting regularly with Marketing, and Marketing needs to give IT sufficient lead time to prepare the technology, etc.” And it all just begins to happen – like magic.

rainbow handshakeWith a Vision, you hold that before you always as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that you are striving to get to. All your strategies and actions are held up against that Vision as a measuring stick. “Will this event, activity or effort help us get to that pot of gold? If not, we don’t do it.”

The team is still firmly planted in today but each member keeps that vision of the pot of gold as a beacon to work toward. Conversations are easier with less finger pointing because everyone has agreed on the path to the pot of gold. There is no blame when the only question to ask is “how will that effort help us reach the pot of gold?”

Both are powerful tools for helping to build cohesive teams. Depending on the issues at hand and the personalities involved, sometimes using a Vision is more effective than using a Desired State. An organization may actually use both. The Vision may be the over-arching goal of the organization – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Desired State is different for each department and even for each issue or challenge being faced, AND it also supports the overall Vision of the organization.

In fact, as Timi so eloquently describes in her book, every situation can be addressed by asking what’s the Desired State? That turns any conversation from a tactical one into a strategic one.

What are your thoughts on the distinction between Desired State and Vision?

Effective communication is key

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.

Excerpts from Eric Barker’s column, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, Time.com
I have long believed that most problems in work and life are due to in-effective communication. What one person says and what is actually heard and interpreted by the listener are often two different things. When neither one checks to make sure the communication was properly understood, problems occur. Sometimes, they’re just small irritations. But other times, this ineffective communication can lead to major misdirection of efforts and even costly mistakes.

In his column Eric Barker provides 10 tips to ensure your communication is clear and well understood.

“Unless you speak the language of your intended audience, you won’t be heard by the people you want to reach.” In other words, you need to know how they interpret certain words. They’re past experience and cultural background may change the entire meaning of what you intended.

“Be as brief as possible… The most memorable political language is rarely longer than a sentence: I Like Ike”. Too often we drone on in an effort to be clear when all we’re doing is creating more confusion or telling someone how to do something instead of just asking to be sure they understand how to do the project.

“The words you use become you — and you become the words you use.” Always speak the truth. People will eventually find out if you’ve been hiding information or telling only part of the story to change its tone and meaning. Be truthful and open in your communications.

“By the time we begin to recognize and remember a particular message, it has already been changed… “The breakfast of champions” tagline for Wheaties was first launched back in 1935 and is still going today. Hallmark’s “When you care enough to send the very best” debuted in 1934.” Consistency is the key to everything. Companies that change their tag lines every year lose recall value. If it’s working, stick with the same message, otherwise you will confuse your audience and they’ll forget about you.

Novelty: offer something new
“In plain English, words that work often involve a new definition of an old idea… What matters most is that the message brings a sense of discovery. Wow. I never looked at it like that!” Enough said.

Sounds and texture
“A string of words that have the same first letter, the same sound, or the same syllabic cadence is more memorable than a random collection of sounds.” The word coined by Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins is a good example. It’s memorable because of the cadence: supercalifragilisticexpialidotious.

Speak aspirationally
“Personalize and humanize the message to trigger an emotional remembrance.” Tell a personal story as an example of the message you’re trying to convey. If it’s emotional it will be more memorable. When working with clients to create a vision, we often tell the story of the janitor who was asked what he was doing. His response was, “I’m putting a man on the moon.” Now that’s a vision!

“Paint a vivid picture. The slogans we remember have a visual component, something we can almost see and feel or hear.” The prior example does just this. You can see the space ship soaring towards the moon.

Ask a question
“Sometimes it’s not what you say but what you ask that really matters.” Verizon’s Can you hear me now? is such a memorable tag line. We remember it because we ask this question almost daily when talking with someone on our mobile phones.

Context and relevance
“Give people the “why” of a message before you tell them the “therefore” and the “so that.” Most of us need to understand why we’re being asked to do something. We want to know there’s a greater purpose and how we contribute to that. It’s a motivating factor, as many studies have shown.

Watch the Daniel Pink Ted Talk video on The Puzzle of Motivation for more insights about what motivates us.
Daniel Pink -  The Puzzle of Motivation


Is a Google self-driving car in your future?

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Is your next car one that drives itself? It could be. We’re already seeing cars that park themselves. That’s a cool feature. No more backing and filling trying to squeeze into a tight spot. The car does all the work for you. This makes me think of the TV series, Knight Rider, where the black KITT car was more of a partner than a vehicle driven by David Hasselhoff.

A  video on Victor Luckerson”s article about Google’s driver-less cars (time.com) shows an example of someone arriving at Costco and walking into the store while the car goes to find a parking space. Does it know when you come out with your basket full of supplies? Maybe you just whistle and the car drives up, opens the trunk, and waits till you load it up. Does it follow you to the shopping cart rack as you return the cart or just wait patiently blocking traffic? Hey! Maybe by this time, the carts will return themselves. Now that’s a feature I can go for!

Self-driving carsDoug Aamoth – Self-driving cars – Time.com

My concern with self-driving cars is that we will become complacent about driving. We’re already there: checking the navigation system in the car and texting while driving. When the car completely takes over, we humans will find something else to do while the car drives us to our destination. Like the commercial of the man driving the RV who gets up from the wheel to enjoy popcorn with his family at the table. We’ll be busy talking, rocking out to music, napping, and not paying attention when something goes wrong with the sensors or the computer system. Then what?

Is there a way we can do both and still be safe? Who will be at fault when a driverless car gets into a serious accident and someone is hurt or killed? Google’s cars have already been in accidents….but they say they were due to human error. That’s all well and good, but I can’t count the number of times my laptop computer has had a brain fart and I’ve had to re-boot. Try doing that with a driver-less car going 75 mph on the interstate!

It’s coming, so I guess we may as well get comfortable with it. Personally, I’m reserving judgement with a healthy dose of skepticism.

But then there’s this article along the same lines that shares two studies which prove driver-less cars (or robot-driven cars) actually cause fewer traffic accidents than those driven by humans! Maybe a robot car is in my future after all!!

What do you think about this new technology?

Systems thinking could yield different outcomes

Let’s talk about justifying the recent Baltimore looting and violence.  I pose the following example of not using Systems Thinking, and invite your remarks.

While listening to the news about the Baltimore looting, I caught a piece where an African-American man was interviewed about the looting. This situation was triggered by the suspicious death of a young man who appeared to have been injured while incarcerated.

The gentleman being interviewed was vocal about the looting “being perhaps not the best way to express frustration, but still justified”. He was referring to an Asian-owned store that was seriously vandalized during the recent rioting. The Asian-owned store was across the street from another establishment owned by African-Americans. That store, after having their glass front broken down, was defended by other African-Americans from further looting and vandalizing. The Asian-owned store was not similarly defended. Once the glass front was breached, the store suffered complete destruction of its contents. None of the neighborhood residents defended the store as they had the African American-owned store across the street.

The African-American interviewee shared a recent experience with the reporter. The Asian store owner turned him down when he requested one week’s credit to pay for a shirt he needed for a job he had just landed. He had made a case to the Asian store owner that he was a regular patron at the store, and that the store owner regularly saw him around the neighborhood because he lived there. But his request was refused. Because of that, the African-American man said he felt the vandalism the Asian store owner suffered was, and I paraphrase from memory, “somewhat justified”.

There are arguably moral arguments to discuss on both sides, particularly if we look at the situation strictly from an analytical standpoint as opposed to a systemic standpoint. Also, we don’t know any details of the neighbors’ relationships which could color this further.

systems Thinking might have produced different results

However, if we consider a Systems Thinking approach to this matter, there is one thing that stands out for me. If the Asian store owner had looked at the larger picture, he might have considered that his potential loss by granting his customer credit for a shirt might be less than $20.00. On the other hand, the goodwill and relationship-building that might have occurred could have actually produced a much different outcome for the Asian-owned store. And that is assuming the African-American gentleman reneged on his promise to pay later that same week. I expect he would have been true to his word, as he told the reporter.

Neighborhoods everywhere thrive or suffer on the relationships of their residents. People are naturally helpful and generous. We see this time and time again, in close-knit neighborhoods and in far flung relationships. An example is the global support for Nepal as it recovers from a devastating earthquake.

Simple understanding of the broader effects of relationships can help prevent most of the negative actions that too many people suffer from daily.

If the Asian store owner had taken a step back to consider all the angles and possible outcomes, he might have come to a different conclusion. Quite possibly, his store might have been equally defended by the neighborhood residents. Down the road, he might have also seen an increase in store sales because of the actions he took to “help” a frequent customer. And he might have solidified his relationships with neighborhood residents as a result, becoming more a part of the fabric of the neighborhood. But we’ll never know.

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts.