Part I Interview With Bob Prosen - Kiss Theory Good Bye


Bob Prosen's new book Kiss_theory_good_bye Kiss Theory Good Bye begins with the line, "Business Leaders  Need Less Talk and more action." My notes to self were "Right on Bob!" Then I read his Acknowledgement, "To my faithful schnauzer, Oreo, who brings me joy and endless companionship." How can you not at least try to read a book that is dedicated to the author's dog. And so I did.

Sidebar: One of the nice benefits of writing a business blog is that authors sometimes send copies of their work. My agreement is that I'll read, as time permits, and instead of a (yawn) book report review they agree to a mini interview for Diva's readers.

Our conversation was longer than I anticipated and Bob's responses so in-depth that I split the interview into two parts. In Part I of my interview with Bob Prosen we talked about the impact social media has on developing business leadership, the role accountability culture plays in business and more.

Toby/Diva Marketing - Let’s set the stage for this mini interview by first talking about leadership. We live in a world where technology plays a critical role in many business processes.  However, how do you think that technology, and specifically social media, has impacted the dynamics of business leadership?

Bob Prosen -  Social media is having a profound impact on the way we look at business. Blogs allow us to discuss and study issues almost instantaneously in a way where PC doesn’t carry the day. Take for instance the recent HP scandal. Leaders can no longer take refuge behind friendly reporters or PR spin machines. Because information is instantly available, tough questions are asked which leads to greater transparency.

Some leaders are proactively using technology to their advantage. Done effectively, leaders can get their message out to many constituencies quickly and inexpensively. Advances in video and audio technology remove any excuse leaders had for not communicating with employees on a regular basis. What this means is that leaders can maintain alignment across the enterprise and speed decision-making, which leads to, increased competitiveness and profits.

Toby/Diva Marketing - Do you believe there are different skill sets a leader should bring to a start-up operation versus a more mature organization?

Bob Prosen - Absolutely! The environments are completely different even though the goals are the same. Both want increased performance and profit. However, this is where the similarities end. Start ups have different challenges. Here are a few of the key ones. They have a shorter runway. In other words, less time to get it right before they run out of capital. They have to make quick decisions without the benefit of history.Every employee matters and must be able to wear multiple hats. Finally, the leader can’t be afraid to fail.

Personally, I prefer the start-up environment. It’s more exciting and everyone has the chance to make a real difference. Once a company makes it, leadership must adapt and change. It’s a different ball game leading a professionally managed company versus a start-up. Here’s the challenge. Being able to maintain an entrepreneurial culture inside a growing company where procedures and policies are required to maintain alignment, ensure quality and improve efficiencies. Sometimes it means the leader has to change.

Organizational Culture
Toby/Diva Marketing - You mentioned an interesting statistic that although 70% of business leaders say their companies’ objectives are clearly defined, only 48% of employees understand the organization’s goals.

Bob Prosen - This is interesting. In fact, one might say it doesn’t make sense. How can goals and objectives be clearly defined and employees not know what they are? The only sensible answer is that these leaders either keep the information to themselves or even worse, fail at communications.

Organizations that are aligned where everyone knows what’s important, how they fit in, what’s expected of them and how they will be rewarded will out perform their competitors. It makes no sense for leaders to know the objectives and then struggle to explain why the organization falls short of achieving them. The leaders job is to ensure everyone who reports to her wins! This can only be realized when the entire organization pulls in the same direction – and goals set the direction.

Toby/Diva Marketing - Going back into the organization, what extent do you feel culture influences a highly profitable company?  How can senior management create a culture that permeates and ensures that culture is reflected through out the organization from HR’s hiring to internal communications to employee buy-in of values?

Bob Prosen - Let’s start by defining culture. Simply put, it’s the way things get done. The unspoken hand that guides what people do, and, it’s undocumented. It begins at the top and no one else can set it. Therefore, the leader must establish the organization’s culture or risk wandering off course just like a ship without a rudder.

Personally, I like an accountability based culture because it’s easy to explain, everyone gets it and it works. In fact, one of the top questions I’m asked is how to create accountability so I developed a formula that works in any organization. Here’s a great way HR can help establish an accountability based culture.

Think about all the people you’ve worked with that got results, you liked working with them and nothing stood in their way of achieving their goals. No one had to hold them accountable because they did so on their own. Now think about all the people you’ve worked with that constantly complained, failed to deliver on commitments, fell short of the desired goal, had to be motivated, cajoled and performance managed. These people are not innately accountable and don’t like others holding them accountable. This tells me we better screen for accountability during the hiring process.

Creating or changing an organization’s culture is one of the toughest jobs a leader has. Done well, things just seem to work. Done poorly, it’s a constant struggle. After hearing all the horror stories I decided to demystify culture and make it simple to understand and shape. To learn more read chapter two of Kiss Theory Good Bye – Superior Leadership, and pay special attention to page 34.

Toby/Diva Marketing - I believe it was President Truman who said, “The buck stops here.” However, how involved should employees be in developing processes and in decision marking?

Bob Prosen - Yes, the buck stops with the leader. But every decision shouldn’t end up on the leaders desk. It’s important to remember that the higher up you go in an organization the fewer decisions you should be make.However, the magnitude of those decisions is far greater. For this to work others within the organization must take responsibility for day-to-day decisions or the organization will become stymied, slow to act and less competitive.

When it comes to developing processes, I use the following rule of thumb: Managers work on the process and employees work in the process. Meaning, managers are responsible for approving processes that employees help design. Because process changes generally require reallocation of resources, its management’s responsibility to approve such changes since they control the budget.

Toby/Diva Marketing - I found Kiss Theory Good Bye to be very insightful. The book addresses leadership, sales, finance and operations and customer loyalty. However, strategic marketing seems to be relegated to a step-child role. In fact, one example even placed the responsibility of developing the product mix in the hands of the financial team.

“The products with the smaller margins were being sold to make quota. The solution recommended by finance was to change the sales incentive plan to encourage the sale of the higher-margin products.” Page 88

The decision to sell higher-margin items did not appear to take into account, the market or customer dynamics. Perhaps the lower-margin products were loss leaders that led to the sale of higher margin items. Perhaps the lower-margin products were a strategy to enter a new market. Perhaps the lower-margin products were the glue of a customer loyalty strategy.

That is not to say, that sales and marketing should not be ROI-based or accountable. However, it appears that this was a short-term fix to what might be a more complex situation.  It also seemed that the organization was comprised of tightly held silos if the marketing team wasn’t brought into the discussion. Perhaps the conversations should have begun with marketing and included finance.

That said, where do you see strategic marketing in the c-level suite?

Bob Prosen - Toby, I agree with you that today most companies do relegate marketing to a step-child role which is very unfortunate. Often times marketing is like a diamond in the rough and will only show its brilliance when the CEO respects the ROI it delivers. So for any marketer who wants to rub shoulders with the CXO’s here are the two keys:

First - Marketing must understand and communicate in the language of business leaders, this includes knowing how their programs impact earnings, cash flow, ROI and NVP. If not, marketing will be underutilized and viewed strictly as a discretionary expense that is continuously targeted for budget cuts.

Second, make sure your best friend in the company is the head of Sales, because he or she is always seated at the planning table. Here’s how it should work. When sales is asked to commit to the top line they should agree only if the required marketing plans are approved. A tight relationship with sales makes marketing invaluable.

Smaller companies rarely have to deal with this because they don’t have a dedicated marketing department. Instead, the CEO and head of sales take on the responsibility with accounting in the background keeping score.

Toby, your question is spot on! I recently delivered a keynote presentation at a Business Marketing Association conference on this very subject – What Top CEO’s Expect From marketing. It’s a hard-hitting presentation packed with specific actions that, when employed, will dramatically enhance the power of marketing.

Getting Places Fast

Toby/Diva Marketing - To wrap up our interview, you describe five crippling habits that get companies no where fast:
1.    Absence of clear direction
2.    Lack of accountability
3.    Rationalizing inferior performance
4.    Planning in lieu of action
5.    Aversion to risk and change

Can you give Diva Marketing readers five positive habits that get companies places fast?

Bob Prosen -

1.    Hire people smarter than yourself
2.    Deliver on commitments
3.    Develop an accountability based culture
4.    Under promise and over deliver 
5.    Reward results not activities

Toby/Diva Marketing - Looking in your crystal ball, would you share your thoughts with Diva’s readers about the challenges and opportunities you see in store for the next generation of businesses and business leaders?

Bob Prosen - We’re entering that next generation as we speak. One of the biggest challenges is information overload and how do you stand out given the unbridled accessibility to the customer and all of the social and Web 2.0 bombardment they are subject to.

What will separate the winners from the losers is the ability to use this technology in such a way that future clients want to hear from you.

The other challenge is the changing work ethic of the Generation Y employee who demands a balanced life. Winners will have created an environment where employees are encouraged to “kiss theory good bye and kiss their life hello” thereby attracting and retaining top talent.

The answer is creating the right work environment combined with state of the art technology that enables this life balance.


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