Each morning when you wake up and head into the office, you probably know what to expect for the day’s events. When Joel Lunenfeld gets out of bed, he knows that his day at Moxie Interactive Inc. will be full of new — and often unexpected — changes. To start, the advertising and marketing company, which had $405 billion in gross media and production billings in 2008, is in an industry that changes constantly. Not to mention the fact that the way people interact is changing, as well.
“The way that people get information, get news, the way they view themselves, view privacy, the way they interact with companies that are our customers — all these things are changing, so culturally, it’s an incredible shift that everyone is feeling,” Lunenfeld says.
Then add in the fact that Moxie provides cutting-edge technology to its clients, and they are adapting as they try to do more with less given the economy.
“You put all these things together, and it’s just constantly managing change,” he says. “To do that, we try to breed a culture of disruptive innovation with urgency. I fundamentally believe that Moxie, our business, and really any business today is never standing still. You’re either forging ahead and advancing or you’re falling behind.”
Leading change in any organization is never easy, but Lunenfeld made it a more formal part of the culture when he took over as CEO last year upon the founder’s departure.
“With her leaving, it was, ‘OK, how do we take this culture of change that we have and really crystallize it,’” he says.
He attacks this challenge by driving innovation, leading by prediction and focusing on communication.
Lunenfeld put out a challenge to his people: Form cross-functional groups of five and create a mobile-based idea to help people connect better with each other or with brands. But it wasn’t simply said in a meeting and forgotten. The winning team won $50,000 to split.
“A lot of companies like Google, they have their 20 percent rule — 20 percent of your time should be working on something that’s outside the company that’s one of your passions or interests,” he says. “Other companies have similar types of ways. For us, this was a way to get collaboration and really just show everyone that every individual person has the power to come up with something, be an entrepreneur, create it, and the company really wants to back it.”
Driving innovation in your company is the first key to nurturing change.
While money may be tight, he says that this is one area that you can’t afford to skimp in.
“If you’re not dedicated to putting resources there, whether it’s people, money or investment dollars, you’re not going to achieve it,” Lunenfeld says. “It’s not just going to happen, no matter how hard you try, because everyone’s going to be focused on the business at hand, which is what we tend to do. We focus on what’s in front of us, especially in times of crisis and in times of economic downturn. … It’s just like working any other relationship or anything else in your life. If you’re not dedicating time to do so, it’s not going to just happen naturally.”
Beyond having competitions, Lunenfeld has also found a daily way to drive innovation by having his employees embrace Sunao, a Japanese word meaning “the untrapped mind.”
“[It’s] more of a philosophy of not being afraid to adopt an idea that might fundamentally change the way you do something today,” Lunenfeld says. “It’s about not being locked in to either a product or service or just a way that you get things done and trying to encourage that culture of change.”
Sunao is not just a mindset but also the name of a group within the company that he created and charged with looking for trends and new ways of doing things. The group is also charged with looking at emerging technology and toying around with new products to find ideas. You may think it’s wasteful to dedicate people to solely looking for new ideas as opposed to doing the work already at hand.
“If it’s not your primary job to do something, you usually do that last, and that usually means, when push comes to shove, it falls off your plate,” he says.
When you create something like this, you also have to set expectations.
“From a business aspect, it’s a leap of faith, and you have to be very clear when you’re doing a group or starting something like that,” he says. “There are deliverables you expect, and those deliverables may not always be billable ones.”
For example, at Moxie, the group is expected to put out a monthly trend-spotting newsletter and quarterly reports. While the group has a lot of freedom, having expectations has yielded results, which has allowed the group to grow from just one person to more than 20.
“It’s things that you want that group or whoever’s leading that to have very solid deliverables,” he says. “Even though it’s more of a conceptual position, deliverables are real and their measurements are real. That actually does turn into profitable, billable project services that pay off, and the group will begin to fund itself.”
Lead by prediction
One day a little girl was watching her mother cook, and she asked her mom why she cut the end off of her pot roast. She said she didn’t know and that her mother had always done that, so they asked the little girl’s grandmother why she cut the end off of her pot roast. The grandmother said that her mother had always done it, so the trio asked the great-grandmother as to her reasons, and she said that her pan was too small for her pot roast, so she had to cut the end off.
“We do that too much, ...” Lunenfeld says. “People look at rules as, ‘This is just the way it’s always been.’ I think studying anthropology and cultures over time, really not too much is permanent, and there aren’t too many things that are completely immovable, so it’s always nice to remind yourself that one person can come up with an idea that can radically change the world.”
When you — or your trends group — find an idea, he says you have to take a risk and lead by prediction, which is the next key to fostering change.
“The power of prediction is pretty underestimated,” he says. “If you’re facing a challenge, and you’re laying out a vision and saying, ‘This is where we will be or this issue is happening now, but in three months, this won’t be happening because of X, Y and Z,’ once you lay out a bold mission, people will naturally march to that. They want to. It works the same way in reverse, so if negativity is breeding, people tend to quickly spiral in that direction, as well. Leading by prediction is a refreshing way to overcome that challenge.”
To do this, take notice of what’s happening around you.
“One [key] is being able to look outside the walls of this company at what’s going on in the industry and the world and looking at the trends [that] the trends group is bringing forward and peeling that back for meaning,” he says.
Good examples right now are social networking sites, such as Facebook an
d Twitter. Look at these sites on a more macro level to predict how they have been used, how they’re changing, how they’re changing lives and how they’ll be used in the future.
“Pull that out and lead that out as a prediction and say, ‘This will continue to grow, or this will continue to shift, or this trend will morph into X, Y and Z,’” Lunenfeld says. “It’s about industry trends and translating the outside world for the company and vice versa — taking what’s going on in this company and giving that story to our clients and the rest of the industry. It’s not being afraid to look at the indicators and make a prediction of where things will go because nobody wants to work with a partner who’s afraid to make a prediction and make a bet on something.”
You can’t be afraid to be wrong either, so plan for that scenario.
“You try to manage all the risk,” he says. “There’s a big difference between mistake and risk. Risk is something that you plan for, you know what the scenarios and outcomes are, and you have a plan of attack if something goes wrong. If you launch a campaign or roll out a product or service and something goes wrong, you should have been able to predict, ‘These are the ways we [could] go wrong.’ Otherwise, it’s just a mistake.”
Risks are often undervalued but will grow your business.
“We ask our employees this a lot, ‘What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken in your life, and how much of that has turned out to be a disaster, and how much of that has turned out to be something that has grown you?’” he says. “It’s always the biggest risks in life that have grown people, and it’s the same way as a company.”
When Lunenfeld is traveling and wants to let his people know what’s on his mind, he can post a video message on Moxie’s social network portal. From there, people can watch it and comment, in turn, creating the kind of communication internally that they also manage for their clients. And it’s just one way that Lunenfeld communicates with his employees.
He recognizes that they are often overused words, but he says that communication and transparency are the last key to leading and nurturing change in an organization.
“When things are moving so fast and management — and whoever everyone thinks the voices above are — are silent, everyone tends to fill in the blanks and expect the worst,” he says.
The problem is, when most of us communicate, we’re just handing down the edict instead of involving employees.
“It’s got to be something where you’re not talking to people, you’re inviting them,” Lunenfeld says. “If you’re trying to motivate, whether it’s a client or it’s your employees, to get on board and march boldly behind you to do something, you can’t just say, ‘This is the way it’s going to happen.’ You have to leave room for participation and leave room for them to help finish the vision that was started. You can’t ever bring a complete package forward. You have to lead with, ‘Here’s the rallying challenge that we all have ahead of us. Here is why we all passionately should feel inspired to do something about this, and here’s what we need from you.’”
He suggests setting guidelines instead of rules.
“One of the things I’ve found about working with creative people over time is the worst thing you can give a creative person is a blank sheet of paper,” Lunenfeld says. “But if you say, ‘Here’s a challenge, and here’s the seven colors you need to work within, and here’s what we expect on the other end, then you’ll get something absolutely incredible, so you have to set the rules of the game up correctly, and you have to enforce those rules.”
And even if you involve people and invite them to participate in the change, recognize that people will still need to process the negative emotions behind it, and that’s natural.
“We still have to remember that it does affect everyone personally, so everyone is going to internalize change, and it’s going to mean something different for everyone,” Lunenfeld says. “You can’t always address that, but you have to be open to talk about it with people and understand that you’re going to go through several stages, but ultimately you’re going to walk away with a better company, a better client relationship.
“The worst thing you can do is fear the fact that this is going to happen and fear what this might mean for a handful of people versus the greater good. You have to be bold in making the right decisions for change. If you’re not changing, you’re definitely going to be falling behind.”
How to reach: Moxie Interactive Inc., (678) 916-4500 or www.moxieinteractive.com