Action vs Inaction

Action vs Inaction

When is good enough really good enough?

Yesterday I received a very strange email from Jenn, a fellow marketing professional. I do not know Jenn personally but she does have some good marketing tidbits from time to time and so, I subscribe to her email newsletters.  But yesterday’s email really threw me for a loop.

She asked whether action (albeit with errors and omissions) was better than no action at all.

action vs inaction - when is good enough really 'good enough'?In a nutshell, Jenn sent out a webinar that wasn’t polished and she received a lot of slack from her audience for it. To be honest, I didn’t watch the webinar when I received her second email, or rather an e-plea, stating that she was under a lot of pressure when she sent out the less than perfect webinar recording. She went on to divulge that since she was experiencing family and medical issues and was under a lot of stress, she had made the executive decision to send out a product that was knowingly less than her best.  This follow-up to the critical feedback she received for the poor quality of her webinar came with a sympathetic ‘but I have all this going on in my life and I’m sorry BUT giving you something is better than giving you nothing, and I stick by that principal.’  This follow-up email troubled me on many levels.  As far as I am concerned, we win or we learn. We will never get it right all the time. You either get it right, or you get a lesson to learn from. Either way, it’s all good.

Action vs Inaction – Level Setting Expectations

To address the question as to whether action (with poor quality) is better than no action at all, it’s tough to put a blanket answer on such a question because it really depends on the circumstances surrounding individual situations. Moreover, my difficulty in answering a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ ultimately stems from a heightened level of quality, attention to details and customer service excellence.  No one understands delivery timelines and constraints better than Project Mangers, who are under constant pressure to deliver perfectly and on time. Timely delivery is one of the key fundamentals that set a PM apart from the herd but it goes hand-in-hand with quality when referring to overall service excellence. Not measuring up in either of these can literally make or break their career. What seasoned PMs learn through experience is that maintaining a high level of service quality and timeliness is actually quite simple when they practise regularly ‘level-setting expectations’. For example, PMs level-set the project sponsors by keeping them regularly informed at all times as to what stage they are on in a project, what they are doing, what their next steps will be, etc, so there are no surprises. If something on the project changes, they alert the team. If the project starts to fall off track, they raise a flag. If the client or sponsor changes the scope (planned work) or makes added demands, it is up to the PM to level-set the sponsor’s expectations by alerting them to the potential risks in losing quality or missing a deadline.  In this case, if Jenn needed to send out a less than perfect video (due to personal time constraints), then a short message, such as “hey folks, I know this webinar is not perfect but I wanted to get it into your hands as quickly as possible, please forgive the anomalies. A higher quality one will follow next week” (or something to that that affect) would have level-set her audience’s expectations and likely eliminated the slack she received afterwards.  It is only because she typically sends out a higher quality of work on a regular basis that this webinar (with no explanation attached) came as such a disappointment to her readers.

Apology or Justification?

If a message contains contempt for the feedback and justification for your actions then it will not sound like a sincere apology. When writing to your audience, be careful that the message does not come from a more emotional perspective than a business one.  Anytime “I’m sorry” is followed by a “BUT…” it cancels out the apology.  You can’t be truly sorry for something that you justify and state you would do again. Don’t use generalized statements to justify your actions, like  “In a perfect world…”. Everyone knows that we do not live in a perfect world. That does not mean that if we give of our own time by subscribing to someone’s newsletter or reading their post, that we do not deserve their best at all times. She does not take responsibility for her actions but rather, she justifies them while putting the accountability (blame) of the poor quality onto her readers by saying it is their fault because they wanted it quickly.   Whether that was the case or not, it certainly was not for me personally.

Accountability – Owning Your Actions

Yes, people will judge you based on the quality of work you put out there. We are all judged, all the time. And yes, if we put out less than our best then we will be judged accordingly.  I recently learned that we judge others by their actions yet we judge ourself by our intent. (very profound, eh? 🙂 We know that when it comes to our own actions, we usually ‘mean well’ so we expect others to see our actions it that way too. Yet because we cannot read other people’s thoughts or know their true intent, all tend to base our opinions on others by what they show us and what we see. Like the old saying goes, ‘the road to **** is paved with good intentions’. What it means is, you are not a good person simply because you want to be. You are a good person because you are, and your actions support that.  The same can be true for other popular sayings, such as: ‘walking the talk’ and ‘actions speak louder than words”. Because the world is not full of mind-readers (no matter what those late-night infomercials tell you) you can only be judged by others based on what you do and what you put out there. If you put out poor quality, then that’s all your audience will have to base their opinions of you on and the fact that their opinions are desirable or not is not their fault. If you don’t like how you are being judged, then change what you are putting out there to be judged on.  And most importantly, if you feel good about what you did and don’t feel a need to apologize, then don’t. You will never please everyone. All you can do is be true to yourself by being the best version of you that you can be (try saying that 5 times fast!).   

Having worked in communications for 20 years, I have learned that having my work judged is not the same thing as being judged personally for who I am. Creating a crappy piece of writing (Heaven forbid!! 🙂 does not make me a bad person. Yet all too often, people will take professional criticism personally. I believe that the reason for this is two-fold; partially due to the fact that they do not know how to separate themselves from their work, and partly because others do they know how to properly critique without it coming off as personal and offensive. Many people in creative roles are passionate and emotional, which lends itself to the nature of their work. Criticism for one’s creative work, whether it’s painting, dancing, acting, writing, or any other art form is difficult to take because there is heart and soul in our work.  However this passion and emotion can also hinder us at times when we need to bite the bullet and take the criticism. At the end of the day we need to remember who we are creating for, and always be professional and responsive to the needs of our audience.

 Appropriate Use of Self Disclosure

know when to disclose and what to discloseThe email disclosed some very personal reasons for sending out the poor quality video. As a communicator, it is important to share with your audience and allow them to know you, as it will help to build trust and develop a relationship. This is what is referred to as “self disclosure” and is both a counselling and marketing technique used to show patients / audience that we can relate to them, that we understand what they are going through (not visa versa). Some personal information can be shared if ties into the intent of your communications (like talking about visiting the beach in your call to action for a new line of sun screen) or in general ways, that allow your reads to put a face to a name. However I draw the line at using intimate, personal issues in a public forum to excuse poor performance.  I would expect all these intimate details to be shared with a boss or a few close friends but not in statements made to a general newsletter audience.

Lessons Learned – but by whom?

In marketing, no one is going to get it right all the time and that’s just a fact.” True enough and again, I know this lesson all too well. As a big picture, visionary-type personality, I tend to miss out on some of the finer details at times. That doesn’t excuse my little boo-boos but rather, indentifies an area that I can seek help with and when I do make booboos, I promptly fix them. My errors and omissions are totally of my own doing. I make them, so I own them and I fix them. Thats why, whenever possible, I will try to find someone to proof my work. ( This partnering technique is highly effective when we know what our personal strengths and weakness are, and are fundamental to building robust teams.) Blatantly stating this to clients is simply an excuse to justify what started out as an apology.  We can either be sorry for our actions or we can state that what we did was on purpose and here’s why. They are like two opposite sides of a coin.  We should never excuse our lack of perfection but rather use it as a measure to strive for.

 “I may have made a bad call and probably should have done some editing but at least the content is there among the unedited mess.” Saying that you  “may have” made a bad call and “probably” should have done it differently is not admitting that you did make a bad call or should have handled it differently. It still holds no accountability for your own actions. It would be better to state what was learned or how it will be approached differently in the future, such as “I will clearly establish what you are receiving at the time” or “I will try my best to and maintain a higher quality control moving forward”, without getting too personal with the audience.  If you must send out something that is not complete, call it a ‘Sneak peak” or an ‘insiders view”. This will make your audience feel special in that they are receiving something ahead of schedule while level-setting their expectations that it is not polished and complete yet. 

As I stated, I have learned these lessons the hard way through many years of experience. Fortunately for me, most of my emotional outbreaks (and breakdowns) were made behind closed doors and under strong leadership who were able to guide my work and teach me the importance of separating my emotional state from the business at hand. And when it feels like my emotional state is completely taking over, such as the time when my father passed away, the best thing I could do for myself and my work, and the best piece of advice I can give to Jenn (and anyone else reading this who can relate) is to back-out of the spotlight and ride-out the emotional rollercoaster. If you must communicate with your audience at a time when you are emotionally driven, then it is probably a good idea to have someone proof-read your work before publishing it, to ensure you message is not giving off the wrong message. Time is a great healer. We will not always get it right and we cannot go back and undo what was done but it is these lessons in life that when embraced, will inspire our growth and develop a deeper maturity.

Your thoughts?

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