Winter 19 Release: Spare the Critters

10/31/2018 by Hayley Tuller
A Meditation on Human Evolution, Values-Based Leadership, and the Power of the Mascots

The Winter ‘19 release is upon us.  Have you seen the Snowboarding Astro in your instances yet?  Astro’s here to carve up the slopes with a blizzard of new features coming in this release.

I think I made a happy little cheer when I saw Astro’s new winter look, but I know that the cute mascots of Salesforce aren’t for everybody.  We have had the ability to customize our themes and default avatars for some time, but with Winter ‘19 you can now fully banish their cuteness by replacing the loading animation with your own company logo… or something equally un-cute.

I get it.  I grudgingly acknowledge this is a good feature.  I’m sure I’ll do it for many of my clients. And based on the reaction on Twitter, it’s a welcome one too.  

#Winter19 for all those who've ever had to explain to users why they see a snorkeling bear while the app is loading, we have something for you... (setup > themes and branding) pic.twitter.com/70DqNKFlpm

— Shane McLaughlin (@MShaneMc) August 20, 2018

While there are certainly times when a “snorkeling bear” isn’t appropriate, I’d like to raise a defense of the Salesforce Mascots that maybe you haven’t heard before from my days as a solo admin at a nonprofit: these little critters did more for user adoption, and in turn the Success of our Salesforce implementation, than anything I ever did.

Values-Based Leadership

One of the hardest aspects of organizational transformation is harmonizing the changes you are striving for with your organization’s culture, and values-based leadership is key.  I’m asserting a lot with that sentence, so let’s unpack that.

Let’s begin with the meaning of Values-Based Leadership.  It can be defined a lot of ways, but the common core is the practice that leaders motivate teams and evaluate performance based more on an organization’s set of values than on specific metrics and milestones.  The idea is that when your organization’s mission, values, and guiding principles are well defined and sufficiently inspiring, performance maximizes, and the metrics will follow. Values-based leadership is often effective because people work for more reasons than money.  Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and employees want their work life to have a legacy more meaningful than short-term revenue. Enterprises that stand for values build loyalty in customers, too, who look for ways to live out their values by doing business with firms that share them.  

By this definition, Salesforce excels at values-based leadership.  A great example of values-based leadership is the Pledge 1% model, or the commitment of 1% of product, time, and resources to philanthropic causes.  Salesforce has taken and promotes this pledge, so being a part of the Salesforce ecosystem means being a part of a culture that values pitching in and doing your part to make the world a better place.  It means, in the Ohana parlance, “Doing well by doing good.”

Values-based leadership is also a powerful alignment tool.  By defining and repeatedly reinforcing a specific set of values (say... Trust, Customer Success, Innovation, and Equality), leaders give their teams clear guidance for their decisions and actions.  No supervisor can stand over the shoulder of every employee, every day and all day, to watch if the decisions they make are good ones.  No employee wants their supervisor continually at their shoulder. Rather, salient and relevant values can act as a measuring stick, especially in times of organizational change.  Faced with a problem, values empower the employee, who can ask: “Is what I am doing in this scenario contributing to building Trust?” When decisions are aligned with values and employees are unified around a set of values, then each of those decisions, small and large, from the front line to the C-suite, are aligned.

However, the challenge of values-based leadership is in authentically communicating those values.  To effectively align your team, brand your organization, weather change, and inspire employees and customers alike, you have to find a thousand ways every day to communicate those values, quickly, and memorably.  Salesforce’s response to this challenge is the mascots.

Furry Little Values

Salesforce employs a vernacular of images evocative of the National Park system that serves as the context for the mascots.  From the “lodge look” of Dreamforce, to hoodies proclaiming the wearer a “Trailblazer,” this visual language has been carefully crafted to communicate a set of values:  universal access to resources, learning as a journey, change as a constant, and, of course, fun.

It’s been said a picture is worth a 1,000 words, but it is also true that the human brain processes and retains imagery faster and better than language.  Indeed, fully half of the human brain is involved in some way in the processing of images.  By using a set of images to evoke and promote a set of values, Salesforce builds not just a brand, but bolsters its values-based leadership approach.  You look at these images and you know: Salesforce is on a journey, they want to take you along, and they stand ready to equip you for the trip of a lifetime.  

But not everyone gets to Dreamforce, and not every user is exposed to the full range of Salesforce’s branding.  Enter the Salesforce mascots! By creating personifications of their values, the mascots take the visual language of Salesforce a step further.  They give the values of Salesforce the idea of agency.  

Why Agency Matters

Humans evolved gigantic brains as compared to their early cousins, and by most measures, our big brains and their outsized noggins were an evolutionary liability: they demanded tremendous nutritional resources, made childbirth extremely risky, and extended vulnerable childhoods.  But they had a great advantage: the ability to analyze patterns in the world around us and detect agency. Being able to sense that it was a jaguar and not the wind rustling the brush meant the chance to get out of the way before the predator pounced. It’s why some people see faces on Mars or the Virgin Mary on their toast.  We’re hardwired to be on the lookout for faces, and the creatures with agency behind them, and to pay careful attention.

Personifying the values of Salesforce in the mascots triggers our deepest levels of cognition and rapidly communicates a set of values in a durable way like nothing else can.  And they’re cleverly chosen: Astro is ageless and gender non-binary, making them the protagonist that anyone can identify with.  We come from all sectors of society and strive to serve all kinds of missions, goals, and organizations.  So Astro has endless incarnations because they are all of us. Codey is a bear, a creature perhaps a little intimidating and larger than life, but certainly powerful, known for intelligence and a social nature.  Cloudy the goat is sure-footed in high places; Hootie the owl is wise and knowledgeable, and Earnie the badger has a badger’s relentlessness in his pursuit of badges. New to the fold, Appy the mountain lion and Blaze the wolf range over long territories, acting as our guides in the wilds of the AppExchange and Customer Support.  

People CONNECT with these fictional critters -- they buy their plush avatars, proudly proclaim them as their Patronus on social media, and rush up to their costumed manifestations for selfies at Dreamforce.  They connect with them in an intuitive and meaningful way because that’s how our brains work, and they do it almost instantly. In so doing, they connect with the values they represent and are grounded immediately in the Values-Based Leadership schema that Salesforce wants to project.  They see them as friendly messengers of the idea that not only is change a constant, but that it’s an adventure, and Salesforce is here to give them access to the resources they need to navigate it.

Back in my solo admin days, the loading animation was the first introduction to the Salesforce mascots for my rank and file users.  It almost always prompted a conversation: “What is that? Why is it there?” The conversation that followed was inevitably about the very values Salesforce wanted us to talk about, values that resonated deeply with folks who choose to make their career in a social services nonprofit.  In nearly every case, that user walked away with the impression that at least on some level Salesforce valued the same things they did and was here to help, not to be a hindrance. And maybe… just maybe… it might be fun!

And all that happens in the flash of a moment while Astro wiggles by on his snowboard.  So… spare a critter, would ya?

Are you a fan of the Mascots?  Who is your favorite? (I’m #TeamAppy!) Tell me all about it on the Arkus Facebook page, in the comments below, in the Trailblazer Community, or tweet @ArkusInc or directly at me on Twitter @hayleytuller.





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