After careful planning to refresh company strategy, a major financial services company set aggressive objectives for the coming year. The executive team aimed to create a consistently outstanding customer experience across every access point.
Leaders resolved to hire a new chief service officer, broaden the roles of field personnel to “quarterback” the service experience across product lines, shift to a customer-centric culture and provide technology that integrated customer support across all portals.
In addition to setting clear annual targets for revenue lift, share-by-region and so on, leaders developed a tactical action plan with aggressive, but reasonable, quarterly milestones to monitor progress.
By the end of the third quarter, the picture was already clear. They were achieving the action plan milestones, but not the results targets.
Why? The answer is that the company had not implemented changes in actual, daily behavior to underpin its tactical moves.
Field personnel were still operating within their specific areas of product expertise despite new job descriptions, training and processes. Service centers and branch offices were still providing conflicting advice to customers despite new technology to provide common information.
There was little evidence that the culture was changing, despite a well-intended corporate communications campaign.
Beyond checklist management
Most organizations start their fiscal year with annual goals and execution plans. But only the best apply consistent practices that maximize their ability to deliver year after year.
Highly effective leaders venture beyond “checklist management” (completing one-and-done project milestones) and focus instead on essential, week-to-week practices that foster high-impact behaviors — behaviors that ultimately drive new and better results.
As you think about your own readiness to achieve your annual plan this year, ask yourself:
- When your employees walked into work today, could a majority tell you the specific, new behaviors that will achieve the new results targets you are accountable for this year?
- Are they performing these behaviors consistently and consistently well?
- Are they performing the new behaviors because they want to, or because they feel they have to?
It’s not enough to have clear annual targets or even aligned organizational changes.
Your annual planning must specifically examine the following: Which of our annual objectives are especially challenging and, of these, which require significant behavior change that is not likely to happen without special focus?
With the financial services company, executives could have devoted time to ask whose behavior — and what behavior — most directly impacts the daily customer experience. Further, what specific and direct behavior change plans would immediately accelerate this essential component of its success?
Companies who emphasize executive and employee behavior in their annual planning are surprised at the results. They routinely meet and exceed their most audacious goals, achieving historic revenue growth, unprecedented levels of cost reduction, record reliability and quality measures, industry-best safety records and industry awards for customer excellence.
It all starts with understanding that the right tactics get you started, but breakthrough results require new and different practices underneath it all — a behavior breakthrough, if you will.
As you commence your 2014 plan deployment, be sure to consider: Are you ready to fully execute the plan, including encouraging and sustaining the new behavior that you need to achieve new results? Are you sure? ●
Steve Jacobs is a chairman and senior partner at CLG Inc., a business management consultancy that advises executives on how to achieve new performance, culture change and lasting competitive advantage through the principles of applied behavioral science. He is also the lead author of “The Behavior Breakthrough — Leading Your Organization to a New Competitive Advantage” and can be reached at email@example.com. For more information, visit www.behaviorbreakthrough.com or www.clg.com.
As a CEO, I met with many strategic suppliers during performance review meetings, contract negotiation meetings and social events. During negotiation meetings, I had one simple question: What makes you unique and why should we buy from you — and not your competitors?
That was a destabilizing question for many salespeople. They were caught unprepared and could not articulate their true differentiation in a clear fashion.
I got some of the usual answers: “We have been around for 50 years.” “We have had a good relationship with your buyers for more than 10 years.” “Because we provide good value to your business.”
The reality is that many firms do not clearly know their true differentiation. Most of the times, they confuse “true” differentiators to win business, with “must-have” elements to stay in business or “nice-to-have” components to be in business.
Taking a tried and true idea
The concept of differentiation is not new. Edward Chamberlin originally proposed it in his 1933 Theory of Monopolistic Competition.
His definition is: “In economics and marketing, product differentiation (or simply differentiation) is the process of distinguishing a product or service from others, to make it more attractive to a particular target market. This involves differentiating it from competitors’ products as well as a firm’s own products.”
Understanding your differentiation
So, differentiation is often the name of the game to win in business, but it is fairly difficult to create, extract, measure and communicate it. In engagements with clients, I coach them through the following process:
- Understand your true differentiation internally. Hold brainstorming sessions with key employee groups within your organization to identify “nice-to-haves,” “must-haves” and “true” differentiators of your business model. Most often, you will identify only two to three true differentiators.
- Align all internal stakeholders around this understanding. Identify internal gaps in intended versus perceived differentiation among various employee groups. Create one understanding across the entire organization.
- Validate true differentiation with customers and prospects. Conduct an internal assessment on how customers perceive you as well as informal customer interviews about the elements of differentiation. You also can do a formal win/loss deal analysis with your prospects and existing accounts for the past year.
- Modulate internal perceptions of differentiation and adjust value communication. Peter Drucker said, “The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it is selling him.” Aligning internally intended differentiation with externally perceived differentiation is a must. What really matters is what customers perceive you do well for them, so your value communication plan has to reflect that.
- Train all commercial staff on the perceived dimensions of value and differentiation. Conduct specific training on your true differentiation so employees can believe in it fully. Have them memorize a value elevator speech that clearly states the most important dimensions of your differentiation. This will boost their value selling capabilities.
- Start over and never accept the status quo. Value and differentiation perceptions evolve with time. Conduct this process every year. Never get complacent about what you do well. Competitors are watching you.
If you claim to be differentiated versus your competitors, it is essential to understand the nature and degree of your differentiation. It is equally important that you communicate your differentiated customer value proposition to your salespeople. Then they will have a clear answer, the next time a CEO asks, “What makes you special?” ●
Stephan Liozu is the founder of Value Innoruption Advisors and specializes in disruptive approaches in innovation, pricing and value management. He earned his doctorate in management from Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.stephanliozu.com.
When unwanted attrition happens, the usual reaction is, “Why? Where are they going?” Most organizations use the exit interview to answer these questions. An HR professional meets with the departing person and attempts to learn the good, bad and ugly about why they are leaving. Unfulfilled promises and hopes are revealed as the interviewer shrinks in chagrin, wishing this critical information had been discovered sooner.
If the departing talent is senior in the firm, or in a key role, the departure interview will be shared with the company’s top executives and board of directors. Here the “why” questions intensify. The board will pepper the CEO and chief human resource officer with questions such as, “What were the warning signs? Why weren’t they heeded? What have we learned from this terrible loss? Are we at risk with others? How do we prevent this from happening again?”
These are precisely the right questions to ask. But why wait for the loss to happen, or even the threat of loss to appear, to know the answers?
We know that the millennial generation will be employed by an average of six different companies during their working lives. We also know that they are extremely connected. LinkedIn and Facebook constantly push information on new/available opportunities to subscribers, so one doesn’t even have to seek new opportunities or wait for a recruiter’s call. These vehicles also enable departing employees to stay in touch with their former colleagues, independent of communication vehicles that touch the employer. Alumni networks of former employers, colleges and professional associations are powerful magnets pulling on the brightest and best talent, all the time.
So how do company leaders stay in tune with what’s really happening with their brightest and best? How can they really know what their star talent is feeling or what might cause them to leave?
It’s easier than you think. Engagement surveys are not the answer, although they can be barometers of company culture and leadership. The best way to know how your employees are feeling is to simply ask them in a one-on-one conversation. Ask the same questions you’d use in an exit interview — but don’t wait until they leave to do so!
One of the many gifts of the millennial generation is their comfort level with directness and transparency. They are straight shooters with one another and value when they receive it from others. Just ask them the questions you want to know. And tell them directly how much you and the company value them.
And don’t assume they know what growth potential exists for them in your organization. For most millennials, advancement within companies happens too slowly, in contrast to their expectations.
This is all the more reason why executives and senior HR leaders need to budget time by having direct, crucial conversations that yield immediate understanding of what matters most to these key employees — and that conveys clearly how much they are valued/appreciated, and what their future can be within the current company.
What are the most effective tools for preventing the unwanted loss of our brightest and best talent? They lie in our leadership behaviors. Don’t wait for an exit interview to know why your top talent is leaving.
Instead, have those crucial conversations early enough to discover how to prevent the departures from ever happening.
Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., MPH is co-founder of CLG Inc., co-author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” and author of “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits.” Braksick and her colleagues help executives motivate and inspire sustained levels of high performance from their people. You can reach her at (412) 269-7240 or email@example.com.
For more information, visit www.clg.com.
The idea of driving aimlessly seems glamorous in movies and songs. In reality, few of us get in a car without knowing how to reach our destination. We’ve created smartphone apps, GPS devices and satellite mapping to make our trips as efficient as possible and to avoid what we know to be an inconvenient, expensive outcome — getting lost.
I bring up this idea because many companies using social media have inadvertently become lost drivers. They start using social platforms with the goal of reaching some number of likes, retweets or shares, but as they embark on their social media strategies, many experience a disconnect between the content they post, blog and tweet and their progress on measurable business goals. These companies are driving without a roadmap; they just don’t know it.
Sound familiar? If social media isn’t working for you, your social media approaches may be missing a fundamental component: an effective content strategy. Here are three ways a solid content strategy will enhance your company’s social media success.
A like is just a like
All social media engagement is not created equally. To be successful, the social media activity that you generate needs to support your marketing goals — whether you want to improve employee engagement, boost customer conversions or build interest in a new product.
Creating a content strategy before you engage in social media will help your business clarify the specific marketing goals you want to achieve through content, as well as what messages you need to communicate to reach those goals. This process will ensure you get the right likes, shares and retweets from social interactions.
Social is a vehicle
Social media is a vehicle for sharing compelling content with your audience, and it doesn’t work if you don’t know what issues, topics and trends your audience finds compelling. Part of developing a content strategy involves learning how those you are trying to reach want to be talked to. Where do they go for information? How much time do they spend online? What kind of content are they looking for from your industry?
By getting to know the interests and pain points of your audience (customers, employees, shareholders, etc.), you can develop tactics to reach your online audience more effectively, saving you time and enhancing your company’s social influence.
Relevant content is meaningful
Kings of social content don’t become that way by luck. They use strategic tactics to connect with their audience through the right channels at the right times. More importantly, they make these connections meaningful and memorable by posting and sharing strategic, relevant content that their audiences desire.
When you deliver social content that your audience members find valuable or interesting, they’ll reward you by sharing your content, engaging with your business and, ideally, helping to promote your reputation as a thought leader in your business or industry. A content strategy allows you to do that by providing a roadmap for what kinds of informative, helpful, educational or creative content you need to make meaningful interactions.
As a recent Huffington Post article put it, the golden rule of the web is clear: “To know us better is to sell us better.” Ultimately, being successful in the social media space means taking the time to map out what success looks like. In this sense, a solid content strategy is not only an important component of any social media strategy, it’s the key to driving the results your business wants.
Michael Marzec is chief strategy officer of Smart Business and SBN Interactive. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7078.
When Albert “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap was the CEO at Sunbeam in the late ’90s, he had a reputation for ruthlessness. Besides massively downsizing the company, he was also known to intimidate everyone around him and resort to yelling and fist pounding.
While extreme, Dunlap’s behavior is an example of the type of “dictator” leadership that used to be fairly common in the C-suite. Rules were rules, there were no exceptions for anything and people were just a line item on a budget. Need to cut thousands of jobs? Don’t think twice about it.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Christ-like leader. This leader focuses more on building people up rather than tearing them down. This type of leader understands that there are rules, but sometimes to do the right thing, the rules need to be broken. For example, during the economic downturn, some Christ-like leaders went well beyond what was called for to make sure laid-off employees were taken care of.
They made sure they had the use of office resources to look for a new job and did everything they could to lessen the hardships. They weren’t required to do this; it was just the right thing to do. They saw employees as human, not just numbers on a spreadsheet.
Does it cost money to take the more humane route with your leadership? Yes and no. From a short-term, bottom-line perspective, it probably does cost a few more dollars to help people through a hardship. But long term, it can pay dividends. By treating people with respect and doing the right thing, it helps eliminate animosity toward you and your company from both the ex-employees and current ones. Maybe there are some good employees who you wanted to keep, but couldn’t afford. By showing compassion, when the economy turned around, they were far more likely to consider coming back than if they had just been shown the door with little regard to their well-being.
And what happens when these ex-employees end up in key positions in companies that could be customers? Do you think an ex-employee who you mistreated is going to buy anything from you or recommend your company to someone? It’s a small world, and what goes around often comes around, so it’s always best to treat people as best you can.
You can lead like a dictator and still get results. But do the ends justify the means? Will you conquer all, only to find yourself alone with no friends, the equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol?” Or will you have an epiphany and realize there’s a better way to do things?
During this holiday season, think about your leadership style and the long-term effect it has on people’s lives. If this exercise makes you uncomfortable, then maybe it’s time to change how you lead. ●
What would it take for a company to succeed if its leader could effectively do only one of the following: innovate, instigate or administrate? We all know that an innovator is the one who sees things that aren’t and asks why not? The instigator sees things that are and asks why? The administrator doesn’t necessarily ask profound questions but, instead, is dogged about crossing the “t’s,” dotting the “i’s” and making sure that whatever is supposed to happen happens.
Ideally, a top leader combines all three traits while being charismatic, intellectual, pragmatic and able to make decisions faster than a speeding bullet. Although some of us might fantasize that we are Superman or Superwoman, with a sense of exaggerated omnipotence, the bubble usually bursts when we’re confronted simultaneously with multiple situations that require the versatility of a Swiss army knife.
Business leaders come in all shapes and sizes with various skill sets and styles that are invaluable, depending on the priorities of a company at any given point in time.
Every business needs an innovator to differentiate the company. Without a unique something or other, there isn’t a compelling reason to exist. Once those special products or services that distinguish the business from others are discovered and in place, it takes an instigator to continuously re-examine and challenge every aspect of the business that leads to continued improvements, both functionally and economically. It also takes an administrator — someone who can keep all the balls in the air, ensuring that everyone in the organization is in sync and delivering the finished products as promised to keep customers coming back.
As politicians and pundits of all types have pounded into our heads in recent years, “It takes a village to raise a child.” All who practice the art and science of business have learned that, instead of a village, it takes a diverse team working together to make one plus one equal three.
On the ideal team, each member possesses different strengths, contributing to the greater good. The exceptional leader is best when he or she is an effective chef who knows how to mix the different skills together to create a winning recipe.
In many companies, however, leaders tend to surround themselves with clones who share similar abilities, interests and backgrounds. As an example, a manufacturer may have a management team comprised solely of engineers, or a marketing organization could have salespeople who came up through the ranks calling all the shots.
If everyone in an organization comes from the same mold, what tends to happen is, figuratively, one lies and the others swear to it. This builds to a crescendo of complacency and perpetual mediocrity.
There is a better way. Good leaders surround themselves with others who complement their capabilities, and savvy leaders select those with dramatically different backgrounds who will challenge their thinking because they’re not carbon copies of the boss. This opens new horizons, forges breakthroughs and leads to optimal daily performance.
Strange bedfellows can stimulate, nudge and keep each other moving toward the previously unexplored.
To have a sustainable and effective organization, you can’t have one type without all the others. While everyone on the team may not always agree, each player must always be committed to making the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
The single most important skill of the leader who has to pull all the pieces and parts together is to have the versatility of that Swiss army knife — selecting the precise tool to accomplish the objective at hand. ●
Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at email@example.com.
More than 800 years ago, medieval philosopher Maimonides outlined eight levels of charity, the greatest of which was supporting an individual in such a way that he or she becomes independent. In Maimonides’ view, support was defined as a gift or loan, entering into a partnership or simply helping that person find employment.
Few things are more powerful than philanthropy — especially when its end goal is to better the lives of others. These days, philanthropy, and corporate philanthropy specifically, has assumed a broader role in society.
Today, companies give back more strategically than ever before. They align themselves with nonprofits that foster missions they believe in. The wealthiest people on the planet have even coordinated the Giving Pledge (www.givingpledge.org), where they’ve committed to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.
At last count, more than 115 people had taken the pledge. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates may be the most prominent names on the list, but others include Spanx Founder Sara Blakely, Cavs Owner Dan Gilbert, Progressive’s Peter Lewis and Netflix Founder Reed Hastings.
Last month, one member, David Rubenstein, CEO and co-founder of The Carlyle Group, discussed the importance of philanthropy during a presentation at EY’s 2013 Strategic Growth Forum.
In his pledge letter, Rubenstein explains why: “I recognize to have any significant impact on an organization or cause, one must concentrate resources, and make transformative gifts — and to be involved in making certain those gifts actually transform in a positive way.”
One way Rubenstein is being transformative is through “Patriotic Philanthropy.” He has given $10 million to help restore President Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home and underwrote renovations to the historic Washington Monument. Yet Rubenstein’s most noteworthy initiative is the whopping $23 million to acquire a rare copy of the Magna Carta, ensuring it remained in the United States. After its purchase, Rubenstein gifted it to the National Archives.
Not everyone has Rubenstein’s vast resources. But every organization and any individual can make their own impact.
In the workplace, for example, organizations that give back elevate their status perception-wise among competitors and peers. It doesn’t take much. But by being a company that cares, prospective employees want to work for you. For your existing team, deliberate and well-organized corporate philanthropy programs quickly take on a life of their own, becoming a rallying point.
Think strategically and get started by finding your cause. We all have them. They exist at our very core, forming the belief system we live by every day. So why shouldn’t our philanthropy follow that same course? Consider aligning your giving or volunteerism with something you personally believe in or care about; something that fits with what your company does or something that is close to your employees’ hearts.
Most important, get involved and just make a difference. It really comes down to that. One initiative that has always impressed me has been the annual CreateAthon event undertaken by WhiteSpace Creative, a member of the Pillar Award class of 2005. You can read a first-hand account of this year’s program here.
Being a good corporate citizen goes well beyond making good business sense. When you align yourself with causes you care about, whether big or small, you make a difference in someone’s life. And the bottom line is this: It is all of our duties to get involved. It’s no longer a question of if, but rather of what, when and how. ●
Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations for Smart Business. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (440) 250-7026.
I must confess that I was a skeptic of social media when it emerged in the early 2000s, but I’ve done a total turnaround on the topic, realizing the power of social media for communication, networking and knowledge sharing.
When used productively and with intention, social media can provide a wealth of benefits to business leaders and their organizations. Social media cannot be managed in a vacuum, it has to be integrated in the organizations overall marketing strategy. Plus, it has to be fun, creative, ambitious and impactful, while serving a purpose for your business and bringing value to your customers.
I propose the following five objectives to integrate into your social media strategy to make it a productive tool:
Follow, track and monitor your “ecosystem”
LinkedIn and Twitter allow you to easily follow critical players in your ecosystem. You can follow companies, connect with people and read the latest news they publish for free. You don’t have to check multiple websites; the information comes to you regularly and freely.
You can track your competitor’s and customer’s pages to find out what they are working on. In addition, you should connect with industry association experts who regularly share their knowledge through social media.
Find great knowledge at no cost
Most service companies, particularly consulting firms, publish white papers and research reports that are priceless. Lately, I have accessed some amazing reports from McKinsey & Co., BCG and Deloitte Research.
Business schools have great blogs that offer links to papers and other relevant essays. There is a wealth of knowledge available out there — get connected to what thought leaders are working on and discover potential trends and signals from other industries.
Develop your own network
The power of networking for business has been demonstrated over and over. LinkedIn and other similar sites are the best way to establish strong and long-lasting connections. I have used LinkedIn to target potential hires, to launch discussions on particular topics of interest, to run polls in specialized groups and to establish a network of more than 4,000 professionals.
Create a corporate brand, image and content
Social media managed with intention can help develop your corporate brand. Use social media to publish your content, create your image and complement your traditional marketing strategy. Create a small team within your organization that will manage digital marketing. Use it as a team-building activity and as an opportunity to bridge generations at work.
Use it as a productivity tool
This is probably the most attractive reason to use social media. I used to have a long list of websites to check every day. I have now streamlined this list and am using LinkedIn and Twitter to read news, find content and communicate with my ecosystem, saving me considerable time. Encourage your marketing team to be active in industry-relevant social media groups.
There’s no doubt times have changed. Technological development is going to accelerate and the next generation of workers will probably be the most connected and technology-savvy. So it is not a question of whether or not your organization should embrace social media, but when and how it should do so. ●
Stephan Liozu is the founder of Value Innoruption Advisors and specializes in disruptive approaches in innovation, pricing and value management. He earned his doctorate in management from Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at email@example.com. For more information, visit www.stephanliozu.com.
Follow Stephan Liozu on Twitter @StephanLiozu
Whether your company is large or small, staying profitable will likely depend on how prepared you are to innovate in order to advance your organization. A built-in, long-term effort to assess and monitor your technology investments involves the same time-tested tactics you use in everyday business planning.
Your success will depend on how well you can match technology needs to both current and future objectives. Here are some ways to achieve that:
Don’t get stuck in the past
How you did business successfully in the past may not have legs in five, 10 or even 20 years. Whether your company is young or old, it is important to ask, “How much do you actually work to keep your businesses up-to-date?” The answer may surprise you.
Business owners become too content when it comes to proactively seeking out new technology to stay competitive — the “if it ain’t broke, then why fix it” philosophy. And, when things go awry, it is hard to admit that it was the organization’s lack of forward-thinking leadership that let progress slip.
Understandably, with a business of any size, it is a struggle to just keep the doors open. It is easy to fall behind when the technology and tactics are totally different today than even two years ago. Regardless, you have to start with the basics.
Evaluate your website, social media and search engine optimization every year. Read every industry publication you can get your hands on. These are valuable resources because they can give you access to research and clues relating to what’s next in your industry.
Likewise, attending seminars and joining trade associations are not just for junior executives — you and your executive team need to take steps toward tomorrow. Progress requires a consistent commitment to the future.
Set clear goals and stay focused
While most companies have long-term goals built into their business plans, it is easy to get sidetracked in the here and now. Staying close to your ultimate objective is the key to making the right decisions about any investment of money and time, especially when it comes to technology.
With technology there’s the temptation to be responsive instead of proactive. If you are just keeping up with or mimicking your competition, you are not focused on your business — you are focused on someone else’s.
Take a look at your corporate goals and expansion plan, then identify where technology can play a role in your future. Your competition is using existing technology to be competitive today. You can gain the edge by focusing on building a company that will stay competitive tomorrow.
Invest in the people behind the technology
Don’t forget the faces and the real intelligence behind your business. Even the most advanced, progressive organizations can make the mistake of relying too much on technology. When budgeting for technology expenditures, remember to plan for ongoing education to keep your people trained and up-to-date.
Make ongoing employee education convenient and part of the job description. As with every part of your business, the technological tools of your trade are only as good as the talent of the people who use them. ●
Tom Gillece is founder and president of Gillece Services, a residential plumbing, heating, cooling, and electrical repair and replacement company. Located in Bridgeville, Pa., it employs more than 100 technicians/field personnel, operational and support professionals. For more information, visit www.gillece.com.
To learn more about Gillece Services like its Facebook page www.facebook.com/GilleceServices and follow on Twitter @GilleceServices.
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