March 2015

#1 way to accelerate growth: consensus

You need consensus among your senior leadership team. Without that, any strategy will be practically useless for the company because it won’t be applied. No matter how smart the thinking is, the strong individuals attracted to leadership positions have different skill sets, personalities, agendas, etc. And they will naturally pursue the directions that appear correct to them.

Microsoft is a great example of this. Their lateral competitive structure brought them innovations that were ahead of the market for a time, but now they suffer from lack of cooperation between departments.

They need a unifying vision strong enough to overcome this lack of cooperation or they will fade away as a market leader.

The leadership team must be unified to be efficient. If not, there will inevitably be multiple directions pursued at any given time, which will impede growth. The best way—perhaps the only way—to achieve true consensus is for all the senior staff to be engaged in the process of developing the visionary strategy platform. All guidelines and principles need to be generated collectively with full leadership participation.

Caution: If you hire a consultant to help develop a growth plan, that consultant will not want to engage in a true consensus-building process. It is much easier to do a few interviews within the organization, complete a little outside research, and come back to inform you of who you should pretend to be in order to meet the current demand. This is exactly how it’s been done for years, but it cannot be effective in creating an executable, long-term vision for an organization that faces a newly empowered buyer.

 

PICK ME!! PICK ME!!!!

First step to enticing your busy customer: stop talking about yourself.

Have you ever been on a date with someone who spends the evening telling you how fabulous they are? That’s how most customers feel looking at a website, brochure, or in a sales call. Of course, they want to find about your company, but the reason they are interested is because they have a problem to solve. Their perception is that something in their lives is either broken or could be improved.

So, here is a good rule of thumb. If you’re developing customer-facing communication of any kind answer this question first: How can your company address their issue?

This begs the question, what is their issue? Many companies have success without considering their customer’s actual needs. It’s a happy accident that’s difficult to repeat. It could have generated a fair amount or revenue and can be celebrated—right up until the time it starts to plateau or decline. Then what? Hopefully, another happy accident. It can happen if you’re lucky. I’ve never been one to bank on luck.

Some companies consider customer needs just long enough to convince themselves they need whatever the company is offering. The motivation for not looking too closely is that they may have to reinvent themselves and their offerings in the future. What a scary thought especially if you don’t understand your customers needs or why they are making their purchase decision.

The final option is my favorite. Know your customer and know your company. Find the bridge that connects the two. It takes discipline and resources, but it will make your customer feel special which in turn breeds loyalty and long term stability.

It’s just like a great date where the other person is actually interested in you and your life.

What’s being demanded by the empowered buyer?

The research company GlobeScan annually surveys a thousand top thought leaders, as well as the general public, in a majority of countries around the world on some really pertinent issues. At the Sustainable Brand Conference in 2007, Rob Kerr, Executive VP of GlobeScan, discussed recent key findings. That research showed how rapidly the consumer’s sense of empowerment is increasing. Does the consumer believe they possess the power to influence a company’s behavior? Over the last few years there is strong and steady growth in mainstream activism in most countries.

It’s no surprise there is now a strong belief that a company should be rewarded for being socially and environmentally responsible, but there is an even stronger sense that a company should be punished for harming social and environmental health. In North America, 46% of leaders say they would reward a company for good behavior while 55% say they would punish a company for behavior that may damage social or environmental health. Now, that’s a sense of empowerment.

These statistics indicate there are a growing number of individuals around the world who feel they can apply pressure that will force companies to comply with their desires. And, of course, they are right. Companies desperately need those who will purchase their products or services. There is no business without someone to do business with.

It is interesting that the sixties helped us distrust authority, but it took until now sometime after the turn of the century—to really understand that the buyer, not the seller, has the power.

People lie once every ten minutes. What is this costing your company?

It has been said that we live in a culture of lies—white lies, exaggerations, misrepresentations and outright deceptions. In fact, Robert Fieldman has recently published a book that demonstrates that the most popular people are the ones who lie most often. Plus before people know each other will they tend to lie once every ten minutes. My question is: how will that effect business success or failure?

I’ve seen that lying is one of the most destructive forces in a business. One of the leading offenders is the way an organization engages in self-deception. An organization will collectively kid itself in the interest of moving forward.

Consider this scenario: You are running a company. You are likely a strong personality or you wouldn’t have had a good deal of success already. You have a new idea, and because you are a good boss with a great staff, you ask for your employees’ input. They support the major thrust of whatever you describe, raising minor objections. You head back to your office to begin an implementation plan.

Now imagine the potential reality: your employees have high mortgage payments, a kid or two, and increasing credit card debt. They also hold the belief that their next raise will be tied to being a popular “team player” so they withhold awkward but insightful criticism. Your business slowly fails because the truth will put your employees’ immediate futures at risk.

Everyone in this scenario is trying to be the good guy. But in reality, the good guy employee would risk his or her raise. The owner who’s a really good guy would demand truth and create a culture of honesty—rewarding smart, respectful, and comprehensive thinking.

On the other extreme, I’ve seen the opposite problem in a company whose motto was “challenge the process.” It’s not a bad idea, but in practice it created a culture of naysayers. If you were brave enough to agree with anything, you risked not living up to the motto. It paralyzed the organization. Large-scale projects could not get off the ground effectively because company-wide support was impossible to achieve. The motto, unfortunately, ended up creating a company-wide agreement to sustain a different sort of self-deception: “The system or ideas we have proposed cannot be right if I’m going to live up to the motto and get my next raise.”

Clearly, it takes humility, courage and, of course, honesty to find out how lying might be damaging your business.