Category: Business Leadership

Introduction to Big Smartie

According to executives, nearly half of all strategic initiatives fail.

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One sure way to develop efficient tactics

One sure way to develop efficient tactics – Don’t roll the dice. All your
tactics can be very effective and efficient to implement once they are tied directly to your larger strategy. You can quickly evaluate each tactic based on your companies values, personality, positioning, SWOT, and consumer needs.

Here is an example of the potential cost of neglecting to directly tie
tactics to a larger strategy. During the Atkins Diet craze many potato chip companies who had solid growth for years were suddenly losing revenue. Sales and business development people were screaming for a diet product. Companies started reformulating their product line, designing new packages, creating new sales programs and new messaging—then the fad wore off. The image of their company had now become convoluted, and getting back their market share
likely was even more difficult.

This initial response was human nature. Of course, the natural response was to develop “diet products.” Without organizational guidelines that are stronger than the panic, what else would an entrepreneur do?

Since constant change seems to be the constant part of the business climate, this re-creating of tactics would need to happen quite often without the overarching guidelines. The leadership team, or in some unfortunate cases an outside firm, would need to regroup again, put their heads together, and craft another set of actions they’d need to take immediately to respond to the new situation. Next, they’d need to create a new budget to support those actions, scrapping former efforts to adapt to the new situation.

It is possible that these are actually the correct actions for that moment in time, but how can you be confident that they are appropriate for the long-term goals of your company?

• How do you know this is the right direction and not just a new direction?

• In what ways should the new plan connect directly to former efforts and in what ways should it deviate?

• Will the return be worth reinventing internal procedures to support the changes?

• Will the company really be able to deliver on its new promise/direction?

Do you have the right tactics?

Is that the wrong question?

You can hire an outside firm to help you. They will most likely offer you a brilliant set of short-term tactics, which, may work for awhile. They will even want to call it a strategy. I suppose it is a strategy of sorts—a short-term, action-oriented strategy.

This can feel like the perfect solution, because you have very likely already spent years rolling up your sleeves and pushing through to the next level. You may feel like, with this plan, you finally have some real help at the executive level, and you may. But I can promise you there is a far more efficient path to evolve a business. I will also promise you that to do what I suggest will make you feel like you are going backward in order to go forward; so let me explain further.

A strategy that is rooted in tactics will work within a given set of finite circumstances. Once those circumstances morph into something new, the strategy will need to be re-created rapidly.

Strategic intent and strategic objectives should guide tactics.

#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.

 

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.

How to tackle the lies that damage a company.

Just be honest. It’s not that easy.

First it makes sense to start with facing the reality that lies are a lubricant for the culture inside your business—they can advance or destroy it. You cannot irradiate all lies nor do you need to. Does your associate really need to know their hair didn’t turn out well today?

Investigate your own motives. Access how much you value the health of your company. If this requires uncovering the truth about the entrenched beliefs about your company, your market, your current and potential buyers and your own ideas as compared to feeding your self-perception as a smart person with the best ideas.

Demand the truth. Ask directly for it. Keep asking for more. Establish at the beginning of the conversation that the rules are changing and when you ask what they think you really don’t mean “agree with me so I feel good about a decision I’ve already made.” Be clear that you are seeking insight based on the reality of the situation. Be persistent. Repeat this every time you request an opinion. It will take perseverance to break the established culture of lying. Teach your executive staff to demonstrate this behavior.

Learn how to investigate your personal and collective presuppositions. Writing them out in actual sentences or bullets is a great way to become aware of them. We make many assumptions in any decision process. Start with what you can unveil now and add to it whenever you become aware of another. It will become easier to recognize with practice. Eventually it will become a habit.

Make certain the problem is framed in reality before attempting to solve it. Develop the discipline to stop and ask the problem you are about to solve is really the one you need to be solving. Is there a problem that is deeper rooted? Is this problem based on uninvestigated presuppositions? Why do we think this is the problem? Because it’s always been the one we’ve been trying to solve or do we really this is the real problem?

Demonstrate how the truth can be gracefully told. If you aren’t certain how to do this, seek out help. There must be someone you know who has this skill. Often a great sales person will be a natural at this; however beware they are typically comfortable with bending the truth. Begin to change your own speech patterns and launch a company-wide effort that acknowledges the current state of the organizational culture.

And finally, truthfully, if you can’t pull this off, call us. It’s what we do.

Consumers that demand authenticity

It is an interesting era we are in–the age of information. It’s also been called the age of misinformation. But whatever the case, the general public knows their own power and seeks insight into what’s really going on. The chest beating slogans of the past no longer penetrate our modern minds. We must be shown not told. Demonstrating your claim and backing it up with action is mandatory.

The origin of this mindshift is in the changing nature of our world. A large segment of our population now lives at a level of luxury that is unique in history. There is much more physical comfort available to a common person which raises our level of expectations in many areas:

* Demanding an experience rather than a mere product.
* Talented employees choose a position based partly on how they feel about a company’s values and standing in the local or world community.
* Choosing brands that demonstrate corporate social and environmental responsibility.
* Quick, emotional responses to any message with a whiff of falsehood.
* News organizations and individuals gain esteem by uncovering and broadcasting misrepresentations and outright lies.

In communication strategies for organizations, authenticity often gives way to simpler, quicker, more superficial solutions. It’s certainly easier to find a message that will appear to satisfy the target audience in the short-term rather than dig deeper and ask a few hard questions. Many times the corporate culture disallows that digging. Unfortunately, the digging is left up to a growing number of journalists, consumer advocates and individuals who experience the brand.

It’s not that organizations lack an awareness of this problem. But there is a strong desire to avoid the problem. There are more immediate issues that need attention. Most people who have a bad habit plan on changing that behavior tomorrow or next week or after the holiday. It’s the same with changing corporate habits–easier to procrastinate than roll up your sleeves.

We empathize with that inertia and have found a few motivators we thought we could share:

1. 93% of American consumers operate in everyday life with varying degrees of sustainability consciousness. Research clearly reveals that a cultural shift is taking place in terms of consumer awareness, acceptance and practices that relate to sustainability. Full article at http://www.hartman-group.com/products/reportSustainability2007.html

2. The series, Food and the Environment: A Consumer Perspective, identified that at least attitudinally, 52% of Americans in 1997 were seeking to purchase “earth-sustainable food products.” Full article at http://www.hartman-group.com/products/reportfood1.html

3. The focus on wellness is pervasive. Over half of all consumers are proactive about their health and wellness, focusing on lowering their health risks and preventing disease. Full article at http://www.hartman-group.com/products/natsens/issueIV-08.html

4. A few examples of campaigns that produced not only long term goodwill with their audience but an immediate and tangible return for their efforts:
*Coca-Cola: In 1997, Coca-Cola donated 15 cents to Mothers Against Drunk Driving for every case of Coca-Cola bought during a 6-week promotion in more than 400 Wal-Mart stores. Coke sales in these stores increased 490% during the promotion.
*TUMS: In 2003, through its “TUMS Helps Put Out More Fires Than You Think” campaign, TUMS pledged to donate 10 cents to the First Responder Institute for every bottle of TUMS sold. In addition to donating $238,000 to the Institute, which in turn funded 60 fire departments throughout the United States, TUMS saw a 30% increase in the number of displays shipped to stores and a 16% increase in sales volume.
*American Express: In 1983, after American Express pledged to donate a penny to the restoration of the Statue of Liberty for every transaction made by its cardholders, use of American Express cards increased by 28% and new users increased by 17%. Full article at http://www.causemarketingforum.com/page.asp?ID=345

5. More than two-thirds of Americans say they consider a company’s business practices when deciding what to buy. At the same time, there is a substantial increase in the number of American workers who want their employers to support a social cause or issue. Part of 2007 Cone Consumer Environmental Survey by Opinion Research Corporation.

6. Many Americans say that good corporate citizenship makes them more willing to do business with a company. Corporate citizenship can influence consumer opinion and behavior, and essentially turn consumers into brand champions. Respondents indicated that good corporate citizenship by a company or brand would inspire them to (in ranking order):

  • Be willing to try the company’s products for the first time
  • Welcome the company into my community
  • Recommend the company’s products and services to friends and family
  • Improve overall trust for the company, its people and products
  • Improve overall opinion of the company’s reputation

Full article at http://www.causemarketingforum.com/page.asp?ID=369