The latest lockdown in the Australian state of Victoria could affect a team's morale, but it can also be a great opportunity to reinvigorate them.We are very conditioned to thinking things will improve - most of the time they do. However, it's also true that things get worse before they get better. Whilst we all know this, it can be hard for many people to deal with.
Your teams will be feeling this. A sense of going backwards is bound to have an effect on internal energy, optimism and morale. As leaders, we have to remember that our teams are the priority, without them we don't have a business. We need to do more than simply engage, or create energy through doing 'fun' things. This won't cut it - leaders need to lift confidence, build resilience and help teams feel more in control individually and as a group - i.e. change the trajectory.
There are two specific things leaders can do to change this trajectory:
Share and review your business values and business purpose
Too often the values and if it exists, the purpose of the business are too easily forgotten. Right now is why we need meaningful values (those values that guide the way we want do things) and a sense of real purpose for the business. Purpose is about doing something for the good of others - i.e. why should anybody outside of your business care what you do? Both values and purpose need to be re-shared with teams and those teams encouraged to discuss, share stories and give honest feedback. This in turn will force attention on your strategy and vision. Your teams will relish the opportunity to reflect and discuss matters that are meaningful to them and you'll have great insight with which to refine strategy and direction.
Create structured conversations around customer
Customer care can create a strong unifying focus for an organisation - no matter if they are front line staff or deep into the value chain. Having structured team conversations around customer is not only relevant but helps create a collective focus away from an internal feeling of low morale. Generate a series of conversations and tasks around 'How can we leverage our sustainable competitive advantage to create even greater value for customers?' Begin with pen portraits, translate customer understanding into human terms and create plans to better serve - across the business.
By engaging teams in a deliberate, manageable and systematic way around business values, purpose and customer, you may well be surprised at what people reveal and what improvements come back. Make sure you participate fully in this by being transparent, authentic, asking great questions and listening hard.
Do contact me to chat these areas through. There are a range of highly effective tools and processes to support these initiatives.
I'm very happy to help. If I can be of assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me at Mobile: +61 434 607 76 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Things are still changing around us. This short video will outline a simple 3 step process to help you to either develop a plan or to stress test your current one. I hope this helps. Just let me know if you would like the templates or would like a quick Zoom call to work through this and stress test your plan.
Happy to help.
Creating the strategy itself is the easy bit. To quote Jack Welch from Winning: “In real life strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell”. But it’s the implementation that can be hard. Imagine it, the leadership group huddle in a room for days, perhaps weeks and create what they believe is the best strategy for the business. Much work has been done on market analysis, strategic pillars, initiatives, KPIs and business case analysis to determine the best way forward.
Then, the leader proudly shares the strategy document across the organisation to hopefully a fanfare of approval. Some things improve, there is a bit of buzz around the new direction and people rightly feel optimistic. But then, bit by bit some things revert back to the status quo, some things work, some things don’t. The strategy is fine, but change is hard and a sense of frustration remains.
The trouble is, people aren’t robots (at least not yet). They have opinions and that very tricky thing – emotion. Think about it. Would you rather be told how to do something or be asked for your involvement and opinion how best to do something? Failing to effectively engage your employees on critical subjects such as strategy – which in essence is the plan to make the business even more successful (something everyone cares about), is really sending the message that employees are there to just do what the leadership says. It becomes a very linear and one-way process.
Every member of your organisation has a point of view. They want to be heard, listened to and their opinions valued. A strategic process that recognises this through involvement including asking and listening to people’s perspectives is more likely to achieve several things:
1. A much higher level of buy-in and acceptance because the process will have created a greater sense of ownership.
2. Greater relevance and practicality as employees from various parts of the organisation will have given the strategic direction a reality check.
3. An important feedback loop to enable the organisation to learn effectively through implementation, which in turn informs the longer term strategy.
The Strategic Process
A way to look at this issue of closing the gap between strategic ideals and implementation is to run the strategic process for both the long and short term in parallel - see model below. The short term process, involving teams and leadership, identifies the key issues facing the business. Strategies, supporting initiatives and teams are then created to deal with these key issues.
The learning from these working groups and implementation teams start to refine the longer term strategic direction. Senior leaders observe and learn from the implementation process. It becomes a process of involvement and engagement, coupled with permission to fail and learn. This provides deep insight and practical knowledge to create a longer term strategy that is relevant and dynamic.
Of course this demands good leadership capability: selecting the right staff for the business, providing them with clear roles, space to operate and support in building their skills. Not least is the ability of leaders to get involved with teams, ask great questions and demonstrably LISTEN.
So a process of creating a strategic direction, involving your teams and creating feedback loops can provide your business with a strategy that is enduring, engaging and relevant.
Jim Parry at So-Brand Strategic Advisory provides support, facilitation and coaching to business leaders on market leadership strategy and implementation.
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Achieving competitive advantage is a key objective of business. To win the customer dollar from your competitors. So businesses spend significant focus and resources on looking to create product or service differentiation, finding that magic element that creates white space between us and our nearest competitor.
Of course, having a unique proposition is a big part of competitive advantage, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A key word missing here is 'sustainable'. I don’t just mean sustainable in the environmental sense (although this is fast becoming a very necessary norm for us all) I mean in the enduring sense.
Take a favourite brand like Apple. Well known of course, but good to use as an example because it’s so familiar. Apple as we all know, designs and innovates to create great products for the customer, but they deliver through a deliberately created culture that reinforces the values, vision and purpose of the organization on a daily basis. This culture, guided by vision and purpose, adjusts, alters and develops the approach to deliver these outcomes. Arguably, for Apple, it’s the customer service and innovation ethos that really drives the sustainable competitive advantage. People using other brands might think that they have similar or even better product functionality.
Businesses like Apple have long realized that for competitive advantage to translate into profit, it has to be sustainable, and for it to be sustainable it has to achieve that highly desired space between what customers highly value (what they will pay a premium for) and what really works for the business. Ultimately the aim is that this becomes something that is done better than the competition.
The three parts to Sustainable Competitive Advantage (SCA)
1. Deliver what customers really value: What the customer values highly enough to want to pay a premium for. Customers may want many things, but here it’s about what they will pay you for. What customers will pay for quickly separates ‘nice to have’ from ‘must have’.
2. Create a positive impact on the business: There is no point for example, in driving the business to deliver everyday low prices, when the business is built for niche, premium quality products. To achieve sustainability in competitive advantage, this has to be believed in everyday and delivered every day. The business has to be orientated towards this across the whole value chain. That means marketing, operations, innovation, financials and people.
3. Be better than competitors: Being better than your competitors is of course key, but you have to know the battlefield upon which you will win. Identifying and delivering high customer value and creating positive impact in your business are those battlefields.
Understanding and delivering Sustainable Competitive Advantage (SCA) is finding your product or service’s place in the world. It’s your brand’s positioning. Your strategy should be in service of delivering your SCA with your vision and purpose guiding you.
Without a clear SCA and all that supports it, profitable and lasting success is nigh on impossible to achieve.
A key part of success, whether you are a small business or a multinational is your brand. Actually to hone that further, it’s what your customers think of you – what you stand for, how you make them feel.
So how does a growing business build and protect a great brand? Firstly, it doesn’t need loads of marketing dollars and an extensive marketing team. But what it does need is big ideas, passion, clarity about what your business stands for and a focus on delivering this promise to customers.
What your business stands for. Your brand cause.
Why should people, whether they be customer, staff, stakeholder or suppliers, care about what you do? It’s helpful to look at Simon Sinek and his golden circles of Why, How, What. If you haven’t seen his TED talk, on How Great Leaders Inspire Action, it’s well worth a view. You’ll see why it’s used so much – because it’s simple and compelling.
Your brand cause (or your Why) is what you and your business believes in – where your passion is and how you are making a difference. It’s the outcome that both you and your customers care about. Recently, I have been working with a strategic market research business that believes passionately about the value of customer insights and research, with their ideal target customers holding the same belief. Through a simple process that is outlined below, we created the brand positioning and cause as 'Enjoying the process and value of discovery.' It was developed by creating customer profiles and understanding the overlap between what mattered to the customer and what matters to the business.
The products and services are vehicles through which to deliver a brand cause and are not in themselves necessarily unique. So the cause matters greatly. For the market research consultancy, they now champion 'Enjoying the process and value of discovery.' knowing that their customers and staff love fresh and effective ways of finding new insights and sharing the value of that insight. This is what helps makes the consultancy distinctive even though there are many other firms offering similar services. Their brand cause sets them apart.
This research consultancy now uses the brand cause as a filter for decision making. It drives their marketing, helps articulate their sustainable competitive advantage, gives focus to how they operate and helps investment decisions and recruitment.
A brand with a cause. This is what gets staff and customers EXCITED. You are leveraging emotion and going beyond just products and services. By focussing all that you do through your cause, you create differentiation and a reason for the best customers to choose you and the best people to work with you.
Creating your brand positioning and cause
1. Build a picture of your perfect customer through mind mapping their world. Who are they? What’s their role? What frustrations do they have? What fears do they have? What are their wants and needs? What are their aspirations? It’s helpful to give them a name. This profile might be based on an actual customer or a mixture of attributes that you would like to see in all of your customers. Either way, it represents the ideal customer you are targeting in human terms.
2. Mindmap your own belief sets. This can be in a group or just you. What is it that you stand for? What do you wish to make better? Why is this important? Why should anybody care about what you do?
3. Identify the overlaps with your customer profile. Where are the common areas of beliefs and passions? What do you have in common?
4. Create your statement. Sleep on it and test with key stakeholders – staff, customers, trusted suppliers. Keep the statement to one sentence if you can. The fewer the words the better.
5. Bring it to life, share with staff and use this to drive your marketing, operations, recruitment and strategy. How does this look across your people, processes, customers, financials, products/services and how you promote your business? Being focused, strategic and living this cause through all that you do, will create a brand positioning that is differentiated, embedded, authentic and extremely hard to copy.
So-Brand provides support to business leaders probably frustrated by internal culture, slow progress and siloed working, who see these as blockers for doing great things.
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Excitement: A feeling of eager enthusiasm and interest : the state of being excited
Many of us are familiar with brand. That bundle of emotion and rational reasons to buy. This applies to both the B2B landscape as well as B2C. Indeed emotion probably plays a bigger role in B2B as clearly set out in Google and CEB’s 2014 paper From Promotion to Emotion – Connecting B2B Customers to Brands.
The analogy of The Elephant and the Rider is simple and effective in highlighting the importance of emotion in decision making. As outlined by Jonathan Haidt, in his book; ‘The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion”. The analogy of the Rider on the elephant is our rational mind, looking to provide good sound reasons why we should act or not. However the rider struggles to control the elephant - our emotional mind. When emotional triggers are activated, this can overpower the rational mind and speed decision making.
So whether it’s B2B or B2C, we look to create emotion in our business, products and services proposition. Certainly any brand, business, product or service that appeals to customers emotions is doing many things right – what could be better?
But, is this enough? How can we push emotion further?
Businesses need to EXCITE. Excite those that work for the business and those that buy form the business. People will advocate and champion your business, product or service with energy and passion when they are excited.
If staff aren’t excited about the brand, product, company or service, then who will be? According to a US Gallup poll in 2015 over 68% of employees are disengaged with their work. What a huge loss of focus, capacity and energy for the business. Not least the cost of replacing disengaged staff who will inevitably leave through choice or poor performance.
It’s not just excitement in terms of thrill or that tickling pleasure of experiencing something you can’t wait to happen. It’s that defining connection between what we want and what we get. Something that feels right and makes us feel the way we want to feel – be that reassured, safe, confident, important, loved, beautiful, healthy, successful, independent, belonging.
Excitement affects our brains and our bodies. ChangingMinds.org tells us what happens to our minds and bodies when in a state of excitement;
“Arousal starts in the brain, where the Reticular Activation System connects the primitive brain stem and the cortex and affects sleeping-waking transitions. In arousal, it's acting to increase our wakefulness and consequent alertness and attention”
If you think about the businesses, products and services that excite you – they fit with your values and needs, but how do they make you feel?
I can think of several examples in my world:
Uber. A disrupter brand, constantly innovating, pushing the boundaries of assumptions in the taxi industry. Uber has an energy and clarity of purpose that makes it exciting whether you are a customer or member of staff.
Shopify. The e commerce platform, delivering a flow of useful apps, web design styles, helpful support and simple tuition for the budding entrepreneur as well as the established business.
Bellroy. An Australian wallet company, now a global brand, striving to deliver slimmer, better designed wallets. A philosophy of freshness and ‘Carryology’ the principle of convenient and stylish design that fits the way people live.
These businesses all have a defining purpose and an excitement about them. We can all think of our own examples of brands we love. It's the ones that are exciting stand out.
However, excitement in isolation can be fleeting, like a firework. For strategic success, excitement has to be seen with creating sustained value - for both staff and customer. When this happens the business creates flow, that freedom that comes with growth and efficiency. Where excitement is fleeting or temporary, with low sustained value, it's a firework i.e. it's soon over. This means the strategic aim of a business to generate excitement must be part of it’s DNA. It means it has to be embedded and be authentic in the way the business works. Ultimately, it’s finding that connection between what excites the business and what excites the customer. i.e. Your SCA – Sustainable Competitive Advantage.
5 steps to deliver excitement
1. Start within. Challenge your business culture and values. It’s often said that it all starts with culture, which is guided by behaviour (values). Start to get clear on this and everything else, including strategy falls into place much more easily.
2. Understand the business or product/service vision. A vision is just that, a picture of the future that looks, well exciting. This vision then has to be underpinned by a one page strategy, that highlights key areas of focus and actions to get there. Share and engage staff with the vision, tell stories, allow them to contribute – how can we deliver this, what will this look like?
3. Identify your perfect customers. Segment your market and create customer profiles or avatars for each segment. What are their frustrations, fears, wants and aspirations?
4. Find what excites you and what excites your customer. This overlap is your brand positioning, and a source of your sustainable competitive advantage.
5. Use your one page plan to focus on priorities and create accountability and ownership in your business. Connect staff objectives to strategic objectives. Give them clarity and freedom to make mistakes.
I am very fortunate to have enjoyed a career that has taken me through various sales positions, marketing consultancy, numerous international marketing leadership roles in Europe and Australasia and now today as a business facilitator and leadership coach. Whilst to a large degree we make our own luck, some things such as a simple conversation at the right time can have a material impact on our lives.
For me, one such occasion was in 1988 when I was embarking on a business development role with a creative consultancy in London. Boom time indeed, but it is safe to say that at that stage I was a little green around the ears and not knocking down walls with my sales performance. My then boss (who remains a friend to this day) provided me with some harsh but fair feedback. Most of what she said is long forgotten, except for these words; ‘Jim, I believe in you’.
The impact of those words was profound. My boss had successfully made me feel valued and important, whilst at the same time giving me some very necessary performance feedback. The key, was the sense that whilst I wasn’t using the tools of my trade as well as I could have, I felt believed in as a person. It felt to me that improvement and change in my sales performance were only marginal things and entirely possible to achieve. It also made me believe in her.
Most of us are very familiar by now with Simon Sinek’s golden circles of What, How and Why. With the Why representing our belief and purpose. As Simon Sinek says; ‘People buy why you do what you do, not what you do’.
This is a huge area for leaders who need to articulate vision, manage constant change, connect with staff and customers, differentiate their brand and deliver great results. In much of my coaching and facilitation with a wide range of businesses and leaders, I’ll often push hard at the need for leaders to use the words ‘I believe’ especially when dealing with change. Whether that’s I believe in a plan, a strategy or a person, it’s a powerful set of words that creates connection, authenticity and vision.
Belief is also a major component of successful change, organisationally and individually. Research conducted by Chris Mason, Founder of Mindshop, revealed that 70% of change initiatives fail, with the 3 factors of successful change and subfactors being;
1. Readiness for Change (Leadership Support, Need for Change, What’s in it for Me, Process, Confidence)
2. Capability for Change (Individual and Organisation)
3. Belief in that Change (Significant others, Perceived Difficulty and Attitude).
The thing about belief is that it is infectious with a tipping point reached when the early adopters buy in. When we believe in something that others believe in too, it’s powerful and lasting.
So think about how and when you’ll use those words ‘I believe'. You’ll be amazed at the impact they can have for the organisation and for the individual.
Jim Parry is the Owner and Principal Advisor of So-Brand.
Each year the pressure grows on all areas of a business including its people, cash-flow, leadership, innovation, business models, technologies and ability to implementation strategies successfully. This pressure can lead to issues arising across the business that ultimately impact its overall growth and profit potential.
Standing back from all the specific issues stemming from this high pace of doing business most can quickly be related back to the inability to implement change successfully.
So what does a business leader or owner do? What are the strategies that should be implemented to adjust the business and its people to this NEW normal environment for doing business?
Here are three strategies that can assist businesses and teams in coping with the high pace of doing business:
Strategy 1 - Focus on micro tasks to deliver strategy - Your Now, Where, How
Think back to the last planning session you had or project team you were involved in. You have determined where you are NOW and WHERE you wish to go (believe me it's constantly surprising how often businesses don't clarify the WHERE before launching into solutions). So then it's about the HOW - how you bridge your NOW and WHERE. What was the nature of the strategies / actions that were set? Were they quite broad or were they very specific outlining the steps that need to be taken. Too often planning sessions lead to broad statements such as: 'Do a marketing plan', 'Refine our sales process' or 'Fix that problem' but rarely outline HOW to achieve those outcomes or the micro steps / tasks required. This leads to teams either heading down the wrong paths or not starting to change at all, stalling momentum. The simple solution when you see this occurring is to keep breaking down the broad task into micro tasks that highlight the HOW and the steps required to reach the desired outcome. People need to be able to clearly imagine the action they have been assigned to. If they can't it's likely it won't get done. Try this simple strategy in your next planning session and you instantly see the benefits.
Strategy 2 - Provide just-in-time learning
Sending teams to two day residential training sessions to learn new skills are slowly becoming a thing of the past. There is certainly still a need to hold those types of events in specific situation but 5-7 years ago every training event was a two day off-site with little accountability to the new learning acquired or how it would be implemented. The retention of new learning was thus very low and too often forgotten (until a need arose and the learning had to be acquired again!).
To obtain the skills to address specific issues in this fast paced business world you need to shift the thinking of your people to just-in-time learning. This means that as a need arises to address a specific issue (such as understanding the strengths / weaknesses of your competitors as part of a marketing strategy) the focus should be on putting time in your schedule to learn that skill in 30-60 minutes via an online learning platform or quick internal training session and then applying it in the field quickly. The retained learning is much higher with this approach as there is immediately application of the learning. Best of all a solution to the issue is provided straight away to allow momentum to continue with the desired change or new strategy.
Strategy 3 - Capture and track your strategies / actions
How often have you gone to reflect on a strategy you development months ago and then had to spend hours searching through your emails, journals, files or go and follow-up a team member to get yourself up to speed again with the discussions that occurred and actions that were confirmed. Even if you have a good discipline of having One Page Plans operating in your business (and even pasted to your office wall) it can still waste many hours in your day searching for the detailed plans you have developed or putting yourself back in the same head-space you were in to reflect on the next steps you should take.
To assist this process and speed up your pace of implementing strategies it’s critical in any modern business to be using the latest technologies / applications to help you track projects and tasks. What are you currently using in your business? There are a lot of great, cost-effective options available. The time savings and productivity gains will be felt immediately and free you up to be focusing on the growth and profit of your business.
It's the old saying about keeping things simple. These simple strategies help you adapt your approach to allow you to implement change much more effectively and not get left behind.
To assist this process I provide all my clients with access to Mindshop Online. Mindshop Online allows you to capture and track in one location all your strategies, actions and professional development which are only visible by you and your advisor. Your advisor can then provide confidential support and solutions drawn from hundreds of tools, courses and resources within Mindshop Online.
Mindshop Online is a fantastic way to help leaders speed up their pace of implementation to give them back valuable time to focus on the growth and profit of their business.
In a recent paper Promotion to Emotion developed by Google and CEB (Corporate Executive Board), some fascinating insight is shared on the role emotions play in buyer choice of B2B suppliers. It centres on business suppliers understanding personal outcomes for the buyer, which means emotion. Emotion in purchase decisions is not just the preserve of consumers, in fact in B2B it is a more significant part of the buying decision than B2C. Perhaps it has to do with the higher risks in business decisions (financial risk, personal reputation, status, career). Indeed, B2B purchasers are 50% more likely to buy a product or service when they see personal value. They are 8 x more likely to pay a premium when personal value is present.
But how does the small to medium sized business easily get to this nirvana of emotional connection for business customers as well as consumers, without the benefit of large marketing teams and insight resources? Well it sounds hard, but it is simpler than one might think. Here are 3 steps to win your customer’s heart;
1. Step into your customer’s shoes
Yes, we have heard this since learning marketing at college. But really, how often is this done with true empathy, insight and understanding? A simple method is to mindmap the world of your bulls-eye customer, segment by segment. Your bulls-eye customer should be your perfect customer in terms of frequency and weight of purchase, attitude to your type of product/service and location. Depending on whether you have business customers or consumers, this will naturally affect the mindmap, but the point is, you are building a pen portrait of your customer. Start answering these questions and expand your pen portrait from there (using a white board and mindmap, with customer as your start);
2. Construct a shared value
Shared Value is simply the belief set that you share with your customer, or expressed another way, the higher order emotional outcome your customer is looking for. Using the customer mindmap as a source of what this might be, examine your own belief set. What do you truly care about – what’s your personal and business 'Why'? In a recent exercise with a client we got there pretty quickly by asking the question ‘what excites you about your work and what you do?’ We developed this to create a pretty compelling overlap with that client’s bullseye customer. Remember though, your real brand positioning is what your customer thinks, not what you think! So this process is about finding your common ground. A tool to structure and determine the positioning is shown below. With your customer mindmap to hand, work your product or service through the stages in the shared value tool below:
See the B2B example illustration I have created using UPS. See also the connections between the mindmap of Brian and the shared value below;
3. Embed this shared value into offer, customer experience and communications
The shared value structure creates an explanation of your product or service, from who you are targeting, what they get from it, why it’s different, the emotional connection, and why they should believe you. It can be used to structure communications, update your value proposition and indeed your whole offer, including desired customer experience. Refer all that you do against this shared value, it should drive your marketing communications and offer development.
A B2C example is Nature Valley. Nature Valley provide natural health foods and snack bars. This insight and shared value drives Nature Valley’s whole positioning – just look at their website. http://www.naturevalley.com/
Nature Valley embrace the whole offer of their products around this core shared value of ‘Connecting with Nature’. It allows them to own a clear position in the customer’s mind, based on what that customer truly cares about – Nature. That then creates a very different conversation than just healthy snack bars.
By placing your customer’s emotional needs i.e. what they truly care about, rather than just rational needs at the heart of your business philosophy, you’ll start to achieve connections in a way you never did before. Of course it will take some crafting to get the language right and you also may need to qualify this work through building insight. But once you determine this – you and your staff need to be committed to it and visibly build your brand to deliver.
To hear more, tune into my short 30 minute webinar at 6.00pm Australian Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday 3rd March (log in details here). If you can’t make this, just jump on to my website anytime after and listen to the live recording.
Jim Parry is the Owner and Principle Advisor of So-Brand.
So-Brand helps business leaders and owners create, articulate and implement strategy, creating strong connections with staff and customers.
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