Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Problems vs. Opportunities

December 21, 2009

The single greatest issue in addressing a client’s or colleague’s needs is understanding what we are trying to solve or manage in the first place. The reason this is so critical is because misunderstanding what the desired outcome is supposed to be typically results in the wrong solution.

Here’s a simple example. If we want to entertain ourselves and our friends on a Saturday night, we can ask what are the options? Once we add criteria or constraints, the choices narrow. For example, determining that we are on a budget of, say, less than $50 per person might eliminate tickets to a Broadway show. Deciding that we had to be back by 11 pm to relieve the babysitter might mean that we have to stay local.

What it all comes down to, in management speak, is clearly defining the problem. Solving the “right” problem usuall produces a subset of choices that will yield outcomes for which we would be happy.

Words, here though, are very important.

If one shifts from a problem definition to an opportunity definition, the options will become richer, the choices more exciting. And with that will come far greater and more robust ways of creating an outcome.

After all, wouldn’t it be more fun for you, your clients and colleagues to create an opportunity rather than solve a problem?

Unintended Consequences, Decisions and Continental Airlines

September 27, 2009

Decisions only scare me when I don’t understand their consequences. If I do, and as long as those consequences are acceptable, I’m fine. That’s why when confronted with a challenging decision, I always try to investigate what could result from it. It’s important to me that I weigh the potential positive and negative consequences.

My recent trip from San Francisco dramatized the importance of doing so.

Continental Airlines prides itself on “flying right.” Their brand is built on attentive service and well-planned departures and arrivals. In fact, in a press release earlier this month, I found this quote — “Continental’s corporate culture is based on treating customers and co-workers with dignity and respect,” said Diedra Fontaine, Continental’s director of diversity and sales development. “Dignity and respect are key principles of our Working Together cornerstone.”

Continental’s recent decision to charge for bags is a terrific example of unintended consequences and illustrates how a set of negative consequences can jeopardize a brand.

Continental, like many airlines, saw this additional baggage charge as a way to increase revenue. Their customers, however, responded by deciding to take more and more of their luggage on the flights so they could avoid the additional fees.

The unintended consequence: With more than 25 people waiting to get on board this plane from San Francisco, the overhead bins were completely filled. The flight attendants at the gate then proceeded to offer free baggage check-in to all those that had yet to board.

Some passengers took the attendants up on their offer and the gate and boarding ramps were transformed into luggage check–in areas. The attendants scrambled to check the luggage at the entry of the plane. This was difficult for them because the physical location made this problematic and most assuredly, assuming they were trained to do so, it was certainly not what these attendants intended to be doing at this time.

Many passengers chose not to check their luggage. They had to stow their bags underneath their seats, resulting in uncomfortable rides for many, many passengers and difficult entries and exits from where they were seated. More passengers also stood in the aisles for portions of the flight simply to stretch their legs.

As to those poor flight attendants…

They were trying to get the flights to take off on-time because that is one of the areas that Continental evidently measures.

Once the plane took off, the flight attendants rudely rushed to pass out the meals. The were frustrated and like most people put in similar situations, they never had the chance to regain their “balance” and they performed their work the way someone would do it if they were upset.

These were the short-term unintended consequences.

The long-term ones, of course, concern the brand and image of Continental.

And if these become tarnished enough, Continental may discover that the revenue that they gained in no way compensated for the customers that they lost.

Lesson 8: Rethink…and Rethink Again

April 17, 2009

Clearly, companies are beginning to use social networking in unprecedented ways.

The Wall Street Journal in its April 8th edition reported that the Ford Motor Company has “picked 100 young, Web-savvy drivers” to get behind the wheel of its new Fiesta for the next six months and report on what they think about this car on sites such as Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. Ford is giving them the use of the car and covering their gas and auto insurance costs – all in exchange for online reports of their involvement and experiences with the Fiesta.

One of the most interesting elements of this campaign is that while it will start later this month, the Fiesta will not be available for purchase for about a year!

Ford’s trying to create buzz and attract attention. They also want to reach a new, younger, sophisticated consumer. They selected the 100 participants from 4,000 video submissions. These submissions were graded based on how many followers the participants had, how many platforms they worked across and creativity, video skills and the ability to “hook the viewer” in the first 5 – 10 seconds.

Ford will have no control over the content or the posts. Talk about “driving without a net.” Ford views this as an acceptable risk since most consumers seek out Internet reviews before purchasing a car anyway.

But Ford is not alone in this effort.

Toyota is working to create an online community for its Scion. And in March 2008, before it received a government bailout, GM allocated $1.5 billion dollars to digital and one-to-one marketing.

Closer to home, Intel contacted my 16 year-old son last week. Much like the car companies, Intel is looking to leverage a less traditional form of opinion leaders. Eli writes a blog for teens on technology and Intel wants him to evaluate two computers for them. They’re looking to find out what the next generation of users like or dislike about computers.

It’s clearly a new world and such a new world requires that each of us step outside of our traditional ways of thinking.

And in the end, that may be the most interesting and greatest challenge of all.

Making your leadership team successful

December 12, 2008

Here are two questions worth considering.

  • Who is most responsible for the success of your leadership?

The success of each level of leadership is heavily influenced by the monitoring, measuring, and coaching of the leaders directly above it. If you want to increase the likelihood of success within your pipeline, it is incumbent on you to dedicate your leadership to this process.

  • What influences the likelihood that your people will execute successfully?

It should be clear that one of the core success factors is to have a team of leaders with the proper skills, focus, and values.

Still, even by applying this process, you may never be completely successful. In some organizations, professionals will not readily accept people if they don’t have credentials in the field so your choices are limited. In these cases, we have no way of knowing how the person will respond to the tensions, frustrations, and relationships of staff work.

When an executive places a person in the wrong job, s/he must correct it. Not removing them is a false kindness because in the short and long term it is cruel to the individual, the direct reports, and the company to keep that person in that role. But there is also no reason to let that person go. The appropriate course of action, and with planning this is often accomplished, is to return that person to the old job or an equivalent position.

Sometimes, the position itself is the reason for the lack of success. When a ship would have several fatal accidents, it earned the moniker “widow-maker.” The owners would not keep sending out the ship – instead they would break it up. Whenever a job defeats two people in a row and these people in their earlier assignments had performed well, a company has a widow-maker on its hands. . The executive should consider abolishing the job because it may not be doable.

Preparing a Strategy: So Much More Than a Task

September 2, 2008

Preparing a strategy is not a task. It is also not a deliverable, such as a document or a book.

When a strategy has been created and delivered, it will alter an organization’s focus, and allow its leaders to determine what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and who will be responsible for key elements of the strategic program. A strategy is core to an organization’s identity and a roadmap for creating its future.

Not surprisingly, it is the dialogue and the exchange of ideas that really matters. These ideas, filtered by facts and perceptions and synthesized by a healthy debate, will produce a worthwhile result.

In order to create a well rounded, comprehensive approach, one needs many different perspectives represented in the room. Each person will bring her / his talents, experiences, personal marketing strengths and weaknesses, and biases into the discussions.

The first step in the process is then to inventory the talents and perspectives, and then determine who needs to be added to the conversation to compensate for any weaknesses without compromising strengths. In essence, the intention is to determine what we “know we don’t know.”

There are ten perspectives that should be included when we plan our strategy. They may be sufficiently present in a few people or they may require a body of fifteen, twenty, or more.

1)       Vision. Who has an ability to envision a new enterprise and how it will be marketed?

2)       Creativity. Who can see and avoid conventional approaches and envision and design the unconventional?

3)       Sense of timing. Who understands sequencing and timing? Who can implement steps that will achieve the desired result? The “whens” are as important as the “whats.” This would include choreographing the approach.

4)       Ability to spot key trends. Who understands current social, cultural, and political trends? These are NOT trends within the industry. Rather they are trends in our society at large.

5)       Penchant for details. Execution, execution, execution… Who is the master of details?

6)       Ability to change. Who sees trends within the marketplace and can lead the organization to make the necessary adjustments?

7)       A long-term viewpoint. Who takes the long view? Who’s looking to the future? While successful selling looks short-term, in the here and now, successful marketing requires one to look three to five years out. A completely sales-oriented personality will often have a problem putting together a marketing plan as s/he usually lives in a short-term, tactical world.

8)       Focus. Who can maintain her / his concentration on the steps required to move from the beginning to the end? Entrepreneurs are often tempted to go after more markets than they should. Because it is so difficult to understand a single market well, understanding several well enough to succeed is often impossible. Highly focused entrepreneurs tend to go after markets sequentially.

9)       Passion. Who is the product or service evangelizer? Who feels strongly about your products or services and can express how they will make a difference to our customers? Who believes in our goods and services and their value? Who enrolls others in that excitement?

10)    A technology and information orientation. Who understands technology and information systems? This person must understand what systems can be developed that will have an impact on the organization. Successful marketing increasingly depends on the leader’s ability to make effective use of marketing data and information.

With the right perspectives present, the likelihood of the success of your strategy will grow exponentially.

Baseball, Pennant Races, the Mets and Strategy

August 28, 2008

Besides strategy, one of my personal passions is baseball. Boy, do I love watching a good baseball game.

I think that is because there is an element of strategy and tactics wrapped up in every single game. In fact, if you spend some time thinking about it, you would be surprised at how complementary baseball and strategy truly are to one another.

Like strategy, a baseball team measures its success by how it ranks relative to its industry. Is it in first place or the middle of the pack?

Understanding the competition and how it will react to various scenarios is also very evident in our national pastime. And baseball teams, to be successful, must have a healthy supply chain (aka farm system) and excel at talent management and growth. Of course, it must have solid management who can communicate effectively internally and externally.

Baseball teams must have a management philosophy, or a set of operating principles on how it will treat teammates and the opposition, and even the fans. And of course, is there any other sport or business, for that matter, that has quite the same amount of statistical success measures.

On the business side, it must be very clear who its customers are, what customer experience they truly value and what makes them want to return time and again. And with salary caps in place, teams most certainly must know how to budget.

Which brings us to the National League East…

Two nights ago, the New York Mets, my favorite team, went to battle against their chief rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies. As I watched a seven run lead begin to evaporate, my mind shifted to the concept of scenario planning. The Mets bullpen, its Achilles heel all season, was unraveling.

Thoughts then turned to scenario planning and the concept of seasonality. Hmm…with September just four days away and the ability to call up fifteen additional player reinforcements from the minor leagues, would it have not made sense to bring in a powerful starting pitcher to nail down a victory.

Clearly, not something one would be likely to consider in the heat of battle, but with advance planning and a better understanding of seasonality, it sure would have represented a very interesting option, don’t you think?

But I have a business plan…isn’t that enough?

August 26, 2008

Strategic and tactical plans are different from business plans.

Business plans are often used to sell the company to potential investors and financial backers. In order to do so, they must come to grips with the realities of the company, the marketplace, the existing corporate products and services, the strengths and weaknesses of the management team including its ability to deliver results, and the company’s finances. As a result, the business plan should be the foundation upon which the strategic and tactical plans rest. A strategic and tactical plan that fails to confront the realities represented in the business plan is unlikely to succeed.

While business plans are often externally published documents, strategic and tactical plans, focus on how one will sell the organization’s products and services in the marketplace. These plans are internal to the organization and should not be shared with the public or one’s competitors. They are designed to guide organizations along a path. As a result of determining organizational priorities in the tactical plan, corporate financial commitments are determined.

Business, strategic, and tactical planning are primary responsibilities of leadership. The strategic and tactical plans are iterative, that is, they must be reviewed and revised at regular intervals. The marketplace is dynamic and it is imperative that we plan and adjust for the challenges posed by social and business trends, competitive offerings and changes in our working environment.


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