Archive for the ‘Visioning’ category

On the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy

August 27, 2009

I grew up as a huge Robert Kennedy fan. As a young boy, I devoured books about his life and mission. Most intriguing for me was his metamorphosis into a man who grew to recognized his responsibility to help others.

With his passing in 1968, I was introduced to Senator Edward Kennedy.

Although I was only ten years old at the time, I vividly remember Robert Kennedy’s funeral. It was there that his remaining brother, Ted, quoted his fallen sibling in the eulogy that he offered. Ted reminded us of a principal that RFK cherished and lived.

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance…” (These words were spoken by Robert Kennedy at the Day of Affirmation at Capetown University — a remarkable speech worthy of your time.)

In the course of the remembrances today, I was struck by how strongly the Senator from Massachusetts took these words to heart. He believed in compromise and he understood that progress is made one step at a time, particularly when the road to be travelled is very long.

To build bridges, one broadcaster noted that Senator Kennedy would often woo and cultivate the relationships with his colleagues by visiting them in their offices armed with a plate of cookies.

What a simple and remarkable gesture!

What a beautiful way to remind others that we are all human and that the greatest way to accomplish something is to start with a generous but simple act of kindness.

There are many lessons I will draw from his remarkable legacy of service but as I sit and write these words, the two that I will likely try to further integrate in my life is to remain steadfast in the service of others and that acts of compromise and generosity led to progress.

As for the late Senator, it is my hope that he be remembered as he hoped RFK would be remembered, “simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”

Rest in peace, Senator. You will be missed.

Types of Measures

February 20, 2009

There are three types of measures:

1. Activity measures

2. Output measures

3. Impact measures

Activity measures tells us how efficiently something was done. It answers questions such as:

  • How long does it take?
  • How productive is the department?
  • How many resources were used?

It focuses us on internal tasks, timing and resources but it is NOT about outcomes. As an example, profitability is an activity measure because it relates incoming revenue to internal operational costs. It measures the efficiency within which resources are utilized to produce income.

You’ll find activity measures are usually used with internal operations groups and frequently these are the measures used for multiple phases of processes

Output Measures emphasize the results of the work rather than the work activities themselves. Outputs tend to be physical products, services and communications that one group sends to another. These types of measures answers questions about what has been produced such as:

  • Does the product meet quality standards?
  • Was the product sent on time?
  • Was the product delivered on time?
  • Was the customer satisfied?

Output measures are about products NOT about production. They gauge quality, timeliness and evaluation by the CUSTOMER or USERS and therefore the measuring source is usually outside of the group producing the output.

Customer satisfaction is an output measure that requires obtaining feedback from outside the organization (this can be a customer internal or external to the organization.) Most output measures are using internal standards. These measures are useful when you are interested in whether the results meet certain standards.

My personal favorite is the last of our set and the one the President and our legislative leaders truly want to cause.

Impact measures ALWAYS require feedback or customer research to develop meaningful measures. So what is the difference between customer satisfaction measures and impact measures?

Customer satisfaction measures what the customer likes. Impact measures what the product does for the customer. It is all about value.

Impact measures answers questions such as:

  • Does the product make the customer more productive?
  • More successful?
  • Do the services make the customer more effective?
  • More influential?
  • Do the products help the customers reach their goals?

These measures require serious examination of the customer because there is no other way to get information about the customer’s productivity, success measures or goals without their input and evaluation.

Most important it shifts the focus to “What do you need from us to help you succeed on your own measures of success?” This type of measure alters relationships and makes what you achieve more valuable.

It makes you realize exactly what is the point of what we do.

Developing Success Measures

February 18, 2009

One of the more pressing questions asked of President Obama recently was how the American people could tell if the stimulus package was effective. What he was actually being asked to address was the concept of success measures.

In the business world, success measures are what we call “goals.”

Here’s why goals are so important.

  • Goals and objectives are the links between the organizational vision and the new environment.
  • Goals clarify expectations about what needs to be done to help the organization make the transition into the envisioned environment.
  • Goals give direction to individuals and teams for planning and executing change.
  • Goals tell us what we need to do. As such, goals must be measurable.

We measure for a variety of reasons:

  • Tells us if we are winning
  • Defines performance and gives people an observable and quantifiable way to measure progress over time
  • Tells people what really counts and is desirable
  • What gets measured is what gets done
  • Publishing measures makes things change – it shines a light
  • Measures make commitments real – otherwise it may be perceived as a wish or a good idea
  • Forces confusion and misunderstanding into the open by creating an opportunity for alignment
  • Pulls people together

Without goals, we are like Alice in Wonderland as she asked directions of the Cheshire Cat. “Would you please tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t care much where,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. “As long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation. “Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “If you only walk long enough.”

Creating Coalitions

February 11, 2009

Anyone who has been observing the stimulus bill negotiations surely has become much more cognizant of President Obama’s need to build coalitions and the early lessons he is learning. To paraphrase his comments last evening, “old habits die hard.”

In order to exert influence without authority to require that people take certain actions, one needs to create coalitions to get things done. Influence networks – informal bonds among colleagues – can help you marshal backing for your ideas among colleagues. However, to do so, one needs to create an influence strategy. This means figuring out whom you must influence, pinpointing who is likely to support and resist your key initiatives, and persuading “swing voters.” .

Many new leaders make the mistake of focusing on the vertical dimension of influence, i.e., direct reports and supervisors, and not enough to the horizontal dimension, namely peers and external constituencies.  Think about who might be critical to your success and whether you have engaged and enrolled them.

Start by identifying the key interfaces between your group and others. Customers and suppliers, within the business and outside, are natural focal points for relationship building. Another strategy is to get your boss to connect you. Request a list of ten key people outside your group whom s/he thinks you should get to know. Then set up  meetings with them. (This strategy should be employed for your direct reports as well. Create priority relationship lists for them and help them to make contact.)

Another productive approach is to diagnose informal networks of influence. Observe the interactions at meetings including who defers to whom on crucial issues. Identify who is sought after for advice, who shares what information and news, and who is owed favors.

Identify the sources of power that give people influence such as expertise, access to information, status, control of resources (such as budgets and rewards), and personal loyalty. Talk to former employees and people who did business with the organization in the past. Seek out the natural historians.

Eventually, you will identify the opinion leaders. If these vital individuals align behind your A-item priorities, broader acceptance of your ideas is likely to follow.

There is a diagramming tool known as an influence map that will help you identify who influences whom. An influence map will help you identify supporters, opponents, and “convinceables,” people who can be persuaded.

Potential supporters typically share your vision of the future, are quietly working for change on a small scale, or are new to the company and have not yet become acculturated to its mode of operation. You must solidify and nurture this support. It is not a given.

Opponents will oppose you no matter what you do. They may believe that you are wrong. They may be comfortable with the status quo, have a fear of looking incompetent, see you as a threat to a value that they hold dear or to their power, or that your arrival will have negative consequences for people that they care about.

When you meet resistance, try to grasp the reason behind it. This will allow you to counter arguments and you may be able to convert some early opponents.

“Convinceables” are the swing voters who are either indifferent to change, undecided, or may be appealed to based on their interests. Take the time to try to figure out what their interests may be. Ask them or engage them in dialogue about the situation. Ask if there are competing forces that prevent these people from listening to you.

Now you are ready to think about persuasion strategies. People tend to weigh status quo vs. change. People will more likely gravitate to the status quo unless remaining with the status quo is perceived as a future threat or if there is a reward for change. If the leader has earned sufficient credibility, merely asking people to try something new is sufficient. These persuasive appeals can be based on logic and data or on values and the emotions that values elicit, or some combination of both.

There are action-forcing events that require change. Review meetings in which people must discuss progress publicly are one such event. These meetings encourage action and enforce accountability.

If people are unable to move at once, a leader may employ strategies to allow people to make incremental steps towards change called “entanglement strategies.” For example, getting people to participate in an initial meeting may cause them to participate later on. Entanglement works because each step creates a new psychological reference point for deciding whether to take the next small step.

Another way to do this is to get people to participate in data gathering. Once the person recognizes the problem, have them participate in refining the problem definition. From there it is a small step to solution planning and then, to implementation.

Finally, if you get people to change behaviors, right attitudes often follow. This is because people look for consistency between their behaviors and beliefs.

This all leads to a concept called “sequencing strategy.” By getting individual influencer’s alignment and support, group actions follow. If you approach the right people first, you can set in motion a virtuous cycle. Approach people in the following sequence:

  • Individuals with whom you have supportive relationships first
  • People whose interests are strongly compatible with yours
  • People who have the critical resources to make your agenda succeed
  • People with important connections who can recruit more supporters

What I’m Telling My Clients – Part 2 (or how they can create their own economic stimulus package)

December 23, 2008

So what would a client referral meeting look like?  Here’s one possibility.

The underlying context to this meeting is the recognition that the greatest challenge that any business owner faces, particularly in these challenging economic times is to drive new business to the company. The second greatest challenge is to fix a problem or capitalize on an opportunity that they might see but don’t quite know how to address.

Each of these referral meetings would last an hour. Only a small number of clients, perhaps six to eight clients, would attend each meeting. Ideally, they would have complimentary businesses.

Each client would  discuss

  • What values his or her company provides,
  • Its ideal client and
  • A particular problem or opportunity that it is facing.

The idea is to try to get each a client new business via referral or find them a company that can help them meet a pressing need or opportunity.

That’s the whole agenda.

The only thing that is required is that each company approach the meeting with a mindset to offer a warm referral to any of the companies represented in the room. By doing so, this gathering of leadership would create more growth and value.

And each company will get more business and / or be able to grow its business more effectively.

A Case Study of the Five Tests of a Sound Strategy

September 26, 2008

A short time ago, there was no such thing as overnight shipping. Then Federal Express, DHL and Airborne Express came upon the scene. At first blush, these three companies appeared to be competitors but upon closer examination, they each passed the five tests of a sound strategy.

DHL staked out in the international shipping arena so if you didn’t need to send something overseas, there was no need to use them. Their value proposition was simple – “DHL ships overseas and the others don’t.” Because of this, they required a different value chain – one that would allow them to take packages, manage them through customs, get them on a plane to some fairway land and then have some method of getting the package from the airport to the intended recipients. Their activities fit together and everyone in the organization knew exactly what the business model was and how to deliver the business’ value. Finally, DHL, for the most part, chose NOT to compete in the domestic market space.

You may recall Federal Express’ initial advertising campaign. It was simply stated as “when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Their second marketing campaign was built around the slogan “our most important package is yours.”

These two messages are core to understanding the FedEx strategy. The business model was that you could count on your important package being delivered anywhere in the United States by 9:30 am in that particular time zone provide that the package was in a FedEx drop-off box by 7 pm the night before. The second slogan creatively expressed that Federal Express treats all of our packages the same. There is no differentiation based on who sent it or why or even what is inside. Indeed, the most important package that FedEx was delivering was everybody’s.

The FedEx model was pioneering in the overnight shipping industry because their value chain created a standardized way of assuring delivery overnight of any package. This required a value chain that guaranteed and measured the time by which a package was received as well as when it arrived. The company chose not to promise faster delivery of any package – the package would always be delivered by 9:30 the next morning even if the customer was willing to pay more for special treatment. And everyone in the company knew the model.

I remember when the FedEx deliver person would come to pick up a package at our offices. If the package wasn’t ready when the client said it would be, the FedEx employee would become agitated and sometimes even leave the office without the package if the wait was too long. Boy, were they in a hurry! Our staff never even knew the FedEx employee’s name because there was never any time for conversation. Chasing the clock is very intense work.

And then there was Airborne Express…

There aren’t many who remember their advertising slogan because Airborne chose not to advertise. Airborne’s model was built around custom delivery services. They made business deals with companies that required frequent and ongoing shipments that had to arrive before 9:30 am. Some of their customers were companies that supplied parts and needed to have these parts in a technician’s hand before 9:30 am. Airborne would even build warehouses and acquire roadway services if the customer was large enough so that it could adhere to the promise of customized delivery.

Did the shipping customer pay more? Sure. But for those companies who needed to get staff on the road sooner than 9:30 am, the premium was well worth it. The interesting thing was that if there was a package that was not from an elite customer, there was no guarantee that it would arrive on a certain day, let alone by a certain time. Their most important package was the one sent by the special customers who shipped large volumes of packages requiring special care or timing.

Airborne too passed the test of a sound strategy. Unique value proposition? You betcha. Tailored value chain? Check. Choosing what not to do? Absolutely. Activities that reinforce one another? Certainly. Strategic continuity? Without a doubt.

All three companies effectively executed their strategies and also taught us that you can serve the same function and be successful if you implement a sound strategy.

Discovering the Benefits that We Provide to Our Customers

September 17, 2008

We believe that as good managers and leaders, you have a good feel for why your customers work with your company. There is a tremendous opportunity when creating a strategic plan to really tighten that perspective.

We naturally have a tendency to ascribe our own personal perspectives as to what a customer really values about a product. Put simply, this is the wrong way to evaluate the benefits of what your company provides.

The customer’s viewpoint is truly all that matters. To discover that perspective, you must do two things.  First, you must talk to your customers. Second, you must listen to them and hear what you don’t already know.

Your customers will tell you what works great about your product or service. They will tell you what your product or service does for them, how it works and what they find valuable about it. Listen to the small things that they are saying. Can you find a pattern? Can you group their answers into something important?

Ask approximately a dozen of your core customers and a few organizations that you would like to be customers, in each customer segment, a series of questions. Asking these questions results in finding out with certainty what is meaningful to them.

We recommend that you ask these four questions.

1)      What are your reasons for working with our company (what do you value about us) or what are your reasons for using our service or product? The answers to this question will tell you why the customer uses your product or service today.

2)      Where do you think your industry is heading? The answers to this question will provide you with the context regarding the issues that your customer will need to manage in the near term.

3)      How will you operate given the direction of the industry that you’ve just described? The answers to this question will tell you how your client needs to work in the future. It will begin to give you insight as to what you will need to provide in the future that will allow you to keep earning their business

4)      What will you expect from our company (or our product or service) in the future (what will make us indispensable to you)? The answers to this question will provide you with what your client sees that you will need to do to keep earning their business.

Undertaking this interview will produce substantial and wide-ranging benefits. You will:

  • Learn how to better express your value to the marketplace
  • Discover short-term opportunities to sell additional goods or services.
  • Be able to add and contribute to your clients’ strategies
  • Very naturally deepen your relationship with your customer as every customer wants to feel special and simply showing interest
  • Gain thee necessary business intelligence to accurately plot a future

The bottom line of this exercise is that you will find short-term and long-term opportunities and your clients will make you much smarter about your own business.


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