Coal to Diamonds – Raising Team Performance

Rebuilding an underperforming team or department is a huge challenge. The issues you will face from the team could include low morale, rapid staff turnover and high absenteeism levels. The managers involved could alsoCoal to Diamonds have poor leadership skills, which is likely to hinder not help the situation. If employees are uncertain about their own future this can have a further negative affect and will make matters worse. A manager in this situation could feel so overwhelmed by all the problems that they will stick their head in the sand and hope it will go away.

A team needs to analyse its structure – how it works, what its strengths and weaknesses are and the role each individual plays within it. You need to get quickly to the root cause of problems and plan remedial measures to implement quickly. Self awareness plays a huge part. People often don’t know how other members of their team see them. One manager might see himself as an assertive leader but in reality he is an autocratic dictator. He in turn might have a low opinion of the quietly spoken people. Everyone needs to appreciate that both types of people are essential to the success of the team. It relies on three factors:

• Self and team awareness – identifying individual’s strengths and limitations

• Recognise different contributions – teams bring together complementary skills and experience

• Plug the gaps – modifying behaviour brings enhancements to the team.

One factor that differentiates “dream teams” from “teams from hell” is a strong platform of understanding. Self awareness and an awareness of other people’s style are crucial if a team is going to reach more ambitious performance goals. There needs to be an acceptance that WE have a joint problem and WE need a joint strategy to tackle it. Differences are not good or bad, better or worse. A High Performance Team will be aware of the work styles of the different profiles and that each contributes to the team in its own way. Each member must recognise their own limitations and recognise that there are people on the team who can do things better than themselves. People need to cover the bases they are good at and concede to others where they are better. Teams fail because of mismatched needs, unresolved conflict, personality clashes and lack of trust. All these can be addressed through understanding and recognising how each person in the team behaves and responds in different situations.

Improving the self-awareness of your managers and key people will create a strong platform of understanding from which more ambitious performance goals can be achieved. Highlighted below are 6 ways that you can begin to raise team performance:

1. Resist firefighting

When you start a turnaround process, there will be no shortage of people telling you what the problems are and how to fix them. But you need to form your own views, so immerse yourself in the culture of the department, watch it in action, spend time with managers, talk to people and sit in on team meetings. The problems of any failing department will involve people, processes and technology. While success depends on addressing all three, people are the most important and you need to ensure that all members of the turnaround team recognise this. Highly motivated and skilled people will make poor processes and IT work, but the best technology and processes available will still fail if people lack the appropriate skills or motivation.

2. Get the buy-in of all involved

You need to be open and honest with people to get their buy-in. Remember that no one understands a service like the people who actually deliver it. It’s not change agents, managers or consultants who turn things around, but the staff themselves. If you can engage most of them, you’ll have a powerful force for change. Try to win employees’ confidence by listening to their concerns, rather than coming in with a one-size-fits-all change methodology. Ensure any action plan you introduce takes account of concerns, as well as performance and service issues. Discuss the action plan with people in the department and monitor progress, ideally through staff opinion surveys. At this stage it is also a good idea to identify internal champions – people with a can-do attitude who will support you in driving through change.

3. Turn managers into leaders

You need to get the department’s management team on side. Retaining and developing existing managers sends out a positive message, whereas replacing them is risky, expensive and time-consuming. But resistant managers can subvert the change process and there are times when you must be prepared to make difficult decisions. Managers of failing departments need to accept some responsibility for the past and overcome their resentment at others being brought in to fix the problems. While it is important to learn from the past, you need to get them focused on the future and help them to develop new skills and regain confidence. Identify development needs and use external help where you need specific expertise. Managers can feel swamped by multiple reporting lines and targets and may need help in prioritising what’s important. You should also encourage new habits. Get them to leave their desks and offices to engage with the wider team. With a little support, the changes can be dramatic.

4. Empower managers

Failure fosters a blame culture where managers become fearful of making decisions. This does not make problems disappear. On the other hand, bad decisions, though best avoided, can be great learning experiences. Boost managers’ confidence by giving them a chance to test decisions before taking them. Some will only need a little support and encouragement; others may need help to recognise all the implications of a proposed course of action. Encourage courage: managers must learn to make difficult decisions and see them through. Once they have done so and recognise that they have done the right thing, their self-esteem will grow and they will start acting less like the managers of a failing department and more like their successful colleagues.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate

You can’t communicate too much. Use different methods and tools to put out clear and consistent messages that relate back to the overall action plan. If you are part of a team, all members will have some responsibility for communication, but it is critical for you to retain a high-profile with your team. Face-to-face communication is best. You need to demonstrate that you are making an effort to meet people at times that are appropriate to them – for instance, by fitting in with shift workers rather than expecting them to stay after hours. Complement meetings with newsletters, team briefings, emails and via collaborative tools such as SharePoint or Yammer.

6. Celebrate success

A reputation for poor performance can become self-fulfilling. Other departments may have concealed their own failures by blaming yours. Talented people will not want to be associated with a department that is seen to be failing because of the risk to their careers. People can’t take too much failure. It is therefore important to break the cycle of bad news and give them something to celebrate. Publicise good news: the first praise in months from a happy client; another department saying “thank you”; a delivery ahead of schedule; or a real change in performance. You can create your own good news by introducing a person or team of the month award. Over time, as the situation improves, you’ll have much more to celebrate – and a department to be proud of.

I hope you have found this post useful and as always would love to hear any feedback or your experiences.

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A to Z of Customer Experience

A to Z Customer ExperienceI would define ‘Customer Experience’ as:

‘How customers or prospective customers perceive their interactions with your organisation’

Customer experience encompasses every aspect of an organisation’s offering – the quality of customer care, of course, but also advertising, packaging, product and service features, ease of use, and reliability. How can you drive a consistently good and improving Customer Experience for your customers or prospects?

In this A to Z I’ll give you some of the answers and some tips from Think Oak!

A – Attitude

I could start and finish this post with ‘A’ for Attitude.

Not many people wake up in the morning and say “Today, I want to make life miserable for our customers.” Yet every day, employees at all levels of organisations make decisions that end up frustrating, annoying, upsetting or losing their customers.

Changing people’s attitude is much harder than teaching them new skills. It is much easier to get staff to do the “right” things when you have hired people with the “right” attitude and who have a history of behaving the “right” way.

You need to recruit people who understand that the aim in business is to have profitable customers who stay with you for a long time and, therefore, who realise that looking after existing customers so that they come back again and again is the Number One priority.

Dealing with employees with the wrong attitude also needs to be a high priority for you as a leader. Tough conversations and ‘attitude’ management are a must if your are serious about a great customer experience.

B – Behaviours

I’m a raving fan of all things Disney, and Disney takes behaviours and training extremely seriously and they do it very well. So much so that their methodologies are used in many other companies and organisations around the world.

Disney has ‘Cast Member’ and ‘Management’ behaviour guidelines that they have recently updated and rolled out across their theme park employees and managers:

The Disney Service Basics

  • I project a positive image and energy
  • I am courteous and respectful to all guests, including children
  • I stay in character and play the part
  • I go above and beyond

The Disney Leader Basics

  • I demonstrate commitment to cast members
  • I know and manage my operation, and I teach it to cast members
  • I lead and monitor cast performance and operational improvements

Within each ‘Basic’ behaviour lay some underpinning ways of working / behaviours that are expected from all employees:

As an example, within ‘I go above and beyond’ are principles such as:

  • Anticipate needs and offer assistance
  • Create surprises and Magical Moments
  • Provide immediate service recovery

Almost wants you to become a customer straight away!

In summary, consider the following:

What behaviours are central to your Brand Vision?

Do your people know, understand and embrace these behaviours?

What are you doing every day to embrace your organisation’s behaviours and set an example to your people?

How do you drive collective positive energy around your organisation’s behaviours and more importantly are you hiring, developing and firing on behaviours?

C – Customer Centric Culture

How many company vision statements state something along the lines of, “We put the customer at the heart of our business…” and how many companies truly organise themselves around the customer?

I would advocate 5 steps to get you started:

  1. Talk to customers yourself as often as you can and not about your products and services – Get to know their business and their priorities and challenges
  2. Talk to your customer facing people just as often – sales, customer services, cash collection, engineers and so on. What barriers, issues, challenges, ideas, compliments and complaints do they get from customers
  3. Get your people whether customer facing or not to talk to customers at least once a month and if not talk, listen in to customer calls
  4. Make ‘Customers’ a standing agenda item in ALL meetings
  5. Elect some Customer Champions from your best people and get them actively engaged in your most important projects championing the voice of the customer above all else

D – Delight

There’s a difference between consistently meeting customer expectations and delighting customers, and the outcome is the difference between a satisfied customer and a promoter – a ‘Raving Fan’.

Customers expect to have their requirements met. It’s a hygiene factor. You expect your local ATM to work and have money in it. You expect a company to know your spending history when you have a query. You expect your hotel room to be clean when you have an over-night stay. When this isn’t the case you may move your customer from satisfied to a detractor, who is very likely to leave you over time and tell others about their dissatisfaction.

A satisfied customer is likely to leave you at some point for pastures that little bit greener. A promoter, a Raving Fan, will not. They will be loyal and they’ll talk about you positively to whoever will listen.

How to delight a customer will vary widely depending on your products and services, but always be looking for the edge, differentiators that matter. Get your people to do the same.

I would suggest two areas to think about:

  1. Fix the things that cause your customers to call you or cause them pain. Be easy to do business with. I’ve been an Amazon customer for over a decade now, and I’ve had to call them once and that was nine years ago. I literally spend thousands of pounds a year with them and they are so easy to do business with. I’ve never once understood a fuel or electricity bill and consistently feel frustrated with the whole industry. The day Amazon start selling fuel and electricity, I’ll move!
  2. Find ways to delight – it could be as simple as a free cookie on check-in like Double Tree by Hilton or a full valet when you take your car for a service. They stand out….for now. Finding ways to keep raising the bar in customer experience for your industry will ensure you maintain and grow market share as well as increased share of wallet.

E – Engage, Enrol and Enthuse Employees

You can have the best Customer Experience strategy and tools in the world, but without the understanding, buy-in and passion of your employees your strategy is worthless. Please see a previous post ‘Communicate or Fail’ for some top tips!

F – Fail Fast

Don’t get me wrong, failure isn’t a good thing, but procrastination in getting a new product out of the door or not doing something because you haven’t got all the data isn’t a good thing either. Allowing yourself to try new ways of working, marketing, new products or service enhancements in a small way, and finding out quickly what works and what doesn’t from a customer perspective will help you to fail fast, tweak your proposition and try again. Once you’ve discovered what works in your marketplace you can then widen this out further and invest more energy and money into being successful AND providing a better a customer experience.

G – Goals, Objectives and Measurement

If you’re a regular Think Oak! reader, you’ll know my passion for having goals, objectives and that you must measure progress against them. This is especially true of Customer Experience. Many organisations large or small, think that if you hire the right people and put in the right processes that Customer Experience will take care of itself. Wrong. If Customer Experience is to be truly part of your organisation’s DNA, then you need to have at least one strategic objective embracing it with underpinning goals that are regularly measured and an owner whose ‘raison d’être’ is to live customer experience. For some organisations this is where accountability stops. For Customer Experience to be embraced by everyone and for an organisation to be truly customer centric, at least one of everyone’s personal objectives should be around improvement of the customer experience.

H – Heroes

Heroes, your high-performing customer facing employees, can have a huge impact on Customer Experience, and when nurtured and recognised can truly accelerate cultural change in an organisation.  When a company celebrates sales, they sell more – but perhaps at the expense of delivery issues.  When it celebrates product management, new products come out quickly – including those without customer demand.  But companies with a great customer experience use the customer feedback to understand their level of customer satisfaction, and then celebrates those who engage customers at a superior level. Who are the often unsung proponents of customer experience in your organisation? Is it the receptionist, whose sunny disposition brightens up the day of every customer the speak to? Is it a security guard that always goes out of her way to be accommodating for unexpected customers arriving at your car park? Is it a sales person that goes the extra mile to ensure that the customer gets what they’ve paid for on the day they’ve been promised it?

Find these people and make them an example of ‘what we do around here’ and what good customer experience looks like. Tell these stories in company emails and newsletters. Reward your heroes and put them through further development, give them new opportunities to shine and you’ll be amazed at the halo effect these people have in your organisation in a short period of time.

I – Industry Insight

Keeping abreast of what competitors and industry thought leaders are doing and saying is crucial in order to stay ahead of the game with your customer experience.

If we look at the demise of Comet or Jessops as an example. Today’s fast-paced retail market demands an environment that provides shoppers compelling reasons to buy in-store and to convert that sale. By offering too little information on products and poor employee training, retailers like Comet force customers in-store to use their smartphones to check reviews, product specs, and inevitably competitor and price comparison websites. All too often this approach will result in the customer leaving empty-handed and looking to purchase elsewhere.

To survive, high-street retailers, as well as other industries, must operate as a cost leader and adopt a genuine integrated multi-channel approach. They must think about how shoppers want to buy and to be treated – Apple’s showroom approach is a great example of an engaging environment and people that enhance brand loyalty.

J – Joined up Experience

In today’s ‘hyper-connected’ marketplaces, customers can interact with your organisation in multiple ways. They expect a certain level of service using each of those channels – if they tweet to your service department, they expect a response within seconds or minutes. If they email you, they expect a response within the day or sooner. And so on. They also expect you to know who they are when they contact you, how many of your products and services you use, how much you spend with them and ideally know why you might be calling them. How do you ensure that you deliver your brand values across all of these different media with the right customer experience for them as individuals?

Even though most companies have created systems to address most of these channels and touchpoints, they often created them independently, making it difficult to maintain consistency and know what happened in other interactions to improve the next interaction. This often results in duplicative systems and processes, which are not only inefficient, but also costly. The lack of a seamless dialogue between the customer and you across all touchpoints creates customer frustration, which results in lost sales and lower customer satisfaction.

K – Knowledgeable

Unlike the customer of a decade ago who did not have easy access to product information and multiple avenues by which to locate and purchase products, the customer of today can easily access information, compare prices and formulate product or service questions in the comfort of their home, office, train or local coffee shop.

Today’s customer wants the convenience of researching and making purchasing decisions without having to leave their home or office. Does your web presence allow them the ability to acquire enough knowledge about your product or service to make a purchasing decision? Is it possible to make a purchase right now? Twenty-four hours a day? On the other side of the world?

Because your customer has the ability to perform their own research regarding your product or service, they expect your employees to know even more! Have you ever asked questions regarding a product or service only to feel that you knew more than the employee? Your customer expects your employees to be experts. Are your employees trained properly? Do they know the history of your company? Do they know how your products are made? Materials required to manufacture the product? Can they provide comprehensive answers regarding your service concept? Are they familiar with your competitor’s products/services and how they compare to your offerings? When today’s customer interacts with your company, they want assistance from  competent,  knowledgeable employees.

L – Listen, Think, Do and Learn

This 4 point plan is very effective in ensuring you keep focussed and continuously improving your organisation’s customer experience.

Listen – Capture customer feedback and sentiment as often as you can, wherever you can. Obviously regular formal research, is very useful (See A to Z of Marketing), but any interaction with a customer is an opportunity to capture information that could be useful to your organisation.

Think – Gathering information and reporting it to ‘management’ is all well and good, but without analysis, thought, insight and recommended action, it’s pretty useless. Certainly from a customer’s perspective. This is not a one-off activity!

Do – Once you’ve listened and thought, you need to act on this insight. What are you going to do differently? You need a plan, you need to execute against it and you need an owner to drive it through.

Learn – Any changes you make to the customer experience need to be measured and improved upon which takes you back to Listen – get feedback on your changes. Has the customer experience been improved? By how much? For which customers?

M – Moments of Truth

Jan Carlzon, former President of Scandinavian Airline System (SAS says, “A Moment of Truth is a chapter in which the customer comes into contact with any aspect of the company, however remote, and thereby has an opportunity to form an impression.” Each customer contact is a unique, unrepeatable opportunity for a company to differentiate itself from the competition. Every decision should be made with the customer in mind and viewed as another opportunity to make a favourable impression. Unfortunately, failure to satisfy a customer on any Moment of Truth will quickly destroy the customer’s memory of good service. On the other hand, getting it right can erase many if not all the wrongs that the customer previously experienced.

N – Net Promoter Score & Customer Satisfaction Measures

Net Promoter Score (NPS) is used by many of today’s top businesses to monitor and manage customer relationships. It is a useful measure of the likelihood of successful WOM (Word of Mouth / Word of Mouse) of your customer base (see W). I would argue that it is only one measure of customer satisfaction that you should be measuring, as by itself does not give you the breadth of detail you’ll need to address any issues that arise.

NPS is calculated from a single loyalty question, “How likely is it that you would recommend this company to your friend or colleague?” Based on their rating of this question using a 0 to 10 likelihood scale where 0 means “not at all likely” and 10 means “extremely likely,” customers are segmented into three groups:

Detractors (ratings of 0 to 6)

Passives (ratings of 7 and 8)

Promoters (ratings of 9 and 10)

A company can calculate its Net Promoter Score by simply subtracting the proportion of Detractors from the proportion of Promoters.

A successful Net Promoter program includes several factors that work together. Although NPS is useful, the most prevalent cause of failure in Net Promoter programs is the inability of the organisation to go beyond the metric and build out a complete operational model with NPS as its centerpiece. The breakthrough in Net Promoter comes from shifting the entire program from a research model to an operational model and embedding it in the business.

O – Online Experience

As the online channel has evolved, the customer journey has become more complex, and we’ve seen customers exert increasing power and influence over their relationships with brands. I could and will write a whole post on ‘Everything E’ in the coming weeks, but will outline 3 core areas of focus that you should think about for your organisation’s online strategy.

First, realise that it’s no longer acceptable to deliver a one-size-fits-all online customer experience. Instead, you must demonstrate that you know your customers by providing them with a relevant and personalised online experience that takes their preferences, behaviour and past history with your brand into account.

Second, understand that social networks like Facebook and Twitter have raised customers’ expectation levels for online interaction both on and off of social networking sites. To fulfil these expectations, provide your customers with an online experience that makes it easy for them to interact socially with your brand by incorporating user-generated content capabilities such as ratings, reviews or comments into your web presence.

Lastly, with the widespread use of mobile phones and tablets, the online experience is no longer restricted to the traditional web presence accessed on desktops and laptops. Instead, today’s customers are taking the online experience with them wherever they go in the form of a mobile phones, tablets and televisions.

P – Personalise where possible

As I stated earlier, making an experience a personal one for a customer, can really drive customer loyalty and customer recommendations.

Personalisation isn’t simply a case of adding a customer name to the top of an e-mail. It’s now possible for organisations to communicate with their customers about their individual interests and preferences.

The degree to which the experience is able to be tailored towards the needs of the individual and reflects their particular circumstances will vary by market. Customers of Amazon have long marvelled at how the recommendation engine is able to find items that seem to particularly appeal to them as individuals are then able to set a delivery date that meets their requirements for time and cost. Regular customers at the Ritz Carlton love that their favourite drinks and snacks are already in their bedroom when they arrive. Almost every customer I’ve met of the bank First Direct is a Raving Fan. Why? Well they’re treated as individuals, they feel listened to, their issues are resolved first time.

Q – Quirky but Quality

Innocent drinks are now hugely popular in the UK and sold in 14 other countries around the world. When they started selling smoothies, this was not the case. The founders sold them at music festivals whilst holding down full-time jobs. Their founding mission was to serve their customers high quality natural, fruit ‘smoothie’ drink prepared with the best quality raw materials within an affordable price and gradually increase their market share every year. At the heart of the business was a quality, healthy product that did people some good.

Innocent Drinks are known for their quirky, tongue in cheek approach to branding and marketing. They nurture a ‘friendly’ image – Instead of printing the normal small print list of ingredients, Innocent instead print their text in a larger font and include jokes and other amusements in their lists of ingredients. An example, from the blackcurrant flavoured spring water drink, is the inclusion in the ingredients list of ‘1 woolly jumper*’. Following the asterisk gives the reader the word ‘baa’. Sheep are not, of course, an ingredient in the drink. This is one example from hundreds they’ve incorporated into their brand and culture to make them a brand that customers want to be associated with.

R – Relationships

If you haven’t worked it out yet, business is all about relationships. The depth of relationship is proportionate to the loyalty of your customers, the deeper the better. Below I’ve outlined the Think Oak! 6 levels of Customer Relationship:

Mark Conway, Think Oak, Customer Relationships

S – Single View of a Customer

In today’s hyper-connected world, customers can interact with a brand, through multiple channels. They do not split their dealings with a brand into experience by channel, they just experience ‘the brand’ as a whole. It is true that some channels will be stronger than others within a brand’s marketing mix, but the strength of the experience is weighted by the weakest channel across customer interaction. For the single customer view, this means that brands must focus on a unified customer experience and appreciate the role of the individual within that process. The quality of each channel must be consistent whether Facebook page, Twitter stream, mobile application or sales assistant in the retail outlet, and the focus should always be towards the customer.

Investing in the tools and technology to make this happen will give you the return on investment several times over, especially as many of these tools are much more readily available and affordable than ever before.

T – Technology can help, but only so much

Competing in the ‘Age of the Customer’ relies heavily on your ability to deliver technology that improves the customer experience.

In order to deliver this, you must understand your customer experience ecosystem – the complex set of relationships among your company’s employees, partners, and customers that determines the quality of all customer interactions.

With constant technological advances, businesses have a variety of ways to instantly transform the way their customers interact with their businesses. For example, you can use social media for real-time communication with your customers or adopt a customer-relationship management system to manage customer preferences.

Here’s the catch. Your people need to understand that the importance of capturing, cleansing and using the information in the systems. Technology can help, but you need well-trained and motivated teams to truly transform your customer experience.

U – Understand Customer Needs and Desires

The ability to understand and share the feelings of customers is essential to providing better customer experiences. If you understand your customers, you’ll be well equipped to give them exactly what they need. Here are 3 specific ideas that you can use to engage with customers to build a deeper level of understanding.

1. Share customer insights

Customers share their experiences with companies all over the Internet. It’s likely you’ll need special technology to mine through thousands of social media posts, product reviews, e-mails and so on, but doing so can help you gain insight into what your customers think/feel about your organization. Collect and share this data with everyone in your company and talk about ways you can use it to improve customer experience.

2. Become a customer

Mystery shop yourself and your competitors and track your experiences. Walking a mile in your customers’ shoes is the fastest way to gain insight into their perspective and how they experience your organisation first hand.

3. Create a life-sized map of the customers’ journey and walk through it

Make a detailed illustration of your customers as they travel through different parts of your organisation. Map out their experiences. Have employees walk through the customer journey, describing and discussing what they see from the perspective of a typical customer at any given touch point. You’d be amazed at what you’ll find!

V – Values

Do you have Brand Values in your organisation? Are they customer focussed values? More importantly do your people display these brand values? If you answered no to any of those 3 questions, you have some work to do.

See previous Think Oak! post – Strategy AND Culture For Success

W – Word of Mouth / Mouse

More than at any time in history, Word of Mouth and especially Mouse is having a huge influence on purchasing decisions and behaviour of customers and prospects. Whether as a consumer or a business decision maker, I seek the opinion of those I trust before I make a purchase decision. Do you know who influences your customers and where? How do you influence these influencers?

Whether offline or online, you need to understand who these people are and who they’re connected  to. I would really recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s book, ‘The Tipping Point’ to understand the power of the Maven – the information specialist, and the Connector – a human social hub, the people who know everyone and have large personal, business and social networks.

X – Xtra Mile Experiences

What can you and your people do to go the Xtra Mile for your customers? To get your creative juices flowing, I’ve listed just some of the ways others do that little bit Xtra:

  • Some restaurant chains offer you a free drink or free dessert if your table isn’t ready when you arrive
  • Complimentary Choc-Ice to watch your in-flight movies on Virgin Airlines
  • Stay at a Disney Hotel and you can enter an hour earlier to the theme parks
  • Zappos have removed all the barriers to buying shoes online. They offer free shipping and free returns
  • Tiffany provides (in addition to the little blue box) free lifetime cleaning of your rings

The above examples are ‘processes’ to deliver that little bit extra. What about the non-standard Xtras? Empowering and training your employees to make their own decisions to sort customers’ issues out allows them to create Xtra Mile moments of their own. Check out ‘Stories that stay with you’ from Ritz Carlton

Y – Yes it matters!

By now you should realise, if you didn’t already, that Customer Experience matters. You can differentiate on customer experience and you should! It should form part of your organisation’s strategic objectives, it should be front of mind alongside growing revenues, managing costs and pleasing your key stakeholders, because whether you like it or not, customers are stakeholders in your organisation – without customers, there is no organisation.

Z – Zero to Hero

Even the best organisations get it wrong sometimes. How you recover from a customer-affecting issue can mean the difference between a customer being a vocal detractor and a promoter of your organisation.  In my experience there are several steps you should follow to turn a situation around – BALANCE:

  1. Be Proactive – The best way to avoid a problem becoming a disaster is to be proactive. Build monitoring into your processes so that you can quickly find the route-cause of problems when they occur.
  2. Act Quickly – Don’t wait for an army of customers to complain about the same issue before your start to act. Reacting quickly to a problem might mean you can contain the problem to a small number of customers. Ensure that you have built training and escalations into your problem resolution processes so that decisions can be made quickly.
  3. Listen to Customers – Ensure that you listen to your customer.
  4. Apologise – Effectively communicating empathy and apology throughout the service recovery can rebuild customer relationships and trust. Assure your customers that their problem is important to the company and that it will be addressed.
  5. Neutralise the problem
  6. Communicate – If the problem cannot be resolved quickly, keep the customer updated on progress at regular intervals until it’s resolved.
  7. Exit Effectively – Once the problem is resolved, give the customer the best explanation you can, compensate them if appropriate and give them the confidence that this will not happen again.

When you resolve failures quickly and effectively, acknowledge and apologise for the problem, and then respond to their critical need, most customers will pay you back with continued or increased loyalty, goodwill and even perhaps, repurchasing.  Even major service failures are opportunities to show the reliability of your customer support functions and provide the most positive experience possible, moving you from Zero to Hero!

I hope you enjoyed this A to Z, and as always would love to hear your feedback and stories of great Customer Experiences!

A to Z of Product Management

A to Z Product Management

Product management can be a complex and often misunderstood discipline in business. In reality Product Management in its broadest sense, touches every part of an organisation that sells products and services, and everyone has their part to play in the product life-cycle to ensure that customers get the best possible experience and your organisation benefits from growth and profitability.

In this A to Z I’ll be covering some key processes, tools and terminology to help you understand the world of Product Management.

A – Ansoff Matrix

Ansoff’s matrix is a useful 2 x 2 grid to help you determine your product and service strategies. Within each segment there is a differing level of risk. The four elements are:

Market penetration – This involves increasing market share within existing market segments. This can be achieved by selling more products/services to established customers or by finding new customers within existing markets.

Product development – This involves developing new products and services for existing markets. Product development involves thinking about how new products can meet customer needs more closely and outperform those of your competitors.

Market development – Finding new markets for existing products. Market research and further segmentation of markets helps to identify new groups of customers.

Diversification – Moving new products into new markets at the same time. It is the most risky strategy. The more an organisation moves away from what it has done in the past the more uncertainties are created. However, if existing activities are threatened, diversification helps to spread risk.

ansoff

B – Business Case

A key part of product management is development of compelling business cases. Without buy-in from senior management to engage resource, money and time, your product is not likely to become anything other than an idea. You need to convince decision makers in your organisation that your product has a market, that people will buy it, that you can sell it and that the return on investment will be more than if the money, time and resources were used elsewhere. Compelling business cases have the following ingredients:

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Strategic Fit
  3. Marketplace Analysis
  4. Product Description
  5. Go To Market plan
  6. Financial Analysis
  7. Operational Impacts
  8. Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies
  9. Project Plan

C – Customer Needs Analysis

Before any product is designed, developed and launched, it is crucial that you know what customer needs will be fulfilled by your product.

Understanding customer needs is not necessarily an easy task however. Unfortunately, determining the real needs of a potential customer is not as simple as asking them what they want. Many people are unable to clearly articulate their most pressing and compelling product or service requirements because determining how products could or should be improved is not forefront in their mind.

To learn what your customer really needs, you must watch them and talk with them. You must be sure you understand their concerns and overall business issues. Only by thoroughly understanding the broad environment your customer lives in on a day-to-day basis, as well as their specific and detailed issues and concerns, can you apply the creative efforts necessary to design a compelling solution that will be successful.

An approach starting to become more widespread in industry is to conduct in-depth customer research throughout product development and to treat potential customers as participants in the new product development process.

D – Definition Document

In order to develop the right product, everyone involved has to know what you’re developing.  The initial document that spells this out, or is at least supposed to, is a Proposition Definition document, or one with a similar name.  The intent of such a document is to define the features and functions of the product to be built.  At the early stage of a project, this is generally a fairly high-level definition, specifying in fairly broad terms what the product is and does, the types of customers that will use it and potential market size.  Its intent is to provide sufficient information for the requirements to be taken to the next level of specification.  When not done at all, a project will proceed with no real sense of direction.  When done poorly (which happens all too often), it gives only a vague sense of definition and/or direction, leaving what the product really is open to individual interpretation, which is dangerous when working in larger multifunctional teams.  When done reasonably, this document gives a clear definition to all of what the product is.  When done really well, it not only defines what the product is, but also what it isn’t.  By defining what a product isn’t as well as what it is, it prevents people from heading off-track in directions that were not intended.  All efforts should be made to provide a really excellent product definition document, clearly defining what the product is, and what the product is not.

This proposition definition document sets the foundation upon which the product will be based.  A firm foundation provides a stable platform to build upon; a flimsy foundation leads to a platform that can later collapse.  All key departments – Marketing, Product Management, Sales, engineering (including development, test/quality assurance, usability, performance, technical documentation, etc.), customer support, field engineering, business development, manufacturing, finance, and others should be involved to ensure their unique viewpoints are properly represented.

E – Evaluation Gates

During the product development process there should always be some evaluation gates where stakeholders are involved in evaluating progress and permission to proceed:

1. Idea screening

2. Concept screening

3. Business analysis

4. Product testing

5. Analysing test market result

6. After-launch assessment (Short term)

7. After-launch assessment (Long term)

Using these evaluation gates help product developments conform to strategic intent, stay on track and realise the intended customer, operational and financial benefits.

F – Forecasting

Forecasting sales of your new product is not an exact science, but I’ve highlighted below the methodology I’ve used in my career to build up a view before submitting a business case.

  1. Determine the total size of a desired market, which is called the total addressable market
  2. Decide what portion of that market the product can penetrate, or the attainable market share
  3. Work out the number of units or the volume that the sales team can commit to sell
  4. Calculate the number of units that can be produced / delivered
  5. Determine realistic pricing for the product and how that pricing will vary over time
  6. Translate the sales and demand forecast into a realistic budget for the product

G – Governance & Getting things done!

Aside from the New Product Introduction Process (See ‘N’) which will help in stage gating new products, it is hugely important that the senior management team are behind your product development and it’s priority in the organisation. Without this backing, you will spend a huge amount of time fighting for resource, agreeing priorities and re-agreeing them, and slowing your overall project down.

All product developments should also have a senior management sponsor and ideally a project manager (or at least someone on the team with that role) and regular project board meetings to keep the development on track and to expedite any issues. Ideally your key suppliers should be represented on the board.

Your key stakeholders need to be communicated to regularly with project updates, deviations to plan and escalations in order to keep momentum and deliver your new product on time, to quality and to budget.

H – Help Sales to Help You

Sales people are a great source of feedback during all stages of the product life-cycle. They’ll give you feedback on what customers are asking for, the barriers to them selling a particular product or service and also views on how they would like to be remunerated! Building strong relationships with sales people is always a good idea, but by involving them early in a new product development will get them on board and excited about your product way before you launch it. If they’re good, they’ll start talking to customers early and start building pipeline.

A note of caution: Don’t let your sales people start selling your new product until you are very clear and confident with your launch date! Customers get very annoyed when they’ve committed to buying something and the launch is delayed 6 months or longer.

I – Innovation

Innovation is rarely about solving an entirely new problem. More often it is solving an existing problem in a new way. Neither is innovation the sole domain of a product manager or senior management. Ideas can come from anywhere inside or outside of your organisation. The trick is to spot a good idea when it comes.

Many organisations have mechanisms for capturing, filtering and taking the best ideas to a ‘concept’ stage. Once an idea has been registered as having merit, resources are assigned to investigate the marketplace, the opportunity, the business and customer benefits, the likely costs, timeframes and resources required to develop the product.

J – Just In Time

In the 1970s, when Japanese manufacturing companies were trying to perfect their systems, Taiichi Ohno of Toyota developed a guiding philosophy for manufacturing that minimized waste and improved quality. Called Just In Time (JIT), this philosophy advocates a lean approach to production, and uses many tools to achieve this overall goal.

When items are ready just in time, they aren’t sitting idle and taking up space. This means that they aren’t costing you anything to hold onto them, and they’re not becoming obsolete or deteriorating. However, without the buffer of having items in stock, you must tightly control your manufacturing /logistics processes so that parts are ready when you need them.

When you do (and JIT helps you do this) you can be very responsive to customer orders – after all, you have no stake in “forcing” customers to have one particular product, just because you have a warehouse full of parts that need to be used up. And you have no stake in trying to persuade customers to take an obsolete model just because it’s sitting in stock.

The key benefits of JIT are:

• Low inventory

• Low wastage

• High quality production

• High customer responsiveness

K – Kaizen

Kaizen , or ‘Continuous Improvement’ is a policy of constantly introducing small incremental changes in a business in order to improve quality and/or efficiency. This approach assumes that employees are the best people to identify room for improvement, since they see the processes in action all the time. An organisation that uses this approach therefore has to have a culture that encourages and rewards employees for their contribution to the process.

Kaizen can operate at the level of an individual, or through Kaizen Groups or Quality Circles which are groups specifically brought together to identify potential improvements.

Key features of Kaizen:

• Improvements are based on many, small changes rather than the radical changes that might arise from Research and Development

• As the ideas come from the employees themselves, they are less likely to be radically different, and therefore easier to implement

• Small improvements are less likely to require major capital investment than major process changes

• The ideas come from the talents of the existing workforce, as opposed to using R&D, consultants or equipment – any of which could be very expensive

• All employees should continually be seeking ways to improve their own performance

• It helps encourage workers to take ownership for their work, and can help reinforce team working, thereby improving worker motivation

L – Launch

The launch of a product or service needs a GREAT PLAN:-

G – Go To Market Plan

R – Reference Customers

E – End to End testing

A – Advertising Materials

T – Trained Employees

P – Processes Documented

L – Legal Documentation

A – Approval from Stakeholders

N – No Go / Go Decision

M – Marketing Plan

See previous post on A to Z of Marketing

N – New Product Introduction Process

Key to development, launch, management and retiring of products is the New Product Introduction Process. There are many variations of this process, most centre around the following core steps:

NPI

O – Operational Processes

A key part of any product development is the creation of, or enhancement to, operational processes. It is crucial that and End to End process review is carried out for the new product or service and the department owners document, sign-off on and embed any changes to their ways of working.

In addition it is important to understand any changes to departmental KPI’s and headcount before launch and that everyone impacted by the product launch is trained to a sufficient level prior to launch.

Post launch, it is also important to invest some time in ensuring that any teething troubles are ironed out quickly and any tweaks to process are documented and people retrained where appropriate.

P – Proposition

The traditional marketing mix consists of four major elements, the “4-Ps of marketing”. As defined by Philip Kotler et al. (1999):

  1. Product: “Anything that can be offered to a market for attention, acquisition, use or consumption that might satisfy a want or need. In includes physical objects, services, persons, places, organisations and ideas.”
  2. Price: “The amount of money charged for a product or service, or the sum of the values that consumers exchange for the benefits of having or using the product or service.”
  3. Promotion: “Activities that communicate the product or service and its merits to target customers and persuade them to buy.”
  4. Place: “All the company activities that make the product or service available to target customers.”

All of these elements have their specific place in any company’s marketing strategy.

The 7-Ps of Services Marketing

In the context of services marketing, Booms and Bitner (1981) have therefore suggested an extended “7-Ps” approach that contains the following additional “Ps”:

  1. People: All people directly or indirectly involved in the consumption of a service, e.g. employees or customers.
  2. Process: Procedure, mechanisms and flow of activities by which services are consumed.
  3. Physical Environment: The environment in which the service is delivered. It also includes tangible goods that help to communicate and perform the service.

I would argue that all of these combine to become 1P, namely Proposition:

Proposition

Q – Qualitative and Quantitative Research

See previous A to Z of Marketing

R – Return on Investment and other measures

Knowing your numbers following the launch of a new product or service is crucial. I have listed some of the more common Key Performance indicators below, but you may have others:

Marketing Performance:

Number of leads generated via channel vs target

Cost per lead vs target

Leads converted to sales vs target

Cost per sale

Sales Performance:

Number of sales per channel

Number of sales cancellations per channel

Number of disconnections / leaving the service

% of pipeline converted to sales

Order Intake vs forecast and target

Operational Performance

Net Promoter Score

Number of Complaints

% of orders complete with SLA

Number of customer service / technical support calls vs forecast

Financial Performance

Monthly revenue vs forecast and budget

Monthly Gross Margin vs forecast and budget

Average Revenue Per User or Customer

Total Operating Costs

Return on Investment

S – SWOT

Before any product goes on the market, it’s advisable to carry out an effective market analysis known by the acronym SWOT – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Questions you should keep at the front of mind as you consider the SWOT for your new product:

  • What product/s are we selling?
  • What is the process we have in place to sell the product?
  • Who are the customers, who are the people interested in our product?
  • What ways can we deliver the product to the customers?
  • What are the finances needed to create and sell this product?
  • Who will oversee all the stages from having an idea, to having enough finance to complete the task?

Using a 2×2 grid and a selection of people from your organisation, really analyse where your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats are for your market and in particular for your new product or service.

Prioritise them and ensure that any mitigations / activities are built into your plan. Ensure your strengths are clearly articulated in the proposition and opportunities acted upon.

T – Third Party Relationships

In most product developments, you will need to work with third parties to supply goods or services.

The process begins by selecting the right vendor for the right reasons. The vendor selection process can be a very complicated and emotional undertaking if you don’t know how to approach it from the very start. You will need to analyse your business requirements, search for prospective vendors, lead the team in selecting the winning vendor and successfully negotiate a contract while avoiding contract negotiation mistakes.

The most important success factor of managing 3rd party relationships is to share information and priorities with your vendors. That does not mean that you throw open the accounting books and give them access to your systems. Appropriate vendor management practices provide only the necessary information at the right time that will allow a vendor to better service your needs. This may include limited forecast information, new product launches, changes in design and expansion or relocation changes, to name a few.

Another important factor in building relationships with third parties is trust. Be as open as you can with them and if at all possible incorporate the third-party in you new product development team.

U – User Acceptance Testing

In an ideal world, all projects would allow adequate time for testing. Project teams would plan exhaustive testing for each piece of system functionality and if they ran out of time then they would drop functionality from a release rather than compromise on quality.

With business systems, it’s virtually impossible to test for every possible eventuality. We must therefore ask ourselves what is the most important functionality that must be tested within the available timeframe. The obvious answer is – the business functions that the system will deliver and on which the project justification is based.

User acceptance testing should be performed by business users to prove that a new system delivers what they are paying for. Business users have the knowledge and understanding of business requirements that IT testers do not have. They are uniquely placed to accept or reject the new system – after all they have to live with the consequences.

I would also argue that customer testing is also useful during stages of some product development so that areas such as usability and ease of purchase process as well as FAQ’s are meaningful and so on.

V – Value Chain Analysis

The term ‘Value Chain’ was used by Michael Porter in his book “Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance” (1985). The value chain analysis describes the activities the organisation performs and links them to the organisations competitive position.

Value chain analysis describes the activities within and around an organisation, and relates them to an analysis of the competitive strength of the organisation. Therefore, it evaluates which value each particular activity adds to the organisation’s products or services. This idea was built upon the insight that an organisation is more than a random compilation of machinery, equipment, people and money. Only if these things are arranged into systems and systematic activates it will become possible to produce something for which customers are willing to pay a price. Porter argues that the ability to perform particular activities and to manage the linkages between these activities is a source of competitive advantage.

Value chain

In most industries, it is rather unusual that a single company performs all activities from product design, production of components, and final assembly to delivery to the final user by itself. Most often, organisations are elements of a value system or supply chain. Hence, value chain analysis should cover the whole value system in which the organisation operates.

A typical value chain analysis can be performed with the following steps:

  • Analysis of own value chain – which costs are related to every single activity
  • Analysis of customers value chains – how does our product fit into their value chain
  • Identification of potential cost advantages in comparison with competitors
  • Identification of potential value added for the customer – how can our product add value to the customers value chain (e.g. lower costs or higher performance) – where does the customer see such potential

W – Warranties, Service Levels, Terms and Conditions and Contracts

Whilst legal support should be always be sought when pulling together product conditions of service, it is essential that as the person leading a product development you have a clear view as to what the key conditions of service should be for your product or service. This area, depending on your industry, can be hugely complex and may end up being a critical path activity in your project plan, so it is key that you initiate this activity as soon as your proposition is fully defined.

X – X Functional Teams

Ok, I cheated. Cross-functional teams are key to the success of product management, probably more so than for any other business activity. Products cannot be developed successfully in isolation.

A highly effective cross-functional team includes representatives from across your organisation. Obviously, some people will be busier than others at certain stages in the process, but it’s important that you enrol the cross-functional team from the outset and keep them in the loop. Examples of represented areas in your organisation or even outside may be:

  • Project Management
  • Product Developers
  • Customer Service
  • Technical Support
  • Logistics
  • Information Technology
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Pre-Sales
  • Legal
  • Finance
  • Suppliers
  • And you should consider having a customer or two on your team!

They will be the champion for their department, bringing information from their function to the product team. They’ll also serve as a product champion, communicating back to their department on the product development and what impacts there’ll be back in the department.

Y – Yield Management

Yield management is the process of understanding, anticipating and influencing customer behaviour in order to maximise yield or profits from a fixed and/or perishable resource. Examples of industries where this needs to be thought about as part of product management are:

Airlines, Hotels, Rentals, Insurance, IT and Telecoms

The core concept of yield management is to provide the right service to the right customer at the right time for the right price. That concept involves careful definition of service, customer, time, and price.

Z – Zappos’ Values

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ll have heard of Zappos. Zappos.com is an online shoe and apparel shop based in Henderson, Nevada. In July 2009, the company announced it would be acquired by Amazon.com in an all-stock deal worth about $1.2 billion. Since its founding in 1999, Zappos has grown to be the largest online shoe store in the world generating $2.1bn in sales in 2011

Zappos employees live by the following values, ones that the best product managers I’ve come across in my career live by too:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

I hope you enjoyed this A to Z and would love to hear your Product Management stories and successes.

A to Z of Marketing

A to Z Marketing

The Chartered Institute of Marketing defines Marketing as “The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”

I think I prefer Seth Godin’s description:

The art of telling a story to a customer that they want to hear, that lets them persuade themselves to buy something. Inherent to that story:

1. You have to have something they want. You must not force it on them.

2. You have to be authentic. Tell the truth.

3. Your story has to be so remarkable that people want to tell your story to others.

Whilst the principles of marketing have remained largely the same for some time, the execution, planning, tools and techniques have significantly evolved over recent years. In this A to Z, I’d like to cover some of the fundamentals of Marketing Strategy as well as touch upon some of the newer terms and techniques used in today’s marketing toolkit.

A – Advertising

Advertising is used to describe the whole creative process of communicating a message. This message can be about the social or commercial benefits or the characteristics of a particular product or service. Advertising has evolved into a vastly complex form of communication, with literally thousands of different ways for a business to get a message to a prospective customer. Examples include broadcast (e.g. TV & Radio), print (e.g. magazines and direct mail), outdoor (e.g. billboards and street furniture) and social media (e.g. facebook and twitter).

The process of advertising (or marketing communications) is used to acquire a customer, to keep the customer, and to satisfy the customer’s need (want or desire) for the particular product or service.

B – Brand

A brand is NOT a logo.

Perhaps brand expert Marty Neumeier said it best:

“A brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.”

A brand encompasses the sum total of how a business, product, or service is perceived by those who interact with it. For employees, it represents their pride in belonging. For suppliers, it governs how they optimise their operations to better serve us. And for customers, a brand is both their belief in who we are and a badge they wear that communicates something about who they are.

For marketers especially, they are ambassadors for the brand and therefore your marketing strategy must stay loyal to your brand, its values and its vision.

C – Customers

Customers should be at the heart of any Marketing Strategy for any organisation. Their characteristics will vary depending on your marketplace, products and services but you ignore them, their needs and their behaviours at your peril. Having a deep understanding of your customer will be at the heart of success of your Marketing Strategy.

We’ll cover a few areas of customer understanding in this A-Z because it is so important, but two specific piece of advice I would give above all others are:

  1. Talk to customers – As many of them as you can, as often as you can, as early as you can. Don’t just trust your marketing strategy and its effectiveness to what Gartner or CFI may say (that insight is useful though!) or what a marketing agency may say alone. Talk to customers or prospects about their business, or their personal circumstances; what their challenges area and what’s important to them.
  2. Put on your customer glasses – Look at all your customer touchpoints from your customers’ perspective. How would you like to receive information about a new product or service? How would you like to be billed and when? Would you expect to be able to get in contact with a business 24/7? Would you like to buy online or have someone call you or make a visit? And so on. You’d be surprised at how many businesses do things for their own convenience and not that of their customers!

D – Data

Data will make or break your Marketing Strategy and execution. Do you know who your customers are? Do you know what they buy from you, when, how often and why? Do you know what they’re saying about you and where? How happy are your customers and are they recommending you to friends, colleagues or their contacts? What products or services would they like to buy from you in the future?

I would hope you could answer most of these questions, but many companies struggle. Data collection, quality and analysis should form a key part of any business process and getting a single view of your customers in one place is critical.

E – Everything ‘E

Even if your business is traditionally offline, you should actively consider what your online presence needs to be in the future. You also need to consider how much you have to invest in your online presence, what technologies you will need to use and also whether you have the skills in-house to achieve what your strategy dictates. The good news is that there are plenty of really good technology providers and online marketing agencies that can help you, as well as plenty of online cheap resources that you can tap into.

Keep a look out for future posts on Everything ‘E’

F – Focus Groups

Focus groups can be an important and really useful tool for getting feedback regarding new products, packaging, names or new services before they are made available to the public. Focus groups can provide invaluable information about the potential market acceptance of the product or service.

Focus groups are normally conducted by a trained moderator among a small group of respondents which could be prospective customers, actual customers, a combination of the two as well as cross sections from across your marketplaces. The session is normally conducted in an unstructured and natural way where respondents are free to give views from any aspect.

They are normally recorded and attendees are often paid in some way for attendance.

Top Tips:-

  1. Attend the session yourself if you can – purpose-built focus group venues often have secondary rooms where you can view the sessions live. By attending yourself, you not only get the see the session and get feedback immediately, you can tweak questioning and throw in ideas during a break in the session to get more out of them.
  2. If you can’t attend, watch the audio / video in full. Sometimes well-meaning agencies / staff will distil feedback that will distort the message coming back from the group. I’ve often found discrepancies in feedback in my experience.
  3. Focus groups are often expensive and time-consuming to run, and therefore you may not run many at any one time and therefore the sample size is small. You should be cognisant of this and be careful not jump to conclusions if one or two people like / dislike a particular idea /feature / price point etc.
  4. Lastly, DO listen. Even if it was your idea and you ‘know’ it’s a good one, if 80% of your focus group don’t like it….don’t do it! I’ve known some stubborn product managers, business owners and senior managers that didn’t listen, went ahead anyway and reaped the appropriate reward!

G – Guerrilla Marketing

Guerrilla marketing “works because it’s simple to understand, easy to implement and outrageously inexpensive,” says Jay Conrad Levinson, the man who coined the phrase.

Consumers have grown immune to big budget advertising, but marketers that expend a bit of time, effort and creativity can generate effective results with inexpensive, small-scale stunts.

There are some great and some extremely cost-effective as well as expensive examples here

H – Hits, Likes, Shares and Followers

Social Media is increasingly becoming more important for marketing in organisations of all sizes and segments. Whether for brand awareness, tracking customer perceptions, driving sales leads or simply to have more conversations with your customers Social Media is here to stay for a good time to come. The important thing to decide is what are you going to use it for, why and how and with what resource?

Please see the following previous Think Oak posts for more information:

A to Z of Business Social Media

The New SMS – Social Media Strategy

I – Internal Marketing

In medium to large businesses Internal Marketing becomes much more crucial to the success of achieving your marketing and organisational goals. Effectively engaging employees in your Vision, Strategy and Goals can have a significant positive impact on sales and profitability as well as the emotional well-being of your people.

A previous post Communicate or Fail will give you a few pointers.

J – Joined up

Joined-up marketing is all about recognising the different ways people interact with your brand. It’s also about putting in place collateral at each of these touchpoints which work together to deliver the right level of engagement and – of course – sales.

Most marketing campaigns and certainly overall strategies these days are not simply delivered via one marketing channel. A mix of online and offline activity is used to get the most impact for your brand.

There are a couple of pitfalls I’ve come across in my career from a marketing strategy execution perspective that I would urge you to think about as part of your marketing planning:

  1. Ensure that all your front line people understand your marketing plan, activity and messaging. Your front line people need to know that the phones are going to start ringing and what offers and products are being promoted PLUS they need to be trained on what to expect from customers in the way of questions.
  2. If you have commissioned sales people, either direct, telesales or via another channel, you need to ensure that they are ‘motivated’ to sell that product or service, both financially and that they know how to sell it.

K – KPIs

Any Marketing Strategy must lay out and actively monitor and manage key performance indicators (KPI’s).

Below are some suggested must have metrics to measure whatever your marketing strategy is:

1.      Return on Investment (ROI)

This KPI is the single most important KPI for your marketing team to monitor. It provides an honest assessment of your performance so you know which campaigns are generating revenue.

2.      Incremental Sales

This KPI is closely related to ROI and measures the contribution your marketing efforts make to sales. This KPI emphasises the importance of monitoring the effectiveness of each of your campaigns – top marketers meticulously measure each lead, win, and failure that results from their campaign. To formulate this KPI, you need to establish baseline sales and clearly define which channels your marketing efforts are going to affect.

3.      Cost per Lead

This KPI puts the focus on the effectiveness of your campaign at generating leads for each pound / dollar / euro spent. This helps to keep your marketing activities in perspective. Even if you have a pet project that you are particularly attached to, the numbers will not lie. If a campaign isn’t panning out, you need to be prepared to go back to the drawing board.

4.      Conversion Rates

These types of metrics are important because they provide a benchmark for gauging a campaign’s success through to a sale and help you understand where, if anywhere, you are losing sales. As important as it is to monitor your ability to convert visits to leads, you should also measure what leads turn into wins (and what channel they came through). This will help tell you which channels resonate with people ready to make a purchase.

5.      Online / Social Media Reach and Engagement

Whilst some social media activity is connected to customer service and brand building, you do need to demonstrate value for the effort and resource you are investing into social media. Capture the growth in reach and engagement (likes, comments, retweets, shares, etc) for all channels each month, then get to the bottom line.

# Lead Conversions assisted by each social media channel

# Customer Conversions assisted by each social media channel

# Traffic associated with social media channels

L – Lessons Learned

I’ve found that as part of building any strategy, it’s useful to openly review successes and failures from the past, not only from within your business or your market, but from other industries. What can you take from these that you can learn and build upon for your strategy. This should be an ongoing process throughout the life-cycle of your strategy anyway, but as a minimum should be done as part of your strategic planning process.

M – Marketplace Analysis

As part of any Marketing Strategy and its delivery you need a deep understanding of the following areas:

Market Size – Current and Future

Market Growth Rate

Market Trends – Historic and Future

Market Profitability

Customer Segmentation

Competitor Review

I will be covering these areas in much more detail in future Think Oak! posts.

N – Net Promoter Score

Net Promoter Score (NPS) is used by many of today’s top businesses to monitor and manage customer relationships. It is a useful measure of the likelihood of successful WOM (Word of Mouth / Word of Mouse) of your customer base. I would argue that it is only one measure of customer satisfaction that you should be measuring, as by itself does not give you the breadth of detail you’ll need to address any issues that arise.

NPS is calculated from a single loyalty question, “How likely is it that you would recommend this company to your friend or colleague?” Based on their rating of this question using a 0 to 10 likelihood scale where 0 means “not at all likely” and 10 means “extremely likely,” customers are segmented into three groups:

Detractors (ratings of 0 to 6)

Passives (ratings of 7 and 8)

Promoters (ratings of 9 and 10)

A company can calculate its Net Promoter Score by simply subtracting the proportion of Detractors from the proportion of Promoters.

A successful Net Promoter program includes several factors that work together. Although NPS is useful, the most prevalent cause of failure in Net Promoter programs is the inability of the organisation to go beyond the metric and build out a complete operational model with NPS as its centerpiece. The breakthrough in Net Promoter comes from shifting the entire program from a research model to an operational model and embedding it in the business.

O – Organic Growth

Organic growth means expanding your business and increasing turnover by carrying on doing what you’re doing, rather than through acquisitions (buying other businesses) or through moving into new markets. You might move into a new geographic region or use a new sales channel, but you’re still using your original business model. You don’t force growth with outside investment and the rate of growth is more natural – hence the name organic.

As part of your marketing strategy it’s key to understand how you want to grow your business and which growth strategy you’re pursuing. It’s not easy to do more than one at once, without a great deal of 100% focussed resource working on each.

P – Planning

An output of your marketing strategy will be your marketing plan. If your strategy is the what, where and why, the plan is the how, who and when!

Your marketing plan outlines specific actions that you will take to market your product or service potential customers. These actions work to persuade these potential customers to purchase your products or services.

Your marketing plan does not need to be long and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to complete. Marketing plans can be a part of your overall business plan or as a singular document. If you think of it as your “roadmap” that will provide you with detailed directions on how to reach your marketing goals.

Top Tips:

  1. Ensure that each element of the plan has a clear budget, targets for leads, sales and other outcomes as well as a clear timeline of what is to happen when.
  2. Understand how your marketing plans and their outcomes match your overall marketing budget, and forecasted revenues and sales.
  3. Have some plan B’s and C’s – What will you do if you don’t generate enough leads and therefore sales as part of your plan?
  4. Depending on your businesses markets, products and services you may have very different sales cycles. You need to have a clear understanding of these in order to work on your plan and your targets.

Q – Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Simplistically, research can be quantitative or qualitative:

  • Quantitative research provides statistical information – for example, how many potential customers there are and what their average incomes are
  • Qualitative research examines people’s feelings and attitudes towards your brand, product or service, and what motivates them

The traditional boundaries between qualitative and quantitative research are beginning to blur. This is occurring as marketing research moves away from a mass-market orientation into an era of ever more precisely targeted niche markets, particularly business and professional markets.

Increased interest in marketing to small niche markets, particularly among business and professional markets has created new opportunities for survey researchers and businesses to include qualitative components to their quantitative research.

I would argue that a key part of your marketing strategy, should be to capture both types of data as part of your business as usual activity so that you can continually monitor sentiment to your organisation and its services.

R – Relationship Marketing

Relationship marketing is all about developing long-term relationships with customers so that they provide you with ongoing business. An organisation must meet customer satisfaction expectations consistently to retain and develop long-term trust and relationships with customers. Traditional transactional marketing used to focus on attracting customers for one-time sales rather than repeat business. It takes a lot of work to persuade customers to make their first purchase with you, but if you can persuade customers to give you repeat business it will cost you less money and time…and build Word of Mouth and in today’s world of social media, Word of Mouse.

Not all business relationships are created equal however. Some customers generate huge revenues without much work on your part. Others make you feel like you’re squeezing water from a stone, and require enormous nurturing and work to extract even a small amount of value. You will be much more successful when you learn to evaluate different types of business relationships, and then focus effectively on those that offer the highest potential.

S – Sales

Marketing is everything that you do to reach and persuade prospects. The sales process is everything that you do to close the sale and get a signed agreement or contract. Both are necessities to the success of a business. You cannot do without either process. By strategically combining both efforts you will experience a successful amount of business growth. However, by the same token if the efforts are unbalanced it can curtail your growth.

I’m referring particularly here where you have telesales or field sales people in your organisation (or outsourced to a third-party).

Marketing has increasingly become about creating and maintaining conversations with customers. There has been a shift from talking at people, to talking to people. This just so happens to be sales peoples’ area of expertise!

A key part of your marketing strategy should include the answers to some of the following questions:

1. Is there a gap between what’s being marketed and what’s being sold? What is it and why?

2. Are the leads you deliver to the sales team of high enough quality to be converted?

3. What has the Sales team learned after a successful, and unsuccessful campaigns? How can this information better prepare your strategy going forward?

4. What information can marketing provide Sales to better complete a prospective customer profile?

5. Have you created a system to ensure continuous feedback between both sales and marketing?

T – Testing

Unless you have an unlimited budget, and you don’t, a key strand of a successful marketing strategy is testing.

Before you invest 20% of your marketing budget on putting an advert in big national newspapers for one day in the year, you may want to test whether the types of customers you wish to attract will a) see the advert, b) read the advert, c) do anything about it.

By testing your market and customer segments using different creative and media, you will be able to get a better view as to what attracts leads to your organisation and what doesn’t. More importantly you need to find out whether those leads convert to sales. It may be that some content may drive significant volumes of calls into your sales teams, that because of the marketing execution, do not convert to new business. Invest small amounts of your budget into new marketing initiatives to test their effectiveness with your prospects – It’s worth it!

U – USP – Unique Selling Proposition

Before you can begin to sell your product or service to anyone else, you have to know what differentiates your product / service from that of your competitors. This is especially important when your product or service is similar to those around you. Very few businesses are one-of-a-kind. Just look around you: How many clothing retailers, air conditioning installers, marketing agencies or supermarkets are truly unique?

The key to effective selling in this situation is what marketing professionals call a “unique selling proposition” (USP). Unless you can pinpoint what makes your business unique in a world of similar competitors, you cannot target your sales efforts successfully.

One way to start finding your USP is to analyse how other companies use their USPs to their advantage. This requires careful analysis of other companies’ marketing messages. If you analyse what they say they sell, not just their product or service characteristics, you can learn a great deal about how companies distinguish themselves from competitors.

Top Tips:

  1. Put your customer spectacles on again! – What do your customers really want?
  2. Know what motivates your customers’ behaviour and buying decisions
  3. What are the real reasons customers buy your product instead of a competitor’s

V – Value Proposition

Now you know your USP, you need to think about how you put that to your prospects – Your Value Proposition. A value proposition is a short statement that tells your prospect why they should buy from your company. It is focused on outcomes. Your value proposition distils all the complexity of the value you provide into something that your prospective customers can easily grasp and remember. This helps spread word-of-mouth marketing and it differentiates you from the competition.

Regardless of the size of your organisation or the type of industry you are in, you should have a value proposition. To help you, here are some guidelines to follow in creating one. A strong value proposition does the following:

  • Creates interest, so that your prospects ask questions and want to learn more.
  • Differentiates your offer from your competitors’ offers
  • Increases the quantity and quality of your sales leads and makes conversion to a customer much easier
  • Wins your business greater market share in your targeted segments
  • Aligns your business operations more closely to customer needs
  • Focuses on your customers’ perspective

A good value proposition includes demonstrated results that will catch the attention of decision-makers – results like increased revenues, decreased costs, improved operational efficiency and so on.

W – Website

Business websites still beat social marketing as a more successful digital marketing method, according to a recent Gartner survey.

A web-site is still a hugely important part of the marketing mix and marketing strategy for the majority of businesses. You should also consider your web presence for mobile devices also, as recent figures suggest that mobile users are more likely to buy if your site is mobile optimised, and more likely to leave immediately if it’s not.

No matter how popular Facebook gets, or how much traffic Pinterest generates, people still turn to Google (and to a lesser degree, Bing,) to find suppliers. Additionally, if you generate a good proportion of your business locally, you really need to step up your local search engine optimisation.

Keep your content fresh, informative and above all make it easy to find information and to buy – it may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed at even the largest businesses that don’t refresh their content more than twice a year!

Digital marketing is expected to grow significantly in importance over the next couple of years according to Gartner with 75% of respondents said it will be very important one year from now, as opposed to 48% who reported it is very important today. And almost 90% of respondents said it will be very important in two years.

X – X, Y & Z Generations

Each generation has unique expectations, experiences, generational history, lifestyles, values, and demographics that influence their buying behaviours. Accordingly, many companies are reaching out to multi-generational consumers and trying to understand and gain the attention of these diverse buyers. Multi-generational marketing is the practice of appealing to the unique needs and behaviours of individuals within more than one specific generational group, with a generation being a group of individuals born and living about the same time.

Generation X was born during 1965-1977 and are in the 36-48 age range

Generation Y was born during 1977-1994 and are in the 19-36 age range

Generation Z was born after 1994 and are less than 19 years old

Depending on your marketplace, generational considerations should be made as well as demographic or vertical ones!

Y – Yesterday’s News

The headlines have been full of business failures over the last 12-24 months. Some very big companies have collapsed because of their lack of marketing vision, strategy and execution. Do not become one of them because of a lack of thought and planning. Invest heavily in your strategy, listen to your customers and learn quickly from executional failures.

Z – Zoom

By Zoom, I mean injecting pace into your marketing strategy and execution. Pace in marketing is more essential today than at any time. In order to move at the pace of the digital and social era, marketing teams must move at blazing speeds. Technology has created a quantum leap in how fast we receive customer feedback, campaign results, and questions from the CEO. Companies that complete rapid cycles of test, execute, learn, and optimise gain competitive advantage. The definition of success is increasingly speed based and you need to keep up!

Quite a lengthy post, so hope you managed to reach the end and got something useful from it! As ever, I’d love to hear from you and get feedback on the post. Until next time.

A to Z of Building a Winning Team

a-z team

Being part of a winning team is a great feeling! Building a winning team is hard work, but can be great fun with some amazing results! Below I’ve detailed Think Oak’s A-Z of Building a Winning Team:

A – Audit Abilities

The very first thing to do when you take on a team or you’re building a new one is to look at the skills you need to win, starting with yourself. What are you good at and where are you lacking? What does your management team need to look like? What types of roles do you need in your team? What skills are needed? It’s really important that you think about these things up-front, before you look at the people you have, are available to you or the gaps you need to fill. Once you’ve answered these questions at the right level of detail, you’ll be in the right position to look at your options.

B – Breakdown Personality Barriers

At any point in a team’s lifecycle there can be conflict. A difference in management or leadership style, a difference of opinion, personal enmity for one reason or another or simply a clash of personality. It’s really important that these are dealt with quickly and you find ways to resolve them without disrupting the team’s momentum. In my career, I’ve found it really useful to take people out of the work environment for a day or two to do some straight talking from the heart about your aspirations, motivations, concerns and ambition as well as taking time to relax and have some fun together.

C – Choose to Win

We all have choices in our lives, but it’s critical for the whole team to be behind your vision from the outset. Everyone needs to make a choice to be part of a winning team and all that it entails to get there. People that don’t want to get on the bus or want to stay along for the ride shouldn’t be given a ticket!

D – Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

It is extremely easy to spend inordinate amounts of time on things that don’t contribute to becoming a Winning Team or your end goal. Keep an eye out for them within the team and on yourself. If you find them, stop them immediately. If people are working on things that aren’t central to the plan, you need and they need to be asking ‘Why?’

E – Energy Management

Ensuring that there is high energy in your team at all times is not an easy task, but an important one for building a winning team. Effective energy leadership is the ability to read the energy of the group and then alter one’s own energy level to get the group to where it needs to go. You can see this at play in sports, or equally so in the classroom or in board meetings. If people are starting to get discouraged or disheartened, you need to step up, raise the energy level and bring more enthusiasm into the room. Quickly, the team starts to feel more optimistic, the energy of the group shifts up and success, and whilst not guaranteed, is much more likely.

F – Focus on Focus

By aligning everyone’s personal objectives to yours and that of the wider organisation you can ensure that people are focussed on the right tasks. Review performance against these objectives on a regular basis and ensure the objectives are SMART.

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

Make individuals accountable for key deliverables and reward them for delivery.

G – Get Out of the Engine Room

Your people will not develop, unite or learn from their mistakes if you deal with every problem that comes up or, if you tell them what to do in minutiae of detail. As a leader you shouldn’t be in the engine room, except for the odd inspection. You need to be on the bridge watching for icebergs and pirates!

H – Help Each Other

The best performing teams in business watch each other’s backs. If they see someone struggling with a task, they’ll help. If one department is really struggling for resource they’ll offer another pair of hands. Passionately investing in other people’s success will ultimately raise their performance and that of their teams and ultimately the organisation. As a leader, a good proportion of your time should be spent coaching, supporting, developing and promoting the rising stars within your team. It strengthens your team, protects it for the future and motivates individuals.

I – Ignite Passion

Find out what motivates your people. We are all motivated by different things and a good manager and leader gets to know what motivates their people and tailors their communication style, delivery and behaviour to get the best out of everyone. Praise and recognition for success and cheering the progress goes a long way too!

J – Just Do It!

You can have the best business strategy and business plans, but they are little use if they are not executed effectively. Decisions deferred, reversed or not made at all will not drive your team forward.

K – Knowledge Share

Winning teams share information, and I’m not just talking Key Performance Indicators. They share best practice when they come across it, they share customer and competitor news, they share any lessons they’ve learnt from a project or product launch. By pooling collective knowledge within and across departments, the organisation can reap dramatic results.

L – Learn From Your Collective Mistakes

Things go wrong. Learn from them, fix them where you can, and move on. We can often spend ridiculous amounts of time brow-beating ourselves and others on things that went wrong. Spend that time working on ensuring that those mistakes don’t happen again by changing process, putting controls in place or ensuring that we watch out for those banana skins we slipped on last time. Should the same mistakes keep happening, you need to look more deeply into the problem and find a way quickly to resolve it – Change the process or system, develop the people or change the people.

M – Measure, Monitor and Manage

The key to long-term success for any winning team is measuring the right things, setting appropriate targets, monitoring your performance against them and altering course or taking action when required.

N – Never Give Up

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up – Thomas Edison

In a previous post ‘6 of the best…failures’ I talked about some famous names from all walks of life who persevered with their objectives to reach their goals. Building this ethos into your team’s behaviours will go a long way to driving success.

O – Organise Yourselves around Your Objectives

Many established businesses organise themselves in traditional hierarchies and functions – sales, marketing, finance etc. Sometimes, especially when changing course with your strategy, it is worth challenging team structures to ensure that they are still optimal to meet the strategy. Some businesses build multi-functional teams that are focussed on one particular project or programme at any time, allowing complete focus on delivery and then breaking the team up again on completion. This approach can have significant benefits over traditional team structures by focussing the right people on the right project with the right skills and motivation.

P – Performance Manage All of the Time

Don’t wait for a quarterly or half-yearly review to give feedback – good or bad. Many people need to know how they are doing every day – ask them what will help them most. Most people need feedback at least once a week. A few can get by with feedback once a month, but even for seriously capable high-level strategic people this is not enough.

R – Robust Dialogue

Being able to challenge team members positively is a key part of building a winning team. In winning teams, people trust each other to challenge ideas, ways of working and strategic plans. By being challenging of each other, for the good of the team and your customer experience, the team gets better. Challenging each other to gain personal advantage or to score points over one another are the signs of a losing team!

S – Set Out Your Expectations Clearly

A huge proportion of performance problems can be traced back simply to a failure to explain and agree expectations and/or a failure to understand and provide the help that the person needs. Don’t assume everything is understood and perfectly within people’s capabilities. Instead, take time to explain, check and ask until everyone concerned is happy and sure of what needs doing, how, and most importantly why.

T – Treat Everyone with Respect

I love this quote from Winston Churchill – “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”

Whatever your level in the organisation, treat people as equals and with respect.

U – Understand Your Business

This may seem obvious, but I am frequently disappointed by people’s lack of knowledge of their business. Whether you’re on the front line in Marketing, Sales and Service or supporting these functions in IT, Finance or HR, you need to at least understand your company’s vision and strategic objectives. In winning teams, everyone knows these things as a minimum plus they know how their team is performing against Key Performance Indicators as well as what they’re doing to improve against them.

V – Values & Vision

In my view, these are the fundamental building blocks of a winning team. A shared vision together with values that are lived every day ensure that your team is heading in the same direction.

W – Win / Win

This is a personal philosophy, which I’m sure that many in senior positions will disagree on. I believe in openness, especially when it comes to recognition and reward. If the team does well, then the managers and leaders should be rewarded. Obviously levels of reward will differ according to responsibility and personal performance, but if the leaders are remunerated differently on different targets you will not get synergy in the organisation, and certainly not on a sustainable basis.

X – X Marks the Spot

X = the end result on your map – treasure! Whatever your winning team does, there will be an end goal – a successful product launch, a sales target, an improvement in Customer Satisfaction, improved production and so on. Your treasure map is your plan and your team’s focus is reaching the ‘X’ as soon as possible, and before anyone else! Your team need to have a copy of the ‘map’, understand how to read it in case they get lost, and know the importance of beating the competition. They should understand the potential pitfalls along the way, but you need to give them enough tools to make their journey possible and ideally enjoyable!

Y – Yell Success from the Rooftops

Celebrating and publicising success breeds more success, both within your team and organisation as well as externally. People like to associate with winners. You only need to see the number of Olympic medallists on TV at the moment to see that. Success, especially in today’s gloomy climate, is newsworthy, and will put your team and your business in the spotlight, for all the right reasons….and will hopefully bring you more business, and more success.

Z – Zigzag around Barriers

There is rarely a single solution to a problem in business. Winning teams find ways around problems that would leave other teams scratching their heads or giving up. Find out who your ‘Can Do’ people are and keep them close!

Hope you enjoyed this A-Z. As always I’d love to hear your thoughts…

A to Z of Leadership Qualities

Leadership Qualities

Great leaders come in all shapes and sizes, genders and cultures, but they all possess many of the qualities I’ve highlighted below in the Think Oak A to Z of Leadership Qualities:

A – Agile

In today’s economic climate, it is more important than ever for leaders to be agile. Agile leaders are not only exceptional at coping with change, but also in driving it, anticipating the markets, or even creating new ones. They have high tolerance for ambiguity and are actually energised by the possibility of creating something new and different.

B – Balanced

Balanced leaders effectively juggle the importance of meeting their business objectives – sales, revenues, margins and cash flow, and the importance of looking after the needs of their people – committing to their success, motivating their people to be the best they can be and caring for their safety and wellbeing at work.

C – Communicator

Great leaders are great communicators. Regardless of whether you’re talking about business, politics, sports or the military, the best leaders are first-rate communicators. Their values are clear and solid, and what they say promotes those values. Their teams admire them and follow their lead. Likewise, if you want your company to reach new heights of achievement, you must master the art of clear communication and employee engagement.

D – Decisive

Making decisions is the defining aspect of leadership. There has never been a leader who made only right decisions. An effective decision made at the right moment is far better than no decision at all. A decisive leader carefully weighs the potential effects of each option and chooses the opportunity that works best for his or her organisation. To be decisive, you must also feel comfortable taking responsibility for the results of your decisions.

E – Energetic

Energy, and specifically positive energy, is hugely important for successful leadership. Having a reserve of positive energy has a tremendous impact on your ability to navigate to success with less stress.  Positive energy attracts people for better networks and recruitment, motivates and inspires people in your organisation, and enables you to thrive and overcome any obstacles that may come your way throughout the day.

F – Focussed

Leaders have the potential for numerous distractions. The tougher the times, the more you have to focus. Leaders must choose wisely what to focus on and they must judge the context of any situation well enough to decide what to drill down on and what to ignore as background noise.

“Disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and take disciplined action: this framework captures much of what separates greatness from mediocrity”Jim Collins, Good to Great

G – Genuine

Effective leaders are honest. Be upfront with your people and trust them enough to communicate openly and authentically together. It’s important to build a level of mutual trust within your team so that each person feels comfortable addressing his or her concerns with you. People will very quickly see through leaders that say one thing and do another.

H – Helping Others

Investing in the success of others – your people, your peers and your customers is a quality found in the greatest of leaders. They recognise the importance of investing precious time and energy in supporting growth of other people, helping them to be the best they can be. They see potential in others and want to create opportunities for them to grow and advance, and they seek opportunities to empower them to succeed.

I – Inspirational

Great leaders believe that people determine a company’s success or failure. It is not the size of the building, how cool the product is, or even the best equipment or process that determines success. What propels and sustains a successful organisation is its diverse team of talented, motivated people.

The ability to inspire people to reach great heights of performance and success is a skill that leaders need. Passion, purpose, listening and meaning help make a leader inspirational. The ability to communicate that passion, purpose and meaning to others helps establish the inspirational culture of your organisation.

J – Just

Great leaders can be just or fair and still make bold and decisive leadership decisions quickly. Being just is perhaps the trait most noticeable in great leaders and that which separates them from the ordinary, old-fashioned status quo style of leadership. If people perceive a leader to be unjust or subjective in his or her judgment, the inspiration to follow will slow the entire leadership process to a snail’s pace.

K – Knowledgeable

Leaders must have a large range of information and knowledge at their disposal.  This means they read widely and communicate this knowledge effectively to the people they lead. Great leaders never stop learning about their industry, themselves, their team, and how to best motivate their people. They realise that there is never a point when you know everything; there is always something new to learn. I’m not saying you have to know everything and do everything. No one person should do it all — and if they are self-aware, most people will realise that they really aren’t capable nor knowledgeable enough to do it all.

L – Listener

Great leaders understand the 2:1 ratio—two ears and one mouth. Leaders don’t just give orders. They listen to their team, their customers, their peers, and their competitors because they know it is the best way to understand a situation so they can make the best decision possible.

“We should never pretend to know what we don’t know, we should not feel ashamed to ask and learn from people below, and we should listen carefully to the views of the cadres at the lowest levels. Be a pupil before you become a teacher; learn from the cadres at the lower levels before you issue orders.”

— Mao Tse-tung

M – Motivated

It’s possible to teach someone to be a leader, but truly effective leaders are already passionate and motivated about what they do. Your enthusiasm and level of commitment can inspire your team members and motivate them to do better work. Modelling the attitude you want each person to have is one of the most effective ways to lead your team toward a successful destination.

N – Nurturing

There’s a big difference between managing others to success—and teaching others to find success themselves. Great leaders find satisfaction not only in teaching others but also in nurturing them—in showing others how they can become more than they ever believed they could. These types of leaders have a strong drive to invest in people not for the return it will give them but for the rewards it will bring to people personally.

O – Open

Leaders don’t always have the answer. They need to understand that they may not always be right and know that at times they will be wrong. It is important to stay open-minded and to consider the views of others.

In today’s fast-paced, globally hyper-connected business world in which we live, an organisation’s successes and failures can be tweeted across the internet in a matter of seconds. A knee jerk reaction of many leaders is to clamp down on the amount of information shared internally, with hopes of minimising risk to the organisation. Many times this backfires and ends up creating a culture of risk aversion and low trust. For organisations to thrive in today’s competitive marketplace, leaders have to learn how to build a culture of trust and openness.

P – Personable

Personable leaders are responsive to the needs, feelings  and interests of others. They enable, empower and challenge followers. The mutual relationship is equitable and considerate, showing genuine concern for others. These types of transforming leaders provide support, and they are helpful to others, including coaching and mentoring. In addition, because they challenge followers to stretch and take reasonable risks, these leaders are forgiving when efforts do not succeed as expected.

Q – Questioning

Leaders question. Even when they think they know the answer. Questions can be used to facilitate discussions. Questions can be asked about how people are feeling about change, what contributed to a recent success, what customers want, how to support diversity, how the world is changing, what might be needed in the future and so on. Questions are also a great way of challenging people to take a fresh look at an issue or problem, and helping them to think about the outcomes they want.

R – Results Driven

Whether you work in a public, private or voluntary organisation, great leaders need to produce results. Whatever leadership role you’re in you will have objectives and / or goals that you need to meet to be a success. Ensure you build a good team around you, build and communicate and enrol them in your strategy, set the right objectives, measure and manage performance and be prepared with plan b’s and c’s to ensure results are achieved.

S – Strategic

All leaders must set time aside on a regular basis to think about the future – the marketplace of the future, your future customers and their needs, your competitors and what they might be doing and the wider economy. As we have seen with several UK companies in the last few weeks – Comet, Jessops, Blockbusters and HMV, a failure to anticipate and change at pace, in light of the changing face of the retail marketplace and the ways that consumers purchase, has led to businesses entering into administration and putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk.

T – Trusted

Trust is the cornerstone of a healthy, positive, productive organisational climate. Without trust between leaders and those whom they lead, progress is slowed and even simple processes can become politicised and approached with caution. Risk-taking and innovation, is reduced, and collaboration is rendered difficult or impossible. Within a low trust environment, change is often approached with fear, not curiosity or hope. The actions or behaviours of leaders set the tone for trust within an organisation and once trust is broken it becomes difficult to build again.

U – Urgency

As I have said in previous posts, a sense of urgency is crucial for leaders engendering change in their teams or organisation. ‘Sense of Urgency’ by John Kotter is a great read if you want to find out more.

V – Visionary

Jack Welch said “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” Although he talks about business leaders, this leadership characteristic is far-reaching across all dimensions of leadership. Without a vision of where you want to take your organisation and the ability to communicate it effectively, you will struggle to drive any form of significant change or growth.

W – Work-Life Balance

Getting a ‘Work-Life Balance’ is important. All great leaders work hard and sometimes have to put in long hours to deliver results. Take it from someone who knows – Working ridiculously long hours on a sustained basis, is not good for you, for your family, for your relationships, for your health, for your productivity and for your people and ultimately your organisation. Find a balance that works for you and stick to it.

X – X Factor

In his book, ‘Great by Choice’ Jim Collins states – “The x-factor of great leadership is not personality, it’s humility”.

Great leaders direct their ego away from themselves to the larger goal of leading their company to greatness. The dictionary defines humility as modesty and lacking in pretence, but that doesn’t mean humble leaders are meek or timid. A humble leader is secure enough to recognise his or her weaknesses and to seek the input and talents of others. By being receptive to outside ideas and assistance, creative leaders open up new avenues for the organization and for their people.

Y – Yardstick

As a leader, your behaviours, values  and actions will be monitored by your people, whether you like it or not, and they will become the yardstick of measurement for your team or organisation.

Z – Zest for Life

Leaders enjoy what they do. They get a buzz when they hear of their team’s success – a new customer, a great sale, a customer compliment, a team winning an award or someone getting a promotion. If you don’t enjoy what you do and get a thrill from achieving great results, I would suggest it’s time for a change!

I hope you enjoyed the A to Z of Leadership post. As always would love to hear your views and other suggestions….

Stop the Rot – Managing Poor Performance ~ Part 2

Managing Poor Performance, Think OakIn part 1 of this two-part post I covered the potential impacts of poor performance, the causes and your responsibilities as a manager. In part 2, I’ll be guiding you through a seven-step process to help you deal with a poor performer.

Tackling Poor Performance

Many businesses do have policies and procedures around performance management and I’m not suggesting you don’t follow them. However, I’ve found a more informal, coaching approach to improve performance works in the vast majority of cases. Only once this approach is exhausted would I move down a more formal approach and this is normally the exception rather than the rule.

1. Prepare

Before you engage in a meeting with your poor performer, ensure that you have a detailed understanding and examples of poor performance as well as the impact that this under performance has had on the team, your customers, the business, yourself and the individual. Also, think about examples of good performance and behaviour that the person has shown in the past.

By spending some time preparing for the meeting,  you will have had a chance to gather your thoughts, examine the evidence, think about the evolution of the relationship and mentally frame the meeting in broad and flexible terms.

2. Set up a meeting with context

You should set up a meeting with at least a couple of days notice. You should be very clear in explaining exactly why you are arranging the meeting, that you will be discussing their recent performance and that you would like to have a discussion around how you can work on an improvement plan going forward.

To help your employee prepare for the meeting, you could suggest s/he gives some thought to a few questions, for example:

• How successfully do the two of us work together?

• How good are our communications and overall relationship?

• Which aspects of your job do you find easiest?

• Which are you most comfortable with?

• And which do you find most difficult?

• To what extent do I help you perform?

• Are there things I do that make life more difficult for you?

• Overall what can we do to improve your performance, my performance, our joint performance and our relationship?

The Performance Meeting

3. Agreement with your employee on the symptoms of the problem

It’s really important that you and your employee agree that there is a performance problem and agree the specific examples of when performance has been poor, the impacts that this has had and the importance of getting back on track. Try not to get into the why’s and wherefores at this stage. We’ll come to that. Just get agreement that behaviours or deliverables were not at the desired standard required for your team and business.

4. Understanding the causes of underperformance

Together, you and your colleague need to arrive at a common understanding of what might be causing the weak performance. This step assumes the person will be willing to participate in a genuine discussion of his/her strengths and weaknesses. Very few people will see themselves as perfect and in no need of any improvement. However, some people do overestimate the quality of their work performance and are unaware of their weaknesses. A major reason for this is likely to be that their previous managers have been reluctant to confront the employee’s shortcomings. In the absence of past negative feedback an employee could be genuinely shocked by your feedback and tempted to reject it as biased and personal.

It might be useful at this stage to review the answers to the preparation questions you gave them in step 2 to tease out some possible explanations. Ensure that you also point areas of performance or behaviours that are good, or have been in the past and spend some time on these also.

This stage of the process can be emotive. Keep calm and spend time working through the detail if necessary. Don’t forget that you already have agreement that there was poor performance. If you can’t agree on the why at this stage, you may need to move on to offering some suggestions on a way forward.

5. Creating and agreeing an Improvement Plan

Find out what motivates the individual: People are motivated by very different things.  Find out what’s important to the individual and shape and ‘sell’ the development plan accordingly.

Fit development action plans to learning style: Different people learn in different ways and this should be considered when planning development.  Understand which is the best learning strategy for that individual and shape the plan accordingly.

Focus on development priorities: Don’t overload people with too many things to focus on.

Use a range of development techniques: Development doesn’t solely result from attending training courses.  The success of development efforts will depend upon picking the right blend of development activity for the individual.  Good development plans draw on a combination of learning, practice and reinforcement.

Ensure that the plan has SMART Goals and by SMART, I mean:

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

Ensure that the individual owns their plan: Getting them to come up with ideas and to actually write the development plan themselves will ensure that they buy-in to the plan and feel that it is their own.

Make sure the plan is documented – either fully during the meeting or an agreed skeleton is produced during the meeting and an agreement that plan will be delivered back the following day.

6. Create Confidence and Commitment

A good manager wants their people to succeed. This stage is all about building confidence in the person and inspiring them to improve, to develop themselves and to take the initiative.  People with high levels of self-belief set themselves more demanding goals, show greater effort and persistence in trying to achieve, and cope better with stress and difficulties.

Put a lot of energy into encouraging the individual to develop themselves and improve. Spend some time making the individual believe they can turn their performance around. Offer structured support as part of the improvement plan, but tell them it’s their responsibility to deliver against it.

7. Follow up

You must follow up on the agreements made. You and individual will have agreed to make certain changes, perform certain actions and/or reach certain performance targets by a given date. The onus is on both of you to ensure maximum high quality communication occurs during the period of the agreement. Don’t wait until the end of the process to discuss progress. Ideally the agreed objectives will be specific enough and the communication process during the contract period effective enough that both parties will agree on the assessment of the outcomes.

By implementing timely follow-ups and encouragement throughout the process, you should start to see demonstrable improvement.

Should performance not improve during the process then you must then set the expectation of the consequences which would be a more formal process. Although this process was not part of your company’s formal process, the documentation produced and meeting notes would be able to used as evidence as part of most formal procedures.

You won’t always succeed in turning around poor performance, but by following these steps you will have given your poor performer every opportunity to turn performance around.

I hope you found this post useful. As always, I’ love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

RQKN74WYW5KE

Stop the Rot – Managing Poor Performance ~ Part 1

Managing Poor PerformanceEarlier this year the Roffey Park Institute published their excellent annual report – The Management Agenda. A staggering 46% of UK managers reported that poor performance is not tackled at all well in their organisation, rising to 60% in Public Sector managers.

So what do I mean by Poor Performance? Simply put, poor performance is the failure of an individual to do his or her job, or to do it at an acceptable level. As a manager, you have a responsibility to manage the performance of your people. If you have witnessed poor performance (including inappropriate behaviour), or you are in receipt of a complaint or grievance, you must address this with the people concerned.

Impacts of Poor Performance

In my experience, the impacts of under-performing individuals run much wider than the results of their own performance, or lack of them. Poor performance observed by a supervisor or manager is normally only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of the issue and is only observed after a period of under performance already being noticed and talked about by members of the wider team.

If these behaviours or lack of performance  goes unchecked then the minimal implication for the manager who allows this to continue, is a loss of respect from the team he or she manages. Under-performance in key roles in your department could have a serious impact on you meeting your own department or business objectives, which may have wider personal or business consequences. If you are committed to performing at a high level, and if you expect high performance from everyone, then you as the manager must address poor performers and quickly.

By failing to address poor performance, you are sending a clear message to other team members that they need not meet their performance expectations and they should not expect any consequence for their unacceptable behaviour. Poor performance normally gets worse over time – rarely does it correct itself without action on the part of the manager or supervisor. Taking action against one individual does not lower morale amongst other team members. In fact, the opposite is often true. Often taking action leads to a more productive work environment.

Causes of Poor Performance

I firmly believe that no-one comes to work with a desire to fail. Although at times it may appear that an employee tries to perform poorly, most people actually want to do a good, or at the very least, an adequate, job. So why is it that people sometimes do fail at work? Poor performance can normally be attributed to one or more of the following:

  • Lack of clarity of the Why, the What and the How of their role
  • Lack of feedback and action from their previous or current management
  • Lack of skill, knowledge, or motivation
  • Inability to manage perception or pressure
  • Failure to prioritise
  • Conflict of personalities or styles
  • Over-promotion, where the person is actually out of his or her depth
  • Lack of resources, support, training or cooperation from others
  • Personal issues manifesting themselves at work

Given the cost of recruiting and training new people, helping under-achievers move  from poor to acceptable or better performance is almost always worthwhile.

Your Responsibilities as a Manager

Before moving into tackling the poor performance of your poor performer, you need to ask yourself some key personal questions:

1. Have I set out my performance expectations clearly? – If the person concerned doesn’t understand what is expected, it will be very hard, if not impossible, for them to meet those expectations. Providing clear expectations doesn’t necessarily require you to lay out precisely written, detailed instructions on every performance component. Generally, the question you should ask yourself is: “Would a reasonable person understand what was expected?”

2. Have I been having regular reviews with the poor performer and been giving them feedback? – Such feedback, both positive and negative, whether given in regularly scheduled meetings or in unscheduled discussions, is crucial to ensuring that expectations are understood. Frequent feedback lessens the likelihood that an employee will be surprised if it becomes necessary to take formal steps to resolve poor performance.

3. Have you provided the individual with the tools and training to do their job effectively? – What support have I / could I be giving to help raise performance going forward?

4. Is poor performance a new issue? – If the person in question has always performed adequately in the past, what has changed for them for their performance to dip? Is it a one-off mistake or has there started to become a pattern of events?

If you have answered these questions honestly and you answered ‘No’ to any of them, I would suggest that the poor performance starts with you. It’s never too late to start however!

In part 2, I’ll take you through a 7-step process to guide you through improving people’s performance.

As always, if you have any comments or feedback, I’d love to hear from you.

Avoid the Mushroom Culture – The Seven Deadly Sins

Mushroom CultureI’m sure many of you have heard people say – ‘They treat us like mushrooms. They keep us in the dark and feed us manure or nothing at all!’

Nothing stifles an organisation’s possibilities more than poor communication. Actually that’s not strictly true. Three things do – telling lies, partial truths or nothing at all.

In this post, I’d like to highlight some of the common pitfalls around communication or lack of it.

Common Communication Pitfalls – The Seven Deadly Sins

1. Not Communicating The ‘Why?’

As Simon Sinek says in his fantastic leadership book , ‘Start with why‘, he says ‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it’. In your organisation, do your people know the ‘why?’ Do they know why they didn’t get a pay rise this year? Do they know why headcount needs to be reduced? Do they know why you’ve just restructured the organisation? Do they know why their job is important to the organisation? Do they know why your organisation exists at all? Do they know why customers buy from your organisation?

As Simon also says in his book, and I paraphrase – ‘Every single one of us knows what we do. Most of us know how to do our jobs, but how many of us know the ‘Why?”

When communicating any message, good or not so good, it’s hugely important to impart the ‘why?’. In my experience, people who are motivated, passionate, and really good at what they do, tend to understand the ‘Why?’. In fact I’d go further and say that I believe the ‘Why’ drives the passion and motivation. It might be a personal ‘Why’, but it will be there.

In today’s economic climate, most people understand that difficult decisions need to be made, but you need to tell them AND the authentic reason for them to buy-in to the message.

2. Communicating Too Slowly or Not At All

People assume the worst when they hear nothing. Good and passionate employees want to know what’s going on in their organisation, and beyond their department boundaries. They want some visibility into the organisation’s plans and where they fit within them. Senior managers who can’t  or won’t discuss their organisation’s goals, strategies, vision and performance are all but guaranteed to spend a great deal of time recruiting. Marketable top performers want to be engaged and involved and won’t stand for being left in the dark without the information they need to do their jobs well.

Just as damaging can be when senior managers hold out for so long on making an announcement that employees start walking the corridors for information. Very often, they are forced to draw their own conclusions (and often the wrong ones!) about the reasons for what’s going to happen or has happened. Perceptions about the company withholding information are often more damaging than providing the “negative” news in the first place.

3. Not Being Honest

The very worst you can do in communicating a message is to lie and only marginally better, to not tell the whole truth. You WILL be found out, and your personal credibility and /or that of your organisation will be damaged, possibly irreparably.

I will make a bold statement. Your people can handle it. You don’t need to couch your message in fluff or half-truths. If your organisation is publicly owned or the message or timing is sensitive, be as honest as you can be without breaking confidence or legislation AND when you are able to say something more, make sure that you do at the first opportunity.

4. One Size Fits All Communication

People process information differently. For some of us, we like to be walked through in a great level of detail in order to fully understand a change or a message. For others a quick email will suffice. For others they may need to hear the message a number of times before the impact of a change on them is understood. Organisations that send out a  single global email imparting important news are failing to get their message across and failing their people. A mix of communication channels need to be thought about carefully when delivering important news or change. Face to face communication is always best, but with the geographic spread of many organisations and service organisations with call centres and shift patterns, this may not always be practical.

I find that a mix of communication channels is the most effective. Further detail on communication channels can be found in a previous post Communicate or Fail Part 1 and Part 2.

5. Assuming Your People Wouldn’t Understand

Organisations don’t employ stupid people. If they do, that’s a whole different blog topic and a short-lived organisation! People have mortgages, children, debt, cars, bills to pay, personal challenges to deal with, bereavement, stress, relationship challenges…I could go on. They can deal with difficult messages. They may need support, but they can handle it! They are also very aware of when a message is being dumbed down or the full story is not being told. If you have a complex message to deliver, make sure that you consider how the message is going to land, what reinforcement might be needed, whether you need to engage with external agencies to help you and what you want and need the outcome to be.

6. Not Checking That The Communication Has Been Understood

I am astounded at the number of businesses that do not measure whether messages or change initiatives are understood, never mind effective. In some cases huge sums of money are spent on internal ‘campaigns’ that are completely ineffective at best or actually have a negative impact on the people that they are trying to motivate. It’s hugely important that all communications campaigns – either external or internal are measured. Even anecdotal feedback from across key influencers within your organisation will give you an indicator of how a message has landed and whether further work is required.

7. No Reinforcement Of Communication By Managers and Supervisors

The ‘Marzipan’ layer as I call it, is rife in many businesses and public sector organisations. Information often stops at the senior management layer and gets no further, at least not consistently if it does. It’s not news that managers are key to effectively delivering messages and engaging employees. When leaders and managers convey confidence to employees, they build trust, which can help stoke employee engagement. In many ways, managers and more importantly team leaders and supervisors are the face of the organisation for employees, vital for translating mission, values and strategy into behaviour and action.

The best companies recognise this connection and go beyond simply providing managers with information to pass along to employees. They prepare managers to move away from cascading corporate messages and toward sharing the meaning of these messages with their team – back to the ‘Why?’. This requires engaging with managers, listening to their reactions, supporting their personal change journeys and crafting content that can be delivered in a manager’s own voice.

By avoiding these 7 deadly sins you’ll have a much better chance of engaging your employees in change.

As always would love to get your feedback and thoughts. Until next time…

Think Oak! – Mighty Oaks From Little Acorns Grow

OakAfter nearly 2 years of blogging under the ‘Gung Ho!’ title, I’ve decided to have a little re-brand. I wanted to share my rationale with you rather than just change the name with no explanation.

Many of you that have been followers of Gung Ho! for a while, will know that I’m a Raving Fan of Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles’ book ‘Gung Ho! ‘ and wanted to use their teachings and insight into people and nature as a personal inspiration to put down my thoughts with a hope that people might find what I had to say of interest.

If I’m being really honest, I didn’t think that Gung Ho! would have been as popular as it has become nor did I believe that I would still be writing it! I’m now in a position that I want to start to build a more personal brand around my beliefs and values (plus I don’t want to get into bother with anyone’s legal team!)

So, in that vein I’ve decided to rename my blog to ‘Think Oak!’

Ok, that may need some explanation!

1. I love nature and for me the Oak tree epitomises the spirit of life. (Thus my other blog and passion Life Spirit)

2. Oak trees take a long time to grow and have small beginnings with the acorn, but have amazing strength, resilience and beauty much like how many of us aspire to be.

3. Oak in its natural form provides for its surroundings – shelter for plants, animals and humans alike; food for birds and animals; inspiration for painters, photographers, walkers and thinkers.

4. Oak trees have deep roots and provide stability to the environment around them

5. Oak in its altered form provides fuel, furniture, buildings, sculptures and most importantly barrels for making my favourite tipples of wine, whisky and bourbon!

6. The oak is a common symbol of strength and endurance and has been chosen as the national tree of many countries around the world, including England, the United States, Estonia, France, Germany, Moldova, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Wales, Bulgaria, and Serbia.

7. My father was Irish and I have deep roots, like the Oak. The Celtic meaning of the oak tree includes attributes such as:

  • Life
  • Strength
  • Wisdom
  • Nobility
  • Family
  • Loyalty
  • Power
  • Longevity
  • Heritage
  • Honour

I’m pretty sure that these are values that most of us aspire to.

8. Finally, having witnessed it a few times in my career, if people have the belief in themselves, a great idea, are prepared to take a risk and can deliver, even if they stumble along the way, they can become mighty Oaks from little acorns.

So, with that explanation, I hope you can buy-in to the new name. Not a whim, but a firm belief, that with a good roots (the right environment and encouragement), a strong trunk (belief system and support network), broad and strong branches (the right skills and behaviours), we are in a position to have longevity, deliver great benefits for ourselves, our colleagues and for friends and families and produce acorns for future generations to benefit from.

So, from now on, Think Oak!

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