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.

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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.

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…

The Need for Speed ~ Driving Pace in Your Organisation ~ Part 2

AlignmentIn part 1 of this four part series of blogs I covered the importance of PACE to improve organisational effectiveness and speed and specifically Planning:

PACE = Planning + Alignment + Communication + Execution

The second part of The Need for Speed ~ Driving Pace in Your Organisation will focus on Alignment of your organisational structure, your people and your rewards and performance management capability.

Alignment

a) Organise your teams around your One Magnificent Goal! – Your OMG!

The benefits of a well aligned team are no surprise to anyone. A great deal has been written about how to create better alignment within teams, through team building, incentives, and other management techniques. However, the first step in any effort to improve the alignment amongst a group must start with an honest evaluation of the current state, and a desire to improve and a clear view as to where you’re going.

Convene a group of key managers within your organisation to help you look at the impacts, both positive and negative, of your current organisation structure and how it might look when aligned to your OMG. When realigning, you want to ensure that you don’t lose any core competencies. You also want to ensure that any proposed changes will support the goals you have set as well as continue the things your business already does well. A group of managers who understand the detailed workings of your organisation will help you greatly.

Develop several alignment models from which to choose. Consider movements with your existing people, additions, subtractions and combinations of these things when devising different structures that might support your goals. Use organisational charts to help you express these models so they are clear and tangible.

Solicit input from other business leaders you know, respect and trust. Examine the financial, strategic and organisational culture impacts your various alignment ideas might create in order to help you to arrive at your decision. You also need to understand any Human Resources / Employment Law ramifications of your decisions before you begin to implement.

b) Align performance goals and rewards around your OMG

To ensure achievement of your OMG you must align all your teams’ performance goals and rewards to it. In so many organisations, individual departments have separate performance metrics that do not align to their OMG. More importantly people are often rewarded against Key Performance Indicators that are misaligned. Some common examples of this might be; Sales are paid on revenue and the OMG is to increase margin; Customer Services are rewarded against hitting call statistics when the OMG is around improving customer satisfaction. Neither is complete misalignment, but both can cause a big enough gap in behaviours for the OMG not to be achieved.

When metrics and rewards systems are not realigned with changes in structure and business processes, the impacts are predictable:

• Individual performance targets compete with the OMG.

• Roles and accountabilities are confused or continue to be aligned around the old organisation design.

• Decisions are made to optimise performance in one unit contrary to the needs of the larger organisation.

• The organisation is slow to act and burdened with internal conflicts.

• Leaders resist change (because it is rational to do so when incentives encourage old behaviours).

• Individuals begin to question the impact of the organisation design changes on their personal economic well-being, distracting them from winning in the new formation.

Again, sound out your leadership team to ensure that cross-organisation goals and rewards are not in conflict with each other before you implement. Talk to leaders and managers in other companies to get some broader context of what works and doesn’t work elsewhere.

It’s really important that the reward structures align from top to bottom within your organisation and there is an OMG specific payment when you achieve it – A Long Term Incentive. That encourages everyone from Executive to Admin Assistant to shoot for the OMG. Obviously the levels of reward might be different, but everyone wins when you achieve your goal!

c) Push decision-making authority as far down the organisation as possible

In the era of organisational flattening, there are less and less layers of management. We are happy about getting rid of hierarchies, but we are less good at understanding the associated challenges. If a layer of management disappears, decision-making should go to the lower level and not to the higher one. A reorganisation where layers go down from 6 to 3, but where senior management absorbs most of the decision rights that became available tends not to work effectively.

A consequence of decision-making being pushed down is that there are many new ‘decision homes’ where empowered people could make a decision on the spot. One of the big problems associated with decision rights flowing upstream, to a higher level, is that these decision rights tend to go or be deferred to the management bodies that only meet from time to time.

So, pushing the decision rights down to a lower level also means that many decisions could be taken ‘in real time’. Provided that people are empowered to do so, there is no reason why they should delay the decision-making process. Pushing decisions downstream and making decisions ‘in real time’ as much as you can are two simple disruptive rules. They won’t cost much but they have the power to transform your company on a big scale.

Some principles you should consider:

  • Implement decision-making at lower levels across the business, not just in one or two departments
  • If something can be decided at a lower level, it should. And you should make it lower and lower all the time.
  • If nothing can be decided at a lower level, you are the problem.
  • Your management goal is to decide less and less every day.

‘Closure’ and decisions made in meetings and committees may be efficient, but not necessarily effective if it could have been done at a lower level.

The amount of ‘deferred decisions’ (as opposed to real-time ones) in your organisation is a good indicator of your agility and empowerment. How many organisation even measure this I wonder?

d) Clearly defined roles & responsibilities

In order to effectively manage your people, it is important to provide them with a clear definition and understanding of their role, function, and responsibilities in the workplace. This will provide them with a good understanding of the job and tasks they are to perform as an individual and within any teams they are a part of. It also provides information on where they fit within the organisation and who they report to, helping to avoid disputes and misunderstandings over authority.

Failing to define workplace roles and responsibilities can create tension, miscommunication and inefficiency within your business. People may be unsure as to what jobs are their own and who they are required to report to. Mistakes and omissions can also occur where people are unsure of what is required of them, therefore creating inefficiencies which cost time and money.

e) Stopping projects / activities that don’t support the plan

Tighter goal alignment and goal visibility allows for quicker execution of organisation strategy by enabling your management team to more effectively allocate resources across various projects. By exposing business initiatives not aligned with your OMG, it also increases overall efficiency by ensuring employees are not duplicating the efforts of others. Plus, goal alignment strengthens the leadership at your company by allowing managers to:

  • Understand more clearly all responsibilities associated with specific goals
  • Eliminate redundancies across job titles
  • Focus their staffs on your company’s most pertinent goals

So, you’ve now got the right people, organisational structure and performance culture to deliver your plan. In Part 3 of The Need for Speed – Driving Pace in Your Organisation,  I will be look at the third element of PACE, Communication.

The Need for Speed ~ Driving Pace in Your Organisation ~ Part 1

Driving PACE in your organisationSucceeding in today’s competitive business environment requires that your organisation be agile enough to respond quickly to internal and external change. To stay ahead, you have to explore new ways to grow your business – for example, by launching a new product or service or targeting a different marketplace. Speed and focus could become your biggest competitive advantages.

For this to succeed, you will need to rapidly align resources and people so as to drive speed, efficiency, and profitability. But how do you achieve this level of organisational agility – and ensure focused execution across your business?

The key is driving organisational alignment – an elusive goal for many companies. This requires strong executive alignment, an organisational mind-set that values performance management, and the ability to perform effectively. Once these elements are in place, you need baseline information to devise the right strategies, a clear understanding of interdependencies, and insight into where to deploy personnel and budgets. To drive adoption, you must communicate strategies to employees in ways that they understand and embrace and that are within the context of their roles. You must provide the right tools and incentives to help them execute on a daily basis and in alignment with corporate strategies.

However, if your organisation is like most, there is a significant gap between strategy and execution because of breakdowns in one or more of these areas.

You need to consider how to implement PACE in your organisation: Planning, Alignment, Communication and Execution

This first post, in a 4 part series, will focus on:

Planning

Why is planning so important and why must it be done in parallel with strategy? From a macro perspective, business today gets done in a global marketplace. Change is occurring at an unprecedented pace. Time and distance continue to become less and less relevant thanks in great part to the explosive growth and convergence of technology and the internet.

There was a time when strategic planning was done by only the biggest companies, and those who lead change. Now it is a requirement just to survive. Leaders of business must be looking ahead, anticipating change, and developing a strategy to proactively and successfully navigate through the turbulence created by change.

a) Clarity of Strategic Goals and Markets

How are you going to get somewhere if you don’t know where you are going? Everyone in an organisation needs to know what you sell or do, who your target customers are, how you compete and in which markets you operate. A good strategy will balance revenue and margin generation with productivity initiatives. Without strategic planning, businesses simply drift, and are always reacting to the pressure of the day. Companies that don’t plan have exponentially higher rates of failure than those that plan and implement well.

For many business owners and leaders, creating a vision, company values, and a strategic plan can be a daunting task for reasons like time, energy, commitment and lack of experience. It requires business leaders to accept that yesterday’s success does not ensure success in the future. It requires challenging the status quo, potentially changing behaviours, implementing new procedures, hiring different people, and putting new systems in place in order to deliver on the strategy.

Make no mistake; the best plans and ideas without great execution are just plans or ideas, they don’t result in much of anything. Regardless of the size of a company, a strategic plan is the foundation on which all business activities can be connected and “aligned”.

b) OMG! – One Magnificent Goal!

The idea for One Magnificent Goal is derived from the fantastic book by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras; Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies – They termed it ‘BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal’

OMG is THE goal that really stretches you to think differently about how you do business. It’s THE goal that is going to help you transform your business, rather than being satisfied with incremental change. It’s THE goal that’s going to inspire you to do your best work and outshine your competition.

What is THE ONE BIG aspirational idea that your people can really get behind; that will really make them deliver +1%?

  • It could be Target Driven –  JFK’s – ‘this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
  • It could be Competitor Driven – Crush Adidas! (Nike, 1960s)
  • It could be Role-model Driven – Audi’s OMG in 2005: To match the exclusive image of mighty Benz and BMW
  • It could be a Business Transformation – Amazon.com: Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds

When you consider OMGs for your organisation here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • It should be so clear and compelling that it requires little or no explanation
  • It should fall well outside your comfort zone
  • It should be so bold and exciting in its own right that it will stimulate progress even if the leaders disappear
  • It should be consistent with the company’s core ideology

If your OMG doesn’t meet these criteria you should really think again!

c) The Plan Itself

If you are serious about reaching your OMG, you have to develop a plan that  clearly takes you through milestones or even better,  ‘Inch Pebbles’ to meet that OMG. If you don’t, you can’t even  expect to get close. You have to do more than you have ever done. You also have to look for  new and creative ways, to get to the result.

I’m not, in this post, going to be prescriptive about how you build a plan, but I would ask you to consider the following questions:

How do I bridge the gap? – How can you most effectively get from where you are now to where you want to go? And in what time-frame? What strategic initiatives are needed to bridge the gap?

What are the controls I need to put in place? What monitoring, project management, reporting, and performance management do I need to put in place to achieve these initiatives?

What people do I need to ensure I reach my OMG? Will the team you have today be enough to deliver your OMG? Do you need more people or different people? Do you need to change the people (training & development) or change the people (restructure & recruit)?

Can I afford to do this? What costs will be incurred in delivering the initiatives that will help you reach your OMG? Over what time frame? What would be the cost of not doing them? What contingencies do you need to put in place along the way if some of your initiatives fail?

Answering these questions will help you formulate your plan.

So, you understand the market place and your strategic ambition within it, your OMG. You have a plan to achieve it. Have you got the right people, organisational structure and culture to deliver it? In Part 2 of The Need for Speed – Driving Pace in Your Organisation,  I will be look at the second element of PACE, Alignment.

THE Key Performance Indicator – Keep People Inspired

Keep People InspiredBusiness is all about measurement. Peter Drucker was an influential writer, management consultant, and self-described “social ecologist” and his quote – “What gets measured gets managed” is never more true than in today’s tough economic climate. The use of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are at the heart of most high performing businesses. However, there is often one important KPI missing,  and that is Keeping People Inspired.

That might sound trite, but without measuring the motivation of your teams in your business on a regular basis, understanding and addressing the root cause of any areas of low morale, you could be setting yourself and your teams up to fail.

An easy and cheap way to measure the motivation of your employees is through observation of how enthusiastic they are about arriving at work, interacting with colleagues and engaging in tasks they are given. In addition, the level of motivation among the work force can also be measured by the improvements in performance appraisals, and the quality of work performed. For those people new to the work force, the motivated employees will likely be the ones who demonstrate initiative by asking for additional work or more challenging assignments. For seasoned employees, their motivation is obvious in the ways they offer assistance to new employees, and seek ways to improve company processes and procedures for better efficiency and effectiveness.

A more formal and effective way to measure how your team is feeling is to survey them in some way on a regular basis. This could take the form of an online or paper survey. There are numerous examples online to help you shape your survey and ask your managers and team members to input into questions. Alternatively you can use survey agencies to help you create, compile, collate and analyse the results. Surveys should be anonymous and the questions unambiguous to get the best results. It’s important that you understand the results fully and take note of even the smallest shift backwards in team motivation. Play back the results to your team and ask them for feedback on how areas can be improved. The most important element here is to ACT on agreed changes and ACT quickly. Not acting to improve areas for improvement will decrease morale and motivation further in your team.

Assuming you’ve got measurements in place and are acting upon the results, how do you personally Keep People Inspired (assuming they were inspired at all in the first place!)?

  1. Lead by example – Practice what you preach or don’t preach at all. Be the change you want to see in your business or organisation.  If you really want to inspire others to do something, then this should be a big part of your life.  You don’t necessarily need to be an expert, but you do need to be passionately involved.
  2. Be authentic – Find the courage to keep being yourself. It won’t always be easy.
  3. Be passionate – Passion is something you must be willing to express if you want to inspire others.  You can gain a lot of influence just by publicly expressing that you are excited and passionate about a topic.  Expressive passion is contagious because of the curiosity it stirs in others.  You’ll get people wondering why you love what you love so much.  Naturally, some of them will take the time necessary to understand what it is about the topic that moves you.
  4. Be great at what you do – People watch what you do more than they listen to what you say.  Be someone worth emulating.  Most people are inspired by GREAT musicians, writers, painters, speakers, entrepreneurs, engineers, mothers, fathers, athletes, etc.  There’s only one thing they all have in common: They excel at what they do.
  5. Genuinely care about people – Most people can see through a colleague, manager or leader that doesn’t genuinely care about them as individuals. Spend time talking to your team and be genuinely interested in who they are as people.
  6. Challenge people to be the best they can be – If people know we expect great things from them, they will often go to great lengths to live up to our expectations. You are letting your people down if you do not try to develop them and help them to meet their potential.
  7. Speak up for your people – We are very connected to each other in various ways, the most important of which is our thoughts.  Out of fear, or shyness, lots of people hesitate to articulate their thoughts.  If you take the risk and say the things others are holding back, you become the glue that brings people together.
  8. Make people feel good about themselves – People will rarely remember what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.  Start noticing what you like about others and tell them.  Go out of your way to personally acknowledge and complement the people who have gone out of their way to excel.
  9. Share your Lessons Learned – When you can, be a resource to those around you. Mine the experiences of your life and share the lessons you have learned in your career.  Be vulnerable.  Be willing to share your failures as well as your successes.
  10. Keep your promises – If you say you’re going to do something, DO IT!
  11. Listen intently to what others say (and also to what they don’t say) – Make people feel important, and inspire them by showing them that they are.
  12. Communicate, communicate, and communicate clearly – Keeping things to yourself does not inspire.  Share your vision and ideas often with those around you.

I’d love to hear your stories of how you’ve been inspired and what motivates you?

The Brand New, Brand You! ~ Part 5

Reinforce - Brand New Brand YouIn the fifth part in the series of The Brand New, Brand You, I will be covering the fourth step in the START process in Brand New, Brand You, Reinforce.

Now that you have started to establish the Brand New Brand You, it is important that you continually reinforce your personal brand. In this post I’ll focus on some key pointers that will keep Brand You fresh and at the front of people’s minds.

1. Deliver + 1%

This may seem obvious, but the best way to reinforce Brand You is to DELIVER. Whatever your role, if you consistently deliver to time, cost and quality expectations you’re reinforcing your personal brand. Delivering the extra 1% is how you will really differentiate Brand You. What do I mean by 1%? In short, exceed expectations. Going ‘the extra mile’ will get you noticed – by your managers, by your peers and by your customers.  That doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to put in long hours every day, although sometimes that might be the case. In my career, I have found that ‘Rising Stars’ have gone the extra mile by:

Demonstrating a ‘Can Do’ attitude – People that embrace change initiatives, find ways around problems, take ownership of tasks through to conclusion and are passionate about their job make a difference and are invaluable to high performing teams.

Being a self-starter – People that spot an opportunity to fix a problem, come up with the solution and implement it effectively drive continuous improvement helping their team be more effective and / or efficient.

Continuously looking at ways to improve themselves – People that consistently ask questions with a view to improving themselves, ask to be involved in key initiatives and drive their own personal development planning are often ‘stars’ of the future.

Always thinking of their customer’s needs – People that can think beyond the specific task and ask themselves about why they are doing it in a certain way and putting themselves in their customer’s shoes. By doing this they may change or enhance the delivery or even change a process for the better.

Helping others – People that continually support their colleagues in delivery not only help their teams achieve but build a strong reputation with their peers and help build strong professional relationships.

Putting themselves forward for new projects – People that work beyond their job descriptions and volunteer for those important projects that often come up and just need to be done.

2. Express yourself and your passions

Being confident in communicating with your peers, managers, customers or your network is a very important part of reinforcing Brand You. It’s not something that comes naturally for everyone, myself included, but is something you should practice at every opportunity. Try to put yourself into situations that require you to speak about your views and passions; whether that be key meetings internally or speaking at external meetings or events and with new people you bring into your network.

Remember to be consistent with your brand values and your vision statement. Plan in advance to ensure that you make the most of the opportunity and that you present yourself effectively.

3. Build influence with key stakeholders

Who are the key people who could influence your career for the better? Who could be an advocate for the Brand New Brand You?

Understanding the answers to these two questions will help you understand where you need to exert effort in reinforcing Brand You. As long as you have identified the right people, building strong relationships with these individuals will have a positive impact on your career. Below I’ve highlighted some areas that you may want to spend some time thinking about before you engage with stakeholders.

a) Be patient. Building strong relationships and influence takes time and could take months or longer.

b) Be respectful. It is highly likely that the stakeholders you have identified are more senior than you and are likely to be extremely busy people. Be respectful of their time and position when making any requests of them.

c) Be committed to the stakeholders’ success. By gaining an understanding of what is important to them professionally, you can then potentially support them in achievement of their objectives.

d) Be able to put yourself in their ‘Shoes’. Often, concerns will not be vocalised, particularly if there’s not yet a degree of trust in the relationship. Try and see the world from your stakeholders’ perspective and anticipate how a particular stakeholder may respond to what you have to say. By addressing concerns from their perspective before they raise them you will start to build trust and will help you progress your ideas or proposals.

e) DELIVER (No apologies for mentioning ‘Deliver’ twice in this post!). Whatever you agree to do for or with your stakeholders, make sure you deliver against your promises. Nothing will hurt brand you more than non-delivery.

4.  Join like-minded people

A key way of building your network and Brand You is to join professional organisations.  It is better to belong to fewer organisations and take an active role (board position or volunteer role)  than to belong to many with superficial connections to the membership.  Truly participating allows you to get to know people and build strong, enduring relationships.

If there isn’t a professional organisation that feels right to you, create one.  It can be a physical organization or a virtual one. Being the founder of the organisation gives you instant credibility with your entire membership and an opportunity to define and evolve it. And with the opportunity to build private social networking groups on the web, it’s as easy as it is valuable.

5.  Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to build professional relationships while contributing to the community. Take a volunteer position that allows you to use your strengths or develop new skills. Your network will grow along with your sense of fulfilment and accomplishment.

 6.  Continue to create and grow your online content

In Part 4 of this series, I talked about contributing to industry forums, writing blogs or contributing to other blogs to create an online presence for the Brand New Brand You. Keep it up! Building an online following takes time and effort, but if you create strong content, it will start to build your credibility with your network and drive growth of your network.  

7. Keep Networking

To be truly successful building Brand You, you need to be continuously making new connections while at the same time nurturing the relationships you have. Remember, if you take the attitude that it is about you, you will be less successful in retaining your network.  But if you treat your network as a group of people you serve and support, your experience will be much more positive and you will attract what you need to be successful.

That concludes the fourth step in START. Good luck with Reinforcing Brand New, Brand You  – let me know you get on!

In the last post in the series of The Brand New, Brand You, I will be covering the fifth and final step in the START process, Test.

If you missed the first  four posts of The Brand New, Brand You please click Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

The Brand New, Brand You ~ Part 1

Standout from the crowdI’ve had some feedback recently that people would like some support in finding new roles, building their personal profile and generally improving their employability.

Brand New, Brand You is a series of Think Oak! posts to help you improve your personal brand in the increasingly crowded and competitive job market.

Brands touch every part of our lives, almost every waking minute of every day. We interact with hundreds if not thousands of brands each week, some consciously, some unconsciously.

What is a brand?

A brand can be a product, a service, an idea, a company, a place, or indeed a person. In my own simplistic view, a brand is the emotional and psychological relationship a product, service, company or person has with others. You don’t have to directly interact with a brand to have an opinion about it. Strong brands elicit thoughts, emotions, and sometimes physiological responses from those that interact with them. Don’t believe me? Look at the table of brand identities below think about the brand – How do they make you feel? How would you describe each brand from your perspective?

Example Brands

Depending on your experience of a particular brand, what you’ve heard about that brand from people you trust, what your background is or even where you come from, your opinion will be coloured accordingly. You have a brand whether you’re aware of it or not.

The Brand You

Have you taken any time out recently to think about your personal brand and what you stand for?

Why should you even worry about Brand You?

Look at your personal brand as an investment. Brand You has the potential to last longer than your own lifespan. While the projects you’re working on might finish or you move roles, your personal brand will persist and (hopefully) add value to each new project you’re involved with or role you move to. If you consider yourself to be in your particular career path for the long-haul, whether it’s a private business, the Public Sector, or your own business, a good personal brand is an invaluable investment. People will follow your brand from project to project and role to role if they feel connected to it. When launching new projects, your personal brand has the potential to guarantee you never have to start from scratch again.

Because your personal brand, more often than not, is built from the thoughts and words and reactions of other people, it’s shaped by how you present yourself publicly. This is something that you have control over. You can decide how you would like people to see you and then work on publicly being that image. Consider your goals for the brand. If you want to sell an expensive course in landscape photography you’ll need to be seen as someone with the authority to teach others on the topic. If you want to get work for high-end blue-ship clients you’ll need to be seen as a runaway talent with a professional attitude. Two useful questions to ask yourself are:

What are people saying / thinking / feeling about you when you walk into a room? What would you like them to be thinking and saying?

Your personal brand is composed of your actions and output in three main areas:

•Value Proposition: What do you stand for?

•Differentiation: What makes you stand out?

•Marketability: What makes you compelling?

Well it’s never too late to START creating the Brand New Brand You! Over the course of the next few posts I’ll cover some key areas for you to think about, work on, and evolve in order to improve Brand You, STARTing with Self-discovery.

Brand You START

Brand You – START Process

An Elephant in the Room Part 2 – Leadership Breakthroughs

Word Cloud - Elephant in the Room

I see two distinct types of ‘Elephant’ in my line of work…and two ways of tackling them. The Management Elephant and the Leadership Elephant. This blog focusses on the latter.

If you missed Part 1 – An Elephant in the Room: Management breakthroughs, and are wondering what on earth I’m talking about, please click here

The Leadership Elephant

The Leadership Elephant is an entirely different animal to the Management Elephant. These Elephants often appear in Senior Management or Leadership Teams and are more difficult to fix.
I’m a firm believer that if you have a strong team that is truly focussed on the same goals and vision, plus believing in and displaying the same values you can be successful in any market, anywhere.
Easier said than done! And the larger the business or team you lead, the harder it can become.
By virtue of their position (but not always), Senior Managers are competent in their own field – Marketing, Finance, IT, Engineering, Sales, Manufacturing, Product Development, Human Resources etc. However, many of these managers have had limited or no development  / experience in Leadership and certainly not in creating or being part of successful Leadership Teams. They also tend to operate day-to-day in isolation to the other senior managers as they have their own teams, challenges, and budgets to worry about and so many Leadership Teams are not teams at all, they are a collective of Senior Leaders with the same boss.
The ‘unsaid’ or Elephant in the Room, within a Leadership Team can have a profound impact on the rest of the organisation, if left uncecked.Leadership Elephants centre around a few key areas:
  1. Clarity of Vision
  2. Positive conflict
  3. Accountability
  4. Honesty
  5. Commitment to each other’s success
  6. Delivery of results

1. Clarity of Vision

As a team, what are you leading for? Not as Marketing Director or Sales Director or Head of Product Development….As a TEAM, what are you COLLECTIVELY leading for?
When Leaders are pulling in different directions, the results are a tug of war and wasted energy. When everybody is pulling in the same direction, that creates forward momentum.
Lack of an agreed, cohesive vision can result in poor orientation, competing agendas and misunderstandings. Teams function much more effectively when working with one vision and one set of goals within a strategic plan.
If you haven’t got a clear vision and goals as a team – this has to be your first job. Full Steam Ahead by Ken Blanchard and Jess Stoner is a great book to help you get started!

2. Positive Conflict

Conflict can be useful. When used correctly and depending on the attitudes and perspectives of those involved, conflict can:

  • Diffuse a more serious conflict.
  • Spark action to search for more facts or solutions.
  • Increase team performance and cohesion.
  • Find out where you and the rest of the team stand on a particular topic.

So how do you get to a point where conflict can influence and help facilitate positive outcomes?

  • Accept conflict as helpful
  • Stay focused on defeating the problem, not each other
  • Be prepared with facts to solve dilemmas
  • Consider the main issue, circumstances and relationships involved
  • Remain open about the other people’s position (remembering anger is often natural reaction of conflict)
  • Be respectful, professional and focus on outcomes

Don’t over simplify things and falsely resolve a situation by avoiding the source of conflict. Avoidance is often seen by withdrawing from a situation to save the fight for another day, or smoothing the situation saying “let’s not argue,” or “It’s not really that important.”

You’re more likely to succeed if you identify the real issue, the circumstances and relationships that factor in to the situation, and consequences of the resolution.

3. Accountability

When we fail to hold others accountable, we reap the consequences. While everyone is busy pointing fingers at each other, deadlines don’t get met, work remains below standard, or customers continue to be dissatisfied. Worse yet, things won’t get better until people stop trying to affix blame and start addressing the issue that caused the problem in the first place. This cycle will continue until people take accountability for their contribution to the problem and focus on seeking solutions.

In my view, the greatest impact of not holding others accountable is that it creates a negative perception of the leadership team. When other members of your teams see you letting someone get away with not producing the agreed output or keeping commitments, they begin to wonder why they are working so hard. They wonder why you don’t take action to address a poor performer who is creating problems for the rest of the team.

Failing to hold others accountable reflects on you as a leader. It raises questions about your willingness to hold everyone to the same standards and creates the perception that you don’t treat people fairly and equitably. Pretty soon others on the team get the message about “what it takes to succeed around here” and the extent to which they can count on you as a leader.

Lack of accountability creates and reinforces a culture of blame-which, in turn, generates other problems. You may notice increased evasion and avoidance as well as a pervasive “don’t get caught” attitude. Innovation plunges as people become less willing to be creative and think out of the box. Employees take fewer risks (or stop altogether) because no one wants to be blamed if something goes wrong. Finger-pointing sessions proliferate, creating a cycle of blame that ultimately shuts down communications.

4. Honesty

If you want to receive honest feedback, start by giving it. As the people on your team observe your honesty, this will make them feel more comfortable being honest themselves. On the other hand, if you don’t practice what you preach, it’s much tougher to influence others to practice that same thing.

Where I find that most leaders have the biggest problem related to honesty, is in saying those things no one wants to hear: the bad news, the opposing opinion, the refusal, the negative feedback. This is why I think the trick to becoming more honest is becoming more courageous and talking about these kinds of things. When you can honestly talk about the sensitive stuff, being honest about anything else is easy.

People often get defensive when they hear something they don’t like. They start to deny, blame, explain and criticise others. This may lead to other team members restraining themselves from saying all they intended to say simply because they don’t like the reaction they’re getting. If you want your leadership team to speak freely and honestly, it’s essential that every time one of them starts saying something difficult, instead of getting defensive, you do something much more constructive: you get curious and ask questions. This way, you prove that you are not afraid of the truth and that your main interest is to understand facts and opinions, not save your own skin.

5. Commitment to each other’s success

Sounds easy doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t you want to commit to your other Leadership Team members’ success? Well you would be surprised…or maybe you wouldn’t.

Great business people are naturally competitive. They want to win in business. Some are quite happy to win at the expense of others in their team and even the success of the business.

To build a truly great business, I’m a firm believer that if each of you is truly committed to one another’s success you can achieve so much more, especially through the tough times.

I’m sometimes amazed at the tricks, lies, back-stabbing and U-turns that people perform to try to get themselves ahead in business. Maybe I’m naive, but I think this can only lead to longer term issues – lack of respect from your peers, your teams and no doubt your customers will suffer too.

If you want to take your business into significant growth, you need to support your team and they need to support you. You don’t need to be best friends with everyone, but you do need to watch everyone’s back, be there for each other when they need support and focus on your collective goals and vision.

6. Delivery of results

A team that is not focussed on COLLECTIVE results fails to grow, loses it’s best people, is easily distracted and focuses people on their own careers or internal quarrelling.

Every Leader has an obligation to deliver – for their stakeholders, their people and their customers and not just in financial terms.

To avoid distractions, leadership teams need to prioritise the results of the leadership team over their individual or department results.

All sounds straight forward and easy doesn’t it? Well there are a few things that tend to get in the way – Self-promotion, Career Progression and Money to name three. The ironic thing is that all three of things are likely to happen anyway if you are in a high performing leadership team, all working towards one vision, one set of values and collective results.

Most senior managers naturally focus on the results of the teams they manage, not the teams they’re members of. They spend more time with their own people, they probably get bonused on the performance of the teams they manage and they probably don’t invest as much time in building relationships with their peers. Imagine the possibilities of having really powerful relationships with your peers, where the team is accountable for the whole and not the part and when you collectively focus on your customers and positive outcomes in your marketplace….

None of the above can be fixed overnight, and needs a huge amount of collective energy to get results. But when the results come, your competitors better watch out!

Thanks for reading!

Mark Conway

Teams and Teamwork 2.0

Team 2.0

Teams and Teamwork have changed

The make-up and nature of teams have changed significantly in recent years. Organisations have become more distributed across geography and across industries. Closer relationships between people inside an organisation and those previously considered outside (customers, suppliers, partners and other stakeholders) have become more important. Organisations have discovered the value of collaborative work and with the advent of new tools and technology, the ability to work more efficiently, effectively and more competitively is a reality. There is a new emphasis on knowledge management – harvesting the learning of the experience of members of the organisation so that it is available to the whole organisation, quickly and easily. Used effectively across a business this knowledge and information flow can add a real competitive advantage to your business and create a better experience for customers.

All these changes in organisations over the last decade have changed how teams are formed and how they operate.

Teams have morphed over time:

  • From fixed team membership to flexible and temporary team members
  • From all team members drawn from within the organisation to team members that can include people from outside the organisation (customers, suppliers, partners)
  • From team members that are dedicated 100% to the team to most people are members of multiple teams
  • From team members that are co-located organisationally and geographically to team members are distributed organisationally and geographically
  • From teams that have a fixed starting and ending point to teams form and reform continuously
  • From teams that are managed by a single manager to teams have multiple reporting relationships with different parts of the organisation at different times

Although the technology that supports these new teams gets most of the attention when we talk about virtual teams, it’s really the changes in the nature of teams – not their use of technology – that creates new challenges for team managers and members. Most “virtual” teams operate in multiple modes including having face-to-face meetings when possible. Managing a virtual team means managing the whole spectrum of communication strategies and project management techniques as well as human and social processes in ways that support the team.

Managers of small and large organisations have known the importance of communication and facilitation for successful team process, but few people have really grappled with the issues of trying to manage teams that are connected by distance in space and time.

While there are some obvious problems and disadvantages of distributed teams, these teams also provide some advantages such as:

  • Developing and spreading better practices faster
  • Connecting “islands of knowledge” into self-organizing, knowledge sharing networks of professional communities
  • Fostering cross-functional and cross-divisional collaboration
  • Increasing ability to initiate and contribute to projects across organisational boundaries

Certain things need to happen in order for organisations to make effective use of virtual teams:

  • Processes for team management and development have to be designed, defined, piloted, tested, refined
  • Team managers have to be trained in new team management strategies
  • Team members have to be trained in new ways of working, understand your vision and how they contribute
  • The culture of the organisation has to be reshaped to support new structures and processes
  • Organisational structures have to be modified to reflect new team dynamics
  • Rewards systems have to be updated to reflect new team structures
  • New information technology (IT) systems have to be built to support teams
  • New management, measurement and control systems have to be designed

New technology requires us to rethink these dynamics because we don’t have the option to use familiar approaches. It gives us an opening to change the way we manage the people and work process in general. The critical part of the question, “How can we manage teams operating at a distance?” is really “How do we effectively support the collaborative work of teams? Managing virtual teams is not about taking our old management techniques and transposing them for delivery using new media. Rather, it’s about expanding our available tools to create new dynamics aligned with the best thinking about supporting collaborative work.

Virtual Team

A New Management Mindset

There are some critical aspects of a virtual team manager’s mindset that must shift in order to be effective in the modern workplace:

Different kinds of environments can support high quality interaction. What matters is how you use them.

  • Collaboration happens in an ongoing, no-boundaries way.
  • Using technology in a people-oriented way is possible, desirable, effective and efficient
  • When the communication process breaks down, evaluate our management and interaction strategies, not just the technical tool.
  • Learning to manage virtual teams is about understanding more about teams and the collaboration process

 Some of the key ideas to keep in mind to make sure a virtual team works effectively include:

  • Teamwork is fundamentally social
  • Knowledge is integrated in the life of teams and needs to be made explicit
  • It’s important to create ways for team members to experience membership
  • Knowledge depends on engagement in practice, people gain knowledge from observation and participation
  • Engagement is inseparable from empowerment
  • “Failure” to perform is often the result of exclusion from the process

Strategies for Supporting Virtual Teams

Virtual teams form and share knowledge on the basis of information pull from individual members, not a centralized push. Knowledge based strategies must not be centred around collecting and disseminating information but rather on creating a mechanism for practitioners to reach out and communicate to other practitioners.

The goal is to find ways that support the transformation of individuals’ personal knowledge into organisational knowledge. That goal requires designing environments where all the individuals feel comfortable (and have incentives) to share what they know. It’s important that this activity not feel like a burdensome “overhead” task, which is why doing it in the process of what feels like informal conversation works well.

In order to have productive conversations among members of virtual teams, you need to create some kind of common cognitive ground for the group. Even teams from the same organisation can have a hard time developing conversations deep enough to be significant without some kind of specific context as a beginning frame. Contexts can be created by guest speakers, training courses, requests for input to a specific project/question or special events.

Managers of virtual teams can support their teams by:

  • Recognising them and their importance
  • Encouraging members to explore questions that matter including questions about how they are working together
  • Supporting the creation of some kind of shared space (the feeling that there is an infrastructure where people are working together)
  • Facilitating the coordination of the technology, work processes, and the formal organisation
  • Recognising reflection as action and as legitimate work (getting the infrastructure of the organisation to support the learning process)
  • Supporting activities which make the informal network visible

Technology for Virtual Teams

Different communication technologies can be used to support different purposes and participants.

New technologies are being launched every day to enhance the way we work. At KC we use and sell Microsoft Lync integrated with our Intranet, MS Outlook and SharePoint together with Salesforce.com and integrated tools. These tools not only have transformed the way we work and collaborate but have saved huge amounts on travel and hotel bills!

Too often, technology is introduced to organisations as a solution looking for a problem.

DON’T:

  • Try to introduce collaboration tool as a strategy to re-engineer your organisation
  • Expect to open the box and roll it out – it’s not always plug and play
  • Start by choosing a particular type of technology and then trying to find a problem where you can use it
  • Just put SharePoint or CRM into the organisation and expect users to learn it on their own
  • Mandate the use of technology and punish people who don’t cooperate
  • Try to use software tools to change the politics of your organisation

DO:

  • Start by changing the culture, and then use the technology to support the change
  • Change the reward system and measure people on their teamwork and sharing of information
  • Encourage bottom-up, grassroots efforts
  • Make sure the software fits your processes
  • Start collaboration with face-to-face meetings when possible
  • Use role modelling for spreading the use of technologyTeam
  • Virtual Teams as Building Blocks for Organisational Learning

One of the primary reasons leaders set up virtual teams is to facilitate change in their organisation. The driver for real organisational change is organisational learning. Today’s organisation interested in tomorrow’s success will run on its ability to create and use knowledge, its ability to learn.

The emphasis on learning has two powerful implications for the design of communications environments to support organisational teams that can have a significant impact on the organisation:

Dialogues, not just databases

Until recently, organisations relied on large amounts of explicit knowledge available to them through huge databases. Quantifiable facts, formulas, and procedures were, and still are, available to anyone in most organisations. In contrast, today’s “knowledge” or learning organisations create environments where experiential knowledge is shared through dialogue and interaction. Communication technologies are needed which support this interaction.

Learning and change are facilitated rather than managed

For a business or a non-profit institution to become a learning organisation, a different environment needs to be created. This environment should stimulate and nurture the complex network of interpersonal relationships and interactions that are a part of an effective management communications and decision-making process. People must be allowed to make choices about whom they need to communicate with without regard to traditional organisational boundaries, distance and time. A collaboration infrastructure provides the advantage and flexibility of forming and reforming groups and teams as requirements develop and change. This entire process must be facilitated rather than controlled by providing easy ways for team members to be introduced to each other.

What’s Next?

Virtual teams are fast becoming more the rule than the exception in organisations. It’s time to stop thinking of them as a special case and start developing strategies for dealing with the new challenges they create. Virtual teams need the same things all teams need – a clear vision and mission, an explicit statement of roles and responsibilities, communications options which serve its different needs, opportunities to learn and change direction as well as clear measurement.

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