Execution – The Ultimate Strategic Initiative

Strategic Initiatives (Part 10)

Execute! Is our theme for 2012. We selected this theme because we know that the opportunities we anticipate seeing for businesses in 2012 will require that you take action, execute plans, engage and start initiatives. Execution is the ultimate strategic initiative. Without execution, the initiative never has a chance of succeeding.

Yes, there is always planning, analysis and preparation for any initiative, but often these become the activity rather than actually executing the plan of initiative. Too much time and energy spent prior to execution can really water down the excitement and momentum. It is also a wonderful point to showcase strong leadership in action. Here are a few tips that might be helpful.

I always find that working toward successful execution works best working backwards from the “Go Live” date. The Go Live date drives so many other factors and becomes a quick reality check. Consider the timing of the Go Live date in conjunction with other internal or external events and commitments. The advantages that can be gained by planning to either coincide with something where you can ride a wave, or be the stand alone that gets all of the attention, can be critical in terms of impact. On occasion an initiative has a quiet rather than celebrated Go Live, especially when the initiative solves a complicated issue that does not need any more attention.

Delegate! Even though you may be the best and the greatest, sharing the work with others not only helps, it takes some of the burden. It also helps others to be engaged, share the excitement and add valuable ideas and energy.

Communicate! Communications are critical and need to include status checks and information updates on a regular basis. Communications are a part of your leadership responsibilities in delegation. Consider grouping email and other near instant communications so that there is an expected update communication rather than a barrage of unorganized stream of consciousness emails. Too many communications means that the recipient may not see the order and react to the oldest first or the newest without the needed preliminary information. It also helps so that someone does not feel overwhelmed and ignore or pick and choose communications. If the initiative is not a secret, have periodic updates written to build anticipation.

Set milestones and celebrate milestones successfully met. Milestones celebrated help everyone feel the forward momentum. It also allows the list to be reduced, which helps with the feeling of accomplishment.

Don’t get buried in the details. Details may make or break the success, but the leader cannot be involved in each. It erodes the empowerment built in delegation and creates an environment of micro-management which can be perceived as the expected style. Attention and acknowledgement of the details with inspection will be preferred.

Comment, compliment and catch people doing things right. One of your biggest roles as a leader is to reward behaviors, actions and accomplishments proactively. Sometimes, it’s important that you notice or recognize effort and impact in front of others. This builds the team and creates allegiance to you and the initiative.

A leader is always valued, known and revered by the initiatives successfully executed. They are often remembered for their failures. Communication and engagement will often determine the perspective. Using the tips given, a great leader will be able to avert, mitigate or change course so that failures never see a Go Live date.

As you consider the strategic initiatives for 2012, remember that execution of each is the ultimate strategic initiative.

This post concludes the Strategic Initiatives series and our Soltys, Inc. blog posts for 2011. We certainly wish you, your company and family the best of holidays and a prosperous new year. Thank you for your readership.

The 2012 Blog Series begins with Launch in January, Loving and Business in February and Lucky in March. In January we will also run a fun participation contest to help you launch some of your initiatives.


Business Farming

Strategic Initiatives (Part 9)

Max is the consummate business farmer. Like Johnny Appleseed, Max spreads seeds all the time and knows that some will take root. Max does not worry about how many seeds are dropped, how many might sprout or what to do with them if they do sprout, grow and bear fruit. Max simply makes sure that no matter what else is going on, seeds are sown. Everything else will be dealt with once something happens. No brain cells are burned with “what ifs.”

There are many Max’s – whether they are a Maximillian or a Maxine. These people are direct and to the point in their conversations. The conversation almost always includes an invitation to business no matter who you are, the occasion or the setting. It is not an obnoxious or rude inquiry. In fact you expect it and wonder if something is wrong if you do not get the invitation. The invitation may be about buying something, selling something or selling your company to them.

Max has some basic rules of business farming:
  1. Always ask for business, you cannot get a yes unless you ask.
  2. It is like the game of “Duck, Duck, Goose” only, in this case, it is no, no, yes.
  3. A no is not forever and is simply the answer to the current question. Like a seed that is not ready, if it is never planted, it cannot germinate.
  4. Emails, mail and advertising require action on the part of the recipient and have far fewer results than a direct conversation. An image of an orchard never grows a tree.
  5. A conversation opens the door to explore possibilities, potential and obtains permission to call again.
  6. Thank them for their time and/or consideration and ask who else you should call.
  7. Deliver on all promises.
  8. Even if you got a no, send a follow-up note or email.
  9. You need to listen two to three times as much as you talk. The best deals are usually made when the other person is giving information.
  10. You cannot control the environment but you can certainly take advantage of the conditions. If business has been bad, there is a reason to call. If business has been good, there is a reason to call.
  11. It does not take money to ask for business.
  12. Farming is not a one crop or cycle venture.

Max always seems to have a finger on the pulse of what is going on: who will do what, when, and why? The how and how much, like a tree in the orchard given a chance to grow, will find a path to the sun. Max’s knowledge and chances of success grow with each call made. It is a matter of how many calls. Max’s farming is such a large part of the business, that there is an appointment set for making calls every single week. Max does not rely on chance, but over-seeds for the crop to be harvested.

The strategic initiative of business farming changes the dynamic from waiting for something to happen to making something happen.


Exit Strategies

Strategic Initiatives (Part 8)

A number of requests have come in lately for assistance with exit strategies for owners and key performers. For some it is because of age, others are simply tired of being beaten up by the economy and many have more dreams to pursue.

An exit strategy is a strategic initiative and should be considered the day the business is conceived. Knowing possible options for exit and transference builds the business to maximize the value when the opportunity becomes an option. The key words here are option and opportunity. We all know that just about everything in business is for sale dependent on price, terms and conditions. It is being ready and able to execute when the right opportunity or circumstance occurs that makes a huge difference in the satisfaction gained and value realized.

First of all, what is an exit strategy? An exit strategy is a defined course of action designed to culminate in the transition of duties, responsibilities and often ownership, with a desired beneficial outcome.

Optimally, all businesses would have an exit strategy or strategies in mind at the inception of business, but most business owners do not start to consider initiating a strategy until a life or business changing point or circumstance occurs. At that point, options are fewer and, in some cases, the peak point of value may have already passed...a person who was considered an heir apparent has taken another path or the business has not built the processes and team for continuance without the current owner of leadership.

So where do you start to build a strategy? Ask yourself these questions:
  1. Consider what you want to do post-transition. Do you want to leave or stay involved? What roles and responsibilities are important to you? Can you tolerate someone else driving the direction of the company if you remain in some capacity?
  2. Who is the likely successor? Is it a third party unrelated buyer or someone in the company currently? Is it perhaps a family member or other person not currently involved that can either work into ownership or be “gifted” ownership? If there is an heir apparent, are they ready, willing and able to take the lead with passion?
  3. What do I want out of the business if sold? What am I willing to do to make the sale or transition occur in terms of time, money and my involvement or commitment? If I am going on to other ventures or retiring, am I willing to be non-competitive?
  4. What are the dependencies to you executing your exit strategy? Consider money, time, life circumstance, achievements and other opportunities for starters.
  5. Are the people, processes and business elements in place for continued viability and to produce a return on investment for someone else if you are not a part of the picture?
  6. If you got a call from someone interested in buying your company, what would be your first reaction? What would you need to know and what would be your next step?
These are just starter questions but extremely important in considering the options and potential for an exit strategy. A well planned exit is the culminating strategic initiative of a successful business.


Brand Is More Than A Logo

Strategic Initiatives (Part 7)

Earlier this week I was handed a corporate style guide for a company for which I was doing some design work. I’ve come across style guides before, but this one was especially thorough: over forty pages detailing how to properly display the company logo, what colors and fonts to use, what kind of photographs to select and even what kind of voice to use when writing content. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this company has some stunningly effective marketing materials. This company knows exactly what they want and how they want the company to be represented, and have a great strategy that leaves almost nothing to chance.

I bring this up to underscore a key marketing concept: branding is more than just a logo. In fact, it’s a lot more than just a logo. Ideally, branding should flow through every facet of a company, setting a consistent tone for everything from internal memos to anything that the public might happen to see. Branding is the narrative that a company tells its stakeholders and customers. It’s the affirmation of corporate stability. It’s an emotional connection between a company and its customers. It’s a vital piece of the arsenal in the constant vying for potential customers’ attention. Therefore, it’s better to think of fonts, logos and colors not so much as an endgame for branding, but more like tools that trigger an instant recognition and reinforce feelings of familiarity and personal preference.

Suffice to say, with all the corporate psychology that goes into marketing a company, successful branding is rarely something that is merely stumbled upon or handed over to a haphazard approach. Branding is a strategic endeavor that requires careful planning, a focused approach and a willingness to reevaluate the plan from time to time and fix any kinks in the armor. To start on the path to a calculated, planned-out approach to branding, start by asking the following questions:
  • Is all of your marketing material cut from the same cloth?
  • Can you go so far as to sense a common message and style even between your business cards and your website?
  • Do all of your materials accurately reflect your corporate atmosphere? Are the materials playful and irreverent while the tone around the office is button down and formal?
  • If you stripped off all of the logos and mentions of your company from a piece of marketing material, could an outsider look at it and still recognize that if came from your company?
  • Does every piece of your company’s material serve a purpose and deliver a clear message, or were some things created because it “seemed like something we should have” or perhaps it was adopted from a company you are affiliated with?
  • Is every piece of your company’s marketing material a smaller part of a greater plan, like cogs in a machine?
Take a long look at how your company is branded and picture yourself as someone looking in from the outside. Ask yourself what your company’s materials are saying and how they make you feel. If you don’t feel that you have a strategy for branding your company that you and those who work for you can follow, make the necessary adjustments. If you feel like you’re in over your head, remember that there are marketing professionals like me who specialize in getting you on track.  I'm happy to answer any questions you may have. Feel free to send me an email or post a comment on this post..

For more information on the importance of branding please check out Brand Identity Assessment and What's In A Name?

Let 2012 be the year that you came up with a solid plan for branding your company, execute it and capitalize on the success.


The Strategy of Engagement

Strategic Initiatives (Part 6)

So, after yesterday’s post, you’ve started thinking about which social media platforms best suit your business style and practice, as well as which offer you the best potential ROI. You’ll launch that campaign, or revamp a current campaign. Then what?

The penultimate goal of any social media campaign is engagement. What exactly does that mean? A quick check of the dictionary is in order (we’ve edited down the full definition):

v. en·gaged, en·gag·ing, en·gag·es
4. To attract and hold the attention of; engross: a hobby that engaged her for hours at a time.
5. To win over or attract: His smile engages everyone he meets.
6. To draw into; involve: engage a shy person in conversation.
7. To require the use of; occupy: Studying engages most of my time.

You hear “social media experts” and “gurus” telling you to engage your audience, but what garners engagement and sharing of your message. What types of content work?

We could wax poetic for days and still not get to the heart of the engagement matter. So we’re simplifying with some “e” tactics that will help with your “e”ngagement goals.

Educate: Are you the best and most knowledgeable company in your industry? Are you an industry or niche leader? Educate your audience about your strengths, your outstanding track record, your great client approval rating or your latest successful case study. It’s an innate human trait to want the best. How do we decide what’s best? By knowing as much as we can. Make sure your prospects and clients know you’re the experts by educating them.

Excerpt: Studies have shown that most people skim, rather than actually read, online. So, how do you get them to really read your fantastic content. Learn the art of the engaging excerpt. Can you sum up your idea, your premise, your goal in a sentence or two...perhaps a short paragraph? If not, it’s a skill you need to learn. It’s information overload on the digital business highway and you have to grab their attention before they skip your exit completely and choose a new destination.

Empathize: Clients sometimes have problems and issues. Software crashes, a sale falls through, something breaks. How will you handle complaints or concerns voiced on your social media platforms? The Netflix debacle made it clear you can’t ignore them and the Nestle meltdown showed antisocial behavior on a social media site brought about an epic fail. First and foremost, you must empathize and it better come across in a sincere fashion. Apologize. Ask how you can help. If suitable offer a replacement or a repair. Negative press happens, but you can turn a negative into a positive with careful and empathetic handling. For more on this topic, check out The Social Media Reprimand.

Elicit: Ask for and hopefully you shall receive. Elicit is a fancy way to say “ask”, and we needed an “e” word. Engaging your followers means eliciting a response, a like, a comment, a share, a referral, a connection request and so on. How do you get any one of these? Ask for it. Make sure your posts have an action statement, if not an all out call to action.

Entertain: The Pick and Mix blog post stated that we want to do business with people we like and enjoy. The best way we know to make sure people enjoy our company is to work to entertain our audience. People who are passionate about their business should have no problem effectively entertaining their audience while engaging them. Entertainment can, and should be, professional and should never leave your audience feeling uncomfortable. You can entertain with humor, with a “did” you know question, with a shared story or with an amusing photo or video. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sharing the occasional tasteful joke or quote. It lightens the mood, softens the sell, and shows that you’re human. People don’t engage with robots, except the occasional hand-to-hand combat in movies like the Terminator!

This engagement, if successful, is the true test of social media ROI. Just like the engagement before marriage, it is getting to know each other and working out details for the future. It is also a promise. Fail to engage and you fail to make the most of the time, energy and money you put into a social media campaign.


Pick & Mix: Social Media Platforms

Strategic Initiatives (Part 5)

You can’t do anything, it seems, without being reminded that social media is big business. And with these reminders come questions which can leave us feeling less than savvy about this latest business innovation. Questions that can be hard to answer.

Are you on Twitter? What’s your handle? What hashtags do you follow? Can we set up the meeting in a hangout? How many fans do you have? How many connections? Do you blog? Do you have a YouTube channel. How do I sign up for your newsletter? When’s your next webinar? Do you have a QR Code?

While business owners expect to answer questions about their business, with the advent of social media and digital business, some business owners are hard pressed to know what the question’s really about. Is it about successfully running your business or is it about online face time and being the cool kid on the block?

There’s Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube, Constant Contact, Foursquare, Google Plus, Wordpress and a bevy of other social media platforms that we feel we’re supposed to be “on” in order to be a successful and savvy business in the digital age. But, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Shhhhhh...don’t let this get out to everyone. You don’t have to be “on” all of them. In fact, you probably shouldn’t.

The idea that you should showcase your business on each and every one of these “free” social media platforms has become de rigueur, but it’s not really practical. Someone, or several someones, within your organization has to put the time, effort and creativity into designing, managing and maintaining your social media presence and message. We’ve all heard the phrase jack of all trades, master of none. Ineffective use of social media can make us feeling like that jack.

Is it worth it? Absolutely! Can you measure effectiveness, ROI? Yes, with a caveat that it’s not always measurable with hard numbers and dollar signs. You just have to choose the platform or platforms that will work best for you, your business and your business style.

Do you have a lot of timely and time sensitive information to impart? Can you promote special offers and instant savings? If you answered yes, then maintaining a Twitter following is a viable option and a valuable use of your social media time and resources. How do you measure? Was your message retweeted (forwarded)? If it was, that’s a small, but powerful return on the single tweet investment. Your initial tweet can now be seen by every follower of the retweeter.

Are you looking for gate openers and referral resources? The beauty of Linkedin comes from the business intent of LinkedIn users and the lesser frequency of status updates, which means you and your message stay in mind longer, with less time invested. The ability to request and share referrals makes it an incredibly viable “silent” or “digital” word of mouth generator. You get a return on your investment when you receive a referral, when you can ask for and receive and introduction and when someone engages with your content with a like or a follow up question. Word of mouth has a proven track record for business generation. Linkedin allows for greater word of mouth reach and sharing.

It has been proven time and time again that people do business with other people they like, trust and enjoy. In order for people to like, trust and enjoy you it is necessary to build a relationship. Can this be done on a larger scale with a business focus? Definitely. With a well designed and crafted Facebook branded business presence. When well done, a branded page engages with a large online community and builds a level of trust, via transparency. You measure ROI with the level of and frequency of engagement. Do your posts get likes? Are they shared? Do you get questions, comments and even business ideas? Each like, each comment shows on your page, but it also broadens your reach, showing up on the feed of every person who likes the bestower of the like or comment.

While we certainly haven’t covered every social media platform, nearly impossible...as new ones crop up every day, we hope we’ve given you a sense that properly planned and executed social media campaigns have a value and a return on investment, and, thus, should be a careful consideration as part of your business strategy, and business marketing. Successful social media campaigns are crafted, tested and hewn with care...they are not fly by night, scattershot initiatives with little thought or planning. They aren’t add-ons or “if we have time” list additions. They can and should be a strategic, well-crafted, well-planned focus within your business and marketing objectives.

If you haven’t already, please come "like" our Facebook page, as we’ll be sharing some of our social media top tips and best practices over the next twelve days. If you have any questions about other platforms or would like to discuss social media and its value and place within your company’s strategic initiatives, please send us an email, we’d love to speak with you.



Strategic Initiatives (Part 4)

Truly great and exciting strategic initiatives require entrepreneurial spirit, drive and leadership! I think it is interesting that the term entrepreneur is often used as a synonym for owner, as it is not synonymous. Not all entrepreneurs are owners and you can own or hold something without being an entrepreneur. The difference is risk with significant initiative.

The entrepreneurial spirit is a hunter seeker, not a gatherer. It lives for the taste of the win. The spirit delights in the finesse of the hunt and capture. It is not afraid of the work that will be involved and knows that there are few perfect situations. The entrepreneur is also a strategist who will consider advantages, disadvantages, and different methodologies. They calculate collateral damage that may occur against the win. It is not win at all costs.

They are perceived as having no fear. Rather than fear they sense issues of concern and work around them, through them or with them as a part of their strategy, as they know that fear, while a driver for the timid, has no value in moving forward. Risk is always a part of the equation but is not reduced to fear which is an emotion.

The entrepreneurial drive is passionate and unrelenting. No matter the level of success there is always an appetite for more. The passion pulsates and invigorates others extending the drive, the force and employment of talent in reaching the goal. It is rare for the entrepreneur to have only one objective, pursuit or project at any given time. They are a factory unto themselves producing ideas, what ifs and opportunities. They are often held in awe, just in terms of the way they think.

Each venture has a defined return on investment (ROI). It may be financial, positional or a necessary step toward another goal. Ventures are never casual and require a certain level of excitement. The boring and mundane are never satisfying and are delegated with purpose and results to be obtained to “managers” who are indeed nurturers and gatherers. The managers are considered vitally important as the entrepreneur will never be successful on their own, they need people who can take the raw opportunities they bring to fruition, integrate them, nurture and then create internal growth.

The entrepreneur is a leader, a leader worthy of followership. They are often charismatic and considered to be a force. It is not unusual that, at least in initial, non-social meetings, they sometimes come across as unfriendly or all business with little fluff. The drive and passion usually are noticed far ahead of the deep caring that they usually have. Few are ruthless or heartless and they draw people to them for their business savvy and forward movement. No one likes to follow someone standing still.

The entrepreneur is a builder and will usually leave a legacy. They will not have been successful in every venture but they do learn from their mistakes. A part of that legacy is often the new companies and businesses started, either through them or as a result of their actions. They often help to define and grow other entrepreneurs who will spin off to their own business with what they have learned. The legacy is never simply their business but is often found in each person they have touched. Many will talk about them long after they are gone and the impact they had on their lives and business.

I love working with entrepreneurs, they are exciting and they accomplish goals. They understand risk and invested initiative. They are inspired, dream big, love deeply and are tantalized by mystery and that which is to be explored. They know that each strategic initiative is important as a step to realizing something bigger and better.


Position of Strength

Strategic Initiatives (Post 3)

Yesterday when we wrote about Power Plays in which a strategic initiative is leveraged, one of the key criteria was that a position of strength is required. How do you take a position of strength and what is necessary?

The first understanding has to be what is strength? Physical strength, like how many pounds you can lift, is measurable. Strength of position financially and in the marketplace can be quantified. Both of these can be impressive and useful, but will not win alone. It takes positional strength, which is always perceptual, to win.

Let’s take for example a business that has grown its customer base over the years and, while large, basically maintains its market strength due to size and reach. Few changes and little innovation are needed to maintain the company. It has become something of a fixture and a known commodity with recognition of its size. While it has size and presence, representing sizable market strength, it will be those characteristics that also make it easy to attack. The size makes it difficult to maneuver, counter attacks and implement change. A new entity or idea comes to town touting a new and different business model, throwing down a gauntlet of challenge as if it has already won position. It acts as a leader and people are interested, curious and willing to consider the new company. If the leader and voice of the new entity is also charismatic, the large company which has market strength is automatically positioned to play defense because the new entity is utilizing a position gained by perceptual strength alone. Size in this game will not matter for long, it will not even be a consideration as the distraction and perceptual strength has nothing to do with size.

A company that has become large and stale is very vulnerable and has little chance to take a position of strength as it will be engaged in both internal and external battles, always defending. Usually they do not even have the mechanisms in place to turn and become the aggressor.

Companies cannot become complacent in position or decide to take a position of strength casually or occasionally. A position of strength is a defined strategic initiative that allows the company great agility in presenting strength in many areas and styles, making attack very difficult.

Large companies do not have to be vulnerable. They, too, can leverage strengths greatly by taking positions of strength throughout the business, focusing and highlighting different areas at any given time. Think of a pot that is boiling and rolling, churning the contents over and over creating steam and energy.

Positions of strength are declarative and must be advanced with a claim that resonates and gains attention. While the company as an entity and leadership may be a quiet force, there are always communications and advances. The advances are those of an aggressor and the aggressor is seldom attacked.


Power Plays

Strategic Initiatives (Part 2)

Today, the sale of a major brand was announced, ending a position of limbo and rumor that had gone on for a prolonged period. This was a strategic initiative for the brand and a very positive move.

When a company decides to change its business structure by adding or deleting a business unit it is always a strategic decision made to strengthen the company. Both the seller and the buyer stand to benefit and gain in strength. The change is the center of a ripple effect that can carry positive energy throughout everyone affiliated if they are willing to carry that energy forward. Whenever you have the opportunity to create and execute a strategic initiative, whether related to a change such as the one that occurred today or any other you may pursue, several rules apply.
  • Position of Strength - A strategic initiative requires that everyone in the planning, execution and communication carry all actions and duties forward from a position of strength. It is much harder for a competitor to raise a challenge against strength.
  • Voice of Authority – You must be information central, speaking with a voice of authority inviting questions. Never let someone else communicate your message as it will no longer have the strength or intent you would give it. As you receive questions create a Q and A related to the change. 
  • Tone – The tone of all communications must have excitement, optimism and opportunity in the voice whether in print, verbal or presentation. The tone should never convey anxiety, caution or any other restraint. There are plenty of options to set parameters and to roll out future components and definitions without it being in the tone surrounding change.
  • Reach – Your messages and information regarding the change and initiatives you will drive as a result must have reach well beyond your company. Social media, web sites and RSS feeds play an important role the same as one to one communications and announcements to the consumers.
  • Play Offense – There is no better time than when you have the momentum of change to use as a strategic initiative to play offense. You have a better opportunity to get your message out, have key people listen to you and to be able to complete plays in process. Keep control of the game.
A strategic initiative is never business as usual. While some changes may seem to only create change at levels that do not directly impact you, using it as your own strategic initiative leveraging impact is where you gain the power.


BHAG’s, Triumphs and Victories

Strategic Initiatives Series (Part 1)

Happy 12th Month! This month is a fun one filled with celebrations, gifting and good cheer so we saved some of the greatest blog fun for this month’s series: Strategic Initiatives. We hope that you will find ideas and thoughts to spur new ideas within our posts.

Strategic initiatives often start with a BHAGBig Hairy Audacious Goal. The term introduced in the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Successful Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras gave a name to those goals which seem a bit out of reach, require strategy, wit, opportunity and a bit of luck. These goals not only align with the company’s objectives but bring out spirit in individuals and teams. They also offer a challenge that is compelling, an empowered feeling of triumph in winning and every reason to celebrate victory when the goal is met.

From the time we were children, BHAGs filled our favorite stories from The Little Engine That Could through the depiction of a BHAG achieved in the book and movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, where Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger and Harry Potter must play and win a life sized chess game at all costs. All encourage us to think big, to reach for and accomplish what seems impossible. Each story also includes why the goal is important, what the goal enables us to do and in almost every case concludes with celebration and an invitation to challenge the next BHAG.

Some of us have personal BHAGs like losing weight during the holidays. I see some fairly unrealistic company BHAGs akin to bringing the Phoenix out of the ashes. But most of what I see companies propose should not be tagged as BHAG’s because they are too safe, normal business with little additional effort and achievable with little excitement in the process. These are really just business.

The BHAG’s that become strategic initiatives tickle the imagination, are electrical in creativity, bring out the best in everyone involved and make us dream of what happens when it is achieved. This is not a lottery type of dream as there is real effort involved and a sense of winning that is fueled by accomplishment and accented by luck rather than the other way around. While not impossible, on the surface the BHAG might appear to be out of reach. That is where the strategy comes in.

Tough challenges require finesse to achieve extraordinary results. Breaking down the BHAG into strategies creates a plan and methodology. It will still be tough and require excellent leadership, management and incremental planning. Each player will have to be at 110% of their game, thinking of ways to make their play contribute to the win, find detours around challenges and maintain focus and power through the hardest parts. The adrenaline rush of triumph, as wins are accumulated, makes the BHAG tangible and creates greater passion and drive.

Celebrations are an important part of victory. It is not simply an event that says “we did it” but more importantly is a pressure release valve and the ignition for the next BHAG. As you do your victory dance, think about the next BHAG on the horizon. Present each BHAG to the team with a bit of intrigue, a challenge, and draw your players into proposing paths to victory. Momentum driven by the achievement of your BHAGs makes a company hard to compete against.

Follow our blog series this month for ideas, examples and stories of BHAGs, achieved, failed and celebrated. To help you get started, you will find an article in our download center titled: Strategic Thinking: Ventures Outside the Box.


What Will the Archeologist Find?

Infrastructure Series (Part 14)

At one point in time, as a child, I thought that I wanted to be an archeologist. I was fascinated with old civilizations, communities, structures and the way things had been done in the past. Everything from the mechanics of building the great pyramids to cities built one over the other in different times. All things that were predecessors to the world we know today.

Each of these civilizations had an infrastructure and a purpose. Each created hierarchies to achieve order and rule and all found ways to communicate, whether in stories passed from one generation to the next, hieroglyphics, stone etchings or early print. Perhaps that same fascination is now transferred to the architecture and engineering of businesses.

The business archeologist of the future will explore our companies, looking for the elements of infrastructure.
  • Purpose - What was the reason or the need behind establishing the business? Who was served by the business? Was the product or service essential for life, culture, fulfillment or a component of other businesses?
  • Communications - How did the business communicate internally? Did the communications help the business’ viability and the mechanics needed to run the business? Was the company successful in external communications – marketing, driving need, capturing business and generating good will?
  • Hierarchies – How effective were the leaders? Were there business rules in place to bring order and efficiency? Were there processes that would survive the people to keep the business viable?
  • Environment – Were there environmental factors that impacted the business? These might include: economics, geo-political forces, population, physical limitations, technology requirements, nature and or social acceptance.
  • Culture – Was the culture of the business cultivated and nurtured for growth or did it feed on itself to the point of destruction. Was their respect, teamwork, mutual reward and something worthy of commitment and work?
  • Mechanics – Did the structure and machinery of the business make logical sense, employ efficiencies, and utilize resources well. Did it have the ability to produce the product with the necessary return on investment required for financial viability? Did it employ state of the art methods for sales growth and customer retention? Were the components maintained and retooled as needed?
  • Future State Objectives – Was the company viable for a point in time or business requirement or was it built to morph as needed to continue long into the future. Were there business continuance plans to survive challenges and succession issues?
As I am writing this I am thinking of many businesses, some which are no longer in existence and some that are in decline. I can see industries that must change to be viable. The power of branding has changed considerably becoming stronger in some consumer goods and weaker in service oriented businesses that attract primarily by product rather than provider. In each case the elements of infrastructure tell the story. Infrastructure is the DNA of business, bringing definition, life and elements that will be a part of generations of business to come. The archeologists will enjoy learning about us at some point in the future, may we all build business infrastructures that stand the test of time are held in high esteem and awe of our accomplishments.

We hope that you enjoyed and found value in the series. Our December series is a fun one for the end of the year focusing on Strategic Initiatives.

Infrastructure Goes Mobile

Infrastructure Series (Part 13)

When I think of all of the science fiction that I have seen, there were elements of the mobile world that we live in from the personal communicators and data warehouses available on StarTrek to the video communications employed by the Jetsons. Science fiction often offers insight to the future, as it is the dream for opportunity, functionality and streamlining business and life. Thinking back through everything I have read or seen, I do not think that the writers really thought about how it was going to impact the infrastructure of business or what would be required to make the transitions necessary. It is kind of like raising kids, no manual, lots of advice, experts everywhere and lots to buy to help you in the process.

This was really brought to mind with Google’s tool to help companies assess how mobile friendly their web site is. You can go to GoMo and test any URL to find some basic information on how mobile friendly the site is currently. What is most interesting is that they will eliminate sites from smart phone browser searches that are not mobile friendly. This could have significant impact for many sites that have been developed primarily with desktop tools. This is just one example of an impact that has cost, time, effort and accessibility issues to companies.

Not only must the websites be able to communicate with different devices, but most back office and communications functions require mobile access. Most companies can now interface via the Internet with vendors, staff, banking and governmental regulation and taxing authorities. The infrastructure changes are far reaching with security and compliance issues related to communicated and shared data to archived information.

The cost was not in the budget for most companies, the internal expertise was not readily available and the transition plans were not in place when the maelstrom of requirements and competitive initiatives really began to build.

The end result is that this is a change in not only the infrastructure of the company but also the dynamics of the company’s operations and in many cases decisions for future viability. It is also a change that has really become a line of demarcation for many management and leadership teams, between those unwilling to leave a comfort zone in the way that they are used to working and those who are eager to dump anything old and go full steam ahead with the new without considerations of transition.

As you build and review your business plans, is there a budget for running dual systems during transition, the training that will be necessary and the management of a process to ensure that you do not convert that which will not be needed and prioritize any systems, tools and marketing items that will be immediately impacted and may also offer opportunities with the new infrastructure. You have a lot of dots out there and now need to connect them into a workable format that you can integrate to your company.

Mobile accessibility is not going away. Devices may change and utility morph but the reality is that business will never again be chained to a location.


The Art of Appreciation

Infrastructure Series (Part 12)

The Infrastructure series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of November 2011 (except the week of Thanksgiving). 

Recently, I received a beautiful thank you note in the mail. The sender had taken the time to write a note that was genuine and conveyed her appreciation. It was so beautifully written that I had to call and let her know that I really loved the way she had expressed herself. She was quite pleased with the call which led to a discussion of the art of appreciation. Extending appreciation should be a part of the communications infrastructure of all companies.

One word emails with the word “thanks,” said in passing or abbreviated text messages are fine if the intent is to validate receipt which is also an important gesture. This simple acknowledgement conveys little, but does work in many cases. It does not work if the person to be thanked has gone out of their way, invested time, effort and creativity or perhaps saved you from a situation that is less than desirable.

The true art comes in finding the right time, opportunity, vehicle and venue to say thank you with the appropriate level of appreciation.

Right Time – Timing is very important. If there was urgency in the need, task or kindness, there should be a similar urgency in the appreciation. There are always situations where we are pressed for time, but making time to say thank you returns well on the investment.

Opportunity – The opportunity to say thank you in the way in which we want to express ourselves does not always present itself easily. It is not simply a matter of time but also a decision of place, method and who else might hear the message. In most cases, we have to create the opportunity. Appreciation delivered spontaneously is right for things happening in the moment but not for anything of significance. In some cases the initial thanks (such as when opening a gift) is immediate and then followed by a more meaningful gesture.

Vehicle – Whether it is a phone call, extended text message, well written email, thank you note or gesture, the message should be delivered in a manner that reflects the appreciation. If it is a gesture like a dinner, flowers or other gift, an accompanying note or message is always appropriate.

Venue – Showing appreciation requires the selection of a venue. It might be a private acknowledgement one on one, or a part of a larger work like an employee review, which may also include monetary or positional consideration. Other venues include a testimonial that can be used with clients or on the web, acknowledgement at a formal or informal gathering where others are a part of the appreciation, social media and award ceremonies. Large events should always show appreciation, not only to organizers but also the people behind the scenes.

Level of Appreciation – Gushing thanks over something routine or nearly inconsequential sends the wrong message and may set up expectations that you will not meet in the future. Too simple an acknowledgement for a major effort can diminish the value and reduce willingness to stretch in the future.

Message – The message should be relevant to the act and reference the impact. It should be written or conveyed in the tone of voice that is yours, rather than appearing crafted on your behalf. It must be genuine and not artificial or political. The lowest form of sincerity is when you receive a message that says something like “Big-shot wants to convey thanks for your efforts. Signed off by a third party.” If you must have someone else write your message, at least craft it as if it is coming from you.

Lessons from the Masters – There are a number of people I admire as they are masters in the art of appreciation. Here are some of their tips that I think are worth passing on.
  1. Carry a small quantity of thank you notes and stamps in your computer case, luggage or car. When there is an acknowledgement worthy of a thank you note, write it as soon as you can and drop it into the nearest mailbox. If sending by email, compose it and send as soon as possible.
  2. Consider using social media with a “thanks” of the week including tagging of individuals. In this case, it may not mention the individual deed or task which can be done separately. It will attract attention to your being considerate and spread the recognition through the tagging to those in their contact circles.
  3. If you and your people use Linkedin, write a testimonial or recommendation for your people. It must be genuine, meaningful and reflective of their talent, skill or accomplishment.
  4. Highlight a specific thank you once a month, particularly where it recognizes a behavior that you want to have repeated and integrated by others in the business.
  5. Keep a list of people to be thanked and the reason. This is helpful in jogging the memory particularly when your paths cross unexpectedly.
  6. Make at least one call to say thank you for every thirty minutes of driving time.
  7. Create a place either in your office (a whiteboard) or internal chat area or other point where simple thank you’ s can be posted by anyone in your company.
  8. Make appreciation a part of your recognition program.
  9. Pay it forward by thanking someone and asking them to do the same for someone else.
  10. Create a culture of thankfulness in your company. This begins with leadership and is integrated throughout with training for managers and accountability. The culture should touch not only those in the company but include vendors, clients and those who deserve thanks and recognition.
Appreciation is an art form and one of the least costly ways to accelerate performance and value in a company. It should be fully integrated in the communications infrastructure.

We felt that this post was timely as tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Soltys, Inc. is genuinely appreciative of our readership, clients and those who follow us. I am especially grateful for the help and support of the team at Soltys, Inc. We have posted a special message of thanks on our site and we would like to share with all.

Thank you!


Silos & Drama

Infrastructure Series (Part 11)

The Infrastructure series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of November 2011 (except the week of Thanksgiving).

One of the greatest challenges facing a company is managing and utilizing the matrices of internal communications. This key component of the company’s infrastructure goes far beyond conveying and receiving information for the purpose of conducting company business. No matter the size of the company, there will be challenges while working with different personalities, communication styles and agendas.

Economics, access and virtual based work have added new complexities to challenges already in play, often creating silos and drama. The changes impact not just the mechanics of infrastructure, but also the culture of the company.

Companies where everyone has the opportunity to see others and interact within a defined work day are now rare. Rarer still are those that have not been impacted by the 24 x 7 world of information, communications and faux engagement. Our receptors are multi-channel through broadcasts, video, web data, social media, print, chats, email, texting and, of course, phones. The bottom line is that there is a lot of sending and receiving with little validation of impact, interest or importance, let alone acceptance. Few channels actually communicate in a two way exchange, but in most cases communicate at you.

Your company probably built methodologies to have real two way internal communications through tools like performance reviews, training, and status checks. There were less formal, but important, conversations that took place in the break room, over a cup of coffee or lunch. There was a way to have a sense of the pulse, direction and potential challenges with a personalized touch.

The silos are created as the most interactive conversations are often between “me, myself and I” in an environment where work is nearly solitary. The drama comes in both the abundance of communications and the lack of interaction and culture to position thoughts, fear, reality, pride, opportunity, teamwork and being needed. Round the clock communications and accessibility have changed the work day with implied instant response requirements and little work-life balance. Active imaginations have every opportunity to process the situation in near isolation. The drama will often erupt out of the realm of manageable internal communications.

The communications assault and virtual workplace will not be going away anytime soon, so it is imperative that company owners and managers address internal communications and virtual culture as an integrated part of their infrastructure. Within this challenge there is an opportunity to build new strengths, strategies and competitive advantages so that silos have connectivity and drama has a channel.

Questions you may want to ask in order to evaluate the impact on your internal communications infrastructure might include:
  1. Does my company have an inclusive or exclusive culture when it comes to the virtual worker?
  2. How do we reach into the silo and engage as a work community?
  3. How do we know if the drama is building and what are the relief valves?
  4. Do we truly engage everyone or simply spew information at them?
  5. What is the assurance that the information and communications we send are received and engage the talent, skill and feedback needed?
  6. How do we ensure that we are not the problem in a worker finding balance in work and life?
  7. How do we make everyone feel valuable in the company?
Watch for strategic initiatives, in our December blog series, that will give ideas and methods to address these and many other issues, as well as creative ways to find and seize opportunity.


Corporate Secrets

Infrastructure Series (Part 10)

The Infrastructure series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of November 2011 (except the week of Thanksgiving). 

First of all, there is no such thing as a corporate secret. If more than one person knows, it is no longer a secret. While the Colonel’s recipe for KFC and the Coca Cola mixture are considered to be corporate secrets, they are actually protected information. In both cases, many people know or have access or the companies would be at risk once the holder of the information passed. Protected information is far different than what might be considered a corporate secret.

Last July, we posted a blog series called Brand Change, and, while no company was named, several companies thought for sure that we were writing about them. Some of those even did a lot of finger pointing, suggesting sources of information and leaks. The reality of it was that there were a lot of bread crumbs left lying around with trails that led to potential conclusions, validations from many sources and logical processes that would surround such corporate actions. Internal leadership may have thought that there was a breach but there is little that can stay a secret when it involves a lot of moving pieces, lots of people and basically lives in an Internet open world.

There are always rumors, just like there are today about the same companies with actions, activities and positioning all pointing toward a likely culmination of events, some by the end of the month and some by the beginning of the year. A few will straggle to the end of the first quarter. All of these are dependent on the success of the effort more than the validity of the rumor.

If you want to keep things close to the vest in your company there are a few key concepts to consider:
  • Communications internally and externally. If you change how you communicate, the type of content and the frequency, you will raise awareness and interest in looking for change to occur. One company, for example, before almost all major changes implements a “communications freeze”. Within the deafening silence, rumors are born, speculation grows and most of it is fed by the fear factor. Proactive communications are important and will often cause the scent of the chase to change. If internal communications are also frozen, in the unknown, employees and staff will change behaviors, positioning and their communications to clients and public. They may also begin considering alternatives to maintain their income and livelihood as a just in case measure. These become bread crumbs on the trail.
  • Initiatives. If it appears that all initiatives and forward movement have stopped, red flags will litter the playing field and wave, enticing the bulls to charge. This includes changes in funding of business, pursuit of new business and the health of the business pipeline. A dry pipeline is more than a bread crumb.
  • Staffing. Changes in staffing ,especially reductions in staff that are not communicated properly, including attrition and non-replacement. These are easy to see thanks to social media, professional networking and job search sites. Warmth and connectivity to the leadership are also factors that come into play both for the staff and those on the outside including clients.
  • Purchasing, Clients and Contracts. Changes in purchasing, status of new and ongoing vendor contracts, and communications with clients all become a part of the puzzle. Companies who have been fairly aggressive in areas of their business that require partners or vendors and change or are put off indefinitely will open the speculation as vendors and partners seek other business to fill the void.
  • Media. Media that is not proactively fed goes hunting for meat. If the media is hungry because they are not getting anything from you and they can see the smoke from any of the other areas, it may be invitation to a feeding frenzy to see where the best story may be. One such item that caught the eye of many and was probably thought to be insignificant was a company’s decision not to continue membership in an organization that is a smaller player in the industry but vital in the continuance of specific business the company would be engaged in if continuing the line of business.
  • Social Media and Smart Mobile Devices. Perhaps these have done more to expedite the removal of veils of secrecy. While not everything that is posted is true or on the right path, definitive directions can be found and become a trail worthy of following. In many cases, it may not even be a post as much as the checking in at different points. For example, enough related people checking into the same place may look like a meeting.
  • Clients. Clients, especially in businesses that are affiliate based, are highly social with communications that do not always go through the company. They have been conditioned to see the company as a vendor and to a limited degree a partner, but usually there is a line that is drawn which is separated by money and trust. Changes in any of the items mentioned above reverberate through the client companies and speculation grows, sometimes in very damaging directions.
When we look at the importance of communications as a part of the infrastructure of a company, understanding the dynamics of both intended and unintended buzz is critical. If the Trojan Horse had been in today’s world with the Internet, it would not have been able to enter the city of Troy.



Infrastructure Series (Part 9)

The Infrastructure series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of November 2011. 

The infrastructure of any company cannot exist in a void of communications.  Every element that we have referenced in this series is dependent on communications from hierarchy through creativity.  It is also perhaps the most challenging element as communications can be impacted by outside forces and channeled by misinterpretation, innuendo, and influence.  Over the next few days our series will address communications.  

Communication by Action: “Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you are saying.” Whether or not we realize it, our actions are a part of our communications and may or may not align with our stated infrastructure and or stated intent. Our actions may define the interpretation of our infrastructure. Look at the examples below that I have observed in companies. The reaction and or actions of the company and its leadership in each case will impact the strength of the infrastructure.
  • Inez I-want-attention-now takes a lot of pride in being able to get a hold of the CEO of the company on her cell phone. She loves the immediacy of response and the feeling of importance, especially when in front of a prospective client. It is not unusual for the CEO to be caught in a tenuous position of being asked to make a decision or clarification on the fly without the background info.
  • Political Patrick will do anything to be in the limelight and plays the politics of the company well, knowing who to pit against another, how to jockey for position and what type of power plays to make.
  • Terri Top-Producer does it her way. No matter what the tools, systems or processes are in the company she bucks the system and often runs over staff with her “my way or the highway” attitude.
  • Manager Mike is a known wimp. Any sales person can come to him with a request, and before it is even fully stated, he grants the request. He always tells management that he had to do it or lose them.
  • Negotiator Ned knows that each manager of the area companies has a recruiting requirement to meet. He also knows that most will go off scale in terms of compensation given the slightest indication that he has interest.
  • Susie Staffer is a senior member of the administrative team. She is adored by most in the company, even though her competence is questioned. Other staff people feel that it is not fair that she does not carry the same load or requirements.
  • Betty Broker complains about the faults of her management team frequently while, at the same time, saying they are the best in the area. While most make good contributions in spite of their faults, one manager has been moved around in the company with reduced role and duties, each time due to attitude and competence, but is still there and treated as an equal to other managers.
In each of the cases cited above, the company is undermining its own infrastructure by breaking the business rules and structure and then clearly communicating the infrastructure is irrelevant by the actions taken.

As mentioned in earlier posts, there needs to be some built-in flexibility and the means to change as needed. These need to come within the tolerance for change and limitations set. When actions are interpreted to be random or not aligned with the structure that is stated as the definition of the company, the company is weakened and open for attack from inside and competitors.


Change Tolerance

Infrastructure Series (Part 8)

The Infrastructure series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of November 2011.

Building codes are always changing to accommodate requirements for environmental conditions, disruptions and calamities. These codes are reviewed and amended periodically and when an event occurs to force change.

The infrastructure of companies, organizations and even industries incorporate design, function and operational codes, often originating from company founding. Some tolerance for change is built in, but often major structural change that is environmental is like an earthquake. If measured on the Richter scale it would be a 6 – 9 depending on where you are in the country. It has left few untouched and the aftershocks will continue for quite a while. Few companies were built to tolerate the impact that has reached almost every sector of the US economy since real estate is estimated to touch one out of every four dollars in the U.S. economy.

While the impact is significant and will require a lot of work it has not been fatal. That was highly evident in the spirit and passion of the 22,000 who attended the NAR Convention and Expo last week. Similar to a natural disaster, rebuilding brings the opportunity to incorporate change and new codes. The industry will be stronger as a result with better sustainability, but it will never again be the same as what we have known.

Franchisors will experience some of the greatest infrastructure changes including:

  • Change in the fee models. No longer is the brand of a franchise driving the value, hence a model where revenues are primarily built on royalty fees for branded name and identifier use will be history. Newer models will have less dependence on royalty fees and greater revenue from fee for service. The differentiators between franchises and member oriented marketing groups will continue to fade.
  • Change in services offered. Like many other industries, there will be greater emphasis put on outsourced talent and tools allowing greater expansion and contraction and change without embedded costs.
Companies, dependent on size and configuration, will take the greatest impact.
  • There will be a growth of small and single practitioner to boutique companies who operate lean and mean, often in virtual locations with few affiliations and a very limited infrastructure.
  • Mid-size companies will find it even more difficult to operate profitably. Without an affiliation they will not be able to offer competitive tools and services to their agents and or customers. The exception will be in small communities where there is not much competition and where there is enough distance from a major metropolitan area that the company cannot be impacted by Internet offerings into their area.
  • Large companies will grow as enterprises with fewer needs for franchise affiliation and more affinity for membership oriented services and peer companies. In many cases, these companies will replace the franchisors building and servicing affinity and aligned companies. There will also be significant change in roles, size and configuration of management teams. Large companies will see the consumer as the center of a multi-faceted sale not the sale.

Associations will be forced to redefine their value proposition and relevancy as well as refine targeted affiliations. There will be greater competition from aligned member models for dollars.

Sales People will seek leadership and value in companies they affiliate with. Expectations will be increased especially from those entering the profession for career growth and development, culture that has a virtual reach and sustainability. There will be less emphasis on “me” and greater emphasis on business.
  • Commissions – Will become more aligned with the value proposition offered with less commoditization or simply jumping for greener grass. Newer people entering the business see compensation far differently than those who got caught in the feeding frenzy of more.
  • Specialization – As the population of the industry continues to decrease and realign, anticipate greater specialization including into targeted markets and long term service plans.
  • Technical and mobile requirements will continue to increase with expectations that the best of companies will provide leadership and guidance in offering, selection and training of tools best aligned with business objectives.
  • Communications and Culture will be key elements in defining companies of choice.

As the consumers become more accustomed to businesses with an integrated fabric of full service options, there will be greater requirement for seamless communications, transparency to marketing and processes as well as demand for expertise over relationship. Long term and multi-layer customer relationships will be highly available but will need to be earned rather than assumed in a sphere of influence. Fees paid for services will be cumulative rather than limited to commission on a single transaction. There will be less tolerance for sloppiness or marginal expertise. The reduction and in many cases elimination of equity has significantly changed factors of demand, spending and consumer planning for fulfillment of real estate needs and investment.

While these are definite changes to infrastructure, some of these changes could not be made or with the positive impact that should be realized without the economic impact that hit real estate. There are many more changes that we could have addressed and in greater depth but that will need to be a longer publication.


Creativity In A Box

Infrastructure Series (Part 7)

The Infrastructure series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of November 2011. 

I just returned from the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) Convention in Anaheim, CA. This is an important conference for Soltys, Inc. as about 85% of our business is with larger real estate companies, organizations and franchisors. The keynote speaker at the general session was Michael Eisner, formerly of Disney. He gave his “Creativity in a Box” presentation, with some customization for the audience.

His ideas around “Creativity in a Box” exemplify a component of great infrastructure – creative growth within limitations. Infrastructure must have some flexibility within defined parameters, especially in the financial area. Without those limitations it would be difficult to have profit produced from creative initiatives. Without the creative initiatives, growth will be limited.

Infrastructure, which sustains as well as partially defines the size, shape and functions of a company is also the box. In some ways, this box is more like a balloon. There is shape, purpose and limitation. It also requires that the air contained within and necessary for the shape be retained to limit leakage. There will be leakage, so new air must be introduced to maintain the balloon. Too much air will make the balloon pop. Too little leaves it limp and weak. The creativity comes in working within the capacity for volume to ensure that the balloon is always maximized. This may include different types of inflators, including those which are not air, as well as temperatures and environmental conditions.

In each well known movie used by Eisner as an example, the creative person(s) had an idea of how to enable the viewer experience and saw only one way until challenged to stay within the box. Each of these carried the impact and user experience while reducing cost and time. In some cases, the user experience was actually heightened due to the fact that they had to use more of their own imagination, rather than being given the entire experience. It encouraged greater creativity.

He also applied the age old K.I.S.S. principle to keep things as simple as possible with the same effect.

These decisions to make sure that creativity was within the box were not always easy or without risk, requiring management and leadership. There were times when creative talent did not want to budge from their concept. As Eisner said, “Fearful people make mediocre decisions.” Any of these examples could have grown or changed the shape of the box without strong decisions and leadership unwilling to change out of fear. As he demonstrated in the examples, the final product would have been impacted with a mediocre decision. The infrastructure would not have worked and the monetary opportunity would have been reduced.

Finally he referenced a key element shared by some of the greater business people we have known including Steve Jobs, Walt Disney and others. To some degree, they were all micro-managers, knowing the importance of the details in the success of the venture.

This was not a new presentation, in fact, there are many references to it and YouTube videos displaying it as delivered to other organizations easily found by simply searching “Michael Eisner, Creativity in a Box” in an Internet search. There you will also find many of the examples he used to illustrate the points he made.


The Role of Environment

Infrastructure Series (Part 6)

The Infrastructure series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of November 2011.

What role does environment play in your company’s infrastructure? The environment may be a greater factor than first thought.

There is a local hardware store in our community that has been a fixture for years. This is where you go when you want something that is not carried by a mass marketer. According to one online reviewer “This place is where you go when you need a widget to fit a whatchamacallit.” The location, which they left after twenty seven years for a new and larger location just across the street, was like wandering through an antique store where most things, even the new stock had a fine patina of dust. Items farther back on the shelf or lower had aged in place, accumulating a lot of dust. There were not many computers to be seen but a staff person was always nearby to help. Somehow, they knew where everything was or what you were talking about, no matter how poorly you described it. Turnover was low, so many of the employees were shall we say “seasoned” and full of character, with attributes ranging from grumpy to the grandparent who does not seem to have any urgency and all of the time needed to talk. The intercom system was basically “Hey Dave” hollered from some place in the store. In fact, it seemed that in the old store, time stood still.

When the move to the new location was announced, no one could imagine how to move this store with its friendly chaos and antiquity. How would you set it up in a new location, since if an inventory had ever been taken, it could not have included everything, some of it was probably inherited from an older store and stock. What would it look like? Would there be updating? How many of the staff would accept the changes? Most of all, would the hardware lose its unique character and inventory?

The move occurred two years ago. It was quite a process and I am sure that there were many discoveries of hidden treasure. It seems like it took months before they were totally moved. New computer stations with inventory were now found in every department and a paging system was installed. There was indeed more room and less clutter, with a semblance of organization and, especially in the check-out area, there was a distinct difference and newness, but without the austere efficiencies of the new mass market retailers.

Whether it was brilliant strategy or just a comfort in the old ways, I am not sure but the new store now looks a lot like the old one. I think that they moved the dust and the dirt with everything else. Aisles are cluttered, forming mazes with a confusing method of organization. Items of like kind are generally clustered together, but that is not guaranteed. The staff are for the most part the same people with the same characterizations. Somehow, the older ones still know where everything is and the newer ones, including a newer department manager I met, marvel at what things are, what they are used for and that there is no practical way to look many of these items up. She is one of the youthful ones 50 – 60 years old. The computers are accessed on occasion but they already look old with the dust that is growing and most are surrounded by well used catalogs that make getting to a keyboard nearly impossible. The paging system gets some use but more common is a friendly holler or being escorted to the guy who really knows all about that.

They still do not open on Sundays but the parking lot is always full and the store buzzes with conversations, stories and searches for that whatchamacallit. You never walk out with just the item you came for and you probably pay a bit more than you would have someplace else.

Converting to a well-lit clean environment with high tech tools and systems would have made this store just another small hardware struggling to compete with the mass marketers. Keeping the unique environment is absolutely a part of their infrastructure as their business cannot be sustained without it.


Processes, People and Profit

Infrastructure Series (Part 5)

The Infrastructure series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of November 2011.  

Today I had the opportunity to watch the training session of a new front desk employee at the veterinary hospital where I was picking up my dog. I have been impressed with the professional services and efficiencies in the local office near me, but really enjoyed overhearing the training session while I waited. It was delightful to see infrastructure at work where every process had a purpose and triggered other processes, actions and communications. Very little was left to chance. Rather than tying the staff to a computer screen, the infrastructure actually freed time for the staff to be personal, courteous and warm without one element of work being dropped.

As the trainer explained the processes required to check my dog out, I could hear the mechanics at work. Even though we had started at another location, all events, interactions, communications, treatment, meds and relative info were tracked – all from point of touch - not filled in later. Each person’s notes were available with their name, picture and email address for questions. The notes were written in a conversational style with warmth and genuine caring. They educated the customer and engaged a relationship that makes you want to utilize their services again and, more importantly, refer them to others. Great marketing!

Fail safe measures are built-in, validating all completed processes before the dog is brought out. There were reminders for incomplete items, questions to be asked and upselling that was appropriate and relative to the visit without being obnoxious or sounding scripted, and I am not sure but believe that there was a smiley face or some other reminder to smile and be friendly.

Process and people were brought together by infrastructure to drive profits. I share this story as it is a good example and can be created in almost any type of company.

The infrastructure was built on principles that are a solid foundation, allowing the systems to run and people to work. It is not simply the technology but the design of the processes which makes sure that each cog of the machine efficiently engages the next cog or other part of the machinery without redundancy or waste. It meant that there was a documentation of the process that would create the results over and over again. The infrastructure was built to house all of the working components and produce the work product. Most importantly the people could do their jobs, optimize the skills that would cement the relationships and without a lot of burden.

I have also noticed during my visits that the staff seems to be happy, eager to share work and are genuinely a team. It appears to be a great working environment which also enhances the customer experience.

To gain a glimpse of this company, go to their web site. The site is definitely a large component of the infrastructure. They target and engage people, the people who love their pets and the ones who will spend money. I particularly like the site because it extends the personality and the culture of the company through the web. It supports their business processes, markets, communicates and informs. Best of all it is at work 24 x 7, most likely one of the most reasonable employees on the team.

Every part of this business can be replicated as the company grows. The tools and systems can be expanded without breaking the infrastructure. The marketing incorporates internet initiatives, high touch communications, and referrals. All elements of the company are synergistically bound by a living infrastructure.

I guess that you could say I am a fan of their practice but more so I appreciate the business structure behind it. What do your customers hear, see and experience? Most important of all, will they refer people and business to you?