Tag Archives: Growth

The Growing Pains Of Vision

Last week, NPR ran a piece on the challenges that JC Penney is facing while they shift the way they do business under (relatively) new CEO, Ron Johnson. While listening, it brought to mind some of the factors we often deal with when working with clients, management, and teams to institute new programs, processes and functions. Regardless of vision or how great we believe that change will be in the name of growth or optimization, those growing pains cannot be overlooked in either the planning or the execution.


Regardless of how strong your vision is, the ability to convey that vision to all participants is paramount. In some cases, it even requires that solutions for bypassing participant buy-in should they can not see what the company is trying to do. But, you’ve got to make sure the vision is realistic – and without taking a moment to consider any move from most sides is a recipe for disaster.

In the case of JC Penney, we don’t know how things will play out in the end.  But, the NPR report highlights how the regular JC Penney customers were less than thrilled.  The environment that was created for those consumers was one that they connected with emotionally – to the point you would think they’ve lost a loved one when talking about how it used to be. Though sales were down 30% in Q4 ’12 from ’11, could that be tied to disgruntled regulars?  Or, is it tied to the pains of shifting from one client type to another? By reading the comments below the NPR report, you can see there are enough counter examples pointing to the change being positive for JC Penney.

Recent work with one of my clients has brought the same challenge to light.  How do you bring vision, instill new processes and get buy-in from the people who are key to turning those changes into company success.  Interestingly, the most important people to get buy-in from are not the C-Levels (though they do give the approval on the spend) – it is the people who will be carrying out these new processes. A broken record comes to mind when thinking about how much communication is required to convey what you are intending to do.

Sometimes the illustration of the new versus the old can offend those who are fine with the way that might not be truly effective – so you can’t just rely on illustrating the benefits in light of the situation they are now in. The element of democracy that is prevalent in the workforce these days requires something akin to a PR campaign just to put those new processes in place. Again, you can have the strongest vision and product in place, but if there’s no buy-in, you’ve wasted time and resources. Even with the installation of automated processes, if there’s a human that needs to interact with that process, you need to negotiate and guide them through those growing pains.

Hopefully, JC Penney and Johnson’s team will be given the leeway to work this transition through. Far too many changes are abandoned at the first glimmer of failure. But as with any challenge, there is a sliver of failure, you’ve just got to push through smartly. Because, ultimately, a smart vision and strategic growth always has growing pains as a byproduct. You’ve just got to guide that pain into profit and not breakage.


Jumping Above the Bottom Line To Make Change…And Grow

For some agencies or marketing firms, the ideas may come freely with the sky being the limit on creativity.  Then they run into the actual limits of clients and budgets. Mix that creativity with the need to keep a staff engaged, the business development needs regarding technology and the move to make a difference, and you have the model for something special. I came across an iPhone game that AdWeek wrote about.  It’s not that the game is going to be a huge business – or is even that original.  The excitement is in who it’s for and how it came to be. The game, called Pain Squad, is specifically for the treatment of children going through Cancer treatments. The company that built it is not historically know for App development. The greater upside from the partnership between the company, Cundari, and the hospital, University of Toronto-afilliated Hospital for Sick Children, is priceless. Providing Pro Bono creative and technical resources for real-world philanthropic change extends far beyond the bottom line.

In this case, Cundari built a game App that provides an incentive for kids to track how they are feeling.  Currently, there are more systems that require the updates to be done in journals. And, as we’ve all experienced with journals as kids, we didn’t usually do such a great job of remembering to make our entries.  When it has to do with a person’s health, the mechanics of entry and remembering to do so are not much easier – but they are that much more important. Pain Squad provides a fun way for kids to keep up with something that isn’t that fun – logging the level of pain they are experiencing.

While agencies have been doing Pro Bono work for as long as there have been agencies, they are usually not thought of as capability development opportunities. Often, the agencies aren’t even asked to do these things because it is not thought to be something they offer.  In many other instances, agencies won’t engage in it for fear of putting something sub-standard out there. And probably the biggest reason that companies shy away from Pro Bono work is because they don’t want to take away from their “paying-gig” resources.

I’m not saying that agencies or companies step so far outside of their wheelhouse to the point that they might offer a sub-standard product.  And I’m certainly not suggesting that agencies “experiment” on Pro Bono products in ways that are foolhardy or detrimental to either organization. I’m suggesting that more companies develop products and offer either the entire product or sub-sets to charities or organizations as a way to give back. Though the elements of research should never be the main reason for doing this, that research of both the usage of your product and the setting of process could be a huge by-product of the experience. That by-product could lead to much bigger things for your company and the organization you are helping.

It is a sensitive proposition to do Pro Bono work – especially when you hear horror stories about the volunteer work being a larger drain on resources than the paying gigs.  That’s why you’ve got to be strategic in what you offer to do and who you offer to do it for.  While many elements are the same as other client-vendor relationships, Pro Bono work can easily get mired in that grey area. Make sure expectations are set both externally and internally so that no part of the process leads to disappointment.

If done properly, the possibilities for the endeavor’s partners are endless if done correctly and for the right reasons. Not only are organizations helped, but the people who benefit the most are the ones who need help the most. If it makes sense, jump at the chance to make a difference. And who knows?  Perhaps a solid byproduct will be the uplift in your bottom line.

With An Ever Growing World, It’s Incredible How Much Stays The Same

Heading into my birthday today, I came across something from the past that drives home the saying that, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” The other day, I saw that the Lily Tomlin film, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN was on DirecTV.  I had fond memories of the movie and even celebrated my 11th birthday by bringing a bunch of friends to see the movie. Watching it as an adult certainly brought a different perspective to the film and I had to overlook the problems and just enjoy the campy fun.  But what struck me the most was how poignant the issues surrounding advertising, tag lines and import of product still ring true three decades later.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t believe that someone will start shrinking due to the mixing of products. But, the tag lines you can hear in the first few minutes of the film as Lilly Tomlin drives the station wagon through the neighborhood of Tasty Gardens makes me laugh because we seemingly all still live our lives in catch-phrases. I’m sure the same phenomena will stand for into the future as it has since the beginning of communication.

Check out the first three minutes of this digest Super 8 reel of the film (remember those?) to see exactly what I’m talking about:

Beyond the use of a four letter word within the first minute of a PG film, I got a kick out of watching it – especially due to my chosen profession – and am thankful that my neighbors are not like hers and clothing styles have gotten considerably better.

While the jingles, fashion and vernacular have changed the tags have all stayed remarkably the same. We’ve learned over the years and technology has enhanced every part of media. But, at the core, marketing is marketing no matter how much we grow…

Visionary Leadership in a Bad Economy

The economy has always played a large role in business, and in its current state it is highlighting a major concern across the board – the lack of Visionary Leadership.  Unfortunately, too many companies are managing their business to maintain margins instead of using this time to develop opportunities to grow once the financial issues work themselves out, if not sooner.

Companies, communities, organizations, etc., have always been governed by the feeling that if you are not growing, then you are shrinking.  There really is no room for standing still or battening down the hatches.  We see this in business, politics, sports and more, yet it is maddening to see it happen again and again.  It does not mean that entities should spend, spend, spend in the hopes of a turnaround.  It does mean that leadership should push for development of product, communications, strategy, distribution and even worker advancement.

A friend reminded me how Wrigley Chewing Gum was not produced during WWII due to its factories being used for military production, yet they continued to market the gum throughout the war.  Upon the war’s completion, sales of the gum went through the roof due to awareness from efforts when the product wasn’t even available!

Of course, that’s somewhat of an extreme example, but the basics are absolutely relevant – don’t miss the opportunity to build toward the future now.  If there are things that need to be completed for your business now to ensure success in the future, why wait 90 days to commence planning for growth programs that can be implemented once cash-flow stabilizes?  If you wait, you’re that many months behind in your ability to capitalize on opportunities.

There’s a few other major keys or benefits (other than increasing the bottom line) to solid leadership and no stagnation:

  • Team Morale – If production is down, the opportunity to use staff resources to research and develop future opportunites leverages capital and builds enthusiasm for the future.  It’s human nature for people to grow worried about possible layoffs, but providing a goal of the future keeps things moving forward and best prepares the company for the upturn.
  • Resource Management – The above practice also allows for employees to exhibit or develop their skills in a growth capacity.  Where management might not see team growth opportunities when the company is resting on its laurels – the challenge for innovation and growth really allows people to shine – if they want to…
  • Positive Trust – Too often, upper management will use fear as a way to motivate.  Some will even say that the employees don’t want to know the truth if it is dire.  The opposite is the case in both instances.  By being open about any situation that could affect staff numbers or output, it removes the opportunity for rumors.  If done right, it can challenge teams to come up with solutions that will be heard by upper management. No matter how strong upper management is, they might not have been in the trenches for a long time – if at all.  The ones in the trenches often have golden nuggets of opportunity to share if they are allowed to.  If an employee is going to listen to the truth, be welcomed to participate in the turnaround and decide to not step up or leave, they probably weren’t part of your growth plans to begin with.  Again, its human nature to want to do the safe thing and stay put, but it is also human nature for most people to derive joy and pride from being a part of something bigger.  Don’t cut them out of the solution decision making or assume they can’t handle the truth.
  • The Yes Test – If too many people are looking to only offer what leadership wants to hear – more often than not – it’s wrong.  Good decisions and growth come from honest discussion.  It means that opposing views can be presented if relevant and nobody at the table feels that they must agree for fear of getting the axe.  Granted, all out dissention is probably not the best thing, but you wouldn’t have hired the team you did without feeling they can best represent the company’s goals.  Don’t make the mistake of creating an environment of yesses.
  • You don’t know it all – The best managers have been open to ideas other than their own and then worked the best ideas into the companies’ actions.  Those who think they know it all and don’t trust those around htem will undoubtedly sink the ship.
  • There is never an option to stop motivating.  Again, human nature demands it.  It is not always best to lead by example – because that example can be missed.  Leading requires clear communication and consistency so that the ship can maintain its, hopefully growning, trajectory.

The list could go on.  Ultimately, the opportunity for growth does not require taking unnatural risks.  Sometimes, it requires you to take no risks at all – just proper management of existing resources.  Don’t just look to cut for the sake of cutting – you’ll probably cut your nose of to spite your face.

Take the opportunity to be visionary.  There’s far too many positives that come from it.