Tag Archives: Leadership

Would You Hire Han Solo?

Han

As we head into a new year amidst Star Wars insanity (among other, less fun, insanity) it’s a time to ponder future plans both personally and professionally. One of those might be the future makeup of your team at work – which drives the question of whether you’d hire Han Solo for your team. He has no Ivy League pedigree, he often shoots from the hip, he procrastinates and then often gets the job done better than others (always with a sheepish grin), he allows his street smarts to drive decisions rather than a background in business theory, and is often “creative” in his solutions.  Does every team need someone like this?

If you look at ESPN’s evaluation of the Star Wars characters and what roles they would play in the the starting lineups in the major sports, Han is one of three constants across all teams the others are Chewbacca and Luke. But, Han’s position is consistently more of a leadership role on the field. So, leave out your favoritism that may have formed over the years… Would you hire Han Solo? I would.

Sound Strategy Can Leverage Fumbles Into Wins For Smart Companies

Fumble Recovery

Too often, sports fans get upset when their opponent wins by way of a fumble recovery or one good play that enables a close victory. They exhort, “they were lucky!’ Or, “it was just a lucky bounce.” But the real truth is that the opposing team was just well prepared.  How many times are there balls up in the air for people to pounce on – only to see the ball fumbled out of play? How many times have people been faced with an opportunity, but aren’t prepared to walk through the door and take it? How many times have companies had a chance to gain a huge client, but aren’t prepared to deliver the right proposal in the allotted time? Just like the fumble recovery, preparation and strategy are much stronger determinants of wins than luck.  Gord Hotchkiss nails this ideal directly in his post about strategy on MediaPost. The thing is, he still attributes the element of luck in relation to success when the real truth is that sound strategy allows companies to create the element of “luck” by acting quickly and decisively due to preparation.

The truth is, strategy has been prepared and looked at in the wrong way for quite a long time. They are often set in absolutes with no room for flexibility or agility. They are often created by people who are too close to the product or don’t have the time to take a step back and evaluate their place in the market appropriately. And, perhaps most importantly, they don’t place the intended audience at the core of their considerations.

Creating a strategy with an eye toward what the audience is looking for and allowing for flexibility provides a key foundation that enables all members of the team to fluidly evaluate what’s going on in the environment and make moves or decisions that are based on the strategic core. It also provides the insights for the correct questions to ask when trying to determine whether that bright shiny object is the right direction or a complete waste of resources.

Once a proper strategy has been set in place, the fun’s not over. The team has to be fully educated on the thoughts and ideology behind it so that they may act on it without hesitation. There needs to be a clear understanding how it fits within the company’s ideals and mission – for if it’s not clear, maybe you need to dig back into building the strategy. All of this leads into strong leadership that enables the team to best capitalize on opportunity.

Hotchkiss provides an extremely gratifying illustration of the ROI value in the following:

Let’s imagine that two companies, A & B, both launched this year with $10 million in sales. Over the next 20 years, both companies were subject to the same rhythms — positive and negative — of the marketplace. But, because of superior leadership and management, Company A was able to more effectively capitalize on opportunity, giving it a 14% advantage over Company B. In 2035, what would be the impact of that 14% edge?  It’s not insignificant. Company B would have grown in sales to $21 million, with growth of just over 100%. But Company A would have sales of almost $290 million. It would be almost 14 times the size of Company B!

Smart strategy (and strong leadership) doesn’t dissolve the need for luck, but it does provide that preparation and foundation for the leveraging of whatever comes your way to turn a possible fumble into a win.

Mapping The Cost Of Innovation

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Many companies claim that they place an emphasis on innovation – and to a point, they are delivering – but when it comes specifically to marketing and buzz generation, companies set themselves up to fail in the innovation category.

Sure.  They may execute a campaign that utilizes a new technology or create a video that goes viral and generates an insane amount of views. They might even develop a marketing product that revolutionizes the industry or makes use of an existing product in ways nobody thought of before. But when it really comes down to it, most companies fail when bringing innovation to their marketing because they don’t plan or spend in the right way that lends to cost-savings down the road. Or, even worse, the execution doesn’t align with their strategy, so it hits the intended consumers like a thud.

Many innovative marketing products could be better if they were not treated as the end-all product that is oft copied, but as something that builds upon itself. Innovation done correctly is built with future iterations in mind so that products and development can be built on or added on cost-effectively. Too often, those new product are developed for one execution and then, upon its success, they do not allow for augmentation – forcing companies and their vendors to start from scratch.

Numerous factors lead to innovation that is not cost-effective.  Sometimes, due to a lack of vision or strategic planning.  Others might be due to a company’s lack of determination in supporting ongoing innovation expenditures. And then sometimes, products just don’t work out. All of those factors, are reasonable explanations for the waste of money but they don’t need to be. It really comes down to the ability to have long-term vision and communicate objectives well.

With the right executives supporting the long-term innovation play – where a specific near-term ROI may not happen – the environment can be ripe for marketing success for quarters and years to come.

Here’s how you do it — think more than one step ahead. Auto manufacturers build concept cars with the full knowledge that the car as a whole might not make it to the dealer, but components like auto-parking most likely will.  With that vision toward the future derivatives, even an unsuccessful campaign is not a waste of money. Be thinking of what components might be re-used in the future and make sure your team and vendors build those elements accordingly.

Granted, some form of smoke and mirrors is a component of your innovation process – and not in a devious way – you might think of innovation as putting the cart before the horse.  What it does is build an environment of hype that points to a vision of what the future could be. Be prepared to create assets that just show off what you are planning to do in order to effectively communicate expectations within the company. Utilize communication and spin control. If innovation is treated solely as a magic force that nobody has insight into, it is doomed to fail in the long run.  Even the major technology companies that have super-secret labs share some of their developments internally and sometimes, even externally. Maintaining to others that you are doing really cool things under a shroud of mystery will only lead to further questions on the money that’s being spent. Conversely, communicating too much without conveying the ultimate vision can be almost as damaging.

To the finance types, developing key KPIs to measure your success is a necessary component. Innovation is not an always-win proposition. You may not find huge marketing numbers to point to a winner. Come up with those elements that prove its working.  Is it money saved on future campaigns?  Is it press coverage of your marketing products? Is it related to time-to-market for future products? Is it tied to sales? Brand recognition? Whatever it is, make sure that is known to your team and management. Without those clearly understood KPIs, you’re effectively spending a lot of money on just an illusion…

When all is said and done, there needs to be an environment or atmosphere that welcomes trial and error. Intrinsically, there is no other undertaking that comes across so much success and failure with few traditional methods of measuring both. It is those corporations and organizations that truly embrace innovation (and not just tout that they are innovative) who most consistently bring successful innovations to market. Sometimes innovation can seem just outside your grasp (as an individual or an organization) but with vision, communication and execution, it will come back x-fold in marketing and revenue streams you might not have even considered at the onset.

Sticking Your Neck Out For Consistency

When I attended Boston University, John Silber was the president at the time and his command of the university was controversial.  While he had been instrumental in growing the university to new heights, he was also known for controlling much more than the eduction and finances.  The best-known instance at the time actually drew Phil Donahue to televise his show from the Student Union – debating Silber’s alarmingly invasive attempts to control students by enforcing curfews in the school dorms.  There were other polarizing decisions made by his administration, but one thing everyone agreed on was that he proven successes in strengthening the institution and he was consistent.  During a huge learning period for me, it became clear what it meant to be consistent.

Since then, It’s become abundantly clear that consistency leads to success only if balanced in the practice of experience, openness and clarity.  Silber was able to achieve growth by being consistent – even if it meant upsetting people – because his decisions were usually based on previous success. Many others claim consistency is their strength even when their basis for decisions is baseless or resting squarely on ideology and not actual practice, which is not the direction to go in either.  Compound those with a lack in clarity of mission and an unwillingness to be open to other ideas, and you’ve got problems as an institution.

Too often, certainly in politics, leadership leads by speaking loudly and with assertiveness without real long-term strategy or consistency of process.  We’ve all seen that those leaders may either drive the institution into the ground, or at best maintain status quo. From an institutional standpoint, there are very few successes, if any, that we can point to based on this type of leadership. Whereas consistency found through strategy, process or the communication of either can lead to more productivity and success.

Much like a child needs to have consistency in order to feel more comfortable in where they fit in, or a defender in Football (American or Otherwise) needs to be part of a consistent game plan to know where they need to be, employees need to have the same consistent knowledge to be effective at their jobs.  With consistency, comes a second-nature ability to do without wasting time “thinking.”

Of course, everyone needs tobe thinking at all times, but why waste time trying to figure out how you’re supposed to think on any given day or time.  At a time when company output is more diverse and employees are expected to handle more jobs and responsibilities, consistencies in process (production, decision-making, solutions, etc.) are even more integral to a company’s strength.

While there could be drawbacks in holding consistency above all – an example being consistently bad decisions – it sets the groundwork that enables smart shifting of strategy.  Why lack of consistency is a killer for businesses is not just in how employees do their work, but in how the company has no ability to track what is fundamentally working.  In this era where speed is everything, organizations barely have the time to fully track effectiveness effectively – imagine how the challenge is compounded when everyone is moving sporadically from direction to direction based on which way the wind is blowing, the latest earnings report or the hottest new gadget.

Leadership requires not just sticking your neck up, but being firmly rooted in the ground and actually taking a look around.  We’ve discussed different types of leadership in the past, but the succesful ones and their companies are the ones who do those things.  We will be better off if more leaders did the same as we attempt to work our way out of this insanity and into a stronger future… 

Better Sight

Vision has been on my mind a lot lately and not the esoteric kind – business or creative vision – but the real, tangible kind – what we see.  It absolutely has to do with the fact that I am going to have a laser blasting into my eyes in a couple of hours as part of the LASIK surgery I am having done today.  The appreciation of what we can see and how well we see it crystallizes and, no matter how many times the doctor has done the procedure, there is always a wonder of how it can positively or negatively change our lives.  I would be foolish if I were to not have even a fleeting concern that something could go horribly wrong – and not just because of the FINAL DESTINATION 5 Trailer

I realize that what happens in the trailer will not happen – it’s a horror film for crying out loud – but the fact that my eyesight is being changed by physically shooting lasers into my eyeballs has led to quite a bit of introspection.  It really focuses my thought on what I can see now and what would happen if I were to lose that sight.  Oddly, it also emphasizes what I am not seeing.  What is right in front of me that I can’t see properly even with glasses?  How much is stuff that I choose not to see?

Last night, as I was laying in bed while my wife watched TV, I closed my eyes and imagined what it would be without any sight.  I could hear everything, but only saw darkness.  Suffice it to say, I had mild anxiety.  Seeing is such a huge part of what I am all about.  What happens when that is taken away?  But really, the anxiety felt a little bit like the concern I have when clients are not open to seeing the challenges or solutions that are right in front of them – whether it is the client that doesn’t understand how integral and multifaceted the world of social media has become and dismisses its merits out-of-hand or the client who doesn’t want to act upon the closer-than-believed notion that the line between digital marketing and distribution is very quickly disappearing.

What was different for me – and comforting – was that I immediately started thinking about things I would do to make something that sucks (losing your sight) easier to deal with.  It would certainly be devastating to lose my sight and not be able to see my wife, my daughter, my world.  But I was already thinking about ways to help myself (and others) – like a machine that would effectively take the art that I love and transform it into something I can feel. While at first I thought of how much losing my eyesight would destroy me, I thought about what benefits I have – I’ve already been able to see.  I know what things look like;  what color conveys, what sizes really mean, what movement evokes.  It would just be a matter of converting that knowledge into a translatable form for the future.

So, ultimately, we have come to the esoteric as eyesight is no good without eyes open… and mind open.  Too often, we take things for granted.  We assume something as simple as grammar being correct in a document, so we pass over the fact that there was a mis-spelling.  We believe we’re seeing everything, so we look at the ocean and think that the sky and the water is all that’s there. We follow the same path every time and don’t realize that there’s always been an offshoot we could have travelled down. We feel we know all there is about our business, and fail at seeing what we are lacking or not grabbing on to.  Open eyes and open minds provide the imagination to be able to create what is not there – creatively, scientifically, medically, economically, you name it.

Regardless of what happens in a couple of hours, I am eager to see better. And, if I’m fortunate, help others to see even better as well.

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.