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SOMETHING NEW; A FEW IDEAS BORROWED BUT NOTHING THAT IS BLUE

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Next year marks the tenth anniversary for my business, an incredible journey in which I’ve met some amazing people. If there is one thing that I’ve learned during the past ten years, it is that change is a constant IF you are seeking to continue to offer value and remain relevant.

You’ve likely heard me suggest this very idea in several of my weekly emails. Stop being consumed by what is happening today and instead force yourself (as difficult as it may be) to think about and act on your desired future.

My intention is always to practice what I preach, so you may have noticed changes lately.

A new podcast entitled Growth Inspired in which I interview CEOs, Executives, and those who are experts in helping organizations grow to understand what different approaches, tools, and ideas are necessary to grow a business in any economy and across all sectors.  In addition, as a result of some feedback from subscribers, I’m no longer adding a link at the end of this email, forcing you to go anywhere to reach the rest of this article.

Funny thing is, these weren’t ideas that I came up with. They came from you, and they came about by my asking a simple question, “What can I do to provide you with more value?”

Simple question, isn’t it?  I mean, when was the last time that anyone asked you how he or she could make your experience better? Aside from the flight attendant in first class, it is unfortunately a rare question.

 So here is my challenge to you. What are you and your team doing to continue to add value to your customers or clients and remain relevant into the future?

Stumped? Start with these questions.

  1. Ask your customers (both existing and potential, internal or external) what you might do to add value to their experience of working with you and your team.
  1. Listen carefully during discussions with prospective or existing customers to understand what they need that they simply aren’t getting today. What can you do to satisfy this need?
  1. Consider what areas of your business are outdated. What is stale that is either no longer in demand or relevant? McDonalds for example has decided that there is no more value from speaking with someone behind a counter when taking your order (replaced by automated order kiosks), and instead those people are redeployed into the dining area to assist customers to ensure they have a pleasant dining experience.

As value evolves, so must your desire as a collective team or organization to add new value, remove outdated value, and improve where it enhances the customer’s experience.

Do this and you’ve got the formula to a sustainable and thriving business.

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GENERATION NEXT: YOUR NEW CUSTOMER

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Every Monday I drop my boys off at their bus stop.  It’s a weekly ritual that allows me some father and son time before I often hit the road for the remainder of the week. What I’ve observed at the bus stop, however, has got me thinking about business (surprise!).
There are usually five teenagers who also go to the same bus stop, ranging in age from eleven to fifteen. What I’ve observed is that three out of these five teenagers have a smart phone AND have at least one ear bud in their ear the entire time (while walking to the bus stop, conversing with their friends, and boarding the bus). Not wanting to jump to conclusions, I asked my boys what the older boys say while on the bus. “Nothing,” was my oldest son’s response. They all have earphones in and are staring out the window.

You may be wondering why I think this unsurprising observation is important to business… Well, if you fast-forward ten years, these teenagers will be your future employees (ear buds and all). More importantly, they will likely be a consumer of your product or service, if they aren’t already.

Herein lies my point. Your New Customer, only ten short years away, has some very unique characteristics compared to your customers today, namely:

  • They live online – not during lunch break or after work, but all the time.
  • They communicate differently – sharing most anything about themselves online but less likely to do so in person.
  • They’ve become accustomed to hiding behind technology (I’ll only show you what I want you to see).
  • They are more comfortable with purchasing online than in person (Cash… What’s that?)
  • Money is no longer something to be amassed, but to be used anytime it’s needed.
  • They are neutralized to debt, many coming out of school with enough debt to cover a small mortgage.

I could go on.

What I want you to think about is not the distinctions in the generation, but the timeframe I mentioned above. It’s very realistic to think that in ten years (or fewer!), this next generation could be asking you for a job, or more importantly be buying your products or services… or not.

Here’s a little activity for you this week. Consider the people who support you in your department, business, or team. How will the habits, needs, and desires of this next generation influence their demands and desires of you or your team? What are you doing to prepare? How will you adapt?

It’s your prerogative of course to ignore my questions and continue on as if nothing will change, and possibly it won’t. Then again that’s likely what North American car giants like Ford and General Motors said about Tesla, or what Chapters or Indigo said about Amazon.

If you want a competitive edge, think about tomorrow’s customer as much as you think about today’s customer.

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BIG PLANS FOR 2017? CHECK YOUR COMPETITION

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Reading the title, you likely guessed I was going to talk about how to check your competition, which is only partially true. A couple weeks ago I met with a client who told me that Amazon had started creeping in on their territory.

Not surprising of course, but how they are doing it might be.

My client has been selling to Amazon directly for some time, but only recently found that Amazon had in fact started selling similar products… at lower prices. It is logical to presume that Amazon noticed strong sales in conjunction with strong margins and chose to seek out their own products to offer. Problem is, since Amazon runs the show when it comes to online marketing, they can position my client’s product very differently than their own (higher ratings for theirs, lower price, etc.)

My point with the title was a little more direct. Specifically, do you even know who your competitors are, or who they might be in the coming years?

This isn’t limited to Amazon, of course.

Walmart began transporting their own goods when they realized that such vertical integration served to provide them with more control over timing and costs of delivering their products.

McDonalds has made significant inroads in the coffee market building on their attentive morning audience who has patiently waited in line for an Egg McMuffin for years.

Apple put the music industry on its head when iTunes was launched, controlled only by products that Apple sold.

Need I say more?

Sure you can always ignore me, and some do. I could be dead wrong about your products or services being under threat of new competition in the coming years, but then again maybe I’m not.

My suggestion?

Explore all possible vertical integrations to determine who might be best positioned to become your closest competitor – maybe it’s a key supplier to your business, or possibly it’s a customer who satisfies the lion’s share of your sales.

Either way, when it comes to building a strategy for the years ahead, go broad and deep when it comes to assessing who your competitors might be… because the rules have changed. 

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LACK OF SERVICE-ABILITY KILLS COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

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I was boarding a plane back from Ottawa last week and was faced with the reality of having to sit at the “back of the bus” as I call it, last seat at the back of the plane. I was happy to do it though (despite someone presumptuously taking my seat and asking me in turn to take theirs next to the washroom!), just to make it home on an earlier flight.

Despite the unpleasant odors that surrounded me during the flight, the entire experience was a positive one. I had asked a customer service agent at the counter minutes before the flight was to board if I could join the flight – she quickly responded that she’d find me a spot. Once I was on board and noticed that someone had taken my seat, the flight attendant was helpful by jumping in quickly to ensure a prompt resolution of any concerns.

This may sound like a normal experience, but if you fly as much as I do having these two experiences in a single flight are not the norm.

It struck me after considering this experience that it’s often “service-ability” that creates a competitive advantage over any other single factor. Put differently, the better the service for the customer or client (the customer might define “better” as faster, more accurate, more polite, or less confusing, all depending on the situation), the more likely it is that the customer will continue to use the product or service of the company, and tell others about it.

This same experience happened during a recent client interaction. I was assisting my client in expanding his presence into new regions. During meetings with several prospective customers, it became clear that their comments relative to lack of service by their existing providers (defined by many as lack of a presence or periodic check-in) equated to a strong desire by these customers to engage with and seek out new suppliers. They were literally ready to hand over their business simply because their “service-ability” needs hadn’t been met.

So here’s a challenge for you, in the form of some actions you (or your team) can take during the next week:

  1. How do your existing and potential customers define “service-ability?” What matters most to them?
  1. How are you supporting these needs AND how are you educating customers that you are supporting these needs?
  1. What else should or could you be doing to increase “service-ability” in the eyes of your customers?

If you think about it, the following formula really encapsulates the method of building a brand:

Defined Service-ability + Employee Application of Service-ability = Strong Competitive Advantage.

What are you doing to increase your service-ability to customers?

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Are You Magnetic or Bi-Polar?

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A close friend of mine, faced with the real possibility of being downsized in a corporate merger is, after only a few weeks of looking, faced with several job offers.

Counter to this, I’m currently working with a national client to help them redesign their organizational structure in preparation for the introduction of a new Vice President role. We have already received several CV’s of well qualified candidates with very reasonable salary expectations.

It would seem that despite what side of the fence you are on, employee or CEO, there are talented people available. It’s for this reason, despite what many of the well-known publications are suggesting, I don’t really think there is a “war for talent.”

There is, however, some misperceptions on what we should expect.

For the job seeker, the problem isn’t a lack of opportunity, it’s a lack of foresight and flexibility in pursuing new directions and new opportunities.

For the hiring organization, there are plenty of good candidates available at a reasonable salary. It’s unreasonable, however, to expect to hire them at a fraction of the cost of the previous employee — despite their advanced education (and qualifications).

To put this another way, it’s been my experience that talented people always find good jobs, and good organizations and great leaders always find talented people.

The question I have for you then is, does your organization create the kind of magnetism that will attract good talent, or are you sending signals that identify something other than what you might suggest?

I’m sure at this point you think your organization or team is a great place to work, but it’s not really what you think that matters does it?

I’d like you to try a quick litmus test this week, asking five different employees across your organization these three questions:

  1. What do you enjoy about working here the most?
  1. Why do you stay here? What makes you keep coming back day after day?
  1. If there is one thing I could change to improve the working environment, what would it be?

The answers to these questions, if shared by employees who you know will be forthcoming, will provide you key insights into:

What you offer that would be appealing to new talent.

What you should keep doing to keep good talent.

What you should change in order to ensure talented people stick around.

The key to ensuring you continue to fill the pipeline with talented people is to ensure that your organization is considered, and therefore known, for being a great place to work. It really is that simple.

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WHY IS EVERYONE SO UPTIGHT?

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You may have noticed during the past few weeks that the back to school sales have begun.

To some, the return of the school year marks the end of long summer nights, sandy beaches and impromptu family outings.

In business, back-to-school has significance as well. Namely, employees returning from vacation, projects picking up speed, and the renewal of key initiatives that may have been placed on hold.

What’s important to realize, as a leader, is that with the return of everyone to the office — in essence, there is a new norm established amidst teams. You may recall studies of individual and organizational change that suggest people transition through four different phases when faced with any change, specifically:

Denial: The change will never happen, so there’s no sense in preparing.

 Resistance: The change has happened; I’m not comfortable with it.

 Exploration: Some interesting new opportunities have been identified as a result of the change.

 Acceptance: The change is my new norm.

My point?

Well, with the return of everyone to the office and invigoration of new and existing projects, it’s important to recognize that everyone – that is every single employee – will be moving through these four phases, because although they may have been used to this environment back in April or May, September brings with it a change to the slower pace that they may have become accustomed too.

So what can you do?

First off, relax. Recognize that any stress, attitudes or personality differences is par for the course as a result of what I described above. Spend additional time with both individuals and teams helping them to move past resistance (most often recognized as individual conflict or concerns that are voiced). Help them explore new ways to work together and find new ways to collaborate. Invest time in having some small team building exercises (I prefer those that allow for collaboration around resolving a longstanding issue).

The underlying message is to expect that there will be conflict, voiced concerns, and stressed employees this time of year. It’s to be expected.

But understanding that these are simply signals of change that your employees and teams are adapting to should give you reassurance… they are on the path to success as a team once again.

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SLOW AND STEADY DOESN'T WIN THE RACE

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From a very young age, we’re taught that slow and steady wins the race — the key message suggested in the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare.

In the world of business, however, being slow is a losing move.

Think about it…

Being slow can be the difference between capturing market share, or not

Being the first to market, or not

 Getting the business or not.

You might think that this historic fable has nothing to do with how businesses are operated today, but if that’s the case, consider that popular theory suggests that we need processes, policies, standards, and even the necessity of a management hierarchy…all prerequisite in order for a business to be successful.

 But are they?

You know, I’ve long been a promoter of empowering employees; tapping into their increasing knowledge, experience and overall desire to contribute to the success of their organization. This is done by shifting decision-making abilities down further into the organization, to those who are actually doing the work.

It’s for this reason that I want to challenge you to consider this: by increasing the ability of employees to make decisions, and act on them, we actually increase the speed by which we can introduce new ideas, new solutions.

We can close business faster without waiting for approvals.

We can respond to customer needs faster, increasing customer loyalty.

 We can increase productivity, allowing employees to make changes to how they work.

 Of course, some of you may challenge this approach, suggesting that empowering employees will create chaos and anarchy, and to some extent you may be right.

But think about how process, policy and standards limit creativity, productivity and communication.

It’s time to stop limiting our employees capability, and instead give them the ability to do what they need to do, when they need to do it, and in a way that makes sense for them to do it.

Anarchy? Maybe. Success? Absolutely.

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Absence Doesn't Make Your Customer's Heart Grow Fonder

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Have you found during recent weeks that feedback from your customers has diminished? Possibly this is tied to slower orders and more time spent by your sales team in the office? I’ve found that this is quite common across most industries this time of year, however a slow down on the customer front should signal a need for an increase in business growth activities. That’s right, you should actually be ramping up activities related to growing your business when your customers are slowing down.

Sound counterintuitive? It would seem it is for most.

Long ago my mentor told me, absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder, it makes people forget. If your sales or marketing team take the “dog days of summer” as an indication to take a break and slow down and smell the roses, you need to shake things up! A reduced availability of customers is not a sign that it’s time to make fewer customer calls, spend less time on the road, or take some vacation time yourself.

Why?

Well most importantly because this is exactly what your competition is doing. Don’t you want to take the opportunity of their diminished activity to gain some traction in their territories or with their prime customers?

Secondly “time” is exactly what you or your sales team likely complain that they don’t have when it comes to doing key business development activities such as researching new prospects, dropping in on high potential customers, or investigating the possibility of introducing new products or entering a new market.

Lastly, just because things typically slow down this time of year doesn’t mean they will automatically recover again after the summer months.

A client of mine earlier this year experienced a “predictable” slow period and as a result slowed down their business development activities. Unfortunately things didn’t “bounce back” as they usually do and we’ve spent the last couple of months creating a high impact business development plan aimed at not only clawing back some lost sales, but identifying at least 25% more new business opportunities. (If you’d like to do the same, send me a note at shawn@casemoreandco.com and I’ll tell you more about how we are doing this!)

So… Are you starting to think differently about how to handle your slower times? Here is my suggestion for you as a brief business growth activity for this week.

  1. Identify and calendar the typical slow periods in your business (i.e. summer months, Christmas, etc.).
  1. Outline proven business development activities for finding and closing new business.
  1. Identify some “prospecting” activities that your sales team never seems to get around to.
  1. Identify target accounts, regions, or specific customers that you’d like to do business with.
  1. Identify proven or unique products or services that might be most appealing to those in #4 above.

I’d suggest you pull the above information together in collaboration with some of your key team members (i.e. executives, managers, employees, suppliers), and then pull your sales team into a ½ day session where you brainstorm and develop a plan of action aimed at ramping up these key activities during your slower periods. The key to success here is having some defined objectives, actions, timelines and accountabilities, however if done correctly a ½ day should suffice to get the plan outline together.

And there you have it… Your plan of action for ramping up business development during slower periods, all calendared and everything.

So take advantage of this slower time to put together your plan. If you’d like some feedback on it, send me an email and we can set up a call to discuss.

Good luck!

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THERE'S NOT MUCH NEW...ACCEPT

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I met with a client over lunch a few weeks ago. We had agreed to meet earlier this year to discuss continuing some work with his executive team; however, when we met he confided in me that “plans had changed.”

What do you mean?” I asked.

I was let go a couple of weeks ago.”

Dead silence.

The story about his exit became even more interesting, as it was actually the former CEO, the very one that he had replaced, who had stepped in as his replacement.

It should, as history has a way of repeating itself (just think about how many former actors have become President of the United States? Maybe Donald Trump has a chance…)

What’s important to understand is that there really isn’t anything new under the sun. The iPhone was not new, but an improvement over the already existing Blackberry; online retailers are simply a more convenient form of in-store retail; and Tesla is an improvement over existing forms of hybrid and electric vehicles that have been around for decades. The list goes on…

So what should you do when an employee makes the statement “We’ve tried that before, it didn’t work?

Well, first of all, don’t dismiss their comment. Despite how frustrating or annoying this comment might be, it’s actually a sign of concern. Said differently, an employee who makes this kind of statement is actually suggesting that “we’ve invested time and money into this approach in the past, but didn’t achieve the results we expected.”

Second, consider what a productive response to this question is that dissects the objection. Responses such as “What specifically didn’t work?” or “Why don’t you think it worked?” prompts further dialogue and digs to the very heart of why the change or idea might not have achieved the desired outcomes.

Lastly, celebrate those who make such comments. That’s right, thank them for their comments and ideas. You see, it’s better to have an employee who makes a comment that is negative, then make no comment at all.

It suggests that employees are concerned that you will waste time on things that have been proven not to work. All you need to do is determine specifically why they didn’t work and then make some minor adjustments to your approach.

It’s true there really isn’t anything new under the sun, but fortunately there are an infinite number of approaches to introduce change if you understand what specifically might need to be changed.

Sometimes replacing the old, with the new, and then the new with the old isn’t so bad after all.

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BUT I'M TOO BUSY!

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When I speak to groups of CEOs and Executives at talks, I often recommend they find more opportunities to connect with their employees. Possibly I’ve suggested the same to you?

Hands down when I present this idea the most common response is, “but I don’t have enough time.” After all, that’s why we put front line leaders and managers into place, right? As a conduit between employees and our own agenda?

If this is your mindset, and I’ve been unable to convince you otherwise, consider the following questions:

  1. Who interacts with your customers on a daily or weekly basis?
  1. Who negotiates the majority of your spending on consumable items on a daily basis?
  1. Who presents one of the most significant overhead costs to your business?

Are you starting to notice a theme?

Let me suggest something straight up. Creating a frequent connection between your view of the organization, its challenges, opportunities, future vision, and employees is something you absolutely must do. Find the time. Make it a priority by scheduling it in your calendar.

If you’re still not convinced, consider that when I do work with clients, the very first thing I do is speak with their employees. Why?

They have many of the answers that you seek.

So this coming week, I’d like to suggest something. Come up with a question that’s been bugging you. Maybe it’s new ideas to grow the business; possibly it’s questions around why some of your key customers are leaving. Then go out and ask at least five employees (not managers or executives) as to why they think this might be happening.

If you don’t find this exercise valuable, then I will personally offer you a signed copy of my latest book “Operational Empowerment: Collaborate, Innovate and Engage to Beat the Competition,” sent to you on my dime. Just send me an email at shawn@casemoreandco.com with details and your delivery address – no questions asked.

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