Want More Innovation? Focus on the Team

In a recent post on Innovation Weekly, Tamara Chandour noted that “team innovation is the secret sauce to a business’s success.” As we discuss in some of our vistage CEo meetings, that means, removing the barriers and getting a team to innovate on a regular basis, not just at creative off-site meetings once a quarter. It means creating a culture of supporting innovators and understanding when you need to nurture them. Companies like 3M, Google and Intuit and start with the individual – giving each 15-20% time to be innovative – and then allowing them to form teams to use the time to experiemnt. Working with clients at LaunchStreet she found 7 ways to encourage innovation that have big pay off. That encouragement becomes the invisible cultural glue that creates real empowerment and motivation to act within your team.

  1. Give Risk A Name:Risk shuts down a lot of innovation efforts. The fear of failure takes over and innovation is shut down. Talking about risk actually minimizes the fear factor as people realize the perceived risk isn’t nearly as bad as their imagination makes it out to be. Talk about it, say it out loud, give it a name.
  2. Reward Behavior:If you want to encourage innovation, reward the behaviors that generate it.
  3. Test to Discover:Nothing satisfies the creative spirit like bringing your ideas to life. All too often innovation gets shut down by the all-or-none mentality. Testing fosters optimized ideas and more investment in innovation overall.
  4. Make Space, Not Meetings:People need space to innovate – not long-draw out meetings.
  5. Empower Them:Part of the reason your team doesn’t innovate is that they simply don’t know how. Perhaps they’ve been told they aren’t innovative or they’ve shoved their innovative side in a drawer for so long they forgot how to use it. If you want to encourage innovation with your teams, help them understand how they innovate.
  6. Challenge Everyone, Not Titles:You’d be amazed where a good idea can come from. And usually, it’s not where you think.  several companies seeking new algorithms (e.g., Netflix) find that the wiiners of their contest are people NOT related to their industry.  Fresh perspectives, like those Vistage members provide each other during their monthly meetings, can make all the difference.
  7. Be Consistent:. Make innovation part of their job responsibilities and daily tasks, not something you do at an occassional innovation event.

What are you going to do in your company is 2019 to encourage more innovation?. If you want better results, you can’t do same-old-same-old. Share with us.

Pitching Deals with Emotional Intelligence

Over the last year, I’ve witnessed a number of companies pitching private equity, investment banking and related deals that have all been disappointing. The time frame for closing the deal is extended enormously; the number of interested investors is a fraction of what was expected, and the multiple offered is far less than expected. In several cases, the deals just fell through.

In each case, recognized bankers/investment firms were involved. While the senior people gather the date they use junior people to produce the presentation products, using a forumalic presentation template. When the clients express disappointment in the process, I point out the obvious:

  • The people who draft the actual presentation products are detached from the true meaning of the deal (eg., really understanding the competitive advantage, the actual parties involved (buyers and sellers.)
  • They are judged by their ability to fit boat-loads of information into a standard presentation template which has two negative consequences:
    • The delivery doesn’t complement the material (e.g., a suit should highlight the best of a man’s build; off-the-shelf suits don’t)
    • High quality content gets lost in a long-winded, presentation that makes sense to the designer but not necessarily the buyer. (E.g., an investor relations person was once asked to communicate the Competitive Advantange of the deal and then spent minutes looking for the key part, and not being able to find it commented, “I know it’s here somewhere.”)
  • The presenter is encouraged to follow the banker’s format – rather than one that encourages the presenter to focus on the unique needs of the buyer (e.g.,present an Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentation).

One example is a pitch-book devleoped for an apparel company . It addressed the traditional issues, quality of the products, distribution, and the company’s rate of return, and how it’s handling changes in the retail market due to Amazon. However, the company’s product is unique and no real mention of that fact was made.  Unlike most apparel (e.g., jeans, suits, coats, etc.) which generally can be used over and over again, this product is likely to be used only once or twice, and only at setting where it’s beauty-value is treasured.

Not unexpectedly, interested buyers saw it only as a commodity, and the selling process did not produce a satisfactory result.

The solution is to use Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Allow the presenter (in this case company leader) to deliver an Audience-Driven, Authentic  Presentation which use the emotional information of both presenter and audience in an effective and meaningful way. Unleash the presenter rather than fit their message into a (bad) template); meet the emotional needs of a buyer for something really special. Make sure the people designing have the EQ skills (which comes from experience) to understand both parties to the actual transaction.

What’s your experience on this issue?  Share it with us.

Afraid of Public Speaking?

One of the most common fears people have is getting in front of people to perform.  A book was published many years ago offering an alternative  –  “I’d Rather Die Than Give a Speech”  – but not a desirable one.

The real issue whether  to confront the fear.  What do you really want from life? Helen Keller noted that “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outight exposure; the fearful are caught as often as the bold.”  Peter Drucker, the father of management theory , once noted that the greatest risk is taking no risk. The safest plane is one that doesn’t fly; the safest ship is oen that nevr leaves port; but playing it safes comes with a cost – lost opportunities. “ When I look at my own life, it is those things that I was once most fearful of, which, when overcme and ultimately mastered, were the greatest conributos to my success and happiness”. You can cushion the risk when you take the leap and confront your fears, by working with supportive people.

Toastmasters offers virtually free opportunities to practice in front of other people (who are also fearful) and stick at it till they feel more confortable.  Most  speaking/presentation trainers use of variety of techniques to help people overcome it. Google has 90,200,000 entries for “how to overcome the fear of public speaking”; There are many strategies and tactics; find one that works for you.  Some focus on your sensitivity to triggers and help you reduce them and re-label them; others focus on shifting focus from themselves to their audience – through eye-contact, immersive engagement, etc. – so you’re not focused on your own triggers.

Indeed, we tailor the solutions to each student , with an understanding that each time a little fear is natural. Barbra Streisand once observed that despite years of successful entertainment in front of large groups, she still feels anxious for the first 15 seconds; but by shifting from the”me-to-them” mindset to one of “we’re all here together”it disappears quickly.

Finally, take advantage of every opportunity to practice. A colleague recently turned down an opportunity to speak to a dozen executives because he’s not self-confident in large groups (where the “enemy” outnumbers me by a lot; I’m fine one-on one”. So we recommended practicing with a large group (e.g., Toastmasters) where there were no high-stakes. As a result, he gained greater confidence, and has learned (through additional practice) how to work through the fear quickly and then relate to his audience with great results.

Share with us your story of how you overcame the fear of public speaking.

8 Ways to Inspire Your Audience

We all know that the goal of a presentation isn’t to do a “data-dump” and just present the facts. Our goal is to convert information into inspiration so the audience will take action. Is it time to inspire your audience?

Chris Anderson, in his book on Ted Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, offers 8 ways presenters can have that impact, by committing to presentation excellence for the content, organization, engagement style and delivery.  Here are the impacts you want your audience to achieve:

  • Connection: I trust this person
  • Engagement: Everything appears so exciting
  • Curiosity: I hear and see passion in the presentation and delivery
  • Understanding: the presentation, your voice, energy and physical gestures communicate it well
  • Empathy: I can tell you care
  • Conviction: I feel your determination in body language
  • Action: I want to be on your team. Sign me up!

As Chris says in the aggregate, “this is inspiration”.  We all know it when we experience it.

Are you having such impact in your presentations? How would your audience rate your presentation skills? If it’s time for some coaching, let us know!

Why Should Prospects Choose Your Firm?

Do you REALLY have a Competitive Advantage? In March, our CEO groups were treated to an eye opening presentation. Jaynie Smith taught us that while WE think our companies have a Competitive Advantage (CA), that doesn’t mean prospects and customers do!

Leaders think their companies have a CA, because their teams try to produce the best possible products/services and market/sell it to their prospects. We forget that a CA is in the eye of the beholder: the customer. Prospects have lots of options (and with mobile search engines and e-commerce and related rating systems, it’s easier than ever to check out competitors). Similarly, if customers have not had an A+ experience from all perspectives, it’s easy to be picked off by a vendor with CA that outshines yours.

The solution is to understand what a real CA is!  As we went around the room, CEOs told us that their companies had products with superior quality, more efficient and effective, delivered on-time, had stronger customer relationships, had more expert staff; were more customer-responsive, etc. As Jaynie pointed out – we all use the same “blah.. blah” – without proving it.  that’s why prospects move on to someone else.

A true CA is something that simultaneously offers desired benefits (e.g., ROI, convenience, etc.) and also reduces risks. Using objective, measurable criteria, you need to quantify it for your target customer.

For instance:

  • TD Bank is “America’s Most Convenient Bank for small businesses who use branches because they are open 7 days a week and longer hours on week-days. But if you’re a “digital” banking customer, it’s not.
  • Vistage Worldwide’s has helped CEOs become more effective to grow their companies better for over 60 years; Dunn and Bradstreet evaluates its impact regularly and finds that companies who join, grow 2-3X faster than competitors. That’s a CA to leaders committed to growth; not to status-quo lovers.

It reminded me of a story about a company selling sunk pumps. The industry leader was selling a $30,000 unit. A new competitor entered the market and sold theirs for $25,000. As sales dropped, the sales people demanded that their company drop the price – which would have made sales unprofitable. A consultant was hired to compare the two units; they discovered that their competitors’ unit needed to be replaced every 3 years, which meant major disruptions to company operations on that day, and that service cost was $5000. The main company’s unit had to be serviced every 10 years at a cost of about $3000. With that, management changed its marketing and raised the price! The result: sales increased and surpassed initial levels!

You can learn more by reading her books Competitive Advantage and Relevant Selling.

When was the last time you really analyzed whether the CA you developed years ago is still working for the different client/prospect segments you serve?  How easy is it for a prospect who quickly scans competitors to see your CA?  Share with us your experiences and what you’re doing to develop a more effective CA.

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