Strategy

Discover the New Opportunities

As you may know I teach a capstone business course for CUNY. I help the students a mindset that the world is changing rapidly and they need to get ahead of them, before automation, artificial intelligence, etc. eliminate many of those jobs.

One of the topics we discussed is the interesting competition between the e-commerce leader, e.g., Amazon, as it invades the former territory of retail stores and creates new opportunities, and the actions of the retail stores, e.g., Walmart, to move into the e-commerce space and create new opportunities. The issue isn’t who will win, the issue is how will the new opportunities to serve existing and future customers’ expanded set of needs morph the entire playing field.

Initially, the retail stores simply responded to the ecommerce threat by offering their own version. Then Amazon redefined the playing field to integrate retail and ecommerce, through its purchase of Whole Foods, its experiment with its Amazon stores, and more recently with the experiment of Go stores which offer a cashier-free app-based shopping experience.

Walmart responded by buying Jet.com, to get the expertise and insights of Marc Lore, including his interest in creating greater access to more upscale brands than Walmart has traditionally served. The results are experiments such as the following

  • Project Kepler is an effort to “change in-store experiences leveraging emerging technologies to define and deliver on evolving customer expectations”. The goal is to create physical stores that, like Go, will operate without checkout lines or cashiers.
  • Code Eight is designed to reach high net worth urban customers, such as busy NYC moms, who they could never reach customers with stores. Allegedly, its goal is to provide them with personal shopping services: product recommendations will be made via text messages for health, beauty, household essentials and apparel/accessories. Walmart also acquired Bonobos to experiment with provide personalized clothing services for men.)

In other word, both sides are not going to fight directly over the turfs they currently dominate (i.e., the “Red Ocean” strategy) but instead to discover new opportunities in terms of markets and products (i.e. “Blue Ocean” strategy. (See: Blue Ocean Strategy by Chan and Mauborgne).

And that’s where all the best opportunities exist for us in 2018 and the future: harnessing the technology and cultural changes taking place and finding new opportunities to serve existing and future clients.  How are you doing so?  Share your experiences and plans!

Four Elements of a Successful Leader Development Program

At the end of last year, I reflected on how to improve the leader development services that I  provide to CEOs through Vistage Worldwide’s multi-service ecosystem (e.g., Peer Advisory Boards and Vistage Inside for executive teams, which provides), a statement in a McKinsey article (“What’s Missing in Leadership Development?” by Feser, Nielsen and Renni); August 2017) caught my attention. “There is overwhelming evidence that the plethora of services, books, articles, seminars, conferences… a global industry estimated to be worth more than $50 Billion – are delivering disappointing results….just 10 percent said their leadership development initiatives have a clear business impact.”

The authors concluded that four sets of intervention appear to matter most:

  • Contextualizing the program based on the organization’s position and strategy
  • Ensuring reach across the organization
  • Designing the program for the transfer of learning
  • Using systems reinforcement to lock in change.

Each year, I review the results of last year’s program with clients as we forge next year’s strategic goals. Are sales and profits increasing – and why or why not? Are human and capital resources being maximized, and if not what’s necessary? How is the market – changes in customers’ needs and competition – impacting on the company? Do we have a clear and executable strategy for the next year, with KPIs measuring the effectiveness of execution? What else needs to change? Are we becoming a Continuous Improvement Learning Organization (CILO)?

Apparently, our leader development programs are working. As a result of regular monthly meetings to review progress, improve through executive coaching, fresh perspectives and adoption of new tools shared by Vistage experts and CEO peers, 24/7 access to a Chair/coach and our focus on becoming a CILO, is enabling our leaders and their organizations to achieve new heights: one member’s company has quadrupled in sales and profits during the five years we’ve been working together.

Whatever leader development system you use, heed the advice of these authors, as we are.

For more information about Vistage’s potential help you and your team have a super year in 2018, feel free to contact me!  Remember, Vistage’s 21,000 leaders are in 20 countries, served by over 600 Chair/facilitators; so I can refer you to another local Chair if you’re not in NYC!

Successful Businesses Solve Personal Annoyances

Helping a colleague launch a new business, we discussed different business models designed to meet customer needs. However in framing the question as to what was needed, we began focusing on the annoyances people experience and how to overcome them, and realized the power of this approach.

For decades, people used taxis and car-services to obtain transportation from place A to B, and assumed because of the demand, most people were happy.  Most people experienced annoyances and no-one did much about them. People had to go out in the rain to hail a cab; once in the cab they weren’t always happy with the accommodations and friendliness of the driver. They didn’t know the final price of the ride in most cases – leading them to stare at the meter; then they had to navigate the pay system. Black car services were better at some things (no need to stand in the rain), but were rarely on-demand and often more expensive.

With a focus on overcoming these annoyances, Uber, Lyft and other such companies stole market share and created a new market from people who were not regular customers.

Similarly, many people hire accountants, insurance agents and attorneys at different parts of their lives and forge relationships with individual members. Providers focus on specific needs and meet them; if they’re sole practitioners or small practices, clients often seek other firm practitioners to meet additional needs. Even if the professional is part of a larger firm, clients often don’t feel an allegiance to use another member, despite the annoyance of having to go to a different office to meet with another ‘specialist”. They’re annoyed with practitioners from different firms don’t coordinate efforts to come up with a customer-centric solution.

Annoyance-reduction can result when attorneys, accountants, financial representatives, etc. aggregate into larger firms. To do so, they need to communicate the value of annoyance-reduction; they need to provide members with incentives to a work as a team to cross-sell and provide great team-service to deliver the benefits of customer-centric service. All too often, practitioners work in “silos” with little real client-centric teamwork.

Take some time to discover the annoyances that your customers experience; take time to understand those that non-customers experience, which stops them from using you. Then improve your business model so new and existing customers feel better about using your service – and recommending it to others they know that experience similar annoyances.

How are you improving your business model to eliminate or reduce annoyances? Share your experiences. sightseeing in nyc

There’s No Such Thing as a Stupid Question

As a straddle the worlds of teaching students, working with CEOs and their teams, and studying the psychology of aging, I am amazed at how more-or-less the same issues appear in all of them. The power of questions is one example.

Discovery requires being curious and asking questions.  We begin our lives as children unfettered when it comes to asking questions: Why is the sky blue?  etc. As we get older, schools and other socializing institutions ty to reduce the number of questions we ask. One seventh grade teacher had students put on their desk a note saying “Is this a stupid question?” as a way of limiting questions in class (He was a science teacher!)  As I teach university students in the US and China, I increasingly see a few students who ask almost all the questions and the rest shying away from doing so.

In companies, I experience newer (and younger) workers often refraining from asking questions. Asked why, some respond that they don’t want to “look stupid”, even though they concede that without the critical information they may make a (stupid) mistake. As I work with people 60+ through Age Brilliantly, including the “elderly” (over 85) the pattern of not raising questions continues for many.

Yet, in all cases, asking appropriate questions can save people time and energy, and have positive effects. Indeed, Meika Loe, who researched the “oldest old” (over 85) in Aging Our Way, notes a key lesson she learned: asking for help enables autonomy and control – as long as it’s on the (asker’s) terms.”

We need to change the culture our hour homes, schools, workplaces, etc. to encourage people to ask appropriate questions more often because they empower people to make better decisions, do better work, and feel more confident about themselves.  In my office we have a note saying “there is no such thing as a stupid question!”  We celebrate breakthroughs that come from a good question asked to encourage more of them. But it’s not enough.

What are you doing to create cultures to encourage people to ask more and better questions?  Share your experiences and ideas.

How to Retain Your Creative Edge in this “Busy” World

With all the interruptions we encounter in life – multiple job roles – 24/7 access, “finish it now”  deadline, it’s hard to retain a creative perspective when we look at the things that lead to innovations – annoyances we want to overcome, blue ocean opportunities, etc.  In Too Fast To Think: How to Reclaim Your Creativity in a Hyper-Connected Work Culture, Chris Lewis offers some potential solutions. Let me share a few activities you should follow:

  • Read more – it breaks the normal routine, opens you to new ideas, and gives you respect for people
  • Get out more – we spend too much time in the “boxes” of work and then home, and not enough being exposed to the things that stimulate ideas. I work with a  number of top college graduates who are recruited for their intelligence and creativity and then take jobs at which they work 18= hours a day 6-7 days a week. That produces burnout.
  • Realize the paradox – while we want people to get creative at work, most creative ideas originated outside.
  • Be present – multi-tasking eliminates the ability to see the contradictions within a single concept, which when analyzed with time, can lead to a creative insight
  • Speed isn’t always good – creativity comes from incubating contradictions and paradoxes. Slow is smooth and leads to the better, faster solutions
  • Get enough sleep – research shows the importance sufficient sleep to do quality work and stay creative. It’s amazing that so many (big) companies abuse their new hires with 18 hour days, and take pride in it.
  • Value the power of silence – to give you the creative space you need.

And here are a few creative traits that facilitate success:

  • Quiet – get rid of the noise and clutter to experience sounds, smell and touch that concentration brings
  • Focus – take time to listen, believe in yourself, and the process.
  • Unleash your imagination – encourage daydreaming of alternatives
  • Play – relax from work, release the stress and play with the ideas. You must enjoy the creative process..
  • Teach – the best way to know what you’re learning is to try to teach it.  It’s one of the reasons that I offer public speeches and workshops on new areas of interest to me – because it forces me to organize it so that someone else can clearly understand it – and challenge my assumptions if they deserve it!

What are you doing to maintain your creative edge?  One of the interesting findings about aging is that creativity doesn’t necessarily decline while we get older. That’s probably another reason that one of the largest group of entrepreneurs today are people who are “retiring” for their older jobs. Share with how you maintain your creative edge and what you plan to do next!

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