Strategy

What Could Innovation Do for Your Company?

As human beings, there’s one set of innovations we’re all waiting for: effective vaccines for Covid-19 and ways to distribute them as quickly as possible.

There’s a second set many of us are thinking about: a system that will enable us to handle the next pandemic a lot better than the one we’re in now. Let’s not be unprepared again!

There’s a third group that the CEOs with whom I work are now talking about: product and process innovations that enable their companies to serve customers better. Helping companies unleash their workers’ creativity and forge innovations has been a special area of interest for me for dozens of years and therefore a subject we discuss in group meetings and executive coaching sessions.

As we have these conversations, I am reminded of a major misconception about innovations: the myth of the lone genius who comes up with an innovation. Instead, the experts remind us that innovations are “cobbled together” by contributions from a number of sources. Henry Ford’s assembly line idea was the product of observations made while watching the meat “disassembly” plants by meat packers, and the replaceable parts concept used in the sewing machine.

In How Breakthroughs Happen: the Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate, Andrew Hargadon focuses on this issue by introducing the concept of the “technology broker” – outsiders who specialize in trying to see how a new idea could be commercialized effectively.  We all know stories about companies where people created innovations that never saw the light-of-day as commercial products and/or services. For instance, Xerox’s PARC’s (Palo Alto Research Center) scientists created the GUI (graphic user interface), the mouse, and other technologies; but did nothing with them. It took an outsider – Steve Jobs to see the commercial applications – and then used them to create Apple Computer. Similarly, Spencer Silver, a 3M scientist, discovered an adhesive that stuck lightly and saw no use for it.  Art Fry found a use for it and engaged others (secretaries) to experiment with it – and created 3M’s Post-it Notes. He was the critical “technology broker”.

Who is your technology broker?   If you don’t already have a group of objective, smart business leaders who look at your ideas and, using  their fresh perspectives, give you insights on how it can be adapted  successfully, now is the time to do so

One of unheralded benefits of belonging to Vistage Worldwide is that you have a set of smart, committed leaders who are constantly coming up with new ideas and approaches, sharing them, and getting constructive, objective feedback from members of their local Peer Advisory group and/or the “special interest” networks to which the 23,000 global members belong.
Why not find out for yourself? Vistage offers appropriate leaders an opportunity to experience Vistage meetings virtually. Just contact me for details.  Email Jerry.Cahn@VistageChair.com or call 646-290-7664.

9 Ways to Influence

Leadership involves getting other people to do things you want them to do. In the world of offices, if both of you are in the same space, you can use your physical presence – including body language, voice tonality, etc. to influence people. When you’re not able to use your physical presence – which is increasingly going to happen as we become a distributed workforce, but have a position of authority, you can leverage the powers inherent in the position. If you lack authority you can use other forms of power – such as “expert” power to influence people. 

Today, more than ever, people work with others as team members lacking the physical presence, and often being peers without authority. So, using other forms of influence become increasingly important to people who want to achieve process or outcome goals.  In Becoming a Person of Influence John Maxwell and Jim Dornan identified nine qualities of influence.  The spell out Influence!

  • Integrity – Builds relationships based on trust
  • Nurturing – Cares about people as individuals
  • Faith — Believes in people
  • Listening  – Values what others have to say
  • Understanding – Sees things from others’ point of view
  • Enlarging – Helps others become bigger
  • Navigating – Assists others through difficulties
  • Connecting – Initiates positive relationships
  • Empowering – gives them the power to lead.

Which are your strengths? Which can be strengthened?  Especially in this Covid-19 era, , now is the time to work on these qualities in order to achieve your team’s process and outcome goals.

Build a Sustainable Business Strategy, Today

The economic impact of the pandemic is forcing many companies to change the existing business model and identify one that will enable them to succeed in the (slow) recovery period. Tweaking the old model may not be enough; a new model that takes into account the changes in buying patterns, technology, financial capital and talent availability, may be needed. Marc Emmer, a business strategy/execution expert who shares his expertise with Vistage’s 23,000 members, recently identified a 10 step framework that you may want to use to help you build a strategy you can execute flawlessly now and in the future.

  1. Develop a true vision that will work in the future
  2. Define your competitive advantage in the changing future
  3. Define who are your new target markets, customers, employees,  partners, etc.
  4. Identify what it will take for systematic growth – technology, people, products, services, etc/
  5. Be data-driven when making ongoing decisions; collect the data to do so!
  6. Think long-term for sustainability. 
  7. But expect the need to make changes in this increasingly VUCA world
  8. Keep the door open to new perspectives and ideas
  9. Come prepared; in a virtual world, people have shorter attention spans, so do the homework
  10. Measure your results and make adaptations and corrections to execute flawlessly

As you develop strategies, measure them and execute them, what new patterns do you note that change the processes?   Share them with us.

Stay Focused

With everything that’s happening today, are you being so distracted that it’s reducing your effectiveness?

The implications of the Covid pandemic – working from home, taking care of family, schooling children, managing/supporting other workers – have to be distracting. Add to that increased attention to diversity and inclusion, a national election, economic survival, etc., and it’s not surprising that people are experiencing more stress and are being distracted.  

Now more than ever, you need to take steps to stay focused.   Brent Bailey, a Chair with Vistage Worldwide, shared a story about times he spent with John Wooden, one of the most successful college basketball coaches of all time. He notes that staying focused on what counts was key to his success. for instance, rather than focus on the outcome – winning – he focused his attention and that of the players on “performing to your potential”. Coach Wooden saw this as a higher standard, one that you could control and which would lead to success as a byproduct.  Brent used that approach as his business shifted its focus from being a generic product provider in many markets to a focused approach of building a consumer-brand product.  

We’re seeing this play out in the presentation arena as well. Audience’s attention has shortened (again) and people want you to get to the point more quickly. This means you need to focus in several ways:

  1. Focus the message on the key elements that people need to know. Unless it’s a core concept or essential supporting point, it’s being perceived as a distraction and drains energy/attention from the parties to whom you’re presenting. 
  2. Get to the point quickly; there’s a tendency by many speakers to make sure they set a solid foundation before getting to the key point. However, not everyone needs such an introduction and all too often the audience’s attention is lost before getting to the meat of the presentation. Worse, the speakers then find that they run out of time and speed through the crux of what mattered! (Indeed, when I facilitate new speaker meetings, I often set time limits on the introduction and encourage speakers to check the understanding-assumptions throughout the presentation. The impacts of this focus are greater audience engagement and more discussion on how to apply what they learned.)
  3. Focus your preparation time as well so you can deliver a focused presentation. Use the time-management systems we’ve talked about in prior blogs (e.g., scheduling sufficient, uninterrupted time for specific projects, and taking advantage of your biorhythms when executing) so you can thoroughly (a) think through your ideas and (b) organize and design the material so it is quickly and fully grasped by the audience. 

In sum, now more than ever, you need to stay focused to live up to your potential for each activity and in that way achieves the results you want.

Update Your Time Management Plans

Now that we’re working from home, and balancing more than just work during the day, is it time to update your time management system?  Many people report handling business and personal activities during the previously work-only hours (e.g., helping your kids with school activities), and they all need to be done!

Over the years, I’ve helped many clients and students with a time management system which involves a double entry system: you list everything you need to do (and cross out things as they are done), and a second one which allocates the tasks to a working day (e.g., 8 hours). Another feature of it is that it’s completed the night before you stop working and left on your desk, so when you come in you check, make adjustments if needed, and move forward, as opposed to planning the day then. (See prior newsletter articles.)

Today, many of us are stretching the 9-5 day to handle child and parent care issues, etc. by recognizing that there is no community. So we can use the commuting and transition times to handle personal needs. Plus we want to take advantage of family time and so we use a longer schedule of hours (e.g., 8Am to 9 PM) in which we take care of everything (e.g., from 10-2 we’re in child-care mode). So we may enjoy longer dinners with the family and do the last review of emails not from 4-5 PM, but 8-9 PM).

When we first went into lock-down we had to improvise. It’s still impossible to develop a concrete schedule – since this is summer time and no-one knows what’s going to happen with work, school, care, etc. in the fall as Coronavirus spikes require our attention. Still we’ve learned what works for some activities and can, on a piecemeal basis, put together a schedule-template. For instance, one of my coaching clients scheduled coaching during his son’s mid-day nap.  After a few weeks, it became clear that the growing boy’s nap time should be changed… and so we did with great success for everyone.

As we get closer to the fall and/or you begin to have a clearer sense of time needs and commitments, update your time management plans.  If you have questions, feel free to contact me.

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