Create a Winning Strategy - continued

(Originally posted spring 2012)

Stand out from the crowd. Don’t be a sheep!
In my previous blog, I looked at the importance of having a strategy firmly focused on the needs of our customers.
In this blog I’ll be looking at how that translates into creating actions and daily work-plans.

But most importantly, my intention is to gently remind everyone: 
Review your Strategic Plan. It's a vital document.

So, with a clear sense of what we can offer that is irresistible to our customers – we also need to make sure that it stands apart from the offerings of our competitors.

I’m sure that most people reading this blog are familiar with USPs (unique selling points) or the need to differentiate (if not, leave me a comment and I’ll expand on it). But even when managers are familiar with the idea, these question easily get skipped:
“How can I differentiate my product/service in a way that’s not easily copied?”
“What have we invested in that would make it hard for competitors to catch-up?”

Examples of the investment that underpins a USP may be:
  • A product which is really different (ideally patented).
  • A superior service with a unique system to deliver it.
  • Better operational efficiency and effectiveness.
  • The best trained people.
  • The most highly rated brand.

Any USP that can easily be copied doesn’t stay a USP for long – and then all you can do is compete on price and reduce your profits.
Any business, large or small, that wants to differentiate itself has to be set-up to deliver that USP better than anybody else!

It also needs to consider developments in the wider environment that it operates in. Again, I’m sure the readers of this blog are familiar with SWOT analysis: the Strengths and Weakness of the business (internal factors) against and Threats or Opportunities from wider environment (external factors).

Then the overall marketing led strategy needs to be converted into operational plans. The overall objectives of the business need to be broken down into financial objectives and all the operational objectives that will deliver the strategy: sales and marketing, product/service delivery, finance, legal, admin, HR etc.

From there, objectives and targets are broken down into projects to achieve them, with defined stages and milestones (agreed points at which those stages are complete) – and then into smaller tasks and actions.

I’m aware that this blog isn’t a comprehensive guide to Strategic Planning. There are countless weighty books on the subject. My intention here is to serve as a reminder to the countless SMEs that are too busy working their businesses that it’s essential to review and renew their Strategic Plan.
The Strategic Plan is the document that allows all other decisions to be made wisely:
  • What to focus on and what to drop
  • How to prioritise time
  • Who to hire and who to retire
  • What relationships to develop and which to diminish

So to recap again. Having a carefully thought out Strategic Plan is vital. It’s the primary task from which all other activity should flow. 
Selectivity is a key leadership skill – and that can’t be done without clarity on what we’re trying to achieve, why and how.
Strategic Planning is the thinking that needs to be done to save us from running around like busy fools.
If you haven’t looked at your plan for a while, or updated it for over a year, now is the time to sit down and do that essential thinking with your top team.

Leadership & Motivation - "Catch Yourself Winning"!

(Originally posted Summer 2011)

What really drives us?
One of the most important things to understand about leadership and motivation is… Emotions Drive Behaviour!
The simple truth is - they do! 
And if emotions are at the heart of behaviour then they are also at the heart of leadership and motivation.

But what is an emotion?
In it’s simplest form, an emotion is a biochemical shift in our bodies to help us survive and thrive! If we see a tiger, we’re filled with chemicals to help us fight or run away. If we see someone we find sexually attractive, our bodies fill with chemicals to help us ‘make love’ - increasing our offspring and chance of survival…
So what does this have to do with winning?
When we feel like we’re winning, our bodies fill with chemicals, especially testosterone, which make us want to keep going and try harder. Testosterone feels good… and whatever we were doing, we want to feel good and do it again.
So to motivate people, including ourselves, a simple guideline is to “catch ourselves winning.”

We want to create goals where we feel we can - and will - win.
If a task is too great - break it down into manageable stages.
If it looks unattainable - reconsider the plan!

If things aren’t going well, one of the most important tasks is to be upfront about the situation – and then create a realistic and workable plan where even the smallest success can be celebrated.
The more subtle art of motivation is knowing what other people want. What do they really consider to be ‘a win’ in the long-term? …How to find that out is another subject.

Photo by April Davidson via Flickr.

Blurry Eyed or Focused on the Vision?

(Originally posted Spring 2011)

If you can read this, you’re too close…

How Bumper Sticker Strategies focus teams on their vision.
In Smart Things to Know about Strategy, by Richard Koch, he introduces the idea of a "bumper sticker strategy."
This idea can be successfully used to produce a crisp, clear statement that sets the direction of a company - internally and to the outside world.
I'm bending his words a little, but in essence a “bumper sticker strategy” sums up a business in one sentence, whilst:
  1. Declaring what they do that's different from their competitors.
  2. Promising something of great value to all their key customers.
  3. Being underpinned by what they do better than anyone else (their core competence).
  4. Also being underpinned by a unique system to deliver it.
The end result may be a little leaner than a mission statement. But in my opinion, if well crafted and memorable, they're much more use.
A couple of my favourite examples from the book (though they're probably out of date by now) are:
Ikea – Stylish furniture at low prices for young families
Virgin – debunk the establishment, business as fun
This crisp, clear statement creates a focus for decisions and actions - at every level of a company.
If a decision or action doesn’t in some way serve the strategy, it should be left out.
Now... what is your Bumper Sticker Strategy?
Photo by Paul Wicks via Flickr.

Communication, Trust & Debunking The Myth

(Originally posted winter 2011)

have you ever heard that...
Communication is
  • 7% words
  • 38% tone of voice and
  • 55% body language?

This rule, derived from an experiment by Mehrabian, is frequently cited by communications trainers.
Thankfully it’s being corrected in some training circles (see Training Professionals - thank you Alec McPhedran). 
If we think about this idea critically, we gain little 'factual or theoretical information' from body language and tone - it's the emotional content of the communication that gets conveyed this way.
Imagine if this rule were true; books and legal documents would be have 97% of their meaning missing, cookery instructions would be given in sign language, maps and diagrams (the language of graphic symbols) would be completely useless – and so would Sat Nav.

So why has this wrong idea become so popular?
As humans, we often want to know the emotional disposition of the person we are dealing with:
  • Are they happy or scared
  • nervous or aggressive?
  • Can we trust them?
  • Can we trust the information they are giving us?
We want to know how people feel. We want to know how thy feel about what they say. We want to know how we should feel about them and what they say...
  • Are they safe or a threat?
  • Are they helping us or betraying us?
  • Is this good news or bad?
  • Should we be glad... or very afraid?

So, whilst Mehrabian’s experiment is inaccurately reported and rarely qualified, it still highlights an idea of great value:
A core need as a human being is to establish trust in our dealings with other people.
Without trust, all relationships, teamwork and long-term plans fall apart.

Photo by Eric Munn Photography via Flickr.

Team Management in the fast Lane

Hey! Let the mechanic drive ...see if he can do better!
(Originally posted autumn 2010)

In my last blog, we looked at a key principle of team management - the importance of playing people in the right position:
Play people in position. Use their natural strengths and abilities. Let them do the work they love to do, in the way they do it best, if it adds value to the company.
If you need more from themand before you play them in a new position for a critical event: 
make sure they’re up for the challenge, have adequate training and support, and time to acclimatise.

Misusing this principle is a mistake often seen in business.
Take an executive; let’s call him John, highly skilled in analytical, technical tasks, of high value to the company. He tends to work alone, make strategic decisions and recommend them to the Board.
His contribution gets recognised. At a critical moment for the business, to raise performance, he’s promoted and becomes manager to a team of twenty people. – Guess what, he’s now playing out of position. His key skill was technical analysis. He prefers to work alone – and now his key requirement is managing people… Potentially, he may not even leave the Pit Lane.
A key principle of team management is to play to people’s strengths, their natural skills and position. But if you want to stretch them into a less natural role – give them time to adjust and give them support.
Executives can be promoted successfully to positions where new (and initially unnatural) managerial skills are required. 
If they aren’t natural leaders, they may need coaching and training – and time to acclimatise – before performing at their highest level.

How to create a Superteam!

Knocked out... but still a Superteam?
(Originally posted summer 2010)

Many teams in the World Cup had 'average' players, but still performed well. 
Some teams, like Brazil performed well and were sprinkled with superstars.
Supposedly, England had it's fair share of superstars, but never got going as a team. So what went so wrong at the World Cup? Was a vital element missing from their teambuilding?

In my previous blog we looked at the key factors that need to be present for any team to perform well:

7 key factors to build a Superteam!
  1. A Shared Mission
  2. Ability in defined and agreed Skills and Roles
  3. An Action Plan
  4. Motivation to Succeed (of which belief is a key)
  5. Individual Accountability to the Team
  6. Great Communication
  7. Trust in Each Other

My greatest suspicion falls on no2: ability in defined skills and roles.
The players skills and roles were certainly defined. Players knew their positions and what is expected of those roles. And as some of the best players in the Premier League, they undoubtedly have enormous footballing skill.

My understanding is that many of them were playing out of their usual position.
I’ve said before, I’m not a football pundit, so please correct me if I’m wrong. But it seems to me that a trait of many England managers over the years is to pick players who excel in a certain position. They play consistently, week in week out for their Premiere League clubs – and then the England manager plays them in a new and strategic role – out of position – at the World cup.
I’ve never understood it and I still don’t. Enlighten me someone, please, if there is any wisdom in their (in my opinion) madness!

So a key principle for great teambuilding is to play to people's strengths.
Play them in position. Use their natural strengths and abilities. Let them do the work they love to do, in the way they do it best, if it adds value to the company.
If you need more from them, make sure they’re up for the challenge, have adequate training and support, and time to acclimatise - before you play them in a new position.

The Fundamentals of Teamwork

Superstars defeated ...what were the missing ingredients?
(Originally posted summer 2010)
After England's performance in the World Cup, knives are out and hunters are looking for a scapegoat. We had some of the best players in the Premiere League, but they played disasterously. Who's at fault and what went wrong? 

What factors may have been at play. Was it:
  • Fear of failure
  • Lack of belief
  • Bad leadership

…or was it simply poor teamwork?

All of these factors are could have played a part. All are worth talking about. - As we’re talking about a group of great players, who when put together played disastrously, I’d like to scrutinise their teamwork.
When I analyse a team, whether they are superstars or fresh hopefuls, there are a number of fundamentals I look for that need to be present. Without these, no team will perform well.

The Fundamentals of Teamwork:
  1. A Shared Mission
  2. Ability in defined and agreed Skills and Roles
  3. An Action Plan
  4. Motivation to Succeed (in which the belief they can succeed is key)
  5. Individual Accountability to the Team
  6. Great Communication
  7. Trust in Each Other

In terms of the England team I have my suspicions as to which elements were missing. Undoubtedly a shared mission was  present... but giving marks out of ten for the other elements, how would you score the England team?
And how would you score your own key teams? You may not be competing for the World Cup, but every business is competing at some level. Is your teamwork up to scratch or is there room for raising performance?

If you’re scoring below an 8/10 for any of these factors… beware the competition! 
Even if they aren't sprinkled with Superstars!

Leadership Training for Fabio Capello? - Part 3

Reason for complaint - or just passing the blame?
(Originally posted summer 2010)

Principle 2: People will follow a leader when they believe in their approach or plan. 
To create motivation in their team and be credible in their role, leaders need to have a believable winning plan. Only then do people follow willingly.
With England, it looks like players (or at least John Terry) have lost faith in Capello’s methods and, according to some sources, are on the brink of revolt.

Reported issues include:
  • Resting vs total boredom, 
  • uncertainty vs the certainty of selection, 
  • unapproachable vs approachable (having a say or a voice)
...all seem to be contributing factors.

In business, the parallels are similar:
  • Team members want to feel that what they do matters. Rather than a task being trivial or meaningless, they want to know that it has value and  contributes to the survival of the company.
  • They want to know that they matter and that their job is safe, or as safe as anyone else’s. To be constantly under review can make anyone under-perform.
  • Team members want to know that their views and contributions are taken seriously. If a team member can see a flaw in a plan, or an opportunity to make things better, they’ll have greater confidence in the leadership team if their ideas are taken on board.
If these key principles are ignored… leaders may have an silent or open revolt on their hands.

Maybe what Capello and England needs is more leadership and management training - and less time on the pitch!

Leadership Training for Fabio Capello? - Part 2

Did Fabio Capello forget a cardinal rule?
(Originally posted summer 2010)

Principle 1: When the pressures becomes too great, team member performance will decline - or even go into reverse.
The role of a leader is to shield team members from too much pressure. Yes you want your team members aroused, stimulated, full of adrenaline and motivated – but when they’re gripped by fear, they are going to under-perform. And in this case, we’ve seen England under-perform badly.
Exactly how Capello is making these pressures worse is open to debate. I won’t pretend to know exactly what’s going on behind those closed doors.
Admittedly, the English press and the fans alwyas tend to dig-in hard with their criticisms when England do badly, which doesn’t help. But something we’ve not seen before is going on.
Somehow, it feels like Capello is making the pressures far worse.
Maybe it’s his selection techniques (holding information back to the last moment), sticking rigidly to his tactical 4-4-2 formation, having perhaps overly zealous discipline and restricting the players to mindless activities when back at base… whatever is going on, the players are terrified of making mistakes and holding their place.
Certainty is the antidote to fear - and “gruff and grumpy” Capello, I suspect, isn’t giving them very much certainty.
In business, however bad things get, it’s a vital leadership and management task; to monitor and manage the emotions of a team. In the current economic climate, great leaders will be keeping their team focused on the most important tasks - and celebrating even the smallest of wins.

Leadership Training for Fabio Capello? - Part 1

What’s gone wrong in the England camp? - Do they all need Leadership Training?
(Originally posted summer 2010).
I’m not really a footballing man. And I’m not about to become a pundit. But I enjoy the World Cup and I know a thing or two about leadership. So I wasn’t surprised at the news from the England camp – players on the brink of revolt.
Two games have passed and England’s attempts have looked dire. It wouldn’t take an expert to see that the players look lethargic, clumsy and scared. There’s no flow in their game and certainly no delight in watching them play.
Contrast that with the feisty attempts from teams like New Zealand – hardly a team you’d expect to delight or dazzle – but they’ve played with spirit and zest. They’ve been defiant in defense and creative in attack. Compared them to England and it’s Premiere League players and New Zealand isn’t a team from which you wouldn’t expect so much.

So what does any of this have to do with leadership and business?
Where have England gone wrong with their team building and stress management of their players?
Enter a couple of key principles:

Principle 1: When the pressures becomes too great, team member performance will decline - or go into reverse. 
Principle 2: People will follow a leader when they believe in their approach or plan.
In Part 2, read more about the leader's duty to minimise pressure and uncertainty on their team - so they can focus on doing their job.