Implementing Successful Transformation Initiatives for 2024

Implementing Successful Transformation Initiatives for 2024

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

Transformation and change initiatives are usually designed as strategic interventions, intending to advance an organization’s growth, deliver increased shareholder value, build competitive advantage, or improve speed and agility to respond to fast-changing industries.  These initiatives typically focus on improving efficiency, and productivity, resolving IT legacy and technological issues, encouraging innovation, or developing high-performance organizational cultures. Yet, according to research conducted over fifteen years by McKinsey & Co., shared in a recent article “Losing from day one: Why even successful transformations fall short” – Organizations have realized only 67 percent of the maximum financial benefits that their transformations could have achieved. By contrast, respondents at all other companies say they captured an average of only 37 percent of the potential benefit, and it’s all due to a lack of human skills, and their inability to adapt, innovate, and thrive in a decade of disruption.

Differences between success and failure

The survey results confirm that “there are no short­cuts to successful transformation and change initiatives. The main differentiator between success and failure was not whether an organization followed a specific subset of actions but rather how many actions it took throughout an organizational transformation’s life cycle” and actions taken by the people involved.

Capacity, confidence, and competence – human skills

What stands out is that thirty-five percent of the value lost occurs in the implementation phase, which involves the unproductive actions taken by the people involved.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) supports this in a recent article “How to Create a Transformation That Lasts” – “Transformations are inherently difficult, filled with compressed deadlines and limited resources. Executing them typically requires big changes in processes, product offerings, governance, structure, the operating model itself, and human behavior.

Reinforcing the need for organizations to invest in developing the deep human skills that embed transformation disciplines into business-as-usual structures, processes, and systems, and help shift the culture. Which depends on enhancing people’s capacity, confidence, and competence to implement the “annual business-planning processes and review cycles, from executive-level weekly briefings and monthly or quarterly reviews to individual performance dialogue” that delivers and embeds the desired changes, especially the cultural enablers.

Complex and difficult to navigate – key challenges

As a result of the impact of our VUCA/BANI world, coupled with the global pandemic, current global instability, and geopolitics, many people have had their focus stolen, and are still experiencing dissonance cognitively, emotionally, and viscerally.

This impacts their ability to take intelligent actions and the range of symptoms includes emotional overwhelm, cognitive overload, and change fatigue.

It seems that many people lack the capacity, confidence, and competence, to underpin their balance, well-being, and resilience, which resources their ability and GRIT to engage fully in transformation and change initiatives.

The new normal – restoring our humanity

At ImagineNation™ for the past four years, in our coaching and mentoring practice, we have spent more than 1000 hours partnering with leaders and managers around the world to support them in recovering and re-emerging from a range of uncomfortable, disabling, and disempowering feelings.

Some of these unresourceful states include loneliness, disconnection, a lack of belonging, and varying degrees of burnout, and have caused them to withdraw and, in some cases, even resist returning to the office, or to work generally.

It appears that this is the new normal we all have to deal with, knowing there is no playbook, to take us there because it involves restoring the essence of our humanity and deepening our human skills.

Taking a whole-person approach – develop human skills

By embracing a whole-person approach, in all transformation and change initiatives, that focuses on building people’s capacity, confidence, and competence, and that cultivates their well-being and resilience to:

  • Engage, empower, and enable them to collaborate in setting the targets, business plans, implementation, and follow-up necessary to ensure a successful transformation and change initiative.
  • Safely partner with them through their discomfort, anxiety, fear, and reactive responses.
  • Learn resourceful emotional states, traits, mindsets, behaviors, and human skills to embody, enact and execute the desired changes strategically and systemically.

By then slowing down, to pause, retreat and reflect, and choose to operate systemically and holistically, and cultivate the “deliberate calm” required to operate at the three different human levels outlined in the illustration below:

The Neurological Level – which most transformation and change initiatives fail to comprehend, connect to, and work with. Because people lack the focus, intention, and skills to help people collapse any unconscious RIGIDITY existing in their emotional, cognitive, and visceral states, which means they may be frozen, distracted, withdrawn, or aggressive as a result of their fears and anxiety.

You can build your capacity, confidence, and competence to operate at this level by accepting “what is”:

  • Paying attention and being present with whatever people are experiencing neurologically by attending, allowing, accepting, naming, and acknowledging whatever is going on for them, and by supporting and enabling them to rest, revitalize and recover in their unique way.
  • Operating from an open mind and an open heart and by being empathic and compassionate, in line with their fragility and vulnerability, being kind, appreciative, and considerate of their individual needs.
  • Being intentional in enabling them to become grounded, mindful conscious, and truly connected to what is really going on for them, and rebuild their positivity, optimism, and hope for the future.
  • Creating a collective holding space or container that gives them permission, safety, and trust to pull them towards the benefits and rewards of not knowing, unlearning, and being open to relearning new mental models.
  • Evoking new and multiple perspectives that will help them navigate uncertainty and complexity.

The Emotional Cognition Levels – which most transformation and change initiatives fail to take into account because people need to develop their PLASTICITY and flexibility in regulating and focusing their thoughts, feelings, and actions to adapt and be agile in a world of unknowns, and deliver the outcomes and results they want to have.

You can build your capacity, confidence, and competence to operate at this level by supporting them to open their hearts and minds:

  • Igniting their curiosity, imagination, and playfulness, introducing novel ideas, and allowing play and improvisation into their thinking processes, to allow time out to mind wander and wonder into new and unexplored territories.
  • Exposing, disrupting, and re-framing negative beliefs, ruminations, overthinking and catastrophizing patterns, imposter syndromes, fears of failure, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Evoking mindset shifts, embracing positivity and an optimistic focus on what might be a future possibility and opportunity.
  • Being empathic, compassionate, and appreciative, and engaging in self-care activities and well-being practices.

The Generative Level – which most transformation and change initiatives ignore, because they fail to develop the critical and creative thinking, and problem sensing and solving skills that are required to GENERATE the crucial elastic thinking and human skills that result in change, and innovation.

You can build your capacity, confidence, and competence to operate at this level by:

  • Creating a safe space to help people reason and make sense of the things occurring within, around, and outside of them.
  • Cultivating their emotional and cognitive agility, creative, critical, and associative thinking skills to challenge the status quo and think differently.
  • Developing behavioral flexibility to collaborate, being inclusive to maximize differences and diversity, and safe experimentation to close their knowing-doing gaps.
  • Taking small bets, giving people permission and safety to fail fast to learn quickly, be courageous, be both strategic and systemic in taking smart risks and intelligent actions.

Reigniting our humanity – unlocking human potential  

At the end of the day, we all know that we can’t solve the problem with the same thinking that created it. Yet, so many of us keep on trying to do that, by unconsciously defaulting into a business-as-usual linear thinking process when involved in setting up and implementing a transformation or change initiative.

Ai can only take us so far, because the defining trait of our species, is our human creativity, which is at the heart of all creative problem-solving endeavors, where innovation can be the engine of change, transformation, and growth, no matter what the context. According to Fei-Fei Li, Sequoia Professor of Computer Science at Stanford, and co-director of AI4All, a non-profit organization promoting diversity and inclusion in the field of AI.

“There’s nothing artificial about AI. It’s inspired by people, created by people, and most importantly it has an impact on people”.

  • Develop the human skills

When we have the capacity, confidence, and competence to reignite our humanity, we will unlock human potential, and stop producing results no one wants. By developing human skills that enable people to adapt, be resilient, agile, creative, and innovate, they will grow through disruption in ways that add value to the quality of people’s lives, that are appreciated and cherished, we can truly serve people, deliver profits and perhaps save the planet.

Find out more about our work at ImagineNation™

Find out about our collective, learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators, Leaders, and Teams Certified Program, presented by Janet Sernack, is a collaborative, intimate, and deeply personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 9-weeks, and can be customized as a bespoke corporate learning and coaching program for leadership and team development and change and culture transformation initiatives.

Image Credit: Pixabay

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5 Job Titles That Break the Mold and Fuel an Innovation Culture

5 Job Titles That Break the Mold and Fuel an Innovation Culture

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Fabric & Home Care Marketing

That is the job title on my very first business card.  I remember holding the card in my hands, staring at it for entirely too long, and thinking, “This is sooooo boring.  Even my parents won’t be impressed.”

To be fair to P&G, that was the job title on the business card of everyone in marketing in the business units.  The company didn’t put job titles on the card for security reasons (or at least that’s what my boss told me when I politely asked why my title wasn’t on the card).

I am older now and should have the maturity to accept the bland and nondescript title on my first business card.  But I’m not.  It’s still boring, and it shouldn’t be because we were working on innovation projects with code names and outfoxing corporate spies in the airport (another story for another post).  We were doing cool stuff and should have cool titles to show for it!

So, to right the wrong inflicted upon me and the countless others stuck with boring job titles despite doing brave, bold, and daring things, today is Make Your Own Title Day (business cards not included)

Intrapreneur

PRO: Short and sweet with a great original definition – “dreamers who do”

CON: Everyone will think you misspelled Entrepreneur

Pirates in the Navy

PRO: Title of a book by one of the foremost thinkers in the field of corporate innovation and a phrase inspired by Steve Jobs’ statement that it’s better to be a pirate than be in the Navy.  It also creates the excuse to wear an eyepatch, talk like a pirate, and keep a parrot in the office.

CON: People are afraid of pirates.  You don’t want people to be scared of you.

Rebel Smuggler

PRO: Also the basis of a book with the benefit of being a cool title that doesn’t scare people.  Plus, who wanted this to describe them:

Whether you’re are a Rebel in a functional company or a Smuggler in a dysfunctional company, you are the essential part of any transition.  You are the catalyst that transforms the caterpillar into a butterfly.  You disrupt the status quo and create opportunities for growth,

You are not the caterpillar nor the butterfly.  You are the magic that prompts the transition.”Natalie Neelan, Rebel At Work: How to Innovate and Drive Results When You Aren’t the Boss

CON: Legal and Corporate Security may not love the “Smuggler” part of the title

Tempered Radical

PRO: A more “professional” version of Rebel Smuggler, and it’s a term used in HBR, so you know it’s legit.  Here’s how they’re described:

They all see things a bit differently from the “norm.” But despite feeling at odds with aspects of the prevailing culture, they genuinely like their jobs and want to continue to succeed in them, to effectively use their differences as the impetus for constructive change. They believe that direct, angry confrontation will get them nowhere, but they don’t sit by and allow frustration to fester. Rather, they work quietly to challenge prevailing wisdom and gently provoke their organizational cultures to adapt. I call such change agents tempered radicals because they work to effect significant changes in moderate ways.Debra Meyerson, “Radical Change, the Quiet Way” in HBR (October 2001)

CON: Sometimes working quietly doesn’t work.  Sometimes, you need to make a ruckus. 

[YOUR TITLE HERE]

What title do you want to give yourself and other innovators?

Drop your suggestion in the comments (and feel free to print up new business cards)!

Image credit: Pexels

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Business Pundits Love to Say These 4 Untrue Things

Business Pundits Love to Say These 4 Untrue Things

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

Go to just about any business conference and you will see a pundit on stage. He or she will show some company that failed and explain the silly mistakes that they made, then follow-up with a few basic rules to help you avoid those pitfalls and become super successful. You leave feeling confident, because it all seems so simple and easy.

Yet look a little closer and the illusion falls away. Very few of these pundits have ever run a successful business. At the same time, many of the executives that are shown to be so silly today, were hailed as visionaries of their time, often by the same pundits that ridicule them now. Some went on to great success later on.

The truth is that managing a successful enterprise is a very hard and complex thing to do well. It can’t be boiled down to a few simple rules. For every great enterprise that does things one way, you will find one that’s equally successful that goes about things very differently. So to succeed in the long term, we often need to ignore the myths pundits love to repeat.

1. You Need To Move Fast And Break Things

When the iPhone came out in 2007, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer dismissed it, saying, “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” The tech giant recognized the switch too slowly and largely missed out on the mobile market. Microsoft, it seemed, was a dinosaur, soon to become extinct.

Yet actually the opposite happened. Over the next 10 years, the company grew revenues at the impressive annual rate of better than 10% and maintained margins of nearly 30%. Those are very strong numbers. How can a company miss such an enormous opportunity and still survive, much less thrive?

They key to understanding Microsoft’s business isn’t what it missed, but what it was patiently building. While the world was obsessed with mobile, it was developing its servers and tools division, which eventually became the core of its cloud business that is now growing at stellar rates. That’s why Microsoft is once again vying to be the world’s most valuable company.

While agility can be an important asset for developing applications based on technology that is well understood, it is not a great strategy for developing technology that is truly new and different. To do that, you need to explore, discover and invent from scratch. That takes time and patience.

2. Innovation Is About Ideas

There is nothing that pundits and self-styled gurus like to talk about more than the power of ideas. They put up a picture of someone famous, like Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. or, most enthusiastically, Steve Jobs, and revel the audience with a fascinating story about how their ideas changed the world.

The implication is that you can change the world too if only you could find the right idea. So they suggest all manner of exercises, from brainstorming techniques to meditation and mindfulness, designed to get your creative energy flowing so that you can generate more ideas and rise to greatness, just like those fabulous and famous people.

Yet that’s not how innovation happens. Consider Einstein. He didn’t start with an idea, but with a problem. More specifically, he wanted to know what would happen if you shined a lantern while traveling at light speed. It took him ten years to solve that problem with his theory of special relativity. It took him another ten to solve his next problem and arrive at general relativity.

The truth is that if you want to make a real impact, you don’t start with an idea, but by identifying a meaningful problem to be solved. Revolutions don’t begin with a slogan, they begin with a cause.

3. Lowering Costs Will Make You More Competitive

Not all pundits are pie-in-the-sky dreamers. Some are hard-nosed realists and they will tell you that the key to success is focusing on the bottom line. That means a relentless drive toward efficiency and driving down costs so that you can increase margins and achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

Yet as MIT Professor Zeynep Ton, explains in The Good Jobs Strategy, that’s often not the case, even in the notoriously stingy retail industry, she points to companies like Costco, Trader Joe’s and Spain’s Mercadona as examples of how you can get better results by investing in training and retaining employees to better serve your customers.

The problem with a relentless drive to cut costs and drive efficiency is you often end up impeding the interoperability and exploration it takes to create value. That’s the efficiency paradox. The more we try to optimize operations, the less we are able to identify improvements, react to changes and discover new possibilities.

This is becoming even more important in the age of automation, where it is all too easy to replace employees with robots and algorithms. The truth is that racing to the bottom of the cost curve will almost guarantee that you will become a commodity business. Value never disappears, it just moves to a new place. To compete for the long term, you need to identify value at a higher level, develop new business models and redesign work.

4. Companies That Fail Weren’t Paying Attention

The one thing that you can almost guarantee at any conference is that at least one of the fancy pants gurus will tell a story about a great big company, usually Blockbuster, Kodak or Xerox, that was run by eminently silly people. Because these dull executives were asleep at the wheel, they failed to notice the change swirling around them and drove their enterprises into the ground.

The problem is that these stories are almost never true. Make no mistake, it takes talent, intelligence and ambition to run a significant enterprise. So whenever anybody tells you that there was a simple fix to a complex problem, you should raise your B.S. antenna. You’re probably being sold a fairy tale.

Reality is never simple or clear cut. Executives need to make tough decisions with incomplete information, often in a complex time frame. So rather than looking for easy answers, you would do yourself a much greater service by trying to uncover why smart, diligent leaders with good intentions so often get it wrong and learning from them.

Most of all, you need to internalize the fact that success or failure never boil down to a single decision or event. Even the best of us have bad moments and sometimes the least deserving get lucky. The best you can do is to keep moving forward, continue to learn and, most of the time, ignoring the pundits.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog and previously appeared on Inc.com
— Image credit: Dall-E on Bing

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Innovation the Star of the 2024 NBA All-Star Game

Innovation the Star of the 2024 NBA All-Star Game

by Braden Kelley

Eight years ago, back in 2016, I wrote an article titled What April Fool’s Day Teaches Us About Innovation about an April Fool’s prank played my alma mater, the University of Oregon involving an announcement that football games at Autzen Stadium would no longer played on artificial turf, but would be played on a giant digital screen instead. Here is the video:

It seemed preposterous at the time (2016) during the era of the technologically ancient Apple iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S7 when the average LCD TV size according to Statista was only 43 inches.

Fast forward to February 16, 2024 and NBA All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis, Indiana and we saw the first ever basketball game of note held on a glass basketball court. But isn’t glass slippery when wet? Yes, but so is a heavily lacquered hardwood court – believe me I know from repeated spills during pickup basketball games. To help give it the traction of a hardwood court they’ve engineered thousands (or maybe millions) of tiny raised dots onto the glass surface.

Sports are always experimenting with various technologies, some of which don’t work out (like the tail following the puck on hockey broadcasts), and others which are executed so well that they enhance the viewing experience (first down yardage line in American football) or that most people don’t even know that they exist (advertisements projected onto the court in basketball television broadcasts that aren’t actually on the court but look as if they are).

So, how has this 2016 April Fool’s prank visualization evolved into a 2024 reality? What does it look like? Here is a video that will give you a sense of its capabilities:

First let me say this a pretty incredible technology that has definitely added to the excitement of this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend, but second I must also say that I would NEVER want to watch a regular NBA, college or international game played on a court like this because for me, sporting events are a time to unplug from technology, not be over-stimulated by it. But, for a special event like NBA All-Star Game Weekend or maybe the Harlem Globetrotters I think it makes sense.

How does this court make the leap from invention to innovation you might ask?

How does this court not find itself in the digital trash can next to the tail on the hockey puck?

The short answer is that scores well on my Innovation is All About Value framework. It creates value by adding value to the contest (skills challenge, celebrity all-star game), translates that value very quickly because it’s all visual, and the barriers to value access are non-existent for all but the visually impaired.

The court allowed the NBA to hold different games with different rules and lines on the same court without changing courts or making physical modifications. For example, the celebrity all-star game had a four point line (sponsored by Frito Lay) and at times the three point and four point lines even were actively moving. There was also a micro competition in game where three people ran to stars that appeared on the floor and shot and when they made a shot there a new star appeared and you could see over time which side of the court was winning because you could see which side had more stars. There was another moment where for a limited time the coaches faces appeared on the court and six points were awarded for each shot made from that spot. The dynamic nature of the game meant that you almost didn’t know what might come next – which was kind of exciting.

The integration of the court into the competition occurring upon it is what helps this technology make the leap from invention to innovation. But again, for me, only in special use cases like an All-Star game, an entertainment-based event or skills competition, but NOT for a pure competition use case where in my mind it distracts from the sport.

Here is a video of the skills challenge relay race – notice that the floor shows the player which way to go, but despite that Tyrese Maxey still goes the wrong way and has to double back. 😉

Then in the skills challenge passing team event the floor showed players where to stand and how many points had been scored at each of three targets. Again, it felt like part of the event and it allows the court to be instantly and uniquely re-configured.

And here are video highlights of the celebrity all-star game where you can see some of what I mentioned above:

So, what do you think? Innovation or not?

Image credit: NBA.com

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How Ready Is Your Team for Change?

How Ready Is Your Team for Change?

GUEST POST from Stefan Lindegaard

When we need to navigate through the complexities of organizational change, particularly in times like today where change is everywhere around us, we need a nuanced understanding of a team’s readiness for change and thus how it can enhance its resilience.

This ties into building a strategic approach to gauge, understand, and subsequently enhance this team readiness for change.

A Simple Exercise for Your Team Readiness

First, I would like to share a simpe exercise crafted to pragmatically assess your team’s preparedness and resilience in the face of change.

See the image and then embark on this reflective exercise, grading your team on a scale from 1 (low) to 6 (high) on these five questions.

Be mindful to approach this with candor as it will pave the way for tangible, beneficial insights.

1. Anticipation, Preparation:

1. How adept is your team at anticipating possible changes and preparing strategies and backup plans to manage them?

Adaptability, Role Flexibility:

2. How well does your team adjust its skills, knowledge, and alter roles and operations, to effectively implement new tools and methodologies during times of change?

Communication:

3. How effective, transparent, and consistent is the communication within your team during times of change?

Emotional Readiness:

4. To what extent does your team display emotional readiness and stability and what is the level of psychological safety during changes in the workplace?

Leadership During Change:

5. How effectively does the next level of leadership above your team guide, support, and provide clear directions during change processes, ensuring stability and clarity?

How well does your team score? Is change your worst enemy or you just great at dealing and growing with this?

Diving into the Elements

I added each component of this exercise to address key aspects of a team’s navigation through the terrains of change. Here’s why:

1. Anticipation, Preparation:

A cornerstone of resilient performance amidst change lies in anticipation and strategic preparation, ensuring the team can adeptly navigate through different scenarios, maintaining functionality and mitigating reactionary responses.

2. Adaptability, Role Flexibility:

Ensuring a team can modify its functions and shift roles, absorbing new methodologies, tools, and technologies during transitions, is vital for maintaining performance and productivity during upheavals.

3. Communication:

Transparency and consistency in communication form the bedrock of clarity and coordinated maneuvering during change, reducing anxiety and ensuring a unified team approach towards transitional phases.

4. Emotional Readiness:

A team that displays emotional stability and ensures a psychologically safe environment during change is poised to maintain morale and productivity, addressing and navigating through the emotional and psychological impacts of change.

5. Leadership During Change:

Leadership’s role in providing stability, direction, and support during change processes cannot be overstated, ensuring that the team can confidently navigate through alterations without feeling rudderless.

Other Considerations for Change Readiness

Beyond the above elements, several other facets warrant consideration to ensure a more comprehensive, multi-dimensional analysis of a team’s readiness for change:

– Team Cohesion During Change:

Maintaining supportive, strong relationships and a united front during transitions is pivotal for ensuring sustained performance and morale.

– Continuous Learning and Improvement Post-Change:

A structured approach towards analyzing and learning from each change process, applying these insights to future transitions, enhances adaptive capabilities.

– Employee Well-being and Support:

Acknowledging and addressing team members’ well-being during change is paramount to prevent burnout and sustain healthy team dynamics.

– Change Impact Analysis (KPI’s):

Ensuring a structured, strategic approach to managing the impacts of change on operations and objectives mitigates potential negative ramifications. This is also where you can look into metrics and KPI’s.

– Partners, Stakeholder Management:

So much happens in networks and ecosystems today, so we also need to maintain trust and rapport with partners and stakeholders during transitions in order to ensure sustained positive external relationships.

Feel free to add your thoughts and perspectives on other elements for team readiness for change.

Final Thoughts

The components outlined in the exercise provide a foundational framework for understanding and enhancing a team’s readiness for change. However, it is imperative to acknowledge that change is multi-faceted and complex, demanding continuous, dynamic approaches to managing it effectively.

The simple exercise can help your team reflect on the important topic of change readiness and I hope that by coupling reflective assessments with strategic action, your team can not only navigate through the changes of today but also fortify itself for the uncertainties of tomorrow.

Ultimately, it is through understanding and addressing these elements that teams can truly become adept, resilient navigators of change.

Image Credit: Pexels

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Goals Are Not the Goal

Goals Are Not the Goal

GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

All goals are arbitrary, but some are more arbitrary than others.

When your company treats goals like they’re not arbitrary, welcome to the US industrial complex.

What happens if you meet your year-end goals in June? Can you take off the rest of the year?

What happens if at year-end you meet only your mid-year goals? Can you retroactively declare your goals unreasonable?

What happens if at the start of the year you declare your year-end goals are unreasonable? Can you really know they’re unreasonable?

You can’t know a project’s completion date before the project is defined. That’s a rule.

Why does the strategic planning process demand due dates for projects that are yet to be defined?

The ideal future state may be ideal, but it will never be real.

When the work hasn’t been done before, you can’t know when you’ll be done.

When you don’t know when the work will be done, any due date will do.

A project’s completion date should be governed by the work content, not someone’s year-end bonus.

Resources and progress are joined at the hip. You can’t have one without the other.

If you are responsible for the work, you should be responsible for setting the completion date.

Goals are real, but they’re not really real.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Customer Service and CX – Not Just For Front Line Staff

Customer Service and CX - Not Just For Front Line Staff

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Customer service is not a department. It’s a philosophy that everyone in an organization must embrace. It’s the same with customer experience (CX), which most people view as a strategy. However, both customer service and experience must be rooted in a company’s culture. Everyone plays a part in the customer’s experience, regardless of how deep they are inside of the organization.

My friend Kelechi Okeke, a certified customer experience specialist in Lagos, Nigeria, recently wrote an article about the potential breakdown across different teams and departments when attempting to create a customer-focused culture. The goal is for the entire organization to work in unison, eliminating breakdowns due to disconnects in messaging, not aligning with the culture and just being so “siloed” the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. I contributed a few ideas to his article and thought I would expand on them and share them with the Human-Centered Change and Innovation audience.

When an organization chooses to be more customer-focused, the decision rests with leadership. The mistake is that the attention is fixed on the front line and anyone in direct contact with customers. Many don’t realize the effort must go much deeper than the customer-facing employees. Some, however, will recognize the disconnect and understand that customer service and experience must be an organization-wide effort that is embraced by all employees.

When we work with clients to create a customer-focused culture, the process starts with leadership and department heads meeting to create a customer service/CX vision I refer to as a mantra. This is a simple one-sentence (or less) statement that is short and memorable. For example, Texas Health Huguley created a purpose statement: “People serving people like those we love the most.” That sums up exactly how they want all employees to treat patients, their family members and other employees. That type of statement isn’t a theme for the year. It’s strong enough to be permanently baked into mission, vision and value statements. The mantra is where it starts. It’s the “north star” that everyone focuses on when it comes to customer service and CX.

Once that mantra is defined, it must be communicated. It needs to be reinforced in many ways through ongoing communication over time. This can be through leadership and management presentations, email signature lines, posters, wall art, promotional items, etc. No matter how long ago the mantra was created, all employees must know, understand and live by it.

The next step is training, which is where many companies fall short, specifically in two areas. Some don’t realize that training isn’t something you did. It’s something you do. It must be ongoing and reinforce the original intent of the training. You can’t take people into a room for a day, train them to be customer-focused and hope they will remember it five years later. Once an employee goes through the initial training, there must be (much) shorter training sessions, even just a few minutes in a weekly or monthly meeting, to reinforce and remind everyone what they need to do.

The second area in which many companies fall short with their customer-focus training is that they only train customer-facing employees, typically people in sales and customer support. As already mentioned, an organization must go deep with its training. Everyone must be trained. Of course, customer support agents’ training will be far different than that for employees in the warehouse. The point is everyone must know how they support the customer’s experience. For example, employees in the warehouse may never need front-line customer support skills, but they must understand that if they improperly pack a product that’s shipped to a customer and the product is damaged en route, that falls on them. They become a significant part of the customer’s experience, yet they never have any customer interaction. The point is that everyone must be trained to the initiative, not just people who interact with customers.

If you focus on the first three steps of the process—creating your mantra, diligently communicating it and properly training all employees—you’re on your way to becoming an aligned organization without the breakdowns of some companies and brands that are set in their old ways.

One final thought on this process. When people and departments—or the entire company—are meeting your customer service and experience goals, let them know. Celebrate successes, share stories and let people know they are doing a good job. Good behavior and success that are recognized beget more of the same!

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com

Image Credits: Shep Hyken

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Embrace Your Disgruntled Customers

Embrace Your Disgruntled Customers

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

Every day, businesses find themselves faced with unhappy customers; if you’re like most people, you might feel apprehension when an unhappy customer requests a meeting with you.

Most of us are in business to make people happy and to create satisfied customers, so every unsatisfied customer can seem like a failure. Research has shown that the impact of praise and criticism are not equal. For most people the same volume of criticism is felt much more deeply than praise.

Actually, disgruntled customers are an absolute gold mine of potential insights about your product or services, and your overall business. But only if you mine them in the right way.

First, let me encourage you to ask a high quality question that I learned from one of the smartest people I know, Tony Robbins.

What’s great about disgruntled customers?

When faced with any challenge, Robbins encourages people to ask, “What’s great about this?” or “What’s the opportunity inherent in this problem?” Take a moment and ask yourself that question in terms of your dissatisfied customers.

To get you started, here are five things I jotted down that I think are great about disgruntled customers:

  1. They care about your product. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be emotional and they wouldn’t be reaching out.
  2. They are willing to give you their time. Those who complain typically want to engage in some sort of dialogue.
  3. They chose you to begin with. They wouldn’t be customers if they hadn’t made a decision to buy your product.
  4. They have knowledge about the overall product experience. They have experienced your marketing, your sales process, and what it’s like to begin using your product. They have been through at least part, if not most, of the product lifecycle.
  5. They probably don’t want to leave you. If they did, they wouldn’t be disgruntled customers, they would be ex-customers!

Think of disgruntled customers as people who have selected to use your product or service, who care a lot about it, and who want to give you some of their time to provide their thoughts. Their negative feedback actually gives more opportunities to improve than a happy customer ever could.

Three Types of Disgruntled Customers

There are three types of unhappy customers, and it’s helpful to determine which type you are talking to.

Type 1. Customers who should be happy.

This is someone who signed up for your product or service for reasons that are consistent with the intent of your product, and is basically trying to use it the way it was intended.

If the customer represents your “typical” customer and isn’t happy, then you really want to understand what the problem is and how to fix it. There are probably more people with similar dissatisfaction, who may not care enough to complain. Your disgruntled customer is not your worst customer. Your worst customer is the one who doesn’t care enough to complain but simply leaves and you never know why. Whatever problem these unhappy customers have is likely the same problem that some prospects have — a problem that kept them from becoming a customer in the first place. Understanding these customers and making them happy has to be a high priority.

Type 2: Customers who shouldn’t be happy.

This type of customer is trying to use your product for something that really isn’t what the product was designed for.

Customers unhappy with the results of using oil paints meant for works of art to paint furniture fall into this category. It might be easy to dismiss these customers. They shouldn’t have bought you product in the first place, right? But they could represent a massive new market opportunity. You might learn that your paint comes in colors not available in traditional furniture paint, or has a different kind of sheen that made that customer want to use it for an “off label” application. Although it didn’t work in its current formulation, it might clue you in to adjustments you can make to reach this new market. We call these types of users Lead User; “failed” lead users, like in our paint example, can seed ideas for product innovation.

Type 3: Customers who will never be happy.

These are the customers who, no matter what you do, never seem to be happy.

It’s true that there are people out there who thrive on complaining, but it’s important to hear them out to make sure that they are not actually a Type 1 or Type 2 Customer. For example, some people always seem to exaggerate the impact of their dissatisfaction. If someone tells you, “I spent 30 minutes waiting in line at the rental car counter and it ruined my vacation!” that sounds a little crazy. However, just because people might not be reasonably reporting the emotional impact of their problem doesn’t mean they aren’t cluing you in to real, solvable problems. Be grateful for these “complainers”. A lot of other people might just have been unhappy, said nothing, and gone to a competitor!

Questions to Ask Disgruntled Customers

If you want to get the most out of your meeting with a disgruntled customer, you need to ask the right questions to fully understand the situation.

1. Ask who they are, and what their goals were in buying your product.

There are several benefits to this. First, people like to talk about themselves, so it tends to be a positive way to start the conversation. Second, it takes their mind back to a time when they were happy with you, when they decided to buy the product. And third, it helps you understand what type of customer they are: whether their expectations were aligned with the product’s intent, they just like complaining, or they have legitimate concerns. This helps you understand what they care about most and what you did “right”, from a marketing and sales perspective, to get this person to sign up in the first place.

2. Ask what the problem is (because they’re dying to get that off their chests).

The trick here is to let them blow off some steam, and then try to unpack the problem to find some clear actions to take. For example, “I can’t believe how bad your restaurant is  —  it was horrible!” doesn’t provide any actionable feedback. And sometimes a customer wants to tell a long, convoluted story, after which you need to probe for the one key thing that’s the root cause of the dissatisfaction. Where did the person’s expectations fail to be fulfilled?

If they tried painting the chair with oil paints meant for portraits and three days later the chair was still not dry and the paint was dripping off, it would be ridiculous to ask “Is that not what you expected?” Clearly that’s not what they expected! But what did they expect? How fast did they expect it to dry, how long did they expect it to last, etc?

Tony Robbins’ has a formula which conveys this type of thinking:

Satisfaction = Reality – Expectations

If the reality is better than your expectations, you are satisfied. If the reality is less than your expectations, you are dissatisfied.

This formula teaches us that reality isn’t the only place we can improve our offering — we can also improve the expectations we set. Ask your customers where their expectations came from in the first place. If the expectations were contrary to your actual offering, did something in your marketing or your sales process create that expectation? Is your distribution chain is making mistakes representing what your product can do? It can also be helpful to ask what impact the price of your product has on expectations. Sometimes people assume a product at a certain price point will have certain characteristics, even if that’s not necessarily true.

3. If the person is still using your product, ask why? Why haven’t they just switched to another product?

You don’t want them to switch to another product, but you might learn something interesting about your product by asking this question. Someone might say he hates the taste of your product, but stays with it because it’s the only gluten-free protein powder available in his state. Your product may have differentiating aspects that you aren’t even aware of, and that’s good information to have.

4. Ask how you can fix their problem.

Generally, talking to disgruntled customers is more about learning how to improve our overall business than saving that individual customer (though sometimes in doing this, we can save the individual customer, as well.) Studies show that a customer with a major point of dissatisfaction, who complains and is able to be heard and get their issue resolved, will often become a far more loyal customer than one who never had a problem in the first place.

“That’s another great thing about disgruntled customers: they are offering you an opportunity to transform them into your most loyal customers!”

Remember, sometimes just being heard is enough to satisfy a customer. They may be able to live with the problem if they just feel validated and heard. Once you get customer feedback, a personal message letting them know that you understand the issue and are trying to resolve it, and that you appreciate their feedback, can be worth a lot. If the customer is experiencing an acute problem, such as a broken product, you want to address the problem and let the customer know that you are committed to solving the problem, what steps you plan to take and how you’ll keep them apprised of the progress. Ideally you should have one problem “owner”, who is accountable for its resolution.

Lastly, if disgruntled customers are Type 2 Customers and they want something your product or service can’t provide them with, thank the customer for their feedback and advise them on how to be successful in achieving their goal  —  even if it means recommending a competing product or service! While you might not always succeed, every meeting with a disgruntled customer is an opportunity to make and unhappy person happy, and that’s a great feeling!

This article originally appeared on the Howard Tiersky blog
Image Credit: Pexels

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This One Word Will Transform Your Approach to Innovation

This One Word Will Transform Your Approach to Innovation

GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton

Have you heard any of these sentences recently?

“We don’t have time”

“Our people don’t have the skills”

“We don’t have the budget”

“That’s not what we do”

I hear them all the time.  

Sometimes they’re said when a company is starting to invest in building their innovation capabilities, sometimes during one-on-one stakeholder interviews when people feel freer to share their honest opinions, and sometimes well after investments are made.

Every single time, they are the beginning of the end for innovation.

But one word that can change that.

“We don’t have time – yet.”

“Our people don’t have the skills – yet.”

“We don’t have the budget – yet.”

“That’s not what we do – yet.”

Yet.

Yet creates space for change.  It acknowledges that you’re in the middle of a journey, not the end.  It encourages conversation.

“We don’t have time – yet.”

“OK, I know the team is busy and that what they’re working on is important.  Let’s look at what people are working on and see if there are things we can delay or stop to create room for this.”

“Our people don’t have the skills – yet.”

“Understand, we’re all building new skills when it comes to innovation.  Good news, skills can be learned.  Let’s discuss what we need to teach people and the best way to do that.”

“We don’t have the budget – yet.”

“I get it.  Things are tight. We know this is a priority so let’s look at the budget and see if there’s a way to free up some cash.  If there’s not, then we’ll go back to leadership and ask for guidance.”

“That’s not what we do – yet.”

“I know.  Remember, we’re not doing this on a whim, we’re doing this because (fill in reason), and we have a right to do it because of (fill in past success, current strength, or competitive advantage.”

You need to introduce the YET.

It is very rare for people to add “yet” to their statements.  But you can.

When someone utters an innovation-killing statement, respond with “Yet.” Maybe smile mischievously and then repeat their statement with “yet” added to the end.

After all, you’re not disagreeing with them. You’re simply qualifying what they’re saying.  Their statement is true now, but that doesn’t mean it will be true forever.  By restating their assertion and adding “yet,” you’re inviting them to be part of the change, to take an active role in creating the new future state.

There’s a tremendous amount of research about the massive impact of this little word.  It helps underperforming students overachieve and is closely associated with Dr. Carol Dweck’s research into fixed and learning mindsets.

The bottom line is that “YET” works.

Put YET to work for you, your organization, and your efforts to innovate and grow.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Science Fiction Becomes Innovation Reality This Way

Science Fiction Becomes Innovation Reality This Way

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

When H.G. Wells was born in 1866, there was no electricity or cars or even indoor plumbing. Still, his active imagination conjured up a world of time machines, space travel and genetic engineering. This was all completely fantasy, but his books foresaw many modern inventions, such as email, lasers and nuclear energy.

It’s no accident that people who invent the future are often fans of science fiction. In fact, in Leading Transformation, the former head of Lowe’s innovation lab explains how he hired science fiction writers to help inspire the company to leverage virtual reality and build a new future for the company.

To create anything truly new and different, you often need to discard the constraints of the present. Yet that comes with a problem. How do you transform fantasy into something real and useful? What makes great innovators truly different is how they combine imagination with practical problem solving in order to bring even the wildest pipe dreams into reality.

How A “Memex” Machine Became The Internet

“Consider a future device for individual use,” Vannevar Bush wrote in The Atlantic in 1945, “which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.”

It was an unlikely vision for the time. The first computers were just being developed then and were themselves somewhat impractical devices, which is why Bush imagined that the memex would be based on microfilm. Yet Bush was no inveterate dreamer, but in many ways the architect of America’s path to scientific dominance and people took him seriously.

One of those was a young radar technician stationed in the Philippines named Douglas Engelbart, who would return to school to study electrical engineering. It was that expertise, along with Bush’s vision that led him to think of computers, still primitive at the time, as machines that could do more than merely calculate, but “augment the human intellect.”

Engelbart would showcase these ideas in what is now known as the Mother of All Demos in 1968 and Xerox began an enormous research project to bring his vision to market. By 1973, a functional prototype, called the Alto, was built and, a decade later, a young entrepreneur named Steve Jobs would use it to create the Macintosh. The world was never the same.

When Feynman Found “Plenty Of Room At The Bottom”

Richard Feynman was an usual scientist, known almost as much for his pranks as he was for his discoveries. So few were probably surprised at the unconventional title for his address the American Physical Society a few days after Christmas in 1959, There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom. It was something they had come to expect from the young genius.

Feynman’s fantasy was not unlike Bush’s, except that it was more ambitious. While Bush imagined putting all the world’s knowledge on microfilm, Feynman imagined writing the entire 24 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica on the head of a pin. It was just the sort of impractical idea that usually gets people thrown out on physics conferences, not given the stage.

Yet Feynman immediately got down to brass tacks. He proposed using an electron microscope as a writing tool, much like a cathode ray oscilloscope projected images on television screens at the time. He then asked if we can write things on a microscopic scale, why not build things too? Again, he identified problems and proposed potential solutions.

That day, almost single handedly, Feynman invented the field of nanotechnology, although that term wasn’t coined until 1974. These days we use it to etch transistors in silicon wafers to make computer chips and create advanced materials for things like solar cells. Yet the truth is that even now, 60 years after that initial talk, we are just beginning to scratch the surface of Feynman’s vision.

Spacemen, Cavemen And Small World Networks

In the late 1990s, a young graduate student named Duncan Watts was struggling to understand an obscure phenomenon that had baffled scientists for centuries. Known as coupled oscillation, it was a mysterious force that allowed a disparate group of entities, like pacemaker cells in the human heart or certain species of crickets in a forest, to synchronize their behavior.

Nobody could figure out how it worked. Was there some kind of leadership structure with “conductor” leading the synchronized orchestra? Or maybe some complicated web of influence? As much as he pored through the research, tracked the chirping of crickets and tested out formulas to describe behavior, he was still baffled.

What helped break the logjam was two books by the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. In the first, Caves of Steel, people lived in underground caves and, while everybody was connected to everybody else in their cave, they knew no one outside of it. In the second, The Naked Sun, space colonists led a hermit-like existence, linked to others only through long-range connections.

Neither of these, of course, told Watts anything about pacemaker cells or crickets, but it allowed him to reframe the problem as one of relationships. By imagining the two extremes of the cave people and the space colonists, he was able to come up with a model of relationships that led to the mass synchronization of coupled oscillators.

The paper he would write based on his fantasy-inspired formulas would prove to be a landmark. It would establish an exciting new field of small world networks and lead to a new era in the science of how things are connected, helping to transform fields as diverse as neuroscience, epidemiology and computer science.

Venturing Into The Visceral Abstract

Today we are beset with an dizzying array of problems in the world, climate change, income inequality and the rise of authoritarianism being just a few. Successful businesses face extinction by a seemingly endless wave of disruptions ranging from new technologies to new social phenomenons. It can all seem overwhelming.

It’s important to view these problems from a practical perspective. Each needs to be solved within constraints of economics, politics and competitive pressures. Yet it is also important to realize that the solutions to tough problems will rarely be found in the realm of our experiences. If a solution to any of these problems already existed, they wouldn’t be such tough problems.

The only path through that troubling tautology is fantasy. Once we have exhausted the realm of the possible, we often must venture into the realm of the impossible to see a new direction. A memex machine, a world with “plenty of room at the bottom,” cave societies and space colonies were all ideas of little practical import at the time they were conceived, but benefit us today in important ways through the discoveries they inspired.

We need to accept that we live in a world of the visceral abstract, where the technologies we use to solve the practical problems in our lives are all based on what were once considered utterly impractical ideas. That means to make an impact on reality, we often need to indulge ourselves with fantasy, identify a different path to travel and then begin the work anew.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog and previously appeared on Inc.com
— Image credit: Pexels

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