Archive for the ‘Business Practices ’ Category

Contingency Thinking

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”                                                                                      ~Dwight Eisenhower


As information comes to light about the Special Ops mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan, we’re reminded of the value of effective contingency planning. Military analysts will one day reconstruct the planning measures taken by the JSOC team, and we’ll learn how the project specialists succeeded despite the challenges.

For now we can only speculate about the risks and uncertainties facing the planners at key decision points. But we do know that the mission’s tactical planners had to consider two big questions at every juncture: What can go wrong here, and what do we do about it?

These aren’t the only questions the planners had to pursue. They have to question the intelligence they’re using and they have to examine their own assumptions. Guarding against groupthink is a first order consideration. These “meta-planning” aspects of the exercise are as vital as formulating the action plan itself.


Planning for What’s Next

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Scenarios are the most powerful vehicles I know for challenging our “mental models” about the world and lifting the blinders that limit our creativity and resourcefulness. ~Peter Schwartz

Using a longer lens

It’s been twenty years since the publication of Peter Schwartz’s insightful primer about scenario planning, The Art of the Long View. In the book, Schwartz makes a convincing case for using scenario planning in approaching strategic challenges of various kinds.

Schwartz, who led scenario planning efforts at Shell, Motorola, and Pacific Gas and Electric, concluded that the technique could be applied to handling the emergent complex threats that companies were confronting in the 90’s.

Since then, the world has grown radically more complex, more uncertain. Globalization and the Internet have woven together our institutions so that a crisis in one corner of the world can spread virally with far-reaching consequences.


Unleashing a Coalition

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

High stakes, high pressure

As our society debates the need for more civil discourse, we’re underplaying the value of competing perspectives among our leaders. I’m a fan of rival leaders who can come together despite their differences to redefine their company’s mission.

For institutions grappling with deep change, there’s no better way to start than by assembling a coalition of leaders and entrusting them to set a new direction. When the stakes are high, a team of diverse, tough-minded leaders reaching a consensus can yield resoundingly productive results.


Lessons From Emerging Markets

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Turning the page

Another interesting year is rapidly winding down. This year, I had the chance to work with many gifted business and tech leaders, but it was particularly satisfying collaborating with innovators in developing regions — the Sub-Sahara, the Middle East and South Asia.

It’s time for Western multinational companies — especially those in the customer-facing sectors — to enter developing markets where consumer-led growth is robust but capital and resources are in short supply.


In Praise of Impalas

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

The swift and agile

A recent Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation study revived the term “gazelle companies” to describe the young, rapidly-growing U.S.firms that are producing the majority of new jobs in the U.S.  The report recommends that policy-makers nurture Gazelles to stimulate job growth at a time when unemployment is high.

I’m interested in another class of companies—agile, well-run firms in emerging regions like the sub-Sahara. Like their Western counterparts, they’re creating a disproportionate number of jobs. But these young African companies are playing a more crucial role than gazelles do in driving market growth.

To belabor the metaphor, I call them Impalas, after the lean, swift gazelles indigenous to Africa. Impalas provide technology-enabled and outsourcing services to a growing number of multinational (MNC) service providers – mobiles, airlines and banks – in Johannesburg, Accra, and Nairobi, etc.  They share many of the characteristics of gazelles, but there are some notable differences.


The Hat Trick

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

The thrill of victory

One of the best things about my work is what my colleagues and I call the “hat trick”.  In sports like cricket and hockey, a hat trick is accomplishing a feat three times in a contest.  I’ll explain what a hat trick is in my world and why it’s thrilling to pull one off.

Our mission is to help clients enable their customers to enjoy richer, more satisfying service experiences.

A hat trick is when we not only help clients to better meet the needs of their target customers, but also enable them to increase customer loyalty and revenue. We do all this while also cutting service costs — sometimes up to 20%.  Almost every assignment offers hat trick potential.


Dispatch from West Africa

Thursday, April 1st, 2010


Downtown Cape Coast, Ghana

Pulsating business scene

I spent the last couple weeks on assignment in Accra, Ghana. On this trip, I’ve seen more growth than any time since my company started working there in ’07. This is a period of unprecedented business activity and promising new projects within and beyond the mobile sector.  Meanwhile, new competitors from around the world are streaming in. This corner of Africa’s business scene is pulsating.

Astute businesses here are taking steps to preserve their client base and deepen relationships with their customers. We’re privileged to work with a new generation of African business leaders with the courage and determination to transform their offerings to meet the needs of an emerging class of consumers.


Harnessing the Power of the Hive

Friday, December 4th, 2009

It’s a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before.Lev Grossman, Time Magazine

The Urge to Connect

History shows that that when robust tools serve a powerful human drive, revolutionary changes occur. That’s happening now as social media enable people to satisfy their primal urge to connect with each another. Social media are ubiquitous, cheap, and accessible, and their widespread use is having a profound impact on business.

While the technology is grabbing the headlines, the more interesting story is how people around the world are using social media. They’re fulfilling their desire to connect with each other, forming communities in the process. The communities function like virtual beehives — amorphous, dynamic structures where members coalesce to share information.

Smart companies recognize the commercial value of communities. They treat community members more like stakeholders than consumers. Instead of broadcasting their messages at them, they engage followers in dialogue. In time, followers can be converted to evangelists.  In a hyper-connected world, evangelism carries messages fast and far, boosting the value of the brand.


Opportunity “Smell Test”

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

baby smell cropped


Over the last few weeks, my colleagues and I presented value propositions to separate audiences in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Clients in each of these markets face unique challenges and opportunities to be sure. Our offerings addressed their different needs, but our approach is fundamentally the same everywhere.

Our work consists of three steps:

1)      Develop a better understanding of customer needs by getting closer to customers and engaging them wherever possible,

2)      Use customer insights to continually improve offerings,

3)      Deliver a customer experience that’s better than the rest.

The good news is that these steps apply to clients everywhere, despite cultural variations. The not-so-good news is that succeeding with these steps is almost impossible unless there is substantial buy-in at the highest level in an organization.


Tell Us One More Story, Don

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

“The formula is simple and it’s reduced to four words every kid in the world knows: Tell me a story. It’s that easy.” -Don Hewitt

Last week, Don Hewitt, founder and long-time producer of 60 Minutes, died.  He’ll be remembered, among other things, as an impresario who created one of TV’s most successful programs.  There’s a potent lesson for all of us in his “storyline”.

Hewitt’s vision and instincts culminated in a new, highly successful form of entertainment known as the “news magazine”. As important as that accomplishment is, his greatest feat may be his proving that story-telling is the key to success, not only in TV, but in every medium.  We, in business, have much to learn from Hewitt’s dogged pursuit of the story.


Validating Customers through Social Media

Friday, June 26th, 2009

If you use Twitter or any of the other social networking tools, you’re bound to notice how much people crave acceptance and appreciation. Twitter users are delighted when their posts are re-tweeted (re-quoted) or commented on by their followers.

It’s obvious that people like being shown appreciation, but there’s more to being appreciated than meets the eye. Social scientists say we’re hard-wired to respond powerfully to appreciation. In fact, the quest for acceptance and appreciation may be one of our stronger drivers.

When we’re validated by others, we’re inclined to bond with them. I call this the Validation Principle, and it’s one of the keys to building durable customer relationships.


Trust-Building Rules

Monday, June 15th, 2009

The notion of trust-building in business is gaining lots of attention these days. People crave trust more than ever before.  In a world of complexity and uncertainty, where our vaunted institutions are faltering, consumers are drawn toward trustworthy brands, and away from those which are unreliable.

During uncertain times like these, having a trustworthy brand is a strong competitive advantage. Yet few companies intentionally take steps to engender trust.  Organizations ought to instill trust in their brands with the same fervor that they pursue new business or cut costs.


Virgin America Transforms Air Travel

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009


You never know with these things when you’re trying something new what can happen. This is all experimental. ~Richard Branson

Over the years, there have been surprisingly few breakthroughs in the airline customer experience – until recently. Sir Richard Branson’s venture into the U.S. market, Virgin America, (VX) is redefining air travel by providing passengers with a fresh, distinctive on-board experience. The carrier is less than two years old but it’s quickly becoming a template for what’s possible in the future.

The choices VX is making demonstrate a “customer experience mindset” that’s all too rare in the industry. It’s evident that the VX team devoted their attention to passenger comfort and convenience. Features “baked in” to the customer experience include seats with power-outlets and USB ports. Cabins in their new A320s have soft mood lighting.


International Rules of Engagement

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009


Paris Urban Pattern

I’ve recently noticed a subtle but perceptible attitude shift among Americans working in foreign markets. My overseas colleagues are noticing, too. American business people, they say, are displaying more thoughtfulness than usual. U.S. companies operating overseas seem less inclined to approach global business as though its epicenter is in New York or Palo Alto.

It’s too soon to call this a new Zeitgeist, but change is in the air. The global economic crisis, which has its roots in the U.S., may be partially responsible. I think the new vibe is also influenced by Washington’s new tone in its approach to global  affairs.  As an American doing business abroad, this is promising.

Historically, many American firms have approached business from a decidedly ethnocentric perspective–more so than many of our European rivals.  U.S. companies have missed opportunities as a result.

Things seem to be moving in a better direction now.


The Myth of Customer Satisfaction

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

It’s time to dispel the epic business myth about the importance of Customer Satisfaction (a.k.a. “C-SAT”). Lots of companies rely on their C-SAT scores to tell them how well they’re serving customers.  But many organizations substitute C-SAT tracking for talking with the people they serve. At these firms, C-SAT is their Achille’s Heel.

Let me be clear. It’s crucial to satisfy customers’ needs and preferences. It’s also vital to know how customers perceive your offering so you can pinpoint areas that need attention. But, C-SAT misses a critical piece of the puzzle. It doesn’t indicate customers’ intention to remain loyal to your brand. If they’re defecting, it doesn’t tell you why.

Studies show that customers can be reasonably satisfied with your offerings yet still switch away from your brand. In fact, they may be extolling your brand’s virtues even as they’re signing up with your rival. If they do intend to stay, C-SAT won’t tell you if they’re inclined to buy again. And, you can’t know if they’d prefer to get your service through a different channel. At best, C-SAT is a barometer of how customers perceive your brand based on their prior experiences with it.


At the Heart of Business

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009


It is with the heart that one sees rightly; what is essential  is invisible to the eye. ~Antoine De Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

Business stories about “empathy” are springing up again. BusinessWeek ran one (Empathy = Growth) last week.  Fast Company covers the subject periodically. Authors are urging readers to consider the merits of empathy despite the need to cut operating costs as demand for services declines. It makes sense for businesses to re-evaluate their customer relationships in this environment. I think empathy remains widely misunderstood and its role is undervalued in the business community.

Simply put, empathy is rooted in the capacity to see the world through the eyes of another person.  Empathy enables a provider of service to recognize the buyer’s feelings, needs, and wants in order to fulfill these drivers through various means.

I’m interested in a broad spectrum of “relational competencies,” including empathy, and how they are used in business. Skillful practitioners use these competencies to show their understanding, respect and appreciation for others.  These skills include self-awareness and various social competencies that enable the practitioner to listen to and validate customers which forms the basis of relationships.


Succeeding in a Challenging Environment

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

The events of the last quarter have radically changed the game plan for service providers around the world. Business rules are being rewritten; success is being measured by new criteria. Investments in your business must produce greater returns as “breakevens” are reduced.  In these times, it makes sense to rethink what you offer and how you present it to your customers. 

While it seems like everything has changed, the axioms of business remain constant. Customers still want exceptional “value” – in fact they’re demanding it. They’re more motivated than ever to look for it. If they can’t get it from you, they’ll go to your rivals. They’ll find value in new, atypical ways to get their needs met.  Help them solve their problems and the market will beat a path to your door.

Delivering exceptional value in lean times requires smarter tools and an atmosphere that encourages collaboration and continuous innovation—always thinking: how can we make this better, cutting out what’s unnecessary.


Clarifying ‘Analytics’

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Some comments I’ve received from readers indicate some confusion about what’s I mean by ‘analytics’.  Let me try to clear that up. At my company, we use the term to mean the approach to as well as the practice of mining and analyzing data as well as the tools and practices. 

Our practice is concerned as much about the human and organizational issues enabling the successful application of business intelligence and analytics. These include management vision and commitment, organizational alignment, culture, and skills. We’ve learned that buying “yet-another-tool” seems easier than solving these broader challenges, but it’s rarely the answer companies are looking for.

The most successful practitioners of analytics somehow manage to create an environment where decisions across boundaries are made on the basis of evidence that comes from rigorous analytics.  Management at those companies enncourages a “test-and-learn” approach to refine products, services and offers.  So analytics encompasses the tools and practices that produces insights as well as the way the company uses the insights to contour its offerings.  Hope this is helpful. 


What Clients Want…

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

The insightful magazine, Chief Learning Officer, released its 2008 Business Intelligence report [exec summary here] covers trends and practices in the world of corporate learning and talent development.  They sampled over 1,400 heads of learning organizations in the US market. It’s a thorough, informative report that offers a comprehensive view of the industry—this is the 4th year they published it, and it gets better every year.   

Respondents identified new waves in the industry – novel practices and technologies, innovations, what’s hot and what’s not in the world of enterprise learning. 

These executives were also asked what they look for from a learning outsourcer.  Their answers aren’t surprising but, as a set, they’re a useful guide for what most clients are looking for from any services outsourcer — be it a learning, contact management or business process partner.  It’s great advice for any of us who design and deliver services, especially knowledge-based offerings:

  • “Be clear about costs from the beginning.”
  • “Be honest in what you can provide.”
  • “Do your homework and get to know the company before the engagement.”
  • “Better understand a customer’s needs.”
  • “Don’t sell me your programs and services…Sell me what I need…customize.” [emphasis mine]
  • “Always remember that one size does not fit all and the client is always right.”
  • “Establish a clear vision for deliverables and process.”
  • “Customer service should always be a top priority.”
  • “Differentiate yourself in the marketplace. There are a lot of choices.”
  • “Listen, listen, listen.”
  • “Always put quality first.”

P.S. — What a useful checklist for anyone at any level in the service biz, in this market or any other…


Wikis & Co-Creationism

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

What’s next?  Web 2.0 is revolutionizing the way companies operate. Mass collaboration is already having a profound effect on the way we work. Blogs, JAMS, collaborative filtering, tags, feeds and wikis are fundamentally changing the way business knowledge is created and, despite some new challenges, what’s not to love?

The revolution is discussed by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams in their compelling ’07 book, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. The authors explore opportunities for organizations to understand and tap into web-enabled collaboration.     

Describing the upheaval as a social revolution isn’t mere hype. Even though mass collaboration, on a global scale, has just begun, encyclopedias, airplanes, software and a host of products and services are being created by distributed teams across oceans.  

P&G was struggling until it shifted to a mass collaboration-driven R&D model several years ago.  Their  success in creating new products and gnerating incremental revenue captured the minds and hearts of analysts around the world.

My company is taking part in wiki-based client-directed efforts.  Team members in Chicago, Seattle and Dublin are collaborating on projects for clients in Capetown and Milwaukee.  

The immediacy and accessibility of wikis leads to an informal, roll-up-your-sleeves setting. And it’s not just atmospherics at play. Under the right circumstances productive wiki-brainstorms tend to occur… 

There are many new challenges concerning how to structure problems to enable multiple teams to work on them and how to manage organizational networks of collaboration. This is fertile ground for social networkers and other theorists to explore.  We keep abreast of emergent practices across industries but some of our best insights come from direct experimention.

The spirit of enthusiasm and experimentation drive our best wiki effots. And I can’t begin to describe the pure joy of escaping the shackles of e-mail.  What’s not to love?  To be continued…