strategy

How Do We Grow?

February 6, 2016

One of the numbers that many people watch closely about the short term future of business is the annual growth rate in the U.S. This year, at least unadjusted, we saw a slowdown in 4th quarter, and slow start at the beginning of the year. These kind of statistics always bring up the question on many business people’s minds – how are we going to grow this year? Typical answers include more sales, better products, cutting edge services, expanding marketing channels, etc. These are still critical to growth, but a very different set of ideas for growth is emerging because we are in an interconnected world. Let me explain. My first business leadership position was managing a greenhouse nursery, therefore growth of plants was as important as growth in revenues and profits in this place. When you grow things in greenhouses, what becomes important are the external conditions necessary for each type of plant to grow, which they will do […]

Purpose drives business

Purpose drives business

January 23, 2016

When the Business Journal indicates that the top five companies of the year have something in common, it is important to take notice. This past year, the top five Minnesota companies had this in common – they have defined why they exist. Defining a purpose for a business is not just happy talk anymore – it is critical for many reasons. First, it is how we are wired as humans. In his bestselling book, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek uses the latest in brain research that inspiration, purpose, and meaning actually trigger a multitude of chemicals in our brains that motivate us to want to work. If you are not tapping into that part of your employees as leaders, or you are working for a company that has not defined its purpose, you are missing out on a lot of energy that can be brought to work. But most companies have not taken the time to do this, or are […]

Leaders ask Great Questions

January 13, 2016

In my leadership consulting practice over the past couple of decades I have found that helping leaders ask the right question gives them more powerful insight, direction, and clarity than providing what I think is the  appropriate solution for their issues. Why is this so? Asking a great question, many times, focuses leaders on the right information, right analysis, or the needed decision-making framework to move their organization forward, or bring clarity to a lot of what seem to be random or disconnected issues they face at any one moment in time. When I wrote my book, Christ-Based Leadership, I found that the organizing structure of some of the best business thinkers of our day centered on great, revealing questions. Here are a few examples: What is the truth of your ambition? Jim Collins asks this in Good To Great to separate level 4 leaders from level 5 leaders in organizations that want to be great, and not just good. […]

Strategy in a Connected World

January 2, 2016

There was a day, a long time ago (and still in a few industries) where strategic planning was run by a standard process, would have accurate forecasts for 5+ years, followed by simply executing the plan. Many forces began to change the landscape of the market, not the least of which is the interconnectedness of all parts of our business lives. The speed of change has completely changed the way organizations operate. No longer can the person at the top set the vision and goals, and cascade the actions plans down the hierarchy. In fact hierarchy has given way to flatter organizations, where input is coming from many parts of the organization constantly feeding a group of people who are not only strategizing for today, but experimenting with what will satisfy future customers as well. One of our favorite thinkers in strategy, Rita Gunther McGraith, now trains executives to constantly create and update what she calls an opportunity portfolio. This […]

Planning in a VUCA World (wait, what?)

Planning in a VUCA World (wait, what?)

December 23, 2015

Planning. To some it’s a four letter word. To others, it’s an activity that never happens in their organization. No matter how you think about planning, you’ve probably noticed that to be effective, it needs to be done in a much different way than it used to. Why is that? Well. In a word. VUCA. Actually, that’s an acronym. And it stands for the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous environment we find ourselves and our businesses in. In a world changing so fast, we can’t rely on the rigid and financial-only-centric methods of our past. So what does the planning organization of the future (and the present, if they’re good) look like? It looks agile. Here are five key dimensions to an agile planning organization. Begin with purpose. Farmers have a 20 year vision but react to today’s weather. They begin with the purpose of their farm and all decisions are viewed through that lens. It should be no different […]

We Plan Better Together

December 23, 2015

If I had a nickel for every time people groaned when I used the words “Strategic Planning” with company leaders, I would be a rich man. To begin with, I want to separate the word “Strategy” from the word “Planning”. Strategy was defined well by Roger Martin in his article “The big lie of Strategic Planning” that appeared in the Harvard Business review earlier in 2014. He says: “Good Strategy makes leaders uncomfortable and apprehensive because it is about strategic decision making where they are placing bets and making hard choices. The objective of strategy is not to eliminate risk but to increase the odds of success. Planning, on the other hand, is also necessary, and requires hours of careful research to identify which initiatives are affordable with our existing resources. It involves cost control and maximization of investment as well as development of core competencies and strategic capabilities.” We will focus on planning in this post, and tackle strategy […]

We’re Better Together with Big Data

We’re Better Together with Big Data

December 11, 2015

How they do that, you may ask. Now when I get on Facebook, I have ads from my favorite sporting goods store talking about promotions or sales going on. All of us know that databases are here to say, and they have become very smart about who we are and what we might buy, how we might vote, when our birthday is, and much more. Welcome to the world of “Big Data”. At its core, it involves a lot of information about people and things, and mathematical equations that can make all kinds of correlations, predictions, and observations about buying patterns. The unique thing about using data for patterns is not the practice itself. The new thing is the ability for software, sensors, and data to see things no person would see at all, with more data than any single group of people could possibly digest. It has been one of the advantages of big companies, but is finally becoming […]

We Solve Problems Better Together

We Solve Problems Better Together

December 4, 2015

I brought up the subject “we solve problems better together” with a few Vice Presidents and other members of various executive teams, and it felt like a rocket shot out the roof. It clearly was a very important topic to these very successful group of business leaders. They had lived both sides of this issue a few times. One member spoke of how the CEO and other top leaders had a great track record of including feedback and engagement of the others in the company for many years, and this was part of what helped make this organization successful. Then, about a year ago, the CEO decided to install a new software program that worked in other parallel companies, without any input from the organization – a departure from usual protocol. You can guess what happened next. Although there was training of people on this new software, nobody knew why this product was chosen, and the vendor of this software […]

Innovation: it’s better when it’s done together

November 20, 2015

Every month that we are preparing for blog posts and podcasts, Justin and I meet with a group of executives and leaders who are currently in organizations of various sizes. We bring a topic to the table, and open up a discussion about whatever we are working on that month. This month we brought up the topic of “we are better when we innovate together”. One of the members of our group immediately chimed in: “You seem to have the uncanny ability of bringing up whatever our company is working on right now.” Another female executive agreed, and they began to talk about how their companies each have different innovation systems to bring new products and services online, and she, too, spent many hours virtually and face to face working with cross-functional teams innovating together through various phases of the process. These two women are representative of the pressure on companies in the “innovate or be disrupted” environment. It reminds […]

Why are they not buying our stuff anymore?

Why are they not buying our stuff anymore?

August 15, 2014

A client I knew well began to see a pattern in sales that she had never seen before. Her brand was one of the top winners in her field because of the superior performance of her products over the competition for several years. Her sales team would use this advantage when approaching retail outlets about stocking their superior product lines. Then something began to fundamentally change, as her sales numbers went through a steep drop in orders coming from retail outlets. As she probed deeper with her sales force, a new insight became obvious. Although her brand still had superior performance in her field, other brands began to differentiate themselves by their image of being socially responsive in the market place. They had started using non-toxic substances in their products, and their commitment to reducing their footprint by recycling used product in productive ways had increased dramatically their market share. This is becoming a more familiar story in many circles […]