Breaking down the internal barriers is the start of growth.

Breaking down the internal barriers is the start of growth.

Customer centric results are rarely delivered by company centric processes, yet, while all companies are scrapping for growth and reaching out to customers with new initiatives, a lot are struggling to deliver the experiences that they devise for their customers, because the corporate mindset is not aligned.

Marketing and brand people are frequently collating customer learning and insights that identify fertile growth areas. Something then goes wrong. Their internal machines work on a company centric or channel centric or silo centric premise and process. Us and them. Me not we. Competitive not collaborative. Yesterday not tomorrow.

Companies have been used to driving shareholder returns often by maximising efficiency and cost cutting to an extent that these are now deeply ingrained in the corporate psyche. Each part of the company has had a distinct role in delivering these bottom line successes. These different elements of the organisation have slowly become separated into big business units – often led as a separate mini organisation. They have layers of bureaucracy and tell their own versions of the company story. They’ll have their own separate advisors (often advising on the same thing as other units) and work to different KPIs. Communication is great up & down the separate Units but poor across the company. Top down is the only channel – and often with messages for the ears of the analysts waiting for the next quarterly profitability reports.

To drive customer driven growth, many companies must change on the inside before they succeed on the outside. They must move from the mentality of “the business we do” to that of “the business the customer needs”. The old marketing thinking, dominated by Mad Men, was to create desire by telling beautiful stories in advertising. Making the customer want your products. 21st C branding is all about making products or offering services that customers need.

The whole company needs to have the customer in their focus in everything they do. The company purpose and culture will be driven by the customer. The internal processes will need to change to be customer centric.

This kind of change is tough. Big and small companies are good at what they do and that’s easy to be the prime focus. Marketing is one area that perhaps can help this change.  Communication and collaboration are the fundamental basics of a marketing approach. Insight and messages are the bread and butter of the customer dialogue for brand led growth. Bringing these skills into the company processes with the outside in view that marketers have can help. Bringing creativity and collaboration is the best way to break down the silo mentality.

Trialling new, small cross functional teams with a customer driven objective will begin to create something new that can show success to the rest of the organisation’s separatists. Learning to think differently as a team, in a collaborative environment, with the blessing of top management and without the restrictions of the day to day, quarter by quarter focus, is achievable quickly if you pilot it. Aim at a few, short term outputs. You shouldn’t outsource creativity or collaboration. Learning to do it yourself bring huge benefits and allow success to positively infect those around these teams.

Just as importantly, whatever the objective of these pilot groups, whatever the outputs they are tasked with, the voice of the customer must be there throughout. Use customers in these creative sessions. Ensure the outputs are shaped with the customer or end user throughout – not simply as a check or box to tick at the end. Today this is possible with advances in online research. This is possible with the rapid advancement of social media platforms that allow private communities – staff and/or customers to upload their own content, share information, blog and chat or have sessions like webinars and programs to encourage collaboration and sharing. Community thinking works with staff as well as with customers.

A culture of trialling changes on the inside via small, well supported pilots will feed back into the organisation and become a lighthouse across the silos, a sign of things to come. By leading with the customer’s outside in view, driven by those with the customer insight (sales, brand, telesales, marketing, stores – whatever) will bring the platform for growth that is eluding companies hampered by internal barriers. Alignment and cooperation will be the outcome of these pilots, plus the customer driven outputs of each pilot group. A focus on finding successful customer initiatives break down internal barriers and creates an culture where all staff are empowered to deliver value to customers, independent of which department they belong to.

Changing on the inside with the customer driving the change will turn the fertile areas for growth into a reality.

Running to stand still? Break the inertia, creatively.

Running to stand still? Break the inertia, creatively.

 

Do you feel like the hamster in the wheel? Running like crazy to stay where you are? Expending massive energy without moving onwards? Pressure is on to deliver more from less. Stress levels are rising as leadership expect new things faster while, at the same time, demanding nothing slips. The day to day processes are busier than ever, yet new growth needs something different to ignite change. Do you suspect external change is a great opportunity but the internal change needed to stimulate it is impossible to budge?

It’s never been as important for companies to develop new ideas, or as difficult to successfully launch them. After years of efficiency-driven cuts and bottom line focus, companies need new growth and meet new customer needs. Most of the skills required to address these needs have been eroded or outsourced by organisations. Marketing departments have been cut along with their budgets, yet leadership is demanding more from less in double quick time.

Companies see there are opportunities out there but are often stuck focused on the day to day processes needed to survive, or so concerned by gloomy predictions, that they become stuck in fear-fuelled inertia. Breaking out of inertia is vital as new ideas and innovations need to be tested quickly. Often, change needs to happen inside organisations in order to successfully create change & growth externally.

Innovation is no longer simply the focus for developing new, disruptive technologies and products.

Increasingly, companies are attempting to reshape their culture and physical work environments to encourage creative thinking across their enterprise.

But too many of the creative skills needed for change are being outsourced, yet new ideas that are owned and driven by internal people have more chance of being implemented.

One problem in attempting to instigate a new culture for encouraging creativity is that it can take time to set up. Failure should be treated as a positive learning experience and encouraged. At first, ideas are often generated in isolation of those they are intended to influence and this adds further time before the new ideas can be implemented. More time can lead to further pressure from leadership for the change, often adding to the inertia.

Perhaps the best idea is to consider smaller scale projects to create a short term actions in order to escape the inertia. To start to add some business creativity inside the organisation via a new initiative with a team that spans different silos – and include some “Doubting Thomases”. Give these teams’ space and time (a week or so) to try something new. Mentor these teams in benefits of collaboration and let them create some internal actions for change. Don’t put more stress on them – free them up to have fun in creating new things.

But make sure the context is clear. Interrogate the customers. Bring the competition to life. Use newcomers to the company in their first few days to represent customers or competition as part of their inductions. Create a map of opportunity that could your offer be outside & evaluate what is stopping you on the inside getting some new actions to address them.  Challenge the teams to create a momentum that gets noticed but via new initiatives that create a bit of a stir. Encourage them. Forgive them. Celebrate a failure & get them going again. Ensure they establish the barriers that stop a company experiment more freely. Maybe make the exercise all about breaking down such barriers!

By making the projects have an outside-in context in order to shape the initiatives and innovation, the possibility of change attaining growth increases. As changing the inside in order to deliver on the outside may allow the hamster wheel to move off its fixed axis and allow all that energy to burst forward and start a new momentum.

Let’s not talk ourselves into a Double Dip!

Let’s not talk ourselves into a Double Dip!

Interesting reporting today on the British Chambers of Commerce’s (BCC) latest quarterly report which suggests that some 6000+ British Businesses believe that the British economy is weakening but may well just stagnate rather than slump back into a double dip recession. The reaction seems to be either one of gentle relief and a tad of optimism or one of cautious disbelief and a tad of pessimism.

The danger lies in talking ourselves into the latter, worrying further about the effects of further indecision over in Eurozone-land, so that we do then spin into a double dipper. This negativity will add further worry and mean many companies will continue to cut back on people and delay much needed innovation by becoming stuck in yet more inertia. Action is needed to break out of inertia. New actions.

While it is really hard to successfully launch new initiatives in the speed needed today, the danger of not doing so and falling back on tried and trusted processes and messages will allow competitors (both existing and surprisingly different ones) to reach out to your customers with something new that they value. That will leave companies trying, as Einstein said, to ”solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

The BCC is right when it urges action to be undertaken to boost business confidence. But whether that is a reduction in VAT, the removal of the 50% income tax rate or equalisation of corporation tax to woo back those HQ’s is out of the their hands. What is in the hands of the BCC’s members is the ability to try to bring in some creativity, some innovations, some new forms of testing out new ideas – but quickly. Bringing in some Business Creativity could allow companies to steal a march of their own.

There is a chance that the UK will survive the threat of Double Dip, but there is more than a fighting chance for companies, who take some quick, innovative action now, to not only survive but thrive.

The need for speed

The need for speed

Get creativity into your organisation: change for the quicker – change for customer.

Turning round your business is tougher than for years – customers are more demanding, more cautious, more reactive.

Businesses are under increasing internal pressure from budget cuts, higher expectations (more for less) and increasing uncertainty.

Clients themselves have reduced their own teams and are trying to achieve the same tasks. Time & focus are their most precious resources.

And everything must be delivered more quickly.

Expectations for quality improvements & for better value can increase the pressure for being faster. Businesses rely on quarterly reporting periods to satisfy shareholders & use leadership models that rely on management by objectives to ensure conformity and consistency rather than change. Short cuts and new innovation are stifled by bureaucracy.

In the risk-driven inertia that many businesses are in, decisions take longer and tend to be safe – often familiar and repeated from past. Falling budgets can result in shaving a bit off everything rather than a refocus on doing just one or two things really well. Silos have built up internally, with a sense of protectionism leading to poor internal communications and mistrust.  This can be replicated externally with too many agencies focused on their own specific disciplines – with each agency duplicating similar processes in dealing with the client – so adding to further delays.  These pressures also sour culture which in turn causes delays and further inertia.

However, quicker is the norm for many businesses and organisations especially those influenced by new technology – where the use of creativity is ingrained in their business models. Fantastic crowd sourced content is uploaded every minute and quickly spread to people who look for their recommendations on social media. Millions of apps and upgrades are beta tested and rolled out every week on technology we already cannot live without. News is delivered 24/7.

If customers are demanding better experiences and best quality on one side of the value equation, price differentials are getting narrower on the other. Price comparison sites and supermarket price wars mean the price isn’t a differentiator but a similarity. Premium prices are harder to justify.

So how can creativity in business be applied to help speed things up, to unleash new initiatives for customers without compromising quality so building trust rather than losing it?

Creativity in its purest sense is forming a new solution from existing elements. Therefore it is always good to start by interrogating exactly what is happening inside the business, breaking it down into small discernable elements and reconfiguring them again into a simplified, customer focused approach. Ask the organisation direct questions (some are illustrated below) to get the answers that bring these elements to light.

The solution will come from being bold in questioning what’s working and why as well as what’s not. Collate the answers into groupings that can be reassembled. Prioritise the answers to ensure they are  relevant to each part of business and importantly to each business leader.

  • Is everyone in the business clear about what we do & why? Is there clarity and conviction about the purpose of the company?
  • Is our own story inside the business as clear as it is when we communicate outside?
  • Are we all about the customer or all about ourselves? Do we think inside out or outside in?
  • Do we have a dialogue with lots of our customers – daily not annually, sentences not tick-boxes?
  • How can we simplify everything…and after ask again, can we simplify further?
  • Do we share & train each other in what works?
  • Do we regularly work together outside of our own internal teams – on behalf of the customer?
  • When we undergo performance reviews for our leadership and staff, are there consistent KPI’s about collaboration & the customer?

By understanding the answers to these types of questions, you can creatively develop new initiatives, new processes & new teams. Restructures don’t necessarily have to mean redundancies – they can mean new responsibilities.  By simplifying these processes and ensuring each is strictly evaluated on a customer focused basis, things will get faster. Today, it is cost effective to use real time customer feedback in developing and spreading these initiatives – online dialogue is flexible and rewards the customer who expects their voice to be heard.

Once they do the results on culture will be positive. As a few directions become clear, it will be wise to quickly try out a few small tests – start with manageable, realistic goals, ensure leaders support these teams overtly and that failure is supported as much as success – to ensure a do/learn/do approach to learning is invoked – and when these tests work, roll them out & start a few new initiatives. Taking action quickly via business creativity creates actions that break inertia, break silos and start a road to growth.

So while many companies use creativity to communicate to their customers, they can start to seed creativity into their business structure, planning and processes too – with valuable outcomes such as improving speed to market, rewarding customer experiences and an improved internal culture.

Google’s numbers are amazing…seeing off the dinosaurs easily!

Google’s numbers are amazing…seeing off the dinosaurs easily!

Since the credit crunch we’ve been bombarded by ridiculously big numbers – the size of which makes it simply hard to comprehend. What has helped is the rise of Infographics – visualising the data in easy to spot patterns. This is what business creativity demands – the skills of looking at confusion and, by linking previously unseen patterns (solutions), being able to shine a light on a new path or direction.

Data drives everything and Google’s algorithms define so many useful outputs. When the credit crunch hit Google was already strong – the 2006 revenue was $10.6BN. As the credit crunch hit Google maintained its strategic focus and the existing revenue model – while continuing innovate for the future.

“Google performed well in the fourth quarter, despite an increasingly difficult economic environment. Search query growth was strong, revenues were up in most verticals, and we successfully contained costs,” Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said in a statement. “It’s unclear how long the global downturn will last, but our focus remains on the long term, and we’ll continue to invest in Google’s core search and ads business as well as in strategic growth areas such as display, mobile, and enterprise.”

This was Eric Schmidt 3 years ago. Reveues are nearly three times bigger during this slump. I expect he’ll say similar things at the end of this year. Mobile and Android will take more of Google’s revenue. And we’ll see an even more amazing Infographic of 2012 performance on our smartphone in 12 months time.

 

Creative thinking can lead organisations out of inertia

Creative thinking can lead organisations out of inertia

As CEO’s write up their wish lists for the New Year, many are asking for more creativity in their businesses. For much of the past couple of decades, the prime focus of many big companies has been increasing shareholder value. The driving force to deliver more of this – every 3 months, year after year – has been driven by cost optimisation. The career ladder to the C-suite has been fuelled by financial prowess. Creativity became something negative – creative accounting was frowned at. As organisations have become more efficient, the skills to cut, to manage and to control have risen above those to think differently, to innovate and to take risk. The bigger organisations have become safer & move at glacial speed when it comes to change. Silos have reared up and are often measured and advised in isolation.

Creativity is not an easy KPI to develop and spread evenly amongst these separate silos.  What’s needed is creativity – to develop new business models, new products, new offers, new customer understanding & new channels to deliver new experiences. But there is one place that creativity still exists – in company brands.

One thing that has always elevated brand thinking is creativity. The best brands seamlessly combine right & left brained thinking to meld the logical and strategic inputs into creativity-inspired solutions. Brand thinking however doesn’t always reach the boardroom – it is still thought of as something that is most effective outside of the company – in the form of advertising campaigns and corporate identity. This means brand creativity is often left to execute strategy rather than help create and shape the strategy. Breaking this paradigm and bringing in unexpected advisors to a boardroom can result in surprisingly positive initiatives. Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Brand thinking and the spirit of creativity can unleash many new internal projects. Using brand led advisors can help in realigning the internal organisation. They can help to rearticulate CEO visions and plans.  They can help transform a culture of an organisation to refocus positively to meet those visions. Creativity can lead to test new initiatives without committing to a(nother) fundamental change program. Brand led creativity can help engage all the company stakeholders and develop real value inside the organisation. They can help form small cross disciplined teams to collaborate, to quickly develop, test and seed different ideas. A few of these can break the inertia that a company faces when trying to accommodate the new using the old structure and processes.

While pure play creative people sit outside a company in agencies, studios, many are using their skills to help CEOs, CFOs & COOs to think differently. Creative thinkers naturally like to collaborate. They enjoy looking at solving old problems with a new approach.

Once these small initiatives are undertaken, and those that succeed are shared among more staff and managers, so engaging more people in doing new things inside a company, the brand can shape the external relationship with customers and suppliers. This can kick start a different experience to allow the brand to empower further creativity that can drive much needed growth.

So brand thinking can bring creativity early to the Boardroom and into the internal organisation. Business creativity will help unleash talent throughout the Organisation and add a positivity to a company culture that has  been dampened by years of cuts and fear of yet more as the economy slows further. A brand mentor can be as powerful creative tool for a CEO and can be used to start new internal initiatives to start the New Year off positively.