Want to move fast on a strategic opportunity? Deploy a focused team, and get out of their way!

Jetpack manNo doubt about it: we live in a rapidly changing world. Disruptive technologies, shifting customer behaviors and emerging business models are shaking up nearly every industry. If you are going to survive and succeed amidst this change, you need to move in a fast and adaptable way. Yes…even if you’re a huge global organization with many layers of leadership.

To survive and succeed amidst change, move in a fast and adaptable way. Click To Tweet

For seasoned executives, the knowledge that they must compete with young, energetic upstarts who can switch speed and direction on a dime can be scary. And with good reason: It’s often very difficult for established organizations to move quickly and behave in an entrepreneurial fashion.

Here are just a few examples of what may be slowing your company down:

  1. The incentives you use to motivate your leaders may be misaligned with the direction you need to head. Mark, a leader in a financial services firm, found it hard to convince the firm’s sales people to invest their time in growing sales of new products, because their commissions were much higher on existing products. Unfortunately, those existing products were fast becoming obsolete.
  2. Your organizational structure may not match up with new priorities. Laura, business unit president at a software firm, sought to grow recurring revenues and reduce cost, by transitioning customers to software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings. Her business unit’s progress was very slow, however, because the professional services and customer support organizations were built to serve customers who were buying customized, on-premises solutions, not SaaS.
  3. There may be a gap in your employee’s skills and knowledge, which impedes their success in pursuing new business goals. Jose’s objective was to develop a new product line to serve customers who were expanding their e-commerce capability, yet his employees were ill-prepared to serve this market.

However, none of these harsh realities can become excuses. We must respond quickly, intelligently, and with courage when we face obstacles like these. One of best solutions is to create cross-functional teams and assign them to pursue particular growth opportunities.

When you create a small, focused team, you want to provide access to all the great things your company can provide—things such as customer relationships, company assets, funding, distribution channels, and the like—but you also want to protect them from having to ask permission too often. You need to protect the team from some of the big-company activities and policies that might slow them down.

Granting “special privileges” to these teams can accelerate their learning and progress, and enable fearless growth. Here are some approaches that I have seen work well:

• Faster processes for approving expenditures, and lenience on investment approval hurdles.

• Freedom to focus on “learning objectives” and other non-financial metrics, as opposed to strict financial targets.

• Explicit “permission to fail” on experiments or initiatives.

• Flexibility on legal requirements. For example, instead of having an iron-clad contract with customers, a simple handshake agreement might suffice, so the two companies can quickly try new things, collaborating together to learn.

• Permission to not attend quarterly business reviews, weekly staff meetings, routine training classes, or other events that are not directly aligned with the team’s mission.

• Permission to bypass internal processes that slow down action and learning.

• Access to outside experts.

• Lenient travel budgets.

• Greater latitude to hire (or terminate) team members.

• Different rules for how the team interacts with customers. For example, permission to call on existing accounts without having to ask the account manager’s permission.

• Leeway to use marketing materials that are not fully buttoned up and formalized.

• Time to explore industries, companies, technologies, and ideas that are not directly related to your business (seeing how things are done in a completely different industry does wonders for creative thinking).

Implementing even just a few of these measures will vastly improve your team’s speed and agility. They’ll have more freedom to pursue your strategic goals. They’ll feel motivated and empowered, which means they’ll take faster action, and you’ll improve retention. And, by working with others outside their function, team members gain new skills and perspectives. Innovation will flourish.

By working with others outside their function, team members can gain new skills and perspectives. Click To Tweet

Perhaps most important, they’ll build networks across your company, and with business partners, suppliers and customers outside your company. These networks mean that your team will know who to call—and who collaborate with—down the road, when they encounter a new opportunity or challenge. You’ll be able to pursue your goals more successfully, no matter what the future brings.

Click here for more ideas for how your team generate practical growth ideas, and pursue them quickly and effectively.

Consensus Building

Consensus Building

With the fast pace of change in the world today, there is great uncertainty surrounding almost every decision we make. And, when there is uncertainty, there are going to be many different opinions about the best path forward.

Reaching a consensus is important because we need all functions and players in our organization to be aligned and moving in the same direction. Organizations can get stuck at a cross road, unable to pick a path forward, when they place too much emphasis on getting everyone on board with a controversial decision. This is a mistake. Continue Reading →

Change the Game

Change The Game

I recently worked with a large, successful company whose growth had slowed. They needed new ideas—and not just any ideas, but big ideas: new growth trajectories that would generate at least a billion dollars in revenue. Entirely new categories.

They were already one of the largest players in their industry, so taking market share was not easy for them. They needed to build new markets—creating and serving customer needs that had never before existed.

The problem was the ideas just weren’t flowing from the team. Continue Reading →

Unshackle Your Team’s Creativity

Forward Business Planning

Have you ever wished for more input, insights, and ideas from the employees on your team?

Especially when our businesses are not performing as well as we’d like, we really need our teammates’ creative ideas. But when we gather a group and ask for ideas—whether for new product features, cost reduction ideas, or ways to improve service—we often see the same, recycled thoughts. Or ones that are only a smidgen better than what’s currently being done.

It’s not the employees’ fault. Humans are wired to keep doing what they’ve been rewarded for in the past. We are wired to protect our allies, and to avoid risk. These tendencies tend to hold us back when it comes to thinking in new ways. We are shackled by what’s worked before and have a hard time imagining a new way of doing things.

Here are a few techniques for helping your team break free to develop new ways of thinking about your business. Continue Reading →

Think Like an Explorer

Businessman Walking Outdoors

When I was sixteen, I went on a 2-week horseback trip in the Bighorn mountains of Wyoming. Each morning, we were given the coordinates of the location where we would camp that night, then turned loose with a map and compass. It was satisfying to arrive at the destination each night, after navigating our way through the mountains on our own.

Heading a new strategic direction—entering a new market, innovating a new product line, or changing the way we go to market—can feel like heading out into the wilderness. If we think like an explorer would, however, we can find our way to new sources of profit and growth.

Here are four points to keep in mind when navigating new strategic territory:

Continue Reading →

5 Ways to Gain Extraordinary Customer Insight

Composite image of businessman looking on a ladder

Have you ever invested great time and expense in developing and launching a new product or service, only to see revenues fall far short of expectations?

We think we’re delivering exactly what the customer has asked for, but it turns out that we didn’t really understand what our customers were willing to buy.

We’ve all been there. McDonald’s introduced chicken wraps and other menu items to satisfy the demands of health-conscious diners, only to find that customers don’t actually want to eat healthy food at McDonalds. The fries are just too tempting.

Especially in fast-changing markets, companies often get so busy running the business, they fail to understand their customers’ experience and needs. They are blind to what actually goes on when customers use their products.

Let me suggest a few ways to break out of this cycle, so that you understand what your customers value and how they think. Continue Reading →

Is Your Corporate Culture Killing Innovation and Speed?

Easy win

In the past few years, Cisco, Coca-Cola, GE, IBM, MasterCard and other large companies have begun to launch “internal startups”—teams of employees who are sheltered from corporate rules and bureaucracy – to stimulate entrepreneurship and creativity, and infuse agility.

I spoke recently with the leader of a business that existed – for a while – as an internal startup within a large corporation.

The thinking was that employees within this quasi-startup would be free to focus on their goals. Team spirit and collaboration would replace hierarchy. Innovation, risk-taking, and learning from failure would flourish. Time formerly spent on meetings and emails with other corporate groups would be spent focusing on the customer.

All those good things came true, as long as the team was left alone. Continue Reading →