Activist investors were busy in 2017. General Electric, AIG, Arconic, CSX, Pandora, and Buffalo Wild Wings are among the companies whose CEOs resigned under pressure from activist investors. Activist investors single out underperforming companies, then force changes, which may include giving the activist a seat on the board, replacing company leaders, divesting a division, or simply cutting costs.
If it’s a weekend and the forecast shows potential for good wind, my husband and I head to the beach. We aren’t always rewarded with enough wind for great kiteboarding, but if there is wind, we’re often the only ones there, set up and ready to take advantage of it.
Meanwhile, others who have waited for the wind to materialize before jumping in the car often arrive just as the wind is dying.
Just like the wind, most everything in business is subject to change, often when you least expect it. And change brings uncertainty, which often manifests as doubt, delay and paralysis. We don’t know what’s going to happen, so we wait. According to psychologists, we humans are hardwired to dislike uncertainty; it’s in our DNA. In a recent study, researchers discovered that uncertainty is more stressful to humans than knowing that something bad is definitely going to happen.
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 →
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:
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 →
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 →
When you deal with the same types of customers, buying the same products and using them the same way, every day, it’s easy to be lulled into a smug confidence that you know everything you need to know about how customer needs are evolving.
Market research and management reporting systems are notorious for “averaging” all customers together. This blends specific needs into a bland summary of general information. As a result, critical “outlier” information gets lost in the mix, and companies lose out on valuable insights about customer needs.
They focus product and service enhancements on the “average” customer, and as long as she’s pretty happy, they think they’re doing well.
This is dangerous.
When we ignore the unusual customers – the ones at the edges of the bell curve – we miss important market signals.
These “outlier” customers are those who do things a little differently. They may use our product or service in an unusual way, perhaps even in a way that’s never occurred to us.
Why is this important? Continue Reading →
One Monday in 2013, my husband and I spent the night in our car. Shortly after midnight, on our way home from playing hockey (this is a new sport for us, and great fun), we were amazed to encounter a huge traffic jam on Atlanta’s I-285. As we slowed to a stop, we saw a plume of fire as big as a house rising from a burning tractor-trailer a third of a mile ahead. Scenes from disaster movies looped in my head, and we talked about what to do if things got worse.
We passed the first hour reading books on our iPhones, then slept intermittently while waiting for the emergency workers to put out the fire and clear the wreckage. Someone from a nearby car borrowed our jumper cables, and Rob got out from time to time to walk ahead to see how things were progressing. We started the car periodically to warm up.
This incident reminded me how important being prepared can be. I was thankful to have a warm coat and sensible shoes but thought about a few things that we should keep in the car in the future. Snacks, water, a first-aid kit, at least a third of a tank of gas.
I thought, too, about business preparedness. Business people tend to enjoy planning for good things, like new products, revenue growth and hiring. It’s worth taking the time to prepare for unpleasant surprises as well, since you can tremendously improve your outcomes with a little planning.
Here are a few examples: Continue Reading →
When you want to gain insight into emerging customer needs and behaviors, the first solution you might think of is market research. But research can be costly, and it can take weeks to implement and analyze.
Beyond the cost and time required, there are two big problems with market research. Continue Reading →
Are you struggling to make your company more agile?
In my work with organizations in virtually every industry, I find that business agility – the ability to spot and capitalize on new business opportunities as they emerge – is a capability that many companies aspire to, but few achieve.
What makes agility so elusive?
I’ve observed six primary obstacles to achieving agility. Continue Reading →