Why Trust and Purpose is the new Normal in Organisational Development

COVID-19 is a crucible within which resilient leadership is refined. Acting without perfect information, often with only a few hours or days to spare, CEOs have to guide their organizations through myriad decisions and challenges, with significant implications for their company’s whole system: employees, customers, clients, financial partners, suppliers, investors, and other stakeholders, as well as for society as a whole.

Clarity of thinking, communications, and decision-making will be at a premium. Those CEOs who can best exhibit this clarity, and lead from the heart and the head, will inspire their organisations to persevere through this crisis, positioning their brand to emerge in a better place, prepared for whatever may come.

Crises like these, with deep challenges to be navigated, will also lead to opportunities for learning and deepening trust with all stakeholders, while equipping organisations for a step change that creates more value not just for shareholders, but for society as a whole.

From time to time, we lose our bearings as individuals, especially when facing overwhelming challenges, as we are today with the coronavirus pandemic; it is in these moments that we lean into our core, our character and personal values, to find strength and focus on what really matters.

Leaders facing the unprecedented times and circumstances of the moment are also looking to their organisation’s core, its communal culture and values, to inspire resilience, unleash agility, and help employees to thrive, not simply survive.

Setting a regular cadence with a clear voice is critical. Incomplete or conflicting communications can slow the organisation’s response rather than providing better guidance.

In a time of crisis, trust is paramount. This simple formula emphasizes the key elements of trust for individuals and for organizations:

Trust = Transparency + Relationship + Experience

Trust starts with transparency: telling what you know and admitting what you don’t. Trust is also a function of relationships: some level of “knowing” each other among you and your employees, your customers, and your ecosystem. And lastly, it also depends on experience: Do you reliably do what you say?

In times of growing uncertainty, trust is increasingly built by demonstrating an ability to address unanticipated situations and a steady commitment to address the needs of all stakeholders in the best way possible.

It’s also important to recognize and address the emotions of all stakeholders. This is not just about charts and numbers. Narratives can be powerful ways to acknowledge the fears that naturally surface in times of crisis, while at the same time framing the opportunity that can be achieved if stakeholders come together and commit to overcoming the challenges that stand in the way.

A survey I carried out by DataPad asked employees questions on ‘trust and respect’ in relation to their Executive Leadership, Heads of Department and their immediate line managers. The closer the manager’s role was to the respondent, the more likely it was for the employee to answer positively. Immediate managers were trusted “a lot” by 48% of those who responded and “a little” by 36%. 16% of immediate managers are not trusted at all.

Working with CEOs over the years, I have found that thriving cultures are those that are purpose-driven and characterised by vitality and a growth mindset. Organisations where leaders are purposeful and intentional and open to personal change, and where every employee has a voice and is actively engaged in living the organisation’s values, are those with thriving cultures. Many organisations entered into this crisis with such a culture. Others were struggling.

But, like the process of glass blowing, in which beautiful structures are created by manipulating molten glass in a hot furnace, we have observed healthy and resilient cultures emerge from the fires of crisis.

How can an organization maintain or build a thriving culture in this crisis? At their core, organisations are shadows of their leaders. Leaders who greet crisis with perspective and compassion, confront the current reality with optimism for the future, demonstrate personal resilience, and inspire that resilience among their employees are those who will make the difference.

Authentic cultures are not formed by values posted on the wall; they are the result of leaders being purposefully committed to living those values and willing to personally change in order to model the behaviours and actions that maintain integrity.

When values are real, employees and customers know the enterprise is authentic and true to its culture. Especially in a crisis, comparing actions to values is a litmus test of a company’s authenticity.

Culture, we know, is the core of resilience, but it alone is not enough. Other work by our firm has shown that organisations that accelerate performance during good times and bad are able to mobilise, execute, and transform with agility.

During today’s pandemic, agility matters more than ever. Amidst rapid-fire health updates, market volatility, and the extreme spread of the coronavirus, a company’s foresight, ability to learn, and adaptability will set it apart.

Companies strong in these areas have leaders who are future-focused, demonstrate a growth mindset, are able to pivot quickly in times of rapid disruption, and maintain resilience to navigate their organisations.

From swift decisions to shutter offices, institute work-from-home policies, and scale the technological tools to stay connected to customers and stakeholders, agile leaders have assessed the risk and pivoted quickly.

They must also reassess the medium and long term, building on past crisis interventions and associated learnings to evolve operations and innovate to meet changing needs, all while staying true to their culture.

In any time, thriving organisations are true to their purpose, rely on their values, and model agility. Today’s pandemic, which will reduce profits all over the world, is a searing test of every organisation’s culture and values.

Leaders who have laid a solid culture foundation, authentically committed to a set of values, and defined and depended on an inspiring purpose are leading through this crisis by making a difference in the lives of employees and the communities they serve.

This crisis also serves as a furnace for change for those companies that haven’t yet laid the foundation for a thriving culture.

Uncovering authentic organisational purpose can come quite simply from finding ways to be of service. What’s needed today is for all leaders to look beyond profit and ask, “What do I have that could help someone right now?

Where can I practice abundance where there is short supply?” Organisations will be changed by their actions to make a difference in these times of crisis. Connecting with employees at a human level as we enter into one another’s home offices and living rooms, meeting children and pets on the screen, is organically changing and strengthening cultures.

It’s happening today by default; tomorrow leaders can shape their cultures with lessons learned by design. Leaders and organisations that count on their core culture and values and make a difference while pivoting to solve for the future will emerge from the fires of this crisis and thrive.

Yet amid the crisis, a company’s purpose should remain steadfast: It’s never negotiable. Purpose is where the head and the heart unite. While many organizations today have articulated a purpose beyond profit, purpose risks getting ignored in day-to-day decisions.

In a recent survey, 79 per cent of business leaders believe that an organization’s purpose is central to business success, yet 68 per cent said that purpose is not used as a guidepost in leadership decision-making processes within their organization.

Making decisions that tie back to the organization’s purpose is particularly important during a crisis when companies are under increased pressure and stakeholders are paying close attention to every move. We know from research on purpose-driven organizations that they tend to thrive during challenging environments:

Purpose cultivates engaged employees. When companies are cantered on an authentic purpose, employees feel that their work has meaning. Research shows that employees who feel a greater sense of connection are far more likely to ride out volatility and be there to help companies recover and grow when stability returns.

Purpose attracts loyal customers who will stick with you in a downturn. Evidence-based research have shown that eight in ten consumers are more loyal to purpose-driven brands, which can help sustain customer relationships in a downturn and beyond.

Purpose helps companies transform in the right way. Companies that are guided by their purpose when they face hard decisions have a sharper sense for how they should evolve, and their transformation is more cohesive as a result. When purpose is put first, profits generally follow; when profits are first, the results can be more elusive.

Finally, moral and ethical leadership is the key to a successful business, yet it’s clear from the news that the leaders of some of our most influential governments and corporations are making morally questionable decisions. These decisions will lose the trust of society, customers and employees. Trust is the foundation of high functioning relationships and can only be achieved by meaningful dialogue. It is clear that this is not happening. Instead we’re using electronic communication, where it should never be used.

My latest book, Purposeful Discussions, demonstrates the relationship between communications (human 2 human), strategy and business development.

It provides a holistic overview of the leading methods and techniques. It is a hands-on guide for business professionals, and those in higher education, to help guide them through the next decade and the 4th industrial revolution

Any period of volatility can create opportunities that businesses can leverage if they are prepared.

In the case of the COVID-19 outbreak, organizations that take a more assertive and longer-term approach can spark innovations that will define the “next normal.”

A great quote by Stephen R. Covey, sums up the thinking behind trust:

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

Organisational Trust is How to Think More Strategically – Less Operationally, and Without Micro-Management

We are starting to get back to work: ‘WFH’ (Working From Home), for some possibly one of the biggest challenges in their management career, managing remotely, and for those leaders who have adopted a micromanagement leadership style and approach to management, your eyes are possibly now ‘eyes wide open’ with a reset button to see that micromanagement can damage the work environment and that it is a result of unhealthy communication skills.

Today’s leaders are faced with a unique challenge – staying calm in the face of a pandemic and mounting a response befitting to the level of threat the company is facing.

Any crisis is characterized by two traits – unpredictability and uncertainty. It is the mark of a true leader to not dwell on yesterday’s developments but to look ahead and plan for a more secure tomorrow.

A predefined response plan is always less effective than assessing the real threat and taking measures to minimise.

Micromanagement is one of the most hated management flaws in business today. We have all heard the term and are familiar with it, at least theoretically. But how do you tell when you’re becoming a micromanager, and how do you step back from that place?

Trust more, control less

Micromanagement is a destructive way of leadership. It can destroy trust, morale, and you could damage your line of communication. You can get disengaged employees and then creativity will drop.

Employees’ self-esteem will then drop as well and over time, their performance. All in all, you become a large contributor to a hostile and dysfunctional work environment.

The traditional hierarchy of an organization might not be effective in containing or managing the crises.

Senior execs need to be ready to offer more responsibility and liberty to make decisions to their network of teams. The members of these network of teams have the updated information necessary to direct the crisis response of an organisation.

It is the responsibility of the senior leaders to ensure that they offer the responsibility to the correct people, who can correct crises.

With the evolution of a crisis, the team leaders may need to appoint more decision-makers from the network of teams or replace the ones affected by the situation.

Having a plan to appoint new temporary leaders among the network of teams during an unpredicted emergency can perpetrate confidence among the employees and promote the deliberate calm that can keep operations running irrespective of the location.

Some readers may remember a blog I wrote around leadership in ‘Is Micro-Management delusional or can it be effective?’

Most out-of-the-box or disruptive ideas are badly handled by a bottom-up resource allocation process.

It is top management that has to ask, “Is there a technology under development that looks inferior or uncertain today but will undermine our business from beneath once it is properly developed?”

The notion of a top-down strategic process depends upon central control of all steps in that process.

That level of control almost never exists in a large organization — quite the reverse: at the same time that corporate staff is beginning to plan for and roll out initiatives, operating managers invariably are already acting in ways that either undercut or enhance them.

Each leader develops techniques, procedures, and processes to accomplish their art.

Seen as tools in a toolkit, they use each one when the situation dictates to generate trust, produce a vision, or motivate a subordinate to deliver their goods. In this vein, micromanagement is nothing more than another tool in your toolkit. You use it when the situation dictates.

When there’s a high-value, critical project underway in your area of responsibility you do not have an option of failure.

Fulfilling Expectations of Superiors. Call it self-preservation. Call it pandering. I call it ‘smart’. Micromanagement sometimes needs to be deployed to satiate superiors who themselves wield micromanagement as their normal operating mode.

The following keywords are fundamental to leadership and organisational effectiveness:

Keyword: Trust
Trust is a key component to drive employee engagement. Have faith in your employees and leave them room to perform. You will soon see an increase in productivity. Trust will also give you valuable feedback, as micromanagement leads to employees shutting down the lines of communication.

Keyword: Time
You spend a lot of time micromanaging, is it worth it? Could you be better at time management? Should you focus on growth strategies instead of being detail-oriented?

Keyword: Communication
When you micromanage you are shutting down lines of communication. Your employees will stop talking to you in fear of becoming micromanaged. Laying low will become a strategy in your office, resulting in no communication, no engagement, no growth, and you will not have enough information to do your own job effectively.

Implement Trust, Free Time and Communicate

Crafting strategy is an iterative, real-time process; commitments must be made, then either revised or stepped up as new realities emerge.

In my career, I have had to tolerate a chief executive who was a bully. I was forced to accommodate a chief executive who was a caretaker. I had to adjust to a chief executive with a big ego. I had to abide a chief executive who took credit for my ideas.

But I was never able to tolerate, accommodate, adjust to, or abide a chief executive who was a micromanager.

Micromanagers make up for their total lack of imagination by deflating ideas and creating chaos over minutiae. Leadership inspires freedom, not serfdom.

Employees must be free to think, to talk, to act, to suggest, to solve, to invent, to dare, and even to interrupt.

No one is really managing a company successfully by shuffling numbers. Anyone can draw new organizational charts. Anyone can recite business-school maxims, ratios, formulas, and percentages.

It takes a leader to manage people – and skilled people to make a successful company. Even football coaches who call all plays from the sidelines allow their quarterbacks the freedom to change the play at the line of scrimmage. Why shouldn’t chief executives?

The most important question a leader should ask is: Are you placing the good of the organisation first? This is what leadership is all about.

Time and again, though, we see those same CEOs forgetting about the need to translate strategy into specific organizational capabilities, paying lip service to their talent ambitions, and delegating responsibility to the head of learning with a flourish of fine words, only for that individual to complain later about lack of support from above.

To be fair, CEOs are pulled in many directions, and they note that leadership development often doesn’t make an impact on performance in the short run.

At the same time, we see many heads of learning confronting CEOs with a set of complex interwoven interventions, not always focusing on what matters most.

But as the pace of change for strategies and business models increases, so does the cost of lagging leadership development.

If CEOs and their top teams are serious about long-term performance, they need to commit themselves to the success of corporate leadership-development efforts now.

Final thought, leaders need to focus on behaviour to transform culture – instilling new cultural characteristics requires a shift in values, mindsets and behaviours. Leaders need to model, acknowledge and recognize the behaviour that drives the desired cultural change.

To summarize, leaders are at the forefront of driving the cultural transformation within an organization.

Undoubtedly, every employee plays a crucial part in the process but ultimately it is the leaders who have the ability to set standards and a foundation for change and growth.

A great quote by John Stoker:

“Authority — when abused through micromanagement, intimidation, or verbal or nonverbal threats—makes people shut down & productivity ceases.”

Why Ethical Leadership and Conduct Matters

I recently had a coffee and discussion with a leader in technology innovation, we were discussing why doing the right thing, morally and ethically, in leadership can be the right thing to do.

As the coronavirus COVID-19 has seeped its way more deeply across the world, many tech companies are asking employees to stay at home. And work, of course.

The case in the matter we were discussing was prompted by Microsoft and their CEO, Satya Nadella, in an act of intelligent goodwill, Microsoft will continue to pay employees. No, not a reduced rate, but their full regular pay.

Have you ever noticed how decisions are so much harder when you try to do the right thing and make an ethical decision, rather than focusing on what’s easiest or most practical? This is mainly because “the right thing” means different things to different people.

The world of business is full of ethical dilemmas, from where to direct scarce resources to serving the local community. Every leader will make ethical decisions, whether or not they acknowledge them at the time. But the decisions they do make can determine whether their leadership is based on an ethical framework or not.

Yet making ethical business decisions is increasingly important in today’s world. News of a leader’s questionable behaviour can spread around the globe in seconds, and bring down an entire organisation.

Employees who trust their immediate boss have higher job satisfaction, more commitment to the company, and feel they are treated more fairly in processes and decision making. Employees who trust their business leaders feel more committed to the company, feel the organisation supports them more, and feel that leaders fairly allocate resources, treat others well, and follow procedures transparently.

Trust works in different ways, depending on where you are in the organisation. For this reason, C-suite leaders should consider focusing on different elements of trust-building than managers closer to the bottom of the organisational hierarchy.

Humans are social creatures and both historic and current findings confirm that strong, supportive communities have higher survival rates, prosper better and enjoy more content and fulfilled lives. This is also true of business communities.

Leaders today are constantly in the spotlight and are often called upon to earn authority without control. Economic and social change demands leadership by consent rather than by control. What we perceive as good leadership tends to be created by leaders, followers, and the context and purpose of the organisation, thus it is a collective rather than individual responsibility.

Trust is a key ingredient of successful leadership. Trusted leaders are the guardians of the values of the organisation. Trust can release the energy of people and enlarge the human and intellectual capital of employees. In a trusting environment when we are committed to our shared purpose we play active roles both as leaders and as followers.
We talk a lot about trust these days because it tends to be a precious and scarce resource.

When we listen to the emerging needs of the workplace we step into the most relevant and useful roles and make relevant and valuable contributions both when leading and when following. Members of organisations who are sensitive to people’s reactions trust themselves and each other. They build and nurture trusting relationships and allow the future to emerge organically.

No heroic leader can resolve the complex challenges we face today. To address the important issues of our time we need a fundamental change of perspective. We need to start questioning many of our taken for granted assumptions about our business and social environments.

My business partner, Mark Herbert, recently shared The Edelman Trust Barometer with me and discussed the findings of the report, The report found that people are suspicious of change and innovation when they do not see the long-term benefits for all stakeholders. Fifty-four per cent of respondents believe that business growth or greed/money are the real impetuses behind innovation, and only 27% say that business innovates because of a desire to make the world a better place or improve people’s lives.

Leaders need to treat employees as adults, openly and honestly discuss the organisation’s challenges and take responsibility for their decisions and actions.

Leaders also need to listen more. The trouble is that most are unable to recognise, let alone change, the structural habits of attention in themselves and in their organisations to drive key factors such as trust. Learning to recognise our blind spots in any business culture requires a particular kind of deep personal and collective listening.

The benefits of connecting mind, heart and our senses are well documented both in scientific and popular publications. Integrating such practices into the organisational culture increase not only the level of wellbeing but also the levels of trust, honesty and openness of communication.

In spite of decades of discussions and research on ethical leadership, the available information is largely anecdotal and remain highly normative until very recently little has been done to systematically develop an ethical leadership construct necessary for testing theory about its origins and outcomes with business.

This has to be questioned, why boards, CSuite and senior managers have never questioned the moral and ethical standing of organisations, why corporate governance is only now an inclusion around the values and standing of the largest component in business, people.

It is particularly in times of corporate scandals and moral lapses that the broader public and interest groups in a corporation ask themselves the fundamental question, namely, who are corporate managers and are they ethical.

Being ethical is about playing fair, thinking about the welfare of others and thinking about the consequences of one’s actions. However, even if one grows up with a strong sense for good or bad, the bad behaviour of others can undermine his ethical sense as well.

Ethical leaders think about long-term consequences, drawbacks and benefits of their decisions. For the sake of being true to their own values and beliefs, they are prepared to compete in a different battle on the market, where the imperative is: Do what is right.

Leaders serve as role models for their followers and demonstrate the behavioural boundaries set within an organisation. The appropriate and desired behaviour is enhanced through culture and socialisation process of the newcomers. Employees learn about values from watching leaders in action. The more the leader “walks the talk”, by translating internalized values into action, the higher level of trust and respect he generates from followers.

When leaders are prepared to make personal sacrifices for followers or the company in general for the sake of acting in accordance with their values, the employees are more willing to do the same.

Unethical behaviour by business damages not only a company’s health but also public virtues. Reputational capital is difficult to repair once it has been damaged.

One of the reasons why many corporates that still behave badly, with leaders that don’t take ethics seriously, is that sometimes shareholders and boards place singular emphasis on competence and quantitative results at the expense of good behaviour. There are leaders who are competent technically, who get the job done, and show good quantitative results, yet are found wanting when it comes to ethics.

The rise of ethical leadership can be traced back to the scandals inside the corporate world in recent decades. The fall of big organisations such as Enron and the Lehman Brothers has partly been blamed for unethical behaviour and therefore, there’s been a call for more ethical leadership to appear.

Ethical leadership is considered to be one solution for creating a balance between the wellbeing of the subordinates and the wider community, and the organisation’s profitability. The theory understands the importance of trust and good relationships. In essence, modern ethical leadership theory places importance on the idea of service.

Ethical leadership often takes the form of three separate approaches to leadership. The three have historical and philosophical foundations and all three emphasise different aspects of decision-making.

The first approach is Utilitarianism Theory, which sees the leader maximizing the welfare of the subordinates. The focus is on ensuring the subordinates feel good and are happy, before deciding on an action.

The second approach focuses on the Libertarianism Theory. The leader is to protect the freedom of the individuals as the main concern. If an action or decision would restrain the subordinate’s freedom, then the leader would not proceed with the course of action.

The third approach is an approach to leadership emphasizing Immanuel Kant’s Ethical Theory of doing the right thing. The approach to decision-making is, therefore, looking at the proper means.

Moral and ethical actions come from understanding what are the rules and customs of the organisation and following these. The idea is that by understanding these common, agreed values, a leader can make the right decisions.

Final thought, ethical leadership should also be understood through the lens of its influence over other leadership theories. Being ethical is a core part of other leadership styles and a strong ethical foundation is required for styles such as transformational and charismatic leadership.
While the strong ethical outlook is required for these leadership theories, ethical leadership places the biggest emphasis on implementing ethical values to every aspect of leadership.

Can a company be successful and competitive on the market and at the same time ethical? Akers believes that market success and ethical conduct go hand in hand: “Ethics and competitiveness are inseparable. We compete as a society. No society anywhere will compete very long or successfully with people stabbing each other in the back; with people trying to steal from each other; with everything requiring notarized confirmation because you cannot trust the other fellow; with every little squabble ending in litigation; and with government writing reams of regulatory legislation, trying business hand and foot to keep it honest”

Pope Benedict XVI once said:

“To me, it really seems visible today that ethics is not something exterior to the economy, which, as a technical matter, could function on its own; rather, ethics is an interior principle of the economy itself, which cannot function if it does not take account of the human values of solidarity and reciprocal responsibility.”

Guest-blog: Stephanie Barnes discusses the importance of knowledge management

Stephanie Barnes

Peter Drucker once said: ‘that today knowledge has power because it controls access to opportunity and advancement’.

The 4th Industrial Revolution is undoubtedly the century of knowledge. The everyday usage of available advanced information, business and internet technologies in business activities confirm that this is not only a phrase from the literature, but true reality.

Globalisation has brought many modern trends, and companies have the task to be flexible and adapt as quickly, easily and painlessly as they can in order to survive in the competitive market.

The vital strategic resource today is the knowledge; individual and organisational. By realising the major value of intellectual resources, companies have begun to manage rationally and improve them.

Hence the importance of knowledge management as a concept of organisational knowledge, aimed at effective application of knowledge to make quality decisions. Leadership has a central role.

Intellectual resources, and the first place knowledge, contribute to the company as a revenue contribution of products and services, preserve and increase the reputation, through the reduction of operating costs, create barriers to entry of potential competitors, by increasing customer loyalty and create innovation. The success of organisations largely depends on continual investment in learning and acquiring new knowledge that creates new businesses and improves existing performances.

Brian Tracy once said ‘Those people who develop the ability to continuously acquire new and better forms of knowledge that they can apply to their work and to their lives will be the movers and shakers in our society for the indefinite future.’

Knowledge management serves a true purpose being a fundamental business enabler, knowledge management will help organisations:
• Protect their intellectual capital
• Focus on their most important assets: their human capital
• Re-orient their culture by opting for an optimal knowledge-sharing strategy
• Link people to people by setting up collaborative methods

Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Stephanie Barnes, Stephanie has over 25 years successful, experience in knowledge management and accounting in the High Technology, Health Care, and Public Accounting sectors. She is also an accomplished artist having had exhibitions in Toronto and Berlin.

Stephanie is a knowledge management consultant at Entelechy working with clients in a variety of sectors. In her consulting practice she focuses on aligning people, process, and technology to not only help organisations be more efficient and effective with what they know, but to be more innovative and creative, too. Stephanie has been bringing success to knowledge management for more than 20 years.

Stephanie graduated from Brock University with a BBA in Accounting and from McMaster University with an MBA in Information Technology. She is ITIL Masters certified, has a Business Systems Analysis certificate, as well as completing a certificate in Gamification.

Stephanie is going to talk to us today about the importance of knowledge management in today’s business world.

Thank you Geoff, I am honoured to be here on Freedom After the Sharks discussing such an important subject, lets us now introduce the subject:

We are well established in the Knowledge Age and have been for a while, yet many organisations still have an Industrial Age mind-set, treating their people like cogs in a wheel and their operations like a production line. Have you made the transition to the Knowledge Age?

Are you taking care of your knowledge and your most important knowledge asset, your people? Taking care of your knowledge means addressing people, process, and technology, in a strategic, meaningful way:
• People: what they know, how/what they learn, how they are treated;
• Process: how they create knowledge, share it, and manage it;
• Technology: supports and enables peoples and process.

Getting Started

In its simplest form, knowledge management is about connecting people to the knowledge they need to do their jobs. It gets more complicated as we look at how to do that. Is it people? Is it process? Is it technology? What do we need to do and what does this really mean?

The truth is knowledge management is about all of those things people, process, and technology. We have to know how to balance those things, to do that we need to have a strategy, so that’s where we start.

To develop a strategy we look at the organization its goals and objectives we talk to the users and see what their needs are what would make their lives easier, understand how they do their jobs, the language they use, the processes they execute, the people they work with, we need to understand all of these things.

Once we understand the internal situation of the organisation and how we would like to be working we can look at the external environment and observe what is happening in other organisations.

Not, just organisations in our industry, sector, or country, but more generally in any/all industries, sectors, or countries—there is much to be learned from any and all of them. Knowledge Management is not specific to one sector: the people, processes, and technology enable behaviours and are largely content-independent.

Reasons for having a Knowledge Management Program

There are four main reasons/purposes organisations implement knowledge management activities. These are not the only ones, and in some cases, they might be combined to make a new one, depending on the situation and the organisation.
1. Operational Excellence: improving internal processes through the application of knowledge
2. Customer Knowledge: building a better understanding of customers wants and needs and how to satisfy them
3. Innovation: creating new and better products
4. Growth and Change: replicating existing success in new markets or with new staff

For each of these purposes, there are different supporting people, process, and technology components. For example, operational excellence may focus on lessons learned, while innovation may focus on ways to help people develop their critical thinking, and creativity.

Benefits

The benefits of knowledge management are many and can be quite complex when it comes to trying to measure them, but it is possible to measure many of the benefits, the organisation just needs to be thoughtful and careful not to measure things that can drive the wrong behaviours. What follows is a brief discussion of some of the benefits of implementing a knowledge management program, as you will see many of them tie into efficiency and effectiveness, but not all. Some help people be more creative and innovative, while also improving employee engagement because of the underlying behaviour changes that are encouraged and supported.

People

In the Knowledge Age, people are the most important part of any organisation, regardless of whether the organisation has a tangible product or not, people are at the front lines, interacting with customers/clients/stakeholders, they are developing and delivering products and services. They know where the problems are, what could be better, what would be easier, involving them in developing and rolling out knowledge management activities helps ensure that they:
• Know where to find what they need;
• Share what they know;
• Collaborate with others
• Create what they need to create, and reuse what can be reused;
• Innovate when necessary;
• Apply critical thinking when things aren’t working as expected;
• Learn and adapt to new situations and information; all of this improves
• Employee engagement, which reduces turnover costs, among other things.

Process
There are two types of processes that are part of a knowledge management program, those that specifically have to do with knowledge management, e.g. lessons learned or community of practice processes, and those that have to do with the organisation’s operations, e.g. accounting and finance, sales and marketing, research and development, that benefit from having some form of knowledge management applied to them. Generally speaking, focusing on processes means that:
• Efficiency and effectiveness are improved; that the processes are aligned to
• Support the organisation’s goals and objectives; and
• Improve quality; while
• Reducing errors; and allowing for
• Continuous improvement.

The idea of continuous improvement isn’t just about efficiency and effectiveness. Continuous improvement can also be about innovation and doing things differently when the “same old way” isn’t working any more. I will discuss innovation a bit more later in this article.

Technology
While I could discuss each of the different types and purposes of supporting technology, and there are many, in general, they do two things:
• Support and enable the organisations’ goals and objectives; and
• Enable the benefits of People and Process described above.

Knowledge Management technology is not an end in itself, many organisations believe that it is, and this is where things can get stuck (more on that later), but the benefit to technology is that it supports the people and the process pieces of the knowledge management puzzle and makes them more scalable, repeatable, not to mention efficient and effective.

How to be successful
The first step to being successful with knowledge management is to develop a strategy and a plan. Knowledge management has many different reasons and components, so it’s important to understand how they all fit together and work on them in a balanced, simultaneous way without focusing on one part to the detriment of the others, e.g. focusing only on technology and ignoring the role that people and process play.

That said, based on my experience one of the keys to being successful with knowledge management is to work across the silos of the organisation, this makes a lot of people very nervous, but it’s the only way to do it and be successful. This means talking to people, involving them, keeping them informed.

Another key is to involve users. This often gets called design thinking, these days, but design thinking wasn’t something I’d heard of when I first did it 20 years ago, it was just the right thing to do. I certainly didn’t know what would make people’s jobs easier, and reduce their workload, or at least not increase it, so I asked them. I talked to them about their processes, what they call things, how they are organised, the things that worked for them, what didn’t work for them.

Once I get user/stakeholder input I created wireframes and prototypes and validated them with the people I’d talked to, making modifications where I’d misunderstood something or not asked enough questions. We often did this 2-3 times until we got it right. Today, this gets call agile, trying and failing, or iteration; again, it just seemed to be the right thing to do when I first did it. I was realistic enough to know that I wasn’t an expert in whatever my users were, so if I was going to help them, I was going to need their help–it was a team effort, we were in this together.

Something else that is critical is keeping everyone informed: users, management, other stakeholders. We had regular emails, updates, and meetings as well as documents being posted online for people to access. It takes a lot of communication!

It’s also critical to ask questions and ensure alignment. When something doesn’t make sense, go back to the users, the use cases they had described, the organisation’s vision or strategy, whatever helps me ensure we are moving in the right direction, in the best interests of the people I was working with and the organisation as a whole. If I have conflicting information, we talk about it and make a decision, sometimes, I make the decision, sometimes the team does, whatever keeps us moving towards the goal and has buy-in and support. The times that I make the decision, I explain my rationale and reasoning, so that people don’t feel excluded, like I have “done it to them”. We are in this together, we only succeed together.

I treat people like equals, with the trust and respect they deserve. They come to trust me and work with me to achieve our objectives. It is hard. Lots of people don’t like it. Lots of people want a command and control approach, but that’s not going to be successful. We’re in the age of the knowledge worker and have been for a long time. It demands a different approach than the industrial age.

have to be passionate, tenacious, and willing to admit you don’t have all the answers, but you’ll find out. Success takes leadership, not a place on the hierarchy.

Three Reasons People get Stuck or Fail with Knowledge Management

There are almost as many reasons why knowledge management programs get stuck or fail as there are organisations implementing it. But, based on my experience, these three arise most often:
1. The knowledge management project/program manager is new to knowledge management and they are confused about where/how to start;
2. The organisation underestimated the complexity of the task, e.g. the need to work cross-functionally;
3. The organisation focused only on Information Technology.

Reading this article/blog post can help you figure out how to address these things, and hopefully, by reading it, it’s also becoming clear how complex it is, and that giving responsibility to someone with knowledge management experience and expertise regardless of their other subject matter knowledge makes sense.

Three Stages of Knowledge Management Execution and What to do First in Each Stage

There are three stages of knowledge management. Those organisations who are just starting and wondering what to do or where to start. Often the person responsible is new to knowledge management and expects to treat it like they have treated other projects or programs that they have run, however, all too often those other projects or programs were centred on one idea/technology/content area, nothing is quite as complex as knowledge management. These organisations need to develop a strategy and a plan for knowledge management, identifying a prioritised list of activities as part of this plan for moving forward.

The second stage is made up of companies who have been working on knowledge management for 3-5 years and who have had some success. These organisations need to assess the maturity of what they have accomplished and plan out next steps for taking knowledge management to other parts of the organisation or maturing the use of the activities within the organisation, i.e. making the application of knowledge management processes more consistent.

Finally, the third stage is when the knowledge management program is being asked to broaden their activities to include other purposes/motivations, like helping the organisation be more innovative and creative. Again, in this stage, the organisation needs to develop a strategy and a plan, and consider what activities will help them meet this new purpose.

In some cases, like with innovation and creativity, the knowledge management program may need to look outside of the typical knowledge management activities and consider other disciplines, like design, or art (in the case of creativity and innovation).

What a Knowledge Sharing Culture Really Means

A knowledge-sharing culture means that the organisation is open to and encourages the sharing of knowledge. This means that people are expected to ask questions and search for the knowledge they need, and also, that the people who have the knowledge are expected to give it to those who need it. Although, like the rest of knowledge management, it is more complicated than this would lead one to believe.

People need to feel that it is safe to ask questions and admit that they don’t know something. They need to be given time for research and reflection. Those with the knowledge to share need to know that it is okay to take the time to share, and they need to understand the value of sharing both to themselves and the organisation.

There is a common belief in many organisations that people should hoard knowledge rather than share it, because they are afraid that by sharing their knowledge, they decrease their importance and open themselves up to being laid-off and replaced by someone at a lower salary. However, this is not true, the value in the knowledge is in the sharing of it and a person’s worth increases the more they share and are seen to be sharing.

When organisations start to consider increasing the knowledge sharing that happens, they need to help support these behaviours by redesigning performance reviews and rewards as well as putting activities in place to help encourage sharing, e.g. communities of practice.

Summary

It is time for knowledge management to be more than an after-thought for many organisations, in the Knowledge Age, it is time that knowledge be taken seriously and treated like the strategic asset that it is. Knowledge is alive, it lives, and it breathes through its sharing, it is not an information technology project, it is a people, process, and technology program. It encompasses all of the complexity of an ecosystem and needs to be understood as such.

You can contact Stephanie on the web:
www.realisation-of-potential.com
– LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/stephanieabarnes
– Email: Stephanie AT realisation-of-potential.com (removing all the spaces)

The importance of Purposeful Leadership

We hear a lot about “purposeful” and “purpose-driven” leaders and organisations. But what does that really mean, and does it make a difference?

There’s been considerable interest in the notion of “purposeful” and “purpose-driven” leaders and organisations in recent years, driven by growing levels of distrust and disillusionment with what are often regarded as the short-termism, financial imperatives driving contemporary firms.

Typically, the attributes of purposeful organisations – societal responsibility, values and ethics – are simply translated into the qualities that characterise their ideal leaders. But what type of leaders do purposeful organisations really need?

My definition of a Purposeful Leader is the extent to which a leader has a strong moral self, a vision for his or her team, and takes an ethical approach to leadership marked by a commitment to stakeholders.

Purpose is an aspirational reason for being that inspires and provides a call to action for an organisation, its partners, stakeholders, and society as a whole. Strategic research has consistently shown that purpose enables organisations to perform well in times of volatility. The research joins a growing body of evidence demonstrating that a strong and active purpose raises employee engagement and acts as a unifier, makes customers more loyal and committed to working with you, and helps to frame effective decision making in an environment of uncertainty. The EY Global Leadership Forecast 2018 found that getting purpose right builds organisational resilience and, crucially, improves long-term financial performance.

Independent research from Linkage found connections between purposeful leaders and business results: The companies they led had 2.5 times higher sales growth, four times higher profit growth, five times higher “competitive differentiation and innovation” scores, and nine times higher employee engagement scores. Companies that create lasting leadership impact differentially invest in developing purposeful leaders; and they take concrete steps to assess the organisational dynamics that shape leadership performance.

So exactly what is a Purposeful Business Leaders?

My extensive research into the subject came up with the following structure of what makes a Purposeful Leader:

  •  Purposeful leadership and its constituent components – moral self, commitment to stakeholders and vision – are important in influencing a range of employee outcomes, including intent to quit, job satisfaction, willingness to go the extra mile, sales performance and lower levels of cynicism. Alongside this, ethical leadership approaches also emerge as central for employees’ experience of their work. Employers should consider ways of creating and embedding a purposeful and ethical approach throughout the organisation.
  • Vision is especially important for employees and leaders alike to provide a sense of direction to guide activities. However, multiple or conflicting visions can emerge over time and in different departments or units, causing a sense of confusion and uncertainty, and so organisations should aim for alignment around a set of core themes.
  • There is much that organisations can do to foster an environment conducive to purposeful and ethical leadership; appropriate central policies, leader role-modelling, training and development, and the organisational values and culture can nurture purposeful leaders.
  • Constraints in organisations revolve around time and resource pressures, unrealistic targets, communication errors such as over-communication, remoteness of the centre, and cultural factors such as risk-aversion. When seeking to develop a purposeful approach to leadership, organisations should attend to issues such as these that may sabotage their efforts.
  • Organisations tend to focus on a limited range of stakeholders and discount others from their decision-making. However, this can lead to an imbalance in how the organisation relates to its wider setting. To combat this, organisations can consider strategies such as creating working groups to evaluate the impact of important decisions on a wide range of different stakeholders

So, let’s now move to leadership, my understanding of leadership is that leadership is the ability to motivate groups of people towards a common goal, an incredibly important skill in today’s business world.

Without strong leadership, many otherwise good businesses fail. Understanding the characteristics of strong leaders and cultivating those skills is paramount for those pursuing a career in business.

Many of the world’s most respected leaders have several personality traits in common. Some of the most recognisable traits are the ability to initiate change and inspire a shared vision, as well as knowing how to “encourage the heart” and model the skills and behaviours that are necessary to achieve the stated objectives. Good leaders must also be confident enough in themselves to enable others to contribute and succeed.

Let’s now look at some of the most recognised model leaders from the past:

The Ability to Initiate Change — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Good leaders are never satisfied with the status quo and usually take action to change it. In addition, strong leaders bring about change for the common good by involving others in the process. Roosevelt. sought practical ways to help struggling men and women make a better world for themselves and their children.

His philosophy was, “bold, persistent experimentation…Take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” Being willing to take risks by trying new ideas and involving others in the process of change is a key quality of strong leaders.

Inspiring a Shared Vision — The Leadership of Martin Luther King

Leaders, through their words and actions, must have the ability to draw others into a common vision by telling others where they intend to go and urging them to join in that vision.

Martin Luther King’s vision of a country free from racial segregation and discrimination, so poignantly expressed in his famous “I have a dream…” speech, exemplifies this critical leadership trait. King had a vision of a better America, and his ability to bring both whites and blacks together to march against segregation changed America profoundly.

Model Leadership — Mohandas K. Gandhi

Strong leaders not only need to have a vision and the ability to initiate change, but they must also model the values, actions, and behaviors necessary to make the vision reality. Gandhi not only created and espoused the philosophies of passive resistance and constructive non-violence, but he also lived by these principles.

According to Indira Gandhi, “More than his words, his life was his message.” By choosing to consistently live and work in a manner that exemplified the values he believed in, Gandhi engendered trust, becoming a role model for others looking to affect change without resorting to violence.

Encouraging the Heart — The Leadership of Winston Churchill

On December 29, 1940, London was hit by one of the largest aerial attacks of World War II. Somehow, St. Paul’s Cathedral survived. Two days later a photo showing a silhouette of the dome of St. Paul’s, surrounded by smoke and flames ran in the paper with a caption that read, “It symbolises the steadiness of London’s stand against the enemy: the firmness of right against wrong.”

Churchill recognized the importance of St. Paul’s as a morale booster. His instructions were clear on that December night, “At all costs, St. Paul’s must be saved.”

Leaders must be able to encourage the hearts of those who share their vision, providing a sense of confident optimism even in the face of enormous difficulties.

Traditional skills have not been supplanted but they now co-exist and very visually have survived with a mix of new factors, in your mind was Franklin D. Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Mohandas K. Gandhi or Winston Churchill a Purposeful Leader?

What is your purpose?

Purpose goes beyond our physical and emotional needs. Being driven by a purpose or a mission contains much more than when we are driven by basic needs for which we set goals that we want to achieve.

When we are driven by purpose, we look for meaning in what we do – ways to create enrichment and happiness in our lives. In that sense, purpose means identifying our reason for being.

Today, many of us increasingly look for our professional lives to provide us with meaning and that is why one of the key tasks of effective leaders is to ignite a deeper sense of purpose in their employees.

Purpose ties the organisation together

When an organisation delivers excellent service, it is because the employees know what they do and why they do it. They simply manage to bring people together for a common cause. That is the backbone of what they do – namely the purpose. It is the job of the organisation and its leaders to provide the employees with meaning and in this context, purpose can be a driving force to achieve the intended results.

Being aligned on the purpose of work and being committed to fulfilling the mission is probably one of the most effective ways to engage both consumers and employees. However, we all know that it is hard enough to find individual purposes in life that creates meaning and motivates us. So how can this be done for a whole organisation with many diverse people?

How to lead with purpose?

When creating an organisational shared purpose the essential questions to ask are:

What is the shared purpose that:

  • Articulates a clear purpose for your organisation. Focus on answering the why questions. We all know what our organisations do. Purpose is about asking why we exist in the first place, what our employees and stakeholders care about, and what resonates with customers.
  • Use purpose as a lens for everything you do. Let purpose guide the solutions you offer, how you treat your customers, and how you engage your workforce.
  • Communicate success stories to all constituents. Stories perpetuate purpose. Each time people repeat them, purpose entwines more closely with day-to-day business.
  • Integrate purpose into the company’s DNA. Reinforce purpose through the day-to-day customer and employee experience. Treat purpose as a commitment to stakeholders and publicly update on its progress.
  • Focus on leaders. Help them develop their own “why.” Work with all leaders to articulate their own purpose as it relates to the overarching purpose for the business. Then, help them do the same for their teams and employees.
  • Develop key skills. Purpose-driven leaders form teams, inspire, and motivate in a fast-changing world. They develop psychological safety and agility.

I have developed the fifth book in a series of books that provides purpose-driven outcomes in support of some of the most talked-about subjects in life today, my book is called ‘Purposeful Discussions’ through the book and its 32 chapters, I take purpose across everything we do; covering emotional intelligence, human to human interaction, human relationships, strategy, government, geopolitics, compliance, regulation, cybercrime with conclusions across life growth, long life learnings, personal development, mentorship and the takeaways that we all need to arm ourselves with over the next 10 years to survive, to co-create a more sustainable future.

https://www.waterstones.com/books/search/term/purposeful+discussions+geoff+hudson+searle

My overall conclusion on Purposeful Business leadership in today’s disruptive world is a balanced view of universal characteristics and traits which has the potential to guide us through years of transformation with optimism and idealism.
The first step to using Purpose is to think about a company direction and Inspire others and thus to begin the personal transition from managing to leading is to understand your own Purpose.

If you aspire to become a leader, you also need to find an organisation that will accommodate your Purpose, only if we set sail on the right course and with smart individuals that make our Purposeful journey, progress, performance will become so much more worthwhile.

Stephen R. Covey once said:

“When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air.”

Why Strategy and Strategic Leadership Should Never be Confused with Metrics!


I was asked recently to speak at a conference, when I ask about the topic to be discussed I was instructed ‘to discuss leadership’, I sat back and smiled, it was clear the person leading the content really did not understand the breadth of the subject in today’s business world, I asked if I could discuss leadership in the context of strategic leadership vs undermining metrics, I received a nod, so I took that as an acceptance.

The concept of strategy emerged more than 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece with a one-dimensional perspective that focused on how generals waged war. Under this concept, a general is responsible for multiple units, on multiple fronts, in multiple battles, over various spans of time. The general’s challenge is to provide the vision and preparation for orchestrating the subsequent comprehensive actions.

The general’s strategy, then, consists of an integrated set of choices designed to achieve specific goals. But it is important to remember that strategy is not an accurate term for every important choice that the general faced.

This is where organisations fail in the business world. Many executives have begun calling everything they do strategic. Too often, strategy becomes a catchall term, used to mean whatever the executive wants it to mean.

And all too often, the result is that the organisation undertakes a collection of business activities that create confusion and undermine credibility because they are not strategically aligned. Sometimes these executives confuse actions or tactics which are the means by which strategies are executed with strategies themselves. They are then left to wonder why they failed to achieve their desired goals.

Strategy addresses how the business intends to engage its environment in pursuit of its desired goals. Without strategy, time and resources will be wasted on piecemeal, disparate activities. Sometimes, senior managers will fill the void with their own interpretation of what the business should be doing. The result is usually unsuccessful initiatives that are incomplete, disjointed, and confusing.

Strategic leadership rises above this confusion. But it does not come easy. Studies show that fewer than one in 10 leaders exhibit strategic skills, a woefully inadequate number.


It would be a mistake to believe that strategic leadership is only needed in times of crisis. During the good times, strategic leadership is just as important as during the bad times, because it ensures valuable resources are focused on the right areas and in the right ways, long term planning of strategy to execution vs short-termism and no planning.

At its essence, strategic leadership is the ability to learn, anticipate, challenge, interpret, decide, and align organisational capabilities and competing interests in ways that effectively engage the everyday opportunities and problems presented by the competitive environment. It is the ability to translate vision into reality by seeing the bigger picture and longer time horizons, then creating the strategies necessary to achieve goals that deliver valued results.

Tying performance metrics to strategy has become an accepted best practice over the past few decades. Strategy is abstract by definition, but metrics give strategy form, allowing our minds to grasp it more readily. With metrics, Ford Motor Company’s onetime strategy “Quality is job one” could be translated into Six Sigma performance standards. Apple’s “Think different” and Samsung’s “Create the future” could be linked to the number of sales from new products. If the strategy is the blueprint for building an organisation, metrics are the concrete, wood, drywall, and bricks.

But there’s a hidden trap in this organisational architecture. A company can easily lose sight of its strategy and instead focus strictly on the metrics that are meant to represent it. We all know that metrics are inherently imperfect at some levels. In business, the intent behind metrics is usually to capture some underlying goal and they almost always fail to do this as well as we would like.

Surrogation is especially harmful when the metrics and the strategy are poorly aligned. The greater the mismatch, the larger the potential damage.

Executives and senior managers who are charged with communicating strategy into this process are responsible for outcomes, strategy needs embedded execution and metrics on its success.

In addition to executives and senior managers losing sight of strategy over metrics, they often make the mistake of sticking with a failing strategy.

Why, and how do they avoid this trap?

Every company strategy whether good or bad has dissenters. But in some organisations, objectors are either suppressed or they understand that any constructive feedback isn’t welcome

Sticking with a once-successful strategy for too long can have repercussions. So how can companies avoid making a similar mistake when facing disruption?

The Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders

Executives and senior management must challenge mutually reinforcing biases that see people being influenced by a prior commitment to a particular course of action.

People who make investment decisions push ahead with a project even if things go badly because of the costs they have already incurred. Those costs will not be recovered if they walk away. This is called the ‘sunk cost fallacy’.

Decision-makers prefer to invest more in a course of action rather than withdraw and lose everything, believing that they can turn the situation around. In this scenario, people suffer from loss aversion.


The illusion of control takes hold. This bias, which is reinforced by the previous two, sees people overestimating their ability to control the future. They take credit for the outcomes of decisions and confuse forecasting the future with actually making it happen.

An inherent desire to complete tasks such as loading the dishwasher or finishing a project drives most people who have a preference for completion.

Those opposing a course of action often remain silent because they believe no one else shares their view. Meanwhile, colleagues interpret their silence as agreement. That can lead to everyone agreeing to a decision that nobody believes in. This is known as pluralistic ignorance.

Psychological and sociological studies show that someone’s identity and social status is often linked to their commitments. People can suffer a perceived loss of status or a threat to their identity when they withdraw from a commitment.

Understanding what drives people to push ahead with a project even if it’s failing is the first step to avoiding an escalation of commitment. The next is taking the following measures to prevent it from happening.

Spotting an escalation of commitment can be challenging, which is why things go wrong before executives and senior managers really see what’s happening.

Once invested in a course of action, they ignore the signs even when their company is on the verge of collapse. Prevention is possible, providing managers across the organisation are encouraged through the right processes and practices to consider different strategies and adopt a more objective approach to decision-making.


Final thought, the only certainty about the future is that it is uncertain, and past success does not guarantee future success.

Some of the factors driving this uncertainty include advances in technology and the quantity of information being produced; shifting customer needs; internal competition within companies for resources; struggles to maintain profitability as the economy changes and evolves; and the new normal of doing more with less for countless business operations.

But we also see markets offering greater opportunities to those able to adapt.

The ability to influence others to engage in efforts that enable organisational success, while acknowledging the constraints of time and resources, is at the heart of being strategic. It is why leaders must prove they are capable strategic leaders.

These leaders recognise situational constraints and adapt to their environment. By necessity and design, they are flexible and able to adjust their strategies to achieve the stated goals. What they do is measurably tied to goals.

Their attributes go beyond charisma, experience, and expertise. Aspirations are not enough; businesses want to see results. And results, more often than not, take strategic leadership.

As Jerome Powell – Chair of the US Federal Reserve, once said:

“Alignment of business strategy and risk appetite should minimize the firm’s exposure to large and unexpected losses. In addition, the firm’s risk management capabilities need to be commensurate with the risks it expects to take.”

Navigating the Data Experience Economy

I recently attended a Podcast in London called ‘Unleash your Product Data’, the description of the event caught my attention with speakers and experts in the field from Boden, Productsup and The Comma Group. I have recently been a judge for ‘The Experian Data Excellence Award for Lloyds Bank National Business Awards 2019’, so fresh off the mark, I was ready with my questions!

Here is a link to the PodCast: Podomatic Podcasts

After the questioning, Emile Bloemen from Productsup approached me and we had a very interesting discussion across the Product and Customer Experience in data, which I found fascinating, and which prompted me to write this blog.

Let’s have a look at the customer experience and why the need for product experience management.

Truly understanding customer needs may help companies improve not only the buying experience but also their bottom line. A company’s relationship with its customers is about much more than improving product ratings or decreasing wait times. Understanding the customer journey is about learning what customers experience from the moment they begin considering a purchase, and then working to make the journey toward buying a product or service as simple, clear, and efficient as possible.

Customer experience has become the centrepiece of most marketing strategies today. Marketers have begun to realise that it’s the biggest differentiator a brand or a retailer has in today’s overcrowded market. A great customer experience starts with a compelling product experience. Customers have their pick of channels, so standing out among the crowd with relevant product information is imperative.

The race to own customer experience is on. Companies are recognizing the importance of delivering an experience that makes them stand out from their competition. Some are learning the hard way.

In recent year’s United Airlines had a brand crisis, in which $1.4 billion in value was wiped out overnight when a passenger’s experience went viral on social media. And, you may not have heard about Juicero, but it fell victim to a brand crisis when it was discovered the proprietary juice packets needed for its $699 juicer weren’t so proprietary, resulting in the company dropping the price of the juicer to $200, and then ultimately going out of business.

Be it customer service, product quality or just the way the customers feel about the companies they do business with, customer experience rises to the top of whether or not the customer will decide to keep doing business with a brand.

Everything a brand does – the way it does its marketing, research, advertising and more – all play a role in shaping the customer’s experience. Focusing on customer experience management (CXM) may be the single most important investment a brand can make in today’s competitive business climate.

Look around you. How many people are on their computer? Their cell phone? We’re surrounded by digital experiences, both at work and at home. Whether you’re a SaaS or cloud business, or if a digital experience is just one facet of your offerings, it’s imperative that you deliver an amazing product experience.

As a product leader, this weight of this responsibility falls on your shoulders and if you want to create competitive products, you need to develop a customer-centric mindset. Understanding product experiences inside and out will benefit your customers and your career. We’re no longer transitioning to a new era of business, we’re deep in it, and if you want to keep up, you need to be in tune with your customers and deliver continuous intrinsic value. Otherwise, you’ll be obsolete before you can say “Blockbuster.”

For this reason, Product Experience Management (PXM) tools are a necessity. You want to be able to compete on all the shopping channels and new marketplaces that arise. The ability to prepare a product catalogue to flow into every channel in the required format is no easy task.

The eCommerce space is changing. Customers demand a compelling and consistent brand experience wherever they shop. Product experience management allows brands and retailers to offer buyers these superior experiences, leading to increased conversions, reduced returns, improved customer satisfaction, and stronger brand loyalty.

‘Brands and retailers must deliver a compelling story across all digital touchpoints during the purchasing journey.’

That all sounds well and good – but how do you actually do that?

How can brands and retailers manage product experiences and provide compelling content in the proper context?

And where does product information management (PIM) fit into this picture?

What is Product Experience Management (PXM)?

Product Experience Management is a new profession. It’s the subtle science of delivering product information in context, adapted and scoped by channel and locale to match the buying experience at every touchpoint. Having the right data and insight into the type of product experience buyers expect is the foundation for any great customer experience.

‘According to Forrester, 85% of customers rate product information as the top feature they want from a website.’

Product experience management is how you make an emotional connection with your buyers. It’s the next stage beyond goods and services in the progression of economic value. PIM is the “what” you use to describe your commodities, goods, and services, while PXM is “how” you stage an experience. In 1999, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore wrote a book entitled ‘The Experience Economy’. The context is about how people trade money for time. This concept and the progression of economic value help us understand how we arrived at the place where customer experiences are the centrepiece of business models.

Pine and Gilmore say that in today’s economy people differentiate themselves from their competitors by moving up the economic value chain to provide excellent customer experiences. This value chain concept is shown below:

By using PIM as an engine for automating the boring, tedious, repetitive tasks involved in collecting, standardizing, and enriching product content, your marketing and eCommerce teams can turn their attention to contextualising product information, before distributing it to each channel.

Putting product data in context can mean several things: the right images, the right descriptions, the right attribute sets, and more. Each must be precisely tailored for the locale, cultural norms and standards, context for the channel, and the ways your buyer interacts with your brand. With the right tools, you can even leverage product data intelligence to further streamline your PXM practice.

These days, it’s all about speed. If you can’t get your products to market fast enough, then you’ll miss out on sales. It’s especially critical to get to market on time if your products are sold on a seasonal basis, or if you regularly add new products and models.

A good PXM solution enables your team to publish and update product catalogues in a timely way. It provides workflows to optimize and streamline processes, helping brands and retailers quickly add new products or channels. It uses business rules and automation to reduce manual work, freeing up time for marketers to write emotional product descriptions, while managing product images as well as text. With improved, streamlined processes, marketers can create complete and compelling product experiences across all channels.

This is the century of ‘smart devices’ which pushes the boundaries further and making the impossible possible. Organisations should analyse the gap across various markets in the technology field and innovate smart products and accessories catering to different requirements of their customers. The right product innovation can not only save an organisation from extinction but also help them sustain and grow by penetrating markets faster, connecting better with clients, seising big opportunities and having an edge in the business competition.

Profitable it seems for organisations to come up with innovative products, the groundwork to find a breakthrough idea is extremely complex. The complete cycle of inventing & innovating a product, after further developments and modifications, till it reaches maturity and leads to innovation of another new product is time-consuming and exceedingly complicated.

It needs immense precautions to implement an idea for product innovation and the development of the same. Tech experts should keep in mind its further implications, possible benefits, and disadvantages, if any, before the product is launched in the market. Balance is a very important aspect for an organization in product innovation.

The refinement of ideas, innovation of products and their public acceptance decides the future of an organisation and its success. The path is full of risks, nevertheless, organizations should step ahead cautiously by investing majorly in product innovation and deploying the best minds, in order to succeed and sustain today’s market

Final thought, in an age of constant, complex and disruptive technological innovation, knowing what, when, and how to structure regulatory interventions has become more difficult. Regulators find themselves in a situation where they believe they must opt for either reckless action (regulation without sufficient facts) or paralysis (doing nothing).

Inevitably in such a case, caution tends to imply risk. But such caution merely functions to reinforce the status quo and makes it harder for new technologies to reach the market in a timely or efficient manner.

Possibly the solution, is for lawmaking and regulatory design needs to become more proactive, dynamic, and responsive. So how can regulators actually achieve these goals? What can regulators do to promote innovation and offer better opportunities to people wanting to build a new business around a disruptive technology or simply enjoy the benefits of a disruptive new technology as a consumer?

As Mahatma Gandi once said:

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

The 4th industrial revolution debate across Autonomous Leadership

I recently had a very interesting conversation with a PhD in behaviour science – we were actually debating the issues and positives across micromanagement, after he had read my blog, ‘Is micromanagement delusional or can it be effective’, whilst I wrote this blog back in 2015, there currently appears to be much discussion around leadership and the 4th industrial creation of autonomous leadership, some genius believes autonomous leadership is the answer to ineffective leadership.

I thought it was time to refresh my thinking and look into the negatives and positives, and why autonomous leadership should be deployed across business.

Most leaders want employees who take the initiative, get involved, make decisions and generate ideas. In fact, because your team is likely made up of educated, competent, seasoned employees (some of whom you may have hand-selected), it’s natural to expect that they would need a little direction to take the proverbial ball and run with it. You have a vested interest in their success because, when your team performs well, everyone wins.

Likewise, employees of all generations share a desire to work autonomously toward the communicated vision. No one wants to feel as if they’re operating under someone else’s thumb, especially team members who are smart, ambitious and motivated.

If autonomy is an essential ingredient for promoting employee engagement and motivation, and given that both leaders and employees desire empowered environments, what keeps leaders from encouraging self-sufficiency in their employees? The short answer is a skewed perception of reality.

The breakdown often begins when leaders don’t see their employees making decisions and taking action quickly enough, or in the same way the leader would do it. In this situation, you understandably might question the motivation behind the employee’s lack of autonomy. Some executives I’ve coached have told me they wonder if their employees don’t care, if they’re not ambitious or competent enough to do the job. They often assume their employees need or want more direction because they seem to require help or feedback before moving forward. In other words, leaders often feel the problem is with their employees, not them.

Autonomy in the workplace is hard to implement and easy to abuse. It requires managers and employees to trust each other and communicate on projects, which can be challenging in their own rights. Too often, a communication breakdown leads to micromanaging or missed deadlines.

By tapping into information-sharing channels and mutual trust, it’s possible to increase team autonomy in the workplace. Here are a few examples of companies channelling information well and how employees become more autonomous because of it.

Many leaders instinctively want complete visibility of their team.

This is a recipe for micromanagement.

Interesting statement by Dr David Rock from The NeuroLeadership Institute, when he said: “Although we may not think about it often, everyone experiences the workplace as a social system. People who feel betrayed or unrecognized at work, experience it as a neural impulse, as powerful and painful as a blow to the head.”

He goes on to say that employees tend to limit their commitment and engagement if they feel undervalued. “They become purely transactional employees, reluctant to give more of themselves to the company, because the social context stands in their way.”

This type of situation can be the root cause of a low-performing team. Think about times that you have been part of such a team. It quickly demotivates everyone, plus rectifying the situation is very difficult once it takes hold. Your managerial challenge is to provide conditions where such a situation is less likely to happen, and giving the team a measure of autonomy in how to carry out their work is key.

Based on research and anecdotal evidence, there’s no denying workplace autonomy promotes employee happiness. A workplace survey by Gensler concluded that employees given more choices are more satisfied and higher performing than counterparts with fewer freedoms. Autonomy often inspires a culture of innovation, and allows employees an opportunity to become more self-sufficient. For executives, this means less time overseeing daily operations and more time focused on strategy and growth. But for a company that still hasn’t shifted to an autonomous environment, the idea of giving employees so much freedom can be a little unsettling.

Autonomy is quickly becoming the norm. Employees not only desire greater control over their work style and environment — they expect it. By exercising the above suggestions, you can help create a culture of freedom and choice without sacrificing efficiency, productivity and structure.

In order to make your team more autonomous, you need to establish communication and trust. Without communication, you’re leaving your employees without a safety net while your employees are working in isolation

Let’s look at some of the disadvantages of employee empowerment:

Lack of experience increases risk

While the handing down of responsibility promises to improve speed, agility and productivity, a concern is that decisions are now being made by less experienced and less expert personnel. This can increase the number of mistakes made and put reputation at risk.

The risk of work practices falling into chaos must be tackled by proper training, and by ensuring that supervisors maintain organizational standards. These standards must incorporate an organization’s values and beliefs: care must be taken that employees do not work in accordance with individual values that may be divergent to the corporate mission and vision.

Potential for decreased efficiency

When people are given the autonomy to make their own decisions, those decisions cease to be uniform. This lack of coordination can lead to problems down the line.
It is also the case that autonomous employees may decide to work slower on days when they feel distracted or lack the energy to forge ahead. Where some workers are performing more productively than others, without being rewarded for doing so, internal friction can increase. If not dealt with, this can cause confrontation or a spiral to the bottom as all workers decide to work at the pace of the slowest and least productive team member.

Failing relationships

Empowerment inevitably leads to a flatter, more streamlined management structure. The risk here is that professional relationships become blurred, and boundaries of authority become broken. This might require greater control over employees, not less.

Accountability issues may arise, leading to a blame culture that, if left unchecked, will lead to further discontent and an environment of mistrust. In such a situation, it is likely that employees will decide to take less responsibility for fear of repercussions should things go wrong.

Poor decision-making
If a team lacks the individuals with skills commensurate to the project, tasks, and work required, decision-making will be poorer. This will be to the detriment of the organization, as poor solutions lead to decreasing productivity and internal conflict.

Are you really a leader if nobody is following?

As a leader, you should have an element of magnetism to your style. What do I mean by that? I mean that people should be drawn to you; they should want to be around you – by choice, that is, not because it’s their job to take your direction. The greatest leaders have a natural following of people that are pointed in the same direction; people that want to accomplish the same goals; people that want to be on your journey!

These relational principals apply across the board. Just because you’re in a leadership position doesn’t mean that you’ve attained perfection. You’re human. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to have questions, and people will respect you more for owning that. Your transparency and honesty open the doors for you to engage others and rely on their strengths and expertise. Your team will feel needed and valued by you, and they will likely jump into help compensate for your weaknesses.

In addition to being authentic about yourself, leaders should realise the importance of being open and honest about the state of their organization, current and future. Leaders should be clear and candid in their communication to give everyone an accurate assessment of what’s going on and what’s needed to improve. This openness and authenticity create understanding and direction, and it minimizes the chaos of uncertainty.

The truth of the matter is that we cannot all be the leader in charge.

The end result is that many people want to be led. They need someone who can be visionary and inspirational.

Perhaps there is some overlap with this and some of the other points already mentioned, but I thought it was important to say it in this particular way. The reason for that is because this puts the focus on understanding what your people need. To do this, you must get to know your people. You have to ask questions, listen and engage. This is a critical component to understanding people and meeting their needs.

Which brings me on to ‘we are a direct reflection of our experiences’ – the way we behave and not all organisational cultures are created equal. Your company’s behaviors and norms can be unhealthy and unsupportive. But take heart: your organisation has the power to build a high-performance culture. A high-performance culture has behaviors and norms that lead your organisation to achieve superior results by setting clear business goals, defining employees’ responsibilities, creating a trusting environment, and encouraging employees to continuously grow and reinvent themselves.

Employee engagement is a direct outcome of a high-performance company culture. Why? Because high-performance cultures clearly outline behaviors and norms that are healthy and supportive.

Employees clearly understand their culture and what is expected of them. They feel connected. They feel involved. They feel supported. And, therefore, they feel engaged. A company that takes its people seriously will have a business strategy, vision, mission and values.

It’s alarming to know that eighty-seven per cent of HR leaders state that company culture and engagement are their biggest challenges. It makes sense. There are several reasons culture and engagement are rising as relevant challenges for organisations. To start, employer branding has become more and more important. Employees are very much like customers. With the changes in the job market, employees have greater opportunities than they had in the past.

This puts employers in the position of having to actively attract employees, all while employees’ perceptions about work are changing. For the most part, employees no longer prioritise staying at a single job until retirement and instead are very uncommitted, they are more likely to choose a job that interests them and aligns with their own passion and values at a moment in time. Your organisation needs to regularly invest in culture to regularly see the resulting engaged employee base.

By providing training opportunities, the latest in technological advancements, managerial support, and an open mind about what makes a great workplace environment, companies can evolve to keep pace with employees’ expectations to really drive success. The key is that this is an ongoing process. Engagement doesn’t just happen – you have to focus employee needs over time and use that to drive a strong culture, a good way to achieve this is with an HR development plan, which has the engagement of senior leadership, management and the board of directors.

Final thought, by supporting people we employ or our family members to develop themselves so that we can each reach a state where we are conscious that the interior work is as important as our exterior communication skills.

By learning to deploy those skills to give individual context and insight to host other conversations, which would be vastly more helpful than the kind of conversation that happens in the superficial contextual layer.

We nominally share a language with others; sometimes not even that. Language isn’t helping us bridge the divide of ideological differences effectively any more. Embodied dialogue methods, like constellations and storytelling, can open new perspectives in people’s minds.

I am not convinced in my lifetime that an intuitive or compassionate AI, or robot will even come close to this objective, we need better leadership to drive home performance and growth outcomes, based around passionate, committed and determined humans.

A great quote by John Maxwell, where he states:

“If you are leading others and you’re lonely, then you’re not doing it right. Think about it. If you’re all alone, that means nobody is following you. And if nobody is following you, then you’re not really leading.”

Emotional Intelligence and Your Survival through the 4th Industrial Revolution!

Many experts now believe that a person’s emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) may be more important than their IQ and is certainly a better predictor of success, quality of relationships, Meaningful Conversations and overall happiness.

I have written many blogs on the subject, some of my readers may even recall the balance of IQ vs EQ is it really necessary?

Emotion has long been something of a taboo subject in the workplace. It’s widely seen as inherently negative – it clouds decision-making; allegedly it’s a source of weakness; it should be left somewhere but certainly not at the office. But recent changes in business and the wider world have caused a seismic shift in how people view emotion and appreciate its power when used intelligently.

One of the root causes is that the composition of the workforce has changed vastly over a relatively short period. It has become far more diverse in terms of ethnicity, culture, religion, gender and sexuality. And a gap has opened up, especially between members of the older generations who run most organisations and the millennials and gen Z-ers who work for them when it comes to personal values and expectations of employment.

The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019 has found that millennials (defined by the researchers as those born between January 1983 and December 1994) and gen Z-ers (born January 1995 to December 1999) are mistrustful of businesses that prioritise their own agendas over their impact on society.

Many respondents to the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey said they would cut immediate ties with any company that didn’t share their values.
With the active rise of EQ, The World Economic Forum now considers EQ a crucial skill for the fourth industrial revolution, while research has always shown that EQ improves decision-making and morale in organisations.

Image © 6seconds.org/coaching

The Fourth Industrial Revolution introduces integrated adjustments to the way we interact with the world around us, including new advancements like the Internet of Things, the Internet of Systems, artificial intelligence, and more. We’re looking at not just technological assistance, but a flourishing form of technological assimilation

Move over, IQ; it’s not just about increased academia anymore. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will change how we interact with one another in conjunction with our technology, and it requires that we reconnect with our EQ (emotional quotient). As AI begins to make its way into the decision-making processes of modern business, emotional and social intelligence become two capabilities that can’t be automated yet – so more Meaningful and Purposeful Discussions…….?

In fewer than five years, more than a third (35%) of skills considered important today will have changed, according to this REPORT by The World Economic Forum. Amongst cognitive abilities such as complex problem solving and critical thinking, emotional intelligence – often referred to as ‘street smarts’ – has been identified as a crucial social skill that will be needed by all.

The report, based on the opinions of chief HR and strategy officers from leading global organisations, suggests that seismic advances in technology including artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and machine learning will revolutionise the way we live and work. As a result, organisations and employees will be under growing pressure to upgrade and fine-tune their skillsets to thrive, or even survive, in what is being termed The Fourth Industrial Revolution.

It’s one thing to have complex thinkers with lightning-fast computational skills and incomparable technical abilities, but it’s quite another to have an intercommunicating workforce that’s situationally aware and adaptive.

Consider the example of FedEx, which took EQ to heart when designing its leadership program. By focusing on building emotional intelligence into its management team, the company has yielded an 8-11 percent increase in core leadership competencies. Employees also made vast improvements in their decision-making and influencing abilities and experienced a marked improvement in their quality of life.

According to The World Economic report, by 2020 there will be a greater bidding war for employees with social abilities including persuasion and emotional intelligence compared to more limited technical skills like programming or equipment operation and control. Furthermore, professions previously seen as purely technical will see new demand for interpersonal skills, such as being able to communicate data effectively. Emotional intelligence is likely to be a major deciding factor in who will be able to adapt and flourish in these new roles.

In his books, ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ and Working With Emotional Intelligence’, Daniel Goleman presents five categories of emotional intelligence. To hire candidates who will thrive in your workplace, look for those who have a handle on these five pillars:

1. Self-awareness: If a person has a healthy sense of self-awareness, he understands his own strengths and weaknesses, as well as how his actions affect others. A person who is self-aware is usually better able to handle and learn from constructive criticism than one who is not.

2. Self-regulation: A person with a high EQ can maturely reveal her emotions and exercise restraint when needed. Instead of squelching her feelings, she expresses them with restraint and control.

3. Motivation: Emotionally intelligent people are self-motivated. They’re not motivated simply by money or a title. They are usually resilient and optimistic when they encounter disappointment and driven by an inner ambition.

4. Empathy: A person who has empathy has compassion and an understanding of human nature that allows him to connect with other people on an emotional level. The ability to empathize allows a person to provide great service and respond genuinely to others’ concerns.

5. People skills: People who are emotionally intelligent are able to build rapport and trust quickly with others on their teams. They avoid power struggles and backstabbing. They usually enjoy other people and have the respect of others around them.

Daniel Goleman on the importance of emotional intelligence

Effective leadership requires mastering and blending both left- and right-brain thinking.

Accenture recently conducted a research study across 200 C-suite executives from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States which indicated that pushing the C-suite to find new ways to lead, grow and sustain their organisations, demands a new type of leader to engage passion, principles and capabilities. Their expectation? Leaders who have a strong balance across analytics-led and human-centred skills.

This approach blends what’s traditionally been considered “left-brain” (scientific) skills that draw on data analysis and critical reasoning with “right-brain” (creative) skills that draw on areas like intuition and empathy. Bringing the two together intentionally to drive deeper levels of problem-solving and value creation is critical.

But the majority (89%) of today’s C-suite leaders hold business school, science, or technology degrees and have honed “left brain” skills—like critical reasoning, decision-making and results-orientation. Numbers. Data. Stats. The science of management, rooted in reasoning and proof points. This has served them well, and these capabilities will always be vital. But they are no longer sufficient.

Final thought. As the pace of change continues to accelerate and we head towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution, being able to identify and anticipate future skills requirements will be crucial. Those organisations and employees who embrace and prepare for the changes will be the biggest winners.

Look around you: Tech is being transfused into the veins of every industry. You need to make an educated guess as to how — and which — new technologies could impact your business and then act.

Rapid disruptive change is inevitable, and the assimilation of technology into every aspect of modern business is unavoidable.

The question is whether today’s business leaders can remain competitive in a technological world that’s rapidly and exponentially evolving. The tide is rising on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Guest-blog: Patrick Bailey – Diversification vs. focus-driven

Patrick Bailey

Adversity of any magnitude should make us stronger and fill us with life’s wisdom, however, strength in any form is born from adversity – I wrote ‘Freedom after the Sharks’ from adversity and set up a business in the double-dip of 2008 and 2009, many people have done the same and it is almost a universal theme in the lives of many of the world’s most eminent minds.

As Michelle Obama once said:
‘You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.’

Determination, resilience, and persistence are the enabler for people to push past their adversities and prevail.
Overcoming adversity is one of our main challenges in life.
When we resolve to confront and overcome it, we become expert at dealing with it and consequently triumph over our day-to-day struggles.

Have you ever felt that your world is starting to fall apart because of how life tends to bombard you with seemingly impossible challenges?
Have you ever felt helpless and would rather spend your days feeling like a solitary zombie while the rest of the world doesn’t even care that you’re this close to almost losing your sanity?
Well, you’re not alone and the good news is, there are ways to properly deal with and overcome these obstacles.

Reality has a way of reminding us that no matter how hard you try and how good you treat people, you will always have those days, those times when you think the world is against you. During these moments, you often have the urge to either shut down or finally give up and think of the most foolish remedies available to you – both can have long-term damaging effects on you, emotionally and physically.

Today I have the pleasure of introducing another Guest Blogger, Patrick Bailey, who is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery.

He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoys writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. His website is: www.patrickbaileys.com

Patrick is going to discuss with us today “Diversification vs. Focus-Driven”

When the Tough gets going, remember this motto: ‘Hibernation is not Survival’

There’s a prevailing rule in a bear market, and that is to play dead when the stock prices are plunging.

After all, the market almost always corrects itself. Stocks operate on a cycle — sometimes up, sometimes down — except, of course, in cases when the economy is undergoing a recession.

Hibernation is different from inactivity, however. You just park your money in treasury bills or certificates of deposits for the moment.

But is hibernation a good tactic for your business during an economic slowdown?

Diversification vs. Focus-Driven

This has been the subject of debate.

Startups that manage to grow will often hit a fork in the road where they can no longer grow with their current set up.

Now, they have to make a choice: diversify their portfolio or bolster their product while they take a more focus-driven approach.

Instead of diversifying, they just ensure that their processes and workflow are more efficient, they automate to limit disruption and enhance the customer experience to guarantee client loyalty.

However, while you may see your bottom-line increase, it could just be temporary. That’s because you are not adding products or service value to your business.

Diversification doesn’t immediately produce results either. There’s no guarantee it will ever deliver the outcome you anticipate.

When the economy is in transition, you will find many competitors fighting over the scraps. This is a high-stakes game that could spell success or the end of your business. However, the alternative is no less disastrous.

The other option is not doing anything. When you pin the future of your company entirely on the hope that the economy will get better, you have the wrong strategy.

If you do decide to diversify, here are some quick tips to cut your risks:

  1. Don’t veer away too much from your core competency. Diversification doesn’t always mean being different. That’s oversimplifying its definition. Knowing your core competence will give you insight into how other capabilities tie together. Your main goal should be to create a new product or service that is still tied to your core competency in order to bring in new customers.
  2. Don’t forget your loyal customers. In fact, you need to align your strategies by boosting the value of your core business. You then retain the same customers and offer them another product that matches another — but still related — need.
  3. Put money into your marketing efforts. Ads and promotions are typically the first things to be sacrificed by companies that are scrimping on the budget. However, you need to make people aware that you have a new product. Even in an economic slowdown, people still buy. That’s consumer resiliency. You need to funnel these customers to your company by showing them that you are the answer to their most nagging questions.
  4. Timing is everything. Still aligning your diversification with your core competencies, you need to know when to change tack and when to sit it out. Before deciding to diversify, you need to bolster your core business to make sure you don’t lose focus. When the revenues have plateaued, then it’s time to shore up your business and add value by creating another product or service.
  5. Watch out for your cash flow. Revisit your inventory and your credit policies. When the times are tough, you may need to borrow in order to infuse new capital into your endeavors. However, no bank will offer you a lifeline when you have a shot credit and lousy financial prospects.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

There’s a saying in sports and even in war: The best defense is a good offense.

This strategy will allow you to take back control of the situation. Rather than wait for the next hammer to fall, you change your approach and bring the fight to the enemy.

This is a scary part, especially when the economic landscape is very fluid. However, there are numerous success stories of businesses that found some opportunities when they decided to go on the offensive rather than wait the economy out.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that this result in a better outcome, but it’s a lot better than playing dead while you wait for the economy to turn.

Here are some quick tips on how to go on offense from defense:

  1. Diversify. If you are putting all your eggs in one basket, chances are you will lose money if most of them crack. Businesses that rely only on one product will be badly hit during a slowdown.
  2. Think outside the box. It doesn’t even matter if you are earning less with your new business than you were with the old one. Expanding your network is the only way to learn and earn. Step out of your comfort zone and attend some industry trade shows.
  3. Reinforce relationships. This is a good way to let your clients know that you can be trusted even when the times are bleak. Don’t cut corners on the quality of your work, and don’t use the economy as an excuse for missing deliveries. In the same vein, get in touch with your suppliers to reassure them that work will continue (although the volume likely will be down).
  4. Cut fat. Sometimes the only way to take flight is if your business isn’t as heavy. This is a good opportunity to revisit your operations and trim the fat. You will find that your employees won’t be inflexible when you institute changes. They know that the market is very challenging, and they will be more apt to help.
  5. Form an advisory board. It seems paradoxical to suggest this when the item above tells you to cut fat. But if done correctly, the board can become a rich repository of ideas with which you can follow-through as you go about diversifying your products and services.
  6. Automation and analytics. Automating your workflow can boost your efficiency. Big data analytics are already being used by companies in order to improve customer experience. Analytics will give you insight into the minds and behaviors of your clients. This, in turn, will help you come up with a product that truly addresses their needs.
  7. Ask for help. If you are a member of any industry associations, this is the right time to touch base. The government also has some assistance to offer — in terms of technology transfer or financial assistance — to help you keep your head above water.

Lastly, you need to understand that there’s life beyond your business. Too often, you see CEOs with failed marriages and broken families because they prioritized their careers at the expense of spouses and children.

You hear of executives becoming addicted to the drug fentanyl, heroin, or alcohol to help them cope. They equate the failure of the business to their value as an individual.

However, there are more important things in life than being a successful CEO.

Life is all about challenges. Life will push you down if you refuse to push back. It doesn’t matter how many times you stumble. What’s important is how many times you get back up.

Take advantage of the economic slowdown to take stock of what’s important to you.
Bond with the kids, rekindle the romance with your spouse, visit your parents and siblings.
You just might realize that it doesn’t matter if you see yourself as a failure; you will be a hero in your kids’ eyes.

You can contact Patrick Bailey:

Email: bailey patrick780 @gmail.com (remove spaces)
Blog: http://patrickbaileys.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Pat_Bailey80
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/patrick-bailey-writer