All posts by Mary Trigiani

Senior executive: banking, technology, economic development, boards. Ethic: urgency, efficiency, candor, humor, spirit.

Moving through change to success: Four essential values

In a rich essay about change for PwC’s blog, Elizabeth Doty of Leadership Momentum walks the reader through the typical players on the scene of a shift. 

This analysis, highly recommended, not only charts concrete action for navigating through change. It inspires four abiding values for any ecosystem, company and even family working to get to the other side of success.

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  1. Focus on what you have in common: the goals of the endeavor. Consider them the promises to make and keep for all stakeholders. Craft them in a way that you can get everyone on board, knowing that there always will be detractors.
  2. Decide whether you are a player or a witness. Doty defines the players as champions and resistors. The reality is that every player has some characteristics of the other, and there is a path to contribution. If you only want to serve as a witness, best not to stir the pot. Because the champions and the resistors have their work cut out for them.
  3. Know the difference between oscillation and advancement. Doty cites the work of Robert Fritz in describing a problem that many organizations face: while recognizing the need to do something differently, they often miss the fact they are churning, not moving forward. This is where leaders not only must help all players collaborate, they have to keep the goals and promises alive in the moments when people are struggling.
  4. Cast resistors to change as guardians. Beyond respecting their position, which is critical, absorb the challenges presented by resistors into a risk profile for the change. Seek their help in mitigating any risk so that the goals are achieved. Including resistors in outcomes is critical not just to strategy but to the quality of success.

As Tony Bennett says, you should sing for everybody

TONY BENNET

Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best Is Yet to Come. Photo by Associated Press.

“You should sing for everybody … it has to be interesting and it has to last … it never becomes old-fashioned. Make people feel good.”

Pretty much sums up what we are all supposed to be doing. Businesses included.

Yet making customers and employees and regulators and recruits feel good feels mysterious these days. Bennett has something in encouraging us to sing for everybody. When we set a tone of inviting everyone to the table, we demonstrate respect. Something everyone is craving right now.  

  • Customers are smart, they do their homework and they vote with their feet. They understand their options and connect with products and producers on their terms, armed with facts they gather about performance across the landscape. Customers are loyal when we create products with justifiable price tags that address a variety of variables, not just cache` or quality. We have to know and honor those variables. And keep up with them.
  • Condescension is immediately detectable and called out, and it pushes stakeholders away. Even when, on paper and in the buyer personas we spend millions to assemble, we figure target customers and influencers would never abandon us, they will and they can.
  • It’s clear that people want more than being labeled and relegated to arbitrary categories, no matter how glamorous the data gathering. Our analysis must catch up with our technological capability. In the 2016 election, millions were spent on polling practices supposedly using the most sophisticated technology. Yet the pollsters and their pols did not take into account things like how people might maneuver around seemingly obvious questions to tell their truth.

Singing for everyone calls us not just to keep it real but to know what is real — and to find real ways to connect and welcome all stakeholders.

Here is 2017. The best is yet to come.

The CEO in 2016: Five things you can do for your brand

Agility and customer centricity are primary themes today. Mapping the customer journey. Launching products and features quickly to adjust them — or pivot — just as quickly. All kinds of new technologies for analyzing reach.

Yet companies must still satisfy the classic marketing requirements of producing good stories and inspiring the loyal purchase.

CEOs, pressed for time and focus, often relegate marketing to a lower level of attention. It’s a habit left over from the days of slower message cycles, broadcasting and a lot of assumption about buyer values. Plus CEOs have to think about everything by the quarter. So with an at-best preoccupied and at-worst absent chief ambassador, the marketing investment — even when powered by the most powerful tools and visionary messages — suffers from not reaching its full potential. Because the CEO is the leader for a reason. She provides the direction and the inspiration. He keeps every stakeholder front-and-center.

The purpose of a business
Peter Drucker on the purpose of a business

Here are five ideas for CEOs who want to manage distraction and be on the ground while breaking new ground for their brands in 2016.

Demonstrate your devotion to the customer. If you must, think of it as taking a coffee break from the typical responsibilities of running a company. Not only does this pull you into the marketing effort, it sets a company standard for looking outward.
Quarterly: Call a customer. Or better yet, visit one.
Monthly: Share a customer story — good, bad, ugly — with your employees. Cover the key learning points the company should absorb and address.
Weekly: Ask a manager to communicate one key customer or competitor insight to the entire organization.
Daily: Pick one item from your daily non-company reading [you’re doing that, right?] to share with the company. Make it about the market, buying trends, innovation — anything that will align your brand with the marketplace and maybe equip people to amplify the brand’s values.

Test your own assumptions. About your people, your competitors and your customers.
Quarterly: Ask your marketing team to give you a short briefing on what is being said about your brand.
Monthly: Visit competitors’ websites and social media accounts to see if you want to add any insights to what your teams tell you about competitors’ products, services and customers.
Weekly: Check what industry influencers are saying about trends and shifts in your marketplace.
Daily: Ensure that what customer says — good, bad, ugly — gets addressed by marketing messages and literally turned into marketing copy.

Tell an elegant story. Uncomplicated, drama-free, yet compelling. Invite customers and influencers to align with you, not just to buy your products.
Quarterly: Write something to share with customers and employees — something that demonstrates your company’s connection with the marketplace. Use an editor.
Monthly: For employees, share an anecdote about an employee who has done something to exemplify the brand’s reach and impact on customers.
Weekly: Schedule five minutes to talk with an employee about what is working on the street — and what is not.
Daily: Look at your marketing outreach, particularly social media, to offer guidance and to make sure the team is on message.

Surround your brand with leaders who have talents you do not. Whether it’s your marketing team or an event you are sponsoring, spare no time or expense in bringing the fresh air of new perspectives to your company. At the same time, vet attitudes as well as capabilities. For example, make sure every speaker your team invites to your company events is someone you can respect. You don’t have to agree with everyone, but let’s say the team finds someone who is billed as an expert in diversity. And it turns out they attack people on Twitter. Your invitations to people like this — as advisors, speakers or employees — say volumes about the brand. And no amount of clever marketing will correct the mistake of people who wound your brand through a thousand little cuts.
Quarterly: Ask for an audit of the content and experts your team is using to burnish or represent your brand. The marketing team should be doing independent research, not just looking at the experts’ or agencies’ marketing material.
Monthly: Go to a professional event that’s featuring a speaker or a panel. Remember what you liked and pass it on to your marketing team.
Weekly: Keep and update a file of quotations or essays you like. Having this on hand when you’re approving an event agenda will help you ensure content relevant to your brand.
Daily: Check the editorial page of a publication you like.

Reward actors, not bystanders. One of the great consumer frustrations today is the inability of customer service reps to go off-script — to actually come up with a solution on one’s own to a customer’s problem. The advent of social media has had a positive effect on the robo-response tendency — but we have a long way to go. Rote answers to customers’ concerns are the province of the bystander employee. As Cate Huston wrote in this excellent essay on the problem with corporate bystanders who don’t nip sexism in the bud, “it starts with refusing to be a bystander by calling things out”. Same phenomenon at work in branding: all the beautiful design and expensive messaging in the world won’t compensate for front-line employees asked to divert customers from what bothers them.
Quarterly: Listen to or read how a customer rep handled a problem. See if it resonates with your brand strategy.
Monthly: Ask direct reports to give an example of a problem solved that improved on customer service practice.
Weekly: Ask for a memo on the top five customer comments on social media.
Daily: Show your internal teams that you are confident enough to go off-script, too.

The art of listening can be the art of leading

In celebrating both the 500th anniversary of The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, and the life of Claudio Abbado, legendary conductor of La Scala, we celebrate leadership.

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THE ECONOMIST used “the art of listening” to draw a picture of Abbado for readers, connecting the young musician’s ability to hear and memorize music in his head with the professional orchestras he would lead and ultimately, the listening audience he invited into the music before he died.  For Booz&Co, James O’Toole takes us through what he believes we must understand about Machiavelli’s legacy — the situational leadership model taught in most business schools — and he leaves us with the questions Machiavelli’s work must provoke in each of us as we work.

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We can find one thing in common between these two diverse leadership cases:  whether the leader is making music or making money, he or she is creating an experience.

When a leader had all the power, he got to decide what the experience was going to be.  Today, however, she doesn’t have all the power — just a portion of it and maybe for not a very long time.  The one thing we can make consistent in an era some are already calling “the age of experience” is the experience we provide from our end of the exchange.  Besides quality and what the customer wants, how does the customer feel?  Does the skilled employee want to stay and help create the experience?  Do the suppliers want to be part of the experience, too?  Whatever our role in a transaction, we’re in a relationship — and our ability to transmit respect, trust and even authority can keep our “customers” coming back.

A Child's Machiavelli book cover

It’s better than the alternative.  As Claudia Hart reminds us in A Child‘s Machiavelli, A Primer on Power, her translation of The Prince, “Never be afraid to beat someone up if you have to.  First, try to talk ’em into listening, but just in case, you know what to do!”

Understanding Bitcoin might mean accepting it

Last week, one of Silicon Valley’s most respected venture capitalists wrote in a blog post for THE NEW YORK TIMES an explanation of why he’s so excited about Bitcoin, the virtual currency.  Marc Andreessen is actively seeking startups to fund in this area.  The creator of the world’s first computer browser, Netscape, Andreessen makes a strong case for going virtual.

Andreessen’s essay is good reading — as is the ebook, “Conversational Bitcoin,” by Christopher Carfi.  Chris makes Bitcoin easy to understand.  It’s free to download here.

pennyThis week’s coverage of illegal activity by Bitcoin buyers and sellers is making it easy for some to reject the emergence of virtual currency.  Yet things like a black market and theft have always stained the human condition.  Look at the banking industry’s 2008 doings.  Or think about how the island of Manhattan was “purchased” from Native Americans.

Corporate executives, political activists and private citizens are debating the nature of personal wealth in America.  It’s a good time to explore anything that might make us all think about our financial reach.  And what we can be doing with it.  Namely, being open to new means of financial transaction that might enfranchise every human being.