All posts by trishnicolas

Fostering Transformation Triumph: Why Corporate Change Has a Massive Failure Rate and What to Do About It

We all know it to be true: “Change is the only constant in life” (Heraclitus of Ephesus c. 535 BC – 475 BC). The same applies to business, of course. Not only is it a critical competitive advantage to be adept at change, companies know they must evolve to survive. It’s one of the things that keeps business executives up at night, because the ability – or inability – to continuously transform determines both who leads… and who loses.

It is also understood that the majority of corporate transformations founder, to great expense and negative impact on everyone involved. There are myriad opinions on why change initiatives crash and burn, ranging from execution to lack of alignment, incongruous timing, unpredictable external factors, and more. So, it’s no surprise that almost half of 534 corporate executives surveyed by Oracle and Forbes in a report, “Making the Change: Planning, Executing and Measuring Successful Business Transformation,” believed that their organization was “only somewhat or not at all prepared to successfully execute a business transformation today.” The path to corporate success is littered with failed change exploits, resulting in wasted dollars and jaded employees.

On the flip side, when people impacted by change are invested in the process, there is a significantly greater probability that the transformation will flourish. A March 2010 study conducted by McKinsey, “What successful transformations share: McKinsey Global Survey,” revealed that ~75% of the respondents from companies that experienced “extremely successful” transformations involved staff members in defining the change strategy on the front-end of the initiative. When ownership is shared across an organization and/or transformation is driven from within the ranks, success rates for organizational change rocket to an astounding 79%. Undeniably, audience engagement results in audience resonance and “sticky” transformation.

Despite this reality, companies often make decisions about organizational transformation (as well as other corporate strategy, process and content decisions) from the comfortable confines of a conference room, without the input and insight of key constituents who will be impacted by the change, which – in many cases – is probably the most vital intel. Based on cited research and results, the inside-out approach to change does not foster adoption nor success.

ENGAGE CONSTITUENTS TO DRIVE RESONANT CHANGE

This begs the question: What if change was driven from the outside-IN? If three fourths of corporate executives experienced success with transformation initiatives when they engaged staff in strategy definition, change management practices that do not incorporate constituent inputs need to… change. Imagine how the potential for transformation triumph can increase when external audience (e.g., customers, partners, etc.) inputs are added in the mix, as well.

At the core, the outside-IN approach to transformation is all about asking the right questions of the right people in the right way, at the right time across the change lifecycle. In doing so, we are able to derive the insights required to identify, prioritize, clarify, create, drive, execute, and measure change initiatives. Asking questions is part and parcel of communications. Asking the *right* questions to elicit true insight that will solve problems and seize opportunity is a skill – and vital to successful change management.

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U2’s frontman Bono said, “We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong.” One mega beverage company can attest to that, to the tune of $30 Million in unwanted product and a black eye to the beloved brand – a failed launch that many will remember from the 1980s.

ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

Coca-Cola conducted more than 200,000 taste tests for a new formula that was developed to compete with the sweeter-tasting Pepsi in response to a decline in market-share and an influential younger demographic. The questions that were asked in the tests were focused on palate preferences. The questions they did not ask was what the response would be if the new taste replaced the original formula. The outcome was disastrous. Three months and a few hundred thousand angry phone calls and letters later, Coca-Cola pulled all the “New Coke” off of the shelves and launched yet another costly campaign to re-brand old Coke as “Coca-Cola Classic.” They had asked plenty of questions of consumers in focus groups… but not the right questions that would lead to consumer engagement, enhanced brand loyalty and change ROI. The reality is that we often do not know if we are asking the right questions until the execution phase of a transformation – when it is perhaps too late in some cases – but this example does emphasize the importance of thoroughly questioning ourselves and impacted audiences about expected impacts of the change process.

There are many current studies and perspectives on how to ask questions that will generate meaningful response, including a recent article from Harvard Business Review, “The Surprising Power of Questions,” that stated the impact of “closed” questions on response because they introduce bias, which implies that multiple choice and yes/no prompts will not generate honest and helpful replies. Celeste Headlee, author of the lauded book, “We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter,” advises that open-ended questions that start with “who,” “what,” “why,” “when,” “where,” or “how” will get the most interesting (and perhaps illuminating) responses, and that complex questions elicit simple answers, therefore simplify to obtain more robust response.

GARNER CRITICAL INSIGHT THROUGH KEY QUESTIONS

At the outset, companies need to ask themselves and impacted constituents:

  • How are we identifying and prioritizing transformation opportunities and needs in our organization?
  • Can the planned change be clearly defined based on need or opportunity? In other words, WHY is the change important and what is the expected result?
  • Do we have the most pertinent inputs that will help drive decisions about transformation?
  • What are the potential barriers to change adoption and how can they be mitigated or eliminated?
  • Are we asking the right questions about how to improve our organization’s results?
  • Who will be immediately and ultimately impacted by the transformation – both internally and externally – and how can the organization enable engagement and assimilation of the change?
  • Are the right people in place to feed and lead the change process?
  • How can we know if you are making the right changes to accomplish our objectives?
  • What are the communications processes to facilitate alignment and collaboration during the transformation definition and execution?
  • How will we measure results of the transformation to know if it was a success?

Asking provocative questions within the organization will illuminate the path forward for a resonant change initiative.

HOW AND WHEN TO ENGAGE CONSTITUENTS IN CHANGE

Once these questions are addressed, there are several steps across the transformation process that can be fueled and/or led by people outside the core change management team to enhance success:

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1) IDENTIFICATION of transformation opportunities, including prioritization of needs and clarification of specific change requirements.

Customers, partners, and employees should all have feedback mechanisms to the business for ongoing process improvement input. Trends in feedback should be channeled to change management leaders to fuel decisions about transformation needs and opportunities. Constituents potentially impacted by change can provide valuable insight into what needs to happen first, whether out of requirement or for enhancement. When scoping out the initiative, external parties to the transformation team can provide critical input on which tactics will have the greatest positive effect on the overall transformation.

2) CREATION of change strategy, goals and metrics, encompassing definition and ownership of tactics and timeline.

Gathering fodder from impacted audiences to fuel the plan will help ensure an on-target strategy. Do the plan strategy and goals align with the needs or opportunity that prompted the change? How will success be measured during the plan execution? Engage staff in identifying and leading tactics that support the strategy and goals. Have them take ownership for execution, working within deadlines that are collaboratively established vs. dictated.

3) EXECUTION through communication/engagement with audiences, including measurement of results.

Because communication strategy should always be an integral part of change management, collaborate with internal audiences impacted by the change throughout the execution stage to identify ideal communications channels and create resonant content for constituents. Distribute metrics and feedback mechanisms to relevant impacted parties for change execution, adoption and evolution to garner ongoing insight into transformation results.

Result of Evolving from Change Management to Change Engagement

By applying an outside-IN, question-driven approach to transformation initiatives, organizations will be better positioned to maximize potential ROI through more frictionless change adoption and distributed ownership. A bonus of this method is that, through consistent practice, the organization’s culture can shift to be more inquisitive and engagement-focused overall, increasing resonance with key audiences across multiple business functions. More importantly, asking the right questions of constituents as an integral part of the process can mean the difference between change collapse or transformation triumph.

Co-authored by Trish Nicolas and Rich Litner. Trish is co-founder and principal with Sales Resonance, which has partnered with Litner Consulting to offer communications-infused change management counsel. Rich is the founder and principal of Litner Consulting. With more than 70 years of collective experience, the Litner Consulting/Sales Resonance partnership enables businesses to drive resonant, successful change by grounding transformation in audience insight and engagement.

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Is Your Business Experiencing Revenue Inertia?

“Don’t go where I can’t follow!” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

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Sales and Marketing may be working together and on friendly terms, but are they pointed in the same direction? If not, your company may be experiencing revenue inertia.

Relying too much on technology and data – not on regular, action-oriented, *human* conversations – could mean your company is essentially chasing its tail and leaving money on the table.

I recently spoke with a VP of marketing for a prominent Atlanta-based technology company and with an SVP of sales for another technology leader. Both were doing a great job tapping the marketing data from customer and prospect interactions as inputs to their sales and marketing efforts on a regular basis, and building business conversations around the inputs. But both of these companies are in the marketing automation space, so they have a distinct leg up and insider perspective.

Many of the companies I talk to – even the highly sophisticated consumer marketing machines – are not sure how to leverage the data they receive into effective, targeted sales and marketing initiatives. Sometimes they are not sure what data they need to analyze, much less how to implement it… although that insight could make or break their campaign.

Are your sales and marketing teams using the same messages and sharing/comparing inputs to message response? Are their efforts targeting the same buyer personas? Is there an agreed-upon rhythm and strategy to reach and engage customers, prospects and their influencers? Do sales and marketing have an established cadence to their conversations to drive collaboration and actionable communication? It is always a good idea to have a specific objective for those meetings and someone driving the specific tasks to completion.

What are your company’s best practices for aligning sales and marketing to avoid revenue inertia?

What’s The “Bunny Cake” of Your Content Strategy?

Everything old *is* new again. No idea is really a completely *new* idea. Perhaps variations on a theme. An idea extension. A different flavor. A different shape. A different angle. But it’s definitely a case of deja vu.

Take, for example, content strategy. It’s a fairly newish term but it’s been a de facto business approach for years… decades… centuries, perhaps! 

Case in point:

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I recently stumbled across a friend’s Facebook post with a picture of the Easter cake she had made. It reminded me that my mother had just given me some old books and papers. One of the papers was page from the March 28, 1976 Atlanta Journal Constitution Magazine (see image), featuring a recipe for a “Baker’s Coconut Bunny Cake” that we made for my father’s 33rd birthday 38 years ago. I promptly posted a picture of the yellowed article on Facebook.

One friend commented that she had first made the cake for a family “bon voyage” party about 38 years ago, another commented that they made it every year for Easter from a recipe in Redbook Magazine, and yet another friend commented that they used to make it when she was younger from a Baker’s brand recipe cookbook for “cut-up cake shapes.”

You know what Baker’s was doing? Re-purposing content… about forty years ago. Weren’t they smart and savvy?!? That recipe was all over the place – BEFORE PCs, the WWW and social media. People were making that cake in the late 70s and it became a spring tradition for many families. It became their star content du jour. Baker’s knew it and they used it. It was an anchor in their content strategy.

Every time I hear someone talk about a new business or technology buzzword, I immediately think “That’s the same thing we talked about in the 80s then the 90s, but with a different moniker.” And I’ll bet the same concepts we buzz to death today existed in the 60s, 50s, 40s and beyond, as well, but with different names.

Content strategy is not new, but perhaps it is more complex than in the not-too-distant past, with myriad potential vehicles to consider, an opportunity to hyper-target content and reach, and technology-enabled communications and metrics. But perhaps businesses can benefit from the simple notion implied by that bunny cake recipe forty years ago: If you have a some great content, leverage the heck out of it. It gets people talking (or in this case, shopping and baking) and can, ultimately, sell more of your coconut.

 What’s the “bunny cake” of your content strategy?

Advisory Board Activation

collaborateHaving served on several technology start-up and non-profit advisory boards over the years, as well as advised companies on how to create and engage effective advisory boards, I enjoyed most of the points made in the AlleyWatch article, “5 Minute Guide to Advisory Boards,” but I differ on the point about group meetings. The author stated “The reason that you will rarely, if ever, have a meeting of all the advisory board members is that typically their experience is so varied as to make such a meeting unproductive.”

With the risk of sounding “old school,” here are my thoughts:

– There is tremendous power in gathering people from different backgrounds. The opportunity for idea exchange is unlimited. With a robust, facilitated agenda, businesses can garner valuable insights and/or validation on connections and direction.

– Some advisors will be more engaged than others. Exposing the more latent advisors to the more active ones can help ignite passion and stimulate action. Passion can be contagious. And passion is good in business.

– Getting people together in the same room sparks bursts of action. The days following an advisory board meeting are when we see the most dramatic forward momentum with connections and inputs. When there is a lull in meetings, there is a lull in action. I want to move the ball forward faster and farther, and the face-to-face meetings inherently promote that.

-The power of treating the advisory board as a “team” adds value to the board and your business. Teamwork is beneficial to a business through the engagement, accountability and momentum that it creates. Framing your board as a team – which means gathering them in person from time to time – will make for a stronger result.

– Here’s my “old school” band wagon again: Nothing replaces the power of a face-to-face meeting. Nothing. Technology is a great facilitator and enabler but can never, ever replace the communications potential and benefits of in-person conversation.

A quarterly face-to-face meeting, interspersed with regular email updates and phone calls (group and individual), will be welcome with active advisors who care about your business and its success. Those who are inactive and not adding consistent value should simply not be on your board.

What are you doing to engage and activate your advisory board?

 

C-Suite Conversations: The Blame Game

Several conversations over the past week with top-level executives has me thinking – and thinking hard – about what is often broken in sales, marketing and business.

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First, a re-cap:

1) One global Director of Innovation for a mega-consumer brand was quipping about the lack of alignment between sales, brand management and innovation/product development. Sales is out selling something that is not ready to roll out so they can meet their quotas and make money; product development is not adhering to baseline global standards; innovation is not engaged in product development; marketing provides data about where the customers are, yet sales does not develop in those target areas; the company is not reaching its revenue goals.

Soooo, whose problem is this? Everyone’s. And, it’s not a sales problem, a product development problem, nor a marketing problem. It’s a business problem. It’s a revenue problem, an alignment problem. It’s the problem of everyone in the business. But do they know that? Do they take ownership for it? Do they even know across the business that the problem exists?

What’s the solution? Not to over-simplify, because getting everyone pointed in the same direction and synced up is not easy, but a robust, interactive, internal communications platform fed by external inputs would be a great start, in addition to a communications process and cadence that drives human collaboration and conversation. What about a cross-team, facilitated, action-oriented session to tackle issues and opportunities, one or two at a time?

(Ref: My first blog post, “Shortcuts make long delays…”)

2) A CFO shared an analysis of his company’s lack-of-growth woes and identified the issue as a “sales problem,” owned by the sales executive. In talking with him, it was clear that the problem was not isolated to sales, but also extended to marketing and, possibly, customer service and product development.

How can sales sell if marketing is not in lock-step and equipping the sales team with relevant messages, targeting insights and collateral? How can a company effectively sell products and services that are not directly addressing their customers’ pain points and needs? How do you determine how to solve the problem across the business vs. taking a silo approach?

3) A CEO of an established and growing software company struggled with the lack of their customers’ implementation of marketing insights into their overall strategy. Their clients don’t lack data from their customers and prospects, they are just not analyzing and executing on it to drive customer engagement, retention and acquisition.

He said that the context for the data is missing; the power of the human element and strategic context is being de-valued and diluted with the emphasis on marketing operations over marketing strategy and the proliferation of marketing automation and technology tools, replaced by stats on clicks and likes, which – in his words – are meaningless.

My takeaways from these insightful conversations – not surprisingly – validates some of my previous musings. In short:

Marketing data does not replace marketing strategy, it feeds it.

– Marketing operations is not marketing strategy. Operations is, by nature, tactical. Don’t let tactics drive your strategy and path to success.

Do not let technology supplant the human aspect of your marketing and communications efforts. Your customers are human. Your partners are human. Your investors are human. Your employees are human. Don’t forget it. Recognize and embrace that important fact by nurturing conversation and engagement.

I hope to have many more discussions with business leaders over the coming weeks and months about how they are driving business alignment to overcome obstacles and seize opportunities to drive revenue.  Think about your business issues and consider how other teams and divisions could support success through alignment, conversation and collaboration.

Takeaways from “Five Reasons Not to Raise Venture Capital”

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I just read a very insightful article entitled “Five Reasons Not to Raise Venture Capital,” written by Rachel Chalmers, a technology industry analyst, former journalist and current principal with Ignition Partners. I am certain I have run across her over my past quarter century in technology marketing and PR. One thing is for sure: She is one smart cookie. Any entrepreneur looking to raise VC funding for their company should read this and understand it.

The article maps out the odds of VC-backed companies delivering on the investment for its general and limited partners. Spoiler alert: The odds are abysmal.

She reminds entrepreneurs that VCs are “optimizing for a very specific outcome. Share that alignment, or don’t take their money.” That outcome is to make money. Lots of money. Not tens of millions of dollars, which may be a positive outcome for some founders of bootstrapped businesses, but BILLIONS. Tens of millions do not often generate the returns that benefit LPs. Billions do. 

She raises compelling, no-holds-barred points about the prospects of obtaining VC funds and the downside if you do. The challenge with the (exceptionally informed) logic in the article is that many companies really *need* funding in order to survive. Building software often requires engineers, who require salaries. Doing marketing requires money. Running a business requires money. Some people have very long boot straps but many do not.

I wonder how many really, really great – and potentially lucrative – business ideas die on the vine because they do not seek funding or they do not obtain it? On the flip side, there are likely many VC-funded ideas that should never have seen the light of day and good, well-funded ideas that were not effectively executed on to generate positive, exponential returns…? I’ll bet Rachel knows the stats.

The insight I garner from this article is twofold:

1) Think of ways to build your business that do not require VC funding. How can you generate revenues that support growth and business extensions without diluting leadership and ownership?

2) If you do go after VC funding, know how to navigate and articulate your path to a billion+ dollar company across multiple industries. Know how to execute to maximize value. You will not only be more liable to get investor attention (which may or may not be advantageous), you will be more likely to be part of the magical 3% that generate returns for the investors, the ultimate – make that ONLY! – goal of VCs.

What are your takeaways from Rachel’s article?

Related Forbes.com article: “Three Colossal Mistakes Founders Make When Pitching Investors” by Seth Talbott

How A String Can Build Your Business

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” – Shel Silverstein

Does your company’s “suggestion box” collect dust and largely go ignored? Have the same problems plagued your company or team without resolution? Do you work for or lead an organization that struggles with innovation? Do you or your employees feel like you have great ideas for the business but they never get recognized or moved forward?

I believe that many companies and organizations are challenged with effective collaboration, problem-solving, and innovation. It’s no grand revelation. In fact, one or several of these common business obstacles may have you nodding your head in recognition. And, ironically, these are some of the very things that help businesses succeed and thrive.

One of my previous posts was about the importance of conversation to drive sales and marketing alignment. The reality is that conversation is important across the business, both internally and externally, but it can be difficult to effectively orchestrate in a way that is truly meaningful for your business. There are technology tools to instigate, facilitate, drive and track these conversations. However, many of the existing tools being utilized were either built as externally-facing tools to ultimately drive revenue or are bi-lateral in nature, which can be limiting.

Yesterday, the firm that I work with (TechCXO) launched a two-day “Be Heard” event that I believe will have dramatic impact on the business, the partners and our clients. This event is being held on a powerful, interactive technology platform called ideastring. (Disclaimer: I know the CEO of this company, but she does not know that I am blogging about her company today and the only upside I get from blogging about ideastring is to help other teams and organizations achieve their potential.)

Here’s the beauty of the ideastring platform: Ideas get shared and heard, built on, and prioritized. Problems get addressed – if not solved – by tapping the breadth of expertise and ideas across the team. Direction may be shifted or re-defined. Insight about partner expertise and passion is revealed. Collaboration happens. Pretty powerful, nest-ce pas?

I, for one, am enthusiastic about the potential of this tool to help facilitate meaningful dialogue and engagement. Perhaps your company or team could benefit, as well? Check it out: ideastring.com.