Category Archives: Measurement

A collaborative model for employee engagement initiatives…

employee-engagement1

One of the most talked-about challenges in business today centers on more fully engaging your employees. We have discussed this need on ideationz a number of times, and from a variety of perspectives. From increasing key productivity metrics, to reducing unwanted terminations, to improving the customer experience, to building a more nimble, innovative organization, there are myriad ways to measure the benefits of an engaged workforce.

Recently, I authored a White Paper, “A model for collaborative design, definition and implementation of an effective initiative to drive and sustain employee engagement.” That’s a long title! But there are a number of key factors that must be addressed, including:

  • Where do I start the process?
  • How will I set benchmarks for the current situation?
  • What are the “New Rules” of engagement?
  • How do I approach the definition and design process?
  • What are the most important variables that  make up an effective plan?
  • What about implementation? How do I approach that?
  • Where should I measure the effort and how?

You will find all these questions discussed in the White Paper. Would you like to receive a copy? Simple enough. Please just complete the form below and I will send you a .pdf. All I ask is that should you desire to republish it, that you ask for my permission and acknowledge the origin of the piece.

In 2013, virtually all of the biggest marketing and organizational challenges we face tie back, on some level, to the willingness and ability of our employees to create and deliver new value in the marketplace, and innovation within our firm. Failing that, it will be awfully hard to maximize our potential, and, in some cases, even assure the sustainability of the company over the long-term.

I hope to hear from you, and look forward to hearing your thoughts on the subject!

Why do so many engagement initiatives fail to launch..?

In an economy marked by slow/no growth, and rising commodity prices boosting raw materials costs globally, many organizations have bought into the benefits of reducing unwanted churn and improving productivity by better connecting employees to the company. At best, these efforts are complex, calling into review many facets of the relationship that associates have with their employers. Elements that may be considered include trust, alignment, perceptions (real and imagined), expectations, satisfaction, compensation, growth potential, culture and values, to name just a few.

Linkages between employee loyalty and consumer preferences  (as well as employee loyalty and channel partner effectiveness) have been drawn. Satisfied, productive and committed employees are increasingly sought after as a source of competitive, financial advantage. One essential book on the subject is titled, “Employees First, Customers Second” (Harvard Business Press, 2010) by Vineet Nayar. The author focuses on transparency, trust, and top-down accountability as key factors in transforming the organization and engaging the employees. By accessing, nurturing and rewarding employees for bringing forward innovative ways to add value to their customers, Nayar believes he has found a new source of competitive advantage, in shifting the center of strategic thinking from the executive suite to those closest to the needs and opportunities of the marketplace.

A brand-new paper published this week by McKinsey is titled, “Finding The Right Place To Start Change”. Similar in some regards to the prescriptive messages of Vineet Nayar and other thought leaders, the McKinsey piece espouses that the first step in driving engagement is to identify those in the organization that are most connected, and to leverage their support to build momentum across the company. If you have read more than one or two posts on Ideationz, you will recognize that a number of the foundational elements in both the book and the McKinsey article center on factors that we have promoted as essential to corporate health and longevity. Specifically:

  1. The need to align your employees (or channel partners or consumers) with the mission and the values of the organization as well as their role in propelling the vision forward,
  2. The tandem aspects of willingness (to change) as well as ability to see, plan and act differently, and,
  3. Identifying and tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) to mark progress in critical areas.

I have seen this play out in many global organizations, particularly those who seek to capitalize on talent and innovation in far-flung geographies worldwide. It’s hard enough to capture and operationalize new thinking within a single corporate entity or on a headquarters campus. It is another story altogether to build not just the technology, but the connectedness among associates in different geopolitical  environments, cultures, and time zones.  Technology helps, but it takes more than that.

Those who are successful have a distinct upper hand on those that cannot implement the “one company, one world” credo. You never know where the next great idea, product/service, technology or scientific breakthrough is going to come from. As such, the strategic need for inclusion and connectedness transcends an HR practice or policy. The value of engagement reaches across disciplines, and demands a complex plan for execution. The rudiments to getting started, however, need to be simple and consistent. Everything begins with a vision for the future. From the vision will emerge a mission, or a purpose for being, which complements the future vision. The core values set the tone for marking off what are acceptable boundaries for the firm. Goals cascade into objectives, and those who are responsible for driving results must build actionable plans that address the four cornerstones of engagement which are summarized above (alignment, willingness, ability, and measurement).  These plans of action need to be designed with implementation in mind, and monitoring stations created to determine the operational success of the effort (i.e., is the plan being implemented across all key audiences, and where – if any – are the gaps), as well as the impact the initiative is having on behavioral outcomes. The impact may be cited in metrics such as enrollment, activity, milestones achieved, etc. The culmination of engagement efforts are the business results which are manifested (i.e., is the organization achieving the goals and objectives defined at the start of the process).

These are complex, big-picture aspects of a process that, if adhered to, will create forward motion while shedding light on those groups which lead/lag the middle of the organization. Those who are on the leading edge represent an emerging point of leverage, effectively opening up a broader base of engaged constituents to nurture and encourage.

More will come of this in future posts. For now, I would advocate that you examine how well aligned the executive team is, and to carefully consider the stated vision, mission, values, goals and objectives for the company as well as the plans that cascade from them. This will become your launching pad for everything which follows. From there, you can begin to assess how well you are meeting the needs of the four defined cornerstones, and then move deeper into determining where gaps or roadblocks may exist. Gaps are, on one level, simply unmet opportunities, often occurring as a result of misaligned expectations or processes. Roadblocks serve to define previously undiscovered synergies.  The value which comes from beginning with a broad coalition of executive support, encompassing HR,  operations, finance, administration, manufacturing, sales/marketing, r&d  and technology represents the fuel that will get your efforts off the ground. And that is, after all, the most basic requirement of a successful launch isn’t it?

On maximizing channel performance…

I had the pleasure of spending time this week with a high-tech client that is looking to build upon an already successful network of dealers, resellers and VARS. In our discussions, I introduced five considerations that are at the core of channel expansion, and thought they were worth sharing here. I’d love to hear back from you with additional ideas, thoughts and comments. 

Any strategic effort to maximize channel engagement, productivity and overall performance should incorporate the following elements:

1. To align and complement the positioning of the both the OEM and the resellers. In other words, to the end customer, the promise of the brand must align with and be reinforced by the message of the dealer. If the brand is all about one set of values, and the channel is positioned in conflict or contradiction to the OEM, the customer will sense the dissonance and may elect to opt out of the purchase. If a manufacturer is going to build a long-term relationship with  “Certified” or other similarly-designated dealers, they must be tethered to a consistent promise.

2. Dealer or reseller salespeople generally gravitate toward what is “easiest” for them to sell, finding the “path of least resistance” to the customer’s solution. Example: If a customer has a competitor’s hardware already installed, the salesperson may choose to simply opt for selling additional product of the current vendor, rather than creating a compelling case for change. Only by training, role-playing, and coaching, will that salesperson elect to pursue a alternative, more challenging, path to the sale even if it is in the best interests of the customer to do so. It is not enough to simply make available product learning to the indirect salesperson. There must be a more robust and holistic approach to channel sales development. This implies ongoing, perhaps interactive, communications, training, measurement, coaching, leadership and behavioral reinforcement to drive positive change.

3. Both the manufacturer and their channel partners should have clearly defined and agreed-upon KPIs to target and deliver against. At a basic level, there needs to exist a “win/win/win/win” scenario that embraces the manufacturer, the reseller, the reseller rep, and, most of all, the end customer. Only by lining up all these considerations will the path to a more effective sales process be opened.

4. There must be economic compatibility, or, in other words, mutually attractive financials for both the manufacturer and the channel partners. This is really a specific subset to item #3 above, but requires that the profit and CLTV considerations be attended to and addressed. A dealer is in business to grow and seek maximum long-term profitability. The OEM needs to be competitive in terms of pricing and dealer margins, and bring a solution that maximizes customer lifetime value. This is basic, but too often overlooked in seeking a quick-and-immediate solution.

5. Finally, the manufacturer needs to be visibly present, with high top-of-mind awareness across the reseller organization. Only by effectively institutionalizing the channel relationship, making the value proposition, product mix, long-term vision, delivery and reliability promises, and the integrated “wins” visible on a real-time basis, will the OEM optimize the channel.

These are lofty and challenging objectives. However, by creating strategic “buckets” and identifying where/how each channel variable serves to address the big-picture, the manufacturer is moving closer to realising it’s goal of long-term expansion.

Would love to hear back from you with your thoughts and ideas on the subject.

Thanks for coming by today!

On the virtue of predictability…

It’s everywhere you turn these days… Stock markets rise and fall on rumors and perceptions… Economic forecasts are clouded with so much uncertainty as to render them useless… Politics and fiscal reality seem to collide over whose set of ‘facts’ you choose to align with…. There is nothing that seems to be reliable, consistent or, least of all, predictable.

Consider your own business. Absent sound market data, how much do you budget for advertising, promotion and media? With such a wide disparity between ‘worst case’ and ‘best case’, how do you know where to fix an estimate for what is ‘probable’? Lacking a sound revenue forecast and facing some uncertainty regarding operating expenses, will you fund new product development, or hiring, or for that matter, any variable cost?

Predictability has never commanded a greater premium. If I could prove that making an $X investment in sales effectiveness, marketing, or cost reduction processes will deliver a projectable and certain increase in revenue, or market share, or a drop in costs, you would have to look favorably upon that option. Particularly when so much has seemingly drifted out of our span of control.

The question you have to ask yourself and your organization is: When I present to a prospective customer (internally or external) do I support my proposal with a sound business case that is grounded in data? Or, do I lead the discussion with aspects such as product ‘features and functionality’?

It is commonly said that stock values “rise on rumor and drop on facts”. Success in the B2B market is exactly the reverse. Decision-makers respond to credible, data-driven assessments of outcomes that mitigate risk with certainty. Your bright, shiny personality (the old “warm handshake and a cool drink”) may help you get in the door, but you will need a sound financial scenario to get to the table and be seriously considered.

How will you build predictability into your customer acquisition and retention strategy? I can forecast with absolute certainty that doing so will positively impact your success!

The devil lurks in the linkages, every time…

Market identified? Check. Research complete? Check. Drivers defined? Check. Brand strategy? Check. Messaging? Check. Communications? Check. Media? Check. Launch plan? Check. Production timelines? Check. Budgets confirmed? Check. Channel targets? Check. Sales force? Check. Logistics in place? Check. Countdown to kickoff? Check.

The fundamentals are there. The product is market-ready. The sales force is primed. The channel is queued. The organization is in place. What can go wrong? Even the best, most innovative and successful companies sweat every last detail, and their products still fail. How does that happen?

Sometimes, it is a train-wreck, a complete cavalcade of misjudgment and errors. Think New Coke or Cadillac Cimarron or Apple Lisa or most recently, KFC. These were disasters of the highest order, almost inconceivable in scope. Often the forensics of the failure to connect in the marketplace point to missing or misaligned linkages. The message was ill-conceived or the media was ineffective or the product failed to live up to the promises made.

New products, new brands, and new companies are particularly (but certainly not exclusively) vulnerable to these foibles. The failure rate for new market entries can best be described as “daunting”. Some overall stats:

  • For every 4 projects that enter development, only 1 makes it to the market*
  • At launch, at least 1 of 3 products fail despite research and planning*
  • An estimated 46% of all resources allocated to product development and commercialization by U.S. firms is spent on products that are cancelled or fail to yield an adequate financial return.*

Dig into a root-cause analysis and you find that many times the bases are all covered, they simply are not linked. Imagine playing baseball except that first base is in left-field, second base is in the upper deck, third base is somewhere beneath the remote parking lot and home plate is directly above the concession stand featuring Sam Adams Pale Ale behind Section 213.  Kinda hard to imagine, right? But that is frequently how execution occurs in the marketplace.

Some simple questions, admittedly non-inclusive of all that must be considered, but designed to prompt consideration:

  1. How well does the brand message link to the product USP to the needs or demands of the marketplace to the training of the sales force?
  2. How completely do your customer-facing employees know the answers to the questions they are going to get, and how important is satisfying the customer to them?
  3. Who really “gets” the “why?” behind the product? Behind the brand? Behind your company?
  4. What are you measuring? How do you know they are the “right” metrics? What makes you so certain of that?
  5. Who are the true “champions” for your product or your brand? And don’t count anyone in your company…
  6. Is there a bell-shaped curve anywhere in your distribution plan? What are you going to do to “move the middle” to the right? Do you know why that matters?
  7. Who is in the best position possible to help you achieve the outcomes you need to attain in the timeframe you have planned for, and are they aligned, willing, and able to get the job done right and on time?

These are just some of the questions that you need to have a solid grasp of. As the title of this post alludes to, it isn’t so much the details that will trip you up. It’s the linkages. It’s almost always the linkages.

If this prompts some thoughts, I hope you will share them. I’d love to hear what you have to say. And, just for fun, I am including a couple of my favorite mis-fires… Sometimes you just have to shake your head and have a good laugh. As long as it isn’t your product in the commercial!

First, who can forget Herb? Oh, probably everyone.

And then there was the research that ended up with one of the worst names ever for a weight-loss product…

Finally, even getting Bill Cosby to pitch your product doesn’t mean you aren’t going to fail (miserably and larger than life)…

*- Source: Winning At New Products by Robert Cooper (Perseus Books, 2001)