Habits

Constant Crystalisation

The way to Practical Strategising

What is your strategy? You need to have a Point of Difference. When was your last Business Review? Running a small business means that you will likely be bombarded with these types of questions inferring what you need to do to run a successful business. They are fundamentally good topics to engage with, but unhelpful questions in themselves. Conversations that start like this can cause anxiety, especially if the business owner does not know the answer, or even worse, if they know the answer but cannot articulate it very well.

This is a great way to undermine all the hard work and smart decisions a business person is currently doing. And, don’t get me wrong, I am continually repeating the importance of having a strong operational and marketing strategy to my Business Students at RMIT. I am borderline brutal regarding this, as this allows them to understand the base rules of the game in business.

The problem occurs when there is a mis-understanding of how strategy fits into small business. When organisations grow into larger entities, there is a need for designated scheduled Strategy Reviews. There is a need to invest higher levels of time and resource into this due to the complexities of a larger business. It’s like sailing a row boat compared to a 50 ft yacht. They are both boats but one is straight forward to captain, the other requires a larger skillset. For a Small Business strategy is still very important, but it takes on a slightly different guise.

Recently, I came across the Nyquist Method (not to be confused with the Nyquist Stability Criterion of the same origin). Harry Nyquist was an Electrical Engineer at Bell Labs (1934 – 1954). Bell Labs was responsible for some of the most influential society changing inventions of the Nineteenth Century including transistors, lasers, and solar cells. At one-point Bell Labs performed an internal study on the 10 most prolific Engineers at Bell Labs. They were trying to figure out the ‘secret sauce’ of these Engineers and why they were constantly coming up with amazing new inventions. What did they have in common that made them so successful in their work? After going through their graduate history, academic methodology, and every other factor they could think of a very minor detail accidently emerged. The only thing in common that these ‘Super Engineers’ all did the same was how they spent they lunch break! Not what they ate, but who they ate with.

What transpired was that each of them would happen to sit with Harry Nyquist, a quiet diminutive regimented engineer. Good at his work but practically invisible amongst the cluster of talented eccentric engineers at Bell Labs. What happened in these lunches turned out to be the highest impact activity at Bell Labs. What was it that was special about these casual conversations? What did Harry do that was so ground breaking?

Harry Nyquist had two defining characteristics:

1.       He was warm and friendly. Easy to talk to, inclusive, and placed people at ease when he spoke to them.

2.       He was curious. Super inquisitive and relentlessly asking questions that stimulated thinking and further conversation.

The Nyquist method was to simply open up discussion with talented engineers. This helped them get through whatever obstacle they were stuck on. Performed in his spare time whilst on lunch. He was interested, enjoyed the discussions, and set these engineers alight with new ideas and solutions to the problems they were facing in their work. He ‘unstuck them’. After a Harry Nyquist chat, the engineer would be clear on what they needed investigate and action. He didn’t even realise the effect of what he was doing. The sheer genius was lost on all until this discovery was made.

This struck a chord with me. I am constantly talking to Small Business owners and managers about the need to spend time strategising to make their lives easier. But, they don’t have time. They don’t know how to do it, and they don’t have time to learn how to do it.

This is very common, so people do their best and get on with it. They make decisions on the fly, go where the work is, and roll the dice. This chaotic approach works, at least to a certain extent. The downside is that the business can become over-reliant on the market. There can be a need to take on work with clients you don’t enjoy working with, or the need to adhere or adapt your business to gain further sales. There tends to be a limit on growth and profit ability, not to mention how stressful and time consuming this approach can be.

So how can we implement easy, quick, and effective Strategising into our business? Firstly, strategising is just a fancy word for Problem Solving. A strategy is the ‘how’ to moving something from point A to point B. It is a list of actions that need to be done to achieve goals and overcome obstacles.

Secondly, Strategising is not a meeting. It is not a review. It is not a yearly, or quarterly thing. This is where many get paralysed. Being able to schedule meetings for review, ideation, and action planning is truly great (I am a big fan), but it is not necessary.

What is necessary is to channel your inner Harry Nyquist…

1.       Be warm and smother your people with safety so they will speak up and be willing to discuss the deepest hardest challenges they are facing, or what they see as the biggest issues to address for the whole business. This enables people to speak their mind, and voice solutions without inhibition.

2.       Be curious. As a business owner this is the primary function that we all share in our Job Description. Be relentlessly curious. Get to the core of obstructions and assist your team to think deeper and wider than they want to. Be the platform that sets them off on a new journey of discovery and action to move their own individual work forward as well as that of the whole business.

3.       Do this regularly. Constant crystallisation of the problems at hand to form actions and remedies is my definition of strategising. Never ever letting things go, and always turning over the possibilities and discussing how the team can ‘move the dial’ for the business.

I liken it to a Professional Football Coach and his team. They have a Game Style and Set Up at the start of the season. Then they constantly adapt and change this as the season wears on. Injuries, form, ladder position, weather, travel, and all sorts of other variables are negotiated. The Coach and his staff (along with players) are constantly talking, assessing, discussing, and deciding on a new approach and new plans to play the next week, the next quarter, the next few minutes. When done well there is an intensely honest and open communication loop with direct action in aid of moving the team forward to win.

When the year is passing you by, and the opportunity to gather your troops is not happening, then don’t despair. You have an opportunity every day to habitually Strategise. Tackle the small things first to build confidence and garner momentum. Then develop from there. If you find yourself setting meetings and reviews to set longer term goals, then you have taken the next step. If you never find the need to do this, then that is great as well.

As long as you are strategising every day. This will be a determining factor to outcomes as well as the ease that these outcomes are achieved with.

The Value of Home - Turning Newbies into Leaders

The induction. Talk to any HR Professional and they will advocate a well-structured and comprehensive induction for all new employees. Some of us do it well, some do it poorly, or sometimes not at all depending on resources, circumstance, and our individual business culture. But, what can we do (no matter what) to increase the chances of a new employee becoming a long-term success?

In a time when Culture is King, many are grappling with how to translate culture into practical commercial success that is both meaningful and sustainable. It can quickly turn into a buzzword-centric topic which is forgotten completely in day-to-day interactions with peers and customers a-like.

The answer seems to reside in the value of making people feel safe and “at home” right from the start. This is a powerful trigger every single leader in a business can utilise to gain long term performance and loyalty out of new employees (and seasoned ones too!)

Daniel Coyle details an experiment in his book, The Culture Code. Coyle discusses an Indian Call Centre called WIPRO that was experiencing costly staff attrition rates. They took a group of new recruits and simply spent one-hour talking to them about their individual needs to perform better. They also gave them a WIPRO shirt with their own name on it. They found that the people in this group were 250% more likely to still be at the company seven months later compared to those that did not have the “one-hour chat”.

This demonstrated that people valued being treated as an individual and being heard from the start of their employment. It displayed that a business must show that they are there to “Serve You” just as much as the employee is there to “Serve Us”. The results spoke for themselves with staff serving longer and at a better performance level in a notoriously high-turnover environment.

When we feel at home, we feel safe. And when we feel safe our concentration levels are elevated due to less distraction and wariness. It’s like your first day at kindergarten – it’s a scary day with lots of anxiety. But if the teaching assistant relaxes you with warmth, attention, and care then it can turn out to be the best fun you’ve ever had.

Recently, I was struck by this idea when watching a Friday Night AFL match between Sydney and Hawthorn at the MCG. It was a cold wet night where Sydney won in a very close contest. The story of the night was that of Ben Ronke. In his third game, this little fresh-faced recruit kicked a game winning 7 goals and made 10 tackles – a new all-time record for the league. Not only is it almost unheard of for a small-forward to kick this many goals in a game, but no one had ever statistically done this in the history of the league!

The impressive part was in the post-match interview. Ronke was asked “What is it about this club that keeps producing such great young talent?”

He responded by saying “It comes down to the Leadership group, and even the up-and-coming leaders. You go to the club and you just feel at home straight away. They make you feel like you’re at home. That takes the pressure off of you and makes you feel comfortable, and with the support of the older boys – it goes a long way”

Wow! In a moment of pure honesty, this young athlete summed it up beautifully.

If we don’t invest individual effort into an employee we run the risk that they will merely exist in their role, and there is only a small chance of them becoming long term successful performers. To take this further, when a recruit is made to feel comfortable, but without an individualised approach then performance will ease off very quickly and revert to a relaxation mode. This is not sustainable either.

Leaders that show even the smallest of gestures that the business is there to serve the employee as much as the other way around, create an experience that is both comfortable and inspiring. This becomes a potent combination feeding the feelings of belonging. In turn, this creates performers that not only excel, but do it for a long time to come.

 

5 Tips to Pull Customers in with Visual Merchandising

The common perception is that visual merchandising (VM) is about making your products and your store look nice, but I assure you that there is a lot more to it than this. It is healthy to view your VM as a hub that links directly to all of your other main business departments. These usually include Stock Control, Marketing, Customer Service, Human Resources & Professional Development, Housekeeping, and of course Sales. Understanding that VM directly links with other functions within your business starts to open up new levels of creativity for you while making it easier to justify further resources on your VM and in-store animation.

VM is also a key way to pull customers over the threshold into your store and assist you to deliver a high customer service level with resulting sales increases. Here are my top five tips to bring this to fruition:

1. Promotional Displays

Visualise your store as you walk in the main entrance, and ask yourself what the first thing is that your eyes are drawn to? In retail, we want the first attention grabber in our store to be the promotional product or range of the week/month/season. It is critical that we have an engaging promotional display front-and-centre as a shopper enter our space. This not only creates interest for a shopper to stop walking and turn into your store, but it also excites the shopper – no matter if they are new to the store or a returning customer. The golden rules are to use a New Product, a Seasonal Product, a Topical Product, or a Hero Product from your range. To ensure freshness change this display regularly. This promotional display should also link to the display in your window.

2. Prime Shelf Real Estate

There are Hot and Cold Zones in our stores, with a Hot Zone representing an area of high foot traffic. You may know why people gravitate to this area, or it may be a mystery. Either way, be sure to recognise your Hot Zone, and the shelving units within this zone. This zone is generally the first-place shoppers will look and want to browse after they have enjoyed your promotional display at the entrance of your store. You may designate a shelf at eye level, or an entire bay as your Prime Shelf Real Estate. Whatever amount of space that you choose, be sure to fill it with product that matches your promotional display mentioned above. The key to this is to make it is clear that people can shop from this area. I say this as a promotional display can often be left by shoppers as they do not feel that they are allowed to shop from this area. By using the sequence of your window display, that matches your promotional display, that matches your Shelf Prime Real Estate, we have now built a slick easy to use path-to-purchase.

3. Pricing

The way that we communicate individualised pricing is a critical part of VM. Pricing needs to visually be aligned with our branding, be sized appropriately to the products, and be easy and clear to understand. Depending on your type of retail you may use hanging tags, pricing stickers, branded labels, or shelf talkers. Whatever the pricing display is that you use be sure to take a good deal of care with careful attention to detail. Make sure pricing labels are consistent throughout the store, and to make pricing easy to read and easy to find. Let’s face it, the first question most consumers have is “how much is it?”

Premium Retail will usually not display prices, and certain retail will have pricing on lists or in menus, but no matter what pricing is relevant for your business be sure that it is brand aligned and that it is correct! There is nothing worse than getting pricing wrong and costing your business money, credibility, and resulting in a negative customer experience.

4. Negative Space

In large discount retailers and super markets, you will see products jammed in and stacked as high as possible. This signals to the consumer that the products are of a low value. In a majority of retail environments, we want to increase the value proposition of our products using VM. One of the most effective ways to do this is to use Negative Space. Negative Space is the use of gaps, or space between products. This is a clever technique that draws a shopper’s eyes to the individual products allowing the shopper to browse without working so hard while creating more interest in the shopper’s mind. Negative Space also signals to the consumer that the products are important enough to command such a generous use of space. This is where the perceived value of a product is enhanced. This technique in your layout will enhance your overall branding, and will be noticeable from the exterior of the store as consumers look in through the entrance. It can also be used in window displays.

5. Clean All Day, Every Day

This is my favourite as it is so so important. No matter how much a consumer is paying for an individual product, if it is not clean then it is not attractive to buy. The retail environment out there is ultra-competitive, so if a store is not clean and tidy, then the consumer will simply go somewhere else. Cleanliness underpins all of your VM. You may have the latest technology, the biggest screens, the flashiest lights, or the most on trend animation, but if your window and shelves are dusty, sticky, grimy, or dirty in anyway then your whole VM is undermined. My golden rules are that we clean at the beginning and end of every day, and then throughout the day constantly. Other than education and product knowledge, re-stocking the shelves and cleaning is the number one task that we all need to commit to when we have down time in-store. It is critical that everyone in the store team is contributing to this too, and that there are no exemptions. It is a team game with sales to be lost if someone is excusing themselves from cleaning. Keeping your store and products clean can be made harder if your store has an Open-Door Policy (ie. Your front doors are left wide open during trading hours). This is always a great best practice as it invites customers into your space (take that as an extra free tip!) but it will encourage dust to accumulate quicker so be aware of this in regard to directing your team to clean.