Strategy

Making the Impossible Do’able

Fear 1.jpg

The practical approach to steep objectives

Growing up in the 90’s in the Adelaide Hills the rest of the world felt a long way away. New discoveries, geniuses, and game changing break throughs seemed to always happen in exotic places a long way away. Nothing of gravity seemed to come from anywhere near me. Layer with this the apathy that came with being a teenager during the Grunge movement and the result was an attitude of impossible. When I grew up and travelled around the world, I quickly realised that people everywhere were normal people like us. They were not extra special, more talented, or cleverer.

It was an eye opener – I have the right to do brilliant things as much as anyone from Geneva, New York, or Oslo.

Grunge - full of angst and apathy

Grunge - full of angst and apathy

She had no right 1

We have recently seen countless examples of people achieving the seemingly impossible. Since writing about Ash Barty’s amazing major win (Ash the quitter), she has gone to number one in the world! We all thought it was impossible that any Aussie would climb to the peak of the mountain. Our tennis system that was apparently devoid of talent, money, and unity – Ash made a mockery of this assumption.

Ash wins the Birmingham Classic to become the World’s Number 1 Female Tennis Player

Ash wins the Birmingham Classic to become the World’s Number 1 Female Tennis Player

She had no right 2

Hannah Green, ranked 114th in the world, rolled up to Hazeltine (Minnesota USA), for the PGA Championship Major Tournament. Green went wire-to-wire (led all the way through the tournament) to win one of the toughest tournaments in the year. Green had no right to win in the minds of the “experts”. But she did. Game changing.

Sitting outside the top 100 ranked players, Hannah Green had no right to win a major tournament

Sitting outside the top 100 ranked players, Hannah Green had no right to win a major tournament

They had no right

In 2016, Leicester City Football Club (soccer) did the un-do’able. They won the Premier League. In an era where only the richest clubs win, this little club won matches. And kept winning. And won until there were no games left. It will always go down as one of the biggest anomalies ever seen in world sport. They were 5000-1 odds (NBC, In a league of their own). I am not a betting man, but I know that these are some of the longest odds in a comparable situation.

Still hard to believe. They didn’t have the resources, the squad, or the pedigree. But they did it. They achieved the impossible.

Still hard to believe. They didn’t have the resources, the squad, or the pedigree. But they did it. They achieved the impossible.

I could write for pages about such stories. And I draw on sport, because it is such a transparent workplace. Everything the leaders, players, and communities do is on show. We get great coverage and insights into what people are doing and how they do it. I feel that sporting stories relate directly to our own lives and workplaces where clear learnings we can be practically used.

This week, I shared an article by Francesco Gino on LinkedIn, written for Harvard Business Review (why curiosity matters). I am a big fan of Gino’s work on Rule Breaking. One statistic from Gino’s HBR article smacked me in the face:

70% of people she surveyed were scared to ask more questions in their workplace.

This is an alarmingly high number, but one I can understand. I am seen as an extravert with a big mouth, but I can often find myself afraid of asking questions from fear of looking dumb, even within a trusted environment of people. So, if we are afraid of asking questions, then it is no wonder that when faced with steep objectives we immediately feel they are unobtainable. How dare we question our assumptions that it is too hard?

Business Battle Lines have been drawn. Higher Up’s have laid out their strategies and they are dealing out the numbers they want to see achieved. Clients and competitors have done the same. If you are saying to yourself “that’s impossible”, then you are not alone (see my previous article on this; Tell em their dreaming). It is a natural response. But, you are also wrong. It is incorrect that ‘unrealistic targets’ are not achievable. They are. It just takes asking a few extra questions.

Jordan Peterson.jpg

Starting with the mindset that your objectives are achievable is the first step.

Secondly, throw out the rule book. We discuss Audacity as one of the critical Behaviours That Matter in my programs. A part of this is separating ourselves from what we did. The controversial author, Jordan Peterson writes “the past is dead” in his book The 12 Rules of Life. Peterson is referring to the fact that what has happened cannot be changed as apposed to the future, which is still completely malleable.

The third step is implementation. What are the habitual behaviours you can set in motion now? The first one I would suggest is to set yourself to ask more questions. Inspired by Gino’s work, we can take that extra moment to discuss, question, and go deeper into what is happening, why it is happening, and how can it happen better?

Along with remembering the feats of Barty, Green, and Leicester City we can set ourselves up to not only achieve the impossible, but set ourselves up to establish a new benchmark that could not have been imagined.

 

Learn more about Audacity and the HAT Competencies here.

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.

How to turn a bunch of dysfunctional individuals into a Dream Team

Yesterday, I had a training session with a client of mine. He was struggling with communicating his marketing and sales objectives to his team. Mainly because they are all different, and on their own agendas. Sound familiar…?

It struck me that this topic is very common, so I thought I would share a few key points I use to turn this scenario into an advantage.

Difference equals diversity, and this is a great base for a great team.

In team sport, you can’t have the same type of player across the whole field. Eleven Lionel Messi’s sounds mouth-watering, but who is going to lay the tough tackles, or be the huge presence in goal? What about the emotional side? If you have eleven stars, then how are they all going to get the limelight? They would rip each other apart within the first few weeks of a season!

Whenever I have taken over a team with large diversity, I have seen the disconnects and range of talents as an opportunity rather than a horrible stress.

No matter what the scenario, these same steps can be used to great effect:

1. Start with you, and what you need to do – Before giving direction to any group of people the manager needs to be crystal clear on what they are trying to achieve. An obvious start is with commercial goals, sales targets, and particular brand focuses important to the business in the next six to 12 months. Also, think about the customer experience that your brand is trying to achieve. Or, what you are setting out to achieve in your role over the next 12-24 months? Goals can come in many forms, but before any direction is given to the team, these goals must be set into SMART goal language.

 

2. What is their story? It is common to take employees out for a coffee or lunch and get to know them. Check in on them. Tell them about yourself. This is all very nice, but there are key points to cover here and one must always be prepared with an agenda, even when the tone of the catch-up is largely informal. Key areas to understand with each individual are:

a. What have they done (some info on their past)

b. What do they need and want now (both personally and professionally can be relevant, as well as physical and emotional)

c. What do they want to do/achieve/learn/gain in the next 12 months?

Let the conversation flow. Be curious. Get a full picture of the person.

3. Divide and Conquer – I know it sounds a little over the top, but this is one of the biggest mistakes I see seasoned (and junior) managers make with their team. If any of us try and set out new directives in a team environment with no warning or consultation, there is HUGE risk of Mutiny.

It is not a risk worth taking.

Investing some time into consulting each individual with what we want them to focus on is going to be a very powerful and positive discussion. Give context within the larger project that you want them to contribute to (i.e. set the vision). Highlight how this leverages their strengths, and gives them exposure to the things they want to learn and develop.

Also, be willing to be flexible and listen to any changes the person thinks would make the directive better. There is no need to be stubborn, or to set everything in concrete. In fact, the more that it seems like their idea, the more buy-in you will get to the overall strategy. WIN-WIN! Whatever happens, come to an agreement with each individual. Set the expectation clearly, and get ready to move to the next step.

4. Turn the troops into Lieutenants – No one wants to be a number. A part of the pack. A worker bee. It’s not fun. Turn your beautiful bunch of misfits into leaders. Each one of them will be a specialist, a department manager, an owner of a task or key element of the business. They can have a title. They can have status. They can lead the discussion, or give education, or command a section of the team meetings. It always astounds me how much people step up when given extra responsibility. An opportunity to contribute can be more valuable than cold hard cash to many of us. This is a great strategy for tapping into the wants and needs of the individuals while aligning this with the overall business goals that need to be achieved.

5. Round them up and take off – Now is the time to get the group together and openly talk about the new directives, what everyone’s role is going to be, and how progress is going to be tracked. As there are no surprises because of the individual meetings, the team will be ready to advocate the changes you are discussing. All the processes and systems can be made clear, trained in, and discussed. The initial meeting will provide a platform to gain momentum and buy-in from the group. This is built-on even further, again-and-again in future meetings.

 

I love under-performing, unfashionable, even rebellious retail teams. I love working with them, and turning them into monster success stories. Having said this, I know it’s tough. There are the big characters that aggressively push against your authority. Then there are the unmotivated “clock punchers” that seem impossible to talk to. Or the passive-aggressive’s. Maybe you have the “been there, done that” veterans that aren’t open to change. Or the young-hot-shot-know-it-all that is getting under everyone’s skin. It seems like every team has the hard-working unsung hero too, which can sometimes be harder to manage than it may seem.

Too often, these tough teams become a burden. They can fill us with dread and even despair. I get it – I’ve been there many times before. But, with a good solid plan, some determination, and a sprinkle of patience, these “Motley-Crews” can be turned into teams we love to work with that also deliver.

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.