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On the Way to the Arch

Sidewalk-Signage

I took the picture above on the way to morning mass at the church underneath the St. Louis arch.

A sidewalk message to navigate the way to what is already a very visible landmark reminds me of my wife’s marketing activities in college.

St-Louis-Arch-Church

Before we dated, she was in charge of marketing for student activities at Fort Hays State University where we both earned our bachelor’s degrees. She was famous for using sidewalk signage to cut through the clutter and let students know which way they should walk to get to the latest music or entertainment program on campus.

Back to this sidewalk signage pointing the way to the St. Louis arch, however, it suggests multiple strategic thinking questions you can ask for your brand’s success.

7 Strategic Thinking Questions on the Way to Your Brand?

These seven strategic thinking questions focus on what happens to your customers on the way to your brand.

Put another way, is your brand visible in all the places your customers are going to be as they start toward, get closer to, and are nearby your brand – or your competitors’ brands?

Using the St. Louis arch sidewalk signage as inspiration, think about the following strategic thinking questions to imagine where your brand needs to be to reach potential customers on the way to your brand:

  • Where might customers begin in making their way to find and explore our brand?
  • How many different paths do customers take to reach our brand category?
  • What are all the other parties trying to get in from of our brand’s customers?
  • What types of messages stand out from competitors’ messages trying to reach our potential customers?
  • When our customers are looking “up,” “down,” or “to the side,” what are they going to see as they pass by our brand?
  • How many possibilities are available to reinforce our messages before customers reach our brand?
  • In what ways might we be able to use pre-brand messages so potential customers know they are getting “warmer” or “colder” relative to our brand location?

Run through these seven strategic thinking questions and see what possibilities your answers suggest.

See if you don’t uncover some new opportunities in answering these strategic thinking questions where you can make it easier and more apparent for your customers to find your brand from among all the competitive options! – Mike Brown

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The folks at Armada Corporate Intelligence shared, via their “Inside the Executive Suite” feature, a number of ideas to improve the effectiveness of rolling out your strategic planning document for the upcoming year. They were gracious enough to let us feature the six approaches since there’s still time to improve the effectiveness of how you introduce your strategic plan. We list each of their suggestions followed by our own thoughts in italics.

6 Ways to Make an Impact with this Year’s Strategic Planning Document

New ideas and strategic planning initiatives are ready to roll out, but strategies often aren’t developed with a full understanding of the audiences most affected by them. This can create a mismatch between executives sharing new strategic planning documents and those on the receiving end that are expected to implement them.

New-Year-Strategic-Planning

While some approaches for smooth strategy roll-outs could be too late to implement, there are multiple possibilities to improve the experience and impact.

  1. Create messaging focused on audience benefits and motivations

While the inclination is often to communicate a plan based on the external factors that justify the direction, it’s far better to communicate a plan in language that motivates the relevant audiences to understand how successful plan implementation helps them be successful in helping the organization be successful.

  1. Make sure the plan language SOUNDS like the audience

If you’re strategic plan sounds like freshly-minted MBA consultants put it together, STOP! Even if you don’t have time to revise all the language throughout the plan, at least make sure the shortened version you share with your organization SOUNDS like they talk. Make the language so simple that anyone in the organization knows what the plan means for them individually and what they need to do to make it successful.

  1. Give potential influencers an early look

Who are the operations leaders, sales veterans, and others that all the rest of the organization will look to for cues on what to think about the strategic plan? Spend the time to identify the list of people matching these descriptions and then invest the time to reach out and give them an early look on what you plan to share with the rest of the organization. You want to make sure they’re bought in and saying ALL the right things about the strategic plan.

  1. Shorten what you’re communicating to a single page or infographic

Do whatever it takes to come up with a one-page version of the plan for each audience you need to embrace, own, and actively implement the plan. Make it easy for people to understand what they need to do!

  1. Identify opportunities for user customization in the strategy

Don’t be ridiculous . . . you haven’t covered EVERYTHING people need to do in your strategic plan. Be upfront and identify where employees have latitude to make good business decisions and customize how they approach and implement the organization’s strategic plan.

  1. Communicate the strategy in a compelling way this year

Don’t send out a plan and expect ANYONE will read your email with the plan attachment. Just as you try to cut through the clutter with your customer communication, think about all the boring, crappy internal communications that create clutter internally. Then do something completely different and exciting to share this year’s plan!

There Is Still Time

As the folks at Armada suggested, you can pick just one of these ideas and realize greater impact from this year’s plan. 

The big strategic thinking question is, “Which one will you pick?”

 

 

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  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

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When a brand strategy change is planned, what happens first?

An earlier “Inside the Executive Suite” article from Armada Corporate Intelligence addressed this important brand strategy question about how changes are rolled out to the public. The issue is this: When announcing a new brand promise, you need to give employees adequate time to understand and embrace the brand promise before announcing it to customers.

“Nearly simultaneously,” unless there are completely inescapable circumstances preventing advance notice, is not adequate time. Yet, discussions and presentations at a brand strategy conference indicate many brands act as if “nearly simultaneously” is sufficient.

You're-Gonna-Love-this-Plac

They’re wrong, and here’s an example included in the Armada piece. It’s a second-hand anecdote on the downside of not making sure employees know about branding announcement before customers, along with the fundamental differences in how brands are developed vs. implemented.

Brand Promises Are Developed and Communicated in Different Directions (From Armada Executive Intelligence “Inside the Executive Suite”)

“(There are) differing ‘directions’ in which smart brands develop and introduce their promises.

Many organizations first look inward to determine what they want the brand to be. They then develop related brand messages they launch with great fanfare in the marketplace. This is developing the brand promise ‘inside-out’ and communicating it ‘outside-in,’ implying employees are learning about the new big brand promise at the same time as customers.

“That approach is fraught with problems as evidenced by a story shared by a CMO we (worked with). He was flying on United Airlines as it introduced ‘United Rising.’ The brand campaign focused on United dramatically changing to deliver better service to customers. After enduring a day of cancellations and delays at O’Hare with no timely updates or apologies from United, passengers finally boarded a plane in the evening. One flight attendant welcomed passengers, acknowledged their long, frustrating day, apologized, and said the crew would have them home soon.

“The CMO told the flight attendant she was the ONLY person all day who displayed anything resembling United Rising-type behaviors. She asked what United Rising was. He explained it was the new United brand message. She replied, ‘Oh, they don’t tell us about those things. We’re always the last to know.’

“That highlights the problem with first communicating a brand promise in the marketplace. If the market learns about a new brand promise before employees, they aren’t in a good position to bring the brand promise to life for customers – and they may even wind up undermining it, as in the United Rising episode.

“The best brand promises are developed outside in. A brand starts by understanding what the market perceives about it and how much latitude it has to change. Brand promises are then communicated inside out. The communication process starts with employees before the market hears the message, making sure they understand it and are supported in delivering on it. Then, when the first customer comes through the door (whether a physical, figurative, or virtual one), employee behaviors and every other brand element can strongly align to what customers have heard.”

Even if there are regulatory or confidentiality issues involved, it behooves a brand to establish considerable groundwork with its employees in advance, perhaps over many months of time. This could come via broad employee involvement in providing input to the strategy. It could also include sharing foundational concepts that will support the eventual brand position. In that case, when the new brand is announced, brand management can link the new information on the brand to what has already been shared. That at least provides SOME context and preparation for employees to be able to communicate about and carry out a new brand promise more effectively.

Don’t mess this one up: Communicating your brand starts on the inside, NOT the outside!  – Mike Brown

10 Keys to Engaging Stakeholders to Create Improved Results

FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-Book

Leaders are looking for powerful ways to engage strong collaborators to shape shared visions. They need strategic thinkers who can develop strategy and turn it into results.

This new Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons for leaders to increase strategic collaboration, engagement, and create improved results.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

Download Your FREE Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-book

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Mike Brown

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We’ve certainly covered the heck out of how bad bosses, toxic cultures, and negative comments can crush creative thinking and creativity. These all dampen creative thinking because while ideas are in the awkward stage when someone has just envisioned them, the last thing you need is to attack them because they are outside the norm or aren’t fully-formed.

What you might not consider, however, is how an uber-positive boss that is TOO OVER THE TOP when communicating how great early stage ideas are ALSO CRUSHES creative thinking.

Here’s an example.

Creative-Thinking-Bouquets

Suppose a team is charged with doing the creative thinking to generate new ideas for an initiative. Sometimes the ideas are developed collaboratively; other times, ideas are shared one-on-one with the boss.

In a group where it is understood that creative ideas are considered works in progress, supportive comments from the boss are helpful to further creativity. Ideas that build on original ideas are beneficial. Creative thinking that removes or reshapes initial ideas is okay because team members understand an idea’s origin and can offer creative adaptations in a smart, supportive way.

When creative possibilities are shared individually with the boss, however, team knowledge about new ideas is limited. All you know about the idea is what the boss communicates back to the group. If an uber-positive boss shares only effusive praise for a new creative idea, it is challenging to for someone else to say, “That idea doesn’t make strategic sense,” or “There are other possibilities for that idea that you didn’t consider.” Sure, you can step out and offer these perspectives. But when uber-positive praise from the boss makes it seem as if the weak idea is the best creative idea ever, trying to actively adapt the idea can be, in the best case, a big challenge, or, in the worst case, seen as trying to sabotage someone else’s creative thinking.

5 Ideas When an Uber-Positive Boss Crushes Creative Thinking

A better approach as the boss is, when sharing the idea with the full team, to:

  1. Introduce the creative idea
  2. Credit the idea’s originator
  3. Remark positively on the idea’s possibilities and potential to grow and develop
  4. Share the idea’s status (i.e., it’s open for consideration all the way to it’s a done deal)
  5. Invite team members to comment, build on, and adapt the idea with their own creative thinking

These five steps help a boss be positive about a new creative idea while still creating room to allow other team members to provide their unencumbered creative thinking.

If you’re the boss, be positive about new creative thinking without going overboard. Doing this will encourage your team’s full collective strategic and creative thinking potential. – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

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The previous Brainzooming article was on listening for strategic insights in order to not waste strategic conversations. If you understand the types of information you need to develop a strategic plan, you can often get a jump start on completing it simply by listening closely to strategic conversations for valuable input.

This is the flip of that post. If you have the right people present, and they are in a chatty mood, how can you morph the gathering into a strategic conversation?

One way is by introducing strategic thinking questions that steer meandering conversations into strategic conversations.

9 Strategic Thinking Questions to Start Strategic Conversations

Strategic-QuestionMark

Here are nine strategic thinking questions to try and spontaneously generate strategic conversations:

  1. What do we want the result to be?
  2. What will we need to get started? (You can direct this strategic thinking question to consider resources, people, ideas, support, etc.)
  3. What would be the first steps to take?
  4. What has to happen after the steps we’ve identified to ________? (Fill in the blank with “maintain momentum,” “get ongoing support from the people who will need to support this,” and “be ready to implement it when we’re done”)
  5. How will we know we’re successful at each step along the way?
  6. How will the most important audiences for what we’re doing judge if we’re successful along the way?
  7. What things can stop us dead in our tracks at each step?
  8. How do we manage around those things that REALLY seem insurmountable?
  9. What absolutely has to be in place for us to be successful overall?

Along with introducing these questions to steer strategic conversations, apply the listening routine from the previous article to identify the right snippets you’ll need to turn strategic conversations into strategic plans. – Mike Brown

10 Keys to Engaging Stakeholders to Create Improved Results

FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-Book

Leaders need high-impact ways to develop employees that can provide input into strategy and then turn it into results. This Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons leaders can use to boost collaboration, meaningful strategic conversations, and results.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

Download Your FREE Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-book

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I don’t have statistically validated data for this claim. I’d be comfortable speculating, however, that a high percentage of productive strategic conversations are wasted.

What do I mean by “wasted” strategic conversations? Those are conversations where no one is actively listening and capturing important ideas and information in ways those participating in the strategic conversations (and others) can use them later.

MAYBE one or more people in a strategic conversation happen to remember what was discussed. Perhaps someone took a few notes. The notes were probably captured, however, in chronological order (i.e., this was said and then this was said), and shared that way. Chronological notes, however, rarely add as much value as they might because productive strategic conversations don’t typically take place in an order that directly supports decisions and actions.

Strategic-Conversations-Thought-Pad

Here’s an alternative approach we use all the time during strategic conversations:  listen for specific types of comments and organize them as you go (or after the fact) into strategic deliverables.

For example, before a strategic planning workshop started the other day, an internal client leader held court with the project team. They discussed a large process graphic we were about to address. The strategic conversation was incredibly rich. It had great potential for shaping the foundation for our strategic planning. That was only true, however, because we knew what to listen for amid a lot of extraneous information and idea sharing.

12 Things to Listen for in Strategic Conversations

What types of information should you listen for amid strategic conversations? Here are 12 types of input we captured during the pre-planning conversation:

  1. Things that “matter” for the organization or initiative
  2. Aspirations the organization has for changing its current path
  3. Expectations for what a strategic initiative will include or deliver
  4. Numbers defining the size of the effort or quantifying its potential benefits
  5. Speculation about strengths and weaknesses the organization faces
  6. Facts about the current situation
  7. Factors influencing the initiative’s success
  8. Challenges standing in the way of progress
  9. Descriptions of potential objectives and metrics
  10. Organizational beliefs and biases
  11. Specific innovative ideas the organization wants to pursue
  12. Criteria that will shape decision making

Simply by having a plan for what we would need later during strategic planning, we were able to turn what could have been a wasted strategic conversation into a huge head start in completing our work.

Next time you are involved a strategic conversation, quickly assess what you need from it and start listening for valuable strategic nuggets.  Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

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One church I regularly attend received a new temporary pastor, replacing another relatively new pastor. It is a bit of a mystery why the previous pastor left, leading to an information void causing speculation about what is going on and what will happen next. This speculation extends to the new priest, who seems to have a past, based on a Google search.

The temporary pastor’s first services were this weekend.  When it came time for the homily, he said the bishop told him to share his whole story that first weekend so there would be no questions about him.

He shared his unwillingness in the early years of his priesthood to say no to any new assignment. He took on additional parishes, achieved big goals, and over-extended himself. Through whatever factors, he came to abuse alcohol and, as he stated, “compromised his values.” When the situation became known several years ago, the bishop pushed him to disclose everything. The bishop then called the media to ensure there was no hint of anything being concealed.

church

The priest discussed hitting rock bottom that day, and the steps he has taken since to return to his feet. He is in the “recovery community,” he has surrounded himself with people to foster accountability, and he is moderating his previous ambitions.

He tied the entire message together with the theme for the feast of All Saints Day by reminding us “every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”

His message was not an apology for being caught.

It was an admission of falling and working hard to get back up.

When he concluded, he was greeted by warm applause from the congregation – a very rare occurrence at a Catholic mass.

What Real Transparency Looks Like

Consider what his homily and the emphasis on immediately sharing the entire story with his new flock accomplished. He:

  • Let everyone know that he, like all the rest of us, need help to grow and improve
  • Fostered a willingness among parishioners to support him as needed in his recovery
  • Signaled to parishioners in the recovery community that he was someone to reach out to if they need support

Most importantly, any rumormongers were put out of business day one since we all learned the truth at the same time.

Contrast what real transparency looks like versus what happens with so many public figures. When famous people are caught compromising their values, they typically apologize for GETTING CAUGHT, without ever acknowledging they did anything wrong. That cultivates distrust and skepticism since the whole apologizing for getting caught routine is too scripted and insincere.

The term “transparency” is thrown around a lot even though it is not carried out nearly as often.

I feel fortunate to have been a witness to see what real transparency looks like.

While it is clearly painful, real transparency does so much more for everyone involved. – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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