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Emma Alvarez Gibson and I were talking about identifying strategic themes within tens or hundreds of ideas from a strategic planning workshop or from thousands of comments within a survey.

Other than a big dose of help from outside forces, what are dependable ways to identify meaningful strategic themes?

This is important because latching onto the right groupings for ideas will make all the difference when highlighting and simplifying smart strategy recommendations.

As we chatted, I perused the Brainzooming website looking for articles on how we surface strategic themes. Posts on making strategic connections address some aspect of our approach, yet they cover only part of the story.

10 Cues to Identify Strategic Themes among Ideas

Reflecting on our Brainzooming process, we use all these cues to identify potential strategic themes among THINGS THAT:

  1. Are clearly related to strategy
  2. We know correlate
  3. Seem to correlate
  4. Represent natural groups you see or experience elsewhere
  5. Happen at the same time
  6. Appear close to one another
  7. Possess similar characteristics or attributes
  8. Incorporate similar inputs or outputs
  9. Undergo similar processes
  10. Demonstrate unusual but frequent connections between each other

There are likely more of these.

Yet, you don’t want too many cues. You must be able to quickly run through the strategic theme cues whenever you are faced with large a volume of open-ended comments.

Based on our experience, finding just the right number and range of strategic themes is one of the best methodologies you can employ to ensure broad strategic thinking AND clear steps to implement. – Mike Brown

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This week marks the tenth anniversary of the Brainzooming blog. I’ve told the story of its inception previously.

Looking back ten years, suffice it to say that starting to write and publish about the work I was first doing in the Fortune 500 world as a VP of Strategic Marketing and then in launching Brainzooming was one of the most important career decisions I ever made. Not fully anticipating it at the time, the blog became created the opportunity for this phase of my career, plus serving as a personal repository of business tools, and, after a ton of writing and publishing, a highly-efficient and effective encyclopedia of Brainzooming content we can adapt for other uses.

Searching through the blog this weekend for additional material to incorporate into an upcoming book, I found the list below. I can visualize the list on a piece of paper when I first wrote it in the mid-1990s. But if not for the blog, it would live in a file somewhere with no way to effectively retrieve it, even though it still holds up all these years later as a guideline for servant leadership and solid business behavior.

If you are in a leadership position or aspire to one, feel free to borrow and adapt it to share with your team. It’s a good starting point for setting the stage for making sure your team understands servant leadership and what it means to be an effective, successful team member:

15 Expectations for Servant Leadership

This self-assessment was prepared for my team in response to a question about what my expectations were of them. It’s reassuring that with minimal updates, the list of personal checkpoints stills works today. Having stood the test of many years, here it is for you to use as a self-check on your orientation and performance or for adapting and sharing with your own team.

Self-Assessment – You should be known for . . .

  1. Stepping up to challenges as they arise with your time, effort, learning, innovative ideas, etc.
  2. Honesty–with yourself and with everyone in the department and the company.
  3. Attention to detail and accuracy in everything that crosses your desk.
  4. Absolute integrity in using and reporting information.
  5. Asking and answering for all analysis: “What does it mean for our brands, customers, competitors, and/or the market?” and “What actions do we need to take to realize an advantage from it?”
  6. Making communication clear and simple–getting to the point without jargon and unessential information. Constantly work to improve both oral and written communication skills.
  7. Completing assignments in a timely manner.
  8. Being innovative–what can be done differently to increase efficiency, productivity, value, and revenue or reduce costs?
  9. Being above reproach in dealings with all parties within and outside of the company-how you conduct yourself reflects on you, your co-workers, the department, and the company.
  10. Using the knowledge and expertise of others inside and outside the company; recognize and acknowledge their contributions.
  11. Sharing your own knowledge and expertise with others, i.e., what were the five most important things you learned at a seminar or from a book you just read.
  12. Being a leader–even if you are not personally heading a group or project.
  13. Being oriented toward helping people solve problems.
  14. Embracing technology and using it to further profitable revenue.
  15. Solving problems if they arise.

Originally delivered 1/09/95

 

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I delivered a Brainzooming workshop on “Budget-Extending Social Content Strategy” at the Social Media Strategies Summit this week. We had more than forty attendees, which is a lot for a three-hour, interactive workshop. We adjusted our approach to maximize the interaction among the participants. During the time together, we worked through various Brainzooming tools to develop and implement social content strategy that is smart online and drives results for a brand.

Little did I suspect that covering career strategy would become an offshoot topic during the workshop.

Several attendees during and after the workshop recounted how their senior executives (typically from an earlier generation), don’t want to talk about their brands online. The reasons range include a corporate stance to not talk about what they do, relationships with suppliers and customers, fears of violating regulations, and a general skepticism that anybody that follows a brand’s online content EVER buys anything.

Yes, these concerns are ALL still out there.

Taking with several attendees about strategies to change these opinions, and the roadblocks they continue to expect, I finally suggested, “Maybe it’s time to find another job?”

That comment led to at least one powerful set of conversations with a young woman who realized that her future likely doesn’t include the brand where she is now. We talked about the importance of developing the next thing while the current thing is still paying the bills. On the conference’s second day, we talked about her passion for learning from and helping to mentor and develop strong woman in business. It all started to come together that this passion is her platform for changing the world. She’s committed to start blogging about it. And it’s not hard to see her writing a book and speaking about this, beyond all the individuals she’ll help in person.

13 Career Strategy Articles to Help Develop Your Next Job

When I pointed her to some background articles on the Brainzooming blog, I realized they were not in one place and easily findable.

Maybe you are in a comparable career position, where your skills are stagnating because your current brand’s executives can’t be convinced there are new and better ways to do things. If so, you may want to start thinking about whether it’s time to find another job (and act on it if it is).

Here are thirteen career strategy articles to help your exploration:

Keeping Things Going in Your Job Right Now

9 Ways to Understand the Political Fray and Stay the Hell Out of It

3 Strategies for Navigating a Political Environment

Career Challenges – 6 Ideas when Losing the Love for What You Do

Career Success – 7 Ideas If You Don’t Care About What You Do Anymore

Strategic Thinking Exercise – Simply Making Big Decisions

Corporate Sociopaths and Horrible Bosses – 7 Ways to Survive Them

Doing the Work to Start Finding another Job

The 4-Step Career Advice Nearly Everyone Ignores

Career Change – 4 Career Tips for a Mid-Career Professional

Is Your Personal Brand Portable to Another Job?

The Strategy for Exploiting Your Mindless Job

Career Strategy: Dear Job, I Can’t Quit You

Career Success Strategies – 6 Steps When You’re Laid Off by Anonymous

Career Strategy Challenge – 5 Ideas When You Lack Résumé Metrics

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I stopped by the grocery store to use the ATM the other morning before leaving for New York to deliver a content marketing strategy workshop today at the Social Media Strategies Summit.

I decided to walk around the store to find something for lunch before getting on the plane. Finding nothing even remotely appealing, I headed for the door, not expecting to witness a solid customer experience strategy lesson.

Passing by the checkout aisles, I noticed a customer starting to unload her cart. Based on the checkout area’s configuration, the checker couldn’t see where the customer was or that she was beginning to unload her groceries. Since the store was dead this early in the morning, the checker came around to the front of the lane to wait for customers. By this point, the customer had moved further into the lane, but after the checker left her post.

The result?

The customer had her groceries all out on the belt. She was ready to have them checked, pay, and get out. The entire time, the checker was at the front of the aisle looking for customers heading her way to see them early and run around to her station to provide quick service.

DOH!

Via Shutterstock

Watching this scene develop, I stopped by the front door to see how long it was going to take for either the customer or the checker to realize there was a problem! It took so long, and I was in a hurry, waiting thirty seconds wasn’t enough time to see how long it finally took to discover the mistake.

Is Your Brand Making this Customer Experience Strategy Mistake?

Turning to go, I realized I have been guilty of doing the same thing as the checker. Many a brand is guilty of this as well: so eagerly trying to track down a new customer that it is missing all kinds of opportunities to serve and accommodate the customers it has.

Poor visibility into customer interactions or faulty customer experience strategy design could both be issues. That was the case in the grocery store. Other times, it may be that there’s more thrill in the hunt for a new customer than in tending to those you already have.

No matter the reason, it’s a good idea to step back and ask: Are we treating our current customers with all the enthusiasm and attention we show to the new person that is just walking through the door!

Well, are you? – Mike Brown

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I found this article recently. It was written back in my corporate days during the blog’s first year (June 27, 2008). Honestly, I’d forgotten about it. A search on the Brainzooming blog to track down content for an updated strategic thinking presentation uncovered it. Reading “9 Ways to Understand the Political Fray and Stay the Hell Out of It” after all these years, it may be the most beneficial article we’ve ever run. That’s even with thousands of articles since its original publication. It serves as the foundation for nearly all our content, making it worth a republish and sharing it with all of you that never saw it originally.

9 Ways to Understand the Political Fray and Stay the Hell Out of It

Via Shutterstock

The title is from a leadership presentation that I do. It’s how I’ve tried to live my life in business, organizations, and relationships. I’d never specifically articulated what “understanding the political fray” means though until a good friend said recently that she’s just not politically savvy. Here are eight general principles I shared for being attuned to an organization’s political environment.

  • Understand the organization’s long-term needs.Use your strengths to best address those needs and create results.
  • Know “what” drives the business– which revenue streams and cost centers really matter.
  • Translate that into “who” drives the business. Then figure out where you stand now relative to the “what” and the “who,” and where you want to stand relative to both in the future.
  • Figure out the organization’s tolerance for variation from the norm in the areas (important and unfortunately, trivial) on which people judge people. Know what the expectation is for fitting a certain type and make very conscious decisions about where you’ll play along (i.e., “fit”), and where you’ll make your stand for being different.
  • Consistently and unequivocally deliver value. Do it for lots of people at all levels of the company – above you, with peers, and at lower levels of the organization.
  • Make sure you’re seen as someone people can talk to and confide in Ask open-ended questions, listen, provide a little bit of sound counsel, and keep confidences. You’ll help others and learn a lot.
  • Always know who you can trust. Challenging issues and situations are great tests of this. The people who support you and / or have your back during the intense times are the people that you should go out of your way to invest in generously.
  • Don’t stop thinking, and don’t say everything you think.
  • Cultivate as many personal options as possible, and know how realistically they can come to fruition.

All these ways to understand the political fray and stay the hell out of it still all stand up for me, and I hope they benefit you!  – Mike Brown

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The Hubspot Inbound conference is coming up at the end of September. Based on last year’s attendance at the Hubspot Inbound conference, I’m guessing there may be 20,000 or more people this year.  That’s more people than where I grew up in Hays, KS. That’s why I call Inbound, and other conferences drawing tens of thousands of people, small-town business conferences. At those sizes, conference organizers are essentially creating a small town, focused on education, sales, marketing, networking, entertainment, recreation, and a variety of other activities concentrated into several days.

Developing a Small-Town Business Conference Plan

While an event of this size poses massive logistical and infrastructure challenges for organizers, it also provides opportunities and challenges for attendees who want to maximize their experiences. The typical rules do not apply at a small-town business conference. Here are strategies to maximize learning and impact from an event of this magnitude.

Do Homework and Scope Out the Business Conference Location

You would not move to a new town without learning about it first. The same holds for a small-town conference. As soon as possible, find out the titles, descriptions, speakers, and locations for all educational and learning opportunities. Prioritize where you think you’ll get the best learning, categorizing all the possibilities as “Must Attend,” “Good to Attend,” “Interesting,” and “Don’t Attend.” This lets you quickly narrow your top potential sessions. On the second pass, their proximity to each other and meetings you want to have can help you decide what your first choices are. Keep this list handy onsite in case something is canceled or a session proves not to be valuable.

Once you’re onsite, take advantage of early downtime and walk the conference center and other venues. How close are they? How quickly will you have to navigate the event (and the crowds) to get to all the sessions you want to attend? Are there certain seating spots that are better than others and more conducive to your learning style? For example, are you a handwritten note taker, tablet user, or something else – where having or not having a table to work on could make a difference?

Travel Light and Stay Highly Mobile

The sheer size of this type of business conference demands they be spread over a footprint equal to many city blocks. That means good mobility is an important asset to getting the most out of the business conference. Only you know what maximizes your own mobility, but these tips will likely help:

  • Travel with as few things as possible
    Many people want to have many things with them, including a backpack, briefcase, or purse. The more stuff you have with you, the more cumbersome it is to both get around and to find places to sit or stand at sessions. Pare down what you actually bring to the conference to only the essentials.
  • Stay as close as possible to the conference center
    This helps you avoid waiting for the conference bus/transportation system. You can also much more easily bounce back and forth to your room for calls or catching up on work.
  • Position yourself to move quickly
    Part of this is scoping out the venue and knowing short cuts, back ways, and pathways most people never go. Sit in sessions near open doors so you can get out before the crowd starts moving. This might seem a bit obsessive, but the less time you can spend waiting, the more time you have for networking (although you can use the time spent waiting in lines as networking opportunities, too).
  • Move up and fill all available space
    This advice comes from a sign at Disneyworld years ago. Crowds often bog down and move slowly. If there are open spaces, test your ability and the cultural willingness for moving along the side of the crowd to improve your position in line.
  • Take care of your feet and legs
    Make sure you have great walking shoes that allow you to move quickly and deliver maximum comfort. Compression socks can provide extra comfort when you are on your feet, on the move, and easily clocking eight or nine thousand steps simply moving between sessions.

Shift Where, When, and How You Do Things

To avoid lines and unnecessary waiting, shift where, when, and how you do things throughout the event. Knowing where everything is, when things are available, and having inventive ways to accomplish them are all valuable. Using all these to put you just slightly off routine with the crowd allows you to get so much more done.

  • Create teams and assign tasks
    Coordinate with co-workers or friends (including friends you’ve just made at the event) to split up roles. Send one person to grab food and another to get drinks when lines are long. Split up sessions and pool your notes.
  • Know where the infrastructure is and use it earlier
    Avoid waiting in lines unnecessarily by arriving early. Swing by breakfast, lunch, and dinner venues as early as possible before crowds arrive. Pick things you can eat while you move since you are traveling light with free hands. Visit the power outlets and charging stations that are off the beaten path to keep phones and tablets going all day.

What to do with all your time?

With the extra time these tips provide, you can maximize networking, staying up on the work you need to do, and maybe even look around the city in which your small-town business conference is located! – Mike Brown

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You’ll never guess what I’ll be doing during my rare free time the next few months.

Serving on a strategy planning team for an organization where I am a member! (See busman’s holiday.)

I’m part of one of ten small teams within a seventy-plus-person volunteer group developing a multi-faceted strategic plan. An external consultant is leading the process along with the organization’s top leaders. Our first meeting was last week. Reflecting on it the next morning, something struck me: this is the first time I’ve participated in someone else’s strategic planning process in over a decade. That means it’s perfect for:

Since we were promised an “easy, five-step strategy planning process” extending through early December, the timing overlaps many of you conducting your own strategic planning process cycles.

5 Reactions to Someone Else’s Strategic Planning Process

Here are early reactions relative to how we’d facilitate a collaborative strategic planning process at The Brainzooming Group.

Via Shutterstock

What Worked?

  • Engaging a Big Group of Participants – It’s fantastic to reach out to seventy volunteers to participate in strategy planning. The final plan can’t help but benefit from so many different perspectives.
  • Using Humor to Make Strategy Planning More Fun – The facilitator was funny, conveying humor both through his comments and slides. Plus, he took the required shots at strategic planning as a discipline to put participants at ease.

What Didn’t Work?

  • Providing a Template to Inexperienced Strategic Planners without Structure –Typical of most strategic planning processes, the facilitator showed us a three-column template to complete for a meeting next month. Each team is on its own to fill out the template. Other than defining the template’s three column headings, no one provided any structure or strategic thinking questions to help the ten teams effectively do their best work.
  • Not Incorporating Previous Strategy Planning Experiences to Make the Process Smarter and Easier – The facilitator works for a local organization that does this type of plan for related organizations. Each organization deals with many of the same issues, yet the strategic planning facilitator didn’t provide any frameworks or exercises to better address these issues. That’s where we’d want to speed up the process by eliminating redundant steps.
  • Leaving People to Gather Information Completely on their Own – For many of the areas in the strategic planning process, there are reference sources and experts pertinent to our organization’s priorities. Yet, the facilitator didn’t offer any materials beyond suggesting some people to call. Honestly, this omission creates a huge time waster for volunteers surrendering their off-hours to participate.

What’s Next

It will be interesting to see how rapidly and successfully our team and others move the planning ahead toward our mid-October deliverable.

Looking back, there were no major surprises among the things that didn’t work. Those are all fundamental strategic planning process shortfalls. The Brainzooming Group works hard to eliminate these.

If you’re thinking about how you can avoid these and other gaps in your own strategic planning process, contact us at The Brainzooming Group. Let’s chat about how to streamline your strategic planning this year in dramatic, results-oriented ways. – Mike Brown

 

fun-ideas-strategic-planning11 Ideas to Make a Strategic Planning Process More Fun!

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Mike Brown

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