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While we are whole-hearted proponents of fun strategic planning activities, that doesn’t mean every strategic planning workshop we design and facilitate has exactly the same type of fun. In fact, in some situations, we never get out the fun squeeze toys.

And we all know that toys are a universal signal that a strategy workshop is supposed to be fun.

Not really; just kidding.

There is a lot more to making a strategy workshop fun so that people want to participate the first time and in subsequent years. We detail all those ideas in 11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.

4 Times to Avoid Toys during Fun Strategic Planning Activities

But back to strategy workshops and skipping the toys – here are four situations where we do not rush to put out toys:

1. The dynamic with the group doesn’t feel right

Sometimes, it is obvious that the participants are not jelling and funny is not the best thing to get them comfortable with each other.

2. It’s too cramped and cluttered in the room

We want a lot of square feet per person for a strategy workshop. Often, we wind up in a tiny room because it’s convenient, and everyone is on top of one another. In those situations, the last thing we need is to add to the clutter with toys.

3. The people may kill each other

Toys are meant to be fun. They are not meant to be weapons. When the strategy workshop participants are a little TOO aggressive with one another, someone could put an eye out by zinging a squeeze ball at a co-worker. If people can’t play nicely, NO TOYS.

4. We’re told “no funny stuff”

We have talked about situations where a client came to us before the workshop to say there was to be no funny stuff. In those cases, we don’t go to the toys – at least not right away!

Other than those four times

Beyond those four times, we’re all about the toys. And everything else that REALLY makes strategic planning a mentally stimulating experience! – Mike Brown

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fun-ideas-strategic-planningLooking for Ideas to Make Strategy Planning More Fun?

Yes, developing strategy can be fun . . . if you know the right ways to liven it up while still developing solid strategies! If you’re intrigued by the possibilities, download our FREE eBook, “11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.”


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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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The folks over at “Inside the Executive Suite” from Armada Corporate Intelligence addressed an important aspect of customer experience strategy this week: turning your organization’s claims of customer focus into real actions.

The following ideas (condensed from the original Armada article) highlight four ways to bring your aspirational customer experience strategy to life.

Customer Experience Strategy: 4 Ideas for Creating Customer Focus

In a Bloomberg Businessweek interview with GE CEO, Jeff Immelt, he comments, not surprisingly, multiple times on GE embracing a customer focus. He mentions that even GE narrowing its business portfolio ties to its customer focus: managing unrelated businesses is challenging and demonstrates more of a brand-first than customer-first perspective.

Immelt also discussed the GE transformation toward becoming a digital and software player. Immelt ties the strategic shift, without using the phrase, to the Internet of Things: GE jet engines have hundreds of sensors streaming performance information. Rather than standing by, GE wanted to play a vital role in modeling the data, turning it into actionable knowledge for customers.

Decisions that Benefit Customers

The idea of customer focus is easy to say, but challenging to implement.

To make the concept more actionable, however, let’s posit this idea: one meaningful way to demonstrate customer focus is through helping customers improve their own situations – whether or not it helps a company’s own prospects.

This implies looking at business decisions from a customer’s viewpoint, not the company’s view. While that is natural for some organizations, it runs completely counter to business practices in many others. To stimulate your thinking about what this approach could look like in your organization, here are questions and potential responses for boosting your organization’s customer focus.

1. Making Customers Better Buyers

Think about the price comparison tool Progressive Insurance ads feature. To keep potential customers from third-party sites, Progressive offers competitive price comparisons, even though it does not always win. This is scary for companies. It seems unnatural to boost a competitor’s visibility, but consider how it could improve both customers’ situations and your brand.

Questions to Explore

  • How can we facilitate easier and more accurate buying comparisons for customers?
  • In what ways can we help customers buy ONLY what they need ONLY when they need it?

Your Customer Experience Strategy Response

If you suspect your brand will not fare well in competitor comparisons, explore product and / or service enhancements to improve your position. You can also identify other features and benefits to incorporate into the comparisons to show the true benefit of your brand relative to the competitive set.

2. Creating Smarter Customers

In Immelt’s example with GE, jet engine sensors provide the opportunity to boost customer knowledge in myriad ways. They offer current diagnostics, forward-looking indicators, and long-term trend data. Can the Internet of Things or other information flows provide the same types of insight benefits for your customers?

Questions to Explore

  • Where can we inform customers with performance and exception data they do not currently have access to with our products?
  • How can our products provide visibility to customers where they cannot easily get it right now?
  • In what ways can we deliver predictive information to customers?

Your Customer Experience Strategy Response

These questions challenge you to deliver better information to customers. This can improve their effectiveness, productivity, and growth potential. For your organization, it opens possibilities for new services to interpret the slew of data, further increasing the customer benefits you deliver.

3. Making Customers More Productive

Organizations seem increasingly open to radically different ways of accomplishing basic and advanced business functions. Look beyond your company’s own boundaries to imagine new ways you can enable customers to improve their productivity levels.

Questions to Explore

  • How can we take on new functions for customers to allow them to extend their reach and impact?
  • Where are steps we can remove from our processes that don’t provide value to customers?

Your Customer Experience Strategy Response

Simplification can be a very attractive market position. Simplify life for your customers, whether doing more for them or making them do less when they work with your organization.

4. Providing Greater Value

Many organizations bundle products and services to sustain higher price points. Too often, that’s accomplished through including features that are inexpensive to provide yet offer little additional impact for customers. This is an opportunity to rethink your approach.

Questions to Explore

  • What are ways to unbundle what we offer so it better fits with customer needs, usage, and buying preferences?
  • Are there more attractive bundles from a customer viewpoint?
  • How can we cut the market price of what we offer by ½ to dramatically boost customer value?

Your Customer Experience Strategy Response

These questions cause you to decouple market price from the cost to produce what you offer. Building your price around the customer and the marketplace forces you to re-engineer what you do to achieve the lowest possible cost. That’s a competitively strong way to increase margins vs. simply tacking on an increase to current prices.

A Starting Point for Your Customer Experience Strategy

Not all these areas apply to all companies. If your organization is truly customer-focused, however, tackling these questions will do more to move your brand in that direction than simply telling people you focus on customers. – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 

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Start Implementing Faster and Better!

In the new Brainzooming strategy eBook 321 GO!, we share common situations standing in the way of successfully implementing your most important strategies. You will learn effective, proven ways to move your implementation plan forward with greater speed and success. You’ll learn ways to help your team:

  • Move forward even amid uncertainty
  • Take on leadership and responsibility for decisions
  • Efficiently move from information gathering to action
  • Focusing on important activities leading to results

Today is the day to download your copy of 321 GO!

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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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A new national experiment begins. Strategically, it’s smart to avoid experiments at the top of any organization, but this is what we’re facing. 

How will this experiment unfold?

Will it be like a Bugs Bunny cartoon from long ago where Elmer Fudd took on the persona of whatever hat he wore? Does being in a particular position cause one to suddenly behave in an appropriate manner for the office one assumes?

Will it be like having a turnaround CEO at the top? One good turnaround CEO whose tenure I lived through didn’t particularly trust anyone. He wanted others under him that didn’t trust the functions they were supervising. Because of this, they weren’t always well-versed in the areas they were running. Ultimately, he was looking to them to make hard decisions with no attachment to the past.

Will it be like having a sociopath running the show? Having lived through several leaders who acted dangerously, inappropriately, and without regard for others, that would be a rough go for everyone, no matter your political preference.

Will it demonstrate the power of prayer? If enough people started praying for better leadership, would divine intervention save us from what is already an ugly pattern that seems to have no hope of ending well, absent a miracle?

Will it prove, as many believe, that a business person with an up-and-down track record is really U.S. Grant, Adolf Hitler, Hugh Hefner, and Lester Maddox, with healthy doses of nepotism, all rolled into one? It might seem extreme, but you can easily connect the dots and find yourself pointed in that direction.

Will it cause all of us, the people of this nation, to rethink our political and social structures, and aggressively work for something better in 2020? Lord, I hope that’s the case.

As much as it would be nice to be a disinterested observer of this experiment, no one in the United States (or the world, for that matter), can afford that attitude. 

Pick your position, do your strategic thinking, and start creating positive change — today! – Mike Brown

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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This week’s “Inside the Executive Suite” article from Armada Corporate Intelligence looked at how you focus a distracted organization on an implementation strategy to align and focus activities. Not an easy task. Here is a recommendation to make it happen through taking on three different strategic roles. 

3 Roles to Focus a Distracted Organization on Implementation Strategy

A C-level executive with a non-profit is at wits’ end. Amid a recent major leadership transition, the incoming CEO drove a broad, collaborative, strategic input initiative. A large leadership group shaped a strategic plan with several strategies and accompanying tactics. Full plan implementation could take twenty-four to thirty-six months. After the initiative to shape and guide future activities delivered a plan, the organization has seemingly returned to doing what it had already been doing. When this executive reaches out for progress updates or tries to focus leadership meetings around the plan, she regularly hears, “We’re too busy to focus on the strategic plan.”

Yet, she reports, the organization IS working on and progressing on plan tactics. This led her to ask: How does a senior executive lacking direct line responsibility champion an implementation strategy in a distracted organization?

That’s a fantastic, real world question.

An Implementation Strategy that Creates Focus

The executive has a challenge ahead. She’s willing to pursue making an implementation strategy because of her personal stake in helping lead the organization through the strategic planning initiative. She also knows the impact a comprehensive strategy can have in shaping an organization and improving results. You may not be in exactly this situation. It’s likely, though, given your responsibilities, that you have had to push for a major strategic initiative in a distracted organization focused on daily pressures. Answering her request for help with developing an approach to get the organization focused on implementing strategy, we shared a three-fold role.

1. Become the Strategic Implementation Reporter

Role one involves being a reporter. This means gathering information on what the organization is actually doing (whether in the plan or not) and the impact of these activities. For tracking progress, the executive said organization leaders would be more open to conversations versus completing progress update templates. As a reporter, she is going to reach out to leaders to discuss their current priorities. She’ll ask about their top four or five focus areas, early results they’re seeing, and what’s next in each area.

She can then recap the conversations within the context of the strategic plan. She’ll match their top activities to strategies and tactics already spelled out in the plan. Where they report activities not in the plan, she’ll look for natural places they might fit. If they don’t ultimately have a home in the plan, she will list them separately. The result? She will recast all the activities people see as outside the plan into the plan’s structure to show how focused the organization is or is not.

2. Effectively Monitor Strategic Metrics

Beyond simply listing tactics within a plan format (which she did for a previous quarterly meeting), she’ll next document progress and returns associated with the activities.
From our discussion, it is clear that the organization is awash in metrics. The challenge is that the metrics are not aligned and reported in light of the strategic plan. To tackle this second role (as the Monitor for the plan), we suggested going beyond top-line and bottom-line numbers. She can also include early performance indicators and qualitative information on progress. We recommend focusing on three areas for each strategy:

  • Activities
  • Impacts
  • Returns

“Activities” (which she’ll document in the reporting role) highlight what the organization is doing. That’s where plan implementation starts. Next, “Impacts” provide early indicators of where the plan is progressing and struggling. These generally develop before the third item on the dashboard, “Returns.” Returns are the revenue growth, cost reduction, profitability improvement, and other core measures that signal an organization’s performance.

Beyond number-based metrics, look for anecdotes, stories, and images that provide greater depth to the numbers. Combining numbers with a descriptive approach to metrics offers a more robust picture of strategic implementation.

This approach addresses another challenge with plan implementation tracking: focusing only on dashboards with return-oriented metrics. Such a stripped-down approach is visually pleasing, and attractive to busy executives who don’t have time for details. The problem is that this approach disconnects business returns from the critical activities necessary to generate and improve them.

3. Connect the Organization to the Strategy

The third role is that of Connector. This means analyzing the progress recap and introducing the work to the organization, both individually and in groups. While the executive we talked with wants to share the progress update at the organization’s leadership meeting, we recommend going back to individuals BEFORE introducing it to the team. Here’s what this approach might look like in its entirety:

  • Go first to those leaders that appear as if they aren’t doing much in the plan. Discuss and clarify with them to see if you’ve missed anything. Ask if there are other activities to include. The point is to provide an opportunity to improve their focus and save face before a group meeting.
  • Then, go to the leaders that are doing a lot to further the implementation strategy. Discuss with them suggestions or learnings behind the strong performance. See if they are fine with you celebrating their successes in a group setting.
  • After the individual conversations, introduce the recap at a leadership team meeting with no surprises. Those who haven’t been implementing the plan have an opportunity to get with the program. Leaders who ARE carrying out the plan know ahead of time that you intend to feature them.

This connected view of organizational activities typically opens leaders’ eyes to realize there is greater alignment and focus than apparent amid daily activities.

Adopting this Three-Role Approach to Implementation Strategy

You may look at these three roles and scoff because it appears that we’re recommending this busy executive take work for others. While that’s one view, we would say that if making strategic implementation successful is important enough to you, it’s worth the extra work and the alignment efforts we’re recommending.

What’s Your Implementation Strategy for Uncertain Times?

Things aren’t getting saner and more calm. Are you ready to pursue an implementation strategy that works in uncharted waters?

The Brainzooming eBook 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times will help you examine your strategy foundation, insights, profitability drivers, and decision making processes when few things ahead are clear. We share suggestions on:

  • Using your organization’s core purpose to shape decisions when things are changing
  • Reaching out to employees with valuable insights into what to watch out for and what to expect
  • Sharpening your command of cost and profit levers in your organization
  • Implementing processes to focus and sharpen decision making

4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times is a FREE, quick read that will pay dividends for you today and in the uncertain times ahead.
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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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In recent years, I took a blog vacation the last few weeks of each year. That was important to get a break and refresh creatively for the New Year.

If you noticed, the blog vacation started a month early in 2016, starting suddenly in mid-November.

The reason is my dad, Bernie Brown, passed away unexpectedly on November 19, 2016.

Typing that last sentence stops me in my tracks.

While intellectually, I know my dad died, I have been so steeped in processing the impact of his passing on my life, it has been tough to focus beyond only the most essential things in front of me.

Weeks later, I am still coming to grips with my dad’s death. That is likely why I have not written anything about it here yet.

If you follow me on Facebook, you might have seen updates the week he died featuring the hashtag #SurroundedByLove. I used the hashtag to represent the tremendous outpouring of concern, affection, and love people shared in the week between my dad’s death and the funeral.

For those of you who are blog readers, but are not as deep in what’s going on in my personal life, here are a few previous Brainzooming posts about my dad:

If you would like a deeper sense of this incredible man, and how his world view shapes what you see on this blog, here’s a video of the eulogy I delivered at his funeral. The audio is not great in the church. If you are interested, a pretty close transcript of my remarks is at this link.

As comfortable, as I am in where our relationship was, I miss him tremendously and am trying to fill the big hole he left in my family. So if the blogs don’t come rushing back like they did previously, you know the reason.  – Mike Brown

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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I don’t know that we have ever run a reader letter here, but the story in this email and the writer’s comments deserve a wider audience.

5-min-idling-limit

The letter is from Barbara Lane at Telesystem in Northwood, OH. She wrote in response to Emma Alvarez Gibson’s post-election reflection. What Barbara relates is another helpful part of the reflection and need to move forward that is the air right now:

Mike and team,

First, I want to say thanks for your blog and plethora of articles on strategic planning.  I have used many of your techniques both at work and as I facilitate visioning and strategic planning at my church.

With regards to the email today, I am currently in the middle of leading a Bible study based on the book, “Fear of the Other” by Will Willimon.   In it, he puts forth many of the same ideas contained in Emma Gibson’s reminder. But one that particularly spoke to me was an exchange between Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.  Douglass was bemoaning the plight of black slaves and the country’s reluctance for – no, outright anger and indignation against – the proposition of freedom for them.  Truth, who was fully aware of Douglass’ Christian beliefs asked him, “Frederick, is God dead?”

I think this is very pertinent to what many people are feeling today, and we have to realize that there is a greater power out there who works all things according to his purpose.

BTW – if you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it.

I greatly appreciate you and your efforts,

Barb

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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I woke up this morning, and the first thing I saw on Facebook was this reflection by Emma Alvarez Gibson (from our West Coast Brainzooming outpost) as the election returns in the United States were coming in last night.

It says everything beautifully.

eag-election

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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