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The folks at Armada Corporate Intelligence profiled a Bloomberg Businessweek story on Fanatics, the sports apparel manufacturer and marketer, in its Inside the Executive Suite. Fanatics introduced disruptive innovation to its marketplace with an agile strategy. It employs technology, focused creative teams, new manufacturing processes, and communications to remove time and waste when creating post-sporting event apparel featuring the winners and exciting story lines. For NCAA basketball tournament games, Fanatics can put a newly approved shirt on its website within 15 minutes. It also uses its agile strategy to market apparel for niche opportunities where it might sell as few as ten t-shirts.

Along with the recap, Inside the Executive Suite offered sixteen strategic thinking questions inspired by the Fanatics case study that you can use to explore agile strategy options within your own organization. We thought the list was intriguing, so we secured the go ahead to share the strategic thinking questions with you here.

16 Strategic Thinking Questions to Explore Agile Strategy and Disruptive Innovation

via Shutterstock

Developing an Agile Strategy

  • Where can your organization realize the greatest leverage from improved agility – cost savings, an improved customer experience, sales opportunities, greater financial efficiency?
  • Beyond making investments and process changes to increase agility, are there other opportunities to cost-effectively manage demand?
  • How can you develop a super-agile process that disrupts other industry players’ competitive advantages?

Identifying Process Changes for Agile Strategy

  • Where can you aggressively remove steps (especially low-value ones) from today’s process to boost agility?
  • How can you completely redesign today’s process from scratch to create a super-agile approach?
  • What roles do you need on your agile execution team to move from idea to market with previously unheard of speed?
  • What characteristics and behaviors are important for agile execution team members to display?
  • What resources (even if they are redundant or eventually discarded) are critical to enable rapid execution?

The Interplay Between Flexibility and Agility

  • How can you improve your organization’s ability to pre-plan and anticipate the uncertain?
  • In what ways can more / better / faster data access increase forecasting accuracy, and your ability to delay decisions without compromising agility?
  • What are the various types of reviews, approvals, and decisions you will need during crunch time? How can agile decision making happen in an easier and more timely way when speed is most important?
  • What does the time window around peak need look like?
  • Is there additional flexibility you can create / exploit in lead times, the length of the selling opportunity, and / or the long tail of demand?

Strong Relationships Enable Agility

  • Who are the outside people and entities vital to ensuring your agile processes perform as expected?
  • What foreknowledge, training, and support will outside parties require to perform their duties at peak levels?
  • What do agile relationship-building skills necessary for supporting your process look like?

Across these questions, you’ll get a start thinking through how an agile strategy can push disruptive innovation in your industry.  – 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 agility 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!

Download Your FREE eBook! 321 GO! 5 Ways to Implement Faster and Better!



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” 

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

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!

Download Your FREE eBook! 321 GO! 5 Ways to Implement Faster and Better!



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.
Download Your FREE eBook! 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times




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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This week’s “Inside the Executive Suite” from the Armada Executive Intelligence Brief newsletter highlighted two Wall Street Journal articles examining leadership strategy in light of how involved a teacher or coach should be in the details of teaching and learning. 

Leadership Strategy – How Much Teaching and Coaching Is Enough?

When it comes to your leadership strategy, what are the best techniques to develop your team? Should you be in the thick of things, understanding the details of what is going on with team members, and being an active resource for them? Or are they (and you) better off taking a hands-off approach and letting them handle the details relatively unencumbered?

In the Wall Street Journal this week, two articles addressed these questions from different angles.

An article by concert pianist and instructor, Byron Janis, addressed teacher-student relationships in music. Andrew Beaton addressed the topic of college football coaches forsaking their CEO-like management roles to create game plans, call plays, and behave like traditional coaches.

Learning to Play Music Pleasing to Another’s Ears

Leadership-Strategy-Teaching

Janis offers advice gleaned from his own teaching experiences and from his time as a student of piano great Vladimir Horowitz during the 1940s. He shares four pieces of advice for teachers (that can extend to leaders and managers):

  1. Don’t over-teach to a specific standard

Teachers must balance their knowledge and inclinations to instruct what THEY know with the students’ needs to find and develop their own styles. A student only develops a distinctive talent and style if a teacher remains open and refrains from over-instructing based on what the teacher believes and knows.

Leadership Questions: How much latitude do you give less experienced team members to chart their own directions? Are there areas where you dictate a course of action that would benefit from junior team members exerting greater independence?

  1. Let individuals own their problems and solutions

When a student failed to grasp a particular musical passage, Horowitz would tell the student that something was amiss without indicating what it was. He invited them to ponder it, address what they discover, and return the next week to share the correction. This technique puts students in charge of making mistakes, identifying them, and determining the appropriate fixes.

Leadership Questions: How readily do you dissect errors and problems in detail? What room do you have to point out potential issues while allowing your team an opportunity to diagnose and correct them to develop their mistake-making and fixing skills?

  1. Provide ample room to disagree and interpret your input

Teachers can further free students to self-diagnose and correct problems through realizing their own subjective interpretations of performance strategies can be mistaken. Student can have creative perspectives that are on the mark even though instructors don’t understand them. As Horowitz told students, “‘If any of my interpretive ideas don’t feel right, please disregard them.”

Leadership Questions: Are you providing team members enough creative freedom in subjective areas to listen to your viewpoint, while applying their own ideas for implementing strategies? What techniques do you employ to keep your mind open to creative perspectives different from your own?

  1. Encourage a unique, personal path

It is easy, especially for individuals that strive to be perfect, to take in a more senior person’s vision, trying to mimic it as closely as possible. Instead, Janis recommends teachers show students that inspiration and expression are not primarily the byproducts of learning and practicing. They develop from actively living a varied, diverse life. He points out, in closing the article, that life “is perhaps the most important teacher of all. Hard work alone is not the solution.”

Leadership Questions: When new team members (especially junior ones) join your organization, how much onboarding involves instruction? In contrast, how much onboarding involves getting them started experiencing their new environment and actively doing and trying things right away? What opportunities are you creating to provide room for them to bring personal life learnings to your team to increase diversity and your team’s performance?

Getting Back into Coaching

While Byron Janis’ article emphasizes student-driven and owned learning as a teacher uses a gentler hand, Andrew Beaton’s perspective how active college coaches are in actually coaching raises an intriguing counterpoint.

Beaton points to former University of Texas head football coach, Mack Brown, as a forerunner in the “CEO style of coaching.” With coaches at major programs finding themselves in charge of well over a hundred players and staff (plus a nearly comparable number of prospective students they are monitoring), the head coaching role in college football has changed dramatically. Dedicated coordinators build game plans and make play calls during games. A variety of other “middle managers” assume implementation roles for the team.

Put it all together, and the head coach can feel disconnected and limited during a Saturday game.

That’s why some coaches are reversing the trend. A group that includes new University of Miami coach, Mark Richt, is re-working the head coaching role. Richt is prioritizing working with the team’s quarterbacks, designing game plans, and calling plays during the game. Richt and other coaches are devoting more time toward the Xs and Os of football as a way to tackle the classic dilemma of managers that developed as workers: promotions into senior positions remove them from the strong expertise and performance that originally earned their promotions.

Leadership Questions: If you made the transition from worker to manager in your career, how much time do you spend still doing? Are you doing enough doing to keep your skills and perspectives relevant? Or have you long ago walked away from daily activities that generate the value and benefit your team delivers to internal and external audiences? If you see yourself as too removed from daily team activities, what are the best ways to get closer to what your organization does?

It’s about a Balance that Keeps Moving

As with most leadership topics, the only clear direction is that what you do depends on your situation. And in this case, it may vary by specific team member. All of us as leaders need to determine the right balance to guide and grow our teams, and only you may know the right answer! – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 

 

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Facing Innovation Barriers? Here Is Help!

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Are you facing organizational innovation barriers related to:

We have free Brainzooming eBooks for you to help navigate barriers and boost innovation!

 

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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One of my favorite things is when clients, blog readers, and Brainzooming workshop attendees use our strategic thinking exercises to explore new ideas. They often end up creating new formats and adapting tools in ways we hadn’t envisioned!

The most recent example came our way this weekend.

Diane Bleck of Discovery Doodles  and I were tweeting each other a couple of times in the past few weeks about innovation.

Early yesterday, she alerted me to expect a custom drawing heading my way via Twitter later in the day.

Imagine my surprise when Diane’s drawing turned out to be a representation of an innovation strategy formula we shared on the Brainzooming blog a year earlier. Diane took the simple 5-step innovation strategy formula and brought it to life via this infographic.

Diane-Bleck-5-Innovation-St

What’s particularly cool is step number five. The original step was “Revel and Repeat.” This was meant to encourage celebrating successes and incorporating new learning into future innovation strategy.

Diane modified “Revel” to become “Reveal,” which creates an additive impact to the formula since you definitely have to let the world know about your innovation!

Thanks, Diane, for expanding the range of Brainzooming tools with your creativity and skill! – Mike Brown

 

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Learn all about how Mike Brown’s workshops on creating strategic impact can boost your success!

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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