Strategy | The Brainzooming Group - Part 2 – page 2
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“Inside the Executive Suite” from Armada Corporate Intelligence featured ideas keeping executives focused on strategic priorities during strategic planning meetings. If your team wanders away from the important strategic topic, here’s a strategy to address it:

3 Ways to Keep Strategic Priorities Front and Center with Executives via Inside the Executive Suite

An executive reported a real-time challenge: keeping the senior team at her company focused on strategic priorities. Depending on the number of executives, or the positions of those prone to overly-detailed discussions, making sure a senior team does not get caught in the weeds during strategy meetings can be a touchy proposition.

We suspect it’s an issue familiar to many organizations. We find it typical that at least one or two individuals in any senior group are comfortable sticking to more detail than you would expect them to embrace. These may be individuals who are responsible for specific areas (and perhaps have been so throughout their careers) and/or ones with personalities oriented toward greater-than-average detail.

Keeping Strategic Priorities Front and Center

Do you struggle keeping senior-level strategy discussions at the appropriate level? If so, try these techniques we’ve employed over the years to focus meetings on strategic priorities that legitimately deserve executive suite attention.

1. Identify Where Everyone Stands Up Front

We are major proponents for meeting with executives before important strategy discussions. Whether through in-person interviews or some type of online input, it is helpful to know which executives are thinking what, and what issues resonate most strongly with them. Pre-meetings provide a sense of areas in which individuals may take the group into unnecessary detail. Questions to explore up front include:

  • What are the most important issues to address?
  • Where do you suspect strategy discussions could potentially derail?
  • What factors are important for determining the right strategy?
  • What topics do you feel most strongly about addressing in the meeting?

Based on participants’ answers, you will develop an early indication of the areas in which a meeting could go into the weeds. You will also have a sense of the major strategic themes to use in anchoring meeting conversations. Also, look for the senior leaders most likely to keep things out of the weeds. Talk with them beforehand, asking for their assistance to voice concerns if a particular leader or discussion becomes stuck in tactical matters.

2. Implement a Structure that Emphasizes Discussions on Strategic Priorities

Using what you identify during pre-meeting conversations, design a meeting format and structure to help the team focus on strategic issues. As you evaluate what is strategic, we recommend ignoring whether issues are long- or short-term. The timeline associated with acting on an opportunity or challenge doesn’t determine its strategic importance. Rather, think of strategic issues as those that will create a material impact on any of the following areas for your organization:

  • Its brands
  • Key audiences
  • Customers and prospects
  • Structure and alignment
  • Financial prospects
  • Vision and values
  • Resources and raw materials

Sharing and adopting a comparable framework for what is strategic helps keep a discussion focused on matters that will legitimately move the needle in any of these areas.

We also use several other approaches to steer strategic conversations:

  • List the major strategic themes you identify before the meeting. Allow the senior group to individually and collectively assign each item to a category: strategic, tactical, or (project) task issues.
  • Assign time limits to various agenda topics, allowing more time for strategic matters—disproportionately so.
  • As tactical or extraneous items are mentioned and commanding attention, stop and ask for clarification around the strategic issue to which they relate. If they can’t be tied back to strategy, table them.
  • Tackle non-strategic topics with questions that reveal them for what they are. Ask: How does this contribute to accomplishing our major objectives? How will this create a meaningful impact for customers (or other audiences)? If we don’t address this at a senior level, what major downsides will it create?

You can use these techniques individually or in combination to help manage discussions toward a strategic level.

3. Actively Listening for Strategic Information

From our experience, it’s rare that senior leaders (or anyone else for that matter) will articulate clear strategy statements and strategic issues right away. Instead, strategy emerges from snippets of conversation. That places heavy responsibility on the meeting facilitator to listen for strategic inputs amid conversation that may largely seem tactical.

Beyond monitoring for the strategic areas we mentioned earlier, listen for any conversation that touches on:

  • Organizational aspirations
  • Expectations tied to strategic initiatives and outcomes
  • Numbers that help size the impact of a strategic initiative
  • Significant strengths and weaknesses
  • Factors impacting organizational success, either positively or negatively
  • Descriptions of metrics and objectives
  • Beliefs central to the ways in which an organization conducts business
  • Elements that will contribute to decision making

By identifying the types of information you need to develop and refine strategy, you can better recognize relevant elements that surface throughout a strategic discussion. When details emerge, record and organize them in a way that both highlights their strategic nature and provides a visual aid to align the group. We’ve used this technique to allow a leadership team the flexibility to talk in an open format, while capturing their strategic insights and organizing them in a way they can productively use. Another advantage to actively and distinctly posting strategic decisions and issues as you go through a meeting is that it creates a visual aid to manage the conversation. If people get in the weeds when trying to revisit previously-made decisions, you can point them to the decision list to demonstrate it has already been addressed.

Additionally, if several senior participants are struggling to stay on a strategic plane, divide the larger group into smaller sub-groups. Put tactical thinkers together, freeing those ready to stay focused on strategic topics and make progress.

Keep Trying

We’ve suggested various ideas for keeping strategic priorities a focus for executives . We’ve used them all successfully. Yet they won’t all work in every situation. Try them, adapt where you need to do so, and develop your own variations that work most successfully with your group of senior leaders.  – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 

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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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It’s the time of year when it’s easy to look backward and forward at multiple dimensions of your implementation plan.

You have enough time to gain a sense of what’s working. You can look at your first steps and see whether your subsequent steps have been as effective. There is also enough time to still address gaps in your implementation plan to improve results before the year ends.
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What are those forward and backward looks telling you about the success of your implementation plan?

  • Are your people rallied around strategic priorities versus daily distractions?
  • Have you engaged key audiences to move forward aggressively?
  • Are you successfully executing innovation initiatives beyond the first big splash earlier in the year?
  • When things haven’t gone as expected, is your organization agile enough to change the direction?

If your implementation plan results are lacking by this point in the year, we have just the thing for you! It’s not too late!

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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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Are your employees celebrities within your branding strategy activities?

No, I’m not asking whether your employees are movie stars, singers, or newly-celebrated personalities that tweet, buy, or glom their way into celebrity status.

I’m asking about whether you feature your employees within your branding strategy in ways that allow them to attract attention and accolades for how great it is to have them as part of your brand?

Employer Branding Strategy Stars

Talking with a B2B company about a day-long customer program, I suggested they invite employees to fill various roles at the event. These duties would give customers exposure to smart, strategic, and dynamic team members they might never typically know. It would create the opportunity to celebrate the great people at the brand. Incorporating these interactions in its branding strategy could strengthen relationships, open doors to new business possibilities, and reinforce customer perceptions that they have chosen the best service provider.

Want to guess the response to the idea?

“Great idea, but everybody is really busy. We can’t pull them away from their regular jobs for even a few hours.”

I understand that EVERYBODY is CRAZY busy. Busy is about doing what the company does. Busy is at the heart of selling and producing revenue and profit growth.

Yet brand building (via creating stronger relationships and perceptions) is integral to the company being able to sell more, do more, and make more money. And opportunities to foster customer relationships in ways that strengthen the brand outside of the day-to-day of doing business are typically rare. While it appears to be a great business decision to ensure everybody is in place to perform their daily tasks, this represents a poor branding strategy decision.

If the company thought about its employees as business celebrities, its priorities would likely differ. They would probably not hesitate to put their important customers in direct contact with their employee celebrities to get to know them better and bask in their glow.

Against that backdrop, let me ask the question again: Are your employees celebrities within your branding strategy activities?

And if you answer, no, COULD and SHOULD they be?  – 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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It’s time to launch an innovation strategy for your organization. Your brand has grown dramatically the last few years. You are not sure, however, what will drive the next round of growth. So, it’s time to announce an innovation program, because that will undoubtedly fill the growth gap facing your brand.

How will the innovation strategy eliminate your revenue shortfalls? That is not yet completely clear yet. But, hey, it’s an innovation strategy! All kinds of good things are sure to result!!!

As you and your leadership team announce the new innovation strategy, your employees have questions.

6 Things about Your Innovation Strategy Employees Need to Know

Here are six things about your innovation strategy employees want to know. Are you prepared to answer these questions?

Is this innovation push just for this quarter or this year?

Your employees have been through the flavor-of-the-month strategy. Probably not at YOUR company, but somewhere they worked before, no doubt. They know innovation strategies come and go. They will want to know whether your innovation strategy is here to stay. Demonstrating that it is will take both words and LOTS of actions.

How innovative do you want us to be?

The easy answer is to say you are looking for big ideas. Who doesn’t love big ideas? The problem: asking for big ideas rarely leads to big ideas. Instead, give your team creative thinking questions appropriately sized to the innovation you are seeking. Then, let them go to town answering the questions.

What expectations or limits are in place on an innovation strategy?

I know, I know. You want your employees to start with a clean sheet of paper as they start imagining the future. Be honest, though. You’ve never given them free reign before to innovate. Do everyone a favor. Share goals, objectives, and strategies for where you want to direct your innovation strategy. You’ll ALL be more successful. Pinky swear.

What are you going to do with our ideas?

If you announce you want everyone to innovate, you need to have thought upfront about how you are actually going to review and process the ideas your employees share. Have you figured that out? We didn’t think so. Identify the process, THEN make your big innovation strategy announcement.

Will I get into trouble if I break something?

Your employees are concerned about getting into trouble. As much as you SAY you want disruptive innovation, they have doubts. Heck, we were talking with a new CEO recently. His board told him to be both innovative and to not mess anything up with the organization. He’s running the show and struggling to find the right balance. You can imagine how someone with less standing in the organization struggles. Stake out a penalty-free free space in which your team can experiment and break things.

Who owns my idea if it turns into something successful?

I hate all the legal mumbo jumbo. But innovation is all fun until somebody’s idea starts generating lots of money, and you have to settle up equitably. Let your team know the rules. Who owns what? How much does everyone get paid for an idea that proves successful? It can seem premature to consider this while still figuring out how an electronic idea box works. Set the rules before you ask people to play the innovation strategy game.

There Is Work to Do

We’re not saying everything requires an immediate answer. Being ready to tackle these questions at the start, however, is important to creating an innovation strategy that WORKS! – 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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I snapped this picture at Target the other evening because of the intriguing product branding ideas it suggests.

This is a ten-pack of 7.5 ounce cans of Diet Coke. Compare that to the typical Diet Coke configuration: twelve cans of 12 ounces. Doing the math, this carton has 75 ounces of Diet Coke vs. 144 ounces in the typical 12-by-12 arrangement we purchase like crazy at our house.

Just looking at the numbers, you can see people are receiving about 50% of the amount of Diet Coke they might expect if they rush into the store and grab a carton without paying attention.

That’s a big difference!

3 Product Branding Ideas to Beg, Borrow, and Steal

Suppose you are in a similar product branding situation. You need to reduce what your brand delivers, but still put sizzle into your product so consumers think it is an attractive option. How do you go about it? Try going to school on three producing branding ideas from Diet Coke, and look for where you can beg, borrow, and steal ideas!

Beg

Background: Smaller cans do not usually suggest a positive brand experience.

Diet Coke Strategy: Translating small to sip-sized. This takes advantage of alliteration and whimsy. And rather than seeking permission for the change, this branding strategy idea begs forgiveness later – if ever!

Ask: What’s the coolest way possible to describe the presto-chango we’re about to pull on our customers?

Borrow

Background: Mini Cooper has positive brand affinity. The brand has helped make small a good thing.

Diet Coke Strategy: Borrowing mini and using it in a maxi fashion across the entire side of the box.

Ask: What brand positively employs a typically negative attribute that our branding strategy can embrace and celebrate?

Steal

Background: On the carton, it says 7.5 ounce cans. The images show the traditional can and bottle, though.

Diet Coke Strategy: Stealing from the Coca-Cola brand halo to depict a traditional can (12 ounces) and the classic bottle (something bigger than 7.5 ounces). This creates a deliberate mismatch between what you see and what you buy.

Ask: What brand attributes from our higher value / more significant offers can we use to sell-in something less?

Download 10 Questions for Successfully Launching

From the Brainzooming Product Branding Lab

We haven’t tested this exercise for generating product branding ideas since it is brand new. If you beat us to putting it into practice, let us know how it works for you! – Mike Brown

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

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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If your creativity ideas have dried up, today is the day to download our FREE ebook, The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions.

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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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Last week’s “Inside the Executive Suite” from Armada Corporate Intelligence featured ideas for how to handle confidential information. The business strategy focus revolved around how an executive can maintain confidences while employing confidential information to best benefit his or her organization. While passing along confidential information was more in the news last week than this week, it’s a daily issue in business.

Here are ideas the Armada newsletter shared on how to handle confidential information:

Business Strategy – How to Handle Confidential Information via Inside the Executive Suite

Confidential information has been in the news recently. It is a topic relevant to any senior executive immersed in business strategy. While the nation wrestles over handling confidential information in a government setting with geopolitical implications, similar and dissimilar questions exist in private business. Beyond trade secrets and insider knowledge that could move markets, organizations consider a wide variety of information as confidential.

How should you go about handling confidential information within your business strategy?

What are the different varieties, the implications behind a confidential information designation, and the way executives are using it?

These questions drove a chat with a former Fortune 500 executive about how he navigated confidential information at senior levels. It was not a legal conversation (so don’t take his comments as legal advice). His strategies suggest a real-world, pragmatic approach to protecting confidences while getting work done.

One Executive’s Take on Using Confidential Information

“Unless I’m too far removed from it to remember, I don’t recall any extensive training in business school about confidential information. While we undoubtedly covered it in class, I learned the ins and outs of confidential information on the job. When I worked on the consulting side, that was largely client information. In the Fortune 500 world, it was dealing with our own business information. Honestly, ‘confidential’ was as much code for ‘don’t tell anyone this’ as it was legally confidential information.”

Market-Moving and Insider Information

“The first consideration is whether the information has legal implications. Information that moves markets, is insider knowledge, contains trade secrets, or has some other legal standing must be handled with the strictest confidence. In these cases, you sign legal documents with specific parameters. I read through what I’m signing and strictly apply the restrictions. If something is unclear to you, reach out to your legal staff for advice so you have a clear, actionable guideline to work with as you conduct business.”

Via Shutterstock

Handling Business Strategy

“Much of what I dealt with involved information that an organization does not want disclosed because it changes the business and competitive environments, typically for the worse. Maybe there is paperwork attached to disclosing this type of information. Sometimes someone passes along information and declares it confidential as they spill the beans to you about something. These are tricky situations because they center around your ethics and smart business practices.

“What I do in these situations is step back and think about what the information means for daily and longer-term business. For example, in a corporate parent role, one of our subsidiaries had to disclose a new service offering it was planning. When the new service reached the market, the staff of another, competitive subsidiary visited my office to try to understand the market implications. The plan had to remain confidential to protect business relationships. I applied my knowledge of the new service offering to prompt them with questions they needed to ask or service implications they might need to explore. The questions were what I might have suggested if a competitor outside our corporate family had made a similar move.

“That kind of upfront exploration may suggest that activities currently underway might be more important, or less important, based on confidential information. In these cases, try to offer guidance or manage priorities to foster smart business decisions without disclosing confidential knowledge. Provide context to others so they think about their activities in a bigger or slightly different way that better fits a future outcome. Do this by finding a relationship between current, publicly-known strategies and what will happen as you implement confidential information.

“This happens with branding changes. Executives cannot disclose exact branding moves to their teams before public announcements. However, waiting to tell employees until after the market has learned the information leaves employees ill-equipped to support the change. I suggest finding ideas you can share with employees to prepare them for change without disclosing confidential information. If a rebranding will more heavily emphasize an aspect of a brand that exists today, ramp up the emphasis ahead of time. This is not necessarily easy, but savvy executives find ways to apply confidential information to maximize the impact as early as possible without compromising confidentiality.”

When You Can’t Say, or Don’t Know

“When there’s a buzz about something confidential in a company, it creates questions about what the secrets are. Some questions are point blank; others are more subtle. If you are in the know and receiving those questions, how do you handle it? It is important for me to never lie to people. I suggest executives develop an answer to questions about confidential information that they use in every instance, whether the person asking is on the right track or not. One example might be, ‘I can’t and don’t speculate about rumors.’ Rather than lying to someone accurately asking about a confidential matter (by telling them an emphatic ‘no’ to correct information), using a non-committal response is truthful and protects your own reputation.

“On the topic of consistency, in some cases, you may not know confidential information but have to continue your work. I’d analyze these situations after the fact to understand what the indicators were for the confidential situation. For example, when our company considered M&A activity, I’d receive certain questions about competitors’ market positions. The questions were always about multiple competitors, never one. The questions surfacing became a signal a deal might be in the works. That consistency helped me be more effective for the company without ever having to know the specifics of a confidential matter.”

Only One Point of View

These suggestions are from one individual. They are not legal advice about confidentiality. But they do suggest the importance of creating the policy and practices that work best for your organization.   – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 

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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