Strategic Thinking | The Brainzooming Group - Part 3 – page 3
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“What am I missing? What is the insight I’m not seeing that could make our content marketing strategy make sense?”

An attendee at the 2018 Social Media Strategies Summit conference in San Francisco made that comment. She works for a major non-profit organization. She’s trying to manage through three strategic expectations the senior management team and board have regarding a content marketing strategy:

  1. They want to keep everything on one Facebook page.
  2. They have two important audiences that are each interested in different types of content.
  3. She can’t change either of the first two strategic expectations.

She’s beating herself up for her inability to find an amazing branding strategy insight. The one that would allow her to get around the contradictions posed by her senior management team’s decidedly non-social-first content marketing strategy expectations.

As we discussed her organization’s situation, I suggested various ways to target content to the two audiences based on what they are interested in hearing about from the organization. While the ideas were sound strategically, each one directly challenged the expectations in a way she was certain she couldn’t do.

After a few minutes, I assured her that she isn’t missing any big branding strategy insight.

The problem is the management team’s decisions about the content marketing strategy. Their stipulations are all about brand-first, not social-first, content.

She told her management team that she would return from the conference and write the organization’s social media strategy. She didn’t see that happening without the big insight.

I suggested she instead focus on creating a strategic conversation with her management team. Her first step is to address what they want to achieve as an organization with their two audiences. She can then start suggesting how social media contributes to realizing those business objectives. The more they want to push a brand-first content strategy, the less wedging in a few social-first content marketing tactics will successfully fix things.

Maybe THAT is the insight she was seeking: you can’t pursue the smart thing (a social-first content marketing strategy) when management’s every strategic expectation runs counter to doing so.

Not a great situation. As least now, though, she has a pathway to attempt to help them work their way out of it! – Mike Brown

Boost Your Brand’s Social Media Strategy with Social-First Content!

Download the Brainzooming eBook on social-first content strategy. In Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content, we share actionable, audience-oriented frameworks and exercises to:

  • Understand more comprehensively what interests your audience
  • Find engaging topics your brand can credibly address via social-first content
  • Zero in on the right spots along the social sales continuum to weave your brand messages and offers into your content

Start using Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content to boost your content marketing strategy success today!

Download Your FREE eBook! Boosting Your Brand with Social-First Content

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 Professor Jerry Z. Muller’s new book, The Tyranny of Metrics (affiliate link), he explores the rush in today’s business environment to measure everything. This dynamic places an emphasis on eliminating judgment as a decision-making factor and replacing it with numbers-based business metrics. It is driven by the belief that motivating behaviors through linking incentives and penalties to publicly-available, standardized data is universally beneficial.

Muller’s challenge to a metrics-obsessed perspective is summed up in this statement: “Not everything that is important is measurable, and much that is measurable is unimportant.”

In The Tyranny of Metrics (affiliate link), Muller shares multiple questions for leaders to ask, relative to business metrics, to ensure they are providing value and addressing their intended outcomes. For each group of questions, we provide an idea on how to adapt your business metrics strategy.

What are the measurement objectives, and how does the available information fit them?

Muller’s first questions focus on identifying measurement objectives and the usefulness of multiple metrics. He suggests a fundamental challenge in applying known measures to determine performance incentives: humans will try to game whatever the system is to maximize rewards instead of the ultimate impacts. Systems and processes with inanimate objects present stronger opportunities for successful measurement, versus human-centric activities, since inanimate objects are unaware of measurement.

He suggests that metrics are more effective when oriented toward internal audiences focused on performance improvement (in contrast to ones developed and shared publicly to set benchmarks, funding levels, and reward performance). His argument? Internal practitioners are more likely to understand and appropriately apply metrics to improve outcomes for the greater good.

Idea 1: Embracing a Broader Set of Metrics

We advise executives to consider a set of metrics that is broader than a few numbers meant to represent performance for an entire system. While there is a certain ease in overall indices and green-yellow-red metrics dashboards, other activities, indicators, and even stories exist behind the simplified numbers. These are no less relevant to understanding overall performance.

Consider both quantitative AND qualitative metrics. Numbers-based metrics are well understood, and are likely what people think of first. Qualitative metrics incorporate stories, images, and other non-numeric indicators that also shed light on process or system performance. While you cannot necessarily make decisions based on qualitative metrics, they are vital for placing numbers in context and suggesting how stakeholders are experiencing the process results.

You can also better represent outcomes by recognizing that important metrics exist before the end results are in place. We recommend three types of sequential metrics:

  • Action Metrics – These are the initial development activities and tactics leading to ultimate results.
  • Reaction or Interaction Metrics – These provide early indicators on the extent that actions are beginning (or not) to bring about changes and positive differences.
  • Return Metrics – These metrics, which are what we associate with the final performance results, monitor the overall outcome.

Consider a broader set of metrics to reveal early indicators that help influence a system for stronger performance before the end results are in place.

What are the opportunities and limitations to developing and gathering business metrics?

Muller poses two questions for leaders when developing metrics: What is the cost of gathering data, and who can best develop the appropriate measures?

Beyond direct costs in gathering measures, Muller advises leaders to consider the opportunity costs associated with collecting metrics. These sometimes-hidden costs need to be evaluated against performance improvement returns. Muller cautions that when data gathering responsibilities fall on practitioners, it comes at the expense of the practitioners performing the beneficial tasks they are trying to measure. Incorporating these trade-offs can present a contrasting view of the value of measurement.

When developing measurements, however, Muller does recommend heavily involving practitioners. Individuals closer to having a stake in the outcome will develop more robust metrics than senior executives removed from what happens during daily activities. He suggests broader extend through evaluating metrics as they are populated and reported. This can provide an important check on accuracy and efficacy.

Idea 2: Plan Early for Metrics

During strategic planning, we always discuss the options of starting or finishing with identifying metrics. Yet, even when developing a plan of action and addressing metrics once the plan is largely done, it’s useful to work back through the plan to see whether the intended metrics will be readily available. If not, adjust the plan to integrate efficient and effective metrics development within the prescribed tactics.

From experience in marketing plan development and implementation, we are struck by how many times the outstanding outcomes a plan promises have no practical tracking approach. By taking time during planning to consider how the metrics will be tracked, you can head off these issues before implementation begins.

Question: How do the business metrics, once in place, drive performance and behavior?

Muller discusses metrics driving under-performance and unintended consequences via healthcare examples. Measure and pay doctors on the number of patients they see, and appointments become shorter and less thorough. Switch the key metric to successful patient outcomes, and doctors are incentivized to take the easiest cases. Muller advises recognizing the trade-offs, judgment calls, and range of behaviors related to any set of performance metrics.

Idea 3: Broader Business Metrics Signal Early Successes or Problems

Applying the idea of action-reaction-return metrics provides a way to better monitor sub-optimal performance. With action metrics in place, you have an early check on whether the appropriate implementation activities and are underway. Reaction metrics provide a check on assumptions about how specific actions will lead expected changes performance levels. These two early metrics areas both provide vital preliminary indicators to signal the need for adapting a plan well before all the return metrics are compiled.

How do your business metrics measure up?

Originally published in 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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For the first six years of The Brainzooming Group, I published a list near our anniversary date with twenty-five lessons learned or reconfirmed in the most recent year away from full-time corporate life. I skipped the article for two years as the pace and focus of business expanded.

When things took a dramatic stop, turn, and figure out how to regroup recently, I revisited the idea, figuring I HAD to have learned or reconfirmed many lessons during the two-year hiatus for this previously annual article.

35 Lessons Learned (or Reconfirmed) in the Last Two Years Away from Corporate Life

Here is what I have from these last two years away from corporate life:

  1. Be careful about being too exact in what you pray for, thinking that is what you want. You may get it only to find it is exactly NOT what you wanted.
  2. If you’re an entrepreneur coming up with an idea, the core is built around you, no matter how much you want to open the doors for a group to collaborate.
  3. After you run on so little sleep for some time, it seems (at least for me) that daily activities and interactions do not have enough opportunity to imprint on the brain, making them even more of a blur.
  4. Build the things that make sense for the heart of the business. Find the team that makes sense with the core, not the other way around.
  5. You can’t blindly depend on what you have depended on before.
  6. Work your ass off more, but talk about it less.
  7. Even if you don’t write down a strategy, have a strategy to shape all the decisions you make.
  8. If you can remain strategic, things continue to fit together even if you had not been thinking through how they might fit together. That does not mean it happens as quickly as you might like, though.
  9. Many things seem to be easier for others to do for you than for yourself.
  10. You’re not going to have all the talents you need, but you may have some talents that you’ve never given yourself credit for having.
  11. It’s one thing to have the foundation in place, but you need the talents to take advantage of the foundation and to build on it.
  12. Don’t settle. Maybe you wait, but don’t settle.
  13. If someone checks out, they are not likely to check back in.
  14. It is easy to say you are thankful to important people. It is not as easy to clearly demonstrate your thankfulness to them.
  15. Get the resources you need to be able to make better long-term decisions. That may be money. It may be something else. But if you are having to make huge compromises because of missing resources, you’ll be compromising long-term success daily.
  16. I learned early on in a professional services business that your time is your inventory and you can always create more inventory. There is a limit to that strategy, though. At some point, it is not worth your time to sacrifice your time to create more time inventory.
  17. Say no more often (all the time?) to off-strategy opportunities.
  18. Once you learn something solidly, it’s comfortable to put yourself into positions where you are subtly re-learning it. AVOID THAT AT ALL COSTS. Skip the 1% confirmation learning and go for the 65% learnings that come from new situations.
  19. Don’t over-leverage on any resources: financial, people, a customer, capabilities, etc. As difficult as it might seem to avoid over-leveraging, an entrepreneur can’t afford the crippling downside effects if things go wrong. There are OTHER ways to scale.
  20. Seeing a mistake and understanding a mistake are distinctly different activities versus actually going back to fix the mistake. That is where successful people set themselves apart from everyone else.
  21. Try to be ready to cleanly cut the cord on anything at any time you might need to do so. It would be great if that were a 100% (ALWAYS BE READY AT ALL TIMES), but hey, you’re an entrepreneur. You’re working on the margins.
  22. It is disconcerting to realize there is a reality around you that you have no idea exists until someone clues you in to what it is.
  23. It is very possible to re-set your personal story. It does not happen by accident, though, and it requires more concerted effort than setting your personal story the first time.
  24. Get to meetings early and keep your back to the wall.
  25. When you smell a problem, keep forcing the issue.
  26. Shit doesn’t always happen for a reason, but there is always a reason to get your shit together and keep moving ahead.
  27. The lyrics in that one Christina Aguilera song. All of them.
  28. Some important conversations ALWAYS begin the same way.
  29. Once you’ve founded something, no one is EVER going to be co-anything with you.
  30. Your initial ideas on timing and when things should happen are probably right. Stick to them.
  31. People dump growth stocks. Be prepared for your version of a micro-market crash.
  32. You may never realize the important people that love what you are doing until you need them most because you are all out of options.
  33. The corporation you left will hardly notice your absence. It carries on just fine without you. That does not mean it is not great to go back and see the people you worked with and reconfirm that it was the right thing to leave when you did.
  34. That development that seems so crushing? You’ll move on. Believe in that. YOU WILL MOVE ON.
  35. There is an inherent value to ordering your life around a set of interdependent priorities to keep everything in check. Having deliberately walked away from that order the past two years, I can attest that I am weaker overall, even though the one area where I concentrated remains solid.

As I said, that’s what I have from the last two years. Let’s see what the next year holds. If you have reactions or thoughts on what you’ve learned moving away from corporate life, please share them over on our Facebook page. – 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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We have designed several branding strategy scopes of work recently where the available time between developing strategy and implementation is tight. In these cases, a critical question arises: How do you open branding strategy development to other partner organizations to create a seamless implementation process?

5 Ways to Open Branding Strategy to Multiple Marketing Agencies

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Here are five things we do to bring other marketing agencies in early to set them up for implementation success:

  1. Invite the partner organizations into all the planning activities for developing the branding strategy.
  2. Provide full visibility into all strategy development processes.
  3. Create expanded roles to ensure partners can contribute their expertise and strategic thinking early.
  4. Integrate the partners as active team members, even before their implementation roles begin.
  5. Let them help shape all the strategy outputs during planning.

In these ways, we open strategy development to marketing agencies so it’s not a closed process. This allows internal and external parties to look for ways to jump starts implementation planning as the branding strategy direction develops.

One Cautionary Note

One expectation behind this approach: any external partners must participate with the client’s best interests and success as the top priorities. If a partner expects full access but is intent on gaming the outcome to serve their interests, this level of openness won’t work to its full potential. I learned that lesson when I was on the client side and first put competitive marketing agencies together on project teams. It becomes clear quickly if a partner isn’t engaging with the best intentions. That’s an early indicator of big problems.

So, with an open process and the right attitude from participating marketing agencies, you can move seamlessly from strategy to implementation. – Mike Brown

Boost Your Brand’s Social Media Strategy with Social-First Content!

Download the Brainzooming eBook on social-first content strategy. In Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content, we share actionable, audience-oriented frameworks and exercises to:

  • Understand more comprehensively what interests your audience
  • Find engaging topics your brand can credibly address via social-first content
  • Zero in on the right spots along the social sales continuum to weave your brand messages and offers into your content

Start using Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content to boost your content marketing strategy success today!

Download Your FREE eBook! Boosting Your Brand with Social-First Content

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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Need to challenge your team to being imagining the future, realizing it may look hardly anything like today?

Originating in a long-term future visioning exercise we designed and facilitated for a client, we developed these questions to prompt a group’s thinking about dramatic future change. The point was to push them to consider the future as something other than a trend line based on yesterday and today.

Strategic Thinking Questions to Imagine a Radically Different Future

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Once you provide hypotheses on what you suspect the future will be like in your market, these strategic thinking questions are productive to reinforce dramatic changes ahead.

Ask the team (whether individually or in small groups), what if our future were:

  1. Seemingly magical?
  2. Totally surprising and unexpected at every turn?
  3. Unbelievably scary and threatening?
  4. All about only addressing exceptions from what was expected?
  5. Totally automated and run by robots?
  6. Rapid fire?
  7. Filled with data at every turn?
  8. Devoid of personal, face-to-face communication?
  9. Run by 125-year old people that haven’t reached retirement age yet?
  10. Run by 16-year-olds with 10x more intellectual horsepower, knowledge, experience, and energy than people five times their age?
  11. Playing out fine with no need for human involvement?
  12. Completely unpredictable?
  13. Unlike ANYTHING we have known so far?

Coupled with other exercises to envision a radically different future, these strategic thinking questions, all rooted in projected trends, will help push the group to consider new perspectives you need to prepare to address. – Mike Brown

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What personal success strategies do high performers employ to get and stay ahead in business?

Morton T. Hansen, a business professor at the University of California, Berkley, tackles that question in a new book: Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More. (affiliate link)

According to Hansen’s article about the book in The Wall Street Journal, and based on a multi-year study of five thousand business people, the key difference in personal success strategies is the ability to be selective in taking on priorities and activities. High performers narrow the range of assignments they address and pour themselves into initiatives with intensity.

Four Personal Success Strategies for High Performers

Hansen lists four behaviors and perspectives to support selectivity for high performers:

  1. Reducing and simplifying activities
  2. Making specific trade-offs relative to new priorities
  3. Basing their work around value creation
  4. Innovating work process through varied strategies

These four personal success strategies provide a menu from which to improve your personal and team performance.

1. Simplifying Processes and Activities

Hansen discusses simplification and doing as few things as possible as important success factors. As he describes the strategy, it entails doing, “as few (things) as you can, as many as you must.”

One way to separate activities and priorities that deserve attention from those that don’t is through determining:

  • How much ability you possess to change something
  • The degree to which there is a return associated with a positive change.

Being able to make a big change with a significant return suggests an initiative to prioritize. To operationalize the strategy, we employ these questions:

  • Who is this initiative very important to, and how do they reward high performance?
  • Who would notice the impact of ignoring this?
  • At what point will the standards of everyone that matters already have been surpassed?

Within an organizational setting, there is a tendency to over-engineer simple. The simple way to simplify is to aim for as few moving parts as possible.

2. Making Trade-Offs with New Priorities

High performers are aggressive reprioritizers. In the face of new assignments and expectations, they say yes to the right things and no to things that will distract them and reduce performance.

One effective way to prioritize is to force yourself to make yes and no decisions. You can accomplish this by writing all your potential priorities on individual sticky notes. Place them on a wall or desk and select two priorities and compare them. Ask, “If I could only accomplish one of these priorities, which one is more important?” Place the priority you selected at the top of the wall or desk, with the other, lesser priority below.

Pick up another sticky note, asking the same question relative to the top-most sticky note. If the new sticky note is a more important priority, it goes on top, and the other moves down. If it’s not more important, keep moving down and asking the question (Is this one more important or is that one?) relative to each sticky note until it’s appropriately placed based on its importance.

This simple model provides a quick prioritization to help determine which priorities warrant focus when everything seems important.

3. Focusing on Value Creation

Concentrating on high-value-creation activities is another element setting high performers apart from others. Instead of checking every box on a to-do list, these individuals concentrate on activities where they can deliver the greatest value for internal and/or external customers.

Part of understanding value creation is being in touch with customers to stay abreast of how THEY perceive and prioritize value. Absent this knowledge, you run the risk of spending time and attention on activities of lesser importance.

We recommend asking three questions to identify value opportunities. You may answer them yourself, but they take on tremendous importance when those you serve provide input, so we encourage you to ask them, too.

  1. What do I deliver that provides tremendous value for others?
  2. What do I deliver that doesn’t provide real value for others?
  3. What do I focus on that has the potential for tremendous value, but falls short because of too little attention or focus?

Answers to the first and second questions should re-confirm the priorities from the previous trade-off exercise. Answers to the third question highlight areas that perhaps can become priorities through eliminating the distractions you identify in question two.

4. Innovating Processes

Hansen found that one way high-performing individuals add value is through improving processes that lead to high performance for others. You can use the priorities providing tremendous value as a starting point to look for innovation opportunities to enhance value to upstream and downstream individuals in your work processes.

For those upstream in the process, think through the view, style, and expertise this person will put into the work product for which you’ll assume responsibility. Identify where you can provide actionable feedback to better coordinate the activities between you.

For those after you in a process, identify what they expect from you. How can you anticipate what they may struggle with to help them work through challenging parts more successfully?

Enhancing Your Personal Success Strategy

Based on Hansen’s work, simplifying, prioritizing, maximizing value, and innovating are vital personal success strategies to lead you to high performance. Does that match your formula? – 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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We’ve written about the importance of signaling collaboration strategy preferences when you and team members are working remotely. Even with video conferencing, you lose many of the verbal and physical cues available when you are sitting across a table planning who is going to do what and when on a project.

Talking with someone who is struggling with identifying the best ways to signal the appropriate collaboration strategy approash, we hit on a variation on the Sergio Zyman decision levels. We talk about Zyman’s decision delegation approach frequently to help leaders and teams figure work better.

Rather than addressing who will provide input and who will make decisions (as the Zyman model does), this collaboration strategy revolves around who will start developing ideas and how the collaboration will unfold within the team.

A 5-Level Collaboration Strategy Approach

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Here are five possibilities:

  • L – The Leader will figure it out
  • LT – The Leader will start developing ideas, then will collaborate with the entire Team to figure it out
  • C – The leader and team will Collaborate from scratch to figure it out
  • TL – The Team (or a team member) will start developing ideas and then bring them to the Leader to collaborate and ultimately figure it out
  • T – The Team (or team member) will figure it out and bring the finished product back to the team leader

This collaboration strategy idea is still in the Brainzooming R&D lab. The situations and acronyms for this collaboration strategy approach may change.

Do you have thoughts, reactions, or alternatives? Please share them on our Facebook page. If we have big insights from trying it ourselves, we’ll pass those along, too. – 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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