By Paul David Walker – Excerpt from the book, Cracking the Business Code
While helping CEOs and executive teams at mid-sized and Fortune 500 companies throughout the years to align strategy, structure, and organizational culture, I have observed both great and unfit leaders and realized that leaders can literally invent the future of their companies and their lives.
Today’s CEOs need teams with clear missions, a sense of urgency, the stillness of a master and explosive targeted actions. Like shooting rapids, there is a correct course in the currents of change; there are also those that will run you into rocks and those that will drown you and your company in the Business Industry.
Companies that succeed in today’s volatile business economy must conquer obstacles the way a championship basketball team does in a “FastBreak,” overcoming the insecurities that hold them back and responding instantly to the flow of the game of business.
Before leaders can accomplish anything, they must first understand themselves and the present reality, challenge their own thinking, communicate a well thought-out and concise strategic direction, and define a clear and actionable plan for execution. No matter how much research is done, a leader must make the final call. To make that call with confidence, a leader must know the answer or how to find the answer, and he or she must communicate clearly, simply, and concretely in a compelling manner. Only then will a team have the faith to follow and achieve the company’s objectives.
The following seven imperatives act as a roadmap for surpassing common business hurdles to achieve success and invent a well-designed future for your business or your life. These steps work for everything from building a porch on the front of your house to improving your life, creating a great company, or galvanizing a nation.
1. Knowing the Answer: The first step, of course, is to know the right answer. But more important, you have to know when you know the right answer in business or in life. It is not enough to say, after it is too late, “I knew that.” In any endeavor, there is a correct course to set. That course is based on the realities of the market, competitive analysis, and the true differentiation of the product, service, or team being evaluated. A leader must be fully present in the reality of the moment in order to succeed, rather than being attached to their thoughts and beliefs about that reality. The leader must know the difference between his ego’s hopes and fears and true reality. This involves a deep understanding of yourself and the flow of cause and effect. A leader must learn the art of “integrative presence,” which is like being “in the zone.” The future emerges from the present; the past is distorted by our beliefs, emotions, and the limits of our perceptual abilities. “Integrative presence” allows you to integrate the reality of the moment with your intention for the future; thus responding correctly to the flow of the game. Product cycles are shortening, business is becoming far more complex, and global competition requires speed and accuracy. Without the correct understanding of the present reality and how that it is emerging into the future, you cannot move with accuracy and speed. A leader must dance with the present while simultaneously carrying an intention for the future. As you do this, you know how to move.
2. Communicating a Clear, Compelling Picture of the Future State: You cannot create something you cannot conceive. Once a leader knows the answer or the right course, that leader must be able to conceive and communicate the opportunity and understand how the team can capture that opportunity.
Until this team can see, feel, and hear the calling of the opportunity that present reality represents, they cannot truly follow. Without this clear picture, each team member will create his or her own picture of the future, causing friction and slowing the overall progress of the team. The leader’s presence and authentic commitment to the mission draws followers within the company and in the marketplace. The more clearly the picture of the future state is, the easier it is to create. Without a clear picture of the future in the mind of each leader, chaos will ensue.
3. Creating Total Commitment: After the team can see and feel the possibility of the future, their commitment grows.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness concerning all acts of initiative and creation.” — Goethe
First, the leader must be fully committed to the mission and then inspire the same level of commitment in those who follow. Part of being a leader is to challenge teams to face their fears and change their habits. What prevents them from committing is one of the greatest fears of mankind: the fear of the unknown. No one likes to walk into a dark room. As leader, you have to light the future with your vision. To move forward, you must paint a picture of a new reality to give your team confidence and keep them totally engaged. The clearer and more compelling this picture of the future state becomes, the more committed the team becomes. The same is true for the marketplace and your customers.
4. Acknowledging and Responding to Present Reality: Leaders who fall short of their goals have often skipped or distorted this step. No matter how committed a team is to a mission, having the wrong starting point can make plans useless. Knowing the good, the bad, and the ugly about any situation they’re facing allows the team to build plans that are targeted and effective. The challenge here is that people hate to be wrong, and they find ways to make reality comport with their beliefs. This is the problem with the belief in “positive thinking.” It often skips this step and moves too quickly to planning and action. Pessimists, because of their negative beliefs about life, give up at this step, feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. A plan that is not grounded in reality, no matter how clear and committed the team, will lead you over a cliff. If someone were to give you directions to Chicago and thought you were in Los Angeles, when in fact you were in Miami, you would become lost no matter how good the directions. A leader and his team must honestly face their weaknesses and misconceptions to invent the future. It is best to always come back to this imperative.
5. Developing Targeted Action Plans: Having passed through the first four steps, it becomes easier to create targeted plans, which provide a roadmap that enables teams to deliver focused execution. The problem here is often that when things are not going well, leaders change the mission instead of adjusting the action plans.
This means that they did not do the work in the first four steps. If you know and are committed to the mission, you will know to change the plan, not the mission. With the right plan, a team will surpass competitors while learning about themselves. Even at the final step, there may be obstacles, doubts, and fears to overcome. Be on guard for hesitation. A leader must not falter due to the team’s fears.
6. Having the Courage to Act Quickly: When you have all of the above steps in place, your fears are less likely to interfere—but they may still prevent you from implementing the plan. Courage to confront your fears and those of the team sets a true leader apart from someone who knows the answer but lacks the courage to act and lead. Once a leader knows the answer, that leader never gives up. With shortening product cycles and limited capital, leaders must first define the markets, enter them, and create excitement. With targeted actions that everyone believes in, the leader forms FastBreak Action Teams that are infused with clarity and confidence to reach the new reality. With good marketing and branding, the marketplace will have the same courage.
7. The Stillness of a Master: In martial arts matches, it is said that a master watching a match can tell who will win as the competitors bow to each other before the match. It is the one who has the most stillness, or the most presence. In moments of stillness, the motion around you slows and you can see, feel, and understand the right course of action. With training, your body will respond. The same kind of stillness is needed as you navigate the whitewater rapids of business and the flow of cause and effect that is challenging your business. Take time to be still and reflect. As in martial arts, presence and balance are important. You must balance all these imperatives.
Of course this is all easier said than done, but if a leader can take the time to follow through each of these steps, he or she can take full control of the future. Fears and doubts arise during each step; a leader must work to mitigate those fears with possibilities and a compelling picture of the future state with his or her role model.
After the Nazis had rolled over Europe, destroying great armies and cities and killing millions of people, Winston Churchill saw his army defeated at Dunkirk, his air force in tatters, and U-boats sinking his navy and blocking supply lanes. He still had the courage to say, “We will never surrender.” He said this with full knowledge that he and his family would be tortured and killed, should Hitler win. Addressing his divided government and the nation in 1940, two years before the USA joined the fight, he painted a clear and compelling picture of the mission while acknowledging reality.
“… I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.’
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realized; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, ‘Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.’
Worthwhile business missions are not this dramatic or important, but the courage and clarity represented in this moment in history is a great model for any leader. Practicing the imperatives above will make teams stronger, more confident, and more effective to enhance their companies’ performance in the marketplace. Though business leaders are not at the vortex of history, as Winston Churchill was, each leader who invents new realities in business grows the wealth of the company, the people within it, and the communities they touch.
Don’t believe me. Look back on the successes in your life and see how these imperatives drove your success. Ask yourself which of these are missing from your leadership and your organization.
Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2014
Paul David Walker is a Senior LCS Consultant and one of the few CEO Coaches who has worked with numerous Fortune 500 CEOs and their key staff members for over 25 years along with many mid-cap organizations. Some of the organizations that Paul has worked with include StarKist Foods, Von’s Grocery Stores, New York Life, Anne Klein, Rockwell International countless manufacturing, global utilities, service, and consulting organizations. Paul is the founder of Genius Stone Partners, and works with domestic and international companies to improve their bottom line today and planning for the future. Paul is the author of the bestselling book, Unleashing Genius and his new book, Invent Your Future – 7 Imperatives for a 21st Century.
Is Digital Transformation the Key to Business Survival in the New World?
After a turbulent year, enterprises are returning to the prospect of a new world following an unprecedented pandemic.
Around the country the way we interact with customers, how consumers buy, and what interests the public has rapidly changed. Successfully managing these digital transformations may be the difference between your success and failure at this stage of continuing economic uncertainty.
Of course, the investment may appear unviable, but the benefits maintain growth and profitability. Digital transformations change the way you conduct your business. It allows you to take a step back and reconsider every aspect of your business. This includes the technology you use, how your staff operate, and how customers interact with your brand.
The World Economic Forum has predicted that the value added by digital transformations across all industries could be greater than $100 billion by 2025. Digital transformations are allowing organisations to rapidly innovate.
Accepting this innovative approach to your business right now may spell the difference between company liquidation and prosperity. Here, we look at the benefits of digital transformation and why it’s essential for your business.
Transform your customer experience
The main objective for a business is to fulfil the needs of their customer. A positive experience is vital to retain customers and encourage new consumers to interact with your brand. Likewise, positive customer experience is a core principle of digital proficiency.
A recent study found that 92 per cent of the top 100 organisations have a mature digital transformation strategy in place to improve their customers’ experience. This is compared to all other organisations where only 22 per cent of responding companies have these strategies in place.
One way to achieve this is to recreate your e-commerce platforms to better represent the needs of your customers. A complete rejuvenation can help to identify problems and obstacles in your current system.
SMEs have the opportunity to base their digital transformations on the successes of other businesses. In terms of customer satisfaction, 70 per cent of the leaders reported a significant and transformational value in overall customer satisfaction.
Digital transformation can help you to better understand your market. By tracking metrics and analysing the data that you collect, you will be able to better understand your customers. You can also gain a clearer understanding of how the sector operates under varying circumstances. This helps companies to make better business decisions.
One survey on the use of data in business showed that 49 per cent of businesses believe that analytics are of most use in driving business decisions. Two-thirds of businesses surveyed believe that data plays a pivotal role in driving strategies.
There’s a plethora of ways that businesses can collect essential data. These include surveys, transactional data tracking, social media monitoring, and in-store traffic monitoring.
Greater collaboration across departments
By centring your organisation around digital infrastructure you can create a consistent working experience. Sharing data and information with your staff can promote idea sharing and innovation.
Organisations are beginning to create companies based on a digital culture. This shapes the way that staff communicate with each other and how technology influences the way they work. This culture reinforces their other digital strategies.
It’s important to maintain engagement with staff during a digital transformation. One report indicates that 79 per cent of companies that focus on culture sustain strong performance throughout their transformation.
When organisations are built around a common goal, business transitions will be smoother.
Improved agility and innovation
Digital transformations allow your business to stay agile, in that it is always prepared to and welcomes change.
The most successful organisations do not follow the beaten track. They look to see how their company can diverge from their original mission and build on their successes. Technology allows these new approaches to be developed alongside extending business enterprises.
One survey shows that 68 per cent of businesses believe that agility is within their top three most important initiatives. This means ensuring that every interaction between customer, technology, and staff is meaningful.
These agile interactions can include, for example, the development and improvements of chat-bots. It all works towards helping locate the best possible options for staff and customers.
Frequent technological innovations make it difficult to predict what business will look like in the future. Organisations can prepare themselves for this through digital transformations, allowing any future developments and changes to integrate into their business operation.
Being recognised as a digitally transformed business, customers and staff will recognise your attempts to innovate and provide the best possible service. The ability to create additional revenue also highlights the need to adapt to the digital age. The future is showing its face through technology. Businesses must take advantage of the transformed society to change how they operate and reap the rewards.
Virtual communications: How to handle difficult workplace conversations online
Have potentially difficult conversation at work, like discussing a pay rise, explaining deadline delays or going through performance reviews are hard to do successfully under the very best of circumstances. Now many of us are faced with the additional challenges that remote working presents meaning you need to have these kinds of conversations virtually. A little preparation and advance thought about the direction of the discussion can really help to make the interaction feel more natural and improve your changes of a successful outcome.
Tony Hughes, CEO at Huthwaite International leading global provider of sales, negotiation and communication skills development, shares advice on how to handle difficult workplace conversations online.
Plan your communication airtime
Planning for a call can be an unpopular task, but taking a few minutes to think through the structure and purpose of your conversation can really help you to achieve your objectives – assuming you know what they are! Work out your primary, and also secondary objective as a fall back, so you will not have to rely on pressing for just one outcome if that becomes too difficult to resolve in one conversation.
Think about how you will show empathy
It can be difficult to observe someone’s body language over a virtual camera call so tone of voice is more easily interpreted. Listen carefully for clues to how the conversation is going from their tone and note that nerves tend to make the voice higher and this can be very noticeable – a warm drink may help to relax your vocal cords and deepen your voice. Smiling when you speak (if appropriate) will also help to relax you and the other person. If you need to get it all right first time, practice makes perfect. Practicing with a friend of colleague can help to produce the relaxed tone of voice necessary to sound sympathetic or authentic.
Active listening is essential
Listening is what separates skilled communicators from unskilled and using active listening is key to ensuring the conversation goes well. We demonstrate active listening by acknowledging statements. Acknowledging is not the same as supporting, by acknowledging we show we are listening but do not necessarily show agreement. Using phrases such as ‘I understand’, or paraphrasing statements show that we are aware of their opinion and their thoughts without necessarily agreeing with them. Taking care to allow people to fully express themselves, especially if they are agitated or excited, is key to defusing the situation.
If we must disagree with them, we should take care to make a positive statement before and after the disagreement. This means saying things like ‘I fully understand what you’re saying, and will do my best to help. However, I will need some time to investigate the situation. Let me come back to you in X time’.
Remember counter offers can be counterproductive
Communicating online can bring a sense of urgency to get the conversation over with quickly, especially if people are not used to virtual communication methods. This unnecessary pressure can cause people to make hasty, often ill-considered counter offers or proposals in a bid to reach an agreement about the difficult conversation they’re having or to tick the task off our list. Whether this is agreeing to workloads for the week, or discussing a pay rise – rushing conversations and making hasty proposals can be counterproductive and may show you’re not really listening and intent on pushing your own agenda. Good communication is about listening and understanding the needs of others, whilst maintaining a strong stance.
Avoid irritating verbal behaviours
Having a difficult conversation in the workplace is hard enough without the added complication and tensions that communicating virtually may present! Try to avoid adding to this by keeping the conversation free from irritating verbal behaviours. This means avoiding self-praising declarations by using words such as ‘fair’ and ‘reasonable’ when talking to people. This can cause tension as they can undermine the person you’re speaking to and may cause lasting damage to your relationship.
Other verbal behaviours such as telling someone you’re ‘being honest with them’ or ‘that you’re trying to be frank’, can indicate that you may not have been completely honest in the past, or that you may be suggesting your counterpart is being intentionally dishonest. Steer clear of this use of language. It can lead to tension and a breakdown in communication further down the line.
Remember to show emotion
Perhaps surprisingly, skilled communicators show their emotions and indicate how they are feeling towards a situation more than the average communicator. This skill is particularly important what dealing with a difficult online conversation. For example, phrases including ‘I am pleased we are making progress’ or ‘I’m worried that this won’t work out’, can be used as a substitute for an outright agreement or disagreement as it’s difficult to argue with someone else’s emotions. This verbal behaviour also reveals something personal, which is likely to encourage trust within a conversation. If someone expresses that they’re concerned a deadline won’t be achieved – it’s then difficult to retort with ‘no you’re not.’ When used in the right context, showing emotion is a highly effective way of deescalating confrontation.
Ensure you avoid defend/attack spirals
Defend/attack verbal behaviour is when the focus shifts from the problem to the person and the conversation becomes personal. Skilled communicators avoid this behaviour during a difficult conversation, as it can generate frustration and end very negatively. Usually, involvement in a defend/attack spiral is a heat of the moment reaction and it can be tricky to avoid. Difficult conversations tend to be high pressure, so to avoid this behaviour communicators should aim to understand and resolve, rather than react. This allows the conversation to become open and a solution to be achieved harmoniously.
If you want to learn more about how Huthwaite International can help your team develop a highly effective virtual communications strategy visit: https://www.huthwaiteinternational.com/business-performance-solutions/delivery-options/virtual-learning
Brand guidelines: the antidote to your business’ identity crisis
By Andrew Johnson, Creative Director and Co-Founder.
How well do you really know your business?
Do you know which derivative of your logo to use on a pink background? Have you got a preferred font for PowerPoint presentations? Would you be able to look at a range of social posts and pick out the ones from your brand?
If your answer to any of the above is no, it’s probably time to think about your brand guidelines. Whether you’ve already got a set but feel they need a refresh or you’re starting from scratch, it’s crucial to have a firm grasp on your marketing do’s and don’ts.
Consistency makes you memorable
Before we get into the details of what to include, why do you even need brand guidelines? The simple answer is consistency.
Consistency is arguably the most important element of marketing. It makes your brand recognisable and helps you become known for a certain look and feel. Having a consistent brand also builds familiarity with your audience. People want to know what to expect from you. If you’re persistently using the same logos, imagery and tone of voice (TOV), people will start to take note and, over time, become fond of your brand. This is how brands become household names.
What’s more, just because you think you know your business inside out doesn’t mean everyone who joins your team does. For anyone creating marketing materials for your business, brand guidelines are an invaluable tool to ensure everything is in line with your desired look and feel.
Building your brand
Having a set of concrete brand rules will help your company look its best at all times. So, what type of things should you include in your brand guidelines?
- Define your vibe with TOV
Tone of voice is your brand’s personality coming through in words. Do you want to appear funny or serious? Casual or formal? Cheeky or respectful? Enthusiastic or matter of fact? Your TOV will be a blend of these different elements and work on a scale.
In your brand guidelines, you should clearly state “we write like this” and “we don’t write like this”. Are there any words you don’t like? Can you use casual contractions (“you’re”, “it’s”, “can’t”) or would you prefer to take the more formal route and avoid them? Are you comfortable shortening your brand name from, say, “Hyped Marketing” to “Hyped” or should the full name be used at all times?
These are all important things to consider if you want to make sure anyone writing marketing materials for you is on the same page.
- Pick (and stick to) your colour palette
Colours have a remarkable way of evoking certain feelings. For example, blue is often associated with trust, which is why you’ll see banks and hospitals use it a lot. Once you’ve chosen your colour palette, it’s important to stick to it to create a cohesive feel across all materials.
Your brand guidelines should contain CMYK, RGB, Pantone and Hex colour references for each colour in your palette. These references make it easy for anyone producing or printing materials for you to ensure they have an exact colour match — rather than just taking a wild guess!
- Learn your logos
Your logo should reflect what your company does day-to-day and marry together your colour palette and TOV into one little emblem.
Most businesses have derivatives of their primary logo, which should be used wherever possible. Your choice of logo will depend on where it appears. For example, you might use a white version of your logo on a solid colour background or a black version when colour printing isn’t available. Icon logos (with no accompanying text) also tend to be more suitable for social media profiles.
It’s also important that your guidelines include the correct proportions, opacity, colour usage and exclusion zone so that your logo always appears as intended. No one likes a squashed, off-colour logo!
- Tune into typeface
Selecting one or two fonts to be used across all materials is vital for maintaining consistency and expressing your brand personality. Do you prefer serif or sans serif? Sans serif is becoming increasingly popular (particularly for online materials as it’s easier to read on a screen) but serif still has a more formal effect.
In your guidelines, define where these fonts should be used. For example, you might use one for internal communications and another for external or different ones for online or offline materials. It’s also worth choosing one font for headings and another for body copy or sub-headings. Make sure you note which colours from your palette should be used as well.
- Include the right imagery
Elegant copy, snazzy colours and a slick logo are all essential for your brand’s identity. But what about images? It’s key to include a section in your guidelines about the kind of imagery that should be used across your marketing materials.
Do you prefer photographic or illustrative imagery? Should your images feature people? Will you take the photos yourself or are you sourcing them elsewhere? If so, where are you sourcing them from? Get it all written down to ensure all imagery used is in line with the look and feel you want to create.
It’s never too late…
You may be reading this and thinking it’s too late for you to draw up brand guidelines for your company — but it never is.
While it may feel daunting to overhaul the way you produce your marketing materials, progressing with more consistency only cements what works for your brand and helps dispose of anything that doesn’t.
Are you looking to refine your brand and ensure it’s instantly recognisable? Get in touch with us today to learn more about our branding services and how we can help create brand guidelines and a TOV document for your business.
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