Every entry filed under "Foundations"

Getting snug


Working together for a common cause can make life easier, or way harder.

Organisations are built on the principle that we can achieve more together than we can apart. Collecting people and assets behind one idea, resources are directed at a shared plan that’s only made possible by their cohesion. It takes a decent plan and some management to get the benefit, but it’s relatively easy to sort.

Partnerships between people or organisations are supposed to work the same way. We get together because we’ll be faster, smarter, leaner, better if we share resources and risks. Contracting and governance can suck time and attention, and it’s easy for one party or another to get greedy.

Alliances are looser. Less integrated but focused on a single benefit like joint marketing, reducing selling costs, bolt on expertise. Not so tight. Flags of convenience.

Loosest of all relationships are with suppliers whose products or services get built inside their customers’ products or services.

Get these relationships right – working with people and organisations who believe that everyone wins when they all make life better for each other – and huge leaps can be made very quickly.

Anytime you feel the conversation’s a bit dalek-ish, retrieve the situation or start looking for new friends.

Good partners make life better for each other. When you find them, snuggle in.

Skippy Strategy: Review your key relationships. Which need praise, which need work, and which need replacing? How will you do it?

Neatly filed under Foundations on April 14, 2015

Transparancy at Pret a Manger

Prets Passion Boards

A while back I talked about using icons to teach what you stand for. How about just saying it out loud to everyone who’ll listen?

Say it Loud, Say it Proud

That’s what sandwich makers Pret a Manger do. In the very small seating area of their Piccadilly store where I took this picture the other day, every wall had at least one board like these, each telling the story of Pret’s passion for food. You probably can’t read the words under the pictures so here’s the text from the top left board:

Pot Pourri — Made from delicate muslin material, our tea bags are fashioned into little purse-like pyramids, filled with organic whole leaves, hand picked in the Tea Gardens of Sri Lanka.

Ask a Pret team member to show you one — we think the Calming Camomile is particularly beautiful. A lucky coincidence really — what they’re designed to do (and do extremely well) is make a cracking cup of tea.

And it’s labelled Passion Fact No.72. The other two boards in the picture are about in-store baking and looking after basil leaves. I saw more, and I know they’ve been at it for years.

The message? Pret stands for quality, freshness, and care.

Commitment + Transparency = Accountability

Here’s the question … are all those little pictures aimed at the consumer, the staff or the management?

Visible commitments like these play well with customers who like to know what they’re getting, but transparency is even more powerful for the staff and management. With such a public commitment to quality, can anyone inside the company — whether a sandwich maker, food buyer or senior executive — be in any doubt about what’s expected of them every day? About choosing quality over price? About decisions over storage, or packaging, or recruitment or any other operational detail?

This isn’t about top down management. It’s about accountability.

Public declarations make everyone responsible, not only for living up to the commitment itself but to call out inappropriate behaviours too. Seeing this on the wall, what team member wouldn’t argue against reducing quality to save a penny a tea bag?

We don’t all deal in freshness or food, but we can all make our intentions clear, and ask everyone around to help us live up to them.

What boards would you hang on the wall? What else can you do to make your commitments transparent and to hold each other accountable for living up to them?

Neatly filed under Foundations,Making Promises on September 28, 2010

Use icons to teach what you stand for

Gene Kranz's waistcoat

Every organisation has a story

Every organisation has a story. Why it was started, who were the founders, the first product, key characters and occasions along the way, adversities overcome, game changing meetings. Every day adds a few more paragraphs. But when you’re involved in the tale, it’s easy to get buried in day-to-day detail and lose the thread.

Highlighting and celebrating iconic stories that stand for your spirit brings everyone together and teaches them how to act — who hasn’t learned the importance of resourcefulness, determination and creativity through Edison’s famous story of 1,000s of failures on the way to incandescent success.

Some of the sharpest stories are wrapped around a tangible icon.

The worlds most famous waistcoat

For instance, the picture above is of the worlds most famous waistcoat, worn by Gene Kranz throughout the failed Apollo 13 Moon mission in 1970. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, in Washington DC, displays it with this explanation:

Eugene F. “Gene” Kranz, Chief of NASA’s Flight Control Division, wore this suit vest during Apollo 13, the third planned lunar landing mission. While the spacecraft was going to the Moon, an explosion occurred in its service module. Mission Control aborted the Moon landing and worked with the ground support team of astronauts, technical experts, and aerospace contractors to solve several key problems and to bring the crew back safely.

As the leader of Mission Control’s “white team,” Kranz wore a different white suit vest for each mission from Gemini 9 in 1966 through Apollo 17 in 1972. He wore plain vests, like this one, during the missions; he reserved fancier versions for celebrating mission completions. All were hand sewn by his wife.

Although Kranz’s trademark vests were well known at the time, his portrayal by actor Ed Harris in the blockbuster 1995 film Apollo 13 made this particular vest iconic.

As was the custom in Mission Control, “white” was retired from flight team colors after Kranz’s retirement.

Gift of Eugene F. Kranz Family

My favourite scene in Ron Howard’s movie is a meeting called to work out how to keep Apollo 13’s crew alive and return them safely to earth. Kranz lays out the problem with a picture and asks the room for ideas. Everyone starts talking at once, opinions are flying, each person shouting over the other.

Kranz stands in the middle of all this chaos wearing his pure white waistcoat like a beacon of order, discipline and possibility. He keeps bringing the team back to the problem, pushing for answers, being decisive and demanding in turn. This “failure is not an option” scene happened for real and is a model of teamwork and leadership under pressure.

Icons are shorthand

Everything I know about the spirit of NASA is symbolised by that white waistcoat. Hearing the story, even the rawest of recruits can’t fail to learn the keys to success: high motivation, discipline, goal orientation, whatever-it-takes attitude, trust in the team, collaboration, demanding leadership.

Whilst not every team is playing for the same stakes as Apollo 13’s Mission Control, and few leaders are blessed with Kranz’s feeling for symbols or occasion, with a little bit of thought every company can find its icons.

What are yours?

You can hang them in reception, name company awards after them, tell the stories at all-hands events, use them to induct new staff.

An old waistcoat may not be the most common example, but stories wrapped around iconic visual aids are the quickest and most effective way of getting everybody pointed in the same direction and acting together.

What about you?

What icons does, or could, your company use? What have you seen other companies using?

Or, is this wrong headed, pandering to yesterday when it’s only today that matters?

Neatly filed under Foundations on October 28, 2009

Why don’t customers buy your product?

Smarty Jones at Glen Echo Park

A little bit lost in Maryland this summer, my family and I came across Glen Echo Park, a once popular destination that’s seen hard times and is on the way back through the involvement of a dedicated not-for-profit tribe of volunteers.

Most of our visit was spent at the carousel where I was smitten with Smarty Jones. Mmmh, mmh that’s a handsome looking horse – if I’d have been riding I’d have taken Smarty for a trot for sure.

But for the whole time we were at the park, not one child rode Smarty.

What’s wrong?

Why don’t some customers buy your product? If it’s anything like Smarty, it’s great: accessible, goes up and down, has all the features, stands out in a crowd, it’s super-shiny for goodness sakes.

So why does the turkey get a ride whilst good ol’ Smarty puts on a brave face?

It’s the kind of question I get asked all the time. “We have a great product, but there something wrong. What is it?”

Whilst every product has it’s own story, the tale is put together the same way every time — and anyone can do it.

Ask your customers

Act like a consultant and ask your customers. You’ll learn more from what goes wrong than what goes right so make sure to ask non-customers who’ve made an active choice not to buy, and actual-customers who’ve bought but have stopped using. Get out of the building and ask the people who know. Visit, lunch, interview, test, survey — whatever it takes to get the information you need.

Speak to enough customers to see patterns; some will point to lack of priority or urgency, others may point to weaknesses in your product or your proposition. Assume nothing, test everything. When you’re pretty sure you know what’s going on, it’s time to act on what you’ve found.

What are you going to do about it?

There are three layers where you might need to fix things inside the building:

  • Message problems are easiest and cheapest to solve. Get together with your sales and marketing team and change your presentations, messaging, communications. Use A/B testing to see what changes work best — especially if you’re web based and have a lot of passing trade.
  • Go-to-market problems are more strategic and will probably force a new look at your market, features, distribution, pricing and positioning choices. Everything in this layer is connected so be suspicious of anything that looks like a silver bullet.
  • A weak or ill defined core proposition means a fundamental rethink and the discomfort of living with your current product whilst working back through first principles.

After two interviews (my own children, 40% of the carousel kids that day) it was pretty easy to work out Smarty’s problem. Too much competition and a very small market. Strategic problems with no answer in sight means old Jones could be racing to retirement.

What about you? Can you change priorities and raise urgency or do you have to go a little deeper?

Neatly filed under Foundations,Making Promises,Skippiness on October 19, 2009

How to get ready for market

United States Olympic Triathlon Trials

Image copyright: David Smith

Bringing a new product to market is an act of will. Just getting to the start line takes a heap of effort, sacrifice, and dedication to the cause. Maybe it should be an Olympic sport. An endurance challenge that requires entrants to master three disciplines:

1. Get the product ready for the market

2. Get the company ready for the product

3. Get the market ready for the product

Less new product development, more new product triathlon.

This site isn’t concerned with number three (that’s more the domain of the marketing communications industry and specialists in launch codes) so let’s look at the first two.

1. Get the product ready for the market.

This is most often filed under new product development, strategic marketing, or sometimes business development. Whatever the job title, sorting out market and product is a pretty good use of time – most of which is spent answering questions and making choices.

Some market questions
What market is the product for?
What problems do they have?
How big is that market?
What do they need our product or service to do for them?
How much pain are they in at the moment?
What would their life be like with our product?
How much is that worth to them?
What are their alternatives?

Which all helps when thinking about product questions
What is our proposition?
What features are in, and which are out?
What services must be part of the package?
What else do they need to get the value out of this product?
Who can help?
What colour should it be?
What about the name, the design, the price, the launch?
What about the price?
Did I mention the price?

Whether you’re a product or service business, questions like these fall into the “what’s in the box and who is it for” category and they form the foundation to the day-to-day work that follows, including actually building the product itself. With good reason too, a miss here can damage the product, restrict the market, or push your new baby to early retirement.

Now build the thing
If it’s a version change, a new edition, or any other kind of thing that’s almost exactly like all the other things you sell then it’s possible that this is enough. Just drop the new product into one of the product shaped holes that are normal for your company and, after a short recovery, you’re ready for the next event.

But, and just for emphasis, it’s a big BUT, some products are game changers. Not just in the market (which is nice), but in the company too (which you should expect and plan for), which brings us to the second discipline of the new product triathlon.

2. Get the company ready for the product

If you’re entering a new market, have a completely new new product, or have been missing a few targets recently, it’s worth looking at stage two. Questions here tend to range from significant to fundamental and some of them are likely to throw “the way we do things around here” into the air.

Some questions about what we do around here
Does this fit with our existing business model?
How can each department contribute to the success of this product?
Do we have the manpower to fully support this thing?
Do we have the expertise?

Some questions about how we do things around here
How does this change the way we sell and how we incentivise our sales team?
Where is the best place, or most convenient place for them to buy this stuff?
Is our “usual” channel the right channel?
Can our internal support functions cope?
How does this impact the rest of our business?
Can we deal with the demand that we’re expecting?
Where can we find the right kind of staff to pull this thing off?

Dealing with the answers helps to make the back end bomb proof and can be the difference between skippiness and misery for customers, shareholders and staff.

How to get ready for market

Getting ready to market a product means making sure you have a product the market wants and the company to deliver it. Put the time in, deal with reality and then put all your effort and creativity into stage three, get the market ready for the product.

Neatly filed under Foundations,Keeping Promises,Skippiness on May 22, 2009