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The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 38 :: Operations :: Customer Onboarding

There’s nothing more critical to a great customer experience than onboarding. Many times, we limit “onboarding” to something we do with a new employee, but every stakeholder in the organization should have an onboarding experience. Onboarding sets expectations, defines responsibilities and describes “winning”.

In this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge, we’re focusing on customer onboarding, but many of the outcomes and methodologies can be applied to other stakeholder groups.

Here’s why onboarding is so important. Have you ever received a movie recommendation from a trusted friend and, after watching the movie, realized you’d never get those two wasted hours of your life back (or in the case of Dances with Wolves, 4 hours)? It’s pretty disappointing. But why is it disappointing? Because the friend’s glowing recommendation created high expectations. In the absence of that recommendation, you might have still hated the movie, but you would have just added it to the list of movies you’ll never watch again. But now, you’re presented with confusion. You’ve had reliable recommendations from that friend in the past. What did you miss in the movie that your friend loved? How are you going to explain your disappointment to your friend? Will you ever be able to trust their recommendations in the future?

That all stemmed from faulty expectations created at the beginning of the interaction. We can have the same problem when we begin a relationship with a new customer. If we don’t successfully create correct expectations at the beginning of a relationship, the customer will create their own. Those will come from experience (the last time I hired a plumber, it took them an hour to replace my kitchen faucet), from hope (I would love it if the plumber spread a tarp in front of the sink before they began working on the drain) and from people who influence them (my friend hired a plumber and it cost them $300 to get their sink unclogged).

Let’s jump into this week’s exercise. We want to finish with a rock-solid customer onboarding framework. Depending on your product or service, this could be very simple or a bit complex. You can do this one solo or invite some trusted team members who are familiar with the flow of work from initial customer contact to delivery. We’re going to focus our attention on three things – expectations, responsibilities and metrics.

Before I jump into the steps below, let me quickly say that I’m aware we’re talking about a mix of communication, some before the sale and some after the sale. I realize that in some pre-sale messaging, you’re selling a feeling or experience (someone buying insurance is buying peace of mind in the midst of an unfortunate circumstance, not a policy). The bulk of the ideas below are to create clarity of expectation, responsibility and metrics. You decide where to deliver them in your messaging based on your product, service and desired delivery experience.

 

Expectations

  • Succinctly describe what product or service the customer is buying (A great meal at a great price, the most sophisticated timepiece you’ll ever own, you’ll never know your car was wrecked).
  • Give clear direction to the first step in the discovery or purchase process (Visit our showroom at 123 Main Street, contact one of our friendly customer service representatives at 555-555-5555, click here to schedule an initial appointment).
  • Explain the steps in which you create value for the customer (It all starts with a free health assessment, we’ll email you the results of the assessment along with our recommendations, in three days we’ll contact you and get your decision on which weight loss program is best for you, we’ll kick off your exercise and diet plan, and by week 4, you’ll be down 10 pounds).
  • Explain what interactions will look like (you’ll never be stuck in voicemail jail – a real person will always answer the phone, you’ll be able to manage your account from anywhere on our award-winning mobile app, you’ll have unlimited support via email with a 4 hour guaranteed response time).
  • If your product or service has inherent uncertainty, explain the path from uncertainty to certainty (When our technician arrives to examine your appliance, you’ll get a full explanation of the problem and a complete estimate of what it will cost to fix it. We’ll get your OK before we proceed with any repair. And when it’s fixed, the parts and labor are guaranteed for one year).
  • Explain the customer’s financial responsibility ($99/month for the first six months, then $129/month for 33 months, there’s a $400 administrative fee on top of the price of the car). If you want to make customers extremely unhappy, bury some previously undisclosed cost in the fine print.
  • Explain what will happen if something goes wrong (our workmanship is guaranteed for 10 years – if your roof leaks, we’ll fix it at no charge to you, if this isn’t the best snow-cone you’ve ever eaten – your money back, if you don’t like the like the paint color you’ve chosen with our patented color match system, we’ll repaint your room for free).

 

Responsibilities

One of the key parts of customer onboarding is explaining the customer’s role in the delivery of your product or service.

  • Define deadlines (For your policy to be in effect by 10/11/2020, we need your driver’s license number and the VIN from your car by 9/30/2020, to terminate your lease please notify us 180 days before the renewal date).
  • Explain their involvement. The number of used treadmills, ellipticals and Chuck Norris Total Gyms on Craigslist owned by people who are still overweight are a testament to the number of customers who don’t embrace their responsibility during onboarding. Customers buy, what appear to be, solutions to a problem they are experiencing. Clearly lay out the steps they must take for that problem to be resolved. And explain the how, not just the what.
  • Provide engagement tools. Think about the number of companion apps you have for the products or services you consume. I can lower my thermostat, manage my robot vacuum, change the payment method for my car insurance, and get a reminder when my Home Depot credit card bill is due on my phone. Each time you make it easier to interact with your product or service, you help the customer derive more value from the product or service, make it easier for the customer to fulfill his or her responsibilities, and ultimately solve their problem. Engagement tools don’t have to be as sophisticated as a mobile app. I recently got a bid from a roofing company to replace my roof. Part of their proposal was a checklist for me to follow before they began work on my home. The checklist explained not only what I needed to do, but why it would aid them in quickly solving my problem (getting a new roof on my house in the minimum amount of time and with the least amount of expense).
  • Give examples of customers who have successfully engaged the product or service and achieved the desired results. These examples inspire, inform, and help customers connect the dots between what the product does and what they must do.

 

Metrics

Everyone wants to “win” with their purchase. In the onboarding experience, we need to accurately identify winning for them.

  • Help customers measure leading indicators, not just trailing indicators. If they buy exercise equipment, “winning” is working out 20 minutes a day and cutting their caloric intake, not losing 20 pounds. If they do the former, they will get the latter.
  • Help customers attach greater meaning to their purchases. The financial planner’s 1% annual management fee isn’t a cost, it’s an investment in someone who devotes their professional life to helping clients secure their financial future and the financial future of the client’s family.
  • Help customers attach greater reach to their purchases. The business coaching purchased by the CEO doesn’t just benefit the executive. All who work for that executive benefit as he or she becomes a more effective leader and pushes what he or she learns down through the organization. And, by increasing the organization’s effectiveness and efficiency, shareholders benefit.

 

When expectations, responsibilities, and metrics are clearly defined for a new customer, everyone involved in the equation knows how to behave. If the company fails to deliver on the expectations, they can quickly make it right. If the customer fails to live up to their obligations, the company can jump in with a bit of accountability and encouragement to get the relationship back on track. When both parties agree on what “winning” looks like, they can track it with reporting and reinforce it with messaging.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 37 :: Strategic Planning :: Bullets Then Cannonballs

In his 2011 book, Great by Choice, Jim Collins introduced the concept of “Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs”. Create a low-cost, low-risk product or service launch (a bullet) and measure its success. If the bullet came close to the target (good consumer appeal, more profitable, potential to capture more share), recalibrate (refine the offering, improve the delivery, hone the messaging) and fire again. In the course of this iterative process, when the bullet hits the bullseye (confirmed by data), invest in the proven offering and craft a fully developed product or service paired with a strong launch (a cannonball).

It’s easy for a person or an organization to become enamored with an unproven “cannonball” that’s going to propel the organization to the front of their industry (or create a new industry) and cause their revenue and profits to soar. We love the idea and our ego convinces us that we’ve found a unicorn. To be sure, those cannonballs are out there, but, compared to the number of companies and product launches, those products or services are, as they say, scarcer than hen’s teeth. Plenty of companies have lost money (and investor’s money) by shooting unproven cannonballs from the beginning without any evidence they would find the bullseye. For most of us mortals, the path to sustained competitive advantage is bullets first, then cannonballs.

In this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge, I want you to spend your exercise identifying opportunities in your organization where you can craft some bullets. Take these six “bullet starters”, get your team together and take a virtual walk through your organization. See how many bullet opportunities you can identify.

Create a Pilot Product from Scratch – Over the last few years, software companies have taught us the value of creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). For example, early versions of Gmail, Evernote and Google Docs had only a fraction of the features they have now. That’s because the purpose of the early versions was to gauge interest and commercial viability. When it became clear that the products had potential, only then was more development effort expended to make a full-featured product (and the development goes on today). Can you create a minimum viable product to explore a new market or a new segment within an existing market?

Change the Customer Experience – Could you increase conversion rates for new customers, increase retention rates for existing customers or streamline internal operations by changing the customer experience? Maybe you could deliver food to tables instead of calling a number or change the automated call routing on your phone system, making it easier for a customer to talk to a live person. Make small, measurable changes and survey customers to get their feedback, plus track the financial impact. If customers respond favorably continue to tweak the customer experience until customers experience function, form and feeling when interacting with your organization.

Create a Stripped-Down Version of an Existing Product – One of the things we hopefully learned from the coronavirus was the ability to pivot. If our successful, three-day, onsite training program wasn’t an option, what do we do to make money? Strip out one of the topics from one of the days and create a webinar. It sells for a fraction of the price and customers can consume it from their home. Look for the opportunity to deconstruct an existing product or service and sell a stripped-down or fractional version. You might find that smaller micro-offerings are more profitable and have the added advantage of opening the door for larger sales later.

Create Another Product from an Existing Product – Many years ago, back when I had a corporate job, one of the smartest things I ever saw my former employer do was take something worthless and make it into something valuable. In their heyday, newspapers accumulated thousands of pictures each year. Only a small fraction of those ever made it into the newspaper. So, what do you do with all those unused pictures? My former employer made them into coffee table books. They identified several themes – architecture, sports, signs – just to name a few, and, combing through decades of pictures, put together fascinating collections of photos in very cool coffee table books. So, what assets do you have that you could recompile into a new product or service?

Develop a Strategic Partnership – If you run a service company – let’s say an exterminator, could you begin to offer wildlife removal services to your customers by partnering with an existing wildlife removal service? This type of relationship allows you to “stick your toe in the water” with very little downside risk. If the test goes well, you might consider a merger or acquisition, or you might add that expertise to your staff and expand your service offerings?

Tap the Collective Genius of your Team – For years, 3M operated with the “30% Rule” – 30% of revenue had to come from products created in the last 4 years. To fuel that initiative, 3M authorized 15% time – 15% of your work week can be devoted to projects that are interesting to you, not mandated by your boss. Post-It Notes and light-recycling lens (a $100 million product) came from 15% time. Google, for a while, crafted their own version (in their case 20% time). Gmail, AdSense, Google Maps and Google Talk were born from 20% time. I’m not saying you need to give employees a day a week to do what is interesting to them, but I am saying there are ideas ruminating in the minds of your employees. You need to create a mechanism to get them out. Fund some pilot projects that come from employees. You might find a future cannonball.

Here’s a quick bullet primer as you begin your exercise –

  • Use speed as a differentiator – Make a product variation where the price is cheaper but delivery is slower or make a product variation where the price is higher and delivery is faster.
  • Use geography – Limit the reach of your bullet. If you’re going to start delivery, do it in a small radius. If you’re going to introduce a new product, only offer it in one of your locations.
  • Remove risk – Use a freemium/premium model – a stripped down version for free, a version with more features for a fee.
  • Build testing into the bullet launch – Take advantage of A/B testing. You can keep an existing product or customer experience for a control group, then offer your “bullet” offering in another group. Or you can make a couple of similar bullet products (or messaging options) and launch them together. Track them side-by-side. If your bullet offering is sold online, there are dozens of tools that will facilitate this.

 

Select two or three bullet opportunities from your list, recruit a project sponsor from your team for each of the bullet opportunities, create the bullets and launch them. Measure demand and solicit feedback. Be brave enough to kill the bullets that are too far from the bullseye, then be relentless iteratively honing and relaunching those that show promise – eventually crafting cannonballs.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 36 :: Technology :: Big Data

According to Statista, in 2010, the total of amount of data collected worldwide was 2 zettabytes – or to use a unit of measurement you might be more familiar with, that’s 2 trillion gigabytes. In 2024, that number is projected to hit 149 zettabytes. All that data isn’t kept, so IDC predicts that by 2025, the world’s accumulated datastore will be 175 zettabytes. According to Forbes, we (collectively) generate 1.7 megabytes of new data per person, per second. And here’s maybe the most interesting fact of all, according to IDC, less than 5% of that data will be analyzed.

So, why is any of that important in the world of the One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge? Companies who capitalize on the data available to their organization by –

  • Identifying what parts of that data directly impact their financial performance
  • Making meaning of that data with expert analysis
  • Turning that analysis into actionable insights
  • Changing organizational behavior based on those insights
  • Measuring the financial impact of those changes
  • Making additional changes based on those measurements

are seeing results. Here are a few examples from Tech Republic.

  • Supply chain safety and theft detection enables companies, with help of item-placed sensors and business intelligence, to reduce in-transit theft rates of supplies from 50% to 4% and to detect when the environmentals or seals on shipment containers have been compromised.
  • Logistics tracking and routing using business intelligence and machine-based data/sensors optimize delivery routes and driver habits creating fuel savings and better service.
  • Collections work at companies is avoided by learning more about customers who are behind on their payments through big data aggregation and business intelligence that can predict who in good faith can pay their debts with a little help–and then helping these customers keep their purchases and keeping companies from having to write off defaults.
  • Buying habits and preferences of consumers are better understood and lead to increased sales.
  • Predictive maintenance enables urban tram systems to stay online, reroute traffic where necessary, and flash adviser alerts to customers over their mobile phones while repair crews are dispatched to replace faulty components before the components actually fail.

Big Data doesn’t just refer to just the volume of data available today, it encompasses the “4 Vs” of Big Data –

  • Volume – Certainly volume is an important part of the equation. We have internal data from our CRM and ERP systems that tell us about vendor performance, product performance, customer behavior, employee performance and a host of other things. We have external data from social networks, online review sites and more. Because of the Internet of Things (IoT), we have data that originates not just from the actions of our employees or customers, but from inanimate devices connected to the internet. So, we can know the number of times a door opens and for who, the temperature inside a shipping container and when a client’s copier is low on toner.
  • Variety – This data comes at us in multiple ways. Structured data from internal systems where we’ve controlled what is collected and how and unstructured data from external sources. We might get a text from a customer with a video of the dishwasher we just fixed showing us that it’s still doing what it was doing before we “fixed” it, a Google review, a Twitter DM, a reading from a sensor on our delivery van alerting us to a tire pressure problem and the list goes on.
  • Velocity – If the previous two aren’t enough, maybe the most daunting is the speed at which it comes at us. Last minute’s data reporting that all is well, is superseded by this minute’s data reporting a problem on the factory floor or a customer unhappy with your product or service. Multiply those by the number of inputs (customers, employees, vendors, sensors) and it can seem overwhelming.
  • Value – In actuality, this is the one that matters most. Of all the data collected by your organization, what really impacts financial performance, customer experience and employee wellbeing (ability to do their job effectively and efficiently)?

One more thing before we jump into this week’s exercise. Big Data requires different skills and tools than the traditional reporting you’ve pulled from your internal systems. First, because of the mix of structured and unstructured data, you’ll need a data management infrastructure that can manage both. Second, you need someone who can help you navigate this new world. You can hire a data scientist or you might opt for outsourcing this part of your work to a vendor specializing in Big Data Analysis. The most rudimentary Big Data analyses are looking for trends (each month for the past six months, distributors of our product in the Southeast have reported a stock out. Each month, it’s been earlier in the month than the month before), patterns (customers whose first purchase from us is product X never make another purchase, but customers whose first purchase is product Y have an 80% chance of being a repeat customer), and correlations (in the Fall, the first time the temperature dips below 50 degrees canned soup sales double and stay at that level until the first time the temperature hits 60 degrees in the Spring). A Data Scientist can help you start thinking in this vein. Third, in addition to the infrastructure tools to do the heavy lifting, you need visualization tools that help you easily see what this large amount of data is telling you. Even if the data scientist tells you everything you need to know, you want to roll this information out to everyone in the organization who can benefit from it. Good visualization tools will allow them to consume large amounts of information (and make sense of it) more easily.

For this week’s exercise, I want you to identify some problems or opportunities in the organization where Big Data-generated insights might make a difference. Here are some thought starters –

  • More callbacks on service calls – Is it the same technician? Are they working on the same brand of equipment? Are replacement parts from the same vendor failing at a high rate?
  • Inventory management is more challenging than it should be – Can you get access into distributor data so you can see when distributors are most likely to place a reorder? Is a single vendor slowing production with late or defective products?
  • Customers seem uninterested in a new product or service – What is the factory defect rate on this product vs the defect rate on its predecessor? Have customers who purchased the product commented on social media regarding the product? Is it especially unpopular among your customers who purchase another product from you?
  • We have too many employees during some shifts and not enough during others – Can you examine sales by hour for the same day of the week last week or the same week last year? Can you examine the nature of sales during each shift – selling a hand-dipped ice cream cone is more labor intensive than selling a bottled soft drink?

Take your list and contact a Big Data company for a consultation. See if it makes sense to do a pilot project.

Big Data is the foundation for technologies like Machine Learning – the improvement of computer algorithms through experience (people who bought this book also bought this book, powering your Amazon recommendations) and Artificial Intelligence – when a system “perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of successfully achieving its goals” (think Big Blue playing chess against a Grand Master, examining the chess board and making the optimal chess move).

Of all the technology assets in your company, data is the most important. It catalogs the past behavior of your employees and customers. And the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Don’t neglect the power of this asset to solve problems that have puzzled you for a long time.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 35 :: Finance :: Capital Budgeting

It’s that time of year when companies look at their capital budgets for the upcoming year. Capital budgets differ from operating budgets in a couple of important ways. Capital budgets represent a trade – swapping one type of asset for another – $30,000 in cash for a $30,000 delivery truck, $100,000 in cash for a $100,000 enterprise software package. These capital purchases are reflected only on the Balance Sheet. Later, they make their way to the Income Statement and Balance Sheet a chunk at a time using an accounting mechanism called depreciation. Depreciation is driven by the “class life” for each capital purchase. At the time of this writing (August 2020), IRS guidelines set the class life for real property at 39 years, office furniture at 7 years and autos and trucks at 5 years. So, for our $30,000 delivery truck example earlier in the paragraph, we’re spending the physical $30,000 in cash now and reflecting the purchase only on the Balance Sheet – the cash comes off, the truck goes on. Going forward, we’re going to recognize the depreciation on both the Income Statement and the Balance Sheet. Each year, for the first five years we own the truck, we’ll see $6,000 of depreciation expense on the Income Statement and $6,000 removed from the value of the truck on the Balance Sheet (in actuality, it will be accumulated in a single account with all the rest of the depreciation). Conversely, operating budgets are for those expenses that don’t represent a “swap” of assets. Salaries, utilities, and every other non-capital expense happen here. The accounting piece is very simple – reduce cash (on the Balance Sheet) and recognize the expense (on the Income Statement).

The goal of this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge, is to begin building a capital budgeting process that you can use this year and sharpen in the upcoming years. Keep using it and refining it so it always serves your organization well. Here’s a high-level outline. Your job is to flesh out the steps and fit it to your organization.

Let’s jump in –

Identify Potential Capital Budget Items – The company’s strategic direction and operational necessities should drive this part of the exercise. Typically, there’s no shortage of items clamoring for your capital expense dollars. You might want to enter a new, promising market that requires a new office, new equipment, or new vehicles. You might have to replace worn-out factory machinery or desktop computers to continue existing operations. You might need new equipment to comply with recently mandated government environmental regulations. You might be able to lower manufacturing costs by capitalizing on a new process, but it requires retooling the factory.

Estimate the Financial Impact of the Proposed Capital Budget Items – Using the best information you can gather (from vendors, from your sales, operations, and finance experts) determine the financial effect of the proposed projects on your organization. What will the item(s) cost to obtain? What will the item(s) cost to operate in the first year and all subsequent years? What additional revenue will the item(s) generate in the first year and all subsequent year? If the items are available from multiple vendors, compare item features, benefits, costs, and expected revenues for each option.

Evaluate the Proposed Items and their Financial Impact – Typically, you’ll begin your capital budgeting process with a pool of money you’re ready to devote to capital projects. After you’ve gathered all the information during the previous step, you’re ready to evaluate the proposed projects, hopefully using more science than art. Regulatory compliance gets first dibs since failure to comply could put the ongoing operation of the business in jeopardy. The remainder of the projects should be evaluated by the finance folks using some tried and true capital budgeting metrics that we’ll discuss shortly, but a couple of things first. In many cases, the money to be spent will come from cash on hand. That money isn’t free. If it sat in an interest-bearing investment, it would have a return. For purposes of discussion, let’s say the return on the cash on hand, if left in the investment, is 3%. The return on investment for the proposed capital project needs to be more than 3%. If the money for the capital project is going to be borrowed at an interest rate of 5%, the return on investment for the proposed capital project needs to be more than 5%. You get the idea – the return on the project needs to be more financially beneficial than doing nothing. Clearly, regulatory capital expenses get a mulligan here. There may be no financial benefit to the project. In fact, there might be only financial detriment. But, most likely, the financial detriment is far less than the impact of closing the company. In these cases, the increased costs must be passed along to consumers or be borne by stockholders in the form of lower profits.

Let’s talk about five of the most commonly employed methodologies for evaluating capital projects –

  • Payback Period – How quickly will the cash inflows generated by the investment pay back the initial investment? If the initial investment is $10,000 and the investment generates $5,000 a year in additional cash, the payback period is two years. This method is quick and simple, but it doesn’t take into account the value of cash inflows after the payback period or the time value of money.
  • Net Present Value (NPV) – This methodology compares the present value of all future cash inflows resulting from the project versus the present value of all the current and future outflows required to execute the project.
  • Profitability Index – The present value of all future cash inflows associated with the project divided by the present value of the current and future cash outflows associated with the project.
  • Internal Rate of Return (IRR) – This methodology identifies the rate at which the project breaks even by examining the cash inflows and outflows.
  • Modified Internal Rate of Return (MIRR) – This methodology is similar to the IRR except that it recognizes that cash inflows can be reinvested at a rate that is different than the rate at which they were generated.

Each of the capital projects under consideration must be evaluated in light of these financial metrics (and possibly others). The purpose of this week’s exercise is not to get deeply in the woods, but there are always additional considerations like tax consequence and accounting methodologies. Your finance folks can guide you into a complete discussion.

Most years, you’ll have more potential projects than you have money. The objective measures above will help the projects with the highest return on investment (ROI) bubble to the top.

Occasionally, you’ll be choosing between proposed projects with similar returns – sometimes offering mutually exclusive options. At that point, the “art” kicks in. The projects that most successfully move your strategy forward, the influence of non-financial data (market sizes, trends, patterns), management knowledge and intuition, and more will inform your decision on which projects to pick and which projects to reject or defer.

Implement – After the winning projects are selected, execute like crazy. Depending on the type of project, you might need to create a project team (hope you included that in your capital budget). Create schedules with timelines and milestones, align vendor resources, employ a solid execution framework, and communicate well. You want to implement the project as quickly as possible so it can start generating the cash inflows.

Measure – The capital budgeting tools were forward-looking. After implementation, rigorously track the actual results. Hopefully, the project is performing better than you projected. However, one of the worst mistakes a company can make is succumbing to “sunk cost fallacy”. If a project is seriously underperforming and there’s no remedy in sight, it’s noble to pull the plug. The fact that you’ve already spend $50,000 or $5,000,000 becomes immaterial. Continually investing resources with the hope that the project will magically turn around is a mistake rooted in pride. Track the performance of each project so you have better information for your next round of capital budgeting.

Capital budgeting, many times, represents an opportunity to make a big leap for an organization. A new market, product, process, or system can catapult a company into the national spotlight or into a level of revenue never even dreamed of before. Take this exercise seriously.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 34 :: Strategic Planning :: Creative Destruction

Someone else would like to take your customers. Any time an industry, company, product or service attracts a crowd (and the revenue the crowd generates), there will be host of fast followers who show up and try to siphon off some of that revenue for themselves or try to grow the size of the market so they can have a piece of the market share and revenue.

Those fast followers have a few options – create a better version of the original product or service, create a cheaper version of the product or service, create a product or service that is complimentary to the original product or service or re-solve the original problem in a radically different way – rendering the original product or service obsolete.

Let’s illustrate with personally curated portable music. For years, portable music took the form of radio. Other than choosing a station that played the genre of music you liked, you were unable to curate your own listening. Then, in the mid-1960s, Bill Lear (of Learjet fame) invented the 8-track tape player (I had one in my first two cars). You were able to choose albums produced by your favorite artists. It was subsequently replaced by cassettes (again complete albums), then CDs (still complete albums), then downloadable digital songs (on iPods and similar MP3 devices) and now streaming online music (the latest two both offer choices of mingling genres, albums and individual songs). Each of these successor technologies destroyed the commercial viability of the previous technology. Companies that failed to embrace the successor technology became irrelevant and, in some cases, closed their doors.

Recent history is loaded with companies that failed to re-invent their value creation proposition and paid the price – Blockbuster, Kodak, Polaroid, MySpace, Yahoo, Blackberry – just to name a few. These all have a tech component but there are plenty of non-tech related companies that have failed to remake their value creation activities – Toys R’ Us, Sears, Radio Shack, Borders, Circuit City.

Joseph Schumpeter popularized the term “creative destruction’ in his 1942 book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. According to Schumpeter, the “gale of creative destruction” is the “process of industrial mutation that continuously revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one”. This is what makes capitalism an engine for creating wealth for those who identify a problem and find a commercially viable solution to that problem. At the very same time, those who cling to solutions that are no longer commercially viable will find their ability to create wealth wiped out.

Let’s jump into this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge. I have three goals for this week’s exercise –

  • I want you to examine your value creation activities for your existing product or service.
  • I want you to ponder successor products for your existing products or services.
  • I want you to examine the competitive landscape for someone who is introducing a product or service that poses a threat to your existing products or services.

Value Creation for your Existing Product or Service

Your existing product or service might be in demand and effectively solving a customer’s problem. That’s great. But what if a competitor could introduce a similar product, but at half the price due to a new manufacturing technology? Not all creative destruction means retiring or remaking an existing product or service. It might mean destroying and remaking the methodology for creating or delivering your product. Are there new technologies, new contract manufacturers, new materials or even streamlined processes that would allow you to manufacture your product or service faster, with higher quality or cheaper? Are there new delivery channels or options that would allow you to get your product or service in the customer’s hands faster, cheaper or with a better customer experience?

Successor Products or Services

When you’re pondering creative destruction, the goal is not always a better mouse trap. Before cars were introduced, people just wanted faster horses. They never envisioned a “horseless carriage”. You’re after a better solution to the problem you’re solving for your customers – think digital camera vs traditional film or Netflix vs Blockbuster. Is there a better way to solve the same problem for your customers? Can you piggyback on other infrastructures or technologies? Can you partner with another company to create something that neither company could do on their own? Is there a methodology from another industry that’s never been used in your industry, but could be leveraged to solve your customer’s problem?

Surveying the Competitive Landscape

The worst place to be in the world of creative destruction is behind the curve. Someone else has already solved your customer’s problem in a better way and they’re already eating into your customer base. The early adopters have switched to the competitor’s product or service and it appears to be going well. One quick warning – the scrapheap of failed businesses is primarily populated by companies who got to this point and stuck their head in the sand – “Nobody wants a computer in their house”, “The internet is just a fad”, “People want real pictures they can hold in their hands”. Don’t be that company. Take competitive threats seriously. So, what do you do as you survey the landscape? If you’re still strong and the successor product is just getting out of the gate, they might be an acquisition target. In the right circumstances, you might be able to buy them outright. If they’re undercapitalized, they might need some cash to grow and you might be able to buy a significant stake and ride the elevator up with them. In other cases, you might be able to create a competitive product and leverage your brand, bigger war chest and existing customer base to beat back the new entrant.

The big idea in this week’s exercise is to never be lulled into complacency. Great companies earn it every time they go into the marketplace. They reexamine their products, services and delivery methodologies to make sure they are always solving the customer’s problem in the best way possible.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 33 :: People :: Core Values

There has to be some mechanism by which employees gain admittance to your organization. Clearly, if you run a hospital and you need a thoracic surgeon, you’re looking for someone with the right education, credentials and experience. You employ a similar approach if you’re hiring a plumber, chef or accountant. But down through the years, hiring someone just because they have the right technical skills has resulted in a breathtakingly large number of terrible hires. “Qualifed” hires have produced sub-par work, destroyed morale, denigrated co-workers, undermined bosses, abused customers and committed a truckload of other organizational “sins”.

If technical skills are only one part of the screening process, what else should it include? In my opinion, you start with the core values of the organization. Core values are the personal and professional beliefs of the founder(s) that make their way into the behavior of the people in the organization. They’re manifested in the priorities of the organization. They are the personal rules the founder(s) would live by no matter where they worked. They are the personal rules that the founders would follow even if they became detrimental to the organization. They are the non-negotiable ideals that govern interactions within the company (team member-to-team member), with customers and with vendors. To borrow a phrase from the US founding documents, they are the truths that are self-evident. Employees who don’t embrace and live out these values are destined to feel out of place in the organization.

Some things in an organization are a creative process – writing a mission statement, defining a vision and, to a certain extent, even building a culture. But identifying core values is a discovery process.

When I do a core values exercise with a client, a few “values” surface immediately – honesty, integrity, hard-working. I always make clients throw these out. These “price of admission” values don’t count. No employer goes looking for employees who are dishonest, morally bankrupt, or lazy. The core values you’re after are those 4 – 8 overarching ideas that make up your organization’s behavioral compass.

I’m always reluctant to use my company to illustrate a point but in this case, it might make sense. Here are three of the core values of ClearVision Consulting –

  • A love for small business owners – I hold in the highest regard those people who have risked their personal wealth and banked on their God-given talent to uniquely solve problems for their target clients. Their desire to build a better life for themselves and their families must be celebrated. They deserve to have someone in their corner equipping them and cheering them on.
  • A desire to dig deep and understand the client’s business – I will learn as much about the client’s business as they will allow me to learn. Over the years, as I’ve done research into process improvements or created strategic plans, I’ve loaded produce on a truck, checked in resort guests, stocked shelves in a store, sat in board meetings, sat in staff meetings, conducted interviews, evaluated vendors, written SQL code and a few hundred more things. More times than I can count, I’ve fielded calls from executives who had questions about how things work inside their organizations and I’ve been able to answer them because I’m intimately familiar with their work. If I don’t know the client’s company intimately, how can I help them craft strategies that will take them where they want to go and remake processes that will transform their value creation activities?
  • A commitment to treat client resources like they are my own – before I recommend that a client spend money, hire or fire an employee or invest in a new product or market, I ask myself if I’d make the same investment with my own resources. They deserve someone who will preserve their hard-fought-for capital.

If someone came to work with me and didn’t hold to these values, they’d never survive in the organization. This is who I am and, as far as I’m concerned, this is how business should be done. This is the way core values work. They are heart-felt beliefs that translate into real-life actions in the organization.

Before we jump into this week’s exercise, let me remind of how you’re going to use your core values. I used employment as my opening example and that will be an important application, but you want to use your core values to judge all future associations. If you use vendors who share your core values, they become true partners. If you market to customers who share your core values, they become strong referrals partners for you and might even give you a couple of mulligans if you drop the ball.

So, how do you find the core values of your organization? The answers to these questions should get you there.

  • What business behavior makes you mad when you see it? Why does it make you mad? Which of your closely held values is “offended”?
  • What are the worst ways your employees could drop the ball? What could they do that would ruin your company’s reputation? Lose customers? Make you feel ashamed of the company? Which of your closely held beliefs about how to do business are being violated?
  • If you worked for another company, what personal rules would you live by (taking care of customers, looking out for the company’s equipment, etc) even if the company’s rules were less stringent?
  • What behaviors would you maintain even if it were detrimental to the company financially?
  • What behaviors do you admire in other people and companies and seek to emulate? Why?
  • When customers speak favorably about your company, what qualities do they cite? What did you or your employees do to make them get that vibe?
  • What are the jointly revered business beliefs and behaviors in the core team (the people who’ve stuck around the longest and who constitute the DNA of the company)? What makes them stay and stay loyal?

Get answers to these questions down on paper or a whiteboard and connect some dots. What themes surface? Look for approaches to work (e.g. data-driven decision-making or brutal honesty among team members), approaches to customers (e.g. highly tailored solutions or first call problem resolution) and operational priorities (e.g. work products that don’t require rework or open book management). Select four to eight and include a short description with each one. Here are a couple of examples –

  • Balance – we control our schedule and successfully manage our personal and professional priorities and accord that privilege and the trust that goes with it to everyone in the organization.
  • Rewarding – our work brings exceptional value to the client and enriches us personally and professionally.

Roll your list out to a few folks in the organization. Ask them, “Is this us?” If they say, “no”, ask them why not. That might indicate that you, as a leader, aren’t living out your values in the organization. Take their feedback and return to the drawing board. Repeat until you’ve got your final list.

After you have it, write questions to use in your interview process that help job candidates explain how they embody these values. If they don’t have the values, don’t hire them. Then use the values to vet vendors and write marketing content. You’re looking for people who, as Simon Sinek would say, “share your why”.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 32 :: Leadership :: Environment for Growth

If I’m listing the top five (maybe the top three) responsibilities of a leader, creating an environment that fosters growth absolutely makes the cut. An organization will most likely never grow beyond the person who leads it and individual divisions and departments will most likely never grow beyond the people who lead them. Unfortunately, we human being are wired for stasis. We run smack dab into Newton’s first law of motion, “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an external force.” As a leader, it’s your job to be that external force.

During this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge exercise, I want to you to craft a framework that inspires and enables growth in your organization. The growth you want spans personal and professional, individual and team.

Use the ideas below like tools for your toolbox. Some of them I’d consider mandatory (like the first one) and others might or might not work in your organization. Pick and choose, add your own, then execute. Make lifelong learning part of your organizational culture (learning orientation is in my list of cultural imperatives. If you want to see my full list of culture imperatives, you can find it here).

Set the Example for Personal and Professional Growth – You should be hearing phrases like this come out of your mouth frequently, “I was just reading…”, “In the past, I would have…, but with what I’ve learned now, I’d…”,  “I had to apologize for…, because I found out I was wrong”, “My gut feel was…, but when I examined the data…”, “Swing by my office because I’d like to get your thoughts on…”. Spend time reading, taking a class, listening to a TED talk, journaling, and writing.

Embrace and Communicate that “Ego is the Enemy” – I’ve probably co-opted the title from Ryan Holiday’s excellent book a thousand times as I’ve talked and written. However, the real issue is whether or not I’ve embraced the message. We must never succumb to the temptation of thinking we know all there is to know about our job, our company, our customers, our people, or our processes. The minute we think we’ve arrived, the clock counting down our personal and professional destruction starts ticking. Advocate for personal and corporate humility. I often think about the encouragement from Gary Keller in his book, The One Thing. We don’t want to do our job the “best we can do it” (implying that our present capacity is the pinnacle). Instead, we want to do our job the “best it can be done” (implying that there’s more to learn and we’re going to drink it all in and apply it in our work).

Create a Mentorship Program – Pair mentees with mentors who will talk with them about professional growth, career paths, navigating office politics, balancing work and family responsibilities, moving from staff to supervisory roles and more. The mentor will learn just as much as the mentee. And you’ll automatically be building a couple of the factors that employees identified as indicative of solid management (see First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham). If potential mentors feel like this is outside their comfort zone, help them by creating a curriculum with discussion topics and resources.

Create an Environment where Good Risk is Embraced and Subsequent Failure after Good Risk is OK – If you never fail, you’re more than likely never doing anything that’s a stretch. People and organizations should do hard things. When the uncertainties surrounding hard things are pondered, good decision-making skills should be employed. Good decisions frequently result in bad outcomes (the batter frequently swings unsuccessfully at pitches that are low and away, but this time he hit a double). If your good risk appears to end in failure, you’ve at least learned some things (faulty product development, faulty delivery, faulting messaging). It’s never a bad thing to get an education.

Encourage Independent Work and Collaboration – Current research in productivity shows that neither bullpens nor private offices are optimal for the best outcomes. We need both. Employees need uninterrupted spans of time and privacy to do deep work (achieving flow). They also need engaging conversation with people who can challenge and sharpen the ideas they crafted working alone. Design workspaces and work schedules where both can happen.

Cross Discipline Knowledge is Golden – We have erroneously equated deep subject matter expertise with greater problem-solving ability in that discipline. For the sake of time, let me cut to the chase and say that thinking is wrong. In his book Range, David Epstein tells the story of two labs working on the same problem at the same time (proteins they wanted to measure would get stuck to a filter, which made them hard to analyze). One lab, staffed by only E. Coli experts, took weeks to solve the problem – experimenting with multiple methodologies. The other lab, staffed by scientists with chemistry, physics, biology, and genetics backgrounds, plus medical students, figured out the problem in their initial meeting. Deep subject matter expertise should be celebrated and leveraged, but to maximize peer-to-peer learning in an organization, utilize cross-disciplinary teams.

Make It Not All About Work – I know people who will come into an organization and do a Lunch-and-Learn on – Understanding Mortgages for First-time Homebuyers, Dog Training, Personal Finances, and Sleep. When your environment for growth includes growth opportunities for the whole person, you demonstrate another level of commitment to your team members.

Do the Traditional Stuff – Down through the years, employers have sent team member to seminars, enrolled them in online classes and paid for college degrees. Some of these might make less sense now, but there’s no reason to dismiss them entirely.

This is only a starter list, but it should get you on your way to creating a strong environment for growth in your organization.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 31 :: Project Management :: Framework

Every organization, from the solo practitioner to the multi-billion-dollar, publicly traded company has projects. It might be installing new enterprise software, building a branch office, or introducing a new manufacturing process. And, if you have projects, you need a solid project framework.

In this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge, I’m going to give you factors for successful project management then introduce a simple project management framework. If you don’t have an existing project management tool, I encourage you to use your thirty-minute exercise to customize this framework for your organization, then try it out on your next project.

Successful project management is about the stewardship of four resources – time, materials, money and people. Materials can take the form of a new software package or a pile of lumber, but most always represents an input that must be transformed during the project. People can take the form of employees, contractors or vendors who must be aligned, informed, and coordinated during the project. But only one of the resources is the most important – time – because you can’t make any more of it. There’s always a chance to earn more money, procure more materials and engage more people, but you can’t manufacture any more time. Consequently, time is the primary driver in project management. The crux of good project management is coordinating transformation activities (typically people + materials + time), so they happen on schedule, with sufficient quality, on budget, and in the right order. A critical piece of project management is understanding predecessor and successor activities. Predecessor activities are those that must either be started or, in some cases, completed before the next activity begins. Successor activities are those that are dependent on a predecessor activity. There are a host of software tools that can help you plot all transformation activities related to a project in a visual format and be a repository for all project related materials (documents, drawings, checklists, contacts, communication). The level of complexity and cost varies from tool to tool. No matter which one you choose, it can help you keep all the balls in the air. Here’s a list curated by The Digital Project manager. https://thedigitalprojectmanager.com/best-project-management-software/

Let’s jump in to this week’s exercise.

Here’s a simple project worksheet I’ve developed. Before you begin a project, I recommend you engage in, at least, this level of justification for the project

Project Title ___________________________________________________

Project Sponsor ________________________________________________

Project Team __________________________________________________

Project Cost:   One Time _______________  Ongoing _______________

Reason:

Maintenance of Current Operations _____    Cost Saving _____

Increased Revenue _____                                    Compliance _____

Improved Customer Experience _____            Improved Employee Experience _____

If Increased Revenue or Cost Saving, what is the amount? _______________

How does this project support the mission of the organization?

_____________________________________________________________

Briefly describe the project

_____________________________________________________________

What activities are required before the project begins (research, permits, etc)

_____________________________________________________________

Project Plan

  • Resources
    • People (employees, vendors, contractors) _____________________________________________________
    • Money (costs and payment schedule) _____________________________________________________
    • Materials (materials to be transformed and materials needed for transformation activities) _____________________________________________________
  • Timeline
    • Start date _______________
    • Target completion date _______________
    • Milestone events and dates _____________________________________________________
  • Predecessor Tasks and Successor Tasks (a successor task can also be a predecessor task for another activity) ___________________________________________________
  • Possible impediments __________________________________________
  • Training ___________________________________________________
  • What does successful completion look like? ____________________________
  • How will progress be reported? ____________________________________
  • To whom will progress be reported? _________________________________
  • Attach financial justification (Payback, net present value, internal rate of return)

Project Manager ____________________________________________________

Approved __________________________________________________________

During your exercise, review the available project management tools. Many include free trial periods, so for the first project scheduled after this One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge exercise, chose one or two that seem like a good fit for your organization and set up your project in both of those tools. Review the initial results with your project team and choose one and use it for the project.

Each project should have a project manager. This person’s job is to be cheerleader, communicator, coordinator, butt-kicker and problem solver. They should have a deep interest in the project itself and be able to articulate why it is important to the company. They should have not just the responsibility for the project, but also the authority to run the project team, manage project transformation activities, and spend from the project budget without being second-guessed.

The project manager should have a solid communication plan so that everyone on the team is always in sync and everyone else in the organization is up-to-date on the project’s progress. Project status should be communicated to the team at least weekly and to the rest of the organization at least monthly.

The project manager’s job is to drive the project to completion. When problems come, as they surely will, it is the project manager’s job to make course corrections, marshal the resources of the team to resolve the problems and refocus the team on project completion – all the time, keeping the balls of time, materials, money and people in the air.

After the end of every project, there should be a project post-mortem where the project itself is evaluated, the project methodology is evaluated, and the project leader and team are evaluated. The goal of this post-mortem is not to assign blame for anything that might have gone wrong, but to refine the methodology and improve the team for the next project.

If you begin to build a project management framework using these initial guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to effectively managing projects in your organization.

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 30 :: Marketing :: Messaging

If there’s one business discipline that gives me indigestion, it’s marketing. When I sit down to write about strategy or operations, the words flow freely, but when I have to write about marketing or, even worse, prepare marketing materials for my own business, I feel like my IQ drops 30 points.

I know the discipline is vital, so I’ve enlisted the help of people I trust. You’ll find my Kindle full of books from Donald Miller, Seth Godin, Bernadette Jiwa, Jay Baer and Jonah Berger. People who can help me decide what to say and how to say it. You’ll find my recommended reading list at the bottom of this post.

This week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge is devoted to the most rudimentary of marketing disciplines – messaging – What do I say when I talk to customers? I’m afraid we devote too much attention to branding (logo design, colors) instead of the real words we say to the people we desperately want to talk to.

So, my goal for you in this week’s thirty-minute exercise is to use the criteria below to evaluate your communication with current and potential customers. Check your website, email campaigns, social media posts and written materials. These are the some of the most crucial truths I’ve gleaned from the smart people listed above.

Be brief – People are busy. They scan instead of reading. You’ve probably got 5-10 seconds on your website, 1-2 seconds for an email subject line and 3-5 seconds on a social media post to convince someone to go deeper. On your website, succinctly state the problem you solve, how you solve it and how the customer’s life will be better after consuming your solution. On email and social media, quickly say what the email or post is about and why they should continue reading.

Be clear – Don’t be cute, be crystal clear. A clever play on words might be tempting, but a solid message is always better. Don’t make the reader work hard to figure out what you’re trying to say.

Be valuable – Give value in every interaction. Let current and potential customers know what kind of information and work they can experience when they interact with you or your organization. Give them a taste of the value that will be returned for their investment of time and money.

Solve a problem – Current and potential customers don’t really care about you; they care about themselves. How will you resolve an existing issue or make their lives easier, better, or happier?

Be Mick, not Rocky – If you’re listing the top feel-good movies of all time and Rocky doesn’t make the list, you’re doing it wrong. The film about a struggling boxer, Rocky Balboa, who finally gets a shot at the title is Hollywood gold. But the pivotal character in the movie isn’t Rocky, it’s Mick, Rocky’s coach, mentor, friend, butt-kicker and confidant. In your marketing, be Mick the trainer, so your clients can be Rocky the hero.

Be empathetic – Let current and potential customers know that you “get it”. You understand their struggles, their frustrations, their obstacles, and their aspirations.

Be trusted – After you’ve shown that you understand their problems, demonstrate that you know how to solve them. Your proof might be in the form of years of experience, testimonials or case studies.

Be patient – Don’t be the weird person who discusses how many children he or she wants on the first date. Take your time, build trust, ask more questions, and learn everything you can about current and potential customers. Earn the right to heard.

Be transactional – In contrast to the previous question, don’t get stuck in the “friend zone”. Let potential customers know that the goal of your interactions is a paid engagement. Give potential customers a chance to begin the engagement with early and frequent calls to action. Be ready when they’re ready.

Be aspirational – Paint a picture of what their life will look like after using your product or service. Will they have more free time, more money, more security, more piece of mind, happier employees, better data enabling them to make better decisions?

If you’ll critique your communication using just the truths above, you’ll remove some clutter and make your message easier to read and easier to act on.

If this whets your appetite to go deeper on your marketing, you’ll benefit from these books.

Donald Miller, Building a StoryBrand

Donald Miller, Marketing Made Simple

Seth Godin, This is Marketing

Bernadette Jiwa, Marketing: A Love Story

Jonah Berger, Contagious

Jay Baer, Youtility

 

The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 29 :: Governance :: Decision Making

Over the course of a day we make hundreds of decisions. Many, in the great scheme of things, are inconsequential – blue shirt or yellow shirt, mustard or mayo, checkout aisle 6 or 11. However, when we’re at work, some of our decisions might have a bit more impact – this new region or that new region or both, this new employee or that new employee, abandon this product or invest a bunch of money into marketing it for another quarter or two. These types of decisions affect the lives of people, the trajectory of our company and the amount of money we make or lose in upcoming quarters.

So what if we could get better at decision making? Let’s agree up front that every decision carries risk. We can’t “good decision” our way out of every fork in the road and remove risk. Most of us fall victim to, what those who study decision-making call, “resulting”. We believe if we get good results, we made a good decision. If we get bad results, we made a bad decision. Let me illustrate. The odds of winning on any given number at the roulette table are 1 in 37. If you walk up to the table, place your chips on 5 and the little ball goes into the 5 on the wheel, you might believe you made a good decision. In reality, you made a bad decision (the math was against you) but got a good result. Conversely, if you hire a salesperson with experience in your industry, stellar credentials, a history of strong sales and equip them with every resource they need to sell your product and they fail miserably, you more than likely made a good decision, but got a bad result. Just one of the foibles that we, as humans, struggle with as we evaluate our decisions.

So how do we up our decision-making game? In this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge, I encourage you to spend your thirty-minute exercise piecing together a decision-making framework that you’ll use when your organization is faced with a decision. I’ll give you some thought starters and you can grab what works for you and add your own.

  • What empirical data can we bring to bear on the decision? It’s easy to fall in love with people, products, places and processes. Can we put our hands on data that will give us objective information – sales numbers, number of defects, number of returns, sales by location, sales by hour, sales by salesperson, production per assembly line, bounce rate for the landing page.
  • How can I remove my ego from the decision? It’s tough to divorce yourself from a person or project that you’ve poured yourself into. In reality, you are not what you do. You still have worth and you’re still smart, even if the object of your affection is looking questionable. Recognize this for yourself and recognize that others in the organization will have similar feelings towards the people and things they’ve invested in. Step away – and help them step away. Two more things on ego. First, we love our own ideas and struggle to see how they might have a couple of holes. Second, we love information (both empirical and anecdotal) that supports our position and tend to discount information that opposes our position. Be on guard against both of these things.
  • Enlist the collective genius of the people most affected by the decision. If I could list the most frequent management screw-ups, this would be close to the top – people not familiar with the intimate details of the work, trying to improve the work. In reality, the people who do the work are most qualified to improve it. Get input from employees, customers, and vendors – whoever can help you assemble the largest body of knowledge on the subject about which you are making a decision. One important thing – an outside perspective does help because people are occasionally so blinded by the forest, they can’t see the trees. But I’d err on the side of getting lots of input from those in the know.
  • Get help from someone who’s made similar decisions. The Israelite King Solomon said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” True when he wrote it 3000 years ago. Still true now. Find someone who’s faced a similar situation and pick their brain.
  • Propel your self forward and look back. As much as you can, transport yourself to the end of every fork in the road (all the possible decision options) and look backward. Things might seem much clearer – after all, hindsight is 20/20. What would have to go right to get here? What could go wrong on the way to here? Can I live with the consequences of the things that might go wrong? What are the probabilities for each of these things going right or wrong? Conduct a pre-mortem – in your head, jump to the end of the decision, assume it failed miserably then ask, “What did we screw up that caused this?”
  • Would you put money on this? I wish I could claim credit for this idea, but it comes from Annie Duke’s brilliant book, Thinking in Bets. She encourages her readers to ask themselves, “would I bet on this?” This moves the discussion from theoretical to financial. Before we bet on something, we contemplate the probability (run or pass, cover the spread or not cover the spread). Our emotions (we love our team and hate the other team) are eclipsed by the reality of what could happen to our wallet.
  • Find a contrarian. Seek out someone to poke holes in the decision you’re narrowing in on. They can be inside or outside the organization. Encourage them to pick it apart personnel-wise, strategically, operationally, and financially.
  • Festina lente. Caesar Augustus adopted this motto – Make haste, slowly. Make decisions quickly but deliberately. Don’t fall victim to paralysis by analysis, but don’t fire from the hip. Good decision-making is thoughtful and complete but with a bias for action.

 

Following these steps, or any others for that matter, won’t result in perfect decision-making. There’s no such thing. We’ll still be duped by the poor decisions that have good results (thinking they were good decisions), puzzled by the good decisions that have bad results and feel smug about the good decisions that yield good results. Our best hope is that we optimize our methodology.