Getting a Jump On Your Competitors When Every Advantage Counts
Listen to Episode 112:
Episode 112 Transcript:
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of success. On the web at www.BusinessAdvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated, and right across from me as always is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi Pam. Once again, it’s great to be joining you for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. If you’re listening for the first time, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders to accelerate themselves − and their companies − to their next level of growth and success.
So Pam, what’s on the agenda for today?
Pam Harper: Getting a jump on your competitors, when every advantage counts.
Scott Harper: That’s a good thing to do, but sometimes it’s easier said than done.
Pam Harper: That’s true. I just saw an article in the March-April 2017 issue of Chief Executive which featured a summary of the recent CEO2CEO summit…
Scott Harper: Right; and we’ll have a link to that report in the resources section of growthignitersradio.com, Episode 112.
Pam Harper: This discussed the need for CEOs of midmarket companies to be vigilant − their word − for emerging trends signaling the need to transform business models and strategies to become more digital. In the article, the author quotes one speaker saying that companies need to stay vigilant for danger, and that “feeling the hot breath of the Amazon wolf on the back of my neck” is a great motivator for adapting.
While staying vigilant for danger is important − I won’t argue with that − the visionary CEOs we work with are motivated even more by opportunities to redefine the game and change the playing field.
Scott Harper: That’s right. After all, being the first to new opportunities can be even bigger. And we’re not just talking about spotting and leveraging new technologies here. In fact, the biggest game-changing opportunities can lie in spotting signs that the market is ripe for new breakthroughs in business models, or even creating whole new business sectors, like the “sharing economy.”
Pam Harper: And we’re going to see a lot more of that as time goes on. I learned long ago the more opportunities you look for, the more opportunities you discover. That’s what gives you the ability to proactively pivot ahead of your competition before there’s any sign of danger.
Scott Harper: Right; and of course, being sensitive to signs of opportunity in business and pivoting effectively is an art as well as a science. So that’s why it seems appropriate to revisit our conversation from episode 93, where we discussed pivoting to get ahead of the competition. So with that let’s pick up on the conversation. Stay with us…
Pam Harper: There are a lot of people who talk about pivoting in different ways, but for the purpose of this episode we’re talking about the ability to recognize and respond to the rapidly emerging opportunities or challenges that come up.
Just think about all the things that go on; technologies that appear and vanish, thinking about the Internet of things for example. Then there are new business trends, like leading for social responsibility; we spoke about that in episode 88. Disruptive competitors appear, sometimes seemingly from nowhere.
Scott Harper: Right, and this idea of a pivot is common not just for small companies because a lot of entrepreneurs we speak with talk about how they can pivot − large companies do it too.
Pam Harper: That’s right. I think the most important thing about pivoting that I’ve ever heard about is that when you’re pivoting, you have one foot that’s securely anchored so that you can move, but you’re not totally ungrounded.
Scott Harper: Okay; that’s a great analogy. Now the question is − what are some of the things that can help companies do their strategic pivots faster and better and more effectively?
Pam Harper: A big thing is to be sensitive to the signals that are out there that it’s time to pivot in the first place.
Scott Harper: Okay; that makes sense.
Pam Harper: Of course, there are a lot of ways to pick up on these signals. They range from talking with customers, strategic partners, suppliers; talking with peers in peer groups, reading news articles, listening to podcasts, and bringing in experts.
Scott Harper: That’s right. There are an enormous number of places where you can get critical information that will signal if conditions are changing positively or negatively.
Pam Harper: But to me, one of the most overlooked and underestimated ways to do this is by tapping into the collective intelligence of your own organization.
Scott Harper: Collective intelligence… So when you say “intelligence” I assume that you mean it in both senses of the word − from the information gathering and analysis standpoint, and also the intelligence − the collective wisdom, if you will − of the organization. Am I close on that?
Pam Harper: Yes. In addition to that, the organization is what pulls off the pivot, if you think about it. One of the best ways to have that pivot be effective is by tapping into what people are actually seeing, what they’re observing, and what they think because they’re going to need to act on this.
Scott Harper: Absolutely. As you said earlier, you have to be able to notice the conditions out there in the business environment that are even signaling that it is time to do some sort of a pivot. Who better to do that than the people who are out there is so many ways.
Pam Harper: That’s right. If you think about it all, all across the organization every person in every function is seeing things, observing things, hearing things just in the course of work. Accounts payable and receivable, R & D, marketing, of course, human resources, just to name a few. Depending on how large your organization is, the more intelligence you have. This is kind of contrarian because there a lot of people, especially listeners of this podcast, who might say, “Oh, you know the more that we grow, we have an organization that constrains us.”
Scott Harper: Drags us back…
Pam Harper: Drags us back. “What happened to those entrepreneurial startup days?” Yet that very organization is what can give you a competitive edge.
Scott Harper: Because it gives you the capacity to have more eyes and ears and more brains thinking about it − if you do it in the right way.
Pam Harper: Yes. The challenge is picking up on the signals and working with them in a way that’s relevant, consistent and actionable.
Now, this is not an entirely new concept; there are many ways that people have been picking up on signals in their organizations for a long time, such as suggestion systems, focus groups, surveys, and so on. But here’s the thing − often times this information is coming from certain parts of the organization, or certain individuals and not others, so you get an unbalanced kind of portrait.
Scott Harper: Okay, so you go to the same people consistently because they’re good sources of information, but they may not be the only or even the most relevant source.
Pam Harper: For example, long ago, way before I ever started Business Advancement Incorporated, I lead organizational development functions for rapidly growing companies. One of the things I gained was a lot of intelligence in the course of conversations I had for talent search. I would learn a lot about the demographics; I would learn about what kinds of attitudes there were; I would see what people thought about the company. This is intelligence, but it wasn’t always tapped into, and certainly not in a synthesized kind of way with some of the other things that were going on in the company.
Scott Harper: Another challenge with getting intelligence about changes in the business environment that might signal a need to pivot is that there’s just so much. There’s so much information coming at us constantly. It’s really hard to pick the strong relevant signals − as you said, relevance is important − it’s hard to pick the relevant signals out of the noise.
Pam Harper: Exactly, separating that out becomes a task all by itself.
Scott Harper: Critical information can go unrecognized, or slip through the cracks; or of course there’s the risk that not everybody who sees important signals will speak up.
Pam Harper: That’s right. The key is to come up with a way to recognize how to combine these different elements do that you can get the best information and the best wisdom to make the pivots you need. That’s what we’re going to talk about in the next segment, so stay with us after this short break.
Scott Harper: We are glad you’re listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. We’re on the web at businessadvance.com. We focus on enabling visionary leaders to dramatically increase momentum in their companies for game-changing results.
Pam Harper: Does this topic resonate with you? Well, we have more. Check out related episodes to expand your perspectives and take away even more immediately actionable ideas. Just go to growthignitersradio.com, select episode 112 and scroll down to resources.
Scott Harper: And while you’re there, sign up for our weekly alert of upcoming episodes so you’ll always be up-to-date.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. Today Scott and I are speaking about the fine art of tapping into your organization’s intelligence so you can pivot as quickly and effectively as possible when those new opportunities or challenges emerge. Now, in the first segment, we discussed why this is becoming increasingly important in today’s rapidly shifting business environment, and how your organization’s intelligence can be so important in detecting the conditions that call for a pivot.
Scott Harper: Right. Now Pam, over the years we’ve identified 3 essential components or factors that are absolutely instrumental for tapping into an organization’s collective intelligence. Let’s talk about that.
Pam Harper: Okay; let’s do that in the context of an excellent example of those factors in action. If you think back to episode 52, remember that we had Brian Scudamore as our guest?
Scott Harper: The CEO of O2E Brands, 1-800 GOT JUNK… sure.
Pam Harper: That’s right. One of things that he has done very successfully is he uses something called “a huddle.” We found a link to a video that shows what a huddle looks like at O2E Brands.
Scott Harper: It’s very exciting.
Pam Harper: The idea behind this really goes with the conceptual framework that we’ve come up with. It’s 3 parts. Think of it like a Venn diagram, so there are 3 interlocking circles.
One circle is about the context. In other words, if you understand what the big picture is and where the company is going you’re going to have a better idea of when something is even relevant. It really engages people because they understand this. If you go back to that video, and again we’ll have under resources, you can see how engaged the people are, and they understand, and they are getting information shared with them. Brian was up there and he’s talking, and his leadership team is talking, and people are huddled together in the masses-
Scott Harper: And they’re sharing information. They’re sharing good news, they’re sharing opportunities-
Pam Harper: But they’re talking about the strategy first. That’s the context, the big picture. Without that, who’d know what was important?
Scott Harper: Yeah, that’s right.
Pam Harper: That’s right. A second interlocking circle then is about input. You were saying Scott, that it was an exchange, and there was a lot of information.
Scott Harper: That’s right, and people would go from the huddle and then build on that and generate ideas.
Pam Harper: The other thing that was remarkable about this input was that they did talk about things that were not necessarily working as well as they could, that could be improved. It was with a positive spin on it, what could be improved? What do we need?
Scott Harper: To do that, as they do in O2E Brands, you have to have a real sense of comfort with sharing not just good news, but bad news as well.
Pam Harper: That’s right.
The third circle of this Venn diagram is interpretation, which was what everybody ended up coming together to do. They were all together, all across departments and they were coming to conclusions about what they were going to do next. All of that really exemplified this whole idea of the organization’s intelligence, give-and-take.
Now, this works for them, O2E. Another company may or may not be able to pull it off the same way, because it’s unique to their culture. What happens if one or more of these critical factors are missing? For example, a company that has a lot of sharing in the areas of context, in other words the big picture, the strategy, and they’re also heavy in interpretation but not input what happens? You may see a lot of decisions being made, but not as many choices in terms of what they could choose to have come out of it.
Scott Harper: Because if they don’t consider as many inputs as there might be hidden in the company, they are dealing with an incomplete deck of information.
Pam Harper: That’s right.
Scott Harper: You’re right; it does limit your options.
Pam Harper: Or, say you have an intersection of just the circles of interpretation and input…
Scott Harper: You’ve got a lot of information coming in. People are interpreting it and drawing conclusions-
Pam Harper: But with no context, it isn’t necessarily relevant.
Scott Harper: Well yeah. Without a good context, they could be making decisions that don’t actually really advance the strategy and the purpose of the company as much as they could.
Pam Harper: And what if you have context and input, but no interpretation?
Scott Harper: “Ready, fire, aim.” Yeah. Information needs thoughtful processing to be fully useful.
Pam Harper: It’s hard to say that it would be as effective. All of these things have to work together. That’s what makes it an art.
Now we’re going to take another quick break, and when we come back Scott and I will talk about immediately actionable ideas for using your organization as an intelligence source in leading your company through a strategic pivot even faster and more effectively. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You’re listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated − on the web at businessadvance.com.
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Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and the Harper. Today Scott and I are talking about how tapping into your organization’s intelligence can be a real asset in leading a strategic pivot as quickly and effectively as possible when new opportunities or challenges emerge. Of course, you can get resources for this episode, including the Venn diagram we described, by going to growthignitersradio.com, selecting episode 112 and scrolling down under resources.
Scott Harper: Okay. Pam, this is where we get practical and we give immediately useful ideas and tips that people can use to put these concepts into practice. Where can we start?
Pam Harper: The first place is to go back to that Venn diagram that we have under resources and decide what number you’re at. Is it 1, 2, 3 or 4? Our download describes what they are.
Scott Harper: Looking at the interaction of the 3 components….
Pam Harper: That’s right. That will give you a starting point for looking at where you’re strong and where you can improve.
Scott Harper: Okay. Once you have a diagnostic, then you can start to concentrate on the specific components of context and information gathering input and interpretation.
Pam Harper: That’s right.
Scott Harper: With that, what’s a practical thing that somebody can do regarding context to lay a foundation for the gathering and interpretation of intelligence?
Pam Harper: Okay. It’s all about giving that big picture and strategic framework that we were discussing. As we discussed with O2E Brands and Brian Scudamore, something like the huddle is a great immediately useful idea. You call people together and you plan it obviously, and it gives people a wonderful idea of what’s happening. This is just one option, however; you were talking about something that you experienced as another way to provide strategic context…
Scott Harper: Right. There was a company that I had worked with where they had an intranet site, because they had multiple sites. They had a secure intranet site where the organization’s leadership had put up the vision of the company, and they also got more practical in saying “this is what the organization is about and these are our main strategic objectives for the foreseeable future.” That context provides a kind of shopping list for what’s important for the company in terms of looking for emerging threats or challenges and emerging opportunities and what’s not important.
Pam Harper: That’s right. Now, let’s shift over to input. We just talked about the head, but now we’re going to talk about the heart. People have to feel safe. They have to feel that they’re going to be supported if they’re going to give news of any kind. Again, going back to that example of O2E, what you could see is that even when people were talking about things that weren’t working as well, and there were areas for improvement it was okay.
Scott Harper: Yup, sure. You have to create an environment where news is welcome and even more importantly, people feel like when they bring something forward it’s listened to. It may not be acted on, but it’s acknowledged. There’s nothing worse than sending some information into your system and nothing back.
Pam Harper: And you get crickets…
Scott Harper: Yeah, and you get … this cricket noise, and that just extinguishes input. Almost worse than being discouraged is being ignored. You ignore information, and people will stop bringing it.
Pam Harper: Another immediately useful idea, then, is to respond to somebody who has brought you some information, especially if it’s from an area that you don’t usually hear from.
Scott Harper: Okay. Pam, what’s a piece of practical advice that has to do perhaps with interpretation?
Pam Harper: That would be setting criteria for thinking about what you’re seeing. You know, there are a lot of times when people get information but they don’t have criteria to sort it and make sense of it. It’s the importance of making sure that everybody has the same type of criteria to use so that we can all evaluate incoming signals in the same way.
Scott Harper: Okay, so by criteria, you mean ideas of “this is important to this particular strategic objective, we’re looking for this type of challenge, we’re looking for these types of opportunities.”
I’ve seen organizations that really lay out a whole framework for this is, say for instance, for a particular product or service. “This is the personality of that product or service. This is what we stand for. This is what we don’t stand for. These are the sorts of things that we need to be on the lookout for, opportunities that will advance us and challenges that may block us.”
Those challenges could be not just direct competitors. They could be something coming up in another area, say it could be a regulation, it could be something legal, any number of things. The more specific you are without going crazy, the more that people can say, “Ah, okay, I have these pieces of information. We’re going to get together and we’re going to use the criteria to say, this is an area where we need to pivot.”
Pam Harper: Now imagine coupling that information − for instance, you came out of R&D − couple that with maybe some information from another functional area, say out of receivables where a particular product line is slow in receivables, or that you’re getting a lot of information from let’s say, whoever is servicing your product, that they are some changes in terms of how people are receiving the product. Or maybe you’re getting information from human resources about some trends in what it’s going to take to get the rare talent that you need in order to bring a new product to market. You combine all of those things, now you’ve got some powerful information.
Scott Harper: That’s right. Getting a diversity of ideas and viewpoints is so important. Because what I think is important or what I don’t think is important may be you see differently. If you bring it to me, it may spark an idea. Or we can put disparate pieces of information together like any good intelligence network does, and now we have something that’s much more powerful.
Pam, it’s been a great conversation. Do you have any final thoughts on tapping into the organization’s collective intelligence for detecting signals that it’s time to pivot?
Pam Harper: Some of the best intelligence for pivoting resides right inside our organizations. The more we tap into it in a way that’s relevant, reliable and actionable for everyone, the more successful a pivot will be for your company’s journey of growth both in the short term and in the long run.
Scott Harper: Okay! Thanks Pam, and thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To get show notes and resource links for this episode, including the Venn diagram that we’ve referred to several times, go to growthignitersradio.com and select episode 112.
Pam Harper: Until next time this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success, and leaving you with this question to consider with your team:
Scott Harper: What’s the most important thing we need to address today to improve our ability to fully engage our organization’s intelligence for a more powerful pivot?