Archive for November 30, 2013


Posted: November 30, 2013
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Are you an “adaptive manager”?

I’m sure I am not alone among senior executives and especially consultants in periodically reassessing my worth.  Every now and then I find myself considering what I am bringing to the party in both my work and private life.  Now, you might take that to be the act of someone who is paranoically insecure and you are entitled to your view, but I firmly believe that we owe it to ourselves and those around us to question our contribution from time to time.  As a consultant, that’s how I get to be able to articulate to potential clients what I can do for them and in my private life it means that, despite my obsession with my work I am able to make the most of the time I do spend with my family.

I emerged from my most recent foray into this zone glowing with the happy discovery that, since my last session, I had evolved as a manger.  I’m a firm believer that we are constantly changing in response to external influences and experiences, so that’s not surprising in itself.  However, I notice that once they land on a mind-set that  they are comfortable with, many people shut out anything that might cause them to question their established views, attitudes and processes.

Happily, I’ve never been one for this approach.  In fact, I’ve instinctively sought and embraced change and therein lies my latest discovery. Having lived and worked in more countries than I could count, I guess my experiences are more varied than those of many people.  I make no claims that the skills and insights I possess are the product of rigorous academic study, they are just an accident of fate.  However, the benefit this gives me is that I find I can adapt to new geography, cultures and situations as quickly as I need to be able to contribute to businesses in the ever-changing landscape of my business life. I guess it has been a case of “adapt or die”, and being a born survivor I’ve chosen to adopt and adapt.

My musing led me to conclude that against the background of a dramatically changing business landscape, most of the old rules have been discarded and replaced, not by new rules, but by no rules at all.  Now, for a consultant that’s not all good news, because we tend to roll up to business problems armed with tried and tested processes and systems that we apply to arrive at solutions.  I make no bones about it.  I’ve done it myself and I’ve advised many of my marketing services clients to do the same.  “Invent a process …” I hear myself saying “… and lead with it as your point-of-difference”.  And its worked, spectacularly, many times.

However, as I said, the world has changed, there are no set problems anymore, and definitely no set answers.  The skill of a manager or consultant these days lies in their ability to tackle the unknown.  And that, my friends, is where I arrived with my self-discovery episode.  For a good while now, I have been tackling new, different and unexpected problems in the search for business growth for my clients, with both the infinite number of new, different and exciting tools that are emerging each day and also by inventing tools to answer specific problems.  That’s how business is now and I discovered that it’s what I have been good at all along.  Maybe my time has come?

To add fuel to that encouraging possibility I discovered that there’s a name for the ability to learn and invent on the run like this.  Professor Ronald Heifetz at Harvard calls it “adaptive intelligence”.  That, according to Heifetz is what facilitates “adaptive management”, which in turn is, apparently, the next big thing in management philosophies.

It makes sense, with the world spinning as fast as it is, with change a constant and the unexpected the norm, there’s no room for cookie-cutter business solutions.  You have to respond to unique situations as they happen.  Yes, it involves risk and yes, we’ll all have to get used to the idea of every successful solution being accompanied by a bunch of failures, but as the great Ralph Halphern once said to me “Its not about making the right choice every time, its about making more right choices than wrong ones” and in that respect the wisdom and experience that comes with age is definitely a trump card.  So I’m batting 1000!

I owe the inspiration for this post to Graeme Codrington at Tomorrow Today whose piece “Adaptive Leadership versus Authoritative Expertise” which he summarised in one of his many great little videos, started me thinking about this again.

Ballroom dancers

Posted: November 27, 2013
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Transforming brands – It’s a double-act

I think it’s fair to say that few people understand brands, but brands are what drive a business these days, they sit at the heart of a modern organisation providing both internal and external focus and driving efficiency.  Building a powerful brand community and leveraging it is a major undertaking.  It requires everyone in the organisation, without exception, to be involved and committed, but above all it demands disciplined and organised process.  So why aren’t transformation managers and brand builders a more common partnership?

Regardless of whether they recognise or leverage it, every business has a brand.  It’s an inevitable product of their words and actions and, even if they don’t recognise themselves in the mirror, its not going to change the fact that this is how the marketplace sees them and that’s what counts.  A key component of any brand is its “promise”.  This is the expectation that people have of it based on the evidence of those words and actions and that’s what drives business.

I run a programme for businesses called Brand Discovery.  It does what it says on the can – helps businesses discover their true self and pin-point their promise.  It’s a bit like holding that mirror in front of them and saying “Yes this is you”.  However it doesn’t stop there, Brand Discovery goes on to help them, leverage their brand, bringing it to life wherever it appears.

Think of your brand as your business’s personality.  In both BtoB and BtoC environments buyers make purchase decisions in the same way as they choose their friends.  If you think your purchase decisions are rational, think again.  However rational you think you are being a purchase is an emotional, primal, right-brain decision.  You buy something because it makes you feel good, its just that convention dictates that we use rational arguments to justify our choice, so we do.  We choose our brands because we feel we know and can trust them to behave in a way we can predict (We don’t want nasty surprises) and “trust” is the operative word.

Building trust takes time and the key to acquiring it is absolute consistency.  Everything you do and say has to be consistent, both with your brand promise and with your every other word and action.  Along with a host of other give-away personality traits, that means the quality, style, function and price of your products or services, the channels you distribute them through, the experience the customer has and the way you talk about what you do in your advertising and communications.

Once you buy into this concept you will appreciate how understanding their brand will often give an organisation an entirely different perspective on everyday functions and actions in every area of their business.  From product development to accounting practices, everything has some influence, direct or indirect, on the view the world outside your office building has of you and therefore on the success of your business.

The first stage of my Brand Discovery process produces a list of business processes to be brought into line with the brand promise.  We start making this list by asking key managers to name simple changes that they can make in everyday aspects of their job that will make their work more consistent.  Then it’s a case of making that happen.

Taking a new and more structured approach to brand can require an organisation to re-invent whole areas of their business.  It can rarely all be tackled at once of course, it takes time and it has to be choreographed and executed in an organised.

So many brand development programmes fizzle out after the initial euphoria of the self-discovery phase, mainly because the implementation demands skills that most businesses and even few brand consultants have.  I don’t hear brand developers talk much about transformation management, but it has an essential role in bringing a brand to life.  Like the Fred and Ginger of the business world, when the focus of a brand expert leads and a transformation manager struts his/her stuff the result can only be good for business – faster completion, no time-wasting and an overall more robust solution.