Focus on Performance

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Focus on PerformanceI’m going old-school with today’s message – it’s going to be direct, and to the point…focus on performance. One of my pet peeves is the voluminous amount of management speak and self-help propaganda currently in circulation designed to codify a lack of performance. I’m an individual that believes in clear and direct communication, so I’ll spare you the rhetoric and just do what I do best…cut to the chase. Put simply, the formula for success, what truly differentiates you, is that you either PERFORM or your don’t.

The text that follows is not going to nurture you, nor will it serve as a disingenuous pat on the back…I’m not going to tell you what a nice person you are, but I am going to ask you to lose the excuses, rationalizations, justifications, platitudes, theories, and spin and just get the job done. This message is about zeroing-in on the main difference between the impact players and the wannabes…its called delivering a certainty of execution. Don’t give me excuses…give me results.

See if this rings true…have you ever noticed that it seems to be those soothsayers who can wax eloquent in the planning stages, that always just seem to fall flat on their face when it comes to the implementation? Again, in an effort to keep it simple, don’t tell me; show me! A great strategy that cannot be executed is not a great strategy at all…it is a failed strategy. Let me put it this way…It’s pretty darn hard to look smart if you cannot deliver the goods. 

Think of any successful leader and you’ll find they consistently get the job done. They accomplish the mission; they find a way to win; they execute. Sadly, all it really takes to stand out in today’s business world is to follow through on your commitments. It doesn’t matter where you went to school, how smart you are, what your title is, or any number of other considerations…if you want to succeed, learn to honor your commitments and execute. 

The best advice I can give you is to immediately cease and desist from majoring in minors, learn to harness your passion, leverage your resources, be disciplined in your approach, and always focus on performance. Contrasted with an earlier statement above, it’s hard to appear as anything other than smart when you are a master of execution and performance. Few things speak to a leader’s ability like consistently putting points on the scoreboard…

How to Build a Brand

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

How to Build a BrandAssuming that you have deep pockets, a talented staff, and a lot of patience, growing a recognized brand isn’t difficult…spend heavily across all mediums with consistent, creative, on message advertising while simultaneously conducting aggressive public relations and social media campaigns. Avoid controversy, maintain a high likeability factor, consistently and proactively engage your customers, be a business of character that engenders trust and confidence with your target market(s), produce a quality product or service at a competitive price point, and provide great customer service. The preceding description paints the perfect illustration of why branding is one of my favorite topics…It is complex. Unless you are a very large enterprise it is unlikely that you have the time, money, staffing, or external professional relationships to execute a brand management strategy such as the one outlined above. In today’s post I’ll share 8 tips for common sense branding that entities of any size can put into practice…

So what’s the best way to build a brand if you’re not a Fortune 500 company? Be very, very smart. Unfortunately I’m not kidding - if your business isn’t one of the deep pocketed companies capable of executing a strategy like the one mentioned above, then you must understand how to cost effectively appropriate and deploy your resources & talent in a manner that still produces results. The simple truth of the matter is that building brand equity with limited resources is one of the most difficult things to accomplish in the business world.

The following 8 items constitute the basic tenants of branding, which if incorporated into your brand management strategy will help build a solid brand regardless of the size of your company or your ad budget:

1. Treat your brand as an asset not an afterthought: If building brand equity is not a key strategic focus for your executive team don’t be surprised if your brand remains in stealth mode. If branding is not someone’s full-time responsibility then your brand will suffer from the part-time results that the part-time efforts yield.

2. Keep your word: Living up to expectations (brand promise) is critical if you want to keep your brand from going into free-fall. If you can only do one thing is business, I would strongly suggest that it be to keep your commitments and honor your promises. In absence of any other action this will keep your brand on solid footing, and in combination with the other items mentioned here will propel your brand equity with maximum velocity. 

3. Never sacrifice quality: Your products, services, leadership, management, culture, customer service, communication, etc. must all reflect high standards of quality. Quality equals value in the eyes of the consumer, and as a result often corresponds into justifying price premiums.

4. Focus on the customer: Make sure you understand the needs and desires of you customers/clients and do everything possible to satisfy them. If customer centricity is nothing more than a buzzword, and not a core value reflected in your business practices, creating growth in brand equity will be a challenge. Put the customer first in all decisions and good things will happen.

5. Understand the competition: Creating competitive separation is a must. Without strong and clearly recognized competitive value propositions you will be forced into the commodity market of competing on price points alone.

6.  Broadcast vs. Social: It is also critical to understand the difference between broadcast and social media.  The world has changed, and if you haven’t adjusted your messaging, positioning, communications, and engagement strategies accordingly, your brand will suffer. If you don’t have a big advertising budget, and even if you do, social media provides a significant opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations and interactions with your customers that broadcast media simply cannot produce. If you don’t have the luxury of being able to spend across mediums, select the medium that will give the most frequency, reach, viral shelf-life & engagement and build from there. Put simply, if you’re going to spend your time and money do it where you get the biggest bang for the buck.

7. Be consistent: Consistency in all things throughout the value chain is critical. Continuity should flow from values to vision, mission to strategy, and objectives to tactics to process. Mixed messaging or practices has killed many a brand.

8. Innovate: Your brand will have at best a limited shelf life if a culture of innovation doesn’t pervade your business. Even category dominant brands can fall into rapid decline as obsolescence sets in. Don’t fall into the trap of resting on laurels and assuming that a great product or niche market will endure the test of time without constant attention to the shifting needs of a fluid marketplace.

Values Based Hiring

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Values Based HiringWhy play a game of chance when you don’t have to? I was casually reading the results of a survey on the topic of hiring methodologies last weekend when one particular survey question really caught my attention: “When considering a new hire, what is the one characteristic or attribute of the candidate that would most influence your hiring decision?” The “right” answer seemed quite obvious to me, but in reading the respondent’s (100 hiring managers, executives and HR types) answers I was truly amazed at what I saw…It is no wonder that companies struggle with talent management when they hire based on the “wrong” evaluation metrics. In today’s post I’ll share my observations and conclusions drawn from the information gleaned in reviewing the survey…

Let me start by sharing some of the representative answers (not mine) that were put forth in response to the survey question above:

  1. “Leadership ability”;
  2. “I would have to say being a good communicator”;
  3. “The ability to think outside the box and eagerness to learn”;
  4. “The ability to make a good first impression”;
  5. “Intelligence”;
  6. “Commitment to invest long hours”;
  7. “Being a team player”;
  8. “Excellent time management skills”;
  9. “Enthusiastic attitude”;
  10. “Strong analytical abilities”;
  11. “Solid technical skills”;
  12. “The ability to execute”;
  13. “The ability to follow process”
  14. “That the individual is a nice person”;
  15. “That they have a degree from a good school”;

Okay, I think you get the point by now…Again, keep in mind that these (along with the other answers posted) were given by senior managers and executives. Here is what I’d like you to consider…While the answers noted above all point to admirable traits, when you evaluate them based upon the context of the original question posed they are nothing short of mystifying…Out of 100 answers provided only two respondents answered with what I believe is the correct answer: “Integrity and Character.” You see, any of the traits identified in the 98 other answers absent character and integrity will eventually lead to some type of disconnect or debacle. Values based hiring increases performance, enhances collaboration, reduces turnover, increases morale, and creates a stable culture. The fact that character and integrity showed as poorly as they did in the survey, is proof positive for why the corporate workplace struggles with talent management.

What should be jumping off the page here is that based upon the above referenced survey only two percent of the companies surveyed appear to utilize a value based hiring methodology.  Moreover, one might conclude that 98% of these companies have the wrong people doing the hiring. I strongly suggest that whomever is doing the hiring within your organization utilize a values based recruiting model. This doesn’t just mean hire a top producer, or the candidate who graduated from the best business school, but rather hire a quality individual that is a person of integrity & character, whose values are in alignment with the organizations core values, and who also happens to be talented. 

The simple truth of the matter is that you can have your cake and it eat too if you’re willing to hold-out for the right person. It simply isn’t necessary to compromise on core values to get talent. A new hire should desire to be part of your company for more than the ability to maximize immediate earning potential…they should be interested in your company because there is a sincere alignment of values and vision.

Don’t be quick to hire based upon gut feel, but rather take time in the interviewing process to let the prospective new hire get a feel for your culture and your company. Never oversell the company, but rather disclose all the problems and weaknesses of the organization so that the candidate can make a good decision that won’t later be unwound by inconsistent messaging or practices. Above all, don’t be seduced by qualities that while they may be attractive on the surface, won’t ever make-up for a lack of character and integrity.

Critical Analysis

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Critical ThinkingCritical thinking skills are not a luxury for senior executives – they’re a survival skill. In today’s hi-tech business world we have become reliant on any number of available business tools to help us achieve better results and to perform at higher levels. We attend classes, workshops, webcasts, conferences etc., and we read books on how to master everything from the newest software application to the latest management theory. We seem to have an insatiable thirst for anything that will provide us with a perceived competitive advantage, yet we often ignore the one tool which can provide an unequaled return on investment if developed to even a fraction of its potential…the human mind. In today’s post I’ll examine the virtually unlimited benefits of becoming a better critical thinker. 

Most professionals intellectually understand that learning is a life-long endeavor, but the reality is that many executives and entrepreneurs invest very little in the development of the human mind once they have finished their formal education. Given that the human mind is without question the greatest and most powerful tool we possess, and that we all have free and equal access to it, I find it odd that it is also the most underdeveloped tool for many professionals. It has been my experience that business people tend to overestimate their intellectual ability, and as a result, they often fail to make investments in endeavors of intellectual development.

Developing sound critical thinking skills are a requirement for CEOs and entrepreneurs. Being both quick of mind, and intelligent in approach to your mental analyses of a given situation simply results in fewer mistakes in judgment. The external perception with regard to a person who possesses excellent critical thinking skills is often that they have great wisdom and discernment. Critical thinking skills while related to intelligence, are not one in the same. A great critical thinker may or may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but they will have a disciplined, fluid approach in thinking things through that often gives them the appearance of being a genius. Strong mental acuity is a competitive advantage not to be taken lightly.

Paul, Binker, Jensen, and Kreklau (1990) developed a list of 35 dimensions of critical thought. While the following list can get a bit academic, if implemented consistently, these tactics will help you better navigate the complexities of the business world:

Affective Strategies

  1. thinking independently
  2. developing insight into egocentricity or sociocentricity
  3. exercising fair-mindedness
  4. exploring thoughts underlying feelings and feelings underlying thoughts
  5. developing intellectual humility and suspending judgment
  6. developing intellectual courage
  7. developing intellectual good faith or integrity
  8. developing intellectual perseverance 
  9. developing confidence in reason

Cognitive Strategies–Macro-Abilities

 10.  refining generalizations and avoiding oversimplifications
 11.  comparing analogous situations: transferring insights to new contexts
 12.  developing one’s perspective: creating or exploring beliefs, arguments, or theories
 13.  clarifying issues, conclusions, or beliefs
 14.  clarifying and analyzing the meanings of words or phrases
 15.  developing criteria for evaluation: clarifying values and standards
 16.  evaluating the credibility of sources of information
 17.  questioning deeply: raising and pursuing root or significant questions
 18.  analyzing or evaluating arguments, interpretations, beliefs, or theories
 19.  generating or assessing solutions
 20.  analyzing or evaluating actions or policies
 21.  reading critically: clarifying or critiquing texts
 22.  listening critically: the art of silent dialogue
 23.  making interdisciplinary connections
 24.  practicing Socratic discussion: clarifying and questioning beliefs, theories, or perspectives
 25.  reasoning dialogically: comparing perspectives, interpretations, or theories
 26.  reasoning dialectically: evaluating perspectives, interpretations, or theories

Cognitive Strategies–Micro-Skills

 27.  comparing and contrasting ideals with actual practice
 28.  thinking precisely about thinking: using critical vocabulary
 29.  noting significant similarities and differences
 30.  examining or evaluating assumptions
 31.  distinguishing relevant from irrelevant facts
 32.  making plausible inferences, predictions, or interpretations
 33.  evaluating evidence and alleged facts
 34.  recognizing contradictions
 35.  exploring implications and consequences”

If you want to do everything possible to ensure your success as a C-level executive or entrepreneur, don’t rest upon your laurels, but rather continue to make investments in your personal and professional development. Good luck and good thinking…

Design Matters

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Design MattersSo, does design really matter? Let me make my position very clear…design absolutely matters. Whether it is aesthetic, functional, creative, process, innovative, intellectual, technical or applicational…design matters. While I have heard many a professional downplay the value of design, it has been my experience that most business people who espouse this opinion are commenting on something outside of their domain expertise in an attempt to justify a competing agenda or a position of ignorance. While this position may seem a bit harsh, it is nonetheless true. In today’s blog post I’ll examine why design matters.

What do you think when you experience poor design in your life? Are you likely to adopt a new software application that is poorly designed? When you are handed a business card that was printed at Kinko’s are you impressed? Are you likely to read a piece of collateral material that is poorly designed? If a newly implemented business process has design flaws, will employees follow the process or circumvent it? Is poorly designed consumer packaging likely to attract your attention as you walk down the shopping aisle? When it’s time to purchase your next automobile would you give serious consideration to a poorly designed vehicle? I could go on ad nauseum with similar questions, but my guess is that you get my point…

Now let’s examine the flip-side of the coin by looking at the positives associated with strong design. When you think of Apple you immediate think of a company that has built a strong brand around quality design. It started with the Mac, then came the iPod, next came the iPhone and now we’re experiencing the impact of the iPad. The iPod pioneered innovative design in the mp3 player vertical with great technical design, outstanding functional design, and is in a class by itself with regard to aesthetic design. Largely due to the iPod’s strong integrated design qualities it is the dominant brand in its class, commands a pricing premium, and has developed an extremely loyal and satisfied customer base. 

When you’re evaluating vendors online, and you land on a poorly designed website, how long does it take you to click away from the poorly designed site in search of a better option? You can review virtually any industry, sector, vertical, or micro-vertical and when you examine the dominant brands you’ll find quality design at their core. While there are exceptions to every rule, they are few and far between when it comes to design. If you try hard enough you can find an aberration in just about any rule, but in the case of design it will simply be just that…an aberration.

Also worth noting is that there is certainly a difference between value engineering and arbitrary cost containment. The next time you hear someone question an investment into design solely for the purpose of reducing expenditures, I would suggest that you think long and hard before doing so as few things in business produce the return on investment that a reputation for quality design can yield.

If you’re a leader, don’t dismiss design as elemental or insignificant. Design will impact your messaging, positioning, business modeling, team building, resourcing, branding, and virtually every functional aspect of what you do. Make sure that everyone within your organization pays attention to design aspects relevant to their roles and responsibilities – make attention to design part of your culture.

Think about the marketing and advertising campaigns that get your attention, the clothes you wear, the house you live in, the cars you drive, the cell phone you carry, or any number of other decisions you make and you’ll find that design plays a key role in your decisioning…Design Matters!