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!

Customer Experience Management

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Customer ExperienceYou can either create great customer experiences and leverage the benefits thereof, or you can watch poor customer experiences erode your revenue, profits and ultimately your brand equity. I was recently asked the following question: “What is the difference between CRM and CEM, or is there any difference between the two?” In a previous post I addressed the practice of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) in fairly great detail. As most of you know I am a huge fan of well conceived CRM initiatives. That said, I have rarely witnessed CRM implemented to its full potential. Most companies can claim an element of success in some aspect of CRM proficiency such as sales force automation, database marketing, development of a knowledgebase, etc., but the reality is that most companies absolutely miss the boat in harnessing the true power of CRM which is improving the customer experience. In today’s post I’ll address a key metric that all companies should be focused on – Customer Experience Management (CEM)… 

Before I go any further let’s get the semantical arguments out of the way…Some will claim that a well conceived CRM initiative includes CEM as a subset. Others will claim that CEM is a stand alone practice differing measurably from CRM, and I actually believe that CEM should drive CRM functions such that CRM is actually a subset of CEM. I believe it is the experience (or promise thereof) that creates and sustains a relationship. The initial concept behind CRM was to integrate experience with management, which was a great idea, but in all practicality, rarely exists in most companies. Oddly enough, I have found that most business people use CRM and CEM inconsistently or worse yet interchangeably…a very big and very costly mistake.

Now that you’re totally confused, let me see if I can clear things up a bit…My belief is that experience has been unknowingly, but nonetheless systematically bled out of CRM over the years by operationally focused “bean counter” types who tend to focus on measuring incomplete and certainly less meaningful data points to begin with (see previous post entitled “Measuring Success“). The focus of these short-sighted bean counters incorrectly place cost savings ahead of the customer experience. In short, most CRM practitioners have traditionally assumed an internal (inside-out), operationally centric approach to customer management and strategy. CRM purists (those who really get it) or CEM practitioners differentiate themselves by assuming an external (outside-in) approach that focuses on customer centricity.

While many companies tout their CRM initiatives, and pride themselves as being customer centric, the reality is their efforts are woefully inadequate. This is because most CRM platforms measure customer interactions solely upon product purchase history and preferences. As should be obvious, this set of metrics is biased not only to product centric data, but also toward historical data, and does not take into account experience or forward looking trends & preferences. CEM focused platforms measure experience data not just product data and focus much of the efforting on forward looking analytics. Misguided CRM practitioners focus on selling more product while true customer centrists who display a bias toward CEM focus on closing the gap between a company’s brand promise and the delivered customer experience.

Just as a mountain climber can choose different routes to the summit, companies can likewise choose different approaches and focus points in how they manage the customer relationship and experience. However as the mountaineer’s choice can influence time, degree of difficulty and the eventual success or failure of the climb, so will a company’s choice between a historical product based platform (CRM) vs. a forward looking experience based platform influence their degree of success or failure.

Oh, and by the way…if you’re a CEO you better have a very clear understanding of what your customers are experiencing at every level of interaction across your enterprise. Great CEOs personally experience their business as a consistent consumer of its services. Richard Branson is a frequent passenger on Virgin flights. Howard Schultz is known to show-up at various Starbucks locations and stand in line to order a coffee to measure the quality of his experience.  Jeff Bezos spends great amounts of time on the Amazon.com website attempting to improve the customer experience, and the list could go on…

In closing, let me leave you with this final example; think of the best restaurant you’ve ever experienced…Chances are it was a restaurant where the owner was present and highly involved in every aspect of the dining experience. Every thing from the first impression when entering the establishment, to the quality of service, to the detail of the ambiance and atmosphere provided, and finally to the presentation and taste of the meal was excellent. This was no accident…it took hard work, careful planning, and extreme attention to detail with a focus on execution…This example is exactly how a great customer experience is created.

Business Model Architecture

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Business Model Architecture
I never cease to be amazed at how many times I receive a “deer in the headlights” stare when I mention the topic of business model architecture to even the savviest of senior executives. While most C-level execs have a general idea of what I’m referring to, it is also quite clear that most can’t even begin to define it, much less articulate the specific constructs of a sound business model. In today’s post I’ll attempt to define what a business model is, and what it is not…

If I decide to peel back the layers, and dig a bit deeper in my attempts at having execs define a business model, what I typically find is that they will confuse business logic and business rules as being a business model when they are simply components thereof. Also, a common response is to confuse a sales engine, fulfillment process, operational process, technology platform, or any number of other areas as business models, where this is not the case. Furthermore, a business plan, strategic plan, marketing plan, capital formation plan, exit plan, etc., are also not business models. My observations over the years simply lead me to draw no other conclusion than there exists a fundamental misunderstanding about what a business model is, about the value they afford, and about the absolute need to have one.

So, since we’ve discussed what a business model is not, let’s now address what it is…A business model is a completely integrated system that aligns core logic, business rules, value propositions, talent and resources, and operational processes in order to catalyze growth in assets (financial and non-financial), competencies, and constituencies, toward the creation of value. Business models must be designed with great care at the outset, but they must also be fluid in order to react to changing market conditions and avoid becoming stagnant. A specific example of this would be that while a company’s business plan may not change for a number of years, the company’s business model consistently evolve, or may even need to be reengineered to insure the execution of its business plan.

Put rather simplistically, a business model is the system that defines what creates value, generates growth, and increases revenue and profit within your organization. The primary advantage that a business model has over any number of other strategic frameworks lies in the fluidity of its inherently dynamic nature. Rather than binding the enterprise to a rigid set of static operating principles and procedures, the elasticity and flexibility of a well defined business model allows the organization to influence necessary inflection points and key business drivers in a real-time manner.

The bottom line in regard to today’s thoughts on business modeling can be summed up in the following three points: 1.) if you cannot define your business model, then you likely don’t have one. 2.) if you don’t have one, create one, and; 3.) if you have one and it isn’t working, you have a flawed business model in need of immediate reengineering.

Play To Win

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Playing to Win
Today’s message is not likely to please the politically correct, nor will it mollycoddle the timid. I’m not going to address competing or playing nicely, rather I’m going to deal very bluntly with the topic of winning. Want to succeed? It’s easier than you might think…just don’t quit. Strip away the excuses, rationalizations, and justifications, and the only thing standing between you and the attainment of your objectives is what you see staring back at you when you look in the mirror each morning. In today’s post I’ll examine the benefits of playing to win…

How quickly time passes…in only a matter of a few weeks we’ll close out the first 3 months of 2010. So I have a few questions for you: Are you on pace to meet your objectives? Will you be carrying positive momentum into Q2, or will you be playing catch-up from the get go? If you think Q1 passed quickly, it won’t be long before you’re feeling the same way about Q2. Did you just show up the last few months, or did you play to win?

I’m a big fan of the Die Hard movies, and the one thing you have to admire about the main character, detective John McClain (played by Bruce Willis), is that regardless of the obstacles he encounters, he just won’t quit. Granted, the aforementioned example of determination against all odds comes from a fictional character, but the fact of the matter is that successful people play to win. They don’t indulge themselves in half-hearted attempts destined for failure, rather they choose to focus all their efforts and energies on accomplishing their mission. 

My first football coach used to say: “Don’t even bother showing up if you’re not going to play to win…” Mind you I tend to be a bit competitive, but even so, that phrase has stuck with me my entire life. I don’t often bother with taking on an endeavor unless I plan to accomplish the task at hand, and that means not quitting until I meet the objective. It is that “refuse to lose” and “never say die” attitude that I picked-up on the playing field, and had further reinforced during my time in the military that provides me with a competitive advantage.

I have found that dedication, determination, attention to detail, commitment, and focus are the traits that have been most valuable to me throughout the years, and are therefore the strengths that I tend to play to. The good news is this…if you examine the aforementioned traits you’ll quickly see that I possess no special skill, and I have no secret tricks up my sleeve. Rather the things that have allowed me to serve my clients well, are things that anyone can harness and leverage if they possess one thing…the desire to do so.

I could certainly paint a more complex picture of what it takes to be successful by citing esoteric management theories, but the truth of the matter is that I just don’t quit until I get the job done. I don’t spend my time complaining about the challenges and obstacles, rather I spend my time solving problems and creating solutions. If my objective is to get to the other side of the wall, I don’t really care if I go over the wall, under the wall, around the wall or through the wall…I just care that I get to the other side. While I might spend a bit of time evaluating the most efficient strategy for getting to the other side of said wall, it will ultimately be my focus on the tactical execution of conquering the challenge that will determine my success. A bias toward action is always a better path than falling prey to analysis paralysis.

I once played an entire half of a football game with a broken ankle, early on in my first entrepreneurial venture I found myself at a critical nexus and chose to liquidate personal assets to meet payroll, I’ve gone as many as 4 days in a row without sleeping to stay the course and solve a critical issue, I’ve led teams to achieve things that others said couldn’t be accomplished, I’ve kept my family a priority being happily married for more than 25 years and having raised two wonderful children, and the list could go on…My point in describing these actions is not to pat myself on the back for anyone could have done these things, but the reality is that most people don’t. They choose to accept defeat…they don’t play to win…They aren’t willing to do what it takes to be successful…They quit. 

Quitting is a temptation that all of us are consistently confronted with. The reason that so many people become a casualty of giving up, is because they can. Put simply, quitting is one of the easiest things to do in life. If you take your eye off the ball, even if only momentarily, that’s all it takes for most people to throw in the towel is a tinge of anger, humiliation, panic, rejection, stress, frustration, hurt, pain, jealousy, sorrow or anguish. Look back on your live, or the lives of others, and you’ll find numerous instances of people who took the easy way out and just quit.

Upon further examination, you’ll also find that the people who have succeeded in life are those people who displayed the grit and fortitude to stay the course. They are the ones who possess the desire and will to overcome whatever challenges and barriers that happen to be placed in their path.

My message to you as we enter Q2 is simply this: Play to win…Don’t compromise your values, define your vision, refine your mission, architect your strategy, identify your objectives, set your goals, implement your tactics and engage in willful, purposeful action. Stay focused and do not quit until you’ve met your objectives…

In Support of Strategy

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

In Support of Strategy
What’s with all the “strategy bashing” of late? How could sound strategic planning possibly be a bad thing? Things have spun so far out of control that I recently had a CEO ask: “Is strategy still relevant in today’s business world, and if so, what role does strategy play in the overall make-up of a CEO’s duties and responsibilities? Let me begin by stating that strategy has never been more relevant than it is today. With all of the current emphasis on tactical execution I guess I understand how a question like this could be posed, but wow, what a sad commentary on the state of executive leadership when a CEO asks whether or not strategy is relevant. In today’s post I’ll examine the role of strategy in business, as well as the CEO’s responsibilities therein…

Let me be as blunt as I can – The issue should not be strategy vs tactics, but strategy and tactics. While separate functions and disciplines, one cannot prosper without the other. Strategy is what provides the tactical road-map, and it is tactical execution that validates and delivers strategy. The noise attempting to lift one up above the other is simply more unneeded rhetoric. The best strategy cannot succeed without tactical execution, and tactical execution is much easier to achieve with the clarity provided by a sound strategy.

With all of today’s emphasis on pleasing investors by meeting short-term financial expectations, it is not at all uncommon for many executives to press for better execution when what they really need is a better strategy. Conversely, other executives change strategic direction when what they should do is demand better execution. The truth of the matter is that a sound strategic plan can be executed with a high probability of success, whereas a flawed strategy is almost impossible to execute profitably.

The emphasis for CEOs needs to be on creating long-term sustainable value for shareholders without sacrificing short-term tactical interests. While in most cases a sound strategy will allow a CEO to have his/her cake and eat it too, if you must sacrifice one over the other, you would be well served to place long-term interests above short-term objectives. History has shown us on many occasions that it is quite possible to win the battle and lose the war. CEOs must learn to fight the battles that need to be won, and not just the ones that are easy to win.

Please read the following statements very carefully…The CEO is often times the chief architect of corporate strategy, and has the ultimate responsibility for assuring the delivery of a strategy, which is consistent with the corporate values and vision. One of the primary duties of the CEO is to communicate, evangelize, and lead the company in the implementation of the corporate strategy. Absent an over abundance of blind luck, a company’s strategic planning process will be critical in the eventual success or failure of the enterprise. CEOs must view themselves as being completely accountable and responsible for the corporate strategy, regardless of whether they were the original architect.

While executives must learn to view strategy and execution as being inextricably linked, they also must come to understand that strategy should always drive tactics. The tendency for some CEOs to let tactics determine the strategy is the classic example of reactive vs. proactive leadership. It also represents a great illustration of letting the tail wag the dog. A lack of strategic focus in dictating tactical initiatives is a ready-fire-aim approach to leadership and will result in higher costs, a perpetual state of chaos, and places a higher emphasis on activity vs. productivity.

There is so much focus on execution these days that it is not uncommon for me to receive a few e-mails each week with headlines that read: “Screw Strategy” or “Tactics before Strategy.” While I’m all for exploiting trends, and I appreciate a good marketing hook as much as the next person, these e-mails from so-called business experts can be both misleading and dangerous to those readers who don’t possess the savvy to understand that they are just being pitched on a product and not being given sound counsel.

As much as some of my direct marketing friends wish it weren’t so, there are certain inevitable truths that do exist in business. Listen, I have no problem with creating velocity and leverage, but as fluid as business is today, most of the “short-cuts to success” being marketed today constitute form over substance. You see business is much like an algebraic formula, in that while there are certainly formulaic short-cuts that can be taken to solve an equation more quickly, the one thing that will provide an incorrect solution 11 times out of 10 is when the order of operation is skewed.

The following visual is one I developed more than 20 years ago, and the interesting thing is that it’s applicationally as sound today as it was back in 1988. The orange horizontal line that cuts the image in half is what I refer to as the leadership line. When working above the leadership line you are working “on the business in a true leadership capacity, and when working below the line you are working “in” the business in more of a management capacity.  While all good leaders spend time on both sides of the line, the most effective leaders spend as much time working above the line as possible. Follow this methodology and the ambiguity surrounding the “why” and “where” to spend your time will start to clear itself up. 

Leading Above The Line

For those of you familiar with my work, you’ll see that I have consistently espoused that a bias toward action and tactical precision are essential to achieving sustainable success. However, I am also clear in my belief that misguided and ill-timed/advised tactics can also create huge problems for any business. The bottom line is that strategy matters, and that as a CEO, strategy is your responsibility. The challenges associated with leading corporate strategy initiatives are not easy, but neither is the burden of leadership. If you’re not up to task at hand you don’t deserve the title of CEO…it is harsh but true.

Social Media Expert or Wannabe

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Social Media Expert or WannabeDetermining whether someone is a social media expert or a just another wannabe can be a difficult task for the typical consumer. There is a tremendous amount of noise out there being created by a plethora of “consultants” professing expertise in what I refer to as the new social sciences: personal branding, social networking, social media marketing, etc. I just did a Google search for the term social media expert and had more than 96 million returned search results…give me a break. So my question is this: what constitutes a “social media expert,” and how do you tell the posers from the players? Which of these professed miracle workers are true professionals, and which ones are simply attempting to gravy-train a rapidly growing market niche in pursuit of a quick buck?

Let me begin by dispelling a popular myth oft espoused online – It seems to be fashionable of late to state that there is no such thing as a social media expert. The thinking (albeit flawed thinking) of those who hold this opinion is that social media is so new, and so rapidly evolving, that there simply could not be any real experts.

My answer? Ridiculous…Every industry has experts regardless of maturity of life-cycle. In fact, many of the real innovators and experts are those early adopters doing the heavy lifting and the ground breaking. There are experts in every industry and at every stage of maturation. Some early experts mature as the industry grows, and others fall by the way side because they don’t keep pace giving way to new generations of innovators building on what the first generation of experts created. The issue is not whether experts exist, as they most certainly do. The issue is finding them among the hordes of pretenders and wannabes.   

I’m going to cut right to the chase and give you six things to beware of when attempting to discern the true professional advisers capable of delivering a certainty of execution, from the rogues and scoundrels simply looking to separate you from your money:

  1. Beware the Part-Time Expert: My father has an old saying that I’ve found to be very accurate over the years: “part-time efforts, yield part-time results.” If the person seeking your business has a day job that constitutes something other than the services he or she is pitching, run for the hills. If your potential advisor is moonlighting then they really have no business asking for your business.
  2. Beware the Shoemaker without Shoes: Your position should be one of “don’t tell me…show me.” If your would-be social media guru cannot be found online, doesn’t blog, tweet, or is invisible on the major social networking platforms you might want to rethink their qualifications. Important Caveat: the mere existence of a blog, YouTube channel, LinkedIn profile, Facebook account, or a Twitter page doesn’t guarantee competence…any idiot can amass thousands of followers on Twitter just by following everybody and their brother, so look for someone who has amassed a quality list of followers, who has more people following them than they follow, and who actively engages with their followers.
  3. Beware the Expert without Clients: No referenceable clients equals zero credibility. It’s one thing to show you their own work, but quite another to show you demonstrated success on behalf of paying and satisfied clients.
  4. Beware the Expert without Industry Recognition: If your so called expert isn’t referenced as such by credible, independent third parties, isn’t published, doesn’t speak, lecture or teach, doesn’t have a column, hasn’t won any awards, etc., then they might not be a true expert.
  5. Beware the Expert too Aggressive in their Pursuit: There is a big difference between professional follow-up and desperation. Let me be blunt…most professionals at the top of their game haven’t made a cold call in years. In fact, even in this down economy they typically have more business than they know what to do with. If your world-beater of a consultant is chasing you down like a hungry dog after the meat wagon then you may want to take pause.
  6. Beware of Bargain Basement Expertise: In most cases the reality is that you get what you pay for…True expertise doesn’t come cheaply, but is well worth the investment. Few things in business will get you in as much trouble as not getting advice and counsel when needed, or worse yet, getting poor quality or incorrect advice. I would much rather pay an expert a larger fee for 30 minutes of their time and get what I need rather than pay someone $50 dollars an hour who is hoping to fake it until they can make it…Questionable advisors will take much longer to get from point a to point b (if they get there at all), and will likely cost you more money at the end of the day when contrasted with true professionals.  

If you need help in integrating social media into your business I would recommend the following individuals (some you may know and some you may not) as they all pass the litmus test mentioned above. Those listed below are in no particular order of preference and you can rest assured they are not “info-product” sales people masquerading as social media professionals, but they are in fact the true subject matter experts who can get the job done:

  • Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan): Chris is smart, approachable, innovative, has a high degree of integrity, probably the hardest working man on the planet, and a heck of a nice guy. I’ve enjoyed every interaction I’ve had with Chris, and he has earned my trust and respect.  
  • Mack Collier (@MackCollier): I don’t know Mack personally, but have enjoyed reading his candid and ever straight foward opinions online.  Mack is well respected and his the loyalty of his followers more than speak to his capabilities.
  • Lee Odden (@LeeOdden) I’ve known Lee for several years (before he was rich and famous). In fact, in a prior life as a corporate executive Lee was the consultant I chose to place on retainer. He is smart, seasoned and delivers on his promises. 
  • Amy Martin (@DigitalRoyalty) I guess the moniker Digital Royalty says it all…Amy represents some of the biggest names and fastest growning brands online. Nothing bodes as well for an agency as success, and Amy has plenty of pedigree in that department.  
  • Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) Ashton combines his celebrity status, a fascination with social media, and a disarming and ever inquistive intellect to head one of the fastest growing social media agencies on the web.   
  • Liz Strauss (@lizstrauss) – Liz is well known for her approachability, friendliness and candor. She also happens to be one of the savviest bloggers and social media consultants online.
  • And if you’re slumming:), feel free to check out our social media practice or ping me @mikemyatt – nuff said…

Related Post: “How to Select a Professional Advisor

Change at N2growth

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth
change
While all of you were enjoying your weekend, watching the Super Bowl or otherwise recreating in leisure, the N2growth team was hard at work launching our new website and blog. We’ve blended some of the old with some of the new to create the next step forward in the N2growth brand evolution. We invite you to look around (please let us know if you find any bugs) and we welcome your feedback. We hope you find our efforts more pleasing to the eye, easier to navigate, but most of all, we hope it encourages more dialogue and conversation. We look forward to your comments, tweets and emails. Thanks for your patience during this transition.

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