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Small Changes, Big Innovation

Have you ever heard the phrase “Innovate, or go home”? It suggests, that in business, the only way to stay on top of your game is to be innovative. Many people don’t think they are innovative and worry that their ideas aren’t new enough, original enough or different enough.

What they fail to consider is that adaptation can be an innovation in and of itself.

In this week’s column in SmartCEO, I examine this subject in more detail and provide a couple innovative ideas of my own. Here’s a sneak peak:

Innovation isn’t just for tech geniuses and artists. One of the most important lessons every business leader learns is that the price of success is the ability and willingness to adapt — and that adaptability can be an innovation in and of itself. Regardless of size, success, industry or geographic location, that kind of innovation is an option for every business. It’s a differentiator — a factor that separates your company from your competitors in ways that generate success — and it’s possible in everything your business does.

Read the whole column.

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Celebrate Washington’s Birthday With Lessons From His Leadership

George Washington’s Birthday is a big deal at Washington College in Chestertown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It’s the only college or university bearing his name to which he actually donated money to its founding. Below is a newsletter rom the college that cites its president’s article in Forbes magazine about what we can learn about leadership from the Father of our country.

How do ideas of leadership today compare with the self-educated and self-made Washington?

Forbes invited Washington College President Mitchell Reiss to explore this question. He sought the opinions of leading historians and political and business leaders about the lasting legacy and virtues of the most famous of the founding fathers.

Read it here.

And please consider sharing it with friends and family. The need for strong and effective leadership has never been greater.

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Do You Take Your Own Advice / Use Your Own Products ?

We have all heard of “The Shoemaker’s Child” syndrome: the story from which the reference comes tells of a town many years ago where everyone had shoes except the children of the town’s only shoemaker.

If you are in the services business, does your business use the services your company provides? Does it follow the advice that you give your clients? Of course there are situations where the advice and services may not be practical or relevant.

What if you make tangible things? If possible, are they in use in your company? Or, do your employees buy and use them. We all bristle when someone tells us to do something that they do not do themselves. Why would you want to be found out not using your services or products?

In fact, being a fan of what you provide to others can be compelling and even contagious. Telling stories about successful use of services and products helps to sell them. There is no reason why some of the stories can’t be about your company or its people. Social Toaster- (http://www.socialtoaster.com/) a service that, among other tasks, enables company employees to post “fan mail” about their company and what it offers to their own social media networks-is used by companies who want to enlist staffers and other fans in spreading the good word.

This is an example of actively fighting the Shoemaker’s Child Syndrome.

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“Start, Stop, Keep” Is Always A Good Exercise

With the first month of 2014 now in the books, there is still time to polish up your plans for the year by completing a proven exercise and revisiting it as the year progresses. You can apply the exercise to yourself personally and to your organization, by units and as a whole. You make a list of tasks under three headings: Start: what new things are you going to start doing to move towards the goals you have set; Stop: what current and past things are you going to stop doing because they do not move you towards your goals; and, Keep: what things are you going to keep doing because they work with the new things to reach those goals.

The exercise is not as easy as it looks. Rarely do we love and embrace change. New things to be done can be daunting and disruptive. Letting go of what we have always done and how we have done it is often unpleasant. Perhaps the part that appears the easiest is to keep doing certain tasks. But, do they need to be done in the same way? Can they be done in the same way if they need to be coordinated with new ones? The other hard part is to follow the principles of brainstorming and to list as many things as possible under each heading in as much detail as possible without eliminating tasks until you have the whole body of them assembled.

And, avoid the “entrepreneur’s curse” of believing you are 100% responsible for everything. Your responsibility as the leader is to commission and even facilitate this process and then make then make the tough final decisions on implementation. Rely on the people in the organization you have built to develop the details and assume the appropriate level of responsibility for implementation of their tasks.

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What Will Make Your Company Different From Its Competitors This Year?

Every company, regardless of its size or industry, has the opportunity the make itself consciously different from its competitors. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it is difficult and frustrating. The biggest problem is to avoid proclaiming your differences in terms of things that are important to you-you are “convenient,” your widget is better, you work harder, etc. Success can come from those things but only if they are important to your customers and prospects. So here is an exercise you can utilize to develop differentiation strategies and messages that resonate positively with the people with whom you want to do business. The exercise can also get your employees on board with how the company they work for is different and better than the competition.

Start with listing the things you think make your company different and keep it private for now. Then ask your employees why they think the company is different from its competitors. Depending on how many employees you ask, you will have to analyze the patterns in their responses and boil them down into a shorter list. Keep that list private for now. Finally, ask the customers that best represent the people or companies you want to do business with why they think your company is different and better.

There are two keys to this step: First, ask open-ended questions that require responses beyond “yes” or “no.” This will reduce the chances that you will bias the answers towards your own ideas. Second, pay close attention to the language and terms that they use, because they will be key to developing the messages you put out to attract others through advertising, search engine optimization and social medial strategies. This step will be a large effort in analysis and pattern recognition.

When you have the results of all three steps, compare your list, the employee list and the customer list for similarities and differences. The customer list will determine your external messaging. The differences between the customer list and the internal lists will guide employee training and reinforcement.