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    Entries in strategy (28)

    Monday
    Dec052016

    Signs of the Corporate Death Spiral #4 - Competing like it's 2005

    While I was busy over the weekend watching my beloved Knicks researching some blog posts, I caught a TV spot from the wireless company Sprint, which features an actor who became pretty well known several years ago as the 'Can you hear me know?' guy from a series of spots for Sprint's arch-enemy Verizon Wireless.

    If you don't recall the once ubiquitous Verizon ads take a look at an example below, (email and RSS subscribers click through)

    These Verizon ads ran constantly back in the early aughts, as Verizon (and its competitors in the wireless market), were all feverishly building out their networks, trying to expand coverage to more places, and importantly, working hard to improve sound/voice quality for calls and reduce dropped calls. I would guess most readers are old enough to recall when every second or third cell phone conversation would be barely audible, if it wasn't cut off completely (and randomly). And back in 2004 or 2005, a cell phone (and network), that could not be counted on to reliably carry good quality voice calls was, well, pretty much worthless. Yes it's true, in 2004 you used your cell phone mostly to talk to other people. 

    So let's jump back to 2016 and think about what Sprint is trying to do with their messaging and spots starring the actor formerly known as the Verizon 'Can you hear me know?' guy? On the surface Sprint is trying to poke the bear (Verizon), with these spots, showcasing (in case we are all dumb enough not to realize this guy is an actor, and not a real customer), how Verizon's most famous advocate has now defected over to Sprint. In the Sprint spots the reason given for 'Can you hear me know's?' defection has something to do with overall network comparability and equivalency between Sprint and Verizon, coupled with Sprint's claim that its plans are less expensive than comparable Verizon plans.

    Or something like that. Who knows for sure because once the 'Can you hear me know guy?' starts talking, (and immediately reminds us that he is in fact the 'Can you hear me know?' guy), that is pretty much all I can focus on. Can you hear me know? Can you hear me know?  Blah, blah, blah and suddenly we are back in 2005. Back when dropped calls, heck when making calls was a big deal.

    Now? Not so much. A couple of years ago when my son wanted to get his first phone I was surprised by the request and asked him why he needed a cell phone because I wondered who was he planning to call?

    He replied, and he was maybe 12 at the time, that I was being silly because 'Cell phones aren't for talking to people, they are for watching videos, playing games, and getting on the internet.'

    And he was/is right. That is (mostly) what cell phones are for today. And that is why Sprint, who in 2016, running ads that like it or not, make us think about what used to be important, (dropped calls, bad call connections), is missing the entire point. What matters now is the device itself, its capabilities, the apps, the camera, etc. And oh yeah, once a day or so when we make a call we want it to go through, but who worries about that any more?

    Sprint in 2016, is still in a way, probably non-intentionally I grant, trying to compete with Verizon by harkening back to what used to matter about a decade in the past. And by that, they are missing the point completely. 

    Or they are making another point entirely. Which is, we are pretty much out of ideas. But at least we are now ready to compete with Verizon in 2005. We even got the Verizon guy from 2005 on our team. As if that matters.

    Have a great week!

    Monday
    Jul112016

    Is it a great company culture or just a collection of great talent?

    Lots and lots of folks like to push 'culture' as the primary driver of organizational success. I have written and presented pretty extensively on why I think that's wrong. Check any of my 'Rock-Paper-Scissors' posts in case you are interested.

    One of the many reasons I get a little skeptical about this 'cult of culture' is that by its very nature culture is hard to define, to measure, and hard to draw any kind of a direct (or even a dotted) line from culture to actual results. I'm not saying it's impossible, but just really, really, tough.

    But another reason why culture gets too much emphasis is how easy it can be to confuse a great culture with what is really just a collection of great talent. This challenge was discussed, I think very effectively, on of all things an NBA podcast I was listening to recently, by ESPN writer Kevin Arnovitz on the July 6 episode of The Lowe Post Podcast.  Lowe and Arnovitz were discussing the recent decision by NBA star Kevin Durant to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder and join the Golden State Warriors - a team famous for their 'culture'.

    Here's Arnovitz' observations on culture v. talent, then some comments from me after the quotes:

    On an NBA team is culture permanent? Or is it really just transient? Is it this fancy word people like us to describe what is really just a concentration of good talent, but it seems like culture? But actually what it is is just really good basketball players there? Which is why they (the Warriors) win, it's not because they have any special connection to the community of San Francisco like people like to talk about. 

    Steve here - I think these observations are spot on, especially in a business setting like an NBA team where individual talent and excellence plays such a critical role in organizational success. Said a little differently, it is almost impossible to achieve the highest level of team success in the NBA without at least one superstar player, and one or two other All-star caliber players. You simply can't win without that talent level no matter how fantastic your team's culture may be.

    And I know that I get a fair bit of heat from folks for trying to make these kinds of HR/talent points using sports analogies, as some folks think that an NBA team and its dynamics offer little to us to learn from, back here in the real world. But I continue to think that they are valid ones to make, especially as more and more organizations and work teams have to rely on ideas, innovation, creativity, and quite simply talent, in order to succeed in a hyper-fast, hyper-competitive world.

    Ask yourself some of the questions about your organization that Arnovitz hints at.

    What would really drive increased performance at your shop? More talented people? Or a somehow 'better' culture?

    Which one of those levers is easier for you to influence? To measure? To replicate?

    This isn't about me trying to convince you that culture = bad and talent = good.

    It's about making sure we keep both in mind, (along with Strategy, if we really want to get back to my Rock-Paper-Scissors take).

    When you put 4 of the best 10 or 12 best basketball players in the world on the same team you are going to win A LOT of games. If at the same time you have a great culture, you may win one two extra games.

    But the great culture without the great players? Good luck in the draft lottery next year.

    Have a great week!  

    Wednesday
    Feb172016

    HRE Column: Rethinking Culture and Strategy

    Here is my semi-frequent reminder and pointer for blog readers that I also write a monthly column at Human Resource Executive Online called Inside HR Tech and that archives of which can be found here.

    As usual, the Inside HR Tech column is about, well, HR Tech, (sort of like I used to write about all the time on this blog), and it was inspired by a recent HR Happy Hour Show that Trish McFarlane and I did with Anthony Abbatiello from Deloitte, and that focused (primarlily) on the connection between organizational culture and business strategy. This was a great conversation, and I encourage you check it out.

    On the show, Anthony also talked about a new software product from Deloitte called CulturePath, designed to help organizations not only understand and assess their culture, but to also help HR and business leaders with the critical task of aligning culture with business strategy. Since I thought the show was so interesting, and the product incredibly interesting, it was the topic of my latest column for HR Executive.

    Here is an excerpt from the HRE column, 'Rethinking Culture and Strategy'

    From HR Executive...

    The "Culture is King" folks sometimes would make us think that a "fun" or "flexible" or "inclusive" culture (or whatever other adjective you prefer that connotes some kind of healthy or desirable culture) is all, or at least nearly all, any organization needs for success.

    This point of view conveniently ignores the idea that, no matter how much free food, foosball tables and flexible-work arrangements an organization has, if they don't have a compelling product or service that meets a true market need, and have recruited and retained the "right" set of talented people to execute on the strategic plans, then all the great organizational culture in the world will still result in failure.

    Plus, it ignores the fact that, for just about every successful organization, the business strategy was formulated first, and then the culture developed around that strategy and through the organization's people.

    So what I am really saying is that culture can't  -- and doesn't -- exist in some kind of vacuum. It has to co-exist and be in alignment with the organization's strategy and resonate with the actual people who inform the culture and execute the strategy.

    My belief that we can't consider culture alone when thinking about what makes an organization successful is probably why I am really impressed with a new technology solution I have recently become familiar with: CulturePath, from the consultancy and advisory firm Deloitte. This solution represents an interesting and important evolution in how we think about culture, strategy and people in the organization.

    The CulturePath solution surveys employees in the organization and then analyzes the aggregated data to measure the organization's cultural attributes across a spectrum of core indices such as collective focus, external orientation, and change and innovation, as well as differentiating indices such as courage, commitment and shared beliefs. The goal is to assess how well the attitudes and behaviors of employees align with, and support, the desired business strategy...

    Read the rest at HR Executive... 

    Good stuff, right? Darn right it is. Ok, just humor me...  And be sure to check out the HR Happy Hour Show where Anthony Abbatiello from Deloitte talks culture, strategy, and technology.

    If you liked the piece you can sign up over at HRE to get the Inside HR Tech Column emailed to you each month. There is no cost to subscribe, in fact, I may even come over and take your dog out for a walk or dig your car out of the snow if you do sign up for the monthly email.

    Have a great day and rest of the week!

    Thursday
    May072015

    Learn a new word Thursday: The BATNA

    I will admit when prowling around for ideas for the blog that I sometimes get lost in the weeds of Wikipedia. Sort of reminds me of how back in the day a 9-year old me would page through volumes of the Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia late at night when I should have been sleeping. Note to the kids out there, that is just one example of how miserable life was before the internet, and smart phones, and Snapchat. When I have some more time I will tell you about the 13-inch TV I had to watch in college. 

    But back to the point, (such as it is).

    While reading about a pretty interesting article on a Game Theory principle called the Nash Equilibrium, I came across a slightly less interesting but probably more relevant for the HR/Talent pros, an idea called the BATNA, or in the realm of negotiations, the 'Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.

    From the 'Pedia:

    In negotiation theory, the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement or BATNA is the course of action that will be taken by a party if the current negotiations fail and an agreement cannot be reached. BATNA is the key focus and the driving force behind a successful negotiator. A party should generally not accept a worse resolution than its BATNA. 

    The BATNA is often seen by negotiators not as a safety net, but rather as a point of leverage in negotiations.

    So the BATNA is kind of the fall back plan, the Plan 'B' so to speak if you are unable to reach a negotiated agreement - whether it is for the price of a new car, the starting compensation package for that new job, or if you are unable to convince your significant other that eating at Chili's does, in fact, constitute a 'night out.'

    But the idea that the BATNA isn't a safety net, or a 'bottom-line' is key to the entire concept.

    Usually, a bottom line signifies the worst possible outcome of a negotiation that you are still willing (or are forced to), accept. The bottom line is meant to act as the final barrier after which a negotiation will not proceed. It is a means to defend yourself against the pressure and temptation that sometimes exists to simply end a negotiation, even if the conclusion is self defeating. Although bottom lines definitely serve a purpose, they also inflexible, can eliminate more creative solutions, and decrease the likelihood of long-term satisfaction with the agreement.

    Let's go back to the salary negotiation example to see the difference between the BATNA and the 'bottom-line'.

    Candidate: I am looking to start at $125,000 with 5 weeks vacation.

    Employer: Our offer is a starting salary of $105, 000 plus 3 weeks vacation.

    Candidate BATNA - $115,000 with 4 weeks vacation

    Candidate 'Bottom Line' - probably something like $110,000 with the 3 weeks. 

    Notice the difference between the BATNA and the Bottom Line though. The BATNA gives up a little on the salary number, but represents a gain on the vacation number. It really is a 'Best Alternative' scenario for the candidate, and not just a surrender. The 'Bottom-line' however, is more or less a total loss from a negotiation standpoint. The candidate might be able to live with that outcome, (say if their current salary was $95,000), but if they accept the bottom-line deal they are going to be immediately dissatisfied with the outcome. But if they have the BATNA defined walking in to the negotiation, then settling on it will still represent a good outcome.

    It is a small, maybe even a subtle difference, but understanding the difference between the BATNA and the Bottom-line could be the key to drive better overall outcomes.

    So there it is, your new word of the day - BATNA - The Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.

    Happy haggling.

    Monday
    May042015

    'We believe we can do anything'

    I get kind of bored with most of the conversation/writing about 'Company Culture'. Probably because at best the dialogue seems either a little empty or obvious or perhaps even derivative. Or at worst, it equates vague concepts like 'culture' and 'fit' with exclusionary hiring, promotion, and rewards policies. Used in this way 'culture' becomes the same thing as 'gut feel', which then allows some organizations and leaders to do whatever the hell they want ignoring data, logic, and even at times, the law. And finally, and something I have written and presented about, the 'culture' army confuses or at least substitutes 'culture' for strategy. When a company builds its business around say, providing the best customer service in their industry, that is a conscious strategic decision, not a 'cultural' one. But the 'culture' folks like to ignore strategy, conveniently.No. 61, Rust and Blue, Mark Rothko

    Anyway, a few weeks ago I was listening to a very senior executive at a large corporation discuss their organization's recent strategic acquisitions of a few smaller firms that competed in new, or at least adjacent markets to where the larger firm had traditionally competed. This (at the time still new to the company and in their role) executive expressed concerns to the CEO about their organization's ability to efficiently integrate these newly acquired companies and to effectively compete in these new markets. According to this new Exec, the CEO just leaned back and said something to the effect of 'Relax. This is ACME Company (not their real name, obviously). At ACME, we believe that we can do anything.'

    And to me, that little story was the best example of what, if such a thing really exists, a 'culture' can mean to what an organization does, how they approach challenges, and the types of people that will succeed (and hopefully be happy), working in the organization. As a philosophy it is simple, fundamental, and definiitive. It doesn't require lots of complex messaging or high cost communications strategies to articulate. It is pretty easy to evaluate decisions, actions, behaviors, and probably people too in comparison. Plus, and this is probably why I liked it, the 'We believe that we can do anything' approach sits in an opposite or at least an entirely different way to think about experiments and risk and competition than the 'embrace failure' crowd.

    Like I mentioned at the top, I am not that big on the 'culture' discussions but when it can be expressed in one sentence, in seven words like it was by that CEO, then you might get me to buy in, at least a little. ACME believes that it can do anything.

    What does your organization believe?

    Have a great week!