Here is an excerpt from an article written by Roger Martin for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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This post is part of the HBR Insight Center Growing the Top Line.
The biggest enemy of top-line growth is analysis and its best friend is appreciation.
Sure, in a small minority of companies and industries, like the smartphone business these days, there is explosive growth, and if an analysis is done of past trends, it shows lots of opportunity for top-line growth.
But in the majority of businesses, if the available data are crunched, it shows a slowly growing industry — one growing with GDP or population. That generally convinces the company in question that there aren’t really opportunities for top-line growth, and that in turn becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The fundamental reason is that analysis of data is all about the past. Data analysis crunches the past and extrapolates it into the future. And the past does not include opportunities that exist but have not yet happened. So, analysis conspicuously excludes ways to serve customers that have not been tried or imagined or ways to turn non-customers into customers.
Thus the more we rely on data analysis, the more it will tell a dour story on top-line growth — and not give particularly useful insights. The data analysis of P&G’s home care business — hard surface cleaners, dish and dishwater detergents — would have indicated that there weren’t many opportunities for top-line growth circa 2000. These categories were growing at something between population growth and GDP growth, clearly candidates for harvesting or maybe sale.
If instead, the core tool is not analysis but rather appreciation —deep appreciation of the consumer’s life — what makes it hard or easy; what makes her (in this category) happy or sad — there is the opportunity to imagine possibilities that do not exist.
For instance, suppose your consumers have to clean floors. It’s easy enough to appreciate that mopping a floor is a fairly miserable task. Think about what it involves: getting out and filling a bucket, dragging the bucket around and repeatedly jamming the mop in and out of it, and then dumping out and cleaning the bucket. If you appreciate your floor-cleaning customers, you’ll be looking to help them avoid having to go through this experience every time they have to clean a floor — because not every floor will need such a heavy-duty approach. It was out of this appreciation-triggered insight that the electrostatic Swiffer anti-mop was born and produced massive top-line growth, approaching $1 billion in sales in a decade.
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Organizationally and behaviorally, analysis and appreciation are two very different things. Analysis is distant, done in office towers far from the consumer. It requires lots of quantitative proficiency but very little experience in the business in question. It depends on data-mining: finding data sources to crunch, often from data suppliers to the industry. Appreciation is intimate, done in close proximity to the consumer. It requires qualitative proficiency and deeper experience in the business. It requires the manufacture of unique data, rather than the use of data that already exists.
In my experience, most organizations have more of the former capabilities and behaviors than of the latter and hence most struggle with top-line growth. The biggest issue isn’t the absence of top-line growth opportunities but rather the lack of belief that they exist. And that is driven by the dominance of analysis over appreciation.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Roger Martin (www.rogerlmartin.com) is the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in Canada. He is the author, most recently, of Fixing the Game. For more information, including events with Roger, click here.
Here is an excerpt from an article featured online by Talent Management magazine (New York, September 26, 2011). To check out all the resources and sign up for a free subscription to the TM and/or Chief Learning Officer magazines published by MedfiaTec, please click here.
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U.S. unemployment hovers at 9 percent, and while 14 million Americans remain unemployed, the U.S. Department of Labor reported there are currently 3 million available jobs. Against this backdrop, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and University of Phoenix announced a new report, “Life in the 21st Century Workforce: A National Perspective,” that paints a picture of the employment landscape and the key dynamics both workers and employers need to consider as they seek to promote excellence in the workplace.
Fifty-three percent of employers say their companies face a significant challenge in recruiting non-managerial employees with the skills, training and education their company needs. The results summarized in the study indicate agreement across both employers and employees that education — including continuing education and advanced degrees — is critical to ensuring workers have the skills necessary to advance in their professions. They also agree that interpersonal skills, collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving are important to providing the most benefit to employers and the workforce alike.
“There is considerable discussion focused on the skills employees need to succeed in the workplace,” said Margaret Spellings, senior adviser to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and former U.S. secretary of education. “However, it’s imperative we understand the issue from the inside-out in order to improve the way we prepare our future workforce. The results of ‘Life in the 21st Century Workforce: A National Perspective’ can help inform employers, employees and job seekers seeking to stand out in the increasingly competitive job market.”
In today’s workplace, the labor force considers work experience (50 percent) to be the most important factor when companies are making hiring decisions, outdistancing people management and communication skills (27 percent). However, when it comes to being promoted, workers are far more likely to consider people management and communication skills (46 percent) as more important than work experience (38 percent).
Among the other key findings of the study:
Study Uncovers Skills and Education Necessary in Modern Workforce Heading Back to School
Eight in 10 employers (80 percent) believe education is critical to ensuring workers have the competencies necessary to advance, and 72 percent of the labor pool agrees.
U.S. workers believe going back to school will have a direct impact on their career. The most common reasons for going back to school are to advance their career (89 percent), increase their salary (89 percent) or gain training for a specific job (88 percent).
Moreover, employers believe increasing the number of workers who complete post-secondary education programs and receive a degree or credential will contribute to the success of their company.
Walking the Talk
Forty-six percent of workforce respondents say their company pays all (17 percent) or some portion (29 percent) of tuition. Meanwhile, 50 percent of employers say they have a tuition assistance program.
In addition, 57 percent of employers interviewed offer flexible schedules to accommodate post-secondary education and training.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
About the Surveys
The workforce survey findings presented here are part of a multi-audience, multi-location research project sponsored by the University of Phoenix. Telephone interviews were conducted among a random national sampling of 500 workforce members 18-54 years of age during April 6-18. The sampling error for the sample is +/- 4.4 percentage points. Survey interviewing and analysis were completed by APCO Insight, an international opinion research and consulting firm.
How to Become a “Brand Gap Guru”
This is an expanded edition of a book first published in 2003. In it, Neumeier develops in greater depth several basic ideas about how to bridge a gap between business strategy and design. My own experience suggests that on occasion, there may be a conflict or misalignment rather than a “gap.” Or the business strategy is inappropriate. Or the design concepts are wrong-headed. Or the execution fails. Whatever, Neumeier correctly notes that “A lot of people talk about it. Yet very few people understand it. Even fewer know how to manage it. Still, everyone wants it. What is it? Branding. of course — arguably the most powerful business tool since the spreadsheet.” What Neumeier offers is a “30,000-foot view of brand: what it is (and isn’t), why it works (and doesn’t), and most importantly, how to bridge the gap between logic and magic to build a sustainable competitive advantage.” Of course, that assumes that both logic and magic are present and combined…or at least within close proximity of each other.
As others have already indicated, Neumeier provides a primer (“the least amount of information necessary”) rather than a textbook. His coverage is not definitive, nor intended to be. He has a crisp writing style, complemented by “the shorthand of the conference room” (i.e. illustrations, diagrams, and summaries). Some describe his book an “easy read” but I do not. When reading short and snappy books such as this one, I have learned that certain insights resemble depth charges or time capsules: they have a delayed but eventually significant impact. For example, Neumeier explains why “Three Little Questions” can bring a high-level marketing meeting to a screeching halt:
1. Who are you?
2. What do you do?
3. Why does it matter?
Note: Re #3, I prefer “Why should I care?” from the customer’s point-of-view.
I also want to express my admiration of the book’s design features. They create an appropriate visual context within which Neumeier examines each of five “Disciplines”: differentiation, collaboration, innovation, validation, and cultivation. Expect no head-snapping revelations. For many of those who read this book, its greatest value will be derived from reiteration of certain core concepts that Neumeier reviews with uncommon clarity and concision. Check out the “Take-Home Lessons” (pages 149-157) that include
“A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company. It’s not what you say it is. It’s what THEY say it is.”
“Differentiation has evolved from a focus on `what it is,’ to `what it does,’ to ‘how you’ll feel,’ to `who you are.’ While features, benefits, and price are still important to people, experiences and personal identity are even more important.”
“How do you know when an idea is innovative? When it scares the hell out of you.”
Readers having relatively less experience with the branding process will especially appreciate the provision of an expanded (220-word) “Brand Glossary.” Neumeier also includes a “Recommended Reading” section in which he briefly comments on each source. When reading business books, I much prefer annotated bibliographies such as Neumeier’s to mere lists. For whatever reasons, many provide neither.
Once again and to its great credit, The McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey and Company, has created online access the Top Ten articles for third quarter (2011) as selected by its readers.
In case you missed them, you can now check them out and join the conversation.
Here are brief descriptions of the first five. To read one or more, please click here.
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Engaging customers today requires commitment from the entire company—and a redefined marketing organization.
Shake up your thinking by looking at the world from the perspective of a particular country, industry, or company. “Rooted” maps can help you unearth hidden opportunities and threats.
McKinsey analyzed the potential impact on 33 industries. Two dimensions stood out: the plan’s effect on profit pools and on the competitive landscape. Explore an accompanying interactive exhibit for a detailed look at the analysis.
Most sales reps spend less than half of their time actually selling. Here’s how companies can reshape sales operations to allow them to focus on their real job.
New McKinsey research estimates the impact of Internet search in the global economy, pinpointing the sources of value and the beneficiaries.
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To read one or more, please click here.
To check out all the online resources and sign up for free Member Edition email alerts, please click here.
It is a very competitive world out there. Your job may be in jeopardy, because someone else wants your job, and is preparing right now to do your job better than you can do it. Especially if it a good job. (Those are increasingly scarce, it seems).
So, you have to always keep getting better yourself, at every facet of your job.
All jobs have those skills required to do the job, and then there are the skills required to do any and all jobs. You know – the hard skills PLUS the soft skills.
So, take a look at yourself. (You many need a coach to help you – you can’t always objectively look at yourself). Are you competent in all the actual requirements of your job? Good! – Now, get even better, because the bar is being raised year after year – month after month.
And, are you pleasant to work with; easy to work with; responsive, attentive, “nice” (except when you need to be tough)? Is your first response to say “thank you,” and, “you have done this well?” Have you learned to praise first, and correct later — and criticize with care?
In other words, success requires not one think but many things – This + That + Also This, and then, there is always, the “and now, this.”
The road to mastery, to genuine irreplaceable value to an organization, to success, keeps getting longer – the construction workers seem to just keep adding new miles to the route.
How to “zag” when everyone else “zigs”
In a previous book, The Brand Gap, Marty Neumeier explains how companies can bridge the gap between business strategy and customer experience, noting that brand-building isn’t a series of isolated activities; rather, it is a complete system in which five disciplines – differentiation, collaboration, innovation, validation, and cultivation – “combine to produce a sustainable competitive advantage. ” His intent in Zag “is to zoom in on differentiation to reveal the system within the system.”
Initially, he observes that the human mind deals with clutter the best way it can: by blocking it out. As a result, “the newest barriers to competition are the mental walls that customers erect to keep out clutter. For the first time in history, the most powerful barriers to competition are not controlled by companies, but by customers. Those little boxes they build in their minds determine the boundaries of brands.” (Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck also have much of value to say about these boundaries and barriers in The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business.) In his latest book, Neumeier explains how to overcome these barriers with radical innovation – “the engine for a high performance brand” – that requires mastery of four disciplines:
1. Finding your zag
2. Designing your zag
3. Building your zag
4. Renewing your zag
Everything begins with identifying the zag. That is, offering something that combines the qualities of both good and different. “When focus is paired with differentiation, supported by a trend, and surrounded by compelling communications, you have the basic ingredients of a zag.”
OK, but how to do that? Neumeier provides a design process that consists of 17 checkpoints, each formulated as a question. He explains how to answer each of them correctly (i.e. an answer most appropriate to the given organization) by proceeding through a sequence of 17 checkpoints, each of which evokes a question to be answered correctly (i.e. appropriate to the given organization), with the first two previously posed as a trilogy in The Brand Gap: “Who are you?” and “What do you do?” Responding to them may prove far more difficult than it may first seem and a correct (i.e. appropriate) answer to each is essential to achieving radical innovation. The third question posed previously, “Why should I care?” creates an even greater challenge. Fortunately, a correct (i.e. appropriate) answer to that question will be revealed by carefully proceeding through the remaining 15 checkpoints.
It is truly remarkable how much substance and how many thought-provoking questions Neumeier provides within a narrative of less than 200 pages. With both rigor and eloquence, he explains how radical innovation can break through ever-increasing clutter in a competitive marketplace, whatever and wherever it may be. Special note should also be made of the book’s production values. All of his core concepts, checklists, key points, observations, and recommendations are presented within a visually appealing context. The last time I checked, there are about 34,000 business books on the general subject of brands. Neumeier has written two of the most valuable among them. Bravo!