Business musings

Articles and thoughts about all things innovative and strategic

24
Jul
Posted by Matt & Debbie Stocker, stored in: Our News  

We’re incredibly pleased to announce the launch of our new brand. The Stocker Partnership marks the next stage of our consultancy. It is a reflection of both where we find ourselves and where we want to go.

Check out our launch email below [click to view].

We hope you like the new look and can’t wait to catch up with you soon!

Stocker Partnership Brand Launch

17
May
Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Leadership  Psychology  

A little while ago, I wrote about the need to recognise that every organisation is—in reality—the sum of its people and their individual acts. Recently, I came across a presentation by Joe Leech (User Experience Director of cxpartners) that offered some great insights—albeit from a rather different field.

Entitled Using UX to change company culture, the presentation is focused on web design and the problems of being non-customer focused but, broadly, the same challenges and principles apply to becoming people focused. In the second half of the presentation, Joe offers three suggestions on “what to do” to change company culture; I’ve adopted and built upon these here.

Image shows a screen grab from the final slide of Joe Leech's presentation. The text reads, "Encourage empathy. Humanise your words and approach. Tell stories." The words empathy, humanise and stories are highlighted in blue text, rather than black.

1. Encourage empathy

First and foremost, to truly understand your organisation, you need to empathise with people: employees, customers, partners, suppliers, shareholders and more. Put yourself in their shoes and experience the organisation from their perspective. What works really well and where might there be frustrations? How does your experience of the organisation change when viewed from their standpoint?

Tools such as empathy mapping can help, as can stakeholder engagement. Even when you feel you have a good understanding of a given person’s experience, it is often helpful to ask individuals for their views. Matt and I frequently encourage stakeholder engagement in our client projects and find that sometimes the answers can be surprising. In any empathic exercise, be prepared to really listen, be open minded and put aside any preconceptions you may have. Not only does this foster greater honesty but it also ensures you see the situation as it really is.

In July 2003, IBM conducted what has become known as their Values Jam: a three-day discussion via the corporate intranet about the company’s values. To begin, the comments given by employees were “disturbingly dissonant” and 24 hours in, “at least one senior executive wanted to pull the plug.” Thankfully, Sam Palmisano, CEO at the time, wouldn’t hear of it. To have pulled the plug would have been to deny the reality of employee experience and to ignore valid criticism. Instead, Palmisano listened, empathised and immediately made changes. And it seems to have worked: during Palmisano’s tenure, IBM experienced 21% annual growth in earnings per share and increased its market capitalization to $218 billion.

2. Humanise your words and approach

Rather than focusing on targets, percentages, quotas and the numbers, take time to focus on people. In Playing for keeps (which largely inspired my previous article), Frederick Harmon gives the example of a sales manager’s performance appraisal. Typically such appraisals are focused on measuring performance against numbers but Harmon instead asks:

What if her boss went beyond the numbers? What if he asked her to think about which of her recurring acts had the most power to increase profit? What if he then asked her to find ways to add more value to the way she and her team carried out each of those critical acts? What if they worked out ways together to measure her progress? What if he then regularly reviewed that progress in addition to her numbers every month? Think of the impact on her performance.

In his presentation, Joe Leech also gives a brilliant example from Jack Dorsey (co-founder of both Twitter and Square) who, when asked by Square’s newest Director, Howard Schultz, “Why do you all call your customers ‘users‘?” honestly answered, “I don’t know. We’ve always called them that.” Jack then went on to write a letter to his team explaining that they would be removing the term ‘users’ from their vocabulary and that it should be replaced with ‘customers’ or the more specific ‘buyers’ and ‘sellers’. He writes:

While it might be convenient, “users” is a rather passive and abstract word. No one wants to be thought of as a “user” (or “consumer” for that matter). I certainly don’t. And I wouldn’t consider my mom a “user” either, she’s my mom. The word “user” abstracts the actual individual. This may seem like a small and insignificant detail that doesn’t matter, but the vernacular and words we use here at Square set a very strong and subtle tone for everything we do.

Jack even goes so far as to end with, “If I ever say the word “user” again, immediately charge me $140” (emphasis his).

3. Tell stories

Story telling is a powerful tool to humanise any aspect of your organisation. The quote from Playing for keeps with which I began my last article is a story. It’s a story about the individual acts that together influence next month’s financial statement.

Anecdotes are stories. The tales that are shared over coffee about the latest conversation with a supplier or the most recent email from a colleague can be surprisingly informative. They are also a great way to share your own experience and can provide unexpected business benefit.

In an HBR webinar, Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland shared the example of the call center of a bank which, in an effort to minimise “wasted time,” introduced “non-overlapping coffee breaks” to limit “personal contact and ‘non-essential’ communication.” Rather than bringing benefit, this initiative instead had an adverse effect. Unexpectedly, Pentland’s research team were able to demonstrate that shared coffee breaks allowed employees to disseminate important information about their experiences, which, in turn, enabled staff to improve their performance. As a result, the bank reintroduced overlapping breaks and “saw improved call-handling time, which translated into $15 million per year of savings.” In Pentland’s words:

Informal communication and the exchange of tacit information and best practices proved more valuable than formal team meetings, rules, and incentives.

Stories can also be used with effect in other ways. For example, what does your annual state of the nation report look like? Is it a series of mind-numbing numbers: “Customer complaints have decreased by 20%. Competitors have gained 5% market share. In the next year, we will be increasing departmental efficiency by 16%”? How much more engaging would this presentation be if you instead told a series of stories to illustrate and explain?

In his presentation, Leech gives the example of telling a customer story. Stories are great for understanding your customers and really help you to engage with their needs and situation.

Image shows a screen grab from Joe Leech's presentation. On the left is a photo of a young man with brown hair that looks as though it was taken with a webcam. To the right, a speech bubble shows the words, "I'm a new Dad, my girlfriend has just had a baby. We're trying to buy our first home but we can't get credit. I can't even get a credit card."

Simple stories (such as that illustrated by Leech) are a fantastic place to start but if you want to build a more detailed story, personas can enable a deeper understanding. Stories and personas provide you with a human reference point against which to answer questions such as, “Would this encourage Tony to buy?” or “Will Jill find this easy to use?”.

Since the dawn of man, stories have been a highly effective communication tool—they are easy to remember, evocative, descriptive and empathic. They bring a subject alive and ensure that you talk about real people and real life situations. Increasingly, stories are emerging as a management discipline and, for some, storytelling is seen as a key leadership competency for the 21st century.

Over to you

How could you further humanise your organisation? Your business is already its people but do you see it that way? Are you distracted by the numbers, stuck in a language rut or fearful of hearing what others really want to say?

I’ve offered three suggestions here but there will be many more approaches that you could take—I’m sure you’ll even have ideas of your own. Today, dare to open your eyes and to really see the people around you. Who knows what you’ll find—you may just uncover the true source of your organisation’s potential.

10
May

Our work with Lucid Computer Solutions has been featured in the May/June edition of C&W In Business:

Licensed to SPRINGup PR, Lucid Computer Solutions, and Stocker Partnership for free use PR and advertising purposes. Photo by Tony Charnock www.tonycharnock.co.uk 07770 48 48 88

Local IT support company, Lucid Computer Solutions, has flourished despite the economic climate achieving 30 per cent growth year-on-year.

With support from independent business advisor, Matt Stocker, a focus on strategic thinking and development has been key, says the company.

It was founded four years ago and, in the midst of a severe financial crisis and recession, it has overcome the challenges of growing from a small start-up to become an established company.

The local IT support business was started by Managing Director, Gavin Moorhouse, in 2008. It now employs a team of five, who look after over 150 clients from sectors as diverse as recruitment, law, accountancy and retail.

Lucid Computer Solutions has also achieved 30 per cent year-on-year growth over four years and has doubled its annual turnover in the last three years.

Gavin attributes the company’s success to focused strategic thinking, with which he has been assisted by independent business advisor, Matt Stocker. They have met monthly since 2009 to work on the strategy and development of the company, which could otherwise have been overlooked in the day-to-day running of the operation.

Gavin now sets aside one morning each week to focus on developing the business while his team handle ongoing business activities. As a result, Gavin has been able to plan and implement the development of a scalable business that maintains great customer service.

Gavin said: “Taking time to focus on strategy has paid huge dividends, especially in a downturn. I started this company because I love working with customers to provide a solution that is tailored for them. At the same time I know how vital it is that I think strategically about where my company is going.

“Working with Matt Stocker has been key to plotting a path to success for Lucid. Matt’s business mentoring has provided the incisive vision that was needed. I now feel confident that we can make this business a long-term regional success story.”

Matt said: “Gavin has successfully made the shift from technical specialist to IT company Managing Director. He has scaled his business better than most and the results are clear to see in the growth of his business.

“Not taking time to focus on strategic work means companies remain on tick-over and do not develop. It takes work to innovate and improve, without which companies can end up in ‘fire-fighting’ mode, responding reactively only after problems arise.

“Lucid Computer Solutions proves that strategic thinking, hard work and innovation can achieve growth despite an economic downturn.”

This article originally appeared in the May/June edition of C&W In Business, Coventry & Warwickshire Chamber’s official magazine. Photo by Tony Charnock, licensed to Matt Stocker Ltd and Lucid Computer Solutions.

15
Mar
Posted by Matt Stocker, stored in: Business Excellence  Leadership  Performance Improvement  

Do What You Say You Will Do When You Say You Will Do It

Also known as…

DWYSYWD WYSYWDI

I know, you’re looking at this thinking, “That’s an entirely unmemorable acronym!” and I agree. It’s completely forgettable and unpronounceable in fact! Except, the person who introduced me to this acronym was one of my university lecturers who also happened to be Welsh. So, when he first wrote the acronym on the board, we all assumed he was writing in Welsh! But, for all its superficial forgetableness, the unusual nature of the acronym has enabled me to remember it all these years later.

So why am I introducing dwysywd wysysdi to you now?

On the surface, dwysywd wysywdi looks rather innocuous. What’s the worst that happens if you don’t dwysywd wysywdi? Nothing? No big deal,right? In reality, when you don’t dwysywd wysywdi, it’s rare that nothing happens. Generally a lot happens—but it’s probably not the stuff you want to! From people losing trust in you, to customers walking away, to losing that promotion. Dwysywd wysywdi is a critical skill in all areas of life. (more…)

01
Mar
Posted by Matt Stocker, stored in: Cartoons & Illustrations  Technology & Web  

Cartoon showing a stick man leaning back in his chair in front of a computer with the Google web page open. He is on the phone and his speech reads, "Liz, Hi, Trevor here! You don't happen to know what time it is in China do you?" The caption below says, "Trevor sometimes failed to grasp the power and potential of the internet to answer his own questions"

 

01
Feb
Posted by Matt Stocker, stored in: Our News  

Strategic consultancy can be an intense occupation and, most days of the week, it’s not unlike the work involved in a university degree. This is precisely why we love what we do so much. We love the process of thinking, creating and strategising. We love helping our clients work through complex issues to come out the other side with a clear strategy and improved performance.

But to remain fresh in the face of so much intense thinking, a few years ago we decided to recruit a new hire—of the four-legged variety! This new addition to our team would be in charge of play, fun and outdoor activities, giving us a much needed break from using our brains. (more…)

If you’re signed up to our newsletter, you’ll already have heard about the fact that we’ve been working with Santa Global this year. For the benefit of those of you who don’t (yet) get our newsletter, we were too excited not to also share it here! Hope you enjoy…

Screen shot of our Santa Global Christmas Newsletter 2012. To view the original please visit https://mattstocker.createsend.com/reports/viewCampaign.aspx?ID=95711ECA5FC94FBD

 

If this has made you smile, why not share it with your colleagues and friends? View the original email

 

It’s that time of year again when you will be thinking about and planning your marketing for 2013. You may remember that last year we wrote an article on planning your marketing for 2012 and provided a marketing planning and budgeting template to enable you to hit the ground running. With the new year less than 2 weeks away, we thought it was about high time we gave you an updated spreadsheet.

Download: Marketing Planning & Budgeting Template 2013 (MS Excel file)

What’s new?

You’ll see that much is the same but there are a few small changes. One year on and, as always in the fast moving world of tech, things have changed slightly in the online arena, so we’ve ammended and added various marketing elements to reflect this.

Specifically, social media marketing (such as LinkedIn Ads, Facebook advertising, Twitter promoted tweets and accounts) have become more recognised and prominent, so these have been added. Similarly, Pinterest and Instagram are now also being used increasingly by businesses, so we’ve added rows for these. Lastly, we also added Yahoo! Bing Advertising as this was something we realised we’d overlooked in 2012.

What’s the same?

Last year we said that your goal is to end up with a scheduled and co-ordinated marketing plan that effectively engages your customers, that is aligned with your strategy and that, of course, drives both your brand awareness and your revenue growth. This hasn’t changed. Nor has the advice we included on how to achieve this aim. In summary, we said that you need to:

  • Take an engaging approach
  • Use the marketing mix effectively
  • Allocate resources wisely
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle
  • Measure results and learn
  • Plan ahead
  • Focus on existing customers too
  • Not drop the ball

A note on collaboration

Marketing is often highly collaborative with multiple people and parties liasing, discussing ideas and working together. Typically, teams use email to communicate but this can get somewhat confusing and overwhelming; it also lacks any real transparency and things can get lost along the chain.

Our top tip for 2013 would be to try out a collaborative, online project management tool, such as Basecamp for example, to oil the wheels as you work together. (Other project management tools are available but Basecamp is particularly easy to use and minimal training is needed).

Screen shot of Basecamp's website explaining their product features

Once you’ve chosen your preferred project management software, try turning your marketing calendar into a series of projects and using the software’s calendar function to recreate your calendar of campaigns and events.

Once these are in place, you can then:

  • Add milestones
  • Allocate and manage tasks
  • View project progress
  • Message your team
  • Upload files
  • Share information with your designers and developers

And all this in a single location with complete transparency, thereby making it easy to keep track of what is happening, when and how much is still left to do. It could save you a lot of time, money and stress as well as making sure you achieve your goals.

Over to you

Download: Marketing Planning & Budgeting Template 2013 (MS Excel file)

 

27
Nov
Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Leadership  Psychology  

Picture in your mind a large, American manufacturing company. Here is their story…

[A group of experienced] managers sit in [a] meeting. Out on the plant floor, production on the new line stopped more than an hour ago. R&D and production are waiting for the managers to get a decision on that small mistake hidden somewhere in the specifications. In the office, a secretary is typing an overdue proposal for new business. In her hurry, she mistypes “Mr.” instead of “Ms.” The company will lose the job. Also lost will be more than 40 hours of preparation time.

With the managers tied up in their meeting, their overworked associates are bouncing a prospective customer around on the telephone. Asked by the third person to “please hold,” he is thumbing through his telephone directory looking for the name of a competitor. The company’s top sales producer, furious over the lack of prompt support from the back office, has declared a Mental Health Day. He’s working on his putting at the golf course. He can afford it. The company cannot.

None of these small acts—or hundreds of others like them—will appear on next month’s statement of financial results. They will not appear in the budget or in the managers’ performance appraisals. Yet together they form an invisible sieve, draining profit dollar by dollar.

Happily, hundreds of other equally small acts are accumulating profits. A sales representative drove 135 miles this morning to deliver a replacement part to a customer. Sometime next year, the customer will place an extra order. In the back office, three secretaries are meeting informally to balance their work so they can meet their deadlines. This cooperation gets three customer inquiries handled a day early and convinces the senior secretary to turn down another job. Replacing her would have cost $6,000 above budget in temp and recruitment costs.

Harry in maintenance has just uncovered a potential problem with machine number 3. He’s installing a $38 part that will avoid a $12,000 replacement plus three weeks of downtime this summer. Chris is training recruits on safety procedures. Accidents that won’t happen will lower next year’s insurance costs. Mary’s careful review of accounts receivable uncovers an invoicing error that will mean $950 in extra revenue.

Like their negative counterparts, none of these acts—or hundreds of others like them—will appear on next month’s statement. They will not surface in the budget or in the managers’ performance appraisals. Yet together they form an invisible bank account, collecting profit dollar by dollar.

I love the above quote. Taken from Playing for keeps by Frederick Harmon, it masterfully tells the story of the humanity that is foundational to every organisation around the globe. Whether big or small, for-profit or not-for-profit, multinational or local, startup or mature, every organisation is—in reality—the sum of its people and their individual acts.

Although we understand this perspective intuitively, all too often our organisations take on a life of their own. Brands have identities and personalities. Businesses become corporate entities. Organisations have moral and ethical responsibilities. Firms experience growth, maturity, rebirth and death—some are even seeking the key to eternal youth! Companies anticipate, adapt and recover. And organisations have views, attitudes, outlooks and opinions.

Photograph of a brown and white springer spaniel wearing a red collar and sitting in the garden on grey flagstones

As an owner of a springer spaniel and two cats, I’m familiar with the tendency to anthropomorphise our pets—Matt and I do it on a regular basis! Jess is happy, grumpy, jealous, naughty, worried, friendly, and she very definitely loves us!—can you see she’s smiling in the picture?!

In the same way—whether we work for them, consume their products or services, or simply have an opinion on them—we all emphatically anthropomorphise our organisations.

I have no problem with anthropomorphism as a pet owner and I believe it is an important and useful device in business. However, an awareness of our tendency toward it is vital.

Day in, day out, we read our organisations by the collective characteristics we endow them with. Our organisation is innovative, forward-thinking, ambitious and visionary. Or maybe it is stuffy, oppressive, backward and uncaring. What we actually mean by this is that as a group of people we have created a culture, brand, department or company that could be described as having these collective attributes.

Although it is necessary and important to form collective representations of our organisations, we must remain aware that these representations do not exist as concrete realities but are instead symbolic identities. Even within stakeholders of a single organisation, differing opinions will be found: some perceive Tesco as providing great value for money, others see it as an uncaring, corporate behemoth.

And even beyond our own perceptions, we can easily fall into the trap of treating other symbols, abstractions and representations as substantive. Balance sheets and key performance indicators, for example. “Surely those are more objective?” I hear you ask. Harmon would argue they are not:

All management meetings begin with the numbers. The numbers are the single best indicator of how the business is doing. The numbers are so real. So real, it’s hard to remember they are abstractions, macro reflections of the quality of thousands of individual acts.

When well-executed acts significantly exceed poorly executed acts, the numbers “look good.” When poor exceeds good, they “look bad.” Look is the right word. The numbers are always images of reality, never reality itself.

Such images and the organisational entities we relate to are in fact the result of a multitude of individual and collective decisions, cognitions, communications and actions. As Joe Leech (User Experience Director of cxpartnersobserves, ”Data dehumanises”.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not for one second saying that the use of representations is wrong—in fact, I’m a strong advocate of key performance indicators, metrics, brand identities and the like—but we do need to look beyond these.

At the end of the day, the foundation of any organisation is us. People. Humans. Individuals and groups. In the words of Harmon, “The small individual act is the basic cell of all performance. Everything we call management ends there.”

We need to remember this as we interact with our companies. Frequently, Matt and I emphasise the importance of considering the bigger picture; in this instance, I’m asking you to instead zoom in from the macro to consider the individual.

In an organisation that is struggling with a negative culture, what are the differences within that culture? Who stands out at as a light in the darkness? Why is their attitude and behaviour different? Is the negativity truly organisational or are there subtle differences between departments, teams and individuals? What can you learn from these differing responses?

Take sales figures as another example. Over the last few years, it has been easy to blame any financial downturn upon the recession, but are there subtle differences if you dig beneath the numbers on your spreadsheets? Is one customer segment more loyal than another? Does a single customer bring you more referrals than any other? Why? What are the differences and what can you learn from them?

Such a perspective is vital at all levels within an organisation but, for leaders, it is of particular importance. In the words of Harmon, “In any serious analysis, managers manage neither results nor numbers. They manage the quality of individual acts.”

Leaders in particular need to be able to identify the subtle differences within a collective and capitalise upon them. What is it that your leading sales representative does differently that he or she could teach others? Are efficiencies and inefficiencies the result of processes and technology or are there unnoticed individual acts that contribute to overall effectiveness? Is team performance reflective of ability or, in reality, does one team display more effective communication patterns than another? For any leader and the techniques that they use, “their power to generate constructive change lies in their capacity to direct or redirect individual small acts.”

So, next time you’re pouring over a spreadsheet, analysing your target market or in the midst of a leadership meeting, take a moment to step into the detail—to consider the individual and their unique acts. You might just discover something surprising. You will certainly add value to your management. And you will definitely unlock the true source of your organisational capabilities.

And for those of you who like the research…

Harmon, F.G. (1996). Playing for keeps. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

19
Nov
Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Our News  

Three weeks ago today, we were thrilled when Edward’s Trust were announced as one of the winners of the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network’s #lovemycharity competition.

Do you recognise one of the faces in the photo? Yes, I’m the one on the left! Also pictured (clockwise from left) are Neil Thorogood, Stephanie Bradbury, Nathan Weekes and Clare Martin—just a few of the team with whom we have been working on strategic development.

The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network had asked voluntary organisations to tweet @GdnVoluntary with the hashtag #lovemycharity and a photo of an individual or team holding a white board or placard explaining why they love the voluntary sector. By connecting this community through visual social media, the Voluntary Sector Network “hoped to raise awareness of the importance of conversation within this vital sector.”

Matt and I have been extremely privileged to work with Edward’s Trust over the last three years and, more intensively, since March of this year. We are proud to support both the voluntary sector and Edward’s Trust and thoroughly agree that helping others helps us all! Voluntary organisations have a wide reaching impact, not only in benefiting those they serve but also in the ripple effect they have upon those who work with and support them and, in turn, people in their circle of influence.

Matt and I have certainly grown through our work with Edward’s Trust and, as an organisation, they have grown too. We are looking forward to sharing more about the work we have been doing with Edward’s Trust over the coming months, so continue to watch this space!

Edward’s Trust supports people facing loss and surviving bereavement. Primarily, they offer holistic bereavement care within the West Midlands region for anyone affected by the death of a child aged 18 or under; any parent affected by the death of their own son or daughter (whatever the age of their child); and children aged 4 to 18 years who are bereaved of a sibling, parent or significant carer. They are also committed to raising awareness, changing attitudes and encouraging appropriate responses to dying, death and bereavement. To find out more about the charity, visit www.edwardstrust.org.uk or follow them on Twitter @Edwardstrust