Your Three Drivers of Success in 2019

Your Three Drivers of Success in 2019

George Carlin was one of the great humorists of the 20th century, drawing his observations from culture, politics and the restless world around him. One of his greatest quotes sticks with me: “Just when I discovered the meaning of life, they changed it.”

This quote reminds us that change is the only constant. For me, though, it also reinforces that I must never be satisfied in business, because satisfaction breeds complacency. My three decades of success as an entrepreneur (first in manufacturing, then in consulting and strategy) are very much grounded in a lifelong desire to create my own future. I bring the future into focus every morning by asking myself three simple questions:

  1. What am I going to sell today? (Sooner or later, you have to sell something! I like to make it sooner.) One of our best critics is my partner John’s youngest son, Quinn. Whenever we tell him our latest business idea, Quinn grounds us with the simple question: “That’s great; will it help you sell more?”
  2. What one thing can I improve in my business today? Change drives efficiency and customer delight, and “improvement” sounds much less daunting than “innovation.” I highlight one thing because success flows fastest when you focus on one activity at a time.
  3. How do my answers to the first two questions tie into my company’s long-term strategy? This question helps me stay on course, and avoid chasing shiny, short- term opportunities that invariably take our business off-track.

These three questions help me coalesce my thinking around growth and prosperity. They serve as a constant reminder that innovation comes from paying attention to customer delight, and that clarity drives growth. While these questions have served me for decades, the business environment has changed dramatically. That leads to three new insights I’d like to share.

  1. You can’t do it alone. Not any more.

    As entrepreneurs, we need to get out of our own way, as quickly as possible, to allow our businesses to reach their full potential. I get it. When we start a business, we’re alone. Look left, look right, there’s nobody beside us to help us. But as a business grows, so does the team around you, and business owners must make the leap from “island thinking” to inclusive leadership. The world is spinning faster, and product lifecycles are shortening. You can’t do it alone any more. Nobody can. The good news is that companies large and small are rife with engaged, entrepreneurial thinkers. Your new cadre of millennial employees (and much of Generation Y, the cohort that preceded them) were not raised like the boomers that came before. They were not told to keep your head down, put one foot in front of the other, don’t cause problems. They were raised to think independently, to make a difference. Growing up with social media, millennials are accustomed to interaction, dialogue, opinion and debate, about anything and everything. Today, smart leaders drive innovation and collaboration by making their workplaces more stimulating and engaging. You need to attract and retain the best of the best. Fortunately, this evolution is fueled the most basic of skills: listening, sharing and empowering.

  2. Low Tech may be your best tech.

    A few years back, a group of managers with a major company proudly presented me with 800 business-improvement ideas generated by their innovation program. The ideas were solicited through an online platform and stored on one individual’s laptop. What a waste! Languishing in a system dedicated to storing ideas, not adopting them, these ideas were old and often obsolete. The company had never devised a plan to turn these ideas into higher revenues, reduced costs, streamlined processes and improved customer engagement. Consider this advice from productivity expert Alan Henry on LifeHacker: “The best productivity methods keep your to-dos in front of you and prioritized so you never wonder what to work on next. Some are complicated, but others make it easy to see everything, organized by priority—so easy you could use Post-It notes if you wanted.” The organizations’ problem was founded in “out of sight, out of mind.” When the computer was turned off, the idea bank was closed. Change flourished through transparency and consensus. My solution, which I have implemented with clients and in my own business, is a simple 4’ x 6’ whiteboard. After identifying our top five strategic areas, we use masking tape to outline five columns on the board. Within each strategic area we then identify the top five “to-dos,” writing them on the board and assigning teams and critical dates. This board is left in open view for all team members to see and update. For occasional meetings, the board is rolled into our meeting room to help us assess progress, identity challenges and push the best ideas to market. Sometimes you have to go old-school. In offices driven by front-burner issues, opportunity can only compete by staying in plain sight.

  3. The future changed while you were sleeping.

    Just a few months ago I woke up to the news that researchers in Guelph, Ont. had used 3D-printing technology and a titanium skullcap to replace most of a dachshund’s cancer-ridden skull. A CBC report labelled it “a novel procedure.” “Novel?” That’s Canadian modesty for you. It was an incredible accomplishment driven by teamwork, technology, compassion and the drive to make another’s life better.

As George Carlin taught us, nothing stands still. We may not all be able to save a life, but we can (and must) find new ways to improve our customers’ lives. As the new year dawns, you must resolve never to be satisfied with the way things are. Because your customers will never be, either.

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The Accountability Paradox

nickelsThe process starts with asking the tough question: Just what are your people accountable for?

It sounds easy: Lydia’s accountable for sales. Bogdan is accountable for production. But before you can hold people accountable, you need to do two things. You need to be able to measure the outcomes of each task or function, to ensure you can actually determine success. And you need to be sure these people actually control the decision-making related to the objectives they’re accountable for.

These are systems that all successful companies should have in place to ensure they continue to thrive as they grow. But in my experience, few companies have the patience to do so. Building the right systems is demanding, detailed work. But those companies that don’t master the accountability paradox give up their ability to tie inputs to output. They end up settling for sub-par efficiency. And their key people will be working harder than necessary to succeed – because they don’t know the right buttons to push when it’s time to take action.

Here’s a real-life example of the problem. I was working with a company that thought it had a problem with frontline supervision. “They’re not being accountable for their performance,” my contact said. So I said, “Show me where it’s written down what the supervisors are responsible for.” He couldn’t do that. There were no responsibilities written down. But unless you can document these policies for all to see, how can you hope to achieve your goals – or hold people accountable for them?

Here’s the right way to make people accountable:

  1. If you are accountable for an outcome, it has to be measurable. It has to be numerical. (The word “count” is the key to “accountable.”) For instance, when you make someone accountable for health and safety at your plant, you monitor performance through the number of days lost due to accidents, or some similar metric.
  2. Clarify responsibility. You can’t hold someone accountable for production if they have no control over equipment, tooling or maintenance. Assign accountability to those who actually make the decisions.
  3. Measure the right things. More production doesn’t help if you’re making the wrong thing. Additional sales aren’t productive if production and delivery cost more than the sale price. I once worked with a company that valued sales volume above everything. They didn’t notice that the sales team was pushing through orders that weren’t exactly what the customers needed – which mean they required costly modifications. The company was losing money on each order, while the sales staff were earning bonuses.

Getting started in this work is tough. You can’t just hand it off to HR – they don’t understand the business impact of every decision. So each department has to work closely with HR to ensure they review each manager’s responsibilities, fairly resolve overlapping jurisdictions, and assign appropriate accountabilities. Each manager and executive can probably take responsibility for three to five measurable KPIs (key performance indicators). More than that is usually asking too much.
Finally, make sure your people know that accountability is a positive thing. You’re not out to punish people for underperformance. The reason you hold people accountable is to set them up for success. KPIs are for problem-solving; they tell us where to improve when something isn’t working.

The only point of measuring is to let us know when and where to take action.

Where there is no accountability, no one knows what’s not working, or how to fix it. As a result, the wrong people will be working overtime to solve the problem, while the key decision makers get off scot-free. Doing things right takes time and effort at the start, but it always pays off in the long run.

Does any of this sound too familiar? Are you seeing similar problems in your organization? Contact me for a free consultation. Revisiting accountability may be a huge opportunity for your business. I’d be pleased to help you get

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Spyder Works Celebrates 25: The Anniversary Interview

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Einstein never made it big in the business world, but he made a famous observation that all CEOs can understand: no problem can be solved using the same level of thinking that created it.

That’s why Spyder Works has always sought new ways of solving business problems. Building on our founders’ complementary expertise in business and design-thinking, we help clients find innovative solutions by re-framing their challenges and seeing opportunity through a different lens. Design-driven strategy is a creative and pragmatic approach that is used to drive unexpected insights to uncover and commercialize opportunities.

Over the last few years, we have transformed this advantage into a replicable process that clients can depend on. And we’ve given it a name: Design-Driven Strategy. It’s the process we use to tap into the two pillars of successful businesses:  left-brain (the rational, measurable part) and right-brain thinking (the creative, aspirational components that create the most value in customers’ minds).

Design-Driven Strategy lets us help organizations become as efficient and effective as they can be, while liberating their employees’ passions and new ideas to create innovation and resilience. Once your organization masters this whole-brain approach to strategy, it becomes active instead of reactive. It develops the skills to dominate its categories and boldly expand into new markets as its confidence and creativity grow.

Want to know more? We convinced our co-CEOs, Ken Tencer (Chief Executive Officer) and John Paulo Cardoso (Chief Experience Officer), to sit down for an interview about the power of Design-Driven Strategy – and what it means to you. Here’s what they told us:

Question: What makes “Design-Driven Strategy” different?

Ken Tencer: It’s creative and pragmatic; it melds the human focus of design thinking with the more linear thinking of conventional business strategy. In today’s creative and data-driven business world, there are so many ways to move forward. Design-driven strategy helps us to build a dynamic perspective into decision-making.

Compare this to the dual nature of data today. Big data is the rational art of marketing: it tells you what people are doing. Thick data tells you why they are doing it.

John Paulo Cardoso: As a creative thinker, my foundational belief is: “Embrace the obvious.” People are always making business problems more complex. They keep adding layers to them, like an onion. They get so far from the core that they forget the obvious. Design-driven strategy is an inquisitive framework that invites collaboration from different perspectives such as creative thinkers, entrepreneurs and traditional strategists. It helps to quickly cut through the layers.
One of the core elements of design-driven strategy is the notion of design thinking and at Spyder Works we define it as “Thinking with your hands.” Designers are always constructing mockups or thumbnails to model what they’re seeing. By taking their visions out of their heads and sharing them, they create more robust, free-flowing conversations. People start building on each other’s ideas. They very quickly understand how each component relates to each other, and how the whole system can be improved.

Question: How did you get from there to “Design-Driven Strategy”?

John: I believe we can solve any business problem by beginning from anywhere when we engage both a creative and a pragmatic mindset. My favorite anecdote from the early space program is how the Americans spent millions of dollars developing a pen that would work in space while the Russians simply used a pencil.

I started Spyder in 1992 as a design studio to work with like-minded designers and clients who valued design as a strategic differentiator in building their business. Our first client was Estée Lauder who understood the value of design to create their brand experience. But over the years, I started getting different challenges to solve: real business problems. We became much more of a business consultancy. Ken started out as a client; the co-founder of a growing manufacturer of natural bath and body care products. I liked his strategic mindset and creative bent, and he liked that I was a strong creative person who embraces the freedom of creativity and able to recognize its application within a business context to help it grow.

Together we’ve created a different mindset about what a consulting firm can be.

Ken: We have quite systematically developed our whole-brain approach to strategy for business. The left brain is all that rational Tier One consultancy and Fortune 500 thinking. The right brain generates the emotive, out-of-the-box thinking of entrepreneurs and designers. They see different patterns than the rest of us do. They question everything they see. And I find it’s that question “Why?” that drives opportunity today.

When we work on business strategies, we don’t leave our clients 30,000 feet in the air. We drill through the data to find creative new insights that drive ideas to market. So, when we worked with a national pharmacy chain, we began with the question, “Why do people go to drugstores?” We found that trust and knowledge were far more important than product assortment. These findings helped them move into a number of adjacent markets and position themselves as both pharmacy and home health-care experts.

Q: How can Design-Driven Strategy help businesses grow?

Ken: We helped a chemical company develop a new line of treatment products for water systems. We talked to people selling similar products and found that legacy competitors had lost sight of their users. They weren’t giving customers reasons to buy. We helped our client develop a value-added consumer platform anchored in product performance, and then we helped them introduce it to the trade. Focusing on the customer experience: that’s what ties it all together.

John: It’s about creating and commercializing meaningful next step opportunities. It requires rigor to identify need states and creativity to recognize the pain points and opportunities that start meaningful relationships. We take clients through applied learning workshops that help them explore problems from various perspectives. By working with tactile tools, whether it’s whiteboards, Plasticine, paperclips, personification exercises or techniques from method acting, they see connections and discover barriers and possibilities they could rarely come up with by just working inside their heads.

Q: How has this approach changed what Spyder Works does?

John: We’re closer to the C-suite than we’ve ever been. We’re being asked much bigger questions. It’s no longer, “How do I stand out on the shelf?” Now it’s, “Why should I be on the shelf?” This journey is really coming alive.

Ken: We’re seeing tremendous new talents attracted to our team by our holistic approach to business thinking. Jeff Holland is an engineer and consultant from McKinsey with Big Auto experience who’s thrilled about being able to bring our whole-brain approach to clients: he’s a musician who loves to build guitars. Barry O’Grady’s whole career has been in big consumer brands. He’s keen to bring our unique thinking to manufacturing and service companies that have traditionally sold only on functional benefits. And with Vivian Hisey running our new division, Icicle Learning, we can now transform your corporate culture to capture the full benefits of whole-brain strategy.

Q: Design and business strategy aren’t always on speaking terms. How do the two of you work together? How do you get along?

John: We see everything very differently but we understand that strategy is one construct with two elements, design + business just like water’s hydrogen and oxygen. We also follow a strong process which has enabled a shorthand communication style that nurtures robust conversations We are able cut to the heart of the matter, and that gets us to solutions much faster. Having opposing points-of-view is what makes the solution stronger.

Ken: We’ve always appreciated that we look at things from very different perspectives. It’s a gift, not a weakness. And it’s a sensibility that we’ve passed on to our entire team through our workplace style and culture.

We have animated conversations and that’s how we break through and tap new thinking. I don’t think you can be closed-minded in business anymore, at any level, and expect to be successful.

For more on Design-Driven Strategy, reach out to Ken <> and he’ll be happy to set up a co-CEO lunch for three.



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