What A Caterpillar Can Teach You About Growing Your Business

Master Near Constant Change

 

Many people think that businesses should develop a strategy and stick to it at all costs.

But Sid Mohasseb, serial entrepreneur, investor, venture capitalist, and former the Head of Strategic Innovation for KPMG’s Strategy Practice teaches an entirely different approach: It’s the ability to adjust your strategy, almost constantly, that brings success. The environment is uncertain and changing, and changing with it is vital.

Sid teaches that we must push for more and evolve from one approach to another.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with him about his new book, The Caterpillar’s Edge: Evolve, Evolve Again, and Thrive in Business.

 

Prepare for Constant Flux

Why a caterpillar?

The caterpillar evolves many times over before it becomes a butterfly. It changes form until it turns into a completely different species. The caterpillar teaches us the wisdom of constant and incremental evolution and offers the promise of flying.  To compete, to advance and to win, in our businesses and in our personal lives, we must evolve constantly and purposefully, always.

 

“Things do not change. We change.” -Henry David Thoreau

 

How is the game changing? And how do leaders prepare for the constant flux?

Innovation is constantly approaching from every corner of the world. The speed of change fueled by unprecedented technological advancements and constantly increasing customer expectations are challenging companies to “stay relevant” – competitive advantages are temporary. The game has changed from, “How do I gain an advantage and defend it?” to “How do I change to stay relevant?”

To win in a state of constant flux, leaders must shift their minds and change their actions. First, by realizing their addictions (old assumptions, orthodoxies, biases, etc.). Next, by aligning with uncertainty – no plans can be permanent and no decisions are certain. Leaders must learn to live with probability and a portfolio of related plans – always ready to take the path that offers the most likelihood of success. They should also appreciate the reality of their capabilities and aim to build the future in increments; success cycles must be shorter and capabilities (people & systems) have to be created accordingly. Last, leaders must constantly look for the next advantage and aspire for more “Aha’s.” They should look for and discover the next challenge or opportunity, always; innovate, always (create new value), and evolve, always.

 

“To win in a state of constant flux, leaders must shift their minds and actions.” -Sid Mohasseb

 

How to Embrace Change

Why do we so often refuse to deal with change and uncertainty?caterpillar-cover

The refusal is more natural than intentional. We refuse to deal with change because of our fears of unknown (what is on the other side of change) and comfort with the status quo (comfortable routines we are used to and have served us well in the past). Most people embrace change when they i) realize the severity of the problem they face and ii) gain trust that what they can change to is a better state. We often refuse to change because we believe that the status quo does not present a major danger and/or we don’t trust the alternative paths offered by our leaders.

At business school and later at work, we are trained to look for certainty to plan to and execute against – assuming reduced risk. In our personal lives, we are comfortable living with probability and operating in uncertainly – there is a 40% chance of rain, and we decide, based on our risk tolerance, to take an umbrella or not. In our professional lives, we are expected to be certain and execute with confidence in outcomes. People, on a personal level, can innately adjust to uncertainty. However, they are reluctant operating with uncertainty at work because corporations expect and reward the illusion of certainty.

 

“The only thing that is constant is change.” -Heraclitus

 

3 Categories for Leaders to Plan in a World of Change

12 Principles that Guide High-Performance Organizations

Unlocking the Secrets of High-Performance

They may seem, at first glance, to have nothing in common—different industries, challenges, experiences, leaders, competition, you name it. But there is something about this group of organizations that drew attention and merited study.

And that was their performance. These businesses outperformed their competition. Consistently.

Brian MacNeice and James Bowen recently spoke with me about their research into these companies and their new book, Powerhouse: Insider accounts into the world’s top high-performance organizations. Brian and James are founders of the international Kotinos Partners consultancy. They are experts in high performance.

They outlined 12 principles that guide the organizations that outlast and outperform the competition.

 


“Engagement on its own is only a stepping stone to sustained high-performance.”

 

12 Characteristics

How did you arrive at the common characteristics of organizations achieving excellence?

Effectively these emerged gradually through the research. We studied each institution with an open mind and on its merits. Then we shortlisted, at the conclusion of our research in each case, what we thought were the fundamental drivers of that institution’s enduring outperformance. When we compared the lists we had created across several of the institutions, the common characteristics became evident.

Secondly, because our research process was quite extended, we had the opportunity to use some of the later studies to test and validate hypotheses emerging from the earlier ones.

Finally we used some of our client work, which was progressing in parallel, to further refine our thinking.

 

I often ask leadership experts whether leaders are made or born. You take on that question with regard to high-performance organizations and say that they are made, not born. What leads you to this conclusion?

Simply put, the leaders who we spoke to in the organizations we researched were consistent in articulating and reinforcing that view. Without exception they talked about how they viewed the enduring sources of their advantage as being their people and their organizations, and they each described their roles as being about setting direction and ambition and then facilitating and enabling their organizations to achieve and extend those ambitions over time.

Even more particularly, given that many of the organizations we researched could be reasonably described as “values-driven,” their leaders saw a fundamental aspect of their roles as being about defining, representing, facilitating and rewarding those values in their organizations. The Mayo Clinic, Tata, Doctors Without Borders (Médicins sans Frontières) and the US Marine Corps were particularly strong examples in this regard.

 


“Overengineered engagement initiatives can become impersonal and feel false.”

 

4 Pillars of High-Performance

Let’s talk about the four-pillars to delivering high-performance.

Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission

Every organization knows it needs a plan. Where do most go wrong?

There are lots of ways in which organizations go wrong when it comes to planning, but for this discussion we will highlight two that we observe again and again in our work.

First, we suggest that organizations go wrong by planning on a basis of “inside-out” rather than “outside-in.” That is to say, their leaders tend to look at last year’s model and last year’s performance and identify tweaks they can make with a view to delivering incremental performance improvements next year. This model of planning tends to be short-term and tactical in nature and anchored in a historic, likely outdated, view of the world.

 


High performance organizations plan from the outside-in, not inside-out.

 

High performance organizations come at planning from the outside-in, using a much more strategic, future-oriented approach. They start by looking outside their organizations to understand how the context within which they operate is changing. Sometimes they do this by looking at their organizations through a series of discrete “lenses” – for example industry, market, customer, competitor, technology, regulatory, people – to understand (a) what dynamics they observe, (b) what opportunities and/or challenges arise as a result of these dynamics, and (c) how these dynamics might play out over the course of their planning horizon. Armed with these insights – in particular a much deeper understanding of cause-and-effect – they are better positioned to create strategies that bridge from where they are now to where they want to be over time. Relative to the first approach we discussed, plans developed this way tend to be more ambitious, radical and lower risk all at the same time.

Second we would suggest that organizations go wrong because they view planning as a task rather than as a capability. They view it as a chore to be endured once a year to fill a template, and which brings with it a significant cost in terms of time away from the frontline. Their engagement and investment in planning reflects this attitude – for them it’s about getting to the end of the process as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The approaches we observe in high performance organizations, by contrast, are more consistent with Eisenhower’s famous mantra that, “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” They understand that their organizations, and the worlds in which they are operating, are always changing, and as such they develop planning as a dynamic, enduring competence. They operate “with their heads up,” tracking changes in their context all the time, taking on board the lessons of their experience and factoring insights into their plans on an ongoing basis. Some of these organizations have moved away from a traditional, annual model of budget-based planning towards a more continuous, iterative model of strategy development and deployment.

 


“Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” -Dwight Einsenhower

12 Powers of a Marketing Leader

Today’s Marketing Leaders

Today, many marketing leaders report that they are having less impact and are not satisfied in their jobs. That may be somewhat surprising since marketing methods and capabilities are in the midst of exciting changes and the opportunities are like never before.

 

Research: only 44% of marketing leaders satisfied with career.

 

Thomas Barta, a former McKinsey Partner, and Patrick Barwise, Emeritus Professor of Management and Marketing at London Business School, just conducted the most extensive research ever on what drives marketers’ business impact and career success. What drives impact? What does it take to thrive in marketing today? With data spanning 170 countries and over 8,600 leaders, Thomas and Paddy distilled the results into what it really takes to drive customer and company value.

Thomas and Paddy recently shared more with me about their new book, The 12 Powers of A Marketing Leader: How to Succeed by Building Customer and Company Value, and the extensive research behind their findings.

 

“When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘we did it ourselves.” -Lao Tzu

 

Your research revealed that most senior marketers aren’t satisfied with their career paths. Why not? What’s different for them than they expected?

12 Powers of a Marketing LeaderThat’s right. Only 44% of marketers are satisfied with their careers—and in the 360-degree data, marketers’ bosses, when comparing the career success of all their direct reports, put them last. We think there are two reasons. First, as customer experts, they likely think they should have more influence on key business decisions rather than being limited to decisions on advertising and promotion. Recent research by Frank Germann, Peter Ebbs and Rajdeep Grewal shows that they’re right: having a CMO in the C-suite and having an influential marketing department do help companies become more customer-focused, increasing business performance. Secondly, they lack job security. While average S&P 500 CEO tenure is six years plus, average US CMO tenure is only four years and possibly decreasing: search firm Spencer Stuart recently reported it was down to forty-four months in 2015.

 


“Leaders must encourage their organizations to dance to forms of music yet to be heard.” -Warren Bennis

 

Balance Leadership and Functional Skills

You say that leadership skills matter more than technical marketing skills. I passionately agree. Is there a certain time when this matters more in a career? How do marketers balance the constant need to stay up with new technologies with the need to learn leadership skills? 

Leading marketing isn’t the same as doing marketing, and many marketers underinvest in leadership skills.

As a junior marketer, most of your effort will inevitably go into becoming excellent in the particular technical area you’re working on. As you become more senior, you have to achieve more through other people. But at all stages, it’s important to keep developing your broader business and leadership skills.

Our evidence is that many, perhaps most, senior marketers are getting so sucked into the ever-changing technical issues that they lose sight of the bigger picture and the need to build and mobilize a great team, keep it aligned around the CEO’s agenda, spend time with their non-marketing colleagues who mainly determine the quality of the customer experience, and so on.

Patrick Barwise Patrick Barwise

As a senior marketer, you should aim to be a leader of leaders. You need enough understanding of the latest technical developments to hire the best people, mobilize them, align them with the strategy, and constructively challenge them when necessary. But your main role isn’t to try to keep fully up to speed on the technicalities (an impossible task); it’s to ensure that, as a group, the team contributes as much as possible to the development and execution of the strategy. Crucially, that includes mobilizing your boss and your non-marketing colleagues as well as your team (and yourself).

Functional skills and leadership skills matter. Getting the balance right is a big challenge, but really important for both marketing and the company.

 


“Recognizing power in another does not diminish your own.” -Joss Whedon

 

Take a 360 Degree View of Leadership

You distill your findings into 12 traits that drive success, and you put them in 4 categories (boss, colleagues, team, yourself). That’s basically an internal 360 degree view from where you sit in an organization. What are some of the symptoms that demonstrate you have it wrong, e.g., you’re focusing too much on the boss and not enough on the team or otherwise have your balance out of whack?

That’s exactly right about the 360 degree view. Our beef with most work on leadership is that it’s only about managing your subordinates and perhaps yourself. But most leaders – in fact, everyone up to CXO level – also need to manage their relationships with their colleagues and bosses. The traditional picture of leadership is incomplete except for perhaps the CEO – and even the CEO is accountable to the chairman and the board.

The main way in which senior marketers get this balance wrong is by spending most of their time inside the marketing department managing the team’s activities rather than walking the halls to energize everyone around the customer agenda. The symptoms are that non-marketers in these companies will likely say: “Marketing is a silo,” while the marketers will refer to themselves as something like “the coloring-in department” – that is, limited to advertising and promotion, with little influence on the company’s products, prices, distribution, service support, etc.

 

The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader

  1. Tackle only big issues
  2. Deliver returns, no matter what
  3. Work only with the best
  4. Hit the head and the heart
  5. Walk the halls
  6. You go first
  7. Get the mix right
  8. Cover them in trust
  9. Let the outcomes speak
  10. Fall in love with your world
  11. Know how you inspire
  12. Aim higher

 

Cover Them With Trust

I appreciate your chapter Cover Them with Trust. Talk about trust – what steps should a leader take to build trust?

Tomas Barta Tomas Barta

To build trust within the team, leaders need to go beyond professionalism (knowing a lot, being reliable, and so on) and our key recommendation to get people to “ask for forgiveness, not permission.” People like strong leaders who trust them and genuinely listen to their ideas and concerns, but they also want to know the real person behind the business leader. That’s why, at times, it’s critical to be willing to show weakness, too. Michelle Peluso, former CEO of online shopping site Gilt, for example, shared her own 360-degree assessments with her team and asked for help. You can’t put a value on that. Conversely, having and showing a big ego destroys trust. So make your corner office the team room. Praise people. Take one for the team at times.

 

“A big ego destroys trust.”

 

The 4 Most Important Powers

Why You May Need A Wicked Strategy

 

What do you do if you face a problem so complex that it can only be described as wicked?

Is it possible to confound competitors?

 

How Companies Conquer Complexity and Confound Competitors

John Camilius, author of Wicked Strategies: How Companies Conquer Complexity and Confound Competitors outlines a number of ways that managers can handle the most difficult problems. Camilius is the Donald R. Beall Professor of Strategic Management at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” -Winston Churchill

 

For those who don’t know your work, what is a wicked problem?

In the early seventies, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, two professors of design and urban planning, recognized that there are certain problems that are not amenable to resolution by traditional, accepted problem-solving techniques. They evocatively labeled these problems as “wicked” and identified ten distinguishing characteristics. Ten characteristics are difficult to remember, and over the years, I have whittled them down to just five.  If a problem displays these five criteria, you can be pretty sure you are facing a wicked problem.Wicked Strategies John C. Camillus

The first characteristic is deceptively simple and requires some thought:  Is the problem one that is substantially without precedent, something that you have not encountered before?

Second, are there multiple significant stakeholders with conflicting values and priorities? You need to go beyond the traditional big three stakeholders—employees, customers and shareholders.  Non-government organizations, multiple layers of government, creditors, communities in which you are located, political parties in power and out of power are all becoming more significant and demanding.

Third, are there several causes and are they interactive and tangled?  For instance, the future of social media is driven by a complex brew of technology advancements in hardware and apps, changing demographics, evolving social and cultural mores, government regulations, privacy expectations, geopolitical developments, educational practices, disposable income, and economic and social mobility.

 

“If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re going.” -Irwin Corey

 

Fourth, there is no sure way of knowing you have the right answer. Another way of phrasing this is that there is no stopping rule—you can continue searching indefinitely for a “better” answer.

Fifth, the understanding of what the “problem” is changes depending on the “solution” being considered.  In other words, the problem and the solution are interactive. For instance, entry into a country that does not permit foreign multi-brand retailers might be accomplished by creating a cash-and-carry model for small retailers or by being a minority partner with a local retailer or by entering an entirely new business employing a distinctive competency such as logistics. Each of these responses to the wicked problem of accessing the huge purchasing power of emerging economies’ populations creates a wholly different set of issues.

A note of warning may be in order. In the public policy arena, the wickedness of problems is hard to overlook. Problems such as immigration policy, violence against women, religious fundamentalism, and public education are overtly wicked. In the business world, however, the thing about wicked problems is that though they can show up anywhere, they are likely to be perceived as “tame” problems.

Wicked problems are certainly more common than most managers realize. Not recognizing that they were facing wicked problems, I believe, led to the dissolution of Westinghouse, the demise of Polaroid, and the decline of Kodak, RadioShack and Atari. Though wicked problems can occur anywhere, it is more likely than not that you will encounter wicked problems if you are a public company, operate globally, and are in a technology-driven business.

 

“Every threat to the status quo is an opportunity in disguise.” -Jay Samit

 

3 Megaforces Challenging Business

You talk about 3 megaforces that are challenging business. How do these trends help create wicked problems?

While there are a variety of forces and environmental factors that can create wicked problems, over the years I’ve identified three forces that are widely experienced which, in concert, are a major source of wicked problems. They are: the inevitability of globalization, the imperative of innovation, and the importance of shared value. The first two forces are well understood. Shared value, which has been brought to the attention of the managerial world by Michael Porter, is the notion that social benefit and economic value are synergistic. It also raises the issue of the appropriate sharing of value across diverse stakeholders.

The interactions of these three forces create strategic challenges that combine to create wicked problems. For instance, innovating to meet the needs of unserved, low-income customers across the world results—as the guru of disruptive innovation Clayton Christensen has affirmed—in disruptive technologies that can upend industries. Innovation also creates changes that differentially impact stakeholders, creating the likelihood of conflict between stakeholders as the organization transforms. The extreme complexity and uncertainty embodied in the global economy coupled with the conflicting priorities of multiple stakeholders creates unknowable futures. This roiling cauldron of disruptive technologies, conflicted stakeholders and unknowable futures is what spawns wicked problems.

I like to illustrate the interaction of these forces in a Venn diagram.

unnamed-1

Three Mega-Forces and their Strategic Challenge

These three forces can interact to create wicked problems in any context. Of course, other environmental forces can also breed wicked problems, but I have chosen to focus on these three because they are so ubiquitous and powerful.

I believe there are business contexts or “industries” that will be breeding grounds for wicked problems. Health, software, information technology, fossil fuels, water, automobiles, and public transportation are prime examples. Technological innovation, drastically changing regulations, geopolitical developments, and changing notions of social responsibility make these industries particularly prone to encountering wicked problems that demand that firms develop and deploy wicked strategies. 

 

“The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” -William Ellery Channing

 

How to Deal With Uncertainty

How to Achieve Execution Excellence

What’s the best way to drive individual performance?

How does a leader assure enterprise success?

Is it possible to close performance gaps to improve execution?

 

Making Strategy Work

In Execution Excellence: Making Strategy Work Using the Balanced Scorecard  Sanjiv Anand answers these and other questions.

Sanjiv Anand has 30 years of global experience in consulting, helping CEOs and boards develop transformational strategies. Currently the Chairman of Cedar Management Consulting International, his book is full of his operational and strategic insight on how to manage human capital. He is an expert on the Balanced Scorecard.

I recently asked Sanjiv to share some of his experience about what does and doesn’t work in implementing strategy.

 

“If you can’t execute the strategy, it’s not worth having.” –Sanjiv Anand

 

Why is strategy more relevant than ever before?

While the world continues to provide opportunities to grow, it is not without challenges. First, customer expectations around product, relationship, and brand have risen over years driven by extremely high levels of competitiveness. This has resulted in the need for firms to develop multiple strategies that address different customer segments. Additionally, competition is now local, regional, national, and global. This requires a more nuanced and complex competitive strategy. All of this also drives complexity in process and people. Global organizations or markets require processes to work well in a centralized and decentralized manner. Lastly organizations have become complex as even medium-sized enterprises can have employees across the world. All of this has made strategy, and more importantly the execution of strategy, more relevant than ever before.

 

“Strategy is about execution.” –Sanjiv Anand

 

What are the elements of a strategy that works?

Never build a strategy that can’t be executed. The problem starts there. Most organizations build strategies that are complex, difficult to understand, and hard to execute. A strategy that works needs to be balanced. It needs to focus on the drivers of financial performance rather than just the financial outcome. People and technology help drive process excellence. Process excellence helps meet or exceed customer expectations. And meeting customer expectations delivers financial performance. Therefore, all of these elements are critical for strategy that works—combined with a clear sense of ownership across the leadership team, a set of performance measures that are lead indicators to performance, and a set of targets that focus performance and don’t overwhelm. Focus, balance, ownership, measurement, and the right targets are the elements that make strategy work.

 

“Parallel processing is key to a successful strategy.” –Sanjiv Anand

 

Understand Cultural Differences

What are the cultural differences to be aware of in terms of measurement?

Execution Excellence by Sanjiv AnandIn the U.S., measurement motivates. In many parts of the world, measurement scares. Why? The U.S. has a culture that celebrates individual performance. This is also reflected in how organizations assess and reward people. Drive individual performance to drive enterprise performance is the typical formula; therefore, most executives in U.S. corporations are used to the idea of being measured and being held accountable individually.

Many parts of the world are different. In Japan it’s about team performance, and therefore team measurement is more important. In many parts of Asia, especially India, measurement is generally not part of the culture. Individual performance, or rather lack of it, is not something for public display or discussion. In Europe, the role of the corporation transcends the objective of only meeting shareholder expectations to also focusing on the greater good of society, so measurement of individual performance gets more complicated.

The broader point here is not to suggest that measurement should not be attempted, but the approach to measurement needs to be customized to motivate, not demotivate’ which is the objective in the first place.

 

“A positive strategy should focus on innovation.” –Sanjiv Anand

 

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