In the past month, I have had two unique opportunities: the first was to spend a few days in Boston with one of my clients and Frances Frei from Harvard; the second was a fireside chat with some fellow CEOs and author Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Point, Outliers, What the Dog Saw). There were some great strategic nuggets interwoven into both conversations, and I want to share with you what I learned.
Frei is a professor in Harvard Business School’s technology and operations management unit and the chairwoman of the MBA required curriculum. Because Frei’s work focuses on how organizations can more effectively design service excellence, I was eager to hear her thoughts on organizational strategy. I was not disappointed.
Here are some key points I took away from the conversation.
Choose great over average. When you’re considering your points of differentiation as an organization the key is not to try to become five out of five on all aspects of your client value proposition; by diffusing your efforts as an organization among so many things you end up becoming three out of five (average) on everything.
Really great, standout companies figure out what they can sacrifice (areas where they are at about a one out of five), so they can truly be five out of five on the areas that count most to their customers.
Choose differentiation versus “me-too.” For true differentiation you need to do something that the competition can’t properly replicate. Consider the example of the Heavenly Bed Wars. Once Westin hotels rolled
out its heavenly beds campaign, all their competitors had to do was provide a similar quality of bed – a simple yet costly undertaking, the net result being that consumers now get better beds from all competing hotels. But each is still in the same price-competitive space: higher cost, lower margin and no differentiation. The trick is to focus on providing something to your customer that is difficult for your competitors to replicate. Continue reading
One of the challenges of being a good leader is understanding how to lead up and provide appropriate feedback to your leader while at the same time finding ways for your team to provide you feedback.
Here are three questions you can answer for your leader and ask of your direct reports:
- What am I doing too much off?
- What am I not doing enough of?
- What am I doing that is just right for you?
Whether in an annual review setting, quarterly check-ins, or more frequently, asking and answering these three simple questions is a quick and easy way to provide and receive feedback.
My mom is a great cook, but whenever I ask her for a recipe, she tells me that mere words are not enough to do justice to a dish. She suggests that the best way to learn to cook is to watch her prepare meals and then try them out myself. Now mom doesn’t have a college degree, but she does have a point there. There are in fact many things we can learn through observation alone, and I believe that leadership is one of them. Of course, you may have to adapt what you observe to suit your environment and also use feedback to refine your technique, but in general, it pays to be observant.
- Geese: Now here’s a bunch that knows what synergy truly means. If you’ve ever seen a flock of wild geese flying overhead, you know that they do so in a V formation. Now V may stand for victory, but it also stands for common sense and practicality. The leader of the bunch is the goose at the tip of the V. All the other birds are able to fly easier because of the uplift caused by its wings. And each of the birds that follow fly assisted by the previous bird’s uplift. This way, by pooling their resources and helping the weaker ones, the geese are able to travel 71 percent more than they normally could. Also, when the leader tires, it falls back and another goose takes its place. So for synergy and cooperation, look no further than the geese.
- Ants: Ants are some of the most diligent creatures on earth. The tale of the Ant and the Grasshopper tells us that this tiny animal slogs all day and gathers food for its community when it is available and stores it away for leaner times. It does not waste time and does what it needs to do to secure its future. Also, the ant uses pheromones to leave trails for its fellow ants. This helps the bunch find the fastest way to food and the best way to avoid danger. Aspiring leaders can learn a thing or two from ants – how to work hard for what they want and how best to lead their followers in simple ways.
- Dolphins: Dolphin trainers will attest to the fact that these beautiful beasts of the sea are not like other animals – they don’t respond positively to threats or punishments of any kind. Rather, if you want the dolphin to do your bidding, you must coax, cajole and praise. In our world too, praise and encouragement work much better in getting people to do your bidding willingly. The operative word here is “willingly” because any task done unwillingly is never well done.
I’ve named just a few here, but I do believe that there are many more acts that we can observe from nature and adapt to the boardroom and the corporate world. So the next time you hear the phrases “It’s a dog-eat-dog world” and call competition a rat race, remember that you can also draw positive examples to follow from the animal kingdom.
This guest post is contributed by Shannon Wills, she writes on the topic of Online Engineering Degrees . She welcomes your comments at her email id: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I received an email today from a CEO the other day asking me, “Do you have any good references / literature on ‘how to make people care’? I’m having some employee challenges.”
I thought I would share my response with you:
1) hire people who care (it’s an attitudinal thing, not a training thing)
2) show a direct connection between success for them and why they should care
3) lobotomy – expensive and illegal but can dramatically shift innate personality traits. For examples of when this doesn’t work I suggest renting Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (and yes, I know, that was a potion, not a lobotomy – you get the idea).
Motivation is not something people need to receive. It’s finding ways to remove the things that demotivate people that keeps them motivated (if you hire self-starters).”
In 1998, Thomas Stanley and William Danko, wrote The Millionaire Next Door, after 20 years of research into the habits, attitudes, and behaviours of millionaires.
It turns out that most millionaires reach that level of wealth not by selling a business or cashing out from a corporate stock plan, but instead through a systematic approach to building financial wealth.
They found multiple examples of people making $70,000 per year who, through using the techniques below, managed to amass over $1M in net worth prior to retirement.
Here’s a summary of the key habits:
- Be frugal – live below your means and always be on the lookout for deals (eBay, Craigslist, sales, never paying full price). That means putting together a spending and savings plan that works within your current income, not the income you hope to have in the future. Think about how much it cost to “keep up with the Jones.” If you live in a less expensive neighbourhood the reality of keeping up with the average is significantly easier (less expensive car, less expensive clothes, less expensive jewelry, etc.).
- Budget and track – create a budget for every dollar you spend each month and then compare to the actual. A great example I heard from Ward Hodsman at London Life, is to put money in different envelopes for what you plan to spend on. When the money’s gone, you’re done spending in that category for the month.
- Spend time on financial planning – millionaires spent significant time each month (quadruple the time of non-millionaires) planning their spending habits.
- Savings and RRSPs – decide how much money you want to put into savings and RRSPs each month and have that amount automatically withdrawn and transferred into those accounts.
- Future wealth – don’t spend money you don’t have yet. That includes not spending a pending bonus. Only spend from the money you currently have.