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Ten Thoughts On How To Develop High Performing Teams – Leadership

Post first published 2/27/13 in the “MENG Blend” on the Marketing Executives Networking Group website – www.mengonline.com.  The destination site for leading marketing executives looking to stay ahead of the curve.  We have more than 1800 of the leading marketing minds in the world eager to meet, communicate, help and share our expertise.

Ten Thoughts On How To Develop High Performing Teams

Team Graphic

The word “team” has been used a lot in organizational motivational materials in recent years.  However, there is big difference between just a group of people calling themselves a “team” vs. a high performing one.  A team that doesn’t perform or work well together will, in most cases, not be able to help the organization achieve their objectives.  Moreover, de-moralizing team leadership can result in pushing all decision-making upwards to avoid “getting into trouble” and stifle new ideas.  I’ve been fortunate over the years in leading many cross-functional teams in multi-million dollar consumer product businesses.  So I’d thought I’d share with you my 10 ideas on how to develop high performing teams.

1.   Encourage “outside the box” thinking:

It’s important not to tell your team members “how” to do things.  Just establish the “goal line” and make sure they get any help they need.  Moreover, it’s also important you teach/train your team members on how to think “outside the box” to help them look at problems from many different points of view.  This is how seasoned leaders think and it’s a skill that can be taught.  It starts by asking different types of questions to uncover any gaps in team members thinking about the problem.  This helps to get your team to think.

2.   Delegate till it hurts:

The only way team members will grow if they learn by their mistakes as well as successes.  If you micro-manage all it will do is push ALL decision-making up to your level and they will never grow.  You can provide direction on what’s “in/out” of bounds, but don’t do the work for them.  My motto is “It’s OK to make a mistake; just don’t make the same mistake twice”.

3.   Be open to new ways of thinking:

Yes, you’ve been successful or you wouldn’t have been made team leader in the first place.  However, as Albert Einstein so cleverly stated “We can’t solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”.  So don’t be insecure to think you know everything – you don’t.  In addition, ask for volunteers with new ideas.  They will be most motivated to come up with new ideas and/or thinking.  This helps with idea #1.

4.   Never talk down to your team members:

Even if you think you know everything, never talk down to team members to show them how smart you are.  The workplace is not a forum on who’s the smartest.  It’s more about learning, letting go, performing, and motivating others to do great work.  Moreover, who wants to perform for someone who is always talking down to them?  Team members have feelings just like you.

5.   Give credit where credit is due:

While you are responsible for the ultimate product of your team, be sure you never “steal” their work.  Nothing demoralizes team members faster than bosses claiming their work as their own.  Don’t worry, you’ll get credit for your team’s work since your boss will give YOU credit for leading the team that came up with the idea in the first place.  That’s leadership.

6.   Promote your team members:

Be an advocate of your team.  Support and promote their work throughout the organization.  Remember, their work is a direct reflection of your leadership.  If you promote your team you will get promoted in the long run.  Moreover, you will build solid relationships with your team members for life.  They will remember how you promoted them and thus they will promote you – especially when you’re not looking.

7.   You must be authentic:

Everyone wants to be liked.  This means you need to be “real” and listen to your team members concerns and issues – even if you don’t really have the time.  You need to make time.  Moreover, no one wants to be “sold” or coerced into thinking you’re someone you’re not.  People can easily spot a phony and this leads to mistrust and ill feelings.

8.   Be sensitive to team member personal issues, but be careful:

While it’s important you’re sensitive to team member personal issues (this is part of being authentic), you need to be careful and not get “sucked in” to solving their problems.  Some people can be too “needy”.  Listen and try to make some relevant suggestions, but remember you’re not a psychologist.  This is work and if your team members need additional assistance suggest they seek outside counsel or contact your company’s employee assistance program (EAP).

9.   Train team members to do your job:

If team members request any developmental help be sure you do your best to get them the help they need.  This includes spending money on training.  The goal here is help train team members do your job; so you can have time to do your bosses job.  Everyone on the team should have the goal of continuous improvement so they can remain employable and take themselves to the next level of development.

10.  If your team doesn’t have the right skillsets – seek out new team players:

It’s your responsibility to make sure the team has all the right skillsets that get results.  Today’s marketplace is changing daily and your team needs to step up and consistently produce results for the company.  If your team is unwilling or unable to address any needed skill gaps you need to find people who have them.  Don’t be afraid to re-structure your team as needed.  Your boss is looking for you to get the job done.

Team leadership that produces results isn’t easy .  However, if you follow some or all the principles I’ve mentioned you will have a better chance of producing a team that can exceed your expectations.  Moreover, you will build relationships for life even after you’ve moved onto a new team.  You never know when you might need THEIR help down the road.  What are you doing today to produce a high performing team in your organization?  It should be one of your most important priorities.

Rick Steinbrenner
Chief Marketing Officer/Principal, Brand Marketing Advisors
www.globalbrandguy.com
The Global Brand Guy
 

Digitizing Your Personal Brand Series – Part 1

Post first published 12/26/12 in the “MENG Blend” on the Marketing Executives Networking Group website – www.mengonline.com.  The destination site for leading marketing executives looking to stay ahead of the curve.  We have more than 1800 of the leading marketing minds in the world eager to meet, communicate, help and share our expertise.

Building Your Unique Personal Brand

As great marketers know, a clear and concise branding strategy is critical to successfully building a consumer/customer franchise.  However, it always amazes me how few marketers apply these important concepts to the building of their own professional/personal brand.  Building your own brand has never been more important – business cards, resumes and even Linked-in profiles simply don’t cut it anymore.  Moreover, with advances in CMS (content management systems) it’s easier and more cost effective than ever to build and manage your own website.  If used correctly, these tools can help you build your own personal brand awareness which can showcase what you can do to help solve employer’s/client’s problems.  In part one of this article I will briefly show how easily you can build a distinctive personal brand and in part two I will provide a step by step process on how you can communicate it via building your own professional website.

The major driver behind the need to identify your own brand is the fact career search has REALLY changed.  Negative marketplace dynamics, candidate/social media commoditization, and search engine UNDER-optimization makes it harder to stand out vs. the competition.  This is especially important for those who haven’t searched for a position/secured new clients over the past few years.  Factors behind this change include employers who REALLY want specific industry experience – and are not really interested in transferable skills anymore and most importantly your competition is working harder than ever to get marketplace visibility (source: Execunet). 

Career experts like Don Schwabel, William Arruda and even Tom Peters all talk about creating something called “Brand You” – messaging highlighting your key areas of distinction.  You can think about a personal brand in terms of a business’s hierarchy of needs as diagramed below:                  

Business Hierarchy Of Needs

As you can see focusing your communications is less on jobs and/or specific skills/experiences and more on results oriented performance critical for differentiation.  It essentially answers the question “Why I should hire you vs. someone else?”  To get started, you need to map out/identify your strategic or sustainable competitive advantage.  The process is briefly outlined below:

Personal Branding Processs

You first start with your core competencies – that is your problem, action, result stories (PAR) surrounding your key career accomplishments.  This process leads you to identifying your strategic or sustainable competitive advantage (SCA).  A strategic or sustainable competitive advantage consists of three elements.

  1. It’s something you exclusively have vs. others
  2. Your competition doesn’t have it (or don’t realize they have it)
  3. Your target companies want it.

If you can’t say you have all three elements, you need a plan to address this shortcoming.  You then still need to determine if your SCA addresses key industry needs or if you need to adjust it to make sure it’s relevant.  This will lead you to your final SCA which will drive development of your positioning statement.

Positioning is a concept first developed by Jack Trout and Al Ries – formerly of Trout & Ries – that originally developed this concept in the 1980’s.  In their book – “Positioning– The Battle For Your Mind” – they said positioning is: “not what you do to a product or service – it’s what you do to the prospect’s mind to CONDITION how he/she thinks about your product or service”.  This concept has been translated by others into a positioning statement template below:

To: TARGET MARKET, X (You) is a brand in the FRAME OF REFERENCE (usually industry) having a BENEFIT/POINT OF DIFFERENCE. Supported by the following reasons why:

a)

b)

c)

Below is an example of how this can be translated into a career positioning statement. How to develop your brand positioning statement

As you can see development of a personal brand positioning statement can be very powerful in communicating your key areas of distinction.  It helps you in fighting the battle for your employer’s/client’s share of mind.  It’s not a hard concept to grasp, however what’s hard is the kind of thinking required to make an effective positioning statement for yourself.  Unfortunately, what I observe with most people’s positioning statements (sometimes called an elevator pitch) is they try to be all things to all companies – generalists so to speak.  Companies are looking for exactly the opposite; they are looking for folks who have 1-2 key unique competencies vs. other choices they can make.  So I would argue the more specific your positioning statement is the better the chance for you to stand out vs. your competition. 

In my next article, I will discuss how you can take an effective personal brand/positioning statement and use the technology of the internet to increase your marketplace visibility with your own professional website.

Rick Steinbrenner
Chief Marketing Officer/Principal, Brand Marketing Advisors
www.globalbrandguy.com
The Global Brand Guy

How To Make Sure New Products Don’t Fail

Post first published 11/20/12 in the “MENG Blend” on the Marketing Executives Networking Group website – www.mengonline.com.  The destination site for leading marketing executives looking to stay ahead of the curve.  We have more than 1800 of the leading marketing minds in the world eager to meet, communicate, help and share our expertise.

Improving Your New Product Success Rate

How can you make sure your new product idea doesn’t fail?  The answer is: do your upfront homework to fundamentally understand how your consumer/customer thinks/feels/uses your products, not just what they say or tell you in person.  The marketplace “wasteland” is literally littered with failed new products because companies didn’t do the right homework/research and/or took short cuts because they thought “we know what the consumers/customers wants better they do”. As most general managers know, alot of new products fail in year one of their launch.  According to Schneider Associates and other leading marketing professionals, nearly 3/4 of consumer products launches fail to achieve to $7.5MM in sales; and only 3% of launches achieve ~$50MM of “critical mass” and/or distribution.  The main reason seems to be most consumers tend to buy the same 150 items, which can constitute as much as 85% of household needs; thus it’s hard to get something new on the radar – according to Jack Trout – formerly of Trout & Ries. Doing the right kind of homework/research can dramatically improve your chances of new product success.  However, not everyone agrees research is the right answer.  Much has been written about the late Steve Jobs of Apple not believing in marketing research.  In Mr. Job’s obituary on the New York Times Web site, John Markoff quoted his aversion to market research this way: “It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”  In other words, while Mr. Jobs tried to understand how technology could solve problems for his consumers, he wasn’t going to rely on them to demand specific solutions, just so he could avoid ever having to take a risk.  He referred to this as “leading”. I agree with Mr. Jobs to a point.  Research never really can “lead the way” to success – it never has.  Only creativity, ingenuity, enabling technology and yes, intuition are the only real ways to achieve new product success.  Research really only helps sort the “wheat from the chaff” and can help point the right way and/or reduce risk.  Market research is simply a tool; it doesn’t replace – and never has – good solid thinking.

The question is how a company can encourage outside the box thinking which could result in new product success.  One way is to break-through functional “silos” is use of cross-functional teams focused on the problem(s).  Kraft Foods taught a powerful strategic planning framework that assisted in the idea generation process to many of its senior managers.  It was called STEPS – short for Situation Analysis, Tracking, Execution, Plans and Strategies.  This technique either a) assisted solving complex problems and/or b) help identify new areas of opportunities.  The concept is summarized below.

Click on image to enlarge

When used effectively this framework could help identify a company’s or brand’s “strategic competitive advantage” based on marketplace differentiation and value.  You knew you had a competitive advantage if you could answer “yes” to the following: a) do we have an advantage?, b) do competitors want it?, and c) do consumers really need or desire it?  If you couldn’t answer “yes” to all three criteria you didn’t have a “SCA”.  This usually drove the next step – idea/concept brainstorming – commonly called the “fuzzy front end”.  This is where creativity, ingenuity and intuition come together to develop product concepts potentially addressing gaps in the strategic competitive advantage or “SCA”.

It starts with identifying consumer/customer, competitive and enabling technology trends for specific product categories and individual product concept opportunities.  You then move down the “funnel” using various marketing research tools to verify you’re using the right brand name along with the right product concept.  A concept needs to be specific – meaning how should it perform, what brand should be used, how does the product look, taste, smell, touch, to be substantially different vs. its competitors.  Product concept screening is the primary tool for this part of the process.  Below is a schematic of the opportunity identification/discovery “funnel” framework for the “fuzzy front end”.

Conceptual Framework

Click on image to enlarge

One thing to remember – while its fine to conduct monadic concept tests to help screen winners from losers; this is usually not sufficient to determine final marketplace viability.  Concept testing only yields simple purchase intent scores and other measures, but the key issue is how the concept(s) would perform in the marketplace relative to other consumers/customers product choices.  Once you identify “good” ideas via branded product concept testing , the next step would be to test these concept(s) by placing them in simulated marketplace situation.

Finally, one must also remember not all market research methodologies are created equal.  In my experience, I’ve found there seems to be a positive relationship between deeper levels of consumer/customer understanding and higher market share/volume.  This is because a substantial difference can occur between what consumers/customers say vs. what they actually do or think in purchase decisions.  Generally, qualitative research focuses on how consumer/customers describe themselves; while quantitative research facilitates can give insights into how consumers/customers think or feel – which tends to be more predictive of actual consumer behavior.  Below is an illustrative conceptual model: 

Conceptual Framework

Click on image to enlarge

Yes, quantitative research can be more expensive than qualitative.  However, I would argue the cost of bringing a bad idea to market and failing is FAR greater than doing the right research to help make the right decision in the first place.  You can actually save money via the right testing protocols.

So in summary, how does one make sure new products don’t fail or at least improve one’s chances of success?

1. Make sure your product/company is correctly aligned about your strategic competitive advantage.

2. If you don’t have one form a cross-functional team (usually led by marketing) to recommend how you can identify one.

3. If a new product is needed to help obtain a SCA, use the opportunity identification/discovery funnel to help focus the team’s creative juices to develop the right concept(s) with the right brand.

4. Finally, use the right  kind of research to pinpoint the strength/weaknesses of individual concepts  and ultimately how would it perform vs. competition.

If you follow this process, you will have a better chance of not having your next new product become one of those ideas ending up in the “marketplace” wasteland and also potentially detract from your company’s valuable reputation.  Good luck.

Rick Steinbrenner Chief Marketing Officer/Principal, Brand Marketing Advisors www.globalbrandguy.com The Global Brand Guy

How To Control The Trade Spending Monster

Post first published 10/24/12 in the “MENG Blend” on the Marketing Executives Networking Group website – www.mengonline.com.  The destination site for leading marketing executives looking to stay ahead of the curve. We have more than 1800 of the leading marketing minds in the world eager to meet, communicate, help and share our expertise.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone in consumer products trade promotion spending has been and continues to be out of control – $60B+ in the U.S and $500B+ per year globally and growing – according to the Boston Consulting Group.  A lot of reasons exist, manufacturer/retailer consolidation due to winners/losers, Wall Street pressures for quarter to quarter earnings increases, brand commoditization, growth of private-label – just to name a few.  The Boston Consulting Group published a white paper in September, 2012 called “Paying for Performance – Trade Spending for Profitable Growth”.  In it they found trade spending dollars grew faster than revenues in 75% of the surveyed product categories.  It also grew faster than volume in 90% of product categories outpacing growth in other P&L line items.  The net effect is retailers’ profitability continues to grow at the expense of the manufacturer.  This dynamic is driving more and more manufacturer consolidation and/or exit of product categories once considered core to a manufacturer’s business.

The study included nine U.S. based consumer product companies in four product category groups a) food and beverage, b) household and personal care, c) wine & spirits and d) other.  They found a fundamental disconnect between trade spending and retailer performance using these dollars.  The complete white paper is linked below and is a good read.

“Paying for Performance” – Boston Consulting Group

The study also found trade spending is widely dispersed – not only among channels, but also retailers in those channels – with sometimes the best performers not always getting the highest rates (e.g. Wal-Mart for example).  This is due in part many big box retailers are not necessarily reliant on trade spending to drive their business models.

The report identified 3 ways to improve returns on trade spending investments. 

1.    Prioritizing trade spending investments with “winning retailers” delivering profitable growth.

Not surprisingly, manufacturers can boost trade spending ROI by reallocating trade spending investment to “winners” – those customers providing the largest profits, distribution and/or volume growth.  Within bounds of legal requirements, these superior performers should get higher trade rates and weaker performers should get less. 

2.    Analyzing returns and applying insights systematically advancing retail event performance

In addition to prioritizing spending, manufacturers must understand how to design and execute promotional plans to yield the highest returns.  Alot of category management tools currently exist that can assist with pre-event planning, event execution, post-event analysis, and lessons/insights from prior programs events.  Surprisingly, manufacturers don’t effectively use these tools enough to help really analyze the success/failure of their trade programs.  The result is more and more dollars going to either price/enhancing retailer margins and/or customer relationships.  In addition, mature consumer products also helps to commoditize product categories which can reinforce price reductions and/or growth of private label.

3.    Designing a trade promotion structure to pay retailers for performance, rather than relationships/activities.

The survey identified 3 major trade structure types:

  • Pay for relationship: trade dollars negotiated with customers with no link to activities/performance.
  • Pay for activities: trade dollars based on event plans – a lump sum or accrual based spending program based on customer activities – no metrics.
  • Pay for performance: trade dollars “earned” based on retailer event performance metrics.

Eight out of the nine surveyed companies had either pay for activities or performance based trade structures – most seemed to have a blend of both.  In either case allocating trade funds entailed making choices and tradeoffs while adhering to three broad trade plan principles: simplicity, consistency and transparency.  If done correctly, this can build a level of trust between the manufacturer and retailer focusing on “win/win” issues vs. “win/lose”. 

Specifically, an effective pay for performance trade program had 4 major core elements:

  • Earning mechanisms: Differential rates based on distribution and/or good/better/best strategies
  • Spending guardrails:  Fund can be spent among brands in a business unit, but customers can’t overspend funds that aren’t “earned” within that unit.
  • Strategic and transition funding: Strategic funds capitalizing on competitive opportunities and transition funds addressing changes in product lines addressing customer inventories.
  • Administrative rules:  Earned vs. actual spending quarterly reconciliation, no forward buying and/or diverting. 

Caveat:

Obviously, the nine U.S. based surveyed companies had leading market positions in their served markets which provided enough critical mass to make effective trade structure changes.  However, situations exist where other mitigating factors can complicate process improvements in trade spending.

1.      Manufacturers/brands not having leading brands or have strong brand equities:  For example, investments in traditional/digital media spending and/or new product innovations should take priority before working on redesigning trade programs.

2.      New emerging retail channels like mortar/brick vs. online retailers:  Issues like growth in dollar stores, “showrooming” and declining trade classes may make some customers reluctant to implement trade spending improvements.  Balance sheet and/or credit issues might make these customers more focused on generating cash flow to support their operations vs. process improvements.

Nevertheless, if pay for performance programs are designed/implemented correctly it is possible not only to reverse the trend of growing trade spending, but also to reduce trade spending levels by 2-5% annually (according to the study).  This will go a long way to “rein in” the trade spending” monster.

Rick Steinbrenner
Chief Marketing Officer/Principal, Brand Marketing Advisors
www.globalbrandguy.com
The Global Brand Guy