Telling a Story

28 12 2009

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate” Luke in Cool Hand Luke (played by Paul Newman)

A friend of mine sent this video along to a number of friends in the Business Intelligence space, saying we need to be better story tellers (Thanks Katie McCray).  We do spend an enormous amount of time talking about data structures, common data dictionaries, ease of use, speed, consistency, etc.  What we typically fail to do is tell our clients how to create information, to tell the story in a convincing enough manner to create attention, and more importantly, enable action.

As analysts we typically spend more time talking about data discovery, and the calculations we used than starting off by making our point.  We try to create 50 charts to explain everything, and not the one chart that most simply illustrates our point.  This not only wastes time, but we lose our audience.

Watch the next couple of presentations you sit through and watch the number of slides that build up to the point trying to be made.  What happens is that with each slide our listeners pay less and less attention as they have lost the point trying to be made.  As learners, we need the point to be made first.  We need to see how it all comes together, then have it explained how to get there.  It provides the context for the point to be made.  People now understand what to listen for and why they are listening.

On a slightly different note, last week I wrote about the housing market and the Dangers of Leading Indicators.  I had to update the post due to a new story with a different viewpoint that ran in the Globe on the 23rd.  Amazing how story tellers can tell such dramatically different things.





People will…

25 11 2009

People will do what they like, or what is easy if they do not understand priority or value.  The hard stuff is messy.  There is too much risk in the hard stuff…





Defining the Customer – Brandwagon

9 11 2009

One of my favorite strategy quotes is Michael Porter’s - “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

It is easy to jump on what we perceive as good deals, or trends.  Take for example my old story about Patagonia after Sarah Palin stated Patagonia as one of her favorite brands.  Instead of jumping on the bandwagon of seemingly a guaranteed increase in sales, they choose to distance themselves from Sarah Palin with the following quote:

“Patagonia’s environmental mission greatly differs from Sarah Palin’s,” Patagonia rep Jen Rapp told the WSJ. “Just wearing the clothing of an environmental company does not necessarily make someone an environmentalist.”

Or when Pepsi comes knocking with a “great deal”…

  • How well do we know our customers?
  • Can we use this to our advantage and draw more people in by being selective in what we offer?
  • When Wal~Mart moves into town…do you change what you do, or let them eat up your profits?
  • How unique are you and what value does that create?




Jargon

19 08 2009

This is from Paul Bayne, a guest blogger:

When you’re listening to a presentation, how often do you hear the current management buzz words or internal company acronyms? Do they add depth to the message, or do they serve to increase the status of the presenter by making them appear more versed or knowledgable? When looking back at the information in a historical context, will the language enhance the meaning, or will it detract from it? I worked with a consulting manager who was famous for his use of buzz words. The following paragraph was compiled from the 55 buzzwords used during one 90 minute conference call:

I’m trying to level set your assumptions, so we can then incorporate these concepts into the communication plan’s talk track for an apples to apples comparison of the current state/future state. That should give us the safety net and support mechanism we need to factor into as we create the coathooks to harden the numbers in the discussion document, strategically migrating to a closely aligned, re-engineered future state opportunity model. We’ll then drive away from the shadow tracking spreadsheets into a conference room pilot where we can more effectively and efficiently operate in sandbox mode to hardwire the black box into an actionable white box.

Does your use of language provide clarity to your thoughts and actions, or does it communicate very little while saying very much?





People, Process, and Technology

12 08 2009

In every BI vendor’s marketing material is the traditional People, Process, Technology venn diagram.  The promise is that leveraging the combination of the three will unlock enhanced results.

Traditional Venn

In order to use this for performance management, we need to rethink the original deisgn.  First we need a vision on how to bring these together and communicate what matters and how it will be done.  We also need to bring a focus on getting only the right things done and specifically not doing the wrong things.  Words (and diagrams) do little in terms of actions.  For us to achieve sustained performance, we need to understand and communicate which processes can create value (and which do not), what technology it will require, and a focused management process to ensure they get done in a timely manner.

Venn New

As you design your game plans, you need to make sure you are developing not only a plan but how success will be defined:

  • What is the desired outcome?
  • Who gets to define it?
  • How will it be managed?
  • What happens if it goes wrong?
  • Who would provide the best rational for the disenting opinion?




Politics and Upstaging

6 08 2009

President Obama and the Clintons relationship may have just changed.  Rumors have circled that Obama has been making efforts to keep Hillary out of the public eye intentionally.  Bill, in an act worthy of an ex-President, managed to secure the release of a couple of US journalists from North Korea.

Leaders do this for many reasons, and not always for the right reasons.  We can say it is for the best in order to show who is the leader, keep the message consistent, but behind each of these are jealousy, ego, and fear.  Leaders are human as well and suffer the same issues.

Yet, this situation is a little different.  Bill in some aspects upstaged both Obama and Hillary.  It appears that Bill would only go if he received White House approval, but then again what were they going to say?  Did the Clintons just take some of the spotlight?  Or will it be forgotten by the end of the week.

Ahh, politics!!!

As leaders and managers, how do limit the impact of personal politics within the work force?  These can often play out in destructive ways.  Inititiaves undermined because managers don’t like each other, or are vying for the same promotion.  While people often talk about using information to battle politicing, it is much more of a cultural issue.





Price of Distraction

21 07 2009

Over the weekend, I was telling the story of Informix (now part of IBM) and the number of databases it tried to market and sell.  At one point in time, Informix marketed the following databases:

  • Standard Engine (SE) /OnLine 5 / IDS 7 / IDS 9 /RedBrick

It then aquired Ardent Software and added two more databases, UniVerse and UniData.  While the company was looking to build a data warehouse focused organization, the database was taking less and less focus.  There were a number of problems the company was facing.

  • There were not enough people at that time who could sell the complex technology well
  • The market was not really ready for the high end product
  • Each change in leadership elevated a different product to the forefront
  • A confused customer base
  • A skillful competitor in Oracle
  • A little SEC troubles

Informix itself is a great case study.  At one point, I simply asked the question “what if we sell OnLine 5 and SE to remove the distraction?”  Both OnLine 5 and SE were great products in their day, unfortunately those days were long past.  Both products still did somewhat well in the VAR space and were highly profitable the late 90′s.  My rationale was that we only made $10 million a year on each and most of that was profit.  We were shooting for the $1 billion plateau in annual sales and a $10 million product was a rounding error.

At the time I was the product manager for all of the legacy products, which accounted for approximately 50-60% of the companies revenues.  I answered enough requests for OnLine 5 and SE to understand that they were a distraction to the sales force.

Going back to the Seth Godin blog on “don’t sell to bar owners” this is a perfect example where the sales force was not equiped effectively enough to sell the product line.  And most importantly, the customer was confused into what they needed to buy.

  • Is your product strategy consistent and in line with customer needs?
  • Can your sales and marketing teams, concisely explain the positioning of each of the products?
  • Does the customer get what they need, or what the sales rep wants to push?
  • Do sales compensation plans align with customer need?

In the end, the lack of performance resulted in the company being aquired by IBM.  All companies reach stall points, make sure your don’t create your own stall points.  And if you do, recognize your actions and work to minimize the distraction and inconsistency.





Pretty Words

15 07 2009

Listening to Sonia Sotomayor retrack her “wise Latina” comments made me think about an old Vince Gill song – Pretty Words.  “They’re just pretty words” seemed about right.  This is often the role of the politician, to say things that make people feel better.  We have limited manner in which to hold them to their words, so we often judge the words based on if we believed what they were saying.  Think of how we now perceive Roger Clemens, Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez, and the steroid gang.

One of the problems we have as leaders is an overuse of pretty words.  We are often asked questions that can not be answered at that time, thus forcing us to spin a response:

  • Are we having layoffs?
  • Are we selling the company?

While these hurt credibility with the front line, they are necessary to keep some level of sanity and productivity.  Yet, what happens when executive communication seems to be only about spin and pretty words.  If the rank and file feel “pretty words is all he is giving you” then we have a problem with communication and trust.  If these are broken, you can bet productivity is no where near optimal levels.

As executives and leaders we can know, or we can think we know if people are listening.  What I have often seen is that the good ones assume they don’t know and find out – thus reinforcing positive communication.

  • When was the last time you had an outside, independent team assess “trust” in the organization?
  • What would be the value to the organization?
  • What if you hear something you don’t like?




Is Strategy top of Mind

10 05 2009

I recently read a few blogs from Jonathan D. Becher and it reminded me of a couple of stories.  I did a couple of webinars a year or so ago with the lead in being a question about how well do you know your corporate strategies.  What I consistently found was that 80%+ of the respondants could not cite the strategy off the top of their head.  This is clearly not new research as their are a number of people/companies that cite very similar numbers.  

I think there are a number of factors at play here:

  • Corporate Strategy has no lasting communication vehicle.  It is often discussed in conference calls and writen on walls, but we have no effective, living tool.  We need to build a communication plan around articulating strategy.  Here is a reference to an older blog of mine on Strategy Maps that touches on this subject.
  • We often lack a consistent framework for Strategy (or a single version of the truth), so we end up with a number of different frameworks for defining strategic objectives.  Corporate uses one framework, the business units another, and then each department creates something new as well.  What we end up with is too many messages and no clarity into priorities.  All of this becomes to difficult for anyone person to understand, so they just go about their day doing the things that want to do or that are easy to do.
  • We also have unstated strategic objectives, or as Oski refers to them in a comment on this blog post, “shadow strategies” where the organization says one thing, but actually does another. 
  • There is also personal politics and empire building that is probably more widely used than anyone would care to admit.  I have seen too many examples where people talk more about how big their team is than provide the value their team creates.  If this is what is top of mind, it is probably an indicator of their motivation.  
  • We don’t have a strategy management process.  Strategy is done independently from budget, or we hire some consulting firm to develop it and then the binders and reports are placed in an archive.




The Value of Scorecarding

21 04 2009

One of my first Scorecard exercises is one of my favorites.  It taught me a great deal about the power of scorecarding.  I did what I suspect most people do.  I interviewed all the VPs and developed a long list of KPIs.  I then used an excel spreadsheet to organize the KPIs.  I put the KPIs down the rows, and theVPs across the columns.  Then to help visualize the data, I placed “red” cells where VPs were directly impacted by the KPIs and “yellow” cells where the VPs were indirectly related.  I did not intend the colors for anything other to call out attention for each of the VPs.

By choosing the “red” and “yellow” I had each of the VPs concerned that they were under performing in each of those areas.  I had to explain a number of times, the reason for the colors.  
  • The first lesson was that by associating colors with performance, I clearly had the attention and focus of the executives of this team.  It sparked a number of very strong conversations about performance.
  • The second lesson is that communication is just as important.  By doing a less than stellar job of communicating (at least from a visual sense) the information, I wasted a tremendous amount of time that should have been used for more strategic discussion.  

Scorecarding can be a very powerful tool, but it needs to be used appropriately.





Strategy Maps for Strategy Development

21 04 2009

The Strategy Map is one of the more interesting tools in terms of Strategy Development.  I know most people want to describe it as a Strategy Execution tool, but I see it as a great check to the overall health of your strategy?

  • Do you cover things other than the financial outcomes in terms of your strategic objectives?
  • Do you consider the customer voice, or desire?
  • Do you know where you are in your strategy lifecycle?

Some people like to design complex strategy maps that take months and months to develop with strategic objectives to cover all contingencies.  The font becomes too small, and the word optimize shows up too much.  

What if we took a different tact?  What if we use the Strategy Map as a santiy tool, to test the strategies to make sure they are top of mind and easy to digest?  Instead of creating too many objectives, we focus on clairty of thought.  We use the tool to make sure the organization can understand what we are doing and to then use the map to define the initiatives and performance measures that align their department with the overall corporate goals?








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