Desired State vs. Vision

Takeaways: Desired State and Vision are two powerful tools for helping to build cohesive teams. The subtle differences can be used effectively depending on the situation.

The other day I was coaching a friend about what can be done in the shortest amount of time to help her build a cohesive board. I suggested that having everyone agree on the future Desired state would help to build unity. It’s a small non-profit that funds the un-sexy need of school bus transportation so children can experience music, dance, art and science as part of their education.

Many board members are new to being on a board. The organization is not well-funded, everyone volunteers their time and skills, and most of the funds raised go to funding the bus transportation. There are no clearly defined roles and everyone just pitches in to do things. This has created ineffective communication, duplication of efforts, and finger pointing, with everyone turning to my friend to solve the problems and answer all questions.

I suggested to her that two of the most important things they could do were to get agreement on what and how the organization wants to BE a year down the road, their Desired State, and to clarify roles. Clarifying roles she understood. But she wasn’t clear about what I meant by Desired State. I explained that it’s similar to a Vision. That she understood.

That got me thinking about the distinction between the two. It’s subtle, but very powerful. This has become clearer after proofing my friend Timi Gleason’s re-write of her book, Coach as Strategic Partner. In it she describes effortlessly what a desired state is, and how to turn tactical conversations into strategic ones when they get mired down in details (Look for it soon under a new title.)

Desired State is a future state of BE-ing vs. DO-ing according to Timi. When you describe a Desired State you talk about it as though it’s already happened. You’ve already accomplished this. You incorporate all five senses –sight, feelings, sound, touch, and taste – to describe what it’s like to stand in that future situation.

Vision is a powerful magnet that draws you forward. It’s a possible Desired State to which you aspire. It sits in the future as something you are working towards. It’s the carrot held in front of your nose to keep you moving forward towards the goal.

With a Desired State, you see yourself already there. Once you write it down, you put it aside and let your subconscious actions start working to help you achieve that. You don’t need to think about it because it’s already done. You’re there. You act as though you’ve already accomplished that state. Team members begin to work more collaboratively from the perspective, ”If we’ve already accomplished this Desired State, then for this to be reality, Sales needs to be meeting regularly with Marketing, and Marketing needs to give IT sufficient lead time to prepare the technology, etc.” And it all just begins to happen – like magic.

rainbow handshakeWith a Vision, you hold that before you always as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that you are striving to get to. All your strategies and actions are held up against that Vision as a measuring stick. “Will this event, activity or effort help us get to that pot of gold? If not, we don’t do it.”

The team is still firmly planted in today but each member keeps that vision of the pot of gold as a beacon to work toward. Conversations are easier with less finger pointing because everyone has agreed on the path to the pot of gold. There is no blame when the only question to ask is “how will that effort help us reach the pot of gold?”

Both are powerful tools for helping to build cohesive teams. Depending on the issues at hand and the personalities involved, sometimes using a Vision is more effective than using a Desired State. An organization may actually use both. The Vision may be the over-arching goal of the organization – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Desired State is different for each department and even for each issue or challenge being faced, AND it also supports the overall Vision of the organization.

In fact, as Timi so eloquently describes in her book, every situation can be addressed by asking what’s the Desired State? That turns any conversation from a tactical one into a strategic one.

What are your thoughts on the distinction between Desired State and Vision?

Systems thinking could yield different outcomes

Let’s talk about justifying the recent Baltimore looting and violence.  I pose the following example of not using Systems Thinking, and invite your remarks.

While listening to the news about the Baltimore looting, I caught a piece where an African-American man was interviewed about the looting. This situation was triggered by the suspicious death of a young man who appeared to have been injured while incarcerated.

The gentleman being interviewed was vocal about the looting “being perhaps not the best way to express frustration, but still justified”. He was referring to an Asian-owned store that was seriously vandalized during the recent rioting. The Asian-owned store was across the street from another establishment owned by African-Americans. That store, after having their glass front broken down, was defended by other African-Americans from further looting and vandalizing. The Asian-owned store was not similarly defended. Once the glass front was breached, the store suffered complete destruction of its contents. None of the neighborhood residents defended the store as they had the African American-owned store across the street.

The African-American interviewee shared a recent experience with the reporter. The Asian store owner turned him down when he requested one week’s credit to pay for a shirt he needed for a job he had just landed. He had made a case to the Asian store owner that he was a regular patron at the store, and that the store owner regularly saw him around the neighborhood because he lived there. But his request was refused. Because of that, the African-American man said he felt the vandalism the Asian store owner suffered was, and I paraphrase from memory, “somewhat justified”.

There are arguably moral arguments to discuss on both sides, particularly if we look at the situation strictly from an analytical standpoint as opposed to a systemic standpoint. Also, we don’t know any details of the neighbors’ relationships which could color this further.

systems Thinking might have produced different results

However, if we consider a Systems Thinking approach to this matter, there is one thing that stands out for me. If the Asian store owner had looked at the larger picture, he might have considered that his potential loss by granting his customer credit for a shirt might be less than $20.00. On the other hand, the goodwill and relationship-building that might have occurred could have actually produced a much different outcome for the Asian-owned store. And that is assuming the African-American gentleman reneged on his promise to pay later that same week. I expect he would have been true to his word, as he told the reporter.

Neighborhoods everywhere thrive or suffer on the relationships of their residents. People are naturally helpful and generous. We see this time and time again, in close-knit neighborhoods and in far flung relationships. An example is the global support for Nepal as it recovers from a devastating earthquake.

Simple understanding of the broader effects of relationships can help prevent most of the negative actions that too many people suffer from daily.

If the Asian store owner had taken a step back to consider all the angles and possible outcomes, he might have come to a different conclusion. Quite possibly, his store might have been equally defended by the neighborhood residents. Down the road, he might have also seen an increase in store sales because of the actions he took to “help” a frequent customer. And he might have solidified his relationships with neighborhood residents as a result, becoming more a part of the fabric of the neighborhood. But we’ll never know.

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts.

Getting Through the Peaks and Valleys of life

Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Peaks and Valleys are normal and natural in life and work. Create a sensible vision using all five senses and then follow it to move out of the Valleys. When in a valley, ask yourself: “What is the truth about this reality?” To stay longer at the Peak, find ways to be of greater service to others and more loving to your family and friends.

As I was re-reading Dr. Spencer Johnson’s book, Peaks and Valleys: Making Good and Bad Times Work for You, I reflected on where we are in our work and life journey. We haven’t achieved as much as I had hoped we would have by now. For example, we aren’t living our dream of two-month long sailing trips twice a year on our own boat or through chartering.

Male Gambel's QuailThen I looked at what we have achieved: we have a less stressful life. We have wonderful friends whom we see and talk with often. We are living close to nature, albeit not the nature I had imagined. But we are surrounded by bunnies, lovely Gambel’s quail, roadrunners, dogs, cattle and horses. The high mountain desert does have its seasons. The air quality is clear and the night skies are amazing. The surrounding red rock formations are stunning. We can actually see the thousands of stars which we couldn’t see in San Diego.

Could things be better? Sure! But that’s the future we can still create for ourselves. Johnson’s book reminded me that life is full of Peaks and Valleys. It’s how we manage our journey through the Valleys that makes it possible to enjoy more time on the Peaks.

One of the gems I was reminded of is that we create our own reality. So if we only focus on the negatives while we’re in the Valleys, we stay there longer. I’m reminded of another book, “Before You Think Another Thought”, by Dr. Bruce I. Doyle, III. In it he says that our thoughts are energy. Every thought we have is sent out into the universe and becomes a reality for us. So if we only think negative thoughts about how difficult or unfair life is or how unhappy we are with our current job or life circumstances, then we continue to create that reality. If, on the other hand, we stop to think “what is the lesson to be learned here” or “how might this reality be different,” we are taking stock of our situation and facing the truth of that reality.

That opens up the mind for more creative thinking about how we might change our circumstances to create a better reality. We start “doing” what we need to do to create that better reality, and before we know it, we are on a Peak again. Until we take responsibility for our current situation, and face the truth of how we got there, we aren’t ready to think differently in order to DO the work that will create the change.

Tget Peaks and Valleys on Amazonhese are powerful concepts to keep in mind. Here are some additional tips I garnered from the Peaks and Valleys book:

  • Create and follow your Sensible Vision using all 5 senses. This creates the Peaks in your life (you need to be able to see, hear, feel, taste and smell this vision – feel it in your bones)
  • Manage your way through Valleys to stay longer on the Peaks
  • Make reality your friend. Face your truths and fears.
  • When you’re in a Valley, ask yourself, “What is the truth in this?”
  • When in a Valley, imagine what you might see when you’re on a Peak (what might be possible and different when you reach the Peak?)
  • You need to feel and live the Peaks and Valleys. These are normal parts of everyday life and work
  • Your Valleys are opportunities to grow and learn

And here’s the final nugget of truth:
“You get out of a Valley sooner when you manage to get outside yourself: at work, by being of greater service, and in life, by being more loving.”

I plan to re-read this book at least once a year from now on, especially when I find myself going through or stuck in a Valley. It’s a good reminder of what I need to do to get through that Valley to the Peak that lies ahead.

Texting is teaching bad grammar

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Spelling and grammar are important. Computers and texting have changed how we communicate. We’re raising a generation of people who don’t spell or use proper sentence construction and think it’s OK.

IBM Selectric typewriterRemember the IBM Selectric or the portable typewriter? Those of us who remember typewriters learned to add two spaces after every period and to hit the return key at the end of a line to prevent the typewriter from running off the right side of the page. Remember that? Or are you among the generation who is saying “what’s a typewriter?” The personal computer with its ability to wrap text onto the next line changed all that. It also changed the need to add two spaces after the period. In fact, that is now considered “old school” and incorrect, but I still see this issue cropping up.

Other punctuation errors I see all the time are highlighted in this article on the Kaye/Bassman blog (, “17 Punctuation Mistakes That Can Make You Look Really Bad.”

It’s not that I’m perfect, but in my early days I was a journalist; and then I worked at a newspaper where the written word and how it’s used is a critical form of communication. I was always a good speller and learned to proofread so errors just jump out at me.

While I love technology and all the functionality it brings, I’m bothered by the new culture I see around me. Smart phone apps and texting are creating an entire generation that has not learned the art of communication – either face-to-face or in writing. They gather together and instead of talking with one another, they text. And they’re sitting side-by-side!

Texting is a great tool. It’s a way to quickly let someone know where you are or to communicate an important or friendly message. Because it’s usually done on a phone, it lends itself to shortcuts. Consequently, an entire new alphabet has emerged for texting. But you don’t use this language in business communication…not if you want to be understood by your peers and your superiors. Yet, some of these texting words show up in papers, memos and emails and on discussion forums.

When do you use she and I or me and her?

I hear this misused all the time, especially on television. Surely the writers know the construction is wrong. You don’t say “me” went to the store. It’s “I” went to the store. Yet somehow the TV writers think it’s fine to say “me and him” or even “him and me” went to the store, when clearly it’s not proper usage. This is one of my pet peeves because television is teaching incorrect grammar.

When do you use “its” versus “it’s”, for example, or “theirs” versus “there’s”? One of the secrets I learned in high school is to convert the abbreviation to “it is”. If it still makes sense in the sentence, then the correct form is “it’s”. “Its” is possessive as in “The cat played with its toy.” You wouldn’t say “The cat played with it is toy.” On the other hand, “It’s cold outside” can also be converted to “It is cold outside” and still make sense.

Theirs and there’s are more difficult is grammar and spelling are not your forté. Theirs is plural possessive as in “the toy is theirs.” “There’s” can be converted to “there is” and if the sentence still makes sense when you say “there is”, then you can also use the conjunction “there’s” as in the Beatles song, “There’s a place”.

Texting has taught us to write in incomplete sentences in the interest of keeping our thumbs from getting too worn out from typing. I even find myself doing this sometimes when responding to emails. Short, to the point, and without the proper sentence construction. It’s okay in some circumstances, but when over-used, it can make you look uneducated.

Then there are the run-on sentences with no punctuation. I see this in many discussion forums. No capitalization no commas or periods you can’t tell where one sentence ends and the other begins and then the thoughts change completely mid-stream which makes it even harder to follow. Did you like that example?

The reality is we have about three seconds to capture someone’s attention. If you make the person work too hard to understand you, they’ll just move on to another website or blog.

Punctuation and spelling matter!

Learn the rules of proper punctuation and spell check your work. MS Word makes it easy. The software even provides a Thesaurus for alternate word choices. Anything underlined in red is considered misspelled or unknown (not in the MS Word dictionary). Anything underlined in green is considered a grammatical error which can be corrected when you run the spell check option under the Review tab. There are plenty of free spelling and grammar checking tools, and many software and browser platforms have them built in. Just remember to use them.

The key is to not sound stuffy and old school. Write the way people speak. But write in short sentences using words that anyone with an 8th grade education would understand. That’s the rule of thumb most journalists use. Only if you’re writing for a specialized industry association journal or publication would you use jargon, industry abbreviations and terminology.

Just keep your audience in mind when you write, and spell-check your work.

Innovation Comes from Collective Creativity

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Innovation is about unleashing the creativity at the bottom to encourage truly innovative ideas and solutions. Rethink leadership roles as those of connectors, social architects and aggregators of ideas. Act your way to the future rather than plan.

Linda Hill, Management Professor at Harvard Business School, shared a TED Talk based on her book, Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation. Over nearly 10 years she and three colleagues observed innovative leaders up close in several countries to determine what it is that made their companies innovative. The bottom line, she said, is that we need to unlearn what we’ve been taught about leadership.

 Invert the organizational pyramid

Innovative leadership is not about creating a vision and getting your staff to implement it. It is about managing collective creativity, amplifying conflict and discourse without unleashing chaos. You have to turn the organizational structure on its head and unleash the creative genius from the bottom up.

Innovation, said Hill, is about creating a space for three capabilities:
Creative abrasion
Creative agility
Creative resolution

Creative abrasion is about having heated, constructive arguments to create a portfolio of ideas. People learn how to actively listen and also how to strongly advocate for their position. Innovation rarely occurs unless you have both diversity and conflict.

Creative agility is about continuously testing and refining your portfolio of ideas. Instead of creating a strategic plan and implementing it, you “act your way to the future” through discovery-driven learning. This includes design thinking where the focus is on running a series of experiments, not a series of pilots. Test and refine. Test and refine.

Creative resolution is decision-making that combines opposable ideas to reconfigure in new combinations that produce useful solutions. It is patient, inclusive decision-making that allows for “both/and” solutions to arise, not just “either/or”.

Innovative organizations like Google and Pixar allow talented people to play out their passions by having multiple experiments running in tandem. Teams form and re-form as needed and everyone has access to the leaders at the top.

“Leadership is the secret sauce”, she says. Leading innovation is about creating the space where people are willing and able to do the hard work of innovative problem-solving. It’s about building a sense of community – a world to which people want to belong – and building those three capabilities described above.

What can we do to make sure all the small voices, the disrupters in the organization, are heard?

As Google has done under Bill Gate, you nurture the bottom up. Be the social architect that encourages discourse, differing viewpoints and multiple ideas, no matter how far-fetched. Bestow credit in as broadly as possible. Pixar, for example, includes the list of babies born during a film’s production in the credits at the end of each film.

Bill Gates encourages people to co-create with him while preventing them from degenerating into chaos. His role, according to Hill, is to be the human glue, a connector, an aggregator of viewpoints.

As innovative leaders we need to redefine our leadership role – not by title, but by function: role model, coach, nurturer. We need to hire people who argue with us, not those who agree with our viewpoints.

Instead of providing all the answers or solutions, leaders must “see the young sparks at the bottom as the source of innovation. Transfer the growth to the bottom. Unleash the power of the many by releasing the stronghold of the few,” says Hill.

If only the multi-state bank and the newspaper I worked for earlier in my career had done this. I recall my first month of training at the bank. I was sent out to a branch office to study how it operated and produce a report. One of my suggestions was to increase the salary of the tellers since they were the first line of contact with the customers and they frequently were responsible for million dollar cash drawers. Yet they received the lowest salaries and had no voice in the way the branch should work with customers.

At the newspaper, I frequently offered ideas which were squashed because that “wasn’t the way we do things around here”, or they jeopardized the power of the few. Never mind that the old ways weren’t working any more. I tried to implement innovative leadership techniques among my own small staff, but that was hard to do when no other departments, let alone other managers in my department, were doing anything similar.

What a breath of fresh air to hear Linda Hill talk about how really innovative companies turn the pyramid on its head! Give your staff at the bottom the opportunity to rethink their jobs, to offer solutions to everyday problems they face, and as Hill says, “create the space where everyone’s slices of genius can be unleashed and turned into collective genius”.

Watch the TED Talk. Buy her book. Change your thinking about leadership.

Engaging Volunteers Through Social Media

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Engaging volunteers through social media offers many opportunities to motivate and inspire volunteers to support your organization. Focus on their interests and skill sets to design activities that will engage them more.

Last year I wrote a short article about Ten Ways to Engage Staff with Social Media. It was designed for large and mid-sized organizations seeking ways to get staff to support the larger organizational initiatives. We continually hear that the key challenge organizations have is not in creating the strategic plan and identifying the strategies and actions, but “implementing” the plan at all levels in the organization. How do you tap into the hearts and minds of your staff to motivate them to support these strategies while they perform their daily work commitments?

These 10 techniques I suggested in the article are also relevant for non-profit and charitable organizations with limited staff and which rely on volunteers to do much of the organizational work. This occurred to me the other day as I led a group of volunteers through a review and update of an association’s social media plan. We generated many ideas, but haven’t identified who will execute and how they will do this. So we face many of the same challenges as well.

In these busy times when everyone is over-tasked with work and family responsibilities, how do you get those same people to commit to helping your non-profit organization grow? How do you get your board members to actually do the work rather than just show up for meetings?

Social media offers a variety of platforms to keep volunteers engaged and informed. It’s important to think of creative ways to help them share information, to inspire them to action, to make the volunteer work fun, rather than a chore. Here are five ideas to help you understand and inspire your volunteers.

  • Think about who your volunteers are. What’s the average age? Do they work full-time in high powered jobs? Do they have long commutes between home and office? Or do they work from home or have flexible hours? Do they have young families or elderly parents to care for? Are they fully committed on weekends to soccer and football matches, ballet and music lessons, or elder care concerns?
  • What time commitment is needed to achieve your outcomes? Let your volunteers know what the expectations are. Can they support the organization while commuting to and from work? Social media can help them do this. Does their employer support volunteerism and give them time and budget dollars for this? Social media offers many ways to promote that organization’s support of your non-profit.
  • What are your volunteers’ other interests? Think about how you can weave support of the non-profit into their daily lives and interests – through contests, online games, online auctions, sharing stories, etc. Create platforms that are easy and fun to use, making it enjoyable to participate. Share heart-warming stories that inspire them to be involved.
  • What are your volunteers’ individual talents? Ask each one to identify their one specific talent, something they excel at doing and therefore really enjoy. If they could spend 8-10 hours a day doing just that, what would it be? Then build the volunteer activities around those skillsets. That way you have people pursuing their own passions rather than agreeing to take on a task they don’t really want because no one else has stepped up or that’s the vacancy that exists. Focus on their skills and interests, and you’ll eventually fill the needs for the major job functions and then some. With their help, you may find creative ways to outsource some of the more mundane, but necessary tasks.
  • Ask your volunteers to manage one of the social platforms – the one they use the most. You may find several agreeing to manage together as a group because they understand that platform and use it every day for themselves and/or their work. Set minimal criteria for branding and messaging, but give them creative license to create fun and interesting ways to engage others. Set challenge stretch goals with rewards to turn their activities into fun competitions with other volunteers. Regardless of our age, we all love to win!

Those are a few ideas I hope to implement with my social media committee. Perhaps I‘ve stimulated other ideas in your mind. If so, please share. If you would like a copy of my article about Ten Ways to Engage Staff With Social Media, click the button below.

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Mindfulness Helps to Build Leadership Skills

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Being mindful of what you say and do leads to better communication and clarity of thought and actions. Mindfulness is similar to following the Five Agreements, which help you focus on being present in the moment and being conscious of the words you use to communicate your thoughts and actions to others.

While reading articles about mindfulness techniques I was reminded of the book, The Fifth Agreement, by Don Miguel Ruiz and his son, Don Jose Ruiz.

Mindfulness suggests we be conscious of our thoughts while we walk, while listening to others, while sitting quietly and meditating. Being mindful can mean the difference between saying something in the heat of anger or stress that you wish you hadn’t and taking three deep breaths to calm yourself before you speak. It means thinking about the words you use and how they might be received by others – before you say them.

As a leader, practicing mindfulness helps to make you more aware of your surroundings, of what others are saying and doing. By slowing down your mind, you see the world around you more clearly. You spend more time in the present, rather than in the past of future, caught up in your thoughts.

The Fifth Agreement bookIn their book, The Fifth Agreement, the Ruizes talk about the importance of following the five agreements:

Be Impeccable with your word – always speak with integrity, saying only what you mean. Don’t participate in gossip. Carefully choose the words you use that most clearly express what you are trying to say.

Don’t take anything personally – remember that what others say and do is their own reality, not yours. By not accepting their words and actions as true about you, and telling yourself it’s their reality, not yours, you create a shield against verbal abuse and suffering. Imagine you live and work in a magic bubble that no one can penetrate except those you let in deliberately. Keep your true Self safe.

Don’t make assumptions – this is so hard to live by. Ask questions to dig deeper. Don’t assume you understand what someone is saying. Their interpretation of words may be totally different from your own and can create misunderstandings. Repeat it back to them to gain clarity and understanding.

Always do your best – give 100% of your time and effort to everything you do. When you finish a project, ask yourself, “Did I do my best?” Even if you didn’t get the sale or generate the results you anticipated, did you put your best effort into it? Sticking to this agreement forces you to work and act with deliberate intent, to prepare for every meeting or project, to be present and mindful of your actions and your outcomes. When others see you giving 100% or more, they are motivated to do the same.

Be skeptical but learn to listen – don’t take anything you see and hear as the only truth. Ask yourself “is it really the truth?” Sometimes we say and do things based on past experience or beliefs, which may no longer be applicable. When you begin to think and act as you always have, stop and take three breaths. Then ask yourself, “is this still true or am I acting from past beliefs?” This is being mindful and present about your actions. Question yourself and question others to gain clarity about the true intent behind the words.

If we all followed the Five Agreements and concentrated each day on being more mindful of our words and actions, we would experience better communication among our staff and colleagues. As leaders, we would set an example for how to behave in an organization. This can help to slowly change the culture from one of finger-pointing or acrimony to one of accountability and clarity of purpose. We might even create a “fun” work environment. Try these techniques, and let me know what results you get.

Trends for Managing Change in 2015

By Eric Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Review of ten trends for managing change in a practical context. Think more clearly about the impact of the trends. Consider if any external help can improve your performance. Refocus on the speed of change and the need for greater agility in adapting to changes.

While conducting a quarterly scan on trends for the next two to three years I came across a brief SlideShare presentation by Dennis McCafferty in CIO Insight, titled Ten Execution Trends for 2015, which you can view by clicking here. The overriding theme in the trends he mentions is that while planning is always extremely important, flexibility and agility in executing your plans is becoming much more important in order to overcome the challenges of doing business. This piece focuses on the IT issues of organizations but the trends mentioned affect managing all aspects of all organizations. These are the trends:

  • Real-time planning is mission-critical
  • Leading indicators take on greater prominence
  • Project management tackles enterprisewide tasks
  • Cultural difference foster collaboration
  • IT takes a seat at the “Influencers” table
  • Agility dominates
  • The “Organizational Surfer” rules the day
  • Everyone’s a designer
  • Value trumps all
  • Just do it

We see greater importance given to future trends over research on past trends. We see the increasing need for a holistic approach to how projects and initiatives are planned and executed. We are reminded of the value of embracing cultural differences in fostering collaboration. IT now wields greater influence overall on the organization. The increased speed of change in general is driving us to delegate the execution of projects more thereby increasing agility, and as a by-product, provide Millennials with a more attractive work environment.

We also see a return to the concept of “roving staff”, which I experienced in banking in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, now called “Organizational Surfers”. This was also common in large organizations with a group of employees who would “sub” for line staff, such as tellers, on vacation or sick leave, but are now found at all levels in the organization. There is also a notable increase in cross-functional collaboration and training in design thinking to extract great ideas from everyone possible in the firm regardless of whether those ideas pertain to their work or department.

Creating value for the customer is now job #1 over cost containment and problem solving. The final comment of the piece is titled “Just Do It!” It points out the danger in over-thinking things to the detriment of simply getting them done, thereby “staying ahead of change”.

Do your executives and team leaders have the skill sets to make the proper adjustments on the fly? Have you identified the leading indicators that will help you focus on future trends? Are your projects managed in a silo or are they directed with an enterprise-wide view? What initiatives are you implementing if there are multiple cultures in your business or you have an international presence?

At what level of your organization does your head of IT sit? For that matter, ask the same question about HR, Design, R&D, Safety and Security. Are your leaders capable of managing and even accelerating change with agility, and how are you including your younger staff members in the process? Are you creating a cadre of line staff, managers and executives that can support different functions either executing initiatives or performing training and coaching?

Is your organization capable of extracting creativity from folks other than those whose job is to design products and services? How are you gauging, measuring or tracking your leaders’ contribution to creating value for your customers and your stockholders?

Each of the 10 trends mentioned in the SlideShare piece broadly addresses issues that are clearly compelling to nearly every organization. Which one or ones compel you to make them a priority and how will you gather support in skill development and coaching to accelerate the effectiveness of implementing your initiatives?

I invite you contact me if you wish to explore how we might be able to assist you.

Time to re-think demographic models

By Jeri Denniston, Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Technology has changed the landscape of consumer behavior, causing us to re-think consumer demographic behavior models about how different generations behave. Four factors have come together to influence consumer behavior, according to

According to the November 2014 update, several trends have come together recently that require us to re-think our demographic models.

Like the 2012 Megastorm Sandy where three major hurricanes collided, several consumer trends and new technologies have merged which require new thinking about consumer buying habits.

Here are a few examples:

  • In the UK, “women now account for the majority of video game players, and there are more gamers aged over 44 than under 18.” – Internet Advertising Bureau September 2014
  • “Twitter’s fastest growing demographic between 2012 and 2013 was the 55-64 year age bracket, growing 79%.” – Buffer July 2013
  • “A retirement home in Porto Alegre, Brazil, hosted an activity day for its elderly residents in September 2014, featuring a skateboard exhibition and graffiti artists.” – Whaaaat?

Thanks to technology and the availability of information, early adopters are not just the younger, affluent population. They can be anyone.

Four factors are combining to change the way consumers of all generations behave, says

1)    ACCESS: global information availability and collective brand familiarity is creating a new experience that spans generations. Consumers from 16 to 60, in all reaches of the globe, are using the same products and brands: Apple, Nike, Samsung, Facebook (the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is women over age 55).

2)    PERMISSION: Increased lifestyle freedom is driving the collapse of ‘natural’ convention after convention, and the formation of new identities. From traditional family structures to gender roles, the “traditional” convention has changed. Witness the rise of TV shows like Modern Family, the acceptance of openly gay couples raising children, legalization of same sex marriages  – not just in the US, but around the world.

3)    ABILITY: The ability to experiment and identify with a wider variety of brands and products is driving personalization and uniqueness. UNIQLO is a brand of clothing that enables the consumer of any age or ethnicity to mix, match, combine and create a unique look just for them. Technology has made it possible to experiment and share information freely across social networks used by all ages and levels of affluence, “allowing people to identify with brands, products and services – even those that they don’t or can’t purchase”.

4)    DESIRE: The eroding connection between financial resources and social status is giving rise to a more democratic status, and changing the balance of power between generations. Whereas the traditional status symbols were how much money you made, where you lived, and what car you drove, the new symbols are about the experience, authenticity, connection, and sustainable lifestyles. The younger generations, even the more affluent ones, are basing status on those measures, not on money and material goods. These are the consumers who use Airbnb for their vacations, and donate to Kickstarter campaigns to help start-ups raise needed funds.

While 48% of those who had used ‘neo-sharing’ collaborative consumption platforms (such as Airbnb, Zipcar and Kickstarter) were aged 18-34, 33% were aged 35-54 and 19% were aged over 55. – Crowd Companies, March 2014

What does this mean?

1)    NEW NORMAL: Embrace and celebrate new racial, social, cultural and sexual norms. Some examples:

  • Coca Cola’s 2014 Super Bowl ad which caused a great deal of controversy with America the Beautiful being sung in several languages.
  • HoneyMaid graham crackers featured an ad campaign of a “blended” family where the child narrator talks of having two dads and two moms.
  • In August 2014 Facebook enabled 54 gender identifications for the platform, including transgender, pansexual, asexual and polyamorous. Argentina was the first Latin American country to implement these profiles which were already available in the US, Spain and the UK.

2)    HERITAGE HERESY: Be prepared to re-examine or even overturn your brand heritage.

  • In July 2014 Sotheby’s auction house partnered with eBay to enable online shoppers to bid on and purchase items from art to fine wine during live auctions at their New York HQ.
  • April 2014 New York skateboard store unveiled a 99.99% gold-plated skateboard sold with special archival gloves.
  • October 2014 THUG Kitchen debuts to bully people into following a healthier vegan diet in an effort to appeal to less affluent demographics.

3)    CROSS-DEMOGRAPHIC FERTILIZATION: Look to seemingly foreign demographics for inspiration. Through technology, shared tastes and innovation, it’s possible to connect and transfer ideas between generations.

  • CNA language school in Brazil connects young Brazilian students learning English with elderly people in the US using webcams to chat on a variety of topics in the lesson plan.
  • We’ve already seen bike sharing and car sharing systems based on honor systems crop up in Europe and the US. In June 2014 Paris launched the world’s first bike sharing program across the city for kids ages 2-10 with 300 bikes of all sizes.
  • In August 2014 Singapore-based Pandabed launched its service enabling hosts to narrow their guest audience to people with similar tastes and habits.

4)    HYPER-DEMOGRAPHIC IRONY: Focus on ever smaller niches of interest rather than circumstance.  For example….

  • In August 2014, Russia’s largest bank honed in on the culture’s belief that cats are a good luck charm when moving into a new home. They offered the first 30 new mortgage holders the opportunity to “borrow” a cat when they moved into their new home. Homeowners could choose from 10 different breeds which were delivered to the home in time for the house-warming.
  • During Hong Kong fashion week in July 2014, US-based Vogmask unveiled its stylish air pollution masks, each individually designed by a different artist from the Chinese body painting collective Face Slap.

So what’s next?

Look at trends that are delighting consumers in seemingly disparate industries for your next great innovation. Think more broadly and creatively about how to apply those ideas to your own industry to reach and serve your own target audiences. The key: know and understand your target consumers’ wants and needs.

If you don’t, your competition will probably figure it out for you.

Cost-cutting creates leadership vacuum

By Eric Denniston, Change Architect, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Eliminating jobs as a way to reduce bottom line expenses often results in a leadership vacuum with high level managers being let go. Those left behind have reduced morale and often lack the necessary expertise of the leaders who are no longer there.

When a downturn in the economy occurs, such as what happened in 2007, many companies respond with a knee-jerk reaction by cutting jobs as well as budgets. While this may be necessary, too often what has happened is that executive management first looks at the highest paid employees and offers them an early retirement package. Then they move to the next level of salaried managers and eliminate them.

As a result, these firms face a lack of bench strength in terms of middle managers who know the business and can quickly help the company get back on its feet as the economy turns around. There may be a wide gap between the staff and the executive team that are left, creating a serious leadership void. Consequently, morale may plummet, with those who are left waiting for the other shoe to drop and wondering how safe their jobs are. This prevents them from focusing on their work which is crucial to helping the company progress.

What can be done to turn this around? One of the things is to focus on employee culture and look for ways to empower your staff to take an ownership view of their jobs. It can’t be mandated, but there are creative ways to reward your people for helping to find even more ways
to eliminate bureaucratic waste – without cutting jobs.

Cut Unnecessary Processes

Look at the processes in your business. Are they all necessary? Are you doing things because they’ve always been done that way, or are there opportunities to change or eliminate some processes altogether because they’ve become outdated or irrelevant? It’s time to take a hard look at where you might uncover some hidden costs and discover new-found savings.

For example, is it really necessary for every manager to have their own printer? What would be the cost savings if you networked a few printers instead? In addition to the cost savings in having fewer printers to support, the exercise each manager would get by walking from his/her office to the printer and back would be beneficial and give them a short respite from their work.

If you use color printers in your organization, did you know there’s a simple, inexpensive, retrofit product for HP printers that will force the printer to print in black and white instead of color and to print two-sided instead of single-sided? How much could you save in paper and ink on an annual basis by installing that device on all your color printers?

Those are just two of the creative ideas participants have gotten from attending a two-day workshop we lead. Some participants found as much as $2.5 million in cost savings annually!

Impressive results!

While it may be possible to organize this process internally, it’s often beneficial to bring in an outside, independent facilitator/consultant who can coach and guide the process. The results are most impressive when a cross-section of your staff (between 25 and 30 at a time), from senior executives to the lowest level person, participate in a two-day, offsite retreat.

During the two days, each person works individually and in cross functional teams of two or three to look critically at the work they do every day and write down non-essential tasks they perform that could be done differently or could be eliminated or transferred to another department where it makes more sense.

The consultants establish a safe environment that encourages creative thinking and rewards cost savings suggestions. Executive management is required to immediately approve, decline or request more information on each suggestion participants make. Every client that has done this has averaged $40,000 per person in immediate cost savings, without eliminating jobs or adding any new investments in equipment, software, etc.

Total annual cost savings are averaging more than $1 million per company and sometimes much more. Plus, morale has improved. People feel valued. Their contributions are being heard and rewarded, and the long term benefit is a shift in culture from one of entitlement or fear to one of ownership and accountability.

Now may be the right time to try something radically different. What have you got to lose?
Contact us for a free estimate.