“If you can move people by inspiring and building their confidence to own and drive your new strategy, they will be committed to seeing change through and overcoming the organizational constraints you confront.”
Over the years, executive teams I’ve worked with were looking for the ‘next big thing’ for reasons such as:
- The #1 customer was acquiring their #2 customer, running the risk of 60% of the revenue dependent on a single customer. They needed to diversify.
- Their industry was becoming a commodity, and they had to find a way to either disrupt the industry or create a new spend category.
- The competition was already gaining on their last big idea.
- Growth started plateauing and they needed to decide whether to organically grow or acquire.
Experiencing similar threats, you read up on any and all information on how to disrupt the industry and the best ways to create a go to market strategy. You don’t know exactly how to get started with such a huge undertaking. All the while, the shadows are growing taller on the wall of innovation. These shadows are darkened with fear, avoidance, indecision, past failures, and the desire to analyze to the point of motionless. Sound familiar?
Successful leaders inspire the team who can bring the ‘next big thing’ to life, but it is hard to inspire when you A) Don’t yet know what the next big thing is and B) Are not sure how to even get there. When you have a framework by which you can methodically yet creatively look at your business with your team and develop potential Winning Moves to test and implement, you can cast light on the shadows and start executing.
Here are some tips and messages that have worked for me in helping executive teams innovate:
1. Inspire your team. Encourage your team to get creative and not be risk-averse.
You may be reading this and thinking, “We’re ahead of the game - sales are up, we’re crushing the competition. No shadows here!” Wonderful to hear. Do you have a cadence for when you will continue to have a Think Rhythm to select the next big thing before external pressures dictate you should? If not, then I suggest you do so.
Harness creative thinking when things are going well and ask your team: What about it is working? What have we learned? What are our customers saying? What is going on in their world? Your team’s brains will be at the height of creativity when there are no pressures to get there. Their appetite for taking bigger risks will be greater as well. During pressure, our creative thinking declines and our risk aversion increases. Create a clear, inspiring and measurable vision on finding the ‘next big thing’ and get to work.
Here are some tools and messages I’ve used during recent Strategic Planning sessions that may inspire you to get creative:
2. Know your core customer. Who do you want to do more business with? Can you describe them? If you were sitting across from them, what would they say their needs and wants are? What do they fear? Paint a picture of this customer with such clarity you and your team will know exactly who you are designing the ‘next big thing’ for.
3. Consider a shift. Inspired by Renee Mauborgne, who was a keynote at last year’s Breakthrough Conference, I incorporated the Blue Ocean Shift tools into some strategic planning sessions. These tools proved to be a valuable way to objectively see whether or not we are really innovative, where the pain lies, how we compete today and what new factor, if introduced, would differentiate us enough where we are swimming in blue ocean.
The most challenging aspect of the Shift thinking, however, is that in order to ADD value, you have to zero out value in key factors you compete in today. A true shift doesn’t just add bells, whistles, and offerings to what you’re already doing. A shift says things like: “You know what? My core customer doesn’t even really value this. They just accept it as table stakes. It’s a given. If I were to stop competing on these 1-2 things, we could focus on new ways to compete that add more value to the customer. They would be willing to pay for this value.”
You are making shifts to key factors rather than making wild swings and blowing up who you are to a point your core customer may not even recognize you. It’s a magnifying glass to the way you do things today that can help determine how you can restack the decks and thoughtfully add innovation.
4. Level the brainstorming field. Make sure all voices from your team are heard without biased influence from the highest rank. Some ideas to ensure this are to:
- Assign prep work beforehand to prompt the team’s thinking and input. Assemble the themes for deeper discussions during planning.
- During the session, name a number of ideas you want with some ground rules, e.g. “We’re coming up with 20 ideas. We’re going in order not to miss anyone (CEO goes last). You may not ask any clarifying questions during this period - I will write down exactly what you suggest.” After the brainstorming, you can discuss and vote.
5. Make SWOT actionable. Brainstorm your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, and then make it come to life. Discuss and capture:
- How your Strengths can accelerate the Opportunities
- How your Strengths and Opportunities can get in front of or mitigate Threats
- How knocking out your Weaknesses can accelerate Opportunities and mitigate Threats
When you look at this new list, you’ll see your punch list on things to tackle in order to win. Turn these items into priorities and actions.
6. Pitch the ideas. Regardless of what tools or brainstorming techniques you come out of strategic planning with, you should have a list of assumptions to test. Will my core customer truly value this? Would they be willing to pay for this at the optimal price? Create the value propositions to present to your ‘friendly’ current core customers whom you have a strong relationship and trust. Gather data to decide what to move forward with, adjust, or kill.
7. Lighten the testing load. Combining the above ideas on leveling brainstorming with pitching ideas, you can ask the team for a magic number of contacts they each can reach out to gather feedback. In a recent session, we gathered 26 contacts, assigned each of them to the team and added them all as Actions in Rhythm. The CEO during this session said to his team,
“I want you each to get uncomfortable. Stretch yourselves to reach out to who you need to - not necessarily the safe choice.”
8. Don’t wait for Perfection. Testing assumptions and gathering data provides you with critical go/no-go decisions before you officially invest and implement. However, I see customers take this testing to an extreme. They discuss the same threats, create a team to test assumptions, review the data...then, want to test some more. General Patton storms through the door in that moment and reminds everyone:
A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.
George S. Patton
Regardless of where you are and what you identify with, my hope is you come away with a couple of tips to consider on how to best navigate the shadows of change and come out with the next big idea along with your team.
What are your personal hacks to inspire innovation with your team?
Looking for more Annual Planning information to help get you started? Check out our additional resources:
Rhythm Systems Annual Planning Resource Center
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