Why Is Great Leadership Like a Fine Watch?

A fine mechanical watch is exquisite in its own right. But if you look closer, you’ll see more than just a special timepiece. It is also useful as a framework for leaders who want to improve the quality of their organization’s performance. What does that leadership framework look like? Here’s my perspective…

I’m continually amazed at how unrelated things in life tend to line up with almost perfect timing. Nearly a year ago, I decided I wanted to own a “real watch,” so I began researching popular brands. Around the same time, I was recruited to run Birkman International. Birkman is a 72-year-old company that provides businesses with a roadmap that helps teams work better together and drive operational performance.

These two unrelated events have allowed me to witness the elegance and intricacies that both watches and companies need to run well.

What Do Watches Teach Us About Great Leadership?

Imagine opening the case back of a mechanical watch. Inside you’ll find what seems like a highly complicated collection of gears and wheels. Most of us only open our watch when there’s a problem with its function. The same holds true for businesses — we never seem to look inside until we detect an issue.

In a properly functioning company, each individual, department, and team knows its role. They work at the right pace to accomplish their respective tasks. It is all about coming together at the right time to achieve success. Just like clockwork.

Look Inside

When you open the back of the case and look carefully, you’ll see that it is powered by a mainspring. Without it, the entire mechanism won’t work. The same is true with any company.

The mainspring of the business is the CEO who provides the power needed to drive the business forward. As the mainspring, a CEO is responsible for keeping the organization under a kind of tension that creates motivation, movement, and results over time. However, to ensure consistently high performance, this tension must be released in a regulated way.

This is where the Chief Operating Officer (COO) steps in to serve a critical function. The COO is an organization’s balance wheel. This leader is responsible for distributing the power generated by the CEO, releasing it to the rest of the organization at a steady, reliable pace, like the hands of a watch.

However, unexpected things happen sometimes. For example, what if you accidentally drop your watch? The balance wheel absorbs the shock and ensures that the movement keeps spinning at the right rate. Similarly, unexpected things will happen at work. Regardless, the COO ensures that daily business operations continue to run smoothly and reliably.

A Fine Watch at Work

Once a watch’s power is being created and released at the correct pace, it’s up to the gears and wheels to do their job. But first, these components must be positioned in all the right places. Likewise, employees must be placed in the right position before they can move your organization forward effectively.

For any watch (or any company) to perform well, the real trick is to make sure every “right wheel” works with all the other “right wheels.” This is when the elegance of a great organization reveals itself. It is also when underperforming teams require careful attention. Leaders may need to open the “case back” of their organization and diagnose issues by investigating two questions:

  1. What is stopping us from achieving the desired results?
  2. How do we get things running the way they should?

The good news is that, often, new parts aren’t required to fix a broken watch. The same is true in business. Throughout more than 30 years as an executive, I’ve found that organizational problems aren’t rooted in individual employees, but in the friction between all the moving parts. This is why great leadership can make a significant difference.

Making Everything Run Like Clockwork

If you take a watch apart, clean the pieces, reassemble it, and oil it, you end up with a wrist piece that runs properly. Likewise, if we take sufficient time and care to work with our people, we’re likely to find an effective solution to any problem.

In business, “oil” is the understanding of ourselves and others’ needs. This helps us communicate well with people so they can overcome the friction that arises from misunderstanding and mistrust. This gives us the ability to move forward in unison.

To maximize business results, leaders must take time to break down what their organizations are doing at their core. When we define our company’s purpose, bring it into focus with laser-sharp clarity, and provide a psychologically safe environment for team members to communicate, we build a foundation for truly remarkable results.

When we add oil to watch components, the mechanisms come to life. The same holds true for businesses. The latest technologies may increase efficiency, but they cannot reduce human friction within a team. Similarly, a modern smartwatch may be a reliable way to keep track of time, but it does not compare to the craftsmanship of a fine watch.

Effective Leadership Endures

The tagline of luxury watchmaker Patek Phillipe is, “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” In other words, if you properly care for one of their watches, it will last hundreds of years.

This aligns with my approach to leadership. I believe executives are merely caretakers for their successors. As the leader of a business now entering its third generation, I take heart in knowing that if we do the work to improve ourselves and better our organization, our impact on the world will be an enduring legacy.

I hope leaders everywhere share the same vision. The future of business depends on it — as does the future of work.

What Drives Innovation Management at Successful Companies?

In today’s fluid, fiercely competitive business environment, many organizations continuously strive to stay ahead of the curve. They know success requires an ongoing commitment to creativity and innovation. But breathing life into an innovation management strategy can be a complex, time-consuming challenge. What helps market leaders sustain an edge? Let’s take a closer look…

Too Often, Innovation Goals Don’t Match Reality

Why is innovation so crucial? It enhances productivity and profitability. What’s more, it can translate into significant long-term cost efficiencies. For example, according to McKinsey, innovative companies generate 2.4 times more profit, on average, than their less innovative counterparts.

But despite these promising statistics, most companies face a significant gap between innovation aspirations and reality. In fact, more than 80% of business leaders say innovation is one of their top three priorities — yet only 10% are satisfied with their current level of innovation performance.

What can organizations do to close this gap? Effective solutions depend on the people behind the innovation management process.

Managers Are the Secret

Fostering a culture of innovation involves more than just lofty aspirations. It also requires managers who are equipped with the right skills and resources to empower others. As the fundamental link between senior leadership and staff, managers are naturally positioned to foster creativity and innovation.

6 Keys to Innovation Management Success

At leading-edge companies, employees are empowered to experiment with new processes, tools, and services. They may explore a new product line, enhance the customer experience, or develop a tool to improve operational efficiency.

Regardless of the challenge at hand, people must feel ready to respond and supported in their efforts. This is where managers play an integral role in shaping innovation culture. Here are six innovation management steps that make a measurable difference:

1. Set the Right Tone

Innovation thrives when teams feel confident and competent enough to experiment, challenge the status quo, and embrace new ideas, processes, and technologies. This requires functional expertise and awareness of the organization, as well as a spirit of discovery. It also requires a nurturing environment that fosters psychological safety and encourages the free flow of ideas.

But perhaps most importantly, innovation demands a certain appetite for risk — with the reassurance that people can fail fast, learn from experience, and build on that foundation. Managers can set the tone by emphasizing each of these success factors.

2. Ensure That Employees Have Time to Contribute

Time is another consideration. No one can engage in innovation if they’re juggling endless to-do lists and reacting to requests that constantly come their way. Managers can make innovation a priority by allocating sufficient time for team members to stay on top of relevant trends, challenge tradition, investigate core issues, generate ideas, and explore solutions with others.

This is the case at 3M, a company known for its game-changing products. 3M’s long-standing culture of innovation encourages all employees to spend 15% of their work week proactively cultivating and pursuing “innovative ideas that excite them.”

3. Develop Strong Skills

Managers must come to the table with solid innovation management capabilities. After all, motivating employees to reach outside of their comfort zone isn’t easy. It requires emotional intelligence, empathy, and exceptional communication skills. Effective coaching skills are useful when encouraging people to innovate throughout their careers. And entrepreneurial skills come into play when spotting promising opportunities and helping employees find the determination and resourcefulness they need to push the envelope.

Smart companies know the breadth and depth of skills their managers possess. But many employers lack this kind of comprehensive insight. If you need a clearer, more complete view of manager skills across your organization, an inventory can help. First, identify and prioritize skills that matter most to you. Next, audit managers and document their skill sets. Then analyze this data to look for patterns that can help you find strengths and weaknesses.

Skills-Based Development in Practice

Although skills mapping is an important part of the planning process, innovation really comes to life when managers and their employees put these skills into practice. This is why organizations like Unilever and IBM have adopted a skills-based approach to workforce development, planning, and decision making. These companies rely on skills to guide key all kinds of workforce decisions, including hiring and promotions. This frees them from focusing too heavily on limited roles and job-specific siloes. It also enables them to adapt and innovate more swiftly than industry counterparts.

At Unilever, this skills-based approach takes various forms, including a talent marketplace where both permanent employees and “U-Workers” can participate in projects and tasks across the organization, based on their skills. U-Work is a contract work program that provides participants with a guaranteed minimum monthly retainer and enables them to work in a flexible way they prefer.

Meanwhile at IBM, half of its U.S.-based roles no longer require a degree. The company is also investing in upskilling veterans and neurodiverse individuals to develop high-demand skills the company needs.

Results from early adopters of skills-based strategies are promising. For instance, among companies that rely on skills to match people with work opportunities, 26% are better able to anticipate future disruptions, 26% have a more agile workforce, and 26% are more innovative.

4. Let Data Lead the Way

Many organizations are already sitting on a wealth of employee skill data, so implementing skills-based approaches is faster and easier than ever. This data is also an invaluable source of information for managers who are building innovative teams.

Skills data is available from HR, learning, and recruitment systems, as well as work-related platforms like project management tools and document systems. By combining and analyzing data about the work and learning people complete every day, along with their resumes, skills assessments, performance reviews, and feedback from others, managers can get a comprehensive view of their team’s skills and potential.

This kind of skills intelligence makes it possible to identify candidates who could complement a cross-functional innovation team, or expose gaps that may hinder future innovation. In short, it helps managers lead innovation with better insight, conduct career conversations with greater precision, and understand how disruption is shaping their team’s talent requirements.

5. Ensure Everyone is Onboard

Developing a culture of innovation requires buy-in at every level. Celebrating successful solutions and their impact on the business can boost everyone’s enthusiasm for future innovation.

Recognition from managers is particularly powerful. However, it doesn’t need to include a tangible or financial reward. Simply being acknowledged by a senior leader makes a memorable difference, especially if you spotlight employee innovation efforts at team or company meetings. Also, to motivate particularly strong contributors, senior leaders could offer mentoring support. This, in turn, stretches employee innovation skills and experiences that can pay-off in the future.

Enabling team members to share ideas and suggestions can be a highly effective “grassroots” way to support innovation culture. It can be as simple as adding several minutes to your team’s standing meeting agenda.

Or you can schedule standalone brainstorming or knowledge-sharing sessions. In this case, you’ll want to establish a process to ensure that all ideas are heard and acknowledged. Using a “yes, AND” tactic tells employees that their input is welcome and leaders will seriously consider its potential to add business value.

6. Clarify Your Agenda With an Innovation Framework

Interesting ideas are everywhere. But smart organizations don’t blindly pursue all possibilities. Instead, they build a blueprint that helps teams generate ideas, evaluate their potential, and implement solutions that deliver the best benefits for your organization.

This blueprint is also called an innovation framework. By consistently following these guidelines, you can keep resources focused on results that matter, rather than creating distractions.

Evaluating a new idea against your team objectives and business goals ensures that it will have a desirable impact on the top and bottom line. Alternatively, innovating within a need or known constraint can provide solutions to challenges you face.

For instance, the Covid pandemic led to numerous innovations in remote work, education, telehealth, vaccine technology, virtual restaurant services, and more. Now, many manufacturers and retailers are evaluating their innovation pipelines for ideas to tackle the cost of living crisis affecting many regions of the world.

There’s a mistaken belief that innovation is a costly, large-scale endeavor. In fact, it thrives when nurtured from the ground up. Even the smallest pilot projects can yield substantial long-term business impact. So, when planning a pilot project, managers can review team skills to be sure they assign the right people, with the right skills, to the right challenge, at the right time.

Then, managers can move teams forward through this innovation process framework by identifying and addressing one business problem at a time, and building momentum as they tackle subsequent challenges.

Moving Forward With Innovation Management

Every innovation effort begins with a single step. And every small step towards building an innovative business has the potential to create a significant impact in the long-run.

This is why innovative organizations equip managers with all the skills and resources they need to help teams thrive in the face of change.

Want to achieve better business outcomes? Support your managers, so they can embrace a skills-based approach, empower people to experiment, and nurture a culture where innovation is celebrated in all its forms. This will position your organization for long-term success.


Why Do Entrepreneurs Fail? Why It Could Happen to You

A good idea goes a long way in making any business a success, but it’s not the only thing that’s needed to ensure it doesn’t fail. Many entrepreneurs start businesses in the hope they are going to be the next Facebook or Google, but eventually reality hits and they realize they need more than just a clever idea to push a business forward. It’s obvious a unique idea is going to give any entrepreneur the best chance to succeed, but there are many other reasons why promising ideas don’t always get the exposure they deserve.

Some Entrepreneurs Show Too Much Desire to Profit Early

We’re all in business to make money, that’s a fact, but when you’re starting a new business you should target success in a different way other than thinking about profit. Instant profit for any entrepreneur is brilliant, but some business owners choose to take that profit to better their personal lives rather than thinking about taking the business further by investing in fresh marketing ideas. Many entrepreneurs then wonder why they don’t have the capital to invest and start to lose motivation in the unique idea that was supposed to make them millions instantaneously.

Lack Motivation When Times Get Hard

Times do get hard as an entrepreneur, but it’s important you keep going to ensure you’re a success. Successful entrepreneur Gurbaksh Chahal, for example, hasn’t always had it easy but he’s always stuck at it and he’s now reaping the rewards with multiple successful companies, one of them being Gravity4 – the industry’s first marketing cloud platform that serves on a global scale and has more than 400 employees.   He’s also gone on to create the Chahal Foundation which focuses on empowering women and ending child illiteracy.  If he isn’t an entrepreneur who can motivate you to continue, no-one will be able to.

Poor Marketing Efforts

Entrepreneurs know that building a business from a great idea isn’t the only step to take to bring an idea to life. They know that marketing is going to be key to ensure the world knows about the idea and this is the point when many entrepreneurs fail. They lack experience when it comes to digital and traditional marketing ideas and without a good marketing strategy they end up losing the exposure they need to succeed. A good marketing strategy is not only one that gets the idea out there, but one that has the power to do it quickly by taking advantage of viral marketing ideas using the likes of social media.

Sometimes, a fantastic idea will do the marketing work for an entrepreneur but in most cases, it still takes a good marketing ploy to get a clever idea off the ground.

Possess the Fear of Failure

This article certainly isn’t going to do anyone favors when it comes their own fear of business failure, but it’s a common reason why entrepreneurs fail. Before even starting a business, there are those out there that believe it will fail before it profits, and ultimately, that makes them their own worst enemy when it comes to starting a business. What entrepreneurs need to do is unleash their true passion and show the world why their idea is going to work. They need positivity when it comes to business so they’ll have the confidence to take their business forward, and that’s what makes a great entrepreneur.

Poor Financial Management

As stated above, a lot of entrepreneurs are very short-sighted when it comes to business and are only looking to profit early rather than add long-term value to a business. This is one of the reasons why they fail, but another obvious reason is because they have poor financial management skills in the long run. They don’t hire accountants quickly enough to stable the finances of a business and that later costs them the business altogether.

There is a knack to being a true entrepreneur and it’s not always about luck. It’s about having willpower, motivation, determination, and plenty of good personal skills.

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Does Vision Make a Great Leader?

Many describe a great leader as one who has vision.

A leader who is able effortlessly to conceptualize what strategy and direction is required to meet the competitive and economic challenges of the day.

A leader who can integrate the various pieces of a complicated business puzzle in their mind and create a strategy of what has to be done to achieve success.

There is no question that visioning is an important ingredient of leadership, but it isn’t the characteristic that distinguishes the good leader from the bloody brilliant one.

It’s not what the leader THINKS that guides the organization through tumultuous times to survive and thrive, because thoughts and “brave ideas” are mere postulations of what SHOULD be done.

It’s what the leader DOES that is the deciding factor in whether or not the organization performs at it’s highest level.

The natural ability to execute will always in my view take the top position at the leadership table over visioning and ideation.

Does the leader who is remarkable in the skills of execution require an incredibly insightful vision to succeed?

Nirvana is leader who is both creative and possesses the execution DNA strand.

Breakaway businesses are created amidst this perfect storm. Leaders are, however, rarely good at both.

But success CAN be achieved without amazing visioning. A mediocre plan flawlessly executed can produce far more positive results than an ambitious plan poorly executed. That’s a fact.

So why all the fuss over the power of visioning in creating remarkable leaders?

“The vision” is definitely more sexy than the dirty, messy and inelegant task of getting stuff done in the trenches fighting internal politics and aggressive competitors that’s for sure.

And leadership pundits seem to be able to wrap their heads around ideation skills far more easily than trying to formularize the synchronized “pick and shovel” activities necessary to mobilize imperfect and biased human beings to deliver results.

The truth is (take it from someone who has been there) it is far easier to apply cognitive skills to the art of leadership than the practical operational skills necessary to transform the helium-filled plan into reality.

The application of cognition is orderly; leading implementation is anything but.

If you’re a leader looking to enhance your effectiveness, don’t fuss with getting more productivity from your mind, “get dirty” with your employees who are up to their asses in mud…

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Why Empathy is Key to 21st Century Business and Why You Should Care

The top three currencies for the 21st century are trust, relationships, and community. You may have been conditioned to believe they are efficiency, productivity, and constant growth because those are the metrics most organizations focus on. This is because, in essence, we are not taught about how to connect to our deeper feelings in business. We are expected to cut them off from our business environments in the pursuit of being seen as a professional and achieving set markers of “success.”

It is widely accepted that it is uncool and unwise to bring our emotions to work. We have been told that we need to divide ourselves and split into our “professional self” and our “personal self” in order to be successful. We are tasked with attaining the mythical work-life balance and being superheros who are able to accomplish the impossible. But why, and at what cost?

While we have one of the biggest opportunities in the history of work, for example, to bring the five generations currently working side by side together in unity, it is being drummed into our psyche to further divide and segment ourselves by pitting one generation, like the Millennials, against another, like the Boomers. What this does is create further divisions, instead of finding ways to align and integrate around a shared purpose of the business. Imagine what could happen if we brought people together around key projects, regardless of what generational box they belonged to, and had them learn from each other and co-create innovative approaches that would help the organization thrive? Many European countries are starting programs that connect the generations in community instead of isolating senior citizens from the rest of society. We need to bring this wisdom to business.

And the divisions go further when one department, such as marketing, needs to fight another department, like sales, for budget and headcount instead of finding ways to align and integrate around the shared purpose of the business. Imagine what could happen if sales and marketing had a joint purpose and did not need to battle each other. The opportunities and gains would be significant.

The Myth of Best Practices

In the pursuit of efficiency, productivity, and constant growth, we have become addicted to the “quick fix,” always in search of the magic bullet or the secret sauce that someone else can bring into our organization and solve all our problems. There is a hunger to discover someone else’s best practices and bring them in so we can move faster and better. Our opportunity is to trust ourselves to dig deeper and do the work to fund the solutions that work best for us and for the organization.

But what if speed is sometimes our enemy in business? Sure, being agile is important, and we have seen many programs and even movements to help us become lean, but what if we stepped back for one minute and realized that in the pursuit of these programs, we have cut ourselves off from our core? In tracking our efficiency, productivity, and constant growth, we have too often lost sight of why we are here in the first place. And we need to integrate programs into our business flow more than leading with them and making them the new mantra or flavor of the month initiative, but that’s another story.

Why Empathy Matters More Than Ever in Business

As more people of all ages seek more meaning and purpose in their lives beyond mere materialistic gain, it will have a deep impact on the future of work and business.

Leaders will need to revisit how they lead and adopt a 21st century mindset. Here is a suggested outline for the key steps to consider when it comes to making these transitions and integrating empathy into the fabric of your organization in a deep and meaningful way.

  1. What is your biggest opportunity?

We have been conditioned to believe in business that we need to constantly fix problems, but that is a 20th century mindset that keeps us in the trap of focusing on what is broken. It forces us to be reactive and find fixes for problems. It limits our ability to perceive and pursue opportunities. How often do you or your organization invest time in examining your biggest opportunity? And not from the mindset of beating your competition, but from the mindset of asking what you can create that will set you apart in the world and draw the people who want or need to what you have to your business.

When was the last time you went out and listened to the people who matter in your business — employees, customers, partners, vendors, community members — and found out what is in their hearts and minds? Can you put yourself in their shoes and create an experience they would value? When I was an innovator-in-residence a few years ago with a large pharmaceutical company, we found that 95% of the people who designed solutions for patients never talked to a patient. Can you imagine how much shifted once they became more empathetic to the needs of the people they were designing for and started to understand their specific needs?

What are your biggest opportunities? Who do you need to start listening to? How could listening with empathy help you have breakthroughs by co-creating with these people instead of creating for them?

  1. Where are your points of integration?

It is insane that in the 21st century we have such deep divides in most organizations. We too often like to lump employees into a category called “internal stakeholders” and customers into one we label “external stakeholders.” And then we create programs for these segments, sometimes conducting surveys and pretending we have listened to the needs of its participants until we decide it’s time to conduct the next survey. During my corporate career, I witnessed countless communication and change management plans that did this, efficiently, over and over. We would set up teams to come up with fixes, but not much ever got implemented and the same issues came up year after year. Low engagement scores would get some initial attention, but most management teams did not have the skills or abilities to shift the fundamental behavior that was causing these issues in the first place.

When we have greater empathy across an organization, we can see an increase in the conversations and dialogue taking place between people. We can use approaches like Working Out Loud, where we openly share our work with others and are not secretive about what we are working on. Leaders don’t need to wait for the annual survey to find out what is on the minds of their people and customers.

We engage in this ancient practice of empathy when we care about others and their needs in a more humane way. It happens when we realize we are not too busy to take the time to listen to and exchange ideas with others. We can break down the walls of these superficial segments to bring people together around our shared purpose. Leaders can then start understanding that to be effective, words must be aligned with action. It doesn’t matter much what you say when what you do contradicts your words. How can you integrate your words with your actions?

  1. What questions do you need to ask to bring your team back together?

The 20th century leader was taught in business school to be the smartest person in the room. Our current systems teach us that to succeed we need to be the best. That is how we are currently rewarded and recognized for our contributions at work, and our conditioning is based on survival of the fittest. We spend endless hours rooting for our sports team, for example, to beat the competition and we do the same at work. In this mindset, we must win market share away from our competition, and often from our very own team mates, and success is attained by being the top performer and making it to the top of the coveted lists that garner us even more recognition. No one wants to be seen as a loser, so we keep fighting our way to the perceived top.

But the 21st century leader recognizes the increasing limitations of this system. What if we realized that these are win-lose scenarios, and that no matter how many team building events we attend, we are still expected to take someone else down to succeed? We build our teams in silos and then wonder why we can’t work effectively cross-functionally. How could we when we don’t bring our teams together and integrate?

Whenever I work with teams on building shared purpose, I get to witness firsthand how we can create a new path forward for business. And in the heart of it all is empathy, because it takes us seeing and listening to each other, and ourselves, to tap into the deeper meaning that connects us and gives us the desire to co-create.

It’s time to hit the reset button

We are ingrained into a culture of sameness in business where we are told how to structure our organizations, and even how to reinvent them. There are experts waiting to come in and do the work for us. It seems easier to put up more decorations on an already sinking ship than address the fundamental issues that need to be revealed. Doing another re-organization seems much easier than diving into the deeper purpose of the organization and realigning the structure around it, but ultimately getting clear on the purpose is what is needed for lasting change. Before we re-invent an organization, we need to know why we are doing it.

In a world where office furniture is listed as an asset and people are listed as a liability on a financial statement, we have lost common sense in remembering why we are in business in the first place. In other words, what is the purpose of our business? We are so stuck in the mantras of our brand that we have forgotten that customer service is a real act that a business must create. Did we start believing our own advertising, or are we just too scared to talk to our customers and find out what works for them and what doesn’t?

Empathy is not simply another step in a five-step process. It is fundamental to business and our communities. If we don’t realize that empathy is key to our future and that we must integrate it instead of seeing it as a step in a process, we will give in to the prevailing culture of fear, which does not serve us.

What we need to focus on is how we can contribute and write new stories for business, where people care deeply about the work they do and how they can contribute to a greater good beyond a promotion and a paycheck. When you start to break down your blind beliefs and limiting fears, you will start to uncover who you are and find others who share in your purpose.

Where do we start?

Here is the secret most people won’t tell you: the very first step we need to take when it comes to empathy is learning how to have empathy for yourself. If we can’t practice it within ourselves, how in the world can we expect to feel empathy for another being?

Business today follows the same basic patterns as society. There is a push for us to fit into a prefabricated system and not use our voice to express how we want it to look and what we stand for. We have been conditioned to win at all costs and we are starting to question why we cannot create win-win situations instead.

What happens when we realize we can choose to embark on the most important journey of our lives? What happens when we learn to tap into empathy and start listening closely to ourselves in every aspect of our lives? What happens when we start asking new questions and listening deeply to what is in our hearts and minds?

We can make business a driver of a saner and healthier world for all of us on this planet by making different choices that focus on trust, relationships, and community. It’s time to start the journey and find others on the path to regaining our collective sanity.

A version of this was first posted on

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The Customer is the New CEO: The Future of Finance & Embracing Digital Acceleration Through Cognitive Computing

The undercurrents of social media began to create a slow shift in the last decade, a shift that is now being felt like a tremor across all industries, including the financial sector. Clayton M. Christensen of Harvard Business brought clarity to this:

When a company identifies how to integrate the processes needed to give the consumer a sense of job completion, it can blow away the competition. A product is easy to copy, but experiences are very hard to replicate .

It’s a call for companies to align internally and truly embrace their customer, while making the customer experience relevant. Yet, for decades we’ve existed within this Marketing Myopia, with the goal to make a sale, irrespective of the customer need. The call-to-action was relevant when information was limited.

Today we don’t have the luxury of time.

Human attention is the fastest rising natural limited resource.

This experience economy is also challenging business 1) to keep up to the speed of their customer’s life 2) to respond to customers in a timely manner 3) all the while, trying to garner their attention.

Loyalty is fleeting these days. Technology is enabling a greater awareness of how companies are servicing customer demands. Consumer expectations continue change. A financial services organization is more than willing to take on the administration to onboard a customer that will appear seamless for the customer. The long-standing customer relationship now can be tenuous.

The average tenure of a bank customer is 9 years. The time it takes to lose a customer can be as little as 9 minutes.

If the financial services industry wants to continue to drive affinity with its customers, it needs to:

  • embrace and acquiesce to the new customer mindset
  • evolve the existing systems and communications that aren’t in sync with the market expectation

Customer centricity means mutual affinity, value and accountability. A branch manager built that relationship with you, offered you a school loan in college, helped you open your first bank account, then offered you insurance and protection products as your family grew. This created mutual affinity.

As digital and functionality replaced much of this individualized relationships, we may have relied on customer value metrics that were scalable like recency, frequency and monetization. To be competitive, we need to combine the front-line advantage to scale.  While the branch employee preserved this relationship, the new banking customer prefers to do their banking on their desktop or phone, which makes it more difficult to drive more customer value.

Financial Services have an advantage over any other sector: they can bank on the customer transacting and they can leverage cross-sell opportunities. Today, gaining attention, we must use the call-to-emotion at the right moment when message is most relevant. At, we call this the Window of Opportunity (WOO).

Companies investing in their next generation engagement strategy can gain the coveted customer attention by acknowledging the power of cognitive computing. Cognitive computing has the ability to marry the structured data sources and classifications with the more unstructured, more nuanced insights that present a much different customer profile than we are used to seeing.

With the abundance of data that continues to perpetuate by the millisecond, the ability to connect the dots among structured and unstructured files and disparate data continues to challenge financial services. Cognitive data can correlate and make sense of data – given all these challenges – and turn them into knowledge. This is knowledge that can be presented when the customer needs it. In order to enable this requires more capability than what exists today. No human can crunch this much data from disparate data sources and surface meaningful information in the time required.

Here are some key facts worth considering:

  1. New methods are arising that create opportunities for greater service and trust with customers: like alternative credit scoring, ranking to assess commercial loan applications, and content strategies for advisors to build customer confidence with their portfolios.
  2. Now apps for messaging can offer a personalized communication channel. With mobile applications integrating text bots, the business can communicate with the customer with greater context.

Brand equity is the currency measuring the effectiveness of your brand. Turning data into micro-moments (the stuff that happens everyday) that can, in turn, be injected at the customer’s speed of life, gives financial services a greater competitive edge.

It is our core belief that if we Democratize Data Science to all levels of the organization, we make individuals more productive and more accountable, and therefore develop a stronger workforce. By uncovering micro-moments at scale we enable organizations to truly embrace customer centricity. This ensures you have the ability to effectively answer business questions and confidently connect the dots among your disparate systems.

As an agnostic vendor, we focus on the customer first and always. The industry understands data. They understand customer value. Eventually significant changes in operations, in process and cultural mindset will be necessary in order keep up with the customer. It’s slowly getting there.

This article first appeared at the Future Finance Executive Summit sponsored by DX3 and CollectiveIQ.

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5 Profound Insights On Success From A Wharton Prof Devoted To Understanding It

When Wharton Business School professor Richard Shell was faced with a life-threatening illness, he was forced to think about the big picture. What was success to him? Since then, Shell has dedicated his life to helping folks find true meaning in their own lives and work.

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.

—Henry David Thoreau

In 2013, Parade magazine and Yahoo! Finance jointly surveyed 26,000 Americans and discovered that nearly 60% of them fully regretted their career choices.

That’s an incredibly sad statistic, of course—especially when you consider that job satisfaction has become the most critical factor to a person’s sense of well-being and overall happiness with life.

So how is it that so many people have found themselves in careers that leave them feeling empty and unfulfilled? According to Wharton Business School professor Richard Shell, one likely reason is they didn’t ask the right questions at the start.

“I think that for a lot of these people,” says Shell, “they hadn’t thoughtfully defined what success would look like in their own terms before pursuing work that aligned more closely with family, social or cultural expectations. They hadn’t thought at the beginning to look for a suit of clothes that would fit them.”

Shell speaks from experience. In the early 1970s, immediately after earning an undergraduate degree at Princeton, he had no clear idea of the work he wanted to do—or to which he was ideally matched. He took jobs as a house painter, a social worker and a fundraiser, and found himself miserable in all of them. Lost and unsure of what to do next, he became a modern-day Odysseus traveling aimlessly around the globe. That is until he fatefully contracted hepatitis in Afghanistan.

It was the sudden and life-threatening illness that ultimately shifted Shell’s perspective, and influenced him to dive deeply into understanding his own motivations, interests, and talents. He learned the basics of Buddhist meditation and devoted himself to long stretches of contemplation and soul searching. From this pivot point in his late twenties, he enrolled in law school, went on to work as an attorney and, at the not-so-tender age of 37, began a university teaching career that has proved to be his life’s calling.

Over the 27-year span since he first became a professor, Shell never stopped thinking about the concept of success—and the process by which people best discover their own values and purpose. He read Aristotle, Plato, Charles Lindbergh, Dale Carnegie, Benjamin Franklin, and myriad others before finally distilling the collective wisdom into a university-wide seminar called, “The Literature Of Success.” With clear intention, Shell designed the curriculum he “would have wanted to have taken when I was a senior in college” to ensure his students left school far better prepared to make the important life choices that lay ahead for them.

After teaching his course to students and faculty for more than a decade, Shell now has documented his lessons in his recently released book, Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search For Success.

Regardless of whether you are just about to finish college or are at the threshold of considering a career change, Springboard is written to help you discover what gives your life the greatest meaning—so you can set your own path and define success on your own terms.

Here’s what I found to be five of the author’s most profound and helpful insights:

  1. You Must Decide What Success Means For You.

Shell is convinced that the career choices many of us make are greatly (and often unconsciously) influenced by family expectations and cultural beliefs. One reason so many people are unhappy and disengaged in their jobs today is because they took on work that fails to match with their skills, interests, and passions. Consequently, Shell insists we ask ourselves: “What makes my heart sing?” “What is success for me?”

“One of the great ironies in the study of success,” Shell writes, “is that many people believe the secrets to achieving it lie ‘out there’ somewhere—in a far-off, hard-to-find place. The truth is much simpler: The answer lies within yourself.”

Even when armed with sufficient self-knowledge, however, it’s all too easy for people to still take the safe career path—rather than one they find more deeply inspiring.

In hopes that we’ll all choose to be far braver and more daring with our choices, Shell invokes Steve Job’s poignant observation: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life . . . And, most important, have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition. They somehow know what you truly want to become.”

  1. We Discover Our Purpose By Trial And Error.

“Finding out what success means to you often involves trial and error,” says Shell, “not just theoretical contemplation. It involves taking risks and experimentation. Success is not a static, one-done process; it’s dynamic.”

To that end, Shell directs us to become observers of our own lives and to the unfolding of our experiences. “Your activities allow you to experience life—and from these you learn what works, what excites you and fulfills you,” he says. “You also recognize when things feel empty, hollow, cynical ,or materialistic in a way that doesn’t satisfy you, and you learn to reject those things.”

In my recent conversation with Shell, he emphasized that devoting focused time to this kind of reflection is essential to the process. “The amount of stimulation that’s available today via social media can easily distract people from having the kind of discernment that will help them discover what they might do in their lives.”

  1. Discover What You Do Better Than Most.

“Success starts with the things you do better than most,” says Shell. “It usually resides in the unique combination of capabilities you bring to what you do. The future opens up when your past interests, experiences, and skills start resonating perfectly with an opportunity you find in the present.”

Shell believes that it is human nature to assume our own unique talents are far more widely shared by other people than they actually are. When making an inventory of our abilities, therefore, we must resist the impulse to negate any of them and scratch them off our list.

Shell also suggests we solicit the observation of our peers, friends, and even bosses, as they each have a unique optic into our strengths, weaknesses, personality, and capabilities. “We learn a lot when we see ourselves reflected in the looking glass of other people’s perceptions,” he says. “And gaining a greater and more accurate self-understanding is essential to finding the kind of work that will fulfill us.”

  1. There Are Two Sides To Success.

In evaluating the success we’re having in our lives, we tend to employ two different scorecards.

The first relates to the inner feelings of fulfillment, satisfaction, and happiness that we derive from our families, relationships, and having meaningful work. The second, outer perspective ties directly to our desires for achievement, social recognition, and respect.

While some people measure their success primarily in terms of achievements—and others specifically in terms of inner satisfaction and fulfillment—most of us seek some kind of balance between the two.

After arguably spending more time pondering the concept of success than most people on the planet, Shell makes clear which side of the fulcrum he believes leads to the greatest happiness in life.

He tells the story of a lecture where he asked his students to share their ideas on what a happy life would look like. After several students contributed, an elderly man (obviously not a student), stood up and said, “Happiness is just three things: good health, meaningful work, and love.”

From Shell’s perspective, this “wise angel” was basically correct. “Although earning a lot of money can be very good for your sense of pride and self-esteem, money has very little effect on the day-to-day joy you experience, and none whatsoever on the larger, more spiritual dimensions of happiness that many consider the most important in their lives.”

  1. Ask The Lottery Question.

Acknowledging that not everyone reading this holds a workplace leadership position, Shell’s final insight, nevertheless, is fascinating and useful to us all.

He advises managers to ask this one important question every time they interview candidates for a job on their team:

“Imagine you’ve won the lottery, and money no longer is a primary motivator. Your family is now taken care of, and you’ve earned a certain amount of notoriety by having the winning ticket. What would you do next in your life?”

Shell believes that the candidate’s answer to this one question provides direct access into their hearts. “If they want to be of service to something, that tells you the kind of work they find very meaningful. If they want to teach, this tells you what people find fulfilling right now.”

Having “meaningful work,” philosopher Bertrand Russell once wrote, makes all [people] happy in their soul, in spite of all outward troubles and difficulties.” So, before you ask the lottery question in a job interview, you might first ask it of yourself.

This post was first published on Fast Company.

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Five Tips for Building a Winning Employee Engagement Strategy

Employee engagement is central to any organization’s success. Engaged employees work to build the bottom line, come up with solutions to work-related problems and often act as evangelists for their companies. So developing a winning employee engagement strategy is beneficial across the entire organization. Most companies want to engage their workers – and have happy employees who are more productive and invested in their job. But few companies succeed.

Have you noticed that when you Google “employee engagement suggestions” you find an enormous amount of information? Sifting through the dozens of simple and generalized tips— starting health and wellness programs, offering snacks, and promoting a work/life balance—can be a challenge. So, I’ll make it easy for you. Here are five powerful tactics you can use to build that winning strategy. Ready?

  1. Establish Concrete Objectives at the Employee Level You’re already familiar with the importance of setting goals—all successful companies set goals—increasing the base profit margin by X percent, lowering the enterprise’s carbon footprint by such an amount by a particular year, etc. These big goals are essential for success, but they don’t necessarily motivate your employees. Engaging employees means breaking down company goals into smaller pieces and then creating targets they can see, strive for, and achieve. These objectives might be things like replacing disposable cups with reusable ones or increasing enthusiasm for a faltering project. The point is that giving workers purpose (which is a philosophy Southwest Airlines embraces) fuels their commitment to the enterprise.
  2. Ensure Your Strategy Is Easy for Employees to Begin  You’ve heard it said, even thousand-mile journeys begin with one step. Getting employees to perform the first action towards engagement is the most difficult part. Once they’ve started to engage, it’s easier for them to engage more and more fully. So any successful employee engagement strategy starts with a low entry barrier. Don’t expect anything large from your staff in the beginning. Let them begin with something small. They’ll work themselves up to larger, more challenging engagement tasks with time.
  3. Create Personalized Choices People won’t all be passionate about the same things. If your plan offers choices across different topics, your employees are more likely to try it once—and if they try once, it’s easier for them to engage more. Allow them to choose topics they value. It will make them feel more in control of their work environment and create a greater feeling of investment in your business.
  4. Produce a Bottom-Up Approach for Good Employee Engagement Typically, most of the problems companies face are solved from the top down. People higher up the chain of command analyze the problem, decide on a solution, and pass it down the ladder for those under them to implement. An employee engagement strategy must work opposite to this typical problem-solving method, which can be difficult for some companies. get used to. Workers must be the ones to develop a successful employee engagement strategy. They know their own minds— as management, you can only guess. A good employee engagement strategy starts with talking to the people who work for you, distributing survey results among not just upper management but middle and lower management. In turn, team managers can directly involve their employees in the strategy creation process.
  5. Communicate Frequently with Your Employees Your employees want to know that their voices are being heard. Any good employee engagement strategy incorporates this fact. Annual or semi-annual reports on employee engagement are simply not enough. Employee morale—and hence engagement—increases when people feel comfortable communicating with their managers on a frequent basis. And, when managers ask their employees about their feelings and opinions on engagement strategies, those workers are more likely to participate. Transparency is another important factor to consider. Google, for example, encourages its employees to spend time being creative outside of their regular workday cycles. This promotes imagination and inspiration, but it’s also a fantastic way to let workers incorporate their own interests in their daily work and drive engagement.

Create a Tailored Strategy to Realize the Results You Need

However, just knowing what has worked for other companies won’t necessarily help yours. The trick to creating a truly successful employee engagement strategy is to tailor it to your workers’ unique needs and issues. Start by surveying your staff and asking for their opinions, which can lead to an engagement strategy perfectly tailored to your company’s unique employee pool. 

Pull an Employee Engagement Strategy Together

Understanding the mindset that goes into creating a working employee engagement strategy, a bottom-up mindset, and knowing a few solid pieces of advice on what has worked for other companies, can help any business create a successful strategy. But don’t think that simply adopting all the elements that worked for other companies will work for everyone else— get your employees to pinpoint their desires for an engagement strategy, and create a tailored plan that meets those expectations. If you do? You will begin to see powerful results that extend across your entire organization.

A version of this was first posted on

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Healing vs. Achievement

While giving a recent acceptance speech at a BAFTA award ceremony, actress Kate Winslet shared an inspiring message:

Don’t listen to the people who hurt you, shame you, and belittle you.  Believe in yourself and follow your dream.  She ignored the people who insulted her, and made it to stardom.  So can you.

This advice is repeatedly given with the best of intentions.  We hear it at awards ceremonies, graduations, and in Facebook posts every day.  It is reiterated by inspirational speakers, coaches, and business gurus.

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I am going to take issue with this message.  First of all, no matter how hard you try, it is not mathematically possible for everyone who wants to be a famous actress to become so.  This same unbending math applies to other endeavors such as writing bestselling children’s books and making it in the performing arts.

I am not saying that people should not follow their dreams or their heart’s desires.  But I am saying this: Perhaps we should be more specific about the dream or heart’s desire we are seeking, and not confuse healing with achievement.

I once achieved a fair amount of success as a musical performer, but it happened for all the wrong reasons.  I worked hard to get there, but my goal was not to provide service to a customer.  I was seeking healing.  I thought success in showbiz would give me the respect, attention, and validation I desperately needed.  But the primary purpose of bass playing, or, for that matter,  of authoring, acting, speaking, or any other business endeavor, is not to get your own needs met.  They are all situations where you have to work very hard to meet the needs of others.  If you are fractured internally, you will struggle to meet the needs of others, and even if you do meet them, you will still be unhappy in your work, and make others unhappy too.  Achievement is not healing.

There is a similar problem with a common sort of encouragement for grandiose leadership.  If you seek success mainly to get the perks of power and attention, and you define success mainly as being better than everyone else, perhaps you need to rethink why you are seeking success.  Maybe you are destined to provide great value to society, but then again, maybe you are just reacting to injuries that are pushing you towards unhealthy levels of grandiosity, disconnection, and workaholism.

Now don’t get me wrong– achievement is a wonderful thing.  For me, playing on major stages with superstars was a glorious experience.  I loved doing it and I learned a lot.  But at the heart of it, the big lesson was this:  achievement is not healing.  The biggest success in it was really something else altogether: It consisted of being freed from the limiting idea that love is conditional upon performance, and external success was the only path to internal harmony.  As it turns out, I had it all backwards.

We often get mixed up about the need for healing vs. the desire for achievement, and let’s face it, many sales pitches for professional training exploit that confusion.  Healing is about what you need, and business success is about providing what other people need.  There are more direct means of achieving both objectives, and they are both so much easier when done in the right order.

photo credit: Beautiful things you can’t touch. via photopin (license)

Developing Talent in a Social Business World

(Editorial Note: This is post 1 of 2)

Now more than ever, talent development is a life-long process, transcending education, career, technology and social media. It cuts to the core of why we’re here and what it means to be human.

We are here to become more — to maximize the development of our talent by improving performance in every aspect of living. And, we are here to guide and support others in doing the same.

Consider the countless number of hard and soft skills it takes to navigate a single day of living in the 21st century. We’re swimming in a contextual field of opportunities, challenges, goals and choices!

Social Business: What’s New?

Business has always been a social endeavor. Despite relentless change — including the recent arrival of revolutionary social media tools — many of the essential skills for business success have remained the same throughout history. No mystery there. Business is and will always be about creating and sustaining mutually beneficial relationships.

So what’s changing at a revolutionary level? According to “Social Era” author, Nilofer Merchant, the most successful businesses are adapting and integrating traditional relationship-building skills and processes into the digital landscape.

Professional Life and the New Social Norm

Of course, the implications of social business don’t stop at an organizational level. Work and personal life are merging, as workloads increase, and mobile technology and social platforms grow more prevalent. The traditional boundaries and walls that separated life roles are being erased. Social and mobile channels are morphing work-life balance into a work-life blend.

Our diverse roles are becoming synthesized into a single life style. We work, we play, and we live — engaging anywhere, anytime, with anyone we choose. Many people now live in a blurry space between “real” life and digital life, professional and personal, internal and external.

Filtering the Social Clutter

IBM estimates that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. What does that mean for social learning? We have too much information, not enough transformation. Despite extensive learning, education, training and development, people think, feel and react in the same ways over and over. Think about the volume of content you absorb on a daily basis. What percentage of that information actually helps you create a positive impact in your life, or the lives of others?

Here’s a tool to help cut through the fog and chaos of today’s deafening social noise. I call it the “social business contextual field.” This filter helps brings clarity and precision to individual and organizational goals, strategies, learning, development, communication and transformation. It is based on six core components.

Social Business Contextual Field

These six concepts represent all the complex relationships within social business. We can draw endless connections between words. For example, we think about how we feel. How we feel impacts how we think. Our thoughts and emotions largely determine our reactions and choices. We think about people, spaces and technology. We’re emotionally connected to people, spaces and technology. We physically engage with people spaces and technology.

Social business success hinges on learning how to develop and continuously improve connections, communication and collaboration among all aspects of the contextual field. Specifically, when individuals and organizations align, integrate and transform both sides of the contextual field, success follows.

Engagement-Performance Transformation

As I explained in a recent TalentCulture video, engagement-performance transformation is an essential social learning skill. It’s a  solution to seizing opportunities, overcoming challenges, boosting productivity, realizing goals and amplifying social business success.

In our work, we mash the two words “engagement” and “performance” into a single word, “engagement-performance.”

  • Engagement: The moment we recognize and seize opportunities to improve parts of the social business contextual field.
  • Performance: Everything that happens intellectually, emotionally and physically from the moment we engage, and as we move thorough the experience.

Engagement-performance transformation is above and behind all skill development. Consciously or unconsciously, we are engaging and performing every moment. Social talent development centers on transforming our capacity to engage-perform-produce more, better, faster, now — no matter what’s happening in or around us.

Three Steps for Engagement-Performance-Transformation

A culture of social learning, backed by engagement-performance transformation, does not happen by accident or good intentions. We must do three things to create and sustain engagement-performance transformation:

  • Take personal responsibility for transforming intellectual, emotional and physical engagement-performance.
  • Learn, practice and apply real-time power tool strategies for engagement-performance transformation in the midst of intense situations, persistent challenges and diverse people.
  • Proactively embrace the process of engagement-performance transformation, in self and others, from moment-to-moment, day-to-day, week-to-week, and year-to-year.

Editorial Note: This is Part 1 in a series by Michael Clark. Part 2 will be published soon. Sign-up for email updates or via RSS feed, to follow Michael’s posts.

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Leaders Create Solutions, Not Dysfunction: #TChat Recap

There’s a scene in the movie The Company Men where a laid-off executive (Tommy Lee Jones) confronts his old CEO (Craig T. Nelson), who happens to be his partner with whom he started the now struggling shipping business.

The fired exec taunts his CEO about all the recent lay offs and his selfish focus on shareholder value. The CEO fires back “this is a business, not a charity.” And when the CEO reveals that the company was bought out at $X per share for a lucrative return, the fired exec says, “Good for you.”

Then the CEO asks his old partner pointedly, “How many shares did you have?”

I won’t spoil the plot any further with what happens next, but the story tells of the divergence in leadership choices, business and personal lives, and the ultimate impact of those choices. We’ve seen this plot play-out in reality again and again – through boom years – and most recently through the protracted bust.

The reality is that business leaders are responsible for growing a business, which means they have an important hand in selecting who helps them do just that, which means their employees must be a partner in that if they want to share in any success, but not at the expense of all our humanity and our very livelihoods.

That sentimental gibberish used to get you shot in the executive washroom, but these times they’ve been a-changin’, again, with corporate social responsibility taking center stage in many early-stage ventures, start-ups and growing SMB’s with the focus on the talent that makes it all happen, as opposed to the focus making it all happen at the expense of the talent.

These new business leaders, and those of the reformed nature, understand that they need to work with their “talent” acquisition and development teams to align business strategy with needed competencies/skills and a splash of authenticity, transparency, salt and pepper to taste and bam! We’ve got the new age of talent management. Today’s street-smart business leaders know not everyone can be a complete “right” fit, but they’re smarter if they work with those with promise, actually welcoming them into the fold and talking with them directly about the business and their new role. Business leaders today also need the “crystal ball” insight into their talent with predictive workforce analytics, so then workforce planning can take promising shape. Without direct involvement and detailed insight, organizations are just flailing in the dark.

And as Matt wrote in his #TChat preview, “when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, active, engaged and innovative leaders provide a key competitive advantage. After all, it’s that magnetism they possess which creates a powerful draw for potential workers (and customers), not to mention providing a potent, and public, voice for communicating with both internal and external stakeholders.”

And as a leader, if you’re not part of the talent solution from the beginning, then you’re probably part of the self-serving dysfunction that destroys businesses and lives in the end, regardless of how much you cash in. Conservative and progressive leaders alike and all in between, if you’re not of mindful presence and high emotional intelligence, then as far as I’m concerned you shouldn’t be leading anything except a 12-step program. Everyone’s a leader of self and Me, Inc., but that doesn’t mean it’s at the expense of building and growing a company.

Inspire your team to own it as you do, baby. That’s the truest form of success.

Again, you can read the #TChat preview for the first ever, and highly successful, joint #TChat and #LeadershipChat last night. A very special thanks to Lisa Petrilli and Steve Woodruff from #LeadershipChat! Here were the questions we explored:

  • Q1: What is the role of a leader when it comes to making talent decisions?
  • Q2: What should a leader consider when addressing “talent alignment?”
  • Q3: How can a leader show genuine authenticity to new recruits and current employees?
  • Q4: How does being a genuine leader impact a workplace culture brand?