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Monday, 22 April 2013 05:55

5 Mistakes that Squash Corporate Innovation

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The biggest breakthroughs in the history of business, and the history of the world, are never the result of conventional thinking, said Maria Ferrante-Schepis, a veteran in the insurance and financial services industry who now consults Fortune 100 companies such as GE with innovation agent Maddock Douglas, Inc. 

“To echo Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt back in 1960, ‘In every case, the reason growth (in business) is threatened, slowed, or stopped is not because the market is saturated. It is because there has been a failure of management.’ Many of the world’s biggest companies are simply riding on inertia,” said Ferrante-Schepis, author of Flirting with the Uninterested, co-authored by G. Michael Maddock, which explores innovation opportunity through the lens of the insurance industry 

“There’s a great saying in the South: ‘You can’t read the label when you are sitting inside the jar,’” said Maddock, CEO of Maddock Douglas. “It’s hard to see a need and invent a way to fill that need when you’ve been inside one business or industry for a long time.”

Recognizing those needs requires stepping outside of the jar and viewing things from the outside, adds Ferrante-Schepis. “You can’t innovate from inside the jar, and if you aren’t innovating, you’re just waiting for the expiration date on your business,” she said

Ferrante-Schepis and Maddock bust five myths relating to corporate innovation:

  • The preference of four out of five dentists  doesn’t necessarily matter: Many years ago, when the Maddock Douglas firm consulted with P&G to develop new oral health care products, Crest was recommended by most dentists. However, it turns out the market had  shifted; consumers became more interested in bright smiles than healthy gums. Many industries make the mistake of getting their insights from their own experts, rather than asking the consumer. 
  • Giving all your love to those who already love you: In the interest of preserving customer morale, too many  companies focus on those who already love their service. But that’s not what companies need to work on; they need to focus on what’s not working  in order to improve. The haters very often offer well-targeted insights that can tremendously improve products, customer service, and/or operations.
  • “We tried that idea. It didn’t work.” What idea, exactly? People who are in the jar interpret new  ideas based on how they last saw them. You may think you’ve tried or  tested an idea, but if you applied it in a conventional way, the way it’s always been used, you haven’t really tried it. Consider the term “auction”—in-the-jar thinkers envision Sotheby’s and not the more practical and innovative eBay.
  • Trying to impress with insider jargon: Communication is a huge part of innovation. Policies in the health insurance industry, for example, include language that may make sense to insiders, but say nothing to the average middle-class customer, which is prohibitive. Be very careful about the language you use. In this case, “voice  of the customer” should be taken literally. Customers recognize, respond to and build from their own words more than from yours.
  • Staying at your desk and in the office: Doubling down on what already has not worked for you is not  innovative. Get outside your office and act like an anthropologist. Spend time with your customers and bring an expert interpreter and a couple members of your team. Compare notes; you’ll be shocked at how differently you all see the situation

Sources: Maria Ferrante-Schepis and G. Michael Maddock. Ferrante-Schepis is the managing principal of insurance and financial services at Maddock Douglas, Inc, an agency of innovation focused on helping large brands bring new ideas to market. Maddock is the founding partner and CEO of leading innovation agency Maddock Douglas, which has helped more than
twenty-five percent of Fortune 100 companies invent, brand, and launch new products, services, and business models.   

Tuesday, 16 April 2013 06:03

4 Tricks Highly Effective Teams Use

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A self-aware team is an effective team. These four steps will help you get there. Want to get your team working more effectively? It turns out that teams, like individuals, need self-awareness to be really successful.

"The issue of the team becoming one and bonded around an identity is something I've found very useful," said Vincent D. O'Connell, Asia regional director at Globecon Institute, a training and performance firm that serves the financial industry. He's also co-author of 9 Powerful Practices of Really Great Teams. "Teams are very productive when people share a sense of identity separate from that of the organization itself."

How do you get a team to bond around an identity? Here are some steps O'Connell recommends: 

1. Give the team a name.

The name might simply describe what the team does, such as Customer Service Team at Widgets, Inc. Or it could be more whimsical: The Superhero Team. "An actual name gives the team an identity," O'Connell explains.

2. Give the team a mission statement and credo.

The mission statement may simply say why the team was formed, who its customers are, and what they want from the team. It's useful to have that written down and shared among the team, so all team members agree on what they're there for. "The credo is more of an 'I believe' set of statements." Some examples: "As a team, we believe that when someone is speaking we should listen attentively. We believe that every meeting should have an agenda that everyone knows in advance."  

3. Do a self-assessment.

A team self-assessment is similar to an individual self-assessment. "What is this team good at? What are we not as good at? What does the team need help with? How do we survey our customers to assure ourselves that we're as good as we think we are?"

Part of the self-assessment should be making sure that everyone on the team has a role he or she is well suited to perform. "If someone is unilaterally assigned a role on the team, because they're free or you need to find a place for them, that's not a way to build trust within the team," O'Connell explains. "Trust grows exponentially when people are in their right roles, and other team members don't feel like they have to second-guess or double-check what that person does. It allows them to build the kind of synergy that will let them take on difficulties when they arise."

4. Develop listening skills and empathy.

This is important during meetings and brainstorming sessions, as well as self-assessment exercises. "Rather than saying, 'We're trying to reach this milestone, who has ideas about that?' and then listing the ideas on a whiteboard, an effective team first makes sure it understands all the issues involved. Einstein said solving a problem is ninety percent understanding it and ten percent finding a solution."

The best teams take their time arriving at solutions and ideas, rather than rushing to make a decision and take action, O’Connell adds. "You don't make decisions until you know the full story. Letting the story unfold is an attribute of an empathetic team."

Source: Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. @MindaZetlin. 

The world’s future leaders overwhelmingly believe that today’s businesses grow only if they can innovate—and that today’s business leaders aren’t demonstrating they’re up to the task.

While that’s the thinking of nearly five thousand millennials, those in the 20-33-year-old generation, at least one baby boomer, the innovator who transformed the U.S. travel industry with his creation of Travelocity and, agrees.

“The future for any business today depends entirely on its ability to innovate, and the youngest adults, ‘the idea generation,’ know that,” says Terry Jones, author of On Innovation, a light-hearted but practical guide for fostering and innovation. 

“The millennials are the group known for pioneering new ideas, rethinking processes, end-running hierarchies, and solving problems by doing what simply makes sense to them. We need to listen to them. They’re the innovators!"

But the worldwide survey of adults born after 1982 found that only 26 percent believe their bosses are doing enough to encourage innovation. The study by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, published in January, reported 78 percent believe innovation is crucial for growing businesses.

Jones says there are some definite steps business leaders can and should take to ensure their company is hearing employees’ ideas, recognizing opportunities, and ensuring a clear path to execution. 

  1. Build a culture of experimentation. Not every project will succeed but you can’t learn from mistakes if you don’t allow them to happen. The corollary: Always analyze what went wrong. Why didn’t it work? One fast and easy way to experiment is to test options out online. Whether it’s polling customers, measuring which approach gets the best response, or allowing a segment of your customer base to test drive a new tool, the results can be invaluable..
  2. Kill projects not people. In many companies, people stop offering up ideas and volunteering for projects because the punishment for failure is greater than the reward for success. Lunch with the boss or a $100 bonus do not compensate for the risk of being demoted or fired, or suffering a tarnished reputation. When a project fails in a company with a culture of experimentation, the first thing you should do is say, "Bob, what would you like to work on now?!" 
  3. Break through the “Bozone layer.” Some of the greatest ideas for innovation will come from the employees on the front lines—those in direct contact with customers or production. But their ideas will never float up to the executive suite if you’ve created a “Bozone layer” by making it too risky for middle managers to experiment. (See No. 2.) While you’re turning the culture around, find ways to reach down to the front lines to solicit ideas. Implement them and reward the contributors with a big, public shout out, which will help you start changing for the culture.
  4. Install “sensors” to pick up customers’ ideas. Don’t just look to employees for innovation, learn from your customers. They have ideas for new products and new uses for existing products, and their customer service complaints are a fertile source of ideas for improvement. Listen! Social media or a forum on the company website is a good sensor for picking up ideas; Glad Wrap’s 1000 Uses site is loaded with them. For customer service complaints, Travelocity installed a lobby phone booth where anyone in the company could listen in on customer service calls. Once a month, everyone was expected to provide feedback on at least two of those calls, and suggest an improvement to eliminate similar future calls plus a work-around for the interim. 

Source: Terry Jones founded in 1996 and led the company as president and CEO until May 2002. He is managing principal of On, Inc, a consultancy he cofounded to help companies in their transition to the digital economy, and serves as chairman of the board at, which he also helped found. 

Do you know someone who is vocal about what he or she doesn’t like? Being mouthy and opinionated is a big turnoff, especially when you’re attempting to communicate with one of these “vocal” customers. If you have a customer who is mouthy when mad, think about how much more mouthy and opinionated he or she could be when happy!

We always hear, “Fire the customer you don’t want.” In today’s economy, you want to keep as many good customers as possibleand these outspoken ones aren’t the ones we want to fire; these are the people that we should focus on converting into major fans.

In our ever-growing world of social media, we see more of these outspoken voices. What are they saying about your company and customer service? What current customers say online could affect how potential customers might see you, especially if they take a look at your social media pages.

What customers want now more than ever is to feel a personal connection to you, not to a company. And for our outspoken customers, helping them to feel that connection and to know that they will be taken care ofno matter whatis the key to changing a hater into an advocate.

With social media, there is a trend in humanizing your company. Behind the faceless company, customers want to know who they are talking to, who will be helping them, and if they will be answered or cared for. That is what will make them come backor not.

To grow your business in this new reality, you must develop connected, positive relationships with every customer.

Avoid saying: I can’t do that. You’re wrong. Why didn’t you? I’m too busy. No problem, that’s my job. You have to wait. You’re being unreasonable. You already told me that … No.

When you pin blame on others by using “you” statements, the conversation will become strained, resistant, and off-putting. Rather, create that positive relationship by saying: I’m sorry. I’m here to help. I’ll be happy to find out. Here’s what I can do. Absolutely. My pleasure. Let me see if I understand clearly. How can I make this better for you?

Your customer reviews will reflect your customer service. Provide exceptional service, receive exceptional reviews. Easy as that. 

Written by: Chelsea Stoskopf Source: Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest are co-authors of Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan. Check out their podcast from the 2012 Group Travel Supplier Summit Customer Service.

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