Effective Projects – Inch Pebbles, Milestones and Tombstones

Milestones, Inch Pebbles, Project Management, ProjectsIt’s fair to say that I’ve been involved in my fair share of projects during my career. Some have been market changing product launches or operational transformations and some have been must do, dull, but important projects. Others have been misguided, bonkers and failed projects. I’ve learnt from each and every one of them.

The most important thing that I have learnt is that every single member of the project team needs to know the game they’re playing; the rules of the game, what the pitch looks like, what the weather is like, what their role within the team is and what their strengths and weaknesses are, what the opposition looks like and how dirty they play, how long the game takes to play and is there any extra time or penalty shoot-outs, and ultimately what are the implications of not winning. Are they playing in a league with over 30 plus games, a competition where there are knockout stages or is it a one-off must-win game? All of these questions matter in how you plan your approach.

All that said, do you as a leader know what the end game is? Do you know what compromises can be made and ultimately what will make the project succeed or fail? If you don’t, you will most likely fail.

Many of the most difficult projects that I’ve worked on have been with multi-disciplinary teams and/or virtual teams; teams from a wide range of disciplines across an organisation including external suppliers. The most complex projects have involved multiple suppliers from across the globe and have required regulatory input or involve multiple executive teams.

Whatever the level of a project, you as a sponsor, leader or project manager need to understand that there are multiple levels of goals within a project and that they all need to be managed, controlled and acted upon.

Let’s start with Tombstones

Tombstones are non-moveable dates. Some examples might be:

  • You have committed a date contractually to a customer
  • You have committed to delivery dates to the stock market and /or investors
  • Your business cash-flows and /or profit are dependent on you hitting sales figures by a particular point in the year

These, as the name suggests, are not just set in stone. If you fail to meet these dates, there are serious implications. You may lose a customer and be liable to penalty payments, your stock plummets or your investors no longer support you or ultimately your business fails because you haven’t brought enough sales in. You may lose your job and others may lose theirs. It is that serious.

Sponsors, Leaders and Project Managers need to guard Tombstones with their professional lives. If these are not met, your project will fail and ultimately your whole business could be jeopardised.


Milestones are the next level down from Tombstones. Milestones are relatively high-level project steps that need to be closely monitored by a project board to ensure that a project is on track or if not, gives enough early indications of issues or challenges that can be acted upon and fixed before causing an organisation problems.

In large projects, Milestones tend to be owned by workstream leads and they are responsible for delivery of milestones and reporting back on progress.

Milestones are not just a line in the sand that can be rubbed out and moved a few feet back when the going gets tough. They are important stages in a project that, if met on time, to budget and quality, are moments to celebrate. If they’re not met, they should not just be moved back and re-calibrated. These are the moments to learn quickly, ask questions of yourself and your team. What has gone wrong, why and what needs to be done to get back on track? Milestones are key to the success of a project and should only be moved in exceptional circumstances. They should also not be a surprise to the project team. Milestones are laid out at the outset of a project and whilst there may be some wriggle room, this should not be a given to those responsible for delivering inch-pebbles.

Inch Pebbles

Inch Pebbles are the detailed steps within any project. They should be invisible to the sponsor and senior leaders within a large project, but absolutely visible to a workstream lead and potentially to a project manager, depending on the size of a project.

Inch Pebbles are the key to the success of any project. Details matter! Project team members need to take on board not only which inch pebbles they are responsible for delivering, but also the implications of non-delivery to their workstream and to the wider project. At this level within a project, more often than not, deliverers of inch-pebbles have a myriad of deliverables for multiple projects and their day job to contend with. If they don’t understand the bigger picture and the multiple games they are involved with and their relative importance for an organisation, they could ‘drop the ball’ and the project, organisation and ultimately the customer, fails.

In an ideal world, we would all have a singularity of focus. This is extremely rare in large project teams unless they are discrete, skilled, focused and time-bound. In my view, the best kind of team. This happens rarely in my experience unless in a ‘hothouse’ or start-up environment. Both of which are relatively short-term projects. More commonly, team members are managing multiple tasks or workstreams within multiple projects as well as ‘the day job’ and so needs careful time management from the individual and careful oversight from the project manager(s). Where this is the case, an absolute clarity on organisational priority at the individual, team, project manager and project board is imperative.

Ultimately, a strong project board and an empowered, focussed and informed delivery team is the best way to ensure effective delivery of every project. The challenge is timely and effective information flow across the whole team to ensure that inch pebbles, milestones and tombstones lead to successful project delivery and not failed promises and careers.

How does your organisation deal with projects? We would love to hear your thoughts!

A to Z of Overcoming Failure

A to Z, Failure

In this A to Z of Overcoming Failure, we’ll look at 26 inspirational quotes from some of the biggest ‘failures’ on how to overcome failure and set-backs.

Failure in anything is tough. Life throws failure at us from an early age – learning to walk, potty training, making friends, reading and writing, learning a foreign language, passing your driving test, finding a career, finding love ….I could go on. How many of us are successful at any of those at the first attempt?

All of us fail at many things and often more than once – Hopefully this A to Z will give you some inspiration to go beyond whatever failure you’re coping with at the moment and help you reach your goals!

A – Accept that failure has happened

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Michael Jordan

B – Believe in yourself

“Obstacles can’t stop you. Problems can’t stop you. Most of all, other people can’t stop you. Only you can stop you.”

J. Gitomer

C – Celebrate the things that did go well along the way

D – Don’t dwell on the past

“My mother always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste dwelling on failures rather than putting that energy into another project, always amazes me. I have fun running all the Virgin businesses–so a setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve.”

Richard Branson

E – Evaluate how you can do better next time

“There is no failure, only feed back.”

Robert Allen

F – Feel the fear and do it anyway

“Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out.”

Benjamin Franklin

G – Get up, dust yourself off and try again

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

H – Have an unerring focus

“Successful people maintain a positive focus in life no matter what is going on around them. They stay focused on their past successes rather than their past failures, and on the next action steps they need to take to get them closer to the fulfilment of their goals rather than all the other distractions that life presents to them.”

Jack Canfield

I – Intelligence may mean you fail more, but you will prevail

“I make mistakes like the next man. In fact, being, forgive me, rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.”

J.K. Rowling

J – Just keep going

“The entrepreneurial life is one of challenge, work, dedication, perseverance, exhilaration, agony, accomplishment, failure, sacrifice, control, powerlessness… but ultimately, extraordinary satisfaction.”

David S. Rose

K – Knowing when to change tack

Had their founders not changed tack, Twitter would still be an audio podcaster, YouTube a video dating site, and Apple would be a niche computer manufacturer – rather than the world’s largest company.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Charles Darwin

L – Learn from your mistakes

“If you learn from defeat, you haven’t really lost.”

Zig Ziglar

M – Make a new start from Today

“Though no one can go back and make a brand-new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand-new ending.”

Carl Bard

N – Never Give Up

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm”

Winston Churchill

O – Opportunity from Adversity

“Successful leaders see the opportunities in every difficulty rather than the difficulty in every opportunity.”

Reed Markham

P – Persistency will win in the end

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Calvin Coolidge

Q – Quitting is not an option

“Before success comes in any man’s life, he’s sure to meet with much temporary defeat and, perhaps some failures. When defeat overtakes a man, the easiest and the most logical thing to do is to quit. That’s exactly what the majority of men do.”

Napoleon Hill

R – Recognise past failures and how they have improved you as a person

“Just once it might be instructive to pretend you’re accepting an award for failure, just to see who you would thank.”

Robert Brault

S – Surround yourself with the right people

“If you want 1 year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.”

Chinese Proverb

T – Think differently

“My message, especially to young people is to have courage to think differently, courage to invent, to travel the unexplored path, courage to discover the impossible and to conquer the problems and succeed. These are great qualities that they must work towards.

P. J. Abdul Kalam

U – Understand the true meaning of success

“To believe in yourself and to follow your dreams, to have goals in life and a drive to succeed, and to surround yourself with the things and the people that make you happy – this is success!”

Sasha Azevedo

V – Value your time and listen to your inner thoughts

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Steve Jobs

W – When the going gets tough…

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”

Winston Churchill

X – “X” never, ever marks the spot

“Rarely in life is there an ‘X’ on a map that you can navigate to without having to change your route, even if you can map read. You need to judge each twist and turn, every bit of bad weather and press on to your desired destination.”

Mark Conway

Y – You are mortal

“Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Steve Jobs

Z – Zig Ziglar has the final word

We hope that you have enjoyed this A to Z of Overcoming Failure. Please share with people who you think might need a bit of support!

Follow the Leader

Follow the Leader, Leadership

When I was a child we used to play a game whereby someone was picked to be the leader and they had to run around and the others had to mimic their actions, movements and follow their path, the more complex, the better. Those that didn’t follow, deviated from the ‘route’ or made a mistake were removed from the team. Does have some certain similarities to corporate life doesn’t it?

In this post I’d like to outline the kind of leader that I would be proud to follow and that are the kinds of people who will drive their organisations forward in the 21st century.

Great leaders in the 21st Century are a CLASS APART


C – Communicate clearly, with vision, belief and passion

I’ve been privileged to have worked with some of the best public speakers out there. I’ve also worked with introverts that struggle to deliver the ‘perfect’ pitch. I’ve personally been told by some that they don’t ‘get’ my message, and by others that my words have been an ‘inspiration’ to them. Who is right? They all are. Everyone receives information differently and are certainly motivated differently.

Communicating to your whole organisation, customer base, shareholders or prospects requires significant thought, preparation and insight. The best leaders understand that and tailor their message for their audiences.

L – Listen to ALL their people, not just their direct reports

The 21st century leader is a great listener and able to interpret what they are hearing.

Senior managers often wall themselves off, sometimes literally, in their own world. They are so busy that they don’t stray off the path from the door to their offices.

A great question for all senior managers is, “When was the last time you walked around the office? Who did you meet and what did you learn?” The best times to do this are at the beginning and end of the day. These are times to walk the floors if you want to know who is getting things done.

Many leaders got where they are because they “got things done.” They were problem-solvers. However, good leaders resist the urge to immediately solve every problem and instead simply listen to what they are hearing.

If someone is relating an issue and the leader cuts off that person to give an answer, the facts can be lost. The leader may not get to the heart of the matter and will miss further information the employee was going to contribute.

Leaders have to be particularly alert to hearing things from multiple sources. If a comment is made about a person’s poor performance, it could be just an opinion, a poor relationship or even office politics. However, if that same comment is heard from three or four different sources, the hard-listening leader is able to corroborate these multiple data points. It is probably a sign of a bigger issue that needs to be addressed.

Leaders often go with their gut feeling. However, assuming they have the right answer when talking to someone in their team is short-sighted. The team member who is actually doing the job probably has more insight than the executive. When the finance analyst who actually processes the reports is telling you about an issue, it’s time to listen.

A – Are authentic

[No-one can be authentic by trying to be like someone else – Bill George, Harvard Business School professor]

In my experience, you can separate many leaders into two categories: those for whom leadership is about their success and those who are leading to serve others.  The latter group finds inspiration in the trials and tribulations of their own lives to make the transformation from “I” to “We.”  The former group never makes that transition.  Although many of them disguise their intentions with “we” language, their actions under pressure often reveal they are out for themselves.

I have come to the conclusion that we need a new kind of leader to lead our companies in the 21st century – a leader who can empower and inspire others to lead.  The 20th century vision of a leader who commands the troops to follow them over the hill to build his or her glory is dead – or it should be!

GE’s Jeff Immelt said, “Leadership is one of those great journeys into your soul.  It’s not like anyone can tell you how to do it.”

S – Spend time talking to / listening to / working with customers

I’ve written before that I learnt quite late in my career the importance of spending quality time, face to face with customers and prospective customers. Don’t get me wrong, customer research and listening to customer service and support calls are invaluable in gaining insight, but actually taking the time to get to know, build rapport with and understand your customers, will bring you ten times the value.

Don’t just do the corporate hospitality bit at the football match or the golf course, really invest time inside people’s businesses, meeting their people and getting to know what makes them tick. This insight is a game changer. Not only will it impress your customer and improve your relationship with them, but will also give you a truly competitive edge in the market place.

S – Seek knowledge

It takes a real sense of personal commitment, especially after you’ve arrived in a position of power and responsibility, to push yourself to grow and challenge conventional thinking. Which is why it’s important for leaders to ask themselves the following question:

Are you learning, as an organisation and as an individual, as fast as the world is changing?

To be honest I’d challenge anyone to truthfully answer yes to that question!

I follow the LEARN model

Listen – Audiobooks, Podcasts,

Engage – Networking – on and offline, Masterminds Groups, Mentoring and Coaching

Act – Use what you’ve learnt in practice

Read – Business books, biographies, trade press, blogs and self-development material

Nurture – Develop your skills over time, through practice and more practice

A – Ask questions

While good leaders may voice a solution when a problem rears its ugly head, great leaders ask their teams how to solve it. By framing a problem around appropriate questions, your team will discover the right answers on its own terms, rather than simply being told. This fosters ownership, autonomy, and feelings of success – all crucial ingredients toward a healthy and productive group.

Here are some of the questions great leaders ask so that they can develop great companies.


We’ve all joked about children asking “why?” over and over again. But the repeated asking of that simple question gets to the root of so many business challenges. You might have to ask it a few times before you reach the response that truly solves a problem.

What can we do better?

Successful leaders never stop seeking improvement. Nothing is perfect. Everything can be tweaked and fine-tuned. Whether it’s a cost savings or quality of customer service; answering the phone faster or writing more streamlined code; finding a better supplier or coming up with a new employee training initiative—at every level of an organisation something can be done better. So ask, and find out what it is. Leadership means pushing your team to attain a higher standard than they otherwise might establish for themselves.

What is everyone thinking, but reluctant to say?

This is a question that has to be asked, but in a progressive company shouldn’t need to be asked. Ideally, if you’re the leader of a team you’ve already fostered an atmosphere in which your people speak freely. They’re not intimidated. They’ll tell you the way things are even if it means breaking news they know you won’t want to hear. But there’s no harm in asking the question, just in case someone’s holding something back. You always want the plain, unvarnished truth.

P – Passionately care about results AND their peoples’ success

I’ve worked with many leaders who have been passionate about one or the other, but very few who have been truly passionate about both. In my view having the passion for both, builds long-term organisational success.

It appears that I’m not alone. In 2009, James Zenger published a survey of 60,000 employees to identify how different characteristics of a leader combine to affect employee perceptions of whether their CEO is a “great” leader or not. Two of the characteristics that Zenger examined were results focus and social skills. But if a leader was seen as being very strong on results focus, the chance of that leader being seen as a great leader was only 14%. If a leader was strong on social skills, he or she was seen as a great leader even less of the time — a paltry 12%. However, for leaders who were strong in both results focus and in social skills, the likelihood of being seen as a great leader skyrocketed to 72%.

So how many ‘Leaders’ have both a results and a people focus. David Rock, director of the Neuroleadership Institute, and Management Research Group recently conducted a survey to find out the answer.  They asked thousands of employees to rate their bosses on goal focus (similar to results focus) and social skills to examine how often a leader scored high on both.  The results are astonishing.  Less than 1% of leaders were rated high on both goal focus and social skills.

How can we do better?  We should give greater weight to social skills in the hiring and promotion process.  We also need to create a culture that rewards using both sides – results and social skills.

A – Anticipate the markets and change

Many organisations and leaders are poor at detecting ambiguous threats and opportunities on the periphery of their business. The business press is full of stories every week with examples. Strategic leaders, in contrast, are constantly vigilant, honing their ability to anticipate by scanning the environment for signals of change.

To improve your ability to anticipate:

  • Talk to your customers, suppliers, and other partners to understand their challenges.
  • Conduct market research and business simulations to understand competitors’ perspectives, gauge their likely reactions to new initiatives or products, and predict potential disruptive offerings.
  • Use scenario planning to imagine various futures and prepare for the unexpected.
  • Look at a fast-growing rival and examine actions it has taken that puzzle you.
  • List customers you have lost recently and try to figure out why.
  • Keep up-to-date on your industry and your key clients, especially those on the way up AND down.

R – Respond to feedback

Many managers find that as they become more senior, they receive less feedback and become more confused about their performance and development needs. They may also become increasingly isolated from constructive criticism—people do not want to offend their boss and may believe that constructive suggestions are unwelcome and unwise. Many senior managers whilst they claim to encourage constructive criticism, they really don’t want to hear it.

Too frequently, when these managers ultimately do receive feedback in their year-end reviews, they are surprised to be confronted with specific criticisms of their leadership style, communication approach, and interpersonal skills. Worse, they may also hear broad concerns raised about their strategy, key tactical decisions, and operating priorities for the business. These leaders may even learn, often too late, that the various criticisms and concerns have been widely discussed among their subordinates for an extended period of time without them being aware.

Receiving feedback is a gift, albeit sometimes a badly wrapped one! As a leader it’s important to ask for feedback, not just from your direct reports and the wider team, but also from your peers and even customers.

T – Teach and Nurture

I’ve long believed that the best leaders are teachers. Not lecturers, but teachers.  As teachers, they challenge us to think, to explore, to experiment, to learn and to keep trying.

Great leaders encourage us to find joy and energy in the journey of discovery and they remind us that the satisfaction from finding the answer is momentary and should quickly be replaced with more searching and more learning.

The best leaders…like teachers let us fail in order to learn.  They offer encouragement when needed and tough-love when it the situation demands it.  They teach us to be accountable to ourselves…and to set exceedingly high standards for our own performance.

Great teachers and great leaders challenge us to reach and strive.  They might step in if we’re about to fall off a cliff or to cross the street without looking, but they’ll wince and stand by as we fall and skin our knees or as we settle out our playground disputes.

Leaders teach and someday in the future, the student becomes the teacher and the cycle starts anew.

Hope you enjoyed ‘Follow the Leader’ – Who do you see as a 21st Century Leader and why?

The Post of Christmas Future

Christmas Future, Business, Technology, LeadershipIn the third and last in the series of Think Oak’s Christmas blog posts – The Post of Christmas Future, let’s take a look at the next 15 years in Technology, Business and Leadership and see how they might have changed by 2030. (In case you missed Part 1 and Part 2)

Looking to the future is always a tough thing to do, but as you will have seen from the last two posts business, leadership and technology are now inextricably linked and will become more so.


What are some of the transformational technologies that are being developed today that will have a big influence on business well into the 21st Century?

Robotics & Drone Technology

Developers are extending the capabilities of robots, extending the boundaries of military and industrial robots into non-industrial and robots for the home. Although much development is still required to improve robots’ cognitive abilities, many of the building blocks for futuristic and highly disruptive systems could be in place by 2030. Such robotics could eliminate the need for human labour entirely in some manufacturing environments, with total automation becoming more cost-effective than outsourcing manufacturing to developing economies.

Even in developing countries, robots might supplant some local manual labour in sectors such as electronics. The military is expected to increase its use of robots to reduce human exposure in high-risk situations and environments as well as the number of troops necessary for certain operations. The ability to deploy such robots rapidly, for particular tasks, could help military planners address the wider resource demands present in a more fragmented world.

It is expected that 25% of soldiers in the field will be robots by 2030. Whilst this may scare people and open up the debate of ‘Skynet’ and our fate being put in the hands of machines, this is an obvious choice to protect military personnel in unstable areas of conflict as well as keep spiraling costs down for long-term military interventions.

Development of drones, is one of the fastest-growing and, yet, controversial sectors of aerospace, but it could be worth as much as $62 billion a year to the global aerospace industry by 2020, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. The civilian drone market alone is possibly worth more than $400 billion according to a UK research project backed by the government and top aerospace companies.

With such market potential and possible uses for drones, much attention is being paid to the challenges of making them smaller, known as micro-air vehicles or MAVs, such as the tiny reconnaissance helicopters being used by the British Military (also under review by the US Army) to the development of small drones, which mimic the flight action, and the maneuverability of birds and insects.

Retail is a ‘prime’ area for exploitation and unsurprisingly Amazon is at the forefront of R&D:


Over the next 10 – 15 years we will see the next waves of autonomous vehicles hitting our roads, with some of the first deployments being made by vehicles that deliver packages, groceries, and fast-mail envelopes.

The first wave of consumer driverless vehicles will be luxury vehicles that allow you to relax, listen to music, have a cup of coffee, stop wherever you need to along the way, stay productive in transit with connections to the Internet, make phone calls, and even watch a movie or two, for substantially less than the cost of today’s premium supercars.

Driverless technology will initially require a driver, but it will quickly evolve into everyday use much as airbags did. First as an expensive option for luxury cars, but eventually it will become a safety feature stipulated by governments.

The greatest benefits of this kind of automation won’t be realised until the driver’s hands are off the wheel. With over 36,000 killed in car accidents every year in the US, over 2,000 in the UK and 1.2 million globally (Source: WHO), it won’t take long for legislators to be convinced that driverless cars are a substantially safer and more effective option.

The privilege of driving is about to be redefined. But so are other industries – Delivery vehicles, Haulage, Logistics, Taxis, Public Transportation and many more.

Artificial Intelligence

While scientists have yet to realise the full potential of artificial intelligence, this technology will likely have far-reaching effects on human life in the years to come.

AI is being fully embraced by all of the major tech companies. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google and others are beginning to use artificial intelligence techniques to build out their “deep learning” capacities. They’re starting to process all the activity occurring over their networks, from conversations, to photo facial recognition, to gaming activity.

Here are just some of the major acquisitions and hires from the AI field that occurred in recent months:

  • Facebook acquired Oculus VR for $2 Billion and launched a new research lab dedicated entirely to advancing the field of AI.
  • Google acquired DeepMind, a company that built learning algorithms for e-commerce, simulations, and games, for $400 million.
  • LinkedIn acquired Bright, a company that focused on data- and algorithm-driven job matches, for $120 million.
  • Pinterest acquired VisualGraph, a company that specialised in image recognition and visual search. VisualGraph CEO Kevin Jang helped build Google’s first machine vision application to improve image search.

Artificial intelligence has reached the point now where it can provide invaluable assistance in speeding up tasks still performed by people such as the rule based AI systems used in accounting and tax software, enhance automated tasks such as searching algorithms and enhance mechanical systems such as braking and fuel injection in a car. Curiously the most successful examples of artificial intelligent systems are those that are almost invisible to the people using them. Very few people thank AI for saving their lives when they narrowly avoid crashing their car because of the computer controlled braking system.

Speech Recognition, Translation and Control

Though voice recognition, handwriting recognition and gesture control will all become more accurate and popular in the next two decades we will still be writing and using keyboards for business. Until mind-control text entry becomes ubiquitous, typing will remain the most accurate method for composing and editing text. We just don’t speak the same way that we write.

Though physical keyboards are in danger of becoming extinct on phones and tablets, their virtual equivalents will live on. On larger form factors like tablets, the feel of real plastic keys will not be surpassed. Whether virtual or real, the QWERTY layout, which first appeared in 1878, will continue to dominate.

That being said, the ability to control many more devices by voice or gesture than we do today will become common place.

Mobile connectivity overtakes fixed line

So-called 5G network technologies now under study and development will not be another incremental evolution of today’s 4G, but rather will drive the next network revolution through “softwarisation” and integration of mobile and fixed networks. Think of future internet access as akin to the air we breathe – present everywhere and essential for the very existence (in this case economic and social) of people and objects. That’s the prospect of 5G. In a word, “ambient”.

This said, in absolute volume fixed data traffic will remain dominant, for the simple reason that virtually all data traffic passes through fixed networks for some part of its journey. In addition to the Wi-Fi trend there is also a trend toward “small cell technology” with a range of a few metres to a few kilometres, allowing for more efficient wireless off-load to the fixed network. Today mobile data traffic represents 5% of the total, rising to 12% by the end of this decade. Greater convergence between mobile and fixed networks may be expected going forward in a 5G framework.

Smart Devices

It is likely that our ‘devices’ will be many and linked. Contact lens or glasses displays that are completely voice activated will be the norm, but information could be ‘shared’ via TVs, tablet devices or projected onto flat surfaces. Superfast ‘Always on / Anywhere’ internet access, will be possible in over more than 80% of the populated world, allowing for an Augmented Reality view of wherever you are.

Social Networks

Social Networks not only will be woven into our society, but into our clothes, vehicles and accessories. The amount of data that consumers and businesses will be able to access will be mind-boggling. Personalisation of marketing will be at the individual level and in real-time. Each of us will have a highly intelligent Digital Assistant that will proactively scour cyberspace for data on our customers, our competitors, our interests and all our contacts.

3D Printing

Unlike a machine shop that starts with a large piece of metal and carves away everything but the final piece, 3D printing is an object creation technology where the shape of the objects are formed through a process of building up layers of material until all of the details are in place.

Manufacturing in the past relied on subtractive processes where blocks of metal, wood, or other raw materials had areas removed with drills, laser cutters, and other machines until the final part was complete. This involved skilled machine operators and material handlers.

3D printing reduces the need for skilled operators as well as the need for expensive machines. As a result, parts can be manufactured locally for less money than even the cheapest labour in foreign manufacturing plants.

This technology is already being used in many fields: jewellery, footwear, industrial design, architecture, engineering and construction, automotive, aerospace, dental and medical industries, education, geographic information systems, civil engineering, and many others.

The potential for 3D printing is enormous. In December 2014 an astronaut produced a ratcheting socket wrench that had been emailed through within an hour. Imagine the possibilities within the next 15 years

Contour Crafting is a form of 3D printing that uses robotic arms and nozzles to squeeze out layers of concrete or other materials, moving back and forth over a set path in order to fabricate large objects such as houses. It is a construction technology that has great potential for low-cost, customised buildings that are quicker to make, reducing energy and emissions along the way.

In 2014, the WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Company used contour crafting to “print” 10 houses in a single day using a massive printer that was 490 feet long, 33 feet wide, and 20 feet deep.

This type of technology will have major implications on all construction, building, and home repair jobs.


One thing that I am 100% certain of is that the buyers’ voice, choice and power will become stronger in the next 15 years.

The importance of putting the customer at the heart of your organisation needs to move from the Vision and Mission statement into the hearts and mind of every member of your organisation and supply chain.

Crowd – funding and sourcing


Much has been made about the ability of crowdfunding to transform new-business finance. Whether it is through a rewards based model, a peer-to-peer lending model or an equity finance model, the crowd has been theorised as the answer to a lack of appetite for risk amongst traditional finance institutions coupled with the always-present financial constraints placed on innovation.

Carrying crowdfunding through to its furthest potential conclusions, it has been theorised that it could take the place of banks for many functions – both for entrepreneurs and investors. It has also been put forward as a replacement to other forms of finance operating in the same sphere, such as angel investing and venture capital.

Crowdfunding platforms can have much larger applications than just bankrolling the latest iPad accessory or album from an up-and-coming artist. As the crowdfunding market grows, entrepreneurs and platforms will continue to explore how to use the model in other ways.

We may discover crowdfunding to be a more efficient way to connect the people that give money with the people that need money. Funding of local public services like parks and road repair is one example, as is funding for major expenses like college tuition and fertility treatments. Wherever there is a gap in traditional financing options, a crowdfunding model will attempt to fill the void.

The one word we keep hearing in relation to crowdfunding is ‘democratisation’. Banks and government-led schemes have long-been the source of finances for budding entrepreneurs in the past, but with billions of people connected to the Web through PCs, mobiles and tablets, the sands are shifting as is trust.


Crowdsourcing is becoming a more common concept. It seems that people are beginning to understand the basic idea of giving a task to the masses and letting those who are interested participate in shaping the outcome. But crowdsourcing is so much more than allowing customers to choose the new flavour of energy drink. When you consider the models of companies like topcoder and InnoCentive, you find that companies are taking real projects, posting them to the online community, and offering up a bounty to whoever comes up with the best solution or product. Literally hundreds of thousands of people are working on these projects and not all of them are professional freelancers and consultants. Many of these people could be your employees, doing this work in their “free” time because it’s challenging, they can pick their project, and they know up front what the reward is. This model is exploding and it’s changing the game of work.

Whilst there are many companies that have started looking to crowdsourcing as a way to supplement internal development or R&D efforts, I think that the real opportunity might be to unleash the power of crowdsourcing internally. Why not post challenging projects internally and let individuals or groups of people choose what they’d like to work on? Why not allow your own employees to pick and choose some of their work? Or, to take it a step further, why not completely blow up the idea of a job description and the formal position structure? Instead of having a formal position, why not change the system completely? Assign point values to tasks and projects and then post them for individuals to work on. Then allow your talented people to pick and choose what tasks they work on with the expectation that they deliver at least so many “points” worth of work each month or quarter. This is probably far too simplistic, but you get the picture. The potential to apply the principles of crowdsourcing internally are unlimited.

Outsourced project based workforce

A new form of more flexible work will begin to replace formal employment. Instead of relying on a pool of permanent employees, organisations will increasingly contract out tasks as needed, reducing their fixed labour costs and increasing their ability to respond to sudden changes in the marketplace. Educated and tech-savvy workers will maintain loose affiliations with several organisations, finding and completing tasks remotely through online crowd labour pools and employer-freelancer collaboration platforms.

Further decline for many of the ‘Giants’ and some industries

Some of the newer technologies by 2030 will signal the demise of a number of industries unless they start to act now.

  • The automotive industry will be turned on its head.
  • Logistics and delivery are likely to be highly if not totally automated.
  • House building, manufacturing and energy production will all be impacted by these mega-shifts in technology.
  • Failure of large corporations to anticipate, refocus, reprioritise and act will face serious challenges in the next decade.

For most organisations, value-creating growth is the strategic challenge, and to succeed companies must be good at developing new, potentially disruptive businesses. The bulk of the typical company’s share price reflects expectations for the growth of current businesses. If companies meet those expectations, shareholders will earn only a normal return. But to deliver superior long-term returns management must either repeatedly exceed market expectations for its current businesses or develop new value-creating businesses.

It’s almost impossible to repeatedly beat expectations for current businesses, because if you do, investors simply raise the bar. So the only reasonable way to deliver superior long-term returns is to focus on new business opportunities. (Of course, if a company’s stock price already reflects expectations with regard to new businesses—which it may do if management has a track record of delivering such value-creating growth—then the task of generating superior returns becomes daunting; it’s all managers can do to meet the expectations that exist.)

Value-creating growth is the strategic challenge, and to succeed, companies must be good at developing new, potentially disruptive businesses.

Companies focused on short-term performance measures are doomed to fail in delivering on a value-creating growth strategy because they are forced to concentrate on existing businesses rather than on developing new ones for the longer term.

New Business Models emerge

In the brave new world of technology-driven change, business models are being fundamentally disrupted. Book publishing, newspapers, video chains and in-store shopping have become some of the casualties since 2000.

To compete and succeed in 2030, retailers will need to challenge and, in many cases, rethink their current value propositions to make sure they are sufficiently differentiated and compelling to the consumers they are targeting. For most, this will be a very difficult task, as it means radically redefining the role of the store and how to turn it into an asset instead of a liability.

As brick-and-mortar retailers prepare for battle with the online merchants, they must transform into truly seamless multichannel businesses. In doing so, there are several areas they can draw upon for competitive advantage:

  1. Understanding the buying behaviours of the Millennials
  2. Reducing amount of retail space they own
  3. Delivering a SIMPLE experience – Slick, Immediate, Multimedia, Personalised, ‘Like’able, Everywhere
  4. Reducing costs throughout the supply chain

Everything as a Service

As the Internet becomes more ubiquitous, the cloud will become the standard for all applications. Companies are increasingly deploying new applications with a cloud-first mentality. IT departments are happy to be moving away from server maintenance and backups and transforming themselves into providing value-added services. Additionally, we are seeing a convergence of B2C and B2B technologies, matching online shopping to inventories and warehouse management in real time, all in one system.

Most business users still have powerful laptops with word-processing and spreadsheet applications, even local hosting of emails. All of that will be cloud-based in the future, freeing our devices to be lighter, but data to be everywhere, in standardised formats that enable us to easily consume and interact.

The cloud is also transforming manufacturing, allowing for faster cycle times and increased communications across all the different elements required to produce a product. Ultimately all of this is resulting in better products for a cheaper price.

The cloud is undoubtedly the platform of the future. We will continue to see a world where devices will evolve, business needs will evolve, and new technologies will give us new expectations of success. Vendors of old-style client-server technology are already dinosaurs, and will be extinct very soon. The cloud of 2030 will undoubtedly be far more advanced than the cloud of today, in ways we have not yet imagined. But the companies that embrace the cloud today are aligned with their customers, and well-positioned for continued success.


In 2030 leadership competencies will still matter, in fact will probably matter more, but they will change as the competitive environment changes.

Leaders of the future will need to be adept conceptual and strategic thinkers, have deep integrity and intellectual openness, find new ways to create loyalty, lead increasingly diverse and independent teams over which they may not always have direct authority, and relinquish their own power in favour of collaborative approaches inside and outside the organisation.

Roselinde Torres, a New York-based senior partner with the Boston Consulting Group management consultancy, says: “There are some aspects of leadership that are timeless, like vision, intelligence, good judgment, courage, ambition and integrity.  However, the hierarchical, inward-focused leadership style that defined the 20th century is unravelling. The leadership profiles, programmes and processes that businesses used in the 20th century do not fit 21st-century leadership needs.”

I see there being 5 game changes in leadership in this time frame

  1. Technology Convergence
  2. Agility of Strategy, Skills and Development
  3. Virtual Teams
  4. Differing Employee and Customer Needs
  5. Dispersed Decision Making

If leadership is thought of as a shared process, rather than an individual skill set, senior executives must consider the best way to help leadership flourish in their organisations.

Leadership spread throughout a network of people is more likely to flourish when certain conditions support it, including:

  • Open flows of information
  • Flexible hierarchies
  • Distributed resources
  • Distributed decision-making
  • Loosening of centralised controls

Leaders will have to learn to orchestrate highly diverse teams spread in various time zones around the globe. It will be a major challenge for companies to make sure employees and collaborators will feel comfortable working for them. The leader of the future is more of a communications expert with highly developed social skills than an official with financial expertise.

The winners of tomorrow will be those organisations with strong leaders who demonstrate agility, authenticity, commit to the success of their people as well balancing results with the public good. They will use their skills to remain at the ready, anticipate and harness the power of change, and stay ahead of the shifting business environment.

Only time will tell as to whether these predictions will come to fruition, but one thing has never been more certain. Business and Technology and more importantly, the customer and the employee, are changing at an unprecedented speed.

The Post of Christmas Present

Post of Christmas PresentIn Part 2 of Think Oak’s Christmas blog posts – The Post of Christmas Present, let’s take a look at the current state of Business, Leadership and Technology. If you missed Part 1 – Click here.

The Post of Christmas Present

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”  Charles Dickens

Business, Technology and Leadership are at a tipping point. All 3! The decisions that Leaders, Businesses and Technology developers are making at this very moment will, in my view, seal their fate for the future. Why? Three things:

Trust, Ease of Doing Business and Value for Money

The table below shows 9 areas where Business, Technology and Leadership meets Trust, Ease of Doing Business and Value for Money

Christmas Present Matrix


Brand Loyalty

Brand Loyalty has become a hot topic over the last decade.

A recent study by ClickFox found that benefits drive loyalty – identifying brand quality (60%), ease of use (46%) and features (40%) as critical for customers when choosing their favourite brands.

First impressions matter: Brands have one chance to win customers over, according to 56% of respondents who said that the first purchase or beginning of service is the deciding factor in establishing brand loyalty.

This is today’s retail reality, and will become the reality for other vertical markets:

  • 79% of consumers spend at least 50% of total shopping time researching products online
  • 82% of consumers will substitute and switch brands due to an out-of-stock product
  • 59% of consumers are willing to try a new brand to get better customer service

A vast majority of all purchases begin online. The expectations have never been higher for retailers to deliver shopping experiences through their website, a mobile app or their social networks.  Although the brick-and-mortar store still accounts for most purchases, the beginning of the transaction starts elsewhere.

Innovative retailers are dramatically changing their business model to stay ahead by shifting their storefronts to the digital world. They’re building apps, integrating social media and ensuring a complete Omni channel experience for the customer at every touch point.

Being visible and available to your customer through every channel is highly important for competitive retailers, but how do you retain your customer? What can you do to stop them using another brand or service that’s equally available? Many brands are turning to loyalty management strategies to create a consistent customer experience that provides incentives, and rewards customers for their loyalty.

Although some companies spend billions each year to try to make their brands resonate with consumers, few ever end up with ‘Raving Fans’

But the perks are huge for those who do. Loyal customers consistently come back to buy more, they’re more willing to stay despite increases in price and they become strong advocates for the brand in their own social circles and online.

Great People

Not many organisations successfully manage to harness the full potential of “people power” day in and day out, but they need to. Organisations that deliver their brand promise through their people reap the benefits that directly impact customer loyalty, market share and profitability.

Too many companies think of their call centres as an expense to minimise. We believe that it’s a huge untapped opportunity for most companies, not only because it can result in word-of-mouth marketing, but because of its potential to increase the lifetime value of the customer.  – Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO

So, how can you enthuse, engage and empower the people in your organisation? Four things are essential if you are to harness “people power”:

  1. Recruit people with the competencies to satisfy customer expectations

Once you know and understand customer expectations, you can move on and create an organisation with the culture and the people to deliver on those expectations. This means identifying the fundamental behaviour your brand requires and the values that are integral to the brand. You must then recruit people on the basis of those behaviours and values. People matter, but the right people matter even more.

  1. Train employees to deliver experiences that uniquely fit your brand promise

New employees do not walk through your doors and instantly utilise their attitudes, skills and intelligence in the best ways to deliver great customer experiences. Nor can existing employees be expected to transform themselves instantly and alone. Not everyone has the luxury of starting with no employees and recruiting those who clearly meet identified behavioural models.

Training can be bolstered by the use of customer experience success stories to help communicate desired behaviours. Spontaneity also needs to be enabled by training. There needs to be a balance between the human and the mechanical. This is something Disney has long proved adept at.

  1. Encourage employees to demonstrate the right behaviours

Once people have the skills and understand customer needs and expectations, their performance needs to be evaluated against the right behaviours. “People power” requires that you also develop metrics for evaluating the use and impact of core and specific brand behaviours. Reward and recognition systems need to be aligned with these metrics.

  1. Drive the behaviours from the very top of the organisation

The way leaders treat employees is reflective of how employees will treat customers. Organisations that treat employees the way they treat customers understand what the customer experience and “people power” are all about. “People power” cannot be delegated. Leaders must communicate a sense of purpose and constantly reinforce the values of the organisation.

A vital part of the leader’s role is to acknowledge achievements in order to provide motivational feedback to accelerate progress. They habitually catch people “doing things right” and publicly recognise their achievements. They link training and coaching to strategic issues. They remember the connection between what customers want and what colleagues want. Above all, they treat colleagues in the way they want them to treat customers and encourage them to observe and challenge the organisation through the customer’s eyes.

One way to look at this is to consider the extent to which your organisation balances making the numbers with living the values. Successful brands are those that hit their numbers whilst living their brand values.

Value Add Relationships

Strong customer relationships drive sales, sustainability, and growth, especially in today’s economy. Organisations that build and maintain excellent customer and client relationships lead the pack, whereas those that don’t put clients first fall off pace and, eventually, disappear completely.

A big mistake made by many organisations is not realising that customer satisfaction does not always translate to loyalty. A satisfied customer is simply someone who has received what he was promised—nothing more, nothing less. Strong customer relationships, on the other hand, imply that you have delivered something extra or provided added value to the customer. Long-term loyalty and the countless benefits that go along with it are awarded to businesses that go the extra mile for their customers.

The push for stronger and healthier customer relationships needs to start now. Regardless of your industry, here are five tips worth considering as you formulate a strategy for improving the quality of your customer relationships.

  1. Engage customers

Successful relationships are two-way. Loyal customers want to be actively invested in the relationship.

Invest time in getting to know your customers, building relationships with decision makers. Talk about their challenges, their opportunities and their hopes and dreams for the future. This kind of insight can only benefit your relationship as you gain a deeper understanding of them leading to tailored communication and even products and services.

  1. Become a Trusted Adviser

Ideally, customers should view your company as a Trusted Adviser, which means that you are the first person they call when they pursue a new line of business or launch a new project, or if they need help.

To become a Trusted Adviser, consider offering assistance before the customer asks, as a way to demonstrate your commitment to the relationship. By getting involved early in the process, you bring added value to the relationship and gain access to additional selling opportunities.

Regularly sending them industry news and updates will also help to position you as an expert and also communicate that they are top of mind.

  1. Get regular feedback

In addition to offering useful and relevant information, regularly get feedback and advice from customers. Insight from regular feedback improves relationships by highlighting problems that exist below the surface—and also because you’ll be communicating, that you are willing to go the extra mile to make sure you’re meeting their needs. Feedback may also reveal ways in which the relationship can be expanded to include a greater scope of products or services.

Ditch the annual form survey and replace it with something tailored to the individual customer. Whether you use a do-it-yourself survey tool or hire a third-party professional, you are sure to gain important insight into the relationship.

Keep in mind that if you gather feedback from your customer, you must be willing and able to act upon it. Customers who provide you with their feedback expect you to act on the changes they’ve suggested, even if this action is to feedback why the changes can’t be implemented – but be sure to explain why. If you gather feedback and sit on it, you may worsen the relationship with your client.

  1. All customers are unique

Although it’s tempting to make generalisations based on aggregated feedback, the best customer relationships are created when you tailor your strategy to the expressed needs of each individual customer. If one of your larger accounts doesn’t understand a new billing process, you need to determine a better way to communicate your system. Over time, it could turn into a more serious problem than you expect.

Be alert and pay attention to your customers’ unique needs and treat each like your only customer. It may require more effort up front, but it will pay off in the long run.

  1. Keep in touch

Healthy relationships thrive on communication. If your business communicates with customers only at their request or when your company needs something, it will be difficult to leverage relationships as a driver of sales. Instead, touch base often with customers to inquire about their progress and to learn how you might be better able to meet their needs and expectations.

Communication is a key ingredient in healthy client relationships. ‘Raving Fans’ are active participants who willingly offer the time and information it takes for you to achieve the best results.


Word of Mouse

Word of Mouse or Social proof is a psychological phenomenon referring to people’s reliance on the feedback and actions of others to determine what is right and what is wrong in a given situation. Social proof is a concept as old as marketing itself—think of the testimonials in ads and the old-school word of mouth. But the rise of social media has enhanced the importance of social proof because feedback from real people is more easily accessible than ever before. As a result, entrepreneurs and small business owners are realising it’s an important part of their overall social presence.

In the world of online retail, social proof can be a strange thing. In the real world of bricks and mortar, we can see if a shop is busy, or if people are lining up outside the door of a restaurant. We look for these indicators to guide our choices, to provide the social proof we need to validate our decisions. However, on the web, with the behaviour of other people not directly visible, we rely on other indicators of social proof – customer reviews.

Online reviews have become a powerful weapon in the battle for our hearts and minds, and more importantly, our wallets. When it comes to recommendations, unsurprisingly many of us rely on friends, family, colleagues or suppliers. According to a recent survey by Gallup, 90 per cent of consumers trust recommendations from people they know. What is perhaps surprising, is the fact that 89 per cent of consumers are just as willing to trust reviews posted online by complete strangers. Essentially, consumers put almost as much faith in the reviews of anonymous people posting on websites as they do in those they know and trust.

This presents a unique opportunity for retailers. Consumers trust customer reviews 12 times more than they do the manufacturers’ own descriptions. It may not come as a complete shock that marketing content designed to sell us products is sometimes viewed with scepticism. Nonetheless, for consumers to trust anonymous strangers more – by a factor of 12 – demonstrates just how powerful customer reviews can be.

Customers that read reviews are more than twice as likely to make a purchase, and on average spend 11 per cent more than those that don’t. The travel sector, in particular, is one where people tend to place a lot of faith in the opinions of others, with 45 per cent of personal travellers planning trips based on reviews, and 54 per cent of business travellers.

Ultimately, bad reviews (whether fake or legitimate) are inevitable, and in some cases even welcome. Customers are smart, and know that retailers aren’t perfect. Sometimes stock runs out, sometimes a courier service will be late – these are things that customers get frustrated over, but understand the fact that they occasionally happen. When the service delivered is anything less than perfect, it’s a chance for retailers to acknowledge their shortcomings and act to remedy the situation.

Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere

We’re at a moment of profound change in our relationship with technology. No longer tied to devices, locations or software – the anytime, anyplace, anywhere culture dictates technology organises itself around us and shapes itself to our requirements.

From e-Commerce, marketing automation, social media, mobility, cloud computing, Internet of Things (IoT), Bring Your Own Device (BYOD); new and disruptive technologies are everywhere – and so is the demand from customers and employees to use them. Digital technologies help drive productivity and improve the satisfaction of your customers and employees. But expectations are rising. Customers expect to be able to interact with you at any time and through the medium of their choice. Businesses are expected to operate 24 hours and have global reach. Competition is fierce and the rate of change is only set to increase.

Over the last few years, new channels to market including e-commerce and m-commerce have been introduced and have rapidly grown in popularity, supported by pervasive fixed and mobile internet access and broadband. This has contributed to a huge increase in home delivery, and a reduction in customer footfall for many traditional businesses. Advances in products themselves have driven change, such as digital downloads of entertainment media from books to computer games.

Retailers with many stores recognise that they no longer necessarily need a physical presence in every high street in order to achieve national coverage, and therefore some are reducing their bricks and mortar presence to fewer sites – particularly as long lease agreements come to an end. Other retailers are changing the ways in which they use their existing space to enable new services and new formats. Some are now sharing their sites with other retailers, or partnering with them on a combined customer offering.

Many entrepreneurs test the market through e-commerce before investing in bricks and mortar. Some manufacturers and suppliers are now selling directly to customers via the internet.

These technological innovations have substantially lowered barriers to market entry, making it far easier for new online businesses to be established. Today’s competitors are not just down the road or in the next town, but throughout the country and even across borders. E-commerce is making cross-border trading much easier for retailers.

Customer Experience

While we’ve seen several quick-moving organisations embrace amazing customer experience in recent years and build lasting, trusted relationships with their customers, we’re also still seeing a number of older, slow-moving companies continue to fail on this front.

With the various technologies available today, the competition to understand and serve your customer better than your competitor does is getting fierce. Enterprises should care now more than ever about providing a great customer experience.

A common problem organisations fall into is trying to use technology and software to create a customer experience. This is not recommended as it can lead to the focus being on what the technology can do, as opposed to what you can do to enlighten an amazing experience

I recommend you define a customer experience, and then identify what tools and software you need to assist to make it happen. Do not mould your customer experience strategy around technology. Find technology that you can use around your strategy.

Here are some tools you should look into:

  • CRM tools for relationship management: keep all data and communications between your company and customers in one spot so that the right people can see it quickly.
  • Marketing tools to engage with customers:  send trigger emails based on specific actions.
  • Online survey tools and customer satisfaction tools: survey customers, get feedback and measure satisfaction.
  • Web analytics and tracking tools: Measure engagement, number of site visits and page visits. Build out a customer profiles full of data to help manage the experiences.


Personal Values

In the banking sector, standards have been widely condemned in the wake of the global economic crisis. Corporate values were in the spotlight again when Google was accused by Margaret Hodge UK MP of being “devious, calculated and, in my view, unethical”.

To be successful in the cut-throat world of business, you may think there’s no place for soft values and morals. But holding on to personal principles as a leader is not just about ethics – it can also boost your career and organisation.

Leading with personal values is a leadership philosophy that steps outside of measuring success by job title or rank, personal wealth and power. It is not about emulating the great leaders of Christmas Past. Instead, it is a practice of identifying what matters to you, what you stand for and what values you have in your life. With this basis of knowing your purpose, making the right decisions in life and leadership becomes easier.

Making the right decisions is only the beginning. Leading with values is important for leaders because it creates and maintains company culture, informs employee selection, guides the direction of company growth, and adds meaning to the work required to maintain the organisation. That meaning starts with the leader, and passes down to all levels of the team.

However, understanding your values and doing the “right thing” isn’t simple. In fact, for all of us, it’s a lifetime challenge that requires thought and practice.

Think of it as an oak tree: values are our roots that keep us grounded in what’s important to us. The strength of the values determines the strength of the trunk, branches, leaves and acorns from year to year. A strong oak tree supports the ecosystem around it; a leader with strong values supports the organisational culture and the surrounding ecosystem.

Customer First

With endless options for products and services, instant access to information, and the power to share their opinions more widely than ever, today the customer is almighty.

Some organisations have actively embraced this new breed of buyer – supporting them with free delivery both ways, 24/7 live customer service, and crowd-sourced product input to ensure the voice of the customer is being heard and embraced. But what else are the leaders of these “customer-first” organisations doing to win the hearts and minds of customers? What can we learn from their focus on creating customers for life, and what does that mean for the people who work at those companies?

Creating a customer first culture can mean something different to every leader. The key is to clearly define what elements make up your version of being “customer first,” and then adjust or create processes, operations, culture, and behaviours that make it a reality. These three things can help make your customer-first culture a reality:

  1. Leaders need to define “customer first culture.”

Embrace the reality that your customer experience will never exceed your employee experience. Creating a customer first culture starts with creating an employee first culture.

Engage the hearts and minds of your people by developing a “story” with big-picture visuals that illustrates your brand promise and the optimal customer experience and people’s delivery roles within that experience.

Identify the barriers inhibiting a customer first culture and whether or not they vary by channel. Engage your people in your desired culture, specifying “how we work together” to deliver a great customer experience.

Address the barriers between functions by making operational, process, or behaviour changes, and ensure each prioritises the customer.

Share what’s working and what’s not. Reinforce best practices for moving forward.

  1. Managers need to act as owners.

Make sure managers know their role and understand the customer first strategy as it relates to your brand.

Ensure people have the leadership and coaching skills they need to act as owners of their business and build the capabilities of their people.

Identify and communicate best practice of what the best managers are doing to drive the customer and employee experience; showcase how others can adopt and emulate those same behaviours.

Underscore the importance of leadership and manager transparency around key measures and drive ownership of the results of the entire team with tools like Customer Experience Dashboards.

Develop guides for fostering ongoing conversations about the journey to becoming a customer first organisation.

Implement feedback loops so managers can provide insight on how well initiatives are working and ways to optimise the customer experience.

  1. Individual contributors need to create authentic customer experiences.

Make sure employees on the frontline understand your brand values and vision, as they will be delivering on it most often.

Engage employees in the organisation’s approach to customer experience and give examples of behaviours that support it.

Make sure individual contributors have the skills and knowledge needed to deliver on the customer-first vision, and help them set clear priorities of what’s important.

Build their sales and service skills, including point of sale, merchandising, and others that apply to your organisation.

Set clear service standards and methods to guide employees about making trade-offs and decisions.

Prepare them to anticipate customer needs in order to exceed expectations.

There’s only ever one chance to make a great first impression. Creating a customer first culture that your entire organisation embraces makes all the difference in how your brand is perceived by customers. Take the first step and set the momentum for your organisation to win customers for life.

Customer Value over Shareholder Value

Shareholder value: It’s been called the driving force of 21st-century business. It’s also been labelled “the dumbest idea in the world” by legendary chief executive Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. Welch was able to dramatically increase revenue and shareholder value during his tenure, but GE’s extraordinary accomplishments were not the result of a single-minded focus on beating quarterly profits. Maximising returns is an outcome, not a strategy.

What value do shareholders bring to the companies they invest in? Are most shareholders interested in what is best for the company, or are they in it only for the financial performance of the company’s shares?

Most executives agree that it’s important to create value for the customer. The problem is that despite the good intentions of the leadership team, this mind-set often doesn’t travel further than the company core values posted in the reception of the corporate headquarters or intranet.

Professor Solow, winner of the Nobel Prize for his theory on economic growth, found that only a small portion of financial growth in the world comes from companies making money out of money. Instead, the majority of financial growth comes from companies actually producing a product, developing a new service, or changing the way we conduct business. Consider Steve Job’s unrelenting focus on product innovation and what Apple was able to achieve by creating the iPad, iPhone, and iPod. As we know, iTunes has literally changed the entire music industry!

If you can build a product that will truly change the world, like Steve Jobs did several times, your shareholder value will take care of itself. Your problems will be protecting your distribution channels, defending your intellectual property, and retaining your talent. Which set of problems would you prefer?

I hope you enjoyed the Post of Christmas Present and if you would like to jump straight into the Post of Christmas Future, please click here!