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Take This Challenge – See Your Future!

recent HBR article provides the backdrop for a challenge I would like to suggest to anyone who feels the pressure to envision the future of their organization – and if you aren’t feeling this pressure, you should be.

John Boudreau, USC Marshall School of Business professor, Research Director for the school’s Center for Effective Organizations, and well-respected management expert, examines the future of work as it evolves along two axes, neither of which are speculative, as we are seeing transitions on both fronts in nearly every field of business and commerce.

The first measurement index is the degree of “Democratization of Work”, influenced and indicated by the extent to which a workplace sees a reconfiguration of social and organization relationships and foundations, the wide expansion of the talent market as it becomes both easier and more acceptable to employ workers without traditional geographical and even cultural constraints, and the nearly ubiquitous connectability that has come about in the past decade, leading to far more communication and collaboration, teamwork and shared leadership. The second measure is the degree of “Technological Empowerment” which builds on the connectability already mentioned and also includes the logarithmic explosion in technology development – think robots, self-driving (autonomous) vehicles, wearable devices, and the ability to connect almost any device to any other (the IoT). Add in the interface of humans and automated devices that characterizes the gains we see in the world of Artificial Intelligence and you begin to get the picture, and an amazing picture it is (for most of us)!

The quadrant graph that emerges is thus one in which the status quo represents the core block, and, as titled by Boudreau, the work that evolves through increased democratization is “Work Reimagined” and that which emerges from greater development and implementation of technology is “Work, Turbo Charged”

So here’s your challenge. Imagine first that nothing changes technologically, but that you can expand the work you do and the people you reach by accessing new, global platforms, increasing project-based work, connecting and utilizing freelancers, contract workers, part-timers and consultants and even using contest or crowd-sourced methods to define some or all of what you do. What would your new “Reimagined” workplace look like? How could you be more successful than you are today? What changes would these novel approaches bring to your compensation systems, your hiring processes, your bottom line? This will give you an idea of what “Work, Reimagined” might look like at your company.

Now, assume that nothing changes in the structure, composition, and deployment of your workforce, but you have access to supportive technology like never before and can employ cloud-based training, effective remote supervision and monitoring, local devices and smart device based apps to support your workers’ efforts and your overall ability to manage those efforts. You are beginning to get a glimpse of what a “Turbocharged Today” might look like for you.

If you really want to get excited, combine the two approaches. Technological advances, coupled with a new democratization of work structures usually go hand in hand, and have a synergistic effect on one another. Boudreau calls this collective, evolving space the “Uber Empowered” workplace in which both the type of work arrangements and the technologies employed are advancing together. Can you imagine how that would play out in your work-space?

Be assured that some of your competitors are engaging in just such efforts as I have been describing and that some of them are using the vision and insights that result from these exercises to strategically plan what the future of their company (and your industry) will look like. I hope you will too!

The World’s Most Innovative Companies – So What?

Forbes business magazine publishes an annual list which they call The World’s Most Innovative Companies. The rankings are based on what is called the “innovation premium” which compares market cap and the value of cash flows from their existing businesses to measure the bonus points that savvy investors might give to their belief that the companies will continue to grow and be profitable. You can read more about the process elsewhere, it’s not necessary that you totally understand how the numbers are derived to appreciate that thought and science (and math) go into the rankings.

The list includes companies that most of us are familiar with, like Amazon, Under Armour, and Coca-Cola. There are also a lot of companies that are not household words, like Incyte, FleetCor Technologies, and Perrigo. My quick read of the list convinced me that I didn’t know nearly 60% of them!

The important thing about a list like this is, what’s in it for me? You may have some thoughts on what you could do with a list of highly innovative companies, but here’s my plan. I am going to visit the company websites – you can learn a lot from seeing what other businesses promote through their web presence, how they encourage current and potential customers or business partners to connect with them, and the attention they pay to this very public face. I am going to follow these companies Twitter feeds, again to get insights into good social media practices and also to find practical tips and wisdom which I expect will be present in their messaging. I am going to find people in my LinkedIn communities that work for companies on this list and invite conversations with them to ask about their “internal perspective” on working for highly innovative corporations. Finally, I am going to realize that even though it’s pretty likely my own business may never make it to this lofty list, there is plenty I can do to improve, by learning from the winners!

You can access the current Forbes Most Innovative Companies list right here.

Just Don’t Do THAT!

After having read somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 versions (you think I am kidding, oh no) of articles titled “X Things You Shouldn’t Do on Social Media”, I feel relatively qualified to make my own Top 10 List. Truth be told, I could probably make a Top 100 list, but the purpose is to inform and entertain, not to put anyone to sleep. So, herewith is my list of the Top Ten Things Businesses Should Avoid Doing on Social Media!

Ask for something, or try to sell something too soon:

It is a cardinal rule in the Social Media universe that you engage and build trust with your audience first, before you try to turn them into customers or supporters. Even when trust is established, a good rule for your Social Media should be 60% education, 30% information, and 10% commerce.

Buy followers, likes or plus 1s:

Yes, there are companies who will “sell” you hundreds of followers. At best you will waste a lot of money to get new followers who aren’t paying any attention to you, and never convert into customers or supporters. At worst, legitimate followers will figure out what you are doing and you will lose credibility with the people who really count.

Criticize the Competition:

The best plan is usually not to mention your competition at all, unless you are working out a partnership or collaborative effort. Otherwise, talk all you want about what makes you special but never speak ill of your competitors.

Plagiarize:

Sharing and curating content is a legitimate strategy on Social Media, so go ahead and post that link to a well written article, blog post, or web resource. Just don’t use content without attribution and never post what someone else has written as if it were your own. I was getting daily commentary from a connection on LinkedIn that was pretty good stuff. Then one day he posted something that sounded just too familiar to me, and I found that he had published, without any editing or changing, an article I had read that very morning from someone else. Now curious, I went back and looked at several of the articles this guy had written previously, and, sure enough, every single one of them  had been ripped off from somewhere else. I sent this information to LinkedIn, and guess who isn’t on that platform any more?

Participate Without Measuring Impact:

There are many tools to help measure the ROI on your Social Media activity. Some are free, some are built into the platform, and you can pay for services as well. Or you can just keep your own statistics on whether your latest Tweets about a new service correlate with increased sales, or an online discussion of your nonprofit’s need appears to stimulate more donations. In any event, use some form of measurement and check often.

Cross the Controversy Gap:

My mother always said that there were three things you shouldn’t discuss in polite company; religion, politics, and money. This is good advice for your Social Media presence as well. Of course, if you are a financial services firm you will talk about money, or if you are a religious fellowship you are going to talk about your own belief systems. But if any of these topics is not directly related to your product, your process or your mission, stay away!

Post too often:

There are plenty of resources that recommend posting frequency. 4 or 5 Tweets per day, 1 or 2 postings on Facebook, 2 to 4 blog posts per week. Pay attention to these limits. If you consistently overdo it, you will find your followers dropping you, or at the very least they will start ignoring your messages.

Delete negative remarks:

If you allow comments to your blog posts, or otherwise solicit feedback from readers, you should expect negative feedback from time to time. Don’t run away from this, and don’t delete negative responses unless they are clearly trolling efforts. Face your critics, explain your position when appropriate, and move on. Arguing with a critic is rarely a good idea.

Misspell words, use poor grammar or otherwise write badly:

If you aren’t naturally good at writing well, spelling correctly, and using words as they were meant, make sure everything you post is proofread by at least two others before you let the world see it.

Work without a plan:

This of course could, and probably should be at the top of the list, because no business should even begin to use Social Media without first creating a strategy. What platforms should we be on to reach our customers? Who is in charge? How much time can we invest in SM? Of course, if you are already online, the time to slow down for a minute and create your plan is right now.

And now that I’ve given you some good education and information, I will add that Innovaision can help your business create a great Social Media Strategy. Contact us if you’d like to talk about how we can help!

 

For Want of a Nail (an episode in customer service)

You may be familiar with this old proverb

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost

                For want of a shoe, the horse was lost

                For want of a horse, the knight was lost

                For want of a knight, the kingdom was lost

Maybe another way to put this would be, little things can mean a lot. Here’s my case in point for today. In my area, the big box hardware companies have invaded with a vengeance. There are five Home Depot stores within 10 miles of my house. There are also three Lowe’s units. One HD and Lowe’s are about three blocks apart and there is a big building going up between them that is going to be another big regional chain (Menards). It’s hardware city in that stretch of road.

Still, I’ve been willing to drive even a couple miles further to go to what I would call a “mom and pop” hardware store. My preference for this has been twofold.

First, I worked in just such a store for some of my college years. It was a place where you didn’t really sell products, you sold solutions. People came there not really knowing what they wanted, just knowing what was wrong or what didn’t work. It was our job to know what they needed to fix the problem, and to explain to them how to do it (or even, in some cases, to drop by after work and fix it for them).

Second, I like the idea of “buying local” and doing business with smaller businesses. As a small business owner myself, I like to think that others work like I do, trying to give the best personal service possible, being available at odd hours, taking time to really get the right job done and not just relying on volume sales of mediocrity to make money.

In any event, I was in the local hardware store a couple of days ago, buying a few odds and ends (hardware stores and office supply stores are particularly good for that), and here is what happened. My total bill came to $12.01 and I handed the cashier a $20. Seeing her reach into the change compartments of her cash register I said somewhat facetiously (I thought) “Oh, sorry I don’t have any change, but I could go out to my car to get that penny. I’d rather do that than leave with a pocketful of change.”

To my surprise, she said “O.K., I’ll wait.” Seriously. Being a person of my word, I left the store, went to my car in the parking lot (it wasn’t THAT far), got a penny from the console, brought it back in and completed the transaction. Then I left the store for the very last time.

That’s right, I will never go back in that store again. The one cent that that cashier apparently felt that she couldn’t just write off may be the most expensive penny that passed through their hands in the past few months or even years. When you hear about businesses (like Nordstrom’s) whose employees are authorized to take back any item and give a refund, even things that weren’t bought at their store, or businesses like the Ritz-Carlton, whose employees are individually authorized to spend up to $2,000 to make a customer happy, to think that there is a business that wouldn’t just forgive a penny seems crazy. I have been in checkout lines where I saw the clerk reach into a pocket or purse and put their own penny in, obviously to keep the drawer balanced.

The thing is, it really isn’t about the penny, it’s about the mindset. My conclusion is that this particular “mom and pop” business does not have a customer service mindset, or at the very least that they don’t value customer service enough to infuse that value in every employee.

So, now the store has lost all of my future business. They have also lost the future business of anyone I may have sent their way in the future, like I have so done in the past. I can’t really recommend a place I won’t shop at to others – right? Who knows how much all of this potential business is worth? I know it is way more than a penny. In fact, they are already in the hole. Even at minimum wage, I figure I spent about 20 cents worth of that clerk’s time via the delay while I fetched that penny from my car.

I’m sure some people will feel that I have overreacted, but seriously I can buy anything that store sells – and a whole lot more – at any of the big box stores. Usually for less money too (I saw one item on the local shelves for $5.99 and it sells at Home Depot for $2.39). If one of the good reasons, maybe the main one, for shopping with a small “s” is the feeling that you will get treated more personally, even like family, I have been disabused of that notion in this instance by this event. Enjoy the penny!

Crowdfunding…Is It Right For Your Nonprofit?

As if things weren’t already challenging enough for most nonprofit organizations, what with government funds being cut off in midstream in desperate budget-balancing attempts, and increased competition for grant dollars, there are also recent reports that revenues from “big events” like golf tournaments and galas are slipping. Even some of the biggest, most venerable efforts like the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life (- 12%) and the Susan G. Komen Race/Walk for the Cure (-38%) recording distinctive funding drop-offs.

It is becoming clear that a nonprofit interested in sustained progress in mission fulfillment must invest some time and talent in determining ways to diversify their funding sources, and pursuing new pathways to finding the money needed for the future.

With the continuing trend of online Social Media related tools seemingly eating everything alive, it is not unexpected to find that various online tools are moving into the forefront of many organizations’ fundraising methodology. One idea that is being seriously considered and increasingly utilized by nonprofits is crowdfunding. It may be time to consider if this strategy is right for your organization.

In case you have been living in a digital “safe house” for the last few years, here is a short primer on crowdfunding.  In simplest terms, crowdfunding refers to the practice of soliciting, usually via the Internet, smaller donations from large numbers of people, as opposed to looking for “big hitters” who can write fat checks to support or invest in a venture. The principles are generally the same for any effort, and may seem deceptively simple. Have a good idea, determine what type of effort you will mount (examples include reward/premium based campaigns, equity projects, and charity efforts), tell a good story, get people to share the message online, and rake in the cash! Of course, it is far from that easy. Each of the steps just listed has its own challenges and putting them all together may not bring the hoped for results. Kickstarter (see below for more information) notes that about 12% of projects never raise a penny, and most of their successful efforts have brought in under $10,000 – usually by design. The company also notes that nearly 80% of their hosted projects raise more than 20% of their goal amounts.

These concerns aside, crowdfunding has been used successfully by artists, filmmakers, and entrepreneurs of all stripes. A few campaigns have been singularly successful. In 2012, the Pebble Watch attracted more than $10 million in donations, and an online game development company is currently continuing to attract crowdfunded investments which are reportedly in excess of $70 million as of last report.

It does appear that crowdfunding is becoming a well-established means of raising money, and because of this, it is important that nonprofit organizations consider this tool as one which might belong in their toolbox for now and the future. Before you jump in with both feet, here are some considerations.

Evaluate crowdfunding platforms

There are a variety of platforms available for nonprofits to consider using the “host” their fundraising event. The best known of these is probably Kickstarter, which has been the destination for over 80,000 campaigns and has helped raise over $1.6 billion dollars since its establishment in 2009. Other notable platforms include Fundable, Indiegogo, Fundrazr, and SeedInvest, and more platforms are appearing all of the time. Deciding which is right for your nonprofit may require you to do some investigative work, evaluating things like ease of use (for you and your donors), cost, visual appeal, integration with other Social Media platforms and so forth.

Learn the Tricks of Successful Crowdfunding

Telling a good story is crucial to successful crowdfunding, as you may only have one shot at convincing a viewer that your effort is worthy of their contribution. The visitor will want to know what your organization stands for, whether you are viable or not, what you intend to do with the money, and how you will assess and report your successes. Deciding whether, and what you might give out as a premium or reward in exchange for contributions can also be important. Some groups will offer giveaways like t-shirts or ball caps, or written acknowledgment of the contributor, while others rely on the “good feeling” approach that often accompanies charitable donations – the giving of the gift is reward in and of itself.

The biggest contributor to success is attracting eyeballs, since the more visitors to your crowdfunding site, the more likely it is that you will reap rewards. Most organizations will be well advised to insure that they already have an established Social Media plan and presence, including a Twitter account, Facebook page, and LinkedIn presence. Robust email campaigning is also valuable in attracting visitors and ultimately, donors.

If you have access to traditional local media, such as newspapers,  or radio and television outlets, use these as well to announce your fundraising efforts and provide the information consumers need to link to your crowdfunding site. The vast majority of fundraising for most nonprofits is still local despite the ubiquity and universality of the Internet.

Consider Using External Resources

A crowdfunding effort requires a certain level of investment of time, and some funding. One thing many organizations will need to consider is the available resources, particularly human capital, they currently dedicate to fundraising. If you choose to try crowdfunding, who is going to do the work and – more importantly – what will they NOT be doing because of the time commitment to the crowdfunding effort. It might be in a nonprofit’s best interests to outsource the work to a consulting organization rather than divert their in-house experts from other critical tasks.

Of course, nonprofits should stay alert to the seductiveness of fundraising fads. One-off ideas like the “ice bucket challenge” or the Livestrong rubber bracelets are fun and can even make some significant revenue, but these strategies – and crowdfunding may be one of them – do not result in a sustainable funding strategy – and sustainability is a very important part of any nonprofits strategic planning.

If you need to know more, please contact us at Innovaision, and we will be happy to talk to you about the “fitness” of crowdfunding for your nonprofit.

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