Market leaders are extremists

No lack of ambitions
When you read the annual reports or websites of companies, you will notice that there is no lack of ambitions. Just see how often you come across the following phrase: “Company X has a leading position…”, “Company Y is the market leader in….”.

There are, of course, more companies with the ambition to be a market leader than there are actually market leaders. After all, it is easier to declare yourself the market leader than to actually be it. But responsive organizations grow from within, with self-awareness and confidence. It is good to have a solid ambition, but with that comes the question of what the ambition of your organization means in practice.

The game and the rules
Long ago, after I had ended a relationship, a good friend gave me a book as an uplifting gesture: ‘If love is a game, these are the rules’. The writer, Chérie Carter-Scott, approached the subject like a game. Assuming that understanding and applying the rules of the game will increase your chances of lasting success in love and relationships. In the context of entrepreneurship, this is an interesting perspective: if ‘market leadership’ is the game, what are the rules? And are you willing to do what it takes to realize your ambitions?

Mercilessly hard
Companies that are leading in their market (segment) come in many shapes and sizes. A great diversity is possible in the way in which market leadership is shaped – in terms of market share, quality, turnover, cost leadership, service or innovation. In that respect, the first rule is that market leaders find and go their own way. Heading for their own, unique, vision of the products and services they provide. That is the starting point for exceptional results that ultimately lead to market leadership. But this requires a quality that is just as important: the ability to do it. That means sticking mercilessly to that vision and the principles of quality. To the extreme.

Extremists
In our earlier blog ‘The blessings of micromanagement’ we already discussed that extreme attention to detail leads to extreme quality. You could say that market leaders are extremists. In the good sense of the word.

For example, Djops is an employment agency with its own vision on quality: the company wants to be the best and strives that customers and temporary workers experience this every time. That is why, for example, every temporary worker is personally brought to the customer by a Djops employee at the start of an assignment. To ensure that everything is in order for a good execution of the work. Employees are therefore endlessly pointed out how important it is to always fulfill the quality promise (‘starting inside means winning outside’ is the motto). That extra attention takes a lot of effort and energy. Every day. But it leads to distinctive quality that is experienced. As one client put it: “Temporary workers often complain about their employment agency, but never about Djops”.

Steve Jobs is known to have had an extreme vision vision on design: the inside of a PC must also be visually well designed and neatly arranged. Does it matter? Yes, because “mercilessly” following this rule contributes to the best possible user experience; even when you have to open your PC once, the product looks great. Which is fully aligned with the vision and mission of the company: to realize the best user experience, by providing the best service and fantastic products.

Jumbo Supermarkets goes very far when it comes to customer service: at the start of the supermarket chain, they investigated the main reasons for dissatisfaction among supermarket customers. It turned out there were seven. Waiting times at the checkout, for example. Or a large assortment, but just not the one brand that you like. Jumbo turned these ‘dissatisfiers’ around and turned them into seven ‘customer certainties’. Some of these are extreme from a traditional retailer’s point of view. If one customer wants a product of a specific brand that is not sold, it will be bought specifically for that person. And are you number four in line at the cash register when not all cash registers are open? Then you get your groceries for free! Jumbo’s extreme behavior when it comes to service and exceeding customer expectations has contributed to the supermarket fast growth for years.

New Year’s resolutions
It takes a lot of effort to realize extreme ambitions – whether you are an employment agency, a computer manufacturer or supermarket. But it always delivers distinctiveness that pays off in market position and growth.

This requires more than that unique vision or that far-reaching idea: the discipline and the ability to actually do it.

In other words, the most important rules of the game ‘Market leadership’ are comparable to the annual good intentions: you should not only have them, but above all: follow through. Every day.

Moving As One Logo

Workshop The Art of Moving As One

There is a growing need among business leaders for insights and inspiration on how their company could become Responsive and organize for success. Our Workshop ‘ The Art Of Moving As One’ does just that.

The Art Of Moving As One is a modular workshop that could be brought to your organization either as an interactive presentation of 60 – 90 minutes or as a full four-hour workshop that includes break-out sessions and sharing of insights and inspiration among the participants.

The program of the workshop will be tailored to your organization’s specific situation and needs. It takes the participants through the following topics:

Part I: Management As We Know It

  1. Conventional ways of organizing and managing. How do they work? What are their assumptions and starting points?
  2. Why and how have these ways of organizing and managing arisen? Here we deep-dive into the last 3,000 years of cultural history to explain how unconscious imprints influence us throughout our existence and build organizations built on fear, competition and impulses to control.
  3. Why are these conventional ways of organizing and managing less and less effective? What are the symptoms? Why do they cause employees to generally be non-engaged? How does it hamper change for the better?

Part II Why is change so difficult?
Roughly 70% of transformations fail. Whether we’d look at Mergers and Acquisitions, Cultural Change Programs, large ICT investments, Infrastructure projects – the majority fall dramatically short or fails all together. This part of the workshop explains why change is so hard – if not impossible – to manage. We do this on two levels: that of the individual and that of the group or team.

Part III How could we organize for success?

  1. This part starts with inspiring examples of organizations that have taken the leap and Have become Responsive. Organization that are coherent in their development, learning and growth, because the adapt almost organically to their environment while at the same time delivering according to their vision and purpose.
  2. What are their characteristics, how do they collaborate, decide, lead, resolve dilemmas?
  3. The foundation: vision, mission and unique potential. Although most organizations do have visions and missions, in most cases they are not used for what they are meant to and, hence, are not powerful: to provide a clear direction and strong energy to the stakeholders involved and to hold a compelling appeal to (future) employees and (prospective) customers. Unfortunately, the potential of authentic visions and unique missions is often underestimated which leads most of them to be no more than correct but generic statements that do not generate much of a stir among its stakeholders.
  4. How to build such an organization? This section discusses starting points and natural principles that help individuals and teams find their flow and come into their own. A straightforward model, peppered with surprising and inspiring examples.

The workshop holds many examples and case-studies (successes, failures, in- and out-of-the-box), history, society and science and has continuous interaction with the audience.

Knowing What To Do

As we discussed on the page ‘Get Moving’, there are specific factors that inhibit coherence in organizations. In order for our plans to succeed, we need to organize for success. This comes down to making sure there is alignment and focus. We also want to ensure that the required effort can be pulled off by the team.

Insights
How do we gain insight in these parameters to the extent that  everybody knows where they are now and what needs to be done next? In essence we want to have insights like:

  • ‘John has too much on his plate. We need to sit with him and understand how we can help him.’
  • ‘Team B is well aligned with the company objectives, but they are not aligned among themselves on their priorities. Let’s get together and resolve this first.’
  • ‘The Business Development Team is moving too fast on lead generation, since ICT isn’t ready for the CRM rollout, yet. We should  align them with ICT and alter their priorities for the coming quarter’.

Ask everyone involved
How do we arrive at these insights? We do so by asking all the people involved. By asking we engage people in the movement we want to create.

As an example, let us assume management wants to improve the  effectiveness of one or more teams. For the sake of this example, we use six priorities that management deems relevant. Three priorities for individuals to thrive in their team and three for team effectiveness:

Individual:

  1. To what extent are your personal objectives taken into account in your work?
  2. To what extent is it known which skills and talents you want to develop?
  3. How do you deal with deadlines?

Team:

  1. To what extent does the team have objectives?
  2. To what extent is there a clear division of roles, responsibilities and tasks in the team?
  3. Does the team meet to discuss status and progress?

There either is a natural order in these priorities, or an order should be set. E.g. for the individuals we could agree that their personal objectives should be reckoned with first. On team level: without objectives there is no need to have a team. Et cetera.

For the purpose of engaging everybody involved, we ask everybody about these priorities. Since we want to gain specific insights for concrete actions, we ask for facts or verifiable behavior. In the questions we incorporate the maturity levels that we have in mind for the team and our organization. Last, but not least, we ask people for the status now and the status they want to have arrived at in the near future, for example six months from now.

A typical question would look like this example: 

Note that we can work with up to five maturity levels, however three appears to be the most practical number to work with.

According to the person in this example, there are team objectives and they have been shared. However, he thinks the team should step up in the coming six months by making it clear how his role contributes to the team objectives – the highest maturity level in this example.

Every person in the team can indicate where he or she is at, and where he/she wants to be six months from now (or two or three, depending on the rhythm you want the change to occur at). Now we can have an aggregate understanding where the individuals and team are and what needs to be done, for example: 

  • ‘Within the team there is little alignment on the priorities to work on.’
  • ‘Suzy has reached the highest maturity level in dealing with.’ deadlines. She can share her expertise with John, who is lagging.’
  • ‘There is clarity on the team objectives, yet the division of roles is not fully clear.’

How to lead and on what
By getting this information, leadership now gets a grip on how to lead and on what. For example if the team is well aligned on their priorities, but not in agreement with leadership’s priorities, leadership should take a different action compared to when the team does agree with them. In the latter case, there is no need to hold back: everybody is on the same song sheet so let’s move forward! In the former case there is a need for clear communication. Maybe there is a conflict that needs resolution!

Engage everyone involved 
In order to engage everyone, we actually ask everyone involved. All of them? Yes. But wouldn’t it be cumbersome and time consuming to get  all the answers and process them? Not if you use Artificial Intelligence, let algorithms do that work and present you the dashboard, on all levels of granularity – in real-time! 

The Praioritize platform, developed by our partner Transparency Lab,  does all that. It automates all the tasks involved in measuring and reporting on the change progress. You don’t need to wait until all responses are in and you don’t need people to process responses – the platform does all that in real-time, through 360º input from every person involved. The platform gives insight on levels of agreement and calculates priorities to work on for the organization, the teams and all individuals. Management of course ultimately decides on these priorities, and is supported by the platform in knowing whether the effort required is feasible and the capacity in the team is sufficient.

Knowing what to do…
In case of this example, the plan and priorities for Team A in the coming six months could now be assessed as follows:

  1. Personal objectives of everybody discussed and documented (highest maturity level 3).
  2. Development of skills and talents of everybody discussed with manager (maturity level 2).
  3. Team objectives: clear and documented and for everybody involved it is clear how their role contributes to the objectives (maturity level 3).

Note that of the six priorities dealt with in the questionnaire management has chosen three to focus on in the coming period. That is because, based on the algorithms of the Praioritize platform they know that this is a feasible amount of priorities (focus), the effort of which can be borne by the team and there is sufficient capacity within the team to pull this off.

Dashboards on every level
The platform provides dashboards on every level. This means that every individual has access to the information relevant to his/her performance (where am I, what do I need to do next?, who can help me?), every team leader has insight on team level and the board of management has a comprehensive overview, including insights on how teams are progressing together.

The Inside-Out Paradox

Inside-out…
Responsive organizations have a strong focus on their people and relationships. They emphasize that it is the people in the company who create value – not the strategy. In other words: effective teams build strong companies. Growth happens from the inside-out.

…or outside-in?
Regularly, we are asked whether this contradicts the notion that a business must be focused first and foremost on its customers – ‘the outside’? Are their requirements not the starting points for change and innovation?

The paradox
It’s a very good question and it points to what could be called the ‘inside-out paradox’. Steve Jobs once pointed to it when he said that ‘people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.’ What the statement emphasizes, is that people know what they want, based on the known options. Whether as consumer or industrial buyer, they know what they want based on what they have seen and experienced in the past. They generally are not in a position to understand the full range of innovative possibilities of all products and services they use.

And that is where the expertise and creativity of your company comes in.

Case in point…
Market research – which is an ‘outside-in’ process – done before 1880 on lighting would not have revealed that people would want electric light bulbs. They would probably have asked for candles that lasted longer, produced less smoke and maybe smell less. Of course this is a classic and compelling example. Yet there are numerous other examples, big and small, where the thinking and collaboration of people in an organization created something better and compelling for customers. Think about examples like the internet, harvesting machines, industrial cleaning services, medical devices or accountancy services. In every market segment there have been instances where the perspective on the customers’ problem, along with the creativity and persistence of people in the organization, resulted in innovations and solutions ‘beyond the customers’ demands’.  

Similarity of competition
Why is it that in many markets most competitors look similar? This is, among others, because in the outside-in approach, the emphasis is on delivering what ‘the customer wants’. Or on promising what the company thinks ‘the customer wants to hear’. Although it can be tempting, it is not genuine. Authenticity gets lost and competitors start to look alike. If this happens, the only differentiator becomes the pricing of products and services. A differentiator that eats away at long-term competitiveness.

Although knowing what customers want is relevant, focusing too much on it risks that companies overlook their own expertise and creativity. The reason they were founded once, was because of the belief that they had something special to offer. As every company is unique, this most likely is still the case and should not be forgotten.

The ultimate differentiator
Working ‘inside-out‘ deliberately deploys the ultimate differentiator of any organization: its people. This leads to stronger relationships within the organization. Information is shared better across teams, enabling them to better sense signals from the outside and use these creatively for new solutions.

In responsive organizations, problem solving capacity and creativity are better mobilized. Among others through better collaboration across departments, geographical areas and different layers in the organization. Significant value is added to ‘what the customer wants’. As a result, better solutions emerge that the customers weren’t aware of. What is delivered becomes more genuine and different from the competition. Working from the inside-out improves the relationship and interaction with the outside world.

Growth from the inside-out will be more gratifying for the people involved and, ultimately, delivers a stronger brand. And this is just what happens in responsive organizations: they have a better sense of what their customers need, because of their strong self-awareness (see the blog: Vision and Mission) and strong collaboration – internally and externally. They ‘sense’ beyond customers’ requirements and have a deeper understanding of their needs than those customers might have themselves. As a consequence, they make better use of the unique problem solving capacity of their whole organization. They respond better and more creatively with products, services and innovations. Ultimately, this improves the experience of the market ‘outside’.

Case in point...
A manufacturer and distributor of industrial equipment worked with us to improve their strategy. The whole company was involved. One of the behavioral principles that was introduced, was that ‘every customer interaction should be proof that we are better than the competition’. The CEO asked of every department that they consider how they could improve customer interactions in that spirit.

Within the whole change process, the Accounts Receivables department was in the process of improving working capital by resolving delays in customer payments. Getting your money in time from customers can be a delicate balancing act. The people of the department came up with an original approach: they would call up every customer that was late in their payments, kindly explain that they appreciated the relationship, yet needed timely payments for their cash flow. With every customer it was discussed and agreed when payment would take place. As soon as any customer had made their payment according to the arrangement, the Accounts Receivables department would send them a small present as token of appreciation along with a letter, stating how much they valued the customer’s business and relationship.

This surprised the customers in unexpected and positive ways. The initiative by the department had a significant effect on the brand reputation and the relationships with the customers. Not to mention the effect it had on the engagement of the people in the Accounts Receivables department.

This case demonstrates that the creative potential of an organization increases when people are truly engaged and connected.

Inside-Out Marketing Podcast

This week Theo Kroese had the pleasure of speaking with Matthew Powell of the marketing research agency B2B International about Marketing from the Inside-Out for their podcast ‘Insights Inside’. 

Our conversation focused around the importance of culture and people in bringing brand experiences that equal the brand promise. We discussed topics like:

  • bringing a brand and customer experience to life through a common goal
  • how B2B businesses can apply it, particularly at the moment whilst working from home
  • how they can overcome pitfalls and challenges
  • what this all means for businesses during times of great uncertainty
  • and how it can help businesses navigate their way out of this crisis

Listen to the full podcast by clicking on the image, or the links to Spotify and Apple Podcast below.

If you have a moment to listen, we’d like to know your feedback and ideas.

Spotify podcast link
Apple podcast link