Who Should be on your Team for a Next Phase Growth?

Have you ever been stuck with a new plan or idea that seems so right but, somehow, once executed your program or organization doesn’t look all that different from before? I have. And so have the clients I try to help. 

 Last week, when I sat with the senior leadership of an association admiring the new model we had developed for the organization, I was asked about what the first steps in execution might be.  I started rattling off yet another list of steps I thought would catapult them into radical innovation: 

 Engage member groups in the pursuit of solutions they are invested in! Pilot test with customer communities in place of rigid strategic planning! Re-focus and re-invent customer relationships as the platform for growth rather than design new programs!...

Something was still missing though, I thought. And then it struck me: People!  I hadn’t thought of people as the make-or-break drivers of success.


Were there employees with strong “people skills” that were capable of engaging, motivating, bringing together and developing customers and communities?  I wasn’t sure.  What I had seen people do was manage programs and services but not develop, collaborate and build relationships with members/customers. 

Were there employees with market instincts that could identify and quickly seize emerging opportunities; decipher what “keeps customers up at night” before these customers were even fully aware themselves?  It seemed that the association mainly relied on their own ideas and processes to design programs, with some input from members through surveys about product needs and preferences among the association's offerings.  

Was the association capable of thinking in terms of solutions rather than individual programs/benefits/products?  It did not seem so.  Given a strategic problem in an exercise a day earlier,  they all came up with tactical improvements or passive information in lieu of strategic solutions—how to get around office politics, hasten approval, access the right information rather than how to bring about culture change, re-configure processes, come up with new value propositions or add a new service in order to increase the value of passive information. 

This is because bureaucratic thinking and ways of doing things dominate almost all our institutions. To one degree or another we are all wired to this thinking – the search for perfect plans, processes and systems; the avoidance of the messy and unpredictable and reluctance to trust gut instincts and common sense unless they have a name and category -- customer churn! Gap analysis! Value mapping!

The point is that executing a new model, program or strategy that breaks from “business as usual” and has a chance of giving you a new competitive edge and market positioning, needs to start with the people, especially those in key leadership roles.  Ideas and plans do not automatically translate into action once completed and announced.   Who are the people you want on your team on a journey from product-based bureaucracies to customer-centered services that resonate with your times and markets?

This is how a community called, Shifting to 21st Century Thinking describes the kind of people true knowledge age organizations need--hat it calls “knowledge age worker-citizens:” 

 “[They] need to be able to locate, assess, and represent new information quickly. They need to be able to communicate this to others, and to be able to work productively in collaborations with others. They need to be adaptable, creative and innovative, and to be able to understand things at a ‘systems’ or big picture’ level. Most importantly, they need to be to think and learn for themselves, sometimes with the help of external authorities and/or systems of rules, but, more often, without this help.” 

 Below is a thumbnail tool you can use for a quick assessment of “knowledge age” capita in your organization or division. 


Do your   staff, peers, board and other leaders:


  •   “Get” what makes a member or   customer “tick” without just   relying on past knowledge or data?




  •   Care intensely about finding out?




  •   Look for information and ideas   outside the “echo chamber”   of the association world?




  •   Have the ability to delve deeply   into the roots of a   problem with fresh eyes rather than offer pat   explanations—bad   economy; didn’t market enough; lazy members who don’t take   the time to   read about your products, etc.   




  •   Take initiative to learn —investigating   a problem,   identifying innovative practices in other industries,   immersing   themselves in a member segment   to explore how to connect with them on   a deeper level?

When   presented with new insights into their markets   and/or customers which   is the most usual reaction?




  •   We already know this; we know our   members well


  •   This is fascinating.  I want to know more

When   they have an opportunity to talk with, and find   out more about, a   member what are they most likely to do:




  •   Ask them about their preferences   among your association   products and activities and take answers at face value


  •   Try to form an impression of them as   people (outside the   association) and probe beyond their immediate answers to   get to deeper   thoughts, motivations and challenges that are pre-occupying   them.

In the   face of criticism by members, which reaction is   the most   characteristic?


  •   Let us write to them and explain why   their perception is   wrong/make them aware of all the programs in this area   they must have   apparently missed.


  •     We   were unaware there was a problem. Let’s invite   a few of these members for a   conversation so we can understand what   they mean and, if there is a problem,   let’s include them in finding   solution

In   light of a new type of customer need or market opportunity   that does   appear to automatically fit with your present categories, which is   the   most likely response:




  •     Interesting   but does not fit with our mission.    What does this have to do with us? This is   not what we do or   offer.


  •   If the opportunity and market for it   are as strong as we   think they are, maybe we should consider developing   capabilities for   them or partner with someone who already has them.

Are the people on your team the leaders you need to take you to your destination? If not, how can you balance and develop them? 

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