This guest blog post was written by TEAMES & CO, which exists to end the practice of “team building,” and instead is committed to a future where all organizations invest in building truly effective teams. Our mission is to develop, equip, and empower exceptional teams that drive revenue and organizational growth by delivering extraordinary customer experiences.
Life-altering earthquakes and devastating volcanic eruptions occur due to the shifting of tectonic plates under our feet. These past two years have felt a lot like our entire world has shifted under our feet. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our society on a truly tectonic scale. While the epicenter was the spring of 2020, the impacts of the virus continue to ripple through our communities with effects akin to earthquake aftershocks.
Everybody has been forced to adapt to our new, and still changing reality, but nobody more than the entrepreneurs whose very livelihoods depend upon a successful navigation of our forever-altered landscape. The skills of adaptation and resilience have always been crucial for the business leaders in our world, but never more than now.
Fortunately, although so much has changed, the actions required to successfully adapt remain consistent.
At TEAMES & CO we believe that the hallmarks of a strong business were not impacted by COVID. Developing a customer-centric strategy and operationalizing that strategy with an effective team remain foundational for business owners.
The focus of this blog is to provide several tactical steps you can take to reevaluate your own footing and to give yourself the best shot of sustaining success into the future.
As leaders so deeply embedded within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, InBIA members have the unique opportunity to model the very practices that they teach their entrepreneurs.
Ready to jump in? Let’s go.
Evaluating the Customer-Centricity of your Organization:
As entrepreneurial leaders, you doubtless spend a good deal of time coaching the founders you serve to better understand their customers. Taking a step back, honestly consider how well you have followed your own advice. What steps have you taken to understand the shifting needs of your customers?
We recommend deploying tried but true tactics to evaluate the current state of your organization.
First, we believe that few things in this world can more powerful than simple conversations. Develop a simple interview guide and go talk to your customers. Seek to understand their worlds more deeply. What’s changed in their lives since the outbreak of COVID? What’s stayed the same? How have their lives improved, and how have they become more difficult? When gathering this type of qualitative data, be sure to use your interview guide as a tool, but don’t be trapped by viewing your pre-developed questions as constraints. Feel free to let the conversation go where it naturally goes. Authentic conversations generally yield stronger data than overly prescribed conversations.
Broadly speaking, qualitative data allows you to go deep. However, it’s usually impossible to have deep and substantive conversations with everybody from whom you’d like to gather information. After developing hypotheses about your customer base, we recommend using quantitative tools – like a survey – to test those hypotheses. Quantitative data is invaluable as it allows you to understand the attitudes and opinions of a broad-base of your customers.
When developing a quantitative study, be sure that you’re asking questions tailored to help you better understand not only your customers’ perspectives on the services you offer today, but how they would like to see you evolve in the future.
Finally, after you’ve leveraged both qualitative and quantitative methods to engage your customers, we recommend distilling the information down to themes that you can use as inputs to the development of a new organizational strategy (if needed), or to adjust your existing strategy (if a total strategic overhaul isn’t needed).
Strategy begins with a strong understanding of your customer, and of your competitive market. It requires you to understand exactly what customer needs you’re serving and how you do so in a way that’s differentiated from others in the market.
At TEAMES & CO, we suggest that a strategic plan has three core components: Guiding Statements, Strategic Imperatives, and Strategic Objectives.
Guiding statements include an organizations Vision Statement, Mission Statement, Values, and Guiding Principles (note: not every organization needs to have all of these). In short, your guiding statements represent the “North Star” that your organization is moving towards. With a comprehensive view of your competitive market, and with the insights that you’ve gained from your customer discovery, you’ll be well positioned to evaluate if your current guiding statements remain appropriate, or whether they need edits to be effective for 2021 and beyond.
Strategic Imperatives logically follow from the Guiding Statements. In short, a Strategic Imperative is a customer focused “imperative” that you believe your organization must achieve in the strategic planning period (usually a year to three years) to deliver value to you your customer/client/member. We recommend that an organization work toward two to three of these customer imperatives within their strategic planning period. Consider a few examples:
- In order to serve our core customer, we must develop and launch a product with benefits X,Y, and Z by Q2 of 2022.
- In order to serve our core customer, we must expand our available office space by X% with X timeframe.
- In order to serve our core customer, we must convert to offer a fully digital version of our flagship product before the end of the year.
Just as Strategic Imperatives logically follow from Guiding Statements, Strategic Objectives logically follow from Strategic Imperatives. Strategic Objectives are inwardly focused – they are the things that your business needs to fulfill the Strategic Imperatives. A helpful analogy is to think of an oxygen mask on an airplane. Strategic Objectives represent you putting on your own oxygen mask, thereby ensuring that you are healthy enough to take care of others. Strategic Imperatives represent you helping your neighbor put on his or her oxygen mask. There can be any number of categories of Strategic Objectives, but we generally use four using the following template:
- Financial Objectives: In order for us to accomplish our Strategic Imperatives, we must meet financial goals A, B, and C.
- Team Objectives: In order for us to accomplish our Strategic Imperatives, we must expand our development team by 12 people with an equal split between back-end and front-end developers.
- Process Objectives: In order for us to accomplish our Strategic Imperatives, we must modernize our claims-handling process.
- Partnership Objectives: In order for us to accomplish our Strategic Imperatives, we must develop a rev-share partnership with Company X, which has a significant presence in our expansion category.
At the end of the day, a full strategic plan should be able to be distilled down to a single page with the Guiding Statements on the top, supported by your customer focused Strategic Imperatives, supported by your internally focused Strategic Objectives.
If you’re interested in learning more about Strategic Planning, check out this link to our podcast on the topic.
Operationalizing That Strategy with an Effective Team:
After you’ve developed a customer-centric strategy, it’s mission critical to equip your team to be effective in operationalizing that strategy. There’s a lot that goes into doing this effectively, but generally speaking we recommend leveraging a tool like a Team Assimilation activity to gather feedback from your team, in much the same way that you just gathered information from your customers.
A team assimilation is a dedicated activity in which you enlist a third party to facilitate a dedicated working session with your team to understand what’s currently working well, what’s not, and how they’d recommend adjusting team norms to meet their current needs. Working with a third party is important because many team members don’t feel comfortable being totally and 100% candid with the boss in the room! It’s the job of the facilitator to collect the relevant feedback and provide you with anonymized and themed feedback from your team that you can use to begin the process of developing, or adjusting, team norms to fit the current needs of your team.
When establishing team norms, you should consider topics like:
- Location: Does the team prefer fully remote work? Fully in-office work? A hybrid between in-person and remote work?
- Communication: When and how should various forms of communication occur? Is the weekly huddle at the beginning of the week effective? Should you rely more heavily on email to share certain kinds of information with the team?
- Organizational Structure: Are more people needed in order to support the development of a new process? Should members of Team A be cross trained to provide more support for Team B in areas of high demand?
- Training, Development, and Tools: Does the team have the training that they need to be effective? Is there a tool that would support a more effective process?
In a world that’s been marked by so much rapid change, we find it comforting that tried and true practices – like talking to your customers, and really listening to your employees – remain as the staples required to run a successful business. In fact, those same fundamental practices are even more necessary now than they have been at any other point in our lifetime.
We’ll leave you to consider one simple, but poignant question. Are you practicing the same messages that you’re preaching to the companies you serve? If not, consider implementing a few of the practices discussed in this short blog. Adding one or two to your current process can help you and your team consistently improve and adjust to a changing environment.
About the Contributing Author – TEAMES & CO
TEAMES & CO exists to end the practice of “team building”, and instead are committed to a future where all organizations invest in building truly effective teams. Our mission is to develop, equip, and empower exceptional teams that drive revenue and organizational growth by delivering extraordinary customer experiences.
We specialize in partnering with organizations to develop customer-centric strategies, and in creating operational plans that “ladder-up” to support those strategies. Our work is driven by the idea that effective teams deliver memorable customer experiences and exceptional business results. As such, we help leaders develop truly effective teams through individual organizational assessments and operational implementations.
We are also excited to be launching an online learning platform called TEAMES Global, where we teach self-contained online courses for those organizations who are interested in upskilling their teams with courses like Becoming an Effective First Time Leader, or Moving from Ownership to Action.
Finally, we have a podcast called Building Teams with TEAMES & CO where we uncover the wisdom of leaders across organization and functional areas in candid, honest, and impactful conversations on how they empower their teams and help them reach their goals!
For inquiries, please reach out to us to schedule a free consultation.