The Organizational Strategist

January 26, 2010

The key to your introductions is a Unique Value Proposition


-Introduction-

Have you ever had a hard time understanding why a corporate project is happening? You may have wondered the following questions. What are the benefits? Why is it happening at this time? How come I have been asked to be involved? In another instance, you might be talking with someone new that you met at a party, as a part of a networking event, in an interview or even just chatting around the water cooler, and, after ten minutes of taking, you do not know what they actually do for your organization. That can be frustrating and awkward for everyone involved. Having a clear message to describe a project, goal, or even yourself can be very helpful for making a good impression, standing out, and articulating value. This is where having a unique value proposition can really help.

-About Unique Value Propositions-

Recently I was asked what I can give that no one else can give. I will admit that I was taken aback and did not respond well. Comparing myself with all of humanity’s capability and experience made me think that I did not have much to offer. I’m not arrogant enough to think that I can give something that no one else can give. However, that was probably not the true intent of the inquiry. Ideally, I would have described the unique value that I do offer without stating I am somehow better than everyone else.

What I could’ve brought up would be what I feel I do particularly well. Unfortunately, I find it hard to advertise for myself. I do believe in myself and am confident in my abilities. However, I try to think through my actions, words, and choices appropriately, respectfully, and truthfully. This can create a quandary in interviews, networking and other areas where a form of competition comes about. It’s especially true when an interviewer asks you what makes you the best candidate.

Before doing an informational interview with an alumnus while doing my MBA at Weatherhead, the term of UVP was unknown to me. UVP stands for Unique Value Proposition. It is a marketing term that is also known as Unique Selling Proposition (USP). It can be used for all sorts of scenarios. Project initiatives, job interviews, networking, investment pitches, stakeholder communications and more can all benefit from having one or more simple, concise, and powerful UVPs. Having multiple UVPs can help where there are different values to articulate. For example, it would be helpful for me to articulate what my UVP is as an organizational strategist, as a Web 2.0 practitioner and consultant, and as a Gen Y researcher. These three areas are interests of mine, but often create different conversational paths due to the varied topics.

-Creating a Unique Value Proposition-

Here are some simple steps and tips to creating an individual’s UVP. To create a UVP for a product, project, initiative or other method, a very similar process can be followed.

1) List who you want to talk with: this will help determine how many UVPs you will need and the directions you can take your UVP(s)

2) List descriptions of your strengths, unique experiences, and achievements: this will provide the meat of the value portion of your UVP

3) List the stakeholders from step #1: having this list helps identify if there are special circumstances or other nuances you need to address (Need help identifying stakeholders? Check out this earlier blog article)

4) Pick the best elements of what sets you apart: this should cover the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) relating to the stakeholders you just identified

5) Combine it all into a short, pithy, and powerful sentence or phrase: this is where it all comes together in a concise, easy to understand sentence

Tips for UVPs:

– Value comes first. Make sure yours is clear. If there is no value to the proposition, it won’t matter how unique it is.

– Put your UVP into terms that your audience will understand. If it is too technical, has too many buzz words or simply does not make sense, it will not help. If you can articulate your UVP in the same way that they would, that’s marvelous.

– Practice it so that it becomes natural, adaptable, and flows into your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a scalable introduction to a person, project or initiative. The UVP can be the tag line for your elevator pitch.

– Make your UVP interesting and short. These are not speeches, nor do they give all the details. Ideally, after someone hears your UVP, they would want to hear your full elevator pitch. That should lead into a rich discussion.

– For a longer description of UVPs and more details, you can search the web. There are a lot of articles on this and similar topics. Here are a couple of articles that I found to be more informative and helpful: Infomarketerzone article and Summit Insight blog post.

Example UVP:

“The combination of cutting edge tech, business, and OD degrees with Fortune 50 experience make me uniquely positioned to strategically and effectively lead Gen Y initiatives.” 

-Closing-

There are many uses for your unique value proposition. I have found them a good fit for managerial updates and suggested talking points for their teams, website content, email tag lines, and the all important topic of What’s In It For Me(WIIFM) for each stakeholder group. A UVP should resonate with sponsors, leaders, managers, and your specialist workers. Please comment to share your own UVPs and thoughts. Good luck with your efforts!

-Links-

Article that has tips for stakeholder mapping: https://whittblog.wordpress.com/2010/01/02/accelerating-your-strategic-projects-thru-whole-system-involvement/

Infomarketerzone article: http://www.infomarketerszone.com/public/182.cfm

Summit Insight blog post: http://www.summitinsight.com/blogviewd.asp?id=91

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January 20, 2010

Achieving Alignment & Balance through Strategic Planning


-Introduction-

It’s the time of year again for New Year’s resolutions, performance management, expectation setting, and business goal setting. In their own way, those pursuits are setting up and aligning strategy. Such aspirations will range from bottom line monetary improvements, to marketplace innovations, to work/life balance, to personal happiness and well being.

Some of my own goals include the following:

  • Cultivate meaningful, positive relationships in my Seattle network by meeting 2+ people a week
  • Create 3+ articles per month for this blog and grow the readership (suggestions welcome!)
  • Overcome the challenging economic circumstances and find my way to a whole new professional adventure this year

A new year brings new possibilities and new dreams to everyone who sets their mind to doing so. It is very important to grasp onto these opportunities while they are knocking at your door. Be sure to keep in mind that opportunities can be entirely new or part of an ongoing series of pursuits.

-Maintain the Investment Balance of Sustaining versus Emerging-

When researching and plotting out the organizational alignment of resources and capabilities to win in the market, i.e. setting your organizational strategy, understand that there needs to be a balance. That balance should take place among your initiatives to sustain momentum and trying something entirely new. The proper balance will vary based upon your or your organizational needs. However, either extreme of the spectrum (focusing solely on emerging investments with no existing investment maintenance or sustaining existing investments and not investing in future potential) can lead to disaster.

Here are some scenarios:

  • The rapid scale creation and market of hard disks is a good example. The pace of creation and disruptive inventions was so great that every company creating new disks had to invest heavily in constantly improving or replacing their disk offerings. Many disk creating companies died off because they could not keep up with the pace of technological change and breakthrough. Disk drives were constantly being replaced. I remember zip disks, laser disks, optical drives, and other technologies that sounded very promising, but were replaced by CD ROMs, DVDs, and others as time went by.
  • Another example that comes to mind is the competition of American made automobiles against the foreign imports, especially Asian cars. This is a much more drawn out one as it took more years to gradually take effect. Regardless, we’ve seen Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan, and others gradually phase out or decrease sales of Ford, Dodge, and others because of their better prices, longevity, warranties, and so on. American auto makers tried to mimic their production system, which helped but ultimately only delayed the phasing out because of the continuing improvement and innovation that Toyota and others employed. Here the American car companies did not invest enough in new technologies to overcome the operational excellence and innovation of the international competition.
  • For company examples of the past decade, check out this interesting blog post from the Harvard Business Review.

You need a pipeline of things to come; to keep fresh, stay agile, and keep competing with other organizations. So that thought should always be present when doing strategic planning and goal setting. However, don’t neglect the good things you already have going. Like strength based change, it’s good to continually cultivate your strengths to make the most of them. There is a plethora of good information on finding the right kind of balance needed. For example, Clayton Christensen has written some excellent books on this kind of subject. The Innovator’s Dilemma and Innovator’s Solution are examples of such books. Generally speaking, I’ve found that the faster an industry changes, the more investment needs to be made for innovating. This may sound rather simple, but it can be really hard to let go of or trim the budget of the products/services that have become the seasoned “cash cows” of an organization in order to pave the way to the future. Always be thinking about the long term sustainability of yourself and organization (people, planet, and profit) and how the ever changing market environment needs and how your organization can be adaptable.

-Conclusion-

I am personally inspired by stories of courage and action. In fact, I made that a focus of my MBA class graduation speech. Similar to that messaging, know that it takes courage to make the big gains, try new things, and embark on new adventures. Taking risks does not always pay off. Yet, it may be an even bigger risk to the long term sustainability of an organization to take no risks at all. I encourage everyone to take the time to find the right balance of pursuing innovation, continual improvement in operations, and market fit. I look forward to hearing your stories of inspiration, courage and action.

Links:

Harvard Business Review blog: http://blogs.hbr.org/anthony/2010/01/disruptors_of_the_decade_the_r.html

My graduation speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJa45jC7PL0

January 13, 2010

Whole System Sustainability – Bringing Together Stakeholders to Generate Action


-Introduction-

  Sustainability, renewable and/or alternative energy, the triple bottom line (People, Planet, Profit also known as the three P’s or 3P), and going green or building green all are hot topics right now. They will likely continue to grow in importance with the environment being more prominent in our thoughts and with the economic challenges we all face. Given this increase in both interest and necessity, where does a person or organization as a whole begin to unravel the path to create a more sustainable organization? What can be done? What should be done? How do we find the right steps to take?

-Sustainability & Whole System Involvement-

  It may be shocking, but the answers are all around. With the information age upon us and society’s urge to act in sustainable ways increasing, it is becoming easier to achieve much by acting for a sustainability goal.  As I’ve observed from my own sustainability consulting by facilitating workshops, conducting meetings, and collaboratively designing projects, the primary challenge for both individuals and organizations is a lack of information. Stakeholders of all sorts can help. Just like it’s surprising how often people are open to networking and willing to share their story, so too are organizations willing to partner, provide information and offer advice.

  The information one needs is out there! In my experience, it’s surprisingly easy to make good connections and create new insight once the right people meet up at the right time. They want to be found because they are doing good things for sustainability efforts and doing well as an organization at the same time. So the business enhancing elements are favored as well as the motivation to help out.

  As mentioned in my previous post, whole system involvement for your strategic priorities is very effective and helpful. With sustainability, organizations are still finding their way, trying to understand what ‘sustainability’ means to them, and learning what is available. However, I’ve found that it’s a matter of networking and finding diverse representatives for the varieties of stakeholder groups that makes overcoming challenges much easier than first thought. Non-government organizations, also known as NGOs (like Greenpeace, universities, charitable organizations), local businesses (farmers markets, small manufacturers, unions, professional groups, etc), local and federal government agencies (USDA, chambers of commerce, law enforcement or environmental officials) and, of course, the various stakeholder groups inside your organization should help comprise a whole system initiative.

  The diversity of information and representation can lead to many startling discoveries and partnerships. I have known of and heard about how fantastic new projects are started because the alignment of connections made and ideas generated. Whole systems involvement used to start sustainability initiatives bridges the gaps in information, motivation, and collaboration.

-Summary-

  Whole system involvement makes it so the right people can come to the right place at the right time. These gatherings of the minds and organizations create new dialogue and understanding. Sustainability is very achievable for you and your organization’s efforts. Like climbing a mountain, it takes a series of steps to reach your goal. Sustainability is no different in that regard. Yet, by bringing together the right people, you can learn the easiest, most effective way to the top of that sustainability mountain.

  If you would like to learn more, I have come across a webinar entitled “Sustainability: A Whole System Perspective” that is being offered by one of my instructor/consultant friends, Bonnie Richley, from Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management. Click here for information on her upcoming webinar. I anticipate that she’ll be able to give an elegant and informative take on this same topic.

-Links-

Bonnie Richley’s LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/bonnie-richley-ph-d/8/59/915

Upcoming Webinar on Sustainability & Whole Systems: http://weatherhead.case.edu/about/events/detail.cfm?eid=1470

January 2, 2010

Accelerating your Strategic Projects thru Whole System Involvement


-Introduction-

  Take a few moments to think about a team or group effort that you’ve been involved in that went particularly well because of the right people being involved. Having the right people in place at the right time can drastically speed up a project, in whatever phase it may be in. Now think about the opposite scenario when a group effort took a really long time because of roadblocks like needing approvals, having to wait for a particular person’s or unit’s input, the complexity of needing to involve a huge number of stakeholders, or other problems.

  There are times when slowing down for a moment, allows the organization to speed up overall. Trying to do large scale change in a gradual fashion can seem to take forever. This might be the case because of the time it takes to bring aboard all of the stakeholders, ensure clear and complete communication, or to roll out the changes takes a lot of time, effort, and dedication. By bringing in the whole system to advance a project effort, the complexity and intricacies that can bog down a project are drastically reduced.

-Whole System Involvement-

  By bringing in people from all around the project’s organization as well as any relevant stakeholder groups into the same room at the same time, the whole system becomes involved and great things happen. This incorporation of different people and groups would come in the form of some sort of summit, conference, or workshop. I’ll use the term workshop. Helpful tip – Use the stakeholder groupings of the 4 I’s to help identify which kinds of stakeholders to bring in for the project.

    Interested – Who would be interested in this project?

    Informed – Who would be informed about some or all of the elements of this project?

    Impacted – Who would be impacted throughout the course of this project?

    Influenced – Who would be influenced by this project or who might be influential in implementing it?

The more representation that is involved in the workshop, the more informed, able, and empowered the entire effort can become. As more people become involved, there are a number of benefits:

  • More representation of disparate parts of systemic information can be included. Think about auxiliary business units, specialized areas, and other areas that may have unique input. This also drastically speeds up implementation planning.
  • Communication is simpler, easier, and faster. Any vision, direction, or other communication elements that most or all of the organization would need to know becomes much more effectively understood since the creation, intent, and core of the message would likely be made during the workshop.
  • Planning and empowerment for project implementation is able to be granted quickly. With the decision makers and sponsors being involved in the workshop, project presentations, pitches, and meetings are minimized. That means the people high up are on board with the change initiative at the same time as those who devise, design and implement.
  • New revelations and understanding become possible through the exposure and incorporation of stakeholder interactions that are further away from the known functions. For any given role in an organization, there are functions that are closer and further away. The further the role/function distance that is bridged, the more likely sharing of information can lead to new understanding. A strong proponent of whole system involvement is that a CEO might talk with an assembly line worker, which makes the workshop all the more real and powerful while allowing information sharing and collaboration. Diversity brings many benefits.
  • The importance and belief in the workshop goal(s) is shared by all. With the development that the workshop brings, so too does the understanding and shared importance spread. The diversity of individuals and stakeholder groups helps make sure that the workshop addresses any and all of the important points. That inclusion and collaboration helps foster championship among all present.

-Appreciative Inquiry Summit Usage-

  Appreciative Inquiry (AI) summits utilize whole system involvement as much as possible. The AI interviews work very well for bringing up great ideas and generating a lot of collaborative, positive energy. Summit designs often have one or more rounds of AI interviews where representatives from different stakeholder groups interview each other to bridge the differences among the participants and foster understanding. Due to the infectious energy that AI interviews bring, interviewers often become the biggest proponents of their interviewee’s ideas. With the whole system involvement, the benefits from diversity are increased. From that diversity, the information gathering/sharing is even better.

-Summary-

  It may seem that pulling so many people away from their normal jobs and roles is a crazy thing to do because of the productivity loss that would cause. Yet, if the project initiative is an important one, taking people away from their usual jobs can be well worth the time and effort. As listed above, there are many benefits from the large scale collaboration and involvement of the whole system.

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