For technology users, particularly social media users, 2018 has been a year of awakening. The media began scratching the surface of the dangers of social media with the story of Russian parties influencing the U.S. election. Soon after, a slew of reports followed with details of how Cambridge Analytica used social media data to influence votes in both the United Kingdom and the United States. People were suddenly exposed to the dangers of how easily social media and the algorithms underpinning social platforms can be used to influence other users, and we’re now seeing how widespread the practice has become. Harmless, everyday actions performed by millions of users, such as taking fun surveys, had suddenly become tools for unscrupulous data miners.
The investigation into the Cambridge Analytica scandal was a high point for awareness of privacy breaches in the social media community, but it certainly was not the first. In February 2018, Guillaume Chaslot, a former YouTube employee, went public with his study on YouTube’s algorithms, which found extreme bias in relation to the 2016 election. The study found that 84% of videos recommended by the algorithm were pro-Trump, with only 16% pro-Clinton. Meanwhile, Twitter came under attack as a documentary by Project Veritas purportedly proved political bias in its regulation of its users.
The push for better regulation with regard to how algorithms work and how to protect user privacy has already advanced, with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) governing online data privacy and use of user data having gone into effect in May 2018. However, we contend that while these efforts have been aimed at regulating user data, efforts must be made to regulate algorithms themselves.
Algorithms Are More Than Just Social Media
The truth is, algorithms pervade our lives. They have existed in the systems that run and regulate our lives for decades, performing tasks from a national security early warning system to traffic control systems. More recently, algorithms have found their way into our cars, our homes, and now have tasks as varied as deciding how suitable we are as job candidates or helping to identify health issues.
As with social media, while these algorithms have delivered convenience and usability, they have also failed us. In March and April 2017, Tesla was hit by two lawsuits by citizens claiming that Tesla’s autopilot function was “dangerously defective.” Risk-assessment algorithms regularly used to predict likelihood of reoffending in criminal offenders in six states throughout the United States have been found to be significantly racially biased, resulting in black offenders receiving longer and heavier sentences than their white counterparts. Tay, Microsoft’s machine-learning chatbot, was taken offline within 24 hours of its launch on Twitter after its conversation and language patterns became disturbingly racist.
The risk to users of technology reliant on algorithms is about more than just privacy concerns. There is risk associated with the algorithms themselves — the purpose for which they are built and their error rates in fulfilling these purposes.
We contend that there is a mismatch between the purpose of the algorithms and the rigor with which the algorithms are tested for efficacy, and the impact of a failure in the algorithm. For example, a minor failure in Tesla’s autopilot function to properly operate in certain conditions could result in numerous injuries and deaths if it fails just a fraction of the time. An element of racial bias in algorithms involved in sentencing criminal offenders would reinforce racial discrimination and serve to prevent minor offenders from rehabilitation.
What Do We Do Now?
It’s clear that we have come to the point where the risks of relying on algorithms are becoming too large to ignore. Politicians and journalists have already begun calling for regulation of social media algorithms, even as the platforms continue to mine user data and defend their algorithms. As of May 2018, 33 states in the U.S. had already introduced regulations relating to self-driving cars, but not their algorithms.
But how do we even begin to approach the regulation of a technology that is so widespread and widely used? Are all algorithms equally dangerous? Adding to the complexity of regulation is the fact that algorithms are typically considered proprietary technology, and different algorithms with different uses are governed by different agencies. For example, self-driving cars are governed by transportation authorities, while medical algorithms for disease detection or risk assessment are governed by the Food & Drug Administration. Some tech organizations don’t believe it’s possible to fully regulate algorithms and have argued that this kind of regulation would be a goal that is beyond the capabilities of a government.
An Approach for Assessing and Managing Algorithmic Risks
We propose that a combination of government regulation and self-regulation be introduced as a balanced approach that both protects proprietary assets and helps manage the impact of algorithms on our lives. This approach will also allow for some level of transparency and building an element of trust with the global community.
Government regulation. While algorithms remain valuable proprietary assets for technology companies, there is an inherent need for greater transparency and understanding of how those algorithms work. In his book The Black Box Society, Frank Pasquale recommends allowing a greater role for regulators such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to test algorithms for ethical values such as fairness, social bias, and anti-competitiveness. This should be supported by the requisite funding and would require the ability and willingness to prosecute for ethical violations in the same way that the financial system is regulated. In fact, starting with social media, the FTC has shown a willingness to ensure that algorithms reflect accurate and fair information. For instance, in October 2009, the FTC revised its Endorsement Guides to encompass blogging, and, more recently, the FTC has further flexed its regulatory muscles in the social media sphere, now ensuring that social media influencers comply with these same kinds of regulations.
Regulations to ensure consumer protection from the use of algorithms in technology are on the horizon and cannot come soon enough. In January 2017, the Consumer Product Safety Commission produced reports on the safety of emergent and future technologies, which highlights the state of the art on the use of algorithms to draw insights from consumers or control the behavior of robots and digital assistants. In 2018, the FTC invited public comment and began conducting a series of public hearings on issues arising from the use of digital technologies and algorithms that are likely to help in the development of policies. For example, the FTC received comments from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) on “the consumer welfare implications associated with the use of algorithmic decision tools, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics,” in which the ITIF highlights the inadequacy of existing regulations and the need for regulators to protect individuals from companies using algorithms.
Self-regulation via an industry body and an ethical framework. We recommend that technology companies construct an industry-wide ethical framework that applies to algorithms to address fairness, social bias, and anti-competitiveness. This can be constructed by an industry body tasked with constructing the framework and best practices to be implemented, as well as light enforcement in the form of identifying companies that are aligned with their standards. Examples of successful implementations of a similar approach in other industries are numerous, including the palm oil industry with RSPO certification, the fair trade model in agriculture, and the Made in USA standard.
An industry can use this approach to introduce a method to self-regulate its own proprietary algorithms. This also aligns with the previously proposed approach to government regulation, which requires both self-assessment on the part of the technology firm and enforcement by government regulators.
Self-regulation via a risk assessment and prevention framework. In discussing the risks of technology, in his 2010 book The Technology Trap, L.J. Dumas highlights the need to assess the maximum credible risk of technology used on a high-volume basis. The implication is that, when a technology is used at high volumes, even rare events become more likely to occur.
We propose that technology companies use a similar approach to construct a risk assessment framework to apply to algorithms. The aim is to identify critical risks that take the volume of the algorithm’s users into consideration and assess the likelihood of critical events — that is, events that can be considered disastrous. Companies should use the results of such a framework to construct a comprehensive risk prevention framework to minimize the likelihood and impact of critical events.
As news continues to surface of algorithms exploiting public opinion and the impact of algorithmic failures, the need for regulation becomes clear. Nevertheless, consumer awareness, responsible business practices, and governmental protection are still no match for the threat algorithms present to our privacy and social equality.
Important steps toward upholding the legal and ethical principles of democratic societies in the digital age include organizations’ efforts to incorporate values and transparency into their algorithms, and government regulations that encourage innovation and accountability. Finally, it’s important to delineate clear penalties to those who use algorithms with disregard for or intent to harm.
Regina E. Herzlinger, the Nancy R. McPherson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School
In this Q&A, adapted from a video conversation recorded this summer, Harvard Business School Professor Regina Herzlinger talks with MIT Sloan Management Review contributing editor Steven DeMaio about how companies in the health care industry are teaming up with unlikely collaborators to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and better understand and solve customers’ problems — a topic of interest to innovators in any sector. Herzlinger focuses specifically on partnerships between health retailers and insurers, such as the CVS-Aetna merger and the Walmart-Humana merger that’s in the works (details about these partnerships are evolving rapidly, particularly on the regulatory front). She also explains why hospitals and other providers must raise their game to compete.
MIT Sloan Management Review: Regi, to start, can you give our readers some basic background to explain why retailers like CVS and Walmart are interested in joining forces with large health insurers like Aetna and Humana?
Herzlinger: It’s spelled “Amazon.” Amazon scares the you-know-what out of everybody who might compete with them. And for a long time Amazon was like a shy bride — on again, off again, are they going to enter the pharmaceutical space? They finally did. They bought a company that does mail-order pharmaceuticals. So why is CVS concerned? Well, its pharmaceutical division is highly profitable. And Walmart is also in competition with Amazon, not only in pharmaceuticals, but in many merchandise categories.
So CVS and Walmart thought that by joining with health insurers, they could sell health insurance products in their stores — and they could expand their stores to provide more convenient, higher-quality, lower-cost access to people for health care services. Clearly, you won’t get your brain surgery done at Walmart, but if you have diabetes and you have very challenging daily needs, it could be helpful to go to Walmart, which has 4,800 stores conveniently located. You could go to CVS, which has 10,000 stores conveniently located.
MIT SMR: What’s the advantage for the insurer in merging with a retailer? In particular, I’m thinking of merging with CVS, which is both a pharmacy benefit manager and a health care service provider that offers vaccines and strep tests and other services. Why do insurers want to do this?
Herzlinger: Well, they’re pretty threatened themselves. Insurance profits — which were never that high — have dipped in the past few years. One of the reasons is that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known colloquially as Obamacare, has insisted that insurers pay out a certain percentage of their revenue as medical benefits. How the insurers think about these medical benefits is indicated by what they call them. They call them the “medical loss ratio” — as if you’re losing money by providing health care benefits. Obamacare has required that a minimum of 80%, usually 85%, of revenues be paid out for actual medical expenses. The insurers typically spend much less than that on medical benefits, especially in the individual market — that is, health insurance that’s sold to individuals rather than employers. So they need to lower their costs. One way of doing that is to sell through stores rather than brokers or other intermediaries. They therefore have very good reasons for wanting to merge with retailers.
Florida’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield, called Florida Blue, is the only insurer in Florida that sold Obamacare policies everywhere in the state, so it’s a real mission-driven organization. It started health insurance stores. It has 21 of them. They sell insurance there, but they also provide health care services and have been a phenomenal success.
How would the patients themselves, the consumers, benefit from this relationship? If they shop for insurance in a store, for example — how is that superior to working with a navigator in a state that supplies health care navigation services?
Herzlinger: Well, everybody offers navigation services, whether it’s through the ACA or through commercial insurance. And people have different tastes. Some people may want to go online and use the navigator or similar products that the commercial insurers that are not on the Obamacare platforms use. But people who find buying health insurance confusing — it is, after all, an intricate financial product — may want to go to a store, so they can meet face-to-face with somebody who’s pleasant, informed, and nice. Someone who recognizes them as human beings.
Florida Blue found that many people prefer face-to-face interactions, and in its partnership with CVS, physical stores were structured to respect the preferences of each community. For example, in South Miami they serve Cuban coffee. People who work in those stores are of Cuban heritage and speak the language.
But that’s not all that CVS will do. CVS is transforming itself into a health care store, and it walked the talk: It threw out cigarette sales. That’s $2 billion worth of revenues they lost to make clear they’re concerned with wellness.
In CVS’s 10,000 stores, they now have 1,100 MinuteClinics, which are retail medical centers that provide medical care. And rather than only providing vaccines, which is very important — the rate of vaccination has jumped because it’s so convenient — they’re also going to help monitor chronic diseases, starting with diabetes, which is associated with so many other problems: heart disease, kidney disease, depression, hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, and other chronic diseases with which people need help.
There’s a terrific analysis that shows that people who go to get their chronic disease care at the top quartile of primary care physicians who are not connected with other parts of the health care system have much higher rates of hospitalization and cost about $4,500 more per person. CVS can help with that.
Primary care doctors are also tremendously overloaded and really burned out. CVS and other retailers can help leverage the primary care providers by delivering this kind of monitoring care.
When people get more primary care at a retailer, say, CVS, to manage their chronic diseases, there’s an overall boost in the use of the primary care services, as a recent study of more than a million Aetna enrollees showed. How should the companies that deliver these services — the insurer and the retailer — manage that transition?
Herzlinger: They must have good protocols. And they have to make sure that their medical staff — in the case of CVS, it’s the nurse practitioners, brilliant people who receive extra training to do their job — monitor that the protocols are fulfilled.
There was another study that showed that in three common diseases retail medical centers like CVS provide higher-quality care at a lower cost than emergency rooms and ambulatory care facilities.
I’m not touting CVS, or Walmart, or Walgreens. They’re actually not that great in customer service compared to a supermarket like Publix, a Southern chain that is continuously rated number one. So these retailers will have to up their game to do all of this, but it is not rocket science.
Can they learn from other organizations that have discovered how to do it well?
Herzlinger: There’s a lot to learn. Some people might laugh and say, “Gee whiz, Publix, a supermarket in these retail medical chains?” Well, consumers right now rate health care as the third-worst business sector. They’re very dissatisfied with it. Specifically, they are dissatisfied with having to wait 24 days for an appointment, and when they have an appointment it takes two hours — 20 minutes of which are spent on medical care. So there’s room for improvement.
The heads of CVS and Aetna understand that, so in a joint statement, they said if this merger goes through, they’re going to improve the customer experience. That’s very important. It’s not just retailer buzzwords. It’s making sure that people who need medical care get it promptly, get it in an integrated fashion, get it in a dignified way.
What are the implications of this vertical integration between a retailer and an insurer — and for health systems and care providers like hospitals and physicians? How will a merger like CVS-Aetna, for example, affect those folks?
Herzlinger: They’re kind of going into the business of hospitals, ambulatory care facilities, urgent care facilities, and emergency rooms. That’s good for society, because care will be provided in more cost-effective sites than those. The hospitals that have vertically integrated to have those facilities can do one of two things: Change and recognize that ambulatory care in general is happening less in hospitals, or fight it and simply say, “CVS can’t do brain surgery.”
Some visionary health systems have seen the handwriting on the wall. For example, Geisinger, an innovative health system in northeastern and central Pennsylvania, is building micro-hospitals, which are little hospitals with about eight rooms. The idea is people come there, and if they need an overnight stay, they’re going to be placed in that hospital, but most of the care will be on an ambulatory basis. That’s in contrast to the mega 500-bed hospitals that other systems are still building and that burden the U.S. health care system. A study of why health care costs are so high in the U.S. relative to other countries showed that a major reason is the prices at U.S. hospitals, which dwarf those of other countries.
Is it fair to say that, as insurers and retailers innovate, there will have to be a corollary set of innovative steps from hospitals and providers?
Herzlinger: That’s very well put. When you have competition, when you have different models of care delivery, all boats rise. The retail insurers are going to innovate, and they have to do better at what they do. And the hospitals will have to innovate.
In June, the American Medical Association (AMA) came out with a statement against the CVS-Aetna merger, citing downsides such as increases in drug spending and out-of-pocket patient costs, and higher insurance premiums when competition for insurance in particular markets goes down. Is the AMA missing something?
Herzlinger: The AMA has a point, but not in this case. CVS has managed Aetna’s pharmaceutical benefit service for many years. So this merger is not going to increase their share of pharmaceutical benefit management. The point in this case is a little puzzling, because there will be no change.
The general point, however, that the AMA makes — that when insurers consolidate, premiums go up — that’s virtually indisputable. It is a very serious challenge, and it’s a challenge that the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission need to take seriously.
It is a particular challenge if your physician is in a solo practice or in a little practice with, say, nine other physicians — how are they really going to negotiate effectively with an insurer that’s dominant in their market? So kudos to the AMA for raising the flag on the dangers of health insurance consolidation, but in the CVS-Aetna case, I don’t get it.
Let’s say the CVS-Aetna merger and the Walmart-Humana merger go forward. Could the retailers refuse to offer pharmacy benefit management (PBM) services to insurers they aren’t partnering with? Or even start turning down contracts to fill prescriptions from other insurers’ members?
Herzlinger: Pharmaceutical benefit management is a fixed-cost business. So why would you turn away extra customers? Right now CVS manages the PBM service of Anthem, which is the second largest insurer in the United States. It’s conceivable, but it would be a very questionable business decision to turn away the business of other insurers, given the economics of this particular sector.
Even after the merger occurs, though, and Aetna and CVS are joined... you still don’t see that as a high risk?
Herzlinger: Right now, CVS manages Anthem’s pharmaceutical benefit management business. Anthem is a giant — Aetna is big, but Anthem is a giant health insurer. So, it’s demonstrating the business proposition that when you have a fixed-cost business like managing a PBM, you’re not going to turn away additional customers. The incentive will be to continue serving them.
Plus, remember, the scary one is in the business now. So Amazon bought a company called PillPack, a relatively little company. It had $100 million in revenue that’s in the mail-order pharmacy business. Amazon paid 10 times revenues for them — a staggering sum. So, your worst nightmare is competing with you-know-who in the PBM business. Are you really going to play hardball and turn away customers? I don’t think so.
When a merger between a health care retailer and an insurer actually goes forward, what should the merged entities do to mitigate what risks do exist? What should they do to rein in costs and quiet their critics, whether it’s the AMA or others?
Herzlinger: Strategy is great, but God, or the devil, or somebody important is in the details. You’ve got to execute well. That means being a very effective retailer and being a very effective medical care and health insurance provider.
How do you deal with the critics? Well, whatever you do that threatens the status quo in whatever industry it is, they’re going to go after you, and the stakes are enormous in this case.
One group that’s threatened by this are the primary care providers, and the AMA is a main representative of the primary care doctors. I think this merger will help those doctors, not hurt them, because it’ll take away administrative work that CVS could be doing instead and enable care providers to focus on their great skill set. There’s a shortage of these vitally important doctors, and most spend over 50% of their time right now on IT and billing, and much less on patient care. CVS can help them.
So now it’s up to them — CVS, Walmart, Walgreens, whoever enters the business — to structure relationships with primary care providers that make it clear that they’re not invading their turf, but rather enabling them to do what they studied medicine to do and have practiced so well for so many years. Assure them that they’re not in competition, they’re actually useful to them. These physicians are increasingly getting burned out. CVS is hooked up to an IT system that most of these physicians are on as well, so they can transmit the data very readily. That’s a plus, not a minus.
It’s the same thing with hospitals, although American hospitals are about a third empty on average. So, they’re not overworked the way the primary care providers are. But it is inevitable that this will happen, so you may as well work cooperatively with them. That means, for example, structure and referral. If someone with diabetes is in bad shape, that person is immediately referred and transferred to an advanced medical care facility that can help.
As in every industry, stakeholders are afraid that innovation will be disruptive. The innovators have to make clear to the powerful status quo that they’re not taking anything away, they’re leveraging capabilities.
So, what advice do you have for the innovators themselves?
Herzlinger: Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) typically don’t work, especially if the merged parties are in very different businesses. Being a retailer is very different from being an insurer. If you think of it simply, would you want somebody out of the health insurance business to become the CEO of, say, Walmart? No, you wouldn’t. It’s always a challenge in M&A to achieve the promised synergies, and that challenge is frequently not met.
When companies do merge or innovate in other ways, it’s important to be honest. It’s important that people get health insurance and more convenient, courteous, humanizing access to medical care. It’s important that our costs, which are leading a death march across the American economy, get controlled. It’s important to interact well with public policy and to demonstrate high quality, to demonstrate cost reduction, to demonstrate that consumers who rate health care so low are actually getting a better experience. So, it’s not just sending a million lobbyists down to D.C. to lobby the issue, but actually effecting the changes.
Most organizations use key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor and track performance — that’s the norm. However, MIT Sloan Management Review’s recent research report, “Leading With Next-Generation Key Performance Indicators,” shows that maximizing the business value of KPIs requires different kinds of leadership commitment. Two distinct but related best practices powerfully influence enterprise KPI effectiveness: greater KPI transparency and clearer KPI alignment.
Greater KPI transparency means organizations make their most important metrics — marketing, sales, financial, project, process — more available company-wide. Picture, for example, dedicated Slack channels for KPI review and comment. Transparency facilitates clearer KPI alignment across the enterprise; teams can literally see what KPIs might be most relevant to their people and purpose, and respond accordingly. In interviews, brand-oriented companies as varied as Adidas, Colgate-Palmolive, and GoDaddy articulated this silo-busting KPI ethos. But we also saw organizations like GE Healthcare using KPIs to improve top-down, bottom-up vertical effectiveness. Transparency of hierarchical KPIs informs every level of the enterprise. Our research suggests sophisticated data-driven companies not only share KPIs, but also expect managers to (re)organize around them.
We found shared KPIs explicitly used to promote cross-functional collaborations. In other words, KPIs are being used to lead change as well as manage it. Analytically superior organizations use algorithms to identify and weight KPI attributions to desired marketing or customer outcomes. After reading the report, one executive in a multibillion-dollar industrial conglomerate reached out to acknowledge that the company was better at sharing customer data internally than sharing its diverse customer-engagement KPIs. In this context, KPIs aren’t just data but crucial metadata as well. They offer organizations new insights into holding themselves accountable.
The essential takeaway: The “KPI future” increasingly depends on how leaders define and drive KPI transparency and alignment in their organizations. The innovation trajectories of big data and analytics strongly suggest that tomorrow’s digital transformation challenges will likely revolve around five strategic KPI domains. Each domain is special and essential, and could either be tightly — or loosely — coupled with the others. That’s why high-impact KPI innovation will require as much leadership art as data science. Leaders need to choose, prioritize, and emphasize which metrics should matter most. They need to encourage and empower talent to redefine what kinds of performance and indicators deserve to be “key.” The most important battles around KPI creativity, productivity, and accountability will be fought here:
Enterprise KPIs: These are the KPIs an organization chooses to highlight, prioritize, and emphasize throughout the enterprise. Whether predominantly financial, operational, or customer-focused, these core KPIs inform both strategic and day-to-day decision-making and investment. They can range from RAROC (risk-adjusted return on capital) to NPS (Net Promoter Score). They’re how leadership explicitly holds itself and the enterprise accountable.
Customer KPIs:These metrics describe the real and potential economic value contributions of enterprise prospects, leads, and customers. What kinds of insight, influence, and impact do these assorted prospects, leads, and customers offer? In which brand segments and sales funnels do they belong? What might their customer lifetime value be? Which touch points matter most? What behaviors signal churn? What are the one-touch resolution rates? Which customers or clients are the 20% of the segment driving 80% of the outcomes? These KPIs prioritize and assess the kind of relationships that organizations want to have with their customers.
Workplace analytics: These KPIs measure the productivity and engagement of the organization’s people, teams, and talent. They highlight which managers most effectively motivate, for example, and what kinds of deadlines and deliverables undermine morale. They identify leadership tools and techniques that improve “customer focus” and track collaboration across the enterprise. They capture and quantify the process outcomes and outputs feeding enterprise KPIs. Work Rules, Laszlo Bock’s superb overview of Google’s data-driven workplace analytics development, brilliantly captures the human capital ethos of converting “measurable insights” into KPIs.
Partner and supplier KPIs: These KPIs assess business ecosystem effectiveness. Are suppliers delivering on time, on budget, and with appropriate quality? To what extent do channels undermine or enhance Net Promoter Scores? Are partners sharing — or enabling easy access to — the right data? Do they propose or invite actionable innovation options and opportunities? How well, or poorly, do they contribute to asset efficiency? These KPIs prioritize the kind of business relationships organizations want to have with their external value chain.
Quantified-self KPIs: While posing ethical concerns around privacy and proprietary data, the quantified-self movement offers rich reservoirs of data to inform and improve personal productivity KPIs. Self-knowledge through numbers is a powerful concept. The increasing power and pervasiveness of digital devices assures it will become even more important inside, as well as outside, the enterprise. (Indeed, much of the bring your own device, or BYOD, movement forced corporate IT departments to embrace mobile and app-based computing.) How should salespeople be invited to share their self-tracking performance goals with colleagues? Will project managers marry moods to morale when assessing team performance? Do managers have a right to ask an associate to self-quantify for sensitive client engagements? These seeming hypotheticals around quantified-self data will inspire next-generation KPIs for tomorrow’s talent assessment and review.
The obvious — and intrinsic — KPI overlaps among these five domains shouldn’t obscure the reality that new data and innovative analytics will transform how they dynamically interact. Quantified-self improvements could inform workplace KPIs in ways that directly redefine enterprise KPIs. Conversely, as dramatically more partners and distributors embrace workplace analytic KPIs, new opportunities to refine and enhance customer KPIs will likely emerge. This would alter enterprise KPIs as well. Needless to say, the data components underlying these KPIs may also evolve dynamically. Data governance policies, programs, and practices assume greater importance when KPIs drive decision.
Consequently, these five domains shouldn’t be seen only as a “KPI stack” but rather spheres that intersect and overlap depending upon enterprise aspirations, corporate culture, and market forces. Which KPI domains drive innovation? How do KPI changes in one domain propagate KPI changes in others? Which interrelated KPIs signal margin opportunities? Which KPI ensembles signal new growth potential? These questions seem strategically unavoidable and unavoidably strategic.
What’s not clear in these scenarios is, who owns KPI transparency and KPI alignment to ensure the enterprise is maximizing value for itself and its customers? Should it be the chief revenue officer? The CFO? The CMO? The chief customer or commercial officer? To be sure, this can’t just be yet another CEO obligation. Aligning APIs — the application programming interfaces that enable data interoperability — with KPIs becomes an executive priority for leadership. API governance will be an important complement to data governance.
So, who should be held accountable for making the company accountable in this emerging KPI ecosystem? Serious data-driven leadership has just begun seriously answering this question. Our research shows these leaders already recognize that better domain transparency is useful for ensuring that appropriate KPI alignment can occur between customers and partners, between teams and partners, and between enterprise imperatives and individual talents. Empowering self-organization around KPIs is fast becoming an important leadership principle for the networked enterprise. KPIs are less the points of a compass than a GPS visualization for managers seeking to better navigate complexity.
For our global research survey on executive use of KPIs, we built a KPI Alignment Index based on the answers to six questions. Three groups emerged: Measurement Leaders, Measurement Capable, and Measurement Challenged. For more, see “Leading With Next-Generation Key Performance Indicators.”
Indeed, our survey found Measurement Leader organizations taking the digital initiative to identify and map KPI relationships and interdependencies. These companies indicated that they’re at the beginning of their journey. That said, they know and accept that the KPI’s traditional role as a mechanism to monitor and track performance is no longer good enough for sustaining success in a data-rich world. They embrace KPI transparency and alignment to measurably get better and measure getting better.
Platforms were once considered small and even quirky additions to business strategy. This is no longer the case: In 2018, companies deploying platform business models continue to surprise and challenge conventional approaches to creating value.
Platform companies have also been among the first to recognize and harness data-centric strategies, and many have moved to the forefront of a wide range of disruptive technologies, from cloud computing to IoT. In the process, platform companies have become powerful engines of innovation that play an increasingly integral part in economies throughout the world. A number of companies shared their journeys at our 2018 MIT Platform Strategy Summit. Their stories illustrate a number of broad principles that represent the locus and control of platform value today.
1. Technology, scale, and smart risk management. Executives building and operating platforms pointed to the interplay between technology, scale, and smart risk management. The CEO of Topcoder, Michael Morris, observed that to reduce transaction costs and grow network effects, companies must manage risk. Intelligently absorbing risk helps pull new transactions onto the platform and grows the enterprise.
For MuleSoft, a provider of API services, the transition from manual to self-service options reduced friction and accelerated employee onboarding times from weeks to minutes. MuleSoft’s CTO Uri Sarid said that “there has to be value in the platform, and self-service reduces friction in setup. Service in seconds is digital; service in days is not.”
The implications for emerging technologies were also discussed. Eamonn Maguire, global lead in financial services at KPMG, led a discussion with Gerhard Lohmann of CFO Reinsurance, Jalak Jobanputra of FuturePerfect Ventures, and Kiran Nagaraj of KPMG about blockchain technologies and where they might also contribute to reducing friction across platforms. Naturally, the answer was “it depends.” Some argued that blockchain still cannot match current transactional means of processing international payments. Others pointed to the significant gains that could be made in deploying blockchain to improve the efficiency, security, and transparency of areas like insurance, which are notorious for complex, siloed, paper-based processes.
2. The power of specialization and advanced decision engines. As platforms mature, they often become more complex and more specialized. This creates new management challenges and the need for more sophisticated decision engines to harness value.
Uber provides a case in point. Irfan Ganchi and Ahmad Anvari, Uber’s top product management executives, pointed out in their presentation that Uber now does 5 million forecasts every minute to balance supply and demand. But forecasts are not enough: The company also has had to develop sophisticated incentives to act on these estimates.
The company deploys dynamic pricing as one lever for minute-by-minute matching of riders and drivers. Over longer intervals by week, month, and quarter, it uses incentives such as guaranteed surge and marketing and various customer relationship management strategies. As the company has moved into food delivery with its Uber Eats service, forecasting and incentives should advance cross-platform network effects — among drivers, couriers, restaurants, riders, and eaters. While Uber has particular challenges associated with being hyper-local, the company’s experience illustrates the heavy investments that platforms are making into advanced decision engines.
3. Data-driven, AI-savvy platform talent. Many companies have built data analytics teams. However, Airbnb’s leadership team is taking things a step further. As head economist Peter Coles explained, the company believes data is so strategically important to its success that it is building an internal data university for its employees, now numbering over 3,000. The vision is to empower every employee at Airbnb to make data-informed decisions by providing data education that scales by roles and teams across the entire organization.
Realizing this vision requires investment in training as well as in tools and company-wide data infrastructure. This points to the fact that platforms may be data-rich, but the value of this bounty cannot be harnessed without dedicated investment in skills development across the organization and supporting infrastructure and tools.
Rapid innovation around AI will further challenge companies to embrace data-driven business innovation and new skills development. This was the central theme of the panel chaired by Mona Vernon, chief technology officer at Thomson Reuters Labs. As Michael Palumbo, the technical product manager of Rolls-Royce’s R2 Data Labs, said, the “people who can cleanly identify problems and next steps” will be in high demand as jobs evolve in an era of AI. In a cautionary note, Ian Myers, CEO of NewsPicks, pointed out that platforms themselves can introduce bias, as content recommendation engines are designed to give users more of what they have already consumed — demonstrating some limits of technology that companies should consider.
The power of the platform to create value can also be seen by helping companies discover new revenue streams. The most common secondary data use today centers around advertising, but we expect many more uses as data rights are worked out and markets in data develop. The potential for both health care delivery and development was discussed by Alice Raia, vice president of Digital Presence Technologies for Kaiser Permanente, and Valérie Abrell Duong, vice president of Information Technology & Solutions for Sanofi. Thomas Friese, vice president for Digital Ecosystem Platform of Siemens Healthineers, described how external parties seek access to their image database in order to develop new services.
Rodney Sampson, the cofounder of Opportunity Hub, believes so. He and his team are drawing on platform principles to connect demographic groups that are underutilized and underrepresented in the tech community with companies that are looking for talent. As part of its strategy to expand supply, Opportunity Hub has inked a partnership with the Flatiron School, a coding bootcamp recently acquired by WeWork. In addition to programming and data analytic skills development, the “inclusive ecosystem,” Sampson explains, also provides unique networking opportunities (such as a scholarship to attend the South by Southwest conference), startup resources, workspaces, and access to funding programs.
5. Tackling ever more fragmented markets. Fragmented markets have been longstanding hunting grounds for platform business models. This continues to be the case in ever more complicated and splintered markets, such as music.
In a panel examining the intersection of music and platforms, Nathan Hanks pointed out that major brands spend more than $20 billion annually, but music currently captures only $2 billion because of the splintered nature of the market. Music Audience Exchange, which Hanks founded, helps to flip the model where the brand makes a promotional piece for the artist, which is then matched, leveraging music metadata collected by the platform to audiences across multiple media channels from TV to streaming services. This is possible in part because platforms separate access from ownership, as Joe Belliotti, founder of Noisegate, noted.
Platform innovation strategies can also serve investors. Nick Terzo highlighted how Royalty Exchange is building music rights in ways to make them more accessible to a range of institutional investors. Fabrice Sergent noted that, despite the extreme fragmentation of the live music market, Bandsintown now has 38 million registered fans and 430,000 artists since it was founded in 2007.
In short, the 2018 Summit highlighted that the adoption of platforms continues to transform industries and create new value where it did not exist before.
The authors cochaired the 2018 MIT Platform Strategy Summit. See platforms.mit.edu for the agenda, speaker slides, and biographies. A full Summit report will be available there in early fall.
Lin William Cong, professor of finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business
Blockchain is a decentralized ledger system that stores data in encrypted, time-stamped blocks. Though best known as the technology on which Bitcoin is founded, its capabilities extend far beyond cryptocurrencies to potential applications in cloud computing, auditing, health care, and trade.
Lin William Cong, professor of finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, first began to follow blockchain as a doctoral student at Stanford, based close to Silicon Valley. His research on financial innovation includes the study of smart contracts — tamperproof digital transactions conducted on blockchain platforms that could make certain processes infinitely quicker and more efficient.
MIT Sloan Management Review spoke to Cong about the new economics underpinning blockchain and how smart contracts could revolutionize trade finance and other fields. Contributing editor Frieda Klotz conducted the interview, and what follows is an edited and condensed version of their conversation.
MIT Sloan Management Review: How do you define blockchain?
Cong: There’s a general lack of clarity and confusion about blockchain. It’s the technology behind Bitcoin and many other cryptocurrencies — so many people know of it in relation to digital cash. But it’s not defined by these cryptocurrencies.
Blockchain brings a whole new dynamic into play. It provides decentralized consensus through a ledger system allowing the agents within the ecosystem to participate in it. It can be used across a range of functions — cloud computation, financial transactions, and all sorts of digital records. It also facilitates what are known as smart contracts, which are automated contracts that can be speedier and more secure than those that use paper documentation.
In what way does blockchain allow for a new economics to come into play?
Cong: That’s primarily because of decentralization. Let’s take Bitcoin as an example. Once a protocol is introduced in the Bitcoin network, anyone who accepts it can interact according to its rules. It’s basically a peer-to-peer interaction with no centralized party running it. A fundamental network effect is at play when people use bitcoin tokens. The more people using Bitcoin, the more stores accept it, the more utility a person derives from holding bitcoins.
The same decentralization operates across blockchain technologies. In decentralized cloud computing, for instance, when more users are on a platform, additional spare power is generated for computational tasks. This sort of project is very much happening in the blockchain space — one example being a company called Dfinity, which is hoping to create a decentralized cloud that can run on fewer resources than traditional operators like Google Cloud or Amazon Web Services.
Why is this kind of decentralization such an important development?
Cong: There are two benefits of decentralization that advocates typically mention. First, we can potentially prevent single points of failure. For example, if we have cloud computation running on something like Amazon Web Services, but with the hard disks located in a particular region — if that factory is damaged or destroyed, then the system breaks down. Whereas with decentralized cloud computation, one computer breaking down won’t stop the system from working. There are also other types of single points of failure too. If a judge runs the system, someone could bribe the judge.
Second, if we eliminate or reduce the need for centralized third parties with market power, we can potentially reduce costs for users and consumers. Just imagine a decentralized Uber system: Drivers and passengers wouldn’t have to pay a cut to the centralized party running it.
That said, maintaining consensus in a scalable manner under decentralization is fundamentally challenging. That is what many practitioners are working on.
You’ve written recently about the benefits of smart contracts, which are conducted on blockchain platforms. What are they, and how could they be used by businesses?
Cong: Smart contracts are digital agreements that are, ideally, automatically executed once a consensus on an event’s outcome is generated on a blockchain. This makes them tamperproof and highly efficient. The technology is still at an early stage, but it’s receiving a lot of attention. Many large institutions, like JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, have created their own divisions and are devoting resources into research on smart contracts.
While the use of smart contracts is still limited, several kinds of applications are happening in trade finance. Traditionally in this industry, when an exporter wants to ship food to an importer in a different country, the process is very slow. Senders don’t want to send the goods before they receive payment, and receivers don’t want to pay before they receive the goods in good condition. Multiple banks get involved, creating letters of credit to monitor the shipment. It’s a $10 trillion business annually.
So, how can smart contracts improve this process? Users can attach internet of things (IoT) sensors to the shipment vehicles to monitor temperature and provide real-time updates that are automatically recorded in blockchain. Online feedback through blockchain records outcomes and enables both sides to reach a consensus about the condition of the delivery. If everything is satisfactory, the smart contract is cleared, and a transfer of money is triggered.
What potential do smart contracts have for changing the landscape, not just for trade finance but perhaps for other fields too?
Cong: The benefit of using smart contracts is that it is easier for parties to agree on certain details, because the information is digitally recorded and shared automatically.
Let’s go back to the trade finance example. When the shipment arrives, if there’s a real-time record of where the goods have been on the way to their final destination, it’s easier to reach agreement on the condition of the shipment and the delivery itself.
Or think about auditing. Auditing companies generally don’t collaborate or share information because of the need to protect proprietary information. That reduces efficiency and makes it hard for regulators to monitor companies’ financial health. But if everything were on blockchain — with the right amount of encryption, of course, so that when the auditing companies shared information, they shared just enough to validate certain transactions — then the supervisory body could easily access a clear, digital record of an organization’s financial activities. That would make oversight more robust and prevent cases like Enron from happening.
Can you talk about some smart contracts in action?
Cong: One of the earliest examples was a collaboration between the blockchain startup Wave and Barclays. They completed the first smart contract in 2016. It mediated a trade finance transaction between a company called Ornua, an Irish agri-food cooperative, and a Seychelles trading company. The payment transfer still went through Swift. Ideally, it should have been conducted through cryptocurrencies, on a blockchain. But that’s something people are working on.
Another recent example is Walmart, which introduced a blockchain-based system for some of its suppliers in 2018. The basic idea is that, if I deliver wine, I want to make sure it’s in good condition when it arrives. Using blockchain to verify the condition reduces paperwork exponentially, in this case from days to just a few seconds, and it also reduces waste and supports sustainability.
What are the risks in using smart contracts?
Cong: For public blockchains, more people are getting involved, so we necessarily have to contact them and distribute information to them in order to solicit their information. That distribution creates a fundamental tension, and privacy could be a big concern if a transaction’s details are shared with multiple validators. However, computer scientists are coming up with clever ways to deal with that through encryption and zero-knowledge proof, where they don’t have to reveal the exact information about a transaction beyond what is absolutely necessary.
Quite a few blockchain startups are working on this — figuring out how to design a system or protocol, so that it distributes only enough information to generate consensus while encrypting the data to avoid infringing on privacy. But a fundamental trade-off remains: The more we want to verify, the more information we have to distribute.
Getting back to blockchain more generally, what’s your perspective on how quickly this technology will take off? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?
Cong: There are hurdles to wider application — technical issues, and the need to coordinate the agents who would use it. Some companies may resist blockchain because it disrupts traditional business models. The internet took two decades to fully take off, so it’s hard to predict. I would describe myself as slightly optimistic, but I also have to constantly remind myself not to go with the hype and transient trends. It’s important to really dig deeper to see what is fundamental.
Some applications will appear earlier than others. Decentralized cloud computation is something we’re already doing and is very much in demand. I’m less optimistic about blockchain-based platforms such as Bitcoin or Tether as competitors to money for general payment. I also believe consortium blockchains with an alliance of influential incumbent companies are more likely to take off than public or private blockchains.
Blockchain also has huge potential benefits for society when it comes to ethics, contracting, legal enforcement, and many other areas. Decentralized consensus improves a system’s transparency. Smart contracts can force companies to compensate in cases where they don’t deliver.
Finally, blockchain helps new entrants, so it’s pro-competitive: Right now, companies can promise a rebate if a product doesn’t arrive, but that requires some trust and reputation in the market which new entrants do not yet have. With smart contracts and blockchain, there’s an easier way for newer businesses to establish trust with customers.
Around the MIT campus, you can often hear students saying that taking everything in is a bit like “drinking from a firehose.” The upside of that is ready access to an abundance of world-class ideas and experts. The downside? It’s easy to get overwhelmed.
No one knows that more than the time-pressed business leaders and managers who rely on the ideas, research, and tools we publish. In conversations and customer surveys, they often ask us where they should they start and what will be most useful to them. We do, after all, have many articles and reports in our archives that address critical challenges managers face in our technology-driven economy and society. Leaders want a little guidance on where to focus their attention — a little help with the firehose.
That’s why we’re offering some recommendations here, based on what readers are telling us are their most pressing problems. And to make it easier to access the insights you need now, we’re dropping our paywall on Oct. 2 and 3, so all of our content will be freely available to visitors.
I hope the handpicked selections below are helpful to you. We’d love your feedback.
How does an appetite for innovation correlate with digital maturity? One might expect digitally mature organizations to be more experimental than others, but surprisingly the gap between the most and least mature companies is not nearly as large as one might expect. Our data shows that companies across maturity levels experiment in digital business. A far bigger differentiator, however, is what companies do with the results of those experiments. Mature companies are far more likely to scale them to drive change across the enterprise.
The process of scaling digital innovation — a change effort — isn’t easy. For large, established organizations, it may require a fundamental transformation. These businesses need to find a balance between exploiting current business models and exploring new opportunities, an often strategically and culturally complex task. Dr. John Halamka, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, equates this work with trying to change a plane in midflight, as leaders balance the need to experiment while still keeping the core business running.
Many companies try to emulate startups to accomplish this goal. Yet, many also mistakenly think that the value of startups lies in their ability to generate new ideas. The key factor is actually the discipline to balance both discovery and execution in a disciplined and rigorous way.
To get better insight on how large, established organizations scale experiments, I spoke with Greg Baxter, chief digital officer of MetLife, who has considerable experience using experimentation to drive innovative change across the enterprise.
A Three-Stage Approach to Scaling
Baxter views scaling as a three-stage process. Although the criteria for moving ideas to subsequent development phases may differ across stages, the process involves continually asking three critical questions:
Is there a fundamental need for this idea in the market?
Can we make this idea work economically?
Are we the right company to do it, and does it involve our core competency?
Only ideas that continue to meet these three standards continue in the process, as outlined below:
Ideation. Consistent with the idea that “those with the best ideas win,” the first stage involves generating new ideas in a changing digital environment. To develop these ideas, MetLife relies on internal innovation as well as external partnerships or relationships with venture capital firms and research universities. Baxter is quite clear, however, that despite the formation of external partnerships to develop new ideas, digital innovation is and needs to be a core competency of the organization; it simply cannot be outsourced. Interactions with partnerships, however, tend to bring the company’s employees and leaders along by exposing them to new experiences through new projects, new teams, and new challenges.
Incubation. The next stage addresses what companies do with those ideas once they’re formed. Many companies engage in what Baxter calls “premature scaling,” which involves trying to drive new concepts across the organization before they are ready. Instead, the incubation stage involves generating minimum viable products, iterating, and getting the company and market to determine whether the idea is worthy of scaling. To support this incubation stage, MetLife has partnered with Techstars to develop an accelerator that identifies and mentors internal and external startups around the globe that are developing industry-disrupting technologies in the insurance space.
Implementation. In this final stage, the company scales its innovation pilots. Significant financial investment is made, and risks become most acute. To meet this implementation challenge, organizations should allocate funds to invest — both internally and externally — in the ideas they believe are most promising. To fund such efforts, MetLife established MetLife Digital Ventures to directly invest in startups that are developing capabilities strategically aligned to MetLife’s. In addition, the organization scales internal growth and innovation opportunities by reinvesting savings generated from previous digital innovation projects.
Digital Transformation Beyond the Enterprise
Baxter also looks beyond the enterprise when it comes to digital transformation to consider the implications of those transformations on society as a whole. He says, “Digital transformation is a real responsibility. We must think through ‘How do we reinvent our company to be a leader in a digital world?’ while also being the standard bearer as to the way that these technologies benefit the people we serve, the communities we’re in, and the employees we have.”
Baxter is contemplating how to use digital innovation to provide cost-effective services to historically underserved populations globally, for example, by partnering with IBM to develop a new, first-of-its-kind digital benefits platform for U.S.-based small businesses that will lower costs while expanding access to products. As the gig economy continues to grow, MetLife is also working to make its products portable for when employees leave a company or change their status from permanent to part-time. In Latin America, the company is using social media channels to provide applications and claims-status updates to reach workers who cannot be serviced face-to-face.
Baxter believes that digital transformation is far more than just getting cybersecurity, robotic automation, or data analytics right. “There’s a bigger agenda there for us. People are going to look increasingly for purpose in their work, and customers are going to look for companies they trust and who integrate into their lives. I suspect that the market is going to eventually reward the companies that get this right, and, as we have seen for many decades, companies that don’t get it right will disappear off the market list reasonably quickly.”
Indeed, it is likely not enough simply to engage in digital transformation without also engaging in a critical reflection on what the organization is transforming into, as well as any implications for the constellation of various stakeholders and the environments in which they live and work.
In the automotive industry, machine learning (ML) is most often associated with product innovations, such as self-driving cars, parking and lane-change assists, and smart energy systems. But ML is also having a significant effect on the marketing function, from how marketers in the automotive sector establish goals and measure returns on their investments to how they connect with consumers. ML is poised to become as much an organizing principle as an analytic ingredient for sophisticated marketing campaigns across industries. This is especially true in the automotive industry, a capital-intensive, high-tech sector riven by disruption.
Our global executive study of strategic measurement, “Leading With Next-Generation Key Performance Indicators,” highlights the widespread but uneven adoption of machine learning among marketers.1 78 percent of automotive companies invest in skills and training for ML. We see a gap, however, between the automotive industry’s ambition to use ML in marketing and the creation of incentives to use ML for marketing.
Even though most players in the automotive sector are investing in ML for their marketing efforts, a much smaller group is putting in place incentives and key performance indicators (KPIs) to use more ML and automation. Closing the gap requires a stronger commitment to developing a ML capability that is not just useful but also used.
The Auto Industry’s Adoption of Machine Learning
We surveyed more than 1,600 North American senior marketing executives and managers about their use of KPIs and the role of machine learning in their marketing activities; of these, 336 were from the automotive sector. In this group, 78 percent report that their organization is investing in new skills or training to allow marketing to more effectively use automation and machine learning. That percentage was 63 percent in the overall sample. Furthermore, 63 percent of automotive executives say that their organization has incentives or internal functional KPIs to use more automation and ML technologies to drive marketing activities. In the overall sample, just under half (49 percent) have such incentives. (See Figure 1.)
Figure 1: Machine Learning Across Industries — Belief, Investment, and Incentives
Machine learning is an artificial intelligence discipline geared toward the technological development of human knowledge. Machine learning allows computers to handle new situations via analysis, self-training, observation, and experience.i
A set of novel insights emerged when we parsed the data using our KPI Alignment Index (described in more detail in “Leading With Next-Generation Key Performance Indicators”). The KPI Alignment Index — based on a set of questions in our global survey — grouped respondents into three categories: Measurement Leaders, Measurement Capable, and Measurement Challenged. These groupings describe the level of sophistication the respondents have with using metrics to advance their strategy and, more specifically, the extent to which their metrics of strategic success align with those of functional success. Measurement Leaders had a distinctive approach to ML compared with the other two categories.
The automotive industry had more Measurement Leaders (30 percent) than the overall sample (20 percent) and had fewer Measurement Challenged (12 percent) than the overall sample (20 percent). The numbers of Measurement Capable were roughly equivalent.
Measurement Leaders Use More Machine Learning
Measurement Leaders are far more likely than the other groups to invest in machine learning-based approaches to marketing. Measurement Leaders also use KPIs to help them lead — to find new growth opportunities for their companies and new ways to motivate their teams.
Measurement Leaders in the automotive sector strongly believe in machine learning’s potential to help achieve KPI outcomes in the marketing function. They provide investments and incentives to make good on that belief. An overwhelming majority (93 percent) of Measurement Leaders in the automotive sector agreed or strongly agreed that their current functional KPIs could be better achieved with greater investment in automation and ML technologies.
About the Research
This report explores some of the key findings from the authors’ 2018 research study of KPIs and machine learning in today’s corporate landscape. The research, which involved a survey of 4,700 executives and managers (more than 1,600 in marketing) and interviews with more than a dozen corporate leaders and academics, has far-reaching implications for modern businesses. We focused our analysis for this industry brief on 336 marketing executives in the automotive industry.
The study strongly suggests that data-driven organizations that align incentives, KPIs, and machine-learning capabilities have distinct advantages over those that move too slowly to develop their data capabilities. For business leaders serious about succeeding in digital market environments, these shifts offer a clear and urgent call to action.
Hyundai Motor Co. created, for instance, a marketing campaign for its 2018 Sonata that used machine learning to sort through billions of data points on factors like personality, demographics, and brand relevance to identify social media influencers ideally positioned to boost the brand and to link those influencers with Hyundai’s “Better Drives Us” slogan.2 On the basis of the initiative’s success, the company expects to deepen its commitment to similar marketing efforts in the future.
A strong majority (83 percent) of automotive Measurement Leaders are investing specifically in new skills or training so that marketing can use automation and machine learning more effectively. Eighty-one percent also say that their organization has incentives or internal functional KPIs to use more automation and ML technologies to drive marketing activities. In short, the Measurement Leaders have effectively aligned their levels of ML investments and ML incentives in marketing.
Gap Between Investments and Incentives
Both the Measurement Capable and the Measurement Challenged automotive industry executives, in contrast, see a gap between their ML investments and their ML incentives. The investment in skills and training exists, but the presence of incentives to use ML in marketing lags behind. (See Figure 2.)
Figure 2: KPI Alignment and Machine Learning — Investment vs. Action
While Measurement Leaders have aligned their machine-learning investments and incentives, Measurement Capable and Measurement Challenged organizations are making investments but are less likely to have incentives.
There are perfectly rational explanations for the gaps among the Measurement Capable and the Measurement Challenged. Given that the gap narrows as companies score higher on the KPI Alignment Index, we could infer that companies with more well-developed machine-learning technologies are better positioned to offer their teams incentives to exploit ML. On the other hand, companies that are investing in ML from zero may prefer not to offer incentives if the technology is not ready to be used.
Those in the Measurement Capable and Measurement Challenged categories must work to close the gap between their belief that machine learning will help them achieve their key marketing outcomes and the investments and incentives being marshaled to realize this belief. In addition, to get the most growth benefit from ML and automation, automotive industry marketers, regardless of category, should consider taking the following steps:
Promote organizational behaviors and set expectations about using machine learning. Create metrics around the actual use of ML in marketing. It is not enough to communicate why ML applications are important to the marketing function or to have the right suite of ML tools or to have ML-trained personnel at the ready. If ML applications generate insights that are not relevant to KPIs, machine-learning investments can be easily wasted. ML algorithms, for example, can predict which bundles of car, financing, and servicing options will appeal to which prospective customers. But, if “bundles” optimization isn’t a significant outcome that executives care about, why go through the exercise of developing these ML-based insights in the first place?
Identify a narrow set of marketing KPIs. KPI parsimony is critical to ensuring that the right metrics are guiding how employees spend their time and effort, and what tools they use for accomplishing their tasks. Design machine-learning applications that support these KPI outcomes. Avoid trendy measures and ML apps that do not have a measurable impact on your business. The interviews for our global study exposed a genuine struggle to slow “KPI creep” brought on by data proliferation. Colgate-Palmolive’s CMO Mukul Deoras says there’s a need to winnow down to the few indicators that will help drive growth: “The biggest challenge that we have today is to sift through tons of meaningless KPIs, focus on really those few, and not get carried away. Just because we can measure everything does not mean we need to measure everything. We just need to focus on a few things that are really going to make a big difference to our business.”3
Take seriously that you are operating in a new business environment. A new intermediary — influencers — is increasingly integral to the experience of buying a car (often a social experience to begin with). Expect more initiatives like Hyundai’s, in which machine learning is used to identify those influencers who can help close a deal. Use ML to understand, predict, and prescribe influencer behavior (if relevant).
Many structural shifts are transforming the automotive industry. Digital media platforms are disrupting traditional dealer relationships, making the process of buying and selling cars more data-driven, while new entrants like Tesla and ridesharing services like Uber, Lyft, and Zipcar are altering customer expectations around automotive value. The automotive sector is already among the most advanced in regard to machine learning and marketing. However, many companies are making investments in ML without a commensurate investment in incentives that support the actual use of ML. Bringing ML incentives in line with investments will help companies remain competitive amid all these momentous changes.
Business leaders of established companies have come to understand that digital technologies are upending traditional business models. Once you have surrendered to that reality, it’s time to define a business strategy that is inspired by the capabilities of digital technologies.
That won’t be easy. Digital strategies must tackle two questions that are shrouded in uncertainty: What can data and digital technologies do to help us solve customer problems? What solutions will customers find valuable?
Digital technologies are game-changing in helping solve customer problems because they deliver three critical capabilities: ubiquitous data, unlimited connectivity, and massive automation. Those capabilities make possible entirely new revenue streams. Digital companies generate revenue from digital offerings — information-enriched solutions wrapped in a seamless, personalized experience. Thus, every company must learn what solutions are possible.
But not every solution is valuable. Talk to a lot of wannabe digital entrepreneurs and you quickly learn that many solutions that digital technologies make possible aren’t of interest to anyone. Customers don’t see the problem being solved, or they have ingrained habits they don’t want to change, or they just aren’t comfortable buying a given offering. Thus, every company must learn what interests their customers.
It’s only when leaders wrestle with these questions that a digital strategy will emerge. Yes, digital technologies change not only an organization’s customer offerings — they change how the organization goes about defining strategy. That’s why we call digital technologies game-changing.
To play in this competitive environment, you must adopt two habits. First, you need to create a portfolio of business experiments. Second, you need to engage with customers to gain deep insights into their problems and potential solutions. These habits will help find the point of intersection between what’s possible and what’s desired. That intersection is where a business will succeed digitally.
Create a Portfolio of Experiments
Evolving a digital value proposition involves funding many small experiments to maximize learning. Funding experiments isn’t hard. Companies encourage widespread experimentation through internal competition events, special funding opportunities like an internal Kickstarter or Shark Tank proposal review process, and organizational units such as innovation labs and digital business units. The idea is to produce a pipeline of new ideas from many parts of the organization, particularly from people who interact regularly with customers.
Of course, such widespread innovation could potentially waste resources on pointless experiments. Companies can counter that risk by insisting on small experiments that rapidly produce measurable outcomes. Any experiment that doesn’t quickly generate customer enthusiasm can be abandoned, while those with the most potential can grow. Leaders can also target particular goals that focus experiments on a particular set of outcomes. Targeting specific outcomes helps distinguish winners from losers.
It’s true that some major technological innovations will take time to develop. Autonomous vehicles fall into this category: They require long, sustained investments. Go ahead and create a lab that serves as its own Google X. That’s a big bet — but it’s a big bet on something that simply helps the company do better at something it already does (such as building vehicles that move people from one location to another). If you are accustomed to long product-development processes, this kind of effort won’t scare you.
But one or more big bets on traditional products will not help you learn how to develop new digital offerings. To do that, you’ll need to target new value propositions. For instance, approximately eight years into its digital transformation, DBS Bank in Singapore is today conducting about 1,000 experiments. DBS encourages experiments through mechanisms such as internal crowdsourcing, customer experience labs, hackathons, external partnering, nurturing of fintech startups, and technology scanning. Some of the experiments are quickly abandoned. Others evolve into digital offerings or features for customers.
When DBS initiated its digital efforts in 2010, the company targeted first-class customer experience. As part of that effort, the company established multiple organizational units to teach most of its 22,000 people test-and-learn concepts, design thinking, and customer journey analysis. Subsequently, DBS started capturing data from sensors on customer touchpoints so that employees could analyze customer habits and needs. Leaders then established a goal of eliminating 100 million wasted customer hours and empowered people to innovate to achieve that goal.
The company’s digital strategy has evolved as DBS learned from its experiments. In 2014, DBS restated its strategy as “making banking invisible.” Today, the company’s strategy is “making banking joyful,” with the branding position “Live more, Bank less.” DBS’s digital strategy initially led to simple apps that enhanced the customer experience, but by 2016, the company had introduced an entirely digital bank in India. In 2017 and 2018, it began offering car, property, and electricity marketplaces on the DBS website.
Engage With Customers to Gain Deep Insights
Steve Jobs famously declared that he didn’t ask customers what they wanted because he knew better than they did. He was right: Customers couldn’t imagine an iPhone until they had one. This was true for Airbnb, Facebook, and Groupon, too. Few people can articulate a need for a concept that doesn’t exist, and digital companies often sell solutions to problems that people didn’t know they had. For this to work, though, you need to know what your customers do now and what they are willing to do differently. Deep customer insights are essential to digital success.
Successful companies identify successful digital offerings by testing their ideas with customers early on. For example, French conglomerate Schneider Electric is pursuing a digital strategy of intelligent energy management solutions, built on a long history of manufacturing and selling electrical equipment. (I have coauthored with Cynthia M. Beath and Kate Moloney a case study of Schneider’s digital evolution.) Schneider’s strategy involves leveraging public cloud services, internet of things, analytics, and artificial intelligence. Its intelligent energy-management solutions can solve customers’ needs for reliable, cost-effective energy. Certainly, this is a digital strategy with great potential.
However, sometimes seemingly great ideas don’t find immediate buyers. Schneider customers have entrenched habits around buying electrical equipment and managing energy. Most can’t easily shift to Schneider’s new value proposition — a subscription service instead of a product. Buying Schneider’s digital offering involves a very different relationship. The company’s customers don’t think of Schneider as a solution provider and the customers’ organizational processes, not to mention their politics, aren’t designed to rely on an external provider of energy management solutions. What appears to be a solid digital strategy has required intensive engagements with Schneider’s top customers to learn the intersection between what Schneider, armed with digital technologies, can do and what customers might value.
Schneider addresses this need to engage with customers in two ways. First, it is training new salespeople who can provide customers with expertise on energy management to explore their needs. And second, it engages customers in the design and delivery of new offerings so that they reflect what each customer can use.
‘Act Like a Startup’ Means ‘Embrace Experimentation’
Leaders in many established companies are declaring that they are going to become digital by “acting like a startup.” It’s important to recognize that acting like a startup means allowing a few people to experiment with an idea to learn what’s possible and then testing it with potential customers to learn what they want. It’s about starting small and growing an idea as it takes hold.
Note that acting like a startup is not about losing money. Companies that are on a roll with their digital strategies consistently report that their solutions quickly become profitable. However, those profits are also a tiny percent of the whole. This could be distressing to both executives under pressure to deliver quarterly results and investors demanding those results.
Companies looking to thrive in the digital economy will need to borrow a page (or at least a sentence) from Jeff Bezos, who with every Amazon annual report republishes his 1997 letter to shareholders, which stated at the top: “It’s all about the long term.” To meet short-term financial targets, most established companies must sustain their traditional value propositions, but to succeed long term in the digital economy, they must develop digital offerings. They will evolve their strategies by experimenting with small offerings and learning what their customers value. Eventually, big companies will become successful digital companies because they know how to scale successful experiments.
Agile practices help organizations bring products and services to market quickly and adapt nimbly to customer and market changes and innovations in the technology landscape. In today’s globalized economy, agile methods pioneered in the United States are being adopted in organizations worldwide.
One challenge to implementing agile practices globally is accommodating cultural differences. Because the agile approach started in the United States, American cultural norms may play an outsized role in how agile methods are prescribed and carried out — and that could create problems when teams in other countries adopt agile methodologies. For example, openly expressing thoughts and opinions to authority figures, publicly discussing successes and failures, and assigning credit or blame are often accepted practices in agile teams, but such open interactions may not be consistent with cultural norms in all parts of the world.
Recognizing the unique cultural characteristics of employees taking part in agile projects outside the United States may be critical to project success. When agile practices clash with local culture, it’s important for organizations to recognize the conflict and develop solutions sensitive to the societal norms without impeding agile practices.
We interviewed employees of eight software companies in China, India, and South Korea that had adopted agile software development practices to find an answer to this key question: How do the cultural scripts common in your country work with or against the tenets of agile methods? A population may have a unique word to describe particular behaviors; that named phenomenon is the “cultural script.”1 We focused on a small set of cultural scripts in each of the three countries. (See “Three Countries, Many Cultural Scripts.”)
Three Countries, Many Cultural Scripts
A population may have unique words to describe particular behaviors, a phenomenon known as the “cultural script.” The authors identified a small set of cultural scripts for three countries in which their data was collected.
Guanxi: a reciprocal exchange relationship where one person’s favor to another is eventually repaid. These exchanges build and strengthen relationships.i
Mianzi: the desire to maintain social standing. Individuals perceive their standing in a social context and behave in ways that preserve it (that is, save face). Causing others to lose face in social situations is undesirable.ii
Doctrine of the mean and harmony: a desire to maintain a harmonious social environment. It stresses avoidance of confrontation and the value of compromise.iii
Palli palli: a tendency to value quick and quality task completion. It emphasizes the importance of performing tasks quickly, accurately, and diligently — and doing so as efficiently as possible by eliminating unnecessary work.iv
Jeong: the process of forming emotional bonds through repeated social interaction. It stresses the idea that people can forge strong social relationships through shared experiences, regardless of personal opinions of each other.v
Jugaad: a practice of solving problems through improvisation. It originated in a milieu of societal constraints and scarce resources and therefore stresses using what is available to create solutions.vi
Social hierarchy: a viewpoint that outlines a well-defined organizational structure, with clear leaders and subordinates, that drives decision-making. It may also give leaders the latitude to guide the work and careers of subordinates.vii
Apane log: the concept of being part of the in-group. Being considered part of the in-group (or the out-group) can define one’s relationships within an organization.viii
The employees we talked to described situations in which complications arose because agile practices differed from behaviors that were considered acceptable according to cultural scripts. When faced with such discrepancies, companies developed culturally sensitive ways to encourage employees to adopt agile practices. In many instances, organizations were able to create harmony between being agile and abiding by the local culture’s accepted behavioral norms. We’ve distilled their experiences into practical recommendations your organization can use to address the challenge of being both agile and culturally sensitive.
Lessons From Global Agile Implementations
We interviewed agile team members who held roles such as senior manager, project lead, developer, scrum master, agile coach, and customer representative. They worked on the development of a diverse collection of products, from customer relationship management systems, supply chain tools, and inventory management systems to game platforms and mobile applications. As we learned about the cultural challenges they faced in agile projects and how they dealt with them, we found three areas where agile practices interacted with cultural scripts in atypical ways and created challenges: maintaining flexibility and speed, building an effective agile team, and creating accessible communication channels. In many cases, teams can resolve those types of challenges with flexible solutions that preserve key agile practices but accommodate a culture’s distinct norms.
Maintaining Flexibility and Speed
Agile practices emphasize process flexibility and the quick delivery of value. Some cultural scripts — such as jugaad, an Indian concept that stresses improvisation as a way to solve problems, and South Korea’s palli palli, which emphasizes the importance of completing tasks quickly — align well with this focus, but they may also cause project teams to overreach. We uncovered two solutions for avoiding unmanageable situations in teams whose members may embrace either jugaad or palli palli: streamlining improvisation and adjusting client expectations using a hybrid approach.
In India, one benefit of jugaad is that it empowers employees to work well in resource-limited environments on tight schedules. Both of those characteristics align well with the flexible and fast-paced nature of agile teams. Employees who can find ways to do more with less can help speed development and reduce waste. The downside is that unorthodox problem-solving approaches may be inconsistent with formal organizational processes, so they may not be reproducible and they may not have undergone the vetting necessary to ensure that they don’t result in unexpected or negative consequences.
This trade-off is illustrated by an example from our interviews. A developer in India needed access to new mobile devices for developing and testing an application. As a solution, he arranged to borrow mobile devices from a retail store at night. This novel approach became an embarrassing problem for both companies when a customer of the retail store found out that her new phone had been used already. The incident caused the senior managers of the software development company to realize that clear organizational guidelines were needed to manage improvisation encouraged by jugaad. The two companies set up a formal arrangement whereby the retail store made mobile devices available to the software company in exchange for software development services. By streamlining improvisation encouraged by jugaad, organizations can leverage the ingenuity of improvised solutions and at the same time bring organizational legitimacy to them.
Adjust Expectations With a Hybrid Approach
South Koreans see palli palli as a dominant part of their culture. It emphasizes getting things done quickly, and that mindset is ideally suited to agile’s principle of delivering value early in the development process. In fact, the two concepts are so well-aligned that some South Koreans refer to agile practices as palli palli practices. Employees in a culture that values speed will strive to deliver results quickly, but an overemphasis on quick results can encourage a continual tightening of already-aggressive schedules, create unrealistic client expectations, and orient work toward short-term results.
When agile practices were put in place in South Korea, employees felt significant pressure from clients to deliver products faster than before. To counter this pressure, some project teams have adopted a hybrid approach wherein a contract is drawn up and the project team and the client agree to terms that specify the overall scope and schedule for the project and identify a set of initial requirements. Contractually limiting a project’s scope and timeline allows companies to implement agile practices only after major requirements are specified and better manage fast-delivery expectations. While such approaches go beyond what is advocated by agile methods, they are essential because they rein in the hyper-agility that would have been culturally expected otherwise. Hybrid solutions like that can help a team shift the baseline for agility so expectations are realistic.
Building an Effective Agile Team
Agile practices are people-oriented, and agile teams are self-organizing and cross-functional. Cultural scripts such as the doctrine of the mean and harmony (DOM) in China and India’s principles of social hierarchy and apane log can contribute to team building, but they also emphasize communication patterns that could restrict the free flow of information between team members. We recommend avoiding such issues by adding pragmatic structure to teams while being sensitive to cultural impacts on team cohesiveness.
Add Pragmatic Structure
The hierarchical structures encouraged by DOM in China and social hierarchy in India mean employees expect decisions to be made by superiors and are accustomed to following instructions. This dependence on structure is counterproductive in agile environments that rely on dynamic self-organization and empower employees to determine the best way to get their work done.
We found that software development companies in both China and India took steps to reorganize their teams in ways designed to discourage employees from falling back on traditional hierarchical structures to manage their projects. For example, in India, one company formed multiple subteams and each member of a subteam was designated the leader for a module. The leaders could recruit other members of the subteam to perform tasks for their modules. Similarly, in an agile project at a company in China, instead of one person acting as product owner, a group of stakeholders collectively served as product owner. In both examples, authority was dispersed across multiple individuals and reporting structures were rearranged, so the companies were able to encourage individual decision-making and communication between parties — practices that would have been discouraged in traditional structural hierarchies.
Balance Skill Sets and Group Cohesiveness
In India, the cultural script of apane log leads to the formation of teams made up of people with shared backgrounds and experiences. While such teams may be highly cohesive and therefore able to pursue projects with a sense of common purpose, they may lack diversity and members may demonstrate a tendency to prioritize team goals over the project.
We found that agile teams in India may lack the diversity of skills that is so important to the agile process because team members are often drawn from a pool of people with similar backgrounds. That’s because staffs in India tend to be made up of people with similar education and training because social ties generally play a more important role than skill sets in decisions about who to hire and who to promote. The end result is an undesirable uniformity of skills on agile teams. Moreover, the strong social relationships typical among people who embrace the notion of apane log also led to team members covering for one another’s weaknesses. To reduce the impact of apane log, managers adapted hiring practices to ensure that teams possessed the range of competencies and skill sets that were essential for particular projects.
Creating Accessible Communication Channels
Open and ongoing communication is critical to agile practices. But interpersonal communication is often deeply affected by cultural scripts that can inhibit open dialogue and interaction essential in agile teams. We suggest overcoming this obstacle by building an environment in which people can engage in open communication without running afoul of cultural norms that may discourage it.
Create Context for Openness
Open communication was a challenge for agile teams in all of the countries we studied. For example, in China, mianzi, which emphasizes the importance of maintaining social standing, caused employees to be reluctant to share information they believed might damage their own reputations or the reputations of others. And in South Korea and India, jeong and apane log, respectively, which both stress the importance of forging strong social relationships, can have both positive and negative repercussions in agile projects. On one hand, the group cohesiveness that results from such relationships can be beneficial, but it can also lead individuals to engage in behaviors that favor the team over the project.
Employees who embrace mianzi, jeong, and apane log may take criticism too personally or cover for the weaknesses of fellow team members. Those three cultural scripts inhibit the open communication that agile methods rely on to keep the development process transparent and ensure that project information is available to all members of the team.
Managers in China and South Korea dealt with their employees’ hesitancy to express themselves openly by creating environments in which open dialogue was acceptable. In South Korea, one organization held informal meetings after regular work hours in bars or other locations outside of the office, creating an opportunity for team members to discuss difficult topics in a comfortable atmosphere. At some of those off-site meetings, project members informally briefed their managers and customers about the difficulties of adopting certain agile practices. In China, the managers’ approach was to explain to employees how mianzi could be used to assist the agile process. They emphasized that mianzi is a conflict management tool that could help employees avoid responding to one another in irrational ways. They also noted that embracing mianzi could help colleagues and customers “save face” by adopting a positive attitude when communicating with one another.
Create New Communication Channels
In China and India, DOM and the institution of social hierarchy, respectively, instill people with a sense of respect for authority figures and, as a result, interpersonal communication is often very formal and less open. This less relaxed style of interaction can hinder the free exchange of ideas and make it harder for employees lower in the organizational hierarchy to develop a deep understanding of customer needs.
In both countries, we found that employees would remain silent when they disagreed with their superiors, because they believed they were not in a position to make decisions. In China, only some employees would talk to customers, and in India, communication occurred mainly between people who were at the same level of the organizational hierarchy. On an agile team, a lack of open communication with the customer may lead to incorrect assumptions about customer needs, and therefore significant rework may be required when the end result is not what the customer expected. To address that problem, companies created wikis to support collaborative decision-making. Through the wiki, all team members could share their thoughts openly but also anonymously, so that they didn’t appear disrespectful. Such solutions can help employees feel they are preserving their respect for authority, and at the same time provide a channel for openly sharing concerns.
Consider Culture in an Agile Implementation
Introducing practices that bring agility to a team or organization can be done with cultural sensitivity. Successful agile companies adapt their practices to suit project and organizational characteristics.2 Adapting your agile practices to be considerate of cultural scripts will demonstrate to global teams that agile methods are not a one-size-fits-all approach and that localized nuances do matter. As you implement agile practices pioneered in one culture in countries that have different cultural norms, it’s important to consider how the requisite agile behaviors may mesh with the cultural norms of the employees being asked to behave that way.
While the specific solutions you create to resolve conflicts between agile practices and cultural scripts will likely vary depending on local contexts and cultural norms at play, the broader and more compelling storyline here is that agile product development teams can find a workable balance between standard agile practices and behaviors that would be typical in the local culture. Striking such a balance is important not only because it helps ensure that agile teams will be able to accomplish their goals, but also because it can create interesting opportunities to leverage the unique perspectives and solutions different cultures may offer.
Today’s businesses see market data as a commodity. Readily accessible information about consumer activity and preferences allows market researchers to develop large data sets to mine for consumer insights. And indeed, a look through recent market research industry publications shows that discussions in the field have been dominated by a focus on data analysis.
But more often than not, insight into what customers really care about is hampered by the quality of the data being collected. Some market researchers conflate the idea of data quality with sample size, with the belief that reliability, validity, and other characteristics of “good measurement” derive solely from the amount of data collected. This is certainly not the case.
A heavy emphasis on data collection and analysis is irrelevant if it omits the first and most important step of market research — the design of the metrics. In the psychometric tradition, survey development and the construction of specific survey questions has been emphasized as the most important step in the research process. Unfortunately, this step is getting short shrift by most market researchers today.
Failing to assess the measures that are the foundation of business decisions poses a colossal risk. Making data-driven decisions based on poor measures can be infinitely worse than making decisions without data at all.
To help organizations think more critically about the measures they use to collect information about consumers, we’ve outlined four common misconceptions held by many market researchers and provide suggestions for how to break away from these mistaken beliefs.
Belief in Measurement (Without Thinking About What We’re Measuring)
Historically, when market researchers wanted to measure a construct, such as how consumers feel about a particular brand (for example, “brand love”), they would ask respondents to rate questions that directly describe the construct, such as “How much do you love this brand?”
This kind of “measurement by describing” has its share of problems. For instance, many constructs are too abstract for regular consumers to report on in concrete terms. Think about how you’d reply if you were asked how much brand love you have for Tide laundry detergent. Most people couldn’t get more specific than reporting general approximations such as “a lot” or “a little.”
Researchers have begun to move toward methods that use self-reported data in better ways. Instead of asking, “How much do you love this brand?” today’s best practice is to pose statements that a consumer might endorse if they loved the brand. For example, “disagree/agree” statements like “I would drive 20 miles to purchase [Brand]” would be fully endorsed only if the respondent really loved the brand. We derive the level of the construct from behaviors respondents say they would engage in.
The “measure by deriving” approach requires a deep conceptual understanding of what is being measured. But many market researchers still ask questions the old way, descriptive of what’s being measured (“I like the ad I just saw”) rather than descriptive of derivative behaviors (“I showed the ad to friends”).
If market researchers continue to write surveys that measure constructs overtly instead of by their derivative behaviors, the data will likely be subject to uncertainty and error that could easily be avoided. They need to put more thought into what exactly they want to know, carefully consider what behaviors should be the consequence of that construct, and develop the measure from there.
Belief in the One-Question Measure
Market research is not exempt from the financial pressures of business. Cost-consciousness trickles into our work when clients ask for short surveys that cover as many topics as possible — which often results in a single question for each topic. For example, “How satisfied are you with your experience?” might be the only question in a survey that assesses “customer experience.”
There are a number of challenges with this kind of thinking. First, the single question might not be a unique measure of “customer experience” but instead a measure of some other construct such as “agreeableness.” It is not uncommon in the world of psychometrics for items to “cross load,” meaning they can be a measure of more than one thing. Second, assuming that a question does measure what we want it to measure, it rarely ever measures all aspects of a construct. In the example of customer experience, many aspects — including price, promotions, interaction with employees, and perceptions of the brand — join to influence an individual’s global impression of his or her experience. Asking just one question fails to assess these multiple aspects and neglects the variations in people’s impressions.
As well, limiting a measure to only one question doesn’t always allow an organization to measure the change in a respondent’s impressions, because it forces a measurement ceiling on respondents. Imagine a scenario where an organization wants to test new ads by measuring the effect the ad has on brand impression. Respondents who already love the brand might have “maxed out” on their measure of brand impression if they gave the brand a 7 on a seven-point scale prior to ad exposure. Even if they’re shown really good ads, they can’t increase their score in the post test — they can only stay at a 7. This limitation to the measure does not correspond with the way reality works: More often than not, brand loyalists’ passion for a brand can be increased with ads and brand actions that resonate.
Having multiple questions that measure different aspects of the same construct is a fail-safe way to make sure data-driven decisions are actually based on all of the aspects of the construct of interest. It’s a way to capture all of the information that the measure can supply.
Belief That All Questions Are Created Equally
Even if market researchers heed the advice to use multiple questions for each construct they are measuring, they must remember that different questions provide different information.
Consider the standardized tests that are used widely in the U.S. for college admissions. The SAT and ACT are designed to include easy items that most test-takers will answer correctly and difficult items that fewer can answer correctly. Market research questions work in a similar manner. There are some behaviors that almost anyone would do whether they love a brand or not, such as read some of the brand’s posts on social media. There are other behaviors that only those who really love the brand would do, such as spend a large portion of their disposable income on it or travel a considerable distance to purchase it.
This point can be illustrated visually. (See “Easy- and Harder-to-Endorse Statements Provide the Whole Picture.”) For example, assume that the construct (also called latent trait) “brand love” ranges from -4 to 4. People who dislike the brand are on the lower end and people who love it are on the higher end. Respondents in the middle, at 0, have a 51% probability of endorsing the “easy” statement of “I would read [Brand’s] posts on social media” and only a 6.8% probability of endorsing the “difficult” statement of “I would drive 20 miles to purchase [Brand].” A higher level of brand love is required to endorse the more difficult statement. In this example, a respondent with a higher latent score of 1 has a 75% probability of endorsing the easy item and jumps to a 90% probability of endorsing the hard item.
Marketers need to select questions and statements with a range of difficulties to ensure that useful information can be captured from all respondents.
Belief in Using Scales Without Scaling
One of the most important jobs that market researchers have when doing research is to provide an interpretation of what they are measuring.
One way to do this is by using norms, which are created when a researcher has collected the same measurement on a number of individuals or groups. By knowing how others score, researchers can see where an individual falls relative to everyone else. Another approach is criterion-reference scaling. For example, tests for a driver’s license are criterion-referenced, where “proficiency” is established using a cut-off score (for instance, getting 85% of answers correct is required to pass). Rather than considering how an applicant scores relative to others, the focus is on whether the driver is proficient based on scores that are predetermined by state agencies.
But while both norms and criterion-reference approaches help aid with the interpretation of a score relative to other people (via norms) or relative to some other external criterion (via criterion-reference), they do not aid in the interpretation of how an individual scores relative to the latent trait being measured — in the example “Easy- and Harder-to-Endorse Statements Provide the Whole Picture,” that would be how much an individual dislikes or loves a brand to begin with on the scale of -4 to 4. Pairing how individuals score on a measure with their level of the latent trait is a step that market researchers often skip.
Easy- and Harder-to-Endorse Statements Provide the Whole Picture
In this plot, we can see two statements from a survey. The red line is the “easier” statement, requiring a lower level of brand love for a respondent to endorse. The blue line is the “harder” statement.
Imagine you’re analyzing survey results about “brand loyalty” looking at data from a five-question survey, where each question was ranked using a seven-point Likert scale. If respondents gave the questions an average score of 5 (or a sum score of 25), how would you interpret that?
The truth is that you simply might not know what constitutes a high score without scaling. Some might see this as a bad score because it is far from the maximum they could have gotten — an average of 7, with a sum score of 35. However, just because the scale maximum is 35, that doesn’t mean that a respondent who exhibits a high level of brand loyalty will say 7 across every question. It could be that a 25 is a high score on this scale.
Regardless of what they’re measuring, market researchers must recognize that scaling is a necessary step. While most market researchers use norms, it is of increasing importance to use statistical models such as item response theory to establish a correspondence between responses on a measure and level on the latent trait.
Measurement: There’s More Than Meets the Eye
Measurement is a tough thing to get right. The more we work with clients and their vendors, the less emphasis we see being put on how measures are created. While big data gives us safer ground for generalizing our results, it is no substitute for the careful crafting of a measure that has been tested for reliability and validity.
By thinking carefully about what is being measured and adopting psychometric best practices, researchers and executives can make data-driven decisions that stand on the strongest possible footing.
Nike’s decision to make NFL quarterback-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick the face of the 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign illustrates the important strategic difference between brand and reputation.
Brand is about generating demand among customers. Reputation is about approval among stakeholders. Nike has made a deliberate decision to increase the appeal of its brand among younger, liberal, ethnically diverse consumers globally while risking not only a portion of its existing customer base (older and more socially conservative buyers) but also its overall reputation — at least in the short term.
This is a bold business move. Most companies want “to have their cake and eat it, too” when it comes to brand and reputation. They seek to create a distinctive brand positioning among consumers while simultaneously enjoying the approval of all their stakeholders. It is rare that a company recognizes that brand and reputation sometimes need to be managed separately and that the actions required to drive brand strength may sometimes come at the expense of reputation.
Nike made a bet that the near-term hit to its reputation would be outweighed by gains among consumers stimulated by the company’s commitment to a progressive stance with Kaepernick. The campaign, released early in September, seems to be paying off. While Nike’s share price fell over 3% the day after the campaign launched and more than 200,000 mentions of #NikeBoycott appeared on Twitter and Instagram, the negative backlash has cooled, and Nike shares have traded strongly in the wake of increased sales.
Since its inception, Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign has had an element of rebellion, and the latest rendition of the campaign is full-throated in this regard. Nike is not alone here. Brands with rebel legacies, like Harley Davidson and Virgin, and any number of entertainment personalities — Miley Cyrus and Madonna come quickly to mind — recognize that stirring the social pot can be an effective aspect of their brand, even when that means alienating some stakeholders.
Given this, it makes good business sense for Nike to choose a spokesperson who combines strong athletic credentials with a recognized social conscience. Nike is playing the long game to expand the appeal of its brand to a new generation of consumers across the globe who respect both athletic excellence and social purpose.
Nike’s strategic choice drives home an important point for all brands. Many companies have drawn an incomplete conclusion from the rise of social media. Yes, most organizations now understand the necessity of monitoring their activities to identify potential risks that stand to be dramatically amplified online as well as to use social channels to draw attention to reputation-boosting initiatives like work in the community and environmental efforts. But in making reputation the centerpiece of their communications, many companies have found that their brands have suffered: They have become bland, or worse, irrelevant. Consider Campbell Soup Co., which recently was recognized as having the No. 1 reputation among U.S. companies yet is faced with lagging sales and a continued drop in share price. By focusing on what makes the organization respected by everyone, companies often fail to ensure that their brand offers a distinct group of customers a compelling reason to buy.
Nike learned the distinction between brand and reputation the hard way. In the early 1990s, controversy and protests over the labor practices in its overseas factories both damaged its reputation and threatened to undermine the appeal of its brand among consumers. Nike saw how an apparent lack of social legitimacy can derail a business. At the same time, a positive reputation alone is not sufficient to win consumers to your brand or persuade them to pay a premium for your products. That requires a distinctive and compelling brand positioning that resonates with your target audience and reflects their aspirational values.
Understanding and managing this essential distinction between brand and reputation is not always easy. Nevertheless, Nike just did it.
Cybersecurity is becoming top of mind for customers and organizations, as highly publicized data breaches and cyberattacks at large corporations have revealed just how much damage a hacker can do by accessing or manipulating an organization’s systems. In addition to the immediate financial and operational consequences, a breached business often faces class-action lawsuits, regulatory fines, damage to its reputation, and a string of other ramifications.
Consider Yahoo. In April 2018, the company agreed to pay a $35 million fine for failing to report a 2014 data breach in which hackers stole personal information from hundreds of millions of user accounts. A month prior, a judge had ruled that the victims of the data breach had the right to sue Yahoo for negligence and breach of contract for not disclosing its systems’ security weaknesses.
Yahoo is not alone; a startling number of companies have faced public relations disasters surrounding security breaches in the past few years. On the one hand, the trend makes sense; cyberattacks are becoming more common than ever as hackers become more adept at penetrating systems. On the other hand, it doesn’t make sense, because while those carrying out cyberattacks are gaining more tools, so are the specialists who defend against them. Cybersecurity practices can — and need to — be better.
Despite the publicity around the Yahoo breach and other cases, most organizations still perform poorly with respect to cybersecurity management. Companies do not respond properly to cyber risk — instead, they underestimate or ignore altogether potential threats or rely solely on generic, off-the-shelf cybersecurity solutions. According to a 2017 report, a mere 19% of chief information security officers are confident about their companies’ abilities to address a cybersecurity incident.
Today’s ever-increasing cyber risks require businesses to use proactive decision-making in cybersecurity capability development. Allocating resources to cybersecurity should be a top priority of any manager. If an organization has strong cybersecurity protections and protocols in place before a breach, that organization can recover more quickly and incur fewer costs from cyberattacks. Unfortunately, proactive decision-making at the managerial level isn’t always easy or intuitive.
Complexity in Cybersecurity
It is best to work to comprehend cybersecurity in its full complexity, but complex systems are hardly intuitive. Managers’ problem-solving methods are typically reactive and event-oriented, meaning they will attempt to solve problems only after they occur. However, this approach fails to address connections among system components and delays between cause and effect. Like other complex systems, cybersecurity involves a variety of unpredictable variables that complicate the task of building effective cybersecurity capabilities.
As a systems scientist at MIT Sloan School of Management, I have made cybersecurity decision-making one of the central areas of my research. My colleagues and I recently set out to investigate a major question of cybersecurity development: How does managerial experience affect decision-making in cybersecurity?
Putting Experience to the Test
We developed a “management flight simulator” game to measure how different individuals invest in cybersecurity development. Though the game involves no flying — real or simulated — it is inspired by the flight simulators used by aircraft pilots. Pilots' training relies on virtual simulators to develop familiarity with the typical course of a flight and build reactivity to obstacles without fear of real-world consequences. In the same way, players use the management flight simulator to practice the critical decision-making duties that they perform for their organizations on a daily basis. In our study, those decisions involved cybersecurity investments and operations.
The two groups studied consisted of experienced managers and inexperienced students. The experienced group had an average history of 15 years in IT and cybersecurity positions in a variety of industries, while the inexperienced group was comprised of graduate students preparing to take an introductory course on information technology. The flight simulator placed players in a virtual setting in which they were tasked with allocating resources to cybersecurity capabilities.
Success in the game is based on a player’s ability to make a high accumulated profit at the end of the simulated five-year period. The key to winning is proactive decision-making, shown by investing very early on, before an attack can occur. When proactive players invest in cybersecurity, they make noticeably less profit than reactive players in the early stages of the game. But once cyberattacks begin to occur, proactive players perform much better over the rest of the simulation.
Perhaps surprisingly, experienced managers performed no better than inexperienced players in the game. Furthermore, inexperienced players appeared to adapt more easily to random attacks, whereas experienced managers struggled when cyberattacks occurred at unpredictable — rather than fixed — intervals.
Past research actually offers an explanation. In general, experienced managers tend to turn to processes that have worked well in the past. They may not adapt as quickly to new situations or technologies, because they’ve already developed routines and decision-making habits over the course of their tenures in their fields. Managers are unlikely to invest time and resources to justify defense or recovery for something that doesn’t seem like a real possibility. A manager’s assessment of probability is often based on perceptual characteristics, such as distance, scale, or size. Before a company has experienced a cyberattack firsthand, it is difficult to gauge the probability of an attack, which diminishes the perceived likelihood of an attack taking place.
This is not to say that experienced managers are a lost cause or that we recommend hiring inexperienced students to make decisions regarding cybersecurity. Rather, our findings point to a greater issue. Research shows that humans do not have strong intuition when it comes to low-probability, high-consequence scenarios. In the case of cybersecurity, a rational decision-maker invests in information security if the investment yields a positive return, or if the cost of the investment is less than that of the risk it eliminates. Difficulties in measuring the costs and benefits of information security investments cloud the vision of the rational decision-maker. In addition to a high level of complexity, there is also a lack of historical data, effective metrics related to cyberattacks, and knowledge concerning the type and range of uncertainties involved.
Applying Training Tools
Though experienced managers did not fare better than inexperienced students in terms of their overall earnings in the game, a significant positive correlation was observed between the number of runs they played in the game and their success. Training tools like the management flight simulator are essential tools for managers to improve their decision-making and build effective cybersecurity systems in organizations. Through iterative learning, managers observe the complexities of cybersecurity and the power of feedback delays and learn effective methods for facing trade-offs and optimizing strategy developments.
Management flight simulators are useful in that they allow users to observe the long-term consequences of a decision or a series of decisions. They also facilitate an iterative learning process — managers can implement their decisions, advance the game, monitor the impact of their decisions over time, reset the simulation, and repeat the process with different sets of decisions. Similar applications have been developed in other fields, like climate policy and health policy.
Cybersecurity concerns don’t just affect IT departments and isolated response teams. Though it can often seem abstract or merely technological, cybersecurity, when improperly managed, can have very tangible consequences. Considering the financial risk involved, the responsibility of addressing cybersecurity issues should belong to managers at high organizational levels. Greater awareness of cybersecurity’s complexity and training programs like simulation models are increasingly necessary for managers to prepare for the reality of dealing with cyber threats.
There is a fundamental humanity to business institutions. Businesses are cooperative endeavors that leverage human work and creativity to create social value. Stable, functional, and purpose-driven businesses are key to real human flourishing.
And yet, many governments are expected to be neutral about business. Western liberalism largely recognizes two roles for governments when it comes to business: The redistributor role, carried out primarily through the tax system, where business gains are redistributed to other parts of society, and the referee (or regulator) role, where governments ensure level playing fields for business ventures and set ground rules for what counts as fair play in each industry.
There is, however, a third role: governments as facilitators of value creation. By facilitators, we mean that governments can enact policies that enable businesses to better create value in terms of both efficiency and effectiveness. Governments can raise the knowledge and skill base of their citizens by enabling research and reforming education. Governments can invest in infrastructure that improves conditions for businesses to create value and develop innovative business ideas. And governments can do all this without picking winners and losers, the traditional free-market ideologue’s objection to any government involvement in the marketplace.
What Governments as Facilitators Look Like
There are many examples of governments acting as facilitators throughout history. In the United States, building the interstate highway system from the 1950s to 1990s led to much more efficient commerce (and while some argue that this system favored trucking companies over rail companies, there was no reason in principle that governments had to ignore investment in rail infrastructure so that today’s passenger rail system only works in some parts of the country). The U.S. Surgeon General’s 1964 report on smoking and health helped change congressional and agency priorities to enable research substantiating the reports’ claims, and mobilized medical, public health, and civil society efforts against early death and disease.
Non-U.S. governments have fewer institutional biases against business and government cooperation — and blurrier lines around what constitutes private and public space. But many see themselves as facilitators of value creation. For example, the central government of Estonia has built a data exchange system called X-Road, a borderless network that transparently stores, protects, and filters access to citizens’ data, identities, and interactions with state organizations. Described as the heart of Estonia’s “digital government,” X-Road is used by private companies as an entry point to the country’s markets because it eliminates transaction risks and simplifies the creation of new businesses. Estonia’s digital state is hyper-democratic, progressive, and a catalyst of commerce.
When we hear the term “pro-business” government, we often think of a particular political ideology, a set of tax incentives, or even a particular attitude to the poor. But imagine, instead, government being “pro-businesses” — that is, for the development and success of real businesses, not of business as an ideology. This is what governments that are facilitators really look like.
We contend that a pro-business government is part of the old story of business and capitalism. In the old narrative, we were taught that private businesses should focus on creating value, and governments should intervene in that process as little as possible. This view needlessly casts businesses as a source of value to be exploited by owners or restrained by regulators, and it artificially constrains the ways we might imagine government helping to propagate the good that business does.
A government that is “pro-businesses” is part of a new story of business. In this new capitalism of the 21st century, companies are rediscovering their purposes, taking a larger role in solving society’s problems, and inventing new ways to create value for all their stakeholders. This intersection of government and business is more likely to improve the lives of actual people instead of the portfolios of investment managers.
Governments that are facilitators and pro-businesses are often local and closely connected to the geographies, people, and capabilities that make up real businesses. Local governments can be laboratories for democracy and are well-positioned to understand the people they serve, their needs, and the various ways that government interventions might enhance or inhibit the local creation of value for and by businesses.
Toward a ‘Pro-Businesses’ Future
In today’s business environment, we should look to innovative governments to facilitate value creation. Here are two ways that governments can seed experiments in value creation:
A partner of ours at the Darden School of Business, Jeff Cherry, founded Conscious Venture Lab, a Baltimore-area accelerator that invests modest amounts of money in young, growing startups in return for small financial stakes in those companies. Cherry and his team provide four months of intensive advice, management training, and mentorship to each company. The lab’s goal is to help ingrain in participating entrepreneurs a social purpose in their mission and business practices, and to succeed in returning value to their communities, employees, shareholders, suppliers, and other stakeholders in their success. The lab is a private program in a large city, but it could be duplicated by local and small-state governments where it is difficult to attract or home-grow private investment capital.
Designed correctly, public educational programs that teach kids and young adults how to start businesses can be a way to reconnect young people to the goals of the broader economy. While many U.S. locales provide tax incentives to locate business operations in their jurisdictions or to hire new people, governments should experiment with other mechanisms, including accelerators like Cherry’s, that equip local startups with a purpose and set of practices targeted at producing benefits to their local stakeholders.
Facilitating Education and Retraining
As economies change, local governments can enable workers to transition by creating community retraining programs in schools and community colleges. Government investment in technical and other certificate-based education should be made more widely available, giving business a larger number of workers to grow their operations in their communities. Government can also play a role by helping industries and companies in their jurisdictions understand the job disruption that’s on the horizon, as the governments of France, Denmark, and Singapore have been doing recently.
In Brazil, the Brazilian Fund for the Protection of Workers works with trade unions and government agencies in providing vocational training. As an example, the School of Tourism and Hospitality in Florianópolis coordinates with the national Ministry of Tourism in training both employed and unemployed workers in everything from food handling to information technology.
Early childhood programs that prepare tomorrow’s labor force early to participate in businesses are responsible investments as well — and they will pay off in 20 years. In the United States, the not-for-profit ReadyNation encourages businesses to promote government investments in local early childhood programs. The organization’s parent group, Council for a Strong America, also advocated for expanded career and technical education programs in California, Michigan, and Oregon.
While there are no guarantees, we are arguing for a philosophy of experimentation. Free markets and free minds require access to new ideas, innovation, and infrastructure. To build a better society for our children, we must build better cooperation between businesses and governments.
Few contemporary organizations are able to conduct business unencumbered by legacy systems, siloed access to data, and a reliance on rearward-looking metrics. MIT Sloan Management Review Strategic Measurement guest editor Michael Schrage sat down with Andrew Low Ah Kee, chief revenue officer of GoDaddy, to discuss these challenges as well as the opportunities presented by data-driven decision-making. For the Silicon Valley upstart, an analytics-first culture is second nature, and early strategic alignment leads to a nimble, fast-growing enterprise capable of shifting from a retrospective focus to a predictive one. Low Ah Kee describes some of the company’s use cases for machine-learning algorithms as he shares his views on aligning an organization around key performance indicators (KPIs).
Defining the right KPIs for machine-learning efforts is a sophisticated, but not necessarily complex, endeavor. Low Ah Kee advises organizations to start with a well-articulated (preferably, written) strategy and a commitment to gather only as much detailed data as is necessary for decision-making. He does not recommend prioritizing gathering more data over taking action, and offers insights into being purposeful about the decisions one chooses to automate. Finally, he suggests meetings begin with a scorecard review to ensure the organization is continuing to track the right metrics.
Anonymous chat apps are quickly picking up steam in the workplace, providing employees with a platform to discuss concerns and complaints, offer advice, and provide unfiltered feedback in novel ways. These technologies can be helpful to managers — but you wouldn’t think so from much of the press surrounding them.
Blind, one of the most popular of these apps and dubbed “HR’s worst nightmare” by TechCrunch, offers employees the opportunity to provide raw feedback, which is “the antithesis to HR’s utopic vision of a manageable and orderly corporate culture.” The New York Times has looked at the trouble anonymous feedback gives employees and managers, citing expert research that anonymous peer reviews are just as political and subjective as any others.
These are all valid concerns. But as a manager myself, I’ve found that there is a time and place for collecting anonymous feedback from my staff. In fact, doing so can help retain great employees, boost productivity, and build greater engagement.
To be clear, it is important to have a workplace culture based on real, open communication and transparency so employees feel free to share their concerns and ideas by name without fear of reprisal. Far too many companies are failing to build these cultures. In fact, according to a study by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte on digital leadership, “C-level executives often portray their organizations as transparent, open to risk-taking, and having high morale. But as you move down the organizational structure, managers rarely believe it and say that the level of trust is very low.”
It’s clearly important to address this at the manager level. It’s why I meet with every person on my team — not just my direct reports, but with their reports as well, at least once a month. I work to build relationships with them and encourage them to bring me anything that they feel deserves my attention. When they do, I try to help them and follow up, as building trust is crucial for fostering environments where feedback can be shared openly.
Still, I know that, even with this culture in place, there may be things that some employees just aren’t comfortable sharing by name — particularly when it concerns their team or their immediate manager.
For gathering anonymous workplace feedback, I use an employee engagement tool called TINYPulse. At least once a month, I send out this question to my entire team and its reporting chain: On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you with your job?
We generally get about an 80% response rate. And most replies are good news, with people reporting high numbers. But sometimes, an employee responds with a low number. When that happens, I can use the tool to create an anonymous dialogue with that individual. I respond in an authentic, transparent way, writing something like, “Hey, this is Ryan. I’m really sorry to learn that you’re feeling this way. Could you help me understand better, so I can help drive changes for you?”
For example, one employee recently reported being at a 5 on the survey. After I reached out, this person explained that the problem was about feeling unappreciated. So, I asked them to explain a bit more: Does this feeling relate to your manager? To the team in general? Or is this within another team? It led to a longer conversation, as these types of communications almost always do.
About half the time, the person ends up choosing to share his or her identity and gives details that help me address the concern more specifically. I maintain their confidentiality and keep an eye out for the problem — how this person is treated in meetings, for example, or whether their work is being recognized by his or her manager and by the company in general.
Even when people choose not to identify themselves, it’s still helpful for me to learn at least the general nature of what’s making them feel less satisfied. It perks up my eyes and ears, so I become more attuned to that kind of problem festering anywhere in the organization.
So, unlike with chat boards, I’m not creating an open platform for people to make any and all complaints anonymously. It isn’t a tool for people to trash-talk each other or to post nebulous remarks that don’t lead anywhere. Managers can see anonymous results of the survey in aggregate, and anyone can reach out anonymously to anyone else, offering the chance to talk. But any responses are private, one-to-one.
I’ve found that it consistently enhances, rather than diminishes, our culture of open communication. It also sends a message: Our employees are so important to us, we will use every tool we can to help address problems.
It’s difficult to overestimate the importance of employee satisfaction. Research has shown that higher levels of employee engagement can lead to higher profitability and that “when employees are satisfied, they tend to be more committed to their work and have less absenteeism, which positively influences the quality of the goods they produce and services they deliver.” Anonymous surveys looking at employee satisfaction can also help managers gauge their staff’s willingness to serve as brand ambassadors.
As employees find new ways to use digital tools to share stories, offer advice, or even simply let off steam, it won’t be feasible for employers to avoid anonymous technologies altogether. Instead, managers must look for ways to use them effectively — by making them part of an ecosystem that values relationships, open communication, and employee feedback in all its forms.
Changes in the world and workplace mean a shift from traditional leadership to one led by digital transformations. In order to execute effective leadership in a digital world, leaders must embrace key changes rooted in factors like technology, demographics, and cultural norms while retaining the enduring and contextual characteristics of leadership. This may necessitate a mindset shift moving forward.
Will I be ready to lead in 2025?
I’m wondering how many of us are asking this question of ourselves. After all, 2025 is less than a decade from now, and if you are like me, you have probably invested a good deal of time reflecting on your own experiences and what others have taught you about the art and craft of leadership and what it means to be an effective leader. Those reflections, experiences, and observations have served us reasonably well as we’ve learned how to lead in today’s world. But what about leading in tomorrow’s world? What will it take to be a great leader five years from now, let alone 10? As I’ve pondered this question, I think, surely, things won’t change so dramatically that I won’t be able to keep up. Fundamentally, leadership is leadership, right? In the end, it’s all about crafting a vision and strategy, motivating people to execute that strategy for customers, and delivering superior value for investors. End of story.
But is it? Consider the case of RBC, the Canadian financial services giant. Over the past few years, it has been engaged in a comprehensive digital transformation of how it provides services to its clients and customers. Only recently, however, did RBC’s leadership come to terms with the notion that to fully execute its digital transformation, it needed leaders who fully embrace and understand how to compete and lead in the new economy. As such, the company has completely transformed its leadership model and its talent strategy. Those who are excited about and capable of embracing the future will comprise RBC’s future leadership ranks.
Or, consider the observations Alan Mulally, legendary CEO of Ford and Boeing Commercial Airplanes, shared with me about his own leadership style. Earlier in his career, Mulally’s view of an effective leader was someone who was in charge, who fully grasped the challenges facing the organization, and who was clear in providing direction and guidance when needed. It was only after one of his top managers left the company because he felt micromanaged by Mulally that he came to realize that great leaders unleash the talents of their people rather than try to harness them.
Let’s be clear: The challenge isn’t just about how to change the leadership profile for larger companies that have been around for 100 years or more. Brian Halligan, CEO and cofounder of HubSpot, a social media marketing and web analytics company, is fond of saying that he spends perhaps half of his time worrying about who will lead the company over the next decade — and this is a company that is barely a decade old! Halligan points out that the average age of a HubSpot employee is mid-20s, so it’s important for the company’s leaders to understand what motivates this generation and what leadership style will work most effectively.
These examples trigger a variety of important questions about the future of leadership, our preparedness as individuals to be up to the challenge, and the readiness of organizations to cultivate the next generation of those who will lead. Those include:
What key changes in the world around us (for example, digitalization, AI and machine learning, globalization, demographics, societal and cultural norms) will influence what it means to be a great leader?
What will be the distinguishing characteristics of great leaders in the future? What will they do differently, do better, or stop doing? How will they behave differently? Will they think differently about their approach to leading?
What organizational policies and practices will facilitate the identification and development of a next generation of leaders? Beyond policies and practices, what kind of organizational culture and climate will be needed to enable this new leader profile to emerge more organically?
As the very nature of what it means to be a company changes, and as the nature of work and ways of working change, will the demands of leadership be met by more art than craft?
The Enduring and Contextual Characteristics of Leadership
So, given the changes and examples mentioned above, it would be easy to disregard my question “Leadership is leadership, right?” as purely old-world thinking. But let’s take a moment to consider this. Regardless of the changing seas leaders are trying to navigate every day — technology, demographics, society, geopolitical shifts, and cultural norms — certain traits, attributes, and behaviors remain critically important components of what it takes to be a great leader. Integrity, for example, will never diminish in importance, nor will character, courage, the capacity to execute, or customer zeal. These are what I refer to as the enduring characteristics of leadership.
It is also true that our world is changing so rapidly and so fundamentally that we can only imagine what it might look like and feel like a decade from now. So it should come as no surprise that in addition to these enduring characteristics, there will be new demands on those who will lead next-generation companies and a next-generation workforce. Moreover, these new demands will likely change in response to the key influencers mentioned above. For example, as more companies globalize, leading teams will increasingly mean leading geographically dispersed and multicultural teams.
As millennials increasingly populate not only the workforce, but management and leadership ranks as well, where we work, when we work, and how we work will continue to change. And as business models increasingly become digitalized and powered by analytics and algorithms, leaders will need to completely rethink their talent strategies and whether they will try to harness, coordinate, or unleash their most valuable human assets. These new demands are what I refer to as the contextual characteristics of leadership. So, whereas crafting a vision and a strategy is an enduring leadership characteristic, doing so in a transparent, inclusive, and collaborative manner is a contextual characteristic, given the expectations of the new workforce. Great leaders will need to more artfully merge the “what” with the “how” to thrive in tomorrow’s world.
The Future of Leadership in the Digital Economy Big Ideas Initiative
This blog is the beginning of a yearlong examination of what it will take to be a great leader. MIT Sloan Management Review will serve both as the platform for what I hope will be a comprehensive, interactive, and global initiative to examine many of the questions posed in this piece, and as an important research partner in the process. Cognizant, one of the world’s leading voices on digital transformation and thriving in the new economy and the changing world of work, is serving as our collaboration partner on this project. I will serve as the principal researcher and guest editor for what will become a truly agenda-setting project on the future of leadership in the digital economy.
We will gather the views of thousands of people from around the world, and I hope to interview dozens of both current and future leaders to test this notion that there are both enduring and contextual characteristics of what it takes to be a great leader in this rapidly changing world. This is your invitation to engage with us. I started by asking myself the simple question, “Will I be ready to lead in 2025?” I think if you ask yourself that same question, you’ll want to join us on this journey!
Corporations spend tremendous resources finding the right board members. They hire professional recruitment firms tasked with scouring the earth for candidates, while board members spend their time and energies determining the “fit” of potential contenders.
So much goes into this recruitment process that it is often mistaken for an actual onboarding process (but more on that later). Much is at stake in terms of legal and fiduciary responsibilities — yet, once the right candidate is selected, relatively little attention is paid to creating the conditions within the board to extract the distinctive knowledge of its new members.
Understanding how boards operate is a difficult issue to tackle: The factors that influence how internal discussions and decision-making unfold remain mostly hidden. But from my consulting engagements, research collaborations, and executive teaching, I have identified three areas where corporate boards could institute game-changing strategies. Each is based on a different but complementary approach to engaging and leveraging the unique perspectives and expertise of each board member.
Embrace Gender Quotas
First, let’s address the elephant in the room: gender quotas. The push from business and government leaders to establish and enforce formal quotas for women members of corporate boards now extends far beyond Scandinavian regions to Latin American countries like Brazil and, most recently, American states such as California.
There is a preponderance of evidence that suggests that when corporate boards have fewer than three women members, women directors are tokenized; that is, they are more likely to encounter significant bias and less likely to exert influence. At or above three, women directors are generally seen and treated as valued board contributors, where the differences they bring to their boards positively affect the fundamental nature and effectiveness of the board’s work.
Thus, corporate executives might consider reframing the issue of gender quotas: Rather than viewing the number of women on a corporate board as a problem to solve, it can be an opportunity to seek out board members with the ability to identify wide-ranging arguments and encourage novel solutions. After all, if a goal of board discussions is to unearth potential problems the company might face, open and generative dialogue is more likely to occur when there are significant differences in experience and expertise to draw from in the first place. Having women on the board might offer an opportunity for more comprehensive debate and analysis. Without enough women on the board, such discussions are unlikely to materialize in productive ways.
The strategic recommendation: Embrace gender quotas as a starting point to discovering the substantive differences in perspectives and expertise that will increase the effectiveness of the board. Gender quotas are an imperfect but powerful tool to begin solving an institutionalized problem.
Broaden the Role of Board Chair
Second, it’s essential not to underestimate the role of the board chair. The chair can directly influence the amount and quality of information shared by members. This is especially important given that a core responsibility of board governance is to explore alternative routes a company can or should take. Compared with the top management team, which operates with a narrower focus on the business day to day, the board operates in a fundamentally different state of long-term value creation.
Board chairs who purposefully structure board processes to promote constructive debate can develop the board’s shared ability to navigate uncertainty — a critical task toward making informed recommendations. In so doing, a board chair can improve the nature of the group’s work, from the politicking that occurs through private conversations outside the boardroom to the open dialogue that emerges inside, during real-time boardroom conversations. This is an opportunity for the chair to put his or her own opinions in the background and move to the foreground the process of collectively surfacing ideas and concerns.
Remember That Recruitment Does Not Equal Onboarding
Third, new board members need to be initiated to their boards with more deliberation. One of the biggest mistakes corporate executives make in board member selection is the overreliance on the recruitment process as the way to bring a new member into the organization. This is understandable: Board candidates will often go through multiple interviews with each board member, and a smart candidate will also research the company on his or her own, reaching out to past board members, current and past employees, and others who might serve as important sources of information and counsel. By the time the member is on board, both sides are very familiar with each other.
But that’s not enough. Typically, once a board member is selected, little more is done by all parties to orient the new member. Few companies have formal onboarding processes that instruct new board members on the group’s routines, norms, and dynamics. Rather than explicitly outlining how and why the board functions a particular way, most boards leave new members to pick up this information implicitly, on their own, over time — and often in silence.
Although remaining quiet to carefully listen and observe might be the intuitive recommendation of a seasoned board member to a new director, it is important to understand the trade-offs. Before being assimilated into the existing way of thinking and doing things, new members can bring a fresh perspective to current processes and routines. They can offer outside benchmarks and exemplars, as well as raise red flags that would otherwise be overlooked. Without the shackles of history, new members can push the board to question their assumptions and reframe existing factors to delve substantively into important issues.
The strategic recommendation: Establish formal onboarding procedures in which current board members communicate and explain existing routines and norms — and new board members are enlisted to improve ongoing processes. Do not settle for silence from new board members. Instead, solicit their perspectives and be open to change.
How can any reasonable, thinking person be against globalization? After all, it promotes economic development, particularly in disadvantaged countries, lowers costs to consumers, and by connecting people around the world, helps to avert conflicts.
How can any reasonable, thinking person be for globalization? After all, it exacerbates income disparities, particularly in developed countries, threatens communities with cultural assimilation, and weakens national sovereignties.
It is remarkable how many people line up either for or against globalization and then dismiss the other side. Who’s right?
Those who embrace globalization are no more thoughtful than those who dismiss it. We should all be lining up for and against globalization, to retain what is constructive about it while challenging what has become destructive. We need to keep globalization in its place, namely the marketplace, where it creates value, while keeping it out of the public space, where it has become increasingly destructive.
The central problem is that what we refer to today as globalization is really economic globalization: It enables economic forces to prevail over social concerns and democratic precepts. In economic globalization, multinational companies play governments off one another in their quest for reduced taxes and suspended regulations, while local communities have to compete for jobs that can be no more reliable than the next better offer from elsewhere. There is no ensured, sustainable employment in this model. Globalization may connect us everywhere, but it is rooted nowhere.
Economic globalization threatens decades of social and political development. Trade pacts allow companies to sue sovereign governments over legislation that reduces their profits, while companies like Uber ride roughshod over local regulations and the likes of Facebook and Google challenge our autonomy and sense of agency.
John Kenneth Galbraith’s forgotten concept of “countervailing power” can help us understand what has been happening. Countervailing forces arise in democratic societies to offset concentrated centers of power, as unions did in America with the rise of large corporations. But organized labor is not the power it once was, and no other power has risen to offset that of global corporations.
The most obvious candidate to fill the void would be a truly global governmental body, but the United Nations is hardly that. The globe may be amalgamating economically, but it remains fragmented politically and socially. Indeed, the most powerful international agencies — the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, all ardently economic — have been economic globalization’s cheerleaders.
How, then, to face this corporate hegemony? The challenge will have to begin from the ground up. Perhaps never before have so many people been prepared to vote with their feet, their ballots, and their pocketbooks. This energy will have to be harnessed to encourage the good in globalization while mitigating its most apparent harms. We need organized, positive actions — not the reactionary fear of the Brexit and Trump votes.
Such efforts will have to take root locally, with concerned citizens acting thoughtfully in their communities. And such efforts will have to be connected globally, through social media, to bring direct pressure to bear on objectionable behaviors while prodding governments to act more decisively. Communities have been the places where major social change has often begun — with a tea party in the Boston harbor or a woman boarding a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. From such sparks have come significant groundswells that have transformed societies. (For various suggestions to redress the imbalance in society, see “Going Public With My Puzzle.”)
If we do not act to limit the power of economic globalization, we shall be facing greater social disruption, the election of more tyrants, and the further deterioration of our democratic institutions.
We certainly need strong enterprises. But not “free enterprise,” if that means the pursuit of profit released from social responsibility. Not, at least, if we aim to remain free people.
With over 1.3 billion people, the Chinese consumer market is a tempting target for Western technology companies. Of course, it’s also a risky place to do business. The recent news that Google is considering a re-entry into China further highlights a troubling balancing act faced by technology companies looking to do business there. The company last entered China in 2006 with a censored search engine, but pulled the plug on the operation four years later after it discovered that human-rights activists’ Gmail accounts had been hacked. While the economic opportunity in re-entering China could be massive for the firm, there are very real dangers for Google or any internet firm in underestimating the threat posed by Chinese meddling.
Any internet platform company doing business in China has to negotiate a major business and ethical dilemma: The Chinese government enforces overbearing regulations that censor speech in the name of national security and, under common conceptions of international norms, violate human rights. Reports indicate that Google has discussed some of its re-entry plans with Chinese government officials, including offering a search service that would “blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest.”
Google’s bind is a common one. Apple, for its part, gave in to a new, privacy-impinging Chinese data security regulation last year when the firm announced it would build a data center in Guizhou, partner with a Chinese cloud service provider, and accommodate Chinese government demands that it should be able to examine private data held by Apple. The potential loss Apple would have sustained had it not caved and, in the view of many, compromised human rights interests, was huge — its access to the vast Chinese market for devices, as well as its manufacturing base there. Reportedly, Facebook has also attempted to enter China, though it has faced tremendous public outcry and difficulty in doing so.
Google’s departure in 2006 and the maneuvers of other tech companies trying to negotiate this minefield illustrate the difficult choices their executives face. Companies are compelled to maximize shareholder value; should the firm’s executives ignore human rights concerns and seize economic opportunities, or should they take the ethical course and forego the profits to be had?
While ethical considerations should rightly be a central concern, there is an array of potential threats internet firms would be wise to think through as well as they seek to balance the costs and opportunities of entering China.
Intellectual property theft. It is well-known that the Chinese government engages extensively in IP theft. For internet firms like Facebook and Google that collect personal data and monetize it using proprietary algorithms, state theft of corporate secrets — and their potential exploitation by Chinese rivals linked to the government — would pose a serious threat.
Escalating government demands. It is now clear that companies operating in China are kept on a short leash even when they comply with governmental demands. Indeed, the government can be expected, over time, to make increasingly invasive demands. Qualcomm, despite its compliance, has received heavy regulatory fines succeeded by significant merger blocks. Apple, which complied with Chinese regulations last year, was subject to threats that the government would shut off access to the Chinese labor market should the ongoing trade war with the United States escalate.
Regulatory creep. Political backlash against the leading internet platforms is increasing. In the last year, we have seen novel rhetoric and regulation from governmental authorities in Brazil, India, the United States, and elsewhere. Internet companies desire open markets and unconstrained internet service. But by making concessions to China’s censorship and regulatory demands, companies will surely encourage other governments to impose their own restrictions on the industry. When questioned about its China plans on Capitol Hill, Google dodged. But moving forward, U.S. firms will have to maintain stronger lines of communication with policymakers to resolve regulatory concerns on the front foot.
Alienating employees. Until a few months ago, Google’s plans regarding China were a closely kept secret. When employees learned that the company was considering censoring the search platform for the Chinese market, many signeda condemning internal letter — a petition to which the company’s CEO replied by noting only that Google doesn’t have immediate plans to launch a censored Chinese search service. Employees’ influence within technology corporations is growing; present and past Facebook employees (including former president Sean Parker) likewise have publicly condemned the company’s leadership for its lax data privacy practices; at Google some employees have left the company in protest of its policies.
China has long enforced a strict media and information regime. It’s unlikely that this policy framework will change any time soon. The ethical case for resisting Chinese regulation is clear. But Internet companies need to also think carefully about the business costs of conceding to Chinese rules. In addition to the threat to their reputations, there are material risks that are equally dangerous.
Data and analytics professionals seem to be at the center of the next big race for talent. In 2015, there was a surplus of people with data science skills. Now there’s a significant shortage. By 2020, IBM expects broader demand for data and analytics talent to reach 2.7 million positions in the U.S. alone.
The competition for talent will be especially intense for companies for whom advanced analytics forms a core part of their proposition — think e-commerce giants, hedge funds and complex system engineers. For them, a dedicated, in-house team of data specialists can be a necessity.
But the rest of us? Not so much. Consider the findings of a Rexer Analytics survey in which more than a third of data analytics professionals say their company never, or only sometimes, puts their analyses to use. This calls into question the practicality of funnelling analyses through centralized teams focused on big-picture challenges.
Complete Integration with the Business
In our experience, most companies don’t need a small army of data scientists or bleeding-edge analytical techniques. What they do need are analyses that solve key commercial and operational problems. The good news is that the tools to do so are readily available — and relatively inexpensive. The same is true for processing power. Meanwhile, the vast majority of companies already store (but don’t analyze) vast amounts of commercially-relevant data and are collecting it at a faster rate than ever before.
What’s missing, more often than not, is a clear strategy and operational model for using these capabilities in ways that are specific to the company’s business requirements. Any such effort depends on three basic components:
People who can combine their commercial expertise with advanced analytics methods and applications in an effective way
An evidence-based approach that translates analytical know-how and an understanding of the business problem into actionable insights
A small team of analytics professionals (not necessarily data scientists) to develop appropriate analytical tools and techniques and enable the organization to deploy them through internal training and advice
Together, these form a solid foundation for closing the gap between technical skills and commercial thinking so that businesses can extract value from analytics.
Building Internal Capabilities
So how to get started? We suggest taking your cue from companies that have been down this road before.
Start small. Aim for a single, key problem or an important (but limited) area of the business where predictive analytics can have a valuable and immediate impact. Then use the results to build credibility, excitement and momentum.
Brewing and beverage company SABMiller (now a division of Anheuser-Busch) took this track when they decided to make data and analysis available to their business units. To manage risk, they kept their initial investments modest. That way, they could readily abandon the failures while expanding the rollout of the tools and approaches that worked.
Keep it commercial. Tie analytics to the commercial and operational heart of your organization. (If it doesn’t address a core business need, analytics can be a hindrance more than a help.) While you’re at it, place the analytical capability as close as possible to those doing the commercial thinking.
Berlin-based Zalando, for instance, empowered its business units with a self-service analytics infrastructure paired with embedded analysts focused on product development. The result? Teams ranging from Fashion Store to Logistics now can extract the data-informed insights they need to make smart decisions in line with the firm’s top business priorities.
Identify your analytical capabilities — both existing and potential. Many companies already have functions dedicated to strategy, financial planning or business insights, as well as individuals who use analysis to solve business problems. Build on these assets by empowering them with new capabilities. Special qualifications aren’t required — just the ability (and desire) to become data literate and proficient in the tools you select.
When Jaguar Land Rover discovered pockets of self-service analytics activity across its departments, the company began offering in-house analytics training. The first 60-seat course offering filled to capacity. By last year, an estimated 1,800 and 2,500 employees had become “citizen analysts” — business users who created their own analytics as part of their day-to-day work.
Build a toolkit. Encourage business users to tap into analytics with self-service tools that preclude the need to learn how to code. The most effective of these have built-in algorithms to navigate company data, create charts and dashboards, and deliver insights to different audiences.
Nike put together a tailored set of software tools for business intelligence, analysis and visualization—all with an aim to reduce technical barriers and bring insights to users in the business. The toolkit had to cover the full range of user requirements from those just wanting key dashboards to those looking for as much data as possible to perform their own ‘exploratory’ analysis. All users benefit from a central team that provides the governance necessary to ensure a stable, secure and up-to-date environment.
Create evangelists. Don’t leave business users to figure out the commercial value of analytics on their own. Show it to them instead, via a network of advocates across the organization. Through these advocates, companies can proactively introduce the capabilities available to the business and provide expert support for those finding their way.
That’s what UK supermarket Sainsbury’s did when they created a new 60 strong internal team called the Humanalysts. The group’s mission? To identify data-driven opportunities for improvement—such as predicting shopper responses to new pricing strategies — and, along the way, make believers out of often-skeptical business users.
Making Use of What You Have
Wherever you start your journey, keep this in mind: Democratizing analytics is an unavoidably iterative process. Every step requires a look back to ensure the appropriate controls, training and delivery mechanisms are in place and working the way they need to be. As Voltaire famously observed, with great power comes great responsibility.
It’s also a good idea to borrow liberally from those in similar situations to your own. Make generous use of relevant case studies. Prioritize the insights that generate commercial benefits. When reporting back within your organisation, focus on output and impact rather than the underlying models. Inspire, and be inspired.
Finally, don’t give in to pressures to build great teams of scarce, highly-paid specialists without working out what makes sense for your business. There’s nothing so special about analytics that they must be kept from those most intimately familiar with the problems you need to solve, and who work for you already. Analytics should inherently empower anyone with the means to comprehend it. Put another way: Data analytics is for everyone — not just the few.
In the year since allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein shocked the public, the #MeToo movement has exposed widespread workplace sexual harassment—not just in the entertainment world, but across industries.
Last week, we at New America’s Better Life Lab published what we believe is a novel, forward-thinking report on the reality that harassment is “severe, pervasive, and widespread” across low and high income jobs and male- and female-dominated occupations. We also published an accompanying toolkit, called #NowWhat?, aimed at stakeholders invested in changing this reality. Among the recommendations we offer, one in particular is salient to businesses: supply-chain reform.
In a nutshell, this means leveraging consumer, worker, and corporate power to drive change at the companies you do business with.
Consider the Fair Food Program, which leverages farmworker and consumer pressure to demand that food buyers, like fast-food companies, demand that their food suppliers take harassment and other workplace abuses seriously.
In 2011, the Coalition of Immokalee workers banded together to get consumers on board to pressure the agricultural industry to improve working conditions. Workers organized to lobby consumers to buy only from food sellers that have been certified as a “Fair Food Farms,” placing pressure on Walmart, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Wendy’s, and other food sellers to “sign legally-binding agreements promising to only source tomatoes from Fair Food Farms with no outstanding wage theft, trafficking, sexual harassment, or other issues.” Certified farms then comply with auditors and participate in worker-education programs to “ensure farm workers have the right to work without violence and the opportunity to create a workplace of respect and dignity.”
How’s this approach working so far? Journalist Bernice Yeung found that “in the program’s seven years, 35 supervisors have been disciplined for sexual harassment, and 10 have been fired.” She continues: “Since 2013, two incidents of sexual harassment have been identified. The program’s most recent annual report notes that during the 2016–17 growing season, more than 70% of participating farms reported no incidents of sexual harassment.” These findings are significant, given that our review of the research on sexual harassment in male-dominated, low-wage industries such as farm work found evidence of widespread rape. A 2010 study showed that 80% of farm working women report experiencing sexual harassment.
The way the Coalition of Immokalee Worker and Fair Food Program ensure success is by creating user-friendly, independent reporting processes for sexual harassment, conducting peer-to-peer training about sexual harassment and workplace rights in an accessible manner, taking regular climate surveys to inform the co-creation of civil workplace practices and enforcement of respectful workplace norms, and making sure employees know that they’re more important than any one harassing foreman or farmer. Notably, the Fair Food Program food addresses many other issues beyond sexual harassment, including wage theft and human trafficking, but their efforts use supply-chain reform to eliminate sexual harassment provides a novel example of how to prevent and address workplace abuse—a strategy that other industries and organizers can use.
So how can firms like yours get ahead of the curve and encourage reform across their own supply chain before they face activist pressure?
First of all, take stock of the many corporations that rely on your company’s business, either as a buyer, a retailer, or a contractor. These are companies you might have enormous influence over, even if they don’t technically operate under your management.
Second, using resources like our report, find out what kinds of factors are letting sexual harassment flourish in companies you do business with. No two industries are alike. This might be a matter of workplace hierarchies, lackluster HR policies, or longstanding cultural assumptions about who belongs in one occupation or another.
Then, it’s time to make your priorities and values about harassment and workplace culture known. This might entail drawing up a clear, written statement on what you expect from your partners and suppliers, and consequences for when they don’t hold up their end of the bargain.
Lastly, make it official. You can do this by asking your partners across your supply chain to sign onto an agreement about what is and isn’t tolerated in their workplaces, and then, and this is important, come up with a collective way to enforce that agreement. Will there be annual climate surveys and audits of how your partners are doing? And if so, are you ready to follow through on the consequences you laid out and potentially take your business elsewhere? This is where the power your firm has to influence change across your own industry and others’ really lies.
Of course, supply-chain reform is just one of a multitude of ways a single company can improve workplace culture beyond its own walls. But none of this will be effective unless a firm takes care of its own workers first. It’s one thing for McDonald’s to sign on to the Fair Food Agreement and use its power to protect farmworkers who are picking the tomatoes they buy. But as the strike against McDonald’s for its lackluster response to sexual harassment in September showed, it still has work to do in protecting its own workers from workplace abuse.
With the right research, dedicated partners, and a plan of action, a company can change not only its own workplace culture—but also all those linked to it.
I recently stood in front of a group of emergency room residents at my hospital and asked an unusual question. “Has any of you ever judged your attending physician for not trying hard enough to save a patient’s life?” Then I looked around the room. But like every time I’d given this presentation, there were no takers.
I can’t say I was surprised. I was piloting a new program which uses storytelling to help young doctors reflect on how they handle the emotional and psychological toll of caring for suffering patients. In my experience, engaging in honest exchange about these dimensions is rare in medical culture—in fact, it is tacitly discouraged.
“Well, let me tell you about a time when I was that attending,” I said. Then I steeled myself, and launched into my story.
The patient was a young woman, healthy up until the moment of her cardiac arrest. As the ICU attending on service, I was responsible for running her code. Despite all of our best efforts, her heart fluttered ineffectively on and off for hours, unable to pump blood to her starving organs. Multiple rounds of adrenaline, electric shocks, and manual compressions by a string of exhausted interns had not succeeded in restoring her heart rhythm. As a result, her blood had become acidic, her kidneys had failed, and her liver was dying. Unbelievably, she remained intermittently awake over that first day, moaning occasionally. We hadn’t considered sedating her, as any medications for pain or sedation might drop her flagging blood pressure further. We had been pedal-to-the-metal for hours, but she was steadily deteriorating. I was confident that we had passed the point of no return.
Medical teams function much like fire departments. The chief, or attending, is counted on to lead her troops straight towards the fire, to do the job that needs to get done. We are expected to be brave, confident, and above all, to never give up. And all the more so in particular cases, such as when a patient is young, previously healthy, or has a condition that appears reversible on admission. And in cases when our well-intended but risky interventions might have actually made things worse, it is almost impossible to let go. I knew how difficult it would be for my team to consider anything less than everything for this patient. I also knew what I would be up against if I suggested changing our approach. I remembered my own tendency as a resident to sink my frustrations into more fight. I had myself judged attendings who had suggested shifting course, even questioned their fitness as leaders. But now, at the helm myself and convinced that this patient would not survive, I knew it was time to rethink our frantic scramble to save her.
A nurse ran by me to retrieve another syringe of epinephrine. I took a deep breath. “It’s time for us to stop,” I said. “I’d like to start pain and sedation meds and not restart compressions the next time her heart stops.”
These were hard words to say. Harder still when the team turned to stare at me in astonishment.
“She’s only fifty,” said one of my interns incredulously. “I think she deserves more time.” Another intern swore under her breath and rushed passed me, slamming the door on her way out. My heart sank. There was a veritable mutiny in progress. And within seconds, I began to question myself. I could hear the voices of my colleagues and others who heard of this, possibly directly asking me, more likely talking behind my back—why I hadn’t tried this technique, that intervention, a whole host of options that would never have saved this woman. They probably would have agreed that these measures wouldn’t have worked. But performing them would have been fighting to the end, the way real heroes do.
In the end, I couldn’t stand up to my own inner voices. I caved, and we continued on.
It didn’t go well. The patient died a terrible death. It took longer than I had expected—she didn’t die for another 24 hours. That fact further eroded my team’s confidence in me: my prognosis was off by a day.
But the fact is this woman suffered more than she needed to, and it was under my watch. Worried about her blood pressure, we had only minimally attended to her pain and anxiety. I look back on that day as a failure on my part—a time that I succumbed to my own internalization of a culture that prioritizes doing everything over doing what will actually help most.
And that is how I found myself, years later, speaking to this group of residents about this case. Our current medical culture often sets us up for the kind of moral distress I experienced that day. It is not only the witnessing of profound suffering, it is that we often feel unable to question or diverge from scripted approaches — ones which may actually cause more suffering than benefit. This surely contributes to the high levels of depression, suicide, and substance abuse among physicians.
One way to address this trauma is through storytelling, the approach at the heart of my pilot program. The Narrative Medicine movement, started at Columbia Medical School in 1990, has introduced storytelling into an increasing number of medical schools and training programs. Data show that the use of stories to process the challenging experience of being a doctor increases empathy, enhances wellness and resilience, and promotes a more humanistic health care culture. By providing a safe space for telling stories and listening to each other about our pain and personal conflict, we restore ourselves, and are better prepared for that next encounter.
In that vein, this program draws on my own experiences to invite others to reflect on this cure-at-all-cost culture in which we physicians have been steeped. Using my own stories, and a Netflix documentary set in our ICU, this multimedia experience aims to expose some of the emotions and fears that hold us back from doing what is best for our patients.
That day, after telling my story to the ER residents, I waited through an uncomfortable silence. I imagined I could hear the wheels spinning in their heads. Even after all these years of writing and speaking on this topic, I felt the familiar tug of anxiety. Were they judging me?
Finally, one of the residents started to speak. Hesitantly, as if worried this would come back to bite him. “I remember a time when we were coding a patient,” he said. “The code had been running for fifty minutes and the attending decided to call it. Everyone was relieved at first. But then someone said that he wasn’t comfortable stopping yet. So we restarted the code. It went on for another twenty minutes and the patient eventually died. But there was an awkward feeling in the room, like the attending had been found out. I felt bad for him because I think he was embarrassed that he’d been the first to give up.”
There were a few tentative nods. Another resident raised his hand. “I remember a time in the ER when a patient came in after a serious car accident,” he said. “We coded him on and off for hours. We’d done everything we could think of and he was about to die. Someone suggested that we open up his chest to see if there was anything we could do to restart his heart—remove some fluid, anything. It was crazy. There were even some snickers in the room. No one thought it would work. And even if it did, his organs had already died. The attending said no. And then I got pissed at the attending. I remember almost hating him. I remember thinking that he was giving up on this guy.”
I looked around the room. The residents who had spoken looked a little shocked, even sheepish. But the others looked relieved. And then a genuine conversation proceeded, one which addressed the emotional pitfalls and psychological challenges of this work. Once again I saw how our battlefield mentality affects us all: patient and healthcare provider, trainer and trainee.
It is crucial that we provide safe spaces for healthcare professionals to reflect on and process their own suffering. Then we will be fully available to do the hard work of patient-centered decision making in the moments when it is really needed — at the bedside of a dying patient.
Divya, a director who leads a large engineering team, was invited to a two-day retreat with the CEO and senior executives of her Fortune 50 company. She and 30 of her high-potential peers were excited to rub shoulders with the leadership team.
The purpose of the retreat was to expose up-and-coming leaders to broader challenges, expand their network across silos, and, of course, give them an opportunity to connect personally with C-suite executives.
The session kicked off with participants dividing into small teams to tackle company-wide strategic challenges. This was a rare opportunity to present directly in front of the CEO, so Divya and her teammates worked hard to research their assigned topic, frame the specific challenge, and debate different ideas and solutions. Instead of hanging out at the bar after dinner, they worked far into the night finalizing their presentation. Divya was selected as the spokesperson for her group, and the next morning, she made their pitch.
The team’s idea was met with a lukewarm reaction and what, at best, could be called a polite round of applause. Naturally, they were disappointed in the tepid response.
Divya and her team are all smart, do great work in their current jobs, and have promising careers ahead of them. So, what went wrong?
Based on my experience watching hundreds of presentations made by high-potential leaders, I can tell you that Divya and her colleagues are not alone in failing to land a key pitch. When presenting ideas to the CEO, even seasoned leaders who don’t regularly interact with the C-suite fall into a few common traps that can be easily avoided.
Trap #1: An Idea Without Its Problem
Smart, successful people tend to have great ideas. It’s natural for you to be excited about your ideas and eager to share them with your executives. But place yourself in your CEO’s shoes: She’s on the receiving end of endless smart ideas. For yours to stand out and be useful to the CEO, it must solve a problem.
Begin the presentation with the problem you’ve identified and spend time upfront creating context, surfacing the pain points, and building a sense of urgency around addressing the challenge. Many presenters often move straight to solution and neglect to build a sound case for immediate action. It’s the problem, not the idea, that executives want to hear first. Spend the first quarter of your allotted time calling out the problem and the next quarter on the idea. The more urgent the problem appears, the more eager your audience will be for the solution.
Unfortunately, in Divya’s case, her presentation started with an idea. She didn’t realize that pitching a solution outside the context of its founding problem left it wide open to criticism. In a world where executives have a host of responsibilities and crises to manage, they need to triage which ones they’ll act on. They’ll be more motivated to prioritize your idea if they can see a direct connection to a problem that won’t go away or that will become more significant without their attention.
Trap #2: An Idea Without a Clear ROI
Once you’ve established the problem in your presentation, the next step is to prove that your idea will not only solve it, but do so in ways that grow the business. First, show how your initiative will self-fund within a short period of time. Next, project how it will grow in revenue to support both its expansion and begin to fund other parts of the organization. Make sure you include estimates for the often-overlooked money needed for infrastructure and setup.
Divya’s team started with an idea and proceeded to explain the way they would implement it. They were excited about the technical merits of this idea but didn’t mention how the solution might be helpful to the company in the marketplace or against the competition. What’s more, the idea would require a heavy investment in tools that currently didn’t exist.
Trap #3: A Presentation Without Interaction
As with all good presentations, you want to meet your audience where they are. But when speaking with the C-suite, presenters often overexplain obvious things and don’t leave enough time for interaction.
Divya spent four minutes out of their allotted 20-minute slot reviewing their research process and what the group learned. Since none of this was new information to the executives, she lost their attention. The entire presentation took 17 minutes, leaving a precious few minutes for questions and follow-up.
Reserve the second half of your allotted time for questions. While that seems like an outsized chunk, used well, it can be the most valuable part of your talk. Rapid-fire, blunt questions are a sign that executives are interested in your idea. They’re processing what you said, testing various angles and hypotheses, and generally want to know more. A common misconception is that if there are no questions, then things went well. The opposite is usually true. The more questions you receive, the better the presentation.
One word of caution: Don’t count critiques framed as questions as healthy interaction. For example, “How can this possibly work? You haven’t accounted for extra headcount.” That’s not really a question. If your audience is curious and engaged a genuine question will sound more like, “How would you deal with headcount if your growth projections are accurate?”
Trap #4: Data Without Attention to Detail
Even when you set aside enough time for interaction, you can run into trouble if you don’t have the correct answer to an executive’s question. Presenters can be imprecise or sloppy with details when questioned, especially when it comes to numbers.
During the Q&A, Divya’s teammate Josh made a claim about the number of current customers using a particular product. He missed the actual number by 12% because of a calculation error.
Once you present an incorrect number, your executives will tend to write off the rest of your data. Be sure of your facts, be prepared with the source of your information, and, if there’s an error, be ready to quickly follow up with a correction. And if you don’t know the answer, don’t waste time. Simply admit to that, and tell them you’ll look into it and follow up.
If you’re in a position to present to the most senior executives in your organization, you’re already considered smart and capable. You don’t need to prove it by launching directly into your idea and sharing endless details. Instead, give your audience what it really wants: an overview of the problem and how you think it can be solved for the benefit of the company. Give them plenty of time to interact with you, and you’ll prove that you’re as smart and capable as they thought.
In 2018, every organization has a data strategy. But what makes a great one?
We all know what failure looks like. Resources are invested, teams are formed, time goes by — but nothing comes of it. No one can necessarily say why; it’s always Someone Else’s Fault.
It’s harder to tell the difference between a modest success and excellence. Indeed, in data science they can they look very similar for perhaps a year. After several years, though, an excellent strategy will yield orders of magnitude more valuable results.
Both mediocre and excellent strategies begin with a series of experiments and investments leading to data projects. After a few years, some of these projects work out and are on their way to production.
In the mediocre strategy, one or two of these projects may even have a clear ROI for the business. Typically, these projects will be some kind of automation for cost savings, or applying machine learning to an existing process to improve its efficiency or performance. This looks a lot like success, and it may suffice, but it’s missing out on the unique advantages of an excellent data strategy.
In an excellent strategy, more data projects have worked out, and they were surprisingly cost-effective to develop. Further, the process of building the first few projects inspires new project ideas. In an excellent strategy, the projects will include automation and efficiency and performance improvements, but they will also include projects and ideas for new revenue generation and entirely new businesses driven by your unique data assets. The data teams work well together, build on each other’s work, and collaborate smoothly with their business partners. There’s a clear vision of what the machine-learning driven future of the business can look like, and everyone is working together to achieve it.
Building an Excellent Data Strategy
Crafting a data strategy requires many parties at the table, including data experts, technology leadership, and business and subject-matter experts. It also requires leadership support that goes beyond just wanting to check off a “machine learning” box.
Here’s how most companies decide which data projects to pursue, which alone is a recipe for the mediocre data strategy. Management identifies a set of projects it would like to see built and creates the ubiquitous prioritization scatterplot: one axis represents a given project’s value to the business and the other axis represents its estimated complexity or cost of development. Each project is given a spot on the chart, and management allocates the company’s limited resources to the projects that they believe will cost the least and have the highest business value.
This is not wrong, but it is also not optimal. An excellent data strategy moves beyond a straightforward evaluation of each project in isolation to consider a few additional dimensions.
First, an excellent data strategy includes a well-coordinated organizational core. It’s built on a centralized technology investment and well-selected and coordinated defaults for the architecture of data applications. This centralization of defaults allows for each application to make different decisions if necessary while maintaining maximum compatibility across the organization and flexibility over time by default.
For example, one global media company I worked with had grown dramatically through acquisitions. Each business line had a different technology stack and independent IT group, leading to challenges integrating data that already existed, and different architectures for all future investments. Centralizing this practice was key to their ongoing success.
Second, an excellent data strategy is specific in the short term and flexible in the long term. We know quite a lot about what the machine learning capabilities of tomorrow look like, but less about what the capabilities of next year will look like. We can only guess what will be possible in five years. Similarly, the business landscape is transforming, leading to new competition and new opportunities. Organizations that engage in five-year planning cycles will miss the opportunities that emerge in the meantime. An excellent strategy is one that is adaptable and considered to be a living document.
The best strategies are strong in directional conviction, but flexible in the details. You want to know where you want to end up, but not necessarily pre-define each step you need to take to get there.
Finally, an excellent data strategy takes into account one key insight: data science projects are not independent from one another. With each completed project, successful or not, you create a foundation to build later projects more easily and at lower cost.
Choosing Between Data Science Projects
Here’s what project selection looks like in a firm with an excellent data strategy: First, the company collects ideas. This effort should be spread as broadly as possible across the organization, at all levels. If you only see good and obvious ideas on your list, worry — that’s a sign that you are missing out on creative thinking. Once you have a large list, filter by the technical plausibility of an idea. Then, create the scatterplot described above, which evaluates each project on its relative cost/complexity and value to the business.
Now it gets interesting. On your scatterplot, draw lines between potentially related projects. These connections exist where projects share data resources; or where one project may enable data collection helpful to another project; or where foundational work on one project is also foundational work on another. This approach acknowledges the realities of working on such projects, like the fact that building a precursor project makes successor projects faster and easier (even if the precursor fails). The costs of gathering data and building shared components are amortized across projects.
This approach makes higher-value projects — those that would perhaps have seemed too ambitious — look less like an aggressive, expensive push forward. Instead, it reveals that such projects may indeed be more efficient and safer to proceed with than other lower-value projects that looked attractive in a naive analysis.
Put differently, an excellent data strategy acknowledges that projects play off of one another, and that the costs of projects change over time in light of other projects undertaken (and new technology, as well). This allows more accurate planning and may expand the organization’s capabilities more than expected. You can revisit this planning process quarterly, which is in line with how quickly machine learning technologies are changing.
We’re currently at a moment in the development of machine learning, AI, and data where the technology isn’t commoditized and it’s not entirely obvious where to invest. Companies with excellent data strategies will be more likely to choose well.
“Don’t believe everything you hear” is good advice — especially in an era of fake news and alternative facts. The same goes for managers who often rely on social-sentiment analysis to get a handle on what consumers think of their brands.
Social-sentiment analysis is the process of algorithmically analyzing social posts, comments, and behaviors and categorizing them into positive, negative, or neutral. Many companies use it to understand how their customers are feeling about their brands.
We recently conducted an extensive social-sentiment analysis with a team of researchers at Boston University’s Emerging Media Studies program as part of our Experience Brand Index research this past spring. In that research, we asked 4,000 consumers in the United States and United Kingdom about their actions and interactions with a wide range of brands over the last six months. These experiences were rated across more than a dozen dimensions, and we rolled up the results into a single Brand Experience score from 1 to 100.
The index graded nearly 100 different brands on how well consumers believed they were fulfilling the promises they make, how well they stood out from their competitors, and how likely consumers were to recommend them to friends and to stay loyal. Overall, our top 10-rated brands have a 200% better net promoter score (NPS) than the bottom 10, and have consumers who are 25% more likely to say they’re going to stay loyal.
To round out the research, we enlisted a group of graduate students in Boston University’s Emerging Media Studies program to run social sentiment analysis against the brands, fully expecting to see high-scoring brands receive high levels of positive sentiment and low-scoring brands receive high negatives.
We were wrong.
There appears to be very little predictive power between how people appear to feel online and how consumers who have experiences with those brands rate them.
We think social-sentiment analysis has value as a part of a brand’s consumer intelligence plan, but we have some advice for those using it or about to embark on the journey:
1. React, but don’t over-react. The type of consumers moved to post and share statements about brands (or about anything, for that matter) are not necessarily representative of the entirety of your customer base. Social-media users tend to be younger and more female than overall online audiences, and emerging research into social behavior suggests that people who post on social media tend to hold more extreme positions — they tend to be motivated by strong feelings, either positive or negative.
A recent study by Engagement Labs in the Journal of Advertising Research pointed out that online conversations about brands and offline conversations (as measured by their TalkTrack tracking study) were not strongly related.
In a recent interview, the lead investigator pointed out that online reaction to the Dick’s Sporting Goods decision to stop selling assault rifles and require all gun buyers to be 21 was met with a large degree of negative sentiment online but more positive sentiment offline.
More recently, Forbes did an in-depth analysis of the social reaction to Nike’s decision to feature Colin Kaepernick in an advertising campaign. It found a significant spike in negative sentiment online in the hours after the ad was first released. But, within two days, the sentiment shifted to positive.
So, while it’s important for your brand to react to specific negative customer-service posts immediately and address any specific issues consumers are having, we don’t recommend you react immediately to spikes in sentiment you see on a given day — especially if it’s in reaction to something new, like an ad campaign. If you do, you run the risk of over- or under-correcting for issues that just aren’t there.
2. Drill into specifics. What exactly does the sentiment analysis say and how does the tool you use define sentiment? In our experience, different tools — whether it’s NetBase or Brandmonitor or Hootsuite — will give you vastly different results for the same brand over the same period of time. Every platform defines sentiment differently and scores words and phrases in unique ways. And, despite significant advances in AI and sentiment algorithms, all of the platforms continue to have problems recognizing and correctly categorizing sarcasm, irony, jokes and exaggerations.
For example, a sarcastic post that says, “Great product, right?” and contains a picture of a broken cell phone is likely to be mischaracterized as positive.
As a result, it’s important to use your tool to listen for the right things. Again, the Nike example is instructive here. Rather than just look at the overall sentiment, the company examined tweets that had any purchase-intent statements — either positive (“going to buy”) or negative (“will never buy”) and found that positive outnumbered negative by 5 to 1. And the sales numbers appear to bear that out — with Thomson Reuters reporting a 61% increase in the amount of sold-out merchandise at Nike stores in the 10 days after the campaign launched compared to the 10 days before the ad appeared.
So, specifics matter. Look for spikes in volume and sentiment around specific hashtags to understand what might be going on.
3. Compare to what (and who) you know. The point of sentiment analysis is to give you a quick, directional perspective on what online chatter about your brand is all about. We believe it’s crucial to utilize other ways of tracking how consumers feel about your brand — whether it’s a brand tracker, tracking surveys, or analysis of customer service logs. It’s always best to have a mix of methods that deliver a well-rounded understanding of the voice of your customer.
It’s also best to have a sense of the cultural context during the time you’re measuring sentiment. Online sentiment can be driven by the negative actions of a specific brand — like a large retail bank illegally creating savings and checking accounts without customers’ consent — or it can be influenced by broader conversations in the culture that have little to do with a specific brand. For example, around the time we fielded our survey in the United States and United Kingdom, consumer tech leaders were testifying about privacy practices in the two countries, impacting the online conversation about that entire category of brands.
So, while there’s a ton of discussion about fake news and the role of bots and trolls in political news, we found an equally cautionary tale for brands. When it comes to social sentiment, listener beware.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is engendering all kinds of breathless headlines, from being able to play Go to spotting rare cancer tumors. But how will AI impact the economy in broad terms? The answer hinges on both on what AI can be used for and the dynamics of a competitive race to adopt AI that’s set to unfold between firms.
New research from the McKinsey Global Institute simulates the potential global macroeconomic impact of five powerful technologies (computer vision, natural language, virtual assistants, robotic process automation, and advanced machine learning). It finds that AI could (in aggregate and netting out competition effects and transition costs) deliver an additional $13 trillion to global GDP by 2030, averaging about 1.2% GDP growth a year across the period. This would compare well with the impact of steam during the 1800s, robots in manufacturing in the 1900s, and IT during the 2000s.
The average effect on GDP depends on multiple factors. At the industry level they include (a) the extent of AI diffusion in economies; (b) the build-up of corporate profit; and (c) labor market dynamics.
The modeling and simulation relies on two important features. The first is high-quality data from two corporate surveys conducted by MGI and McKinsey in 2007, one of around 1,600 executives across industries globally on digital technologies and AI to ascertain the causes of economic impact and the likely pace of that impact, and one of more than 3,000 corporations in 14 sectors in ten countries. The second feature of the simulation is micro-estimates of the pace of adoption and absorption of AI technologies.
A faster pace of adoption
We know that technologies often take a long time to diffuse and to deliver benefits. It took more than 30 years for electricity to diffuse and enable industrial plant design that could generate significant productivity growth. It took several decades for steam to drive the rollout of railways services and create a large market of exchanges in the United States. Amazon, born 24 years ago, had captured about 45% of online retail commerce in the United States by 2017, but still stood for just about 5% of total US retail gross merchandise volume in that year.
How does AI diffusion compare with the absorption of the early set of digital technologies such as web, mobile, cloud, and big data? Those technologies started to be used about ten to 25 years ago, and the average level of absorption of these technologies was about 37% in 2017. Our simulation suggests that it may reach 70% by 2035. In comparison, absorption of AI might reach today’s level of digital absorption by 2027—in roughly ten years.
There are two stand-out reasons why AI adoption and absorption could be more rapid this time. One is the breadth of ways in which AI is used, including in areas where digitization is still under-penetrated, such as the automation of services and smart automation of manufacturing processes. Second is that returns for front-runners tend to be large. They will benefit from innovations enabling them to serve (and perhaps create) new markets and, at the same time, gain share from non-AI adopters in existing markets. Perception of cannibalization is high among firms surveyed, in line with their experience of early digitization and the emergence of many new business models.
We simulate that about 70% of companies might adopt some AI technologies by 2030, up from today’s 33%, and about 35% of companies might have fully absorbed AI, compared with only 3% today. The econometrics demonstrate that peer competitive pressure is the largest influencer of the decision to adopt AI and make it work across all enterprise functions. The peer pressure effect on adoption incentive is an order of magnitude larger than the expected profitability impact of AI, or perception of the impact it has had in recent years.
A race between firms
Even if a technology race develops, some companies will adopt rapidly, but others less so—and the benefits of AI will vary accordingly. The pace could be enhanced by sector dynamics and by characteristics of firms such as the size and extent of their globalization, but could also be held back by constraints such as early capabilities in digitization, or by organizational rigidities.
We simulated the economic impact of AI for three groups of companies: “front-runners,” “followers,” and “laggards.” The first group experiences the largest benefits from AI, and the second benefits but only by a fraction of the general AI productivity uplift. Laggards (many of them nonadopters) may witness a shrinking market share, and may have no choice but exit the market in the long term.
Regarding front-runners, our average simulation suggests that about 30% of companies might have absorbed the full set of AI technologies in their operations by 2030. About half of those will do so in half the time, and may more than double their operating cash flows by 2030. This is equivalent to sustaining a long-term growth rate of 6% per year through AI. These companies would typically be growing at the rate of high-growth performing firms. Cash generation is not linear as the impact of AI scales up over time—it might be negative in the early years and only becomes positive and accelerates after a period of five to seven years. In this initial period, front-runners could experience cash outflows as they invest in, and scale up, AI. Over time, however, front-runners will tend to slowly concentrate the profit pool of their industry in a winner-takes-most phenomenon.
Followers are firms that are cautiously starting to adopt and absorb AI technologies, having seen the tangible impact enjoyed by front-runners and having realized the competitive threat of not adopting and absorbing. We simulated that 20% to 30% of firms would be in this group by 2030. For these companies, the pace and degree of change in cash flow are likely to be more moderate, and typically below the average productivity uplift witnessed by their economy. On the one hand, front-runners have already triggered some spillovers that spread some benefits to followers; on the other hand, followers lose market share to front-runners.
Laggards are companies that are not investing in AI seriously, or not at all. Why do laggards not jump into AI? The answer is that they may face short-term constraints and may bet—wrongly—that time is on their side. The cost of investment in and implementation of AI means that the divergence among firms on their stance toward AI adoption may only affect their economics after a few years. This may dissuade them from acting. These companies could lose around 20% of cash flow by 2030 compared with today. Laggards may have major capability issues that prevent them from joining the AI race, and therefore they may need to respond in other ways such as limiting costs and cutting investment. The drop in cash flow arrives last, but it is a major slide when it comes.
A fierce competitive race among companies appears to be in prospect with a widening gap between those investing in AI and those that are not. This divide can facilitate “creative destruction” and competition among firms so that the reallocation of resources toward higher-performing companies improves the vibrancy of overall economies. But there is no doubt that the transition may cause disruption and shock in the economy. These tradeoffs need to be understood and managed appropriately in order to capture the potential of AI for the world economy.
Medicine involves leadership. Nearly all physicians take on significant leadership responsibilities over the course of their career, but unlike any other occupation where management skills are important, physicians are neither taught how to lead nor are they typically rewarded for good leadership. Even though medical institutions have designated “leadership” as a core medical competency, leadership skills are rarely taught and reinforced across the continuum of medical training. As more evidence shows that leadership skills and management practices positively influence both patient and healthcare organization outcomes, it’s becoming clear that leadership training should be formally integrated into medical and residency training curricula.
In most professions, the people who demonstrate strong leadership skills are the ones who take on greater leadership responsibilities at progressive stages of their careers. In medicine, physicians not only begin managing and directing teams early in their careers, but they rise through the ranks uniformly.
Within the first years of graduate medical training, or residency, resident physicians in all specialties lead teams of more junior residents, as well as other care personnel, without undergoing any formal training or experience in how to manage teams. It is rare for first-year resident physicians (interns) to not become second-year residents, for second-year residents to not become third-year residents, and for senior residents to not become fellows or attending physicians, although each step involves more management. And the span of leadership and responsibility grows once physicians enter independent practice.
Although medical trainees spend years learning about physiology, anatomy, and biochemistry, there are few formal avenues through which trainees learn fundamental leadership skills, such as how to lead a team, how to confront problem employees, how to coach and develop others, and how to resolve conflict. Some residency programs across the country are developing career tracks specifically for those interested in management and leadership careers, but these paths are often targeted towards individuals explicitly seeking management positions or healthcare management projects in their training, missing the fact that to be a physician is to lead. The set of individuals who would benefit from leadership skills in daily practice is much wider than those with specific career interests in management.
Despite this lack of focused attention toward development of leadership capabilities in trainees, evidence suggests that leadership quality affects patients, healthcare system outcomes, and finances alike. For example, hospitals with higher rated management practices and more highly rated boards of directors have been shown to deliver higher quality care and have better clinical outcomes, including lower mortality. Enhanced management practices have also been associated with higher patient satisfaction and better financial performance. Effective leadership additionally affects physician well-being, with stronger leadership associated with less physician burnout and higher satisfaction.
These benefits are crucial in a healthcare landscape that is increasingly focused on measuring and achieving high care quality, that is characterized by high rates of burnout across clinical personnel, and that is asking physicians to lead larger, multidisciplinary teams of nurses, social workers, physician assistants, and other health professionals.
Medical schools and residency programs should modify curricula to include leadership skill development at all levels of training — and this should be as rigorous as development of clinical reasoning or procedural skills. Leadership curricula should focus on two key sets of skills. First, interpersonal literacy is crucial for effective leadership in modern healthcare. This includes abilities related to effectively coordinating teams, coaching and giving feedback, interprofessional communication, and displaying emotional intelligence. The centrality of these skills has been recognized by healthcare institutions globally, including the American Medical Association, the National Health Service, and the Canadian College of Health Leaders.
A second, separate set of necessary skills deals with systems literacy. In today’s healthcare landscape, physicians need to understand the business of healthcare organization, including concepts such as insurance structure and costs that patients encounter. Physicians are also increasingly responsible for understanding and acting on quality and safety principles to correct and enhance the systems they work in. Finally, given the sensitive nature of their work, physicians must be comfortable with recognizing, disclosing, and addressing errors, and helping their teams do so as well.
Formal education on these topics could take the form of dedicated didactics during medical school and residency training, orientation sessions, and skill-building retreats, which are common in other occupations that require managerial development. At least some teaching should be delivered longitudinally over multiple years. This is important, because as trainees rise in the medical ranks and gain more responsibility (i.e. supervising medical students for the first time as interns, overseeing teams for the first time as junior residents), their ability to engage with leadership content changes.
Trainee performance evaluations should explicitly assess for adequate progression of leadership capabilities, with targeted remediation available for those not demonstrating competency. Residents should not be allowed to progress in training without achieving pre-specified proficiency in these areas. Assessment systems should also be developed to mitigate biases that downplay or disregard women’s and minorities’ leadership capabilities. And importantly, longitudinal studies will be needed to rigorously assess effectiveness of programs for teaching and measuring leadership skills. A 2015 systematic review of physician leadership development programs found that few reported negative outcomes or system level effects (i.e. impact of training on quality metrics) of their interventions.
While these changes may seem daunting given the vast amount of information trainees are already responsible for and the time-constrained nature of training, studies have found that trainees want to formally develop leadership skills. And several programs stand out as examples of how this can be done.
As first described in a 2013 Harvard Business Review article, Vanderbilt’s Otolaryngology program developed a 4-year program for residents consisting of Naval ROTC topics, public speaking training, a micro-MBA course, and a capstone leadership project. This program, which is delivered over morning conferences or dinner sessions (when residents are excused from the operating room), exposes trainees to health care policy, finance, conflict resolution, checklist and debriefing programs, public speaking, and one-on-one communication simulation sessions. Trainees ultimately use the skills they gain for collaborating with Vanderbilt undergraduates, primary care physicians, and others on a population health project during one of their four training years. The program’s founder and Vanderbilt Otolaryngology’s Chair, Dr. Roland Eavey notes that delivering similar content to faculty is key for gaining buy-in regarding the educational importance of leadership and to ensure appropriate modeling of effective leadership.
Meanwhile, at the Uniformed Services University, medical students undergo a 4-year curriculum focused on leadership attribute development. The Military Medical Practice and Leadership didactic curriculum is delivered in preclinical years and focuses on self-awareness, communication skills, and team dynamics. Subsequently, students take part in four multi-day “medical field practicum” experiences, during which they are introduced to their responsibilities as military officers and undergo both lecture and simulation modules focused on patient care, operations, and crisis management. Fourth-year medical students are ultimately evaluated on medical knowledge and leadership abilities in a simulated tactical field setting. Although centered in undergraduate medical education, this program is notable for its longitudinal mix of didactic and practical experiences and its evaluative nature, and could with reductions in time intensity be tailored to the graduate medical education setting.
Undoubtedly, enhancing leadership training in medicine will increase the costs of training and assessment. Yet, as we seek to optimize the therapeutics and procedures we perform to reduce mortality and enhance care quality, we should also seek to optimize the skills of the physicians leading all corners of healthcare system. For as the evidence shows, it can make an important difference for healthcare outcomes, experiences, and financial sustainability alike.
Customer experience (CX) goes beyond measuring the relationship between customers and companies; it is also about quantifying the hundreds of regular interactions and residual memories that influence future behavior. Specific tools like journey mapping and touchpoint management are keys that employees can use to unlock the code for many in-store and in-person experiences. But it’s important for your team to understand the context in which data is being used to make company-wide decisions.
A shortcoming with the balanced scorecard is that it gives companies a “false sense of data.” When leaders have even small amounts of data, it can be easy to assume they know enough to make aggressive decisions, all based on information with sources they don’t control or fully understand. In some cases, a little data can be worse than having no data at all; it can invite hubris.
For example, customer satisfaction scores are influenced by population density — a factor which does not translate into balanced scorecards. Urban environments have peak-time “rushes” when higher volumes of people are all trying to do the same things. Someone entering a pharmacy in the heart of New York City during rush hour will unquestionably have longer-than-desired wait times. This increases both the “perceived wait time” and the likelihood of a negative experience.
Customer scores for stores like this could indicate that the locations need more attention, but they are also typically among the best performing, financially. The long lines frustrate customers, but also indicate that there is a lot of business happening.
A similar store in a part of the country where interactions have less time pressure may have higher scores, despite not performing as well for the company as its New York City counterpart. The reality is that balanced scorecards, as they were originally published, have the potential to punish some of the most economically-valuable businesses.
An “equitable scorecard” (sometimes called a “weighted scorecard”) is an established mathematical process which accounts for environmental and uncontrollable factors in customer experience scores. It can create a relative “pound for pound” benchmark for each individual location of a business, anywhere in the world.
When your team understands how to use equitable scorecard techniques, they’ll be able to calculate a more accurate score for any given location by accounting for variables like clientele composition, location, environment and other localized factors.
For example, a fast food restaurant might serve customers in five different ways:
A customer walks in, orders, waits, and takes their order out.
A customer walks in, orders, waits, and sits down at a table with their order.
A customer orders through the drive-through. The customer drives off and eats elsewhere.
A customer orders through the drive-through. The customer eats in their car in the parking lot.
A customer orders through an app or by phone, then picks up their order.
The needs of the customer and the job to be done by the restaurant in each of these instances are very different. Some value speed above all else. Others require good ambiance to enjoy their meal. Some want a clear and efficient layout of the location. These needs can vary widely from location to location and a single customer can have different needs at different times during the same visit.
So, when the exact same team serves the exact same food in the exact same three minutes, each customer segment will have different reactions. Those identical efforts may yield five very different customer satisfaction scores because expectation is a key determinant of experience.
Companies routinely find that locations rated low-performing by balanced scorecards are actually outperforming reasonable expectations after accounting for uncontrollable operating conditions. The reverse is sometimes also true, where high-scoring stores should, statistically, be performing at an even higher level. The result of equitable scorecarding is a true reflection of staff effort, engagement, efficiency, and efficacy.
When good store managers and employees come under increased scrutiny because of incomplete scorecard data, it can quickly decrease the overall sense of employee appreciation. This tends to increase turnover rates, compound unnecessary replacement costs, impacts business efforts because of additional ramp times and, ultimately, slows revenue growth.
Equitable scorecards measure performance based on expectations, eliminating the engagement-killing notion that people are quantified by decontextualized, inhumane numbers. By establishing reasonable benchmarks for each individual location, companies will also improve the allocations of time and money needed to help a business grow.
Creating a level playing field within a company establishes trust and motivates teams to drive for higher success. By measuring and accounting for uncontrollable factors, companies can promise management and staff that their work will be judged individually based on the cards they are dealt. Fair CX measurements lead to improved experiences, financial growth, and greater engagement, keeping both the customers and the company happy.
When interviewing for your next job, how can you impress your recruiter and increase your chances of securing a job offer? Of course you may wish to emphasize your ambitions and goals you hope to achieve as a result of working at the company — your extrinsic motivation for the job. But to what extent should you also emphasize your love for your work and what you hope to achieve as part of the process of working at the company? This comprises your intrinsic motivation for the job, and most of us understand how important it can be to sustained engagement at work; but do recruiters care to hear this?
Our research suggests that they do — and that job applicants aren’t taking advantage of that. Indeed, we have found that people fail to predict the power of such a statement of intrinsic motivation on the impression they make.
To examine this prediction problem — the discrepancy between what candidates think will impress recruiters and what recruiters actually find impressive — we surveyed 1428 full-time employees and MBA students across five studies. Some provided their predictions, guessing what recruiters would find impressive when hiring a job candidate. Others told us what they actually valued when making hiring decisions.
As a first test, we asked full-time employees to view several statements that they could make during a job interview. Some statements emphasized intrinsic motivation, for example, wanting a job that is interesting and meaningful. Other statements emphasized extrinsic motivation, for example, caring for career advancement and financial security. Candidates indicated how impressive they thought each statement was for recruiters. Another group of employees viewed these same statements and told us how impressed they would be by a job candidate who expressed each of these during an interview. Whereas job candidates accurately predicted how impressed recruiters would be by statements of extrinsic motivation, these individuals failed to realize how much recruiters would be impressed by expressions of intrinsic motivation. Emphasizing love for a particular job was more important for recruiters than candidates anticipated.
We found this same pattern — that people fail to predict the value of expressing intrinsic motivation — when the roles were reversed. In this study, recruiters predicted what recruits find appealing in a company and what would convince them to accept a job offer. Specifically, we asked MBA students to view statements about company culture, including current employees’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and predict how useful each one is in convincing an admitted candidate to join the company. Other MBAs viewed these same statements and told us whether they would accept a job offer from a company who expressed each of these in its culture. Whereas recruiters correctly predicted that recruits wanted to work at a company where the culture emphasized extrinsic motivation, they underestimated how much recruits valued working at a company where the culture emphasized intrinsic motivation. Emphasizing that employees find their job interesting and meaningful impressed job candidates more than those in the role of recruiter anticipated.
Why do candidates, and recruiters, underestimate how much others value intrinsic motivation? We found that although people know that they care about intrinsic motivation, they don’t know that others also care about this just as much. People’s lack of awareness that others value intrinsic motivation influences what they say when trying to impress others.
This failure to appreciate that others care to be intrinsically motivated has consequences for what we say in job interviews. In one study, we asked MBA students to choose a pitch for a job interview: One pitch emphasized intrinsic motivation (e.g., “I love doing my work”) and the other pitch emphasized extrinsic motivation (e.g., “the position would be a great place for me to advance my career”). If students chose the pitch that the majority of recruiters (another group of MBAs) selected as more convincing, they could be eligible to win a prize. We found that while only 43% of the candidates chose the intrinsic pitch, 69.5% of the recruiters thought it was superior and more likely to land the job.
How can job seekers ensure they emphasize motivations that recruiters care for? One tip is to take the recruiter’s perspective. We asked employees to view two job pitches that emphasized either intrinsic or extrinsic motivation, and to the choose one that would impress a recruiter. Before choosing, we instructed one group to take the recruiter’s perspective. This group first considered who they would hire if they were the recruiter, before choosing a pitch they believed would impress a recruiter. The other group did not take the recruiters’ perspective before choosing. Perspective-taking helped those in the role of job candidate better intuit that recruiters are impressed by intrinsic motivation, leading 45.9% of them to choose this message compared with only 31.7% who did not take the recruiters’ perspective.
The takeaway is clear: candidates interviewing for a job should highlight the meaning they derive from their work, and recruiters looking to attract job candidates should emphasize that their employees do work they love. Engaging in perspective taking — putting yourself in the other person’s shoes — is one way to ensure intrinsic motivation is emphasized.
Youngme Moon, Mihir Desai, and Felix Oberholzer-Gee are back with Season 2 of After Hours! In this episode, they debate whether the federal minimum wage should be raised, offer their personal reflections on a year of the #MeToo movement, and share their picks for the week.
HBR Presents is a network of podcasts curated by HBR editors, bringing you the best business ideas from the leading minds in management. The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Harvard Business Review or its affiliates.
Social media can connect us to new ideas, help us share our work, and allow previously unheard voices to influence culture. Yet it can also be a highly addictive time-sink if we’re not careful about our goals, purpose, and usage.
Over the last two years, I conducted four different experiments to monitor my own behavior, implementing trackers and blockers in order to better understand how social media usage affected my productivity. My goal was to see if by interrupting my daily behavior I could change my “default settings” and have more time for deep, focused work.
In the end, these four experiments opened my eyes about my relationship to social platforms, and taught me effective strategies to maximize the benefit of these social tools while limiting the downsides.
The first step was collecting data. Before beginning my experiments, I tracked my daily behavior to better understand where my time and energy was going, which gave me insight into what I could change to produce more satisfying deep work. I used RescueTime for tracking my computer usage, and Moment to track my cell phone behaviors.
Experiment #1: Complete Removal of Social Sites For 30 Days
My first experiment was a complete removal of all social aspects from my routine: no Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, or LinkedIn for 30 days. Leading up to it, I raised objections—“but I need Facebook for my work!”, my brain sputtered, in a testament to the addictive power of the apps.
I logged out of each site and deleted all the apps from my phone. Then, I used Freedom, a website blocking tool, to restrict the social sites from my browser and phone. Finally, I had my partner take over my phone and install parental restrictions on browser sites with a password unknown to me. (I wasn’t taking any chances.)
The Results. Once I decided to go all-in, it was surprisingly easier to do than expected. There was a relief in being offline and deciding, once and for all, to do it. Here’s what I learned:
There were a few technical hassles: Facebook, in particular, is embedded in a lot of other applications, which created a problem any a tool required Facebook as a login. Going forward, I’ll create email-based logins only (which is also better for security).
My book-reading skyrocketed. In a month, I read more books than I had in the combined three months prior. Whenever I craved a break, I turned to my Kindle, instead of social or news sites.
I used social sites a surprising amount for research and discovery—when I’m thinking of a person I want to connect with, or a project I want to follow-up on, I would quickly type the social site for ease. Not having access created more friction in the short-term, but didn’t ultimately delay the work I was doing. There was a tension between instant access and carving out boundaries for deeper creative work that I found useful, albeit annoying.
After the experiment was over, I went back to allowing myself unlimited social media access and continued to track my usage using RescueTime. With a fresh perspective after a month away, I was able to more clearly see a pattern emerge around how I used the various sites, both for better and for worse. My key finding was the marked difference in my behaviors across devices: My laptop wasn’t the biggest culprit for addictive behavior: when I was at my desk, working, I spent the majority of my time actually working. My phone was the biggest culprit for addictive behavior.
Further, it was very clearly time-based. My social media usage (or cravings) clearly spiked at certain times. Most of my bad habits were tied up in late-night tiredness, early-morning mindlessness, and craving “The Scroll” whenever I was tired. It also became fairly predictable that I wanted a mid-morning break (around 11am) and an afternoon break (around 3 or 4pm). By far, the worst time was late evening, after dinner, when my brain felt like complete mush.
By all-out blocking the social feeds for thirty days, I saw where in the day my tiredness emerged and when I wanted to use the platforms for research or actual connection.
Experiment #2: Carving Out Daily Time Blockers
I wanted to learn whether or not I could limit, but not eliminate, social media and have equally effective results. This next experiment involved a daily restriction on websites based on the known “tired times” I’d identified in the first experiment.
For two weeks, I limited social access during certain periods of the day using the blocking app like Freedom. I allowed social sites on my computer in the afternoons only — not in the mornings, or after dinner. I also blocked all news websites, television sites, and installed Newsfeed Eradicator for Facebook, a social plug-in that helps prevent the scrolling nature of the newsfeed.
Results: Keeping the mornings social-media and news free was a game changer. I got so much more done on my biggest projects by having dedicated focus hours, and also knowing that there was a scheduled break in my day coming up.
The long-term effects of this change became apparent by day four or five. In the mornings, if I succumbed to impulsivity (a quick check here, an Amazon purchase there, firing off a couple of emails), it was far more difficult for me to throttle back into the realm of deep work.
By carving out chunks of the day to focus on specific work projects (moving one big project forward before 11am), I radically improved my personal productivity.
Temptation was strong, but waned over time: by overcoming the biggest pull to check first thing in the morning, I was much more focused and clear throughout the rest of the morning.
This proved to be a very effective strategy for me. Time-based internet blockers helped me increase my productivity. But now the reverse question came up: instead of blocking out times when I’d never use social, what if I dedicated a particular slot of time to it?
Experiment #3: The Social “Happy Hour”
The next experiment I tried was dedicating a specific hour of my day completely for use on social sites. I set up a calendar invitation from 4-5pm: a “happy hour” at the end of the work day to connect, enjoy, and run across new people and ideas after nearly 12 hours of working or parenting.
Results: Creating a built-in stress relief hour where I know that I can slide into “social research and browsing” (“The Scroll”), helped me avoid temptation at other hours of the day. It was easier to replace a bad habit with a better one than to focus all my energy on eliminating the bad habit.
Strangely, consolidating all of my social media use into a single hour made it seem less exciting. I noticed that I’d be finished scrolling within 20 minutes, or 30 minutes on a long day. There’s only so much sustained reading and commenting that I can do.
I was much more efficient at responding to all of the requests that come my way—rather than have metered out conversations trickling through the day, I buckled down, opened up new browser tabs for each meaningful mention or request, and whipped through it.
My content creation went way down. Instead, I began to plan ahead with a loose Evernote file for social media status updates and things I wanted to share, and the 12-hour delay between composing and pressing “publish” gave me a better chance to reflect on whether instant-sharing was really still necessary.
The biggest insights were that (1) social media usage dripped throughout the day drains the energy and focus I have for writing and other work, and (2) that there’s something insidiously satisfying about pressing publish on a status update, and each time I do it, I get the dopamine hit of satisfaction and response. But each tiny posting saps energy, and that adds up.
Experiment #4: 24 Hours To Break the Cycle
One of my favorite methods for resetting my brain is taking a full weekend day without my phone or my laptop, an idea I originally got from Tiffany Shlain’s “tech shabbat.” Back when I used to train for triathlons and open-water swims, Saturdays were spent largely outdoors, and it’s rather difficult to spend time scrolling the web while biking or swimming. So I used Freedom and a mesh wifi network to block the internet from midnight on Friday evening until Saturday at 3pm from all of my machines.
Results. Having something to do—going on a hike, going to the beach, meeting friends for coffee—helps tremendously.
The hardest part is walking out the door without the phone. From there, the freedom begins. The best way to block the internet is to physically leave devices elsewhere.
On days when I stay inside, I set my Freedom App to a weekend schedule of “no social media or email” until 3pm on Saturdays. The mornings can be lazy and slow. I’m not a doctor, I’m not an emergency worker, and we can all make it through the day if I’m not on email at 6am on a Saturday morning. By the time 1pm rolls around, I’m usually so involved in some other activity that I don’t notice.
I found I needed to be flexible about this experiment. On days when I have article deadlines or want to work a few hours on the weekend, I’ll set parameters for how and when to log on to get a chunk of work done.
Today, even with kids (and no triathlons currently), I still notice the effect of taking a Saturday away each week to disrupt the pattern of connection. A day free of the Internet is a great way to do a pattern reset if you notice (as I have) personal productivity dips by Friday.
Shifting From Subtraction to Addition
By and large, my first experiments were based on control and elimination. Sometimes, instead of focusing on constriction and willpower, however, it’s actually a better strategy to focus on the thing I want more of: more reading, more unplugged time with my family, space to think. One of the reasons diets don’t work very well is because most of them focus what you restrict, rather than what you add. My later experiments opened my eyes to the power of addition: planning ahead for dedicated social time, or a Saturday spent outdoors.
Today, I use Freedom to block social websites and news in the mornings nearly every day. I deleted Facebook and email from my phone, I will manually re-install them from 4pm to 5pm and then delete them again (yes, daily). I take regular 24-hour breaks. And I track my usage with RescueTime, which sends me an alert when I’ve hit 45 minutes of total “distracting” time.
With social media, many of us want to reduce our consumption, but we miss an important piece of the puzzle: we’re craving something that we want, and we think that social media has a quick answer. These experiments helped me realize that at the heart of my cravings around the social internet are deep connections with friends, access to new ideas and information, or time to zone out and relax after a hard day. Each of these components can be satisfied with other things beyond social media, and more effectively. As with many tools, it’s not an all or nothing, good-versus-bad conversation. I will continue to experiment in the future, especially now that Apple has introduced it’s “Screen Time” feature. Just because the apps are available, doesn’t mean our current default behaviors are the best ways to use them or get what we want. By limiting my access to social sites, I created a pattern disrupt that allowed me to reach out to more friends, read more books, and go deeper into work that mattered.
The feedback in the 360-degree reviews was supposed to be anonymous. But it was crystal clear who’d made the negative comments in the assessment of one executive.
Lance Best, the CEO of Barker Sports Apparel, was meeting with Nina Kelk, the company’s general counsel, who also oversaw human resources. It had been a long day at the company’s Birmingham, England, headquarters, and in the early evening the two were going over the evaluations of each of Lance’s direct reports. Lance was struck by what he saw in CFO Damon Ewen’s file. Most of the input was neutral, which was to be expected. Though brilliant and well respected, Damon wasn’t the warmest of colleagues. But one person had given him the lowest ratings possible, and from the written remarks, Lance could tell that it was Ahmed Lund, Barker’s head of sales. One read: “I’ve never worked with a bigger control freak in my life.”
This fictionalized case study will appear in a forthcoming issue of Harvard Business Review, along with commentary from experts and readers. If you’d like your comment to be considered for publication, please be sure to include your full name, company or university affiliation, and email address.
“These comments are pretty vicious,” Lance said.
“You’re surprised?” Nina asked.
“I guess not,” Lance acknowledged.
His CFO and his sales chief had been at loggerheads for a while. Ahmed’s 360 also contained a few pointed complaints about his working style — no doubt from Damon.
Lance sighed. Five years earlier, when he’d stepped into his role, he’d been focused on growing the company that his father, Eric — the previous CEO — had founded. Barker had licensing deals with sports leagues to make merchandise with their logos and partnered with large brands to produce it for retail markets, and when Lance took the company over, its revenues were about £100 million. Soon after, he’d landed the firm’s biggest partner, Howell. Negotiating the deal with the large global brand had been a challenge, but it increased business so much that Lance and his direct reports still felt as if they didn’t have enough hours in the day to get everything done. They certainly didn’t have time for infighting like this.
“So what do we do with this info?” Lance asked.
Nina shrugged. “This is the first time I’ve been through this process myself.”
“Right. Clearly I’ve got to do something, though. I know that Ahmed and Damon aren’t mates, but I do expect them to be civil.”
Nina nodded, but Lance sensed she was biting her tongue. “You can be honest with me, Nina. I need your counsel.”
“Well, if I’m honest,” she said tentatively, “I think that’s part of the problem. The expectation is that we’re civil, but that doesn’t translate to collaboration. We all trust you, but there isn’t a whole lot of trust between the team members.”
“So does everyone think Damon is awful?” he asked, pointing to the report.
Nina shook her head. “It’s not just about him. You can see from the feedback that Ahmed isn’t a saint, either. He picks fights with Damon, and the tension between them — and their teams — has been having a ripple effect on the rest of us. You see the finger-pointing. It seems like everyone is out for themselves.”
Although Lance hated hearing this, it wasn’t news. He’d just tried to convince himself that the problems were growing pains and would sort themselves out. After all, sales and finance were often at odds in organizations, and the conflict hadn’t had a big impact on Barker’s revenues. They’d grown 22% the previous year and 28% the year before that.
Of course, none of that growth had come easily, and opportunities had certainly been missed. The team had dropped the ball on inquiries from several retailers interested in its products by failing to coordinate getting them into the company’s system quickly. Now, Lance realized that might be a sign of more fallout to come. He needed to fix this. “My dad always wanted to do one of those team-building retreats,” he said, smiling. This had been a running joke among Barker’s executives for years. Whenever Eric had sensed tension, he’d mention the idea, but he never followed through.
Nina laughed. “Unfortunately, I think we’re beyond that.”
The next morning, Lance was in his office when he got a text from Jhumpa, the head of product and merchandising: Can you talk?
Knowing this couldn’t be good, Lance called her immediately.
Skipping the formalities, she launched in: “You need to get them on the same page.” Lance didn’t have to ask who “them” was. “Ahmed has promised samples for the new line on the Clarkson account, but his order exceeds the limits accounting set, so we need Damon’s signoff, and he won’t give it.”
This was a recurring fight. Ahmed accused Damon of throwing up roadblocks and using his power to undermine the sales department. Damon retorted that Ahmed was driving Barker into the ground by essentially giving products away. Lance went back and forth on whose side he took, depending on which of them was behaving worse. But he didn’t want to intervene again. Why couldn’t they just find a compromise?
Practically reading his mind, Jhumpa said, “They’ll stay in this standoff forever if you let them. It’s as if they’re in their own little fiefdoms; they act like they’re not even part of the same team.”
“Have you talked to them about this?”
“The holdup with Clarkson? Of course I have. But it doesn’t help. This situation is a mess.”
The last comment stung. The team wasn’t perfect, but it was still operating at a pretty high level.
“It would really help if you talked to them,” Jhumpa gently pleaded.
Lance thought back to the last time he’d sat down with Ahmed and Damon. Each had brought a binder filled with printouts of the e-mails they’d exchanged about a missed sale. Lance had marveled at how long it had probably taken each of them to prepare — never mind the wasted paper.
“Let me look into it,” Lance said. This had become his default response.
“Can I tell you what I’d do if I were in your shoes?” Jhumpa said. “Fire them both.” Though Lance had always appreciated her straightforwardness, he was taken aback. “Just kidding,” she added hastily. “What about having them work with a coach? I mean, we could all benefit from someone to help us talk through how we handle conflicts and from establishing some new norms.”
Lance wondered if the firing comment had really been a joke, but he let it pass. “I did talk to that leadership development firm last year,” he said. “They had some coaching packages that seemed appealing, but we all agreed we were too busy with the new accounts.”
“Well, maybe we should make time now,” Jhumpa replied.
After they hung up, Lance was still thinking about the idea of letting Ahmed and Damon go. Terrifying as the thought was, it might also be a relief. He’d heard of CEOs who’d cleaned house and replaced several top execs at once. He could keep Jhumpa, Nina, and a few others and bring in some fresh blood. It would be one surefire way to reset the team dynamics.
Doing Just Fine
Later that afternoon, at the end of a regular meeting with the finance team, Lance asked Damon to stay behind.
“I heard there’s a holdup on the Clarkson samples,” he said.
“The usual. Sales needs to pare back the order. As soon as Ahmed does that, I can sign off,” Damon said calmly.
“It doesn’t sound like Ahmed’s budging.”
Lance decided to wade in.
“Is everything OK with you guys?”
“Same as usual. Why? What’s going on? The numbers look great this quarter. We’re doing just fine.”
“I agree on one level, but I have concerns on another. It’s taking six months to onboard new customers at a time when everyone is fighting for them.”
“Is this about those 360 reviews? I tried to be fair in my feedback,” Damon said a bit defensively.
“The input is anonymous, so I don’t know who said what, but the tension between you and Ahmed is obvious.”
“Of course it is. I’m the CFO and he’s in charge of sales. If we’re both doing our jobs well, there’s going to be conflict. And that’s what I’m doing: my job. I’m the keeper of the bottom line, and that means I’m going to butt heads with a few people.” Lance had heard him say this before, but Damon took it one step further this time. “Your discomfort with conflict doesn’t make this any easier.”
They both sat quietly for a minute. Lance knew that as part of this process he’d need to examine his own leadership. Indeed, his 360 had been eye-opening. His people had described him as a passionate entrepreneur and a visionary, but they’d also commented on his preference for managing one-on-one, instead of shepherding the team, and his tendency to favor big-picture thinking over a focus on details.
“OK. I hear you on that,” Lance finally said. “That’s on me. But you also need to think about what you can do to improve this situation. There’s a difference between productive and unhealthy conflict, and right now it feels like we’ve got too much of the latter.”
Our Vision Might Crumble
“Have you considered one of those team-building retreats?” Lance’s father asked when they spoke that night. “I know you all never took me seriously — ”
Lance chuckled. “Because you never booked it!”
“ — but I still think it’s a good idea,” Eric continued. “No one really knows how to have a productive fight at work. It’s not a skill you’re born with. You have to learn it.”
“I’m considering it, Dad. But I’m not sure it would be enough at this point.”
“What about the comp?” This was another thing that Eric had brought up routinely. During his tenure as CEO, he’d realized that the C-suite compensation wasn’t structured to encourage collaboration. Bonuses were based on individual, functional unit, and company performance at respective weightings of 25%, 70%, and 5%.
“Maybe it’s time to bump up that 5% to at least 10% or even 20%,” Eric said.
“I’d like to make those changes, but I need Damon’s help to do it, and he’s swamped,” Lance said. “Besides, lots of experts say that too many people view comp as a hammer and every problem as a nail. CEOs expect comp to fix anything, but usually you need other tools. I may have to do something more drastic.”
“You’re not considering firing anyone, are you?” Eric had personally hired all the senior executives now on Lance’s team and was almost as loyal to them as he was to his own family.
“To be honest, it’s been on my mind. I’m not sure what I would do without Ahmed or Damon. They’re an important part of why we make our numbers each year. They help us win. But I look back and wonder how we did it playing the game this way. I need a team that’s going to work together to reach our longer-term goals.” When Eric had retired, he and Lance set a target of reaching revenues of £500 million by 2022. “This group feels as if it could disintegrate at any moment. And our vision might crumble along with it.”
“I’m sorry,” Eric said. “Do you feel like you inherited a pile of problems from your old dad?”
“No, I feel like I’ve somehow created this one — or at least made it worse.”
“Well, one thing is certain: You’re the boss now. So you’ll have to decide what to do.”
What should Lance do about the conflict between Damon and Ahmed?
If you’d like your comment to be considered for publication in a forthcoming issue of HBR, please remember to include your full name, company or university affiliation, and email address.
Big businesses struggling in an era of rapid transformation can learn a lot from the experiences of social entrepreneurs finding and adapting innovative solutions in difficult contexts. In the 1990s, when Afghanistan was being ravaged by war, a bootstrapped initiative started by a former refugee was able to succeed where multi-million dollar projects funded by governments and large-scale development organizations could not. Believing that the best route to long-term empowerment for women was through education, Sakena Yacoobi created an underground network of schools that operated out of private homes. Despite resistance from local militias to allowing women to attend school, the project grew over time to help millions of children attain invaluable literacy and critical thinking skills. As the winner of the WISE Prize for Education in 2015, Yacoobi’s initiative is one of many that we at Qatar Foundation support to harness the potential of innovation for social development.
WISH and WISE
The World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) and the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) are global initiatives of Qatar Foundation that support key stakeholders from across the world to develop new ideas and solutions capable of shaping the future of education and healthcare.
Based on our collective experience of working with thousands of innovators, policymakers, and activists around the world, here are three key ideas big businesses can learn about innovation from social entrepreneurs.
1. Empower Bottom-up Solutions
The most talked-about buzzword in social innovation is “co-creation,” and that is true for a simple reason: enabling end users to design solutions leads to better outcomes. Sultana Afdhal, the CEO of WISH, has firsthand experience identifying youth community leaders and supporting their projects through the WISH Young Innovator Program. “We may have many great ideas about things we perceive people need, but it is important to talk to the end user and listen to them,” she says. “Maybe what you think is the best idea you’ve ever had actually isn’t.”
One graduate of the WISH Young Innovator Program is Adepeju Jaiyeoba from Nigeria, who created the Mother’s Delivery Kit as a cost-effective solution to providing expectant mothers with the products they need during childbirth. Jaiyeoba’s birth kits have proven to be an effective intervention that addresses pregnancy-related mortality, saving the lives of newborns and their mothers. To date, an estimated 100,000 birth kits have been distributed.
Jaiyeoba’s project was successful not just because it was frugal innovation, but because she was intimately aware of what users needed and how they could be served. The impetus for Jaiyeoba’s project came following the death of a friend due to pregnancy-related complications. Afdhal adds, “People think of innovation as high-tech, scientific, and costly, but cheaper, simpler interventions can often be a seed for something greater.”
2. Scale Ideas that Work
To stay competitive in today’s marketplace, one approach that large corporations have taken is to invest considerable financial resources and talent toward dedicated innovation labs and Silicon Valley outposts. Despite glitzy promises, such projects often fail to deliver substantive impact. This is in part because even when such initiatives land upon good ideas, they don’t have the right mechanisms in place to apply those learnings at a broader level.
Dr Asmaa Al-Fadala, Director of Research and Content Development at WISE, says, “Innovative ideas remain as ideas if we do not act on them. That is why we focus on translating theory into practice.” To bridge the gap between innovation and application, it is crucial to identify best practices around the world, and provide the innovators with channels so that their message can reach important decision-makers.
One such channel is the WISE Accelerator Program, which selects education initiatives with high potential for scalability and positive impact and supports them through mentorship, access to investors, and international networks. A beneficiary of the WISE Accelerator has been Ideas Box, created by Libraries Without Borders, which offers a portable multimedia toolkit to build rich learning environments in emergency contexts. Today, the project has been successfully implemented in multiple countries, making headlines in news outlets ranging from The Wall Street Journal to National Geographic. Ideas Box is a great example of an initiative that is made much more impactful through being given the recognition and support good ideas deserve.
3. Adapt to Local Contexts
There is no “copy-paste” method of innovation. Great ideas still need to be contextualized to different social, cultural, and economic circumstances.
Take the Orenda Project for example, a rising edtech start-up from Pakistan that was incubated as part of the WISE Learner’s Voice Program. Orenda makes high-quality education accessible and fun for children through digitally streamed cartoons. Its programs already serve dozens of schools and are set to grow rapidly, providing much-needed alternative learning pathways for children in underserved communities. But the success of the initiative was the result of a spontaneous pivot. At first, the founders of Orenda wanted to open a school for Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, only to find out that the government planned to demolish the slum where they were planning to build. Backed into a tight spot, the minds behind Orenda realized that untapped opportunities were offered by the extensive use of smartphones in the local community. The solution was to build a virtual education platform instead.
As businesses navigate the rough seas of creative destruction, such examples from the world of social entrepreneurship may offer inspiration and insight for how to tackle uncertainty. After all, as Afdhal notes, the most useful exercise for organizations trying to innovate more effectively is to learn from other industries.
To learn more about the World Innovation Summit for Education, the World Innovation Summit for Health, and other initiatives of Qatar Foundation, visit www.qf.org.qa.
Vice President Pence just made it all but official: The United States is in a cold war with China. Fed up with Beijing’s industrial espionage, market manipulation, and cyber attacks on the West, coupled with its bullying of neighbors and repression at home, the Trump administration announced a series of strong steps to fight back.
Since the Chinese think their time on the global stage has come, they aren’t likely to back down anytime soon. That spells trouble for American manufacturers with global supply chains. Undoubtedly, it will accelerate the reshoring of items now sourced in China. As companies rethink their supply chains, they ought to seriously consider embracing a new manufacturing technology that’s now ready for prime time: 3-D printing.
No longer relegated to trinkets and prototyping, 3-D printing, which is also called additive manufacturing, is now moving into mass production. Printer makers have solved a variety of quality, cost, and speed problems to the point where printers can compete with conventional manufacturers at volumes of tens or even hundreds of thousands of units.
That’s true even when the individual 3-D printer factory makes only a few hundreds of units, because it won’t depend as much on economies of scale. Parts made in small American factories will cost nearly the same as those made in giant Asian plants — especially since these highly automated printers require less labor than conventional processes. So 3-D printing is tailor-made for reshoring — bringing production back home to be closer to customers. Not only does it lessen supply chain risks, but it weakens China’s advantages in manufacturing.
The U.S. military has already been working on additive as a quicker way to supply repair parts to remote locations and to make ultra-light, high-performance fighter jets. More broadly, the Obama administration set up the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center (“America Makes”), a technology support program in Youngstown, Ohio. But the Trump administration is looking to ramp up those efforts with tax breaks and direct subsidies to companies that bring military supply chains home.
Those supports will be crucial to getting manufacturers on board with the new technology. It will take time and effort: Additive manufacturing require a steep learning curve for engineers used to working on conventional assembly lines, and each part must be tested extensively to make sure it holds up under wartime conditions.
Additive manufacturing just passed a major test when GE certified parts for the new GEnx engines in Boeing 747s. If additive can stand up to the rigors of jet propulsion, then it can handle most any military demand.
Speeding up the adoption of additive is still going to be a challenging investment, even with Pentagon subsidies. But companies making the upfront investment will likely reap even greater rewards down the line. As I described in “The 3-D Printing Playbook,” the payoff from additive will build over time. Organizations will gradually revamp their operations to take advantage of its flexibility and versatility well beyond the factory floor. From product design to customer outreach, additive enables a fully-digitized enterprise that is hyper-responsive to market trends.
Companies that move especially quickly could pioneer the next stage of additive manufacturing. Because 3-D printers are so versatile, they can go from one kind of product to another with minimal time and cost for the switchover. That means companies can move from industry-specific factories to plants that produce for multiple industries. If demand in one industry slows, the company can switch some printers over to industries that are hot — and keep the factory’s capacity utilization high.
Once factories develop the software to coordinate and optimize these multi-industry operations, we’ll see the emergence of “pan-industrial” corporations. From the outside, these behemoths may look like conglomerates. But on the inside, thanks to the digital integration enabled by additive, they’ll achieve a variety of cross-division synergies. Imagine a “Universal Metals” pan-industrial that makes drones, jeeps, and mortars.
Once a pan-industrial perfects its integration software, it’s likely to create a software platform for suppliers and distributors to join. That’s the only way to fully optimize the value chain around additive. And as we know with Google and other software giants, the more companies you have on the platform, the stronger your platform will be. Pan-industrials could eventually create dominant ecosystems based on their integration platforms.
Other industries besides defense are likely to work on additive-driven reshoring and pan-industrialism. Jabil, the giant contract manufacturer, has been buying up numerous printers and integrating them into its sophisticated supply-chain software platform. Until the slide in the company’s fortunes generated leadership turmoil, General Electric had been making progress as well.
The defense industry won’t be alone in pushing the additive frontier. It just may have the greatest urgency.
One of the hardest things about introducing innovation or change in organizations is getting people on board. This is especially true in health care.
As health care organizations are being pressured to cut costs, reduce medical errors, and adopt both standardized processes and new innovations, providers are being asked to give up established and comfortable ways of working. They are having to spend more time on documentation, see more patients in a day, and use unfamiliar processes and tools. For many staff, physicians, and nurses, these changes mean less time healing patients and fostering wellness — the reasons they became health care professionals. Naturally, many start to question the direction of their organization, as these new behaviors and practices appear to conflict with the values of their profession.
When staff view innovations and changes as clashing with longstanding patient care values, they are less likely to adopt new behaviors and practices. This is why health care leaders need to focus on aligning innovation with existing cultural values, and devote more time to explaining how new processes and behaviors will allow employees to better enact their values and deliver high quality care.
Based on our research on organization change, our involvement in health care leadership training, and our conversations with over a hundred health care executives, we offer three key ways managers can engage providers in change and connect innovation efforts to their core motivations, passions, and values.
Seek to understand why staff think innovations or changes do not align with the existing culture and mission. In a leadership training session we observed, the CEO of a nonprofit medical practice and research organization listened to division and department chairs share their employees’ concerns: quality care is sacrificed for financial pressures, standardized processes negate years of expertise, techniques once heralded as best practices are being replaced, and so on.
The CEO told these leaders to take two steps: first, listen to the doctors and staff to understand why they perceive misalignment between the myriad of changes and the values of the organization; second, reframe and strengthen the connection between innovations and the core values of the hospital, so it no longer seems like a misalignment. For example, standardized processes or instruments are not negating doctors’ expertise, but rather helping ensure consistent quality of care.
Elsewhere, a CEO of a large integrated health system told us about seeking to understand staff perspectives through weekly rounds. In one case, he listened to nurses express resistance to a new process for end-of-shift patient handoffs. The old handoff process was simply a private conversation between two nurses; but the new way included a “bedside shift report” that included the patient in the nurses’ conversation. Many nurses thought the new process took much longer and hindered the exchange of information.
The CEO addressed their concerns by focusing on the improvement in patient care. He highlighted that with the new process, patients were more engaged in their care and better understood the need for medications or procedures, which in turn affected the ultimate outcome of patient health. He reminded the nurses that good patient care was central to the hospital’s values and why most of them became caregivers. Once the nurses accepted the rationale, the focus of the conversation shifted to logistical barriers that kept them from adopting this change (e.g., what to do if the patient is asleep at shift change). Alignment of common values enabled and motivated them to work through this change adoption together.
Engage employees with data to explain the problem, its urgency, and how to address it. Data and metrics can create an awareness of problems, a means to explore them, and a goal post to measure progress. Let’s look at a problem shared by many health care organizations — health care-associated infections. Based on data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on any given day, about one in 25 hospital patients gets at least one health care-associated infection. A common cause is poor hand hygiene: The CDC suggests that, on average, health care providers clean their hands less than half of the times they should.
The leader of a large integrated hospital system shared with us how they used data to change existing norms and routines and drive more hand washing. The hospital assigned “stealth monitors” — employees at various levels and roles who worked across several units and covertly collected observational data at set times. A safety group collated this data by unit and included it in a posted weekly report.
During morning huddles, unit and division leaders shared the data and started conversations about potential reasons behind the numbers. This weekly dialogue not only kept the problem in the forefront, but also engaged employees in diagnosing the barriers and factors outside of their control that made change hard to implement.
In one discussion, employees shared that when the batteries in the hand sanitizer dispensers died, it decreased handwashing until workers from another floor could replace the batteries. A simple change of moving spare batteries to the units and allowing anyone to replace them eliminated a critical barrier to improving adoption. This combination of data, engaging staff in problem-solving, and appealing to the mission of good patient care drove the rate of handwashing from 45% to 82% in one year.
Pay attention to the behaviors you reward and tolerate. As part of the same hand washing initiative, hospital system administrators created a Speak Up program, which empowers and trains nurses, staff, and doctors to call out anyone failing to wash their hands, on the spot, as they moved from patient to patient. For the campaign to work, no one, regardless of level or status, was immune from a reminder to wash his or her hands. Engrained cultural norms and power relationships about speaking up needed to be shaken (e.g., technicians were empowered to remind surgeons to wash their hands).
The weekly huddle meetings became a time to acknowledge those who bucked the existing power norms and reinforce the new behaviors. At these, the CMO handed out Starbucks gift cards to the staff that spoke up to physicians and others when they did not wash their hands. Rewarding new behaviors that contradicted the existing norms reinforced the message that it is safe to act in new ways. The change would not stick if doctors were exempt from feedback about noncompliance.
Doctors were also encouraged to thank anyone who spoke up to them when they forgot to wash their hands. When physicians negatively reacted to feedback from staff and resisted the culture change, an administrator reached out to them. The administrator reminded the physician of everyone’s responsibility for patient health, often using an emotional appeal: “How would they feel if their family member was seen by staff that did not engage in healthy hygiene?” Their comments linked physician behavior to the shared core values of high quality patient care.
The status quo persists when bad behaviors at any level of the organization are tolerated. When leadership understands that turning a blind eye to one bad behavior can decimate the adoption of innovation by others, they may be more willing to hold difficult conversations with the highest-status employees in their organization.
As health care continues to transform, aligning new innovations with existing cultural values will make it easier to lead successful change initiatives. Seeking to understand staff perspectives, using data, and holding all employees accountable for patient safety and care will help providers understand how change can support, rather than contradict, the values they hold dear.
Data skills — the skills to turn data into insight and action — are the driver of modern economies. According to the World Economic Forum, computing and mathematically-focused jobs are showing the strongest growth, at the expense of less quantitative roles.
So whether it’s to maximize the part we play in data-driven economic growth, or simply to ensure that we and our teams remain relevant and employable, we need to think about transitioning to a more data-skewed skillset. But which skills should you focus on? Can most of us expect to keep pace with this trend ourselves, or would we be better off retreating to shrinking areas of the economy, leaving data skills to the specialists?
To help answer this question, we rebooted and adapted an approach we took to prioritizing Microsoft Excel skills according to the benefits and costs of acquiring them. We applied a time-utility analysis to the field of data skills. “Time” is time to learn — a proxy for the opportunity cost to you or your team of acquiring the skill. “Utility” is how much you’re likely to need the skill, a proxy for the value it adds to the corporation, and your own career prospects.
Combine time and utility, and you get a simple 2×2 matrix with four quadrants:
Learn: high utility, low time-to-learn. This is low hanging fruit that will add value for you and your team quickly.
Plan: high utility, high time-to-learn. While this is valuable, acquiring this skill will mean prioritizing it ahead of other learning and activities. You need to be sure that it’s worth the investment.
Browse: low utility, low time-to-learn. You don’t need this now, but it’s easy to acquire so stay aware in case its utility increases.
Ignore: low utility, high time-to-learn. You don’t have the time for this.
In order to help you decide where to focus your development effort, we have plotted key data skills against this framework. We longlisted skills associated with roles such as: business analyst, data analyst, data scientist, machine learning engineer, or growth hacker. We then prioritized them for impact based on how frequently they appear in job postings, press reports, and our own learner feedback. And finally, we coupled this with information on how difficult the skills are to learn — using time to competence as a metric and assessing the depth and breadth of each skill.
We did this for techniques, rather than for specific technologies: so, for machine learning rather than TensorFlow; for business intelligence rather than Microsoft Excel, etc. Once you’ve worked out which techniques are priorities in your context, you can then work out which specific software and associated skills best support them.
You can also apply this framework to your own context, where the impact of data skills might be different. Here are our results:
At Filtered, we found that constructing this matrix helped us to make hard decisions about where to focus: at first sight all the skills in our long-list seemed valuable. But realistically, we can only hope to move the needle on a few, at least in the short term. We concluded that the best return on investment in skills for our company was in data visualization, based on its high utility and low time to learn. We’ve already acted on our analysis and have just started to use Tableau to improve the way we present usage analysis to clients.
Try the matrix in your own company to help your team determine which data skills are most important for them to start learning now.
As a college professor, I regularly train PhD students. In psychology and most fields of science, students are assigned to a project early on in their studies and learn key skills through an apprenticeship model. Many go onto to take on projects related to more specific research goals, and are eventually taught to design their own studies — a slow and painstaking process. Each step, from idea development and design to data analysis and reporting, requires a lot of supervision. It would generally be faster for lab directors to hire employees to carry out these studies instead, or to do all the heavy lifting themselves.
But, then, who would train the next generation of scientists?
Managers who have difficulty delegating tasks can learn from this process — particularly if your workload has become overwhelming, or you need someone to pick up the slack when you are out of town. The hardest part about delegating a task to someone else is trusting that they will do it well. And many managers are reluctant to turn over their responsibilities to someone who may not meet that expectation.
But there is a problem with this mindset. Managers need to stop thinking of passing off responsibilities as delegating — period. If you do, then you will only assign your employees high-level tasks when you don’t have time to do them. Until then, you will continue doing everything yourself. This is not an uncommon behavior. After all, you are probably better at doing your job than your direct reports, who have less experience in your role.
The problem with this style of delegation is that it sets your employees up for failure. A coach wouldn’t let an athlete go into a big game without practicing extensively beforehand. Managers should share this same mentality. When you assign someone a task for the first time — with no prior training — simply because you are unavailable to do it, their chances of succeeding are slim. You also run the risk of damaging team morale. Employees might get the impression that they are not capable of doing complex work if they are too overwhelmed by the task.
As a manager, a central part of your job is to train and develop people. This includes people who want to move into leadership roles, similar to yours, one day. When you take on the mindset of a trainer — instead of a manager delegating work — you will naturally look for ways to give a little more responsibility to the people who work for you. And those people who put in effort, and show an aptitude for the work, should be given more opportunities to try new, challenging tasks.
To start, try to gauge who on your team genuinely wants to move up in the organization, and identify their main areas of interest. Create a development plan for them and write down the skills they will need in order to reach their goals. Then, focus on giving them assignments that require those skills, as well as any tasks you think they are curious to explore. Often, people need a nudge to focus on their weaknesses — particularly ones that they are convinced fall out of their wheelhouse.
Structure the experience so that your employees are able to work their way up to a challenging task. Give them a series of practice sessions. The first time you introduce a task to someone, you might want them to experience it as a ride-along. Just let them shadow you while you explain some of the key points. Then, give them a piece to do on their own with your supervision. Only let them carry the full load when you sense that they are ready.
For example, you might want to teach someone how to run a weekly progress meeting while you are out. Start by training them when you are in the office. Have them watch you formulate the agenda and think through the issues that will be discussed. Then, the next time, let them create an agenda of their own, but critique it. Give them a chance to run part of the meeting with your supervision. That way, they are ready to run a full meeting on their own when the time comes. By doing this, you are both helping your team reach their career goals, and training them to take on some of your own responsibilities.
Taking on some of your direct reports as apprentices is an effort. It will take extra time out of your already busy week. You will have to check their work carefully at first to make sure that it is up to your standards. You will have to teach them not only how to do the tasks, but also, why the tasks are done that way. You will have to call on them to help fix any problems that arise from the work they’ve done, because practice is how they will learn. And your own productivity may slow down as a result of the time you spend mentoring others.
When you make this kind of training a regular part of your job, though, delegating tasks becomes easy. You will have created a team of trusted associates who can step in and help when you are overwhelmed or out of the office. And, as an added bonus, you have also groomed your successors. After all, as the old saying goes, if you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.
The Africa Report, Jeune Afrique and the Africa CEO Forum assemble an exclusive list of the top African businesswomen who are shaping their sectors, helping a new generation of female leaders and improving their firms’ profitability.
When it comes to cybersecurity, we hear a few common refrains. "Security is top-down." "Invest more in your IT." However, the current trend is to place the blame squarely on your employees. Rightfully so, it might appear. After all, cyberattackers rely on human error as the greatest security risk. The obvious reason is that, in most companies, the majority of teams are plain old employees. It follows that employees open more emails, click more links, have more devices and are more likely to use public Wi-Fi while traveling. Highlighting that human error is responsible for 90 percent of attacks makes sense. While singling out human error is appropriate, it should be because other prime areas of concern have been addressed.
1. IT departments have the resources to properly execute security.
2. Management supports, encourages and actually enforces IT policy.
If we think of cybersecurity holistically, three organizational pillars share responsibility: IT, management and employees.
IT department responsibilities
IT investment is the clear first line of defense. Cybersecurity technology is very efficient and effective. Despite the barrage of doomsday headlines we hear, a huge majority of threats are stopped before ever reaching your employees' inboxes. Given that over 90 percent of attacks start with an email, providers like Gmail intercept more than 99.9 percent of unsolicited emails. URL defense solutions are stopping many click-to-phish attacks, and machine learning is increasingly integral to security software. Endpoint protection and antivirus software have made many cyberattack vectors less profitable for criminals or obsolete.
IT admins must be able to make the business case for tighter security. The average manager cannot be expected to stay on top of the latest security technology and appropriate expenditures. The solutions should be appropriate for the industry and its regulations, maximizing security while minimizing inconvenience.
Admins should also regularly test system integrity and resilience, and implement phishing tests to monitor employee awareness. On a more technical front, IT admins need to regularly update software and patches – integral factors in security – while ensuring backup integrity, an essential continuity element.
These tactics are all essential to the IT plan and shield your company against a huge majority of threats.
Cybersecurity investment is a key first step, and management buy-in can be a major obstacle. Without management support, programs cannot be properly implemented. Cybersecurity is constantly evolving, and the commitment to it must be constant. This is where the case that cybersecurity is a top-down effort holds water: While IT departments should be able to make the business case on cybersecurity investment, it is ultimately up to management to give budgetary approvals. Management needs to conduct a cost-benefit analysis on security technology, being aware of the costs of a breach and how much spam alone can cost the business.
Managers needs to ensure that the awareness and training program is being adopted. Leading by example is a must, as is a zero-tolerance policy for putting your company at risk.
One threat is CEO fraud, or a business email compromise scam, which is phishing targeted at those in management who can release funds. C-level executives – and any other managers with permission to authorize financial transactions – must receive additional training and have multifactor authentication (MFA) for such transactions. (However, scammers are increasingly figuring out ways to bypass MFA, so it's not foolproof on its own.)
The employee program
With IT and management on board and technology in place, then yes, your employees are your greatest cybersecurity risk. Nearly all of the above falls outside the responsibilities of your non-IT employees. The common idea that human error is the greatest risk to cybersecurity is true – if we add "when they aren't following the IT plan."
Basic elements of that IT plan should be how to spot and identify a phishing or malicious email, how to protect personal data, password management, the risks of email attachments, and how to carry over best security practices to their personal devices (especially given the increase in BYOD).
When traveling, every employee needs to understand the risks of connecting to public Wi-Fi and not connecting USBs, and be mindful of their devices at all times.
Employees need to feel comfortable with IT teams and know that no question is too stupid. Yes, IT departments are overworked, but if employees build a habit of reaching out to IT about a suspicious email, it will save a lot of time, money and aggravation in the long run. It's important to create an environment that encourages employees to think twice before opening or clicking that suspicious email.
Whose responsibility is cybersecurity?
Targeted phishing is where employees really are the greatest risk. But if the proper steps are taken, responsibilities delineated and the importance of mitigating cyberthreats understood, the chances of a security breach are dramatically reduced. Though there are things employees need to be held accountable for, it should be evident that cybersecurity is an intra-organizational effort and requires cross-silo buy-in to be effective. Ultimately, your security is only as strong as your weakest link.
Apologies are something we love to receive and hate to give. Saying "I'm sorry" is tough. It challenges our pride and our ego with its open admission of failure and wrongdoing. But when delivered with sincerity and heartfelt meaning, apologies hold power.
Whether you are apologizing for failure or for wronging another person, it's critical to deliver the apology with sincerity. Apologies loaded with excuses and blame are superficial and not really apologies at all.
When was the last time you knew a leader to say "I'm sorry" in an honest, heartfelt way? We all make mistakes, even the most experienced and business-savvy professionals. Sadly, many leaders fail to admit when they do. They fear their apologies will cause people to question their authority and ability to influence others. Ironically, the reverse is true. When leaders are willing to openly confess to mistakes, they build trust with their employees. They develop a culture of transparency where people are free to pursue ideas without fear of failure. To err is human – even for the most experienced among us.
Owning mistakes takes great courage and confidence. It says, "I'm responsible." Whether there was intent is irrelevant. Whether the leader was directly or indirectly responsible for the mistake doesn't matter. Influential leaders recognize, own and accept blame rather than pointing fingers. They acknowledge that success isn't about them but rather the goal, the priority and the team that achieves it.
Take a stand and own your mistakes with these seven guidelines.
1. Know when an apology is warranted.
Recent studies indicate that women apologize more often than men. It's not that men are reluctant to admit wrongdoing; instead, they have different ideas about what warrants an apology. Women say "I'm sorry" more often than men because they perceive situations and possible wrongdoings differently, apologizing even when the receiver isn't offended by the situation. Men are less likely to acknowledge guilt simply because they don't believe wrongdoing occurred.
To know when an apology is warranted, prioritize the receiver over your interpretation of events. Pause to consider if a real injustice occurred, and take the time to recognize how the receiver may have interpreted the action and if it hurt their feelings.
2. Admission is key.
Admitting you were wrong is the most significant step. Studies have shown that the most essential component of an apology is admitting wrongdoing. Don't wait for others to go first. Instead, step up and take ownership. Lead the way by making the mistake public knowledge and apologizing for the wrongdoing. Don't wait until others ask for or demand an apology. Even if you believe a more senior leader should take ownership of the mistake, step up and do it first. You'll create the open dialogue needed for others to follow and admit their participation, if any.
If no one follows, don't force the issue. People know when they played a part in mistakes, and it's up to them to admit ownership. Be the bigger person by setting the example and taking ownership.
3. Be personal.
The method of apology is as important as the message itself. Recognize when a mistake requires a face-to-face admission and an apology. Don't rely on technology to do your heavy lifting. Instead, acknowledge others in person. Look them in the eye and apologize. If face-to-face interactions aren't possible, pick up the phone. Let the offending person hear your voice and acknowledge your sincerity.
4. Be specific.
Know what you are apologizing for beforehand. Don't rush to apologize without all the facts. The affected person needs to know what you are apologizing for. People will question your sincerity if you rush to apologize without knowing exactly why. Vague apologies hold no power. Research indicates that no apology is better than a half-apology. Knowing the facts will help you thoroughly state why you are apologizing. It allows you to elaborate on the reason and acknowledge greater ownership.
5. Consider your words.
Before rushing into an apology, consider how the receiver will interpret what you're saying and how you say it. First, think about what you will say. Don't just contemplate your words; think about how others may hear them. What we say when admitting a mistake can affect our trustworthiness in relationships moving forward. If we don't consider our words carefully, we can add insult to injury and further jeopardize our connection.
6. Own the mistake.
Placing blame or trying to justify your actions will diminish the power of an apology. Using excuses to justify your actions or shortcomings will only intensify feelings of rejection, animosity, anger and pain. Don't try to defend yourself either. This will make the apology appear insincere. Simply own your mistake. Acknowledge what you should have done differently and commit to making a change going forward.
7. Don't apologize to empathize.
Apologies are often used in unwarranted situations. When you attempt to empathize with someone undergoing a tough situation, an apology isn't necessary. You can acknowledge what someone is going through without apologizing for the situation. Apologies are used to admit guilt. If you didn't cause the problem, you don't owe anyone an apology. Instead, consider asking what you can do to help, or listen with intent and acknowledge the person's situation with an open heart.
All of us make mistakes. Acknowledging and owning those mistakes demonstrates responsibility and maturity in us as leaders. Apologies allow us to build stronger, trustworthy relationships with those around us. Owning our mistakes also provides a great example for our teams, helping us grow as professionals and in our roles as leaders.
Co-authored by Lauren Gore, a principal and co-founder of growth and innovation advisory firm LDR, as well as a graduate from the United States Military Academy and Harvard Law School.
A recent Gartner study predicted that blockchain will add more than $1 billion in value to the banking industry by 2020. While many companies and industries are interested in deploying blockchain solutions to augment their internal capabilities, they quickly recognize that the value gain doesn't exceed the technology's implementation and maintenance expenses.
This question of return on investment is one that many companies spend significant time considering. Business leaders are generally willing to create structured processes to understand and invest in technologies; however, far too many underestimate the teams, processes and infrastructure required to integrate these solutions into existing business systems. If the teams implementing disruptive technologies are not fully invested in the outcomes or sufficiently trained to utilize the technology, the advancement is bound for failure.
Without incentives and training for the implementation and maintenance teams, disruptive technologies likely will demonstrate negative ROI and compromise a culture of innovation. If leaders want to guide truly innovative companies, they need to modify the approach. Rather than focus solely on the technology, they should begin by creating cross-functional innovation teams that proactively seek to integrate disruptive technologies into established business practices. With this approach, small and large companies alike won't just survive disruption but will thrive within it.
Where big shifts will come from
How company leadership should prepare for change is more of a pragmatic query than an academic one. Disruption is right around the corner, if not already upon us; the businesses that are not prepared for it now are those that will likely not survive.
It seems that these three major technologies will lcause major upheaval in the next few years:
Blockchain: Contrary to popular opinion, blockchain is not a speculative or complex theory propped up by too much hype. Rather, blockchain is a distributed, transparent, and highly secure peer-to-peer ledger that can serve as a practical solution to finding, storing, protecting, and authenticating information. That is why, according to a Forbes study, more than 90 percent of European and North American banks are already exploring how blockchain can work for them and where it should be deployed over the next five years.
Artificial intelligence: Building on massive advances in data, machine learning and drastically increased computing power, the evolution of intelligent machines mirrors that of humans. AI has assumed an ever-expanding range of duties and responsibilities once thought too nuanced for anything but a human. Though AI's abilities are still rudimentary in certain areas, the impact of this technology is only beginning to be realized.
Imagery: While not a new trend, unmanned aerial vehicles and high-frequency globally positioned satellites are innovative tools are making significant waves across multiple industries. Specifically, drones are transforming from flying cameras to autonomous and highly intelligent data-gathering machines. Soon, they will combine integrated computer-powered vision with neural network technology capable of collecting, analyzing and refining data in nearly real time.
These are only a few of the disruptive trends that we can see coming. There will certainly be new, potentially transcendent innovations that will be much harder to forecast. This is why it is vital for companies to not only prepare for what can be seen, but to prepare for the unforeseeable.
Put change agents in place
Anticipating disruption is difficult, but it can be simplified for leaders who are willing to invest in the right internal structures. These four elements can create a successful infrastructure that will help you future-proof your business and get your team out in front of innovations, rather than playing from behind.
1. Use an eyes-and-ears team to understand what's going on.
The eyes-and-ears team should consist of managers and executives who are unafraid of challenging the status quo and consider innovation as a solution to any problem. It should be a collection of people with diverse perspectives who can help your company identify and evaluate potential innovations from all angles and develop pragmatic approaches.
When an innovative solution is apparent, the E&E team should bring together leaders from different departments to discuss and then execute. The E&E team is all about pushing a company out of its comfort zone and into the mindset of an entrepreneur-owner. It is how companies like Amazon can succeed in several product verticals, due in large part to their willingness to see what's forthcoming and incorporate it intelligently, cost-effectively and rapidly.
2. Build an innovation lab.
Whereas the E&E team is optimized for business leaders, innovation labs are built for researchers, technologists and builders. There, collaboration leads not only to the exploration of new solutions, but also to the translation of those solutions into real and actionable innovations. The innovation lab's focus is on researching, designing and building innovative solutions.
Similar to the E&E team, an innovation lab must be a collection of people with diverse voices and experiences. This variety helps avoid the creation of a monoculture, which can impede innovation, if not cannibalize it.
When the E&E team identifies a particular challenge or pain point and moves to evaluate a series of recommended solutions, the innovation lab goes into action. Have this lab team contextualize the E&E team's recommendations, using them to create unique and useful minimum viable products to validate solutions. Industry experts should freely and frequently collaborate with the innovation lab so that the lab's research, design and build efforts occur within the context of the market.
3. Establish a venture capital arm to buy solutions.
When you've identified innovative solutions and opportunities, the first decision is whether to buy or build. This is where a venture capital arm can play a critical role. Every venture arm needs the requisite funds if a business truly wants to capitalize on new and often time-sensitive innovations.
The ultimate goal of a VC arm should be to further the innovative capabilities of a business while seeking a return on capital over some designated period. For VC funding to be successful within the innovative structure of an organization, the E&E team must identify the most valuable entrepreneurial opportunities, then team with the VC arm and innovation lab to execute along the appropriate courses of action.
4. Leverage an innovation accelerator.
The innovation accelerator's primary role is to ensure a smooth and speedy path for all innovative endeavors. The accelerator team should consist of people well versed in various business operations who can efficiently process, analyze and then utilize data to act quickly, often in the face of significant ambiguity.
When building the accelerator team, focus on identifying experts from various departments across the company. Use their diverse experiences and skill sets to foster an environment where people can make informed and intelligent decisions to drive innovation and accelerate growth, without being limited by the perilous notion of "how we have always done it."
To be successful, a business, large or small, should not simply focus on the latest technology, but rather should work proactively to establish an environment of constant evolution and relative comfort around change. By establishing the aforementioned innovation infrastructure – including mutually supportive teams representing eyes and ears, innovation labs, venture capital, and acceleration – leaders can build companies that will not just survive disruption, but drive disruption.
In our article last year on the taxation of Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) international sellers, we covered some of the basic U.S. tax considerations associated with the popular FBA business model. We noted the general dearth of primary authorities providing direction to foreign sellers as to the federal and state tax consequences of fulfillment activities within the United States.
While specific guidance from the IRS remains wanting, several significant developments in 2018 should at least steer international sellers in a clearer direction.
Developments in state taxation
As a word of background, Amazon international sellers are potentially subject to two main methods of state taxation – sales tax and income tax. The fundamental principle underlying a state's right to tax transactions under both of these methods is "nexus," which generally means the connection a taxpayer has to a particular state.
Most states generally take the position that a third-party fulfillment center does, in fact, create sales tax nexus. As such, if a state has an Amazon FBA warehouse (many states currently do) and your products are stored in such a warehouse, you'll most likely be viewed as having nexus in that state, and you'll be required to register for a sales tax permit and collect and remit sales tax on sales to that state's customers.
Until this year, sellers who did not have products stored in a warehouse in a particular state or any other physical presence in such state could rely on U.S. Supreme Court precedent, namely the 1992 Quill Corp. v. North Dakota decision, to provide protection from sales taxation in such state. This was based on the court's physical presence standard, which required physical presence, such as inventory or employees, in the state in order to create sales tax nexus.
In South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., a landmark case decided in June of this year, the Supreme Court decided in the state's favor and expressly overruled the long-standing physical presence test. The Wayfair decision gives states significantly more constitutional flexibility by allowing them to potentially impose sales tax on out-of-state sellers who merely sell to customers in the relevant state, even if they have no physical presence in such state. It remains to be seen how states react to the Wayfair case, but foreign sellers should expect to broaden legislation across states that further catches their activities in the sales tax net.
In this regard, some states have begun to require so-called "marketplace facilitators," like Amazon, to collect and remit sales taxes on behalf of their sellers. Amazon's website, in fact, currently has a page dedicated to educating sellers about the concept of marketplace facilitators. The page also follows the development of state legislation in this area, specifically listing Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Washington as states with marketplace facilitator laws. Other states may follow suit, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s state-friendly Wayfair decision.
Developments in federal taxation
While state developments were broadcast loudly in the form of a Supreme Court decision and state legislative transformations, the federal development most relevant for Amazon FBA international sellers was somewhat inconspicuously tucked away in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was enacted into law at the tail end of 2017.
As a word of background, similar to state taxes, the extent to which the U.S. government can impose federal taxes on an international merchant depends greatly on the level of connectedness that the seller has to the United States. Whereas "nexus" is the key principle in this regard in the area of state taxation, federal tax is triggered (unless treaty protection is available) if the activities of a foreign seller in the U.S. rise to the level of a "U.S. trade or business" or USTOB, and the seller's income is "ECI" or income effectively connected to such U.S. trade or business.
The rules for determining whether income is ECI are quite complex and nuanced and subject to a number of exceptions. The main preliminary factor in determining whether income is ECI or not ECI is whether the income is from U.S. or foreign sources. The sourcing of inventory rules apply differently depending on whether the inventory is or is not manufactured by the foreign seller.
For products not manufactured by the foreign seller (i.e., manufactured by a third party outside the U.S.) – the so-called "title passage rule" applies. Under this rule, if title to the goods passes outside the U.S., income from the sale of such goods by a foreign seller is considered foreign source and therefore is not subject to U.S. federal income taxation. If title to the goods passes within the U.S., then income from the sale of such goods by a foreign seller is considered U.S. source and is therefore subject to U.S. federal taxation under domestic law. The Republican tax legislation seemingly did not change this aspect of the inbound tax rules.
For products manufactured (wholly or partially) by the foreign seller, however, the law changed significantly under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Under the new law, which is effective beginning with the 2018 tax year, if goods are manufactured by the foreign seller outside the U.S., then the sale of such goods are considered foreign source and therefore not subject to U.S. federal taxation, even if they are sold within the United States (the "manufacturing exception"). This new provision should prove quite beneficial for online sellers who manufacture their own products. Regulatory guidance on the parameters of this new provision would provide further clarity in this area, but for now, the provision is a welcome development for online sellers.
Since the U.S. tax rules regarding Amazon FBA international sellers remain a moving target at both the federal and state level, it's important for foreign sellers to keep abreast of the latest developments in this area – subtle changes can mean significant federal tax implications from both a substantive and reporting perspective.
One recommendation internal communicators hear often is to conduct employee surveys to learn their communication preferences. And it absolutely is an effective way to learn more about what employees want to hear and how they want to receive those communications.
The problem is, most articles or experts don't go too far beyond recommending a survey and perhaps a few questions to ask or avoid. But once you have the survey data, the interpretation, analysis and resulting actions can turn out to be a lot more complicated than one might think.
With that in mind, here are five tips to ensure you get the most from your survey efforts:
1. Communicate at every step of the way.
If employees only hear about your survey while you are running it, you are missing out on engagement opportunities. Your survey is intended to help you communicate better down the road, but why not use it as an effective tool to communicate better now?
Get employees involved in the entire process and make sure they understand the process steps from feedback to analysis to change management. Immediately after the survey, let people know how many people participated, thank them for it and let them know when you expect to have some results.
2. Avoid analysis paralysis, cherry-picking and lemon-dropping.
Communicators and executives can sometimes glance over survey results and draw conclusions from the most cursory of data – and then act far too quickly. Cherry-picking and lemon-dropping are examples of confirmation bias, confirming the best and worst assumptions. They're where you handpick just a few positive or negative results to make a conclusion. Statistical analysis requires careful, detailed math. What appears to be a cause or effect at first glance may not prove to be a valid conclusion when the statistics are applied.
3. Celebrate the positive; don’t just target problem areas.
Isolating or targeting divisions or programs with lower engagement only serves to further disconnect them. First, identify what is working and promote those behaviors. It will take far less effort to get everyone aboard those bandwagons than fixing what is broken and addressing weaknesses.
It's also important to create actions plans that touch every area of the organization at all levels so everyone can grow and improve together, not separately.
4. Involve employees in planning for change.
Stephen Shinnan, director of marketing and business development at TalentMap, puts it very directly: Having little or no employee participation in action planning after a survey is the path to failure. Instead, work the 80/20 rule. Develop an employee engagement steering committee that can identify a few opportunities for improvement, the top 20 percent, and set improvement goals. Then focus your efforts on achieving those goals rather than trying to do everything at once, and you should see 80 percent of the benefits of doing more.
5. Make actual change.
Doing nothing with your survey results may actually be the worst decision you could make. Employees make an effort to provide feedback, and they expect and want improvements to come after; otherwise, why even participate?
When it comes time for your next survey, it would be ideal to kick that off by being able to point to improvement and changes made as a result of the last one. As more people see the feedback loop working, the more people will participate in the virtuous loop.
The idea of recreational marijuana available for citizens to purchase in Canada is attracting investors to marijuana producers, retailers and in technologies that are used to grow marijuana.
As investing in marijuana receives increasing interest, it is important to understand the provincial laws surrounding marijuana according to each province and how those regulations will affect investors, including investors in the United States.
Barriers to entry and provincial cross-comparison
As of now, recreational marijuana will become legalized across Canada next week on Oct. 17, 2018. Although the federal government considers it legal across Canada, the provincial governments of each province will have the final say of how it is to be used and sold within their province. As a result, Americans looking to invest in this industry should carefully look at how the different provinces are approaching implementation.
Alberta has taken a more lenient approach to the privatization of marijuana sales. The provincial government has set the legal age of consumption of marijuana to 18 years old and will allow for marijuana to be purchased at private stores and through online government sales. Individuals in Alberta will be permitted to grow their own recreational marijuana (up to four plants).
Other provinces have adopted similar sets of conditions but with minor changes. Initially, Ontario had been less lenient to the privatization of marijuana sales. Marijuana in Ontario was only to be available for purchase at government storefronts and through online government sales. This would have made Ontario a less-than-ideal market for investment in this emerging industry. Recently, Ontario's premier approved privatized marijuana sales, making it an ideal market for investment and putting the province on a par with Alberta in terms of the implementation of the federal legislation. This has prompted private retailers like Fire & Flower to announce their intentions to operate in the Ontario market. The chart below highlights what you need to know about each province.
Age restriction: 18 +
Distributors: Private stores and government online sales.
Personal production: Maximum of 4 plants. Landlords have agency to set restrictions.
Areas where smoking is permitted: Prohibited in cars, in areas with children present and wherever tobacco is prohibited.
Age restriction: 19+
Distributors: Private stores and government online sales.
Personal production: Maximum of 4 plants and not in public view.
Areas where smoking is permitted: Prohibited in cars, in areas where children are present and wherever tobacco is prohibited.
Age restriction: 19+
Distributors: Private stores and online sales.
Personal production: Not permitted.
Areas where smoking is permitted: To be determined.
Age restriction: 19+
Distributors: Government stores and online sales.
Personal production: Maximum of 4 plants and not in public view.
Areas where smoking is permitted: On private property and inside private residences.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Age restriction: 19+
Distributors: Private licensed stores and government online sales.
Personal production: To be decided.
Areas where smoking is permitted: On private property and inside private residences.
Age restriction: 19+
Distributors: Privately owned alcohol stores and government online sales.
Personal production: Maximum of 4 plants.
Areas where smoking is permitted: On private property and inside private residences, trails, highways, streets, roads and in parks if they are not used for public events.
Age restriction: 19+
Distributors: Government and online sales.
Personal production: Maximum of 4 plants.
Areas where smoking is permitted: Areas where tobacco is permitted to smoke. Landlords have agency to set restrictions.
Age restriction: 19+
Distributors: Online distributors are encouraged to sell in Nunavut, and private businesses are able to apply for a license to sell.
Personal production: Not permitted.
Areas where smoking is permitted: Smoking prohibited in public places apart from designated cannabis-consumption areas.
Age restriction: 19+
Distributors: Government-operated stores and online sales.
Personal production: Maximum of 4 plants.
Areas where smoking is permitted: Private property and landlords have agency to set restriction.
Prince Edward Island
Age restriction: 19+
Distributors: Government-operated stores and online sales.
Personal production: Maximum of 4 plants only if they are not accessible to minors.
Areas where smoking is permitted: Private property with certain exceptions.
Age restriction: 18+
Distributors: Government-operated stores and online sales.
Personal production: Not permitted.
Areas where smoking is permitted: Areas where tobacco is permitted for smoking, with exceptions to university and CEGEP campuses.
Age restriction: 19+
Distributors: Private stores and online sales.
Personal production: Maximum of 4 plants. Landlords have agency to set restrictions.
Areas where smoking is permitted: Private property.
Age restriction: 19+
Distributors: Government stores and online sales.
Personal production: Maximum of 4 plants – not in public view.
Areas where smoking is permitted: Private property. Landlords have agency to set restrictions.
Investment, risk and the Cannabis Act
As the second country in the world, the first G7 country, and the first major economy to legalize recreational marijuana use, Canada presents an excellent investment opportunity into a burgeoning industry.
Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Altria and other brands have expressed interest in exploring marijuana-infused products, while Corona (through its parent company, Constellation Inc.) has already made an investment into the marijuana industry to kickstart the process of creating a beverage with marijuana (CBD) through their partnership with Hydropothecary. When it was reported that Coca-Cola had discussions with Aurora Cannabis Inc., the stock of Coca-Cola rose slightly, while Aurora rose by 17 percent.
Regulations, derivatives and cross-border opportunities
American investors can take advantage of these investments and partnerships into cannabis. However, the current iteration of the Cannabis Act does not legalize all marijuana products. Only dried cannabis, cannabis oil, fresh cannabis, cannabis plants and cannabis plant seeds will be allowed to be sold by registered retailers.
The regulations at this time do not allow for the sale of an edible or drinkable product that contains cannabis, such that Coca-Cola or Corona may want to make. Even if the regulations did allow consumable products, currently no cannabis product can be sold that contains caffeine, nicotine, or ethyl alcohol, further restricting companies like Corona and Coca-Cola from bringing a product to market.
There have been indications of legalizing edible products in 2019 or 2020, but until the regulations change, only the five types of cannabis products are legally allowed to be sold in Canada. Investments into these business partnerships and mixed products may turn out to be lucrative, but the major risk that must be noted by investors is that the regulations do not allow for the sale of these types of products.
Other risks of investing in the Canadian marijuana industry are created by the U.S. federal government. Many states have legalized marijuana in some form or another; however, the U.S. federal government remains opposed. There have been indications and declarations that Canadian citizens would face a ban from entering the U.S. if they are found to be working or investing in the Canadian marijuana industry.
As of this last week prior to legalization, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency has retracted this previous announcement clarifying that as long as Canadians are not entering the U.S. with the intention to conduct marijuana-related business, they shouldn't face any issues at the border.
U.S. citizens who have invested or are employed in this industry are likely not expected to face a ban from re-entering their own nation, but other penalties could be levied against them. U.S. border police have no direct means of accessing one's employment history or investment portfolio, but they can become suspicious and administer a punishment if answers to questions like "What do you do for a living?" or "What was your purpose in going to your destination?" yield answers that relate to the cannabis industry.
Other agencies of the federal government, specifically the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), might be more accepting of legitimate marijuana companies, as they have recently granted Tilray permission to import cannabis into the U.S. for medical research. Before investing in the marijuana industry, American investors must note and be aware that their activities may be punished by the U.S. federal government.
The point of sale is another problematic area that investors must be aware of before committing their capital. The regulations place possession limits on how much cannabis a person can carry with them in a public area at any one time. A public area includes a motor vehicle located in a public space, so driving from the retailer to home is in a public area. These possession limits place a cap on how much a customer can purchase at any one time.
Ontario, the largest population and biggest market in Canada, recently announced new developments regarding retail stores for cannabis sales. Private businesses will be able to obtain a license and sell cannabis to the public, but these stores will only start opening in April 2019. Retailers will be purchasing their product supply from the Government of Ontario, which will be acting as the wholesaler. Retailers will not be able to set the sale price of their product, as that will also be decided by the Government of Ontario. Finally, municipalities in the province of Ontario can opt out of allowing retail stores from opening in their region. They have until Jan. 22, 2018, to make that decision, and municipalities that opt out can choose to opt in at a later point in time. Once a municipality has opted in, it is no longer able to prevent a cannabis retailer from opening its doors and conducting business. This opt-out clause creates uncertainty, as businesses and investors do not know which markets will be available and which will not.
Ontario confirming that private businesses will handle the retail operations for cannabis sales is excellent news for investors. There are many opportunities that investors can take advantage of, and there will be no arbitrary limit on the number of retail stores that will be present throughout the province. However, investors must account for the risks of a government wholesaler and one who sets the retail price for the product. If a grower is not able to secure a contract with the government, their product becomes infinitely harder to sell to the public.
A retail sales price set by the government is another hurdle that retailers will need to overcome. Retailers are more adept at determining what the price the product should sell at, as they are more aware of the market demands while also ensuring sustainability of their store. The government could set the price too high where customers will not purchase the product, or too low, limiting retailers' ability to remain profitable.
Uncertainty but opportunity with craft growers
Investments into smaller-scale marijuana growing operations, otherwise known as microgrowers or craft growers, also carries risks any investor must be aware of. There are the normal concerns of success, growth, and sustainability that investors have in any industry about smaller and less-established companies. In the cannabis industry, there is a general fear that these craft growers will not have the shelf space to be able to sell their product. While Canada's cannabis regulations allow for craft growers to exist, the sale of their product is where the hurdles are created.
Current regulations do not indicate any reserved space for craft growers. Retail space, which the government controls, could all be directed toward larger growers, pushing out and preventing any craft growers from having their product reach the consumer. Many of the larger growers have deals in place with provincial governments to supply their cannabis. Since many provincial governments will be acting as wholesalers, smaller growers may not be able to compete with the offers and contract prices the larger growers can present to the government. There is a genuine fear that these larger organizations will flood the market with their product, preventing microgrowers from selling their goods. The regulations allow for microgrowers to exist and creates an investment opportunity, but the regulations do not protect them when bringing their product to the market, making them vulnerable to being muscled out
Craft growers are further disadvantaged by the inability to advertise their product and differentiate themselves from their competitors. It will be much more difficult to establish a brand, which is critical to competing and taking part in the market away from the larger, more established companies. Marijuana products must be sold in plain packaging, similar to that of nicotine cigarettes. There are strict regulations for logos and colors used. Marijuana packages must also be labeled with health risks, the cannabis symbol and information about the product. With such strict marketing and promotional regulations in place, craft growers will have a hard time differentiating themselves. Even the larger growers will be disadvantaged, as they will not be able to market as effectively.
Canada legalizing recreational marijuana use and the new regulations that will surround this industry have opened several investment opportunities in entering this new industry. There are many avenues an investor can explore, but the new regulations create risks that an American investor must keep in mind before investing.
Of the many sales techniques and buzzwords that get thrown around these days, few have garnered more attention than emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence has been defined as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others," which naturally would seem to have plenty of application for getting through the ups and downs of each day.
However, what many people overlook is how emotional intelligence plays a role in the sales world. After all, it's one thing for a salesperson to seek out expert sales advice and know what they should do during a tough sales negotiation. It's quite another to keep their emotions in check and use those skills when stressful situations arise.
Your ability to stay cool under pressure and to form stronger emotional connections with sales leads could very well determine whether you're able to help them in their decision-making process and whether you close the sale. As such, focusing on these so-called soft skills shouldn't be considered optional – it should be an essential part of improving your sales ability.
Here are seven ways you can improve your emotional intelligence and take your sales skills to the next level.
1. Learn to pause.
The first step to improving your emotional intelligence is learning to regulate your emotions. We'll all experience bad moods and negative feelings, often as a result of things that are beyond our control.
However, when you let these emotions take over and cause you to react instinctively, you're more likely to make mistakes. All too often, impulsive responses result in lost sales and damaged reputations. As such, give yourself a moment to reflect before you let your emotions take over. Pausing so you can carefully think through a response rather than letting your emotions drive the conversation will keep things from getting off track.
2. Develop empathy.
Taking a pause to keep your emotions under control is valuable for your own well-being, but true emotional intelligence requires that you learn to recognize and consider others' feelings as well. Active listening allows you to understand how a situation may be affecting another person, which, in turn, makes you more likely to be able to resolve their problems.
A key part of improving your empathetic abilities is to ask "Why?" Why does a person feel a particular way? Why do you have a difference in opinion? As you take a deep dive into trying to understand where someone else is coming from, you become far better equipped to form meaningful emotional connections and close sales.
3. Practice patience.
In your journey to improve your sales abilities, you shouldn't expect perfection right away. Creating unrealistic expectations for yourself could cause you to become extremely stressed, or it could make you give up altogether.
Set meaningful goals that you can work toward every day. Understand that it may take time to reach these goals. Use milestones to measure your progress. A patient, long-term outlook will make it much easier to not get overwhelmed and see how far you've come.
4. Learn from failure.
How you react to failure is a key factor that drives success, whether you're a salesperson or a first-time entrepreneur. While not every setback will be as big as losing a major sales lead or seeing your business go under, even minor problems can cause you to feel overwhelmed if you're not careful.
The thing is, failure is an inevitable part of life. You should look at any setback (big or small) as an opportunity to learn for the future. Could you do better in planning and preparation? Does your execution need improvement? Do you still need to work on controlling your emotions? While you can't control every outcome, viewing failures as learning opportunities will keep you from making the same mistakes twice.
5. Get outside perspectives.
We often fail to recognize our own weaknesses. Several studies have found that mediocre employees often mistakenly believe they are doing a good job.
While ideally you should be aware of your weaknesses and work to improve them, getting perspectives from a close co-worker or your boss can reveal how others perceive your efforts. As you learn to listen, you can gain crucial insights that help you adapt and improve. Just remember to not let anger or feelings that you're not good enough get in the way of applying what you can learn from these opportunities.
6. Be assertive, not aggressive.
Emotional intelligence is sometimes confused for weakness because we're tempted to believe that becoming more empathetic allows others to walk all over us. This isn't the case. Mastering your emotions and seeing things from someone else's perspective allows you to become more assertive, not less.
This starts by recognizing the value you bring to your sales team, as well as what your rights and boundaries are in the workplace. Learning to state what you need clearly and directly will help you avoid being overly aggressive or developing a victim mentality.
7. Leave time for downtime.
There's always room for improvement. But if you're constantly glued to your smartphone, how are you going to have time to reflect and identify ways you can keep growing?
One of the most important things you can do to improve your emotional intelligence is to set aside some time each day when you can get away from technology and to-do lists and reflect on how you've been doing. In addition to de-stressing, this lets you evaluate what you've done well in recent sales calls and how you can improve so that tomorrow you can do even better.
Improving your emotional intelligence takes practice, but it can make all the difference for your long-term sales success. As you learn to master your emotions and identify and validate the emotional experiences of others, you will put yourself in a better position to generate real results.
Instagram's journey over the past year has been nothing if not a constant evolution. With the changes to its algorithm, the expansion of Stories and the release of shoppable media, it's evident that Instagram's ambition is to become the most interactive and engaging social platform on the web.
That being said, if you were to ask a marketer this time last year what they thought of Instagram, they would have probably labeled it the "brand builder" of social networks – a great tool for building an audience, but lacking the features to generate leads or drive substantial web traffic.
All of that changed earlier this year when Instagram released its biggest game-changer for e-commerce brands to date: shoppable posts. The release of shoppable posts has now afforded e-commerce companies the luxury of tagging products within an individual image, allowing the user to tap a product, bringing them straight to the Add to Cart section on the seller's site. It seems that "shop via link in bio" will soon be a thing of the past.
Editor's note: Looking for social media management for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.
Though adding shopping tags to your Instagram posts is an exciting concept, it isn't as simple as just clicking a button. To be eligible for shoppable media, you must meet these criteria:
You have downloaded the most up-to-date version of the Instagram app.
You are registered as a business profile on Instagram.
Your business sells physical goods and complies with Instagram's merchant agreement and commerce policies.
You are an admin on a business Facebook page or a business manager account.
Your business profile is connected to a Facebook catalog.
So you've ticked all these boxes – now what? Well, below we've listed our ultimate guide to Instagram for small e-commerce businesses, including five tips to set your business up for success on the platform.
1. Create great content.
This might sound like an obvious one, but analyzing what type of content has previously done well on your feed, then producing higher-quality, HD versions of that content is the first step to success. Consistently posting high-resolution images will give your feed that crisp and professional look needed to make you stand out among your competitors. (Take a look at how Vans executes this.) Our advice: hire a part-time photographer/editor so you not only have a large backlog of content, but all your photos are of the highest quality.
2. Experiment with influencer marketing.
Influencer marketing isn't a fit for every brand, but if you think it might work for you, do some research on micro-influencers who operate in your industry. You're probably wondering, "Why micro?" Well, micro-influencers will likely mean that you reach smaller audiences, but those audiences will be much more targeted. (See how this watch brand does it.)
Earlier this year, the Association of National Advertisers surveyed 158 brands, finding that 75 percent use influencer marketing. Of those that said they use it, 43 percent planned to increase budgets for it in the coming year. Among the brands surveyed that were not using influencers, 19 percent said it would be part of their marketing strategy in the coming 12 months.
3. Research and use optimized hashtags.
When you're a small brand starting out on Instagram, getting that initial traction can be the most frustrating part. Many brands come to us looking for an answer to this problem. The answer we give them is always the same: to feature on Instagram's Explore page as often as possible. But how do you do that? By using and engaging with the most optimized hashtags within your community. For instance, if you sell watches, niche hashtags such as #watchfam, #wristlove, #watchesofinstagram and #watchaddict could be the key to getting your content on the Explore page as often as possible. (Check out how Bed Bath & Beyond utilizes its hashtags for optimum exposure.)
4. Make your product-oriented posts shoppable.
If you've met the criteria to be eligible for shoppable posts, you can begin tagging. When you tag a product, the user can tap the image for more information. If they tap the image again, it takes them straight to the Add to Cart section on your site so they can make a purchase. For more information on how to do this, click here.
Although a feature like shoppable posts may be exciting, you shouldn't overload your audience with product-focused posts. A good rule of thumb for product shots is about 40-50 percent of your posts every two weeks. Two brands that are killing it in shoppable posts are Gap and Glossier – check out both their feeds to see how they strike a balance between shoppable and other styles of content.
5. Turn existing Instagram posts into ads.
So you're getting the hang of optimizing your Instagram from an organic standpoint, but what if you want to allocate some budget for paid advertising? Good news – you can now turn existing Instagram posts into ads. Previously, the only way you could run a paid ad on an organic post was through the Promote button. Instagram changed this over the summer, now letting you turn existing organic Instagram posts into ads within Power Editor and Ads Manager.
You may be wondering why this is such a big deal. Well, one of the trickiest things about running ads is choosing creative content that you think will perform well from a click-thru perspective. Seeing what has already performed well will make the decision-making process much easier for small brands that want to run ads and convert more customers. Our advice: start small and allocate a certain portion of your budget to paid advertising. Once you figure out a formula that works for you, it can be a very sustainable way to grow your sales.
These are five ways to set yourself up for success on Instagram if you're an e-com business, but there are numerous other features and functions you can try to make your business stand out on the platform. These include finding your voice on Stories, testing out Instagram Live and even creating more long-form content on IGTV.
Amazing employees can be hard to find. Sure, you can find people who will show up on time and do what they're supposed to do, but what else do they add to your business? When hiring employees for your company, you want people who are going to make a difference in your work environment and help your business grow to new heights.
Top performers are a company's greatest asset: They value what they do, go above and beyond what's asked of them, and are constantly striving to improve. But how do you find these mystical top-performing employees? As long as you know what qualities to look for, you can easily identify which candidates will go the extra mile for you.
If you want to hire 'A' players, here are seven qualities to look for.
1. Good communication
Poor communicators can cause a wide variety of problems in your workplace, including disorganization between departments, higher stress levels, nasty workplace gossip and even dissatisfied clients. So make sure to look for candidates who are good communicators.
Good communication is the ability not only to relay a message effectively, but to be an active listener. Top performers will be able to listen to their teammates effectively, provide clear feedback and instructions, and promote open communication within your office. Some signs of a good communicator are maintaining eye contact, asking questions, not interrupting and showing empathy for others.
Not having to constantly be on top of your employees to get things done is priceless to a business owner. That's why self-direction is a trait you need in your employees. Top performers are self-motivated, take the initiative to start up new assignments and take on challenges without being asked.
Self-directed employees constantly meet and exceed their performance expectations with little help from you. Signs of a self-directed individual include having long-term visions or goals, putting in the extra time, not sweating the small stuff, and being willing to take risks.
3. Open to feedback
An excellent employee is a coachable employee, which means they need to be open to feedback. Top-performing employees don't shy away from constructive feedback; they embrace it, because they're interested in receiving knowledge that will help them progress to the next level. Watch for people who don't get defensive in feedback situations, don't blame others or give excuses, and are interested in their own growth as a person and professional.
4. Strives for innovation
Fresh ideas are important to any business that wants to grow and stay ahead of the competition, so help your business get there by hiring innovative employees. Employees who constantly strive for innovation and are confident enough to share those new ideas with employers and co-workers can really put your company on the fast track to success.
Innovators can come up with processes to increase productivity, brainstorm engaging marketing campaigns, and even improve the quality of your products or services. An innovative hire is one who has a strong ability to solve problems and conflicts, searches for information and resources independently, and thoroughly presents new ideas and solutions.
5. Constantly learning
If a candidate has a yearning for learning, you've found a top performer. Just because you've earned a degree doesn't mean your learning is over; someone who wants to expand upon their skills and learn as much as they can throughout their career and lifetime will be a great asset to your company.
Plus, it's much easier to promote an existing employee than to hire a new person, so an employee with a desire to learn is key to company growth. Look out for candidates who are always asking questions and for feedback, and who are interested in furthering their education with online courses and seminars.
6. Positive attitude
An employee can bring down your entire team if they're unpleasant to be around, so never underestimate the importance of a positive attitude. A simple smile between co-workers each day is enough to improve workplace morale, but if you can hire people with positive attitudes, your team will thrive even more. A person who possesses a positive attitude has the ability to motivate others, doesn't let the negative stuff affect their performance, and understands the importance of relationships in the workplace.
Of course you want employees who are team players, but top performers are not only team players – they're leaders. An employee becomes exponentially more valuable to your company when they can motivate others, not just themselves.
A leader has the ability to manage the effectiveness of your whole team, as well as the effectiveness of individuals, which will save you a lot of time as a business owner. You're talking to a candidate with leadership qualities if they're a good listener, they're resourceful, they give credit where it's due, and they avoid micromanaging by trusting their peers.
Don't settle for "worker bees." By looking for these qualities during your hiring process, you'll quickly identify top performers who will consistently work to better your company. Sure, you can hire employees with the best education and work experience, but no resume can beat these valuable qualities.
More business professionals are pursuing higher levels of education today. A prime example is the MBA, a degree many business majors and aspiring entrepreneurs believe is their key to success.
However, is all that time and money spent earning the degree worth it? Our Business.com community is curious to know. In particular, Barbara Ciosek, Business.com community member, asked: "Would an MBA better prepare me to start a business?"
We asked experts for their input. Here are three questions to ask yourself before deciding to pursue an MBA.
What type of learner are you?
You've probably experienced many types of people in high school and college, enough to realize that a higher education isn't for everyone. However, that's not to say that you can't gain knowledge outside of the classroom.
Everyone is different, and not everyone is a "student." According to Grayson Lafrenz, CEO of Power Digital Marketing, there are two types of learners: those who learn by doing and those who learn through schooling.
The first type of learner likely won't benefit from an MBA, Lafrenz said. They'd gain more insight and experience diving into their industry than extending their education. They'll learn hands-on while developing relationships with experts in all industries, from accounting and finance to sales and marketing.
The second type of learner, however, requires more of a structured approach to learning, which an MBA program can offer, said Lafrenz.
"It really depends on your needs and your desire for learning," Gareth Hughes, Business.com community member and president of Caizio, LLC, offered in response to Ciosek's inquiry. "If networking is your goal, then there are plenty of networking opportunities now to make contacts. These opportunities will be much more cost effective than an MBA."
Additionally, you can find additional resources online rather than committing to a full MBA program, Hughes added.
"The time and money spent on an MBA program could be spent on starting your company," he said.
What industry will you pursue?
Depending on the field you're studying or planning to open your business in, you might benefit more from an MBA. For instance, Lafrenz said if you want to be in private equity, investment banking or venture capital, you should highly consider an MBA program.
Or, "if you don’t go after an MBA, you will want to build a reputation for yourself as a successful entrepreneur and executive," he added. "Otherwise it will be hard of you to land those types of roles."
However, it's not impossible. Regardless of the industry, if you have passion, talent and knowledge to support your endeavor, don't be afraid to take a leap – especially if you feel your idea is timely.
For instance, if you're an aspiring tech business owner looking to bring a new development to the marketplace, you shouldn't hold back or wait until you've earned your MBA to launch your career. Draft a business plan, attend networking events and trust you'll find success. You'll never know if you don't try; and it's never too late to earn that degree if the attempt fails.
What type of MBA program will you choose?
Will you choose a program that offers unique resources and networking opportunities? Will you choose an accelerated one sponsored by your current company? Will it be entirely online?
"Depending on where you pursue your MBA, there could be many resources available to help you start your business," said Hughes. "Also, through your MBA classes, you may end up working with a potential co-founder. However, you can access many similar resources through accelerator programs (depending on your startup idea)."
There are many MBA programs to choose from, and you shouldn't take the decision lightly. For instance, some companies, like Power Digital Marketing, offer an MBA program for the growth and development of their staff. Seize opportunities that make sense to you. Do your research and find what best suits your career and personal goals – and go from there.
From building up your business credit score to making it easy to differentiate between personal and business expenses, using a business credit card to make certain types of purchases has a lot of advantages. Research shows that small business cards account for $430 billion in spending, with that projected to increase to more than $680 billion by 2022.
As the director of small business for Discover Financial Services, Meera Sridharan knows firsthand the type of value that business credit cards can provide to entrepreneurs. In her current role at Discover, Sridharan is responsible for reinventing the company's small business product offerings and experience.
We recently had a chance to speak with Sridharan about the benefits of using business credit cards, what to look for when choosing one and the most responsible ways to use them. We also asked her some rapid-fire questions about technology, her career and advice she has received over the years.
Q: What are the pros and cons for small businesses of using credit cards?
A: One of the most important reasons to get a business credit card is to help separate your expenses, which may not be something small business owners typically think about until tax time. A business credit card makes it easy to keep your personal and business expenses separate.
Other pros include earning rewards on all of your purchases. There are a lot of expenses associated with running a business, so you might as well get cash back for making those purchases. And most small business owners have likely faced cash flow issues at one point or another, especially in the early days of growing their business, so having access to credit can relieve some of that pressure.
One thing to keep in mind with any financial instrument is having the discipline to pay your bills on time. Be careful about late fees and interest.
Q: What are the factors small businesses should be considering when choosing a credit card?
A: As a small business owner, your focus is on growing your business. That's your passion; that's why you're in the business. The most important factor when choosing a credit card is to pick something simple that works for your business, so you can focus on the things that matter most.
The other thing to consider is to make sure you're avoiding unnecessary fees, like annual fees and foreign transaction fees. [Interested in getting a business credit card? Check out our best picks.]
Q: Are there certain types of purchases that make the most sense to put on a business credit card? Conversely, are there any purchases that you should never put on your business credit card?
A: Most of the purchases you make to run your business can be put on your business credit card. That includes things like office supplies, paying for gas and meals when you travel for work, and even treating your employees to lunch. By putting expenses like these on your credit card, you can get rewarded for all of your purchases.
I would avoid using your business credit card as a substitute for a large installment loan, such as when purchasing new machinery. For that, you may be better off considering a business loan.
Q: What other tips do you have for small businesses when it comes to using their credit cards wisely?
A: Pick a card that's simple and that works for your business. You don't want to have to jump through hoops when it comes to earning or redeeming rewards, or to pay unnecessary fees for a long list of features that may not make sense for your business.
It's also important to maintain financial discipline, just like you would with your personal credit card, by making on-time payments and, when possible, paying off your balance at the end of each pay period.
Q: Will you have a hard time getting a business credit card if your business is new and doesn't have a credit score?
A: According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), 30 percent of new businesses fail within their first two years. Banks have to take into account the reality that new businesses present a higher credit risk than more established businesses. However, in addition to business tenure, most banks consider your personal credit score while extending credit.
Q: If you don't have a business credit score, what are some good ways to start building one?
A: Getting a business credit card is one of the best ways to start building business credit. By establishing good payment behavior with your business credit card, you can establish healthy business credit, which can make a big difference when it comes time to apply for a larger business loan.
Q: What happens if your startup fails and you can't pay your business credit card off?
A: A business credit card is no different from a personal credit card in that you carry the liability of paying off the balance. Make sure to pay off your credit card loans – be it your business or personal credit card – because it will impact your credit score.
Q: What piece of technology could you not live without?
A: I'd have to say Amazon's Alexa, because she's like a member of our family. My kids love talking to Alexa. They can ask her to play their favorite music, she tells us the scores of the games we may have missed, she even helps us with weather so we can plan our outfits for the day. I would miss Alexa if she were gone. [Want to learn more about how you can use Alexa for your business? Check out our guide.]
Q: What is the best piece of career advice you have ever been given?
A: You have to be passionate about your work. No matter where you are in your career, if you enjoy what you're doing, everything else will fall into place. This career advice rings true for me, especially in the face of challenges. If you love what you're doing, you can get through anything.
Q: What's the best book or blog you've read this year?
A: I'm currently reading "Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind" by Yuval Harari, and I've also started "Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow," which is the sequel. It's been interesting to read them together, because "Sapiens" is a look back at who we are as a species, and "Homo Deus" is a look forward about who we'll become. It's fascinating to consider how our roles are going to change, how technology will change and how our jobs will change, taken along with the social and climate impact. It's pretty powerful.
Q: What's the biggest risk you've taken professionally? Did it pay off?
A: A lot of roles I've taken on at Discover have been pretty risky, which is what I prefer. One of the biggest risks was when I became chief of staff to our chief marketing officer. It was a multidimensional role with very high exposure, and it involved a lot of critical and strategic problem-solving. It was also a big change from my background in analytics to more of a general management role. The risk paid off because it ultimately led to my current role overseeing the launch and rollout of our new Discover it Business card.
Q: What's the one thing you want to make sure you accomplish this year?
A: Discover, as a company, has embraced a more agile, test-and-learn mentality, especially from a technology standpoint. One of the things I want to accomplish this year is to bring that same approach to the Discover it Business card rollout, so that we're able to move more quickly when it comes to meeting the evolving needs of small business owners.
Small business owners' confidence in social media continues to fall following a recent data breach in which hackers compromised the accounts of over 50 million Facebook users. The latest breach represents a major blow to Facebook, which is still struggling to regain the trust of its users following the Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this year.
A recent joint survey conducted by Insureon and Manta found nearly half (44 percent) of all small businesses no longer trust Facebook to protect their business's data. One-quarter of survey respondents also reported exercising greater caution about the content their business account shares and posts, while five percent have deleted their Facebook page entirely.
When it comes to cybercrime targets, no business is too small for criminals.
A separate Manta and Insureon survey on cybersecurity found that more than half of small businesses owners believe that hackers target large organizations more frequently. This could explain while only 16 percent of respondents believe they are at risk of experiencing a cyberbreach. However, in reality, hackers have breached over half of all small businesses in America.
Following a data breach, small businesses typically face a loss of customer trust in addition to costly business interruptions. Businesses unprepared for the impact of a data breach may need to temporarily close their doors until data security is restored. They also may experience a decline in sales because of the resulting negative publicity.
Facebook, for example, has seen a 66 percent decrease in consumer trust following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and users are calling for greater transparency with how the company handles their personal data. The tech giant could have an even bigger trust issue on its hands following its massive data breach in September.
With this in mind, small businesses can learn plenty from Facebook about the importance of creating a more robust cybersecurity strategy.
When building a cybersecurity plan, small businesses should consider cyber liability insurance.
Small businesses can protect their customers' information by taking steps like:
Encrypting sensitive consumer information, such as credit card numbers
Limiting customer interactions over social media platforms like Facebook
Educating employees on steps they can take to protect customer data
Updating business computers with antivirus software and firewalls
Implementing multifactor authentication across all business accounts
Limiting where they share customer data
If cyberthieves still manage to hack into a business's network and steal data, cyber liability insurance can help cover some necessary expenses to help the business financially recover, such as:
Legal and forensic services to determine if and how a breach occurred
Notifying impacted customers of the breach
Customer credit and fraud monitoring services
Public relations and crisis management fees to help rebuild the company's reputation
The average cost of a small business data breach is around $86,500. While cyber liability insurance won't prevent a breach from occurring in the first place, it can help small businesses prevent financial disaster and get back on their feet after an incident.
Data privacy should be a priority for everyone, especially for companies storing sensitive information about their customers either on their own computer system or on platforms like Facebook. By tackling data privacy head on and incorporating cyber liability insurance as part of their security strategy, small businesses can hopefully avoid or at least minimize the potential fallout from a breach.
By now, it’s a given that customers will write a bad review if they’re unhappy. In fact, they’re likelier to write a negative review than a positive one, which is all the more reason to create a great customer experience every time.
According to a B2B Marketing/Earnest survey, 96 percent of respondents said customer experience would influence whether they purchase from you again, and 83 percent will give a referral as a result of a positive experience. Businesses, especially digital, need to understand that customer experience is the new driving factor for competition. Focus solely on data or targeted messaging, and you risk losing to businesses that help customers win over their teams, conquer challenges and succeed in their careers.
Instead of concentrating on how many new leads your company can gain, you need to focus on the value you create.
Our research showed that customers expect to be the primary focus of brands, seeking more personal recommendations and a connection with the companies they purchase from while maintaining their privacy. As a result, business and marketing practices need to think about data ownership as a human matter rather than a question of numbers on a screen.
To earn the trust (and five-star reviews) of customers, use these three steps to create a foundation for building long-lasting relationships.
1. Discover your customer’s actual expectations
Before you do anything, you need to know what customers want from you. You don’t need to know everything, and your outcomes don’t need to be flawless; but you need to understand why customers would choose you over others. Watch for both engaged and disengaged customers to also learn why people stop using your product or service.
One easy way is to build a transparent relationship with the customers you have. Give them a reason to give you information about themselves, and ask for their consent to learn more. After you gain their permission, you can use technologies to study behavior and your user journey. RedPixie, for example, uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to understand its buyers and help them down certain customer journeys based on their behaviors.
2. Don’t try to do everything at once
Begin with just one persona so that you can test what works and what doesn’t. Shape the best possible experience for this persona (or your best customer) and watch out for results. Once you know what works, you can push that experience out to the rest of your customers and leads.
Some things to test includegoingbeyond their purchase. What else might these customers need help with after they complete step one? Lead your customers down a path of continual education. Customers want to learn more, and you’re in a unique position to guide and mentor them based on the product or service you provide.
3. Meet customers where they are
It’s easy to assume you’re being intrusive when you contact customers, but when you’re providing value, that simply isn’t an issue. Using data and personalization, reach out based on the formats they use the most — whether it’s through email, social media, webinars, etc. — and make sure your communication is going out at a time that works best for them. Companies like Big Red Cloud have already tackled this: they use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram to meet its business customers on the basis of how often they use the platforms.
While you’re considering when and where your customers will interact with you, make sure all your interactions connect. The last thing you want is for customers to get fed up and write a bad review because they had to explain the same problem every time they spoke to someone at your company.
By using these tactics to thoughtfully gain consent and personalize your customer experiences, you can gain the information you need for your databases. As a result, the cycle of fulfilling customer expectations can continue well into the future. You’ll always have the data you need while competitors who opt out of gaining permission also opt out of creating value.
Technology and privacy are in constant opposition, but consumers want both. It’s your job to earn their trust by continuously delivering value. You might assume that you’ve already shifted to putting customers above all else, but it’s easy to fall back into a product- or numbers-based approach to your business.
Don’t fall into this trap. Customers are guiding the future of business now — not providers — so it’s in everyone’s best interest for companies to adopt a customer-centric mindset. Do it successfully, and watch as your business and your customer relationships soar.
Moving your business is a big endeavor – but it doesn’t have to be a backbreaking one. By planning ahead, prioritizing safety and organization, and investing in professional moving and commercial storage when needed, you can simplify the moving and packing process for your enterprise. Follow these tips to ensure that your next commercial move goes off without a hitch.
Tips for office moving and packing
1. Start early.
Depending on the size of your business and the number of people you have helping you with your move, you'll likely want to start the moving and packing process as early as possible. In some cases, moving a business involves more possessions than moving a home does, so the moving and packing process will take considerably more time. Don't be one of the many business owners who underestimates the time it takes to move. Save yourself the headache and optimize organization by starting early.
2. Invest in proper packing supplies.
Moving your business requires shuttling your commercial possessions – many of which are quite expensive – from one location to another. To keep your possessions organized (and in one piece), it's important to invest in proper packing supplies before beginning the moving and packing process. Essential packing supplies for commercial moving include cardboard moving boxes, bubble wrap or moving blankets, packing tape, clear zip-locked bags, and pens or markers for labeling.
3. Don't be afraid to donate.
For businesses of any size, moving presents an excellent opportunity to downsize or upgrade. If you have possessions in your business that serve little to no purpose – or if you have essential items that need to be upgraded – your move is the perfect time to get rid of them. Old phones, office furniture, printers, copiers, PCs and even stray office supplies are all great candidates for donation. Not only does donation save you the hassle of meticulously packing and moving these items, it may also earn you some extra money through a tax write-off. If you do plan to write off your donation, be sure to double-check which donation centers are registered charities.
4. Label, label, label.
Once you begin packing in earnest, organization is essential. The best way to keep track of your items as you pack is to clearly label each and every box you use. That way, you'll be able to quickly locate the items you need when you're setting up at your new location.
A label-based numbering system can be vital in keeping your possessions during your move, especially if you plan to use a moving company. By numbering your boxes and including a brief description of their contents, you will be able make a detailed claim in minutes should the moving company you hire lose or damage any of your possessions. You can even assign a number to each employee's workstation so that all of their items end up in the same place!
5. Pack your computers and cables the correct way.
Your computers are likely some of the most expensive and essential pieces of equipment at your business. To ensure that they stay safe during your move, follow these packing guidelines.
Protect each computer individually with the proper packing supplies. Cover computers with heavy blankets wrapped in tape to ensure a tight hold. Never stack your computers on top of other items, or stack other items on top of them.
Always wrap your monitors. Wrap computer monitors individually in thick moving blankets, tape or bubble wrap. Never place them in boxes (where they can move around and break), and make sure that any tape you use does not touch the monitor itself, as this can damage the screen.
Safeguard your data. There are several routes you can take to safeguard the data stored on your computers. The first is to "park" your hard drives, if possible, by lifting each hard drive head from the computers' disk platters to prevent damage. However, the most foolproof way to safeguard your data is to store it on a removable hard drive or use a cloud-based service to back up data before you move your computers.
Your cables deserve special attention during the moving process, too. After all, nothing is more frustrating or time-consuming than dealing with disorganized cables at the tail end of a move. Cables should always be removed from computers to avoid damage (in the form of bent ports and pins) and misplacement (should the cables come loose during your move). For optimal organization, put your cables in large zip-locked bags and label them by writing the information of the specific computer they belong to on each bag.
A final tip on moving computers and other important electronic devices: always read instructions and warning labels in order to follow any moving-specific directions. Moving an item improperly may result in damage and a voided warranty.
6. Take care of your office furniture.
The most common types of office furniture include seating, storage and work surfaces. Here are a few quick tips to keep big-ticket items in each of these categories secure during a move.
Seating. Office seating can often be oddly shaped. To save space and prevent breakage, disassemble your office chairs whenever possible and wrap the fragile components in thick blankets or bubble wrap.
Storage. Storage containers such as file cabinets and shelving units should be packed with space in mind. Remove shelves whenever possible, and fill these units with light items to conserve space if needed. Always tape file cabinet drawers shut so they don't open during a move.
Work surfaces. Work surfaces such as desks should have all removable components (such as drawers) taken out before being loaded into a moving truck. Tape all non-removable drawers shut, and be sure to protect glass surfaces by packing them separately or, if they cannot be removed either, by not stacking objects on top of them.
7. Insure and invest.
No matter how well you pack and move your business, accidents still happen. To keep your property protected in the event of an unforeseen complication, always invest in insurance. If you rent a truck, opt for rental insurance coverage with your plan. If you're going to hire professional movers, choose a company with insurance to protect your possessions. Be sure to check your items for warranties as well, as these can help protect your investments in the event of an accident.
It's also wise to hire outside help for your commercial move. Professional movers can help you with the heavy lifting and shuttling, saving you hours of time and precious energy throughout a move. If you're planning to store many of your items, it may be a good idea to consider a self-storage facility with commercial storage. That way, you'll have the space you need to store your excess inventory plus other possessions.
I own a company that hosts events around the world. This season, I was at our Utah Dirty Dash event, overseeing and walking around with some friends, when one of them made a comment about the guy emceeing.
"Isn't it crazy that you got into the event world as the emcee for this event, and now you own the entire thing?"
You hear stories all the time about someone who started in the mailroom and became the CEO. It suddenly dawned on me: Five years ago, I knew nothing about hosting successful events. Now, I own an event company that has brought festivities to 3 million attendees in more than 15 countries.
Five years ago, I was the newbie. I went to "experts" for advice. Now, most of those experts aren't even in the industry anymore.
I wondered, "How am I still here?" And more importantly, what could I tell someone who was just starting out that would ensure them a successful, sustainable career, free from eventual burnout? How could I help others avoid bouncing around from company to company, industry to industry?
Achieving this myself took hard work, but just telling someone to "work hard and you'll be successful" isn't only incomplete – it's flat-out wrong. Working hard in the wrong direction or on the wrong tasks won't move you forward; it'll cement you in place, burning you out faster.
Growth requires more than long hours and lengthy to-do lists. Looking back on my journey, I've followed these four tips to reach success.
Learn all aspects of your product and company
I ended up owning the very events I started out working for as an emcee. Over time, event owners became less engaged while I became more.
There came a point where they wanted out, and only I could keep it going. Why? Because I worked within each department, and I understood the entire operation: marketing, sales, production process and everything in between.
This is the exact opposite of the advice we usually hear: "A jack of all trades is a master of none" and "Get really good at one thing, and then outsource the rest. That's how to grow a company."
Here's the truth: If you want to become an owner, you need to know enough about each element of your business to make sure each department runs efficiently.
You don't need to be an expert at each role, but you need to know enough to tell when someone is doing their job correctly. Which marketing company is giving you valuable information, and which one is lying to you? Which employee is being honest about cash receipts, and which is skimming?
Work outside your comfort zone
When I first started, I was working for two fun run events that were on a serious winning streak. Both averaged more than 10,000 people at every market. The company was making so much money, they could afford slipups. They could make a $500,000 mistake that would be erased in a single weekend of sales.
But I could see the warning signs. Ticket sales were dwindling, and ad cost was steadily rising. They had loyal customers coming to their events each year, but the product was dying, and they needed a new event to sell.
During this time, I had been developing two event concepts of my own. One involved a 1,000-foot Slip 'N Slide through city streets, and the other involved sending thousands of burning lanterns into the night sky. I pitched both ideas, but they were deemed "too dangerous."
The company owners didn't want to risk their fun run business and decided the liability was too high for my concepts. But I believed in my event ideas, so I did them myself.
It turned out the concepts weren't as dangerous as everyone thought, and once I had proven that, everyone wanted a piece.
Being afraid of losing what you have is a foolproof way to lose out on opportunity, too. To work beyond my comfort zone, I apply the same advice my trainer used to help me run faster: "Pretend that a lion is chasing you."
Keep working, even after you've made it
One of the biggest mistakes I see with the companies I consult with is that they get out of the day-to-day business as soon as possible. It's almost like a badge of honor for them not to work anymore.
In the event world, the owner eventually stops attending their own events; they hire someone to go check on them. The problem is, no one has your intuition. You see the glaring mistakes that someone else glazes over. Your hire comes back with a 5-star report, but your gut would tell you what went wrong if you'd attended.
You can't hire that sense of ownership. It's impossible.
If you want to keep a successful company, stay in the trenches. Don't allow yourself to get comfortable, because once you start to avoid your own work, your business pays the price.
Focus on the work, not the glamor or trajectory of your position
I've found that when people enter a company with aspirations of being "owner" or "CEO," they want the title without any of the work or upkeep. Being "position-minded" is synonymous with being small-minded. Instead, be results-minded.
Owning, running and growing a company is not glamorous. It's the work that seems too hard or below your position that builds your character and strengthens the intuition required for industry longevity.
Am I saying that if you follow this advice, you'll end up owning the company you now work for? No.
Am I saying that success requires working smart when it comes to working hard? Absolutely.
Sales on Amazon this holiday season are expected to reach $38.8 billion according to digital agency NetElixir. Their projection includes sales from Amazon Vendor Central and Amazon Seller Central.
While these two programs may seem similar, they are actually very different.
Vendor Central involves selling products to Amazon.
Seller Central involves selling products on Amazon.
Many brands and small business owners don't know which program to use. Nor are they aware of the long-term implications and benefits of choosing one program over the other. This article lays out the differences between Vendor Central and Seller Central. You'll learn the strengths and weaknesses of each program so, hopefully, you can maximize Q4 sales and profit, while protecting the future of your brand or business.
What's the difference between Vendor Central and Seller Central?
There are two ways to get your products seen and sold on Amazon. One requires forming a first-party (1P) relationship with Amazon. The other requires forming a third-party (3P) relationship with Amazon.
In a 1P relationship, brands and businesses sell products directly to Amazon at wholesale prices. Then Amazon sells them to customers at retail prices. Brands and businesses act as the vendor or wholesaler. Amazon acts as the seller or retailer. Vendor Central is the program Amazon uses to manage its 1P relationships. It is an invitation-only program. However, certain steps can be taken to obtain an invitation, such as connecting with an Amazon Vendor Manager on LinkedIn or at industry trade shows, or hiring an e-commerce consultant who has an existing relationship with Amazon.
In a 3P relationship, brands and businesses use Amazon to sell products to customers at retail prices. Amazon acts as the selling platform. Brands and businesses act as the retailer, either directly or through authorized resellers. Seller Central is the program Amazon uses to manage its 3P relationships. This program is open to anyone – brands, businesses and resellers. Certain product categories, such as automotive, clothing and grocery, require preapproval.
Listing, pricing and selling products
With Vendor Central, Amazon lists, prices and sells products. However, this isn't always beneficial for brands and businesses. For one thing, Amazon decides which SKUs to carry. Rarely is it ever your entire product line or catalog. Amazon prefers buying products that sell fast. This number can be as low as 2 to 3 percent of your total product assortment. Amazon also controls product detail pages and pricing. If a product is sold below its minimum advertised price (MAP) by other retailers, Amazon can lower its price to match. This pricing behavior can create channel conflict with existing brick-and-mortar distributors.
Seller Central gives brands and businesses that are selling direct complete control over which products to offer, how they are listed for sale and at what price. This allows them to offer their entire product line, or at least as many SKUs as they want. It also makes MAP compliance and e-commerce brand management easier. However, product detail pages and inventory levels must be proactively managed.
Regardless of which program is used, Amazon requires brands and businesses to provide product content, such as titles, descriptions and images.
Fulfilling orders and managing inventory
Vendor Central prevents brands and businesses from having to change their distribution model. Shipping a few large wholesale orders to distributors on a regular basis is how they are used to operating, as opposed to shipping many small retail orders to customers on a one-off basis.
In a 1P relationship, Amazon fulfills customer orders. Vendor Central allows brands and businesses to keep receiving, processing, and distributing large wholesale orders with some level of predictability. They only have to change where they ship to instead of how much and how often they ship. This is especially beneficial during the holiday season when retail order volumes can easily double or triple.
If Amazon is the only online channel being used, Vendor Central can also eliminate the need for inventory and warehouse management. For brands and businesses that are unwilling or unable to manage and store inventory, the idea of having Amazon take responsibility for these tasks is very appealing. This allows brands and businesses to focus on what they do best: developing and bringing new products to market.
Seller Central requires brands and businesses to manage inventory and fulfill customer orders on time and in full. This is logistically challenging if their warehousing and shipping operations aren't set up to receive, process, and distribute many small retail orders. So brands and businesses often utilize Amazon's Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) program). This allows them to sell products on Amazon as third-party sellers but without the worry of meeting Amazon's fulfillment requirements and customer expectations.
Which program is right for your brand or business?
It's a common question, but the answer isn't one-size-fits-all. Some brands and businesses rely solely on Vendor Central or Seller Central, while others rely on a combination of both programs. For example, let's assume Amazon invites you to join Vendor Central but decides to carry only a select number of SKUs. You can use Seller Central to offer the rest of your product line with Amazon's permission.
If you sell to Amazon but want to sell on Amazon, review your 1P agreement with your legal team first. A first right of refusal is often included that prevents you from opening a seller account without Amazon's express approval. I've found that transparency with Amazon is the best policy. Amazon is often willing to open the 3P door for brands and businesses because it is ultimately in Amazon's best interest.
Other considerations to keep in mind when choosing between Amazon 1P and Amazon 3P: Sales volume is higher and fees are lower with Vendor Central. Net profit margin is higher with Seller Central because products are sold at retail instead of wholesale prices. Brands and businesses also have greater control of their products and pricing with Seller Central, but with greater control comes greater responsibility. Much depends on your operating model, the types of products you sell, your wholesale and retail profit margins, and other resources at your disposal.
The holidays bring fierce competition but also plenty of opportunity to capture new customers. In 2017, the winter holiday sales brought in $138.4 billion of revenue online, with in-store sales adding up to $691.9 billion.
To help you have your most successful holiday sales season yet, follow these 10 tips.
1. Determine the type of discounts you want to offer.
2018 consumers are savvy shoppers. They know that businesses are competing for customers, and they are on the lookout for discounts and sales. Now is an ideal time to strategize ways to take advantage of the hunter instinct. You could offer a single, valuable discount to draw in bargain hunters or plan a series of short-term promotions that change each week, giving shoppers an incentive to return.
2. Provide gift suggestions.
It's only going to get more hectic from now until the holidays. Make things easy for your customers. Prepare your email campaign with your best gift ideas and include Shop Now buttons in the email that click straight through to the product page.
It's even better if you can offer unique gift suggestions or show ways to bundle more than one product into the perfect gift. Consider offering a discount on your gift bundles too.
Editor's note: Looking for an email marketing service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.
3. Say thank you ahead of time.
Stand out from the crowd by sending thank-you cards to your loyal customers at Thanksgiving instead of waiting until the traditional Christmas and Hanukkah card-giving season. It makes your customers feel that they are truly appreciated, and they will keep you in mind as they are shopping for family and friends.
4. Tap into nostalgia.
The holidays are surrounded by a glow of memories of childhood and magic, times when the snow was thicker and Santa Claus was real. Why not design your holiday marketing campaign to tap into holiday nostalgia?
Consider using black-and-white pictures, old-style fonts and nostalgic photos from times gone by. Whether you're planning an in-store display or an online landing page, nostalgia can guide your campaigns this year.
5. Focus on customer loyalty.
Although you're eager to attract new customers, don't neglect your loyal shoppers. Repeat customers are responsible for at least 40 percent of your sales, so it's worth it to keep them connected.
Take the opportunity to offer a special gift to your best customers, like a valuable discount. You could also send handwritten holiday cards to your loyal customers through the mail, the old-fashioned way. This strategy will garner your customers' attention and show that you care.
6. Make the most of mobile.
Mobile marketing has become increasingly important for e-commerce in the last couple of years. Over $17 billion of sales were made by mobile in the 2016 holiday season and over $35 billion in the 2017 season. In 2018, mobile sales are predicted to surpass desktop sales for the first time. It's vital, therefore, that your marketing campaigns are mobile friendly and that your online store is optimized for mobile devices.
7. Offer free shipping.
If you sell online, free shipping is the best special offer you can possibly present year-round, but it's especially important if you want strong sales this holiday season. Offer free shipping for all holiday purchases and make sure your customers know about it. Feature it in your marketing emails and make sure it's prominently visible throughout your online store.
8. Go large on holiday spirit.
Consumers aren't just shopping for gifts, they also want plenty of holiday spirit as well. Give them what they want. Update your window display, homepage and landing pages with warm holiday scenes and plenty of sparkle.
You could also offer a holiday gift-wrapping service, both in-store and online, or market a special limited edition product that's only available during the holiday season.
9. Tap into niche social media channels.
You're probably already using social media marketing on Instagram and Facebook, but have you considered other channels? Social media networks like Quora, Reddit and Pinterest don't get as much attention as Instagram, but they each hold millions of loyal users waiting for your content. Choose one that fits your product and reach out in a different way.
10. Turn to video marketing.
Video marketing is on the rise, allowing you to market your brand, not just your products. Consumers love behind-the-scenes videos relating to their favorite brands. This holiday season show the human face of your company by asking employees to share their favorite holiday memories or giving customers a peek into what's involved in preparing your business for the holidays. Further, a cute or funny holiday marketing video is a great opportunity for non-product-related businesses to tap into the holiday season. Even insurance companies, plumbers and construction companies can record a holiday video or message to share with customers.
I stood in my kitchen watching AMC's Breaking Bad. Walt was making meth, and I was making beard lotion.
Originally, it was just for me. I was growing my beard out in tribute for a bearded friend and fellow Marine Raider who was killed in combat. However, while doing so, I struggled with the itch and irritation that comes with growing facial hair. Unable to find any products that worked, I decided to make my own.
A few of my Navy SEAL buddies heard about what I was doing and wanted to try the product. That's when I realized this could be a proper, socially minded business. So, in the fall of 2012, I got to work.
I knew if I wanted to sell publicly, I'd have to partner with a manufacturer that could safely and effectively produce our products. One year later, I had found a trusted manufacturer, and together we perfected the formula for a two-in-one facial moisturizer and beard conditioner – a daily facial moisturizer that nourishes the beard and skin without clogging pores or leaving a greasy residue.
When I started my business, stubble + 'stache, entrepreneurship didn't have the allure it does today. Back then, being an entrepreneur was synonymous with being unemployed. We are all passionate about what we are doing, but few of us can pay the bills. At the end of the day, time – and timing – are essential components of startup success. Here's how my journey went, and some lessons I've learned along the way.
Stubble + 'stache began as my side project while I worked my day job. In August of 2013, the president of my previous company called all senior leadership into the office for layoffs. My team of 30 was cut down to three – and I was out.
My boss had lined up another job for me if I wanted it, but I turned it down. I told them I was going to pursue stubble + 'stache full time; and they smiled and said I made the right choice.
A few days later, our moisturizer was ready for market. Believing it would be a huge success, I readied the launch email, wrote up a Facebook post and braced myself for the money that was about to come rolling in.
But that didn't happen.
Lacking income and accumulating bills, I needed to up my game. I began searching the internet for any blog, news outlet or website that might be interested in my product or story. I sent countless emails with no replies.
September came and went. We did maybe a few thousand dollars in total sales. October came and went. We did maybe $3,000 in total sales.
November hit, and suddenly, sales skyrocketed. In one day, we sold more product than we had in the entire previous month. The next day, our totals exceeded that of the previous two months combined.
All that traffic, all those sales, came from the same source: a young blogger with a loyal and active following. She included a picture of our moisturizer in her holiday gift guide, and now we were in business.
Sales continued to rise in 2014 and 2015, with more than 60 percent growth and climbing. We added a beard wash and beard balm to our line, won awards, and gained media attention. This was right around the time beards were "in." We couldn't have timed it any better.
Bumps in the road
Sales were great – so great, in fact, that we sold out of one of our products. It was a good problem to have, but I learned the hard way that people want what they can't have, and sales dropped as the months slid by.
Once we were back in stock, the sales came back, but not at the same level. Men are loyal customers once they find a brand they love. They need their products and will only go so long without. Then they move on. Some of our guys had, and I can't blame them.
Beards grew in popularity and other beard oil startups joined the party, selling cheap oils to take advantage of the demand. At this point, we decided to make an investment in our packaging to help our products stand out among the rest and showcase the quality of the ingredients inside.
At the time, our existing inventory was running low. Eager to see the brand's transformation, I decided to roll the dice and delay production until the new packaging could be used.
Our sales spiked, and there was an unforeseen setback with the packaging. We sold way more product than we anticipated. Just like that, we were sold out again. Except we weren't sold out of just one product – we were sold out of our entire line.
I've been running stubble + 'stache full time for over five years now, and I finally feel like I know what I'm doing. We've established safeguards to ensure we never run out of product (barring some massive sales rush). We've learned that digital advertising is important, but budgets don't go as far as they used to.
What does go far? Authenticity.
For years, I wanted stubble + 'stache to appear like an established brand. I thought people wouldn't want to buy from a former Special Operations Marine running a solo business. I thought we needed to appear larger and more polished than we are. I was wrong.
At this point in the game, we are fortunate enough to be able to donate a percentage of our net profits to organizations helping men and women suffering from the mental wounds of war, wounds that I have seen in many of my close friends and fellow service members.
When it comes to business, there is no perfect time. Do what you can now with what you have available. Don't let perfect become the enemy of good. Mistakes will be made, profits will be lost, processes will take longer than expected – but in time, you'll succeed.
This is more about publicizing your organizational interests and the steps that are being taken. Once you publicize your internal programs such as mentorships for employees with learning disabilities, you are halfway there. The next step is repetition which should include a campaign to reach influencer and authorities in the respective fields. - Kamyar Shah, World Consulting Group
Originally Published at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/09/13/13-ways-to-be-more-inclusive-of-talent-with-learning-disabilities/#1679e4e11ab7
The Doer Ideas are a dime a dozen, and most ideas never even get off the ground for two reasons: follow up and execution. That is when the "the doer" type proves his/her value. "The doer" with his/her relentless follow-up and implementation will be the driving force to plan, follow up, and implement. This type of team member can have an immense impact on innovation and profitability of a given organization. - Kamyar Shah, World Consulting Group
It's a rather simple process to align thepassionof the entrepreneur with the best interest ofbusiness: It's all in the planning. Most of the time, if the planning and operations have been thoughtfully prepared, there is no reason that entrepreneurs need to compromise betweenpassionand success. - Kamyar Shah, World Consulting Group
There are certainly many different ways to become an executive, however, the one approach I have seen work most often is education. The simplest strategy is to enhance your knowledge in fields beyond your actual professional know-how. Over time, that knowledge will be noticed and will open new opportunities at higher levels. - Kamyar Shah, World Consulting Group
Once you look past the societal definitions and standards such as wealth and fame, it becomes obvious that success is relative. One man’s growth from a side gig to full time freelancing or growing a company from 1 man operation to 20 employees can equally be considered success. By most accounts though, it is safe to assume that success should be defined as overcoming challenges that contribute to progress.
One of the most effective ways that I have tested over the years is real-time case studies. In its most basic version, you have the employee do 2 similar tasks: one the way they think they should be doing it and one with tools or SOP's that allows them to do it faster and more accurate. Majority of the time the employee almost instantaneously have an epiphany and seek to optimize all possible tasks.
Do The Franchise's Guidelines Fit With My Vision For How To Run A Business?
Franchising, in general, comes with strings attached that include corporate guidelines on pretty much everything you're allowed to do or not do. Ask yourself if you're going to be able to run the business the way you think it should be run. If the answer is no, then franchising is probably not for you. -Kamyar Shah,World Consulting Group
1) How should companies be treating their employer brand, especially in comparison to their consumer brand?
The differentiation between employee and employer brand is futile; those two have a symbiotic relationship. The same goes for consumer brands.
2) Do they both matter?
Of course both matter. Positive branding from any aspect and any level usually has a positive impact on overall brand perception. The brand value is transferable both in depth and breadth.
3) How should companies balance both?
It needs to be a cumulative effort that enables branding from any/every level. The benefits are mutual to all; employee, employer and the company. The storytelling portion of a brand can work its way all the way up to the corporate level.
Originally published at https://b2b.kununu.com/blog/marketing-and-hr-employer-branding-from-a-marketers-perspective
There is really no secret to preventing burnout. Much like any other project, it's all about prioritization and time management. If tasks are properly planned, delegated and executed, there is no need for anyone to be overwhelmed or overworked. Couple that with proper time management and the burnout issue will be unlikely to even surface. - Kamyar Shah, World Consulting Group
Originally published at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/09/28/13-ways-to-prevent-burnout-before-it-happens/#22e6f76779b1
Call it what you like — word-of-mouth or organic branding — but the gist will remain the same: End-user satisfaction that's publicized is the answer. There's really no better way to beat a larger company and even the playing fields. Get your happy user to say so and say it publicly online. -Kamyar Shah,World Consulting Group
Originally published at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/09/25/ten-powerful-ways-to-position-your-startup-against-the-tech-giants/#303da919581a
The mantra of "show, don't tell" holds true here. In the technology sector, the best bet to illustrate your credibility is by providing case studies of current or former clients. If that is not available, demonstration of skill set is a good alternative: think webinars, tutorials, etc. Ultimately, credibility is proven by results. Show results and your credibility will grow. - Kamyar Shah, World Consulting Group
Originally published at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/10/03/small-company-big-success-10-ways-to-prove-credibility-to-your-customers/#62759b54666f
"A small business can easily explain the difference in pay scale by providing the formula that was used to calculate each scale as well as a qualitative comparison in job description and responsibilities," said Kamyar Shah, a business consultant. "The key is transparency in data sharing." Originally published at: https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/11077-pros-cons-salary-transparency.html
Having worked remotely for various size organizations as an independent contractor for 15-plus years, the most vital strategy by far is to manage your reputation. It starts with a very simple proposition: underpromise and overdeliver. It is the basis for asking your happy customers for referrals. You will be surprised how this methodology alone creates a steady flow of leads. - Kamyar Shah, World Consulting Group
Originally published at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/10/01/thriving-in-the-gig-economy-15-key-strategies-for-success/#767d00151357
Kamyar Shah is a small business advisor helping you increase profitability and productivity, offering remote CMO and Remote COO services.
“Employee engagement or maximization of thereof…”
Has less to do with creativity than it has with the methodology. Sure, there can be one-offs in which one particular idea gets the attention of employees, but it is by no means the way an organization should have creativity as its main engagement strategy.
The true way to have long-term and consistent employee engagement is to involve the employees themselves. Their input and requests should be the most significant element of the employee engagement program. Couple it with a consistent feedback loop and you have yourselves a winning employee engagement strategy.
Originally published at: https://www.wonolo.com/blog/creative-ways-managers-can-keep-employees-engaged/
One of the best tips I have ever received as well as given is built relationships. There is a profound impact created by a long-term relationship with peers and other professionals. Those relationships that evolve in mutual respect and recognition tend to impact how your business grows. As the saying goes Your network is your net worth.
Kamyar Shah feels best practices actually stifle creativity and success:
The concept of best practices is rather a misguided notion of uniformity and groupthink that at best stifle effectiveness and efficiency and at worst create a tremendous burden on organizational success.
I have made a habit to use best practices ONLY as a starting point.
For instance; in marketing strategy planning I help my clients to start with a comprehensive overview of all platforms and channels, yet quickly help them discard those that are not suited for their product or services.
On the other hand, some basic digital marketing best practices, such as standard on-page optimizations, are simply a must.
In HR projects, I encourage my clients to explore non-traditional methodology in the recruiting and selection process instead of the best practices that are currently standards for many organizations.
The bottom line is that the concept of best practices is generally either misunderstood or wrongly implemented.It was never meant to be a uniform SOP for every organization; only a set of basics to serve as a starting point.
Success comes from the adaption of those best practices to the individual business based on its leadership style and product/service selections.
Originally published at https://spinsucks.com/social-media/spin-sucks-question-best-practices/?
Even if a technology race develops, some companies will adopt rapidly, but others less so—and the benefits of AI will vary accordingly, write Jacques Bughin and Jeongmin Seong in Harvard Business Review.