Social media has become part of our daily lives, and most of us would be lying if we said we only checked our various feeds once a day. In fact, 98% of internet users spend time on social networks, according to a comScore study. Social networking has changed how we get our news, interact with companies and brands and keep in touch with friends and co-workers.
While working in Amsterdam, I was reminded how insight analysts and leaders can shine brightly in very different contexts.
In the Netherlands, a mixture of training and facilitation was helping an events business. What struck me was the similarity of the challenges faced by their insight teams to the challenges I see in the U.K.
The more I work with insight leaders across sectors and geographies, the more I see how much they benefit from highly transferable skills. Here are three that are relevant to very different businesses and locations:
I’ve yet to work with a company where this isn’t a challenge, at least to some extent. As more and more business decisions require considering the customer, it’s not surprising that demand for data, analysis and research continues to rise. Most insight teams are struggling to meet the demand of both regular reporting (“business-as-usual”) tasks and the range of questions or projects coming in from business leaders. There have been many attempts to solve this struggle, including “projectizing” all requests (which tends to come across as a bureaucratic solution to reduce demand for information) and periodic planning sessions (using Impact/Ease Matrix or similar tools). In today’s fast-changing businesses, I’ve found that local prioritization within “the bucket method” works best.
What I mean by the “bucket method” is the identification of the silos (mainly for decision-making) that are most powerful in your business. This often follows your organizational design, but not always. Is your business primarily structured by channel, product, segment or some other division of profit and loss accounts? Each silo should be allocated a “bucket” with a notionally allocated amount of insight resource, which is based on an appropriate combination of profit potential, strategic fit and proven demand (plus acted-on results) Regular meetings should be held between the insight leader and the most senior person possible within that silo. Where possible, the insight leader should meet with the relevant director.
The bucket principle relates to the idea that, when something is full, it’s full. So, in reviewing progress and any future requirements with the relevant director, you challenge him to make local prioritization calls. Going back to the bucket metaphor, adding more requires removing something else—unless the bucket wasn’t already full. Due to human nature, I haven’t seen the bucket principle work company-wide or group-wide. However, it can work very well in the local fiefdoms that exist in most businesses. In fact, it can support a feeling that the insight team is close to the business unit and is in the trenches with them to help achieve their commercial challenges.
When trying to diagnose why past insight work has stalled or why progress isn’t being made, stakeholders often identify an early stage in the “project.” The nine-step model used by Laughlin Consultancy has a step (prior to starting the technical work) called “buy-in.” It takes a clear plan or design for the work needed and sends it back to the sponsoring stakeholder to ensure it will meet the requirements. Often, this practice is missed by insight teams. Even mature customer insight teams may have mastered asking questions and getting to the root of the real business need behind a brief, but they then just capture that requirement in the brief. Too few interpret that need and provide a clear description of what will be delivered.
There are two aspects of returning to your sponsor to achieve buy-in that can be powerful. First is the emotional experience of the business leader (or multiple stakeholders, if needed) feeling more involved in the work to be done. As Alexander Hamilton famously said, “Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike.” It’s so important in the apparently rational world of generating insight to remember the importance of emotions and relationships within your business. Paying stakeholders the compliment of sharing the planned work with them ensures the intended deliverable will meet their needs and is something that often helps.
The other benefit of becoming skilled at this buy-in stage is learning to manage expectations and identify communication requirements. With regard to expectations, you should set realistic timescales (which, first, requires effective planning and design), along with openly sharing any risks or issues so that they don’t come as a surprise. Communication—and asking how much a sponsor wants to be kept in the loop—can make a real difference to keeping your sponsor happy. Some sponsors will be happy with radio silence until a task is complete or a decision is needed (they value not being disturbed). Others will lose confidence in your work unless they hear regular progress updates. It’s best not to confuse one with the other.
Training customer insight analysts in softer skills often results in a significant portion of the course focusing on the presentation of findings. This isn’t surprising, because, in many ways, that’s the only tangible product insight teams can point to, prior to driving decisions, actions and business results. Too frequently, I hear stories of frustrated insight teams that believe the business doesn’t listen to them, or I hear from business leaders that their insight team doesn’t produce any real insights.
Coaching, or just listening to others express such frustrations, regularly reveals that too many analytics and research presentations take the form of long, boring PowerPoints, which are more focused on showing the amount of work that’s been done than presenting clear insights. While it’s understandable that an analyst who has worked for weeks preparing data, analyzing and generating insights wants her effort rewarded, a better form of recognition is having the sponsor act on your recommendations. Often, that’s more likely to occur based on a short summary that spares readers much of the detail.
Data visualization, storytelling and summarizing are all skills necessary to master on the road to effective communication. Most communication training will also stress the importance of being clear, concrete, considerate, courteous, etc. Many tabloids have mastered these skills. Love them or hate them, tabloid headline writers are masters of hierarchies of communication. Well-crafted, short, eye-catching headings are followed by single-sentence summaries, single-paragraph summaries and then short words, paragraphs and other line breaks to present the text in bite-sized chunks.
Insight analysts and leaders who master such crafts as prioritization, buy-in and communication could probably succeed in almost any industry and in many different countries. Many directors will attest to the fact that sideways moves helped their careers. A CV demonstrating the ability to master roles in very different contexts is often an indication of readiness for a senior general management role.
Why does it matter whether your organization embraces innovation by design? We are at the beginning of an era where the confluence of increasingly powerful computing capability, ease of starting a tech-intensive firm and massive data in a deeply networked world will drive more innovation more broadly than ever before. The rate of change and, indeed, the speed with which new incumbents enter markets and existing players fail will only increase. This means innovation must become part of a company’s fabric and its culture to ensure success.
Looking over the past 20 years to gain a better view of the next 20 years, there are three things that stand out, are surprising and are instructive.
- Science, geo-politics, sports, weather, information technology and cyber are all areas full of events that, a year or two before the “event,” prominent insiders would have said were not in the realm of possibility—they were not just unlikely but impossible, if not loony.
- While impressive, the huge growth and acceleration we have seen in information technology, social media, mobile, big data, several areas of science and cyber all exhibit patterns of the beginning of something—not a pattern of stability, maturation or, even, peaking. The amount of data, the amount of IP-enabled nodes and the throughput cost of computing could all scale 100 – 500 times in the next decade, making today just the beginning of a hockey-stick-like curve.
- The simple truth, threat and opportunity is that the rate of change is increasing across all areas of life while the scale of change is expanding.
What does all that mean? One thing is certain: Being agile is not enough. Those who effectively embrace innovation at an organizational (if not cultural) level will fare better than those who do not. Indeed, if this is the beginning of accelerating rates of change with massive outlier impacts, then driving innovation pragmatically across an organization is imperative.
See Also: Innovation Trends in 2016
If, from the top, the mission for everyone in an organization includes being innovative, this can become part of the fabric, the culture of the organization. Businesses that effectively embrace innovation at a cultural level will fare better than those that do not.
Still, there is a massive amount of fog surrounding the word “culture.” I often hear it is the insurmountable obstacle to innovation at scale and pace.
One Fortune 500 Example: Motorola
In the early 2000s, I was an officer with tech and business responsibilities at Motorola. The culture was largely internally focused, obsessed with continuous (often marginal) improvements, in love with engineering and intellectual property (IP) filings and not necessarily the monetization of IP. It was a family-oriented culture with, literally, generations of the family working at the firm. But the firm was failing.
The board brought in a new CEO from Silicon Valley, and we changed the company culture radically in 18 months. We did six simple things, instigated and championed by the new CEO:
- Clearly communicated a broad new mission about being externally focused, fast-paced, innovative and customer-centric
- Set out the behaviors that we expected and that the company would reward, as well as behaviors we would punish
- Continually “sold” (over-communicated) the rationale of why we were changing
- Made sure rewards and punishments were publicly meted out to support the new direction
- Matched structure to mission and talent to task; (when the game changes from soccer to rugby, not all team members have a role despite prior excellent performance)
- Eliminated active objectors and passive resistors who simulated support but were not rowing the boat (a third of the top 120 executives changed in about 12 months, mostly for this reason)
Motorola changed its culture and performance radically in 18 months. We released the breakthrough RAZR phone, which became the best-selling phone of all time. IT, for example, became a platform for tech breakthroughs and even had a venture arm for emerging tech.
Unfortunately, shortly after that, Apple made a thing called the iPhone, we made some very bad leadership talent decisions and we backed hardware over software in our largest business unit.
No amount of motivation or positive innovation culture will save you from a bad strategy that is married to poor talent decisions in key posts, compounded by groundbreaking, world-class competition.
A well-communicated mission, backed up by clarity on what garners rewards and punishments, is key. The rewards and punishments must be broadly, consistently and continuously meted out for the behaviors that merit them. This will drive the behaviors in the organization. Lots of organizations get the reward part generally right, but they fail miserably on the punishment side, then wonder why they have cultural obstacles.
Done properly, rewards and punishments drive the behaviors inside your organization. The sum of those behaviors is your culture.
Tips for building an innovation culture
Innovation must be about both big and small innovation, not just breakthroughs. Almost all organizations have an untapped wealth of innovation they can access by just eliminating the longstanding negativity that confront the rank and file daily. The front-line person in accounts payable and customer service or the distribution center in Managua may have process ideas that are innovative and high-impact for the whole organization.
See Also: Tech Innovation Is No Longer Optional
The simple question, “What really dumb stuff do we do around here?” in the right penalty-free environment usually unleashes a torrent. But without a culture of innovation, small, incremental, continuous improvements lie dormant.
Idea platforms and innovation/suggestion processes are all well and fine, but they should live inside an innovation culture where everyone thinks it’s part of their individual mission, with the underpinning or institutional agility and continuous improvement that goes with it. Again, you are not asking each person to reinvent Google, Facebook or the low-cost Fusion; you are rewarding them for innovative improvements.
To keep up with the changing external environment, an organization must be adaptable, agile, great at managing change and effective at the necessary but mundane underlying program management. An organization must also be deeply externally aware and manage emerging potential challenges, opportunities and threat profiles as far in advance as possible. No culture can remain innovative if it is internally focused and not connected purposefully to the outside world.
One simple approach to help instantiate innovation is to use “HLI” and that modern cultural artifact PowerPoint to drive innovation into the bedrock of the culture. I did this at several firms where PowerPoint was closer to an addiction than a facet of the culture. Quite simply, I insisted every program update, every group or function presentation, start with HLI.
- H = Highlights: Show highlights of what the team did well. The real objective is to say “thanks” and acknowledge a mini win. Over time, teams start to think in terms of what they can put under ‘H’ on the front page. Accomplishment and recognition of accomplishment are necessary for a motivated environment.
- L = Lowlights: Here you want to see some stretch, some failure. But, most of all, you want to see some learning and experimenting. By reviewing this without beating anyone up—maybe even praising the effort—you eliminate the fear. The message quickly goes through the organization that no one got killed for stretching or trying harder and occasionally dropping the ball. This also helps kill one of the most anti-innovation elements in business, the “under promise, over deliver” malaise.
- I = Innovation: This is simply asking what you tried that was new, what you grabbed from phase two and did in phase one, what serial process you made parallel, what new method or tool you used, what you borrowed from prior efforts, etc.
If anyone shows up with a presentation that doesn’t lead with HLI, you politely cancel the meeting and get them to come back later. Over time, this creates activity inside teams so they can fill in the three sections. Teams start to have early conversations about how they are going to innovate, stretch and learn.
Innovation at scale requires change management
There are many stories about the initial excitement of going big on innovation that are then followed by failure and disillusionment because the leadership attention waned as the novelty of the program passed and the hard work of change management, scaling and maintaining ensued.
I cannot talk about creating a culture of innovation without also teaching which change management models work best. It sounds obvious to say driving a culture of innovation is change-intensive, yet I almost never see a decent understanding of change management models and which one is most effective.
There are four basic management models:
- Participation (the communities of interest help define the change)
- Intervention (the sponsor justifies the need for change, monitors the process and communicates progress)
The change management model that has the highest frequency of success is intervention. It is at least twice as effective as the next-best model. It requires active leadership to continually “sell” the vision or plan, even while executing it. Understanding how that works and making sure everyone understands and follows the changed playbook are topics for a later article.
Suffice it to say, if you were to map the change processes at most firms, they often resemble spaghetti–an inefficient, unintended, sub-optimized maze. The majority of large tech-intensive programs are late, over budget, deliver less than promised or all of the above. Most companies have never mapped their processes and assume all is well.
Creating a culture of innovation inside a supporting ecosystem with a modicum of useful tools and the right leadership can lead to great success. Innovation is a pragmatic, broad-based journey, not a fad-centric exercise. Done well, innovation is the key to being effectively agile, and it is a concrete force multiplier. It very well may be the only sustainable competitive advantage over the next decade.
Do you have a culture that can innovate broadly, or do you have a silo-ed innovation team or champion or campaign?
Some 500 million people use Gmail and Google Drive. I’m one of them.
Gmail and Google Drive are wonderful for communicating and collaborating. But it turns out they’re also ideal tools for hacking into your computing device.
Bad guys on the cutting edge have discovered this. And their success so far indicates attacks manipulating Google’s productivity platform-and similarly exploiting other popular cloud-based business tools-are destined to progress.
This development should not come as a big surprise. Cyber criminals are quick to recognize fresh opportunities created by our headlong rush to use cloud services and mobile devices without giving due consideration to security and privacy.
Intelligence about the latest iteration of hacking comes courtesy of security startup Elastica.
Flying under the radar
Researchers at Elastica this summer discovered scammers using Gmail accounts to send messages crafted to fool recipients into downloading corrupted PowerPoint presentations stored on Google Drive. Scammerswere thus able to slip the malicious PowerPoint file past malware detection filters.
Another tactic discovered by Elastica involved scammers opening free Gmail accounts from which they sent out spoofed messages tricking recipients into visiting a website they controlled that was hosted on Google’s own servers. Because the bad guys’ website was hosted on Google servers, it was deemed trustworthy, making it easier for them to trick visitors into divulging account logons.
Any hacker can tell you that once you get someone to download a corrupted file, or get them to navigate to a website you control, the rest is comparatively easy. At that point, the target is a half-step away from being owned.
Keys to the (data) kingdom
“In the cloud environment, the username and password become all-powerful; almost all these applications use some sort of username and password as a way to get in,” says Eric Andrews, Elastica’s marketing vice president. “Once you have that, you can do anything you want. You can get all the data. You can get all the files. So a lot of these attacks that are going at the cloud apps are all about trying to get somebody’s username and password.”
These fresh hacking opportunities are being presented not just by Google but by each and every one of the most popular cloud-based email, productivity tools, file-sharing and customer-relationship tools.
“Office365, Dropbox, Salesforce, all of these apps are very, very convenient and have a lot of great business utility,” Andrews says. “But there is this kind of lurking concern. You don’t really know if your company’s data is safe. You don’t know if other people can get to it. This move to the cloud really has a fundamental ripple effect through all security functions.”
Gmail more widely used
In abusing Google’s services, cyber criminals are taking advantage of the fact that Gmail has become a de-facto backup email throughout the business world. It is widely used by well-intentioned workers, in companies of all sizes, who are hustling to work more productively.
No one is surprised anymore to receive an email from the private Gmail account of a supervisor, colleague, partner or customer-or even an administrative message from Google. A trust exists. And this creates a perfect environment for spoofing.
Likewise, free or cheap Google Drive file storage makes for a perfect repository to set up phishing attacks and distribute malicious web links.
In a case recently dissected by Elastica, the bad guys sent phishing emails out to victims who they guessed would have an interest in controversies surrounding Tibet’s Dalai Lama. The enticement: Click to a link to a corrupted PowerPoint presentation hosted on Google Drive.
Aditya Sood, chief architect at Elastica’s Cloud Threat Labs, describes how the social engineering aspect of the attack then unfolds:
“There are no attachments in the email. Basically, it’s just a direct link to the Google cloud service, which hosts the PowerPoint presentation. When the user retrieves that link, the user won’t be able to view this PowerPoint presentation. So the user then is going to download that file onto the local machine. Once the user opens it on his local machine, the PowerPoint presentation actually extracts two files. One, the INF file, contains a launch code for the second, a GIF file. The GIF file downloads malware to the end user system.”
Gmail and Google Drive are powerful, flexible, reliable, easy-to-use and free. Yet, it turns out that these are the very characteristics that make them ideal tools for cyber criminals to infect computers. In essence, the bad guys are simply adopting infection-techniques that proved highly effective in the desktop environment to new opportunities presenting themselves in the cloud environment.
These bad guys no longer have to trouble themselves with creating malicious email attachments, nor do they have to worry as much about spreading tainted Web links that can be quickly detected and blacklisted. And as long as the trust remains high in Gmail, Google Drive, Office 365, Salesforce and other top cloud services, social engine trickery remains easier than it really ought to be.
“Attackers don’t have to invest too much time or money in gaining credentials or compromising servers to attack people,” Sood says. “They simply create one Gmail account and then, basically, abuse the Google publishing functionality.”