Tag Archives: sales

Should We Take This Risk?

  • Who takes risk?
  • Who decides whether the risk should be taken?
  • How do they know what the desired level of risk is?
  • How do senior management and the board obtain assurance that the right risks, at the right level, will be taken?

These are important questions, and every risk (and audit) practitioner should understand the answers.

Richard Anderson and I will be taking these on in April and May, and you are invited to join us. Details are at riskreimagined.com.

Taking the first one first: Who takes risk? The correct answer is “everybody”: everybody who makes a decision and everybody who acts. Every decision and action creates or modifies risk and has the potential to influence the achievement of objectives. Whether it is deciding to go through with an acquisition or to hire this candidate instead of an alternative, risk is being taken.

In general, the organization’s structure and delegation of authorities dictates who should be making which decision, who should review and approve that decision and what limitations are put on the “value” or magnitude of that decision.

In other words, the normal approval hierarchy established in any organization typically determines who makes which decision – and therefore who takes which risk.

Some people consider risk as static, the possibility of an event or situation that could affect an objective or two. But our world is anything but static; the environment in which we operate changes all the time, as regulators, markets, customers, vendors and other factors change. Our own organization also changes, as employees leave or join, get promoted, change their minds or intentions, feel differently about their or the company’s prospects, develop new products, retire old products, change pricing and so on.

So, risks are being taken all the time in an environment that is changing all the time.

The normal approval structure will also dictate who decides whether the risk should be taken. The decision maker is the person charged with making that decision, subject to review and approval.

The decision maker will normally weigh all the options, given the information available to her, and try to make an informed, intelligent decision. If there are risk-reward trade-offs, they will be considered in the decision-making process.

But how does the decision-maker know how much risk he should be taking? How does he know whether the risk level for the organization as a whole will now exceed the levels approved by more senior management and the board?

In fact, how do people know how their decisions will affect others, which objectives at the enterprise level might be affected and what the desired levels of risk to those objectives are?

For example, if you consider a recruiter in the HR department who is vetting candidates, prior to their being considered by the hiring manager, does he really know how his decisions on which to take forward will affect the organization?

Does he realize how much value and impact an individual with additional experience will bring to the sales operation, or how a lack of familiarity with ethical practices could increase compliance risk?

Does he understand that a major IT initiative might suffer if he delays a decision on which IT specialist candidates to consider? The risk may be to objectives in IT and in the objectives of the IT function’s customer – the one affected by the delay in completion of the project, or even the possibility of a failure of the project.

There are ways to address these issues that center on communication and collaboration. In the recruiting example, it is incumbent on both IT and HR to ensure the hiring urgency is understood and the value of different levels of experience and technical talent is appreciated and informs the recruiter’s decisions. Similarly, it is up to the IT customer to convey to the IT team the value of the IT project and the various risks (i.e., the effect on their and others’ objectives) should the project fail or be delayed.

Setting acceptable levels at board or top management is not the answer; it may be part of the answer, maybe even a significant part of the answer, but every decision maker needs to know what is desired at her level, and it is impractical to believe that the enterprise risk appetite statement can be translated and cascaded down in a useful and actionable way to every individual actually taking the risks.

In addition, in a dynamic world, desired levels of risk are (or at least should be) changing dynamically.

In some cases, more granular risk criteria can be defined – but, again, not for every single decision.

No, risk is taken and must be taken by individuals at all levels across the entire enterprise. If you want them to take the right risk at the right level, they must be informed and trained in the consideration of risk – and not just the risk to their personal or team objectives, but the effect on others and, eventually, how that can affect enterprise objectives.

Senior management should help by ensuring the people on their team get that decision-making training, with the help as needed of the risk officers.

How, then, do the board and senior management know that the right risks at the right levels are and will be taken? It’s not possible to be certain that they will be taken. Perfect assurance is not possible, as decision makers are human, and they will make mistakes even when all the information is available and they have taken all the required training.

Only reasonable assurance can be obtained.

A few things contribute to obtaining that reasonable assurance:

  • Care and attention to the decision-making process, ensuring that decision makers consider what might happen as an integral element in that process: what needs to go right as well as what could go wrong.
  • Care and attention to the “risk management process/framework/whatever-you-want-to-call-it,” thinking through how desired levels of risk are defined and communicated, the appropriate review and approval process, how people are provided the information they need to make risk-informed decisions and so on.
  • The objective assessment by management (and the chief risk officer) of that risk management process – an honest assessment of whether it provides the necessary assurance and whether it is delivering the value to the organization it should by improving the quality of decisions. I think this assessment should be shared formally with the board.
  • Careful monitoring, after the fact, of actual risk levels and determining what failed when risks exceed desired levels.
  • An independent and objective assessment of the enterprise’s management of risk by the internal audit function.

This is a quick essay on the topic, which is complex and tough to achieve in practice. I welcome your thoughts and hope to discuss it further with you in April or May.

What Are Other Marketers Doing?

“Insurance Marketing & Distribution Summit Europe 2015” proved to be a great event.

There were interesting speakers, a range of topics and plenty of opportunity for interaction. Plus, it was a pleasure for me to share with this group, but more on that later.

Following events that were useful for getting close to leaders on whom insight leaders focus less (IT, digitalcustomer experience), I was back with marketing  and sales. Most likely, the primary customer for most insurance insight teams is their marketing leader. So, I hope it’s helpful to hear the thoughts and plans of a number of leaders from the insurance marketing community.

Here are key messages from these insurance marketers:

  • Marco Brandt (Agila) shared about Agila’s journey from being a broker-based pet insurer to focusing on the Internet channel. It uses digital capabilities for personalization of communication and pricing. Perhaps the biggest opportunity for the company, though, was to use its digital communication and free content to dramatically increase the number of touch-points with their customers (a recurring theme). Agila has a strong story to tell about growth of customer satisfaction and premium income (which doubled in five years). The company’s next, self-identified challenge is to embrace mobile.
  • Stephan Dequaire (Towergate) provided a review of the growth of price comparison sites in the UK car insurance industry. I was surprised at how much Compare the Market now dominates, above even MSM and Go Compare. It was also interesting to see how much this model varies across the world. By comparison with the U.S., intermediaries (including tied agents) are more the norm across Europe, where there is also a larger share for bancassurers. Some research suggests the shine is coming off them, though, with even consumer advice sites pointing to direct insurers. What was more shocking was to hear how a consumer advice site suggests consumers lie about data to get a better price (“optimizing your job title,” etc). It really brought home the erosion of consumer trust, in the UK market especially.
  • Phil Bayles (Aviva) reminded us that, across Aviva and insurance as a whole, the intermediary channel still provides the largest profit and volume. He provided a nice segue into my later talk because he stressed how more than 25% of management time was now taken up by conduct risk agenda. The challenge with succeeding with your intermediary channel, including independent financial advisers (IFAs), is that they deal with you day in and day out. You can’t persuade an intermediary channel with some catchy or emotive brand advertising. Bayles stressed the need for a focus on adviser satisfaction and ease as well as fixing problems quickly. With a strategy to be “No. 1 for Brokers,” there is nowhere for Aviva to hide if tracking does not match up. Transactional net promoter scores (TNPS) suggest that Aviva is well on its way.
  • Simon Green (The FCA) talked about how FCA’s behavioral economics expertise was influencing policy and reviews, as well as the important role of technology innovation.
  • Pollyanna Deane (Simmons & Simmons) brought legal expertise to our proceedings and talked about increasing regulatory scrutiny, including the likely impact of the Insurance Distribution Directive. She also mentioned the risk of European Insurance & Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) becoming a third regulator for UK insurers!
  • I then presented on customer insight and conduct risk, where I shared a number of the lessons I’ve learned from training insurance marketing teams on using customer insight to mitigate conduct risk. This included briefly covering consumer spotlight, behavioral economics and vulnerable customers. I’m pleased to say there was considerable interest afterward as marketing leaders could see the benefits of more focus on conduct and on embedding insight in their processes.
  • Louis de Broglie (InsPeer) focused on innovation. He explained the interesting concept on which his start-up, InsPeer, is based. Returning to the insurance origin of mutuality and governance in community, his company provides consumers with a way to pool their excesses. Currently, only available in France, this unregulated solution combines the purchase of high-excess cover from an insurer with a community that contracts to cover a proportion of others’ excess in the event of a claim. This results in lower premium and zero excess for each individual, as well as social pressure on claim veracity and lower claims frequency for the insurer. The next stage is intended to be peer-to-peer insurance, akin to the evolving models from Guevara in the UK, as well as others worldwide. Given the explosive growth of Uber and AirBnb, it seems likely some model of peer-to-peer disruption will take off.
  • Monika Schulze (Zurich) returned to the theme of greater engagement through marketing. Her recurrent theme was the importance of emotion, using your brand and an emotionally engaging narrative consistently across channels to provoke positive responses and engagement from consumers. Inspired by “Transmedia Branding,” Schulze really brought this topic to life through a number of videos that made an impact and examples of clever use of social media. Perhaps the most surprising part of this event was a story about Lidl selling milk in Sweden. Through active monitoring of Facebook comments, Lidl spotted a Swede named Bosse who said he didn’t want to buy German milk. Lidl used this as a chance to humanize its brand, and the company renamed its milk “Bosse’s Milk” across Sweden, including a photo of Bosse and an explanation that the milk actually is Swedish milk. This action, in response to an individual, captured the public imagination and boosted sales. For a great example of fleet-of-foot and creative marketers using emotional advertising, check out Zurich’s #SaveThe Snowmen.
  • Gordon Rutherford (Axa) also stressed the importance of emotional communication in brand engagement. Along with warning to not be one of those needy brands that basically use social media to say “please love me,” he highlighted the impact of finding a noble cause to really make a difference and to improve brand sentiment. An example is Axa’s “glass of consciousness” exhibitions in Mexico, which engage the public with the need to change attitudes about drinking and driving. Axa has found a way to humanize its brand and engage its own employees, all the while making a social difference.
  • Edward Rice (AIG) shared AIG’S progress in digital transformation, where the company has gone beyond just using digital as a marketing channel and is using it to reengineer business and customer experience. He noted that the right comparison for customer experience isn’t the low bar currently set by the insurance industry but is, rather, the personalized, digital ease provided by retailers. He  then shared numerous examples of how, once you have the basics delivered consistently, you can surprise and delight your customers with personalization and relevance. One interesting example was marketing done by Boden and easyJet that shows customers that the brands remember past purchases and have an apparent growing understanding. Rice also touched on the power of responding to one individual on social media as a way to humanize your brand and be playful and on the importance of providing timely advice and warnings that help customers reduce risks.
  • Isabelle Conner (Generali) explained the huge cultural transformation that she is leading, changing a 184-year-old business from product-centric to customer-centric. She stressed the importance of emotional brand marketing and reminded everyone that we are in an ideal position to put this into action, with insurance being about protecting what people love and being there when the traumatic happens. But the marketing has to be grounded in changing the customer experience reality and the internal brand reality, not just be about broadcasting a message. Perhaps the part that had the most impact was when she shared videos of Generali’s CEOs from Spain, Switzerland and France calling customers who left detractor net promoter score (NPS) ratings. It is so important to include timely response and resolution in your NPS metric programs, but it has even more of an impact on a company’s culture when CEOs get engaged in the experience.
  • Stephen Ingledew (Standard Life), although not an insurer, has many of the same challenges in the world of retirement savings, investment and income solutions. Ingledew focused on the importance of customer engagement in redesigning improved experiences. He shared some details of co-creation sessions and agile development, the latter being more than just an approach to IT development but also a mindset of continual learning and iteration. Some of his examples of online tools included elements of “gamification,” which is helpful for consumers in the baffling world of pension reform choices. The brand approach of “#ReadyWhenUAre” nicely balances a range of enablers, while avoiding being paternalistic. Another critical customer need is education, but it becomes tricky to do it in a way that is neither boring nor patronizing. Selecting Steph and Dom from the British reality show Gogglebox to host a series of videos to chat in the pub about the issues was inspired choice, and one can see why it has gone viral.
  • Zach Goren (Media Alpha) brought the world of West Coast U.S. innovation to the conference. Media Alpha is helping auto insurers, among others, buy targeted “in market” customer leads in real time, rather than just relying on mass market advertising through Google (where insurance keywords cost a fortune). Media Alpha is basically an innovation on the traditional market of selling unconverted quotes, but the company does this in real time and stays on the insurer’s site. So, the insurer becomes both a seller of insurance as well as a seller of advertising space to competitors, especially where customer details show this person is unlikely to convert. Media Alpha provides real opportunities to offer consumers more choice.
  • James Baker (Vitality) leads the insight team and helps the company’s brand understand how to bring about behavioral change in its customers. The company has an interesting approach, providing health insurance but also helping motivate you to not need it, through rewards for a healthier lifestyle. This approach provides more opportunity for engagement with insurance customers and offers tangible value back on your policy (many insurers would love to achieve either). Vitality’s insight, built on a hybrid segmentation of FSS and behavioral analytics, has identified a number of actions and rewards, under the concepts of “we’ll be there for you” and “we’ll make it more rewarding to be well in the first place,” that have driven significant engagement and behavior change. Ideally placed to exploit wearables and other IoT innovation, given the importance of employers and employee benefit consultants to Vitality’s business, the company can also demonstrate benefits in reduced absenteeism.
  • David Stevens (LV=) brought to life the complex world of automated advice in the pensions/retirement income sector. The company has innovated with so called robo-advice (although the process also includes human interaction). LV=’s innovation with Wealth Wizards (which it acquired) and the fact it has broken down the steps into manageable chunks should really help. With the high cost of advice, too many in the public are not engaging with such an intangible service. A fixed price of £199 for personalized options after automated fact finding is much more accessible, and the offer is communicated in an emotionally warm way. Once again, you can see the influences of both personalization and gamification in the company’s communication. The style of communication and the ease of playing with the tools also contribute to humanizing insurance (as does clear fixed pricing).
  • Adam Kornick (Aviva) heads up the company’s global analytics capability, and he shared how it is using predictive analytics in pricing and risk modeling. Kornick gave an important reminder that price is the primary selection criteria consumers cite with insurance, so personalized pricing matters every bit as much as, if not more than, personalized communication. One of Aviva’s key innovations has been to build on the individual price for quoting (based on captured and average data) that others have done for home insurance and to give customers the price of a product that they are most likely to buy next. It was also interesting to hear of Aviva’s progress in broker analytics, another reminder as to the importance of the intermediary channel and how predictive analytics can help there, too.

Phew. Well done for making it to the end of this post! Key themes I took away are the need for: personalization, emotions, humanizing insurance, more frequent engagement through communication, innovations and continued focus on the intermediary channel.

Hope all those topics and ideas were useful. Please share the insurance marketers’ innovations you are generating from customer insight.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested, you can download a free copy of my presentation here.

What Is Your 2016 Playbook for Growth?

CEOs entering 2016 convinced they can succeed by doubling down on what worked in the past may be reading from the wrong playbook.

According to a recently released Forrester/Odgers Berndtson study, “The State of Digital Business 2015,” most companies remain unprepared for digital transformation” — an absolute must for growth. Yet executives representing the diverse sectors examined in the study expect the majority of their sales to be digital by 2020. How will they get there?

If your transformation plan to capture at least a fair share of an expanding digital sales pie is not well underway, and you feel behind the eight ball, that may be for good reason – digital transformation leading to adopting a meaningful new business model or new technology can take years. And it demands operating along a different set of practices that used to work.

Growth is within reach of any CEO…

  • Moving at least as fast as the pace of technological change,
  • Delivering on clients’ growing expectations for real outcomes, and
  • Adapting to the shifts of economic and workplace controls to the millennial generation.

The CEO must be the Chief Growth Officer. Hiring a chief digital officer or chief innovation officer or someone else carrying a fashionable CXO title assigns daily responsibility for actions to close the digital gap. This can be a good move. The CEO cannot be everyplace at all times, and, besides, micromanagement from the top of the C-suite is deadly. When it works, this added role introduces skills, fosters enterprise-wide external partnerships, signals commitment inside and outside the organization and creates the digital blueprint for buy-in by colleagues. But the CEO alone has and must use his or her authority to coordinate growth levers and make the tough calls.

The CEO is also the Chief Culture Officer. Culture is not the job of HR or any other designee. Culture is the sum of the hundreds of choices everyone makes every day. People respond to the behaviors of their leaders. What do growth behaviors look like? Think about orchids in a greenhouse. Like orchids, new and different ideas are fragile and require special care. They may need protection from the outdoors – the conditions through which a mature business can operate, but that will kill a still-emerging concept. The CEO must advance a culture of a greenhouse, using governance to support both the work wherever growth businesses are being incubated, and a smooth transfer to the mainstream at the right time.

A lot has changed, but strategy is still the starting point for execution that gets results. Good strategy means having a clear view of where you are, an intended destination and a map of the terrain with a logical path to get there. Good strategy allows for good prioritization of short- and long-term moves, including the digital agenda. Strategy is still what gives all members of an organization a common view of goals. Strategy must evolve from what it has become in too many companies — a financial extrapolation supported by a sales-y PowerPoint presentation and ungrounded assumptions.

You must govern to engage and create accountability. Bring the whole C-suite into the act – no bystanders or anonymous choristers allowed. It’s a great idea to ask your CMO or CIO (or both) to lead the digital acceleration effort, but what about the rest of the C-suite? Put a governance process in place that fosters a constructive dialog with all of the CEO’s direct reports, including the P&L leaders and functional heads. Governance must reinforce that every member of this team has “skin in the game” to achieve growth results. No one is exempt from being part of the solution.

You have to update the risk/reward equation. Face it – the traditional American corporation was built to be predictable – to control risk. But nowadays, avoiding deviation from the status quo may be the riskiest path of all. I’ll paraphrase how Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, described the issue at a recent talk: To the corporate leader, downside risk is determined by aggregating variables that are stress-tested through complex analyses in an attempt to account for unknowns. And the potential of digital is full of unknowns, so it can easily be discounted down to where it is assumed to just have incremental impact.

But here’s a whole different view: To a venture capitalist, the maximum downside is the loss of 100% of his or her investment. That investment is meted out in small chunks as milestones are passed, so exposure is clear, measurable and contained. And the upside is viewed as exponential (though low-odds).

Food for thought: Reframing the risk/reward inputs and calculation can be a liberating and responsible course of action.

Digital transformation is a non-starter without the right talent. Seek evidence beyond the skills that seem urgent now but come with an expiration date — what matters is hybrid thinking, continuous learning and a record of delivering meaningful results. Is “fit” simply a euphemism for “people like me”? Go after your complements, and even some people who don’t fit your mold, but for whom you are committed to make room. The continued homogeneity of the faces on the “Team” section of most corporate and start-up websites in this day and age reinforces the untapped opportunity to invite others in and reap the rewards.

You must measure client outcomes. What gets measured gets done. And the wrong metrics stifle innovation. Applying yesterday’s metrics with blunt force is a death sentence for new ideas. The CEO must take a stand on how to gauge digital progress. Implement metrics that: 1. Align to the strategy. 2. Reveal how well you are delivering outcomes to the client (i.e., fulfilling the benefits that brought them to you in the first place). 3. Focus on how well the team is delivering results to clients. 4. Relate to drivers of the P&L and overall franchise health now and in three to five years.

You need to generate speed and momentum through constant progress in small chunks. It beats all-at-once precision that misses the market. Iterate, iterate, iterate, as fast as you can. Make live prototypes and show them to clients. Test and learn. Be flexible to new data and insight. The word “failure” does not appear in this playbook. “Failure” is something you bring upon your team when you don’t take the learning from a study, a test, a prototype, a client conversation and have it fuel the next improvement, however large or small, to allow you to move closer to success. “Failure” is what happens when the water cooler talk echoes with, “That doesn’t work, so we killed it.” A culture of “failure” has gum in its gears.

You must pursue three stages to finding your digital leverage: Step one: Identify the sources of revenue from new clients or relationship expansion (see above point on speed) and the drivers to win this business. Step two: Define the profit model. Step three: Go for scale. I worked under a CEO who set up this one-sentence approach during our early days of digital transformation: “Find the unit profit model and then see if you can scale it.”

You need to collaborate. Some people are wired to collaborate. Others are expert at advancing their own goals through silos. Evidence of growth effectiveness: an environment where colleagues build on each other’s ideas with the goal of shared success. Make collaboration a hiring competency that is taken seriously. Make it an expectation and demonstrate through your own behavior what that means.

Finally, you must get out there and get your hands dirty. We all learn by doing. Fast and valuable knowledge exchange takes place when corporates and start-ups interact. Corporates will find the speed, iteration and absence of failure as a concept inspiring. Start-ups are always looking for mentors and advisers with financial, marketing and operating experience. This quid pro quo can be the basis for a mutually beneficial and mind-expanding relationship. Make the meeting ground any space that is not a corporate conference room.

This post is also published in Amy’s regular column on Huffington Post.

How to Calculate Return on Wellness

In the era in which wellness vendors were still claiming a return on investment (ROI_ on wellness (and more and more are not), I asked a number of them how they calculated the ROI. Not one calculated the ROI in a way that a steely-eyed CFO would endorse.

Below is a partial list of costs that wellness vendors should be considering, but rarely if ever do consider. If you have a wellness program and want to look for an ROI, make sure these costs are included:

1. Wellness vendor fees
2. Communication costs
3. Investments in materials (e.g., Fitbit) and facilities (e.g., onsite fitness centers)
4. The cost of biometric tests and health assessments
5. The cost of program incentives (awards, premium reductions, etc.)
6. The wages and benefits of the company’s wellness team members
7. The wages and lost productivity for employees to sit through biometric tests and wellness meetings, to read wellness memos and other communications and to fill out health risk assessments. (If 10,000 employees spend eight hours per year in wellness meetings, reading wellness emails, filling out forms, etc, at an average wage of $20/hour, the cost is $1.6 million.)
8. The cost of following-up on false positives from asymptomatic employees going to doctors for ill-advised tests. This one is not uncommon. (I’ve personally witnessed people who’ve had false positives on wellness exams and spent thousands of plan dollars just to explore false positives. The largest one cost a shade less than $70,000 to get an all clear. If you want to know the true cost of a wellness program, this impact can’t be ignored.)

Further, wellness vendors claim improvements in productivity, but most say the gains cannot be measured. That is a fallacy. Vendors need only look at a client’s wages as a percentage of sales (with a few minor adjustments). If that ratio is not declining, employee productivity is not improving.

For an excellent discussion on failures of wellness productivity claims click here.

The same principles apply to value on investment (VOI) claims, as well. Click here for an excellent review of what some call the VOI scam.

This post may be flogging a dead horse. So be it.

Strategy: Now Is Not a Good Time…

  • The founder and CEO of an early-stage company that has just closed a solid seed round tells me that what has benefited his business most in the past year, and allowed him to pivot toward a promising future, can be expressed in one word: focus.
  • The CEO of a late-stage startup who spent more than 100 days closing a recent round with an important new investor tells me how he was thoroughly “beaten up” during due diligence because of what was perceived to be a lack of clarity in the company’s market positioning. This added weeks to the process, diverting resources away from sales and daily operations.
  • The CEO of a B2B content start-up tells me that he and his team are doing too many things and essentially careening from one new idea to the next, acknowledges the need to prioritize but indicates he has to get through his short-term list first.

Each of these conversations is recent and real – they all occurred in the past two weeks. And while they happen to be about young, relatively small companies, each of these situations scales to big, mature companies, as well. If the issue isn’t about closing a round of funding, it’s about getting funding in the annual budget. If it’s not about investor feedback, it’s about reacting to the latest round of input from the CFO or the board. And who among us hasn’t bemoaned the quarter-to-quarter focus of publicly held companies of every size and sector?

Each of these stories points to the need every business has for strategy. And even if you think you don’t have one, or can coast along without one, guess again – you just have strategy by default.

What is strategy? Better yet, what isn’t it?

Strategy is NOT:

  • The domain of high-priced (or any price) consultants who create fancy documents – although some outside perspective or facilitation can be a big help
  • The catch-all for anything your team comes up with that survives the budget review process even though it cannot be precisely quantified (I have witnessed respected members of the finance function inside a Fortune 100 company be fully comfortable with this characterization)
  • The department in which geeky, analytic introverts perceived as unable to execute (hence they create more of those strategy documents) build their careers
  • Optional, something to be dealt with later, maybe when you have more time (tell me when, honestly, that will be?)
  • A list of strategic initiatives…or a set of PowerPoint slides full of cool visuals

So, then, what is strategy?

  • Strategy, quite frankly, is what leaders do to identify and allocate resources to help them get their businesses where they want them to go.
  • Strategy is mostly about execution.
  • Strategy is less about what you must do, than what you should not be doing.

Or, my favorite definition:

  • Strategy is about knowing (1) where are you? — (2) where do you want to be? — (3) how are you going to get there?

There are both direct and opportunity costs of deferring answers to these three questions, and ultimately taking the actions that ensure every employee and partner can buy into and play their roles in ways that reflect the answers.

Where to start:

  • Write down what you envision at your “point of arrival.” What is it going to look like and feel like? What will respected colleagues and members of the sector be saying about your company when you reach your destination? What will your products, customer or client experience and customer service be like? What will your brand represent?
  • Then write the story of where you are today, answering these same sorts of questions in the present.
  • Spend most of your effort breaking apart the answer to “how” into three to five headlines.
  • Now here is the toughest part: The temptation will be to build laundry lists of activities under each headline, or even just rearrange (and add to!) what you are already doing today. The successful outcome of this thought process is to surface things you would like to do (including things that are already underway) that you have to admit play at best a limited role in getting you where you want to be. And to cross them off the list and actually stop doing them.

What I am suggesting is not a one-and-done exercise. It’s not a solo activity. And while it may begin at an offsite or work session, it’s not a meeting. This is a process to reflect in your daily leadership, management and the culture of your company. This is how strategy becomes meaningful to creating sustainable and persistent growth.

This article also appears in Amy Radin’s column in Huffington Post and her LinkedIn blog.