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Your reputation is in the details.

May 30, 2017
by Chris Ward

 

It’s a Saturday morning in January, and you’ve just returned home from a trip to the market. The phone’s ringing as you walk in the door. It’s one of your best friends wondering if you’re free for dinner that night. As it happens, you are. So the conversation turns to where you might go. If you live in a large urban area, there are literally dozens of possibilities. The world is your oyster, so to speak. So how do you decide? 

There are some obvious criteria that can help narrow the field. You’ve heard great things about a new restaurant that’s opened not far from where you live. But you’ve also heard that it’s expensive, which doesn't sit too well with your much-depleted, post-holiday pocketbook. Your friend is salivating over some particularly cheesy Italian food. Unfortunately your main New Year’s resolution is all about dropping 15 pounds. So that’s a non-starter. 

Building your reputation the ‘no problem’ way!

You continue on down the list until one of you says something like, “Hey. I’ve heard good things about that new restaurant on Main Street.” You’ve heard something about it as well, so you ask your friend what he’s heard. As it turns out, another friend had been there for lunch and was really impressed with the wait staff and the general attitude. This friend had ordered something that wasn’t on the menu, half expecting to find the kitchen unwilling to accommodate her request. So when the very pleasant server said, “No problem!” the restaurant’s evolving reputation got a real boost. 

And that’s the point – reputations really are in the details. 

There are plenty of good restaurants in a city like Toronto, New York or Boston. Many have nice decor, savvy service, good food, and a decent wine list. Assume these are the chips any restaurant has to ante up to make it onto the ‘under consideration’ list. What makes one restaurant stand out from others are the little things – not being charged for a dish that wasn’t to your liking, a fancy dessert compliments of the chef, or a resounding ”no problem.” 

The lesson for any business is simple.

Certain attributes – in the case of a restaurant, quality, service, decor – are taken for granted. But small, often unexpected, experiences are the stuff of which great reputations are made. And which, over time, mean the difference between a good reputation and a great one


Chris Ward is a Principal with StrategicRetreats and founder of Riverhorse Strategic Advisors. Over the past 20 years he has facilitated dozens of meetings, workshops and retreats and conducted more than 1,000 key informant interviews for organizations of all types and sizes. An expert in strategic planning and branding, he helps clients develop very specific plans to achieve corporate goals and own their space. 

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The Power of One: A Single-Minded Focus Essential to Owning Your Intended Future

May 8, 2017
by Chris Ward

A few years ago, I was invited to speak to a group of business executives gathered to learn more about membership in an organization dedicated to leadership development and business growth.

My talk was entitled The Power of One and I spoke about how every employee, regardless of title or department, has the power to influence what stakeholders think of a business and what it offers.

Since then, I’ve developed an even greater respect for the number “one,” in large part owing to my work in helping clients develop strategies focused on owning their intended, or desired, future.

One plan... one theme or focus

Planning to own an intended future should be a priority for every business organization. A sound planning process will force leaders to be clear about what matters to their stakeholders, and the market position they intend to stake out. As a result they will be better able to offer products and services that satisfy very specific needs... better able to communicate clearly and succinctly what their organization stands for and how their offering will benefit their customers, clients, members, or donors... and better able to fine-tune their policies, systems and processes to support employees in delivering what stakeholders expect. Based on a fundamental understanding of market opportunities and their position, they will be better able to differentiate themselves from their competitors and build their reputation as a go-to provider.

Integration enables focus

From a strategic perspective, it takes an integrated business, brand and marketing strategy to own your intended future. That means a strategy with a single-minded purpose…a strategy with one overarching focus.

A few years ago, I worked with a provincial healthcare association to develop an integrated, three-year strategic plan. Through workshops and surveys, it became apparent that members expected more from the association than they were actually getting. And they were quite clear about what ‘more’ should look like. As a result, the overarching theme, or focus, became ‘member value’, and the plan’s unifying and overarching goal spoke to significantly enhancing the benefits of membership. This goal served as a litmus test for prioritizing strategic initiatives and building the plan.

Strategy benefits from a single unifying theme

Which brings me back to the title of this blog post—The Power of One: A Single-Minded Focus Essential to Owning Your Intended Future. In my experience, many plans come up short because they lack this unifying theme and focus. What about your organization? Have you got a single-minded focus? Have you got a unifying theme that will help you plan initiatives that really matters to your customers or members? Are you capitalizing on The Power of One?


Chris Ward is a Principal with StrategicRetreats and founder of Riverhorse Strategic Advisors. Over the past 20 years he has facilitated dozens of meetings, workshops and retreats and conducted more than 1,000 key informant interviews for organizations of all types and sizes. An expert in strategic planning and branding, he helps clients develop very specific plans to achieve corporate goals and own their space. 

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There's a word for businesses that surprise and delight: Preferred!

January 10, 2017
by Chris Ward

Most of us have go-to providers. People or companies we prefer to do business with. A favourite store, restaurant, taxi company, or advisor, for example. While different businesses will approach this in different ways, there is one thing on which most preferred providers will agree: An ongoing effort to surprise and delight is a big reason that customers keep coming back.

Committing to surprise and delight.

Surprising and delighting customers requires an overwhelming combination of responsiveness, creativity, curiosity, communication, and business acumen to break a buyer’s interest in taking his or her business elsewhere.

To work, it’s a commitment that must be firmly embedded in a business’s DNA. It takes planning and lot of hard work. And it takes a certain attitude… an attitude that starts at the top and cascades down to influence employees who regularly interact with buyers.

Attitude is everything.

Many businesses talk about the need for a can-do attitude. You would think that being responsive to a customer’s complaint, question or concern would be a no brainer. Sadly, many organizations seem to leave decisions around how to respond, how quickly to respond, and the outcome up to employees who feel overworked and underappreciated. And, in many cases, undertrained, under coached and under supervised.

Far from being surprised and delighted, the wrong attitude can leave customers looking for another provider. Here’s a case in point.

What do you mean replacement doesn’t mean replacement!

A colleague purchased a printer at a local store. As printers are known to breakdown, he also purchased a one-year replacement guarantee. Shortly before the year was up, he discovered that the automatic feed wasn’t working. So, it was back to the store for a replacement.

Without getting into detail on what was said and to whom, my colleague discovered that his guarantee only covered the amount of the original selling price, not the cost of a new or replacement machine. Having purchased the original, on sale, for about $140, this meant spending an additional $190 to get his replacement. Ouch!

The dictionary defines replacement as “a person or thing that replaces another.” To my knowledge, no dictionary includes the caveat “along with an additional $190!” Being both confused and annoyed, my colleague asked to speak to the manager who, of course, repeated the store’s policy.

No argument with the policy.

The point is not that the store’s policy is wrong. The policy is the policy. The point is simply the way it was handled and the confusion that it created.

My colleague had no idea that the replacement guarantee was, in reality, more of a money-back guarantee. That wasn’t mentioned when he made the original purchase.

When his confusion was brought to the attention of store staff, he was treated like a wayward child who should know better. Talk about attitude! Had the clerk or manager been even a little sympathetic to my colleague’s situation, any unpleasantness and bad feelings could have been turned into something quite positive.

Without a doubt, this incident contained a healthy dose of surprise. Unfortunately, it’s wasn’t the kind this business was looking for.


Chris Ward is a Principal with StrategicRetreats and founder of Riverhorse Strategic Advisors. Over the past 20 years he has facilitated dozens of meetings, workshops and retreats and conducted more than 1,000 key informant interviews for organizations of all types and sizes. An expert in strategic planning and branding, he helps clients develop very specific plans to achieve corporate goals and own their space. 

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How “outlandish” won the US presidency: The art of being on message.

November 30, 2016
by Chris Ward

The Oxford dictionary defines being ‘on message’ as stating the official party line. I’d like to propose a somewhat different meaning... reaffirming what you stand for in thoughts, words, and deeds. In other words, being true to your value proposition.

This occurred to me when I was watching Morning Joe on MSNBC, a political talk show that I've become addicted to in the last 18 months. Not surprisingly, Donald Trump is almost always one of the show’s major topics. So is the inevitable analysis of how he won.

I don’t want to debate the “how” or “why.” There’s enough of that going on. But I do want to comment on what is behind his win.

Some think he was completely scattered, shooting from the hip with no clear idea of what he was shooting at. That he was out of control, careening from one crisis to another.

I beg to differ.

Trump is always on message. Believe me!

From the very beginning, Mr. Trump has been bombastic, insulting, underhanded, and politically incorrect. His take-no-prisoners approach to debating left his Republican opponents in his dust. His message was and still is:

I’m not like those career politicians. I do and say things that no one else will.  I’m rich and successful which means I am beholden to no one, and will put my talents to work to make your life better. I am the only one who is capable of making your life better. Vote for me and you will see. Believe me!

Or something like that.

Consistency and ubiquity are key.

Every time he takes to the stage, or to social media, he reinforces his message. And he is using Twitter to reach out to his 16+ million followers.

There was never any doubt that he is different… unlike anyone to have ever run for high public office, let alone the Presidency. Even now, just weeks from his inauguration, he is Tweeting about subjects that most Presidents-elect would consider taboo. Like his current rant about illegal voting: “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Twitter, November 27.

Outlandish? Yup! Effective? You bet.

Customers as voters.

It might seem a little strange to think of customers as voters. But when you get right down to it, isn’t that exactly what they are? They don’t vote at the ballot box on election day. They vote at our cash register, perhaps metaphorically, every time they decide to buy, or to pass on, what we’re offering.

If we’re going to win the grand prize ­– a new customer, loan, donor, student, promotion, member, contract, whatever – we’ve got to be just as on message as The Donald.

To be clear, being on message is not just about what you say in print, online, or in some other medium. It’s as much – maybe more – about how you deliver your message. And where you deliver it. In Mr. Trump’s case, the use of unconventional media like Twitter simply reinforces the fact that he is different.

The whole truth and nothing but…

What Mr. Trump has done notwithstanding, getting customers to vote for us is not about saying whatever it takes to win that vote. He has said many things that are, to be charitable, incorrect. In business, if not in politics, truthfulness and realism are fundamentals. Being clear about what we can and will do for anyone who chooses to “vote” for us is an essential. So, too, is being on message – not sometimes or often, but always. 


Chris Ward is a Principal with StrategicRetreats and founder of Riverhorse Strategic Advisors. Over the past 20 years he has facilitated dozens of meetings, workshops and retreats and conducted more than 1,000 key informant interviews for organizations of all types and sizes. An expert in strategic planning and branding, he helps clients develop very specific plans to achieve corporate goals and own their space. 

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Business Strategy: 3 things we can learn from the undisputed king of Bourbons.

November 17, 2016
by Chris Ward

I don’t know about you, but I like the occasional adult beverage. And one of the beverages I really enjoy is good ‘ole Kentucky Bourbon.

Actually, my interest in Bourbon is fairly recent. So, I set out to taste as many different kinds as I could to learn who’s who in the bourbon zoo That’s how I discovered Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

Now, when I say “discovered,” I mean I heard about a bourbon that is virtually impossible to get. As I have learned, only about 7,000 cases are released each year. Compare that to 11 million cases of the ubiquitous Jack Daniel’s. In fact, Pappy is so hard to get that very few would-be aficionados are lucky enough to get a sip, let alone a bottle. All this piqued my curiosity, which led to a little research into what is making Pappy so incredibly popular.

1.     Pappy’s is the real deal.

In the late ‘90s, 20-year-old Pappy received an unheard of 99 rating by the venerable Beverage Tasting Institute. All three Pappy Bourbons (15, 20 and 23 years old) have maintained lofty ratings over the years. All by itself, quality might not be quite enough to catapult a brand to the top of the popularity scale. But getting great reviews certainly can’t hurt.

When you’ve got a top-quality product, the word tends to get around.

2.     There is a great story behind the Pappy brand.

One part of the Pappy Van Winkle story is what happens in the secondary market. Last year, the suggested list price of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon ranged from US$79.99 for the 15-year-old, to US$249.99 for the 23-year-old. According to the BOURBONR Blog, secondary market prices for these two ranged from US$500 to US$1,500 or more (in 2013). Wow! Retailers who are lucky enough to get a few bottles often auction them off, hold a raffle, or make them available only to their best customers. Another anecdote in Pappy’s story.

Everyone loves a good story. In fact, storytelling has become a huge deal in the marketing world. And, when the story is a really good one, as in the case of Pappy, it helps create a subliminal connection with the product.

3.     Not just anyone can have it.

If you've got a very successful product, there is always the temptation to produce as much as the market will absorb. In the high-end, luxury market, that can cause problems in the longer term as the product becomes too readily available and loses that special something. Plus, faced with a seemingly insatiable demand, how many of us would be tempted to raise our price?  Not company president Julian Van Winkle III. Like other Van Winkles before him, his philosophy is unshakeable… make a good product, keep inventories low, and keep demand high.

People want what they can’t have. For Pappy, keeping the quantity low and price increases to a minimum have been conscious strategies. Not only does scarcity add to the brand’s cachet, it protects the business from any drop in demand during hard times.

What about your business?

What separates Pappy from so many other beverages and other products is a rock-solid value proposition. So, the first question to ask yourself is twofold… how relevant is yours and are you doing everything you can to support it?

  • Perhaps scarcity is not the right model for your business, or at least your entire business. But might it play a role in some part of it? Have you used the concept of scarcity to make your customers feel privileged to have worked with you, or owned or used what you’re offering?
  • Have you got a compelling story that makes your business, products or services more interesting – possibly irresistible?
  • Is your quality the stuff of which business legends are made? Are you the real deal? That is, are the claims you make grounded in reality – absolutely supportable?

Big questions. How big are your answers?


Chris Ward is a Principal with StrategicRetreats and founder of Riverhorse Strategic Advisors. Over the past 20 years he has facilitated dozens of meetings, workshops and retreats and conducted more than 1,000 key informant interviews for organizations of all types and sizes. An expert in strategic planning and branding, he helps clients develop very specific plans to achieve corporate goals and own their space. 

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5 Must-Read Leadership and Business Books for 2016

June 8, 2016
by Bob McCulloch

Must-Read Leadership and Business Books

It’s hard to believe that we are approaching the halfway mark of 2016. With Summer just around the corner we thought we would offer a reading list of sorts. The following five books are recent standouts in the leadership and business categories.

So, if you’re wondering which books to pick up, we’ve got you covered. Take a look at our five must-read books for 2016. Here they are in no particular order:

Platform Revolution

By Sangeet Paul Choudary, Marshall W. Van Alstyne, and Geoffrey Parker. A practical guide to the new economy that is transforming the way we live, work, and play. Uber. Airbnb. Amazon. Apple. PayPal. All of these companies disrupted their markets when they launched. Today they are industry leaders. What’s the secret to their success?

Sprint

By Jake Knapp, Josh Zeratsky, and Braden Knowitz. Three Google Ventures partners outline a process for solving tough problems, proven at more than a hundred companies.

Superbosses

By Sydney Finkelstein. How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent. A good boss hits goals and leads his team. A Superboss blows away goals by building an army of new leaders. Which would you rather be?

Originals

By Adam Grant. A Wharton prodigy returns to explain how to challenge the status quo without risking it all. This book examines how people can champion new ideas—and how leaders can fight groupthink.

The Happiness Track

By Emma Seppala. A leading expert on health psychology, well-being, and resilience argues that happiness is the key to fast tracking our professional and personal success.

 

 

 

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3 Must-Haves When Communicating And Executing Major Decisions

June 2, 2016
by Bob McCulloch

During the lifespan of an organization, it’s inevitable that there will be some large decisions, changes and shifts that will occur. In fact, most companies have accepted that change and adaptability are key parts of success.

Despite this awareness, most companies find it a challenge to formulate and execute large-scale change, and few companies manage change as well as they would like to. Most initiatives like shifting technology, restructuring, downsizing or changes to corporate culture have a low success rate, the number floating around is a whopping 70% percent failure rate. Yikes!

Let’s say you have a great strategy mapped out, (in case you don’t, you may want to take a look at our Proven Principles for Developing Strategy.) From here we’d like to highlight three must-haves when communicating and executing major decisions and change:

1. Transparency

It’s crucial to be open and explicit about what is happening. Being transparent and upfront will ensure that the trust of your team isn't hindered in this process.

2. Explanation

Communicate and share the reasons for, and goals of, the decision. The more explanation that your can communicate the better, especially when it comes to goals. This will help unify the direction of the team throught any change.

3. Inclusion

Let your team’s voice be heard, the more this is the case, the greater your team will feel engaged with any new changes and take ownership of any new initiatives.


If you remember these three must-haves when you go to communicate any major decisions involving change within your organization, you'll be setting your team up for a higher success rate right off the bat. Do you have any must-haves that you'd like to share? We'd love to hear from you, tweet us @stratretreats

 

 

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5 Informative Statistics That Will Improve Your Team Collaboration

May 26, 2016
by Chris Ward

5 Informative Statistics That Will Improve Your Team Collaboration

Effective collaboration is an essential part of any high-functioning team, and if you haven’t taken a look at how well your team is performing in this area, it could be affecting your overall performance more than you think.

When a team isn’t communicating or collaborating as well as it could there are some shocking statistics that reveal these areas should be considered more that just a side issue. Do you make successful collaboration and communication a priority?

Here are 5 insightful statistics that might help your team improve collaboration:

1. 96% of execs cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication as the main source or workplace failures. 

2. Your staff spend an average of 74 minutes a week trying to contact customers or colleagues. 

3. 24.5 hours a week are spent writing emails, searching for information and internal collaboration.

4. Poor communication and unsupportive company culture is an employee-retention issue for between of 20%-30% of organizations

5.  39% of employees say people in their organization don't collaborate enough.

Let us know what you think. Is your team operating at it's best in terms of collaboration and communication? We'd love to hear from you, leave a comment below of tweet us at @stratretreats. 

 

 


Chris Ward is a Principal with StrategicRetreats and founder of Riverhorse Strategic Advisors. Over the past 20 years he has facilitated dozens of meetings, workshops and retreats and conducted more than 1,000 key informant interviews for organizations of all types and sizes. An expert in strategic planning and branding, he helps clients develop very specific plans to achieve corporate goals and own their space. 

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Spotlight on Leadership Lessons from The Donald

May 12, 2016
by Chris Ward

Spotlight on Leadership Lessons from The Donald

If you’ve never thought you could learn anything from Donald Trump, think again. Although your political views may not align, there’s no arguing that he has been running on a full tank of high-test strategic thinking. There are some valuable considerations to be made that pertain to what all of us do.

Here are 5 articles that spotlight the leadership insights and lessons we can learn from The Donald:

1. Business Strategy: 5 Things We Can Learn from The Donald

2. Everything We Bash Donald Trump for is Actually What We Seek in Leaders

3. 6 Key Leadership Traits Pope Francis and Donald Trump Share

4. 5 Things Donald Trump Can Teach Us About Leadership

5. The Trump in Every Leader

Let us know what you think. Have you been reminded of any powerful leadership qualities by The Donald? We'd love to hear from you, leave a comment below of tweet us at @stratretreats

 

 

 


Chris Ward is a Principal with StrategicRetreats and founder of Riverhorse Strategic Advisors. Over the past 20 years he has facilitated dozens of meetings, workshops and retreats and conducted more than 1,000 key informant interviews for organizations of all types and sizes. An expert in strategic planning and branding, he helps clients develop very specific plans to achieve corporate goals and own their space. 

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The Power Of Great Questions: Breaking Through The Blah To Get Meeting Results

April 19, 2016
by Chris Ward

ThePower of Great Questions - Strategic Retreats

Fast Company published an article on questions titled: How the Most Successful People Ask Questions that I found interesting and useful to consider. But while the article identified concepts that I agree with, their descriptions and examples were misleading.

I'm a big believer in questions. With questions, there are two sources of power: the question itself, and the way it’s asked. If you can focus on these two things then you are more likely to benefit from the power of questions and really tap into the collective knowledge of your team that already exists, and is waiting to be unleashed.

Fast Company’s article was a bit off-base with the following 4 concepts:

1. There are no stupid questions

There are stupid questions. The “stupidity” however is more often in the execution of the question.

A “stupid” question is introduced without mindfulness and thoughtfulness. They are questions that are annoying to the receiver because they indicate the questioner has not really been listening.

Asking useful questions means that the questioner needs to be thoughtful about what question to ask and how to ask it. For example, the question needs to include reference to what the speaker said, allowing the question to be taken in context. Further, it may be useful to preface the question to ensure it’s not merely taken as a challenge, saying for example, “This is all new to me. Would you go over that again, please? I really want to understand,” and, “I'm curious about what led you to that conclusion.”

2. Distinguish between learner and judger questions

Here’s where I agree with the concept, and not the examples. A learner question is one that is made from a place of genuine curiosity, without an assumption of knowing the answer or assuming there is only one right answer. “Judger” questions have preconceived judgement built in to their delivery.

In the Fast Company article, there were no questions that were truly “judger” questions. All the examples were just “learner” questions framed either positively or negatively. The quoted example of, “Why aren't we winning?” is a legitimate learner question if posed without judgment. A judger question sounds more like, “Why would you even think of doing it that way?” implying that the questioner already has the “right” answer in mind.

An example of moving a judger question into a useful learner question is reframing the phrase from, “What did you do to get us into this mess?” to something like “I’d like to understand this better before our reaching any conclusions. What do you think contributed to our getting into this situation?”

3. End every meeting with a question

Fast company suggests ending every meeting with “something like, ‘Okay, just to be sure I've got the important details…”, which in fact is a statement, not a question. This highlights the fact that the speaker is making a statement about the “important details.” That statement requires the follow-on question, “Did I understand that correctly and fully?” Which leads to an answer, another statement.

While confirming the action at the end of the meeting with at question along the lines of, “Does this make sense to everybody in the room?” is wise to help ensure a common understanding, my preference in really ending the meeting is having the group complete a three-minute “did well/do better” exercise, in which the chair of the meeting poses the question, “What did we do well at this meeting? And what might we do better at our next meeting?” The answers can be written on a flip chart or just shared orally. This allows the people in the meeting – whether that’s two or 20 – to continue to improve their meeting skills.

In that light, every meeting ends with a statement. Without it, it’s not an “end.”

4. Question storming

The purpose of “question storming” is to move people from focusing on the problem, to focusing on questions about the problem. The intent is ultimately to find better questions to ask that lead to better answers.

While I recognize this is a useful exercise, and it is one of many that can be used, question storming can be a highly frustrating way to do this for many participants. The real desired outcome is to enhance divergent thinking, allowing the individuals involved to explore areas they would not have thought of during normal conversation.

There are many tools that allow divergent thinking that are more enjoyable for meeting participants. For some great examples check out Divergent Tools: One-Page Quick Ref from Omnitools.com.

Questions are key, and only when used skillfully.

There is no doubt of the power in great questions. They allow you to build shared understanding and bring out the wealth of knowledge in the room. They can ensure that your meetings turn discussion to action taken with ownership, and produce results. To achieve this, the questions must be asked with skill and intention.

Learn what questions to pose in a business context in this brief article: The Art of Great Questions In Strategic Planning.

What great questions can you ask today?

 

 


Chris Ward is a Principal with StrategicRetreats and founder of Riverhorse Strategic Advisors. Over the past 20 years he has facilitated dozens of meetings, workshops and retreats and conducted more than 1,000 key informant interviews for organizations of all types and sizes. An expert in strategic planning and branding, he helps clients develop very specific plans to achieve corporate goals and own their space. 

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