Jim Sutton

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Developing Brand Ambassadors

Many of us have heard the idea that “everybody sells”. In today’s competitive environment this notion is more polished and is more apt to be expressed as the development of brand ambassadors. While there is a formal definition that revolves around proactive use of a celebrity to help market products and services, there is also a significant awareness and movement to make everybody within a company more of a brand ambassador.

Performance-minded companies are recognizing that employees are the big obvious source of brand ambassadors, and are implementing programs to nurture them.  And of course this leads to consideration for the relevant characteristics of the people that are hired into the company. A most simple and direct way of analyzing peoples’ aptitude for becoming brand ambassadors is to assess them in terms of motivation, relationships, and work style.  These personal characteristics can indicate whether the candidates appreciate the idea and whether they would support it. This is important to cultivate because in turn, brand ambassadors help provide a company path to optimization, customer engagement, and employee engagement.

Motivation is the desire or driving force to do things. Is there alignment between the values of the individual and those of the company? Is there a strong enough response or stance to suggest that the person will have the will to do things that support the stakeholders? From motivation there should be a discernible link to pride.

Relationships are derived from social actions and social behaviors that give meaning. These actions/behaviors are directed toward the society or social structure your business represents. Does the person get off on the right foot with people and suggest an ability to maintain meaningful dialogue? From relationships there should be a discernible link to lasting impressions.

Work style is determined by what a person can do, what he/she prefers to do, and how it gets done. Is the person overtly collaborative, or does she/he work better alone? How might the person handle tradeoffs of quality and time? From work style there should be a discernible link to perfectionism.

BPM Status and Learnings

Business process management (BPM) has not yet matured enough to be promoting best-practices or featuring large clear success stories. Still, BPM holds huge promise. It shows no signs of going away and process pundits are giving it increasingly serious consideration.  In general, the status is hopeful or that it might be starting to stabilize and mature. Companies with significant process challenges should stay closely tuned.

BPM has a lingering identity issue. Most business performance topics fall predominantly into one of the elements of the people-process-technology frame of reference, but BPM is all over. BPM has process in its name, but more than most topics, it resists clean classification.  Maybe that’s the nature of BPM as a relatively new topic, and this contributes to the identity issue because it sometimes tends to look like all things to all people.

Learnings:

  1. BPM does not absolve a business from needing to have a solid process discipline. The fundamental questions of process ownership and challenges of crossing organizational boundaries become more visible and still have to be addressed. Without enlightened leadership, BPM (or really any change initiative) might not even start, or the results will be constrained. This is tied to the concerns for BPM’s cultural fit, and how an adoption program should be approached. Certainly there are many implications behind process ownership, but the more telling or insightful question might be who owns the BPM adoption program.
  2. BPM requires extraordinarily robust communications to manage all the process content.  Here implied is one of the reasons business people don’t really want to manage capture of the processes. But neither can it be left solely to IT following the BPMN software-definition language. (BPMN is rigorous but too technical for most). Communications is a prime example of where business-IT fusion is needed to get down to the reality of work flow between desks and machines, handling exceptions, and gaining team understanding and agreement.  Delivering on communications is necessary and good, but beware the tendency some have shown to think of BPM as “just a documentation tool”.
  3. BPM needs to be interrelated with businesses’ core improvement/change initiatives.  In the end, just as it is with fundamental process discipline, it comes down to quality-oriented fundamentals and practices to address variability and handle never ending change. Here it is suggested to promote pro-activity and flexibility with eyes open because BPM will not be neutral with regard to lean, six sigma/DFSS, agile software development practices, the business model at large, the basic quest for innovation, promotion of desired cultural characteristics, performance metrics, other reference models, etc.
  4. BPM requires dedication of skilled people that can represent and facilitate the business and strategy.  While everybody needs to know how they support and tie to the strategy, this takes on important deeper dimension for those who are core to BPM.  Certainly these are people that can be instrumental and leading and entrusted with regard to points 1, 2 and 3 above, while simultaneously having  solid appreciation for the IT implications.

A holistic view of BPM suggests it should be a clear reliable path for keeping strategy aligned with the design and support structure of the business. However, BPM now needs to get beyond the old impasse, where C-level executives aren’t seeing the level and surety of results to invest, while results aren’t being achieved because the investment isn’t there.  To achieve the potential, there will need to be better ownership of BPM by the people running the business.  And this probably won’t happen without acknowledgement that things haven’t worked or need to work substantially better.

While there is some uber logic to the ordering of these learnings/observations/opinions, it seems most practical to start with assuring the right people.  In other words, points 1, 2, and 3 will require a core set of people to get meaningfully started. If you are committed and starting or if you simply want to do the diligence, you can hardly go wrong by retaining the right BPM-skilled/aware people since they will always be a tremendous resource.

Agile Application of User Stories

User stories are a powerful way to enable requirements that are at once understandable by both the user community and the people who will develop the IT systems. They can be a powerful tool for the analyst to build that elusive bridge between the business and IT. At once user stories have to be supported by the business user community, and directly enable IT people to develop associated code, architecture, and/or integrations.

User stories are important, and to get the most from them, it is helpful to recognize the inter-relationship of user roles to the desired capabilities to the targeted system features. It is helpful to recognize the connection and interplay between these Agile constructs.  userstoryThe more complex the business challenge, the more important and helpful it is to start the development of user stories with this agile context in mind.  There will probably not be a concise and consistent alignment across them at first, but it is suggested (for the sake of value, productivity, etc.), that it should be developed in the background by the analyst. On a practical basis, the alignment is strengthened iteratively (you will experience a productive give-and-take across them), so keep this context in mind all along the way. In the end this simple structure will have helped everybody.

Innovation Leads to Vitality

There is a direct positive relationship between innovation and business vitality. Some businesses are so vital they are not worried about innovation – these are the lucky ones that basically are innovation – they personify it – they are smoking hot. But this is not how it is for most companies. And smoking hot innovation won’t necessarily last forever. Innovation is vital to business concerns, and it merits monitoring and nurturing.

Don’t get lost in the question of ‘what is innovation?’ By nature, there will always be some uniqueness in your company-specific definition. This is the case even though in the commercial world, innovation typically emanates from the people who define and deliver those products or services with irresistible, overpowering, or completely new characteristics – they’re there with the next big thing. Secondarily yet importantly, innovation can come in the form of the ways that winning products and services are developed and delivered. And exceptional leadership has a way of making it all go better faster – in fact, charismatic leaders can play a huge role in fostering innovation. Most simply, innovation is something that brings significant positive change to your customer, however you get that done.

Sometimes innovation gets proactive attention but much of the time it is left in the background until someone sees that whatever innovation they had is drying up, or the business actually starts to falter. Innovation is another of those situations where it can pay to be proactive.

Here’s an important underlying point: innovation is not a proxy for formal product planning. While they can be healthily related, innovation is more art while product planning is more science. You can have product planning in the marketing or pure product sense and never achieve innovation. If you achieve and sustain innovation then product planning probably takes on a different tenor.

One way to get started with innovation is to ensure that it is encouraged and easy to bring forward, and that it is able to be recognized within the company. This needs to be deliberate yet not demonstrate “red tape”. And it has to be more than lip service somewhere along the way – the acceptance and reinforcement of innovation needs to infused and persistent within the culture. Herein lies the source of innovation; it’s in the trust and confidence of your best and brightest people.

And you have to be open minded. Things that were tried and previously didn’t work might now be viable and valuable. Value is a lot of what it’s all about – there’s a direct relationship between the highest innovation and the highest value. Business models are being tuned to actively nurture innovation, because innovation leads to business vitality.

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