Thursday, May 28, 2020

Change Your Paradigm

Guest post from Luis Pedroza:

Don’t be complacent. Always challenge your assumptions, especially when entering a new market or consumer segment. History is filled with examples of successful brands that became too complacent and then obsolete. Underwood, Kodak, Walkman, Blackberry, Vertu, and Blockbuster are just some of the brands that now cease to be relevant.

It’s well accepted that you can extend the product lifecycle of a brand and return to growth through innovation. Innovation expands usage occasions and helps reach new users, but remember, humans like to take shortcuts. We all create heuristics for solving problems and systems for managing existing businesses. We love to drive on autopilot, but all these shortcuts form a lens through which we view our worlds.  

Constant Change
The problem is, our world is continually evolving and changing, and when the environment changes, we need to take the time to reframe our perspectives to correctly identify new opportunities. We need to do this, especially when entering a new market.

Reframe your Perspective
I once worked for an American brand that believed it had a leading market share in Asia. Viewing the business through that lens, led to a specific strategy. When I helped the company realize that they were competing in a much broader category that included many other brands, their approach and plans changed accordingly. By merely viewing the business from a new perspective, the company was able to unlock double-digit growth for many years to follow.

Validate your Assumptions
Unfortunately, changing your paradigm can be difficult for some people. In general, people don’t like to change. So, I developed a list of questions I try to answer whenever I enter a new market. My goal is to gain a fresh perspective on the environment. First, I list out all the significant assumptions I am making that underpin how businesses operate. Then, I try to validate those assumptions to judge their accuracy.   

1) The Target – Who are your target users, and what needs does your product solve for them? Do consumers in the new market have the same needs?
2) Market Size – How many target users are there in your new market, and what percentage of them will buy your brand? What is the potential size of the prize?
3) Competitive Environment – Who are your direct and indirect competitors? Are there barriers to entry? What attributes and benefits do they compete on?
4) Consumer Purchasing Power – Do your target consumers have enough money to purchase your product the way it is currently designed? Realistically, how often can they afford repeat purchases?
5) Pricing – Should you position your brand as a premium or everyday product? Is the price per use aligned to the average income level?
6) Demographics – Is the target population growing or in decline? Do factors like age or ethnicity play a role in shaping consumer needs?
7) Category Lifecycle -- Is the category lifecycle at a different stage of development? If so, how will this affect communication and the appeal of your product’s benefits? 8) Value Chain – How will your product get distributed to the end-user? Who are the key stakeholders involved, and what are their expectations?

It’s all in your Mind
What I love about reframing your perspective is how inexpensive it is to implement. At least initially, you won’t have to invest in new assets or technology. You just have to force your mind to start thinking in a new way. Albert Einstein said it best, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

Luis Pedroza is a global brand builder and author of LEAN BRANDS: Catch Customers, Drive Growth & Stand Out In All Markets. He has held leadership positions with iconic global brands and has worked in many international markets. For more information visit

Thursday, May 21, 2020

How Leaders Can Fix a Negative Company Culture

Guest post from Chris Dyer:

When company culture fails, it’s usually on one of two planes: the work environment has gone rotten, or the way in which work is transacted has deteriorated. The two realms are linked, though, so once one aspect has been infected with negativity, the other one may well catch the disease.

Business leaders have two choices. We can build or rebuild culture from the ground up. Or we can address the most glaring symptoms first and make improvements from there. If you’re already suffering from an adverse cultural situation, here are some quick ways to regain control and turn things around.

Supportive Atmosphere

The purpose of workplace culture is to support employees in their quest to do their best. And culture is not “out there.” It comes from the top. Leaders should be directly involved with untangling workplace snarls. If your environment is not supportive—or doesn’t feel that way to your staff—you may need to take one of these steps:

Say yes instead of no. Negative responses are often the default when a boss wants to maintain power, or a direct report wants to avoid hassles. Instead of automatically denying requests for a raise or flex time, for instance, let your first instinct be to agree ... with strings attached. Condition the perk on something you want from the employee, such as reaching certain objectives or adding skills that increase their expertise.

If it’s managers or staff who tend to reject requests or new policies, take some time to set firm boundaries and expectations: We expect you to accept new assignments, protocols, or crunch-time duties. Create consequences for noncompliance. And add incentives for going with the flow or above and beyond typical demands.

Bridge divides with team bonding. Harmful gossip and hostile cliques can’t take hold when your workforce feels like a team. If those problems already exist, go all out to remind your people that you all bat for the same side. First, make sure that you and your top leadership don’t indulge in backstabbing or blame games.

Then, use transparency and other trust-building measures to bring everyone together. If you are transparent about the company’s financials, for example, every staff member will understand how their actions affect the organization’s viability—and, by extension, everyone’s job security. Make sure your employees know each other professionally, by sharing individuals’ roles and goals, and socially, by including ice-breakers in meetings or company get-togethers.

Recognize routine and extraordinary efforts. They don’t call work “the daily grind” for no reason. A little acknowledgement goes a long way toward showing your people that you appreciate all they do. From personal gifts to annual bonuses, gestures reinforce thank-yous and demonstrate sincerity.

It’s important for leaders to acknowledge performance in front of coworkers, and it’s a good idea to let employees broadcast their kudos to their peers as well. You might hold an award ceremony, or reserve meeting time to name names. In my company, we designed a special emoji that staff can use in company-wide chats to thank someone who helped out or saved a big client.

Unrestricted Work Flow

If we ask employees about pet peeves, a top choice will be that leaders make it more difficult to do their work. Sometimes this is a control issue; sometimes just poor planning. Removing the obstacles to accomplishing daily goals and solving problems—and giving employees the leeway to make their own decisions—turns this negative into a positive.

Ask for feedforward, not just feedback. Whether you’re setting new policies or monitoring the status quo, ask your people for their opinions frequently. Don’t limit questions to past activities. Go all out and ask what would make it easier to do their work—then act on it.

In your usual project debriefing sessions, take what you learn and apply it to the future. Pair off and have team members ask each other what they need from one another going forward. This is a way to unite teams and get an instant dose of positivity.

Redefine problem solving. Break the cycle of putting out fires by treating trouble as a learning opportunity. Use positive approaches such as appreciative inquiry, which identifies what works when parts of initiatives fail, and which uses brainstorming and strategic planning to arrive at an ideal solution.

It also helps to get out in front of a crisis by proactively setting up alternative paths before things go wrong. It’s much easier to envision plans B and C without a deadline or domino effect clouding your judgment. Include this tactic in project team meetings and larger management planning sessions.

Hire to innovate. Business and HR leaders can cover all the bases by keeping innovation in mind as they select new hires. It may feel good to have a homogeneous staff, but this stifles innovation. To avoid forced consensus, take generational and background diversity in job candidates into account.

A staff of mixed ages and personal backgrounds brings with it a healthy mix of viewpoints. Different thinking styles strike more sparks, providing more and better ideas to help face challenges and improve workflow. Broad diversity also discourages clique-forming by a majority group, actually strengthening the bonds of your teams.

Even as you address the negative aspects of your company culture, you are entering a positive zone of opportunity. As a business leader, follow the golden rule to restore or enrich your organization’s work environment: model the behavior you want to see, and then remove any obstacles toward achieving it. Good culture will follow.

Author Bio

Leadership speaker Chris Dyer is a recognized performance and company culture expert, as well as Founder and CEO of PeopleG2, a leading background check company. He has channeled what he has learned in his business and research into his best-selling book, The Power of Company Culture (Kogan Page, 2018). Chris is also the host of TalentTalk on OC Talk Radio and iHeartRadio and speaks at events around the world on company culture, remote workforces and employee engagement. He is a regular contributor to Forbes, Inc.,, the Society for Human Resources Management and many more business publications.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Brands, Leadership and the Climate Crisis

Guest post from Sean Pillot de Chenecey:

Innovation, on which any organisation is so reliant, is about to become more dynamic and challenging than ever.

Whilst hyper-relevance, ultra-personalisation, collaboration, ethics and sustainability are the crucial foundations of success; those tasked with creating that innovation are now faced with the challenge of the environmental crisis. This meaning that society and business alike are confronted with an existential dilemma.

It’s one that has, in the majority of cases, effectively been ignored. That dilemma has in fact become a ‘climate and biodiversity emergency’.

Indeed, and as we heard at the World Economic Forum, the risks that the environmental-crisis poses to business have moved from ‘potentially problematic’ to ‘potentially catastrophic’.

Major action is needed, with businesses in every industry, including the ever-widening area of innovation, having crucial roles to play.

So, the catalytic times we live in have profound implications for businesses and organisations of all varieties. Indeed, the Governor of the Bank of England, memorably declared a few months ago that “firms ignoring the climate crisis will go bankrupt”.

In the context of my new book, Influencers & Revolutionaries, the issues concerned have been epitomised by Greta Thunberg’s call for systematic change in her speeches at the UN, and via the global protests organised by the Extinction Rebellion movement. XR use nonviolent resistance to protest against climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.

Meanwhile, despite the warning of an array of respected public figures, backed up with solid scientific evidence, it’s been staggering to observe many in the mainstream media, and the upper echelons of “yesterday’s businesses” still attempt to dismiss XR. However, it was interesting to see The FT, an early mover in understanding the movement, noting that “the word ‘extinction’ in their title isn’t just referring to plants, insects and animals. It means us.” * Green 2019

From a business-futures perspective, and standing at odds with “yesterday’s organisations and yesterday’s leaders” it's fascinating to observe how modern management theory has shifted away from the one apparently set in stone by the economist Milton Friedman, for whom the responsibility of business was purely to increase its profits.

We now see leading businesses around the world having a very different overall ‘accountable capitalism’ stance, with the ‘purpose of business’ being viewed as one that has improving society as a central aim. That is a hugely important shift, and these modernised principles reflect a very different business world than that inhabited by Mr Friedman. 

This is where, for instance, the building of trust by brand’s evidencing their ongoing actions, are of such importance. (They relate to what I termed ‘reputation capital’ in my first book ‘The Post-Truth Business’ regarding whether a brand is ‘trustworthy, reliable and competent’).

In the context of the climate crisis, the issue of why we should trust ‘the organisation behind the brand’ regarding their environmental credentials, is vital. For companies that are seen, by their behaviour, to be meeting the challenges set by the climate emergency in an effective manner; then on purely consumer-engagement and brand differentiation levels, this will enable them to achieve greater business success.

Which is where ‘real purpose’ as opposed to often vague notions of ‘brand purpose’ are highlighted by those like Extinction Rebellion.

A well-known industry saying has it that the most successful companies achieve their ongoing success by preparing for change, rather than simply attempting to adapt to that change when it appears. And movements like Extinction Rebellion have clearly acted as the ‘canary in the coalmine’ in an array of critical contexts.

The responses must be a transformation of the way in which businesses are led, strategies are developed, products are created, and of the overall approaches to be taken as we move towards a circular and more ethical economy.

In each case, creative thinking and collaborative approaches help to illuminate the way forward, and will help to ensure that, as the saying goes, ‘good business is good business’.

Sean Pillot de Chenecey has over 20 years’ experience as a brand expert, combining marketing consultancy with ethnographic activity and trend research around the world. His new book is INFLUENCERS & REVOLUTIONARIES: How Innovative Trailblazers, Trends & Catalysts Are Transforming Business.For more information, please visit:

Thursday, May 7, 2020

4 Questions to Ask to Select the Best Executive Search Firm

Guest post from Atta Tarki and Gustav Brown :
Selecting the right executive search firm can be almost as difficult as finding the right candidate for the job. As insiders in the recruiting world, our friends have often asked us to help them select a hiring vendor when we were not the right partner for them. By and large they’ve been surprised to see how differently we evaluate their potential executive search partners than they would.
The problem is: many hiring managers just don’t know how to evaluate external recruiters. Here are a few common pitfalls we’ve observed and a few questions you can ask to make a more informed decision.
The Common Approach – and Why it Doesn’t Really Work
When evaluating external recruiters, most hiring managers start by asking: “how many placements have you made in our industry?” The assumption here is that an agency that gets what you do will be more likely to find someone who fits your needs.
On the surface, this makes a lot of sense. If the agency has worked in your industry, presumably they understand what companies like yours value. They should have a network in place and a positive reputation among potential candidates. But it’s not as good a question as it seems on first glance.
First, the roles (or needs) of those previous searches may have been significantly different from yours. Put it this way: just because an agency placed a technical Project Manager at a software company doesn’t mean they can find the right Chief Financial Officer or Director of Marketing in the same industry. In many cases, placements by function or title are a better predictor of recruiter’s ability to understand your needs than by industry.
Second, what you are trying to understand is how repeatable their success rate is. How often does their process end up with clients hiring someone they are happy with? The firm might have relied on their rolodex to place a CFO  in New York City, but this doesn’t mean they can do the same and find you a candidate in Chicago.
This is why it’s important that you take a look under the hood and try to understand how they intend to find you a great candidate.
A Better Approach – Understanding How your External Recruiter Works
In the old days, external recruiters kept their methods opaque; their main bragging point was the size of their rolodex. Don’t get us wrong, the rolodex approach used to be valuable, because it used to be extremely difficult and time consuming to find people with the right skillset. After all, this information in most cases was confidential or difficult to access. But access to candidate data through LinkedIn and other platforms, as well as advances in the use of data analytics, have transformed the game.
Building off of these digital revolutions, the best recruiters have transformed their value proposition. These recruiters rely less on their own rolodexes, and instead create value by helping hiring managers understand how they can structure a search to increase their chances of success. These recruiters also use repeatable methods for finding candidates, engaging with them and evaluating them. And finally, savvy recruiters will help hiring managers stay on top of the hiring process and create a positive candidate experience – which increases the likelihood that desired candidates will accept an offer. 
In this context, HR managers have unprecedented options - but also, potentially, unprecedented insight into how recruiters do business. The choices may seem dizzying at times, but if you ask the right questions, you can make a more informed decision than ever before.  
4 Questions to Ask to Select the Right External Recruiter
1. What resources are they dedicating to your search?
The first question you want to ask a recruiter is how much of their time you are getting. Some search firms will fully dedicate a recruiter to your search. Others will split a recruiter’s time across 6-12 searches. This is obviously cost effective to the search firm, but comes at a cost in what they can deliver. We’ve seen a number of recruiting firms dance around requests from clients trying to understand how much of the recruiters’ time is dedicated to their search. These recruiters will say things like “it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality” or “we know everyone in this space, so it won’t take us long to source these profiles.” What makes these statements powerful is that there is some level of truth in them. However, in the end of the day if someone is splitting their time across too many searches, either the number of candidates they reach will drop or the quality of the profiles they source will decline. Either way, you are worse off.
As a company that has a database with over 100,000 management consulting resumes, we know that it’s not just about pulling up a list and mass-blasting them all with an email. Each recruitment search will require a customized approach that can only be achieved if your recruiter is dedicating enough of their time to you.
So ask your recruiter: “how many searches are you (or the person you are staffing on my search) running?” and “For how long do I have X% of your recruiter’s time on the search?” While it’s normal for senior level recruiters to split their time on a few searches, you want a significant amount of one of the team members’ time to be dedicated to your search.
2. Are they a valuable thought partner?
The role of the recruiter in talent acquisition has changed in a similar way as that of a good medical doctor. Both professions previously often used a black box approach and their advice was taken at face value. Now, a good doctor will inform you about your choices and give you the pros and cons of each choice. Patients can then make an informed decision that’s right for them.
Similarly, a good recruiter will help hiring managers understand what the expected outcome of various recruiting strategies are – but let hiring managers choose the strategy that’s right for them. Of course, you can still get lucky and find a great candidate by following a less viable strategy. However, as in any other field, you want to make the decision that is most likely to produce the desired result.   
This is why it’s important that you select a recruiter that can be a valuable thought partner to your talent acquisition strategy. Does this recruiter understand your needs? If so, can they help you (a) define the role mandate and (b) understand how that mandate translates to the skills and traits you want in a candidate? From here, you can ascertain whether this translates to a clear search profile.
3. How are they sourcing and engaging talent?
You aren’t hiring an external recruiter just to come up with strategy, but to help you execute on strategy. How do they plan to do that - will their recruiting team search for this profile systematically and thoroughly in a scalable way, or do they employ a “black box” approach? If you ask a recruiter how they find and engage candidates, and they respond with “we know everyone in that industry,” you’ll do yourself a favor by politely thanking them for their time and keep looking for another recruiter.
The black box approach can work sometimes, but it’s extremely hard to evaluate effectiveness if there’s no clear hiring methods. You can’t understand what has gone wrong when things don’t work out, and you can’t replicate success when they do.
As a general rule, transparent and replicable models are extremely valuable. That way, if you don't get immediate results, you can collaborate to understand what went wrong and how to expand the search strategy going forward. 

For example, ask how are they sourcing – from a pre-defined “rolodex” of vetted contacts or systematically across a broad pool of candidates that fit the agreed-upon search profile? How many candidates can you expect them to source in a given week? How are they engaging with the talent and what conversion rates can you expect, i.e., how many of the candidates they reach out to typically express interest in the role?
4. Can the agency help you predict on-the-job success?
The hardest thing to do in recruiting is predict on-the-job success, but a good external recruiter can help you do so with much more accuracy. The questions you need to ask are: how do they plan to do so, and are they capable of delivering on that promise? How do they help you screen candidates in a more transparent way?
Again, you want your recruiter to help you understand their recruiting method so that if you were to follow the same process and ask the same questions, you’d come to the same conclusion as them. Screening questions should have a clear right and a wrong answer.
Watch out for recruiters who don’t use a standardized approach to screening candidates or who tell you “there is no right or wrong answer” to their interview questions. These recruiters screen candidates using “I’ll know it when I see it” type intuition. You want to listen to their advice as much as you want to listen to the advice of a doctor who just relies on their intuition as opposed to trying to follow an evidence-based approach.  
There’s no silver bullet when it comes to choosing an external recruiter. On the one hand, even the best, most carefully chosen firms sometimes fail to find the right candidate for their clients. Meanwhile, fly-by-night operations can sometimes get lucky – as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day. But by asking the right questions and making informed selections, you can greatly improve the chances of a hire – ultimately driving value for your company.

About the Authors:

Atta Tarki is the founder and CEO of ECA Partners, a 120 person data-driven project staffing and executive search firm, and the author of upcoming book Evidence-Based Recruiting (McGraw Hill, February 2020). Prior to starting ECA Partners, Atta spent 6 years as a management consultant at L.E.K. Consulting.
Gustav Brown is an Engagement Manager with ECA Partners, where he helps private equity, consumer goods and entertainment companies identify and fulfil their talent needs. Prior to ECA Partners, Gustav was a Fellow with the National University of Singapore's Asia Research Institute - where his work focused on the hiring practices and community outreach protocols of international NGOs. Gustav received his PhD in Sociology from UCLA.