I’m writing to share a simple tactic that can help drive alignment, communicate a common sense of direction, validate decisions on a daily basis, and even inspire your team. I started thinking about this tactic years ago at Adaptive Path but it came back into focus in a book that I recently read called The Power of Habit Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. I found this book to be a great read and recommend it.
I think this is a good follow up to my last post about leadership and setting expectations as well. So here it is. Picking your north star is really about setting a mid/long-term direction for your company or group. It must meet four basic characteristics:
- You must be able to see it from just about anywhere
- It must stay in the same place
- It must be far enough away that you’re not going to get all the way there anytime soon
- It must be aspirational
An Example From Manufacturing
The first example comes from the book I mentioned above and is based on the story of Paul O’Neill who picked “worker safety” as the north star for Alcoa when he joined the company. Here’s a short excerpt from a Business Week book review:
When Alcoa (AA) introduced Paul O’Neill as its Chief Executive Officer in 1987, investors thought the new boss was pulling a prank on them. Standing on a stage, O’Neill did not speak about increasing market share or earnings forecasts. Instead, he pointed out the nearest emergency exits. “In the unlikely event of a fire or other emergency,” he said, “you should calmly walk out, go down the stairs to the lobby, and leave the building.” O’Neill’s sole focus that day was on how to make a habit of worker safety.
What O’Neill knew was that in the process of eliminating injuries in his factories -which incidentally make aluminium in a process that is not exactly low risk- he would drive many other positive changes. In fact he improved plant efficiency, employee morale, union relations, and the bottom line. This is because his north star had a surrounding constellation of business goals that would also be met if he headed towards it.
An Example From Development
For the past year and a half I’ve been using an application called Asana to manage my team. It’s a simple task management tool comparable to MindJet Tasks, Pivotal Tracker, Trello and others. Though I don’t know if this is an “official” north star, I’ve heard and read that Asana is focused on “speed” …. and I see it represented in their service. When I say “speed” I mean it in a couple of contexts.
In the first case the user experience in Asana is very fast which means that you can enter tasks into the system faster than any other solution I’ve seen. The’ve also made the user experience visually light but information rich which means it’s quick to parse a large amount of information on the screen whether you’re in a browser or their mobile app.
The other context has to do with development. Before starting development on the service the team at Asana created a development framework called Luna which was designed to make product development faster (among other things). And, if you look at the rate of development compared to the size of the team working on Asana it’s pretty impressive how much they’ve built in a short time.
When you orient around a north star it has the potential to impact all aspect of your business from the front-end to the back-end. Again, lots of associated benefits cascade down from a single north star.
Finding your north star may not be easy but it has huge potential for your team because it simplifies the process of validating choices on a daily basis. It also serves as a single guiding principle that every one can align to, communicate about, and celebrate. I think of a north star as being surrounded by a constellation of supporting stars that compliment it. I realize that I’m pushing the metaphor here, but the gravity that holds constellations together tends to look a lot like a unique differentiator.
Asana’s focus on speed has allowed them to make inroads with consumers (Asana has avoided industry specialization). On the other hand, Pivotal Tracker’s focus on Agile has lead to significant traction in the development arena. And, MindJet’s solution with a unique integration to their planning tool is well suited to business management. In short, there is no shortage of north stars to choose from and in addition to all the other benefits I’ve outlined above you’ll get a differentiated product or service.
Can you think of other companies that are aligning around a north star? What are they? is it working? Any skeptics out there?
In this post I’ll share the some video from a panel that I moderated at the recent Oracle Social Summit. My panelists included Calvin Lui, President and Chief Strategy Officer, Unified Social; Sundeep Parsa, Director, Product Management, Oracle; Don Springer, VP, Product Development, Oracle; Tyler Singletary, Director of Integrations, Klout. Some of the questions we’ll consider include:
- Enterprise data systems tend be less “real-time” oriented than social, will this have to change as social data proves more and more valuable to the enterprise?
- Can you give us insight into the half-life of social data?
- Social data -like many data types- is full of vanity metrics, can you shed light on what the truly valuable social data is?
- How do you see social data being used as part of enterprise marketing systems such as advertising platforms and email platforms?
- Some of the first questions that come up around social data involve privacy policies. Can you share your perspective on where privacy is headed and what it will mean for enterprises?
- How do you reconcile user identities across platforms?
- Can you each provide an example of where enterprise data and social data were used to drive business value?
- When we sit at this panel next year what will we be talking about?
- Arguably Oracle’s most successful product is it’s database technology. Can you speak to how this technology is meeting the new demands we’ve discussed?
- What strategies should companies consider to move beyond fan pages to get to that rich profile at the individual level?
I’ve been thinking about “leadership” for a while and I’m finally ready to share some initial thoughts. Let me state up front that I don’t think that leadership can be separated from management …. or, at least, great leaders must be good managers. Now I don’t have an MBA -and most people who do don’t really learn how to lead people as far as I can tell- or any formal management training. I have, however, read more than my share of management books that have been a source of inspiration and experimentation. What I have is years of experience practicing management in an entrepreneurial context that requires leadership.
Leaders Don’t Motivate People
I think that many leaders think that motivating and inspiring their teams is their most important job. I disagree, my experience tells me that people are inherently motivated if you can create a secure and stable working environment with fair compensation and engaging opportunities. Certainly there will be opportunities to motivate but these are no more frequent than the opportunity to celebrate what has been accomplished.
Here’s a great video on the topic of what motivates and drives workers:
Leaders Are Teachers
In the last couple of years I’ve discovered that the number one reason that my team does not produce the results I am looking for is a lack of direction on my part. In short, I have not been descriptive enough about what my desired outcome was. To be clear, I do not want to have to be prescriptive about how to do something because I want my team to be entrepreneurial and I want to create space for innovation. And on top of that, I want to create space for dialogue about the desired outcome. But to get all that I find that you need to start with a very clear description of the outcome you’re looking for.
I found that working with virtual assistants has been an extreme example of this approach. VA’s are not very entrepreneurial in my opinion, but they are VERY good at following precise direction. If something is unclear they simply stop and wait for feedback. After this happens once or twice you quickly learn to think through all the steps and make sure everything is clear. While this works it adds overhead up front and reduces some of the value of outsourcing. In some cases this is unavoidable, but what’s better is to make the goal VERY clear and to let them determine how to satisfy it. Leadership is about transitioning your team from this first approach to the second.
For those interested in learning more about how to be a great teacher, I’d recommend a book that I’m reading called Teach Like A Champion.
Leaders Set Expectations
Where most people think leaders “motivate” I’d propose that they think of “set expectations” instead. This is where the art of leadership comes in from my perspective. If expectations are too high your team will lose it’s drive. If you set the bar too low they’ll lose respect for your guidance and your business will ultimately suffer. That said, in my experience teams -and people for that matter- are typically capable of doing more than they think they can. One technique for working at the upper-end of the sustainable range is to balance expectations within a larger framework.
Imagine that you’ve got two dinner plates with one about two inches larger than the other. If you take the same amount of food and serve it to someone on each of these plates you’ll find that how “full” they feel when done is dependent to some degree on the size of the plate. Eating all the food on an overflowing small plate makes them feel more “full” than eating all the food on a large plate. Same thing with work. As a leader you have an opportunity to frame your expectations in the context of larger business goals. This not only puts a specific expectation in context, it also invests the worker in a goal that is bigger than themselves. In short, they understand the larger vision and feel connected to it.
Lead by Example
I don’t know if leaders are born with relevant tendencies but I do know that we can learn to be better leaders. At some point leaders chose to “lead” a group of people and from that point onward they’ve started to become more qualified to lead. When you lead you get exposed to different experiences and choices. Assuming that you’re capable of learning from the experiences than you’re on your way to becoming a better leader. Sometimes I think that this is all the distinguishes leaders. So, if you’re thinking about how to take on more leadership this is your invitation to make it happen.
The topic of targeting with social data is a constant refrain in my world these days, and I just learned about a use case that’s worth sharing. What makes it stand out is the fact that it’s focused on historical social data. Actually, this was the second time that historical social data came up in the last few months so here’s the story. This summer Disney launched a film which co-starred Whiteney Houston who departed in early 2012. But they saw a unique opportunity to target promotion of the film to the community of people who celebrated Whitney’s life on Twitter in the days following her death.
Rewind the social data back to the days after her death and you’ve got a HUGE audience of people raising their hands saying they LOVE Whitney. Those people are still using social today and if they don’t know about the Disney film they’re about to.
Ok, here’s another use case just for those retailers in my audience. If you haven’t heard of MyBuys they’re a good example of a company looking for annual trends -of course, Oracle supports this kind of thing too- that help with ad and retail optimization. In short, when the holidays approach they start dusting off their cookies, building segments, and targeting personalized content based on how you shopped during the holidays last year. Pretty cool and yet another way to squeeze a bit more bang out of your buck.
This all begs the question, what value will your brand find if it starts rewinding your social data? Is it time to bring back the most engaging posts of 2011? Is it time to suggest a follow up interview with that journalist wrote a positive editorial about your technology last year? Granted, your content strategy team should be all over this already …. but they’re not. They’re all focused too focused on the real-time, right now, and what’s happening next playbook to look in the rear view mirror. Especially considering that no one’s really given them -or told them to use- a rear view mirror for social. And, in reality, this extends beyond social and is just a general reminder that those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it. Following this, retailers should be studying which pages/layouts/products/designs did best last year with their web analytics tool of choice. My suggestion, install your rear view mirror now. It’s a competitive advantage.
Or, maybe I’m just being a little nostalgic as we close out the year Here’s one of my favorite posts from about a year ago … still as pertinent today as back then.
This post is an update to my previous post on personas. I’m circling back to share some example personas that my team developed at Involver. Now that we’re part of Oracle these personas are out of date but they should be helpful as references. In my experience good personas must be developed/evolved iteratively.
I’ve found that it’s useful to print up our personas and hang them on the wall so that you can walk over and review them as you debate some business or design decision. If you do this, I recommend putting up a page that explains what personas are. At Involver it was fun to watch my colleagues and guests to the office read and react to them. Here’s what our explanation poster looked like:
And here is what one of our personas looked like. We developed a handful of these to round out the folks that we designed for or worked with. Remember, these are fictitious characters and are NOT based on specific individuals.
One thing that you may notice about these personas is that they are designed for marketing and sales use. Of course, you can adjust the format to meet your specific needs. Here I call out which collateral is most relevant to each persona along with selling points. If you’ve got other great reference examples please post links in the comments.