RADIANCE BLOG

Category: Strategy & Tactics

Who’s coming to your next meeting? Flame throwers, feral cats and posers

We all know that anxiety and stress can bring out the worst in people. They go to extremes in behavior as they attempt to navigate unknowns and exacerbating risks.  An inability to cope leads to three behaviors.

  • The flame thrower – this person may initially show up as the conversation dominator who simply must have the last word. What if this person is in fact a bully, or maybe worse? The flame thrower is the person who torches people and ideas they perceive as threatening to their preferred role and view of the world. They make incendiary comments, attempting to belittle, berate or anger those in roles of positional power. Rather than view the strengths and talents in others they prefer puffery and falling on the sword.
  • The feral cat – in the blink of an eye this person will lash out with claws and fangs. You never even saw the paw sweep through the air towards you. They appear like an average cat, perhaps with a bit of a different manner, but wowza, who would have thought they could pounce like that? After they harm they tend to slink away.
  • The poser – hey, let’s go along to get along. Why take a risk – and share an opinion or recommendation – that may rankle someone, especially if there are flame throwers and feral cats in the room. This person is a survivor. They appear to be a team player but you can’t assume true buy-in or cooperation.

What do all three of these people have in common? Self-preservation. Regrettably these behaviors and habits run counter to creativity, collaboration, and change. It’s difficult to have a meaningful design session when group members are committed to a scorched earth policy.

Who is showing up at your meetings?


Moving from customers to patrons

One of the most important drivers of long-term success for nonprofit organizations is having a solid financial model.  It’s often one of the primarily areas of focus when Corona assists organizations in the development of a strategic plan.  Typically, some combination of unearned income (such as grants or donations) and earned income (such as goods or services that people pay for) will yield the most stable foundation on which a nonprofit can thrive.

It is easy to be envious of nonprofits that derive significant portions of their revenue from earned income, but we at Corona have recently worked with a number of organizations that have found themselves on shaky ground because they almost went too far and lost sight of opportunities to generate broader support for their mission because their earned income programs were so successful.

When it comes down to it, the problem is when nonprofits think of their constituents as customers rather than patrons.  Just to emphasize the difference as we see it:

  • Customer – A person who purchases goods or services from another.
  • Patron – A person who supports with money, gifts, efforts, or endorsement an artist, writer, museum, cause, charity, institution, special event, or the like.

The problem with this is simply that nonprofit organizations exist to fulfill a mission, and simply selling tickets (or cookies) should be the means to that end – not the end itself.  Consider these issues that we at Corona have observed among some of our clients recently:

  • One organization relied heavily on ticket sales to support their organization. However, focusing on that audience over the long-term resulted in an overreliance on a certain demographic (generally, older individuals), so no new programs were developed to reach younger, more diverse, audiences.  Declining attendance resulted in drastic changes being necessary just to sustain the organization.
  • A recent survey of one of Corona’s clients’ “patron” database revealed that only around one in four had ever actually made a donation to the organization. What’s more, fewer than half of such patrons had ever interacted with the organization beyond attending a concert.  This indicates that many such patrons were really nothing more than customers; they enjoyed the events put on by the organization, but they didn’t truly understand why the organization exists.

Again, earned income isn’t a bad thing and, in fact, is a vital piece of many nonprofits’ funding models.  However, nonprofit leaders should be careful not to become over-reliant on earned income to the point that telling people about the organization’s mission and impact isn’t necessary.  Don’t miss out on key opportunities to convert simple customers, who could go away simply due to cultural changes or increased competition, to patrons, who truly believe in your organization’s mission and will support you through the tough times.


Welcome to the consumer era: When engagement drives change

It’s inescapable. Every day I see more and more examples of it. Consumer behavior is at the core of sweeping industry change. Too often we get caught up in thinking about technology as the disruptor and forget that people are at the heart of the transformations all around us. Here are four examples from this past week:

  • Sears. J.C. Penney. Bebe. Macy’s. Target. Kohl’s. Neiman Marcus. And that’s just for starters. The epic decline of department stores and apparel-focused retail is linked to Amazon’s domination of the online marketplace. At the heart of that change? Consumers who expect something more – and something different. Increasingly, consumers are saying no to the traditional retailer and shopping mall. What do they demand? Convenience, cost and a user-defined experience.
  • Who would have thought that consumer choice would lead colleges to guarantee that their degree will get you a job – and a job with a decent salary? As college students – and their parents – increasingly question the return on investment given staggering student loan debt, higher ed is having to respond creatively to compete for students. Both educator and student take on the risk – and reap the reward.
  • Decades of tradition are on the chopping block as movie studios  plan to release films to online platforms mere weeks after release to theaters. As reported in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, movie companies have experienced declining home entertainment revenues for 2 years straight and global box-office growth has also been slowing. In a quest to increase revenues they are looking to meet consumers where they are – in the comfort of their home on a tablet, pc or tv.
  • And lastly. Bruce Springsteen. We are experiencing the beginning of the end of rock and roll as we’ve known it. Boomer rock stars became global corporations in the days when record companies invested in them like R&D. That era is over. The concert business is bifurcating into festivals and small venues as consumers expect more intimate and novel experiences. No longer satisfied with paying high prices for poor sound quality and a miniscule view of the band, consumers are pursuing other entertainment options. Today’s young stars will build careers in an entirely new era. Welcome to Me, Inc. rock and roll style.

Each of these stories has a common denominator – consumers demand the experience on their terms. They define the where, when, how and how much. These changes are sweeping and have only begun. The question now is, who is next?

What will this mean for other industries and sectors?


From engaging to capturing – rethinking business models that stick

As a strategist, I’m frequently looking over the horizon to see what’s next. At other times, you’ll see me scanning side-to-side looking for forces that may be coming together in new or unexpected ways.

Sometimes hindsight puts much of it into perspective.

Looking back at 2008 it occurs me that I was well ahead of the curve when I designed Corona’s Synergistic Business Model. At the time I noticed that nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver and companies like New Belgium Brewery – both former Corona clients I may add – had integrated engagement deep into their respective business models. Each realized that fostering loyalty, connection and contribution required a long-lasting approach to relationships.

They were smartly ahead of the curve.

Since then engagement has become top-of-mind for organizations. The old transactional approaches simply don’t hit the mark when people are searching for meaningful relationships and ways to make a difference.

Perhaps engagement isn’t enough.

We need to enmesh relationships into our business models.

  • How are we using online communication channels to fully engage donors before, during and after a fundraising event? What is the immediate call-to-action waiting for them when they get home? Have we thanked them (enough)?
  • What will define the patron experience from the first email message to the thank you note?
  • How will volunteer love for us be returned in 3 months? 5 months? 1 year?
  • Have we thought about the ways that a board member could entrap that new neighbor or business colleague into adopting our cause as their own?

Maybe it’s time to:

Lure

Ensnare

Capture

Hold onto

We need to activate our language if we want to activate our relationships.

 


Does This Survey Make Sense?

It’s pretty common for Corona to combine qualitative and quantitative research in a lot of our projects.  We will often use qualitative work to inform what we need to ask about in qualitative phases of the research, or use qualitative research to better understand the nuances of what we learned in the quantitative phase.  But did you know that we can also use qualitative research to help design quantitative research instruments through something called cognitive testing?

The process of cognitive testing is actually pretty simple, and we treat it a lot like a one-on-one interview.  To start, we recruit a random sample of participants who would fit the target demographic for the survey.  Then, we meet with the participants one-on-one and have them go through the process of taking the survey.  We then walk through the survey with them and ask specific follow-up questions to learn how they are interpreting the questions and find out if there is anything confusing or unclear about the questions.

In a nutshell, the purpose of cognitive testing is to understand how respondents interpret survey questions and to ultimately write better survey questions.  Cognitive testing can be an effective tool for any survey, but is particularly important for surveys on topics that are complicated or controversial, or when the survey is distributed to a wide and diverse audience.  For example, you may learn through cognitive testing that the terminology you use internally to describe your services are not widely used or understood by the community.  In that case, we will need to simplify the language that we are using in the survey.  Or, you may find that the questions you are asking are too specific for most people to know how to answer, in which case the survey may need to ask higher-level questions or include a “Don’t Know” response option on many questions.  It’s also always good to make sure that the survey questions don’t seem leading or biased in any way, particularly when asking about sensitive or controversial topics.

Not only does cognitive testing allow us to write better survey questions, but it can also help with analysis.  If we have an idea of how people are interpreting our questions, we have a deeper level of understanding of what the survey results mean.  Of course, our goal is to always provide our clients with the most meaningful insights possible, and cognitive testing is just one of the many ways we work to deliver on that promise.


Strategy in an era of unpredictability

The strategic planning process that is used by many today was created decades ago during a more predictable time. By nature, the process is based on an underlying assumption, namely that changes and trends in the external environment can be predicted with some certainty.

So, what about changes that can’t be predicted? Or are unprecedented in our lifetime?  We only have to look to our smart phones for a glimpse into the near future. As a recent piece by the World Economic Forum noted, we are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and what many refer to as the Digital Revolution.

This one is a game changer my friends.

 “There are three reasons why today’s transformations represent not merely a prolongation of the Third Industrial Revolution but rather the arrival of a Fourth and distinct one: velocity, scope, and systems impact. The speed of current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.”

How to set strategy now?

  1. Drop the SWOT – this tool is out of date and too often focuses on naval gazing instead of a true assessment of the strategic environment.
  2. Create a sense of urgency – too many organizations plod rather than sprint. Our decision making processes are too slow or cumbersome. We don’t have agreement on the big issues (mission, vision, values and strategy) and so we can’t (or don’t) really empower people to act. And act we must.
  3. Fast twitch for the win – I don’t see enough evidence of agility either. Develop your fast twitching muscles as you’re going to need them.
  4. Think map app – today’s map app alerts you in real-time to the best route. Your strategic plan should do the same.

Remember, strategy is a choice. It focuses attention, resources and commitment.

And strategy isn’t static.

Got your latest app downloaded?


Shhhhhhhh!! Did you know there are three secrets to strategic success?

I’m often asked, “How can we ensure our strategic plan doesn’t sit on a shelf?” The question typically arises as executives and boards consider how best to approach the planning process – and which consultant can facilitate a successful outcome.

By its very nature, a strategic planning process raises expectations and anxiety. And no plan is worth the investment if it sits on a shelf.

While the question is spot-on, it’s being asked of the wrong person. The next time I find that question directed at me I think I’ll pull the small mirror out of my purse as I say, “What a great question. It’s simple really. Success actually begins with you. You’ll need three things: committed leadership, access to resources and accountability for results. I can help you get there, but you’ve got to keep the dust off the plan.”

Strategic success is as easy as 1, 2, 3.Wanna know a secret? Strategic success is as easy as…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Making improvements through A/B testing

This one or that oneThis one or that oneDid you know that when you visit Amazon.com the homepage you see may be different than the one someone else sees, even beyond the normal personalized recommendations? It’s been widely reported how Amazon is continually tweaking their homepage by running experiments, or A/B tests (sometimes referred to as split tests), to tease out what makes a meaningful impact on sales. Should this button be here or there? Does this call to action work?

For some research questions, asking people their opinion yields significant insight. For others, people just cannot give you an accurate answer. Would you be more likely to open an email with a question as a subject line or with a bold statement? You don’t really know until you try.

So, how does this work? In essence, you’re running experiments, and with any scientific experiment, you will want your control group (e.g., you don’t change anything) and your experiment group (e.g., the one you’re altering a variable with). Ideally, you randomize people into each so you don’t inadvertently influence your results by how people were selected.

So now, you have two groups. While you may want to test several items, it is easiest to test one item at a time (and run multiple experiments to test each subsequent item). This will help you isolate the impact of your change – change too many things and you won’t know what made the difference or whether if some changes were working against each other.

Finally, launch the tests and measure what happens. Did open rates differ between the two? Did engagement increase? Differences aren’t always dramatic, but even a slight change at scale can have significant impact. For instance, if we increase response on a survey by 2%, that could mean 100 additional responses for essentially no additional cost. If the change costs money – for instance one marketing piece costs more than the other – then a cost benefit analysis will need to be performed. Sure, “B” performed better, but better enough to cover the additional expense of doing it?

A few final quick tips: A/B testing is an ongoing endeavor. Maximum learning will occur over time by running many experiments. Remember, things change, so running even the same experiment over and over can still yield new insights. Finally, you don’t always have to split your groups in half. If you have 2,000 customers, you don’t need to split them into two groups of 1,000. Peeling off just 500 for an experiment may be enough and lower the chance of adverse effects.

Ok, enough with the theoretical. How does this work in real-life?

Take our own company as an example. Corona engages in A/B testing, both for our clients and our own internal learnings. For instance, we may tweak survey invites, incentive options, or other variables to gauge impact on response rates. Through such tests we’ve teased out the ideal placement for the link to the survey within an email, from whom such requests should come from, and many other seemingly insignificant variables (though they are anything but insignificant).

How about your organization? Let’s say you’re a nonprofit, since many of our clients are in the nonprofit sector. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • eNewsletters. Most newsletter platforms have the ability to do A/B testing. Test subject lines, content, colors, everything. Test days and send times.
  • Website. Depending on your platform, this may be easy or more difficult. Test appeals, images, and donate call to actions.
  • Ad testing. Facebook ads, Google ads, etc. Most platforms allow you make tweaks to continually optimize your performance.
  • Mailings. Alter your mailing to change the appeal, call to action, images, or even form of the mailing (e.g., letter vs. postcard).
  • Programming. In addition to marketing and communications, even your services could possibly be tested. What service delivery model works best? Creates the biggest change?

What other ideas would you want to test?


Where are we now? The new next era nonprofit

I spent the other afternoon sitting around a large table chatting with professionals from across the sector about leadership, and the competencies that an effective leader will need in 2025. As we were chatting about today’s realities – and the social, political, technical and economic factors affecting nonprofits – it struck me that we’ve been here before. Or at least I have. Where’s that you may ask? Contemplating the “next era” of the sector.

Nonprofit While our social consciousness is slow to evolve and too slow to change (think social equity and gender identity) we are witnessing change in the form of driver-less cars, “smart” cities, neuroscience, and the record number of Americans not in the workforce. Those topics weren’t showing up on my Facebook feed five years ago. Back then we weren’t contemplating car-free micro-apartments in Denver either.

What else is on the nonprofit leader’s to-do list today? Six recurring topics with new twists.

  1. $ – Figure out what impact investing really is and whether or not we can do it. I know you are secretly wondering if this really is a game changer or simply a spin on the same old, same old. It’s a game changer.
  2. Inclusiveness – Learn how we can create inclusive and accessible organizations that welcome and engage diverse people. We can’t keep kicking this can down the road.
  3. Innovation – Explore the edges of our work, seeking new ideas from unexpected places leveraging tools like design thinking.
  4. Mission impact – Admit to ourselves that we don’t really understand our customers or how to positively impact their lives in a meaningful way and that we may need to toss out some of our favorites.
  5. Engagement – Realize that too often we treat people transactionally. We think of them in buckets – volunteers, Facebook followers, donors, etc. We haven’t optimized our business models to cultivate engagement. Check out my Synergistic Business ModelTM if you’d like to learn more about this all-to-often ignored cornerstone of the nonprofit business model.
  6. Sustainability – Fess up that our business models aren’t really sustainable and that we need thoughtful, committed and generous people to stand by us for the next few years while we invest in figuring things out – or, more bravely, exit the market and let someone new and fresh bring 2025 solutions to the marketplace.

There are no bright, defining lines between the sectors, only smudges that get fainter every time we step on them. Younger generations could care less about your tax status. They want to know you are authentic, relevant, impactful and efficient. They expect you to do good. Period. Gen Y and the boomers are learning from them.

What competencies will a nonprofit leader likely need in 2025? My list begins with “intelligence” and the courage to explore, experiment and collaborate. Higher education is looking at multi-disciplinary learning. Perhaps nonprofits need to consider busting their silo’ed approaches too.

What’s on your list?

2025 will be here before we know it. Are you ready?


Reluctance: the antithesis of leadership

All too often strategic success is stymied by reluctant leadership. Reluctance can be seen in behaviors small and large. In essence it’s a failure to act. That action may be as simple as stepping up to fill a gap. Those small misses create a culture of excuses, shrugged shoulders, and not heeding the call for help. It leads to a false sense of comfort.

At the strategic level, reluctance is manifest in the inability to make decisions or its opposite – going along with a poor decision rather than speaking up and calling the question. Flip sides of the same coin, both result in missteps, poor investments, missed opportunities and a culture of excuses. But hey, we still feel comfy don’t we?

There’s the old saying that if you want something bad enough you’ll stare fear in the face to achieve it. Leadership requires both courage and the ability to face discomfort for the larger good. This is especially true when facing hard truths and ensuring decisions are truly strategic.

As you prepare for 2016, ask yourself, “If not me, then who?”

Let your answer be “yes.”