Archive for the ‘Communications Strategy’ Category

The Transformation Strategy Model

April 15th

There is value in creating a model to understand the interactive dynamics of the elements of transformation. In a time of rising and falling fortunes, the growing stakeholder activism is going to create major communications challenges.  The model helps anticipate the forces of the changing system dynamics.

The strategic transformation model was created overnight in 2002 when the final editor in a series of publishing stages ask for a change in an article that I was going to publish in the Harvard Business Review. The initial proposal had been to discuss lessons learned in the effort to transform the US Postal Service. I was leaving my position as Vice President for Strategic Planning at the Postal Service to return to my private sector management consulting career.

The article was ultimately named (by the Harvard Business Review)”When a Turnaround Stalls”. I learned the hard lesson that you don’t necessarily get to put a title on your own article and there are many, even most readers, for whom the title is the most important part and sometimes the only thing that they read.

My personal view was very supportive of the senior management of the Postal Service that I continue to believe does an extraordinary job just to make the complex, difficult machine work as well as it does. Every night the service moves almost a half a billion pieces of mail and many local postal workers would literally be buried in the mail if they didn’t make the machines work in the night. But when I tried to get a final anecdote into the article, Word came back from the editors “Does he understand the phrase pandering?” and I found out who was running the show.

But in fact, the transformation of the Postal Service, at one point in 2000 referred to as the turnaround story of the nineties, had stalled.  While chairing a hearing on how to perform in the spring of 2001, seven or Fred Thompson set man exclaimed “Okay I get it the taxes in the ditch, big time”

Given the setting, lessons learned seem to be agreed to far and we headed them out of the draft. But with 24 hours to go to the publishing deadline, the final editor came back and wanted lessons learned. I wrote them in an hour, Although I had written them before over the period of months and we have been debating for transformation for six years you’re in

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 1.27.46 PMPostal transformation inevitably followed a pattern that has been shaped by dozens of American icons in business that have had wholesale change in the years following the Internet Revolution and other traumatic turning points of recent years.

The enterprise comes to recognize that it must change.  Alternative innovations that would redefine the future are considered.  A balance must be struck between the vision of the future and the traditional enterprise.

In the Strategic Transformation model above each of these three perspectives are captured and noted. In coming posts we will explore the dynamics of transformational change.



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Your Personal Brand

April 15th

You need to be ready with your own concept of your personal brand because it anchors your mission.  In the modern market, where everyone can be their own publisher, no one will have time to wait for you to think it up; nor can you sustain authenticity if you shoot from the hip and aim haphazardly. 

I learned the hard way.

We were at the high-end British Columbia ski resort, Whistler, at a conference on the global postal industry. In retrospect, I should have been more appreciative of my surroundings. This was living large. But at the time it just seemed as though it was a nice dinner at another economics conference.

Some friends and colleagues and I got up to leave to go back to the hotel. Others were going to move to the bar.  Suddenly a colleague from Swiss Post for whom I have great respect looked up and said,

“Are you leaving? We haven’t gotten a chance to talk this week.  Tell me, what’s your brand?”

I must’ve looked puzzled.

“…So that I can tell others about what you’re doing these days,” he explained. It didn’t help. I didn’t have an elevator pitch about my brand.

Of course I knew what he was talking about. At Harvard Business School the marketing professors used to talk about brand management as one of the great breakthrough management innovations that has come from the American marketplace.  And when I was at Market Opinion Research, we used to talk about the rise of new brands, especially in political policy analysis.

And I knew the concept of having a personal brand.  I remember Tom Peters (of In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters, Robert Waterman. 1982) talking about personal brands and personal mission statements in the 1980s.  But the point was that here I was being asked for my brand and this was probably exactly the setting and exactly the questioner that I would have chosen to illustrate the need to have a personal brand.

The Triumvirate

The Eiger, the Monk and the Jungfrau


 Not only was this  a respected colleague, an executive with Swiss Post, but he was also collaborating in setting up a Center on Innovation in Lausanne.  You could not have picked a questioner who would have been closer to the heart of my work and interests.

I have watched as the concept of personal branding has moved from the self help section of the book store to a central concept among the leadership books in the on-line book store.  In these times, there is a practical necessity to communicating with brands, a concept that’s not far from SEO (search engine optimization).  But even more importantly, if you are going to communicate in symbols, you need to connect the short hand to your moral compass or you will consign yourself to living in the froth.

For me, the symbol of the Eiger the Monk and the Jungfrau anchors the recognition that my work on the growing activism of the stakeholders and their constituencies was in fact illustrating an emerging dynamic that will be especially important to future leaders of transformation.

Figure 1 The Transformation Model

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 11.43.12 AM

It’s important to see that in the successful, thriving enterprise,  points of Strategic Inflection will be replaced by the innovation that is traced by a second curve.

But the constituencies are going to have significantly different agendas on the upslope and on the down slope.

Leaders have spent their careers learning how to advance with one set of assumptions and then, one day, while colleagues and forecasters are telling them that the change is not really coming, it does.

In the transformational setting, there will be a need to rethink the givens.   Far smoother transformations will come for those who can anticipate the way that expectations and priorities will change as growth is replaced by decline and then replaced again by new growth.


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The Creative Balance

February 14th






Only in rare cases can a transformation strategy assume that it is being created from scratch. What is more common is a situation where there is an ongoing enterprise. The traditional business model may even have been highly successful even though the time for transformational change may have been evolving for some time.

The basic strategic initiatives are not likely to be a great surprise. They most likely involve new strategies for reducing costs and increasing revenue. (For colleges this has often meant going beyond cutting perks and even staff. And new revenue has been sought through new special programs.) But these strategies are rarely achieved without pain. On the other hand, reducing the cost line through improved productivity, new technology or through innovation or new revenue sources will hold the promise of a smoother transition to the new state. This much is generally well known.

What will be increasingly important to future transformations will be the need to find a creative balance between the innovators and the traditionalists. With rising activism in the stakeholder constituencies everywhere, the balance point is most likely going to be difficult to calculate without engaging the stakeholders. (Even if the president realizes the ship is sinking, you can’t assume that every stakeholder just wants to save their position and maintain status quo.) To learn where everyone is, the most effective approach will be to democratize the enterprise and grant the stakeholders roles in strategy formulation, ones that they will most likely seize for themselves in any case.

➢ Do you have the key transformation initiatives in your sight?

➢ Will they be difficult to balance between the traditionalists and the innovators?

➢ Do you know who the interested stakeholders will be? Are you including them in the process of shaping the future?

Democratize the enterprise to find the creative balance point and secure the transformation strategy on a solid foundation of trust.


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Authentic Leadership

September 21st

In the new age of interactive communications one of the most significant implications that will be seen in coming years will be growing pressure on the leaders of organizations to present their authentic selves to the organizations that they lead.  Whether this will mean the CEO, the President of the United States or a division manager, the executive self will be on display in a fishbowl.  Just as HR recruiters will be checking Google on their applicants to compare statements that they are making on their applications with their Facebook pages, so too will employees be checking their leaders.

One of the sins of the modern 24/7 news culture is hypocracy.  These Google checks are going to be important because they will impact the effectiveness of the leader.  In an age in which everyone can have a blog, every employee is Woodward or Bernstein.  For the CEO to present a false or at least hypocritical statement  is likely to ignite the appetite of the blogosphere and lead to more trouble down the road.

The implication of this modern phenomenon is unlikely to be comfortable for leaders.  But there is tangible value in candor.

One of the most famous examples of leaders who demonstrated his candor and his authenticity was seen in the well known Commencement Speech that Steve Jobs delivered at Stamford University in 2005.  He started by explaining that he was going to tell 3 stories and keep it simple.

His first story would have been embarrassing in any celebration of graduation.  He started by explaining how he came to be a college drop out.  For an extended period after he dropped out of Reed College, he floated, staying there at Reed and auditing courses.  “And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on”

His advice was to follow your gut, to do what you love and have faith that this process will bring you to something valuable. You may not know at first why something is valuable to you .

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

Having begun by explaining that he had been an orphan and a college drop out, he went on to describe how he created Apple and then was fired.  Having to leave Apple, he said, was like love lost.

“I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over. I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

His third story about himself had to do with hearing that he had been diagnosed with cancer.  Recognizing that we are all on a path to the end of our lives, he said, offers the blessing of confirming how little time we have.  “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

Indeed, for Steve Jobs, recognizing his mortality confirmed his intense personal focus.

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

What worked for Steve may not work for everyone.  But there is no question that his case is notable for its candor.

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How Will You Measure Your Life?

September 15th

Professor Clayton Christiansen of Harvard Business School virtually created a mini industry with his books and articles and media following the success of his book, The Innovators Dilemma. He may not have anticipated that he would have another powerful impact nearly a decade later when he wrote blog posts, an article and then a book entitled how will you measure your life? In both cases is timing was extraordinary.

As a professor at Harvard Business School, Christiansen was interested in the question why do successful managers, those who do all the right things and listen to their customers, run into trouble and often move from success to failure in changing markets?

What his research showed was that listening to your customers may be a virtue in normal times but in competitive technology driven industries it often leads to the fallacy of continuing to improve a traditional product by investing in sustaining technologies while competitors may be investing in nurturing disruptive alternatives. His insights lead the iconic technology pioneer and head of Intel, Andrew Grove to radically alter his direction. The head of GE wrote about disrupting himself.

Christiansen had a message for the leaders of big, complex organizations like Intel and GE at a time when technology was forcing them to rethink their fundamental directions. His strategies offered a pathway to those who saw the need for innovation and investing in disruptive futures but who faced all of the normal resistance from traditionalists.

But interestingly, his second message a decade later that everyone needed to think about how they were going to measure their lives came at an equally powerful time. Just as technology revolution stress tested the best management teams in the late 90s, a decade later, the world had begun to recognize that organizations had ceased to maintain their patterns of lifetime employment and individuals were far less loyal to careers in one enterprise – even the seeming lifetime employment of places like the Postal Service began to seem far less secure.

If success would not be defined by ascending the corporate, or law firm ladder, Individuals needed to revisit the traditional ways in which success would be measured. Christensen was speaking to many who were beginning to explore the existential uncertainties of such a marketplace.

Christianson teaches a course on innovation at the Harvard business school. In his last class, after studying models of successful entrepreneurs, he turns the focus around and asks the class to consider how they will measure themselves. In his articles, he tells several poignant personal stories about how his values and his professional and personal life have interacted at key points in his life.

He tells the story of having to miss the last basketball game of the tournament well he was a Rhodes Scholar and playing basketball at Oxford. He had made a personal commitment to his faith and the game had been scheduled for a Sunday. By refusing to play on Sunday he was clearly letting his team down and yet to this day he believes that his decision not to play (his conscience was eased when the team won without him) was one of the most important of his life. He had committed to the importance of standing by principle.

Later, as a Professor and increasingly famous business writer, he was invited by Andrew Grove to come and present his thinking at Intel. Grove said:

Look, stuff has happened. We have only 10 minutes for you. Tell us what your model of disruption means for Intel.” I said that I couldn’t—that I needed a full 30 minutes to explain the model, because only with it as context would any comments about Intel make sense. Ten minutes into my explanation, Grove interrupted: “Look, I’ve got your model. Just tell us what it means for Intel.”

Christiansen writes

I’ve thought about that a million times since. If I had been suckered into telling Andy Grove what he should think about the microprocessor business, I’d have been killed. But instead of telling him what to think, I taught him how to think—and then he reached what I felt was the correct decision on his own.

This experience that grew from standing by his principles was a defining moment for him in which he came to recognize that his personal capacity to have an impact in the world would be through teaching and influencing others to through his insights bringing them to act on their own.

What has become interesting to me in studying change settings has been the importance of clarity in the leadership message. The new media has created a 360 degree perspective on leaders. Apart from the way that Christensen’s question touches on the core insecurities of changing times, it also serves as a challenge to future leaders to define their personal leadership statement and to sustain it in the face of challenge.

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The American Post: Where From Here

August 3rd

“It’s time to rethink the mission and meaning of the United States Postal Service. The old model is breaking, if not broken.Kansas City Star Editorial

With these simple words the Kansas City Star took on the issue of the future of the Postal Service.
The point that has been lost in many conversations about the future of the Postal Service – and there have been many in the past 2 decades – is that the basic business model of the USPS is not working any more. The postal reform debate has focused on pensions and retirement costs (we will get to that). But the issue of first principles is

  • How will the postal business model be sustained in a world in which customers are choosing to communicate differently?

The question facing the USPS – that is currently urgently imploring Congress to address the issue of a pending multi-billion dollar payment that it cannot make – is simply how can future revenues exceed future expenses? Without an answer to this, there is no sustainable business model and someday soon there won’t be a Post Office unless something changes.

The debate over arcane pension and retiree health benefit topics is about whether the law should be changed to reduce the expenses that the USPS is required to pay. The costs are simply too high.

The discussion over regulation, monopoly, universal service and a host of questions that economists like to discuss is all about what rules should guide the generation of revenue? The revenues are too low.

Television ads from the American Postal Workers Union say that no taxes support the USPS, only stamp revenues. There are three reasons why they are presenting a misleading picture. First, the Postal Service receives “implicit subsidies” as Congressman Darrell Issa points out. The Federal Trade Commission recently detailed the way in which the USPS has advantages that a private competitors do not enjoy. (And, to be fair, it has unique burdens too.) Second, the USPS does actually receive appropriation support, although it is admittedly in the form of “reimbursement” as apposed to classic “appropriations”, and in permissions to charge customers. But most importantly, the USPS is running in the red. It’s losing more than $8 billion and stamp revenues are not going to pay for all of the current costs.

So the post office and Congress are going to have to do something because stamp revenues are not enough to afford the labor costs and the current infrastructure. This is why the Kansas City Star is right on target.

The business model is broken and must be fixed. But to do this, America is going to have to face difficult choices about the mission of an institution that is historically at the core of our culture and our economy – but not so much any more.

The law says that the mission of the Postal Service is to “bind the nation together with the correspondence of the people”.

But in an age of electronic communication and social networks its reasonable to ask whether this is a mission that it can fulfill. (Whether it should extend its reach with electronic services like secure email is another question. But the law would have to be changed to permit it to do so. This was put out of reach in 2006, just as the recession and the electronic invoicing and bill payment was about to hit.)

So what should Congress do? Change the business model or change the mission? Something is going to have to give. In an electronic age in which America’s oldest communications infrastructure is now prevented by law from offering electronic services it is not possible to be “businesslike”, to sustain the old ways of doing business, and to bind the nation together – something is going to have to give.

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The Social Journey

February 8th

In a recent Harvard Business Review Press blog on social media “Kenneth Cole’s social media lesson”, Alexandra Samuel relates the story of a marketer placing a “hash tag” #Cairo on a twitter message about the spring line. The Caution is a valuable one because she talks about something that’s very important and not often noted, for understandable reasons.

For the purpose of leveling the playing field and including anyone who has not yet started using Twitter, the hash tag is a way of labeling a comment so that it fits into a theme. As Alexandra Samuel points out.

Marketers need to recognize that a social media presence is not a billboard: it’s not an empty space that you can buy and slap your message on. When you engage in a social media campaign, you’re joining a conversation — or in Cole’s case, crashing a party to which you have not been invited.

She offers some useful analogies,

Imagine walking into a cocktail party, pushing yourself into a knot of people talking about their Christmas plans, and abruptly changing the subject to SUV models. Or more accurately, imagine walking into an AA meeting, and interrupting someone’s recovery story with an announcement about your upcoming sofa sale. Or worse yet, imagine joining the AA group, spending three months pretending to be an alcoholic, and then pitching the rest of your group on your Amway products. Classy, right?

But in a boundaryless world you almost have to feel sorry for those who blunder over the line. After all when does the personal versus professional versus citizen persona begin and end?

If the tweet is coming from someone waiting in a busy line at the local Whole Foods its going to appear to be just the same as if it came from someone sitting at a desk or in a Congressional hearing. So of course people blunder. Who wouldn’t?

And there is William Hurt’s great line in Broadcast News when he confronts Holly Hunter in the Baltimore Airport while she is destroying their planned trip to the Caribbean and their relationship over his ethical lapse. Where is line he demands? “they keep moving the sucker.”

Not that Kenneth Cole should not have known. But its an interesting road sign on our current path.

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