Competitive Intelligence – Assessing and exploiting the business landscape

Competitive Intelligence (CI) is a key investment for most of the best business leaders. Instead of making significant business decisions based on intuition or gut, the best business leaders put time and resources towards better understanding the business landscape of opportunities. The benefits of making investments in CI directly correlate with one’s ability to exploit opportunities.

CI can be both internally and externally focused. Many large organizations have so many irons in the fire that few know the full extent of the activities and investments that are underway. By using CI tactics internally, business leaders become more aware of the organization and are able to more effectively navigate internal channels, connecting and sharing resources with other business leaders, and optimizing existing activities and investments.

CI of the external business landscape can be overwhelming. Where does one start? The key to successful CI is focus. Scope creep will kill the best CI efforts. When CI is initiated, the projects need to be clearly defined by objective and by time. CI is only valuable if it informs and facilitates better business decisions, so timely production of CI findings is essential.

Some CI projects may evolve into ‘surveillance’ efforts once business leaders see the initial value of continuing to collect and analyze specific business landscape elements. This is good, but do not assume that all CI projects will lead to ongoing surveillance; some topics are finite. When CI projects shift into surveillance, business leaders should ensure that reporting expectations are established; no one wants activity happening if it is not generating information or knowledge that can be used.

From experience, CI is not rocket science. Yet, not everyone can do good CI. It requires a level of domain expertise then a competency in doing research, aggregating disperse data, and being able to do an analysis to surface the valuable bits and pieces.

NCAA March Madness: Competing at the highest level

It’s NCAA Tournament time, also known as March Madness in the States. Fortunately, my Michigan State Spartans make it the Tourney more times than not.  And, I proudly wear my MSU collegiate gear for the duration. I love the energy, the drama, and the Cinderella teams – Go MSU and Florida Gulf Coast!

The reality is that whenever I watch competitive sports, I see an organization and a team doing whatever it takes to win. Day in and day out. They leave it all out of the court, field, ice, etc*… I could throw out all of the sports analogies, but I think that it’s obvious what I am trying to say. The teams that are showing up for the NCAA Tournament are competing at the highest level possible.

I’ve lived and survived in many different organizations throughout my career. Fortunately, due to my lack of athletic prowess, typical businesses do not physically battle it out on a field or court daily. However, with the sheer number of consistencies between the competitive aspects of sports and business, it’s easy to learn from sports and apply it directly to business.

Like sporting events, business organizations are competing with other businesses. Business leaders have varied resources at their disposal (eg capital, tools, and resources).  Statistics and past performance has a direct impact on which team members are put in the game versus sitting the bench. And, networks and relationships with colleagues positively impact a leader’s ability to navigate towards the goal; drive through the lane and simplify the steps required to get real work done. All of these things have a direct influence on a leaders ability to attract and recruit top talent that would further enhance specific assets and/or fill skill gaps of the team.

To that end, business organizations, like sports teams, should be constantly evaluating if they are competing at the highest level and are aiming to win. The perpetual annual cycles of strategic planning or talent assessment are no longer sufficient to win. Good coaches and business leaders are continuously evaluating and answering the following types of questions:

  • What does winning look like? Are we focused and shooting for the right nets/goal posts? How do we measure and quantify it?
  • Who are we competing against?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Do we have the right talent to play and win against our competitor(s)?
  • What is our team’s readiness level? Who’s playing which position?
  • What type of training needs to be conducted regularly to ensure preparedness to play and win? What type of specialized training needs to be available for unique skills and competencies?
  • What resources are available to care for essential needs of the team (e.g. supervisory staff, assistants, technology (PCs, phones, etc), etc.)?
  • Do we have enough of the right shots on goal to win? (TEASE: this will be a blog post on its own!)
  • Are we winning? If yes = celebrate! If no = why?

An organization’s competitiveness is truly based on the diligence they have in managing the timeliness and effectiveness of the assessments. They can happen in cycles over days, weeks, months, or in milli-seconds. Doing assessments are not about ticking the box and completing a task. Business competitiveness and winning lies in the decisions made and actions taken after each assessment is completed. When organizations commit to being this aware about themselves and others continuously, it truly is a winning proposition and delivers results!

Are you doing these kinds of assessments and evaluations? If so, what strategic questions should I have included?  If you think that you could be doing much more with regards to completing these types of assessments, touch base with us at Lodestone Logic and we will figure out a way to help you out!

 

* I have always been an enthusiastic fan of many different types of sports. However, sometimes my sports references are not always quite right. So, apologies for probably totally biffing and messing up on the sports metaphors and slang included in this blog post.

Attitude Matters

There are many reasons why I love working with the Lodestone Logic team. The primary one is because of their attitude. Working with them is the most amazing experience of my career. We are a startup and the ground is always shifting beneath our feet. Yet, time and time again they jump into the fray and do whatever it takes.

One of our key team members is Jenn Wood. Jenn has been on this journey with me before Lodestone Logic even existed. We met when we were both at a pharmaceutical company working on the launch of an internal platform for employees to use video blogs and presentations to improve collaboration and inter-departmental/affiliate communications. It truly was an ‘against all odds’ type of endeavor, but we did it. As I was transitioning the project to the new owner/sponsor, Jenn said to me that if I ever started my own company, that she’d come work for me. Starting my own company was so far from my mind, that I just thanked her and said something like, “Sure, if that ever happens.” It’s like she could foresee the future!

Fast forward about 2 years. I re-connected with Jenn and reminded her of what she had said before about working for me. Even though she was gainfully employed, she agreed to work a few hours each week doing basic administrative stuff. Much to my surprise, a few months later, she quit her job and picked up more hours with Lodestone Logic.

Jenn never ceases to amaze me. I have lost count of the things that I have asked her to do; the whole gambit from little simple to big complicated tasks. Each time she accepts the challenge and has never been deterred. Even in the midst of craziness, she is able to ebb and flow and still hammers away at whatever is the priority. Her approach and attitude to her work is so refreshing. My biggest conundrum is not swamping her with too many responsibilities.

During today’s Lodestone Logic team meeting we were discussing a new potential opportunity. Jenn throws up her arms yells out, “I’m all in!”

At that moment, I realized that this IS what Lodestone Logic is all about.

Every single one of us are ‘all in’.

Every day we apply our energy, skills, and abilities to transform healthcare and make things happen that others thought were impossible. Our attitude matters; it has a direct effect on how we work with each other and deliver services to our clients.

Now, thanks to Jenn we have motto that truly reflects who we are. And, thanks to our friend and co-conspirator, Michele Steele, we have a fun logo to represent it.

We love being and working with people like ourselves. If you are ‘all in’, reach out and let us know!

The Innovation Conundrum

Corporate America is searching for the single answer that will solve all of its woes with regards to innovation. Yet, there is an obvious internal blind spot when it comes to innovation.

Innovation and innovative assets already exist within these companies, but they are underutilized or untapped for their potential.  The asset is their own employees that are true intrapreneurs.

So, what is an intrapreneur? These are unique employees that have some of the following characteristics. They:

  1. Believe in the mission and cause of the company
  2. Make sense of complex things to develop strategic, yet very concrete ideas that will transform the way that the company is doing its business.
  3. Develop and nurture a robust network – both within the company and outside the company spanning to the direct competitors and other industries and sectors.
  4. Get things done.

There’s no doubt about it, based on these traits, intrapreneurs are management’s dream of the ideal employee. Yet, intrapreneurs are rarely leveraged to help transform the company.

Instead, intrapreneurs are usually recognized as the ‘problem children’ by management (and HR).

Why?

Typically intrapreneurs are the employees are difficult to manage because they have a bigger perspective about the business, which generates ideas, and suggestions about how to do things differently. They push their direct line management to initiate new projects and work that may be in direct conflict with the status quo. They are considered ‘cage rattlers’ and ‘boat rockers’ because sometimes they lack patience and tack. They like to be involved in ‘new’ things; if their direct line management denies their ideas and requests, they will still pursue them through other internal channels. Even though they are being recognized as delivering on the projects for other teams and functions, there are times when intrapreneurs struggle to do their ‘boring’ job responsibilities.

So, instead of intrapreneurs being recognized for their abilities, they are usually ‘coached’ to be like everyone else and do their written job description. If they continue to show their intrapreneur characteristics, the result is demotions, firings, or the decision to leave for another company where their intrapreneurial traits are encouraged and recognized in a positive manner (in many cases, it is to a direct competitor) .

It’s a serious conundrum. Intrapreneurs are the employees that are out on a ledge and are not accepting of the status quo. They are willing to take risks and initiate projects that they believe will create a more promising future for the company. But, because most organizations struggle with innovation and change, the intrapreneurs create internal friction. So, companies and organizations that want to be innovative NEED these employees to do what they do. The challenge is to identify these intrapreneurs, channel their energy, drive for tangible results, and recognize them for the contributions that they make.

As many people know, I wholeheartedly believe that intrapreneurs are the key to true transformation of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. As such, I am an advocated for intrapreneurs and have invested time researching and learning about this particular employee population.

If you want to learn more about the intrapreneur research, findings, and detailed profiles, then check out the e-book, The Business Intrapreneur: Unsung Heroes of Corporate America (http://www.ebookit.com/books/0000001789/The-Business-Intrapreneur-Profiles-of-Unsung-Heroes-of-Corporate-America.html?LLblogpost ), add a comment to this blog post, or send me an email: keilenberg@lodestonelogic.com.

The blinking light and finding ‘me time’

In the world of iPhones, iPads, BlackBerry’s, Droids, and tablet PCs, we are connected like never before. It may be hard to believe that this is coming from me, but I’d argue that the increased connectivity is proving to have diminishing returns.

I am the first to admit that I am a slave to the blinking light. On some devices its red, others either blue or green. But, they all do the same thing – they blink OR don’t blink when there’s a new mail, LinkedIn request, or FaceBook post.

If it’s blinking, I’ve got to check. I want to know what email came in or what new information is out there for me to know about.

Even if my device isn’t blinking, I still have the urge to check. There have been a few instances where the blinker wasn’t blinking and there was some new information available to me, so I still check.  I wouldn’t want to miss out on anything!

The reality is that by being so obsessed with the blinking light and trying to be connected, I am losing  ‘me time’.

What is ‘me time’? It is the time where I stop the obsessive doing of tasks and activities and actually let my brain relax and think. There really is a difference.  The blinking devices lure us in. They make us believe that a quick response to an email or check in on FaceBook is a good use of our time because we can move on to the next task… then, the light blinks again, and again… in my experience, these quick connects turn into a major time suck.

When I am able to put away the blinking devices and find ‘me time’, there’s a direct correlation to increased productivity. ‘Me time’ allows me to re-focus and prioritize on what’s important for me and what I want to achieve, connect the dots and synergize my efforts, and, above all else, re-charge my mental and physical batteries.

I wholeheartedly believe that when I have invested in securing ‘me time’ there has been a direct positive impact on my life and my work.

I discovered ‘me time’ about eight years ago. It wasn’t something that I was looking for, it was forced on to me.  I had a boss that knew that I was a workaholic and never really shut down. So, when I was heading out of the office for a week’s vacation, he essentially threatened me with negative performance management consequences if I checked or responded to email while I was suppose to be out of the office. WHAT? Yes. Truth.

So, for the first time in my career, I shut down. I turned off my device and saw no blinking lights. It was an adjustment, but I discovered “me time”. Without being a slave to the blinking light, I was able to think things through – work relationships, business processes, and ways to alleviate the log-jams and surface solutions. The mental knots in my brain let loose and new insights and opportunities came flooding through. It was amazing.

For those that have never turned off your devices and lived ‘off the grid’ without blinking devices, I’d highly encourage you to try it. You may have to start with just an hour and then build up to more ‘me time’ each week. Also, please know that going cold turkey is always a possibility, but expect to experience connectivity-loss withdrawal symptoms initially. When you limit your connectivity it feels, it’s like you’ve lost an extremity.

‘Me time’ is not just for vacations. Finding ‘me time’ is no different then integrating a workout to your schedule. ‘Me time’ is you investing in you.  Once you do it, you will immediately realize the benefits. Trust me.

 

Disruptive Sparks of Innovation

Today, the en vogue and sexy term in pharma, healthcare, and technology is “disrupt”. Being “disruptive” will definitely help us move from the status quo of inefficient processes, expensive systems, under utilization of analytics to improve the quality of care and ultimately deliver patient outcomes.

But, the reality is that being disruptive means that there is something (eg a project or initiative) pushing against a pre-existing system and causing friction. And, friction causes heat. Heat causes fires. Fires, when uncontrolled, burn down houses and institutions. Just think of the video coverage of wild fires and it is easy to comprehend why most organizations enable and reward their employees to say ‘no’ to disruption, rather than ‘yes’.

To avoid wild fires organizations do a very good job creating sub-zero conditions that inhibit any kind of molecular reactions that may trigger a spark.  If you have ever tried to get support from your leadership or an organization to do something that is not the status quo, then you’ve probably felt the chill of a sub-zero environment: paperwork, committees, paperwork, 1:1 meetings, return on investment  (ROI) thresholds, review boards, etc… all are organizational tactics built to protect the organization and inhibit the creation of a spark.

Do not lose hope. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but when you know that you have one that will really make a difference, do something about it. And, this is what you need to do to create a warm pocket within your organization that will not only allow for a controlled spark of innovation, but also support a small flame to show people the possibilities of your ‘big idea’.

1. Earn the right to create the spark

Perform above expectations. No one is going to support someone who is unable to successful execute on their existing job and responsibilities. You have to figure out how to deliver 150% in your current role. Organizations and leaders are more likely to support zany and out-of-the-box ideas when it comes from an employee that has a solid performance track record.

2. Find an executive sponsor

You need someone to create a protective shield, also known as “cover”, for you and your idea. The sponsor needs to have sufficient power and credibility within your organization to be granted the freedom to support and advocate for ‘special projects.’ Just realize that, by supporting you, this person is extending their professional brand to you. If you succeed, they succeed. If you fail, then their reputation may be tarnished or negatively effected. Respect what this relationship means to you both.

3. Build an extended team of resources that include domain experts that advocate for the idea

Check the ego at the door. Know your limitations and seek out and befriend the people that will be able to help you tackle the toughest bits and pieces of the project. Your idea will only be executed if you get support from peers that are the domain experts. In most cases, you will not be able to secure them as full time resources, but you need to be able to call on them and tap their expertise. Make sure that you have access to true experts in public policy, privacy, legal (eg intellectual property), and regulatory. If you project goes wonky on any one of these items, your small flame could quickly turn into a wild fire and your ‘big idea’ turns into a career limiting opportunity.

4. Be honest and transparent

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. There will be days where you will not want to type another email or speak to another person. When you are working on projects and initiatives that ‘no one has ever done before’, you need to make sure that you are staying connected with the real world – your sponsor and your extended network of resources. Plus, it is in your idea’s best interest for you to invest in building the bridges to the organization and continue to generate support and advocacy. Adhere to your company’s communications policies, but get the word out internally and externally … the more that you share, the more likely your project will attract others that are interested in helping you make it succeed.

5. Take care of yourself

You’ve worked for months on the ‘big idea’ and you’ve hit umpteen walls and hurdles. The pressure is almost unbearable. You are burnt out and want to call it quits… but you are so close…. So, TAKE A BREAK. You need to get away from the mayhem. Go off the grid. Shut down the electronics. Or, at least don’t check work email. Do something that you love to do. Even if it is just for a half day, you need time to clear the brain. This mini-mental vacation will help you recharge your batteries, focus, and get back on task.

Navigating organization dynamics is always a challenge, especially when you want to change the status quo. However, following these five steps will not only help you to initiate a spark and small flame, in time you will generate a larger and more sustainable fire that is welcomed and encouraged by the organization.

You can do it!