Will Bachman: Hey there, podcast listeners, welcome to Unleashed, the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top-tier independent management consultants. I’m your host, Will Bachman.
Our guest today is Umbrex member Amanda Setili who has just published a new book, Fearless Growth, the new rules to stay competitive, foster innovation, and dominate your markets. Amanda has been a guest on the show before, on episode eight, when we spoke about the Strategic Agility Think Tank which she established and her first book, The Agility Advantage.
In today’s discussion, we dive deep into the content of her new second book. In the first half of the show, we discuss five strategic dilemmas that companies often face. You may have seen some of these yourself. These include such dilemmas as to what extent should we develop a carefully thought out plan versus plunging in and trying something new, or when new capabilities are needed, should we build them internally, acquire or partner? Amanda’s book suggest that these five dilemmas require seven new rules. We touch on each one of these rules in the second half of the show.
If you work on strategy projects, I highly recommend this book. It’s full of fresh thinking and well worth reading. You can find out more about Amanda and her contact information on her website, Setili.com. That’s S-E-T-I-L-I dot com. I learned a ton in my conversation with Amanda, and I hope you find it helpful.
Hi, Amanda. It’s great to have you back on the show.
Amanda Setili: It’s great to be back, Will.
Will Bachman: Amanda, we spoke a few months ago about some of your work with the Agility Advantage and the Strategic Agility Think Tank that you founded. I’m delighted to have you back on the show to talk about your new book, Fearless Growth, the new rules to stay competitive, foster innovation, and dominate your markets. Maybe we could start out, tell me a little bit about what happened over the past few years that motivated you to write this book?
Amanda Setili: Well, I work with a lot of large companies. These are companies that have built their market position over many decades and are very strong and often very profitable, but what they’re seeing is that there’s more and more potential disrupters coming into their markets, and there’s more and more threats on the horizon that they have to be aware of and have to respond to. It’s very difficult for large companies to respond sometimes because they have to keep the main machine going, right? They have to do what they do well and not upset the processes that have made them successful in the past, while still being able to respond to what’s new coming at them in the world.
I felt that that was something that was really missing in the market is there’s quite a few books out there for how you can be a lead startup and how you can act fast if you’re a small company, but large companies have difficulty with that. It’s really hard because they have so many things that they do need to just keep on doing well. I was writing the book really to fill that gap and to answer a lot of questions that typically come up with clients that I serve.
Will Bachman: You lay out in the first chapter five different strategic dilemmas that many corporations face. When I read that, boy, it resonated so much because every one of those five I’ve certainly encountered with my clients on strategy type work. Maybe you could walk us through, let’s walk through those five.
The first one is around should we disrupt our own business before someone else does, or focus on protecting and preserving it. Talk to me about that one a little bit.
Amanda Setili: This is one that faces so many companies because they see someone coming at them that may be offering a lower price point, a more simple product, a different way of solving the same problem. It’s frightening because they’re the incumbent. They’re the ones that’s still making the high margins on the old-fashioned project. You’ve got to wonder, should you just wait and just hope that this doesn’t happen, hope that the new disrupter doesn’t take much market share, or should you come up with your own way of disrupting yourself so that you at least, even though it may be at a lower profitability level, that you capture that volume.
It’s really scary, and one of the companies that I use to illustrate a lot of these dilemmas is General Motors, GM, because I think that they’ve done a pretty good job, and they’re kind of the epitome of an old-line manufacturing company that has been successful with the products that they have, for the most part, but they’ve got a lot of change coming at them. I mean not only the sharing economy with people buying fewer cars and riding an Uber and Lyft and things like that, but the fact that teenagers don’t even always get their driver’s licenses anymore, and the fact that there’s autonomous vehicles being tested and tried at a very rapid pace. There’s a lot of disruption coming in the auto industry.
GM is playing it pretty smart. They’ve invested in Lyft. They’ve invested in a company called Cruise Automation that’s doing development in the autonomous car arena, and they’re getting out there and they’re making some tests and experiments on a medium sized scale to be ready for what’s coming.
Will Bachman: The second dilemma that you talk about is, and I guess all these dilemmas, sort of like the definition of a dilemma, is that there’s no right answer. They’re just tough choices with good and bad on both sides. The second one you lay out is around how much resources should we put into longterm bets versus short-term demands of running the business. Talk to me about that a little bit, sort of the trade offs that you see companies wrestling with.
Amanda Setili: Well, this is one that I see almost every client wrestling with, and it’s one that we often run up against as consultants, I think, because everyone who works for the company is typically up to their eyeballs in short-term demands. The phone is ringing, there’s fires to fight, there’s current customer needs that are being demanded, there’s things you’ve just got to do every day. Your budgets are set based on running the short-term business, getting your quarterly numbers, right? But you know that you need to invest in the longterm bets, or you’re going to be out of luck in two or three years, right?
I think that what we need to do is, as I laid out in the Agility Advantage, my first book, identify those areas of our business and our business environment where we need to be moving faster and in a more agile way. What I laid out in that first book was a two-by-two, which on the vertical axis has degree to which this part of your business affects the customer’s decision to buy, and on the horizontal axis, speed and degree of change in the business environment. If you think about that, in the top right corner would be things that do affect your customer’s decision to buy to a great degree and the business environment is changing quickly.
Continuing with the GM example, ride sharing and autonomous vehicles are things that are definitely up in that top right corner, so they need to be thinking about what they need to do, they need to be experimenting, they need to be learning. They need to be learning as fast as anyone else in the industry. And so they, as I mentioned before, have invested in Lyft, they’ve acquired Cruise Automation. Those are ways that they can really get out there and begin to experiment and begin to learn, but they haven’t made a bet to company move on these. They’ve invested around a billion dollars or so in total, which is only about two percent of their total market capitalization. They can continue to do the base business very well, crank out the SUVs and the pickup trucks that are making all their profits while still experimenting a business upper right corner. I think they provide a pretty good example.
Will Bachman: The next one, the third strategic dilemma that you talk about is to what extent should we develop a carefully thought out plan versus plunging in and trying something new? Boy, I just saw this very thing on my most recent project where the CEO, a really bold leader, was saying, “Look, we need to be in the pool if we want to learn how to swim.” He’s very much on the path of we need to just get in this and we’re going to figure it out as we get in. We can’t sit there and have analysis paralysis. There’s a spectrum, right? On the other hand, you want to think it through a bit before you just get off the diving board. Talk to me about that, how you see companies make that trade off between planning versus just move ahead and figure it out as you go along.
Amanda Setili: Well, that is where a lot of companies get stuck because they want to do things right, and so they think that they need to develop a very detailed plan. The fact is that detailed plans don’t really work that well anymore because by the time you’ve done all that planning, the world has changed. There is a need to just plunge in to a certain extent.
You don’t want to be stupid. You want to think through what are the risks, what are the assumptions I’m making, who needs to be part of this, what role does each function in my organization need to play, are we clear about our goals? All of those things do need to be thought out, but maybe in a little bit more short-term way.
What I advocate is be pretty clear about the big goal. Then be a little bit looser about exactly how you get there. I also advocate just figuring out once you’ve made a decision that you need to do something, figure out what you can do tomorrow that’s going to help you begin to learn and begin to implement, because the sooner that you can begin learning, the more likely you are to be successful in the long run.
Continuing the GM example, there’s all kinds of things that are going to change with respect to auto ownership or lack thereof. How is insurance going to work? How is liability law going to work? Which customer segments are going to accept these new technologies and which ones aren’t? All of that stuff is unknowns out there, but they are getting out in front of it by beginning to experiment and taking ownership in some of these newer companies so that they can learn as fast as anyone else is learning.
Will Bachman: I love your point about what can you do tomorrow once you’ve decided. That I’d say applied to big companies but also just to our ordinary lives. If you have an idea for a side project or something, like what can you do today or tomorrow to get started on it? Register the domain, or go post something on Upwork. I love just jumping in and getting started.
Amanda Setili: Yeah, there’s two reasons why that is so important. One is you begin learning. Secondly, to at least establish to some degree your commitment to the idea. I think I mentioned in the prior podcast that when I came up with this idea of strategic agility, I immediately, like that day, filed a trademark protection for it. The value of that was not so much the legal side of it, but it was the fact that it made me stick with the idea for a few years. Jumping in immediately is important.
Will Bachman: There’s something about momentum and giving a project momentum and just getting it started. Dilemma number four is one we’ve probably all faced with clients. When new capabilities are needed, should we build them internally, acquire, or partner? Do you have a particular direction that you lean on that? How do you help companies think through that dilemma?
Amanda Setili: I think companies can typically move much faster in new directions by partnering. If you’re going to do the same thing you already do and just do more of it, sure, use your internal resources, but when you’re trying to head a new direction, it often makes all the sense in the world to do it through a partnership type arrangement.
UPS provides a pretty good example of this because they’re very good at corporate venturing, so they will invest in small startup companies. That enables them to kind of get the brains and the thinking from the small company into their big company. As soon as they invest they will partner up the CEO of the small company with a few key players inside UPS who need to be learning about this new technology, whether it’s drones or a new way of automating the process of entering a package delivery, or whatever it is, they try to take the learnings from those startups and embed them into the larger company.
Partnering is so important in the new world, and it’s easier than it used to be. It’s easier to find partners, it’s easier to collaborate on collaboration tools, like GitHub. There’s all kinds of resources out there that you can tap into that really weren’t even available 10 or 20 years ago.
Will Bachman: What are some of those resources? For a company that’s maybe it’s so industry dependent, but are there any resources that you would point people to as the first three or four to start thinking about?
Amanda Setili: Well, I think that GitHub is a really interesting example because it’s a place where people can develop code, post the code in a repository, and then allow other people to access it, for instance. If you need to move fast on something, you’ve got this whole army of developers out there who are contributing to this collaboration platform. It’s a way of getting access to value quickly.
Obviously, Cloud computing, using Amazon web services, for instance, it’s a way to be able to do something new very quickly without upsetting your base business. Crowdsourcing, making use of freelancers, using partners for manufacturing. Apple is a classic example. They don’t do their own manufacturing, even though they are a hardware company that puts tremendous demands on the degree and speed of innovation and the quality of the product, but they’re willing to outsource one of the most important parts of their business.
Will Bachman: Then turning to strategic dilemma five. You lay out the question, can we afford to shed parts of our business in order to focus on future growth? Boy, I’ve certainly experienced that. One client, where it was almost universally agreed that it was an unprofitable, non-earning sector, but they really struggled politically with making the decision to pull the trigger and shed that part of the business and sell it off. How do you help companies think through that dilemma, about when should you decide to sell a part of the business so that you can invest in future growth?
Amanda Setili: It’s one of the most emotional parts of this whole thing, because often the CEO is the one who built the business that you need to sell off, or there’s important people tied up with these businesses. It’s very emotional because it’s a huge part of the executive team’s identity.
It’s difficult, but again with carrying on the GM example, I think it’s really interesting that they sold the Opel business in Europe. They essentially exited the European market. They’re the only major automaker without a substantial presence in Europe. Think how hard that decision was to make. It also put them out of the running to be the biggest automaker. There’s many reasons why that must have been a really hard decision for them, but shedding Opel, which was a low profitability business, is going to free up money, and more importantly, management attention to focus on the more profitable markets like North America and China. Aside from the cash drain, all of the time that you spend on these low growth parts of your business are draining energy and attention that you really should be focused on what’s new, what’s coming at you next.
Will Bachman: That is something that I don’t think is really emphasized so much in business school or MBA, but the management attention piece is so important. One of my clients was investing in some ventures, and it was really just absorbing so much of the management time, going to board meetings for these small little companies that were not the smartest investments and just really consuming a lot of bandwidth. In some ways, you can put good money after bad, but also that management attention and bandwidth investing in that, that they were taking away from really paying attention to the core business and growing the core business.
Amanda Setili: Right.
Will Bachman: We went through these dilemmas, and many listeners have probably encountered several, if not all, of these. You have developed seven new rules for fearless growth. I would love to talk through those, and particularly get into some of the how, some of the tips and tricks and lessons learned around how you actually follow these rules.
The first one is embrace uncertainty, thinking about uncertainty in markets as an opportunity to build new advantage. That’s such a tough one because no one likes uncertainty, and every executive is always by the by, can easily be to go and let’s learn more about the market, let’s do more customer interviews, let’s do more diagnostic, but what does it mean to embrace uncertainty, and how do you actually help people do that?
Amanda Setili: Well, the fact is the world is more uncertain than it used to be. Being able to deal well with uncertainty can be a huge competitive advantage. You need to realize that uncertainty is what creates opportunity in the market, because when everything’s fairly predictable, you know what happens. Your products become commoditized, more competitors enter your market, your margins decline, you begin to lose market share. Certainty is death, if you think about it, eventually, right?
Uncertainty is what creates new opportunities. If you’re better at dealing with it than your competitors are, you’re going to win. If you’re able to manage risk better, for instance, if you’re able to understand how you would plan for different scenarios that might occur, things like that can be really important capabilities.
The film industry is a good example here because they will place multiple small bets. They’ll have a niche indie film that caters to a certain niche market, and then they’ll have a big blockbuster film. They do different things. Some work, some don’t, but on average they come out okay.
Partly, I think that one of the techniques that companies can use is to be able to figure out how to place small bets. Instead of investing $10 or $20 million to re-figure your entire IT system, for instance, can you develop a little mobile app that would enable you to test the market for a certain new feature. There’s all kinds of things that people can do to be able to cope with uncertainty better. Go ahead.
Will Bachman: Question on that is, I want to sanitize this a little bit, but just the project I just wrapped up, CEO is excited, like I said, to move into a new market, and we think it’s a profitable space, kind of growing space, but we don’t know. We have a decent sense that the market’s going to be growing and some belief in that, but in terms of what the actual costs are, what prices are going to be, are we going to be able to source the raw material that we need, are open questions. It’s a rapidly changing segment of a market. CEO is excited about it.
What kinds of things in a situation like that can a CEO tell the board, saying, “Hey, there’s uncertainty in this market, and we think it’s attractive for the following reasons, but we don’t know for sure, and we want to go ahead and move ahead and invest in this space, where we can’t give you a projection for the next three years of the business plan because there’s so much uncertainty or unknown.” How do you make the case to move forward in a situation like that?
Amanda Setili: Well, if I were on the board, I would want to hear things like here’s the risk of not trying this. I would want to hear, here are the four main unknowns or risks associated with this market, and here is our action plan to figure each of those things out. For instance, I think you mentioned one of the risks was will there be suppliers available to be able to produce the required components or whatever. What you need to do is say, “So our plan is we’ve got three suppliers lined up. We’re going to give them a test run next month. We’re going to get that test run into the hands of 10 customers. We’re going to partner with the customers on trialing that new raw material or whatever, and we’re going to get back to you in our next quarterly update with the results of that test.” If you can be systematic about saying it’s not just miscellaneous uncertainty, there’s certain things that we need to figure out, and here’s our plan for figuring those things out faster than the competition does.
Will Bachman: Okay, so I’m hearing on that one, rule number one on embracing uncertainty, I’m hearing sort of like Donald Rumsfeld, at least identify what are the known unknowns, and have an action plan to address them. Even if you don’t know the answer now, at least identify what the unknowns are, and also you mentioned about making small bets.
Amanda Setili: Right.
Will Bachman: Let’s talk about the next one. Rule number two is get in sync with customers, so gaining continuous customer feedback. What are some practical ways you’ve seen companies do that, and I suppose it might vary depending on if it’s B-to-B, business-to-business, or business-to-consumer, but talk to me about what you see are some of the best practices about getting in sync with customers?
Amanda Setili: For B-to-B companies, I think one of the key things you can do is identify those customers that are on leading edge and are most likely to be aware of new trends and responding to new trends. Explicitly collaborate with them on how you need to help them be prepared for whatever’s coming at them in their markets. Always have in mind, here are some of our customers that we need to be learning with, and here’s what we intend to learn with them, and here’s how we’re collaborating on some kind of new offering, new trial, new way of doing business together or whatever.
With B to C companies, I think that one thing that you can do is just enable more ways for you to hear what the customer is saying. My favorite example is just get out in the field and set the actual customers. Home Depot is a great example. Their executives actually work in the stores many days per year, so if you go into a Home Depot in Atlanta, for instance, the chief administrative officer may be the one that helps you choose a plant to put in a particular spot in your garden. She doesn’t know as much about plants as the person who works there every day, but she is learning and she is seeing what customers actually want. She’s going to approve appropriate projects to be invested in. That’s a great way, but there’s all kinds of things you can do to be more in tune with what you’re hearing on social media, more in tune with what you’re seeing in reviews.
For instance, there’s a small, not a small, but a hotel that’s in a small ownership group that I stay at, and they are totally on top of their Trip Advisor reviews. They’re reading them, they’re responding, they’re changing their policies about how they manage housekeeping, they’re changing the bed linens in response to reviews. They’re just intimately aware of what customers are saying about them. I think that sometimes you need to put new stuff out there and see what customers do with it.
A pretty good example is the Coke’s freestyle machine, which enables customers to pick the different flavors that they want to put in their cup and things. Well, think of how much data Coca-Cola can collect from those machines about what people like to drink, when they like to drink it, what geographies they like Fanta Orange in more than other geographies. You can gather so much information by enabling customers to customize your product.
Will Bachman: Organizationally, what do you see as some best practices to make this happen? I’ve seen clients where they are receiving input from customers, they have customer care call centers where people are calling in and giving complaints or compliments about the product, or different sales people are having feedback calls with customers, but organizationally, what have you see as some best practices to consolidate all that information and make sure it bubbles up and gets to the right people in a digestible form?
Amanda Setili: There’s a lot of different things out there. Nissan is a good example, because they’re very good at quickly getting information from social media into the hands of people that can actually use that information. Getting that information from social media directly back to the dealer that caused the problem, or directly back to the manufacturing facility that makes the product. They’re really good at that.
I’ve seen some really good software systems out there where sales people who were using salesforce.com can input information about particular product features, how many customers are wanting those features, where and what segments those customers are in for instance. That information gets fed directly back to the development team so that the product managers can decide which features to prioritize based on what the conversations the sales force had this week. That really speeds up the feedback cycle.
Will Bachman: Is it best practice do you think to just have everybody in the company responsible for bubbling this up? Or have you seen cases where a company will have an executive say who’s in charge of voice of the customer or customer learning or customer insights, something like that? Organizationally, what are some of the best ways for companies to set themselves up so that someone is responsible for synthesizing these insights?
Amanda Setili: I definitely think it’s a good idea to have a group or at least a person who’s responsible for customer insights and voice of the customer, but their job is partly to make the collection of that data more organic in the field. A practice that I don’t think is a best practice is to have customer insights groups that does market research, because that’s so slow. You do need it. You do need it, but typically that information is dated, it takes a long time to make its way to the relevant parties and things like that. Half of that group’s time should be spent on how can we just enable everyone to be listening more, and how can we speed the cycle of something being spotted in the field that’s new, getting back to the ears of the person who can actually change things.
Will Bachman: Along those lines, one thing that I did with a client this year was the CEO had been deeply involved in a lot of client interviews early when they launched the business, but he had sort of drifted away from doing those. We set up a mechanism where every two weeks he would speak with, not necessarily even a super senior counterpart, but a frontline user of their services. Even if it’s only one hour every two weeks, but that’s 25 touchpoints per year where he’s getting direct feedback from the frontline users that are actually using his firm’s service. Instead of just having one or two anecdotes that had bubbled up, he’s getting his own direct touches now. So that’s working out pretty well.
Amanda Setili: I love that. I love the fact that it’s on a repeatable cadence. If it’s every two weeks, then there’s more discipline there. That gives him an [inaudible 00:31:34] that he can share with his team, stuff that’s going well, stuff that’s going poorly. He can use those examples to motivate people and to direct what they’re doing.
Will Bachman: You have rule number three as partner, borrow, and share. We already talked a little bit earlier about partnering. One of your goals around this is to increase the flow of talent and data and assets and technology into and out of the company. On the one hand, companies are often wanting to protect their information and have these walls and barriers. What are some of the ways that you see companies successfully enabling those more open doors to the broader environment to do partnering, borrowing, or sharing?
Amanda Setili: I think this is so important because if you keep the fortress walls around your company and try to protect everything too much, you really aren’t learning. The companies that are successful with this are getting out to partner with universities, they’re partnering with other companies, they’re crowdsourcing new ways of doing things, they are really figuring out how they can open their borders so that flow in and out occurs more.
Obviously, you need to have NDAs in place. You don’t want to be stupid, but sharing information improves your own capability because you’re going to get new ideas from outside, which are going to spark new ideas inside. You’re going to need to formulate your ideas so that they can be shared with others, which forces you to be more strategic about where you want to go with your business. There’s just all kinds of good things about the need to increase flow through your borders and partner more often.
Will Bachman: I’m a big believer just from my Navy days about getting out and actually putting your eyeballs on the situation, on the frontline. One practical way to do that is, I was helping a client recently thinking about getting into a new line of business. We were talking to a bunch of sales reps for the technology they would need to buy. We discovered just by asking, the sales reps were happy to help broker a meeting or an introduction or a visit to one of their other customers. Those other customers were actually willing to host us. Sometimes just by asking, going and visiting and putting your eyeballs on that setup at another facility, is a great way to learn.
Amanda Setili: Especially because, let’s say you’re working with a customer and you’re wondering what they’re doing in a certain market, if you’re just reading what they’ve published about that, the press releases, the website information and stuff, that’s always old information, ’cause it had to be sanitized, it had to be prepared and everything. If you get out and actually talk to the people, you’re co-creating with them. The information is much fresher and more usable and more relevant and future focused.
Will Bachman: The next rule is somewhat related. Rule number four is connect and strengthen your ecosystem. You talk about creating platforms and hosting events and connecting people, and certainly some software companies have been really successful around creating platforms and events like sales force and others that bring all their users together, but maybe for mid-sized companies, talk to me about some successful events or platforms that you’ve seen companies creating.
Amanda Setili: Obviously, salesforce.com is one of the premier examples of this, which you already referred to. They’re just amazing at it, of getting customers talking to customers, customers developing products that can later be used by other customers, customers advocating for them and serving as their marketing arm, all kinds of things like that. But even just regular companies can do this.
If you think about it, even just developing a customer advisory board, for instance, is a way to get customers talking to customers, which enables you to be smarter and enables your customers to be more successful. I advise any company, even if they’re in a very low tech type of situation, to think about who’s already in their ecosystem, how can they facilitate relationships between those people, and who do they wish was in their ecosystem that they could bring in?
Will Bachman: A customer advisory board, in terms of connecting people, let’s say a manufacturing company, what type of events might they host or what type of people might they want to connect?
Amanda Setili: Let’s take that example. A manufacturing company would potentially want to get their suppliers together. They might want to get their customers together, but even more interesting might be get both groups together at the same time because there may be synergies that you haven’t even thought of, where for instance a supplier has a raw material or component that you’ve never really considered including in your product. The customer might spot that and go, “Oh, that’s a new material that I haven’t seen before. I would really like to see if we can incorporate that into your product.” I think sparks fly when you get groups that aren’t normally rubbing shoulders together, together because they spot things that you can’t spot.
Will Bachman: Certainly I think this rule is particularly powerful for independent professionals, where hosting events, where you bring your clients together, and you’ve done this very successfully, obviously, with your Strategic Agility Think Tank. You really live this rule.
Amanda Setili: Right.
Will Bachman: Rule number five is open the floodgates of employee creativity. The last one we were talking about bringing in the outside influence. What are some best practices you’ve seen around encouraging the employee creativity?
Amanda Setili: Well, there’s so much potential to improve here because I think when we came up through the years of making widgets, we got really use to measuring everything perfectly, trying to predict what volume was going to be next quarter, and hitting those targets exactly. We got in the habit of over-managing people.
In the old world, you knew what you wanted to do and you could describe the job exactly and people just needed to do that job. Well, those days are over, because now the world is changing really fast, and we need every employee to be thinking, to be watching, to be spotting new things, and to be adapting. You need to give employees more freedom and knowledge to be able to do that.
It’s a bit scary at times. Empowering employees can be loosening the reins. You kind of give up control, but in the end you gain more control because you’ve got more people out there looking out for you. You got more people trying to help you head the new direction. I think that’s a really important thing to keep in mind, is how can we get every employee involved in this new direction that we’re trying to head?
Will Bachman: You talk about connecting employees across organizational silos. Boy, it’s so easy for people to get stuck in their ways and stuck in their small little social groups. In a company, you have your habits and you go to your office and not get to know people just in other departments even, the sales people not knowing people in finance. I wonder, have you seen any ways just to help people meet people across the company from other departments, to even explain to each other what they do. Sometimes as a consultant, you’ll go in and in three weeks, you’ll have met a broader swath of people than people that worked there for a few years. How do you do that, of connecting employees across organizational silos and getting them to interact.
Amanda Setili: I think the best way is to have a very goal oriented cross-functional project based group to attack a particular problem, because you always learn more from people and get to know them when you’re working together, right? Let me back up from that for a second, because what you asked was how can you just increase the exposure even if you don’t have something that you don’t have to work on together.
One best practice that I’ve seen is kind of an internal trade show where it’s almost like you can imagine just a big auditorium with booths set up and each function or each team could set up a little booth where they could say, “Here’s what I’m working on, here’s what we do in our group,” and people can just wonder around and talk to people and learn what else is going on in the company. That’s a simple way to do that.
Back to the project based groups, I think this is one of the most important techniques that we have for opening the floodgates of employee creativity, and that is when you need to accomplish something, create a cross-functional team that’s specifically charged with achieving that goal. They become, in fact, almost more attached to that group goal than they are to their functions that they’re part of, so their solid line becomes a little weaker and their dotted line to this group becomes very strong. Then once they’ve accomplished their goal, they go back to their regular jobs, but they have that network of people that they know in other functions that they can all when they encounter something new that they need to respond to when they’ve got an innovation idea. You’re building networks throughout your functions while also achieving specific goals.
Will Bachman: Rule number six, you suggest that a company should achieve fast and fearless learning and set clear and aggressive learning goals. This is one where I personally am always trying to work on it. I don’t know if I’m doing a great job, but how do I personally pursue professional development, and for companies, what would a learning goal look like for a company? How do executives set clear and aggressive learning goals and drive that?
Amanda Setili: Most effective I think is to have a learning goal that’s associated with a strategic goal that you have. A few minutes ago you gave the example of a company that was going into uncharted waters. They wanted to enter a market. They didn’t know whether suppliers would be ready and they didn’t know whether there would be customer acceptance, et cetera. What I recommend is setting some very specific learning goals. We need to figure out whether customers will accept this product. How can we figure this out? Let’s pick three customers. Let’s get a prototype in their hands. Let’s set up a conference call next week to listen to what they thought of it, or let’s go watch them use it to see how they’re going to use it. Figure out what you need to learn and then figure out a way to start learning that as soon as possible.
Will Bachman: Okay. Rule number seven, build trust into all you do. You talk about take deliberate action to build trust. Any advice on that?
Amanda Setili: Well, what I think is so fascinating about this is we let trust be such a vague term, and we let it kind of happen haphazardly. Lack of trust can be built up over many years, and trust can be built up over many years. If you set the objective of specifically building trust, you can actually build trust quite quickly and you can eradicate distrust very quickly.
Being deliberate about it, I think, is very important. The more trust that you have, the faster you can move, ’cause back to your Navy analogy, if you trust your teammates in your Navy team to do what they say they’re going to do to have your back, you can move much faster, right? Trust enables people to be much more efficient ’cause they’re not second guessing, they’re not developing backup plans in case their colleague doesn’t do what they said they were going to do. They trust the other person to make the right decision when confronting unexpected information. Everything goes better, and you can be much more agile when you have built trust on your team.
Will Bachman: Yeah, things are much smoother and work better. I maybe add to your points with a recommendation for the book, The Trusted Advisor, where David Maister lays out an equation for trust. I’m sure you’re familiar with it. It’s credibility plus reliability plus intimacy all divided by self-orientation equals trustworthiness. That’s a book that I reread every year as just a reminder to work on moving always towards that role of trusted advisor. It’s probably not a bad book for folks in corporate life as well to think about how do they build trust within the company and with outside stakeholders.
Amanda Setili: It’s really important. Thanks for recommending that.
Will Bachman: Love the book, and it’s a thrill that it is launching today. This was just a quick overview of some of the key points of it. What are you hoping to accomplish with the book? What do you hope people take away from it and change on Monday after reading it?
Amanda Setili: I hope that people will pick one or two areas that they think are going to have the most impact on their ability to grow successfully. Start small. Pick one or two things that they can do better. Don’t necessarily try to change all seven rules at once. Pick one or two, and pick one or two areas where you think that you could make a different in your company by changing either policy or the way you do things or who you reward for heading a new direction and things like that. I hope that people will follow the rules of learning fast and furious, fearlessly, by setting a learning objective that they can put in action tomorrow.
Will Bachman: Okay, on that note, what, Amanda, would be the best way for someone who’s interested in this and getting in touch with you maybe to give a talk or to help with their firm? What’s the best way for folks to find you?
Amanda Setili: My email address is easy. It’s just firstname.lastname@example.org. Setili is spelled perfectly phonetically, S-E-T-I-L-I. There’s lots of good info also on our website at setili.com, including some frameworks that you can download and use, and lots of blog posts about some of these issues. I’m always interested to hear how people want to apply these ideas and what they’ve experienced when they did apply them.
Will Bachman: Fantastic. Well, Amanda, thank you so much for joining.
Amanda Setili: It’s been a pleasure. Thanks, Will.
Will Bachman: Thanks for listening to this episode of Unleashed, the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional.
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