Want Innovation? Learn From Ants

As is virtually always discussed, innovation plays an important role in any organization, both large and small, but there’s a significant difference in how innovation shows up in each type of organization.

Large companies usually have innovation teams focused on large-scale problems and large- scale production. Ron Ashkenas and Markus Spiegel, authors and contributors to HBR.org, note that these types of teams move in a specified direction at predictable speed.

On the other hand, innovation is not as organized and formal in small companies. It’s usually more spontaneous and nimble, driven by those wearing multiple hats.

Ashkenas and Spiegel have studied more than a dozen global organizations and their approaches to innovation—some successful and some not so much. Here, we share four of their findings on innovation.

1. It takes the mindset of an ant. Teams functioning like machines—blindly following highly defined processes and execution plans—were the least effective at achieving their goals and coming up with innovations. The most successful teams operated less like highly efficient machines and more like ant colonies, where they quickly adapted to changes in their environment. They had a set of simple rules and a clear goal, allowing them to be more flexible and able to learn along the way.

2. Centralize your mission; loosen your structure. As Ashkenas and Spiegel point out, ants have no central control, no single “master ant,” yet the entire colony works together as one community. They’re able to align their individual activities to the powerful common purpose that each ant shares—the survival of the nest. Thus, when the environment shifts, individual ants adapt their roles for the collective good.

Leaders of effective innovation teams communicate and centralize the mission of the team, but give the team members the freedom to do what’s needed to achieve their part. This allows the team to adapt when they hit dead ends. This is also why companies like Google align their people through yearly and quarterly goals, while giving them the ability to work toward these results in multiple ways.

3. Communication is key. Back to the ants. We’ve all seen long ant trails leading to a food source. If the source is particularly good, the trail intensifies and more ants follow it. It’s a time- and energy-saving way to communicate.

Rich, frequent and candid communication is also important for organizational teams to find innovations as quickly as possible. People need to bounce around ideas, share insights and challenge each other’s assumptions. Leaders need to make sure their teams have the time, space and tools to make this happen. Bring your team together often and create a comfortable atmosphere for dialog and brainstorming. Make it easy to share ideas through tools like instant messaging and file sharing.

4. Experiment with ideas. Always test new ideas and new ways of doing things. It’s at the heart of innovation. Ashkenas and Spiegel us the example of Intuit, who puts new product ideas on the internet before they are developed to test whether there is a market. If there’s interest, they proceed with development; if not, they modify the idea or quietly withdraw it.

Encourage your team to test ideas through action instead of just through studies and analyses. Of course, this requires both dollars and resources to build prototypes and mock-ups early in the discovery process and to engage directly with customers to get rapid feedback and test assumptions.

Embrace these management concepts behind innovation and watch your “colony” flourish.

Source: Ron Ashkenas is partner emeritus at Shaffer Consulting, where he helped leading organizations achieve dramatic performance improvements and coached CEOs and senior executives on strengthening their leadership capacity. He’s also an avid author and contributor to publications such as Harvard Business Reviewon topics related to organizational change.

Markus Spiegel is partner at Schaffer Consulting where he helps organizations to master the challenges in complex environments. His experience includes working in the automotive and financial services industry, including key roles at the BMW Group. He is also a contributor to Harvard Business Review.

Bet On Pets

Roughly 65 percent of households in the U.S. own at least one pet, which equates to more than 81 million homes. The American Pet Products Association is projecting over $69 billion in pet industry expenditures in 2017, with an average annual growth rate over the last 15 years of 5.4 percent. With these strong spending predictions and ample opportunities for innovation, there’s a huge market for products that cater to pet owners.

It is not a coincidence that the demand for pet specialty products is increasing as the Baby Boomer generation reaches retirement. Many of the Boomer households are “empty nests,” and with their children gone, they are lavishing attention on their pets. Pet spending reaches its peak (at ages 55-64) as consumers focus on their “fur babies,” according to John Gibbons at petbusinessprofessor.com.

Even better news for the industry is that Millennials are embracing the trend. This generation was raised treating their pets as part of the family, so it is natural for them to splurge on luxury pet goods too. Many products and services that would have seemed extravagant to prior generations—doggie day cares, organic foods, high-end grooming services, expensive medical treatments and apparel—are now the norm. And as Millennials earn more disposable income, expect to see them spending more of it on their pets.

As the market for niche products and high-end services for pets expands, so do the opportunities to reach this audience through promotional products. “We’ve been successful selling to veterinarian offices, groomers, pet day care centers and dog treat companies,” says Charles Huang, vice president of sales and marketing for supplier Minya International Corporation (PPAI 112523). “There are also many channels and baking shows on YouTube that specialize in animal treats—and they sell merchandise to their followers. In addition, we’ve worked with animal shelters, rescue groups and breeder organizations for fundraisers.”

Humanization, the modern impulse to treat animals like people, drives the universal appeal of pet-themed products. Even among people who don’t own pets, who can resist heart-melting images of puppies and kittens? “Our ‘Best Friends’ calendars are appropriate for nearly any business serving consumers because pets are such a big part of family life now,” says Jerome Hoxton, president of Tru Art Advertising Calendars (PPAI 113720). “The primary buyers are veterinarians and veterinarian clinics, but other frequent buyer categories are banks, hardware retailers, dentists, tire service retailers, feed stores and auto dealers.”

With research pointing to increased health benefits associated with pet ownership, more and more consumers are following the craze. The U.S. Public Health Service touts pet ownership as beneficial to obesity prevention and helpful for those who are trying to quit smoking. In addition, the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation states, “People are happier and healthier in the presence of animals. Scientifically documented benefits … include decreased blood pressure, reduced anxiety and enhanced feelings of well being.”


Pet Trends to Watch

Natural products
toxin-free materials and organic food

Premium services
spa treatments, mobile grooming, portrait photography, pet sitting

Superior health care
including health insurance

Travel Accessories
so that Spot isn’t left at home

wearable health trackers, monitors and interactive devices


Have Pet, Will Travel

While on the go, pet owners are increasingly reluctant to put their animals in kennels. Numerous travel and hospitality organizations have responded, with airlines expanding their policies allowing pets on board, and many hotels and restaurants shifting to a more pet-friendly model.

Nowhere is this more apparent than at New York’s JFK Airport, where The ARK, the world’s first animal airport terminal, recently opened. The state-of-the-art center offers veterinary care, microchipping, and custom reports on individual animals. When complete, the terminal will unveil a Paradise 4 Paws pet resort that includes a bone-shaped dog pool and a jungle gym for cats. Although the terminal has only rolled out stage one of three so far, The ARK has raised the bar for travelers expecting quality care for their pets.

Even for less glamorous types of travel, including biking, going for a run or simply running errands, enthusiasm for mobile pet products is high and expected to rise.

For individual products and case studies, please visit our flipbook.

Terry Ramsay is associate editor of PPB.

Are You A Persuasive Presenter?

If you are in a management role, you’ve most likely given presentations at work. In fact, a 2014 survey by presentation software firm Prezi revealed that 70 percent of employed Americans who give presentations agree that presentation skills are critical to their success at work. However, 20 percent of respondents said they would do almost anything to avoid giving a presentation, including pretending to be sick or asking a colleague to give the presentation, even if it means losing respect in the workplace.

Sound familiar? One way to address the fear of presentations is to build confidence in giving presentations that are effective and memorable.

We’ve all heard the basics such as you shouldn’t have too much copy on a slide or that you shouldn’t read from a script. Here are just a few presentation tips from HBR.org writer Dorie Clark that give you the power to persuade your audience—the ultimate goal of a presenter.

1. What’s the problem you’re solving? Clark says that too often presenters start off by directly providing a solution rather than first acknowledging the problem. If you don’t explain the context and why it matters upfront, you risk them tuning out early on because they’re not sure if your idea is relevant.

2. Why now? Next, you need to explain to your audience why now is the most relevant time to address this problem. You need to create a sense of urgency, a call to action and the cost of not taking action.

3. How has the idea been vetted? Next, according to Clark, you need to explain your credibility in addressing this problem and how you’ve vetted your recommendations. This means highlighting your experience and your competence in addressing this issue. As Clark says, “For instance, it’s worth mentioning that your team interviewed 100 leading researchers to identify the best practices you’re recommending, or that you ran three pilots to test the concept.”

4. Have you simplified the structure? Clark says that the next step is to simplify your idea. Present it in a way that is simple and clear to the audience. Perhaps present your idea in a series of steps or phases. This enables the audience to grasp a complex solution more readily, and inspires more confidence in the path you’re proposing.

5. Have you included a story? Make sure your idea is wrapped in a story, says Clark. Don’t just pepper your presentations with a bunch of factoids and statistics. Instead, build a narrative that helps others visualize what you’re talking about. Facts and stats can serve to emphasize points in the narrative, but make sure there is a story to which the audience can relate.

6. Have you included a call to action? Finally, Clark reminds us to always end with a call to action. Be clear about the key steps you want the audience to take and how they can make a difference.

When you know how to be a persuasive presenter, the idea of giving a presentation becomes a powerful tool instead of dreaded task.

Source: Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out. You can receive her free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook.

Seven Customer Expectations For Today’s Brands

I love shopping online. It’s easy, convenient and fits my schedule. Last week I needed to make a simple change to an order, but, as easy as it was to make the purchase online, making the change was not so simple. I waited on the phone for almost 20 minutes before a customer service rep finally answered and made the quick change. The rep was polite and efficient, but the change was certainly something I could have done myself in no more than a few minutes. In this case, my customer experience was negatively affected.

The bar has been raised on what it means to exceed customer expectations, yet many companies seem to be falling short. Research from Lee Resources discovered that 80 percent of companies say they deliver “superior” customer service while only eight percent of consumers think these same companies actually deliver superior customer service.

In a recent blog post, customer engagement specialist Joe Gagnon detailed seven expectations consumers have from brands today:

  • Know Me: The data collected and context of customer interactions should be carried over, even across platforms, from interaction to interaction, even if the customer switches from self-service to full service.
  • Make The Experience Mobile: Seventy percent of customers would rather text than talk. The customer experience should leverage all channels on a mobile device.
  • Let Me Do It: Customer satisfaction is higher when customers are allowed to do it on their own. Customers are more forgiving of themselves. Seventy-two percent of customers prefer self-service to picking up the phone and 91 percent would prefer self-service if available.
  • Make it Social: Social media is inherently simple for consumers, which is why they use it to complain, compliment and escalate issues. Social also allows advocates to help a brand solve issues.
  • Fit Into My Life: Customers expect to be able to conduct business at any time of any day on any platform.
  • Save Me Time: Consumers don’t have time to wait days for an email reply. They also don’t want to wait for a call center for simple items they could solve themselves. Today’s consumer is self-driven and expects immediacy.
  • Makes Me Smarter: If a change in service is expected or an is action required, consumers prefer to be notified ahead of time. Reminders or notifications of actions to be taken, outages or changes in service should be proactively communicated.

Source: Joe Gagnon is senior vice-president and global general manager for cloud solutions at Aspect Software, a provider of customer engagement solutions.

Creating A Culture Of Resilience

With yet another Steve Jobs movie recently in the theaters, I am reminded of the characteristic in Jobs that I find most fascinating: his resilience. Through all the ups and downs of building the Apple computer, being stripped of his duties at Apple, roller coaster rides at Pixar and NeXT and then rebirth at Apple, Jobs remained an undeterred visionary, innovator and decisive leader.

In these times of unprecedented pace of change, economic ups and downs, and a shifting workforce, creating an organization built on resilience is more important than ever, as we discuss in today’s Promotional Consultant Today.

George S. Everly Jr., co-author of the book Stronger: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed, believes the best way to foster organizational resiliency is to build resilient leaders, with a focus on front line leadership. Everly offers these five supervisory characteristics as keys to resilient leadership:

  • Active Optimism: Step one of active optimism includes having a vision for success and seeing the opportunity in every crisis. Step two is speaking convincingly of that vision but being honest about the impact of the change when it occurs and where the organization needs to go next.
  • Ability To Make A Decision: Have the courage to make a decision and take responsibility for your actions, both of which build trust and respect. Make the decision and try relentlessly to succeed, because anything worth having is worth fighting for, and possibly failing for.
  • Use Of A Moral Compass: Work with integrity. Only leaders of the highest integrity take responsibility for plans that don’t succeed and don’t push down blame. This kind of integrity fosters loyalty and the courage to take risks that’s often necessary for success.
  • Tenacity And Persistence: Tenacity is a rare trait and those who have it can use it to a great advantage. Those who use it also set an example for those they lead. Set the example to make tenacity an organizational value.
  • Organizational And Department Cohesion: Everly writes: “Understanding you are part of something greater than yourself is empowering.” Taking on a no-person-left-behind approach builds support systems, networks, cohesive teams and even friendships that can create an organization greater than the sum of its parts.

Source: George S. Everly, Jr., PhD, FAPA, is one of the founding fathers of the modern era of stress management. He is the author of numerous books and research papers and serves on the faculties of The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He is a co-author of STRONGER: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed.

How To Turn Turnover Into New Clients

Champion salespeople understand that when salespeople leave an organization, they sometimes leave something very valuable behind—their clients. Those clients are now orphans unless and until the company re-assigns them to someone who is still on the team.  Today we share these simple sales strategies for keeping these customers as company clients.

When there is turnover on the sales team, it can be unsettling for most. Sales managers may need to hire replacements, average performers are likely to step up their game in order to avoid being next on the list and poor performers can get so rattled that they become next on the list to be replaced.

Sales pros are the first to speak with upper management about their desire to serve the needs of those orphan clients. They are prepared to help make the transition to a new representative as painless as possible for the clients.

As one sales professional who tried this technique said, “As soon as I started going through the files of the salespeople who’ve left this firm, my income took off. I called these abandoned customers, re-established rapport, picked up pre-qualified leads and closed a high percentage of them.”

Why are these leads pre-qualified? Because you represent the product or service they’re already happily involved with, and the files are jammed with details about their challenges and needs. You’re in a perfect position to handle any new challenges these customers might have or to advise them on continued use or upgrading their product or service.

You have excellent reasons for re-contacting them. Once you begin serving them well, you’ll be seen as their hero because the previous salesperson obviously wasn’t doing the job well or they’d still be doing it.

Take time to adopt these clients the right way. Make them wish they’d bought from you to begin with. And then get them happily involved in a repeat performance with the products and services you offer.

Source: Tom Hopkins is world-renowned as an expert and authority on the subject of selling. He has helped more than four million students on five continents enhance their careers and earn higher incomes through his proven selling strategies.

Email Tips To Connect With Prospects

Email is our daily work tool and allows us to be in contact with co-workers, customers and potential clients any time of the day … or night. While email is something you manage in the workplace every day, are you fully optimizing this tool, especially when it comes to securing new business?

Today we share this insight from Jill Konrath, author of The Ultimate Guide to Email. She recently received a message from a fan who read her book and had these suggestions:

I explain to my sales team that asking people to call you back is a bit obnoxious—even if there is value and reason. When you do that your prospects are left thinking, “Wait, you want me to call you so you can pitch me? You want me to stop doing my job and search for time in my calendar to give you so that you can sell me? Are you kidding?”

I try to put as much of the onus on myself as possible to connect. Here are some ways I do that.

Example 1: “I have time free on Friday, July 6 at 2 pm. I’ll reach out to you then to discuss. I hope you’re able to take my call.”

With this closing statement, you’re:

  • Showing that you are not asking anything from them
  • Carrying the labor of the continued conversation
  • Passively, not aggressively, trying to connect

Example 2: “I’ll reach out to Mary to see if you have some time free next week.”

By suggesting that you’ll reach out to your prospect’s executive assistant, you’re:

  • Showing that you’ve done your homework
  • Following the correct protocol for the continued conversation
  • Not asking anything from your prospect and his or her busy schedule

Example 3: “I have time free on Friday, July 6 at 2 pm. Are you free at that time to talk?”

By closing this way, you’re:

  • Still asking your prospect to do something, although it’s minimal. The prospect just needs to check one date/time in the calendar.
  • Giving the prospect enough time (at least a week out) to ensure an available spot on the calendar.

By taking this approach, I am applying a successful passive/aggressive strategy and am able to send three to five emails and make three calls without annoying the prospect.

Here are a few additional suggestions to increase your email cold calling success rate:

  • On the morning of my proposed meeting I’ll send an email stating: “As per my message, I’ll be calling you today at … I hope that we’re able to connect. Please let me know if that time still works.”
  • I try to splice the attempts with value. Before the scheduled call attempt, I may forward my prospect an article stating, “This company looks like it is going through the same thing as your company … check out their approach.” Or, on a voicemail, state, “By the way, B2B magazine has a whole section this month on … and I know that’s a big focus for you guys.”

Source: Jill Konrath is a frequent speaker at sales conferences and kick-off meetings. Sharing her fresh sales strategies, she helps salespeople to speed up new customer acquisition and win bigger contracts. Her clients include IBM, GE, Microsoft, Wells Fargo, Staples and numerous mid-market firms.

Gildan Revenues, Profit Jump

Gildan Revenues, Profit Jump image

In its most recent quarter, apparel maker Gildan Activewear said that its revenues increased by 6.4% to reach $666 million in the period. The company also said that its profits jumped by 26.8%, helped by higher sales from both its printwear and branded apparel divisions. The company also said that its revenues in its fiscal 2014 jumped by 8%, reaching a total of $2.36 billion for the full-year, which ended on October 5.

“For the fourth quarter, we have reported record results for any fiscal quarter in the company’s history and earnings-per-share (EPS) growth of 20% compared to Q4 2013,” said Laurence Sellyn, Gildan’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, during a conference call with analysts to announce the company’s financials. “The 20% growth in EPS in the fourth quarter was due to the higher year-over-year sales revenues in both Printwear and branded apparel, as well as higher operating margins in both operating segments.”

In its financial filing, Gildan said it Printwear segment (which is mostly responsible for the company’s sales to apparel suppliers, distributors and decorators) performed particularly well in the most recent quarter. Ultimately, the company said, higher selling prices were to thank for the increases.

“The increase in Printwear net sales was due to higher net selling prices in the quarter and more favorable product-mix, partially offset by weaker demand,” Gildan said in its filing. “In the fourth quarter, the Printwear segment reported operating income of $118.9 million, up 6.2% from $112.0 million in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2013. Operating margins for Printwear were 27.3%, compared with 26.4% in the fourth quarter of last year due to higher net selling prices and more favorable product-mix.”

Published in Promogram