It’s time we focused on customers, not COVID-19. More than ever you must invest in your customers, understand what matters to them, reward them for their loyalty, and focus on helping them be more successful and prepared for the future.
At Digivizer we’re working with a number of businesses that have had to recast their physical go-to-market presence into enhanced online alternatives very quickly. The fastest wins have come for those prepared to keep things elegant and simple, and those measuring everything to understand where they are winning, where they are losing customers, and in continuously testing new audiences.
By designing for customers first, and improving each metric to increase performance and results, they are preparing their businesses for the future. The results are encouraging: by investing in digital, many of them are reinventing themselves at a speed and in ways they hadn’t imagined were possible two months ago. The brands that are doing well are those that have the customer experience and journey front and centre.
One thing we’ve seen – too often – is a continuing reliance on vanity metrics as companies and marketers make sense of the new COVID-19 lockdown world we all currently operate in. As I explain in this new article in Marketing Magazine, only marketing dinosaurs rely on vanity metrics. To be successful, digital marketing strategies, from the most sophisticated, multi-layered programs built by the largest of companies, to the very first tentative steps taken by the smallest of businesses determined to prevail through this crisis, must focus instead on what matters most: customers, integration, careful targeting, measurement – and analysis. Forget vanity metrics. Leave the marketing dinosaurs behind.
Jeanswest and Bose are the latest big-name retailers pulling back in Australia. They following contractions announced by EB Games, Bardot, and the shuttering of Harris Scarfe in December. In this article, published in Mi-3, I ask the obvious question: is this a continuation of an industry in terminal decline, or a wake-up call that finally jolts retailers into action? I passionately believe that the retail sector can reinvent itself. In reality, it has no other option – and I share some examples of retailers making a bang – and some bucks – that go beyond their size.
Read the full article here: https://www.mi-3.com.au/26-01-2020/oh-crap-amazon-where-and-what-next-retailers
As the NSW and Australian Federal Governments edge ever-closer to following the UK and other countries into Covid-19 lock-down, I wrote this article for Mi-3 on how marketers can take the lead as the four horsemen of the apocalypse come over the horizon.
Businesses of every size and in most markets are facing similar challenges: how to engage with nervous customers, how to loosen spend in nervous markets, how to position their solutions, what are the best strategies to launch products, when attention is understandably focused elsewhere.
I was honoured to speak last week at an event organized by Investible and FD Global Connections for International Women’s Day.
With the theme #SheScalesGlobal, I wanted to focus on what I passionately believe are the foundations for success for anyone in business, whatever their gender in growing a business globally.
The core requirement for anyone wanting to forge new markets is one of determination and resilience. Making it personal and being super determined with a minimum view of do whatever it takes, as long as you don’t die. See everything you pursue as an opportunity to continuously learn. Scaling into new markets is so much more than translation. It is localisation. And the only way you can localize is to understand the local landscape, the social, economic, political, business and personal aspirations of a country (and for large countries, the counties or regions).
For any list of successful women, whether they are women from history, or women you know and work, I suspect they share a number of traits: they were the first to break barriers, they knew what they wanted to do, and they developed the skills and strategies needed to get there.
I acknowledge that the need to champion women remains, to call out their successes, and to call out entrenched biases when we see them. But I have never wished to measure myself, and any success I’ve had, only against half the population – so I speak not as a woman in business who has experienced success, but as a business leader that has experienced success.
When a vision prevails
One example comes from my time as President and COO at Altium. In the mid-2000s, Altium (a global, listed Australian software company) was expanding into China. We had a huge opportunity there, because China had declared its intent to change from “made in China” to “designed in China”. Altium’s electronics design software, though widespread, was universally pirated. Rather than take a heavy-handed legal route to clawing back revenue, we decided to emphasize and offer the added value users would get from using legitimate versions of the product.
Our vision was to legitimize our software and our customers, our strategy was to compete with, and not police software.
Noting Mao’s famous statement that “women hold up half the sky”, my experience in China was interesting. I was in my mid-thirties, the most-senior women executive in Altium, and the second-most senior of any executive after the CEO, a mother of 3 children, and they could not understand how this was even possible, for a company so well-known in China, in a culture with a one-child policy still in force.
The question was often asked there how I did it, and I made the answer, especially with the language barrier associated with being in China, very straightforward: because I want it enough.
The second example is of course Digivizer. I’m still often asked how it was that I chose to leave the corporate safety of Altium, to start a new company with new technology, again with still-young children at home. Again, the answer is that I wanted it enough.
This time, though, the vision was mine alone, for what the new company should be, what skills I would need in finance, operations, and leadership, and also to know when things simply couldn’t be done, in a company with a handful of resources. I wanted to help all businesses harness the digital footprint of their customers and prospects and make sure we built a platform that was affordable and easy to use.
I went from running a company of 450 and 2000 reselling agents globally to starting a company with 2 people, growing it today to a company of 50+ people.
About three years ago, we expanded into south-east Asia, setting up a hub in Singapore and hiring great talent in 12 other countries around the region, including Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Thailand. In Digivizer’s case, we did this by learning as we went. We were moving too fast for the government bureaucracy to keep up, and we went from client contract signature to open for business in five weeks.
And in all of these examples, this has not been about any focus on my confidence as a woman, and everything about my confidence, skills and expertise as a business person.
It’s been about building the confidence to use radical candour and about managing by Objectives and Key Results, as we do in Digivizer.
Neither of course is gender-specific. And I might add neither does success become a destination reached. It is a continuous journey where I keep striving to the next peak, only to enjoy the view of the next I set to conquer.
Sharing what I have learned
My first point is a simple statement of intent: whenever I’m faced with biases, I acknowledge them, challenge them by ignoring them, going around them or over them. This is not about the empowerment of women, more a fundamental position in life that I’ve chosen to take.
Universal rules that anyone can apply include:
Focus on seeking to add value to a business or a relationship
Embrace people who focus on growth and seek to create great outcomes
Focus on talent, not gender
Don’t do what is asked, instead deliver what is needed and do what delivers greatest value
Remove yourself as the limiting factor. We often place a lid on our growth because we do not think big enough
Develop the mindset that you are the best person for the job
Choose to pursue where your strengths and passions will best be used, and where they will make you most successful
Make sure you understand the problem you solve and the value proposition you are offering, this should guide your priorities
Identify what’s negotiable, and what’s not and stick to it (especially around balancing time with your family commitments)
Do what makes you happy and pivot when you need to – growth implies change, so recognizing what makes you happy and continuously adapting what you do and how you work to ensure that you feel congruent in all you do!
In short, in business, the first rule is don’t die:then change, pivot, be flexible, then never give up. Put all your energies behind what you believe in, so that you are determined to smash through barriers. Only we can be responsible for our own futures and success.
I’d love to know more about your experiences and inspirations. Please share your tips and thoughts below!
With thanks to Investible, FD Global Connections, Hotwire Global, and everyone who attended the event.
Harvard University’s Kennedy School’s Centre for International Development recently published its Atlas of Economic Complexity. It’s a fascinating read because it measures what the University calls an index of the value added by countries to their economies, and then rates them.
Its power comes from being able to compare what drives a country’s economic activity, the point where added value appears, and the proportion it contributes to the overall figure. Digivizer plays on the ICT sector, so we looked into how Australia’s ICT sector performs. The answer is sobering – over the past 30 years or so, it’s essentially flatlined. The Australian Financial Review carried my observations as an opinion piece, but if you don’t have a subscription, here’s the summary:
The Australian Financial Review’s Aaron Patrick described the findings for Australia as: we’re rich, dumb, and getting dumber. Our Economic Complexity Index ranking has dropped from 19th to 32nd even as our GDP per capita has grown by 182% between 1995 and 2017
At no point does ICT rise by more than 157 basis points in a year (1991-1992, in reality a reversal of a similar drop the previous year). In contrast, the biggest annual rise for iron ore was 426 basis points (2007-2008), 605 basis points for coal (also 2007-2008) and 267 basis points for travel (2014-2015)
If we overlay the IPO dates of Altium (August 1999), Atlassian (December 2015), and WiseTech (2016), we can see small increases in the export activity of our ICT sector. It seems that these companies have contributed some heavy lifting
Comparing other markets and choosing the US as an example, we see consistent growth, even after the original dotcom bust. The sector is back to where it peaked just before the GFC. In comparison, and within its own context, Australia’s ICT export recovery was slower and flatter
Long-term commitments are needed to kick-start Australia’s ICT heart. Industries such as ICT, as well as pharmaceuticals, medical products, high-technology and manufacturing, are needed to create the economic future and competitive playing field that we deserve in Australia. Action is required now if we are to maintain our standard of living.
I was recently published in Entrepreneur magazine, talking about the alternative approach taken here at Digivizer to fund our growth: a new, dual approach that encompasses self-funding, driven by early and sustained revenues, and partnerships with organizations that have market width and depth, that in our case also become customers.
I’ve also been quoted recently in the Australian Financial Review, on the recent Australian Federal Election – and why the polls got the result so wrong beforehand. I think the biggest opportunity exists in using social media platforms to poll, rather than older methods that clearly now don’t work, or are too prone to error. When you go where your audiences are (in social media and search) and listen to what they are already saying and searching for, you will get greater predictability on the likely outcome.
Last week I was interviewed by Emma Koehn of The Sydney Morning Herald, about the changes currently being debated and legislated by the Australian Federal Government to its R&D Tax Rebate scheme. Her interview appeared today.
Digivizer has been claiming the research and development tax incentive for the past five years, relating to a range of software development projects for our digital content analytics platform.
The incentive had been invaluable in growing Digivizer, but we now find ourselves spending hours proving ourselves to AusIndustry, which administers the scheme with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
At the time of the interview we were reviewing two research and development tax incentive claims that were granted to Digivizer over the past two years. At the time of writing, this had already cost us another $22,000.
As I say in the interview, I don’t know what this will lead to, but it will hurt us either way.
A number of people active in the Australian startup and technology sectors have reached out to me about this. It’s clearly an issue that resonates with many. I’d welcome your thoughts.
When companies are in fast- growth stage, it is not unusual to have new people, reporting to new people, who report to new people, working with new technology, serving new customers. The growth inevitably leads to a ‘cascade of newness’. Despite your smaller size, you need to be super- disciplined at ensuring that in your haste to build and resource up as fast-growth demands, that you do not make hasty or incorrect hiring decisions. Nor can you afford circumnavigation around deep onboarding and knowledge-transfer programs designed to ensure new people understand the culture, their role, and performance expectations and measures.
Equally in fast-growth you need to resist the urge to prescribe and over- engineer on process. The key to growth is getting really smart people in, making sure they know where the company is heading, and then enabling and encouraging them to forge the path within a “one team, one dream” business focus, yet at the same time be encouraged to take individual responsibility for making smart decisions, and delivering measurable success.
Foundation elements in getting this right start with the talent and skills of those you employ. Alongside these sit attitude – does this person share your values, will they be a good collaborator, and aptitude – are they the right ‘fit’ for your fast-growth environment. You then want to ensure everyone aligns around customer success first. If you focus with clarity on the customer’s success (and what you do to enable it), it is the best way of ensuring your own business and everyone’s personal success.
How do you hire to ensure you have the right people?
For Digivizer, hiring starts with the mandate: look for smart, talented people, who get things done, are infinite learners and are not an arsehole. Our values crafted by our employees themselves are not negotiable, focusing on “one team, one dream”, truth and transparency, responsibility, courage and growth.
Getting our foundations right is one I think Digivizer on the whole has done well. We ensure everyone is clear about our vision, our objectives, our values, our success measures and our recruitment and care of people. We then continually check on progress with everyone. Nothing beats survey data around employee engagement, performance, and satisfaction to ensure we get this part of our business right and the best it can be. Our leadership mantra is simple – grow people and you grow business. Spending time understanding and providing challenges for people, is the surest way to deliver growth.
Despite knowing the importance of getting our people culture right, we have recently experienced growth pains we needed to address. As such, I wanted to share our painfully learned and reinforced lessons to help others going through similar growth periods:
Some people won’t grow with you. They liked it small, they liked it when they were more important and integral. As you grow you need people who can grow ahead of you and those who see the need to continuously grow and learn. People either grow with you through multiple levels and evolutions, or they can’t (or won’t). You need to quickly identify and deal with those who can’t grow or cope with fast change,. They will be happier elsewhere, and so will your team who want to stay focused on the growth challenge.
Employees who come from larger corporates or consultancies, where process and bureaucracy are well-established, can be uncomfortable and unhappy in a fast-growth company. Whilst some say they want the start-up/growth experience, you need to find a way to identify people who have the capacity and the willingness to switch from big corporate steady-state mode, to hectic ground-moving growth mode. Whilst you need principles to guide decisions, it is far more important to hire and encourage people’s comfort in fast-moving environments, where they thrive on continuous change, risk and complex challenges. You want people who want to choose the scary upside-down roller-coaster over the safe merry-go-round. You can’t ever afford for anyone try or desire to make things slower or easier. If you see that is the motivator, you need to address it immediately.
Excuse-making and sub-cultures are like cancer – you need to address it with radical candour and if not completely and quickly realigned, cut it out of your organisation immediately. Coach those who are willing but never allow those who think there is an option to resist change, or to not take on responsibility for culture, values, performance and outcomes. It is never OK to have an alternative view counter to your company vision. Explain the surgery to the rest of the team once you have acted, to remove any concerns of those who are doing the right thing. It is important that people are encouraged and feel protective of their environment, and see that they are responsible for the changes they want to see, and feel empowered, energised and secure about doing the right thing.
Don’t ever lower the bar on hiring. And the more critical the role, the more important it is to have multiple interviews, and multiple interviewers. Whilst you need to move quickly, you need to get your recruitment right as the opportunity cost on getting this wrong (distraction and what is not delivered from someone who is holding the seat of someone who could be great for you). For hires that you are unsure of, or for teams with a structure in flux, turn these roles into timed contracts which allows you to more easily change and shape your organisation. If for whatever reason someone is not right, deal with this immediately. You can’t afford to allow those who don’t represent your values to erode the teamwork and team values already built.
Ensure the values are real every day – your team must know what they are, you must talk to them, share them, live them, relate decisions to them and ensure they are present in all you say, do and communicate. You can never over communicate the values and drivers for the business.
Make sure your leaders know how to practise radical candour and can do performance management discussions. It is critical that everyone in the organisation has regular discussions around:
Here is what you are doing really well – provide specific examples and what behaviours you observed that lead to great outcomes
Here is what you really need to be focusing more time on. You need to be really clear about what is expected, how this helps, and how they will know if they are successfully performing. Ensure you commit to a follow-up time to address it
Here is something that will be a potential issue and hinder your performance if you don’t address it immediately. Be 100% clear if someone needs to take some immediate action to ensure that their success or ability to stay in their role is not at risk
What can we do to help ensure your success (and then help them)!
What does a successful people culture in early-growth companies look like?
It is important to understand that start-up/fast-growth cultures are not for everyone.
Smart people who have traded in roles at larger companies are replacing having lots of other people, processes, systems, money and prestige/leverage that they may no longer have in start-up/fast-growth stage companies. This can cause tension between those used to working at organisations with deep pockets and plentiful resources, and those who understand the tight cash that most start-ups operate within which requires smarter thinking or happiness to do without. I have seen some of the best and creative ideas flourish when being developed within budget and time constraints.
It’s important to keep aspiring to build, change, and improve a people-culture as you grow, and ensure everyone plays their part in its nurture. The most valuable people are those who are happy to work to objectives, no matter how difficult they are, and are happy to be measured by key results, clearly identified, and answer whether they are on track or not. Assume everyone is there to do the right thing, and then build off that base-assumption to improve the results.
Always focus on results, not effort. It’s important to have a results-driven culture rather than one that rewards effort. It should never be around the number of hours someone works, or how much time goes into a project. Either you achieved what you set out to do or you are not doing the job needed. If the latter is the result, conduct constructive retrospectives to identify what needs to be done differently.
A great growth culture has your team happy to be challenged, to continuously learn, test and apply. To change tacts when things don’t go to plan. They are happy to ask whether there’s a better way – and most-important of all, to take responsibility for making that happen.
They are highly adaptable, can roll up their sleeves, take responsibility for delivery and understand all kinds of challenges and options for a company at any of its stages.
They also enjoy the feeling of success that comes with delivering on the objectives for the customer, and in celebrating the milestone achievements along the way,
As a leader in fast-growth, what you do and say impacts culture. Everything must be your own team and your customers success front and center. It will keep your culture grounded in high performance, high enjoyment, high care, and trust in the high rewards that will come.
What are your experiences and tips for managing people culture and performance in fast-growth?