2040’s Ideas + Innovations Newsletter is a series of thought leadership articles designed to help organizations navigate the complex, evolving changes in our digital marketplace. The 2040 team has worked with brands of all sizes in a range of industries, and our insights fuel these articles with opinionated, actionable and often provocative content.
The series touches on everything from emerging industry paradigm shifts and consumer behavioral trends to new business models, leadership skills and workplace culture issues. Our intention is to be active and interactive, raising questions and debate over what it takes for businesses to thrive in a post-pandemic world with an emphasis on transitions and transformations organizations must make to remain competitive.
We invite you to join the conversation and contribute your opinions and experiences. 2040 believes in the power and strength of community, and the more we know and share, the stronger our businesses will be in responding to the demands of our dynamic marketplaces. We look forward to featuring your participation in future articles. Sign up to keep in touch with us.
Beth Bush Stansel, Senior Partner, Strategy and Kevin Novak, CEO, 2040 Digital
The New Rules of Work
Issue 69: August 18, 2022
What is work? Where is work? What work matters? Why do we work? The traditional work models are turning on their heads. It’s been a long time coming since the Industrial Age, but we are at a crossroads moving forward radically in how we view and manage work … and our workforce.
Think of the current work-related cultural conversation: the Great Resignation, anti-Ambition, silent resignation, a next-gen mental health crisis, distributed work, essential vs. nonessential, unionization pushed by young highly educated workers, global health emergencies, purpose- values-driven work and a demand for corporate transparency.
What does it take to make a revolution? Or at the very least a fast-forward evolution? We are either going through a significant reset of work, or the tail end of a pandemic-influenced re-evaluation of work. Or both. Much has been reported about the post-pandemic (or ongoing, depending on where you stand on the issue) changes in work, so, instead, we are going to focus on a few key indicators that we believe are reshaping the new rules of work.
Issue 68: August 11, 2022
What’s the default approach to organizational pivots and transformation? Popular opinion is that technology will lead the way and the workforce will follow. It’s a seductive, but majorly misguided notion. First and foremost, it’s the human factor that will make or break any strategic plan. And that’s the focus of our new book, The Truth about Transformation. Our playbook takes a deep focus on what you need to know, the questions you should ask, and the balance between macro and micro influences that drive high performance. It’s not your typical business book; rather it is an original, provocative look at what you don’t know you don’t know, the typical assumptions we make, and the landmines that prevent sustainable transformation.
True transformative change requires an understanding of the human factors at play, how conscious and subconscious behaviors can derail any plan, and how society is influencing your organization. Change is the only constant. An evolving reality is emerging, one that will fundamentally change who we are, how we work, and how organizations will be relevant today and in the future. The truth about transformation is not what you may think. Our guide to organizational transformation will surprise, confound, provoke, and challenge every ingrained belief. The future is out there, and the truth about transformation will change how you lead.
Why Do We Obey the Rules?
Issue 67: August 4, 2022
We have been making and obeying rules since early civilization. Historical facts: The oldest written legal text is the Code of Ur-Nammu (around 2050 BC) and the most famous is the Code of Hammurabi (around 1780 BC, pictured above) both written in cuneiform. They are from ancient Sumeria in southern Mesopotamia, now southern Iraq. These early codes were social contracts among people and governments, not unlike our laws today. So, this begs the question: Why do people obey the rules considering the rules-bending culture we are living in? We wrote about why people lie, and the corollary to that may be why we obey the rules … or don’t.
Our society and our organizations exist based on rules. We may mask rules as processes, procedures, policies, regulations, laws, codes, plans, standards, guidelines or the like. Call them what you will, they guide us nearly every moment of every day.
In every instance, we seek to structure the environments we work and live in with what equates to rules, and yes even social norms, which basically set rules defining what is or isn’t acceptable.
When we consider organizational change or transformation, we are essentially seeking to change, alter or replace previous rules which sought obedience. From a systems thinking perspective, rules shape the system structure which is needed for our organizations and our society to run well, remain productive, be comfortable and predictable. As you ponder how your day-to-day is structured based on rules, let’s turn our attention to obedience…following the rules.
Why Do People Lie?
Issue 66: July 28, 2022
Last week we discussed inferences that can be made based on what we do versus what we say— all revealed by data from our physical and digital footprints. We offered several observations about how what we say often reflects what we think others want to hear from us or how others expect us to respond. Several months ago, we focused on how individuals and organizations earn trust. This week, we turn our attention to asking why people lie.
We would argue that all of us lie – the issue is to what degree. Why do we lie? The reasons are as complex as the situations that trigger the behavior. Let’s review just a few reasons why we lie….
Behavioral and Inference Data: A 360 Perspective
Issue 65: July 21, 2022
What we say or how we respond publicly is often very different than what we may feel, believe, like or dislike privately. Let’s consider a hypothetical conversation with a friend. She is proudly wearing a new dress that she just purchased. She asks your opinion as she seeks confirmation if the dress makes her look good. She surely thinks it does. You of course don’t want to hurt her feelings. You express that you really like what she is wearing, even though you think the pattern and color look more like a tablecloth or set of curtains. And this may be even though the style is totally on trend; you just can’t get beyond your first reaction.
Here’s a work-related example. In discussion with your work team, you are bored with the items being reviewed, and your mind begins to drift off. You then hear your name and call yourself back to attention. Your teammates are asking if you agree with the approach they want to take to solve the problem. You quickly nod your head in agreement, despite not really understanding what the team wants to do. Even though you don’t know what has been discussed, the team members depart the meeting believing there is consensus across the team, including you.
Here’s a third example. You receive a survey request that is offering the opportunity to win a gift certificate if you participate. You always feel lucky and usually respond to offers to potentially get something free for a few minutes of your time. You answer the questions presented in the survey even though you don’t care about or relate to the subject matter.
What these situations have in common is that in each instance you responded with information or an opinion that was what the recipient wanted or prompted you to express. And in each instance, what you shared was counter to your own thoughts and beliefs.
To Be Forewarned Is to Be Forearmed
Issue 64: July 14, 2022
The savvy, experienced executives are curious, informed, and naturally anticipate the future, not catch up to it. That usually requires these individuals to step out of their comfort zones and confront ambiguity and change head-on. They support their teams and coach them to think critically and stretch to maintain high performance, both individually and for the organization. This may sound obvious, but in our experience, we have encountered top leaders who are uncomfortable with the lightning-speed changes in the marketplace and insecure about their knowledge gaps – especially in data and analytics.
As we have shared, new data privacy laws are complex and can have draconian consequences if ignored. Our counsel with clients is to help them navigate the policies and establish a robust data and analytics practice to better manage and control their first-party data. Many of the strategies for becoming data-driven are hidden in plain sight; you simply need to change your thinking to recognize the assets you already have. Remember, the ultimate goal is to give your stakeholders what they want and need, not what you think they want.
Data, managed effectively, provides a rich trove of insights into behavior, intent, purchase patterns, and preferences. A solid data program will also reveal how you can grow your revenues and value currency by delivering what your customers want rather than developing products and services based on instinct and intuition. That said, the challenges going forward will be adapting your current data practice to the new laws protecting privacy. It will take a learning curve and some innovative thinking about how to better know, understand, and serve your customers based on data.
Breaking News: Important Privacy Changes
Issue 63: July 7, 2022
As we mentioned in our Privacy Regulation Update: The Doors Are Locking on User Data newsletter last week, over the next two weeks, we will share a curated list of 2021/22 articles to assist you and your organization in conducting some deep and critical thinking on how you collect, manage and leverage data. We will also review tips on how you adapt to the limitations and restrictions set in place by the current or soon-to-be privacy and data regulations, plus how you mature your strategy towards outcomes in the present and future as a result.
Note to self: The privacy environment is only going to become more complex in the near and far term.
EU Moves Ahead
This past Tuesday, July 5, 2022, the EU Parliament officially voted and approved the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act. Each is now the law of the land in the European Union. Parts of each Act will come into force immediately, in 2023 and in entirety in 2024. The US American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA), modeled from many parts of the EU Acts, continues to gain support and traction in the US House of Representatives.
Here’s how this will affect your organization. Your in-place strategies and tactics have either become more challenging, illegal or simply no longer effective If you have: (Continue on to Read the Full Article)
Privacy Regulation Update: The Doors Are Locking on User Data
Issue 62: June 30, 2022
We have frequently written about how the digital privacy and data environment outside of the US is being transformed as a result of international government efforts to enact policies and regulations that seek to protect its citizens and their privacy. The EU community is leading the way on these initiatives, and we caution all organizations to be aware and forewarned about the changes as they already affect global operations and will ultimately impact their US operations.
The US has not yet put into place individual online privacy protections. In the absence of a federal policy or framework, individual states are expected to enact protections for their citizens. But here’s the complication: digital extends beyond borders, national and international. Organizations face significant management and compliance challenges anywhere they provide information, services, or products to a geographically diverse set of stakeholders.
Data has become a fundamental pillar of our digital economy. It is a powerful tool both realistically and aspirationally to reach the right customers, create awareness or gain conversion via advertising. Data also refine how to assess and understand engagement, measure sales, and develop relevant marketing and product efforts.
The challenge is when an organization’s digital inputs are from the majorly passive channels awaiting traffic among the exponentially growing number of other passive channels across the expanse of the web. App stores are disintermediating organizations and making it harder and harder for them to get in front of potential stakeholders. In turn, organizations are compromised by direct or indirect data collection and leveraging the right data which makes it possible to drive potential stakeholders to the organization’s passive islands.
The data environment in the US may finally be changing given recent actions in Congress. Before we dive into that topic and surface its impact on organizations, let’s review some of the recent activities in the European Union.
2022 Mid-Year Prediction: Unintended Consequences
Issue 61: June 23, 2022
Over the past two years in discussions with clients and the 2040 team, I have continued to raise the point that “ it ain’t over until the lady sings.” Many have already sung with sighs of relief and many more have yet to sing. In either case, the songs increase anxiety and confusion when the last notes are ambivalent, and the outcome is not assured.
The Center Will Not Hold
In many instances after the proverbial ladies have sung, organizations rock back in a state of surprise and amazement. “What happened” and “why” echo in the executive suite. At 2040, it is a head-scratcher that organizations are so blindsided. The “why” is that leadership is not paying attention to societal, organizational, and even their own blind spots. To quote William Butler Yeats, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer; things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” Just as the poet describes, we fail to see and connect the dots until we actually can see and connect them, if it’s not too late.
My ongoing concern is the lack of recognition of how interdependent everything is across our society. This is my “critical thinking prompt” for clients to wake up and connect the dots.
Always Start with a Strategic Premise
Issue 60: June 16, 2022
You’ve developed an aspirational strategic plan that is going to help you crush it compared to your competitors and allow the organization to expand its customer base and be more relevant to existing customers. The direction of the plan and its goals seem to address the declining performance of existing business lines and offerings by developing a new model.
You’ve worked on it, honed it, and vetted it with your executive team and board of directors. On the surface, everyone appears to be supportive. Your communications group has crafted organization-wide messaging to introduce the new strategic direction to customers and the public at large. On a whim, communications shared the message with a few selected customers to be sure the plan is clear, compelling, and actionable.
Then everything fell apart. The feedback received was undebatable. Customers asked so many questions that the communications team was confused, and they didn’t have any answers. When communications shared the feedback with the executive team and board, nearly all these key leaders also became confused. Executive management counted on staff across the organization with the knowledge and experience to raise the red flag if any issues existed. Why weren’t the customers getting it? It all seemed so clear.
To say they were blindsided was an understatement. Everyone involved, including those on the board, believed in their perceptions of what customers want and need. They were shocked when they heard customers didn’t see the value the organization was going to create via this new strategic direction. Where did this all go wrong? What feels “good” and “right” on the surface can be based on faulty premises, which is the case in this scenario.
Foresight is Hindsight
The strategic planning effort lacked the key exercise of creating a strategic premise: defining the context for the plan, vetting scenarios that are tested and validated with accurate data, determining the orientation towards the market, and understanding clearly how the market perceives its relationship with the organization and its expectations about what it wants from the organization. That’s a lot, but it’s an absolutely essential exercise.
Too often strategic plans are set in a vacuum, without context or data, overlooking the reason and the impetus of the “why.” The activity also misses necessary alignment with an organization’s capability and capacity correlated to the market’s true needs and wants.
Shared Purpose Revisited
Issue 59, June 9, 2022
Back by popular demand, our newsletter on Shared Purpose is the best-read article we have published. It resonates because organizations today need a shared purpose to make a business sustainable. It’s not enough to have shared goals, an organization needs shared intent. Axios reports, “So much misunderstanding, tension and turmoil flow from thinking the other people are dishonest or out to get you. So, stop assuming the worst. Dig deep enough into relationships and business cultures, and you often find bad assumptions in the roots. Telltale signs are suspicion, backbiting or score-settling.”
Shared purpose is getting to the heart of what is intended, and its practical application is to actively listen and talk (don’t text). In a recent Flex Jobs Survey, the number-one reason people are quitting their jobs is toxic company culture. A positive work environment matters most to employees, and a shared purpose actualizes trust, respect, and the intrinsic dignity of every individual.
Operating in a fractious marketplace and a splintered society makes shared purpose all the more essential to intentionally build trust and relationships among teams. Younger employees in particular need something they can believe in and dedicate themselves to that brings meaning and purpose to their lives. Positioning your organization through the lens of how it helps develop strengths and skills for each employee, brings stakeholders valuable insights and guidance on how to do their jobs, and plays a role in building community credibility goes a long way today.
Enjoy the read and take shared purpose seriously. It will pay off on every level you operate and guide you to the future following your own North Star.
Transformation Is a Messy Business
Issue 58, June 2, 2022
When it comes to digital transformation, some thought leaders correlate it to chaos theory. We’ve all heard about chaos theory, even if we don’t understand it. Dumbed down, it’s the mathematical theory that explains what seems random and chaotic but that in actuality has underlying patterns, an interconnectedness and self-organization that can give order and logic to what seems chaotic on the surface. As we have continued to share in our newsletters, what we perceive is our version of reality and how we see the world around us — and we often fail to see true reality. Patterns exist everywhere in everything and every action or non-action influences other parts of the pattern, which ultimately find a higher level of order and organization. The concept of chaos theory can certainly be applied to the market disruptions we have experienced lately.
The Fault in Ourselves … Revisited
Issue 57, May 26, 2022
When we originally published this newsletter, Ukraine was not making headlines; there was no fifth wave of Covid; state primaries hadn’t happened; Disney was running theme parks in Florida without taking a public political position; the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard spectacle fighting out their own interpretations of the truth; and Elon Musk was not making news acquiring/not acquiring Twitter. Leading an organization has become a landmine with the public weighing in on everything from social and climate justice to personal opinions about the organization’s local and national politics. As Maureen Dowd recently wrote in The New York Times, “Everywhere we look, we are deluged with deception and Big Lies. Across the world, customized facts are the rage. Truth has left the building.”
You may think this has nothing to do with running an organization. But it does when public trust is eroded in political systems, institutions, and business leaders. And we believe this review of The Fault in Ourselves reveals how personal bias and groupthink can derail any organization as it has our now polarized public forums supporting the freedom of choice and civil dissent. We are sharing this newsletter with you again as a reminder of how critical it is to be fair, self-aware, open to differing viewpoints, and setting intentions to elicit a collaborative workplace culture. The command-and-control horse is out of the barn, as is the antiquated silo organizational structure. We are all held accountable to our stakeholders and the public at large. Identifying the fault in ourselves will accelerate our journey to organizational success and workforce high performance.
How Illusion and Delusion Derail Organizations
Issue 56: May 19, 2022
Two colleagues just attended their monthly executive committee meeting. One is the chief revenue officer of the organization, and the other is the head of marketing. The organization is struggling with diminishing membership revenues and sponsorship sales are running behind. The salesperson gave an upbeat, optimistic presentation asserting they would close the revenue gap by the end of the quarter. The marketing executive had a completely different take on the meeting noting that it would take an unprecedented heroic effort to make up the revenue shortfalls.
Or consider this: In Plato’s classic Allegory of the Cave, Socrates describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them and give names to these shadows. The shadows are the prisoners’ reality but are not accurate representations of the real world. The shadows represent the fragment of reality that we normally perceive through our senses, while the objects under the sun represent the true forms of objects that we can only perceive through reason.
Stick with us here.
Leading with Courage Redux
Issue 55: May 12, 2022
When we published the Leading with Courage newsletter last Fall, we were still emerging from the worst of the pandemic, slightly dazed and confused. We were facing a perfect storm that tested our resolve and creativity in leading our way to the future. Today, the entire world has seemingly collectively recognized the face of courage in the Ukrainian people and their leader, Volodymyr Zelensky. The Wall Street Journal states, “Zelensky defines courage in our time. His words and personal courage have stirred the world to action. Whatever fate awaits him and his nation, those who watched Mr. Zelensky’s address to the joint congressional session won’t soon forget it. It was a privilege to see a leader in whom honor is personified.”
An uninvited war has enormous collateral consequences and unanticipated escalating costs – both in resources and human beings. Our thoughts on courage take on new meaning in the context of Zalensky’s very public role in living every day with grace under pressure. We invite you to reread our article with the vision of what it takes to step up and step into living courageously, both personally and professionally. Yes, courage has its costs, but in a divisive society, disruptive marketplace, and dysfunctional public discourse, we need courage more than ever.
Why Does Context Matter to Every Individual and Organization?
Issue 54: May 5, 2022
In times of uncertainty and ambiguity, context is essential to providing clarity in communications and interpersonal relations – both personal and professional. It has become a challenge to understand others when there is an abundance of misinformation and personal spin on the facts. Even more confusing, history is recorded according to the historian’s context, which can be a highly personal interpretation. Worst case, the lack of context obscures information.
What does context have to do with organizational performance? First of all, one could argue that context is everything. Context is literally (according to Webster) the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed. Simply stated, context throws light on communications, situations, and plans, clarifying intentions and goals. Context can also be inspirational prompting one to seek out the information that informs context which can lead to the identification of opportunities that weren’t previously known.
Are You Holding Everyone Back?
Issue 53: April 28, 2022
Some people are quick processors, others way slower. Some people are decisive, others less so. Some people thrive on structure, others won’t be boxed in. And some people are planners, others can’t be bothered. We all know the types: Planners get to the airport hours before the flight; their nemeses are always running to the gate.
What happens when key members of a team don’t process quickly enough, are indecisive, resist structure and don’t want to plan ahead? The individual versus the demands of the group is not a psycho-social theory. We see it all the time in organizations when progress is held hostage by a few individuals who aren’t showing up for the team. Or worse than that, an entire organization is disrupted when it is unprepared for unexpected changes in market conditions, customers … or say a global pandemic.
Transitioning, Under Pressure … or Voluntarily
Issue 52: April 21, 2022
Does this sound familiar? You have spent most of your professional life perfecting who you are and have chosen to become. It’s a significant investment to fine-tune a life that conforms to your beliefs, hopes and dreams. Then wham! You have become marginal, or even worse, irrelevant. Suddenly (although it was gradual in coming if you had been paying attention) you have to reinvent yourself. This turning point is happening for both young and veteran professionals after a forced transition as organizations reorganize, pivot, change or seek holistic transformation. It always seems that even any change for the better leaves many in its wake trying to clear the water from their eyes to see how they must redefine themselves, or more dramatically, how they must reinvent themselves to remain relevant. For others who are prescient, they make a proactive, voluntary pivot to stay in the game and contribute in a meaningful way.
Why Do We Struggle with White Space?
Issue 51: April 14, 2022
Here’s an existential question: How do you fill an empty/white space? Spoiler alert: First, ask yourself is it worth filling? Second, is what you’re filling it with valuable, relevant and meaningful? Lastly, don’t hold back if you’re worried whether the full space is going to be accepted by others or will we be ridiculed and sequestered to the back of the room.
Too often our default behaviors kick in and we feel anxiety and stress when we have to fill an empty space because our base level of comfort and security are upended when presented with a blank canvas. Our comfort is further threatened when we feel there is an expectation to perform, and we’re not confident we can succeed. We worry if what we are about to add to the canvas will be right, credible and accepted by others. Filling an empty space is inhibiting because we are programmed to avoid ridicule, reveal our faults or expose what we don’t know.
What Keeps You from Attaining Goals?
Issue 50: April 7, 2022
Any transformation, transition or change requires setting and attaining goals. But does the end justify the means? In other words, do we focus so acutely on the goals we set that we lose sight of whether the goals move us forward to what we aspire to? How do we ensure our goals are worthy and relevant? How often do we mistake a goal for intention? A goal has a measurable outcome. An intention is about feelings. So, consider this: I want to create an environment in which everyone feels safe and secure in striving to attain our goals. That is the intention with a goal at its best. Let’s dive into the human defaults that influence how we conceptualize and set goals, what we assign as goals, and how to create shared goals and measure the outcomes.
As there is a theory for everything, goal theory is an intellectual and psychological construct created by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham to understand how goals influence an individual’s behavior and how behavior and thought processes influence how we understand goals. “Goal setting theory is based upon the simplest of introspective observations, specifically, that conscious human behavior is purposeful. Goals not only affect behavior as well as job performance, but they also help mobilize energy which leads to a higher effort overall. Higher effort leads to an increase in persistent effort,” according to Locke. Increases in effort take energy, something we are programmed to conserve via our evolutionary defaults. Setting goals that use up our energy reserves, then, seems counterintuitive. But we are full of contradictions, particularly in what motivates us and which part of ourselves (our conscious or subconscious mind) makes decisions.
Why Is Good Data Vital Currency and Bad Data a Disaster?
Issue 49: March 31, 2022
We often talk about the common problem of collecting massive amounts of data without a strategy to transform it into intelligent action-oriented insights. We are all drowning in data as technology and digital interactions have allowed us to collect and store more data and offer access to it. Given the large amounts of data now at our fingertips, we need data scientists and analytical engineers to make sense of it all. We flatter ourselves with the amount of data collected as seemingly size matters and assume the data we have collected is reliable, valuable and meaningful. As we discussed last week, there is also some confusion as to what an output versus an outcome is, and data only adds to the confusion and challenge.
There is a more insidious reality in data management. We don’t identify and assess the right input that assesses outcome measurement. We also make faulty assumptions of incomplete or bad data, we assign the wrong definition and meaning to the data, and we don’t often question its value. Human error is often the root of faulty data analytics and what is measured as a result. If you don’t ask the right questions in the context of the specific problem, how can you expect the data to reflect the appropriate answers? If the data is incorrectly defined, incomplete, or not valuable, how then do you make organizational decisions or truly understand organizational performance?
We are going to explore a topic that is frequently overlooked by management when establishing a data practice: how bad or faulty data can lead to disastrous decision making that results in taking the wrong actions or responses — often with significant consequences.
Do You Measure by Outputs or Outcomes?
Issue 48: March 24, 2022
How do you and your organization measure accomplishments and achievements?
In an Industrial Age mindset, output was believed to be the only measure as maximizing production efficiency became something close to a religious mantra. In today’s Knowledge Age era, outcome, actually accomplishing a strategy or goal is the real measure that determines outcome not output. In a marketplace that values what an organization stands for and its effect on all real and perceived stakeholders – and the planet – it’s surprising that outcome and impact are not embedded more strongly into a balance sheet. We propose that strategic results should have higher standing to operational results, with associated measures. And above all, organizations need to measure what matters, which is outcomes and impact, not metrics defined by an industry, competitor or measurements found on the internet.
In a recent meeting with Bob Willig, CEO of the Society for Manufacturing Engineers (SME), shared “if you never have a destination, you are never lost.” The quote resonated with us as a simple statement that encompasses the challenges we find where organizations are measuring their output without seemingly having a destination that represents the goal, strategy, outcome or impact.
How to Have a Complicated Conversation
Issue 47: March 17, 2022
How many recent conversations at work or in your personal life have been complicated?
Everyone is anxious about the war in Ukraine, the unjust actions on its people and the unprovoked war’s effects on our country and the world. This new source of anxiety adds to our stress levels in navigating a return to some level of what was normal pre-pandemic. The global situation has also thrust us into having complicated conversations as the world around us seemingly changes and we don’t have a concrete way to understand what the future will bring. It’s a potential minefield out there to address conversationally and express ourselves.
Why Conversation Matters
This week, we want to dive into the topic having complicated conversations and offer some thoughts and approaches for your interactions with individuals and groups. Why? Leaders, managers and really any individual, in professional and personal lives, need to be prepared to have complicated conversations that provide an open forum to have results-driven discussions on any issue from the global level to the office and across our personal lives.
In our 2040 newsletters focused on leading with courage, active listening, shared knowledge, individual biases and critical thinking, we brought forward the necessity to step back from ourselves, embrace humility, and recognize those that we are interacting with. And above all, we advocate structuring our communications and conversations for positive outcomes. We invite you to check them out for more strategies on leading with purpose, humility and empathy.
Is Your Organization Prepared to Establish a First-Party Data Strategy?
Issue 46: March 10, 2022
The criticality and the stakes for embracing a first-party data strategy are becoming more and more urgent as the days pass. The evolving regulatory requirement is to adopt organizational privacy practices that put the controls of one’s data in the hands and decision-making power of an individual, not an organization. In late spring of 2021, in anticipation of the regulatory changes, we advised our clients to move away from, or minimize the use of third-party, anonymous user-generated, and cookie-based data. The urgency then, and now, was to encourage organizations to embed first-party practices and strategies.
Why is first-party data that represents an organization’s curated known users becoming more of a critical strategy for doing business in today’s economy?
Organizations that have aspired to or have had some success with moving to a data-driven model to be more informed about their customers, prospective customers and content consuming users, are now confronted with having to provide individuals with opt-out or opt-in choices for being tracked and having their data stored and used within an organization.
Web analytic platforms, marketing automation, and similar data collectors and trackers enable organizations to collect behavioral information:
- User navigation paths (how users move through a website, app or application), how often they visit.
- Organic search keyword drivers that may have resulted in their visit to the organization as well as a collection of device and location-based data.
- Leveraging cookies to further track or target users based on their prior behaviors with advertising and to reveal how social channels bring those users to a site, app or application.
Issue 45: March 3, 2022
We have written over the past year highlighting the necessity of recognizing the many roles we play, whether the roles are assigned or expected. Human beings can appear to be many different people throughout the day dependent on the situation or environment. We assume different roles depending on the situation at hand, although our core values don’t change. These roles may blur from time to time, but it is critically important to recognize which role we are assuming and what is expected of us. For example, although we may be natural leaders, we may choose to play a subordinate role when appropriate.
Add to the mix in the roles we play, the subconscious and unconscious bias we carry with us is constantly acting and reacting to the stimuli in the situation or environment that we are in. With ingrained values and biases, everyone has to manage constituents’ expectations (with their own values and biases) in whatever role he or she assumes. Leaders’ actions and behaviors are monitored by others influencing decisions on whether to follow them. Those who serve in a public office are held to task by those that voted for them.
In businesses and organizations, board members, whether for a local charity, private business or public corporation are accountable to many constituents, all of whom have different expectations. Constituents trust a board member (like an elected official) to represent them and the issues or causes they care about. While taking on the responsibility to represent, individuals must also recognize their role and responsibilities to the organization and to their peers on a board. And the individual behaviors, biases and group dynamics at play. Tension results. The balancing act, then, is made even more complex by fiduciary responsibilities, policies and laws.
Boards and activist investors have been making headlines. Let’s take a look at the dynamics of human behaviors that often play out in the board room.
Issue 44: February 24, 2022
The workforce is changing in real-time in terms of how employees want to be recognized, valued, and supported – and how employers are responding. Much has been written about the headlines Gen Zs are making regarding work, but the shifts taking place are not restricted to only one generation in our six-generation workforce.
In parallel to employee demands, there are some sea changes that are worth noting that are subtly reshaping how we define work and how we work. Here is our top ten list of some of the more profound and weirder changes taking place.
Workers of all ages and life stages have become completely fed up with work as they know it. The wave of resignations has included all generations. Boomers have taken early retirement (but don’t count them out, they will be a big part of the gig economy in their second and third acts). Lower-paid workers are the majority of quitters and are looking to ratchet up their job paths with similar but different positions with better pay and better benefits. But perhaps the most significant trend is that workers want to work to live, not live to work.
The anti-ambition movement is led by workers who don’t see a traditional career ladder in their future. As reported by Noreen Malone in The New York Times, “during the pandemic a vast majority of people were deemed essential with jobs like Amazon warehouse workers or cashiers. To be told that society can’t function without you and that you must risk your health to come in, while other people push around marketing reports from home — often for much more money — it becomes difficult not to wonder if essential is cynical, a polite way of classing humans as expendable or nonexpendable.” She adds, “Now, though, it’s as if our whole society is burned out. The pandemic may have alerted new swaths of people to their distaste for their jobs — or exhausted them past the point where there’s anything to enjoy about jobs they used to like.” Thus, the anti-ambition mindset was spawned.
The Power of Positive … and Negative Thinking
Issue 43: February 17, 2022
What have we been told since kindergarten? Believe in the power of positive thinking! For many, positive thinking is an intuitive attitude reflected in a state of mind and behavior. The optimists, who are inclined to be hopeful and expect good outcomes, live this credo daily. Wake up with positive thoughts and positive outcomes will result. The skeptics, who are inclined to doubt or question any belief (especially those that are dogmatic and rote) may view positive thinking as a Pollyanna-ish notion. The realists, who accept a belief system as it is and behave accordingly, are somewhere in the middle. The pessimists tend to see the worst aspects of things and believe the worst will happen. Where are you on the spectrum? And how does that influence your interactions, professional behavior, and how you work?
To mix things up, there is also a school of the power of negative thinking which has its supporters and is used as a guide to effective decision making, strategy and influence. Let’s unpack positive and negative thinking to evaluate how either approach can help and hinder an organization.
How Do You Trust?
Issue 42: February 10, 2022
Everyone is talking about who or what to trust, particularly in today’s fractious public discourse. When we decide to trust, we have aligned with and formed an understanding, correlation, and interpretation of the meaning of that trust. We then apply what has been communicated, shared, and internalized to our own beliefs, values, and knowledge … and take actions based on that trust.
In Ourselves We Trust
Where do we end up if we have formed thoughts, knowledge, beliefs and take actions only to discover our trust was misaligned? We feel violated, we question ourselves and second guess how we could have trusted in the first place. What did we do wrong in our evaluation and assessment of the trust we aligned with to another, an organization, or even a government?
It gets more complicated. If we don’t trust ourselves, we typically don’t trust others. You can also flip the equation and by trusting others we can trust ourselves. This bi-directional connection aids us in forming our perception of reality. We wrote a few weeks ago about how reality is really perception. So, if we trust what we have been told and trust it has some correlation to the fact, then we indeed perceive a feeling of trust.
How We Trust
But the real question is how you trust, and that doesn’t mean that you can or are able to trust. Rather, what is the process of how you trust, even in trusting yourself? Consider the seminal work, How Does a Poem Mean and take a page from John Ciardi to think about how you trust as the analysis of all the independent elements that comprise your decision to trust. In literature, it’s breaking poems down to study their structure, form, language, and theme. Let’s apply those meta principles in analyzing how you trust – professionally and personally.
Inflation + True Value: Do You Raise Your Price?
Issue 41: February 3, 2022
This is the first time since 1982 that inflation has grown at such a fast pace and become such an urgent short-term issue for so many organizations and individuals around the world. It is clearly affecting consumers forcing them to make fundamental changes in their choices and their overall lifestyles. The consumer who is now having to be more discerning about their own expenses contributes to a set of challenges faced within most organizations as they seek to determine how to manage their own increasing expenses. As The New York Times reports, there are higher home heating prices, surging rent costs, and rising food and gas prices. Refrigerator staples including meat, poultry fish and eggs rose 12% over the past year.
Inflation isn’t the only problem in the present and foreseeable future. Organizations also face increased expenses in response to the scarcity of skilled employees and the increased costs for retaining and acquiring employees. The impact of inflation and changes in workforce dynamics presents existential challenges – particularly for associations and subscription-based organizations that majorly rely upon recurring revenue models.
How does an organization continue to create value while contending with operations that cost significantly more than they did two years ago?
- Does an organization increase its dues or monthly subscriptions?
- Does an organization increase its prices on other products to counter increased expense?
- How will inflation continue to influence and impact members and subscribers and the willingness to continue to be a member or subscriber?
We have not seen 7% inflation in a long time, and we have never seen a workforce environment of such scarcity and competitiveness.
How to Use Systems Thinking + Strategic Thinking
Issue 40: January 27, 2022
One of the common complaints about the ongoing explosion of startups is that they tout a solution … as it turns out in many instances, to a problem that usually doesn’t exist. We envy their innovation, admire their flexibility and applied agility, but entrepreneurs often don’t look deeply enough to understand if there is an actual problem that their solution seeks to address. It’s not just the innovators. Many of us don’t see beyond our own creative development and therefore, like entrepreneurs, fail to see that the solution is really looking for a problem to solve.
Our excitement energizes us with the potential, which can influence us to overlook our own gaps in understanding how the solution applies to a real-life problem. For example, in the case of the stock market, we invest heavily in selected companies following the lead of the “experts,” with the assumption that they see potential that we don’t. We rally behind the investments as we seek to follow and align with the leaders. In business, this is a perfect example of undermining how a solution fits in the larger system by not correlating critical thinking to a set of real and well-formed outcomes.
Falling in love with a solution misses the point if it is searching for a problem and therefore a reason to be in business – particularly if the solution is out of context with your own organization. Failing to identify and define the real problem is like shooting in the dark. Without skill and practice, you might get lucky and hit the bullseye. But how many times did you miss altogether? In today’s rapidly changing society, each miss comes with consequences impacting short-term sustainability and long-term viability and growth.
First things first: What problem are you actually trying to solve? Does the problem really exist? Is how you or others define the problem reflective of the systems (including the environment) which your organization serves? And lastly, how are you trying to solve the problem?
Is Perception Everything?
Issue 39: January 20, 2022
Some say that we live in a simulation. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Matrix popularized ideas long held by some physicists and game theorists. Some say that we will be living in a parallel reality, a metaverse dramatized by Ender’s Game, Belle and Ready Player One, to mention only three pop culture narratives. There are plenty of thinkers and philosophers who believe that reality is how you perceive it; beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak. So, what does any of this have to do with running an organization? A lot.
Perception Isn’t Universal
According to Christina Catenacci, ethics professor, “Perception is the process by which individuals organize and interpret their sensory impressions to give meaning to their environment. What one perceives can be substantially different from what another person perceives, and both can be very different than the actual objective reality. In fact, behavior is based on one’s perception of what reality is, not reality itself.” As for the workplace, “There are many factors that influence how something is perceived. Factors pertaining to the perceiver can involve the person’s attitudes, motives, interests, experience, and expectations. Contextual factors can involve time, work setting and social setting. Finally, factors related to the actual target can involve novelty, motion, sounds, size, background, and proximity,” she adds.
We often believe the way we think, act, and participate is consistent across all aspects of our perceived reality, personal or professional. However, our behavioral responses change depending on the situation or environment we are in. Our individual reality is comprised of how we interpret societal cues and norms, how we have learned to accord our behavior and actions, and the sum total of what we have previously experienced. Our reality is also informed by our interpretation of what we believe others believe and how they want us to act, communicate or behave.
Nine Real Risks in 2022
Issue 38: January 13, 2022
The existential and operational risks facing any leader have been ramped up because of an ongoing pandemic, economic disruption, global supply chain breakdowns and a series of demands from all stakeholders delivered through an increasingly contentious civil discourse. Our organizations have faced tough times in the past; what feels different this time is the perfect storm of forces most leaders have no control over. The irony is that on the surface it looks like everything is growing and thriving. The stock market is booming, there is a wave of investment activity and corporate profits are up, for the most part. Yet, the financial metrics do not reveal the undercurrents of dissatisfaction that could erode the infrastructure of our organizations.
What skills does a modern leader need? Never before has the balance of art and science been more essential. Effective leaders must be deeply human as well as tech-savvy. They also need to be big thinking strategists and on-the-ground operators. It no longer suffices to be deeply knowledgeable and conversant on a single leadership skill; managing and leading an organization now reflects connections and dependencies on data, technology, and how humans interact and respond to each other.
Most importantly, there is safety in numbers, and leaders need to form coalitions and partnerships, internally and externally. Flexibility without compromising the north star of ethics and integrity and leading with humility aware of their own biases are also key to great leadership. They also need to think globally and act locally. And when we say leadership, we are talking about everyday leaders as well as the executive team. To sum it up in Teddy Roosevelt’s words, “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.”
Not to sound alarmist, but we have identified the top nine risks facing organizations today. These risks are foundational to the human factor of our organizations. All the technology in the world cannot save people from themselves when their inherent biases (conscious and/or subconscious) guide their decision-making, strategy setting and managing customers and the workforce. Being aware of these nine risks is a start. Anticipating how these risks can affect organizational culture, the value it represents, and its financial success is the next step to establishing the checks, balances, and safeguards to weather through the next 18 months. And transcending both steps, requires the skill of critical thinking, the structure of systems thinking and the construct of collaboration to find the right actions and solutions for your own enterprise.
Issue 37: January 6, 2022
When the public discourse becomes contentious and people lose faith in institutions and government, increasingly they look to the organizations where they work or engage with as customers to bestow their trust and connection with a community of shared purpose. All types of stakeholders are pushing for more accountability from organizations and leadership, and yes, even the institutions they have seemingly lost faith in.
In fact, according to BrandCulture, “For too long, the business-as-usual approach to generating revenue and achieving growth has disengaged customers and employees, bred mistrust and damaged reputations by substituting relentless pursuit of profits for vision and frequently foregoing mission entirely.” Many of our government institutions have deflected the public or their constituents’ needs and wants by losing sight of their purpose for existence. Many professional organizations, profit and nonprofit, have become taken to task for not serving stakeholders. Therefore, faith and trust are eroding, a chasm has opened, and individuals are struggling to find connection and meaning to fill the chasm.
As with many other aspects of our current social disruptions, we are becoming more polarized in our belief systems, often framed by subconscious or unconscious bias.
Several weeks ago, we turned our attention to framing and discussing the criticality of market orientation and forming organizations around a shared purpose. Before the holidays, we discussed how to manage expectations and when to recognize the need to respond and take social and societal positions. This week, we dive deeper into defining and discussing shared purpose in the context of organizational alignment and in meeting an organization’s social obligations.
It is a complex topic, yet a critical exercise regardless of one’s perspective and values. Any enlightened attempt to seek change and transformation of an organization’s market orientation should fulfill the needs of society, both internal and external.
Shared purpose spurs a grounded conversation about the macro and micro issues that are important to a diverse, inclusive community by creating a narrative that is relevant, meaningful, and fluid so that it can evolve as the needs of stakeholders change. All organizations are represented as a mesosystem that reflects their organizational strategy, structure, model, and culture. A mesosystem does not exist in isolation. It is surrounded by, influenced and dependent upon the macrosystem (world, region, country, or locality) and the microsystem (comprised of individuals and groups of customers and employees). A shared purpose represents how the organization forms, works together and represents itself with intent and in service to the macro and microsystems surrounding it.
A Guide to Readiness for Change and Transformation
Issue 36: December 28, 2021
As we look back over the past year, it is remarkable to note how resilient we are as human beings and together as a society, which extends to our organizations and their culture. Leading in a time of ambiguity can be exhausting and meeting all stakeholders’ expectations is never-ending. At 2040, we work with our clients to navigate the sea changes that have reshaped and re-engineered how we conduct business. Our key focus is the human factor, critical thinking and how to control bias in managing people, process, products and profit. We advocate systems thinking problem solving and holistic approaches that sustain a collaborative, collegial culture. Running a business today is fraught with landmines; we know how to avoid them and build a healthy, enlightened organization.
In remembrance of a year past, we offer you this index of thought leadership position pieces that can help you manage transformation and strengthen your organization to be competitive in a complex, ever-evolving digital marketplace and in meeting your current and prospective customers’ needs and wants.
Issue 35: December 23, 2021
What is the role of a business leader today? The pressures placed on managers and leaders have grown exponentially with expectations from all stakeholders to lead in a certain way. And that way is what those stakeholders believe is the right way. The leadership arena is complex and risky. Whether you lead a small association or a multinational brand, the skillset required to exceed everyone’s expectations has expanded beyond organizational expertise.
As we turn our attention, despite current circumstances, to a new year filled with optimism and promise, we must recognize that our customers, staff and stakeholders continue to expand their expectations of us and in turn, we must rise to the occasion and seek to meet those expectations.
Consider for a moment the new cultural/social domains that leaders need to master and have teams in place to manage: DEI, ESG, local politics, national policy, multicultural communities, workforce mental health, privacy, and cybersecurity — just to mention a few. At the heart of these issues is the need to balance people, profits, and products/services.
“Many of the current problems in the digital society we now exist in equates to — lack of trust, misaligned incentives, controlling gatekeepers, treating audiences as a resource to be exploited — arise from its intense centralization around massive tech platforms that seemingly only get more massive as they lock in their network effects and store of data.” So says Brian Morrissey. Add to the tech issues, the drama and demands of fulfilling social expectations, many of which are unstated.
Context is Everything
Issue 34: December 16, 2021
We have shared with you a set of practices that is key to high performance, optimal business modeling, productive workplace culture and enlightened leadership. Clear, unbiased communications and organizational constructs are essential tools in a digital marketplace. And activating these tools is made more powerful through critical thinking and analysis with context.
We are among those that believe that context is everything. It is the foundational pillar of any change and transformation. Without contextual analysis, transformation is merely theoretical. And without shared knowledge that results in shared organizational understanding and alignment, the exercise is meaningless.
Context is critical to prevent overlooking systems within systems and the impact our actions may have across systems when we consider organizational change and transformation. When we consider context, we must take into account how historical, social, societal, cultural, generational, political, and environmental factors impact and influence organizational change or transformation efforts. More precisely, a context-informed transformation strategy includes the market environment, organizational structure, technological infrastructure, human complement, and other elements that comprise a complete system dependent upon its interrelationship with immediate internal and broader external systems.
Issue 33: December 9, 2021
With the increasing influence of digital technologies, we are becoming slaves to our devices – at work and at home. And most of us are unaware of how our behaviors are changing as a result of the proliferation of digital platforms and our near-constant use of them. What’s more, our communication skills and styles are evolving in lockstep with digital systems and processes, often out of necessity, conformance and avoidance of physical interaction. We often don’t realize how the assimilation, accommodations and desire in how we communicate and interact with others is fundamentally changing. Nor do we recognize how our minds are being reprogrammed to maintain connectivity with each other.
Most of us march on to the digital beat and are experiencing psychological, subconscious, and emotional side effects. Next gens speak in shorthand and fear missing out of perceived important interactions on their devices. Employees are experiencing screen fatigue and are overwhelmed by email overload, particularly since our physical interactions are less than what they once were.
We’re going to take a pause and look at communication, how it is changing and how to best communicate in a digital age while also bringing forth some food for thought on how our individual brains are adapting to tech and in many ways being reprogrammed.
Eight Predictions from 2040
Issue 32: December 2, 2021
As we rush headlong into the holiday season and the end of another surprising year, it’s a good time to take stock. The learnings from the pandemic have solidified new business models, changed the context and viewpoints of individual values, and changed the direction that seemed so clear as we started the year. For some organizations seeking to align and embrace new learnings, they have placed people before short-term profits out of sheer necessity and the need for talent and curation of customers and the workforce. It is implicit that our American capitalistic system is designed to drive and reward profit, however after two years of unanticipated market flux, economic disruption, and a pervasive level of anxiety among all individuals, leaders of organizations of all sizes and purposes have taken a pause and reassessed organizational strategies and operational mandates with a new focus on the human factor. This recognition of the need for relationships with individuals representing the workforce, customers and constituencies is key to sustained success.
Predictions are always risky because you are held accountable for your forward-thinking. At 2040, we have years of experience working with clients in many industry sectors, and we can say with certainty that the only constant in life is change. So, we’re going out on a limb here and identifying eight macro trends that we believe all organizations need to pay attention to and build business practices to address these issues to ensure they anticipate the future and remain competitive. With a nod to branding expert Lapidarius, all of our predictions are framed by the reality that Covid and other new health concerns are here to stay. In our highly interconnected world, what happens in an obscure village in Africa has global ramifications as we see viruses proliferating without any regard or respect for international borders.
Managing Ourselves and Our Responses
Issue 31: November 25, 2021
A Helpful Guide to Managing Ourselves and Our Responses
We have published 31 Issues of 2040’s Ideas and Innovations Newsletter and appreciate all your feedback and support over this year. We wanted to take the opportunity to curate some of our favorite and most important topics for your holiday reading.
As we all take a break from navigating the dynamics in our workplaces and shift to focus on family and friends, we offer you some tactics and approaches you might use. Our interactions with people are pretty consistent at work and on our own time, so the following thought leadership pieces could come in handy!
Let’s start with The Fault in Ourselves which explores how strongly our biases play into how we perceive and define others and the world around us. We also go deeper into how we think and solve problems with pieces, on critical thinking, leading with courage and allowing criticism, active listening, recognizing patterns, improving decision making, and mastering communications that actually communicate. Each of these themes separately and combined represent best practices that you should consider in creating deeper understanding of the humans that comprise your life, your family, your friends, and society at large. Below are some additional relevant articles.
Happy Thanksgiving from the 2040 Team
How Market Orientation Drives Success
Issue 30: November 18, 2021
There has been much written about the dynamic and disruptive market forces we operate in. But there is less attention paid to how an organization and its system can only achieve its purpose and goals if the individual and group-based human factors are aligned and oriented towards a shared value proposition to the market. We call this market orientation: enterprise-wide market information (intelligence) related to the present and upcoming needs and desires of customers, disseminating information through and in between departments comprising the parts of an organization’s system, resulting in organization-wide responsiveness, according to Falasca. Simply stated, that means a holistic relationship between leadership, the workforce and its market designed to drive response and engagement among stakeholders.
Why Market Orientation?
Market orientation basically represents a set of processes touching on all aspects of an organization with the purpose of maintaining and growing continuous dialog, recognition, and intent across all organizational units. This interrelationship connects all parts of the organizational system, which enables its responsiveness to the market and its customers.
Market orientation and resulting responsiveness have their basis in agility. It seeks to limit ambiguity by staying knowledgeable and informed on the continued evolution and/or maturation of the market and aligning goals, strategies and tactics that are reflective of market needs and wants, creating deeper and additive customer value.
Authentic market orientation reveals the truth about transformation and how human factors and behaviors impact the organizational system. It isn’t about “marketing,” it isn’t about “sales,” and it isn’t about “product management.” It is focused on the human elements of an organization-wide system that must cohesively align for a shared purpose.
Akroush and Mahadin define market orientation as reflective of the organization’s culture by focusing on creating superior competitive value for customers and exploring and identifying trends in target markets to provide greater needs and desires to customers. Market orientation as a business philosophy and practice should influence and form the basis of culture. This orientation forms the structure by which a culture is set, grows, and matures over time. The culture works towards goals with a shared definition and understanding of information and intelligence including factors and variables that exist in or across the macro (world, region, country, locality), meso (the organization and its system) and micro (representing individuals across the customer base and workforce) systems. Therefore, it does not reflect the culture, it sets the foundation on which the cultural forms.
Life Stage Marketing and Segmentation
Issue 29: November 11, 2021
When managing a multigenerational workforce and understanding a customer audience, there are many theories and models that tap into different segmentations. Creating personas and groupings is helpful to understand, interact, engage, inspire, motivate and convert. The current debate is whether segmentation approaches and practices should be based on chronological age, geolocation, life events, values, attitudes, and lifestyles – or even one’s journey to self-actualization with a nod to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
At 2040 we work with clients to find the perfect balance of combining segmentation models for both the workforce and audience. With the power of data and analytics, segmentation is made more relevant and can be targeted to specific audiences. However, we raise the red flag on the temptation to overclassify and stereotype generations, professions, and age bands, without recognizing the distinct influences of culture, situations and life stages. As an example, we know millennials have delayed life events, AKA getting married and having kids later, but that is a general statement that doesn’t recognize that many in that generation are already married with kids. Although we are grouped by age, location, ethnicity and the like, culture play a strong role. Therefore, less overstatement and more distinct groupings and segments are needed to better reflect who the market really is and how one approaches that market for conversion, engagement, and even brand loyalty.
More, not Less
Most organizations, seek to roll up their personas to a handful. This limited approach seems more manageable, easily understood, and minimizes the mental energy required to monitor, curate, and execute. Personas work across human resources, marketing, communication, customer service and even organizational leadership. The thinking is that a smaller number of personas is better controlled plus the related tasks are more easily managed.
The practice and desire to over-simplify leads to overgeneralization and poor results often without recognizing that the cause of poor performance isn’t because your current or desired customers are ignoring you or you hired the wrong people. Typically, oversimplification reflects the fact that the organization hasn’t taken the time, applied critical thinking, and represented in detail who the individuals are and in what life stages they exist in. Segmentation with more (not fewer) personas reflective of life stage nuances will yield greater success.
Over years of working with clients, we have brought forward, on average, 30-60 potential personas, depending on the client, its audience and how its products or services should be correlated to deliver value and desired results. This higher number is often met with gasps as the immediate default reaction is to resist the amount of work required to manage, curate, and execute communication, marketing, customer service and the like to all potential segments. It does indeed take a lot of work to excel in a more dynamic market where audiences are becoming more ethnically, culturally, and racially diverse — and their needs, wants and desires have become more fluid influenced by life stage.
As we have so often surfaced, default human behavior and resulting decision-making are based on the desire to do less work and make things less complicated. But in the end, that thinking has consequences. To be successful with a workforce and a customer base requires more work and more complexity to achieve results.
Designing the appropriate segmentation model is specific to an organization and its relationship with its workforce and its customer base. We offer a variety of factors, theories, and perspectives that we hope you consider when you define, describe, and represent who comprises your workforce and who your customers really are. These factors guide an organization in its interactions, engagement, inspiration, motivation and conversion efforts.
Before you continue reading, keep in mind what we have brought forward over the past issues of this newsletter, starting with The Fault in Ourselves where we demonstrated how strongly our biases play into how we perceive and define others and the world around us. We raised the issues on critical thinking, leading with courage allowing criticism, active listening, recognizing patterns, improving decision making, measuring what matters, curating first-party data, and mastering communications that actually communicate. Each of these themes separately and combined represent best practices that you should consider in creating deeper understanding of the humans that comprise your workforce, customers, and society at large.
Issue 28: November 4, 2021
Everyone talks about innovation, but how does it really happen? And what is the difference between authentic innovation and a pastiche of innovation that doesn’t power true transformation or change? As we all know, managing and operating an organization has many underlying parts that come together to create the whole system. A startup has the agility and flexibility to innovate and pivot as its size is small, focused and often committed to solving a particular problem. Once it becomes successful and grows, it requires, like every mature organization, the infrastructure to support finance, human resources, product management, communications, marketing, and the like. Creating and managing innovation within a more complex organization has to evolve from a startup mindset.
Success stories abound on how startups embed innovation and disrupt, but what is not widely reported is how they build a system dependent on processes and culture over time as they grow. Ongoing innovation becomes as complex a task for startups as faced by mature organizations. Ironically, mature organizations seek to emulate what they believe is successful, making assumptions that their smaller, more agile counterparts know something they don’t. What results is the attempt to adopt startup innovation strategies and tactics with an immediate, closed-loop approach that segregates the innovators from the rest of the organization. Although mature organizations think they can act like startups, they majorly miss the point that startups exist in a very different context, culture, and system. What happens? Innovation may surely start in a closed-loop but will only succeed in catalyzing transformation if it gets incorporated into the larger organizational system — and the system itself understands how it will be changed. Otherwise, innovation becomes a square peg that cannot fit into a round hole.
We’ve noticed that there is a growing amount of surface noise about innovation that is more posturing and positioning than the real deal that begets true change and transformation as organizations seek to respond and adapt to the dynamically changing marketplace. This veneer of innovation is referred to as “innovation theater.”
Decision Making and Primitive Automaticity
Issue 27: October 28, 2021
We live in nearly constant transition as the world around us continues to change quickly and dynamically. We often don’t know what we may have lost (or gained) as situations change or evolve around us. We often struggle how to redefine ourselves in a world we do not yet well understand because of the pace of change.
Technology continues to fundamentally change the world around us as we debate whether we are changing as a result of technology or question if our tech-framed behavior is innate. These are existential questions that we must deal with to determine who we are versus who we perceive we are. A quote from The Matrix sums it up best when Morpheus responds to Neo by saying, “What is reality? Reality comes from electrical pulses firing synapses in the brain and which forms the construct. The reality, then is what the mind believes it is. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”
As a society we are discovering how we have been captive to algorithms dialing our emotions up and down, polarizing our thoughts and beliefs, and rattling our perceptions of our individual realities as we negatively compare ourselves to those around us. We are subject to information feeds that deliver filtered information based on what an algorithm believes we want to see because we have interacted with similar information in the recent past.
We are overwhelmed by the amount of choice that we have facing us daily. We live in a world of never-ending choices, whether deciding what to watch, what to buy in endless online aisles or where to eat. Research shows we are easily stressed and become consumed with anxiety when we have too many items to choose from when we only want two or three.
Much research is coming to the forefront that reveals the amount of information the subconscious mind registers as we scan and curate our information, social and newsfeeds, even though we interact with only a few items across the feed via our conscious minds. Images, comments, and emojis become imprinted into our minds and begin to affect our thoughts and feelings, defining how we see others, think about issues and situations, and how we perceive our reality.
What’s worse is that we often don’t even recognize the influences around us which shape our conscious and unconscious thoughts and actions. It is difficult to always know what to think and do when so much of the world around us has an unknown influence on our thoughts, emotions, actions, and behaviors.
Over the past several months, we have continually surfaced via this newsletter the need for limiting bias, developing active listening skills, seeking objectivity through critical thinking, creating cultures that respect open dialogue and criticism, developing respect for diverse and multigenerational workforces, accepting ambiguity, being resilient, and embracing agility in a dynamically changing world.
The Fault in Ourselves
Issue 26: October 21, 2021
One outcome of the pandemic is operating in a highly fractious marketplace with gender identity, economic and political distinctions often accelerated into polarization. These issues are not just external, they are also prevalent internally, revealing new challenges to leading and working together. At 2040 we find that these issues rise to the surface and become roadblocks to transformation when personal bias, conscious or subconscious, rules the culture, infuses decision making, and forms our personal and professional behavioral defaults.
Frankly, it’s hard to get in touch with personal bias since our default is to assume everyone believes and operates the way we do. Our personal biases filter the ways we see the world, consider those who surround us, and represent our perception of reality. And perception is indeed one’s reality.
We don’t know what we don’t know, nor do we always know what we need to know. Separating out the ego and changing deeply ingrained behaviors is uncomfortable and for most can be considered uncharted territory in one’s personal and professional life.
Having a diverse workforce (that is representative of your customers), working in cross-discipline, cross-functional teams, reinforcing critical thinking and objectivity, encouraging open dialogue and even criticism to maintain honesty and transparency, and practicing active listening is a good formula for mitigating and managing personal bias.
Mark Tarallo, the senior editor at Security Management Magazine, states, “You can’t manage others if you can’t manage yourself. And for any manager, effective self-management requires a certain level of professional self-knowledge.” He quotes Khalil Smith, a former leadership development expert at Apple, “Most managers think they’re really good managers, and a lot of them aren’t. Confidence and competence are not correlated.” Even the most effectively self-managed leaders are biased. David Rock, president of the NeuroLeadership Institute adds, “We see the world through tremendous filters. And we are not aware of these filters.” Rasheeda Childress adds “Hidden prejudices can have a cascading effect that reveals itself in everything from staff hires to member retention. In fact, experts warn that unconscious bias can even halt organizational innovation.”
Our human defaults lead us to align with those who are most like us, those that look like us, those who think as we do, and those that have the same or similar values we do. We strive for familiarity as it leads to comfort and predictability. Those who are like us, look like us and think as we do are most likely to confirm our own thoughts and actions, which in turn feeds our ego and gives us confidence in our own decision making. Our defaults are a longing to be accepted, gain that pat on the back, be liked, and be recognized for sound thinking.
Unfortunately, our defaults and desire to seek familiarity lead us to make uninformed decisions or take actions based on perceptions that are not necessarily true reality. The outcome of bias and perception impact our personal lives, the paths we take, and also strongly influence our professional lives; how we interrelate with our co-workers and those around us — and ultimately how organizations operate and are managed.
In sum, the fault in ourselves can be defined by the perception through which we view and consider the world around us to be the reflection of ourselves.
Over the past several months, we have continually surfaced via this newsletter the need for developing active listening skills, seeking objectivity through critical thinking, creating cultures that respect open dialogue and criticism, developing respect for diverse and multigenerational workforces, accepting ambiguity, being resilient, and embracing agility in a dynamically changing world.
Learn more about the types of biases and how they impact decision making.
How to Manage a Five Generation Workforce
Issue 25: October 14, 2021
We are at an interesting inflection point: Five different generations make up today’s workforce: Gen Z, millennials, Gen X, boomers and the Silent Generation. And the Alphas are not far behind. Add to the age differences, the new rules of diversity and inclusion, changes in life stage definitions, individual and group values, and the impact of evolving societal events. For starters, 2020 Pew Research reveals 59% of Gen Zers say forms or online profiles should include additional gender options, compared with 50% of millennials, 40% of Gen Xers, 37% of boomers and 32% in the Silent Generation.
Each generation approaches their careers differently and each needs to be managed in nuanced ways. Older workers value a slow, steady and consistent career path, but according to trends expert Jasmine Glasheen, “Next gens are more focused on helping the collective whole through self-realization –– which translates into pursuing a career path that’s centered around individual evolution/success.”
Most importantly, all generations are inseparable from technology. That being said next gens are more comfortable with data. Younger decision-makers are terrific champions for the transition to data-driven business culture. Younger generations are more willing to embrace change; 76% of executives in their 30s or younger look for opportunities to leverage new technology to achieve business goals. Plus, 67% of them see risk as opportunity, not danger, according to an Inavero study.
A World of Differences
Our planet has nearly 8 billion individuals. This is an incredible number that is often hard to grasp, let alone understand and relate to. How can we expand our sensitivity to so many different types of people from so many different backgrounds and cultures when our minds are limited to what we have only seen and experienced personally? Our understanding is largely formed by our own mental constructs.
As a result, we seek to conceptually classify and categorize the groups that comprise these 8 billion people. As the human world grows and continues to dynamically change, our default to oversimplification leads to faulty conclusions and misinterpretations. We frequently overgeneralize how we define “the herds” and miss important influences, nuances, variables, and factors of the individuals in these groups.
As we discuss the very real nuances describing generations and the intergenerational issues that form a workforce in today’s society, we must recognize we are the sum of our parts. Regardless of where we fall in the age bands of any generation, we are further defined by our life stages (single, married, divorced, parent, single-parent, recent graduate, early-career professional, late-career professional, etc.) our belief systems, and how we are touched by societal events (terrorism, political unrest, war, economic collapse … and yes even a pandemic).
Some would represent that we are all individually unique. Our ability to capture and interpret data shows that we are all not as unique as we would like to believe. Humans are complex and the result of a variety of influences. The capture of a few individual bits of data here or there based on our actions allow us to be herded into groups and segmented by behaviors, values, preferences, and the like.
Decision Making in a Digital Age
Issue 24: October 7, 2021
The debate in management and leadership circles is how to best make decisions in a digital age. Should you be data-driven or intuitive? There are too many variables, including institutional knowledge and bias that limit the value of gut decision making, particularly in a fundamentally and dynamically ever-changing environment. We are the sum-total of our own biases and past experiences, which hinder the effectiveness of intuitive decision-making in the 21st century. A decision-making approach that is based on quality data that represents a complete or close to complete reality can more clearly reveal effective actions, intelligence and strategies.
The Argument for Data-Driven Decision Making
Data-driven decision-making has been popularized by the era of big data and the myriad of technologies and technological solutions that create and capture data. At no other time in human history have we been able to collect data at the rate and depth that we now can. Data can overwhelm, confuse and confound. There appears to be “too much information” to even consider; our default human behavior is to simplify and seek the major point or finding, not conduct a daily analysis of a deluge of information. Becoming data-driven is a necessity for today and tomorrow. We must manage our defaults and grow outside our comfort zone if our organizations are to survive into the future.
Data is, by definition, mostly objective, unbiased information as a byproduct of transactions, process completions, process inputs, behavioral capture and more. Most data results from the past, whether that be a transaction completed yesterday, last month or even an hour ago — or an email that was opened and a click that occurred last week or this week. Applying value to most data requires context and a recognition of the time and place of capture. In today’s quickly changing environment, what happened last week or last month was the result of a variety of factors and variables that were relevant at the time. That data may be subject to change or new factors and variables that are now important for the present and future. We are in a very challenging time where we must learn how to leverage data and become data-driven decision-makers as the data offers our best hope and chance for navigating today’s market dynamism.
Simply stated, data-driven decision-making is the process of studying large amounts of data, analyzing it to identify patterns, obtaining actionable insights, and using that insight to make business decisions. That’s pretty straightforward. Data is dependable and mostly objective.
Too many organizations have gotten on the data bandwagon without a plan. Tech expert Gabriel Swain, Vice President of Marketing & Growth at LinkedIn cautions, “Businesses have data at their fingertips, but how do they organize it in a logical way? Many still struggle to understand how data is used to make decisions. There is so much data in the world today that it would take over 180 million years to download it.”
Taking the Pulse of Your Employees
Issue 23: September 30, 2021
Many organizations are facing a Kairos moment, a moment they neither anticipated nor planned for. Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning the right, critical, or opportune moment. Others might think of the Kairos as a crucible and defining moment. Over the past 18+ months, organizations have had to adapt and change quickly. Some have been successful, some haven’t, and some have had limited success, still on the journey.
When employees’ lack of voice meets head-on with a lack of trust and cynicism towards leadership, the great resignation seeps into an otherwise healthy workplace culture. We believe it is time to revisit how the pandemic has reshaped our work styles and workplaces. This survey is intended to help you identify where the pulse of your employees is healthy, and where it could use some intervention.
Organizational constructs have been challenged. The rules of engagement have changed. The one transcendent lesson we should learn from the pandemic is empathy. Employees know they can seek different environments where they feel more highly valued. And they can be a part of change or transformation efforts elsewhere where their opinions and input are requested and respected. As it turns out, employees’ Kairos moments become the organization’s Kairos moment requiring a look inward to reassess workplace culture, processes and at the root of it all, its values.
At 2040, we encourage our clients to ask three key questions:
- Have you been successful with change or transformation in the past?
- Do you stay committed in ensuring that change or adaptations come to fruition?
- How many changes, adaptations, innovations, or transformation initiatives failed or became forgotten?
Often employees become less and less engaged when it becomes clear that the entrée of the day seems very much like the entrée from last year or five years ago. They do remember what happened and what didn’t result. They do remember the thoughts they had, what they attempted to contribute, and what fell on deaf ears.
What is cynicism? Literally, it is an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest. Skepticism triggers cynicism and is the result of critical assessment and thinking. Skepticism is highly influenced by an organization’s past performance, behaviors, and leadership.
Cynicism can be insidious and an influence and belief flavoring any consideration of change, adaptation, or transformation. Cynicism suppresses creativity, open dialogue, engagement, and the support needed to make a change, adaptations, or transformation successful.
Cynicism can be unhealthy, whereas skepticism can be useful. Both are anchored in how human beings feel and observe the world around them. Leaders need to be aware that the human element influencing the achievement of strategies and goals and yes change are often overlooked. Although technology is often viewed as the silver bullet and sole solution to fix everything, it is people that really matter. Tech is only a tool and an enabler.
Nurturing and Retaining Talent
As we shared several weeks ago in Leading with Courage and the Art and Science of Active Listening, individuals and teams feel more connected and engaged when the work environment provides the opportunity to share criticism upstream and downstream, and their opinions and input is listened to and their participation is constructively valued.
Many organizations today find themselves in a bind. Talent that differentiates and has risen to ride the market changes catalyzed by the pandemic, and which are needed in organizations, are departing in droves. Workers, ever since the industrial age have been considered to be easily replaceable. In our digital/knowledge economy of the 21st century, that is no longer the case.
Employees have less tolerance than they did pre-pandemic, and at 2040 we don’t believe the tolerance and societal construct that existed pre-pandemic is ever coming back. As with any societal event — be it a war, health crisis or political/social upheaval — most any changes, as a result, are influenced by those immersed in the event and those impacted by the event.
In the event of a pandemic, individuals have had a lot of time to think, assess what is or isn’t important and reprioritize their goals and objectives. They are assessing their lives and thinking about their futures differently. When change is forced on individuals, stress, and anxiety increase; the only way out is “through.” Individuals are resilient and they can adapt. They learn from experience that they can manage their way through and come out with a new perspective and level of confidence.
Organizational leadership, particularly those who are hoping for a return to a normal that no longer exists, are being highjacked by this new “life is short” perspective and thought process among their workforces. We say this is their Kairos moment and the only way to manage this transition is to work through it.
Did the Great Resignation Take You by Surprise?
Managing Individual and Team Transitions
Issue 22: September 23, 2021
Human Factor Considerations for Transformation Success
The human element of any change or transformation effort is often overlooked or not even considered. Leaders assume the hierarchy of management and staff will simply follow directions and bring the strategies and goals to life. With command-and-control leadership, assumptions are made that those responsible for operational and organizational change understand what to do or will figure out what to do to meet the set direction.
In today’s everchanging environment, internalized urgency to do “something” to adapt to market forces is critical, but even with that urgency, critical thinking remains paramount. The urge to do something is of course far from the reality of actually doing it which leads to most change or transformation efforts failing.
We introduced the importance of transition management last week and discussed the ways to assess readiness for change and transformation. This week we want to take transition management a step further as “management” is the most important consideration when asking an individual or group to change and transform.
What is the Human Factor in Transition Management?
Humans first and foremost do not like change. Safety and security as well as predictability are default desires. Humans like to know what they need to do, what they are responsible for, and what they should expect in any given situation, including day-to-day work. Humans construct their professional reality by gaining knowledge of the people, processes and technologies that comprise their work. The result becomes their basis of “knowing” what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and how they can do it well. Most seek fulfillment and derive daily satisfaction from their work as they gain positive recognition from doing a good job.
A change from one reality to an uncertain future reality requires a period of transition when an individual or team gains an understanding of what is changing, what they may be losing and what will be different. It is a period of personal recognition and eventual acceptance that reshapes the mental construct of self-worth in relation to day-to-day work life. When an organization seeks to change or transform, a direction is set, but rarely is there time and effort applied to enable the worker to understand what is changing, how the change impacts them, and what they are losing/gaining as a result. Leadership’s general assumption is that workers will adapt and do the work, or they will be replaced by others.
In any transformation, the possibility of loss is high: The individual worker may lose the safety, security and predictability they desire. The organization may lose a significant source of institutional knowledge of operational processes if workers need to be replaced, along with valuable employee relationships and interdependencies.
Transition management is most important when an individual’s recognition of loss inhibits acceptance. An organization must recognize and address that individuals and teams need to be able to process what was, what they may be losing in the change or transformation and develop an understanding of their new reality of work and its associated self-worth.
The Infrastructure of Transition Management
2040 is a huge proponent of William Bridges and his thoughts, writings, and representation of the importance of transition management. Change is situational, transitions impact individuals at every level of an organization who are involved, touched and are participants in any change or transformation effort. Bridges says, “You can’t separate change management from transition management until you have asked:
- What will we no longer be doing?
- What will be different because of the change?
- Who will lose what?
Readiness for Transformation
Issue 21: September 16, 2021
We work with many clients that are passionate about transforming their business models to be more competitive in a digital marketplace, catalyzed by customer/member/client demand. However, organizations with traditional business practices are particularly challenged by bridging the theory of transformation to the actual practice of implementing it. According to Dr. Jeanette Winters senior vice president of human resources at Igloo Product Corp., “Ask any executive if they have change, transformation, reorganization on their agenda and without exception, they are certain to reply: YES. With the pace of change breathing down the necks of all organizations, even the most successful know that they must adapt, transform, keep up the pace to compete. This applies equally to public, private, and not-for-profit organizations.”
But first things first: We cannot overemphasize the importance of determining the state of readiness for transformation.
Assessment and Analysis
Conducting an audit of ingrained operational, strategic and cultural beliefs and processes is the first step to transformation. The single most important tool for this analysis is critical thinking. Agility in self-diagnosis of the barriers to change is a key to transformation. Leaders need to leave their egos and dedication to their own opinions behind. Leaders who are agents of change are further ahead in the understanding the need for transformation and often oblivious to the fact that their employees may not be at the same stage of readiness. By using a cross-disciplinary and cross-functional team to identify a checklist of what needs to change, and how it can change, the journey of transformation begins.
“In understanding an organization’s readiness for change, organizations must systematically assess the preparedness of leaders, employees, and the transformation program.
Issue 19: September 9, 2021
Running an organization that is customer-centric is a marathon. Human behavior can be mercurial. Trends from one industry segment suddenly disrupt another sector in the highly connected and interdependent system that comprises society. A global pandemic sends rational planning out the window and accelerates emerging trends and changes that were suppressed or sometimes completely ignored. And the biggest challenges today are understanding changing human behaviors and accepting the fact that the customer is the point of purchase, whenever, wherever, and however they demand to be served. Unfortunately, most organizations end up in a defensive mode if they don’t anticipate the future and deeply understand their customers.
What does all this add up to? The correlation to all the topics and challenges we have surfaced over the past weeks. Today we are diving into understanding customer loyalty, the importance of achieving it and, of course, how to measure it. Gaining, maintaining, and growing customer loyalty is hard work. It is also one of the most important achievements that should be the prime driver of the success of your organization.
What Is Customer Loyalty?
According to Oracle, “Customer loyalty describes an ongoing emotional relationship between you and your customer, manifesting itself by how willing a customer is to engage with and repeatedly purchase from you versus your competitors. Loyalty is the byproduct of a customer’s positive experience with you and works to create trust.” That relationship is what every organization strives for and although each organization has a slightly different perspective of what the relationship comprises (membership, subscription, return purchasing, ongoing consumption, etc.), the basics are the same for all.
At 2040, we advise our clients to use critical thinking and a systemic approach in their organization to war game customer loyalty. This is no easy task given the current trifecta of a global health crisis, market disruptions and a newly empowered and woke culture.
In strategizing customer loyalty, what is often overlooked is the nature of customer relationships and the reality of how humans think. We also see an inability to take the right actions to improve loyalty. And even more important, we see a lack of understanding in how to collect, measure and more critically, understand the relationship that drives loyalty.
Let us begin with a customer loyalty measure that is often relegated to marketing and rarely used as an overall organizational metric or KPI. Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) and the data points that roll up to it reveal how it can provide a view into the value of a loyal individual and groups within your customer base. CLV reflects demonstrable financial results if the relationship is curated over time. Remember, customer acquisition is expensive; customer retention is more cost-effective and generally drives the most positive performance.
Measuring What Matters
Issue 18: September 2, 2021
With the drama and disruption of the pandemic, you might think it’s time to re-evaluate your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Just look at the megatrends. Externally, customers have been affected by financial and supply chain disruption, along with revelations of new digital ways of managing day-to-day life. Many of the adaptations and changed behaviors are likely here to stay. Internally, organizations have pivoted but many remain dedicated to returning to a normal that no longer exists or is even possible, and abandoning most, if not all, of new adaptations. Remote work and the resulting disconnected physical workplace (which may be here to stay) has challenged management with how to maintain and measure employee engagement and loyalty. This is exacerbated by employee turnover as many younger workers have reexamined the quality of their lives and the meaning of work at a time when the birth rate is decreasing, which will affect available talent in the future.
But that would be missing the point.
What we have found that transcends the pandemic are two common threads among organizations of all sizes serving any industry or purpose. Whatever KPIs organizations are using, they are rarely shared; and even more disturbing, there is no understanding across departments, divisions, sections, or the like as to what these metrics mean to the future health and growth of the organization.
At 2040, we work with our clients to help them navigate the evolving demands of stakeholders, shifts in the cultural conversation, needs for new business models and rethinking how to measure high performance by measuring what really matters. And these are evergreen issues and challenges across organizational management, unrelated to our ongoing public health crisis and our upended societal dynamics. The current and near-term environment offers an unprecedented opportunity to apply critical thinking as all organizations seek to navigate the new normal.
The Practice of Key Performance Indicators
The traditional approach to KPIs in for-profit organizations is to report on a monthly and quarterly financial basis, closing the books to measure short-term P/L against expected and forecasted revenue. It’s often focused on expected or forecasted income, and if the organization is expending the expected amount of money and time to achieve the revenue outcome. Often the indicators measure the past (week, month, and quarter to current week, month, or quarter) but may not consider or be related to goals set for the future or be in the context of mega or subtle changes in the market.
The Art and Science of Active Listening
Issue 17: August 26, 2021
I think we can all agree we live in a digital world with a lot of surface noise. A world in which we are time-pressed — or at least feel as if we are — and we simply want to know what we think we need to know in the shortest amount of time. This relates to most of our interactions, discussions, and conversations.
Our typical approach to the real and perceived high level of noise in our lives is to summarize. We seek out the main points and synergize what we hear, read or view to our personal interpretation of what is important and aligned with our own thoughts, values, and knowledge. This is nothing new. We operate this way as a human evolutionary default as well as an ever-expanding human condition of navigating information and interaction the digital age.
The 2040 Approach
Over the weeks in our thought leadership series, we have surfaced the importance of objectivity, appropriate analysis, recognition of nuances across multi-generational workforces, mastery of communications that actually communicate, identifying patterns, expanding critical thinking skills and leading with courage.
We hope you have noted an underlying theme. At the base of all that we have shared is a deep respect and belief in our humanity: the way humans think, solve problems, interact, and collaborate. And yes, the way humans communicate.
This week, we offer active listening for your consideration in adding another tool to your growing toolbox.
Leading With Courage
Issue 16: August 19, 2021
The current environment appears to be out of control to many of us. In the United States, our politics have grown increasingly divisive, the climate appears to be getting more extreme, inflation is impacting everyone’s pocketbook, and the global health crisis with changing daily information has increased feelings of ambiguity. All of this leads to heightened individual anxiety, so much so that on a day-to-day basis, each individual is living with a level of ambient stress. Everyone, groups, countries and yes, leaders, seem to be living in a time of TBA (To Be Announced).
Traditional organizational models with dominating hierarchical structures and command-and-control as the predominant cultural norm inhibits individuals from being courageous. How can we as individuals, employees, leaders, and organizations better manage ambiguity and establish a shared purpose? By ensuring we are manifesting courage individually and allowing open dialogues that reflect critical thinking, constructive criticism, input, and feedback.
Profiles in Courage
Is courage an outlier or core principle in your organization? Today we live in a complex callout culture, both personally and professionally. It takes critical thinking to identify what is courageous versus what is opportunistic. Courage is not typically at the top of the list of leadership prerequisites nor is it reflected in any job description. However, courage is key to everything: to challenge, share ideas, speak up, see something differently, try new things and receive feedback. And above all, courage is the enabler of critical thinking, a strategy and behavior that 2040 advocates and strengthens with its clients.
Many of our business cultures are still modeled on practices from the Industrial Age when individuals were perceived as cogs in the wheel and a means to an end. Open dialogue across all roles and levels of an organization, particularly those that flowed upstream, was frowned upon. The institutional hold of past times influences current norms that permeate an organization. As a result, the past erects roadblocks to the courage that mitigates critical thinking, questioning and yes, criticism.
Leading in a Time of Ambiguity
Issue 15: August 12, 2021
Living through a pandemic is shadowed by nearly constant uncertainty. We take three steps forward, two sideways and unfortunately, then three steps backward. Innovators have been able to pivot and transform their business models to meet the needs of their stakeholders. Organizations that have calcified cultures with command-and-control management models have been or are being easily eclipsed by agile competitors.
So, which category characterizes your own organization: Are you innovative or is your organization asleep at the wheel? What about your members/clients/customers? The key to getting unstuck during a global health crisis, financial meltdown, social unrest — or even in “normal” times (however one wants to define the new normal) — is the ability to lead confidently in a time of ambiguity.
Ambiguity Is Becoming a 24/7 Proposition
Recently mask mandates have returned, in-person events this fall have returned to virtual, and Covid cases, particularly for the unvaccinated, are on the rise. The market has responded nervously as recovery forecasts are in jeopardy and individuals committed to resuming some level of normalcy are now reevaluating their plans and decisions.
We may have thought ambiguity was ebbing and giving way to more certain paths ahead, but once again we have learned the need to embrace ambiguity is a constant. And sadly in many ways ambiguity has accelerated.
“The degree of uncertainty that we can tolerate depends upon our personal or organizational comfort level. Some of us try to avoid uncertainty, some of us tolerate it, but few of us actively embrace it. We can never shrink uncertainty to zero, because the future is always uncertain, but we can reduce it by turning to experts or sleuthing for information we don’t have,” according to Cheryl Strauss Einhorn in the Harvard Business Review.
International management consultant Korn Ferry adds, “Ambiguity is the norm in any complex organization, but clarity is still possible. It is about purpose, long-term direction, and values. At its simplest, ambiguity is a lack of clarity, which leads to frustration and, in the organizational context, heightened anxiety for leaders and employees. Our challenge as leaders, given this reality, is determining what we can be clear about to enable agile organizational responses.”
How Pattern Recognition Leads to High Performance
Issue 14: August 5, 2021
Pattern Recognition as a key to Change and Transformation
Every week since the start of our thought leadership series we have revealed the building blocks required to achieve successful organizational change and transformation. Each article reflects the value of critical thinking, data, process, strategy and operational readiness required for organizational success and achievement.
This week, we explore (and emphasize) the importance of pattern recognition and its role in any organizational change, pivot, and transformation. Pattern recognition is of value even if you do not plan to effect any change or transformation; it also relates to improving existing performance.
Pattern Recognition 101
Pattern recognition is a popular term defining the power of AI. In this sense, machine learning enables the search and identification of recurring patterns with approximately similar outcomes. The Wiki description is “the automated recognition of patterns and regularities in data, and the field of pattern recognition is concerned with the automatic discovery of regularities in data through the use of computer algorithms and with the use of these regularities to take actions such as classifying the data into different categories.” Edwin Hancock, editor in chief of Elsevier adds, “Pattern recognition is a mature but exciting and fast-developing field, which underpins developments in cognate fields such as computer vision, image processing, text and document analysis and neural networks. It also finds applications in fast emerging areas such as biometrics, bioinformatics, multimedia data analysis and most recently data science.”
Playbook for Thriving Post-Pandemic: The Criticality of Agility and Resiliency in 2021 and Beyond
Issue 13: July 29, 2021
There is a new organizational model in town: the agility-resilience construct. Agility is active, resilience is reactive. And when you combine them, you’ve got an organizational performance that is highly competitive. How do you do that? It requires quick decision-making and critical thinking. It also requires a culture that can adapt to change in a nurturing way, accept bad news, and reinforce cross-functional collaboration and feedback.
Resilience + Agility
Agile is a process used by the tech world of continuous iteration in solution development as opposed to a waterfall, streamed approach. Agile has been morphed into agility in the non-tech business culture, which is basically the ability to pivot and change in response to new opportunities and challenges. Not to overly complicate the matter, agility encompasses agile!
Agility makes most organizations better able to compete in today’s disruptive, fragmented, always changing markets and work cultures. We include the work environment because it follows the same flow as marketplaces with new challenges given an increasingly multi-generational workforce, the digital and technical prowess of next-gen staff and leaders, and the emergence from a sustained and game-changing pandemic. Add to this, the pressures of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) and DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), and you have a perfect multiple storm front.
Agility demands foresight, planning, and the ability to make decisions quickly. By definition, agility requires critical thinking that taps into specific management skills and responses from stakeholders. Both the organization and its employees need to be ready to accept change, not have change imposed on them…anticipate the future, not catch up to it.
Resilience was popularized by Warren Bennis iconic scholar, organizational consultant, author, and Professor of Business Administration and Founding Chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California in 2002 as a crucible of leadership, examining the different ways that leaders deal with adversity. According to Bennis, “One of the most reliable indicators and predictors of true leadership is an individual’s ability to find meaning in negative events and to learn from even the most trying circumstances.”
Simply speaking, resilience is the ability to learn from failure and recover quickly from setbacks. Resilience in business characterizes how quickly, and actionably organizational systems can bounce back to a positive state and resume normal operations following a disruption. In today’s marketplace, disruption is in full force as the result of several different, simultaneous variables including Covid, social unrest, financial pressures, compromised supply chains and the demands of managing a diverse workforce and customer base.
A Guide to Operational Readiness for Change
Issue 12: July 22, 2021
You’ve decided to mobilize your whole organization to pivot from past practices to better meet the needs of stakeholders in a dynamic, quickly evolving marketplace. You’ve completed all the planning meetings, rewritten the strategy and identified the tactics. You believe your organization is ready to achieve your new goals.
But wait a minute. Are you sure you are ready?
According to a recent report Lucid conducted with Forrester, “improving operational efficiency” is the #1 initiative that companies are prioritizing as we head into the Next Normal of hybrid work. This initiative includes having clear processes in place. Here are some tools and tips for auditing and improving processes across your team and organization.
At 2040, we help our clients with operational assessments that focus on readiness and the ability to achieve newly set transformative goals. What we have discovered is that new goals and attempted pivots at the strategic level often never recognize whether the organization is ready at an operational and process level and with the required staff competencies. And usually, the extent of the underlying challenges comes as a surprise to the senior leadership team.
Often the infrastructure is so dysfunctional that bringing new strategies to life and achieving new goals simply isn’t possible.
Time to Check Your Value Proposition
Issue 11: July 15, 2021
Post-pandemic recovery offers a unique opportunity for discovery and reassessment. Chances are your organization was disrupted by the pandemic in a plethora of ways, as were your staff, members, subscribers and customers. At the most basic level, the pandemic forced people and organizations to work differently, and in that process, to re-evaluate what is important, both personally and professionally. Marketing General Inc.’s Membership Marketing Benchmark report reveals some sobering findings about the impact of the pandemic. “In addition to the news about meetings taking a hit, membership has suffered a blow as well: Nearly half (45 percent) of associations surveyed reported a decline in membership renewals, doubling the rate of the previous year. And associations say they’ve seen a decline in new member acquisition (37 percent) compared to those who’ve seen an increase (29 percent).”
With inflation continuing to rise, our hunch is that even many publishers and subscription companies are or will begin to see similar declines in subscription retention and limited success in new customer acquisition.
We all know that change is constant. Staying a step ahead of the trends is critical to remaining relevant to your audience. The north star for providing value and meaning to stakeholders is your value proposition. And that promise needs to constantly evolve to reflect your stakeholder’s needs and market conditions.
Mastering Communications that Communicate
Issue 10: July 8, 2021
Tell me something I don’t already know. Or if you do, tell me in a new way that makes the message relevant to me and useful in my life – both professional and private. More to the point, tell me what it means and why it matters.
Digital communications have proliferated and most of them are near misses, or even worse, totally inconsequential to their audiences. Spray and pray is an anachronism in a digital marketplace. Customized communications are now table stakes. Think context when you think content. And think empathy when you think messaging.
Also think telling a story that is relevant to recipients. Storytelling remains “king” and is even more important than ever in achieving organizational goals of immersing, engaging and retaining customers, subscribers and members.
After making it through the worst of the pandemic over the past 16 months, there are three true things: People are cynical, needy and cautious. The opportunity for effective communications with your members, customers, subscribers, stakeholders is to rethink your legacy best practices and reinvent your touchpoints with stakeholders to make your organization personal, relevant and targeted.
Targeting Engagement, Establishing Trust, and Building Loyalty
Issue 9: July 1, 2021
The cynic in us recognizes that we are living in the era of “it’s only about me.” The pragmatist in us also recognizes that as a brand and an organization, if you don’t cater to this mentality, you are likely to become irrelevant. The tools available to us to personalize our communications, offerings and services to our various stakeholders makes it impossible to conduct business as usual with legacy tactics. Simply said, to make yourself relevant, you have to be relevant. One-size-fits-all is passé, and with data at your fingertips, you can make yourself matter to each individual. Think about it: Psychologically, people respond more positively if they engage with your brand and organization in a one-on-one relevant way. The ultimate goal is high-level engagement, establishing trust and building loyalty.
How Critical Thinking Is Essential to Transformation and Reducing Bias
Issue 8: June 24, 2021
What is your personal sphere of influence? As a team member, you influence your co-workers, customers, members, and management with your contributions. As a department manager, you influence a team of staff, members, customers, and others to achieve specific goals. As a member of the C Suite, your influence, informed and directed by a board and stakeholders, sweeps across the entire organization. And, as a CEO you set the course and the culture for the entire organization.
A CEO influences the operating culture, processes and people with the intention of extracting high performance at every level and, of course, towards a set of goals. That may be stating the obvious, but we find that many organizations – in the for-profit and nonprofit worlds — still operate in siloed structures where anyone’s influence is limited, majorly biased, without intelligence based on data, driven by personal professional goals or objectives… and even worse, repressed. Running a progressive organization ensures everyone has a seat at the table, is contributing objective, fact-based input, aiding in effective and productive problem solving and contributing to an organization in its transformation and/or pivot.
An Executive Playbook for the Critical Path to Establishing Deep and Meaningful First-Party Data
Issue 7: June 17, 2021
Each week, we take an in-depth look at strategic, organizational, and operational challenges facing business leaders, with insights on emerging best practices. Today, we dive into innovations in the critical path to establishing and transforming first-party customer data and a data-driven culture, as third-party cookies are phased out and pixel-blocking becomes widespread.
One of the biggest challenges for marketers, membership directors, subscription managers and organizations in general is the ability to reach and engage current and prospective customers and members while maintaining compliance with a growing list of country and state regulations, not to mention adapting to today’s technology-driven changing landscape.
High Performance Executive Leadership in the Workplace
Issue 6: June 10,, 2021
Welcome to the 2040 Thought Leadership Series created to spark innovation and critical thinking about today’s business environment. As we adapt to the evolving post-pandemic mindset, the opportunity is to learn from the past months of pandemic-crisis thinking, adapting to new behaviors and marketplace realities … and leaving behind what doesn’t work any longer.
Much of the past 19 months has been focused on tactical adaptations for business continuity and little time was spent on strategic thinking and plans that recognized where tactical adaptations led to new opportunities and alternative ways of conducting business, even managing operations. Some tactics have been successful, others may have failed, but in the end, we learned a lot and have an improved grasp of what may be needed to strategically transform in today’s dynamic and ever-changing marketplace.
Today’s leadership challenges are made even more complex by existing and emerging external pressures. Leadership is under pressure to balance providing stakeholders with a stable, profitable, fair, empathetic and innovative workplace. Just consider a few of today’s societal and consumer-driven issues that have emerged for both workers and leaders:
- The pandemic and staying healthy in the workplace.
- Information and identification security for remote or hybrid work arrangements.
- The move of tangible services to online-everything.
- Increased investment in automation and digital transformation that could change. business models and employee job descriptions and organizational structures.
- The post-pandemic economic recovery: Who benefits and who is left behind.
- Inclusivity, diversity, and sustainability.
Agility is the New Nimble
Issue 5: June 3,, 2021
Every generation a new business operating principle bubbles up into the professional organizational arena. Resilience has been updated with Agility (yes, we know it sounds like being Nimble, but it’s a lot more nuanced). Agility is a mainstay in the tech community – particularly with software development. Here’s a basic definition: “Business agility refers to rapid, continuous, and systematic evolutionary adaptation and entrepreneurial innovation directed at gaining and maintaining competitive advantage.” Simply stated, Agile management is methodical, systems thinking approach to preparing for the future.
The Next-Gen is Changing Up the Workplace
Issue 4: May 27, 2021
Welcome to 2040’s high-level Thought Leadership Series exploring key issues and trends facing organizations post-pandemic … and beyond. Millennials and Gen Z make up around half of today’s global workforce and they bring a different mindset to any business table, plus they are establishing new laws of organizational loyalty. Covid has made more and more people, across generations rethink what really matters.
The consequence of this self-assessment is potentially a career change. Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University, predicts, “The great resignation is coming.” He adds, “Many workers are considering a job change as pandemic restrictions ease and companies call employees back to the office. In the past year, Klotz says there’s been an accumulation of stalled resignations, realizations about work-life balance and new passion projects — all incentives for workers to exit the 9-to-5 office grind.”
Events Need to be Transformed
Issue 3: May 20, 2021
Welcome to 2040’s thought leadership series, with insights on the changing digital marketplace. We have relied on live events for decades to bring our stakeholders together, strengthen our communities, extend our networks, build our brands and drive revenues by connecting buyers with sellers. The pandemic turned a tired model on its head. Why do we say tired? Because many organizations have depended on staging annual meetings, conferences and conventions the same way, year after year … without an effective strategy to make events increasingly relevant to more individuals.
Organizations think they are responding to attendees’ set expectations of a dependable, wide-ranging and exciting experience. But honestly, events compete with many instantly accessible offerings from media, education and entertainment platforms. It’s also fatiguing for some attendees who are faced with endless educational offerings, networking and social opportunities and aisles of sponsor/exhibitor booths, that when aggregated, look like an overwhelming and exhausting sea of sameness.
In fact, 2040 research reveals that on average, 12% of any organization’s members attend a physical conference or convention. By transforming your event to a hybrid model, an organization has an opportunity to double or perhaps even triple the percentage of members that register and attend the event. As a result, there is greater member engagement, and the organization delivers its value proposition even more deeply to the 88% who typically do not attend.
Bluntly speaking, traditional events fall short of recognizing how digital and technology have created alternative ways to achieve learning and networking goals. Covid has caused individuals to reassess and question their formerly over-committed and over-scheduled days. Now individuals are re-evaluating how to gain what they really need and are seeking experiences that really matter.pward from the 2040 Team
Membership Drives Your Growth
Issue 2: May 12, 2021
Welcome to 2040’s thought leadership series on how to build businesses and organizations that thrive in a post-pandemic marketplace. Amazon is credited with kick-starting a massive change in consumer behavior…and expectations. The public conversation and market trends reflect these systemic shifts: quick delivery, free shipping and returns, the digital marketplace platform, a trusted source for search and most importantly, a relationship based on membership and the personal or professional rewards that relationships deliver.
Remember, a relationship (not a transaction) creates ongoing relevant value that leads to customer, subscriber and member loyalty and retention. The Harvard Business Review report, “The Truth About Customer Experience” reveals that organizations that design systems to connect touchpoints and the cumulative experience had a 20 – 30% increase in results to include higher revenue, long term retention and positive word of mouth. Each is incredibly important for sustaining and growing revenue while reducing expense.upward from the 2040 Team
Lessons Learned from the Pandemic
Issue 1: May 4, 2021
For business leaders, the pandemic has propelled many levels of professional and personal reflection. On a professional level, we’ve heard ad nauseum about how Covid revealed inherent organizational vulnerabilities, accelerated emerging technologies, caused a shift in consumer behavior and powered business pivots and new operating models. On a personal level, the pandemic changed many of our lives in indelible ways. On both fronts, we have been reminded that we are optimistic and resilient as problem solvers and our ability to work around and work through the challenges at hand.
When we at 2040 work with clients, our post-pandemic imperative is to help them recognize what business practices they need to leave behind that are no longer relevant.
We also help them use pragmatism in leveraging the changes they have had to make to build out businesses that can thrive in a digital marketplace.ward and upward from the 2040 Team
The Truth about Transformation
Book Preview Excerpt
Organizations, whether private companies, non-profits, charities or governments seek to transform to take advantage of new opportunities, including technological advances. Often, technology is the major driver of change that results in transformation. As a result, the organization often fails to achieve its objective and goal to truly transform. You see, technology remains an enabler, not a silver bullet. True transformative change requires understanding of the human factors at play, human conscious and subconscious behaviors, how humans inter-relate and how society itself and all of its members are changing.
Our workforces are changing, the expertise we need is becoming harder to acquire and roles are shifting. In addition, before and because of Covid in 2020, the world around us is becoming very different, a new reality is taking hold, one that will fundamentally change who we are, how we work and yes, how we seek to ensure organizations transform for today and for the future.
The Truth about Transformation, a new book by Kevin Novak, will soon become available. Enjoy a short preview.ard and upward from the 2040 Team