Todd Wille, Turnaround Leader Extraordinaire, A Cooperative Leader

ToddWilleTodd Wille returned to his previous employer, Unify Corporation, a California-based application development, database and migration products company. The date was August 21, 2000 and Unify was in terrible shape.

The former CEO had committed securities fraud & the FBI was investigating.

Major international customers were taking their business elsewhere.

If current trends continued, the company would run out of cash in 90 days.

The stock had dropped from a high of $42 to $1. Employees were demoralized and afraid.

It is interesting to watch great managers rise to the occasion when events are so incredibly stacked against them. Todd adopted many cooperative intelligence practices as he delved into the company’s severe problems and seeked solutions with urgency!  Cooperative intelligence integrates leadership, connection and communication and so many of Todd’s decisions and actions blend these together.

Cooperative Leadership

Todd had to act with urgency since the company couldn’t even afford to pay legal fees to file for bankruptcy. He set his priorities to stop customer defections and earn the trust of his employees. He took immediate steps to regain customer’s trust and confidence and maintain the trust of his employees.

Cooperative Connection

First he appointed the head of customer service to be VP of sales. Who better to connect with customers since he already had earned their confidence and trust?

Second, Todd personally met with key customers and listened to their concerns.

Third, he insisted that product development connect with customers instead of just supporting old products, and use customer input to build new products.

Fourth, he connected with employees weekly during this difficult period.

Cooperative Communication

The VP of sales called, listened and reassured customers that the company was putting practices in place to save the company.

Todd listened to his customer’s concerns and acknowledged them publicly. He put himself in their shoes and mentioned if they changed vendors it could be a long, complicated process.

Todd communicated the absolute truth without filters in his weekly employee meetings with the entire company. Remarkably only 1 staffer left voluntarily during this difficult 18 month period.

A key moment was how Todd handled himself when a customer told him, in front of a large group of other customers, that he was uncomfortable, “signing a $100,000 contract for the following year” since he wasn’t sure Unify would still be in business the next year. Using the full array of cooperative intelligence skills – leadership, connection and communication–Todd answered, “You’re right to feel the way you do. But if you don’t sign your contract, I will be out of business, and your worry will become reality. Then your company will have to find another supplier for database development tools, and it will unfortunately be a long, complicated and potentially expensive process.” His customer agreed to stay with Unity right in front of the group; as did many other customers in time which brought in the badly needed cash flow to survive.

In the last three years, Unify has made 3 acquisitions that have tripled its size, added software tools and solutions and expanded its customer base, which now includes a who’s who of the most admired global companies.

The American Business Association named Todd Wille, CEO of Unify Corp, the best turnaround executive for 2008. Cooperative leadership works!

Read people’s comments on this great turnaround story in Marketing Profs.

Develop Proactive Competitive Intelligence through Business Blindspot Analysis & Executive Personality Profiling

I attended SLA’s annual conference in DC last week where I was reminded about the slow death of print media as I walked around the exhibit hall and noted how much more information is imparted digitally.

42-21522885I taught a couple of courses on competitive intelligence analytical tools. In the spirit of cooperative intelligence I will share two analytical tools and how using them together can be empowering: business blindspots and executive personality profiling to predict where a company is going, and will use these tools to illustrate the slow death of print media.

In business blindspots, you seek to uncover the biases of your company, competitors or co-workers and recognize that you have them too. We all have blind spots based on our experience in life! When you combine this with executive personality profiling, you can come up with some insightful conclusions.

Here’s one that surprised me. I have been a Wall Street Journal subscriber of both the print and on-line editions for many years. News Corporation’s Rupert Murdoch acquired The Wall Street Journal in Dec. 2007. He has revamped the paper to vie more directly against the New York Times in content. In fact I even get almost the identical on-line news alerts from both papers within minutes of each other.

Here’s News Corporation’s blindspot: they thought I would pay over $400 per year for the print version of The Wall Street Journal when I paid $199 last time which included on-line access. Maybe they thought business people wouldn’t notice since their companies pay for their subscription. Like many I watch how I spend my money in these tentative economic times. I let my subscription lapse.

At a time when on-line media is gaining on print media, and we have a recession The Wall Street Journal raised its price! I couldn’t believe it and wondered what weed they were smoking…that is until recently when I got an invitation to subscribe to both the print and on-line versions of The Wall Street Journal for $149 per year. Presumably they had lost some market share with their inflated rates, and not just to digital media!

If you research & analyze Murdoch’s personality and leadership, you would expect him to intend to improve the profitability of The Wall Street Journal since it has not been contributing to Dow Jones’ profitability in recent times. However, you would also learn that Murdoch is a savvy businessman and is into his media investments for the long-term.

When I decided to discontinue my subscription, I strongly suspected that I would get a better deal, and I did. If I didn’t I wasn’t going to read The Wall Street Journal since I do read the New York Times on-line. I wonder how many subscribers walked like I did and didn’t renew even at the lower rates since they were so incensed by The Wall Street Journal’s doubling of its rate in one year when many of our 401K accounts have been reduced to 201K status!

This is a very simple example in my life, but you can often predict company’s actions, including your competitors by analyzing their leadership and uncovering their business blindspots. Happy Summer!

Intelligence 2.0: Creating New Business Models–SLA 2009

SLA’s Competitive Intelligence division’s breakfast featured visionary speaker, Arik Johnson, CEO of Aurora WDC, based in Chippewa Falls, WI, home of Seymour Cray, founder of Cray Research.

Asymmetric information models are passé and information interpretation is NOW: the ability to understand and anticipate! The open source world and resultant information glut makes analytics and interpretation all the more important. This practice will help you make decisions more quickly than the competition.

Arik shared three trends in Intelligence:

1. Human capital and collaboration – (this is a lot like cooperative intelligence that I preach)!

2. Corporate Governance Oversight – it’s a priority to ensure the reliability of earnings forecasts, yet difficult to predict the unexpected

3. Disruptive & Value Innovation – predict the outcome of competitive battles by anticipating product/strategy dynamics

During his talk Arik had us all squirming as he posited that many of the models and processes that we use to collect competitive intelligence and conduct our various forms of analysis–including voice of the customer and market research–do not lead to innovation. So often these processes concentrate on what customers “want” rather than what they “need,” and they don’t know what they need.

He feels that “fear based” CI concepts like Porters 5 Forces are not as effective as they were developed during the Cold War when it was “us versus them.” He notes that KITs, KIQs and the CI cycle are incomplete for much the same reason: fear based.

Success breads complacency. In the same vein continuous product improvement is too gradual and companies don’t take enough risk in product development. Many companies are crippled by their culture and slowness to adapt to market shifts or create change!

lighbulbBrainInnovation is most easily defined as productivity. Yet innovation is a sloppy process. Employees innovate most readily within a culture of “learning and growing from mistakes” rather than being punished for making mistakes. According to Larry Keeley, 96% of innovative attempts fail. You need errors to innovate, lots of them!

Here are a couple of tippers from Disruptive Innovation Theory that Arik shared:

Look at different performance measures: where do you see non-consumption? Be willing to put up with less good performance in order to find growth opportunities. Learn how to articulate the truth in ways that management will listen (cooperative leadership).

Arik outlined 5 great practices to encourage innovation (RECON):

1. Risk – Learn how to protect your core (cashflow) while creating anew

2. Efficiency- Be ruthless: when assets become sunk costs, sell them or divest that business

3. Customers – Don’t be too dependent on your best customer’s input. They will tell you why the product was good enough yesterday. You are looking at tomorrow!

4. Outlook – Typically market is research is outdated…only one in seven products survives for one year. Develop based on customers’ needs which they are not great at articulating.

5. Novelty – Differentiation is key. Create less imitable values, products etc. Kill “good” ideas to focus on the GREAT ideas.

For more details about using Innovation in business development, Arik recommends Seeing What’s Next: Using Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change  by Clayton Christensen.

Creative Librarians in Competitive Intelligence: SLA 2009

I taught two Click University competitive intelligence certificate programs at SLA 2009: intermediate and management CI analytical tools and techniques. My students had a cooperative spirit, great curiosity and a strong desire to learn. This is my favorite kind of student.

One student group devised a creative use of the Radar Screen 360 degree analytical tool. I learned about this tool through Adrian Slywotsky’s Value Migration book, where competitors are placed around a dart board in accordance with how competitive they are relative to your company. Your company is the bull’s eye and your key competitors are placed in the inner rings of the dartboard, where as outliers or potential competitors might be placed towards the outer rings and even outside the entire dartboard.

We were analyzing an executive in the hotel industry, in an attempt to predict what his next move might be. Would he buy the hotel next door or not? The case told us his life story, including his personality all the way from his childhood to the present as a middle aged man. We were provided with his history of buying and managing hotels, including his keen ability as a financial manager, his tendency to micromanage, his habit of reinvesting earnings back into the business, and his drive to grow and take risk in the entrepreneurial spirit.  The first step this team took was to use the Radar Screen to show us how this executive perceived his hotel business relative to the competition.

RadarScreenSLAPersonality

They broke the radar screen into quadrants which depicted customer service, attention to detail, financial stability, and risk taker/entrepreneur. What a brilliant use of the Radar Screen as a psychological tool! They concluded he was an INTJ on the Myers Brigg Scale. He was extremely well organized, independent and a classic entrepreneur who experienced growth through risk taking, by extending himself to buy or rebuild hotels. From this analysis we could see that he had a robust ego and that he thought he did everything well, if not better than the competition. The hotel group’s financial results underscored that he was a savvy, smart businessman.

From this analysis we could study the executive’s decision-making patterns to date, and figure that as an entrepreneur with no hobbies, he was likely to continue his habit of extending himself financially and buying the hotel next door. He didn’t know how to operate any other way: there was nothing that seemed to provide enough impetus in his life to change this behavior.

This team was right: the executive did buy the hotel next door even though it meant extending his and his wife’s work life by several more years. He didn’t know how to stop this cycle, and perhaps wasn’t ready to make changes towards retirement at age 49, while his wife had quit her law practice in a step towards retirement.

Competitive Intelligence at SLA 2009 & Other Favorites

SLA2009SeeYouJust before SCIP09, we shared a list of 10 things we wanted to do while at the conference, so in the spirit of cooperative intelligence, I’ll share the talks in the Competitive Intelligence Track and some of my favorites at SLA2009, which takes place in the Washington, DC Convention Center June 14 – 17.

Pre-conference workshops will be conducted on June 12 – 14. I am giving two all-day workshops which are part of SLA’s Click University program towards the Competitive Intelligence Certificates Program. CI Analysis: Intermediate Frameworks is on June 12, and Management Analysis for Competitive Intelligence is held on June 13. These classes cover CI analytical tools and techniques and include case study learning.

Here are Competitive Intelligence Track sessions and some others I recommend!

Saturday: June 13

Mary Ellen Bates will lead a seminar “Publish or Perish: Producing Fabulous e-Newsletters,” 1 – 5 p.m., June 13.

Sunday: June 14

Mary Ellen Bates leads a full-day workshop on “Build Your CI Skills Parts 1 & 2.” Attendees can elect to attend the full day or either half day, and this is part of the Competitive Intelligence Track. My colleague, Jennifer Swanson will lead the Click University CI Certificate Program (CIC07): “Human Source Collection–Research Beyond Published Sources,” an all day session. Jill Hurst-Wahl will co-instruct “Ten Things in One Day: Applying Social Tools to Your Library,” an all day workshop. Colin Powell, 65th Secretary of State, will give the SLA’s keynote address from 5:15 – 7:15 pm.

Monday: 15 June

Mary Ellen Bates will present “Painless (No, really!) Negotiating” from 9 – 10:30 am. “Expert Databases: Leveraging for Success” is led by panelists, Catherine Monte, Monica Ertel, and Medha Devare, from 9 – 10:30 am, part of the Competitive Intelligence Track. Claudia Clayton and Toni Wilson will present “Skills for the Effective CI Practitioner” from 1:30 – 3 pm, part of the Competitive Intelligence Track. August Jackson will present “Cast a Wide Research Net, Save Time with Really Simple Syndication (RSS)” from 1:30 – 3:30 pm. Jill Hurst-Wahl will be a panelist at “SLA Hot Topic: Wikis, Tweets, and Blogs, Oh My!” from 1:30 – 3 pm. Marcy Phelps will lead “Power Networking for Info Pros” from 1:30 – 3 pm

Tuesday: 16 June

Arik Johnson will be the featured speaker at the Competitive Intelligence Division’s Breakfast meeting from 7 – 8:30 am. Roberta Shaffer will present “Competitive Intelligence and the Government Librarian” from 9:30 – 11 am, part of the Competitive Intelligence Track. Mary Ellen Bates will present “Lies, Damned Lies, and Annual Reports: Reading and Interpreting Company Financials” from 11:30 am – 1 pm, part of the Competitive Intelligence Track. Ulla de Stricker will present “The Consultant’s Toolkit: Discovery in the Round” from 11:30 am – 1 pm. Jennifer Swanson and I (Ellen Naylor) will answer questions at “CI Clinic: The Prescription for Your CI Needs” from 1:30 – 3 p.m.

Wed: 17 June

Mary Ellen Bates will present “Creating Groupies: How to Add Value, Make Yourself Irreplaceable & Beat the Pants Off Google” from 8:30 – 10 am. Marcy Phelps will present “I’m Not Cheap, Just Cost-Conscious: Market Research to Fit Your Budget” from 8:30 – 10 am. “Incorporating CI into Your Services: Real Life Examples from Legal Info Pros” is led by panelists Tim McAllister, Greg Lambert, and J.O. Wallace from 8:30 – 10 am, part of the Competitive Intelligence Track.

I know there are some wonderful talks I haven’t included here in my list, but check out SLA’s conference agenda for all the details!

Just How Social is Social Networking?

42-20916376I am writing an article on Cooperative Intelligence geared to Information Professionals, and it got me to thinking about how social, social networking is. I will focus mostly on LinkedIn and Twitter for now.

In most cases on LinkedIn, it’s a loose connection, and you’ll never hear from that person again unless they want to sell you something, fill jobs or find a job. I notice many people who ask me to connect on LinkedIn end their invitation with, “Let me know how I can help you,” but they don’t tell me what they do, and they haven’t looked at what I do. So it feels kind of phony to me.  However, since I am a LION on LinkedIn, I guess I attract this kind of behavior. I also get a lot of spam from my 1st connections on Linked In, and some don’t provide an option for me to “unsubscribe”.

I just read that 90% of Twitter traffic comes from 10% of the users: this tells me that most of the communication is automated, so how personal can it be? Yet I do connect with many of my pals and meet new people who share my interests on Twitter and we do engage through tweets, albeit with the 140 character limitation. I have found some great people through # searching under relevant categories for what I do such as competitive intelligence, product development and market research. I stay in touch with some of my pals in competitive intelligence, information professionals, and product managers who prefer to communicate via tweets. We shared learnings at SCIP’s 2009 conference in Chicago, and Tweet-ups are increasingly popular.

I like to weave cooperative intelligence into my social networking practices. Cooperative intelligence assumes that you are a giving person without strings attached and that you don’t just give to get. This is often not true on social networks. Many of those who want me to follow them on Twitter, who have huge followings, are selling something that sounds like it’s too good to be true or sell something so awful or irrelevant to what I care about that I am not interested!

The pendulum is swinging back to more traditional marketing for me since I still get more business from word of mouth marketing and referrals from existing customers and friends. Where I do find social networks worthwhile is to find people who might be interested in my services who know someone I know. LinkedIn and Twitter are great places to find people who will talk to you when you need information, which is how I make my living, but I don’t have to “live” on these networks for this to work.

The most relevant social network for competitive intelligence professionals is the CI Ning. I check that out most week days and enjoy the stimulating conversations, the connections and learning.  I believe more people practice cooperative intelligence since the sharing is continuous, and people are not flagrantly in the marketing mode. I imagine this is true for social networks where people share a common discipline, rather than the more generic social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

What are you noticing as social networking is becoming more commonplace? Have you changed your marketing habits lately?

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