Food for thought: my articles

Why we should bring the customer back into the boardroom

It’s been more than 10 years since McGovern,Court,Quelch & Crawford wrote an article called Bringing Customers into the Boardroom https://hbr.org/2004/11/bringing-customers-into-the-boardroom. As a founder of the Fondation des Administrateurs, a Belgian association advocating the professionalization of Board of Directors, and as the holder of the marketing Chair at the University of Brussels, Solvay School of Economics and Management, I was doubly interested by the topic.

If we look at the situation today, i’m afraid that board discussions continue to focus more on investments, corporate control, company performance and the like… Strategic decisions are the prerogative of Board of Directors and yet, marketing is still believed by some board members to be some kind of operational function, guided by the outdated 4p’s model. For those directors, strategic marketing decisions (choosing markets to be in, positioning adequate value propositions, creating value through the portfolio of businesses,…) are away from their immediate worries. It’s pitiful and dangerous in a VUCA type of business environment.

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I advocate an equitable distribution of the subjects to be treated in Boards. Strategic marketing issues are as important as financial, social or nominations ones. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not talking about a Board discussing on a new corporate logo or giving intuitive advice on an advertising campaign ! I’ve seen so many of these meetings turning out to be a « discussion de café du commerce ».  I’m talking about (1) being informed on key market trends, (2) reviewing the company positions on strategic market segments, (3) understanding competitive dynamics, etc. The key is to avoid the so called Kodak syndrome and keep alert and agile on the strategic fields. http://oser-performer.com/2015/08/22/oser-performer-50-how-could-your-company-avoid-the-kodak-syndrome/

To be practical, I recommend here after a number of measures that a Board Chairman could take to bring the customer back into the boardroom. After all, marketing is all about delivering value to customers to generate so much satisfaction that they want to be oyal to you.

  1. Invite real customers at a board meeting at least once a year

As Hans Hickler put it in a 2015 excellent article in the Huftington Post,«  Adding customer discussions to the Board agenda is an important part of a broader customer engagement strategy with the board, including the regular review of customer survey results, engagement metrics, segmentation reviews. But nothing beats engaging directly with the customer ! » http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hans-hickler/invite-your-customer-into_b_6693278.html

  1. Create a strategic marketing committee

Besides the usual audit, strategy and nominations committees, etc. we should have one caring for the follow up of the marketing function. Linked with the strategy committee (I recommend 2 members attending both the strategy and the strategic marketing committees), it should watch and monitor closely marketing plans and KPI’s and, as importantly, signal changing market trends quickly enough to the board. Remember that  IBM took nearly two years to realize that Apple was more than some kids playing in a garage !

  1. Include marketing performance KPI’s in the Board dashboard

Financial reporting is about past and present. Marketing reporting is about the future. KPI’s like customer satisfaction index, customer churn rates (https://www.ngdata.com/what-is-customer-churn/) and other relevant metrics may be signals of future performance. But, more than that « boards need a thorough understanding of how their companies are meeting customers’ needs and how their marketing strategies support those efforts https://hbr.org/2004/11/bringing-customers-into-the-boardroom. Board members should be critical and demanding as to the why’s and how’s and challege non specific answers.

  1. Be sure to have marketing specialists on the board

Marketing is as technical as IT, supply chain or accounting. Yet a number of people, even professional managers, still believe it’s intuitive and within the reach of all. Actually, it’s not ! Especially today ! With the emergence of new analytical tools and new metrics, with the development of 360° multimedia marcom and with the advent of sophisticated marketing intelligence systems, marketing is now technically tough to understand. So boards should not be the hostage of a management team informing them about things they don’t understand with a new obscure jargon. Boards should have seats for marketing professionals.

  1. Have a regular evaluation of the marketing talents

Marketing today includes classical and progressive methods. The war for talents is real today and especially for marketing functions. The CMO role is way different from what it was 10 years ago. We need teams who ally analytical hard skills with softer creative skills. We need passion and ethics. We need a deep understanding of emerging trends and proactivity to take opportunity of them in the most agile way. It’s hard to find marketing executives who can manage teams like that ! Not only should we find them but we also need to keep them long enough so they can really influence the business.  Boards should consider this issue as being of the highest priority.

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Marketing and customer matters have been considered by Boards as secundary isues for too long. Today, in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous business environment, no company can consider the future with « sleepy confidence ».

Marketing is the engine of innovation. Its strategic role is to ensure the long term sustainabilty of revenues and corporate reputation. That’s why Boards need to get involved !

Be inspired !


 

The five facets of “Positive Consumption”

I’m just coming back from BIOFACH the yearly German trade fair showing new products and trends of the booming bio/eco market https://www.biofach.de This is all about food, cosmetics, lifestyle products and the rest. All green, organic, healthy things. The fair alleys were crowded. Much more than usual. I could feel the pulse of the market. I love that !

It’s interesting to watch European consumers becoming green crazy. The trend is not new. It started here in Europe 20 years ago. I will always remember one of my students proposing a thesis subject about “green marketing” at that time. Nobody, included me, knew what it was at that time. Now , although the bio sector only represents 2-3% of household food expenses, the EU market for organic products is growing constantly at annual rates of 7-8 %. This is exceptional given an average annual growth rate in grocery retail markets of around 2% to 3% over the last 10 years (Source: Case “Preserve® Products Strategy for Europe”, Baeyens, Brussels 2015).

Consumers are definitely spending more on organic food: between 2005 and 2014, per capita organic produce consumption increased by 110% while In the same period, household consumption of food in general remained almost constant. (Source: Organic In Europe: Expanding Beyond A Niche, Matthias Stolze,1 Raffaele Zanoli2 and Stephen Meredith3, in ORGANIC IN EUROPE: prospects and developments 2016, IFOAM EU Group, http://www.ifoam-eu.org)

But the most interesting aspect of “green consumerism” is its integration into a larger trend of “positive consumption” as Sharon Greene, the managing director of RISC International, a global consumer behavior consultancy already put it in a 2009 interview:

“We identified an increasing convergence of five facets of the Positive Consumption trend, which all come together within the same individual consumer:

  1. Social Engagement – or consumer empowerment – is the main dimension driving Positive Consumption across the world, it reflects a growing desire to engage and give back to society but also to take back control over one’s life, it’s all about reciprocity.
  2. Environment – characterized by an active concern for environmental issues and a desire to do what one can to protect the environment

  3. Health – reflecting concerns for the effects that products can have on one’s health and the health of one’s family. This dimension is increasingly linked to environment.

  4. Feel Good – an aspiration towards enhancing personal and individual well-being a dimension which emphasizes the fact that the Positive Consumption trend is not about denying oneself pleasure

  5. Ethics and ethical behavior – a preference for ethical business and an increasing sensitivity to the collective responsibility we have to ensure that companies do business in an ethical way.

Marketing often addresses these dimensions separately. But consumers will increasingly look for products and services which satisfy all five aspirations.”

This calls for an integrated approach to formulating value propositions. Consumers are complex and more demanding than ever. That’s why I love socially responsible marketing. It obliges us to be more sophisticated, more intelligent marketers. It forces us to practice a more respectful marketing and it finally allows us to reconcile our personal values with consumers current needs and wants.

Be inspired !images-2.jpg

We’re in business for people, not for money !

I watched a TV documentary yesterday about the founders of a social company recycling old furniture and objects they collect at people homes https://www.laressourcerie.be
The company is growing, now employing 40 people among which a number of handicapped people. « We’re not a non profit business, but we bring value to the community and the community is giving back to us » said the owner and he went on : « a few years ago, people were saying I was outdated, now they’re saying I’m fashionable ».

Is caring about people needs some kind of fashion ? No ! Actually that’s at the origin of craftmanship and trade. When money became the moto and when the profit of some became the only reason for doing business, industry started creating pseudo-needs. It took gigantic proportions with the development of the market economy. It reached a point where marketing is perceived by most people as a tool invented to manipulate masses instead of a way to bring value and satisfaction to customers.

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Now is the time to come back to basics an reinvent business and marketing. The excesses of mass marketing not only did not generate happiness (at most it created comfort) but it devastated our planet’s resources. Look at the terrible « visual pollution » created by generalization of shopping centers on the outskirts of cities. The « all for money » principle led to a perverted society that lost its human values and promoted all forms of violence as a way for our youth to find some sense of life

Happily mankind has its good sides ! Civilization is when human beings’s good sides dominate the bad ones. And, as a witness of young future leaders today, I can see new ideals and new values emerging making me very excited about the future. I’m watching young entrepreneurs with a healthier business philosophy who see profit as the outcome of value creation instead of the result of some kind of customer manipulation. They understand that the most value you create, the more sharing you can do. And they care for sustainable social value as much as their own pocket.

Years ago, we were teaching that the purpose of business strategy is to generate a long term sustainable flow of profit. Today, we preach for the triple bottom line paradigm https://profbaeyens.com/2016/04/07/do-you-think-about-your-triple-bottom-line/ It leads to more competitiveness while bringing a brick to the wall of humanity. Because who are entrepreneurs but the builders of the future ? And who are we, professors, but messengers of hope ?

Be inspired !Unknown.png

10 reasons why business needs creative minds

I have been working a lot on creativity teaching over these last years. As the founder of the Advanced Master in Creativity and Marketing at Solvay Brussels School, I happened to exchange a lot of ideas with my colleagues and friends among which Mark Raison, on the the most famous creativity trainer in this world http://fr.slideshare.net/mark.raison. Here what I got out of all this and mainly the rasons why business more than ever needs creative minds.

Reason 1: All recent marketing hits (Apple, Nespresso, Tesla,….) come from superior creativity, whether it’s market creation or radically new ways to do business

Reason 2: Confronted with technology, new media, globalization and an incredible diversification of supply sources, consumers and business customers don’t want to be just satisified, they want to be excited

Reason 3: Lawyers, accountants, software engineers: that’s what Mom & Dad encouraged us to become. They were wrong. Gone is the age of “left-brain” dominance. The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: designers, inventors, teachers, storytellers...”, Daniel H Pink https://www.amazon.com/Whole-New-Mind-Right-Brainers-Future/dp/1594481717

Reason 4: You can be creative in math, science, music, dance, cuisine, teaching, running a family, or engineering. Any business today should be about generating original ideas that create value.

Reason 5: Nobody has a clue what the world’s going to look like in five or ten years, or even next year actually. If you can’t predict the future, invent it.

Reason 6: The challenges we currently face, from overpopulation to a shortage of natural resources, are without precedent. New problems call for new solutions. New opportunities call for new approaches.

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Reason 7: “There is little to no time allotted for real thinking, brainstorming or experimentation without judgment. With so much pressure to produce quick results in the current economic environment, it may seem like a luxury to walk away from the mountain of tasks to be accomplished but, actually, it should be at the top of the management agenda”, Sandi Edwards, senior vice president at AMA Enterprise https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandi-edwards-21192b5

Reason 8: Today, developing a competitive adavantage, the base for business success and survival, requires innovation and creativity at the strategic level, not only at operational level.

Reason 9: If we still leave businesses and economies in the hand of purely rational people, it will lead to more disasters.

Reason 10: After all, what is life without pep, fun and excitement ?

Be inspired !Unknown.jpeg

Storytelling: avez-vous une vraie stratégie ?

Le Storytelling a fait le buzz ces derniers temps. Comme si c’était la panacée à tous les problèmes de com !   “Avec une bonne histoire, les gens se rappellent de vous” me disait récemment un publicitaire. Oui, c’est vrai que les gens aiment les belles histoires et on sait que le “recall” est meilleur quand ils aiment le message. Le problème… c’est que tout le monde fait du storytelling aujourd’hui. Et comme toujours, une fois qu’un nouvel outil de marketing est utilisé par tout le monde, il n’est plus du tout distinctif.

Le Storytelling n’est pas aussi simple que ce que la plupart des professionnels du marketing nous disent. Si vous entendez ou lisez de bonnes histoires à tout bout de champ, ça devient un “me too” et utiliser des “me too”, c’est la pire des choses qu’un marketer puisse faire. Et si vous ajoutez le fait que la plupart des histoires sont écrites vite fait bien fait pour suivre le rythme du net, vous pouvez vous dire que 99% d’entre elles sont d’une banalité crasse ! En fait, la plupart des histoires n’ont aucun sens. Je veux dire: aucun sens stratégique !

Les histoires, comme tout le marketing de contenu d’ailleurs, ne devraient pas être éditées sans d’abord réfléchir à leur finalité. Sinon, c’est juste de l’amusement pour quelques rédacteurs amateurs. Une finalité, une vision, c’est le point de départ de toute stratégie. Votre histoire est-elle l’expression de votre différenciation stratégique ? Est-ce un ingrédient essentiel ou juste un peu d’assaisonnement ? Au fait, y avez-vous vraiment pensé à votre différenciation stratégique ? Avez-vous défini vos segments-cibles, votre concept de positionnement, votre “proposition-valeur ? Ou bien en êtes-vous encore au 4P’s , un modèle des année 50 ? Je dis bien 1950 ! Prenez un moment pour penser à ceci. Soyez honnête ! Je sais qu’un marketer sur deux ne prend pas le temps de faire de la stratégie. On vit dans l’instant. On ne pense plus. On agit dans l’urgence comme un papillon fou dans la lumière.

Alors, voici quelques conseils pour réussir un storytelling distinctif.

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  • Une “grande” histoire (a great story) c’est une histoire qui signifie quelque chose pour votre audience

Donc, première question: quelle est votre audience ? Un bon marketing commence toujours par savoir à qui on s’adresse, qui on cible vraiment. Le ciblage, c’est la première décision-clé et pourtant, c’est étonnant, peu de pros du marketing sont clairs à ce propos. Je vois sans arrêt des segmentations on ne peut plus classiques (démographiques or socio-économiques) qui ne veulent plus dire grand chose de sérieux aujourd’hui. Ou alors des typologies stéréotypées, plutôt marrantes, mais qui ne mènent à rien de sérieux. A côté du “marketing analytics” qui est adéquat pour des mouvements tactiques, vous, les raconteurs d’histoires, vous devez avoir un sens stratégique de l’audience. Parler avec vos cibles, comprendre leur vocabulaire, deviner leurs sensibilités. Alors, vous pourrez trouver les mots et concevoir les scénarios qui iront droit au coeur et voudront dire quelque chose…pour elles, pas seulement pour vous !

  • Une idée forte fait des histoires fortes

La raison principale pour laquelle la plupart des histoires se perdent dans la jungle de la communication, c’est qu’elles se basent sur des idées plates. La platitude est plus fréquente que l’intelligence. C’est comme ça. C’est comme dans la chanson ! Les gens écoutent, voient ou lisent des idées qui ont l’air chouette mais qui ne s’ancrent pas dans leur cerveau. Ils écoutent, voient ou lisent et puis ils oublient ! Ils vont nous dire: “Hier, j’ai entendu ceci ou cela mais j’ai oublié de quelle marque il s’agissait”… Ce n’est pas ce que vous voulez ! Nous savons tous qu’une image forte repose toujours sur un positionnement fort. Utilisez la technique S.P.I.C.E. S.P.I.C.E est un modèle que j’ai développé il y a quelques années pour mieux comprendre Ia notion de positionnement des marques fortes. S.P.I.C.E sont les premières lettres de cinq mots clés: Sexy, Personnalité, Intelligence, Client et Emotions. Si vous êtes forts sur tous ces points et si vous êtes capables de les mixer dans un concept distinctif, vous avez une chance de construire plus qu’une belle histoire: une histoire forte, différente et passionnante !

  • Les gens aiment des histoires qui ne finissent jamais

Le meilleur exemple sont les séries TV. Une fois que vous avez trouvé un concept fort, vous pouvez construire des scénarios qui mèneront à d’autres scénarios. Chaque épisode est une histoire en soi mais elle appelle une autre histoire que vous voulez voir. Et ainsi de suite. C’est ainsi qu’au bout du compte, vous avez des personnages clés qui prennent de la substance et que le titre de la série signifie un univers bien identifié qui devient familier. Cela devient quelque chose que vous attendez. Avec impatience ! Cela peut aller jusqu’au mythe. Voyez maintenant les grandes marques mythiques qui durent depuis des années. Les Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, McDonald…Vous pouvez les aimer ou les détester mais elles ont toutes une histoire. En fait, elles “sont” une histoire ! Il semble que les américains soient bien meilleurs que les européens et les asiatiques en la matière. C’est pour ça qu’ils ont créés Hollywood sans doute. Les japonais ont créé de grandes marques mais elles ne nous font pas rêver. Qui rêve de Sony ou Toyota ? Il n’y a pas d’histoire là dedans, en tout cas pas pour nous…

  • Les émotions dominent les faits

Beaucoup de professionnels pensent que les émotions n’ont rien à faire dans la stratégie. Ils nous disent: “la stratégie doit être basée sur des faits”. Ils nous disent: “les clients achètent nos produits car ils sont les meilleurs”. Ils nous disent: “les clients devraient nous adorer car on a le meilleur service”. Oublions tout ça ! Nous sommes dans un monde post-moderne dans lequel les émotions sont plus importantes que les faits. Qu’on aime ou pas, c’est ainsi ! Donc, nous sommes dans une bataille pour les émotions. Les medias l’ont bien compris et les journalistes en jouent à tout bout de champ. Je déteste ça, je trouve ça terrible mais c’est comme ça aujourd’hui. Et c’est pour ça que, si vous voulez générer des histoires meilleures, vous devez inclure une composante émotionnelle dans votre positionnement et votre proposition-valeur. Dans le passé, la proposition-valeur, c’était juste “un produit pour un prix”, puis, c’est devenu “un produit et du service pour un prix”, puis “un produit, du service et une image pour un prix”; maintenant, c’est “un produit, du service, une image et une expérience client pour un prix ou plus de prix du tout” ! Ayez donc une proposition expérientielle solide et si possible unique et vos histoires seront différentes, vécues et relayées pas vos “brand advocates”

En conclusion, comme tout outil de marcom, le storytelling est un bon outil si et seulement si votre stratégie est robuste et distinctive. Il n’y a pas de bon outil sans finalité claire. Il n’y a pas de véritable impact sans une bonne orientation stratégique.

Ne soyez pas un “me too”, soyez différent !

Que ceci vous inspire !

Marketing ? Non, Zapketing !

Tout le monde zappe : les clients, les medias, les « marketers »

 Le marketing a été souvent considéré comme un art plutôt que comme une science. Pourtant, le marketing classique est avant tout analytique. Sur base d’une demande issue de besoins et d’envies plus ou moins « fabriquées » et, à tout le moins, entretenues, les entreprises créent, conçoivent et diffusent des produits ou services qui apportent une (vraie ?) valeur, rationnelle ou émotionnelle. En satisfaisant ces besoins, ces mêmes entreprises espèrent fidéliser leurs clients, gage de leur profit et, par là, de leur pérennité. Ces paradigmes ont soutenu les concepts de marketing pendant plus d’une génération mais tout cela, c’est du passé !

Aujourd’hui, tout le monde « zappe » ! Et d’abord, bien sûr, les clients mais aussi les medias qui sautent d’un thème à l’autre dans un climat de pensée unique et les « marketers » eux-mêmes qui passent sans cesse d’une entreprise à l’autre, d’un produit à l’autre, d’une campagne à l’autre…

Nous sommes tous des clients impatients, exigeants et sans pitié

Les constats que nous, universitaires, dressons lorsque nous écoutons les professionnels sont clairs. Les clients, consommateurs privés ou acheteurs professionnels n’ont plus de patience. Nous sommes dans l’univers du « tout, tout de suite ». Les demandes sont des « hyper-demandes » et les besoins émotionnels priment sur le rationnel. Nous sommes tous des clients et lorsque nous ne sommes pas satisfaits, pas de problème, nous n’avons qu’à changer de fournisseur, comme on change de chaîne, parfois juste pour voir, rien qu’une fois…et puis tout le temps, par réflexe…

Le web est là pour nous aider. Il fait maintenant le travail pour nous. Un vrai robot à comparer les offres, les prix, les formules ! Et pourtant, nous sommes saturés d’information… Donc, on ne va plus à fond, on jette un œil, on se fait une opinion, et surtout…on se base sur l’avis des autres (les proches, les amis, les collègues…). De toute façon, on a trop de tout : trop de produits, trop de pub, trop de marques, trop d’info…c’est too much !

Et le marketing dans tout cela ?

 Oublions le passé, c’est le marketing du futur qui nous intéresse ! Mon collègue allemand Christian Bluemelhuber, l’a souvent développé dans ses communications : “Kotler est mort” ! Le marketing de Kotler s’entend. Il a raison ! Nous sommes entrés dans l’ère du Zapketing. Il n’y a plus de marchés, il n’y a plus que des zappeurs. Donc, il faut tout changer !

D’abord les études de marché. Changeons les études : elles sont longues, coûteuses et restent abstraites. Le temps qu’elles soient réalisées, tout a déjà changé. Allons vers le « zapsearch » : une immersion dans le monde des clients, un bain d’humilité, un choc de culture ! Le développement des produits doit résulter d’un bouillonnement permanent d’innovation. Plus le temps de tester, il faut tenter, lancer, récupérer, risquer ! Et parlons au cœur plutôt qu’à la raison. Les marques et les offres doivent être SPICE : S-Sexy, P-pleines de Personnalité, I-Intelligentes, C-orientées Client, E-Emotionnelles. Ne parlons plus de pub, parlons confiance et réputation. Et soyons réalistes, aujourd’hui, les produits sont comme des personnes, on ne reste ensemble que si on y trouve du plaisir ou de l’intérêt !

La plupart des entreprises sont encore inconscientes de la profondeur des changements que nous vivons. Elles pratiquent des changements anecdotiques au lieu de songer à des méta-changements. Si elles ne s’adaptent pas radicalement aux nouveaux systèmes qui se mettent en place, c’est le darwinisme économique qui fera le boulot. Vous, professionnels, devez vous secouer avant que le marché s’en charge…  Le marché ? Vous avez dit “marché” ? Non, c’est vrai, le marché, ça n’existe plus !

What’s a “good board” ? The Chairperson role.

A few days ago, I wrote an article about the need for startup companies to have a good Board of Directors (BoD) from day one. I had a few lines about the notion of “good Board” but too few to my own and my readers’s satisfaction. So i will go a bit further here.

What I pointed last time as a first step was to choose a good Chairperson i.e. someone who will care for the success of the business, someone senior who can manage meetings adequately and someone who has “a strong voice”. Actually the perfect Chairperson is more than that. In any board, in any company or non profit organization, big or small, the Chair (in this article I will use the word “Chair” to designate “Chairperson” for the sake of simplicity) is key as a balancing agent and a catalyst. That’s why the rules of conduct of corporate governance strongly recommend to separate the function of CEO from the one of Chair. This is going against the idea of “PDG – Président Directeur Général” still quite common in France for example.

I recommend that any Chairperson consider this:

Making sure that the Board’s composition is optimal

This is a key point to consider . As I already pointed out in my previous article, a good balance is needed between executive and non executive directors. Balance of skills, competencies and experiences is as important. But it’s not only about cv’s ! Personalites should also be examined. It’s good to have some devil’s advocate in the group, it’s recommended to mix entepreneurial, risk taking, minds with more conservative and careful heads. It’s also great to have people able to see the big picture while others are caring for details. Finally, all should have a strong sense of the ethics linked to their function, especially a clear sense of the company’s interest first. It means that the Chair should have thorough discussions with shareholders about the board “casting”. Promoting a regular turnover of Board members helps keeping a good balance. The Chair should care for it.

Interacting with other Board members outside of the boardroom

It’s a pity to see Boards limited to boardroom interactions. Opinions on future decisions should better be examined in separate one-to-one meetings at the Chair’s initiative. Board members can voice their concerns in a confidential setting. They will also be better prepared for the coming meetings. The Chair should be neutral here as his or her role commands. (S)he should ask relevant questions, listen carefully and probe the Director’s opinion, not impose his or her one. This may seem sometimes hard for some strong personality Chairpeople but it’s indispensable !

Setting the numbers of meetings and the agenda of each meeting with care and thoughtfulness

This may seem a trivial point but in my opinion it’s a major concern. Especially when the CEO is a strong leader, which is what we expect from her or him, (s)he wouls have a tendency to control the Board. A number of Chairpeople let the agenda decided by the CEO letting him or her control the discussion flow. Meetings are always too short to cover all points of an agenda. And long, endless board meetings are ineffective. I’ve seen a lot of agendas in my life and most of time they are overcrowded. Sometimes eight to ten issues to discuss on the same half day or evening ! Or it can be the opposite: two or three general points with no focus. Neither is good. The Board should focus on real Board issues, period ! A Board meeting is not a place to inform about issues, it’s a place to decide about issues. It’s not the same. The Chair should care for that. Decide on the agenda, decide on priorities and make sure that no important point that management wants an agreement on is put at the end when no time is left to discuss it freely and profoundly (this is by the way a well known tactic used by CEO’s to get a point easily approved…)

Managing meetings in the most efficicent way

Again this seemingly trivial consideration shows the difference between a strong and a weak Chair ! The agenda having been set, it must be respected with an equal distibution of time. I’ve attended numerous Board meeetings where timing is non respected leading to some prominent Board members leaving the room before the end of discussions. This is generally due to a lack of focus and never ending talks lost into details. In these situations it seems that no one dare to remind the Chairperson that (s)he is the guardian of time. (S)he is also the guardian of the debate’s quality. The Chair should care for reminding board members that they should be clear and focused. (S)he should split time evenly, inviting silent individuals to express themselves while reminding talkative ones to refrain from talking too much. The Chair should then summarize points of views and lead to decision making preferably through consensus.

Following up on decisions after Board meetings

A good Board meeting always ends with a document called “minutes of meeting” written by he Board’s secretary. Besides notable comments of Board members, it should include a list of decisions and a “to do list” until next meeting. It’s not unusual to see some “homework” given by the Chair to Board members in preparation for next meeting (an issue to investigate, a report to pre-read, some figures to reflect on,…). Actually, i recommend it firmly. This is keeping Directors under pressure and is always reminding them of their responsibilities. Time is scarce and procatrination is frequent. We should always avoid Directors coming to the boardroom poorly prepared or unprepared at all. The Chair should order the Board’s secretary to have a regular recall procedure a few weeks or days before next meeting. But this is not the most important. The Chair should hold regular meetings and talks with the CEO to insure follow up on key strategic decisions (strategy moves, investments, management hiring…). In bigger companies, (s)he should do the same with board’s sub-commitees (audit, compensation,…).

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I could write a book on this subject ! There are a number of roles and tasks dedicated to the Chair I didn’t even touch here (inside and outside representation and PR, chairing in times of crisis, realtionship with CEO and executive committee, etc.). Most of the Boards I attended in my life were poorly managed due to lack of adequate chairing. Even with prominent, competent and highly experienced members, a Board without a great Chairperson cannot work greatly !

Be inspired !

 

Why you should be lazy to find your inspiration

I’m sitting in front of the open fire in my countryside home, I just finished reading a comic book and I’m listening to Ella Fitzgerald. These last few days between Christmas and new year I felt laziness coming to me. Here in northern Europe, when sunlight is getting shorter and shorter and mist is invading the sky, our bodies and minds are slowing down. It’s time for regeneration. It’s time to reflect on the past and think of the future. For what I’m concerned, I know this period will inspire me more than anyhing else…

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There are many ways to get inspired. It can be through reading or listening to a great speaker. It can also be when you meet someone exceptional. Last week, for example, I met a man with whom I worked on a project more than 10 years ago. An ex P&Ger. Like all of us he’s not perfect. But he’s straight and to the point. I know he was already quite old but I was stunned when he told me his age: 80 year-old. Couldn’t believe it. Impeccable. Smart. Quick to think. Whatever he does or will do, I had an immediate feeling of sympathy for him and a good dose of optimism about my own future. Same as when I see the Rolling Stones playing rock and roll on stage at more than 70 year-old. But it’s another story !

My point is how you get inspiration. My experience showed me that you can’t reasonably be inspired when you’re overstressed, when you’re hyperactive, when you’re in the action ! Famous Secretery of State Henry Kissinger had a long career as professor and writer before entering politics. He once said that “great leaders should spend as much time as possible reflecting and theorizing before they come to power because once they’re in responsibility they have no more time to think about fundamentals“. He was very right. But in our hectic times, how could we do that ? After a few years studying, we go right in action and never stop. Some of us go for more training at selected points in time but executive training is generally quick and intense, leaving no time to reflect.

You cannot regenerate if you don’t stop your incredible life rythm. It’s just impossible. You cannot resource your mind if you don’t find yourself back. You need calm, you need solitude, you need to structure your ideas and liberate your creativity. Most executive education programs don’t promote that. They all promise: “here you’ll work 15 hours per day, you’ll spend your evenings prepare cases, if possible in teams, you’ll get as much knowledge as possible in the least possible time, bla bla bla” . It’s just bullshit ! At the end you see groups of ambitious executives, leaders and managers swallowing some quick lectures and discussing pseudo-cases that they don’t even analyze seriously before class. This while at the same time checking their smartphones constantly, replying emails during breaks and trying to solve operational problems left at their office. It’s a joke ! And corporations are paying millions for that kind of “fast (food) learning” !

Look at some great leaders, artists and top level sportpeople. Sophie Dutordoir is the first woman at the helm of Belgian Rail http://deredactie.be/cm/vrtnieuws.english/News/1.2846022

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After a brilliant career as CEO in Suez group, she stopped everything during three years to open a grocery store in a small city. The business establishment thought she had just become crazy. But she was smart. She could regenerate and now will be, I’m sure, a greater CEO than ever ! Same in other professions. All singers and musicians, as most creators, spent years without shows between 2 albums. They look for inspiration in a stressless milieu.

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It’s time to invest some time in yourself ! Your first reaction will be to say “no”. “No I can’t. No I cannot leave my job for a week. No, i need to care for my house, my family, my friends. No, it’s definitely impossible” ! So, it’s time to reflect: are you a slave or a free person ? What is your life about ? You care of everyone, everything, but who is taking care of you ? What is your true added value? Are you a true leader or just a good soldier ? Etc.

Never let restlessness guide your life !

Life is not about being exhausted, then rest a bit, then return to being some kind of human machine. It may reassure you but it will destroy your effectiveness and your clear-sightedness. This is not what you’re looking for, right ? Neither burn out, right ? Think of it !

Be inspired !

Why start ups should have a good Board from the start

The role of a “Board of Directors” (BoD) as a key component of a good corporate governance system is often misunderstood and a number of entrepreneurs think it’s a gimmick for big companies. Corporate governance itself is a vague concept for those who launched a business and are dealing day and night with operational issues. However, entrepreneurs should be more than concerned with the quality of their Board.

The BoD’s responsibilities are numerous. It includes: (1) defining business strategy, (2) naming the management team, (3) controlling execution, (4) deciding on major investments, (5) choosing the best financing structure, (6) checking on strategic KPI’s including financial inidcators. But what is misunderstood is the role that directors play outside board meetings. They can bring a specific expertise, a unique network, a wisdom forged by experience and a sense of responsibility linked to the function itself.

On the other side, entrepreneurs, business launchers are obsessed by a number of very down to earth issues: raising capital money, finding the first customers, getting a team on board, etc. Once the project is on rail, they go from one operational problem to the next, they face stress and tight schedules, they don’t have enough time to care about strategy. If success is coming early, they need to cope with growth. If it’s slow to happen, they need to adapt and reconfigure quite fast. For most of them, thinking of holding boards meetings with people asking strange questions is out of scope ! Well, they’re wrong !

It is when they are overwhelmed by operational problems that entrepreneurs need a good BoD ! The board will oblige them to raise the head above the daily shit. The board will oblige them to think about key elements of a successful strategy. Why did the performance overscored or underscored the business plan ? Why is this “wonderful manager” performing under expectations ? Why is the cash running so fast ? Why, why, why ? A good board will raise issues that entrepreneurs like to hide to themselves. In a determined but benevolent manner.3db68d5.jpg

Now the question is: what is a “good board” ? It’s never easy to find the right answer but I can at least give some advice.

First, choose a good chairperson: someone who will care for your success, someone senior who can manage meetings adequately (not too long, nor to short, with a effective agenda), someone who has “a strong voice”.

Then, enlarge the board to outsiders. We call them “independent directors” because they have no (or negligeable) financial stake in the company and they’re not part of families of the company’s shareholders. So you’re sure they have no conflict of interest and can have a free judgement.

Finally, look at competencies and personalities. Finding board members who can bring an expertise that nobody has in the business yet is great. Having someone with a cool and wise judgement is always good. A personality liking to play devil’s advocate is also bringing value.

One of my Harvard fellow classmate who was quite successful in business creation told me once: “I hate to prepare these boards meetings. I’m pissed off by reports and paper work. But each time I leave the board table, I feel better to have met these great professionals. Without them, i would never have so much success”.

So, my dear readers, if you’re an entrepreneur and you think of making your business a big business, go for a great board from the start. You’re great, right ? So, remember: “First class people hire first class people. Second class people hire third class people” .

Be top class ! Be inspired !

Why you should tour the world

Young people today are lucky ! Opportunities to travel abroad are countless. You only need guts and…some money. but money is never an issue if motivation is high. “With a penny, courage and determination, you can move a mountain” my grandfather used to say !

I must not convince my young students to tour the world. They’re ready for it. But when I’m talking to older buds, they say “yes I should do it but…” and then comes a number of good/bad reasons for not doing it. “I don’t have time”, “I have to care for the family”, I cannot stop my work now”,…. that’s what I hear and I understand that. However, these are wrong assumptions.

I know people who moved the whole family for a while in a removed country. I know some others who stopped working for 6 months to engage on a world Tour. I know very busy friends who found the time to go help a poor village inhabitants in Nepal. They all found solutions and they came back as a better and happier person.

From a business standpoint, travelling abroad is always valuable. Travellers come back with a broader view of the world. They enlarge their vision. They discover new standards. It’s all beneficial for their job performance. They’re more confident, more ambitious, more willing to change their minds. All good for their company.

I always recommend to my friends entrepreneurs to save time for travelling and, if possible, alone. It’s a good opportunity to think about the future of your business. You’re out of day to day shit ! You can be yourself, make new plans, see different people, resource your energy. Leaders need to be fed with ideas if they want to better lead !

Now, be careful not to go for stupid touring. Intelligence is the art of moving your brain.  Care for your analytical intelligence and your emotional intelligence. Smart travelling means more than taking photos in front of the Tour Eiffel ! It means discovering people, visiting entreprises or attending courses and conferences, also visiting trade fairs or others. Smart travelling will not go without a travel journal where you will record your impressions, your feelings and your discoveries. Taking note will fix your ideas. They will get back to you at the right moment.

So, if you don’t travel enough, or if you never did it at all, it’s time to note it in your new year resolutions ! Get organized ! Have a project ! Find the time and the money !

Yes you can !

Be inspired !