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Mike Santoro Shares Tips for Accelerating Business Adaptation at ACCELERATE Chicago

Alex Yeadon

On Thursday, January 31, our President, Mike Santoro, braved record breaking -36 degree temps to deliver the keynote speech at bpm'online’s ACCELERATE Chicago event. Despite the weather, a packed room enjoyed his presentation on “Accelerating Business Adaptation in Response to Industry Disruption” in which he shared his methodology for ensuring your business is ready to adapt. Keep reading for highlights of his advice.

At Walker Sands, we’re extremely lucky to work with some very disruptive technology companies and some very smart leaders – both inside and outside of the company. In Mike’s experience, if a company wants to be successful and adapt, it must achieve BLIS by building, listening, investing and sharing.

BUILD a strong team and a culture of innovation through shared values

How do you build a strong team? Start by defining your values.

Think of some of the most successful companies out there – PayPal, G2 Crowd, CloudCraze Salesforce. The common thread between them are impactful teams united by shared values that helped them grow.

To achieve this at Walker Sands, the team used Patrick Lencioni’s values exercise from "The Advantage," and Mike recommends you do the same. First, list the employees that you think are amazing. Decide what makes them great. Then, list the ones that detract from the organization and do the same thing – why do they detract? Hopefully when you’re done, you can find commonalities and grab your values.

By doing this exercise, Walker Sands was able create our value system: LSD – Learn, Support, Do. Today, all of our employees know LSD, and big company decisions are run through this filter. It’s part of our interview process for hiring and our exit process for firing. Having a unified value system and ensuring our employees adhere to it has been invaluable in helping us move forward as a company.

LISTEN to employees, customers, and your industry to shape your vision for the future

Let’s assume you have the right leadership team that’s naturally curious and poised for adaptation and experimentation. Now you need to unleash them on new sources of information. Here are three great places to mine for new ideas:

  • Customers: Do you have a mechanism for customer feedback? In addition to envisioning the perfect experience and creating it backward for your customer, you should be asking your customers what they want and building it forward.
  • Employees: Walker Sands has seen great success with employee feedback. We regularly use TINYpulse, an employee experience platform that surveys our employees on everything from “How happy are you at work?” to “What offering are we missing?” In-person meetings with mid-level management are also a great way to drive new ideas – the trick is to create a safe environment for open conversation around what can be improved. In both cases, we don’t wait for employees to come to us with ideas; we actively go out and get them. As a result, we’ve implemented everything from new reporting to new onboarding practices, both ultimately resulting in big benefits for our clients.
  • Industry: Are you reading trade journals? Studying the latest successful marketing campaigns? Making an effort to attend conferences and talk with others in your industry? Even consider industries or markets other than your own, as disruption often comes from the outside. All can be great windows into what the future could look like.

Now your job becomes difficult. You need to take all this information and form a viewpoint. What are your customers saying? What do your employees advise? What are the industry trends? Sort the good from the bad. Find the connections and create a viewpoint of the future.

It’s not easy, but if you listen, you’ll give yourself a much better shot than if you just ignore these sources of information.

INVEST in your vision

Good ideas take time and money to thrive, and you should be prepared to invest both.

For our part, we have been investing for a long time in the concept of integrated PR and digital marketing. Initially, in order to make that happen, we knew we’d need a powerful demand gen offering and a strong web service group. We made the up-front investment, spent the time necessary to develop case studies that proved our method worked, and now have an extremely successful digital offering.

Remember: results won’t happen overnight, and don’t be afraid to experiment along the away – like Amazon is currently doing with their Amazon Go stores, or like Walker Sands has done in the past with our Donut Study.

SHARE your best ideas with a strategy to reach the right people

You can have the world’s best product or service, but it will go to waste if it’s not positioned in a way that makes your customer see a need for it, or if no one knows about it.

You need to build a narrative that allows others to see how your company can help them, and then share it far and wide. Speaking events can be a great way to share your story, and awards can offer valuable third-party validation of your work. Public relations can build the brand awareness and thought leadership you need, while an updated and optimized website can drive new business. Whatever the method, sharing your story is essential to accelerating your business.

Some aspects of BLIS are easier than others, and it can be all too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget to look to the future. But, if you want to adapt in response to industry changes, you need to remain focused on preparing for that disruption.