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Do You Have the Competencies for Growth?
For Individuals and Organizations
"Great leaders are hard to find but critically important." McKinsey Quarterly 2011

Three skills will change your career and your organization.

Organizations are looking for growth. The financial upheaval has stabilized (for now) and businesses are focused on opportunities and looking to the future. Getting there is the problem. A recent combined study (June 2011) by McKinsey and Company with Egon Zehnder International reported that only about 11% of executives currently possess the three competencies that will make the most difference for an organization to successfully grow. In the research it was found that executives possessing strengths in these three critical areas were responsible for companies being in the top quartile of revenue growth firms.

As a developing professional looking to move your career forward (with your own organization or to be more attractive to other companies in the market), you need to build your capacity in these three areas. For organizational leaders wanting to build their pipeline strength to have executives ready for growth, development needs to be focused on the three critical skills.

What are these critical skills?
  1. Delivering Customer Impact - the capacity to understand customers' changing needs
  2. Market Insight - looking beyond the current business landscape to see future growth opportunities
  3. Results Orientation - driving for higher performance

These three competencies make a significantly positive difference for both the individual and the organization in setting up success for the next decade.

1) Delivering Customer Impact - First and foremost, it always starts with the customer. Yet, in more than 80% of situations, most executives do not have a sound understanding of what impacts the customer and, most importantly, how the customer actually uses the organization's products or services. Strategic planning and marketing campaigns are generally designed from the boardroom and without a firm foundation of customer understanding. There may have been customer research completed prior to the strategy session (possibly extensive research) but often the information is based on questions the organization wants to know about the customer. So, as a result, the understanding we have about customers is based on advocacy (leading the witness to a place where we already want to go) rather than inquiry (being open to finding out what really matters to customers). Executives make decisions based on information provided.

Developing Customer Impact Delivery is founded on the ability to consistently take the perspective of adding value to the customer experience. We need to understand how the customer actually uses our product or service. What happens for them prior to the interaction with our organization, what is it like working with our company, and what happens for them following the transaction? What works, what hurts, and what would help? This type of perspective and competency is developed through direct interaction with customers and hearing what they say (not having them fill in surveys with pre-designed questions).

For individuals to develop the Customer Impact Delivery competency, the fundamental component is asking questions. The ability to ask questions of customers is the most direct route to understanding how they experience working with your product or service and the organization. A wonderful article in Harvard Business Review, The Customer-Centered Innovation Map, provides an enlightening approach to understanding customer impact based on the very practical premise "that people 'hire' products and services to get a job done'. When you understand that process, you understand the value provided or where additional value can be provided.

It is a key executive talent to be able to understand the interaction of the customer with the organization, how the job actually happens from the customer's perspectives, and where value is provided, can be improved, or where change will happen. Drop the advocacy approach and work with the customer on a purely inquiry basis to deliver positive customer impact.

2) Market Insights - After attending to the customer, exceptional executives have strategic market insight. They understand the organization's positioning within the industry and what are the critical factors that differentiate the company from the competition (intentional or otherwise). Building market insight is gained through reading, talking, and thinking with the focus on what is happening ahead and being able to make connections. Where the organization is today is not where it may be - or should be - going forward. What factors may affect future positioning could be a deliberate strategy or an unintentional result of not watching the signs.

For executives to develop their market insight, we strongly encourage building a network of people in the organization's industry as well as other industries to understand competitive and customer trending, potential impacts, and opportunities for "copying" from external markets for unique applications. Reading about your own industry as well as about completely separate topics also stimulates thinking. You need to read to stay abreast of trends and movements that may impact or provide opportunities. More than anything, with networking and reading executives need to think - actually take what is in front of them and see what it may mean. We need to stop being so linear and look at potential connections to really support growth.

Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Renee A. Mauborgne, provided a groundbreaking shift in understanding markets and future opportunity. Particular attention to the Six Paths Framework (a template for understanding potential market impact factors) and The Value Curve (positioning your product, service, or business against the market based on customer decision factors) yields significant understanding for market insights.

3) Results Orientation - Execution remains the number one challenge facing CEOs in 2011 (as it has for the prior five years based on the Conference Board of Canada annual reports) so it is not surprising that the third critical competency needed in executives to support organizational growth is an orientation for achieving results. We all want people who can make things happen.

Understanding the customer and having market insights provide the foundation for excellent judgment but things still have to get done. Having a sense of urgency (not busyness or frantic activity but a focus on what drives performance) is key. Performance is about connecting the end result with the activities and people that will be pivotal in providing the desired outcomes. Measurement is one of the best routes for being able to maintain focus, understand the connections to why things happen as hoped or not, and assessing performance for improvement. Executives who understand and apply the use of scorecards take a huge step forward in being able to maintain a results orientation.

More than making things happen, executives who understand people and how to effectively use influence to motivate people to engage in the work needed to produce results will be separated for greater success. Developing executives - and organizations - need to focus on understanding the dynamics of people strengths and interactions to achieve the greatest results.

The world is more competitive and complex. Things will never go back to "normal". We now operate in a new "normal" that places far greater pressure on organizations and executives to be able to think and act with a greater capacity for judgment. We have to focus on growth - there is no staying still. To excel in this world, we need to develop three critical competencies for growth - both individually and for our organizations.

Investing in developing our customer  impact delivery, market insight, and orientation for results will set us apart for success. The talent bar is higher. We need to develop these skills and align our people competencies with our growth strategies. We have a clear leadership-development target. Now we just need to systematically focus on building excellent leaders with the skills they need.

For further information on our customized corporate leadership development programs, please contact Jamie O’Neill at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and make a difference for your organization.


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