An Interview with Steven Feinberg
Feinberg advises senior executives on leadership and organizational
issues, with an emphasis on advantage-making: how to maximize
opportunities. His latest book is The Advantage-Makers: How
Exceptional Leaders Win by Creating Opportunities Others Don't
(Financial Times Press).
Dr. Feinberg, in your book The Advantage
Makers, you claim that advantage-making can be taught, that
is you could teach someone to become an advantage maker. What
do you mean by that, and how does advantage making relate to branding?
Feinberg : Let’s
start with what brand giants like Clorox, AT&T, Anheauser
Busch, Microsoft and Liberty Mutual all have in common. They are
all facing a transforming marketing landscape. And to deal effectively
with the changes in this landscape requires what I call advantage-making
In a recent conversation with Dereck Gordon, Chief Marketing Officer of Clorox, we were discussing how advantage-makers win more often than others. "Whenever we come up against a wall, our job is to get over the wall," was how he saw it.
What's so striking about his
comment is that it perfectly describes advantage-maker
leadership. Advantage-makers consistently create superior
outcomes in the face of constraints. In my book I describe advantage
making as a radical new tool for executives. It's all
about changing the game by helping you see what your competitors
do not, and act on these insights to gain and sustain the leadership
position in your field.
This is no small feat. How
you lead, the quality of your judgment, and your ability
to create momentum inside the organization, as well as in the
marketplace will all show up in your branding result.
saying that branding is about results...
Branding is not about creativity, although it can’t be done well without the design minds at work. Branding is ultimately about executing to the brand promise. The advantage of your brand promise is lost when execution is inadequate. Not delivering on the brand promise is heard loud and clear, and customers vote with their pocketbooks with other vendors.
That's the question used by Verizon Wireless as a brand guarantee. Amusing when we watch the commercials, perhaps, but every time we hear the phrase, we recall the brand promise. And of course it's deadly when it's not fulfilled.
Remember this: "Do you hear me now?"
do Advantage-Makers build brands?
It takes: one, making
hard decisions, two, employees who can fulfill the brand promise
and three, an organization that can accelerate momentum.
AT&T's Senior V.P.,
Wendy Clark, knows full well that managing the brand is as much
an inside job as a customer message. She develops brand ambassadors
inside the company. Clark's strategy includes hiring people
whose behavioral characteristics will support the brand, not
just fill a position.
Just like Southwest
Airlines hires 'people people' to support the friendly service,
quick responsive organization so "you are free to move about
When Clark presented
her budget to AT&T's CEO to shift the brand, he unflinchingly
said, "It's too small!" You have one chance to get this
right, it has to be funded for success.
An executive who
will make the hard decisions is essential. If you can't make
the hard decisions, you probably shouldn't be in a leadership
role. Problems and conflicts fester, resources are depleted, and
momentum is lost when tough decisions are not made.
For Wendy Clark the
hard decision meant changing out 50,000 hard hats, as well as
24,000 Company Buildings, 6,000 Retail Stores, 83,000 Automobiles
and 74,000 Uniforms with the new AT&T image, part of supporting
the brand with customers and reinforcing it throughout the organization.
Hard decisions require an appreciation of what really drives behavior.
Wendy Clark seem to know something the other managers don't know.
She leverages what I call four hidden forces that drive
behavior, placing her in the top 10%, a different league.
These hidden forces
cause internal organizational changes as well as customer behavior.
Not knowing these four levers of influence causes leader to be
outperformed by their competitors, and places them at a disadvantage
with their teams, organizations and customers.
what are these four forces or levers as you call them?
The code of the advantage-makers
is distinguished by their ability to shift four dimensions: time,
interactions, perception and structures. T.I.P.S. for short.
with the world differently. They spot these forces where others
overlook or simply don't know they exist.
these four levers creates an economy of means for producing superior
Shifting time generates possibilities.
transforms the game.
Shifting perception creates winners.
structure changes behavior.
you give us some details?
Sure. You shift
time to create possibilities. TIVO has shifted time on
your television viewing. Walt Disney envisioned Disney World by
imagining a future in Orlando, Florida.
You can identify your own time profile or time IQ:
The Now or Never folks need immediate reactions, but may press too hard, move too fast and miss opportunities that a little perspective may have landed.
The Eventual, Steady Eddy types who take their time and have a long time frame, they deliver results over time but they miss market changes and can’t adjust fast enough to opportunities.
The Same Old, Same Old, Past oriented, let’s not break it if it works while the competition runs right by with innovations.
The Time Shifters who are able to adjust their time frame, they can take action now, be patient to grow organizations and companies, use what worked in the past but not get stuck in any one time frame. For Advantage-Makers there is no time like the present to create the future.
What do most people think of their time shifting?
Most people think they are time shifters but in fact when they get stuck or shoot themselves in their own foot its because they haven’t made the right time shift. Steady Eddy when they should be pressing the point.
In your negotiations, adjusting time frames can help overcome resistant thinking. Always pay attention to the time horizon present in your thinking, then shift it and you will find solutions you hadn't before.
You said shifting interactions transforms the game.
You become a game changer when you shift interactions.
Facebook, MySpace and the Apple iPod shifted
the network of interactions to transform social networking and
the music industry.
On an everyday level, this has to do with
your skillful interaction with your colleagues to change problems
into opportunities. The road to hell is paved with mishandled
Most often we make sticky
problems stickier by persisting in wrong solutions. For
recurrent problems consider if:
1) You are taking action when you shouldn’t – overreacting or doing too much tinkering
2) You are not taking action you should be – dodging conflict, or attempts that are too little too late
3) You are taking the wrong action – miscalculating, thinking the problem is one thing when, in fact, it is another.
Pay special attention
to the interations that are not working, then shift from persisting
to something 180 degrees different. For example, instead of pushing
your point of view, ask for support.
So perception is reality...
You shift perceptions
to create winners. Volkwagen shifted the perception of VW bug
from ugly to beautiful, and Avis transformed themselves on the
brink of bankruptcy with the "We are number 2, we try harder"
While losers complain, and do more of the same, advantage-makers
In branding, perception is
reality. Yet, you can easily miss an opportunity by mistaking
perception for reality. Remember the New Coke fiasco. Perception
is a tool. To deliver on the brand promise you must vigilantly
guard the insight: perception drives behavior. Especially
inside the organization. You must influence and manage the perception
inside the company to create a winning brand.
Jack Welch established a hierarchy of being number 1 or
number 2 in the marketplace or getting out.
Pay attention to perceptions,
especially those that aren't working, then shift to use dissatisfaction
constructively. Toyota institutionalized behavior to continuously
finding things that need improvement.
does structure have to do with branding?
You shift structures
to shape behavior. The Internet changed the structural forces
in our culture and business. Just as a riverbed directs the rivers
course of action, your business has an underlying structure that
determines your organizations course of action.
Sixty five percent
of organizational change efforts fail because the underlying structure
is in conflict. All your effort to drive the brand will be neutralized.
Paraphrasing Pogo, 'we have found the enemy and he is u.s. (underlying
At Home Depot, Roger
Adams, CMO aligned the business around what fueled growth - selection,
price and service. In particular, the magic structural bullet
for motivating customers is their emotional connection to being
able to say, "I did it." Home Depot aligned the organization
around delivering the sense of confidence to customers that they
could improve their own homes. And that in turn became a shift
in perception for the consumer.
Pay attention to the
structural forces that drive behavior, then shift to spot how
decisions are made. If the organization has a pattern of delays
in decisions there is usually a structural conflict that needs
to be resolved. Your brand promise will not be delivered because
the organization will not move forward fast enough.
So these four levers are not just intellectually stimulating ideas...
In my studies, we find
that 60% of the time, managers miss the advantage-making solution
in the obstacle they are facing. 60% miss opportunities to deliver
on the brand promise.
The message is clear:
obstacles will always brand your brand if you don't outmaneuver
Millions of dollars
of profit are lost along with underperformance, and promising
managerial careers are cut short because managers don't know where
to look. Many managers simply aren't seeing or thinking as an
advantage-maker. Frankly, that's why I wrote the book.
of which, can you sum up your book for us?
To successfully implement
your brand strategy in the face of disadvantages you must learn
to shift. Doing more
of the same won't work. Instead change the game. But how do you
shift the odds in your favor? By shifting time, interactions,
perceptions and structures you will gain insights and observations
that reveal unexpected solutions.
Dereck Gordon, Wendy Clark, and Jim Adams win more often by transforming
challenging situation - their walls - into the best possible outcome.
If you are not an advantage-maker
you will probably lose to someone who is.
making is a process. It can be learned. Sure, some people are
naturally better at it than others. But the managers and companies
that take the trouble to learn this simple framework will
find that advantage making strategies pay off quite handsomely-
both for the individual and the business.
you so much.
Visit Steven Feinberg's site at: www.stevenfeinberg.com
Sarkar is the managing editor of this site. He
is the founder and CEO of Double Loop Marketing LLC, an
online company specializing in demand generation and thought-leadership-based