M&A strategy

5 Key Findings from a Survey of Executives: How to Think About M&A Strategy During an Economic Earthquake

One of the million- or billion-dollar questions firms are asking, given the pandemic, is whether this is a good time to pursue M&A strategy. Looking to high profile players, you’ll find examples both of companies, like Boeing, abandoning deals and companies, like Google Cloud, publicly saying they are open to acquisitions.

To guide your thinking about M&A best practices through the end of 2020, it makes sense to consider what we know about how firms are currently making decisions. The M&A Leadership Council recently conducted a survey of 50 C-suite executives and senior corporate development leaders about their plans. 

Let’s discuss the major findings from the survey and what they mean for you as you think about strategically positioning your firm to succeed when economic activity rebounds.

1. Deals in Progress

The good news is that deals are still getting done, especially those in later stages. While just over half (51%) of those surveyed reported a “temporary pause” in M&A activity, only 14% indicated they had halted all deals currently in the works. And 12% actually reported expediting late-stage deals, while another 12% indicated that they fully intended to proceed to deal closing assuming negotiations go well.

What does this mean for you?

If you’ve put the brakes on a merger or acquisition, it may be time to reengage your vetting process and due diligence. Go back and review your M&A best practices checklist to make sure you’re going in with eyes wide open. Pay special attention to the items on the list that may have shifted with current events and those that are most likely to be volatile as the economy sorts itself out.

Proceed as follows:

  • Meet with your project team to regroup and discuss moving forward
  • Review monetary and non-monetary assets and business priorities
  • Make an exhaustive list of questions that have recently come to light

2. Anticipated Deal Volume

With regard to deal volume, it’s no surprise that 26% of executives report a substantial reduction in the number of M&A deals for the remainder of 2020. Additionally, the 51% of executives reporting that they are on a “temporary pause” expect to remain paused until they see signs of an economic recovery, which is not likely to happen before the end of the year.

Despite this sobering news, 23% of respondents anticipate no significant change to or an increase in the number of M&A plays they pursue this year. For buyers staying in the M&A game, four motivations were prevalent:

  1. Seeing opportunities in M&A hotspots
  2. Looking to gain the “first mover advantage,” while other prospective buyers are still in shock and trying to sort out their plans
  3. Needing to innovate or reposition for post-COVID market realities
  4. Wanting to accelerate commercialization of the most promising new technologies, medical advancements, or delivery systems

What does this mean for you?

You aren’t necessarily crazy if you’re seeing opportunities for M&A plays. If your balance sheet is strong, your stock price steady, and access to credit solid, it may be a great time to keep your eye on who you want to partner with as we reinvent our post-pandemic work lives. 

3. Deal Objectives

Many companies are predictably broadening the scope of deal types they’re considering. While 57% indicated they’re most interested in doing deals similar to those they’ve done in the past, the data also suggest these acquirers simultaneously shopping in several different strategic deal-types.

59% reported their intent to opportunistically buy distressed companies and 23% said they are targeting new, non-core technologies, solutions, or segments to intentionally diversify their future revenue streams.

What does this mean for you?

Acquiring companies that are struggling during tough economic times, but which will likely thrive quickly once the economy picks up steam again is a valid M&A strategy. Play your cards right and you could end up with a really lucrative deal, while saving a technology or smart solution, which might otherwise be lost to the dustbin of history.

It’s also a good time to consider how to diversify or reinforce your own revenue streams. Many firms experiencing a slowdown in the past few months have taken the time to strategize about insulating themselves from future economic distress. One savvy strategy is thinking outside the box about new ways to bring in revenues and develop new efficiencies.

In addition, for firms concerned about their own ability to weather the pandemic storm, a “marriage of survival” may be a mutually beneficial solution. If you know of a competitor or adjacent company that you suspect to be in a similar struggle for survival, it might be worth a phone call.

4. Operational Challenges

Sellers in prime position will be in high demand. Any sellers who are ready to do a deal, but confident about surviving the economic lockdown, will be prepared to hold out until P&L statements recover. So finding the best play may be more of a challenge than you anticipate.

Additionally, this may call for a level of due diligence and dialogue that some buyers aren’t prepared for. For instance, looking at 2020 financials, to what extent have core fundamentals, competitive pressure, or other internal or external factors impacted the drop in revenues? How confident are you that the impacts attributed to COVID are accurate? Also, how should your leadership team evaluate and validate the target company’s rebound plan?

What does this mean for you?

If your firm is eying an M&A strategy as a buyer to gain market share, keep in mind that the most attractive sellers will be in high demand. You’ll likely need to get creative about bridging the valuation gap. Consider: 

  • Valuation, 
  • Deal structure, 
  • Growth incentives, and
  • Talent retention.

Your strategies here will need to be simple and convincing to win the bid. Remember, acquisitions, even in the best of times, are highly emotional transactions. Now is not the time to spare the empathy. If you want the transition to be smooth, be sensitive during this delicate dance.

5. M&A Capabilities

Finally, survey respondents reported they are calling in reinforcements to bolster their internal M&A capabilities. For many firms, operationally executing an M&A strategy amidst so much economic uncertainty, across all deal phases, and over multiple deal-type scenarios requires a level of M&A sophistication beyond what they currently have in place.

As the chair of the M&A Leadership Council, Mark Herdon, cautions us: “Mergers and acquisitions are notoriously difficult in any environment and post-Covid, they may be even harder. Setting aside political sabre rattling from the recently proposed ‘Pandemic Anti-Monopoly Act’ [which could also throw a monkey-wrench into your M&A plans], even the most skillful acquirers may be hard-pressed to navigate other real-time acquisition challenges.”

What does this mean for you?

Upleveling your M&A strategy means upgrading your M&A operating processes, playbooks, software solutions, skills, and resources to enable working remotely for any deal type, market environment, or deal volume. To support your crisis recovery strategic objectives, consider carefully any gaps you might need to fill.

Of course, shoring up your M&A capabilities need not require a long internal hiring process. Working with an external team that has significant skills and experience in the M&A space offers several advantages. Audacia Strategies offers a network of specialized partners who bring specific expertise, depth of resource, and proven experience. Check out our services to see how we can support you. 

Photo credit: Gino Santa Maria

best communications practices

A New Look at “Chaos is Our Brand” in Light of the Coronavirus Crisis

When Audacia Strategies CEO, Katy Herr, originally taped this interview with Dan Doran, CEO of Quantive, for his podcast The Deal—Unscripted, we had no idea just how relevant it would be now during the current crisis. A year later, we are living a case study in crisis communication and thought it was a good time to revisit some of the takeaways about best communications practices from that conversation.

1. Don’t Wait to Create a Strategy for Best Communications Practices

This recommendation applies as much to a wide-spread crisis situation like the Coronavirus pandemic as it does to a big company transition like a merger or acquisition. It never pays to procrastinate on creating a communications strategy.

If you find yourself without a clear strategy, you’re likely feeling the pain acutely in this moment. As far as we know, no one has invented a time machine, but there are some things you can do to develop a stop gap strategy:

  • Stay calm and present as you weigh your options.
  • Figure out who needs to hear from you, when.
  • Develop straightforward messaging that doesn’t promise more than you can deliver.
  • Make sure you have a designated team with assigned roles to streamline communications.

For more ideas, check out 5 Lessons from our Crisis Communications Playbook

Many of our clients contact us when they’re facing one of two situations: times of crisis or times of transformation—hence our unofficial tagline: “chaos is our brand.” This makes a lot of sense, but too often what we find is that if an organization hesitates to develop best communications practices and a communications strategy early enough, things can go off the rails quickly. 

At the risk of sounding too sales-y and mindful of the many hardships experienced during this time, here are a few of the benefits of using an outside communications firm:

  • An outside set of eyes gives you transaction experience, critical perspective, and unbiased advice when communicating your message to the outside world.
  • An outside firm is in a good position to place your organization in a broader context (i.e., the competitive set, the market, and your financial stakeholders), while you focus on running day-to-day internal operations.
  • An outside firm isn’t influenced by the “groupthink” or silo-ed communications that can be an obstacle to projecting the strongest public image.

Whether or not your organization ultimately decides to enlist the help of a firm like Audacia Strategies during this crisis or the next one, the most important thing you can do is start strategizing ASAP.

2. Think About Who Your Stakeholders Are 

In this moment of uncertainty, you are right to worry about accidentally leaving stakeholders off of your list of communications. One of the first rules of communications is to control the narrative. But if you hesitate to reach out to stakeholders or skimp on the stakeholder analysis, this is precisely the risk you take.

Remember that at its core communications is about storytelling. What is the best story you can tell to a particular set of stakeholders? Suppose the governor in your state has decided your industry is among those allowed to reopen, but you disagree with the reopen policy for your business. Your best bet is to be honest with your employees, customers, and investors. State your case and speak your truth.

Depending on whether you are a publicly or privately held company, stakeholders could include any or all of the following sets:

  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Financial stakeholders: 
    • Public debt holders and ratings agencies
    • Private equity companies and banks
    • Investors or shareholders
  • Community partners
  • Contributors (for non-profit organizations)
  • Business partners and service providers
  • Strategic partners
  • Government regulators and political community (local, state and federal) 
  • Media and industry influencers

3. Understand the Difference Between Marketing and Communications

This is especially important now when best communications practices may require a very light touch. If you think you can “get by” using your internal marketing department to craft crisis communications, you may want to reconsider. 

Marketing and strategic communications are different tools. Whereas marketing primarily focuses on telling the story of how your product or service will help your target customers, strategic communications partners can knit together the entirety of the business story to give investors and other stakeholders a comprehensive picture. As the experts in helping clients weather chaos, we have developed best practices over many transactions, crises, and change events.

Now is the time to ask big picture questions about how your market may respond to this crisis, how resources should be optimally redirected, and how investors, customers and employees should be engaged throughout. This is a great time to consider what has changed for your customers and employees and what you can offer as we begin to feel our way through life post-lockdown.

4. M&A Tips and Tricks

As we hopefully begin to see COVID-19 infection rates peak over the next several weeks and markets start to stabilize, many predict that M&A (mergers and acquisitions) will start to pick up in certain industries. This is, of course, assuming lawmakers on Capitol Hill don’t place a moratorium on big mergers—a conversation we’ll be monitoring closely.

There are still a lot of unknowns here, but if a merger is in your future, we work with corporate development teams, in-house financial teams, lawyers, and investment bankers helping them think through the market and storytelling from an M&A perspective. At its core, M&A is about risk, the ability to manage risk, and telling the story of how the acquisition fits into your broader business strategy and culture.

For example, if you’ve been working on a deal that has been in the preparation stages for months, should you call it off or push forward to completion? One thing is for sure: for companies that have built a healthy balance sheet during the economic boom of the past ten years, declining valuations create opportunities to pursue deals that create long-term value. While we can’t help you decide whether to hold or fold, we can help you communicate your decision.

Finally, we’ll leave you with some pitfalls and opportunities to consider when it comes to best communications practices during a merger or acquisition: 

M&A Pitfalls:

  • Companies that overpay: We have another blog post dedicated to this topic. Suffice it to say, if you overpay for an acquisition, it can create credibility issues with your investors, your Board of Directors, your employees…the list goes on. Negotiations can get emotional quickly but consider that the business strategy will have to support the valuation.
  • Cultural fit failure: We’ve seen it happen: a small start-up firm develops an amazing technology and gets bought by a huge firm looking to prove it’s innovative and “hip.” Then, within a year, all the original start up employees are gone. Avoid this kind of cultural disconnect by having an air-tight integration strategy from the beginning. Make sure you are walking your walk, so you can deliver on what you’re promising. (Pssst! Hot tip: Audacia Strategies has a new service rolling out to help avoid just this problem. Make sure you’re signed up to be among the first to get the details!)

M&A Opportunities:

  • Integration is key: The best M&A success stories are those where the merging leadership teams think about integration all the way along. When companies have a successful communications strategy that includes communicating the big vision well for both internal and external audiences, the proof is in the stakeholders’ response.
  • Customers see opportunities: Ideally, when two companies merge, customers say “this is exactly what I needed.” Rather than seeking out two solutions, for example, the customer gets one-stop-shopping from the new hybrid. It’s your job to help communicate this feeling across your stakeholder groups.
  • Employees see opportunities: And if you can also pull off a merger where employees in both companies see the transformation as good for their own careers, you’ve developed a winning communications strategy. Often employees of the smaller firm may feel anxious about being acquired. But if you can honestly demonstrate opportunities for career mobility, earnings potential, and other benefits of working for a larger company, it will go a long way toward easing transition tensions.

The above is only a sampling of the insights and best communications practices gained from Dan and Katy’s conversation. You can watch and listen to the 30-minute interview in its entirety, here

As everyone keeps saying, this crisis is unprecedented. Still, there is something to be said for working with a team that faces down chaos and keeps walking through the fire. We are here to help you figure out your next step and keep you moving forward. If you want to talk, we’re ready to strategize about your best next steps. 

Photo credit: https://www.123rf.com/profile_deagreez

timing corporate communications

How to Think About Timing Big Announcements in the Age of Uncertainty (3 Questions You MUST Ask!)

I first shared my thoughts about timing corporate communications back in December of 2016. The world looked very different then. We were still in the midst of the longest economic bull run in history. We were still shaking hands, going into the office, and not thinking twice about getting on a plane.

Yes, the corporate world looks very different today as we navigate the choppy waters of COVID-19. But best practices for when and how to make big announcements remain largely the same.

While it’s important to get the messaging right, when and how you say it matters as much—if not more than—what you say. So, let’s consider the big questions to ask before you drop a big announcement. 

1. Is your announcement subject to regulatory restrictions?

Markets may be a bit topsy-turvy at the moment, but you can assume that the existing federal regulatory rules of your industry still apply. There are rules regarding what you can communicate, to whom, when, and how. So make sure you brush up on the SEC disclosure requirements and the law relevant to your industry concerning timing corporate communications.

Also, make sure you stay up-to-date on the latest developments affecting your industry and any SEC statements about how they’re responding to the pandemic. This is especially crucial for firms subject to rules governed by The Division of Trading and Markets

Example: Material Announcements

Speaking of regulatory restrictions, Regulation Fair Disclosure (Reg FD) requires all publicly traded companies to release material information to all investors at the same time. Ideally, leadership would communicate the changes during a scheduled conference call with investors or a town hall meeting. Staying in touch with investors is critical.

In addition, to stay clear of Reg FD violations, remind directors, officers, and other corporate insiders that they should refrain from trading in the company’s securities until any risks that would be material to investors have been disclosed. The unknowns of COVID-19 put us in a fluid situation, so it’s even more important to stay vigilant here.

However, as always, if word of a material event or material information is inadvertently leaked to some investors or analysts (i.e., an “unintentional selective disclosure”), as soon as a senior company official learns of the disclosure, she is required to disclose the information publicly. Companies must make the announcement either (a) within 24 hours or (b) by the start of the next day’s trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

2. What are your competitors doing?

I know that you’re juggling a gazillion balls. But one of those balls has to be keeping an eye on the competition. I’m not asking you to be obsessed with your competitors—that’s not likely to be helpful either. Still, how much of a splash your announcement makes, whether positive or negative, at least partially depends on the behavior of your competition. So do pay attention.

If you have good news to share, you want to time the announcement carefully to capture as many likes, comments, and eyeballs as you can. With bad news, you want to be as transparent and complete as possible in your initial communications to avoid continually referencing the issue and detracting from your broader corporate strategy. 

Example: Product or Service Launch

Let’s say you have pivoted and are ready to roll out a new offering that will address an emerging need in your market. Sure, you are excited about the product or service. But if you rush to make the announcement without a solid strategy, you risk being overshadowed.

For example, suppose you suspect your competition might be working on a similar offering. Should you rush to beat them to market? While you might manage to steal their thunder by announcing early, you also need to think through the consequences of such a play. Could you lose credibility by putting out a product or service that hasn’t been thoroughly tested? Do you have a plan for dealing with a shouting match should your competitor start one?

While there’s no crystal ball to predict what opportunities are on the horizon, waiting a bit to make that big announcement can pay off. This is doubly true if your industry is experiencing extra volatility during this time.

In addition, if waiting to announce gives you time to gather crucial information about what your customer needs, this will ultimately result in a more successful launch. The benefits to rushing corporate communications here are few, while the costs can absolutely be a reputation killer.

3. Does your corporate communications policy respect your staff?

Communicating in a way that expresses empathy toward employees is key. Again, this isn’t just about the language of your messaging. It’s about timing corporate communications too. Some announcements affect your internal staff more than shareholders or the general public. Your employees and staff don’t deserve to hear bad news from external sources or through the rumor mill.

Example: Corporate Restructuring

When making an announcement like a corporate restructuring, it’s important not to take your staff for granted. Relationships internal to your company are as important, or even more important, than external partnerships if you want to come out of this reorganization with your corporate culture intact. If you focus on the interests of one group to the detriment of others being affected, you risk looking callous and insensitive.

So, follow this general rule: put as much thought into announcing corporate restructuring as you would into announcing a corporate acquisition. If layoffs are part of the strategy, be as transparent as you can about how you came to decisions about whom to let go and what this means for the company as well as individuals.

As with any external message, be mindful of how your internal announcement will affect your audience. Don’t let emotions get in the way. If you are the head of a division, the corporate restructuring might be bad news for you as well. But when you make the announcement to your team, be considerate of their feelings in hearing the news for the first time.

Having the right overall strategy for timing corporate communications takes a blend of planning, finding the right words, and practicing authentic human engagement. At Audacia Strategies, we have helped companies like yours find the right timing strategy for big announcements. Schedule a consultation to discuss your specific needs.

Photo credit: Canva Stock Images

COVID-19 resources

Reading, Listening, and Watching—The Quarantine Edition

I don’t know about you, but I’m living in my blue light glasses and I have real feelings about Zoom vs GoToMeeting vs UberConference. I’ve binged on articles about how to look my best on camera and how to host effective virtual meetings. I’ve signed up for and subsequently never started a very cool sounding course on Coursera about neural networks and deep learning.

My truth in the time of COVID-19 is that staying connected via calls and video takes more time than I anticipated and staying on top of other work often requires working odd hours. That said, I do find that I need “brain breaks” more than ever these days. I imagine you might feel the same way. So, here’s what’s filling my cup.

COVID-19 Resources

I’m still figuring out how-much-is-too-much information for me, but these resources are informative, accessible, and visually compelling. And, in a time where it’s easy to feel powerless, there is absolutely power in information. 

Reading

As we navigate this unprecedented experience, there are real implications for how we communicate with stakeholders. For most organizations, the main struggle is about how to set expectations at a time when there is such uncertainty. It’s helpful to (a) stay pragmatic—as in, do the best you can with the information you have and (b) stay aware of the regulations and recommendations of regulators. Here’s the most recent response from the SEC.

And here’s a terrific example of a leader exhibiting empathy during an exceptionally difficult period. Keep in mind that as leaders, our employees, social media followers, and stakeholders all look to us for cues about how to behave and feel during uncertain situations.

Listening

As a regular listener and fan of Planet Money on NPR, I’m happy to report they are crushing it with the COVID-19 resources. If, like me, you’re wondering how this crisis will affect the U.S. economy long-term, this is the best analysis I’ve heard about which indicators to watch (and bonus, the whole episode is only eight minutes).

In another episode of Planet Money, Robert Smith and Nick Fountain checked in with the female owner of an auto mechanic shop in Queens, NY about how the pandemic is affecting her business. Like her, many of us with fewer than 500 employees, are looking to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) as a life preserver for our businesses. The problem is that this $350 billion program, meant to save the economy from collapse, is untested. It was thrown together in a week, and the launch has been a mess (reportedly, as of the morning of Thursday, April 16th, the program ran out of money).

Also, if you’re wondering how the Feds can seemingly “click their heels together” and come up with two trillion dollars for an economic rescue package, the folks at Planet Money are wondering the same thing. In this episode, they do a deep dive into the mechanisms involved in  Congress coming up with $2,000,000,000,000 before the economy collapses. Also, they ask: Can you create too much money, and what happens when you do?

Watching

Personally, I haven’t taken the time to watch the Tiger King saga or the latest season of Ozark on Netflix. When I’m not in a virtual meeting, I prefer to Facetime with family and friends. Seeing their smiling faces really helps me feel connected even when we can’t be physically together.

Real World Inspiration

I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to brag on a few of my fellow entrepreneurs. Throughout the present unpleasantness, I’ve been so impressed with the work they are doing on behalf of their clients and their generosity in sharing their skills with the community at large.

Quinn Strategy Group

For leaders considering how to lead during uncertain times, Quinn Strategy Group published a helpful blog article. I love the simplicity and power of the concept: do the next right thing! 

RevMade

So many of us are asking the eternal question: should you continue to market to your audience during a global health pandemic? Answer from RevMade: If you focus on understanding what your audience needs, then you will never go wrong. What they need has likely shifted in light of the crisis, but your audience may need you now more than ever. Don’t know what COVID-19 resources your audience needs? Maybe it’s a good time for a Voice of the Customer (VoC) assessment.

Digital Caffeine

The smart folks at Digital Caffeine Group remind us that now is a great time to get experimental. If not now, when? Get visible and build that brand awareness while some of your peers may be experiencing analysis paralysis. Why not take advantage of this time when “the Internet is on sale” and try some new communication strategies

BirchBox

Finally, as a business owner, I’m always on the lookout for inspiration from others who have been through significant challenges. Quarantine is no exception. How I Built This always offers inspiration, optimism, and a reminder of the importance of resilience. 

Here’s a quote from a recent episode that stuck with me:

“It’s not just the grinding. But I think resilience is underestimated…To endure being kicked down a lot. When you have headwind or when you have challenges—what do you choose to do in those moments? I think it would be tough to imagine not building, it would be tough not trying to build reality. It really excites me to imagine the world I want to exist and to try to create it.” — Birchbox, Katia Beauchamp, Co-founder and CEO

How I Built This – March 20, 2020

Keep grinding and stay resilient! We will get through this together, while keeping an appropriate distance, of course. The team at Audacia is here if and when you need us.

Photo Credit: dolgachov

Voice of the Customer

Want to Know What Your Customer is REALLY Thinking? Voice of the Customer Can Be a Game Changer

We are committed to helping clients make progress and develop new strategies for our new reality. Voice of the Customer (VOC) analysis is a valuable tool to deploy to stay connected to customers, demonstrate commitment to serving them well, and gain valuable insight into how to best (re)shape your business strategies (which are probably in flux). Download our Voice of the Customer brochure here for further information on services offered. 

Do you know what your customer thinks of your firm? 

No, I mean what they really think.

Do you wonder how to get honest feedback from your customers? Do you worry that your preconceived notions or conventional wisdom gets in the way of understanding your customers’ real priorities? 

We all know understanding our customers is key to business success and yet, the pace of day-to-day operations and the span of stakeholders across most organizations can force managers to make assumptions about priorities and even customer satisfaction. 

This may be because traditional feedback loops are more prescriptive and formal or because there is a natural hesitancy to probe too deeply into customer satisfaction. Whatever the reason, a Voice of the Customer (VOC) study can provide an additional channel for customer communication and insight.

To get you started, Audacia Strategies CEO, Katy Herr, sat down with VOC strategist and Audacia Strategies partner, Robin Kogelnik, to talk about the what, the why, and best practices for a Voice of the Customer strategy.

Robin brings to the table over 20 years of experience in business strategy, market and competitive analysis, and business development operations. She has led Voice of the Customer and Voice of the Employee studies in classified and unclassified environments for a wide range of clients from large aerospace firms to small businesses and nonprofits. 

To find out how your firm can benefit from VOC, check out these highlights from Katy’s interview with Robin.

Q | Can you talk about what a Voice of the Customer is? What is a Voice of the Customer survey?

A Voice of the Customer study is a very positive and effective way to connect with and get unfiltered feedback from your clients. It’s a structured set of interviews conducted by a third party to gauge how things are going beyond formal communications and normal day-to-day interactions. 

Why do we recommend a third party? Honestly, it makes the process credible and limits the second-guessing! Someone who isn’t directly involved with your day-to-day work and isn’t involved directly with the customer can ask the questions and record the answers objectively. There are no filters, agendas, or assumptions that can interpret a customer’s response or skew the results. 

In my experience, doing a Voice of the Customer study is a discriminator—it shows that you genuinely want their feedback and it really underlines your commitment to their success.  

Think of it as one more powerful tool to add to your customer relationship management and business development arsenal. 

Q | Can you explain how the process typically works?

First, you and your account and business development teams know the customer best. You select the individuals to include in the study and provide all the contact details. We’ll help you prioritize the information you need and craft a set of interview questions that will provide the kind of insight that you can act upon.

Obviously, the number of interview questions has to be realistic and respectful of your customers’ time. We never ask for more than 30 minutes. Sometimes interviews take less time, and sometimes people talk and talk (which is wonderful!). But if the initial ask is too much, they’ll say no. So be disciplined and keep it to a manageable number of questions that focus on the information that you truly need.

Now, the goal is always to get unfiltered feedback, so you want to give customers the opportunity to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly. You can get that kind of honesty when any and all feedback is on a non-attribution basis (AKA anonymous). 

Anonymity is key because it gives people the opportunity to open up in a way they’re not afforded on a daily basis (particularly for those who work within the government).

There are a lot of different ways to conduct the interviews and capture the customer’s feedback, but you want to make it as easy as possible for them to participate. What I’ve found to be the most effective is having the conversation over the phone. The calls are scheduled whenever it’s most convenient for the customer. 

“I’ve had interviews with customers at 11:00 pm and 5:00 am, and I jump at the chance. It reinforces how important they are, how much you value them, and how much you value their opinion.”

Phone interviews give customers the most schedule-flexibility, but in an interesting and subtle way, they reinforce the fact that their feedback is on a non-attribution basis. It creates an environment that gives them the freedom to relax and answer questions in an unguarded and thoughtful way. “I always joke that it must be like going to confession!”

“All joking aside, we take the non-attribution structure very seriously—from beginning to end. In our reporting, we summarize the feedback by topic to ensure there’s no traceability back to any one individual. We do capture everything verbatim, and we include direct quotes to provide the right amount of emphasis (i.e. the customer’s emphasis) when it makes sense and when it helps to highlight the importance of any particular feedback.”

Q | How do you see clients using this information once they have it?

Well, that really depends on where they are in their business development cycle—whether they are concerned about a particular account or they have a big recompete on the horizon or if they’re interested in branching out into other areas within the customer organization. 

It’s also been a great way to check in with customers after a big internal reorganization or after a merger. There are times when things are moving so quickly that you decide you need to call a timeout: How is everything going? What are we doing well? What’s not working? 

This is a way to get clear on how you’re doing and the customer’s priorities.

“Ultimately, though—and this is key—this information helps clients prioritize how to spend their time, how to spend their resources, whether they need to make personnel changes, whether they need to shore up a particular service or support they provide, or even whether they need to change partners or bring on a new partner.” 

I’ve also worked with companies that are interested in developing their value propositions and trying to understand what differentiates them from their competitors. I think this is a valuable insight: Why did they choose you? What do you do that separates you from everybody else?

And your value proposition is another one of those things that can very easily be subsumed by company dogma and generic corporate-ese. You might assume, as most companies do, that you know what differentiates you from your competitors. But hearing it from the people that are evaluating you against your competitors will either confirm the messages you’ve always relied on or provide you something more. Insights that can guide how you position for the next program, how you qualify and quantify your value in a proposal, and how you compete for business. 

Q | It sounds like it’s helpful across the customer life cycle. It’s helpful when you’re in business development and for your positioning. It’s helpful for taking the pulse of the customer once they’re on board operationally. And it’s helpful for keeping that pulse throughout the customer service journey—showing “we care, we want to know, and we listen.”

Absolutely. I think going beyond just making sure that you’re on the right track with deliverables, it’s important and it shows that you want to invest in doing all the right things for your clients. For many clients, the Voice of the Customer study becomes a real value add. Even if you don’t always like the feedback, it’s such a positive process and experience. 

An extremely high percentage of customers I’ve interviewed (I won’t say 100%, but a very high percentage) are very glad they’ve been asked to participate. They say things like, “Thank you. This is a good thing to do. I really appreciate that they included me in this process.” They feel good about your company because you’re going above and beyond. They feel good because you chose them, you respect their opinion, and you want their feedback. 

Q | Are there best practices in conducting a Voice of the Customer study that companies should think about when they’re embarking on their planning or thinking about how they might utilize the information?

Yes. First, when you’re planning your VOC, in order to get relevant feedback, you want to get a representative sample of the people that your company, i.e., your personnel, are interfacing with. So you want to contact customers working at different levels and in different functions—not just manager to manager, but a 360-degree evaluation.  

Also, ask questions that get at the information you need, like: How has it been going contractually? Or on the financial and business management side? How has it been going in terms of service delivery or technical deliverables? How are we doing from a program management perspective? How are we doing on subcontractor management, partners, and bringing on the right people and skill sets? 

Finally, if you decide to do a voice of the customer study, you need to plan to follow up with them afterwards. You certainly want to acknowledge and thank them for participating, and you don’t want them to think that it was a waste of their time. So you can use the results to continue to build those relationships. 

It’s important to say, “Hey, this was a big help. We really appreciate the feedback. It gave us a lot to think about (or it gave us a lot of good ideas on how we can improve).” It doesn’t mean you have to throw a lot of money at anything and it doesn’t force you to commit to anything. It does give you another opportunity to have follow-up conversations, to continue to build trust, to get direct feedback on how you can move forward and how you’re doing, and to show that you’re always focused on helping them succeed. 

Q | Is there any one thing that you wish your customers would know about Voice of the Customer, either to get a better outcome or something that would make the process easier for them to make a decision on or to get more people to participate?

Yes, I think it helps to set the tone for the whole exercise if you introduce the idea to your customer informally. If it seems too formal and strict, they’re going to be reluctant simply because the formality makes people wary.

“And don’t be afraid of being straightforward about why you’re doing a VOC. Maybe the company’s in the midst of a change, maybe it’s spinning off, maybe it has just been acquired, maybe there have been layoffs in other parts of the company, etc. Some big change is happening at the company, and you want to check in and see how things are going. We always want to keep it positive right from the beginning. So I encourage people to just bring it up during a regular meeting or give them a call and let them know your plans.” 

For instance, say your business development lead has a great relationship with one of her counterparts onsite. Ask her to bring up the idea the next time she’s onsite or mention it on a call, “Hey, we’re thinking about doing this study, and we’d really love it if you can participate. Would you mind if our consultant gave you a call and asked a few questions? It’ll be quick, and just think, you can really let us have it if you want to!” 

Sometimes people are concerned about why the study is being done, but it’s a very positive experience all around and it’s never about trying to disrupt anything or to get “dirt.” Customers feel very good about being asked to participate. 

And you can set the tone at the very beginning for what this experience is going to be like—you want your customer to know that it’s going to be very positive, it’s going to be very easy, and say, “we’re only asking a very select group of people, the ones whose opinion we value the most.” That might sound like hyperbole, but it’s true.

Q | This has been hugely helpful, Robin. Thank you so much!

So, there you have it: a Voice of the Customer study can be a game changer for your business strategy, your business approach, and your customer relationships. Consider the opportunities investing in unfiltered customer feedback could open up for you. (And, by the way, this works for getting employee feedback too! We call this…wait for it…Voice of the Employee (VOE).)

Audacia Strategies now offers VOC and VOE services. Download our Voice of the Customer brochure for further information. If you’re looking to “get under the hood” and get an unfiltered read on your customers’ or employees’ experiences, we’re ready. Book your consultation session today! 

Photo credit: HONGQI ZHANG

crisis communications

COVID-19 and Your Response: 5 Lessons From Our Crisis Communications Playbook

I hope you are reading this post from a place of health and safety. In these uncertain times, we’re all feeling anxious and wondering how to communicate (or even whether to communicate) with stakeholders. By now, we’ve all heard the news about businesses around the world shutting their doors, volatile markets, social distancing, and flattening the curve

The threat from the new Coronavirus is really three threats in one: the threat of the disease spreading, the threat from a looming oil price war, and the threat of a global recession. While no one can claim to have all of the answers right now, it’s fair to say that investors, clients, and your team are expecting you to keep the lines of communication open.

In light of this crisis, it makes sense to revisit our previous blog articles about crisis communications and the lessons we learned when cooler heads prevailed. 

1. Stick to your crisis communications strategy.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know how often we discuss developing a crisis communications strategy for moments like these. Hopefully, you have a strategy in place. It may not be adequate, since no one predicted a crisis of this magnitude and we still don’t know how deeply it will cut. Nonetheless, use what you have, evolve as necessary (and it will be necessary), and note the weak points for future work.

Get comfortable with the idea that you’ll be in crisis mode for weeks or months at a minimum. Prepare your team to continue to iterate your strategy as new information becomes available. When you need to keep on walking through the fire, here are some tips:

  1. Focus on transparency and the truth.
  2. Work closely with your team to identify solutions.
  3. Do NOT stop communicating both internally and externally.
  4. Share your 360-degree strategy as it evolves.

2. Make sure to communicate with your internal team.

In addition to falling back on your strategy, focus on communicating with your team. First, approach all internal communications with a sense of empathy. Keep in mind that as concerned as you are about your firm and what this crisis means for future operations, your team is as worried about the firm, their families, and their own livelihoods. They need your strong leadership now more than ever. 

Follow the 5 G’s of walking through fire without getting burned:

  • Get to ground truth: You don’t know all the relevant facts, but be transparent about what you do know. Your team will appreciate you leveling with them, even if the truth is painful to hear.
  • Gather your team: Huddle together (over Zoom, of course) and listen to what your team has to say. Remember, you’re all in this together.
  • Give employees the support they need: Your employees on the frontlines of dealing with customers, clients, or investors during this crisis need to know you have their backs. Answer their questions, give them some talking points, and don’t say anything you wouldn’t want people outside of the firm to hear.
  • Go on the offensive: Now is not the time to hide. Be accessible and proactive in a way that feels authentic to your brand.
  • Grant trust: You’ve trained your team well. Now, trust their instincts and work with them to come up with solutions one challenge at a time.

3. Assess the damage and keep the data close.

The ultimate goal of crisis communication is to control your narrative and provide honest, transparent updates about your organization. Work with those within the firm who can analyze the data and provide you with a clear(er) picture. This way, your communications will be informed by what you know. Once you have a clear picture of the damage, you can tell your story. 

Now is also the time to consider your extended community. Consider every resource you can think of that may help you get through this crisis:

  • Reach out to traditional media outlets: If you have contacts in the news media, and if appropriate, reach out to let them know you are available for a conversation or interview.
  • Talk to your PR team: PR teams are designed to offer language for crisis communications. It may be tempting to be reactive and fire off a tweet storm, but you must resist this urge.
  • Seek legal counsel: Make a point of engaging with those who know your industry and can offer an outside perspective.
  • Identify and speak to key stakeholders: Ensure that your message is consistent and cognizant of what your stakeholders are hearing from public outlets. Be ready to combat any misinformation in a prudent manner.

4. Get through this crisis, yes, but take note of the lessons along the way.

After the economic crisis of 2008, many companies in the financial sector, especially, were motivated to develop crisis communications strategies. Since then, however, many have become complacent and they’re paying the price now.

All we can do is take an honest look at where we are now, hunker down, and get through this crisis. But along the way, make sure you take note of big lessons learned. On the other side of this, you want to be able to take a long hard look at your crisis response and come up with a solid plan for dealing with the next one. Remember, if you don’t figure out how to control the crisis, the crisis will control you.

Consider the following tips for the future:

  • If you’re having supply chain issues, think about how to diversify your supply chain. 
  • If you’re scrambling to help your employees figure out how to work from home, make sure a training program is included in the employee onboarding process.
  • If clients are canceling contracts, consider whether you can add a postponement clause into those contracts.

5. Do NOT over-promise.

When we’re not in crisis mode, we understand one principle of successful business is to under-promise and over-deliver. But during a crisis, we can go into fight or flight mode and in this heightened state of anxiety, it’s all too easy to make promises we can’t keep. Again, you’ll want to avoid this mistake at all costs.

For example, the travel industry has been hit especially hard at this time. But over-promising would only increase anger and anxiety for customers. Here’s a quote from an email from Tucker Moodey, President of Expedia,

“For those traveling now and with upcoming travel bookings, our teams are working around the clock to provide everyone the support they need. We are rapidly increasing the availability of travel advisors, enhancing our self-service options, and developing new automated ways for travelers to better manage their reservations. Our focus is helping travelers with immediate trips, and these improvements will allow all our customers to travel more confidently in the future.”

Notice how this paragraph focuses on what actions Expedia is taking, their strategy, and where their focus is in trying to make things as right as possible for their customers. Were they instead to promise that everything will be fine by the busy summer travel season—a promise they certainly can’t guarantee now—they would likely do more damage to their brand in these already turbulent times.

Our team at Audacia Strategies wishes you, your family, and your firm all the best. We are with you in weathering this period, holding our loved ones close, and looking out for our community. These are tough times and we wish a crisis communications plan weren’t a necessity for so many U.S. businesses and firms. We are here to answer any of your questions about corporate communications and investor relations. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Photo credit: langstrup

investor relations (IR) myths

Do You Accept These Investor Relations (IR) Myths? Read This Before You Hire an Investor Relations Professional

Investors and other financial stakeholders are a key constituency for nearly every company, whether publicly listed or private. When investors feel respected and lines of communication are open, transparent, and authentic, companies thrive—even during challenging periods. Investor relations (IR) myths can prevent these benefits.

In fact, institutional investors believe that investor relations (IR) accounts for a total variance of 30% in a company’s valuation—from a premium of 10% for “superb” IR to a discount of 20% for “poor” IR.

And yet, as crucial as the IR role is within companies, many undervalue the insights of these professionals. Part of the reason for this lack of appreciation is due to the many investor relations (IR) myths. In a previous article, we covered these three big myths:

  • Myth #1: IR is all about pumping up the share price
  • Myth #2: IR is just “glorified public relations”
  • Myth #3: IR is all about schmoozing

A lot has changed in the investor relations world in the three years since I published that article. To name a few of the biggest changes: 

With these changes, the role of the investor relations officer (IRO) is more important than ever. Unfortunately, investor relations (IR) myths are still pervasive. In this article, let’s bust through three additional IR myths. 

Myth #4: Investor relations is only important for large corporations

IR professionals are the main channel of communication between investors, management, and other stakeholders. They are charged with building mutually beneficial connections as well as providing transparent and accurate information about investments. The IR team is accountable to the chief financial officer (CFO), leadership, and the public relations team.

While small and medium-sized companies may not see the need for a department dedicated to investor relations, they will benefit from having a professional who is responsible for communicating with financial stakeholders—investors, debt holders, bankers, etc. Another option is hiring an external team, like Audacia, to guide you through developing an IR strategy and processes.

Additionally, small and medium-sized companies can learn a lot from watching the investor relations of larger companies and take cues about how to send the right messages. For example, IR-award winning companies like Honeywell, T-Mobile, Intel, Sherwin-Williams, and NextEra Energy can serve as inspiration, regardless of your industry.

Myth #5: Investor relations can be handled by your customer service team

This myth gets my blood boiling! Responsiveness is the single most important trait that determines investors’ perception of IR quality. Yet, if you have the wrong people in this role, you risk being perceived as non-responsive. 

There are meaningful differences between customer relations and investor relations:

  • There are significant legal and regulatory requirements for communicating with financial stakeholders. Your investor relations team should be well-versed in these regulations and empowered to enforce your investor relations policies within your organization. 
  • While it’s possible to have some overlap, customers and investors have wildly different interests. Customers want to know your product or service will improve their lives in some way. Investors want to know their investment will be returned (and ideally increased).
  • Investor relations professionals are trained professionals who track, integrate and communicate financial information. They build rapport with analysts, portfolio managers, and other financial stakeholders. They also build internal relationships across the organization in order to present the most appropriate, well-rounded perspective of the corporation. The right individual to fill the IR role has a unique skill set.
  • The type of transparency that will ease the minds of investors is different from what you might want to reveal to customers. The appeal to investors will depend upon IR professionals communicating the company’s value proposition, market position, competitive set, and investment strategy—to name just a few. 

Your customer relations team is not your investor relations specialist. Full stop.

Myth #6: Investor relations replaces the need for the CEO or CFO to meet with investors

There is no substitute for the c-suite interacting with investors. This is especially true if you’re preparing to take your company public, working on a merger or acquisition, considering an exit or other strategic transaction. 

Yes, the Investor Relations Officer (IRO) will communicate on behalf of management at certain times and the IRO is the primary spokesperson for financial stakeholders. But when it comes down to making (or maintaining) a significant investment, most investors will insist on meeting with the c-suite to get a sense for who they are, how they think about the business, their priorities, and their confidence. 

So, if you are looking to hire an IRO, make sure you are clear about the role she will play. Hiring an investor relations professional in the hope that she will eliminate the need for the c-suite to meet with the Street is a surefire way to send the wrong message to would-be investors.

With all of this in mind, here are some tips for communicating with investors:

  • Encourage engagement with investors by extending an invitation to have an open dialogue about how your company is living its mission, vision, and values.
  • Have an investor relations plan that provides consistent communications including a variety of channels—online, one-on-one meetings, conference presentations, and regular email updates, just for starters. 
  • Keep investors up-to-date on company milestones, how their investment is being used, and market dynamics. The investment community is looking for qualitative insights as well as operational metrics. 
  • Consider sending an annual report, even if your business isn’t large enough to be required to do so (SEC rules dictate that all public companies submit an annual report). The annual report should include budget, expenses, big achievements, and other news. It can be a one-sheeter.
  • Have a crisis communications plan too. There are times to communicate with investors urgently: if an immediate, unexpected challenge arises or you’re going through a big change. More communication in these cases is preferable to radio silence.

One thing I said in our previous article especially bears repeating: 

“Smart IR officials know that maintaining relationships with the right people can be the difference between being stonewalled by receptionists and getting the portfolio manager’s direct line. The right relationship can open the door to your next large shareholder or help you gain insight into why an investor is selling their position in your stock.

How would you rate your company’s investor relations? Curious about how improved investor relations could benefit your business? Let’s chat! Schedule your consultation today.

Photo credit: bernardbodo

taking bold steps

Taking Bold Steps is Scary—Saddle Up Anyway

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

John Wayne

This quote from America’s favorite cowboy resonates with me right now. In a previous blog article, I mentioned that one of my 2020 goals for Audacia Strategies is to continue to scale. As a team, we’re ready to take ourselves to the next level. 

Okay, you might be thinking, so if the team is ready…what’s with this talk about being “scared to death?” Well, taking bold steps can be scary—even for us! And even when you’re confident about your next best move, you may have doubts about the execution. So, let’s talk about what I’m doing to push ahead and lean into my strengths.

What does scaling Audacia mean for you?

Before we get to the business lessons for taking bold steps, it makes sense to talk about what scaling looks like for Audacia and how this will benefit our stakeholders. This will give us some context for discussing our plan and key takeaways.

As with everything we do, we’re always thinking about how we can serve our clients better. Here’s what scaling will allow us to do for our clients:

1. Replicate Successful Client Engagements

Scaling means having the ability to measure and then replicate successful client engagements more easily. Of course, each client is unique, but we bring an approach based on best practices and our experience that works. 

Individual wins are worthy of celebrating. But if we also take the time to examine what really works with an eye toward replicating that success, everyone wins.

2. Contribute Diversity, Experience, and Transparency

Key to scaling is mindfully building a team that not only works seamlessly together, but also brings more diverse perspectives, outstanding experience, and radical transparency to the table.

Audacia’s clients appreciate our unique philosophy of tough love, diplomacy, and truth-telling because taking bold steps means going in with your eyes wide open.

3. Go Broader and Deeper

As we scale, we are looking for ways to help our clients take their transformations to the next level. You have asked for expanded offerings and we’re ready to deliver. We’re adding to our  current service offerings in transformation, investor relations, and strategic communications.  

Scaling our team will allow us to expand our offerings to include, for example:

  • Corporate Responsibility Strategy
  • Voice of the Customer and Voice of the Employee 
  • Market and Competitive Analysis

We’ll also be able to provide deeper expert support on more complex projects and engage seamlessly across multiple stakeholder sets. Stay tuned for a future blog post about the key actions and attributes to consider when building a team.

4. Stay Accountable and Follow Through

Sharing our plans for scaling in this way means we’ll make it happen. Audacia Strategies—the name itself—inspires us to make bold moves and help our clients do the same. Just because we take bold steps, though, doesn’t mean we have no fear.

Taking bold steps can be scary, fear of failure is real! But fear is not a reason to stand still. It’s a sign that we’re on the cusp of something big.

What’s the plan?

  • Get Katy out of the way: It’s time to focus on engaging with the right support teams to identify and develop repeatable work processes. This way I can focus more fully on my role as CEO and my most valuable work with clients. 
  • Use technology to our advantage: We’ll explore project management tools, communication tools, calendaring tools, etc. that will help our team work better together. The trick here is not to add tech just to add it, but to add the tech that adds value. Strategic use of technology will keep us on track and connected. 
  • Establish regular feedback systems: Timely, useful feedback is the only way to make improvements and move forward. We’ll develop feedback systems both for working with clients and within the team.
  • Keep bringing on board the smartest, most interesting, and most candid team members! Got ideas for project managers, communications experts, and amazing business strategists? Send ‘em our way.

Lessons for Taking Bold Steps

How can you take these lessons and apply them to your business? Any transformation or transition phase can be a challenge because you are “operating without a net.” Still, there are steps you can take to make these times feel less chaotic. 

Whether you’re considering how to best scale your team or what bold moves will help you increase your market share, you can learn from what I’m doing to keep myself on track.

Here are the things that I’m working on that may help:

  • Focusing on high-value activities. As CEO, it’s imperative that I use my time most efficiently for the health of the business and that means making the high-value tasks my #1 priority.
  • Eliminating distractions. Related to the first point, I will separate the actions and activities that are mere distractions from those that actually facilitate accomplishing more for my clients (e.g., what can I delegate? Can I find a better workflow here?).
  • Looking for the right qualities. My vision for Audacia Strategies is building a team of people who are more than simply co-workers. So, I’ll be getting very clear on what makes a great teammate, not just a good employee.
  • Setting clear expectations for teammates…and for myself. 99% of business issues stem from a mismatch of expectations. I’m focused on being clear about my expectations and holding us all accountable.
  • Drawing clear boundaries in the business. Boundaries are respectful—with only 24 hours in a day, it’s important to acknowledge that we all have priorities beyond work and that should be respected and celebrated. As an example, technology enables us to do a lot, but it can also enable stressful behaviors such as feeling like we need to be always “on,” like we have to respond instantaneously, and that we have to work at 2am to “keep up”. Technology “off hours” are good!
  • Remembering that we are all more than our work. Personally, I know that I’m more creative, focused, and patient when I have had more sleep (questionable with 10-month-old twins, but #goals), more time with my family and friends, and more time for working out/reading/resting my brain.

We all know we need to take bold steps if we want to grow. So, the next time you start to feel that fear creeping up, have the courage to sit with it. Talk about it. (Maybe blog about it?) Seriously. What if instead of running away from that uneasy feeling, we decided to let it wash over us and really listened to what it was saying?

I’d love to hear your stories about taking bold steps. What’s the single best thing that you have done to make these transformative moments feel less chaotic? Leave a reply below.

Photo credit: nd3000

strategic planning

How to Crush Your 2020 Goals: The Lessons I Learned from a Chaotic 2019

If there’s one thing I learned about myself and my business in 2019, it’s that strategic planning saves lives. Really! 2019 might go down in history as being one of the most chaotic years for my family and my business. And yet, we’re all still here and thriving and business is better than ever.

Much of our success at Audacia Strategies is due to strategic planning. So as I look at the year ahead, I’m considering once again what investments I can double-down on and what needs to change. The challenge is how to build a plan that strikes the right balance between ambition and practicality. Read on for my 2020 insights!

Business Successes in 2019

  1. We added a certification for the state of Maryland as a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE): In addition to receiving our CBE certification in D.C. in 2018, we filed for and received certification from the state of Maryland last year. Passing Maryland’s comprehensive and rigorous certification program makes us eligible to win state-funded contracts. We are also nationally certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
  2. We supported our clients through big transformations: This past year, we saw many clients navigate executive transitions and corporate restructuring plans. While we tend to focus on how these transformations impact business, we often forget about the emotional impact of change. We witnessed both the vulnerability and the generosity of the human mind during the pivotal moments of 2019. Audacia was honored to be a part of ushering so many new clients into a bright future. 
  3. We saw the value of “radical candor” playing out: When it comes to client relationships and crisis management, what you say is often less important than how you say it. Okay, perhaps both are equally important. But my point is that communications is about more than the words you use. If a situation calls for you to speak truth to power, you’ve got to find the courage to speak your truth. Otherwise, you could be letting down your client or your team or yourself.

At Audacia, we pride ourselves on walking the fine line between diplomacy and radical candor.
This is one of our guiding values and I’m proud to look back and see how many times we chose this value over the “easier” path. 

Audacia’s Strategic Plan for 2020

  1. We will become certified as a women-owned enterprise (WBE) in Virginia: We have built a reputation for being a firm that supports our clients’ diversity initiatives and we are happy to qualify as a supplier for larger-scale projects with diversity thresholds. As we expand our reach and grow with our clients, we are excited to see what new opportunities arise. Our arsenal of certifications will continue to multiply in 2020.
  2. I will be scaling Audacia by continuing to invest in my team: I’ve been strategically growing my team throughout the years and I have awesome people backing me up. Now, as a team, we’re ready to take ourselves to the next level and take on even bigger and bolder client challenges (I’ll talk more specifically about scaling my team in a future blog article). This means, among other things, investing in replicable processes and investing in the right systems to keep us in synch. This is not just the “Katy Show” anymore!
  3. I will be better at managing technology and its impact on my life: I bet we all could benefit from making this one of our New Year’s resolutions (here’s a resource to help you think about implementing your own “digital diet”). Technology is wonderful in so many ways, but it can be a distraction if we don’t use it to support our intentions. So, I’ll be looking for ways to be more focused at work and more focused during family time. As the twins grow, I know how important it is to set these boundaries. For starters, I’ll be creating defined “lights out” and “offline” times at home. What about you? Are you with me?
  4. More of the above: 2020 will bring more clients facing big shifts in need of Audacia’s special blend of tough love, enthusiasm for getting sh*t done, and honest, candid feedback. Stay tuned for all that we’ll be cooking up for you throughout the year!

Here are 3 tips for crushing your 2020 business goals:

Include your senior team in your strategic planning process by sitting down with your team to discuss the following three practical ideas.

1. Be ruthless about your successes and failures.

It’s tempting to leave Q4 2019 in the dust and let everything that happened in those last three months fall by the wayside in our excitement to look ahead. Don’t give yourself a pass, though. Instead, focus on the 3-5 biggest successes, so you can double-down on them in the next 90 days and capture the 3-5 biggest lessons learned, so you can strategize about fixing whatever went wrong.

2. Back up your 2020 vision with strategic initiatives.

All successful leaders have this in common: they have a strong vision that they can communicate with others. The second part is really key: no matter how clear your vision for your organization is in your own mind, if others don’t see what you see, that vision won’t come to fruition. Make sure others know how to implement your vision by tying it back to specific strategic initiatives. To do this, divide your team into groups and have them brainstorm 3-5 strategic initiatives (i.e., focused projects) that will bring you closer to each of your annual goals. If they execute on their initiatives, then you’ll likely achieve your goals.

3. Build your communications plan.

The final step in strategic planning is communicating the plan to everyone in your organization. Get your team together and agree on some communications ground rules. Agree together as a group on what needs to be communicated throughout the organization and when. It’s great to kickoff the year with a town-hall type meeting to discuss your strategic plan. But what happens after the dust settles? Do you have a plan for managers and leaders to meet with their smaller teams to talk about how their units fit into the bigger picture? Do employees understand how their work fits within the broader strategic plan?  

Looking at your year, what are the biggest shifts you anticipate making? Can you start planning for those shifts now? Would enlisting the help of Audacia’s team of experts help you attain any of those audacious goals

Schedule a consultation and let’s start brainstorming your transformation strategic plan today!

Photo credit: http://www.monkeybusinessimages.com/

reading, listening, watching

Reading, Listening, and Watching—It’s That Time of Year Again

2019 has been a YEAR. There as been so much good to celebrate. In March, we welcomed twin girls, Mila and Fiona. This is also (coincidentally?) about the time that we stopped sleeping, reading books, or being able to focus for long periods of time. Lol. So you might wonder what I could possibly offer in the way of recommendations for reading, listening, and watching. 

But as a result of my new normal, I’ve learned that audiobooks are amazing, rekindled my love of podcasts, and enjoyed long(er)-form articles that can be read on my phone, one-handed at previously unknown hours of the morning/night. Yep. This is my new normal and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I love a good fresh start—new school year, birthdays, new calendar year. As we head into a new year and a new decade, it feels like the right time to consider the bigger picture. I’m thinking about setting boundaries, creating systems, and being present in my life. I’m asking how I can show up as my best self for myself, my family, my clients, and my community. 

Here are some recommendations from my reading, listening, and watching lists in 2019:

Reading

1. This article: You Don’t Need More Motivation—You Need a System is a great quick read with tips you can implement immediately. 

Staying productive is a challenge for all of us. Whether you consider yourself to be a “procrastinator” or not, the key to sticking to your priorities and getting the important tasks done each day is finding a routine that works for you.

Of course, before you can create the systems that will help you to accomplish your goals, you’ve got to take the time to set those goals. Here’s a set of worksheets I discovered. 

I’m going to work through these over the holidays. Also, vision and goal setting via Lululemon—who knew? 

2. This op-ed: The Inevitable Takedown of the Female CEO has me thinking about the importance of setting corporate culture, our expectations of leaders, and the insidious nature of bias. 

As Audacia Strategies enters its 5th year (Stay tuned for anniversary/birthday celebrations next year!), I’m focused on doing the hard work of building a company where people want to work. We are growing and I’m spending a lot of time thinking about scaling, company culture, and client success. 

I’m also thinking a lot about how to understand what clients need, Audacia’s values and the value our team provides from the client’s perspective. 

3. This manifesto of a company’s “Why” in memo form: We Don’t Sell Saddles Here was sent to the team at Tiny Speck, the makers of Slack, on July 31, 2013—two weeks before the launch of Slack’s ‘Preview Release’. 

Here’s a great quote from the article: “Sell the innovation, not the product. The best—maybe the only?—real, direct measure of “innovation” is change in human behaviour.”

4. This LinkedIn article: After 25 years studying innovation, here is what I have learned reminds us that innovation isn’t one-size-fits-all. 

In the article, the inimitable Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, offers us 5 key findings from his time studying innovation, management, and people. I found #4 particularly compelling. How often do we forget that we are more than our careers and our businesses? Christensen reminds us, it’s easy for high-achievers to “underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers.”

Listening

1. Click Here to Apply podcast. I’ve been listening to and loving Tony Sheng’s podcast. Each week, Tony interviews interesting people as he tries to figure out what he really wants to do with his own career. 

In one especially interesting episode, Erik Torenberg discusses how we should build career moats. I think this analogy is spot on. If we don’t defend the castle that is our growing business or our career, we risk losing ourselves every time we come under siege.

2. The Startup podcast. I’m that person who learned about the Startup from an episode of This American Life way back in 2014. I’ve been along for the ride with the Startup team ever since and love their (sometimes cringe-worthy) candor in sharing their experiences. So I’m passing on the recommendation.

The final season of the Startup podcast is available on whatever platform you prefer to get your podcasts. This last season charting their path to acquisition by Spotify was really fascinating. 

3. Dan Doran’s interview with yours truly. Speaking of fascinating recommendations (and with apologies for the shameless self-promotion), the episode of Dan Doran’s podcast where he interviews me was his most listened to episode of the year. If you missed it, you can find it here or listen on the Quantive website. 

Do you know of a great podcast looking for a guest like me? Let me know (katy@audaciastrategies.com)! 

Watching

1. The Irishman (Netflix film). I haven’t been as good about watching television lately. BUT we did watch The Irishman the other week. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it was compelling. I’d expect nothing less from an all-star cast of De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino. Special thanks to my husband, Chris, for making me put down my phone to watch it!

2. One Nation Under Stress (HBO documentary). I watched this one during a solo night at home. It’s thought-provoking and resonant for its personal appeal and also the implications for our community at large.

3. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (again). We just started Season 3 and I am literally giddy to queue up Amazon and reconnect with Midge and friends after we put the twins down. This show is a breath of fresh air and dialogue #goals. Someday, I’ll have comebacks as snappy as Midge! 

As we wind down another year (and the decade, what?), I hope you’ll take some time to reflect on your year. In the rush to think about our business goals for 2020 and the wonderful, but distracting holiday chaos, it’s easy to forget to really take stock of everything we’ve accomplished. But it’s so important to take the time to look back.

What were your biggest accomplishments in 2019? What are you considering as we head into 2020? What are your recommendations for reading, listening, and watching?

From our family to yours, we wish you a happy and relaxing holiday season and a healthy new year (new decade!).

Photo credit: Jetstream4wd (Getty Images Pro)