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Tagged ‘March, 2015’

Steve Cadigan

Nurturing a Culture of Innovation

steve cadigan.jpg

Everywhere you turn today, you hear and read about innovation. All companies want it, but few really offer it.

Why? Because as employers try to unlock the most creative, innovative ideas within their organizations, they often have no clue what it means to nurture a culture where innovation can thrive.

Based on my experience, it can be done. It's not easy, but it can be achieved.

I've been in the talent business for 30 years. I've worked in the fashion industry, the insurance industry, the semiconductor industry, among others. But it wasn't until I came to work in the Web industry with a new startup, a company you might have heard of, LinkedIn, that I truly discovered the secret of creating a culture of innovation.

What's the formula? Would it surprise me to say I can't tell you, but I know what it is? Well, that's exactly the case.

In my consulting career, I have worked with some of very interesting organizations. They all want to be innovative and ask how I helped create this innovative culture at LinkedIn. But as I said earlier, it's akin to asking, "How do you fall in love?" There is no single answer. You cannot control the outcome here and there is no formula that perfectly unlocks innovation because all of us are different and every organization is unique in so many ways. But there is a starting point, and it's the belief that to foster innovation means engaging people in ways that are not traditional, in ways that are not about control.

Fostering this culture begins by asking your employees what you can do to make them more productive, finding out what work settings and organization structures and communication schemes produce the best outcomes. You have to get close to your individuals and teams to learn who works best in small groups and who works best in large groups. Having an effective listening strategy is essential because ideas sit and flow everywhere. You need to tap into these insights in every way possible--and build systems, tools and work environments that foster free flow of ideas and insights. The companies that I see innovate well spend a great deal of effort making sure they are fostering cultures that surface insights quickly, and action them just as fast.

One of the big keys, of course, to successful cultures of innovation is having leaders who really get that their most important deliverable is unlocking ideas from their teams and putting the best ones into practice. These leaders spend a great deal of time observing, asking questions, being available, and finding ways to bring out the best in others. Innovation is not always a new product--it could be a new way of spending time, communicating, holding a meeting, or leveraging a new tool or tech.

At LinkedIn, we innovated but we didn't start with a plan saying we are going to innovate. We started with a belief that we wanted to be the best place our employees had ever worked and we relentlessly listened and adjusted and changed course based on constant input. Our ability to listen, move quickly, fix issues and surface great ideas became a great part of our success and I see this in many companies today that realize great outcomes--they are dedicated to constant iteration, to trying new things and adjusting course and engaging their whole teams in this endeavor. Building the ability to quickly change and adjust is becoming more important as a leader today than the ability to frame a long term plan because the future is so unpredictable.

On the other side, I still see too many companies who still think that performance reviews are the best way to run a company. Most of the companies I work with today are scrapping annual performance reviews for weekly conversation bursts that offer targeted feedback, focus and alignment in 15 minutes--so both employees and leaders can learn from one another, adjust and focus on the right things. This is the new reality.

When I was at LinkedIn we didn't even have a specific plan for innovation, yet in the end we completely disrupted the recruiting industry. In less than 10 years, we built a company worth over $25 billion. In the four years I worked at LinkedIn, we hired close to 3,000 people off a base of 400 against the sexiest, most competitive brands in the world. Google made more money in a day than LinkedIn made in a year in those days. Try growing talent in an environment like that. In the end, with a culture of innovation as the main driver, we grew our share price 7,000 percent in a five-year period.

LinkedIn proved that if you allow innovation to thrive, if you listen and learn, you do not need world-class experience to be a world-class organization. Most of all, to drive innovation, you have to get out of the way of your people and find ways to let them be great. Silicon Valley's insatiable hunger for talent is going to spread. No matter what sector you represent, you are going to start to feel it. If you want to create a culture of innovation then ask your workforce, your people, what keeps them from being their best. When you get those answers and begin to act on them, you will be off and running towards creating a culture of innovation.

* Originally published by Steve Cadigan here.


Lynn Hunsaker

Business-to-Business Customer Experience Management: Do This, Not That

Universal to most business-to-business customer experience management (B2B CXM) scenarios is the existence of a “village” of people who influence B2B buying decisions. This single fact means a lot. If the purpose of customer surveys is to accurately monitor customers’ likelihood of re-buying, then you must gain an understanding of each influencer’s expectations and sentiment.

A logical follow-up to this is the need to integrate the viewpoints of the “village” to paint a realistic picture. In consumer situations, there are usually only a couple of viewpoints to integrate for any purchase: husband and wife, parent and child. But for B2B situations, you may be grappling with integrating the views of the user, purchasing agent, plant manager, and gatekeepers for IT, safety, facilities, and quality, among others.

And another commonality among many B2B relationships is extensive post-purchase interaction. This may be related to a complicated deployment such as enterprise software, or peer-to-peer, such as engineers from the supplier and customer companies meeting to work out usage details, or a customer appointee who interfaces with multiple locations of the supplier company in a single morning.

Here are 3 keys to getting B2B customer experience management right: capture the whole buying decision equation in your VoC, integrate influencers’ inputs to paint an accurate picture, and ensure post-purchase customer experience consistency.

1) Capture a More Comprehensive Buying Decision Equation: Why try to tie CX to financials without understanding who’s driving what?

DO THIS:  Identify all parties within a customer account with the power to kill a buying decision. Characterize each party’s expectations and design your customer-listening portfolio to keep a radar on their sentiment. Quantify the consequences of meeting or missing each party’s expectations.

NOT THAT: Assuming that whoever signs the contract or transacts with your service organization is a spokesperson for their company, or that a series of transactions represents the customer experience that can be reasonably tied to bookings.


(voice-of-the-customer questions from the ClearAction Business-to-Business Customer Experience Management Benchmarking Study)

2) Integrate Influencers’ Inputs to Paint a More Accurate Picture: Simplification of the complex picture is essential for tackling the issues and formulating better strategies to capitalize on opportunities.

DO THIS: Weight and nest the parties’ inputs for more realistic linkages to bookings. Make your customer intelligence reporting compelling: consider show the parties’ interests through flow-charting, cause-and-effect diagramming, activity network diagramming, or interrelationship digraphs. Make sure action plans reflect inputs from all influencers.

NOT THAT: Assuming that averages and bar charts convey what’s needed to be actionable and effective. Don’t ignore the opportunity to get valuable insights from your dedicated sales team. And don’t let the account teams obscure insights that can help the rest of the company help them. 


(voice-of-the-customer questions from the ClearAction Business-to-Business Customer Experience Management Benchmarking Study)

3) Ensure Post-purchase Customer Experience Consistency: Why work so hard to manage perceptions but ignore these vital touchpoints?

DO THIS: Make it easy to capture informal comments. Then stream informal feedback to relevant groups throughout your company. Establish cadence & methodology for originators to prevent issue recurrence. Motivate actions and follow-through on informal inputs. Set the stage for streamlined re-purchase decisions: share actions and progress to proactively influence rebuying.

NOT THAT: Assuming that inconsistencies will naturally work themselves out, or aren’t important to building trust and relationship strength. Waiting to send a survey when you’re already getting a goldmine of insights that you can work on right away to be more proactive in influencing repurchase decisions.


(voice-of-the-customer questions from the ClearAction Business-to-Business Customer Experience Management Benchmarking Study)

B2B CXM has parallels with consumer experience management, but there are definite realities in B2B CXM that should be addressed in order to make the most of your efforts and investments. Experiment with these 3 B2B “musts”, or better yet, design them into your B2B customer experience management from the beginning. As the graphics above show, you’re likely to stand out from the crowd in your industry in doing so, and these methods may be an important customer experience differentiator for your company.

Note: The concept of "Do This, Not That" is borrowed from the popular book "Eat This, Not That", where the weaknesses of common practices and myths are brought to light and sensible replacements are recommended.

If you manage B2B CX, please join our Business-to-Business Customer Experience Management LinkedIn Group:


Alex Sortwell

TrustedPeer's "Next Experts" Program


TrustedPeer® is the easy way for corporations and executives to consult with world-class experts on-demand.  TrustedPeer’s digital consulting platform allows you to schedule micro-consulting sessions online with vetted, highly-qualified TrustedPeer Experts, who will create a customized action plan targeting your expertise need. Or you can search TrustedPeer’s extensive content library of best practices and common problems specific to your industry and operational area. Either way, TrustedPeer provides the information you need from The Right Expert, Right Now!

Now, TrustedPeer is extending its knowledge base to higher education. As college and post-graduate options have become accessible to a wider audience than ever before, it has given rise to a larger national student body and greater competition in the job market. Graduates have to find ways to leverage and differentiate themselves from their peers just to find job opportunities, let alone ones that fit their interests, skill set, and passions.

To help solve this problem, TrustedPeer has partnered with the Orfalea Business School at California Polytechnic State University to create the Next Experts program. The program provides access for a select group of undergraduate business students to TrustedPeer’s on-demand business knowledge and Experts. The students are able to learn from successful professionals and then receive action plans to assist in their career pursuits.

Structure of the Program

Cal Poly selected five of its most promising business students to participate in the program; TrustedPeer selected seven of its vetted experts. The TrustedPeer Experts selected were Nancy Schaefer, David Burk, Don Transeth, Bruce Lincoln, Philip Bouchard, Brian Morris, & Rick Bragdon. The students and TrustedPeer Experts worked together to complete the program in two separate phases.

Phase 1:

The first phase of the program consisted of seven “group sessions” in which each TrustedPeer Expert engaged the student group in a conference call discussion. Prior to the call, the students researched the TrustedPeer Expert and prepared a list of questions about the Expert’s career, successes, failures, and advice for recent graduates.

Each of the seven TrustedPeer Experts then responded to the students’ questions in lectures that were recorded and transcribed, providing the students a 64-page library of career knowledge and advice.

Phase 2:

Next, each student selected two Experts to confer with individually. The students used TrustedPeer’s proprietary digital consulting platform (the same platform which TrustedPeer clients and business enterprises use) to conduct micro-consulting sessions with TrustedPeer Experts.

During the one-on-one consultations, the Experts offered graduate school recommendations, valuable career ideas and guidance, and a step-by-step plan on how to leverage themselves in the search of a career in a potential field. 

The students also received a TrustedPeer Session Summary Report outlining the discussion topics, their expert’s analysis and assessment, and the recommendations discussed during their sessions.


The Next Experts program proved beneficial for the students, for the Orfalea administration, and for the TrustedPeer Experts.

  • The students received invaluable preparation for the next stage of their lives along with access to an exceptional and exclusive professional network.
  • The administration gained knowledge on how to better prepare and educate their students for moving on to professional careers.
  • The TrustedPeer Experts gained a better understanding of how a technology-raised generation of new professionals will shape the business world of the future.


“These types of professional relationships offer significant rewards for students, the conversations with TrustedPeer Experts contextualized students’ learning, opened windows on new perspectives, and helped them think critically about the college-to-career transition.”

                                    -Lynn Metcalf, Cal Poly Marketing Area Chair


TrustedPeer’s Next Expert program represents a democratization of knowledge across generations. TrustedPeer Experts provide the next generation of business professionals a roadmap of successful practices for their careers; in turn, these Next Experts become a part of the professional network of TrustedPeer Experts and a valuable resource as the next generation creates new businesses amid rapidly changing technologies.


Future: “The Next Expert Network”

TrustedPeer is working to incorporate the Next Expert Network into the existing TrustedPeer web platform. The network is exclusive to selected business students at top schools participating in the Next Expert program. As the network grows, it will allow the brightest up-and-coming business minds across the nation to connect with each other on TrustedPeer’s digital platform to share entrepreneurial ideas, solutions to business issues, and business development strategies.

With functionality including instant messaging, forums, and sharing of presentations and documents, the TrustedPeer Expert and Next Expert networks provide the tools for incubating ideas and business solutions across generations. 

To see Cal Poly's press release on the Next Experts program please click here.Next Experts copy.jpg 

Left to Right: Lynn Metcalf (Cal Poly Marketing Area Chair), Kaulin Blair, Andria Posmoga, Alex Sortwell (TrustedPeer. Program Administrator), Samantha Foster, Rosie Toumanian, Taylor Sturtevant, Philip Bouchard (TrustedPeer CEO)


David Burk

Why It's Called Digital Transformation

Newness Is Not the Same As Transformation

James Wynn of Stone Yamashita Partners did an interview in 2012, just about the time "digital transformation" was emerging as a concept, and told the story of Russell Brand, the English actor and comedian. Brand said his heroin addiction simplified life because he didn't crave new things all the time--new car, new house, etc.--he just craved one thing. He pointed out that we confuse newness with innovation.

"Specifically, the right way to think about innovation is transformation."

What so many companies are in need of right now is transformation. Digital transformation. I write about this frequently, but lately I've been working on making the definition shorter and shorter. Here goes.

Digital transformation is about increasing revenue and reducing expense by increasing the use of digital technologies and methods.

Digital Transformation Applies to Products and Marketing

For products, companies must think about how all products can contain a digital element or integration, hopefully with a sharing or viral component.

For marketing, organizations must be structured to create content. As legendary ad writer Howard Gossage said, "People read what's interesting to them, and sometimes that's advertising." Oh, and how about the stat that is two years old about how 70% of a buying decision is made online.

Digital Transformation Applies To How We Work

With a requirement that more and more deep expertise is required to manage just about everything we do now, systems of communication and collaboration are imperative. A client of ours has adopted a mantra: Transparency and Integration. They get it. You should, too.

There is no such thing as oversharing. As an entrepreneur many times over, I have always appreciated a small office space. Everyone hears everything and it means fewer meetings. Virtualize this with new communications tools (Slack, HipChat, etc.) or Project Management Platforms (Podio, Jira, etc.).

Digital Transformation Is Hard

Eggs get broken. People hate change. Hey, even plants hate change. Ever move a ficus?

The point is that digital transformation isn't like the old joke in which a fellow leaves his predecessor a note in the desk drawer that says, "Hire a consultant." It's a conscious and deliberate effort to avoid the "newness trap" and to grow into a business imperative of our time. A consultant can help (heck, call me), but hire a consultant to help you build it, not one to take it outside. You can ask an outside firm to model the behavior and methods to kickstart it; but you need to rebuild it. You need to make it better.

You can read the whole James Wynn interview here.


Francis Bassolino

2015, The Year of the Goat (Rodeo)

Idle conversations in board meetings ponder if this is the year of the ram, goat or sheep. When the conversation turns to more pertinent questions on China strategy and the macroeconomic situation, the discussion is often not much more profound. Indeed many debates on China resemble a goat rodeo of six blind men describing an elephant, each recounting a story that is seemingly real but in the end reveals more about the storyteller than the subject. 

China continues to confound businesses looking to capture their share of the China Dream. Global business leaders and regional lieutenants struggle to get their messages across and strategies aligned. Is there a housing crisis with ghost towns as 60 Minutes and a collection of pundits would have us believe? Will the end of the one- child policy lead to a boom in nappy sales? Does the deceleration in topline GDP portend the beginning of the end? Will the ongoing anti-corruption campaign lead to the second coming of the Cultural Revolution? Faced with such binary questions and so little informed dialogue it is no wonder that many companies are cooling on the idea of expending more resources on capturing demand in China. 

Companies continue to waffle in the face of a market that poses formidable challenges that have become boring to recall—poor institutional infrastructure, irrational price wars, and overcapacity in everything—all leading to the conclusion that no one is making money. China is however still the world’s best growth story. Just ask the happy folks at Apple, Mercedes Benz and the host of other companies with solid strategies reaping rewards in China. 

By most accounts the past few years have been difficult. The decades of double- digit growth and fairly easy money have passed and the nation is now grappling with a collection of issues that often require skill sets that are not readily available. At the company level, performance improvement projects such as lean and post-merger integration programs are now in high demand as industries consolidate and supply has caught up with demand. Many companies for years could generate income just by offering a product, any product, first in the first-tier cities and then further afield into the third-tier and beyond. As the only distribution point for a product that is in demand, odds are that you will succeed just by showing up for work. But when industrial and retail consumers have a choice, it is important that you are not only good at what you do, but markedly better than the competition, particularly if you are asking for a premium price. 

In high-end fashion markets it has been clear for years that brands such as Louis Vuitton have been on a downward trajectory in relative terms as consumers were provided with more choice and realized that taking a quick trip to Hong Kong or Paris meant you could purchase the same merchandise for a deep discount to what was on the market in China not to mention that there was a higher probability that you weren’t buying counterfeit. Also more brands entered the China market. Michael Kors, Coach and Tory Burch all offered alternatives to flaunting your wealth and demonstrating fashion sense. The same story has been playing out in other markets as well. The consumers—industrial and retail—have been provided more choice and they are more discerning. 

Alongside the growth of product choice was the development of multiple channels to acquire your goods. Carrefour enjoyed robust growth for years, offering mediocre service and overpriced products. But with much better run convenience stores such as FamilyMart and fantastic online service from Yihaodian (aka Wal-Mart) as well as a multitude of niche online providers, the game to capture demand has become much more competitive. 

The problem with this change in the dynamics of the China markets is that many organizations are not prepared to identify the trends or articulate new strategies in response, modifying distribution channels or product offerings to adapt to the changes. Moreover, leaders on the ground are often ill-equipped to champion for change, particularly when lobbying regional or global leaders to adjust globally accepted norms for the industry or company. For example, many companies refuse to accept even modest changes in their business models such as adding direct sales support when such support is not required in other markets. 

Many organizations are handicapped by local leadership groomed in an education system and cultural environment that stifles creativity, rejects those who take initiative and suppresses collaboration. Students in China are built to pass standardized tests and regurgitate accepted knowledge. And this training works fine when there is a clear answer. But China today does not have clear answers especially in the merchandising, product development and distribution areas. The consumers have choices that did not exist even just a few years ago and they do not always want to choose standard products from channels developed for global markets. Of course this is not true across- the-board. Sales to Chinese consumers now account for more than 20% of Apple revenue if we account for gray channel imports. Unfortunately not all companies have such iconic and irreplaceable products to peddle. Most companies have products and service offerings that were designed for global markets and represent about 80-90% of what Chinese want. The tricky part is determining how to modify the remaining 10-20% to formulate a service and product proposition to capture demand. 

What is interesting about the mood this year is how sheepishly so many view the market. Pessimism is the dominant theme in most conversations. And headline news about China tends to reinforce the drama that China is on the precipice of disaster. Indeed a generally pessimistic disposition within the herd combined with a lack of entrepreneurship and leadership is the strongest indication that there will be many business failures and stagnant growth in China this year. But what is also clear is that while there will be many opportunities to play the blame game on a host of seemingly relevant statistics or events, the most probable reasons for failure are lack of leadership and a shortage of data-driven insight into the opportunities and challenges. 

And herein is the crux of the problem: for many businesses the conversation about China has become a theological debate where dogmatic mystics battle the non- believers in monologues where facts hardly matter. The country is so large and dynamics so fluid that you can find information and testimony to support any case. And unfortunately this is just what many people do, including business leaders, consultants, advisors and pundits who benefit from peddling their point of view.

 Chinese astrologers have fittingly not clearly proclaimed an animal to guide this year perhaps because they are suggesting that we choose our own mascot this year. We can sheepishly stick with the herd; Try to ram standard product offerings down traditional channels; or learn the disposition of our goat and determine what it needs to thrive so that we can milk the prodigious friend, as it is still the world’s most popular and economical source for milk. 

*Goat Rodeo: A chaotic situation, often one that involves several people, each with a different agenda/vision/perception of what's going on; A situation that is very difficult, despite energy and efforts, to instill any sense or order into. 

Francis Bassolino is a TrustedPeer Expert and the managing partner of Alaris, an advisory firm based in Shanghai.