Founder's Mentality Blog
In our blog on the micro-battles training agenda, we refer to our Leadership training workshop, where we help leaders better understand how to manage the portfolio of micro-battles. A key issue that comes up repeatedly is “communication”: How should we talk about our journey to embed micro-battles in our ways of working? To gather some best practices, we interviewed management teams that we consider to be the most proficient at this. Here are six lessons that we hope you’ll find useful.
1. Control the brand. Whether you call these initiatives micro-battles or something else, you must control the brand. The nightmare scenario, which one CEO discussed with us, is that everyone gets excited about the topic, and to gain momentum for their projects and initiatives, they start calling everything a “micro-battle.” The CEO noted, “Overnight, every initiative in the company was called a ‘micro-battle’; we had to stop all that and put in very clear rules about how we defined the short list of micro-battles.” A simple rule is to agree that an initiative will be called a “micro-battle” only if it (a) fits your criteria for selecting micro-battles (b) has been selected as a micro-battle by the executive committee (Exco) and (c) is fully run through the Win-Scale and Amplify processes.
2. Focus on results not process, and ramp up communications slowly. Two key benefits of micro-battles will be behavioral change and capability building. You’re rediscovering the art of getting things done fast and well, and working to bring back your Founder’s Mentality®. Having said that, you shouldn’t focus on this in your communications outside the Leadership team. The focus should be on the delivery of micro-battle results and the heroes who helped create these results. This means that communications should increase in proportion with the number of micro-battles you have deployed and the results they’re achieving. Because we recommend that you scale the portfolio of micro-battles deliberately over the first 300 days, this means that you’ll ramp up communications about micro-battles slowly. Don’t talk about the overall program, or the behaviors and skills you’re trying to build, simply talk about the results of micro-battles as they come through. Over time, you want the organization to understand that micro-battle teams get extraordinary results. You want to heighten demand to be on these teams.
Want to learn more about the journey to scale insurgency? Explore the Bain Micro-battles System℠, step by step.
3. Link the cadence of communications to key “leadership moments.” One of the first things we do in this area is link the cadence of communications directly to the company’s calendar of leadership moments. We use “moments” here simply because we include all major meetings and other key communication events (e.g., internal messages tied to quarterly results, or town halls built around CEO market visits). We advise companies to think through how they talk about micro-battle results during these moments. In particular, we find that a gathering of the “Top 100” (or whatever number you use to bring a broad set of leaders together) is a perfect time to (a) have your micro-battle teams talk about the results they achieved and the lessons they learned and (b) have your Top 100 brainstorm on the next set of micro-battles you should launch.
4. Focus on virile marketing—the forest is revealed gradually through the beauty of individual trees. The most important micro-battle communications will be between individual micro-battle teams and the rest of the organization. These discussions can be highly positive (“You won’t believe how fast we are moving on these initiatives”) or highly negative (“Same old wine, just new bottles”). It’s critically important that these communications are positive. This means the Leadership team must perform well. It must help each micro-battle team get results and must role model the behaviors of a scale insurgent in each interaction. But it also means the team should identify the great stories that represent real progress with micro-battles and figure out how these stories can be widely disseminated. Make videos about the heroes who are emerging and circulate them. Ask individual micro-battle teams to tell their stories to others. For example, at one company’s staff meetings, the leaders of a micro-battle thanked global functions for specific support given for that battle. They wanted to tie these specific actions to specific results achieved at customers. These stories circulated and, of course, others in global functions wanted to be mentioned in follow-up stories. The communications that make all the difference are the stories exchanged informally across the company.
5. Don’t create winners and losers; demonstrate balance in all that you communicate.In our work on micro-battles, we’ve tried very hard to avoid false trade-offs. Becoming more frontline oriented is not about declaring war on global functions—your customers benefit from intimacy and scale. Becoming more adaptive isn’t about declaring war on routines and playbooks—your customers benefit from innovation and adherence to routines. Becoming more top-oriented is not about stopping your focus on costs—your customers benefit from your constantly reducing costs to fund innovation. Leadership is often about finding balance. Great communications on micro-battles often come down to emphasizing the need for balance in all we do, specifically:
- Pair cost and revenue micro-battles when discussing results. When you tell the story of a great customer success that happened through a revenue-oriented micro-battle, make sure you first tell the story of a cost-oriented micro-battle that freed up resources to pursue innovation. Make the cost teams critical heroes in all revenue stories.
- Pair frontline and global staff when telling results. When you’re telling the story of a major frontline initiative that allowed your customer-facing teams to “wow” customers, make sure you also tell the story of functional teams that supported and enabled the initiative. Seek them out. Be generous.
- Always talk about the both sides of the three great conflicts and how the micro-battle team balanced the initiative. For each micro-battle, you need to make sure that you tell the story of delivering scale and intimacy to customers. Make sure that you tell the story of how great innovation was scaled through disruption and routine. Make sure you tell the story of delivering short-term results and positioning the company for the long term. For all these stories, bring them to life with the people who made them happen on both sides of these conflicts.
- Celebrate the three communities in all stories of micro-battles. Elsewhere, we’ve talked about these communities, but as a reminder: Every company consists of three informal communities. The first is your Agile/disruptive/innovator community. It helps customers every day by innovating and disrupting products and services, core business processes and your business model. It tests and learns, adapts and retests. The second is your expert/execution community. It helps customers every day by expertly executing against playbooks and continually improving. This is roughly 85% of the activity of your firm. The third community is your least developed—the scaling community. It focuses on turning innovation into routine, by turning one-off prototypes into major programs that you can scale across the company. As you communicate, celebrate how the three communities work together to deliver results.
6. In your hero stories, signal the culture you want to become and link to heroes of the past. The last lesson of how to best communicate the micro-battles journey is to tell your stories in the context of your company’s past and future. Link hero stories to similar stories during the company’s founding. Tell these stories in terms of the cultural principles you’re trying to reinforce. But also tell these stories in the context of the company you want to become.
With these lessons in mind, we encourage you to use your Leadership sessions to discuss how to communicate the results being generated by micro-battles. And remember, one of the walls of your learning center celebrates “heroes and their deeds.” Be generous in finding heroes across the company and fill that wall with dozens of faces.
Three questions can help companies choose the full portfolio of micro-battles.
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