The Saturday Serial Number 1—Welcome to ACME John Anderson

A text slide reading: The Saturday Serial: A Management and Leadership Story Delivered One Post at a TimeThe Saturday Serial is an on-going management and leadership story and case based on a fictional firm and fictional characters all dealing with very real challenges in leadership and management. The intent is to stimulate thinking and discussion in a format different than the traditional “how to” blog post. Each episode includes a series of discussion questions for your consideration (or use with your team). I’ll share my views on the prior week’s chapter and questions in a subsequent post.

Episode 1:

The electronic sign in the lobby, offered up a friendly, Welcome to ACME CONSOLIDATED SOLUTIONS GROUP (ASCG). As John waited to check in with the receptionist, he was pleased to see his name scroll past: John Anderson, Manager, Product and Marketing. Nice touch, he thought as he stepped up and gave his name to the receptionist.

John was excited to be starting at ACSG today. This was his third employer in 14 years since graduating from college. While ACSG was a big conglomerate, John would be working with one of the smaller units…the Data Systems Solutions Group (DSSG)…an area that from all of his research, appeared to be an important part of the conglomerate’s future. During the interview process, John had been impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit he sensed in the people working in the Data Systems Solutions Group, and he liked the fact that he could help grow a start-up under the umbrella of a firm with deep pockets and diverse business interests. Also, John was mid-way through his MBA program and it didn’t hurt that the firm offered to pick up the future tuition costs as part of their generous employee education reimbursement policy.

All in all, John was excited to start this next chapter in his career.

After a quick greeting with his boss, Pat Paulsen, John was off to a whirlwind of meet and greet sessions. He met with security and had his picture taken for his permanent i.d. badge. HR took him through benefits sign-up and then Pat walked him around the Data Systems Solutions Group offices and introduced him to all of the unit’s 54 employees, including his new product management and marketing team members. After some time spent with I.T. setting up log-in credentials, it was 11:45 a.m. and John was scheduled for lunch with the unit’s six-month new CEO, Victoria Pyott. Victoria’s policy was to have lunch with every new employee regardless of level or title on their first day, and John was impressed with this thoughtful treatment.

Over lunch, Victoria outlined her view on the opportunities and challenges for the team in DSSG, and John was impressed with both her excitement about the unit’s prospects and her frank assessment of the challenges for the upcoming 18 months.

“We’re in a great arena,” offered Victoria. “The opportunity to help firms, teams and managers make better sense of their data is huge. All of us in all of our firms have spent years investing in systems to capture and access data, but we’ve still not resolved some of the fundamental issues…how to get the right data at the right time for the business problem or process issue we’re attempting to resolve. There’s all manner of software packages and tools to help clients do this, but by and large they’ve failed, because they’ve been expensive, complicated to install and integrate and frankly, very complicated to use. We can’t expect the finance or supply chain manager to be a software or even data expert…we have to create offerings that make their lives easier and that easily help them develop trusted, complete data on demand for the problem at hand,” she stated.

“Of course, like any firm motivated to grow and supported by a parent company that looks for results, not just promises in the future, we have to do a better job turning our ideas into solutions that we can monetize,” added Victoria. “That’s where you and your team come in, John. Thus far we’ve been led by the vision of our CTO, Raj Nataraj, and while he’s brilliant, he doesn’t have that knack for commercializing his vision. I’ve invested heavily in your team, and when your predecessor was grabbed by our parent company to lead another new initiative, we worked hard to find the right replacement. I think you’re absolutely the right person at the right time to lead this team and help lead this business into a successful future. It won’t be easy, but you have my support and the support of our entire management team.”

After returning to his office and sitting down with his manager, Pat, he relayed the lunch discussion and shared his over-the-top excitement with her.

“John, Victoria is right,” said Pat. “We’ve got a great opportunity and your role and your team is critical. But remember, no one said this would be a day at the beach. There are challenges ranging from the choice of markets and the development of the best entry strategies to critical product investment calls and challenging execution issues. We’re a young unit, but we’re big enough to need more process around our approach to daily operations…while at the same time insuring that we keep that entrepreneurial culture. And yes, I read once that these jobs would be easy if it weren’t for the people. It’s true here…there are a wide variety of personalities, all with different perspectives and all trying to help the firm grow and go. More than a few of them missed the memo on teamwork. You definitely have your work cut out for you, but I’m glad you’re here. And I’m thrilled to have your help and to offer my support,” she said.

“Now, are you prepared for your first team meeting?” asked Pat. “It’s in five minutes.”

While the morning’s raw enthusiasm was still there, John was beginning to understand the magnitude of the work out in front of him. He smiled, and said, “Absolutely. Just point the way to the conference room.”

Discussion Prompters:

  1. The initial meeting with a new team is one of the more challenging for any manager. What do you think is running through the minds of John’s new team members as they head to the conference room for this first meeting with their new boss?
  2. What are John’s objectives for this initial, formal group contact?
  3. What must John do and say to make a positive first impression?
  4. What must John avoid to minimize tarnishing that first impression?
  5. Help John get started on the right foot in the weeks ahead. What should John do in the early days of his new role as the head of Product Management and Marketing in the DSSG?

All characters and firms are fictional and any resemblance to any person or any firm is purely coincidental. The Saturday Serial is a copyright (2015) of Art Petty, The Art Petty Group and The Management Excellence Blog.

Introducing The Saturday Serial—An Ongoing Management & Leadership Case

A text slide reading: The Saturday Serial: A Management and Leadership Story Delivered One Post at a TimeA note from Art:

I’ve long believed serials are great ways to share stories. Dickens published many of his works in serial format and the dockworkers were reputed to shout from the shore as ships arrived with the latest installment of The Old Curiosity Shop, “Did little Nell live?” The Golden Age of Science Fiction was filled with stories told one chapter at a time from issue-to-issue and today’s Game of Thrones novels from George R.R. Martin are an excellent example of the serial on steroids, with fans (myself included) waiting impatiently to learn the fate of our favorite characters and hoping that Mr. Martin finishes the story. Who lives? Who dies? Who conquers?

Serials provide readers an opportunity to become invested in a story and the characters, and I believe the approach provides authors an opportunity to think and then create new twists and new approaches to challenge the characters and further engage the readers. As a child and teen I was addicted to the Encyclopedia Brown Mysteries because I appreciated the characters and I loved the ability to try and solve the cases. I’ve added that twist here in the form of discussion questions and I look forward to sharing my ideas and learning how readers might solve these business cases.

Welcome to my intent and attempt to share and cultivate management and leadership lessons beyond the format of a stale blog post and endless lists of “10 ideas to… .” While I love writing the Management Excellence blog and the first 1,025 posts are testament to my commitment, I’ve wanted to experiment with the serial and management fable format here for a long time. I’m emboldened by the reader appreciation for the short, fictional cases around my mythical APEX Corporation, inserted in front of the chapters in my book with Rich Petro, Practical Lessons in Leadership. Those mini-cases and their discussion questions and the author’s take on the cases have been a staple of this book and something many managers have leveraged to stimulate thinking around the issues we all face in growing as leaders. I’m grateful for the appreciation many of you have expressed for those cases.

Lencioni and Goldratt popularized the novelized or fable form of business lessons in their various writings and I understand that some of you love those and others don’t. For those who prefer their business and leadership lessons and questions with a taste of drama, The Saturday Serial is ideal for you.

Beginning with my first episode, “Welcome to ACME John Anderson,” you will meet a growing cast of characters facing a series of very real management, leadership and career challenges in this fictional high-tech, global conglomerate and its various units and divisions.

Yes, the issues are real. I see them every day and I’ve experienced and observed these dilemmas around strategy and execution and learning to lead and learning to manage in many flavors  for 30-years. And while the characters and firms are all fictional, I will wager a fair amount, you will recognize these issues and challenges…and many of you will be dealing with them in real time. Now, you get to see and hear them unfold here in this on-going series of stories and cases, and hopefully, we’ll all engage in sharing some ideas on how to navigate the challenges. After all, the intent of my work and this entire blog is to help those striving to grow their firms and grow in their careers find useful and creative ideas and answers to the vexing challenges we all face during our journeys.

Welcome to The Saturday Serial at Management Excellence I hope you’ll tune in and chime in as the story develops. After all, the beauty of this format is that you can help determine the outcomes. -Art

Check out Episode Number 1.

 All characters and firms are fictional and any resemblance to any person or any firm is purely coincidental. The Saturday Serial is a copyright (2015) of Art Petty, The Art Petty Group and The Management Excellence Blog.

Just One Thing—The Impact of a Simple Gesture

Just One ThingThe “Just One Thing” Series at Management Excellence is intended to provoke ideas and actions around topics relevant to our success and professional growth. Use them in good health and great performance!

I fly almost weekly, and for the most part, the experience is sterile, mildly uncomfortable and less than memorable. I typically occupy one of the seats in an exit row, and like everyone else in steerage, I buy my meal if I’m hungry, and I keep my nose in my reading and my ears plugged with music. Conversations, if any, are typically left to those traveling with family or friends.

My airline of necessity, United, does a good job of getting me from point to point mostly on-time. One flight blends into another with no distinguishing characteristics. The attendants are efficient, if not a bit harried, and I have nothing but words of appreciation for the professionals who pilot these flying buses with skill in all manner of conditions. Nonetheless, if given an alternative that offered a better experience with equal convenience, I suspect I would not care about the logo on the tail of the plane.

During my Friday afternoon return home flight last week, I engaged in the usual process of squeezing into a seat trying to make myself small because the person next to me wasn’t, and generally tuning out the experience in the hope that it would soon end. A simple announcement altered the experience.

In mid-flight, the attendant shared with the passengers that the gentleman in seat 20C was on his retirement flight, returning from headquarters to his home in Chicago. This was his final business flight after several decades of traveling with the airline.

Hearty applause followed the announcement and suddenly the flight changed. People emerged from their self-imposed digital cocoons and started conversing. The passengers in the vicinity of the retiree asked questions and offered their congratulations and more than a few of us shared our own flying and career experiences with our previously unknown seatmates.

As people deplaned, there were more congratulations and best wishes and encouragement for lowering his golf score, and then like always, everyone faded into the terminal in pursuit of connections, baggage or transportation. Nonetheless, the experience was different. It had been altered by that simple gesture.

The simple act of singling someone out and highlighting a milestone humanized the entire experience. It didn’t take much time…30 seconds or so for the announcement, and it didn’t cost the airline any money. All it took was an alert attendant who engaged with his customers and learned how important this single flight was to one person.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There’s a lesson in this situation for any airline or business striving to differentiate in a world where almost everything seems to be some flavor of vanilla. The best marketing always has been and always will be relating to people as individuals and creating a warm, memorable experience.

There’s a lesson here for leaders as well. Imagine if you tried this today in your workplace with your own team members. People do their best work when they perceive they are being treated as individuals who matter. The cost is zero. The time investment is nominal. All you have to do is pay attention and then offer a small gesture. The payoff is priceless.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.


Marketing Myopia Redux-Time to Recognize What Your Customers Really Need

It amazes and disappoints me all at the same time how many businesses have no clue what their customers really need from them.

This problem is epidemic in the technology world (consumer electronics and business technology) in particular, where feature, function and price wars continue to dominate the landscape in spite of the reality that we buy for many other reasons beyond feature, function or price.

While the old adage of the person seeking to buy a drill may be a bit trite, it’s true. Hint: you don’t need a drill…what you need are holes!


Cases in Point-Webinar Service Providers:

I’m in the process of launching a Webinar Series as a means of better supporting my customers and yes, of marketing to those who have a problem that needs solving, and the search for a Webinar Service Provider is truly an odyssey.

These firms are at war with each other over feature, function and price, which is OK, except for the fact that the small business owners and solopreneurs they are seeking as customers are mostly worried about how to how to produce, promote and leverage these events to support their own business needs.

We don’t need a damned drill…we need some holes.

The providers are long on feature comparisons and most of them offer wonderful knowledge browsers to help you identify solutions to the most arcane technical problems. When I run into an arcane technical problem, I know right where to look. Right now, my problem in search of a solution is how to do this professionally and effectively. I respect my customers and prospects too much to do anything less.

Be Careful What You Ask For:

The theme of cluelessness on the part of one firm was underscored when I reached out to the support group  and the Rep’s sole emphasis was on ensuring that I didn’t call back again. He actually used the words, “we hope you don’t keep calling us,” as he attempted to push me to the knowledge browser which I had already tried before initiating the call.

Be careful what you measure and what you ask for, because you might actually achieve it. I won’t be calling or providing my credit card to this service provider.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

This issue transcends my own rather insignificant service provider search. It’s common for me to work with clients on strategy projects, and have to spend a good deal of up-front time getting them to quit defending how great their features and functions and products are versus their competitors. 

We seem to fall in love with our products and capabilities and lose sight of the real reasons we’ve invested all this time and money in growing our capabilities….the customers. The client’s problem is always the issue.

Take off your blinders and consider management surgery for your myopic view of the world. It doesn’t revolve around you.

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Art Petty is a Chicago-based management consultant focusing on strategy and leadership development. Art regularly speaks on innovation in management and leadership, and his work is reflected in two books, including the recent, Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.  Art publishes regularly at The Management Excellence blog at

Prior to his solo career, Art spent 20+ years leading marketing sales and business units in systems and software organizations around the globe. You can follow Art on twitter: @artpetty and he can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]




Systems Thinking Meets Platform Strategy and Social Media via Nike+

While I admit to being one of those people who views the idea of running as much more attractive than the actual running part (thus far, I’ve been satisfied to pass runners on my Specialized Road Bike, thank you), I’m blown away by Nike’s strategy with their Digital Plus business and specifically, their Nike+ program for runners.

It’s low tech (the shoe) meets media (Apple devices) meets social networking (the Nike+ community) meets platform strategy for Nike and potentially, marketing nirvana, based on the data and insights gained about their most passionate customers.  (Check out the Nike+ site to tune into the scale and scope of this initiative.)

There are strategy and marketing lessons here for all of us.

In the recent Fortune article, Nike’s New Marketing Mojo, the firm’s CEO, Mark Parker, describes a visual he had created awhile ago, depicting a dozen video game “Pac Men” consuming the Nike swoosh, as an indicator of how easily the company could be overtaken by competitors. A good many purveyors of commodity-like products are struggling to find differentiation in this world. Nike’s example offers an approach with massive dividends.

Digital Sport (the business unit) and its biggest hit, Nike+ is described in Fortune as, “not just about creating must-have sports gadgets. Getting so close to its consumers’ data holds exceptional promise for one of the world’s greatest marketers: It means it can follow them, build an online community for them, and forge a tighter relationship with them than ever before.”

The stats filled website offering indications of total miles run, calories consumed, steps taken and something called Nike Fuel earned, is a fascinating testament to how much engagement they’ve created. Fortune reports that 5 million runners now log onto Nike+ to check their status, set new goals, compete with friends and engage….all in the Nike ecosystem.

Watch for a rapid expansion in new offerings (complements) to support this platform strategy.

Questions and Thought Prompters for the Rest of Us:

  • Systems and platform thinking can have a profound impact on a commodity business. What’s your potential play?
  • The integration solves an interesting problem that few probably could have articulated. It connects like minded enthusiasts with each other and gives them tools that are useful and fun.  And it afforded Nike massive differentiation in a crowded market without resorting to the potentially most destructive of all tools, price-cutting.
  • The shoes and the ipod integration is interesting, the social media, data gathering power and the dialogue created in the Nike ecosystem is priceless. What is it about your customers and ecosystem that might lend itself to a rich dialogue and connectivity?
  • How might this strategy change your marketing approaches? If you are anything like Nike, it has meant a wholesale shift in marketing tactics. (Note: that doesn’t mean a reduction in marketing expenditures…just a shift in where they are spending.)

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’m  a big fan of analogic reasoning and using one example to stimulate creativity in completely different environments. How might Nike’s example be adapted or extended to serve your purposes?

And, I confess that I might give the road bike a rest this Spring and join the Nike+ community. I’ll be slow moving dot on the Nike map!

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here.

Art Petty is a Chicago-based management consultant focusing on strategy and leadership development. Art regularly speaks on innovation in management and leadership, and his work is reflected in two books, including the recent, Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.  Art publishes regularly at The Management Excellence blog at

Prior to his solo career, Art spent 20+ years leading marketing sales and business units in systems and software organizations around the globe. You can follow Art on twitter: @artpetty and he can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]