Lessons from Oreo Cookies

Published in: Nota Bene, 2012 This year the iconic black and white Oreo cookie celebrates its centennial. One hundred years since the chocolate wafer sandwich first went on sale in the U.S., this favorite treat is now beloved around the world with $2 billion in global sales. Second only to the U.S. in Oreo cookie consumption is the world’s most populous country, China. But if you’ve traveled to the Far East, you’ll find the cookie you dunk in Shanghai is nothing like one you savor in St. Louis. In fact, the first Oreos sold in China crumbled. Consumers in a country not hooked on desserts thought the treat was too big and too sweet. Kraft went back to the kitchen and came up with a culturally conscious cookie that sells and satisfies. Kraft got it. As a global business they understood that diversity can drive and dictate the market.

At Webster, diversity is the tie that binds our institution. As a center of higher learning, it is our job to bring people together to achieve things they could never accomplish on their own. Our students and faculty represent 129 countries. And our programs mirror the world in which we live. We call it “inclusive excellence,” and it means drawing from all our generational and cultural strengths. This year’s Notabene 2012 is dedicated to that diversity in our students, faculty, alumni and programs. Inside you’ll read about students like Sara Gunn, whose passion for travel propelled her to visit 25 countries before turning 25, and Beverly Bland, whose unique lifestyle meant earning her degree on a journey of more than 2,000 miles. You’ll meet our Global Leader in Residence Yolanda Kakabadse, president of World Wildlife Fund International, whose drive for sustainability is changing the world. Our alumni are as diverse as the university they call their alma mater and include the man in charge of education for the United States Air Force Academy, and the Fortune 500’s newest female CEO (one of only 19 in the world), Graybar’s Kathy Mazzarella, a Walker alumni.

The ultimate competitive advantage emerges when you listen and learn from others and create something that is very distinctive and transformational. This inclusive excellence can be found in our new international programs like the MBA Global Track and our Global Hybrids. Each is designed so students graduate from the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology as true global citizens. Those who like their information fast and at their fingertips will want to learn about our new computer science degree, which equips students for cutting-edge careers in “all things mobile.” I always like to define competitive advantage as what you do that no one else can do even if they tried. You gain it through the ability to bring different perspectives and people together. That’s what we do at the Walker School of Business. We create the environment and provide the knowledge base that enable people to flourish in a world of uncertainty. By celebrating them we are making a true investment in the continued power of diversity.

So we raise a glass (of milk) in celebration of the unique strength that collective and diverse minds bring to our world. Dunk some Oreos and enjoy Notabene 2012!


Building Business Sense & Financial Cents with Diversity

31-Jul-12 Published in: Small Business Monthly Author: Julia Paulus Ogilvie

Often when the importance of incorporating diversity into business is discussed, the direct link to the company's finances isn't made. In the following Q&A, Dr. Benjamin Ola Akande, professor of economics, dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology, and chief of the Office of Corporate Partnerships at Webster University, explains why he believes embracing a well-thought-out diversity plan will contribute to your bottom line through what he calls "return on diversity."

Please explain what you mean by "return on diversity."

Pursuing diversity as a strategic intent should not be confused as a philanthropic quest to help others or to bring people of different backgrounds together. Return on diversity (ROD) is the ability to demonstrate that your action is measurable and that it effectively contributes to the bottom line. Return on diversity is when an organization is focused on issues of importance and urgency to your customers. You don't want to be known as being an expert on what used to work. There is absolutely no future in that type of strategy. My proposition is that a well-thought-out, effectively delivered diversity plan can make business sense and a lot of dollars and cents.

How can diversity be a competitive advantage for small business?

My definition of "competitive advantage" is what you do that nobody else can do even if they wanted to. So a well-honed diversity strategy keeps you a couple of steps ahead of your competition. The competition are those with the singular intent of taking your customers and encroaching on your market shares. One example that comes to mind is a simple one. If you are a small business selling any item that can be purchased at Wal-Mart or Walgreens and you are in close proximity to these retail giants, you are not going to be around for long unless you have a clear distinction that convinces the customer that they need to come to you and not go to them.

So, what does this have to do with diversity?

Well, your diversity strategy may entail appealing to a diverse generation of customers - say, the iPoders, who use social media as an effective tool to communicate. You may provide a forum for them to offer ideas on what they are looking for that they can't find elsewhere. To do so, you will need to embrace the iPod generation as critical members of your workforce, engaged on your leadership team; you need to listen to them and have the courage to take their advice. I look at Blockbuster video as a living example of a wonderful idea that effectively succeeded for a long time in relative terms, but they became unaware or chose to ignore the changing dynamics around them. Technology and new products neutralized their delivery methods, which was having the customer come to them instead of being accessible to the customer at all times. Blockbuster missed the opportunity to make some strategic acquisitions, to recruit a whole new generation of talent (generational diversity) and thereby extend their life cycle. They chose instead to stick to their original well-tested, tried-and-true business plan, coupled with a strong dose of denial, discounting the phenomenon called Netflix, iTunes, etc. Well, you may still find Blockbuster in a few places in America today, but they are not the Blockbuster they were. Blockbuster would have benefited from a diversity strategy.

How can the bottom line of small and midsized business improve from diversity?

Organizations can improve when they successfully execute a strategy anchored on the critical balance based on intellect, generations and a crucible of experience, which will drive business change and deliver economic advantage. Another term for this strategy is "inclusive excellence," where you give access to a broader scope of perspective and enable employees to test ideas by bringing different filters to issues and questioning current practices. These are simple propositions that organizations tend to ignore because they don't see the value of diverse perspective. A good diversity strategy is utilizing the diverse perspective you already have within your organization to explore new customer opportunities and to better utilize the existing relationships you already have with your customers.

Why should every company, large and small, have a diversity plan?

The future belongs to only organizations that can see around corners. A diversity plan will give you a peek of what the future looks like. The challenge is that some organizations are in a state of hospice, living on past glory, coasting on past successes with absolutely no strategic direction. Their strategy is based on hope.

What are the steps to creating a diversity plan?

I will tell you where most organizations go wrong when it comes to developing a diversity plan. There is a lack of ambitious initiatives, there are way too many goals, it lacks urgency, there is no timeline to keep them honest and their plan is the "all things to all people" plan.

What are the top benefits of a well-executed diversity plan?

The entire employee base will become engaged, there will be support from leadership, management practices will be integrated and aligned with the plan, and compensation and promotions will be tied to its success.

How can it be measured each year just like ROI?

Ask: Does your plan increase your customer base and your bottom line? Does it help retain your best talents?

Why do diversity plans fail? How can business owners avoid these pitfalls?

A plan without measurements is a slogan. The plan should be led from the top and not be handed to the HR department. What I notice is that most diversity initiatives are parked in HR. Diversity initiatives should be led from the top of the organization. IBM is a classic example of an organization that has reinvented itself by implementing a diversity strategy that enabled them to capture new markets - a case in point, their multicultural and women-owned niche business for minorities. It's a strategy that contributed to their bottom line. Return on diversity is the true measure of any organization’s real commitment to a diversity strategy that makes cents.

How to Increase Return on Your Strategic Planning

9-July-2010Published in: St. Louis Business Journal Authors: Benjamin Ola. Akande and Chuck Feltz

One of the costliest mistakes leaders make is unknowingly deviating from their core business strategy. Lack of patience, focus and execution create a layering of one strategy atop another before the earlier strategy has proven ineffective. This energy-sapping "Strategic Churn" exhausts organizations, disenfranchises stakeholders and conditions employees to await the next "grand vision" sent down by management.

Many factors derail successful strategy. But the most common are within the control of executive leadership.

Bad Strategy to Begin with

Flawless execution will not overcome flawed strategic assumptions. Underestimating market trends, customer needs or overestimating the organization's abilities to respond to them doom efforts from the start.

Similarly, driving the "old way harder" despite clear evidence of a changing market is a key driver of strategic sub-optimization. Executives must close their planning process by honestly answering the simple question: "What must we believe for this strategy to succeed?"

Confusing Planning With Delivery

Anyone who has experienced the intensity of a strong strategic planning process knows the relief of a successful conclusion. However, in successful organizations, this relief is temporary and management understands that the real work of delivery and execution has just begun. Many organizations mistakenly equate planning with execution and a plan with results. A plan for execution and resource alignment must be the final element to close the loop on a successful strategic planning process. Anything less reduces accountability, focus and success.

It is Disconnected From the Vision

Well-developed strategy answers the question "How will we achieve and monetize our vision?" It is the context for all decision-making and resource allocation. The link between your vision and your strategy must be crystal clear.

Don't have a clear and compelling vision? Get one. There is no more powerful engagement tool to help employees see how their everyday activities connect them to a grander purpose. Vision answers the burning question, "What will it look like when we succeed?" and every employee should expect their leadership to know this answer.

Underestimating the Change Management Aspects of Strategy

Executives are responsible for thinking about the "why and what" of strategy constantly, which is not the case with the rest of the organization whose everyday focus is oriented to how to do the work. As a result, executives are light years ahead of their organizations in understanding what drives the need to change and why the change must occur to remain successful. Ignoring this foundational axiom of change management makes aligning employees and strategy nearly impossible.

Why You Will Win is Implicit; It Must Be Explicit

It's risky to assume employees clairvoyantly understand their leaders' intentions and interpret them clearly. Executives have hundreds of hours of data analysis and knowledge building as a result of the planning process that shapes their understanding of why this strategy is a winner. Employees that are removed from the planning process and don't have this benefit crave their leaders' insight and confidence as to why the company will win.

Strategic Message Dilution

Nothing is more powerful than an organization whose people are laser-focused on driving vision to reality. Unfortunately, leaders assume traditional legacy communication channels are effective in disseminating this critical strategic information.

Every organization has a "strategic dilution point." The Corporate Game of Telephone differs between companies. In our experience it becomes problematic three levels down from the CEO.

The result? More than 80% of employees attempt to carry out strategy with reduced clarity and focus. Companies that avoid this pitfall excel at two things. First, they "empathically engineer" messages to assist managers to deliver communication in their own authentic voices to their audiences while maintaining content integrity and accountability. Second, they create effective channels and venues to deliver this critical communication.

Progress Reviews Are Ineffective and Rare

Effective organizations perform routine strategy self-examinations often in the implementation phase in order to critically assess progress, diagnose issues and make timely adjustments. A strong, ongoing review process is dialog driven and determines: Is accountability in place? Are milestones and metrics being met? Are original assumptions from planning still accurate? What is going well (poorly) and why? How are our competitors reacting to our strategy?

Even a great strategic plan will fail if not implemented as conceived or is not given time to prove its effectiveness. Great leadership devises strategies that are grounded in fact make implementation a priority and inspire confidence in those who carry them out. They put no less priority on execution and alignment than the planning effort itself. In doing so, the plan moves from the theoretical to the practical and from an intensive and resource-consuming event focus to a reflexive and ongoing part of the organizational culture.