New Lantern

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Welcome to the New Lantern blog. Our goal is to shine light on leading innovators and creative artists, and how your business can learn and profit from them. Companies large, medium, and small can benefit from employees who think more creatively. New Lantern may be just the source of inspiration your company needs to spark more innovative products, services, and processes.

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Archive for Tag 'growth'

Are You Using the Right Metrics?

Posted by on November 7, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Companies today live by metrics and measurements. In order to improve performance, you must first know your current baseline so that you can measure progress.

Metrics are important in today’s highly competitive global business climate, but many senior managers can sometimes lose sight of the performance forest for the metrics trees. Corporate leaders can become too reliant over a particular set of metrics while never stopping to ask, “Are we using the right metrics?”

This month’s Harvard Business Review featured an article written by Office Depot’s President, Kevin Peters, who discovered first-hand that his company was not focusing on the right metrics to improve customer service and drive increased sales.

Based on his own incognito visits to 70 stores in 15 states over a several week period in 2010, Peters found out that Office Depot’s current customer metric scores were correct, but that their scoring system was not. “We were asking the wrong questions.”

Peters said that his company had been grading store managers and associates with questions such as: Are the floors clean? Are the bathrooms clean? Are the shelves fully stocked?

Based on his own field analysis and random interviews with customers, Peters felt the company should be focused more on whether a customer walks out of the store without a purchase. And if so, how could they improve the in-store experience to reduce the no-purchase rate?

As Peters describes the office products business, “This is not a browsing industry – people are shopping with a particular purpose in mind. If they don’t make a purchase, something has gone wrong.”

Customers told Peters that they care more about knowledgeable associates and smaller and easier-to-navigate stores. He also found that associates were not asking the right questions of customers. For example, instead of asking, “How are you today, and are you finding everything okay?” associates should be asking, “What can I help you find today?”

In response, Office Depot recently instituted a simplified sales process called “ARC” – Ask, Recommend, Close. They have also sought to shrink the size of their stores, coupled with a greater focus on the in-store experience.

The bottom line according to Peters is this, “If you think your company is doing well with customer service, ask yourself, ‘Am I really sure?’ Do I know what the customer experiences?”

Make it a point to challenge your own corporate metrics on a periodic basis to ensure you are asking the right questions. Otherwise, your company may find itself racking up some very nice scores, but taking the wrong test.

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Posted by on April 7, 2011 at 8:18 pm

One of my favorite places to walk in New York City is down the one block stretch of 28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues in what remains of Manhattan’s “Flower District.” The otherwise non-descript city block is transformed into a cornucopia of color and greenery during the day, when New York’s flower wholesalers put out their finest and freshest flowers along the narrow sidewalks.

In the nine years that I’ve had an apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, I’ve watched the century-old Flower District shrink to what’s now less than a block. In its heyday during the first half of the 20th century, it was literally a “district” taking up several city blocks, where every major New York flower wholesaler sold their horticultural wares to merchants from all over the city. As recently as 1990, there were 50 flower wholesalers in New York’s Flower District, and today there are less than 15, according to New York Magazine.

I walked down 28th Street just this morning, stopping several times to stick my nose into a freshly cut bouquet of spring flowers or to reach out and touch an elephant ear leaf as I walked past. I wondered how many more years the flowers and their shop owners would be there given the continued encroachment of new luxury high rises and chain hotels in the area.

Change is inevitable. Clearly, we’ve all watched many urban, suburban, and rural communities change dramatically over the past several decades. Some for the better, and admittedly, some for the worse.

In most cases we only have ourselves to blame. On one hand, many of us long for the idyllic Norman Rockwell-style images of the past when quaint shops and family-owned businesses lined a neighborhood street. Yet, we also like the convenience of our gourmet coffee shops on every corner and the low costs of the huge discount retail big box stores.

And, we increasingly like the shopping convenience of simply pointing and clicking from the comfort of our homes or apartments. When you purchase online, does it really matter if the item is coming from a shop on the other side of town or from a warehouse on the other side of the country? No, not really, as long as you get the best price and you get it delivered to your front door in two or three days time.

I admit it. I’ve gradually become one of these convenience shoppers. So I guess that I, and hundreds of thousands like me, have contributed in some way to the near extinction of New York’s Flower District, and similar localized shops and business districts across the U.S.

We Americans are a smart and resourceful people. I’d like to think that there is a way for both the convenient and the idyllic to co-exist. At least I can dream, can’t I?

In the meantime I will try to do my part. Excuse me while I go down the street and purchase a few freshly cut flowers from the local vendor.

Drop ’til You Shop

Posted by on December 18, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Shoppers appear to be opening up their wallets a bit more widely this holiday season much to the delight of retailers.

Two factors account for this year’s uptick. First, shoppers feel somewhat better about the overall economy. Despite an unemployment rate that’s been stuck in the mud near 10% for more than a year, the 90% who are employed have probably seen their paychecks rise in recent months for the first time in a couple of years.

The second factor for an improved holiday retail season can be attributed to the retailers themselves. There’s nothing like two years of a bad economy to help get the creative pricing juices flowing.

Many businesses have found ways to trim margins even further, while passing on those savings to the consumer in the form of lower prices and/or other enticements, such as free shipping. And shoppers seem to be responding.

Good old-fashioned price trimming appears to be the new fashion this season. Clearly, a business cannot survive indefinitely on charging less for products or services. Yet, a short-term price cutting strategy that allows a business to move products, reduce inventories, increase cash flow, attract new customers or all or some of the above can indeed pay dividends.

So feel free to take a page from both the brick-and-mortar and the online retailers this holiday season, and think about dropping a price or two on some of your company’s products or service offerings. Or, put your heads together on any other creative pricing strategies that could serve to spark additional sales.

It may help put a new pep in your company’s step and usher in some holiday cheer as you head into the new year.

Can-Do Innovation

Posted by on May 26, 2010 at 9:10 pm

DuPont announced yesterday the winners of its 22nd DuPont Awards for Packaging and Innovation. Granted, the DuPont Awards do not yet have quite the cachet of the Academy Awards or the Pulitzer Prize, but they do represent the pinnacle of extraordinary achievement in “packaging materials, technology and service innovations.”

This year, Alcoa Inc. and Exal Corporation took home one of the top “Diamond Winner” awards for their new aluminum bottle, which offers a lighter, stronger, cheaper, 100 percent recyclable container, referred to as the “”Coil-to-Can” or “C2C” bottle. The new, high-tech bottle uses Alcoa’s bottlestock sheet and Exal’s C2C manufacturing technology.

Exal launched the C2C aluminum bottle in 2008, which is now used by companies like Coca-Cola, ESKA Still and Sparking Water of Canada, and Anheuser-Busch.

Ok, so what’s the big deal you might be asking? A lot in my book. The DuPont Awards illustrate a point that I have made on a number of occasions in earlier blogs on this website. Innovation is not only about the iPad, or the latest flat-screen technology, or a Mars rover. It’s potentially about everything your company is doing.

Innovation can and should occur across every nook and cranny of your business — from better and more advanced products, to enhancements in services for customers and clients, to improvements in internal processes, and to the very packages that contain your company’s products.

In short, if your company’s executives and managers are not actively pursuing innovations in all these areas – and strongly incenting your employees to do so – you may not only be missing out on possible revenue and market share, you may end up missing the boat altogether.

So this coming weekend, when you find yourself sipping your favorite beverage from one of those newfangled, super-cold aluminum cans, think about how your company can be more creative across the board.

I can assure you that a new can-do approach to innovation will put your company on a path to bringing home your own awards.

Building Corporate Muscle with Flex Time

Posted by on December 13, 2009 at 9:58 pm

In today’s New York Times, economist and author Sylvia Ann Hewlett discusses the merits of flex time for both corporations and employees in the article, “Making Flex Time a Win-Win.” Much like my two-part blog post earlier this year that touted the benefits to your business of implementing a telework program, flex time too can be a powerful catalyst for increasing employee morale and productivity.

Hewlett points out that flex time is a win-win in today’s economy since many workers will be happy to take less pay if their managers give them a more flexible work schedule. So not only could employers save money by embracing a flex time program, they could also get more out of their employees.

Flex time can come in a number of forms. For example, it may mean working four days a week for a total of 32 hours, and receiving 80% of the pay. Women are particularly attracted to flex time as Hewlett notes, since they are increasingly out-earning their husbands, while still facing domestic duties at home (e.g., as a mother).

A successful female employee and mother typically faces the dilemma of either quitting her job or living with the guilt of not spending more time with her kids at home while they are young. If the mother decides to leave her job, then the company loses out on the talent and investment in that employee. Flex time can potentially keep her at work, contributing to the company’s success, while possibly helping the company save money at the same time.

Ms. Hewlett is the founding president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, author of nine non-fiction books on business, and winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Prize. She has taught at Cambridge, Columbia, and Princeton.

Her latest book, Top Talent: Keeping Performance Up When Business is Down,” was released in October. Jeffrey Kindler, Chairman and CEO of Pfizer: “The right book at the right time. With skill and conviction, Hewlett provides new insight into motivating your top performers during tough times and preparing your organization for renewed innovation and growth.”

As we have discussed here in numerous blog posts over the last year, tough times are exactly when your company should invest in its best performers and mine all the talent your employees have to offer. This investment can come in the form of enhanced incentive rewards programs, imaginative leadership training, and other innovative programs to spur creative thinking and performance.

It will require a management team who is willing to embrace change, e.g., how and when employees work — in short, a team willing to flex different muscles. I’m guessing you’ll like how the results will look on you and your company.

A Little Red Carpet Can Go a Long Way

Posted by on December 6, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Tonight, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will add five more names to its wall of legendary performing artists in the 32nd Annual Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, DC. The 2009 honorees include: producer Mel Brooks; pianist and composer Dave Brubeck; opera singer Grace Bumbry; actor, director, and producer Robert De Niro; and singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen.

The honorees will join President Obama and the First Lady in the President’s box at the Kennedy Center tonight for the three-hour live tribute, which will later be aired in a two-hour show on CBS on December 29. Last night, the honorees and their families and friends, were feted at a State Department dinner, hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They will also attend a White House reception this evening prior to tonight’s show.

There are no shortage of annual award shows that pay tribute to the achievements of actors, directors, and musicians. Yet, the Kennedy Center Honors seems to stand apart. It seeks to honor a life-time of talent and accomplishment, not simply a snapshot of fame. The show also uniquely brings together on the red carpet the best that America has to offer from the arts and government.

I have attended six Kennedy Center Honors, and each was as distinctive as the inductees themselves and the remarkable stories told by the famous individuals who spoke on their behalf.

Former President John F. Kennedy said, “I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.”

The highest levels of business achievement, like that of the arts, are attained based on a compilation of successful work over an extended period of time – not merely the results of one quarter or one year. And it is the companies that are the most creative, the most innovative, and the most willing to invest in their best performing employees, which will most likely succeed and endure.

Make it a point to honor those employees who help make your company successful with a little red carpet treatment of your own.