I get a dozen or so print publications each month, on top of another 20+ email newsletters. Three print publications in particular I make it a habit to read cover-to-cover, often including the ads. One of those is Fast Company and the March 2012 issue is dedicated to their reporting of the 50 most innovative companies.

Three organizations stood out in particular for what I believe are examples of implementing the strategies that I am passionate about, have researched extensively and have written about in my newest book – Return on Impact: Leadership Strategies for the Age of Connected Relationships (ASAE, 2012) – See Lisa Nirell’s kind book review in Fast Company. These three organizations reinforce that the IMPACT model ideas can in fact help the organization evolve, identify new market needs, or otherwise elevate the organization above its competitive peers.

Number 12 on the list is Southern New Hampshire University with a rather unorthodox, fresh thinking university president in Paul LeBlanc who has used technology to transform this eight-decade-old college. Unlike many educational institutions or educators for that matter, LeBlanc understands that the student population are his “customers,” and that customer-service must be a core competency. Using Amazon and Zappos as models, he hired the former CEO of an online customer relationship company to reinvent SNHU’s operations – to “pick up the phone, treat our students as customers, and respect their opinions,” according to Yvonne Simon, director of online programs. Apparently LeBlanc found out that university advisors who stay with the students throughout their careers, and a new software system that tracks a number of factors predicting student success, actually can impact results: the percentage of first-year undergrads who signed up for second year has doubled since 2008, up from 35% to 69%. IMPACT Lesson: put customers at the center of all that you are, the products and services you create, the organization you develop, and the value that is both perceived and realized.

Number 15 on the list is the NFL for creating an ecosystem that can cater to year-round hunger for all things professional football. Think: The actual football season is only four-months-long with the fewest games in sports. Yet the NFL has created multiple events before, during and after the season, including opportunities for its fans (read: customers) to build and nurture digital relationships with their favorite and most hated teams and each other, not to mention keep their finger on the pulse of the league even when there is no on-field action. The league in essence has figured out how to give its customers more of what they want and less of what they don’t need. They’re building demand for everything from the Scouting Combine, to the Draft, to Preseason when the games mean absolutely nothing, to the Regular Season, Playoffs, and of course, the Super Bowl where they crown a “World Champion,” with no international teams involved! How do their fans get their fix as a percentage of time by activity? Forty percent watch TV, 13 percent watch online, 9 percent listen, 7 percent read online, 8 percent read print, 5 percent each play video games, participate in fantasy football, and attend games. The final 10 percent discuss games, players, and events online! Next growth opportunity for the NFL – a venture fund to back the next ESPN, EA Sports, or DirectTV. IMPACT Listen: “iTunify” your capabilities where you own an ecosystem creating demand, interest, interaction and become an expert in all things your product: your customers! Give them more of what they want and a lot less of what they don’t need.

Number 38 was a surprise for me: UPS, and what they’re doing about a personal pet peeve; missed deliveries! They’ve created My Choice, a free service that gives me a day’s notice on a package’s arrival. For a one-time or an annual fee, I can control when and where my packages are delivered. I’m one of 600,000+ who have joined in the first 90 days of the launch. As more and more packages are getting delivered to consumers at home, My Choice is delivering a new revenue stream for this company, which seems to constantly reinvent itself and its value proposition. What a concept – not having to wait for your package delivery. IMPACT Listen: Listen Louder and use analytics to tell a more compelling story. In this case, taking a massive frustration and market inefficiency and turning into revenue producing market opportunity and a strong differentiator! Now, that’s market demand kung fu!

Read more about the Fast Company’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.

Pick up a copy of Return on Impact.

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