Archive for February, 2012

Cannonballs And Email – Or Anything Else For That Matter…..

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Cannonballs and email – really, what could they possibly have in common?

A couple of things – I found myself involved with both last week and one of them applies to the other. You see “cannonballs” is a metaphor and email, for this purpose, is a marketing tool.

Other marketing tools are direct mail, adverts (on-line or traditional), newsletters and any other printed or electronic promotional piece.

And cannonballs apply to them too – and other things……

Cannonballs first

I’m reading Jim Collins book “Great By Choice”. In it, as you may know, he contrasts pairs of companies in 7 different industries. His goal is to find the reason(s) why one of the pair did incredibly well in uncertainty, even chaos, while the other company very definitely did not.

Collins and his team wanted to determine the role of innovation in the relative performance of the companies.

They found that, contrary to their expectations, the better companies did not always “out-innovate” their less successful competitors. In fact, the opposite was often true.

What the better companies did do was to combine innovation with discipline. Collins introduced the cannonball metaphor to illustrate the point.

Imagine a company has to fight a battle (with its competitors). It has both bullets and cannonballs (products/services) but a limited supply of gunpowder (resources) to fire them with.

Should the company fine tune range and direction to the target? If so how?

Bullets are the obvious choice because they use least gunpowder. Get the range and bearing right and then use cannonballs to put a dent in the competitor.

Now email………

Last week I was talking to a client who was considering lead generation ideas.

He had a proposal recommending email campaigns and some other things. Our client said he didn’t have much faith in these campaigns because the results had always been poor in the past.

I asked him which of the variables – the layout and content of the piece, the quality of his list or both, timing of the drop – had been to blame. He didn’t really know.

We hear this all the time.

So I suggested he get 2 or 3 alternative layouts for a campaign. Each should have different graphics and copy than the others.

I told him to take them to 6 to 12 customers who he trusted to tell him what they thought. Then show the alternatives, one at a time, and ask the customer what the piece told him. Saying nothing, he should record the comments word for word.

This would give him quality control for the most difficult variable – layout and copy. When he heard that a layout was communicating the message he wanted, he could email or mail it to everyone.

There are variations on this approach. He could mail different layouts to larger parts of his list (say 10 % of the list for each layout) and compare the responses. He could also email or mail the pieces at different times on different days.

But whichever variation he chose, he would be firing bullets. Only when he found the layout which got the response he wanted should he fire a cannonball – emailing it to everyone.

Finally, anything else………..

The metaphor has wide application.

Why launch a new product before testing it with a portion of the market first? Why move into a new region, Province or country before firing bullets at part of it first?

And yes, why adopt a change in strategy before testing that first too.

This approach may take a little longer but it will dramatically reduce the risks and conserve valuable resources.

Any thoughts?

If you enjoyed this post you’ll like Why Strategy Is Still Worth A Business Owner’s Time

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Where Do The People Fit?

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

A friend asked me a really great question last week.

I was talking to him about the strategy development and execution processes. And he asked……………

“What about the people, where are the people in all of this?”

So I told him about the 5P’s. Of course – being the wit that he is – he immediately thought I was talking about my weak bladder. But I put him straight.

All of the companies that I’ve worked with, which are consistently Profitable, seem to have a focus on the same 4 things. Several years ago we began referring to them as People, Planning, Process and Performance. In the diagram they overlap because they are all in  action at the same time – and they intersect because they interact with each other and form a continuous loop.

Performance

I always start with Performance which provides both clear direction for the company and the benchmark against which success is measured.

It spans having Vision, Values and Mission statements, through setting and communicating clear goals, to making sure every employee understands his/her role in achieving them. And it includes comparing actual results against the goals regularly, giving feedback and adapting where necessary.

Planning

Then I usually talk about the huge difference between Planning – which is a process – and a Plan or Plans– which are outputs.

There are very few occasions when it’s necessary to write a Business Plan, the most common one being when a company is looking for funding.

But Planning is ingrained in the culture in high performing companies. An effective Strategic Planning process will produce a strategy that will work. The Annual Business Planning process is the key to executing that strategy and turning it into results.

Process

I told my friend that we focus on 3 types of Process.

Functional processes keep each area of the company – e.g. Sales, Marketing, HR and Operations areas –operating efficiently. Control processes monitor the key performance indicators – e.g. sales pipeline, product quality and lead times – and give the owner early warning of potential problems.Financial processes produce accurate and timely reports on the financial health of the company.

People

I always save People for last.

After spending 20 some years in corporations and over 12 years working with business owners there is no doubt in my mind that People is the single most important element in success.

The essence of leadership is finding, motivating and engaging the right People and creating an environment (culture) in which they can contribute fully.

A weak strategy in the hands of the right People will trump the right strategy in the hands of weak People – every time.

And that, I told my friend, is where people fit in………….

If you enjoyed this post you’ll like 6 Ways A Business Owner Can Influence Culture

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The People Pipeline

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

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Of all the interesting and valuable things Tony Hsieh says about managing people in his book “Delivering Happiness” for me, one concept stood out.

That was “The Pipeline”.

Hsieh makes the point that, unlike many companies, Zappos doesn’t believe that (individual) people are an asset. They think of a pipeline of people with varying levels of skill and experience as the asset.

Here’s why I really like this approach.

It Solves 3 Fundamental Problems

First, traditional thinking is that people are a company’s greatest asset. But if an employee leaves, the company has lost an asset.

The second problem (which we see all the time) occurs as a company grows, an employee who was considered valuable, or even outstanding, at an earlier stage of the company’s life begins to disappoint and become a liability. It’s usually a result of the employee not developing or upgrading his or her skills as the company grows.

The third problem occurs when the company deals with the other 2 problems by bringing in someone from outside the company.  The new person may bring the right skills and have great experience – but they don’t fit the company culture.

The “People Pipeline” Solution

  • Bring almost all new hires in via entry level positions. This offers two benefits.
    • If they aren’t a fit for any reason the company faces the least expense and disruption by making another quick change.
    • Entry level positions will likely attract people with limited experience. The new employees are more likely to be open minded about adopting the company’s processes – and culture.
  • Provide a comprehensive training program and mentors for the new hires. Then offer a series of courses, either internally or at local colleges, which cover the skills the employees will need in order to progress in the company.
  • Make the route upwards quite clear.
    • Set expectations around when employees can expect to achieve each level.
    • Make completion of certain courses a pre-requisite for promotion.
    • It helps if a company is growing at the rate Zappos did (and is doing) – that generates lots of new positions in the org. chart. However, positions further up the organization will become available as people move on (natural attrition). At this point a business owner could argue that all of the investment in that person has been lost. That’s possibly true – but every company loses some employees (e.g. they move to another city, make a change in career).
    • By investing in training and offering a career path a company may keep those who would have drifted away for much longer.
  • With the pipeline there is always someone ready to fill the shoes of the people who do leave, who have been training for the opportunity and who know the culture.

A Couple of Points to Consider

When Hsieh arrived at Zappos he was an experienced, successful business manager. And he brought one or two key management team members from his previous company – most notably his CFP – with him. So at least some members of the management team knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and that they could work together.

On the other hand, one of the original Zappos team, Fred, joined as a buyer and rose to become a senior executive.

The pipeline can only be used when a company reaches an appropriate size. A start-up doesn’t have the resources.

If you enjoyed this post you’ll like 10 Strategy Tips from Tony Hsieh.

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3 Times When You May Need To Change Your Strategy

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

We all do things that are crazy.

One of my things is telling people that they shouldn’t be changing their strategy.

I do it when business owners – or CEOs – say things like “It’s time for our annual strategy meeting”. The implication – for me at any rate – is that they change their strategy every year.

But that would be just plain wrong.

Changes to a well thought-out, well-crafted strategy shouldn’t be driven simply because it’s been in place 1, 3 or 5 years.

A strategy shouldn’t necessarily be changed even if it isn’t producing results. In this situation I always look at how well (or badly) the strategy is being executed before I look at the strategy itself.

So when should a company review its strategy? And what makes that review and any subsequent adaptation, revision or recreation necessary?

Here are three occasions.

1.    When the company has outgrown its strategy.

There’s research which suggests that companies can “plateau” when they achieve certain levels of revenue. Depending on the industry those levels are around $5 million, approx. $10 -12 million, somewhere between $18 – 30 million and so on.

Typical symptoms of “plateauing” are upward spikes in revenue which can’t be maintained, increasing lead times delivering the product or service, decreasing levels of customer satisfaction and higher employee turnover.

The plateauing occurs because the things – e.g. strategy, processes – the company has done up to that point in its life can’t support any more growth. It’s like expecting a teenager to fit into the clothes they wore when they were eight.

To rekindle growth the owner either has to change the strategy, the way it’s executed – or both.

2.    Significant internal change.

This occurs when, for example, a company develops a game changing new product or service or finds a new way of doing its existing business. This gives it an edge over its competitors by e.g. reducing costs or increasing efficiencies.

To reap maximum benefit from this new competitive advantage the owner will have to adapt or change the existing strategy.

3.    Significant external change.

In this case the owner or CEO has to react to e.g.:

  • A competitor who is taking advantage of a significant internal change.
  • The industry “maturing”. In other words the business has been around long enough for a number of competitors to have become large enough to e.g.:
    • Reduce their costs and pass this on as reductions in the selling price or,
    • Buy up smaller players who introduce game changing technology or process improvements. This is also known as industry consolidation.
  • Major changes in e.g. the economy, labour pool, legislation governing the industry, or all of the above.

Continuing with a “business as usual” approach under any of these situations is clearly not going to be effective.

To be fair, when business owners and CEOs say “It’s time for our annual strategy meeting” they usually mean that it’s time to start the annual business planning process. That is something that must be done every year.

And, since we have services which can make the annual business planning process more effective, perhaps I’m not as crazy as I look – I mean sound…….

If you enjoyed this you will also enjoy 2 Things That Cause Bad Strategy

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