Archive for November, 2014

Lists That Last

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

It’s funny how 2 unrelated events often come together to produce a completely unexpected outcome.Stay focused on the list of your company's set principles to maintain consistent success

In this case, the first event is that we recently decided to undertake a long overdue revamp of our web site. As a result, I’ve been thinking about the changes we need to make to our content.

The second is that I’m re-reading Jim Collins’ book “Built To Last” which employs his now familiar technique of contrasting Visionary companies with less successful Comparison companies.

One of the differences between them is that the Visionary companies all had a well-articulated core ideology.

Collins credits that core ideology with keeping the company focused on a set of principles that it practiced consistently through the decades. That focus was a major contributor to the Visionary companies consistent success.

That set me thinking.

When I started ProfitPATH 12 years ago, I had 2 reasons for doing so.

One was to share the tools and techniques I’d learned working for some remarkable companies, on 3 different continents. This didn’t mean I knew more than other people. I just knew different things.

The second was to do things differently to traditional consulting companies.

In fact, I made a list of all the things the consultants I’d hired over the years had done that had annoyed me and said – we’ll do the opposite.

I’ve often spoken about that list to colleagues and clients over the years, and I try very hard to live by it every day.

But, apart from the original scrap of paper I scribbled it on, I’ve never actually written it down or publicized it.

Now I’m going to change that.

That list is going to replace the outdated content that inhabits one of the pages on our current web site.

There are, of course, a couple of challenges.

Those of you who know me will agree that I have really bad handwriting. So, even if I could find the piece of paper on which I wrote the list, I probably wouldn’t be able to read it.

Fortunately, I remember most of the items quite well as I have verbally shared them often. The others will come back to me as I’m writing down the former.

I’ll share the list with you next week. And you can tell me what you think before I put them on the web site.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy The Elusive ‘Silver Bullet’

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Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

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Can Strategic Planning Pay Off?

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

“The most fundamental weakness of most corporate plans today is that they do not lead to the major decisions that must be made currently to ensure the success of the enterprise in the future.”Key factors to make strategic planning pay off

It sounds like something I might have written in one of my blog posts because the point applies equally to owner-managed businesses.

But, regrettably, it wasn’t.

It’s from an article written by a 31-year-old, who then goes on to say:

“…..Nothing really new happens as a result of the plan, except that everyone gets a warm glow of security and satisfaction now that the uncertainty of the future has been contained……”

Does that sound familiar? The author goes on to say:

“……too many managements fail to…….recognize that the end product of strategic analysis should not be plans but current decisions.”

He then lists the reasons why decisions aren’t made:

• It’s risky – a bad decision could jeopardize the company.

• It’s difficult – “Strategic planning….deals with the most complex questions facing a company……synthesizing critical issues and strategic options to resolve those issues….is fundamentally a creative process. Many…..find it an elusive, uncomfortable task.”

• It requires leadership – making controversial decisions requires a willingness to be tough-minded.

• The value system works against it – owners often emphasize short-term results, which have little to do with long-term strategic success.

Next the author points out that “Many planning systems simply….produce forecasts of financial results, or statements of objectives”.

This is “….momentum” planning as opposed to dynamic planning that is attuned to the realities of external change……..

To deal with this, emphasis must be given to 3 things – evaluating the external environment; thorough evaluation of competitive strategies; and developing contingency plans.

Finally, the author provides 2 recommendations for motivating the people who can make or break a strategy. Involve those who will actually have to execute the strategy and adapt reward systems to recognize longer-term performance and the achievement of strategic goals.

So, which of today’s leading thinkers wrote the article? None of them did.

An up-and-coming member of the McKinsey team called Lou Gerstner (of IBM fame) wrote the article in 1973.

I like the article because it addresses all 4 of the Risks we believe growing companies face – having a Clear Growth Plan; linking it to Action; getting Buy In and holding people Accountable.

You can find the full article here.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Strategic Planning – 3 Things That Are Wrong With It

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Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

Recommended Reading – Winter 2014

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Hello, winter!  Snowflakes are dancing on the air and covering the land in a wardrobe of white.  A touch of arctic air is pinching our noses and cheeks.  Time to get comfortable and pick up a good book. Here are some of the personal favourites we’ve selected from the various “best books in 2014” lists published recently on 800ceo read’s blog:

Drawing upon a six-year research project at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras took eighteen truly exceptional and long-lasting companies and studied each in direct comparison to one of its top competitors. They examined the companies from their very beginnings to the present day — as start-ups, as mid-size companies, and as large corporations. Throughout, the authors asked: “What makes the truly exceptional companies different from the comparison companies and what were the common practices these enduringly great companies followed throughout their history?” Filled with hundreds of specific examples and organized into a coherent framework of practical concepts that can be applied by managers and entrepreneurs at all levels, Built to Last provides a master blueprint for building organizations that will prosper long into the 21st century and beyond.

Obviously, there are lots of things that matter now. But in a world of fractured certainties and battered trust, some things matter more than others. While the challenges facing organizations are limitless; leadership bandwidth isn’t. That’s why you have to be clear about what really matters now. What are the fundamental, make-or-break issues that will determine whether your organization thrives or dives in the years ahead? Hamel identifies five issues are that are paramount: values, innovation, adaptability, passion and ideology. In doing so he presents an essential agenda for leaders everywhere who are eager to…move from defense to offense, reverse the tide of commoditization, defeat bureaucracy, astonish their customers, foster extraordinary contribution, capture the moral high ground, outrun change, build a company that’s truly fit for the future. Concise and to the point, “What Matters Now” will inspire you to rethink your business, your company and how you lead.

A guide for protecting your wealth in an age of turbulent business cycles. In “Prosperity in the Age of Decline”, Brian and Alan Beaulieu offer an informed, meticulously-researched look at the future and the coming Great Depression.

Surprisingly, most companies fail not because demand is low or conditions are difficult, but simply because they don’t know how to manage, nurture, or even maintain their own growth and success. At each developmental stage, they become vulnerable to chaos, no matter how strong or expert their leaders. Most leaders feel a sense of isolation, assuming they have to know it all and end up making critical mistakes. Dando calls these critical mistakes the 12 Warning Signs of Success, and he helps leaders across industries identify, anticipate, and avoid them on the way from startup to Fortune 500. Maybe you’ve hired the wrong person, have too many direct reports, or say yes to everything; you might believe your own hype, incentivize failure, or lose track of your core values. Dando, known in leadership circles as the Company Whisperer, encountered all the same challenges as a C-level executive in a high-growth billion-dollar business, and he knows that these moments of truth determine whether the leader and the company become a strong, mature, and sustainable organization, or drift toward an uncertain future.

If you’re aiming to innovate, failure along the way is a given. But can you fail “better”? Whether you’re rolling out a new product from a city-view office or rolling up your sleeves to deliver a social service in the field, learning why and how to embrace failure can help you do better, faster. Smart leaders, entrepreneurs, and change agents design their innovation projects with a key idea in mind: “ensure that every failure is maximally useful. In “Fail Better”, Anjali Sastry and Kara Penn show how to create the conditions, culture, and habits to systematically, ruthlessly, and quickly figure out what works, in three steps:
1. Launch every innovation project with the right groundwork
2. Build and refine ideas and products through iterative action
3. Identify and embed the learning
You may be a “Fortune” 500 manager, scrappy start-up innovator, social impact visionary, or simply leading your own small project. If you aim to break through without breaking the bank–or ruining your reputation—“Fail Better” is for you.

An insider’s look at how a successful leadership pipeline can make or break a company Starting out at GE, where he headed up the company’s leadership institute and revamped the leadership pipeline under Jack Welch, Noel Tichy has served as a trusted advisor on management succession to such leading companies as Royal Dutch Shell, Nokia, Intel, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Merck and Caterpillar. Now Tichy draws on decades of hands-on experience working with CEOs and boards to provide a framework for building a smart, effective transition pipeline, whether for a multi-billion dollar conglomerate, a family business, a small start-up, or a non-profit. Through revealing case studies like Hewlett Packard, IBM, Yahoo, P&G, Intel, and J.C. Penney, he examines why some companies fail and others succeed in training and sustaining the next generation of senior leaders. He highlights the common mistakes that can generate embarrassing headlines and may even call an organization’s survival into question, and reveals the best practices of those who got it right. Tichy also positions leadership talent development and succession where they belong: at the top of every leader’s agenda.

The market for business knowledge is booming as companies looking to improve their performance pour millions of dollars into training programmes, consultants, and executive education. Why then, are there so many gaps between what firms know they should do and what they actual do? This volume confronts the challenge of turning knowledge about how to improve performance into actions that produce measurable results. The authors identify the causes of this gap and explain how to close it.

According to a study published in “Chief Executive Magazine,” the most valued skill in leaders today is strategic thinking. However, more than half of all companies say that strategic thinking is the skill their senior leaders most need to improve. “Elevate” provides leaders with a framework and toolkit for developing “advanced” strategic thinking capabilities. Unlike the majority of books that focus on strategy from a corporate perspective, “Elevate” gives the individual executive practical tools and techniques to help them become a truly strategic leader. The new framework that will enable leaders to finally integrate both strategy and innovation into a strategic
approach that drives their profitable growth is the Three Disciplines of “Advanced” Strategic Thinking:
1. Coalesce: Fusing together insights to create an innovative business model.
2. Compete: Creating a system of strategy to achieve competitive advantage.
3. Champion: Leading others to think and act strategically to execute strategy.
Every leader desperately wants to be strategic – their career depends on it. “Elevate” provides the roadmap to reach the strategic leadership summit.

“Escape Velocity” offers a pragmatic plan to engage the most critical challenge that established enterprises face in the twenty-first-century economy: how to move beyond past success and drive next-generation growth from new lines of business.
As he worked with senior management teams, Moore repeatedly found that executives were trapped by short-term performance-based compensation schemes. The result was critical decision-makers overweighting their legacy commitments, an embarrassingly low success rate in new-product launches, and a widespread failure to sustain any kind of next-generation business at scale.
In “Escape Velocity”, Moore presents a cogent strategy for generating future growth within an established enterprise. Organized around a hierarchy of powers: category power, company power, market power, offer power, and execution power, this insightful work shows how each level of power can be orchestrated to achieve overall success.

In this work, noted consultant Erika Andersen helps the reader approach business and life strategically, explaining why it is important, what’s involved in doing it, and how to do it. 

For a full listing of best books in 2014, please visit http://800ceoread.com/

 

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Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

Strategy, Motherhood, The Dog and Its Tail

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Do you remember that old expression “The tail’s wagging the dog”?The tail's wagging the dog or, the process is more important than the result

It was used to describe situations in which, for example, a process for doing something takes on more importance than the result it produces.

Why did I think of that now?

Simply, for many companies, this is the time of year in which they begin their strategic or business planning.

This process is often viewed as unproductive, frustrating, even pointless or a waste of time. So it may not be welcomed with enthusiasm.

Why is that?

After 13 years of working with business owners and their teams, I have a few ideas:

1.  Strategy development is a difficult, creative, iterative activity. But in many organizations the ‘planning’ process has to be completed in a predetermined period of time, in the same month or quarter, every year. That’s the tail wagging the dog.

2.  We use terms like strategic planning, business planning, and even budgeting, interchangeably as if they all refer to the same thing. They don’t.

  • Strategy development involves making well thought out choices about the future.
  • Business planning is about the activities that have to be completed in the next 12 months to execute the strategy.
  • Budgeting is estimating the financial outcomes of the activities in the annual business plan.

3.  If we’re not clear about what we’re setting out to do, everyone will expect a different outcome and no one will end up getting the result they wanted.

4.  Worse, the results we do get may not be useful. By trying to do more than one thing at a time, we end up doing none of them well. The result is a breathtaking series of ‘motherhood’ statements that are neither a strategy nor focused action plans.

5.  We begin the process with a budget, the financial targets the owner wants to achieve, and make the ‘strategy’ fit those. That, to use another metaphor, is putting the cart before the horse.

6.  Even if the results are useful, we don’t follow up. We are so busy dealing with day-to-day challenges there is simply no time. In reality, we lack discipline – not time.

Is it surprising that many business owners, executives, managers and employees are cynical about ‘planning’?

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Strategy and Planning – How Business Owners Think

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Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

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