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Recommended Reading – Summer 2015

May 26th, 2015Jim Stewart

After another rough winter, summer’s almost here! We’ll soon be reveling in sunshine, hot temperatures and blue skies as we enjoy water sports, barbeques, and relaxing in a lounger or hammock with a good book. Here are some of the personal favourites we’ve selected from the various “best books in 2015” lists recently published on 800ceo read’s blog:

1.  The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning
     Henry Mintzberg, Free Press

If you follow our blog you’ll know that Henry Mintzberg is one of my favourite strategic thinkers. In this definitive history, he argues that the term is an oxymoron – that strategy cannot be planned because planning is about analysis and strategy is about synthesis. That is why, he asserts, the process has failed so often and so dramatically. He unmasks the press that has mesmerized so many organizations since 1965: strategic planning.

Mintzberg proposes new and unusual definitions of planning and strategy, and examines in novel and insightful ways the various models of strategic planning and the evidence of why they failed. Reviewing the so-called “pitfalls” of planning, he shows how the process itself can destroy commitment, narrow a company’s vision, discourage change, and breed an atmosphere of politics.

Henry Mintzberg is one of the most brilliant and original management thinkers and a great Canadian.

2.  Family Business: Practical Leadership Succession Planning: Exceed Your Expectations
     Ronald P. Smyser, Abbott Press

Less than 15% of family businesses survive to and through the second generation of leadership.

Smyser’s book provides valuable insights which demystify and simplify the process of succession; help ensure continuing financial security for the founder and his/her family; and enhance the effectiveness and balance of professional and private life.

Some of the topics he covers are:

  • How ownership transition without a clear, practical leadership succession plan can decimate your business’s chance of survival.
  • The fifteen key causes of leadership succession failure and how to avoid them.
  • What the next generation really wants but won’t tell you and what you should do.
  • The issues around choosing one of your children to succeed you, and how to avoid them.

Whether you already have a family business or are starting one, “Family Business: Practical Leadership Succession Planning” is a must read.

3.  Fewer, Bigger, Bolder: From Mindless Expansion to Focused Growth
     Sanjay Khosla and Mohanbir Sawhney, Portfolio

When it comes to growing revenues, not all dollars are equal. In company after company that the authors worked for or researched, they saw businesses taking on more products, markets, people, acquisitions – more of everything except what really mattered: sustainable and profitable growth.

In many of these companies – large or small, from America to Europe to Asia – every quarter became a mad dash to find yet another short-term revenue boost. There had to be a better way. The answer lies in “Fewer, Bigger, Bolder”, a market-proven, step-by-step program to achieve sustained growth with rising profits and lower costs.

“Fewer, Bigger, Bolder” crosses the usual boundaries of strategy, execution, people and organization. Its framework shows how you can drive growth by targeting resources against priorities, simplifying your operations, and unleashing the potential of your people.

“Fewer, Bigger, Bolder” challenges the conventional wisdom about growth.

4.  Business Strategy: A Guide to Effective Decision-Making
     Jeremy Kourdi, The Economist

A good strategy, well implemented, determines a business’ future success or failure.

Yet history is full of strategic decisions that were ill-conceived, poorly organized and consequently disastrous. This updated guide looks at the whole process of strategic decision-making, from vision, forecasting, and resource allocation, through to implementation and innovation.

Strategy is about understanding where you are now, where you are heading and how you will get there.

But getting it right involves difficult choices: which customers to target, what products to offer, and the best way to keep costs low and service high. And constantly changing business conditions inevitably bring risks. Even after business strategy has been developed, a company must remain nimble and alert to change, and view strategy as an ongoing and evolving process.

The message of this guide is simple: strategy matters, and getting it right is fundamental to business success.

5.  Business Strategy: Managing Uncertainty, Opportunity, and Enterprise
     J.-C. Spender, Oxford University Press

Emphasizing that firms face uncertainties and unknowns, Spender argues that the core of strategic thinking and processes rests on leaders developing newly imagined solutions to the opportunities that these uncertainties open up.

Drawing on a wide range of ideas, he stresses the importance of judgment in strategy, and argues that a key element of the entrepreneur and executive’s task is to engage chosen uncertainties, develop a language to express and explain the firm’s particular business model for dealing with these, and thus create innovation and value.

At the same time he shows how the language the strategist creates to do this gives the firm identity and purpose, and communicates this to its members, stakeholders, and customers.

Spender introduces these ideas, and reviews the strategy tools currently available from consultants and academics.

The book outlines a structured practice that managers and consultants might chose to follow, not a theory.

6.  Reinventors: How Extraordinary Companies Pursue Radical Continuous Change
     Jason Jennings, Portfolio

For most businesses, success is fleeting. There are only two real choices: stick with the status quo until things inevitably decline, or continuously change to stay vital. But how?

Bestselling leadership and management guru Jason Jennings and his researchers screened 22,000 companies around the world that had been cited as great examples of reinvention.

They selected the best, verified their success, interviewed their leaders, and learned how they pursue never-ending radical change. The fresh insights they discovered became Jennings’s “reinvention rules” for any business. The featured companies include Starbucks—which turned itself around by making tons of small bets on new ideas.

7.  The Moment You Can’t Ignore: When Big Trouble Leads to a Great Future: How Culture Drives Strategic Change
     Malachi O’Connor and Barry Dornfeld, Public Affairs

Culture not only affects how we think and behave, it’s the set of agreements and behaviors that drive how we act in groups and the decisions we collectively make.

Every organization now faces challenges it can’t ignore as new forms of work, communication and technology wreak havoc on the way we do things.

Malachi O’Connor and Barry Dornfeld provide powerful insights on how to confront the clash of old and new. They show how to ask the big questions that point the way to renewing a culture.

When people don’t know who’s in charge, are unsure of what their company identity is, and can’t get behind their leaders, they rarely have the ability or will to innovate.

Old ideas get rehashed. New ideas get squashed or lost. Initiatives that are designed to create an innovation culture or spur creativity go nowhere.

8.  Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done
    Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan, Crown Business

Finally – an old favourite – a book that shows how to get the job done and deliver results.

The leader’s most important job is selecting and appraising people. Why? With the right people in the right jobs, there’s a leadership gene pool that conceives and selects a strategy that can be executed, a strategy in sync with the realities of the marketplace, the economy, and the competition.

Once the right people and strategy are in place, they are then linked to an operating process that results in the implementation of specific programs and actions and that assigns accountability.

This kind of effective operating process goes way beyond the typical budget exercise that looks into a rearview mirror to set its goals. It puts reality behind the numbers and is where the rubber meets the road.

Putting an execution culture in place is hard, but losing it is easy.

For a full listing of best books in 2015, 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

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Avoiding Strategic Planning Failure

April 14th, 2015Jim Stewart

This week’s guest is Leslie Heller, a management consultant focused on business strategy, change management and growth initiatives. He has 15 plus years in consulting and business leadership roles, where he led teams of over 1,200 employees, held accountability for over $850 MM in sales and $36 MM in payroll, and implemented growth initiatives in diverse business lines. Leslie’s motivation is to create an environment where businesses can implement change and deliver value for their customers. Leslie also volunteers as a mentor with Enterprise Toronto helping young people build businesses.

 

The strategic planning process is the time to develop corporate direction and vision that create value and excitement for companies and their stakeholders. This article highlights three points to include in the planning process that increase the chances of implementing a successful strategy. While no exhaustive list of what it takes to avoid strategic planning failure exists, these points will help planning at the team, project, division, business unit and company level.

1. Strategy and Execution

We often hear that “Strategies most often fail because they aren’t well executed”, but how “right” could the strategy have been if it failed in execution? If a strategy failed in execution it is likely that one or more of the following three points was missed in the strategic planning process:

i.     Ensuring the right skill-set is in place
ii.    Ensuring adequate resources are available
iii.   Ensuring processes to track, highlight and resolve issues throughout the project life-cycle are implemented

The ability to execute a strategy is part of strategic planning. When strategy ignores internal capabilities or does not address how capabilities will be addressed there is increased risk in delivering the strategic objectives. Spend the time to honestly assess internal capabilities upfront to avoid frustrating time-consuming issues later on.

2. Beware the Fouled Up System

In the article “On the Folly of Rewarding A While Hoping for B” (Steven Kerr, Academy of Management Journal, 1975, www.ou.edu/russell/UGcomp/Kerr.pdf), the author addresses how reward systems influence behaviour, and highlights examples where the behaviour does not align with the intent of the reward system. You likely have your own examples; for instance, when next years’ expense budget is based on current years’ spend, do all managers strive to find one-time (non-recurring) expense saving opportunities? How about if they are already surpassing their Plan… near year-end? Or consider performance metrics that measure attendance and productivity when a company really wants to measure employee engagement and quality. The down-stream impact of mistaking attendance for engagement or productivity for quality is increased customer support and rework that is often difficult to address, correlate and impact after the fact. Perhaps worst of all is the risk of setting strategy on misinterpreted business unit performance.

Selecting the right tracking metrics to influence employee behaviour within the strategic plan can be tricky and needs to be addressed, not only by strategy teams but by operational leaders who are more likely to identify disconnects between the intent of the reward system and the anticipated employee behaviour.

3. Change Management

Corporate strategies result in projects and projects result in change. Even positive change creates anxiety and needs to be managed (think about the last time you upgraded your corporate coffee system!). Change management is the act of using a structured process to lead the people side of change to increase the likelihood of project success.

According to Prosci, the world’s leading benchmarking research and change management product company, the top issues that derail change initiatives are ineffective project sponsorship, employee resistance to change and not using a structured change management approach. Change management has gained considerable attention lately and change management offices have popped up in banks and other institutions over the past few years. Including change as a topic in strategic planning, and then managing change with structured processes and communication plans should be built-in to the strategic planning process.

Summary

In summary, (i) ensuring executional capabilities are part of strategic planning, (ii) figuring out the best metrics to use to align employee behaviour to a new corporate direction, and (iii) using change management methodologies, will help your organization avoid strategic planning failure. Ensure that you include these on your strategic planning agenda!

For further information on avoiding strategic planning failure and change management you can reach Leslie Heller at lheller00@yahoo.com (Note: this is a summarized version of Leslie’s presentation at the 5th Annual Strategic Planning for Boards conference held in Toronto earlier this year.)

ProfitPATH’s Top Ten Blogs – First Quarter 2015

April 7th, 2015Jim Stewart

Lessons about successful business growth1.  3 Lessons About Successful Business Growth

Two books, published 19 years apart, yet saying similar things about a key aspect of successful business growth:
‘Built To Last’ was published in 1994. In it, Jim Collins analyzed 18 companies that he called visionary because they were the best in their industries – and had been that way for decades. Collins argued that the core values and enduring purpose of all 18 could be separated from their operating practices and business strategies. And that, while the former never changed, the latter changed constantly in response to a changing world.
In her book ‘The End Of Competitive Advantage’, published in 2013, Rita Gunther McGrath studied the performance of large, publicly-traded companies from 2000-2009. She found that only 10 of them grew their net income by at least 5% every year. All 10 had found ways to combine tremendous internal stability with tremendous external flexibility. McGrath argues that to win in volatile and uncertain times, companies must learn to exploit short-lived opportunities quickly and decisively. more

time for a change in the direction you are heading, focus on center of compass...2.  3 Times When You May Need To Change Your Strategy

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 re-creation necessary? Here are three occasions. more

10 Commandments of Business Development3.  10 Commandments of Business Development

I’m not enjoying the after-effects of the 2007/2008 financial crisis. And I’m certainly not a fan of the banks, investment and other, which I believe were a significant contributor to the mess. But, while my wife may disagree, I like to think I keep an open mind. So when I saw an article talking about how Goldman Sachs grew from mid-tier firm to global player in a few decades I had to peek. John Whitehead, a co-head of the firm in 1970, wrote the following 10 commandments that guided their business development efforts. I love them. They’re full of common sense and they’re very practical. Written in 1970, these 10 commandments add to my belief that the basic, common sense principles of business never change. Here are 4 things that business owners today can take from them: more

4.  Adaptive Strategy – A Way To Profits In The New Normal?

Adaptive Strategy is an alternative developed by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG)¹. Here’s how I think it applies to owner managed businesses. Adaptive strategy is built on the 3 R’s required in a changing environment². Can adaptive strategy be applied in owner managed businesses? more

5.  6 Ways A Business Owner Can Influence Culture

I wrote last week about the relationship between Strategy, Culture and Leadership. As a result we’ve had some questions about how a business owner can influence the culture in his/her company. Here, in no particular priority, are 6 ways that it can be done. more

6.  The Difference Between A Strategy And A Plan

I want to talk briefly about what I think is one of the worst mistakes – confusing strategy and planning. Roger Martin wrote a post for the HBR last month in which he dealt with this very topic. I frequently hear business owners talk about the need to do “strategic planning” in order to create a “strategic plan”. Some talk – every year – about holding a “strategic planning meeting”. more

7.  6 Challenges Fast Growing Companies Face

I’ve mentioned Inc. magazine www.inc.com several times before. It’s a great resource. There’s a well-researched article in the current issue about 6 challenges fast growing companies face. They’re all about execution – and if the owner doesn’t deal with them well any one of them can be fatal. more

8.  6 Tips For Growing Your Business in 2015 – How to Use Them

I was asked a good question last week. “Loved your last blog post, Jim – but how do companies like mine do those things?” So here are some ways any business owner can implement the 6 tips in his/her company. more

9.  6 Tips For Growing Your Business in 2015

January is the month for New Year’s resolutions, freezing cold and, for many, a new fiscal year. Everyone wants to ‘do better’ in 2015 than in 2014 and, for business owners, ‘doing better’ is shorthand for growing. I don’t know how often, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been asked something like “What are your top 6 tips for growing successfully”. The answer depends on a number of things. Here’s the rub. All 6 are much easier to talk about than do. But if you start on them now you can make some progress this year. more

10. 3 Reasons Why Strategy Isn’t Dead In The Water

I hate sweeping generalizations. Strategy is dead is one that I particularly dislike. To say that, it seems to me, is to say that it’s a complete waste of time for every company, regardless of size or industry, to have a strategy.
An article appeared in the Globe and Mail late last year, headline “Why Strategy is Dead In The Water.” It was based on an earlier article in Forbes magazine, headline “Is Strategy Dead? 7 Reasons The Answer May Be Yes.” We’d gone from strategy might be dead to signing its death certificate – in the space of two headlines. more

 

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

3 Strategies – Good, Fast or Cheap

March 31st, 2015Jim Stewart

When I first saw this picture a couple of weeks ago, I had a really good chuckle.Good, fast or cheap - which strategy will you choose to grow your business?

Then I realized – it illustrated the key aspects of both strategy development and execution far more effectively than all of the books and articles ever written.

You’re a business owner, the company’s done well, but you know there’s room to grow and you know where you want your company to be in 3 years’ time.

To get there, you will have to do a number of things.

One of the most important is you’ll have to make choices.

You can be a low-cost provider, the cheapest supplier in town, low margins offset by high turnover.

To prevent those skinny margins disappearing, you will have to keep 2 things low:

•  The cost of making or buying your product or service. That will affect quality.
•  Your overhead – which means you won’t be offering the best delivery or support around.

So being cheap is OK but your service won’t be perceived as good or fast and you’ll be continually fighting to protect, or expand, your market share on price alone.

OR

You can differentiate your products/services by providing good quality, fast service or both. Lower turnover is offset by greatly improved margins.

•  Your cost of making, or developing, your product or service will be higher because you’ll use the best materials and skilled labour.
•  Your overhead will be higher too. Fast delivery requires competent people and good infrastructure; maintaining a reputation for quality requires research and development and innovation.

So you can be good, fast, or both but you’ll be well up the price range. Perhaps even in the wonderful world of premium pricing.

But you won’t be cheap.

OR

You can focus on a specific market, segment of a market, or niche and build the reputation for specialized knowledge and expertise.

In this case, you shouldn’t have to be cheap since your expertise should create the perception that you’re good.

If you’re really good, you can, to at least some extent, choose how fast you want to be. Why? – Because people will wait for the best specialist to fix their problem.

To wrap up, let me return to the point I made about the picture earlier – it’s taken me almost 300 words to say what it said in 26! And I’m sure I haven’t made you laugh once.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Want Your Company To Grow? Here Are 3 Words To Live By

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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

Get Results From Your Strategy Offsites

March 24th, 2015Jim Stewart

Holding a strategy offsite is like going to the dentist.Get results from strategy offsites with these tips

Doing it regularly should prevent unexpected pain and discomfort.

But going to the dentist is something that can be avoided. Why do it when everything’s going well, when it’s not necessary?

After all, a visit to the dentist can result in discomfort or even end badly.

It’s the same thing with a planning meeting.

It’s uncomfortable when, for example, people don’t want to get behind the business owner’s ‘stretch’ goals. And most people can look back on an offsite they attended and wonder why they bothered – because nothing changed.

So here are some things we’ve learned to ensure strategy offsites deliver results.

1.    Before the meeting

Set a realistic goal.

I ask clients to imagine we’re packing up after the last day of the offsite, and they’re feeling really good about what has been achieved.

Then I ask them what has to have happened for them to be feeling that way.

Sometimes, after they reply, we have to use our experience to illustrate what can, and can’t, be achieved in 1 or 2 days.

Distribute pre-work before the strategy offsite to maximize productivity in the time spent face-to-face. Any thinking that can be done in advance should be and any information required to make decisions should be distributed and studied.

2.    During the offsite

Keep people focused by:

• Announcing times for coffee and lunch breaks and insisting email and calls are dealt with then.

• Using a  ‘parking lot’ to record topics that are important, but not immediately relevant. Clear it at the end of each day.

Relieve the intensity of the discussions by using brainteasers and humorous video clips. Vary the pace, and make sure everyone’s thoughts are heard, by using sub-groups for some sessions.

Our process ends with the development of specific, measurable, time-related action plans to solve the problem that was the focus of the offsite.  Appoint Champions to coordinate the completion of the Plans.

This way everyone leaves with a sense of accomplishment and a clear plan of action.

3.    After the meeting

Capitalize on the momentum by holding regular, structured follow-up meetings.

Get everyone together at least once a quarter. Each Champion gives a progress report on his or her Action Plan and adjustments are made if necessary.

Take these tips and you’ll get results from your strategy offsites.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy What’s The Best Strategy – Grow The Core Or Expand?

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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

Purpose, People, Profits

March 10th, 2015Jim Stewart
  This week's guest is Mark Lukens, a Founding Partner of Method3, a global management consulting firm, and Tack3, a business and non-profit consultancy. He has 20 plus years of C-Level experience across multiple sectors including healthcare, education, government, and people and potential (aka HR). Most of Mark’s writing...

Your Company, Your House

March 3rd, 2015Jim Stewart
I heard a wonderful metaphor a couple of weeks ago. Think of your company as a house. The functional areas or departments – for example sales, marketing, operations, HR and finance - each represent a room in the house. You can’t have a house without rooms and rooms have no purpose on their own. A house is not a home...

Business Growth – Hard Truths and The Way Ahead

February 24th, 2015Jim Stewart
Every company runs out of momentum sooner or later. When it happens, it’s really frustrating and confusing for business owners who have overseen many years of steady growth. Discovering that the things that re-started growth in the past no longer work is hard to understand. So is accepting that it’s not necessarily because...

What is a Strategy Focused Organization?

February 17th, 2015Jim Stewart
  This week’s guest is Dick Albu, the founder and president of Albu Consulting, a strategy management consulting firm focused on engaging and energizing leadership teams of middle market private and family business to formulate robust business strategies and follow through on execution of key strategic initiatives.     The...

4 More Reasons Why Strategy Isn’t Dead In The Water

February 10th, 2015Jim Stewart
Saying strategy is dead is a sweeping generalization. I don’t buy the argument that strategy is a complete waste of time for every company, regardless of size or industry. There’s no question that the world has changed dramatically and we have to change how we approach strategy. But to say that we should stop doing strategy...

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