Posts Tagged ‘business’

Purpose, People, Profits

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015


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 involves theoretical considerations and practical applications, academics, change leadership, and other topics at the intersection of business, society, and humanity.


In the 1980s we were told that profit was king. The whole economy was restructured to put this focus before all else, on the basis that if we did that right then everything else would follow. But the reality is very different. Profit itself follows from putting a sense of wider purpose first, and from looking after people in the way that such a purpose ensures.


To put profit first is to let someone else set our direction. It is to act as if we have no choice, when what we are really doing is choosing the easiest path, the one that makes us least distinctive.

But taking the immediate easiest path is never taking the most beneficial path in the long term, because so many others are following the same path, all fighting for scraps of the same short-term benefits. This creates situations like the current housing market, which creates financial bubbles rather than new housing for those who most need it, even though a different path could solve the shortage in less than a generation.

If you want to create something that stands out, something that endures, then first you have to choose your path, not let the market choose it for you, whether that purpose is social housing, radical design or an alternative approach to cloud solutions. Start with what you want to achieve.


An organization with a sense of purpose will naturally end up serving the people who share that sense of purpose, as innovations to assist that cause also assist them.

Improvements to the battery life of the Tesla Roadster provide an example of this. The company wants to provide more efficient environmentally friendly ways to drive, and their customers want the same thing. As they achieve improvements to this technology, like a battery that can go further between charges, they come closer to their aim of better environmentally friendly cars, while also providing a better service to the people driving those cars. Over time, this will increase the number of people using their products, through better service and value for money.

Tesla Motors are no mere novelty. They are a company on the rise, financially and in terms of profile. That rise comes from serving a purpose, and so serving people.


Across the globe, there are signs that a sense of purpose can lead companies to profit by better serving people.

Like Tesla Motors or Woetzel, Mischke and Ram’s schemes for a better housing market, the Fairtrade movement finds it purpose in a grand cause, aiming to provide a better income for poor third world producers. This directly puts people first, and has led to profit for organizations large and small, from African mango growers to London boutique shops.

But a purpose doesn’t need to be political or social to benefit a company. Apple’s sense of purpose has long been built around providing technological innovation and user-friendly products. This has provided customers with products they never knew that they wanted but now can’t live without, such as the iPhone, and a design aesthetic that has a huge cult-like following. Their strong sense of purpose has provided for people, and ultimately for huge profits.


Putting purpose first is about recognizing that profit is not an end in itself, but a way of supporting companies and those who invest in them. If your purpose is something that people value then those people will naturally be served by your work, and profit will flow from that.

It’s not about ignoring profit. It’s about putting purpose first.

You can reach Mark at or visit his website at


Your Company, Your House

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

I heard a wonderful metaphor a couple of weeks ago.To grow your business, think of your company as a house

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 if it’s just a bunch of rooms.

The construction materials with which your house is built are, for example, peoples’ skills and experience; processes that enable the areas to function effectively; IT systems that provide data to manage performance.

Your culture is the mortar holding your house together.

What happens when we decide we want to grow? After all, as business owners, our main – if not sole – focus is on growth.

Growth can be achieved in 2 ways. By making one or more rooms in your existing house larger or by designing and building a bigger house.

1.  Making one or more rooms bigger

You can do this by, for example, adding more sales people to bring in more orders, or by launching a marketing campaign to generate more leads.

But making one room in a house bigger puts pressure on the other rooms. That has consequences. If you don’t believe me, try making one of your children’s bedrooms larger while making another one’s smaller.

As one room or area grows, everything else is forced out of proportion. You may even put pressure on the structure of the house and cracks will appear as the bricks and mortar strain to hold everything together.

A couple of examples of the business equivalent are tight cash flow, an increasing backlog of orders or losing good people.

2.  Designing and building a bigger house

Design and build a larger house and you grow, while structurally keeping everything in proportion.

How does this apply to your Company?

Designing and building a bigger house is equivalent to developing and executing a business strategy.

Each of the functions, or rooms, still has its own strategy. But they work in the context of, and by supporting, the strategy for the entire house/business.

If you involve your team in the design, the end product will be better and they’ll be more committed to getting it built.

I like this metaphor. What do you think?


If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Sustainable Growth – How To Achieve 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

3 Reasons Why Strategy Isn’t Dead In The Water

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

I hate sweeping generalizations.Is strategy dead, or dying?

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.

Here are 3 of the reasons the Forbes author offers to support his argument.

1.  Incrementalism has been disrupted by disruption. The argument is that managers talk big but really focus on delivering incremental change. Hopeless now when, for example, companies like Uber disrupt an industry. Disruptive change isn’t new – otherwise we’d all still be driving horse drawn buggies – but is it realistic to expect it in every single industry, simultaneously?

2.  Innovation is occurring with high variance outcomes. Contingency plans are used to deal with the most likely market reactions to a strategy. Now, it’s argued, there are too many possible outcomes to anticipate, never mind plan for. Assume that intuition, common sense and gathering information can no longer help us isolate all of the possible outcomes. Does that prevent a business selecting one or two of the most likely ones and running with them in a controlled, limited way i.e. hedging its bets?

3.  The past is no longer a good predictor of the future. Because life expectancy has increased, consumer behavior has changed and we are able to quickly access data, it is argued that the future no longer looks anything like the past.

Could that not have been said about the rise of consumer spending in the 1950’s, the shift to low cost, offshore production, or half a dozen other seismic changes that have taken place?

Has the past ever been a good predictor of the future? The old adage is, if we don’t learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it. Isn’t adapting a way of learning?

Isn’t the entire argument that strategy is dead, or dying, rather like throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

I’ll comment further next week.


If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Strategy Working? Then Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes

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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

From Strategy to Results – Plus Some Succession Planning

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

In an ’80s TV series called “The A Team”, one of the main characters used to say “I love it when a plan comes together”.Good strategy executed successfully

Here’s a wonderful example of a real life plan coming together.

In 2009 a recruiting company called LEAPJob hired us to help them with their business strategy.

It was a family business founded by Donna and Marcus Miller. One of their sons, Jeremy, worked in the firm with them. Stephen, their other son, had a very successful career with a large software company.

There were 3 major issues to consider.

First, the Millers believed the recruiting industry was undergoing fundamental change. They were concerned about the future for smaller companies.

Second, LEAPJob had an extremely high level of brand recognition in its target market and a very successful on-line lead generation engine.

Finally, Donna and Marcus were thinking about retiring.

The outcome was a 2-step strategy.

The recruiting business would be sold in approximately 3 years and Donna and Marcus would retire.

While they were positioning LEAPJob for sale, Donna and Marcus would help Jeremy launch a new business. This would leverage his skills in marketing and branding – competencies Jeremy had honed by leading the rebranding effort and building the lead generation engine.

Fast forward to January 2015.

Jeremy’s first book, published by an established Canadian label, is about to be launched. It will be available in stores and on-line via Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iBooks, amongst others, in a few days’ time.

The title of the book “Sticky Branding” is also the name of his company.

Jeremy’s commented a number of times over the years that our process played a significant role in his journey.

But the idea to pinpoint and profile small and mid-sized companies with sticky brands; the analytical skills to see the factors common to them; and the creativity to combine those factors and his own experience were all Jeremy’s.

The result – lessons which can be applied by the owners of small and mid-sized companies who want their companies to “stand out, attract customers & grow an incredible brand”

He’s had to deal with some hard knocks and tough times but now Jeremy is on the brink of success. I admire his focus and willpower.

Donna and Marcus are happily retired.

I love it when a good strategy is executed successfully.


If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Strategies That Get Results Are Developed By Thinkers And Doers

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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

Top Ten In 2014……

Monday, December 29th, 2014

The results are in!

Our top 10 blog posts in 2014 were:

1.   Adaptive Strategy – A Way To Profits In The New Normal? looks at an alternative strategy that is built on the 3 R’s (Responsiveness, Resilience, Readiness) required in a changing environment.

2.   6 Ways A Business Owner Can Influence Culture looks at the ways a business owner can develop a culture which will help increase operating profits and build shareholder value.

3.   6 Challenges Fast Growing Companies Face discusses the 6 challenges of execution which, if not dealt with, could prove fatal.

4.   3 Times When You May Need To Change Your Strategy explains when a company should review its strategy and what makes that review and any subsequent actions necessary.

5.   The Difference Between A Strategy And A Plan talks about the difference between strategy and planning and why it’s important to understand what these terms mean.

6.   6 Things We Can All Learn From Family-Owned Business puts forward 6 simple things business owners can implement to achieve better long-term financial performances.

7.  Use These 3 Tips To Make Your Next Critical Decision offers 3 things Ram Charan, co-author of “Execution”, says business leaders do when faced with a critical decision.

8.  5 Traits Effective Business Owners Share outlines some of the traits effective entrepreneurs have in common that contribute to the growth of their businesses.

9.  3 Reasons Why Consulting Assignments Fail and 3 Reasons Why Consulting Assignments Fail – Part 2 addresses the most common reasons why things can go wrong between consultants and their clients.

10. Strategic Planning – 3 Things That Are Wrong With It outlines how business owners make 3 mistakes that could destroy their company when they confuse strategy and strategic planning.

If you missed any of them, here’s another opportunity!

Knowing and Doing – The Difference Affects Results

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

There are advantages to getting older.Knowing the right thing to do and doing it to get results

Knowing the right thing to do.

One is you realize that to be successful, you only have to apply a few simple principles, most of which contain an element of common sense.

Another is that you learn that applying those principles is surprisingly difficult to do.

This last pearl of hard-earned wisdom helps when I read articles and posts about ways to improve business results, that we’ve known about for years.

It prevents me from becoming cynical – even when the authors package them as a new breakthrough that only they were capable of making.

Why is that?

It’s because I know that we – owners, executives, and even consultants – are constantly blind-sided by the day-to-day pressures of running a business. And that makes us lose sight of these fundamentally simple, common sense concepts.

So there’s a real benefit to having them repeated.

Doing the right thing.

Someone much smarter than I am once said “Knowing the right thing to do isn’t difficult. Doing the right thing is what’s difficult.”

I know that’s true.

We work every day with business owners and their teams who often know what to do to be successful (they have a good strategy) but who have difficulty actually doing those things (executing their strategy).

We’re no smarter than they are.

But we have the benefit of being able to focus on linking their strategy to action, helping them get buy-in throughout their organization and then holding them accountable for doing what they said they would.

No distractions for us.

Staying focused on a manageable number of activities which will have a high impact on the future and produce a high return on the resources invested in them, produces good business results.

No surprises there, right?

I could have used a bunch of big words to make the same point.

Or I could have proclaimed this was a new technique that would guarantee results.

But it’s not. It’s wisdom that’s been well proven over time.

Something, however, that bears repeating by a third party that, because of their perspective, can see woods without being blinded by the trees.

It’s worth thinking about as many of us head into annual business planning season.


If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy A Lesson in Strategy Execution from a Successful Business Owner

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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

7 Ways to Hold Consultants Accountable Now

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

7 ways to hold consultants accountable nowMy wife will tell you I like giving other people advice.

That’s probably why I’m a management consultant.

But even consultants have to take some of their own advice – and change in order to grow.

For example, we must find a process for linking our compensation to our results in a meaningful way.

There’s no doubt this is hard to do. But that’s no excuse for refusing to try.

However, at the risk of making a huge understatement, it’s going to take time.

So, while we’re waiting, what can a business owner do to make sure the consultants they hire actually deliver results?

1. I talked about our own solution to linking compensation to results last year in a post called “Let’s Hold Consultants Responsible For Results”. It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the traditional model.

2. Four years ago I suggested how owners can keep control when they work with consultants.

3. Around the same time I highlighted 3 reasons why consulting engagements fail. It’s really not difficult to avoid making them.

4. Look for consultants who have had practical, “hands on” experience operating a company. They have 2 clear advantages over consultants who have spent their entire career in consulting roles, as I pointed out in 2011.

5. There are also clues that you can listen for. Consultants who are effective tend to say certain things.

Here are 2 more things that I thought about this week.

6. Yesterday I was talking to a business owner who had been referred by an existing client. He asked if I would go out and meet him. I agreed immediately because that’s the only way to determine if there’s any chemistry between us.

Some people might consider the idea of “chemistry” to be foolish. But I can tell you from experience, that without it, the risk of a project failing increases dramatically.

7. Ask what success will look like. It’s more than just a description of what the consultant’s going to do and the services they’ll deliver. It’s about knowing how, when and what they will do to help you get the results you want.

Success, they say, comes not from doing one big thing well, but from doing many little things well. Perhaps change is like that too.

We at ProfitPATH, and lots of other consultants, are chipping away, doing the necessary things that will bring change to our business.

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Jim StewartJim 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

One Big Reason Why Strategies Fail

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

the main reason a strategy fails is based in how it’s executedI often argue that a strategy isn’t important.

It’s the benefits a strategy delivers – more profit, increasing the value of a company – that are important. They put more money in the owner’s pocket.

To reap those benefits the strategy must, of course, be successful.

A strategy can fail for many reasons.

It could just be a lousy strategy. But that happens less often than you might think.

Even a poorly conceived strategy can deliver results – if it’s executed with focus, energy and passion.

I believe the main reason a strategy fails is based in how it’s executed.

For example:

  • There’s no link between the strategy and the actions which have to be completed if it’s to be successful.
  • Most people don’t know what the strategy is – and the part their job has to play in making it successful.
  • People, at all levels, do know what their role is – but there’s no accountability if they miss targets.

Some examples are less evident.

One in particular is quite insidious. It goes like this.

After intense discussion, the owner and management team reach a consensus on the strategy for the next 3 years. Everyone goes off determined to do the right things to execute it successfully.

However, since much of their time is taken up with running the business day-to-day, after a while, that begins to affect their perspective.

And that gradual, subtle change in perspective can have a major impact on the execution of their strategy.

It is possible to detect it and fix it. But that requires the discipline to do 2 things.

First, hold regular strategy review meetings. Second, keep the agenda off day-to-day stuff, and on measuring progress toward the 3-year goal.

Any shift in perspective can be spotted by asking one question. “Are all of the projects being discussed integrated/aligned with the strategy we chose for the next 3 years?”

The odds are there will be some drift.

That’s because the company is made up of people. And people tend to have their own priorities, concerns, agenda, and goals – which may be directly opposed to the next person’s. In the face of day-to-day pressures, people find it hard to keep the whole company perspective in mind.

But it can be restored – and one big reason why execution fails can be easily avoided.

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Strategy Execution – How You Do What You Do

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Jim StewartJim 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 Growth Strategies That Always Work

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Here are 3 strategies that work for privately owned businesses in any economic conditions.

3 strategies that work for privately-owned businesses in any economic conditions


I’m going to be really bold and also say they will work in any industry.


1. Keep costs down – but quality up.

Twenty small and medium-sized companies, based in the U.K., managed high growth by keeping their production costs under control and their prices competitive.

Even when the economy slumped, they kept their quality up even though that meant their prices were slightly higher than their competitors.

That way they kept their customers satisfied – and avoided price wars.

2. Differentiate on tangibles – not intangibles.

Thirteen of the companies were consistent innovators, regularly introducing new products, services or processes.

Five of them, all manufacturers, consistently allocated a large percentage of revenues to developing new products.

In contrast, 15 of the 20 spent relatively little on traditional marketing activities, using their sales force and the Internet to keep customers up-to-date on their new products or services.

3. Customization.

Almost half of the companies stayed very closely in touch with their customers, delivering solutions tailored to specific needs and adapting products as needs changed.

Even those who produced standardized products invited small changes or provided complementary services.

Flouting conventional wisdom, 75% of the companies spurned niches for the broader market. They took time to figure out their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, then exploited their knowledge to increase their market share.

The 20 companies in the study grew at a consistent rate over a 4-year period—outpacing their competitors by more than 50 percent while operating in declining industries – for example, the clothing industry.

Think about it – keep your costs under control; understand what your customers need, and then give it to them; introduce new products and services regularly.

Put that way it almost sounds like common sense.

So, if these approaches work in a tight economy or mature markets, why wouldn’t they work in good times and healthy markets?

The short answer is that they will.

I’ll make 2 more points as a wrap up.

  • These 3 approaches aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, the British companies used a combination of them – usually the second and third.
  • The authors of the study commented that the owners and managers saw the situation as offering a challenge and lots of opportunities. As they say – attitude is everything.

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy The Keys to Executing a Strategy and Getting Results.

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Jim StewartJim 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 And The Sales Force

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

“It’s as plain as the nose on your face!”Funny glasses

One of my aunts used to say that when one of us kids overlooked something by not looking at a situation in a complete way. We saw the obvious – but missed the subtle message.

I was reminded of that yesterday.

I was reading about how, in the mid-1990s, Xerox missed an underlying technological change taking place in their industry.

The sales force was focused on maintaining market share in the face of lower cost competitors like Canon.

But, even though they were visiting companies every day, they missed the fact that people were beginning to use PCs and printers to produce copies.

How did this happen? How could something, so evident in retrospect, have been missed?

One answer is that sales and strategy are separate worlds, often disconnected from each other.

No doubt that’s true. But it’s not just a process or functional issue.

Before becoming a CEO, I spent time in sales and then managed sales forces.

I also worked in companies which had entrenched positions in their industries and which failed to respond to structural shifts.

So here’s my question. Even if the sale force had spotted the change, would anyone have listened to them?

Market dominance can breed a culture in which owners and management develop the belief that they can do no wrong. Their attitude is…….

We’re doing what we’ve always done and that’s resulted in success for many years now. If growth slows or sales actually decrease, that must be because the sales force have stopped being effective.

Instead of complaining about products not having enough features or prices being too high, the sales people need to focus on making calls. What’s needed is a sales training program. And if that doesn’t work, then we’ll replace a few of them.

If things still don’t turn around, we’ll have a look at our marketing programs.

By which they really mean the promotional programs, if any, because they’ve forgotten that marketing also includes pricing and product strategies.

I was on the receiving end of attitudes like these when I worked in corporations.

And, in the last 13 years, we’ve worked with many privately owned companies after sales training and marketing programs failed to restart growth.

So, before reaching for the process or functional solutions, take a moment to check the culture and attitudes. However improbable, that might lead to the answer.


If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Is Crushing the Competition a Strategy?

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Jim StewartJim 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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