Posts Tagged ‘challenges’

Strategy And The Evil ‘Gang Of 5’

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Ken Favaro calls them the “Gang of 5”.the evil 'gang of 5' adversely affects strategy

He talks about them with reference to large, public companies.

But every business owner we’ve dealt with over the last 13 years would recognize them.

That’s because entrepreneurs are only too familiar with the challenge of making this year’s top and bottom line, while simultaneously investing in the future.

The Gang of 5 draws its strength from the:

  • Resulting competition between the needs of short and long-term priorities and,
  • The belief that this trade off has to exist.

Let me introduce them and you’ll see what I mean.

Let’s begin with the 2 members that cause too little investment in the future.

1.  Financial engineering – or working the numbers by cutting costs to make the current year’s bottom line or continually postponing expenditure on, for example, training, hiring or replacing aging equipment, from one year to another.

2.  Price leadership – or price-cutting. This is worse, because it’s a very public tactic. Once you’ve lowered prices, how easy is it to put them back up again? It’s not.

Then there’s the 3 members who show up when a company does spend – but unwisely or excessively.

3.  Innovation leadership – gone wrong. Symptoms of a misguided approach to innovation are, for example, not launching a product until it is “perfect”; expecting customers to buy a service developed without their input; cost overruns and products launched way behind schedule.

4.  Cross selling – can be a good thing but not if it leads to the development of products which are “bundled” for sale at reduced margins to a few “key” accounts. Double jeopardy occurs when the customers’ business changes or key decision-makers leave.

5.  Market leadership – or “we have to be the biggest” comes from the misguided belief that to make maximum profits, a company has to be the market leader. We’ve worked with many companies that quietly carve themselves a specialized niche in a market and make superb margins as a result.

The reality is that a business has to find a way to make a profit and invest in the future every year.

How do you, as a business owner, do that?

One way is to have a clear picture of where you want your company, not just your sales, to be in 3 years’ time. Then, before making key decisions, asking how the outcome will help get you there.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy 2 Things That Cause Bad Strategy

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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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Is Strategy Static or Variable?

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

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.

 

 

In last month’s issue of AlbuonStrategy we discussed three reasons why strategy fails (3 Reasons Strategy Fails).  I would like to follow up on that conversation with a question—is strategy static or variable?  From our own client experience, we believe there is both confusion and difference of opinion about the answer to this question.

Would you agree that strategy is a dynamic, continuous and adaptive process and it needs to be managed over the long term?   Let’s be honest, as sound as you might feel your strategy is today, you should never stop questioning it.  Strategy is simply a bet on the perceived future.  No one has yet found a way to predict all that will happen in the future. Rather, we accept a forecast of the future based on our current knowledge and past experiences for our business and industry.

Think about the surprises you have encountered in your business:  Technology changes, departure of key employees, competitors gaining advantages, loss of a major customer, etc., etc.  These are just a few examples of disruptions that might cause a change of course at any point during the implementation of your strategy.   In our experience, we have seen how effective this “variable” mindset can be.  The bottom line is if you accept and operate under the concept that strategy is dynamic, continuous and adaptive, you will develop a heightened awareness of internal or external changes that might impact your strategy and be better prepared to deal with these challenges in a deliberate manner.

So are all elements of your strategy variable?  No.  While your strategy needs to be dynamic, continuous and adaptive, the strategy’s foundation should be static.  The strategy’s foundation defines the way you play and win in the market. Think of it as the way you create value for your business and the capabilities that support your advantages.  Not to say that the strategy’s foundation cannot change, because it can, but it usually takes a commitment of time and resources over the long term.  This is why a client of ours decided to limit the product categories they participate in, or another international business restricted itself to operate in only a few select countries.

What are the differentiating capabilities that support your strategy’s foundation?  How do these capabilities define what business you are in and how you do business with your customers?   If you are clear about what comprises your strengths and capabilities, you will make better strategic decisions more often and with more confidence.

Your strategy needs to be variable to deal realistically with the unpredictable and stay relevant in the fast changing business world we live in.  At the same time, the foundation of your strategy needs to remain constant so that short term strategic decisions build off your value proposition and differentiating capabilities.  Are you prepared to manage this paradox?

Dick can be reached at 203-321-2147 or RAlbu@albuconsulting.com. For more information on Albu Consulting visit www.albuconsulting.com.

4 Common Mistakes In High-Stakes Decisions

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

I saw a business owner do and say some things in a meeting today that made me think of an article I’d read recently.4 common mistakes business owners make in high-stakes decisions

The company is developing a product which will be the first of its kind. It’s for a market the company has never played in. And the product will fill a need the users don’t know they have.

Challenges don’t get much more complex or high-stakes.

The owner is a smart, well-educated professional.

She’s also a born entrepreneur. All the signs are there. A vision that, if she’s right, will transform an industry. Passion that is breathtaking and inspiring. An understanding of how to use technology that is unique and innovative.

She has a willingness to take risks that would cause lesser mortals to hesitate. But also an apparent refusal to consider that she could be wrong.

Which brings me to the article. It’s a well-researched piece on why high-stakes decisions go wrong. It describes 5 mistakes that account for the vast majority of poor decisions.

And I saw 4 of them being made this morning.

The first mistake is an inability or failure to understand the complexity of the problem.

This owner has been successful in the past and is convinced her vision is transformational. Perhaps as a result, she seems unable, or unwilling, to grasp that she has to overcome 3 separate marketing challenges – new product, new market, unknown need – each of which is risky and complex. And she’s taking on all 3 at once!

The second is failure to consider alternatives. Her marketing company laid out several different alternatives for getting the message to the target market.

They recommended using social media because the results of a campaign can be measured quickly and accurately. The owner insisted on traditional media because of her conviction it would be most effective.

The third mistake is failure to consider opportunity costs. The marketing communications costs could be covered, the owner said, from an existing revenue stream.

But because that revenue has been flowing into the company for some time, the funds are probably being used to cover existing expenses.

Diverting them to the new opportunity may appear to be a “freebie”. But the company could face additional costs if it has to increase its line of credit to pay existing expenses.

The fourth is underestimating the challenges involved in execution. At least the owner is thinking it will take 6 or more months to launch the new product.

But that’s not going to be enough. And I’m not alone in my estimate. Another experienced supplier told the owner the same thing. She did, however, appear to pay attention to that warning.

Is this project doomed? No it’s not.

The owner has her ego under control, she’s not irrational and is willing to listen. Her enthusiasm is what’s carrying her along for now.

And that’s understandable because she has a great idea!

I’ve changed a few details, by the way, to respect those involved.

You can read the full article here.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy A Vision – Is It Worth Investing The Time?

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Why Conflict In A Family Business Is Bad For Strategy

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

We’ve worked in a lot of family businesses over the past 12 years.The negative impacts of confrontation and infighting on strategy

During that time we’ve had assignments disrupted, even brought to a premature end by family conflict.

I’ve seen family members say, and do, some terrible things to each other.

It’s not as if it’s a new experience. I saw some ugly political games in the 25 years I spent climbing the corporate ladder.

Confrontation and infighting are bad for any business. Their impact on the strategy, however brilliant and well executed, can be enormous.

There’s a difference though. In a family business, the damage isn’t just to the company.

The unpleasantness spills over into private lives, and relationships that should be close – parents and children, brothers and sisters – are shattered. And sometimes they remain unrepaired until it’s too late, because one of the parties dies.

I’d realized that the conflict in family firms seemed more intense than the ones I’d seen in my corporate days. But I hadn’t realized why until a blog post I read recently made it clear.

Corporations have barriers that prevent conflict becoming too ugly. Rules, processes and structures govern the behavior of every employee, from the lowest to the highest. For example, if a manager talks or behaves inappropriately, he will find himself on the wrong end of disciplinary action initiated by HR.

The same rules exist in many family businesses, but they apply to everyone except the owners.

Why? Family members apply the dynamics from their personal relationships to business situations – even though they know they shouldn’t. For example:

•  When a child becomes an adult and joins the family firm, the parent who raised her remembers her missteps and miscues from childhood and adolescence.

•  Parents try to resolve disputes by forcing everyone to toe the line.

•  Siblings deal with difficult circumstances by withdrawing, avoiding, or undermining each other.

Even if the child has left the family home, the plant or office can become a replacement.

As the owners of the business, the family can ignore the rules or processes. So there is nothing to stop conflict, caused by the ineffective behavior of both generations, blowing the lid off the family’s assumed harmony and threatening the success of the business.

Does this mean that every family business is fated to erupt into a bitter fight? No, of course not.

Some families use their values, long-term orientation to their investment and loyalty to employees and customers to maintain a “professional management” approach to challenges, problems and conflict.   In the other cases, family members can be helped to understand that conflicts can result if there are no formal boundaries on their behavior.

And, in fact, we have been able to help families like these, put greater structure in place. Which enables focus to go back on the execution of the strategy and getting results.

If you want to read the full blog post you can find it here.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Little Things Can Have a Big Impact

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The Single Biggest Thing A Business Needs To Grow

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

I’ve been working with business owners for almost 15 years. So, when someone asked me…The need for, and a willingness to change in order to grow successfully

“What’s the single biggest thing that you think separates companies which grow successfully from those which don’t?”

…I realized that I needed some time to think about it.

As I weighed one thing, then another, over the next few days, I came to the conclusion that the answer is NOT about having:

•    Plenty of cash
•    A price advantage
•    Top quality products and services
•    Products or services protected by patents
•    A broad customer base, not just 1 or 2 really big ones
•    A presence in several markets
•    Great people (which you will know, if you read this blog, I think is huge)
•    A winning strategy
•    A great culture.

Yes, you need all of those things – and others I haven’t mentioned. But they become worthless if one thing is missing.

The single biggest thing that I think separates companies which grow successfully from those which don’t IS…the business owner understands that he or she personally will have to change, and they are willing to make those changes.

At first I thought the answer was just the owner understanding that she or he needed to change.

Then I remembered that we’ve worked with entrepreneurs who have demonstrated that. But they have subsequently been unwilling to make the changes.

In some cases, what we perceived as unwillingness may have actually been inability to change – either because they couldn’t see the need or they lacked the skill to make the changes required.

The owner’s role remains constant – to provide the direction and to put the people, processes and other resources into place in order for the company to grow. However, as each revenue plateau is reached, the way in which they do that has to change in order for the company to successfully scale the next one.

They not only need to learn new things and hire people with the skills they lack, but they may also have to adapt their management/leadership style and even their behaviour.

And they have to do that while ensuring that the other challenges – for example, adapting to changes in the market or industry; funding growth; maintaining product/service quality; recruiting good people, fending off competitive action – are dealt with.

This is not easy. So it shouldn’t be surprising that some owners either choose not to do it or that some simply can’t.

I don’t believe that it’s for us, or anyone else, to judge a business owner by whether or not they do or do not grow their company. Just starting and building a business requires courage and the willingness to accept a level of risk that many people can’t, or won’t, take.

So that’s not my point.

It’s simply my opinion that the single biggest thing that separates companies that grow successfully from those that don’t is the owner’s understanding and willingness to change him or her self.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy 3 Times When You May Need To Change Your Strategy

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When Is A Problem Really A Problem?

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Sara Lear is the latest addition to our team of consultants. In the first of many blog posts, she shares a unique tip she learned while working with a client.

Determining how to prioritize business issues that must be addressed, can be very difficult.

I am currently working with a client and in an effort to help him allocate more of his time to work ON the business, I am currently working IN his business.

On a daily basis, I collect all the issues that arise from customers, vendors, etc. and at the end of each day we review them.

There is never a shortage of issues to address, but this client has an unusual approach.

The first time we sat down together I had organized the list several different ways. One showed issues by project, one by department and one was chronological. I thought that no matter how he wanted to see the information, I had all the bases covered.

Well you can imagine my surprise when we sat down at the end of the first day and the first thing he said to me was “Is it something money can’t fix?”

I did not know what to say – and for those who know me, this was a first!

The business owners I work with all face many challenges on a daily basis. As a strategy for prioritizing these issues, the ones involving money can often be set aside quickly.

Tackling the ones money can’t fix are the challenges that stretch and excite us.

As a project manager I have found several tools that are very effective to use on a daily basis applicable to personal management and client/corporate management. Keeping a detailed ‘issues log’ as well as ‘lessons learned’ database will help to track and identify the recurring themes that need to be addressed in your approach/operations.

So the next time you feel like the problems are mounting, just ask yourself “Is this one that money can fix?”

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Perspective – It Really Matters….

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

We know that growing a business is hard work, correct?

Long hours, low pay, taking risks that were unimaginable before we started, unfeeling lenders and employees who lack commitment – and I haven’t even mentioned difficult customers who take forever to pay!

But what if we had to deal with our homes being bombed – several times – and not by unhappy customers? Can you imagine?

Yet I read recently about a business owner to whom this actually happened. Oh – and she had to survive death threats and acid attacks.

There are some problems that most of us who live in North America simply don’t face. Can you imagine, as part of a SWOT analysis, doing an environmental scan and having the Taliban pop up? That would give a whole different meaning to Threats.

I spent some time – a long time ago – with the British services just outside Belfast during the “troubles” in Northern Ireland. One of the things that struck me as being “unreal”, to use our vocabulary of the time, was that businesses continued to run despite bombs, shootings and riots.

In Afghanistan, life and business go on (as they did all those years ago in Belfast). Entrepreneurs and business owners in Greece and Spain face different challenges but which are just as hard for me to imagine.

Talking about imagination, one of the techniques we use when developing strategies with clients is to get them to build a picture of their company in 3 or 5 years’ time. We ask them to do this in quite a lot of detail.

We use the exercise for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the power of visualization. Most business owners find it different or odd at first but succeed with very little prompting.

But can you conceive of being in a situation where you simply cannot imagine or visualize an end result?

That’s because you’ve encountered years – not days, not months, not quarters – but years of failure. And you’re only 10 years old? Yet the kids pulled it off and moved on with their lives – I think that’s truly amazing.

While I’m sitting writing this the first effects of Hurricane Sandy are appearing outside. While it may be a challenge, we know that by the weekend, at worst, it will be over. For most people it will (hopefully) only be a disruption lasting a few days.

Even Sandy pales, in my opinion, when compared to the story of the Afghani woman who launched the news agency in her own country and children who have to struggle for years with learning difficulties.

So, to those who are busy with their planning and budgeting for 2013 I would say this. Take a second, step back and reflect. For no matter how hard the challenges of growing a business in a slow or no growth economy, maybe other people are dealing with different (bigger?) challenges every day of their lives.

And if they can do it – so can we.

It’s all a matter of perspective………

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy A Vision – Is It Worth Investing The Time?

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5 Tips for Fast Growth in a Slow Economy

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Inc. magazine is packed full of good advice for business owners of all sizes.

An example of the great articles I’ve read in it over the last 10 years is Fast Growth In A Slow Economy from their latest (April) issue.

It focuses on 5 strategies which have transformed the business of the owners who adopted them.

Here they are.

1.    Drop your worst customers

Inc.’s emphasis is on customers who don’t pay on time, but the definition can be broadened.

We include customers who want non-standard products or services; always want a deal on price; leave it to the last minute to order; or are abusive to employees. Some bad customers do all of these

I was interviewed recently by Diane Buckner, of the Dragon’s Den, for her post, Customer from Hell? Don’t be afraid to fire them.  She comes to the same conclusion.

Get rid of the customers who drain your lifeblood.

2.    Get help from your customers

Email or on-line surveys are inexpensive ways to get insight into customers’ thinking and challenges.

In the Inc. article, Barrett Distribution, reported a 30% response rate to their survey. The fact that 56 questions could be completed in 12 minutes helped.

Barrett surveyed half of their customers immediately and half 6 months later. That allowed for quick reaction to the feedback. One opportunity they uncovered meant business with one customer quadrupled – providing, by itself, a decent ROI on the survey.

3.    Act locally, not globally

Pursuing companies with a national brand can appear to be very lucrative. However, it’s easy to find yourself competing hard just to get their attention.

The experience of Door Number 3, an ad agency, can be typical. They pursued national accounts and won fewer and fewer of them. When they examined their business, their best accounts were located in their own area.

It’s easier to build relationships with decision makers in smaller, local accounts. Travel costs are less and you can spend more time with them, getting to really understand their business.

Finally, local companies talk amongst themselves and so there’s more word of mouth promotion and referrals from them.

4.    Treat everyone as a potential employee

Virtual organizations offer many advantages (we run one at ProfitPATH). So I can relate to the consulting company in the Inc. article. The owner, Tom Koulopoulos, needed access to specialist skills to complete bids on RFPs his company had a high odds of winning.

For a number of reasons, he couldn’t add the people he needed as full-time employees. So he forged partnerships with them, exchanging a share of the contract value if they won the RFP.

Since Koulopoulos’ company was the vendor he had to find people whose values were similar to his. The key to his success his use of his network, in many cases people he had known for many years.

5.    Get small to get big (think niche)

The owner of Medisys Health Communications’ breakthrough came when she read Blue Ocean Strategy

She realized that they had to stop trying to be all things to all people, competing with everyone else doing the same, find a niche that no one inhabited – and then own it.

So they focused on something they’d been giving away free for years and ended up collaborating with her previous competitors – doing something none of them can do.

If you enjoyed this post you’ll like 4 Things Every Business Owner Must Think About

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